Jim Harbaugh's triumphant return to the Michigan sideline Thursday night was only missing the triumph. The Utah Utes picked off Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock three times, including a crippling 55-yard pick six by Justin Thomas, and cruised to a not-as-close-as-it-looked 24-17 over the Wolverines.
Utah stayed conservative throughout, relying on its defense to shut down the Wolverines and force turnovers. Michigan's two scores were assisted by a late hit out of bounds and a soft Utah prevent defense; absent that, the Utes may well have held the Wolverines to single digits. The conservatism showed in the stats: Quarterback Travis Wilson completed 24 of 33 pass attempts for 208 yards, just 6.3 yards per completion, and the Utes ran the ball 37 times for 129 yards.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh's offense looked like the smashmouth, run-heavy outfit fans remember from his days at Stanford, only ineffective. The Wolverine offensive line struggled to open holes in the running game, resulting in just 76 rushing yards on 29 carries, and Rudock overthrew deep receivers on multiple occasions. With no serious deep threat, Utah was free to run linebackers at Michigan ballcarriers without fear.
Three things to know
1. We didn't learn much about Utah. At the end of the first half, Utah ran a half-hearted two-minute drill despite holding just a seven-point lead and having all three timeouts. Presumably, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham felt he didn't need the extra points, and he was right. Utah's defense dominated Michigan's offensive line throughout, and the Wolverines looked sluggish and passive while running Harbaugh's signature running attack, and the Utes offense didn't need to do much to cement the win. Could Utah be that good? Possibly, but we likely won't know until Pac-12 play opens in three weeks with a trip to Oregon.
2. When you have no quarterbacks... Jim Harbaugh refused to publicly name a starting quarterback until kickoff, leaving everyone guess whether Iowa transfer Jake Rudock or 2014 backup Shane Morris would be under center. Michigan went with Rudock throughout, but there's nothing about his performance over the first 58 minutes of the game that would shut down the controversy for Week 2. Before a late touchdown drive, Rudock was 21 for 35 for 203 yards. The debate in Ann Arbor is far from over.
3. Jim Harbaugh might name Jim Harbaugh as quarterback for next week. Coaches sometimes help out with drills during pregame warmups. Coaches don't usually go under center to take snaps.
In fact, Fox Sports 1 tipped off the "Harbaugh for QB" campaign during the pregame show, calling him an "impact player."
I'm just saying: Watch out for a middle-aged quarterback next week, Oregon State.