Rodriguez has debut spoiled by the Utes

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. --- Michigan's new era opened in a painfully familiar way for the 108,000-plus fans at the Big House: With an ugly-looking loss.

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Utah quarterback Brian Johnson celebrates with fans in Michigan Stadium. Johnson played a key role  in the victory, throwing for 305 yards. It was the second year in a row Michigan lost its season opener.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson celebrates with fans in Michigan Stadium. Johnson played a key role in the victory, throwing for 305 yards. It was the second year in a row Michigan lost its season opener.

Rich Rodriguez's debut as Wolverines coach was spoiled when Utah's Brian Johnson threw for 305 yards and a touchdown and Louie Sakoda kicked four field goals, providing enough scoring to hold on for a 25-23 win Saturday.

"We got a chance to put our names on the map," Johnson said.

A year ago, Appalachian State stunned the Wolverines. But this was more businesslike than shocking. The Utes were just a three-point underdog and received more votes than Michigan in The Associated Press preseason poll.

"They deserved to win," Rodriguez said.

"We had the confidence. We had the swagger," Sakoda said.

Utah decisively outplayed the Wolverines early and took a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter.

But Utah had a punt blocked and fumbled to give Michigan a shot to come back.

Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet, who came in for former walk-on Nick Sheridan at quarterback, perfectly lofted a 33-yard pass to Junior Hemingway and Sam McGuffie ran for a score on the next drive to pull Michigan within two points midway through the fourth.

Threet's pass on the 2-point conversion was high and the next two drives ended on three-and-outs. Michigan's next drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down deep in its territory.

"It shouldn't have been as close as it was," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's a sign of a pretty good football team when you can not play your best and come away with a win, particularly in a venue like this."

Whittingham is 5-3 against Bowl Championship Series schools and the latest such victory was an important first step in giving the Utes a chance to bust the BCS at the end of the season.

"Non-BCS teams should get a shot at a championship every year," Sakoda said.

Rodriguez's spread offense was kept in check, gaining just 36 yards on the ground and 167 through the air with inexperienced players at virtually every position.

"The running game was a huge disappointment," Rodriguez said of his scheme that was so successful at West Virginia. "We never were able to get the defense a rest because we couldn't move the ball effectively."


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