Utah notes: U. to play Michigan next year

Published August 7, 2007 2:10 am
With Washington State game rescheduled, an opportunity opens up for the Utes to make a trip to the 'Big House'
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Utah's football players have had all their focus on the 2007 season opener against Oregon State, but for a few minutes after Monday's practice, they let themselves think ahead to another game, way ahead.

Just as practice ended Monday, the Utes learned they'll be playing at Michigan on Aug. 30, 2008.

"To go there and compete with those guys, that would be a huge honor," junior receiver Brent Casteel said. "Playing at Louisville is big, but to play there on that field with all that tradition would have to be the biggest game of my career."

The Utes tentatively were scheduled to play Washington State, but that game will be moved to a later date, Utah athletic director Chris Hill said. The Utes were scheduled to play the Cougars in Pullman, Wash., next year and the Cougars at home in 2010.

"We always prefer playing home and home series, but every four or five years an opportunity like this comes up that we feel has great benefits in terms of national exposure and recruiting," Hill said.

Utah played at Michigan on Sept. 21, 2002 and lost 10-7 to the then-No. 14-ranked Wolverines. While the Utes' defense played well, the offense sputtered and crossed midfield only once, with 8:02 remaining.

The Utes finished that year 5-6.

"A chance to play in the Big House, what more can you ask for?" Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "That is college football, that is the essence of college football."

Utah will receive a guarantee of $800,000, up from the $500,000 it received in 2002 to play at Michigan.

Michigan's stadium seats 107,501 fans, making it the largest college-owned stadium in the country. The game will be part of an ABC-ESPN national doubleheader.

"That is an incredible experience playing in front of that stadium," Whittingham said. "It's something every Division I football player should experience."

Michigan and Utah are also working out plans to play basketball games in 2009-10 and 2010-11, although Hill said the football game was not related to that deal.

Michigan is ranked fifth in the 2007 preseason USA Today Coaches Poll and finished the 2006 season ranked ninth.

If you are a Ute fan and want to go to the game, better start planning now. Zack Lassiter, Utah's ticket manager, said Utah will receive 3,500 tickets to the game, with Crimson Club members and season ticket holders getting first priority.

"With that being Labor Day, and the fact that you can't get a ticket to a Michigan game unless you are a season ticket holder or have some affiliation, I imagine that is going to be a hot ticket," he said. "I'm sure a lot of Ute fans are going to want to go to that one."

Two-way player, again

Robert Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound transfer from L.A. Southwest College, is spending time on both sides of the ball. Johnson finished with 96 tackles and five interceptions last year to earn honorable mention junior college All-American honors, and also competed in track, running the 200 meters in 21.65 seconds.

Utah's coaches would like to use his versatility wherever they can, Whittingham said.

"We have a reputation of using a lot of two-way guys," he said. "We're not going to make that decision where to use him right now, but it's something we're looking at."

Johnson said he prefers to play defense, but, more importantly, just wants a chance to get on the field.

"It feels really good right now, I'm just trying to get my conditioning up," he said. "I'm getting reps on both sides; I just want to be good to go."

Piling it on

Monday was the first day the Utes could wear shoulder pads, and they celebrated by getting a little more physical, said defensive leader Steve Tate.

"It was just a great, great day," he said. "We feel like we got a lot done."

Whittingham echoed his captain's assessment.

"We have a lot more speed and athleticism, that is one thing that is showing," he said.

Pick and choose

Single game tickets for University of Utah home football games are now on sale. Tickets for all six home games can be purchased at the Rice-Eccles Stadium box office, UtahUtes.com or by calling 801-581-UTIX (8849). Single game tickets start at $15 for adults and at $10 for youth (12 and under). Also available are season tickets and the Third-Down Package (featuring tickets to UCLA, San Diego State and New Mexico).

Quick snaps

Three walk-ons, linebacker Kepa Gaison, kicker Ben Vroman and defensive lineman Greg Newman were awarded full scholarships Monday. . . . Lineman Zeke Tuinei-Wily suffered a shoulder stinger in Monday's practice. The injury is thought to be minor, and the only one reported Monday.


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