- Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
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Heading into their Big Ten slate with a 3-1 record won’t be an easy task for the Wolverines. Michigan will need some of its young players to step up this weekend to get past a Utah team that is averaging 57.5 points per game so far this season. On the other side of the ball, the Utes defense leads the nation in sacks(5.5 per game) and tackles for loss(10.5).
Here are a few players who could make a difference with breakout performances:
WR Amara Darboh: The sophomore made his first career start in a 34-10 win over Miami(Ohio) last week after missing all of last season with a foot injury. He caught six passes for 88 yards and his first career touchdown against an overmatched RedHawks' defense. Michigan will probably have to take to the air at some point to hang with the high-tempo Utah offense. If senior Devin Funchess (leg injury) can’t play again this week, Darboh becomes a primary target in the passing game.
LT Mason Cole: True freshmen starters on the offensive line are a rare species. At left tackle, they are almost unheard of. Cole has impressed teammates and coaches with his poise so far this season, but he’ll face the stiffest test of his career this weekend. His respect in the locker room will take a big leap if he can hold off Utah defensive ends Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick. That duo has upheld Utah's recent history in the defensive trenches by picking up 2.5 sacks each through two games, an impressive stat line even if two of them came against a woefully inept Fresno State offensive live.
Michigan’s secondary: The Wolverines' defense heads into the weekend tied for dead last among FBS teams (with Utah and a dozen other schools) with only one takeaway. That’s been an emphasis for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison all week in practice.
“Coach Mattison keeps pounding it in our head that we need to create turnovers,” said sophomore safety Jeremy Clark. “I think if we keep playing hard and keep hustling to the ball, we’ll get our turnovers.”
Clark, a first-year starter, and true freshman Jabrill Peppers, who played an expanded role at cornerback last weekend, continue the theme of young players who can make a difference against the Utes. Both have the athletic ability to be playmakers in the secondary if they get themselves in the right spots. Eventually, Michigan’s turnover rate has to progress toward the mean. This could be a good week to start.
1163dChantel Jennings and Tom VanHaaren