Harbaugh debut creating pregame buzz
Salt Lake City — It's hard not to be the biggest topic of conversation on all the sports shows advancing college football, since this is a special Thursday night game to advance a weekend of major matchups.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was discussed interminably on ESPNU on Thursday afternoon. For NFL standout Jason Sehorn, now an ESPN analyst, said he's never seen a more highly anticipated debut by a college football coach and was asked his impressions of Harbaugh.
"He's an odd dude," Sehorn said on ESPNU. "What he brings as a coach you can't question. I think the kids will like Harbaugh, and I think they'll find his quirkiness cool."
Earlier in the week, Utah running back Devontae Booker said he was annoyed by the Michigan hype heading into this game and said it felt more like Harbaugh was playing.
But the Utes didn't deny the big-game feel of this opener.
"It's just the biggest opener in school history," Utah senior linebacker Jared Norris told the Deseret News. "I've got buddies and friends that are, 'Hey, can you get me tickets because the tickets are so expensive.'"
Quarterback Travis Wilson, who grew up watching Michigan on television, said the atmosphere would be unlike any he has experienced.
"It'll definitely be a big moment and definitely one that will go down in history," Wilson told the paper.
Michigan defensive lineman Bryan Mone was expected to be a major contributor this fall until a broken leg suffered in preseason camp.
Mone, a sophomore from Salt Lake City, made the trip with the Wolverines to Utah although he won't play. The break to his right lower leg is in a purple cast, and he's been getting around with a scooter.
His Michigan teammate Sione Houma, also a Salt Lake native, said last week that Mone has taken a positive approach in terms of dealing with the injury. Maurice Hurst is expect to see more playing time with Mone out.
"Growing up with Bryan, I know he comes from a God-based family and knowing that his faith is really strong right now and he's keeping a positive attitude throughout the whole situation and our team is behind his back supporting him throughout his whole rehab. And we're always going to be there with him, no matter what."
Harbaugh said Mone broke a bone in his lower leg on a freak play in practice and said there's a "good chance" he could miss the season.
Harbaugh said the injury, which happened early in camp, happened on a blocked field-goal attempt on a play he's never seen before in practice or games.
"We blocked a field-goal attempt, the ball came onto the defensive side of the ball, which we shouldn't be returning that ball," Harbaugh said in explaining Mone's injury. "Unfortunately that teaching moment came with one of our players picking it up, running around the edge, and Bryan was trying to lead block for him and they got their feet tangled up. When Bryan went down to the ground, his toe came down at an inopportune angle, and unfortunately a bone broke."
Home sweet SLC
Houma, a senior fullback, was able to make the trip home to play in front of family.
"Starting off my senior year back at home, it's going to be fun," Houma said. "My family members and my friends are going to be there to support me and my team, so there's nothing better than to start off my senior year playing at home."
Big-time game for Utah
Tickets for the Michigan-Utah game were hard to get and costly on the secondary market where the average price for a ticket hours before kickoff was about $380 according to data from TiqIQ. Some standing room only seats sold for $250.
The game was expected to be the biggest in Rice-Eccles Stadium history.
"Who would ever have thought that Michigan would be coming here," Utah athletic director Chris Hill told the Deseret News. "It was just not in anyone's wheelhouse.
"It's a big game, and it's become bigger because of Harbaugh."
Certainly, Fox Sports1 which is carrying the game, has spent plenty of time and money promoting the game, although the network's focus has been Harbaugh-focused and not so much on Michigan and Utah.
There was significant interest in the game from national media, in part because of the Thursday night kickoff, but mostly because it is Harbaugh's first game as coach of his alma mater.
"We have never had this many (media) credential requests for a game," Liz Abel, Utah's media director, told the Deseret News. "I have turned down dozens of them."
Special team speaker
University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel made the trip from Ann Arbor to Salt Lake City on Wednesday and spoke to the Michigan players later that evening.
A large contingent of Michigan fans made the trip here for the opener and the Alumni Association Tailgate Thursday afternoon before the game sold out its 1,000 spots early.