In the first game of the Rich Rodriguez era, Utah took the lead in the second quarter and went on to hold off the Wolverines for 25-23 win, in front of 108,421 at Michigan Stadium.
Redshirt sophomore Nick Sheridan got the start for the Wolverines and had some solid moments early, though he showed signs of inexperience as the game wore on.
Michigan opened the scoring less than four minutes into the game.
After going three and out on their first possession, the Wolverines got a second chance when Jereme Brooks had the ball stripped on the punt return. Linebacker Kevin Leach recovered the ball for Michigan at the Utah 26.
From there, the Wolverines got into trouble again, but escaped when Utah was called for pass interference at the nine-yard line.
Two plays later, true freshman running back Michael Shaw and Sheridan executed an option pass rolling out to the right, with Sheridan hitting Shaw just in time for a clear path to the endzone.
Utah answered back quickly, benefiting from a 55-yard completion on third and 18 to put the ball on the three-yard line.
Two plays later, backup quarterback Corbin Louks entered the game and scored on a bootleg.
Utah failed to tie the game when Terrence Taylor exploded through the line to block the extra point attempt.
The Wolverines extended their lead on the next possession, once again benefiting from a Utah penalty. The Utes were called for a late hit on the kickoff return, giving Michigan the ball at midfield.
After gaining just 17 yards on six plays, K.C. Lopata extended the lead to four points, hitting a field goal from 50 yards out.
In the first quarter alone, Utah committed five penalties for 55 yards.
But Michigan’s defense, expected to be the bedrock of an inexperienced team, struggled to control Utah’s spread offense in the first half, allowing 313 yards of total offense.
The Utes took a 15-10 lead in the second quarter on field goals of 28, 41 and 43 yards by senior kicker/punter Louie Sakoda.
Despite being outgained offensively by more than three to one, it appeared Michigan would go into the half trailing by just five.
But the Utes put together a touchdown drive in the final minute of the first half and took a 12-point lead into the locker room.
Brian Johnson hit Bradon Godfrey over the middle for 19 yards and the score with 18 seconds left in the half. Johnson and Godfrey were the two most impressive Utes in the first half. Johnson was 15-for-23 for 253 yards. Godfrey had five catches for 65 yards and the touchdown.
“In the first half I thought Utah controlled the game with their quick passing game and they had our defense on its heels a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “That got adjusted for the second half and we got some momentum going and didn’t quit. But we just didn’t execute.”
Sakoda added a career-long 53-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to give Utah a 15-point lead.
Redshirt freshman Steven Threet entered the game for the first time early in the third quarter and fared better than Sheridan.
Threet lead a drive late in the third quarter that looked promising. Brandon Minor’s 20-yard run and Carson Butler’s one-handed, third-down catch were the highlights. But Minor fumbled on the Utah 30-yard line, ending the threat.
Michigan got new life when Mark Moundros blocked Skoda’s punt midway through the fourth quarter, giving it the ball on the 33-yard line.
On the very next play, Threet threw the best deep ball of the day for Michigan and found Junior Hemingway in the endzone for a touchdown.
Trailing by eight, the Big House crowd was revitalized and gave the Wolverine defense a big boost, which caused a fumble and got the ball back in Utah territory.
Two Utah penalties moved Michigan to the Utah three-yard line with less than seven minutes remaining. Freshman Sam McGuffie pounded the ball in from there, putting the Wolverines a two-point conversion away from tying.
Threet’s pass to Toney Clemons went off the receiver’s hands, keeping Michigan behind by two.
Michigan’s offense was unable to move the ball much on two late possessions.
“It’s kind of disappointing but it is good because it shows that our team doesn’t ever give up and that’s good,” linebacker Obi Ezeh said.