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Utah football notes: Million-dollar matchups with Michigan

SHARE Utah football notes: Million-dollar matchups with Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — So, just how did the Utah Utes and Michigan Wolverines end up agreeing to a home-and-home series? Saturday’s game at the Big House will be followed by a rematch at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Sept. 3, 2015.

Utah athletics director Chris Hill said it evolved for a couple of reasons. At one time, the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences discussed having non-conference games together. That led to talks between Hill and Michigan athletic director David Brandon.

“We had matching dates. So we got a head start on it, if you will,” Hill said. “So that’s kind of how the games really came about.”

Hill noted that the combination of matching dates, thinking that the leagues were going to play each other and the fact that Utah had been to Michigan before (in 2002 and 2008) factored into the arrangement. So, too, was the opportunity for the Wolverines to place somewhere different. They’ve never played a game in Salt Lake City.

“They’re one of the biggest of the bigs in terms of the history of college football as you see here today,” Hill said. “It is a dynamic and family driven and cultural thing in this area, so to have them come to our place is really a real credit to us and a real credit to the type of program we’re starting to become. Not a lot of schools have a bigger name than Michigan.”

Financial terms of the series include a $1 million payout to the visiting team each game.

WEATHERING THE STORM: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called it “interesting.” The weather-related delay of two hours and 25 minutes near the middle of the fourth quarter turned the Utes’ 26-10 win over Michigan into a marathon.

“We went in not knowing whether it was going to be 10 minutes or four hours, two hours or never finished. We didn't know what the situation was going to be,” he said. “We kept our guys focused, got some nutrition in them and fed them. We got the pads off them. We had them lay down, relax. We've got a sports scientist that worked closely with us and told us to get them up and walk around every 20 minutes or so and then lay back down on their backs.”

Whittingham explained that they followed his protocol — although he noted that it really comes to what’s in your head and your heart — until the teams were summoned back to the field for the final 7:51.

“They responded very well and came out and finished the game the way it's supposed to be finished," Whittingham said.

UTAH’S BIG HOUSE: Following the lengthy weather delay, a good chunk of the diehard fans that stuck it out were wearing red.

“That was probably the first time Michigan has ever been outnumbered in their own stadium fan-wise,” Whittingham said. “We had 2,000 of ours there, or so, and we outnumbered them. So that was a positive.”

PICK-OFF PARTY: It took the Utes less than 3½ quarters to do what they did in their previous 14 games — intercept three passes. Brian Blechen, Gionni Paul and Tevin Carter had interceptions Saturday.

“The pass defense was much improved. They were less than 50 percent throwing the football (18-of-39 for 190 yards) in completion percentage,” Whittingham said. “We had three picks and (gave up) no touchdowns. That was great to see the pass defense step up."

HOKE’S TAKE: The loss was Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s first to a non-conference opponent at the Big House. The Wolverines were 11-0 prior to Saturday’s setback.

Obviously, we're very disappointed in the outcome of the game. I thought our kids came out very ready to play,” Hoke said. “I thought they demonstrated that the first drive down the field, and I think the defense, what they did early in the football game was indicative of how they prepared and how they practiced and how they got ready to play the game.”

EXTRA POINTS: Utah is now 2-1 against Michigan. The Utes have won the last two meetings. … Blechen and Eric Rowe each had three pass breakups, while Jared Norris and Nate Orchard had two sacks apiece. … Utah snapped a four-game skid under Whittingham after bye weeks. The Utes are now 7-4 in such situations. … According to research by nationalchamps.net, Utah’s only previous games in white helmets were played from 1968-73. The Utes went 33-31 in that era. … Scouts from the St. Louis Rams and CFL’s Montreal Alouettes attended the game, as did a representative from the Holiday Bowl.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer