2008 Opponent Preview: Utah

Utah Offense:
Brian Johnson is the presumptive starter. He backed up Alex Smith as a true freshman, and was second-team all-MWC as a sophomore starter. He tore his ACL towards the end of the year, and sat out 2006 recovering from surgery. Last year, he injured his shoulder early in the season, but was able to return, leading the team to wins in 8 of their final 9 games. He will be backed up by sophomore Corbin Louks, who played a limited role last year, primarily on designed QB runs. He attempted few passes in his playing time. Third-stringer Chad Manis will be a redshirt freshman this fall.


Utah Quarterbacks Passing 2007
Name Comp Att % Yds TD Int Yds/Att
Brian Johnson 181 272 66.54 1847 11 10 6.79
Tommy Grady 58 115 50.40 681 4 3 5.92
Corbin Louks 5 8 67.5 41 2 0 5.125
Utah Quarterbacks Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Brian Johnson 85 150 2 1.76
Tommy Grady 12 -28 0 -2.33
Corbin Louks 33 162 1 4.9

Johnson has had health issues his entire career, but since it’s the first game of the year, his health shouldn’t be an issue (unless he gets hurt during the game, of course). Over his career, he has averaged 7.83 yards per passing attempt, but it was more than a yard worse last year, at 6.79. That could be a function of his being injured, however. Running the ball, Johnson has averaged 2.97 yards per attempt, though he is well below 2 since the knee injury. He came on strong towards the end of last year, however, with the final three games accounting for all but one of the times he rushed for more than 20 yards (including 69 in the bowl victory over Navy.

Last year’s leading rusher Darrel Mack returns, as does JC transfer Matt Asiata, who was expected to start last year, but broke his leg in the Utes’ opening game against Oregon State. Mack will be a true senior, and Asiata has redshirt junior eligibility. The two will battle for starting nod, with Ray Stowers likely remaining in a backup role. Stowers is a fifth-year senior who lost his first two seasons to injury. He was the team’s second-leading rusher last year. Providing depth are sophomore Eddie Wide and walkon Trevor Moss. Bennie Joppru’s little brother, Chris, rarely plays but is on the team as well.


Utah Running Backs Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Darrell Mack 253 1204 12 4.76
Ray Stowers 47 261 2 5.55
Eddie Wide 19 44 0 2.32
Darryl Poston 12 37 0 3.08
Matt Asiata 4 16 0 4.00
Trevor Moss 1 8 0 8.00
Utah Running Backs Receiving 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Darrell Mack 21 144 3 6.86
Ray Stowers 2 22 1 11.00
Darryl Poston 1 17 0 17.00

None of the Ute running backs are particularly tall, but all of them have a good amount of mass. All of the top three weigh more than 220 lbs, with Asiata (also the shortest of the backs at 5-11), tipping the scales at 230. With measurables like this, they would seem to be inside runners, but with Utah’s spread-out attack, they are likely to be given room to operate in space as well. Utah has lots of depth at the RB position, and though there isn’t All-American quality at the top, there is little dropoff among the top few guys. Keep in mind that Utah also likes to get touches in the running game for non-RBs as well, through screens, trick plays, and options.

The Utes’ starting receivers are going to be Marquis Wilson, Bradon Godfrey, and Brent Casteel, all seniors (Wilson true, the other two redshirt). Wilson is expected to be suspended for at least the first game of the year. Godfrey brings size to the group, as he is a 6-3 white guy who transferred from Southern Utah after his freshman year. Casteel and Wilson are both speedy short guys, neither cracking the 6-foot mark. Casteel was Utah’s best threat in 2006, but he missed most of last year with a knee injury. Last year’s top two guys (after the Casteel injury) both graduated, but Utah has been able to replace them with more seniors. Backups Freddie Brown and John Peel are seniors, there is a junior in Elijah Wesson, a sophomore in Jereme Brooks, and a couple of JC transfers in Aiona Key and David Reed will provide depth, and likely contribute. At tight end, Colt Sampson, who was injured at the beginning of last year, will start, while former running back Zac Eldridge and JC transfer Dudley LaPorte will battle for playing time.


Utah Receivers 2007
Name Rec Yds TD Yds/Rec
Derrek Richards 57 635 3 11.14
Bradon Godfrey 50 524 3 10.48
Brian Hernandez 39 385 1 9.87
Marquis Wilson 18 285 3 15.83
Freddie Brown 20 219 0 10.95
Jereme Brooks 15 183 2 12.20
Brent Casteel 7 64 1 9.14
Mike Hicken 1 19 0 19.00
Colt Sampson (TE) 2 15 0 7.50

Utah Receivers Rushing 2007
Name Att Yds TD Yds/Att
Jereme Brooks 21 129 3 6.14
Marquis Wilson 17 91 0 5.35
Bradon Godfrey 1 5 0 5.00
Derrek Richards 2 4 0 2.00
Freddie Brown 1 -5 0 -5.00
Brent Casteel 3 -13 0 4.33

Apart from Godfrey, Utah’s key receivers are the speedy little bastard-type that have given Michigan fans nightmares in the recent past. However, don’t be surprised if the new Michigan regime is far more capable of handling them. Tight end is a weak point for this Utes team, unless someone performs beyond expectations. Expect this version of the spread to use the TE sparingly. Most of Utah’s receiving corps is long on experience, with several seniors in the two-deep. Casteel will be used both as a receiver and a designated trick-play guy. The (presumed) loss of Wilson will be a big hit for Utah.

Both of Utah’s starting tackles return from last year, with senior Dustin Hensel and junior Zane Beadles both entering their second year as the lead tackles. Beadles had been expected to start at guard, but he moved from the position at which he started almost every game as a redshirt freshman in order to fill for an injured player. With no tackles waiting in the wings, Beadles will probably stay at his new position. At center, Tyler Williams and Zane Taylor will battle for the starting position. Williams has a year of experience on Taylor, and is slightly stronger. Right guard Robert Conley returns to improve on his second-team all-conference performance from last year. He has been starting at the position since the end of his redshirt freshman year. Left guard Caleb Schlauderaff started the final 10 games last year, and will return at the position for his redshirt sophomore year.

With four returning starters, three of them seniors, the Utah offensive line is poised to be a strong point in the 2008 team. With a more experienced unit and quarterback Brian Johnson expected to be healthier this year, expect sacks to go down and rush yards per attempt to go up. If the winner of the starting center position doesn’t have problems making line calls or snapping in the shotgun, this should be among the best OLs Michigan will face all year.

Offensive Analysis:
This is certainly an experienced unit. 8 of the 11 starters are seniors, and nearly all of them have extensive game experience (including non-senior LG Caleb Schlauderaff). The tight end position shouldn’t be too key to this Utah offense, so as long as the center situation works out positively for the Utes, the offense should be very powerful. Injuries have plagued some offensive players for Utah in the past, but this is unlikely to be a major issue in the first game of the season.

Utah Defense:

Defensive Line:
Utah loses two all-conference performers in 1st-teamer DE Martail Burnett and 2nd-teamer DT Gabe Long. The two led last year’s team in sacks, with 7 and 4, respectively. Junior Koa Misi, who was a starter at defensive tackle last year, will slide outside to take over Burnett’s starting defensive end spot. End is Misi’s natural spot, so don’t expect him to be an oversized run-stuffer. Manning the other end spot will be returning starter Paul Kruger. Kruger is a redshirt sophomore who is as old as most redshirt seniors, taking an LDS mission after his first year at Utah. Backing up the defensive ends are senior Greg Newman, a former Colorado Buffalo, and several freshmen, including Derrick Shelby, who is most likely to get significant playing time. At defensive tackle, Utah must replace both positions, with Long’s graduation and Misi’s position change. Sophomore Lei Talamaivao is expected to start at one of the spots, after filling in last year as a true freshman. Kenape Eliapo will start at the other position. The redshirt junior has gained significant playing time as a backup in the past two seasons. Depth is a major issue for the Utes at DT, with very few backups available. Utah will likely have to play some true freshmen in backup roles.


Utah Defensive Line 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sacks FumRec
Koa Misi 67 8 2.5 1
Paul Kruger 63 7.5 3 0
50 15 7 0
Gabe Long 40 6.5 4 0
Kenape Eliapo 29 2.5 1 0
Lei Talamaivao 14 2.5 0 0
Nai Fotu 11 3.5 2.5 0
Greg Newman 12 2 1 1
Aaron Tonga 5 0 0 0
Casey Sutera 4 1.5 0 0
Neil A’asa 3 0 0 0
Alex Puccinelli 2 1 1 0
Zeke Tuinei-Wily 1 0 0 0
Ryan Taylor 1 0 0 0

Notes: Burnett and Kruger also logged an interception each. Fotu is expected to move to LB this season.

Utah’s defensive tackles are clearly a weak point of the team. The ends should be solid, with Kruger a redshirt sophomore who is the same age as most 5th-year players, and Misi presumably excelling in a move to his more natural position. It seems as though the inside run will be able to capitalize on a vulnerability in the Utah defense.

Utah must replace linebackers at two positions, losing MLB Joe Jiannoni, and their top two SLBs in Kyle Brady and Malakai Mokofisi. Returning weakside backer (known as “rover” in the hybrid 4-3/4-2-5 defense) Stevenson Sylvester was the second-leading tackler last year, in addition to having the third most sacks on the team (3 unassisted). The true junior is a speedy linebacker or a big safety, with measurables somewhere between the two positions. Nai Fotu will be the starter at SLB, after playing in every game last year as a true freshman. He was a DE to start the year, but moved to linebacker “where a special package was created for him,” according to the Utah press guide. Mike Wright will be the starter at MLB. Wright is a true junior (though according to his bio he also played a year at Southern Utah, which I believe would take away a year of eligibility, making him a senior. Anyone with additional insight is welcome to chime in), who has played special teams in the past couple years, while occasionally filling in at MLB in 2007.


Utah Linebackers 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sack Int
Stevenson Sylvester 86 10 3 0
Joe Jiannoni 53 1 0 1
Kyle Brady 39 2 0 0
Mike Wright 22 4.5 3 0
Malakai Mokofisi 22 .5 0 0
Kepa Gaison 13 2 1 0
Jamel King 11 0 0 0
Loma Olevao 7 .5 0 0
Justin Taplin-Ross 5 0 0 0

With Nai Fotu starting at LB less than a year after starting his career as a defensive end, it is natural to question whether he will have the quickness required to slow down Michigan’s option attack. Sylvester should have no problem chasing down Steve Threet, but I wonder whether he can track down Carlos Brown (or Sam McGuffie) in space, or if he has the power to drag down Kevin Grady. Wright performed well in backup duty last year, and he should fill the MLB spot well, if not exceptionally.

Defensive Backs:
Let’s start at the corners, where Utah has two returning starters. Senior Brice McCain has started since his true sophomore year, and was a second-team all-conference performer last year. He is Utah’s fastest player, though he gives up quite a bit in size at only 5-9. At the other corner spot, junior Sean Smith makes up for McCain’s lack of size, at a towering 6-3. He started his career at running back and wide receiver, but last year played exclusively defense, starting at both corner and nickel. Junior RJ Stanford will start at nickel and provide depth at corner. Junior Justin Jones is also a backup corner. To this point, he has mostly special teams experience. At the safety spots, Robert Johnson returns at the free safety position. He was injured last year, but still managed to garner honorable mention all-conference. He is a junior who played junior college ball as a freshman, where he was named an All-American. Joe Dale, a true junior who was the defensive MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl, will take over at the strong safety position. Deshawn Richard will be the primary backup at free safety, with RJ Rice the second-stringer at SS. Both players are seniors.


Utah Defensive Backs 2007
Name Tackle TFL Sack Int
Steve Tate 86 10.5 2 3
Robert Johnson 44 .5 0 3
Joe Dale 40 2.5 0 1
R.J. Stanford 33 2 2 0
Brice McCain 28 0 0 1
Terrell Cole 25 2 2 0
R.J. Rice 22 2 0 1
Sean Smith 17 1 0 4
Justin Jones 6 0 0 1
Deshawn Richard 6 0 0 0
Elijah Wesson 7 0 0 0
Clint Mower 6 0 0 0

Utah’s corners are experienced, though perhaps lacking in ideal measurables. Robert Johnson brings experience to the s
afety position, and Joe Dale is an up-and-comer at the other spot. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sean Smith, the taller corner, was matched up with Greg Mathews, while the speedier Brice McCain takes on shorter receivers. If Toney Clemons and Hemingway start, Michigan will have a distinct height advantage over the Utah secondary. If Steve Threet is accurate enough, Michigan could capitalize on this. It also doesn’t appear that there is tons of depth at DB. With Michigan likely to trot out 3-5 receivers on nearly every down, it will be interesting what Utah does to compensate.

Defensive Analysis:
With a very experienced offense, Utah’s defense has to be considered the weak link. D-line and linebacker are the weakest spots, and I think this bodes well for Michigan’s run game. With defensive ends who are inexperienced (Kruger) or switching from DT (Misi), they may not have the disciplined play required to stop the read-option. With a starting linebacker who has moved from DE, there may be mismatches in the run game there as well. The secondary appears to be the strong point of the Utah defensive unit, returning several key players from last year’s #1 pass efficiency D. However, they will likely be giving up size to Michigan, and it remains to be seen if their depth is strong enough to combat a Michigan team that will have some of the best (and widest variety of) WRs they see all year.

Special Teams:

Senior Louie Sakoda handles both punting and kicking. He was the conference special teamer of the year in 2007. Bradon Godfrey is the holder on field goals.


Utah Kicking 2007
Name FGM Att % Long XPM Att %
Louie Sakoda 19 22 86.36 51 38 40 95.00
Utah Punting 2007
Name Punts Yds Avg
Louie Sakoda 73 3231 44.26

Kicking certainly isn’t a weak point for the Utes, and Sakoda may be a candidate for the Ray Guy award as the nation’s top punter. A wide receiver holding on field goals always provides opportunities for fakes. Sakoda also had 2 passes and 2 runs on fakes last year.

Overall Analysis:
The Utes are regarded as one of the strongest non-BCS teams in 2008, who may be able to run the table if they can get by Michigan. They are also favored to win the Mountain West Conference. If the Wolverines plan to succeed against Utah, the offense will have to gel fast. Utah has a very experienced offense, and they should be stronger than last year with Brian Johnson healthy. The Michigan defense should be fairly good, but Utah will definitely get its share. The encouraging fact is that strong defensive teams tend to do better than strong offensive teams, especially at a higher level. Michigan will have to be able to take advantage of Utah’s defensive weaknesses in the run game if they want to come out of the season opener alive.

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7 Comments so far

  1. RJHOVE says...

    I guess McGuffie has already surprised people…Starter or will he see significant time in the slot and speed back?

  2. Max says...

    Very informative, very thorough.

    As always, excellent post.

  3. Alex says...

    Excellent work, keep it coming.

  4. jeremy says...

    Awesome write up about the Utes, and very fair. The only thing is about Marquis Wilson, while it would hurt the team if he is out but not to the extent you made. He is fast but drops a lot of catchable balls. Cant wait for the game

  5. Tim says...

    While the loss of Wilson may not appear, solely based on his skills, to be a big deal, the overall situation makes it much more so.

    With Wilson out, the Utes don’t have 3 of their top 4 receivers from last year.

  6. Anonymous says...

    No one can even remotely guess how this game is going to turn out. Just better to wait for the game, sit back, and see how it all plays out. This will be the most rollercoaster year in Michigan football history.

  7. Anonymous says...

    Excellent post. Great breakdown of the Utes. You’re right about the DTs and lack of depth. It’s definitely a concern. Should be a fun game to watch.


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