Five years ago today, Utah took down Michigan in season-opener

Ryan Kostecka

Five years ago today was a very big day in the history of Michigan football.

It was the debut of head coach Jim Harbaugh, one of the most high-profile coaches to ever roam a college sidelines. And sure enough, his first game at the helm came against Utah with the Utes hosting the Wolverines.

Utah, with head coach Kyle Whittingham already entrenched in the culture of the Utes, spoiled Harbaugh's debut with a 24-17 victory at Rice Eccles Stadium five years ago.

"I've had a couple coaches coming here for the first time telling me how difficult it is to play here," Whittingham said after the victory. "I'm very proud of our fans for being loud. They were fantastic. I think people underestimate our crowd and that helps our team. It was packed and we appreciate the support."

It was the largest crowd in the history of the stadium (47,825) who packed in to see the game. 

And thanks to Utah's defense, the Utes came away with the win. As the offense struggled to establish its identity, the defense picked off the Wolverine's three times and scored a touchdown to aid in the victory.

Justin Thomas' interception returned for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter was the big play that changed the game. It put Utah up 24-10 with 7:54 remaining, with the Wolverine's scoring its final touchdown with just under a minute left.

"Good coaching by our secondary coaches," Whittingham said. "Our guys expected some routes and we saw some things the last two weeks. Justin [Thomas] made the play there and jumped the route and it was the turning point of the game. It had the biggest impact in the game."

After both teams exchanged field goals to begin the game, Utah struck again when Devontae Booker scored from one yard out for the 10-3 lead early in the second quarter. 

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The Utes made it 17-3 midway through the third quarter when Travis Wilson took matters into his own hands and scored on a 14-yard run. The Wolverine's scored a touchdown with less than a minute to play in the third quarter, making it a one score game heading into the fourth.

"Offensively, we did a nice job. We had a couple breakdowns in the zone," Whittingham said. "For the first game, it was not much. When a team is one-dimensional it helps with your game plan. I think they didn't really throw the ball until they got behind. We had a great effort. We made a few mistakes."

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Apart from the win, Utah fans will remember this game most as the debut of wide receiver/punt returner Britain Covey — who showcased his full skillset with five catches for 58 yards and a 14-yard punt return.

"He's quick, athletic, talented and smart. He has great hands," Whittingham said of Covey. "He's great in the return game. He will be a big key for us. I think you got a taste of what he can do in the return game this evening. He made the most of it and he is a fierce competitor, above all else. He will play a lot of football for us this year."

Utah finished the season 10-3 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, taking down rival BYU 35-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

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