When Michigan welcomes Utah to The Big House this Saturday afternoon, it could very well be the third toughest game the Wolverines have left on their schedule, ranking behind road contents against Michigan State and Ohio State. Hailing from the Pac 12, Utah caused problems for Michigan in 2008’s opener, and it was in large part thanks to a big performance from Utes quarterback Brian Johnson. This time around, it may be the same story, only with a flipped script.
Matchup of the game: Devin Gardner vs. Utah’s defensive front
Utah hasn’t played the best of opponents this season—Idaho State and Fresno State—but the Utes have looked nothing less than stellar en route to their demolishing of those teams. The offense has been garnering all the talk during this week of preparation, but don’t forget to give a good look to the defense that has devastated its opponents so far in 2014.
It all starts up front for Utah’s defense, and Brady Hoke is well aware of that.
“From the defensive side, I think they’re—depending on they calculate it NCAA-wise—they’re first in sacks and first in tackles for loss,” Hoke said at Wednesday’s press conference. “Knowing (head coach) Kyle (Wittingham) and (offensive coordinator) Dave Christensen from my Mountain West time, they both like to be aggressive, defensively and then also on the offensive side of the ball.”
Especially with an offensive line that is still facing questions, Utah is going to be putting the pressure on in thick coats, and it’s going to be tricky to detect. Quarterback Devin Gardner is going to have his hands full in the backfield, which is why I think this is one of those games where we will see him move outside of the pocket and display some of the natural athleticism he possesses.
One player in particular who you can expect to see a good amount of on Saturday is Nate Orchard, a special brand of a do-it-all player. He’ll line up at linebacker and on the line. He is completely trusted with rushing the passer and in coverage, making him an extremely valuable and versatile weapon that perfectly fits the identity of the Utes’ defense.
If Gardner’s under-pressure woes continue, it could be a long and painful afternoon for Michigan’s offense. However, with the home crowd behind him, if Utah turns up the heat, Gardner is more than capable of responding and making things happen.