Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 127 of 163

126 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY RYAN TICE Last fall, Utah enjoyed its best season since joining the Pac-12 Conference in 2011 and returned to the postseason with a 9-4 overall record that included the team's first winning mark (5-4) in its new league. It broke a streak of two straight 5-7 seasons and allowed the squad to finish ranked in both major polls for the first time since 2009. Eighteen starters return, and the offense will be a senior-laden unit with proven com- modities. The offensive line returns four starters and should be strong again. Almost the entire run game remains intact, led by first-team All-Pac-12 running back Devontae Booker. He finished second in the league with 1,512 rushing yards and proved to be a legitimate dual threat with 43 recep- tions, which tied for second on the squad. The 5-11, 212-pounder totaled 12 scores, despite being a backup the first three games. Booker proved so capable of handling the load that the Utes might move 2013 lead- ing rusher Bubba Poole, a fellow fifth-year senior, to receiver. Senior quarterback Travis Wilson is an- other proven weapon on the ground after he gained 309 yards and five scores to rank second on the team. The 6-7, 233-pounder also completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,170 yards and 18 touchdowns. The biggest improvement from his sophomore campaign was cutting his interceptions from 16 to just five, although there were times the team went with Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson under center. Both will be in their final year of eligibil- ity. Thompson appeared in seven games and threw for 324 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while he posted 192 yards and a score on the ground. However, the battle was decided when Thompson suf- fered a season-ending injury. Despite a strong ground game, the Utes ranked last in the Pac-12 in total offense (388.1 yards per game), so aerial improve- ments must be made. The passing game will receive a boost from the return of 6-3, 208-pound Kenneth Scott, who is a sixth-year senior. Last fall, he was the Utes' leading pass catcher with 48 receptions for 506 yards and four scores. The defense led the nation in sacks in 2014, but first-team All-American defensive end Nate Orchard is a big loss. Redshirt junior end Hunter Dimick, who posted 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss despite miss- ing two games, should help fill the void, while defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei will build off of his Freshman All-America debut. The four linebackers who combined to start every game last year return, but fifth- year senior Jason Fanaika shifts to defensive end after he logged 55 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss, five sacks and an interception. Class- mate Jared Norris led the team and ranked third in the league with an average of 8.9 tackles per game, and he has posted 182 total stops, 17.5 tackles for loss and six sacks the last two years. The secondary is led by sixth-year senior strong safety Tevin Carter, who won the starting gig after transferring from junior college. He totaled 3.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions — which he returned for 86 yards and a touchdown — in four games before a season-ending injury. The Utes lose All-American returner Kaelin Clay, but the special teams unit re- mains strong with defending Ray Guy Award winner Tom Hackett back at punter. Junior kicker Andy Phillips was named first-team All-Pac-12 last season. There are signs that point to Utah back- ing up its 2014 rebound with another strong campaign. However, that will require them to successfully overcome turnover at both coordinator positions, a possible quarterback controversy and the loss of their top defen- sive lineman and defensive back, who were both drafted in the second round. Notes Fifth-year senior running back Devontae Booker rushed 31 times for 179 yards and two scores in the first three games of 2014. He averaged 133.3 yards per game over the final 10 contests … Fifth-year senior linebacker Gionni Paul, a former Miami transfer, has battled injuries, but showed what he is capable of last year against U-M. He tallied 14 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery en route to being named Athlon Sports' National Defensive Player of the Week. ❑ Utes Trying To Continue Upward Trajectory GAME 1 • UTAH • SEPT. 3 2015 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2014 Result Sept. 3 Michigan W, 26-10 Sept. 11 Utah State — Sept. 19 at Fresno State W, 59-27 Sept. 26 at Oregon L, 51-27 Oct. 10 California — Oct. 17 Arizona State L, 19-16 (OT) Oct. 24 at USC W, 24-21 Oct. 31 Oregon State W, 29-23 (2OT) Nov. 7 at Washington — Nov. 14 at Arizona L, 42-10 Nov. 21 UCLA W, 30-28 Nov. 28 Colorado W, 38-34 QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: Utah leads 2-1 First Meeting: U-M 10, Utah 7 (Sept. 21, 2002, at Ann Arbor) Last Meeting: Utah 26, U-M 10 (Sept. 20, 2014, at Ann Arbor) Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 85-43 at Utah and overall (11th year) Off./Def. Systems: Spread/4-3 2014 In Review: 9-4 overall, 5-4 Pac-12 (5th South) Final 2014 Ranking: No. 20 in USA Today coaches and No.21 Associated Press Returning Starters: 18 (7 offense, 9 defense, 2 specialists) Last Bowl Appearance: 2014 (Royal Purple Las Ve- gas, vs. Colorado State, W 45-10) Pac-12 Conference Championships (last): 0 (24 in five different leagues during school history; last was Mountain West in 2008) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Travis Wilson (2,170 yards, 18 TD, 5 INT) Rushing: Devontae Booker (1,512 yards, 10 TD) Receiving: Kenneth Scott (506 yards, 4 TD) Tackles: Jared Norris (116) Sacks: Hunter Dimick (10) Interceptions: Gionni Paul (4) PLAYERS TO WATCH Offense: Travis Wilson, Sr., QB — Has started since opening the final seven games of his freshman campaign and is on pace to become the school's most accomplished quarterback … How- ever, he was demoted twice last fall, only to reclaim the job when Kendal Thompson was injured … Has a re- cord of 14-12 as the starter, includ- ing 6-0 in non-conference games. Defense: Hunter Dimick, R-Jr., DE — Missed two games last fall, but still posted 10 sacks, 14.5 tack- les for loss and two forced fumbles en route to All-Pac-12 honorable mention … Ranked ninth nation- ally in sacks per game (0.91). Running back Devontae Booker fi nished sec- ond in the Pac-12 with 1,512 rushing yards last season. PHOTO COURTESY UTAH

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