This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Jim Harbaugh's magical mystery tour rolled into town on Thursday night hoping to take you, me and everybody else away supposedly ready to put on a show in front of 47,000 fans loaded into Rice-Eccles Stadium, along with a college football-crazed nation watching on television, all so hungry for scraps of satisfaction after eight long months of nothingness. And …
Everybody but Harbaugh got them.
The Utes straight stole his show.
They made like John Goodman's Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, swiping scenes from Jeff Bridges' The Dude, or like Tommy Lee Jones' Deputy Marshal Sam Gerard in The Fugitive, putting a beat down on Harrison Ford's Richard Kimble.
It was far from flawless, but, yeah, Utah went ahead and intercepted both the spotlight and the spoils of victory from Harbaugh the Headliner, by the count of 24-17. Jim and his khakis - and, oh, yeah, the Michigan Wolverines, too were left with a loss, with work to do, and with a memory already pounded into a lot of Pac-12 opponents: that playing Utah on its home field is about as much fun as wrestling a porcupine in a shower stall.
Michigan will be extracting painful quills and looking for solutions to problems for a while yet.
The crucial scene came when Justin Thomas picked a Wolverine pass at the 7:58 mark of the fourth quarter, returning it 55 yards for a touchdown, jacking what felt like a drooping seven-point Utah lead to 24-10, and, right then and there, the show all but ended. It did basically end when the Ute D subsequently stuffed Michigan on 4th-and-1 at the Ute 35-yard line. A late Wolverine TD narrowed the margin but did little else.
Under the burn of the bright lights, then, the Utes answered a few questions or at least gave some hints about themselves in this opener of a year that seems now to hold some substantiated promise.
"It was a good start to our season," Kyle Whittingham said. "… A great win for our program."
Q. Would the Ute offense look different and, more importantly, be more efficient and proficient than it did and was during a cautious and often-anemic effort last season?
A. It looked like it. There were times when it appeared as though that offense could conquer the world, times when it couldn't storm Whoville. The former didn't necessarily outnumber the latter the Utes only gained 337 yards but it happened enough to secure a win against a quality defense, including scoring drives of 63, 75, and 74 yards that were blended with passes and runs.
Travis Wilson completed 24 of 33 passes for 208 yards, spreading the ball around to eight different targets. Devontae Booker ran for 69 brutal yards on the ground, a low number for him. Wilson scampered for 53.
Q. Would the Ute defense be as dominant as a lot of people around here thought it would be?
A. Sort of. Utah gave up only 17 points, and yielded a total of 355 yards, often via the pass. Surprisingly, almost shockingly, the vaunted front seven got no sacks, but it allowed a mere 76 rushing yards. The secondary, while coming up with some big plays, including three interceptions and Thomas' dramatic door-slammer, showed vulnerability.
Q. Were there authentic indications that this could be the start of an extraordinary year?
A. The last time the Utes beat Michigan to start a season, which they did by the count of 25-23 at the Big House in 2008, they … they … well, you know. They went undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. For any such dreams to continue to be barely imagined, improvement mostly in the form of consistency all around must come. But there's a chance a chance something good is cooking here. Lord knows, there are a hundred pots and pans on a hundred burners just beginning to heat up. The galloping gourmet is still breaking out of the gate.
Utah benefited from playing and beating a marquee college football name Michigan has won more games than any other program without the downside of playing it at its competitive apex. Truth is, the Wolverines haven't been all that good for a while now. But the Utes won't and shouldn't apologize for taking Michigan down, again, when it's not at full traditional strength. They're busy building their own tradition, and who knows? maybe one day putting themselves in a position to headline the show.
And, of course, to win it, too.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.