SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks in no small part to Utah’s struggles on offense this season and the subsequent doom and gloom that has followed, head coach Kyle Whittingham was asked what the ideal offense for this team — or any Utah team for that matter — would look like.
In what should have come as a surprise to no one, he touted the importance of having a strong, physical rushing attack, among other things.
“I want a team that takes care of the football,” Whittingham said, “One that has physicality in the run game and has big-play capabilities. That would be ideal.”
While the Utes have fallen considerably short of that ideal through three games this season, the rushing attack cannot be blamed and it’s because of Zack Moss.
Anyone associated with Utah football is more than a little familiar with Moss. The former three-star recruit has been in the limelight since his arrival in Salt Lake City.
Moss spurned scholarship offers from schools like his hometown Miami Hurricanes, Tennessee, Appalachian State and Cincinnati in picking the Utes, and it was all for one simple reason — he wanted to be the guy. The running back.
“That is why I came here,” Moss said, “to be the guy and to try and lead this team to where it wants to be.”
Where Utah wants to be is in the Pac-12 championship game, representing the South division in the conference’s premiere end-of-season showcase.
While that goal is certainly in doubt thanks to the overall shortcomings on offense, Moss has been nothing short of great.
In the season opener against Weber State, he rushed for 150 yards on 16 carries, including a career-high 86-yard TD romp.
Against Northern Illinois he carried the ball 16 times again, totaling 66 yards. While that total may not seem all that impressive at first, Moss accounted for 97 percent of Utah’s rushing total on just 41 percent of the carries.
This past Saturday, against Washington, he was no less effective, handling the pigskin 13 times for 67 yards.
On the season Moss has tallied 283 yards on 45 carries, good for an average of 6.3 yards per touch.
That average is the 29th best mark in the country, putting him ahead of all but two Pac-12 backs, Colorado’s Travon McMillian and Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson.
Take away his 86-yard run against Weber State, an outlier to be sure, and Moss still averages over four yards a carry (4.4), better than Washington’s Myles Gaskin.
“We have a really good back in Zack Moss,” Whittingham said. “We know that. Zack is one of our best weapons on offense without a doubt.”
All of which begs the question, why isn’t Moss a more featured part of the offense?
After all, throughout fall camp Whittingham and others touted Moss’ ability, saying things like “he can be the dude this year,” or “he was and can be the back that we envisioned him being when we recruited him.”
The answer, largely, is health related. Moss isn’t healthy, an ankle injury the culprit.
“He’s not 100 percent, far from it,” Whittingham said. “He’s banged up. We know that he has been limited so far this year.”
Don’t tell Moss that. He’ll protest loudly.
“My health is not an issue,” Moss said. “I feel like I have done what I am capable of doing with the carries I’ve been given. I could have been better for us, but I think I did good with what I’ve been given.”
Interestingly enough, Moss is on pace to carry the ball practically the same amount he did in 2017, when he rushed for 1,173 yards on 214 carries, averaging 90.2 yards per contest.
Even still, with a bye week to recuperate, expect his workload to increase as the season goes on.
“Hopefully Zack will be 100 percent by next week and we can start feeding him the ball more, which we need to do. We know that,” Whittingham said. “Zack is one of our best weapons and as soon as he is ready for it we will up his load. We will feed the ball to our best runner.”
In the event that Moss doesn’t recover completely ahead of the game against Washington State, Whittingham noted that observers should expect to see more of second-string back Armand Shyne, if only a little.
“We should probably give Armand a few more carries,” Whittingham said. “We should have given him a few more carries Saturday night, rather than supplement the run game with Tyler (Huntley).”
Whittingham went on to add, however, that how a player practices matters. Guys earn playing time, no matter their position on the depth chart.21 comments on this story
“You have to practice the right way,” Whittingham said. “You earn playing time and just because you are the next guy up doesn’t guarantee anything.”
Ultimately, Moss should be the primary back the rest of the season, if for only one reason — he gives Utah the best chance to win.
“It’s all about what gives you the best chance to move the football,” Whittingham said.
“It’s time for me to show up and take us where we want to be,” added Moss. “It is time for me to be the guy.”