Flashback Friday: The last time Utah football won on the road at a storied Power 5 venue to open the year
When the Utes beat Michigan at the Big House in 2008, that victory sparked an unbeaten season
Note: This story is part of the Deseret News sports team’s Flashback Friday series, which revisits memorable moments involving Utah teams.
For the first time in 14 years, Utah football will open its season on the road at a Power 5 opponent when the Utes play at Florida on Saturday.
Utah’s trip to the Big House in the 2008 season opener resulted in a 25-23 win over Michigan, a victory that kick-started a 13-0 season and a national runners-up finish in The Associated Press poll — the Utes’ best season in school history.
Now, Utah has the opportunity to spark a similar type run when they begin the 2022 season at The Swamp. The No. 7 Utes face the Gators in SEC country as the favorite and surrounded by hype as a College Football Playoff contender.
In 2008, Utah was starting its third straight season on the road at a Power 5 opponent — in 2006, the Utes played at UCLA in the opener, then at Oregon State the next year.
Venturing into Big Ten territory, though, was something altogether different.
After falling behind 7-0 early, Utah took control that day in Michigan in front of an announced crowd of 108,421. The Utes scored 25 of the game’s next 28 points and could have added to their lead if they had turned four Louie Sakoda field goals into more touchdowns.
The Wolverines rallied with two touchdowns in just over two minutes — converting a blocked punt and an interception into points — to make it 28-25 with six and a minutes to play.
“It was gut-check time, and we had to have some guys step up,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in the Deseret News’ writeup on the historic win.
While Brian Johnson led the Utes’ offense — the senior quarterback completed 21 of 33 passes for 305 yards, one touchdown and an interception — Utah’s defense routinely found ways to shut down the Michigan offense.
The Utes held the Wolverines to 203 total yards — 167 passing and 36 rushing — and allowed Michigan to convert only 3 of 14 third-down attempts.
Twelve wins followed that victory in Ann Arbor in 2008, including a 31-17 triumph over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
The magic started, though, in the Big House.
“Words can’t explain how I feel right now,” Utah cornerback Sean Smith said. “The defense came out clicking and the offense was clicking. It was great to come out and get a win in the Big House.”