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SALT LAKE CITY — In a game that could define the season trajectory for both football programs, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said he’s “nervous” about Saturday’s game against a seemingly high-powered Utah offense.
“You look at the points they’re putting on the board, and my background is on defense, so it gets you a little nervous,” Hoke said on Tuesday’s “The First Team” show on SiriusXM.
Utah is currently the third-most effective team in the nation in scoring offense (first in the Pac-12) with an average of 57.5 points per game through two games. While the first two games of Utah’s schedule were inferior opponents, Hoke said he’s noticed a much better team from the first game to the second game.
“As you watch both games, you saw improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Hoke said during a Big Ten teleconference with media Tuesday afternoon. “Travis Wilson is a real threat with his feet and he’s throwing the ball well. His completion percentage rate is high nationally and they’re scoring a lot of points.”
Wilson is second only to Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel in passing efficiency and second to Baylor quarterback Seth Russell in yards per attempt. Add to Wilson’s effectiveness under center with the depth at receiver and running back and Utah’s offense is a threat Hoke said he can’t ignore.
As you watch both games, you saw improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Travis Wilson is a real threat with his feet and he's throwing the ball well. His completion percentage rate is high nationally and they're scoring a lot of points.
“Utah is a football team that has scored a lot and has not given up a lot of points,” he said. “They have good football players and skilled positions. For us it is about working hard and getting better every day.”
While Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has preached the need for takeaways as a result of the few takeaways Utah got last season, Hoke said his team needs to do a much better job securing the ball. In its three games this season, Michigan is -7 in the turnover margin, which ranks the Wolverines as the second-worst team in FBS in turnovers. Michigan has fumbled the ball three times and has thrown five interceptions.
“It’s something that we’ve got to improve on. We’ve got to do it quickly, obviously,” Hoke stressed. “We haven’t done a good enough job generating opportunities and generating turnovers.”
Hoke also said the specials team play and how Utah is able to establish its field position has been something “I think we’d all like to do. I really believe that special teams will be a big factor in this game.”
Hoke is no stranger to the style of play for Utah. He was on the Michigan coaching staff when the Utes fell 10-7 in 2002. Hoke was also head coach for San Diego State two years while Utah was in the Mountain West Conference. While much has changed for Utah and Hoke since he coached the Aztecs, he said Utah continues to be a physical team, particularly on defense.
“Before you even look at the film you know they’re always a physical football team,” Hoke said. “We’ve got our hands full.
“In the first two games, they probably haven't blitzed as much as they would like to for one reason or another,” Hoke said at Michigan's Monday press conference. “I think we'll see more of that. If you get behind the sticks on third downs you know you are going to get it. I just think (Whittingham) has always been an aggressive coach, he's a defensive coach.”