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SALT LAKE CITY — The last time the Utah football team met Michigan, it was trying to display its improvement as a Pac-12 program. This Thursday, the Utes will have another chance to do so.
The Utes defeated the Wolverines 26-10 in a unique game last year to begin the season 3-0. It was the first time former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke lost to a non-conference opponent in Michigan Stadium.
"We prepared our butts off. We had two weeks to prepare for this game," Utah linebacker Jared Norris said after the game.
Utah's preparation definitely showed. The defense didn't allow Michigan into the red zone once — the only Wolverine touchdown came from a pick six — and it yielded just one field goal in the first quarter. The Utes also came up with three interceptions and a fumble recovery to go with eight sacks, eight tackles for loss and 10 pass breakups.
Quarterback Travis Wilson completed 14 of 20 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown. His eight carries counted for 25 yards. He left the game in the second quarter after leaping over a Michigan defender, landing on his head. Wilson returned in the third quarter, connecting with receiver Dres Anderson for a 28-yard touchdown.
One of the most memorable plays from the game came from receiver Kaelin Clay. At the start of the second quarter, Clay put the Utes up 10-3 after running a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown.
"I just went out there and trusted the special teams on the field," said Clay, who celebrated with the Heisman pose.
Then there's Andy Phillips. The Ute was four for five in field goals, making it from 35, 38, 48 and 50 yards. His only miss was from 41 yards, which came after a two-hour 24 minute lightning delay.
The lengthy pause in the game sent most Michigan fans home. The Utes led 26-10 with 7:51 left in the fourth quarter. In what was once filled with a crowd of 104,000 people, the Big House was host to Utah fans that moved behind the Utes' sideline from their assigned seats.
"I felt like it was the Ute House," Anderson said. "We heard so much about the Big House. It was the Ute House at the end."
Utah will play the Wolverines at the real Ute House this Thursday. The highly anticipated season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium is one that coaches, players and fans have looked forward to for months. Running back Devontae Booker mentioned some of his teammates are "having trouble sleeping because of their excitement."
This week's matchup is much different from last year's. The Wolverines seek revenge after winning just three games after the Utes' visit. They haven't had a winning season since 2011. To top it off, the game is in the national spotlight, being Jim Harbaugh's debut as Michigan's head coach.
Utah is coming off its first winning season since joining the Pac-12. It won five conference games by at least a touchdown. Several Utah players who made key plays at Michigan are now in the NFL. There is a lot of speculation that how the Utes play against the Wolverines will determine the type of season they will have.
Receiver Kenneth Scott says the most challenging thing the team will have to deal with when playing Utah is competing against someone who never quits.
"We're tough," he added.
That's just what the Utes need to be on the field Thursday if they want to start the season undefeated in a roaring Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Holli Joyce is a University of Utah communications graduate and enjoys keeping up with the Utah Utes, Utah Jazz and Seattle Seahawks. In addition to covering Utah football for KSL.com, she is a Seahawks Correspondent for 12thManRising.com. Follow her on Twitter @Holli_Alexa.