ANN ARBOR, Mich. — To Michigan football, these must be strange, difficult times. All those kids coming around, most with an attitude, each wanting to take their licks.

Whatever happened to respecting your elders knowing your place?

Must have gone out with the typewriter.

Or maybe it's like the punk in your office who's gunning for your job. Half your age but a lot of big ideas, dying to prove things have changed.

Nobody has to tell the Michigan Wolverines all this. Last year they lost their opener to small-fry Appalachian State. This year it was a 25-23 loss to Utah, Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

Yeah, yeah, Tom Harmon and Anthony Carter and Charles Woodson played there a long time ago.

So, hey, wanna go play some Halo?

So much for history. And patience. And mild acquiescence.

Sure, Michigan has more wins than any team in history. It didn't impress the Utes.

"We're not playing their fans, we're not playing their helmets, we're not playing their history," said Ute receiver Jereme Brooks, after the game. "We're just playing those 11 guys."

Go ahead and chalk this one up as the biggest non-conference, regular-season win in Utah history. It wasn't the Utes' best opponent ever, but it was certainly the biggest name they've beaten. Michigan isn't great this year, but heaven knows the Utes weren't at their finest, either. They fumbled away the ball, both on runs and returns, shorted themselves with penalties and set up Michigan for scores. They even looked briefly like they weren't going to pull it off.

But then, abruptly, they did. They leaped momentarily about afterward, as relieved as exhilarated, then rumbled over to a gathering of Utah fans to sing the fight song. Then it was back up the famous tunnel, past another group of Ute fans and inside the locker room.

All that remained were the repeated questions as to how big the win was and whether they were surprised, confident or scared — or a combination thereof.

"We didn't come here to lose," said quarterback Brian Johnson.

For the Utes, it was probably even consoling they didn't play their best. They fumbled four times (losing it twice) threw an interception and allowed a punt and a PAT to be blocked.

But after giving up two fast scores late in the game, they suddenly ended the discussion and called it a day. Thank you and goodnight, everyone. Drive safely!

To the credit of both teams, nobody went overboard in their post-game remarks. The Utes showed they truly are maturing as a program by celebrating but not tearing down the goalposts or burning any cars.

Similarly, Michigan gave Utah respect.

"First game of the season, we're tested," said Wolverine linebacker Obi Ezeh. "A lot of teams scheduled lesser opponents (than Utah) in the first game of the season and we came out and gave ourselves a good test."

Too good, as it turned out.

The win was Utah's 10th in the last 13 games against teams from BCS conferences.

Not that the Utes were entirely — to borrow a phrase from Mike Tyson — impervious, impenetrable or ferocious. In fact, a few times they appeared downright inept. A pass or two went through defensive backs' hands. They got whistled for an illegal substitution. In one first-half stretch, Utah was called for a false start, illegal formation and holding — all within a few seconds.

Utah led 25-10 in the fourth quarter but allowed a 33-yard touchdown pass, fumbled away the ball, and gave up another touchdown before holding on a two-point conversion.

"It shouldn't have been as close as it was. In my opinion, we should have played smarter football," said Ute coach Kyle Whttingham.

As the second-largest crowd ever to see a Utah game (108,421) filed sullenly out, it seemed a bit like the scenes from "Batman Begins" where the big-shot Earle from the board of directors first tells Lucius Fox he's being fired.

"Didn't you get the memo?" he says condescendingly.

But later, when Fox is reinstated in Wayne Enterprises, and order restored, Earle is told it is actually he who is being fired.

Says Fox: "Or didn't you get the memo?"


E-mail: rock@desnews.com