Perhaps lost amid the hype for Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan coaching debut were two crucial points that shaped the Wolverines’ 24-17 loss:
1. The Utah defense is good. Really good.
2. Michigan’s had a revolving door at quarterback since the 2012 season.
No. 1 took advantage of No. 2 Thursday night in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Iowa transfer Jake Rudock threw three interceptions, including a decisive pick-six by Justin Thomas.
And that makes 3 interceptions… This one taken back by Justin Thomas. https://t.co/S2Sthn6dAK
— Athlon Sports (@AthlonSports) September 4, 2015
Rudock missed open targets at other times and only settled in by the final portion of the final quarter.
The Utah defense kept Harbaugh’s bunch out of the end zone much of the night, and the Wolverines have the Utes to thank for their first score. Tight end Jake Butt’s pretty touchdown grab in the fourth quarter would have been were it not for Utah linebacker Gionni Paul drawing a flag for a boneheaded hit on Rudock out-of-bounds on what would have been 4th and long.
JAKE BUTT. http://t.co/eAJyCzSI7j
— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) September 4, 2015
Michigan’s been hyped to the moon with Harbaugh now at the helm, with the coach’s turnaround of Stanford routinely cited. But the Stanford turnaround was just that: a turnaround.
The Cardinal didn’t have a meteoric rise into the Top 10 and BCS bowl picture in Year 1. Stanford didn’t even bowl until Harbaugh’s third year.
Michigan isn’t in the dire straits Stanford was upon Harbaugh’s arrival to replace Walt Harris in 2007. The Wolverines have talent and showed flashes Thursday of being a quality team, particularly on defense.
The front seven made Utah running back Devontae Booker earn every inch he gained, for example. Butt also looked like a bona fide star.
Much like Stanford didn’t break out until Andrew Luck took over the offense in 2009, however, Michigan won’t meet its potential until it has an answer at quarterback. And no, despite working out with the Wolverines pregame, it won’t be Harbaugh.
Utah fans joking about having Harbaughcome in and play. Jim already stated he has zero eligibility
— Adam Biggers(@AdamBiggers81) September 4, 2015
Rudock is a stop-gap option for this season. Michigan won’t be a 9-game winner as some predicted with Rudock at quarterback. It will win some games with the defense it showed off Thursday and find itself in the bowl picture by season’s end.
Jim Harbaugh isn’t a warlock who can just wave a wand over a 5-7 team and win a Big Ten championship in one year, no matter how much time TV devotes to him. Michigan isn’t yet in class with a team like Utah, which did win nine games a year ago.
The Wolverines will get there, just not in one night.