Steve, Craig, and Tim welcome you to The Wolverine Den! For a preview of the next game, see below. For a look back (and to see the incriminating pictures), choose a game on the Last Week menu. If you plan on attending a tailgate at The Den for the first time, see the blog menu for Den Law and the house rules to many of the usual tailgate "activities". Click on Buy Gear for TWD shirt! For up to the minute gameday activities, follow us on Twitter! See you on Saturday.
Check out Craig's Pre-Season report on the blog menu or click here.
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This Week at The Wolverine Den
Michigan @ Utah
September 3, 2015 - 6:30 p.m. MT
The Michigan Wolverines open the 2015 college football season on Thursday at the University of Utah. For Michigan, it is the start of the Jim Harbaugh era and a hope for a return to greatness. For Utah, the game is a catapult to the national stage. Utah was 9-4 in 2014, including a win at Michigan Stadium. The Utes are looking to build on that success and make some noise in the PAC 12 South. The game will be played at Rice-Eccles Stadium, in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains in Salt Lake City. With a seating capacity of only 45,807, Utah has sold out 31 consecutive games. The Mighty Utah Student Section – or MUSS, as they like to be called – are loud and often have an impact on the game. Michigan has won only 12 road games (while losing 27) in the past 7 years.
Utah plays an aggressive defense that thrives by putting pressure on the quarterback. They led the nation last season with 55 sacks. While the best defensive lineman is now playing on Sundays, the Utes return 3 starters to the D-Line. Hunter Dimick is the star and is one that Michigan will likely need to double team to keep out of the backfield. All the linebackers return and are led by seniors Gionni Paul and Jared Norris. The secondary for Utah surrendered 246 yards of passing per game in 2014 but the group is being rebuilt with freshman and JC transfers. This is a good defense and very strong in the front seven.
Please bring something to share!
The Utah offense played well at times last year. Quarterback Travis Wilson has been the starter for all three seasons at Utah and looks to be the signal caller again in 2015. He is big at 6’7”, 233 lbs. His stats as a junior were very similar to Jake Rudock’s stats last year at Iowa. He isn’t flashy but he gets the job done. RB Devontae Booker had a breakout season in 2015. He didn’t start until week 5 but finished the year with 1512 yards rushing and had 43 receptions. He led the Pac 12 with 812 yards-after-contact. The top two wide receivers for the Utes are gone but senior Kenneth Scott returns. He is mostly a possession-type receiver. Four of the five offensive linemen return for Utah. This offense looks to control field position. They won’t have a lot of big plays but instead will try to power it down the field.
The Wolverine Den Trivia
Mason Cole was the first Wolverine to start the opening game on the offensive line as a true freshman. There are 5 other true freshman that have started on the offensive line, just not the first game of the season. Who are they?
Special teams play a big part of the Utah scheme. Punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award in 2014 as the nation’s best punter. Kicker Andy Phillips has made 83.3% of his field goals and has 12 kicks over 40 yards.
This is a very tough game to start the season for Michigan. On the road, new coach, new systems and against a very good team. Utah beat Michigan at The Big House last year, even though Michigan outgained the Utes 308-286. But Michigan turned the ball over four times and couldn’t get any offense going after a 2:24 rain delay. For the Wolverines to start the season off with a win, they will need to play aggressive on defense and limit the three-and-outs. Field position will be a major factor in this game.
Utah leads the overall series 2-1. The Utes won the last meeting 26-10 at The Big House, Sep 20, 2014.
The Wolverines are a 5˝ point underdog.
The Wolverine Den Blogs
Craig's 2015 Pre-Season Report
By Craig Koss
August 25, 2015
The 1960’s were a dark time for Michigan football. With the exception on the 1964 season, there were no Big Ten championships and no bowl games. From 1961-1968, Michigan had a combined record of 42 wins and 32 losses (and 2 ties). Not a performance that was representative of the winningest program in college football. Something needed to change and Bo Schembechler was hired.
Over the last seven years – since Lloyd Carr retired – Michigan has a combined record of 46-42, with no Big Ten championships and only one major bowl game. Something needed to change, and Jim Harbaugh was hired.
Should we expect the Harbaugh-led Wolverines to immediately turn around an underperforming program? In 1969, the Schembechler-led Wolverines were trounced early in the season at home by a good Missouri team. They lost to Michigan State on the road in a close game. Then came the big game against Ohio State. The Buckeyes had won the National Championship in 1968 and were undefeated coming in to the Michigan game. We all know the outcome that day in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines finished that first season under Bo with an 8-3 record. It laid the groundwork for the next few decades of dominance by Michigan football.
Can the Harbaugh-led Wolverines accomplish something similar? Let’s start by examining the personnel.
Every discussion of offense starts with the quarterback. Michigan has plenty to choose from but very little with experience. The exception is graduate transfer Jake Rudock. Jake started for Iowa the last two years but has transferred to Michigan for his final season. He was 2nd in the Big Ten in completion percentage and had the fewest turnovers of any Big Ten starter. But Rudock wasn’t flashy and the Hawkeyes offense averaged only 400 yards and 28 points per game. These modest numbers would be quite an upgrade for Michigan, who averaged only 21 points and 333 yards per game in 2014. Rudock is steady and rarely turns the ball over. Maybe his new head coach can bring out the charisma in the new Wolverine.
Also in the competition for QB is junior Shane Morris. Morris is the opposite of Rudock – flashy, strong arm and takes risks. He has played in 10 games at Michigan with 2 starts. He has completed 49.4% with 0 TDs and 5 INT’s (plus two lost fumbles). But he was a highly ranked recruit and could be the answer to lead the offense.
Whoever wins the QB battles will be behind a very experience offensive line. Mason Cole and Eric Magnuson are the likely starters at tackle, Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden at guard and Graham Glasgow at center. This group has a combined 84 starts, making them the most experienced offensive line in a decade. The running backs are good, with the potential to be exceptional. Derrick Green, a former 5 star recruit, was the leading rusher last year until breaking his collar bone midway through the season. De’Veon Smith was a capable replacement and Drake Johnson proved to be an outstanding back before tearing his ACL. All are back this year, along with USC transfer Ty Isaacs. These four should make a formidable group.
The receivers are less accomplished, although not without talent. JeJu Chesson and Armara Darboh are the returning experience while Drake Harris, Brian Cole and Grant Perry are the freshman that could have an impact. Jake Butt is an outstanding tight end. This group is underrated but could eventually be a bright spot for the offense.
Even with an offense last year that was unable to consistently move the ball and led the Big Ten in turnovers, the Michigan defense somehow still ranked 9th in the nation in Total Defense in 2014. A few starters have graduated or transferred but the majority of the key performers are back, and that list starts at linebacker. Joe Bolden, James Ross and Desmond Morgan are as good as any linebacker corps in the conference. All three are seniors and have tremendous experience and athleticism. The D-Line is good, but not great. Likely starters are Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton. Mario Ojemudia and Matt Godin are also expected to contribute. There is great depth in the secondary and we expect to see pressure coverage with interchangeable players. Impact players are Julius Peppers, Jourdan Lewis and Jarrod Wilson with transfer Wayne Lyons also expecting to make a difference. Delano Hill can play both safety and CB. Dymonte Thomas and Channing Stribling will also contribute.
All of the starting special teams specialists have left the program. Kicker Matt Wile and Punter Will Hagerup graduated while returner Dennis Norfleet left the program. The new kicker will likely be incoming freshman Andrew David. The new punter will likely be transfer Blake O’Neill. O’Neill is an interesting story, having played Australian Rules Football in his homeland before being 6th in the nation at Weber St in punting last year.
In past years, The Wolverine Den staff has made predictions on the season. This year, there are so many unknowns that a “prediction” is truly a big guess. As is the case with most Michigan fans, we look to our past to forecast our future. Expect Michigan in 2015 to be a much tougher group that is able to compete in every game. Like 1969, it would not be a surprise for Michigan to lose a game everyone thought they should win and to win a game that everyone thought they should lose. Of the 12 games on the schedule, Michigan is currently favored in 8 and underdogs in 4. That can obviously change as the season progresses but provides a nice baseline for expectations. While it’s hard to evaluate the talent level, there is no doubt that this team should perform better than the teams over the past seven years. There is no Jim Harbaugh team that will ever make us consider a season as “humbling.”
We look forward to seeing you at The Wolverine Den. Go Blue!