Utah's one-two punch of Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack wound up making a specialized debut in last weekend's 25-23 victory at Michigan.
Asiata led the Utes with 77 yards on 13 carries, while Mack (eight carries, 17 yards) was praised for going 10-for-10 in pass-protection situations.
"I thought they both played very well. Matt was more productive running the football and Darrell was very productive in pass protection. He has his best day as a pass protector in his entire career against Michigan," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "So, even though the statistics show Matt with the rushing yardage, Darrell's contribution was vital to our success on Saturday."
Mack, who led the Utes with 1,204 yards last season, was named a candidate for the Doak Walker Award on Wednesday. The trophy is presented each year to the nation's top running back.
The recognition, noted the senior, means a lot.
"I love playing football and playing running back," Mack said.
"That's just a great individual award for that position, and I'd be more than happy to be on that list."
Mack, however, insists he's all about team success. That's why he's worked hard to improve his pass protection.
"That was a weakness of his for the first couple of years here," Whittingham said. "He's really just completely taken on the challenge of becoming a better pass protector, and he has done that."
It's something Mack is pleased about.
"That's just one part of my game that I improved on and got to see," he said. "The running part is not there yet. We'll see. The blocking, I think, that's important, too."
It certainly was last Saturday against the Wolverines.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig called it "a big deal against some dang good players."
Even so, Mack admits he's not completely content. There's the yardage thing.
"It's frustrating. Everybody wants to do what they can. It's all about competition and winning at the same time," Mack said. "Winning is the most important, but shoot, I want to contribute, too."
While acknowledging his contributions as a blocker, Mack plans to be patient with his ground game.
"I take pride in everything. I'm glad we won," he said. "Everything will come. I'm just all about waiting, sitting back and letting it all come to me. I'm not going to stress myself out."
Mack is determined to make the most of his opportunities running the ball.
"I'm happy. I just have to compete with myself more than anything and win at the same time," he explained. "It will all take care of itself."
Both Mack and Asiata believe Utah's 1-2 punch at running back can succeed.
"I'm pretty sure there will be a balance in there," Mack added.
"Whoever gets in there needs to just make the most of the opportunity they have. Because that's what it's all about."
It's an approach Asiata has taken. After suffering a season-ending leg injury in last year's season opener, the junior was happy to make it though this one.
"I'm real happy we got the win, and I'm real happy that we got the first game out of the way," Asiata said as the 22nd-ranked Utes prepare for Saturday's home opener against UNLV. "It's pretty exciting for me as an individual to just go out and play as hard as I can."
Ludwig noted that it fired up the entire team.
"It was great to get him out there," Ludwig said. "He's worked so hard in his rehab."
Asiata and Mack, who considers himself healthier than he's ever been at Utah, are both at full strength after overcoming minor injuries in camp.
"It's nice. They're both healthy," Whittingham said. "We feel like we're going to have a great 1-2 punch all season long assuming we can keep them healthy and that's where we are heading."
Asiata believes the 1-2 punch can work.
"We've just got to communicate and play together as a team," he said.
Ludwig knows it won't be easy, especially with two competitors battling for one spot.
"You can't please both guys. They've just got to work through it," he said. "They're team players. They get along fine.
"They just both want the ball, and you can't blame them," Ludwig added. "You want guys like that. You want players that want the ball."
All things considered, it's a good thing for Utah.
"It's a positive having two players of that caliber at the same position," Ludwig said. "They are competitive guys. They both want the ball. They both want the yardage. So it's a win-win."
UNLV (1-0) at No. 22 Utah (1-0)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV: The mtn.
Radio: 700 AM
E-mail: [email protected]