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Utes have 'no problem getting up for Michigan'

Matthew Piper
Salt Lake Tribune
Devontae Booker, who rushed for 1,512 yards last season, rumbles against the Michigan defense in the Utes' win last season.

Salt Lake City -- Nobody's rolling their eyes this year when Utah's players and coaches tell media they're focusing the whole of their attention on their first opponent.

Next Thursday, most college football fans with a pulse will be focusing the whole of their attention on Utah's first opponent.

With fall camp coming to a close Saturday, the Utes have begun the first of two "game week" preparations — Utah's offense and defense beating up on its scout teams, instead of each other — for the spectacle of a nationally-broadcast game against Michigan (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

Even before the Wolverines hired coach Jim Harbaugh, in the hours following Utah's 45-10 Las Vegas Bowl victory, players and coaches began talking about it.

Now, it's close.

"I think it's starting to set in this week," said senior linebacker Jared Norris. "Fall camp, you've got to get through all the hard work and the double days and all that, but I think coming into the facility (Monday) felt like, 'OK, it's time to get to work.'"

Utah has played Power Five opponents in the opener before — notably during undefeated seasons in 2004 (hosting Texas A&M) and 2008 (visiting Michigan). But it's been awhile.

Since beating Pittsburgh in an overtime thriller to kick off a 10-3 2010 campaign, Utah has hosted Montana State, Northern Colorado, Utah State and Idaho State. The Aggies, granted, were no mere tuneup in 2013, but they aren't the Wolverines, either.

"There's no problem getting up for Michigan, and that's not to be disparaging for any other opponents that we've opened with, but this game's had our attention since way back in late December of last year," said coach Kyle Whittingham. "It's a great opportunity, and it's drawing a lot of national attention."

Most of that due to Harbaugh, who has made the Wolverines his latest reclamation project after achieving spectacular success at San Diego and Stanford and reaching the Super Bowl with the 49ers.

His hire means Utah has some homework to do. Whittingham said Monday that he expects Michigan's approach to differ dramatically in all phases of the game from Brady Hoke's squad, which lost 26-10 to the Utes last year in a rain-soaked Big House and finished 5-7.

Coaches have prepared a scouting report based on what Harbaugh has done at previous stops, on what defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin ran recently with Florida, and on what special teams coordinator John Baxter devised at USC.

Senior running back Devontae Booker admitted that it was a little strange Monday, when "we're watching a Florida film, and we're playing Michigan."

The coaches' report is likely a tad more nuanced but probably not as entertaining as the one given Monday by senior punter Tom Hackett, who said he thought Michigan's team last year was bigger than the average Pac-12 team.

"That was just my opinion, I might be completely wrong," Hackett said. "It was probably that (Devin) Funchess bloke who was 7-foot-10 and ran, like, a 4.3. That probably helped."

Senior wideout Kenneth Scott, meanwhile, said the Michigan contingent is already talking trash — "everybody notices it" — and he joined the fun.

"I believe they haven't beat us yet," Scott said — true in his tenure, though Michigan beat the Utes 10-7 in 2002. On Harbaugh, Scott offered, "He did Alex Smith dirty."

He laughed.

This is not Idaho State, or Montana State, or even Utah State.