1. The Utah defense must smother Michigan from the outset and not allow positive momentum.
The Michigan offense was downright terrible in 2014, and the Wolverines can't be allowed the chance to sniff opportunity. They must feel like the inexperienced group and be the ones who are developing.
There are a boat load of question marks on offense for this team, which is why I tend to pump the brakes on overall season-long expectations. This group could wind up being productive, but I've got to see it happen first. The offensive line returns five players who have starting experience (more than 70 combined starts), but they've got to prove they're better.
2. Keep things simple
Michigan might have a lot of coaching talent on their sideline from all sorts of different places, but Utah has the greater continuity and the system in place to handle those challenges. The Wolverines won't have installed that many new thing so quickly. Kyle Whittingham doesn't sound too worried either. Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press has more.
"We form the best-guess scenario. And that's what an opener is anyway, a best-guess scenario, we never really know. Even when you (face) a returning staff, there's still changes that come in the off-season in different schematics. But when you have a new staff, anything really is in the realm of possibility. We think we have a general idea of what to expect. You try to expose your players to everything you think they might see in fall camp. Build a game plan to accommodate all the possibilities."
3. Ground and pound with Devontae Booker
Booker helped lift an offensively limited Utah attack to crucial wins against the fierce physical fronts of USC, UCLA and Stanford last season. Michigan's defense is their strength and the reason this game could be a close one. Booker didn't actually do much in last year's win against Michigan in the Big House, but you can bet he's chomping for a better performance this time around now that he's the feature back for good. More from Kurt Kragthorpe.
The likely difference this time is that with more carries, "I get much better," Booker said. "It takes me probably a couple carries to get in a groove, but after that, I'm just heating up throughout the rest of the game."
4. Don't give Travis Wilson too much to do.
Wilson actually had one of his best performances as a Ute in Ann Arbor, completing 70% of his passes for a touchdown and no interceptions while also rushing for 20+ yards. A simple performance like
"I never doubted myself," he said. "Throughout fall camp I tried working as hard as I could to keep that spot, and to earn that spot. I thought I've done that. Now I'm just making sure I'm playing consistent and making sure I'm the guy the whole season."
5. Win the special teams battle.
The Utes don't have huge pronounced talent advantages at many positions. Except when it comes to their third unit, where kicking, punting and returning all come into play as the special weapon. More from Joseph Silverzweig at Block U.
A major advantage for the Utes is on special teams (get used to reading that). You never know what you’ll get with a specialist, but if either the place kicker or the punter for the Wolverines struggles in what promises to be a field position grind of a game, expect the Utes to capitalize.