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ANN ARBOR - New coach, same result on opening day.
The Michigan Wolverines dropped their season opener for the second time in as many years, this time falling 25-23 to Utah in coach Rich Rodriguez's debut at the Big House.
Last season the Wolverines were stunned by Appalachian State. This time they knew they were in for a fight and got exactly what they expected.
Either way, UM is 0-1 again.
"It's tough. It's frustrating starting the year off again like this," Wolverines right tackle Stephen Schilling said.
The Utes - of the non-BCS Mountain West Conference - rode the leg of senior standout kicker/punter Louie Sakoda to four field goals, including a career-long 53-yarder with 7:37 left in the third quarter that proved to be the difference.
Utah built a 22-10 lead at halftime and was dominating the game in almost every way imaginable - including a 313-102 advantage in total yards. But UM's defense stiffened in the second half, and the offense received a spark from Adrian High graduate Steven Threet at quarterback.
Subbing for ineffective starter Nick Sheridan in the third quarter, Threet led the Wolverines to 13 points. He connected with Junior Hemingway on a 33-yard touchdown with 8:42 to go, then Sam McGuffie scored on a three-yard run on UM's next possession.
Trailing by two after the freshman McGuffie's score, Threet's pass bounced off a leaping Toney Clemons' hands in the back of the end zone for a failed two-point conversion.
The Wolverines' defense forced two more punts, but Threet and Co. couldn't convert. Threet's pass on 4th-and-7 to Darryl Stonum with 1:48 to go deep in UM's territory fell incomplete, ending any real chance at victory.
"To come in this place and hear the silence of this crowd is a feeling you can't describe," Sakoda said of the 108,421 Michigan faithful heading home disappointed after a second straight season-opening loss.
Rodriguez became the third of 18 UM coaches to lose his first game with the Wolverines. He started three freshmen on offense - McGuffie, Stonum, and receiver Martavious Odoms - and at least six first-years played on either offense or defense.
This was the Wolverines' first crack at running the spread offense against an opponent, and they struggled. UM rushed for a total of 36 yards on 25 carries, and all of its points came in a short field.
"I would hope this first game is the worst one," Rodriguez said.
Sheridan edged out Threet in a months-long quarterback competition and earned his first-career start. He put the Wolverines on the board first with an eight-yard pass to freshman Michael Shaw.
But Sheridan also threw an interception before halftime that led to a Utah score, botched a handoff to McGuffie for a fumble, and could've had three or four interceptions if not for penalties or drops by the Utes' defense.
Sheridan finished 11 of 19 for 98 yards and one score, while Threet went 8 of 19 for 69 yards and a touchdown.
"Nick competed well, and Steve gave us a lift and came in and made a few plays," Rodriguez said. "There's a few things I'm sure both of them would have back, but at the same time I thought both of them did a good job for the first time out there."
UM had no answer for Utah's spread offense early on. Senior quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 253 of his 301 yards in the first half, and his 19-yard touchdown pass to Bradon Godfrey with 13 seconds to go in the second quarter followed Sheridan's interception.
The Wolverines were a different defensive team in the second half. They forced two turnovers and six punts and had four of their six sacks. Also, UM fullback Mark Moundros's blocked punt led to Threet's touchdown strike.
Linebacker Obi Ezeh paced the Wolverines with a career-best 15 tackles and an interception, while defensive end Tim Jamison contributed two sacks.
UM's final stop of the Utes gave its offense the ball back on its own 29, but a last-gasp, gimmick play failed when Shaw was tackled after catching a short throw from Threet before he could pitch it to a teammate.
"In the second half I saw a spark, I saw something in the whole team," Ezeh said. "We were resilient."
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