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Ute Insiders: Rivalry Game observations, Zack Moss’ rise up Ute career rushing ladder and looking ahead to Northern Illinois (podcast)

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) leans back to pass during the first half of the Utah-BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) leans back to pass during the first half of the Utah-BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

In this edition of the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast, the crew reviews Utah’s 30-12 season-opening win at BYU. The Utes recorded their ninth consecutive victory in the rivalry game. Other topics discussed include running back Zack Moss and his quest to become Utah’s all-time leading rusher, as well as the defensive touchdowns scored by Pac-12 Player of the Week Francis Bernard and teammate Julian Blackmon. Saturday, the 13th-ranked Utes play their earliest home game (11 a.m.) in more than 22 years when Northern Illinois comes to town. That and more.

Dirk Facer: On this edition of the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast, we look back on the rivalry game and Utah’s 30-12 win in Provo over the BYU Cougars. We look ahead to this Saturday’s early morning affair with Northern Illinois at Rice-Eccles Stadium. That and more on the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast.

Welcome to yet another edition of the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast. I’m Dirk Facer, joined here in our downtown Salt Lake City studios by Jody Genessy and Mike Sorensen. Guys, welcome to another edition.

Jody Genessy: Glad to be here.

Mike Sorensen: It’s great to be here.

DF: It is, isn’t it? Let’s talk about Ute nation right now. They’re reveling in the 30-12 win over BYU. Jody, what was your big takeaway from the game?

JG: You know, I tweeted out this morning some detailed analysis. Utah is better than BYU. I mean, we make a big deal about this, but simply put, they’re better. They forced BYU into errors. I think Zack Moss is an amazing talent. And you know, I think the Utes need to take him as far as they can go. The defense is as good as we expected. So I thought that was a terrific way to start the season.

MS: I would call it like a solid win. You know nothing that was unexciting. Some people call it boring, maybe, because there wasn’t a lot of passing, but they just kind of just did what they’re supposed to do. You know, their defense was solid and their offense was maybe not real thrilling, but they got the job done. And you know, the special teams struggled and that can hopefully be corrected. But on the whole it’s a good week for them.

DF: Yeah, it was a good start, obviously, ninth-straigh win in the rivalry game. And the thing that caught me was the number of pick-sixes and defensive touchdowns that Utah has had in the last several years in this rivalry. And I think there’s a joke out there that you know, Zach Wilson has always wanted to throw touchdowns for Utah. And so far he’s thrown three, right? Kind of a mean thing. But a reality there. I thought that was very impressive that they did that. Jody, what do you think leads to those things? Did you feel like Wilson was just trying to force things a little bit too much? Or is it the fact that he’s throwing at a talented defense?

JG: Yeah, both. I think the talented defense should get more credit than him trying to press things but he certainly did, you know, on one of the pick-sixes he basically was hucking it away. It was a desperation pass and the Utes made him pay for it. But the reason it was desperation play is because Utah defenders were all over him. And so I think that that pressure, and I’ve seen some some tweets and social media buzz about BYU not being that far away from Utah. And perhaps that’s true, but if they made this mistake here, or this little mental error here, well, when you’re going against a superior opponent, that’s what you do. You make mental errors. That’s what the Utes forced BYU into was mental and physical errors.

MS: I thought Zach Wilson, I thought he looked really good. You know, he ran the ball great. He’s a great runner for a quarterback. And his passing for the whole was, I thought was very good. But you got to realize Utah might have one of the best secondaries, maybe in the whole country. I mean, they got four solid guys back there. And I just looked at some of the — I went back and looked at the tape, you know, hadn’t seen it. I heard about what a horrible telecast it was. So I had to see for myself. It wasn’t too good. Anyway, I just noticed maybe two or three more times where Utah almost had another pick. You know, they could have had even more interceptions. They came that close. So I mean, I think it’s just a very good secondary that he was going against, maybe the best he faces all year. Who knows?

DF: And Julian Blackmon to do it two years in a row. And they’re related too, aren’t they? Zach Wilson.

MS: That’s what I hear.

JG: They’ve got some type of connection.

DF: Family and/or not. Maybe he has the playbook. Utah got off to kind of a sluggish start but obviously turned it on toward the end. Do you think BYU just wore down? Was it the talent difference that ultimately separated these teams?

MS: One thing that impressed me was how Utah just stayed to their game plan. You know, I think maybe last year Troy Taylor might have started to worry after the lack of yards in the first half, start hucking the ball up there. And they just said we’re not gonna worry about it. We’ll just keep going up the middle with Zack Moss. Like 10 of the first 11 plays the second half were running plays and then it just wore them down and before you know what they had control of the game. So they didn’t panic, they just said we’re going to go with our game plan and it worked.

DF: And Jody, Tyler Huntley was 13 of 16. Only 106 yards passing, but the accuracy was there because they had you know, the wide-open drop by a tight end in the game and then obviously you had one of the passes get tipped. So he really only threw one bad, bad pass the whole game. Is there something to be said for that? I mean, you’re not getting the big yardage but you are accurate when you are throwing the ball.

JG: He had the best quote of the game too. The most talked about.

I think that when you have a running back that plays like Zack Moss does, and you have a defense that’s going to create 14 points for you. I mean, really, you need somebody who can manage the game well and Tyler does that. We know that he can have bigger numbers and he’ll get more production from his receivers in the future, but to be successful they don’t need him to do too much. Which is a really great position for a quarterback to be in and he’s a smart kid. He’s a good leader. I think he knows how to manage the game and that’s exactly what Kyle wants right now.

DF: Well and obviously you do what the defense gives you, right? I mean, they’re packing the box in and it opens certain things up and I think it was a good day for the Utes to run the football. Zack Moss was impressive. Zack Moss went from No. 7 on Utah’s all-time rushing list to No. 3 with his performance. He now has 2,838 yards. He’s closing in on Tony Lindsay for No. 2 and Eddie Johnson at 3,219 is the all-time leading rusher. If Moss stays healthy he should get that mark and be Utah’s all-time leading rusher; 187 yards against BYU on 29 carries. Can he carry the ball, Mike, 29, 30 times a game or do they have to cut that number down? Maybe around 18 to 20?

MS: I think he can. I don’t see why not. Old-timers remember Carl Monroe, he used to run it 40 times a game. What’s he on the list? I think he had the single-season record for a long time. He did. So I think 30 touches a game, whether it’s passing, you know, maybe five receptions and 25 rushes. But I think 30 times a game is what they want.

JG: It allows them to get into a rhythm, I think. It opens the door for some bigger gains as well. So I would like to see him in more of the 20 to 25 range. Honestly, I would like to see a little bit more production. I like the game management that Tyler Huntley has, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a little bit more passing so there isn’t quite so much of an expectation on Zack’s shoulder. But yeah, I think that he’s a strong runner and it would be fun to see some of the other guys get some some touches as well though, but he’s so terrific that you just want to give it to him every time.

MS: And we’ll see some more passing. I think the fact BYU’s defense — they had three-man fronts out there. So you know Utah said we’ll just keep running the ball, if they’re gonna drop seven or eight guys back. Utah took what the defense gave them and so as other teams start to maybe put more guys up front to stop the run, it’ll open up the passing game and then that should get going.

DF: And then obviously, lack of chunk plays. But is that a big deal, I mean, in a game like this obviously you’re not going to get a lot of deep throws. I find it kind of ironic that Jaylen Dixon, the deep threat receiver, scores a touchdown running the ball on that 2-yard rush. So is it the time to push the panic button or do you guys feel like the team has some guys that can get some big chunk plays in the future? And maybe against Northern Illinois and Idaho State the next two weeks?

JG: I’m not gonna push any panic buttons. I think that’ll come. I mean, they did what they had to do to win this game. The chunk plays came on the defense this time. They’ve got the talent, the receivers will get some of those chunk plays. I feel in the future that Britain Covey will get his legs underneath him a little bit more. And he’s a big-time, chunk play guy. I’m not too worried about it. Eventually they need to have them but right now I’m not worried.

DF: You’re right about the defense making the big plays. Francis Bernard, 58-yard pick-six and Julian Blackmon, 39-yard interception return for a touchdown. So a couple big plays there. What about the kicking game? Mike, you had a chance to talk to the kickers at practice or talk to Jadon Redding. Will the Utes be OK at kicker?

MS: I think they’ll be OK. But I don’t think they’re gonna be great. Matt Gay and Andy Phillips, those are a couple of tough guys to replace and they were so automatic. Automatic Andy, they called him for a while and Matt Gay comes in even better. I feel sorry for anyone who has to replace those guys. Because even if they’re pretty good, they’re not going to be as good, I don’t think, as those guys. And obviously Andrew Strauch had his problems last week and the guys on TV kept blaming the holder, which I don’t know if that — I think he was just pulling those balls with his left foot. But this Jadon Redding is an interesting fella. I did talk to him yesterday, and he comes from Virginia. And it’s funny, the kid couldn’t even give me an answer on how he came to Utah. He just said one person talked to another person and he talked to another person and somehow I ended up here. So, you know, he never gave me a straight answer exactly. But, you know, coach Whittingham said he was actually the No. 1 kicker early in camp, and he got injured. He injured his kicking leg for two weeks and he didn’t kick very much. So they went with the other guy. So it’s not like they’re going deep to find some other kicker. This guy is right up there with, maybe even better than Strauch. So I think they’ll be decent. He does kick it higher than Strauch does, which, you know, be less likely to be blocked. He’s rangy, he said he can hit them from 50. But you know, maybe, I mean, if they can just get, you know, the extra points every time and the short field goals that will be good for them this year. So I think it’ll be OK, but not great.

JG: We talked about Ben Lennon didn’t have experience holding for a lefty. And so they thought they had ironed out the wrinkles you know, got that fixed in fall camp, but apparently that came back to haunt them a little bit.

DF: Coach Whittingham actually was asked about that in his press conference earlier this week and he mentioned that it is a challenge to have a lefty kick and a right-handed holder. Being a holder in that situation, it’s a completely different game, things are the exact opposite. So you know, it is a challenge that’s a great point. They feel like they can get that ironed out. And you know, a few other things. Obviously, Utah had made 182 consecutive PATs until that miss. That speaks highly to the kickers they’ve had in the past and, you know missing, that chip shot field goal is probably not going to matter the next two weeks if they still need to iron that stuff out. But in Pac-12 play you’re going to need every point you can get and put on the board.

Quickly guys, what are your thoughts on BYU? The Cougs gonna be OK? They’ve got an interesting game at Tennessee this week. Looks like they should win it. Is it BYU’s time to push the panic button down there or do you guys feel like they’re a good enough team to to get to a bowl game?

JG: I mean, they lost to a top 10 team so I don’t think it’s a panic button loss for them. I think some things are alarming. I don’t think their offense was nearly as crisp as it could be. But you know you’re going against one of the best defenses in the nation at the same time. But this is a tough start. We knew coming in that this was going to be a big challenge. Tennessee doesn’t look like they’re going to be as good as we had anticipated, so that might be a good chance for them to start turning things around.

MS: I think they’re going to be pretty good but I think that loss last week for Tennessee obviously is a negative for them. Because you know, you can say OK, Tennessee is not very good. But there’s so many times when teams play the first week and you never know what they’re going to do. And then if they lose they could just be like a huge wake-up call for them and they’ll be determined not to lose this week. And maybe if they’d have won easy last week they’d have said, yeah, we can beat BYU too. Now these guys, if they lose two home games in front of those hundred thousand people that are there. I mean, it could be a disaster for Tennessee. And they’re an SEC team. So I wouldn’t say that BYU should expect to win. It’s going to be a tough win and if they get it it’ll be a good win.

JG: That’d be a fun place go watch a football game by the way.

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JG: My nephew just came back from a mission wearing his Mr. Mac suit, looking sharp.

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Back to a little football, guys. Let’s look ahead to Northern Illinois, a rare early game for the Utes kicking off at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Mike, you like the the early thing and the Utes are going to have their team meal at 7:45 a.m. I imagine breakfast is on the docket.

MS: Yeah, it’s kind of different to have that. It reminds me of back in the day before you guys were born. I covered a game in 1983, Utah played Wyoming. And it started it at 10 a.m. And I thought my heavens, because it was a nationally televised game, back then that was a huge deal. Now everybody’s on TV, but back then they weren’t. So that’s why the had to play at 10 o’clock. And by 11 o’clock Utah had scored I believe it was seven touchdowns. They beat Wyoming 69-14. So Wyoming missed their wake-up call. Utah just killed them. They came out passing. So that was kind of my memory when I think about these early games, it’s been earlier so we can handle this 11 o’clock game. But I think it’s kind of tough for the fans. You know, I mean, you want to tailgate and I guess you have to get up super early for that and as far as us we love it because we can do our jobs and go watch a few more games if we want the rest of day.

DF: Plus, you know, Jody, I wouldn’t mind if we park our cars and a few tailgaters offer some free bacon or something on the way in.

JG: Maybe get some some fruit loops.

DF: Jody, last year Northern Illinois gave Utah a battle. Score was 17-6 but I think it was a late defensive touchdown that allowed Utah to kind of ice the game finally. They’re expecting a tough battle. NIU is, for a mid-major, they’re a pretty solid program and I believe they did beat the guys down south as well.

JG: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t expect too close a game honestly. I think the Utes were still trying to find themselves early last year. Northern Illinois struggled against Illinois State, they needed a comeback so I don’t know. I expect this to be a good tune-up game for the Utes.

DF: Tune up for Idaho State the next week. Those Bengals, they’re tough.

JG: This is not exactly murderers’ row the next couple weeks for Utah.

DF: Well and the Huskies have a new head coach, things are different. You know, the previous regime built that into a tough little program. And I say little because they’re not financed obviously like a Power Five, but they’ve done some good things over the years. But I kind of agree with you. I think the gap will really show in this one.

MS: One more differences will be the fact that, you know, last year Troy Taylor — I don’t want to get on his back, but last year Moss only ran the ball 16 times against those guys. Early in the year they weren’t using him like they should have. They went to the passing game and they passed as much as they ran last year pretty much. Utah had 68 yards rushing and maybe that’s probably the reason they struggled with them because they just weren’t going to the run game. So I would expect you’ll see a lot of Moss this year and then if he can’t do it they can turn to the passing game. But we’ll see a different game plan I would think.

DF: Guys let’s jump over to the Pac-12 real quick. Oregon missed a chance vs. Auburn. Jody, how devastating was that for the Pac-12’s national reputation this year? Are they going to get written off like they were a year ago when Washington lost to Auburn?

JG: Probably. I can’t remember which player it was for Auburn but he basically said we couldn’t lose to a team that’s from the Pac-12, we’re an SEC team and we’re not going to lose to those chumps, basically. So that’s a tough loss. Those are the games that you really need to win early on to establish some credibility and say hey, we’re back. But you know, all is not lost. But it would have been nice to get that ‘W.’

MS: I don’t think it was disastrous in the fact that Auburn was favored in that game. People don’t realize they were a 3 1/2-point favorites. So it wasn’t like everyone expected them. But the thing was Oregon, you’re up by 15 points in the third quarter and you let the game get away from you. Let them score 21 straight or whatever they did and they had a chance to put it away. So the way they lost it was bad, but as far as if you look at the whole scheme of things, they’re ranked almost the same. But it is the national perception that the Pac-12 is not as good as the SEC and so that’s probably where it really hurts them.

DF: What about USC, lost quarterback JT Daniels. USC projected to be a team that would give Utah its biggest battle for the South Division title. Is that huge Mike? Does that pretty much assure Utah, I know there’s a lot of football left to play but can you write USC off now without Daniels?

MS: No, they still have a great team, a lot of great players. But you know, the thing is, he was I guess a sophomore, started as a freshman, and their backup last year, was it Sears who came in the Utah game, and now he’s transferring. So now they’ve gotta go to another freshman to start. So that really I think it’s going to hurt their depth there. So I think it’s going to hurt them in the long run and I don’t know how deep their quarterback situation is after that. But to have to have a freshman now come in, at least you play the whole season, that’s going to hurt them. You know, I’m not saying BYU and Utah are going to roll over them now, but it’s going to make it a little more difficult for USC.

JG: But this is the Pac-12. I mean one of the things that we talk about all the time with these Power Five conferences is their depth. And so if you’re a backup quarterback at USC then obviously they were thought highly of and could be capable of doing well.

DF: Sears hasn’t transferred anywhere yet. He’s in the portal and he’s offered to come back and help so it remains to be seen, they may bring him back. By the time they play Utah a lot of things can happen. So who knows, maybe we’ll see Jack Sears again.

JG: We’d like to once again thank Mr. Mac for sponsoring this podcast. On this week’s Utah by 5, we are focusing on, of course, the holy war. Utah vs. BYU. We’re going to go with Utah. It’s the 100th matchup. BYU doesn’t account for the BYU Academy games, but the Utes do so the 100th matchup and the Utah by 5 this week.

The first item was a fun wager between Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, yes Michelle’s son for those who are wondering. He started a rivalry debate on Twitter when he playfully suggested a wager with Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson. So if BYU were to win, he was going to have her wear blue and feed him and his staff lunch at one of the Utah County meetings. As it turned out, he’s going to the Salt Lake County Commission, Salt Lake County Council breakfast and he’s going to wear red so we’re hoping that Commissioner Ainge looks good in red. The fun part about that story on Twitter, the Salt Lake County Library Twitter account stepped into it and said in light of the upcoming football season we feel it necessary to recap recent history, and now it’s going to need to be updated, but since 2010 BYU is 0-8 against Utah, now 0-9. Also since 2010, BYU is 5-4 against Utah State. Remind us again what the definition of a rivalry is? That was the question the Salt Lake Library Twitter account asked. Which my question is, shouldn’t a librarian know where a dictionary is? I don’t know but let’s move on to No. 2.

Two star NFL players got into the pre-holy war fun on Twitter. BYU’s Kyle Van Noy tweeted out, I didn’t get to church because I got work but expletive — tsk, tsk Kyle — If I was at church, you know I’d be praying for a win. Here comes the 4-0 talk. I don’t care, stand up Cougs nation. Y’all better grind this week. I’ll do the talking, y’all work.

Utah’s Eric Weddle chimed in to Kyle Van Noy, saying, praying won’t help, my brother. Sorry, guys. Turns out Eric knows best. So I would suggest you continue to pray, but maybe for more worthy things than football victory.

No. 3, the Utah-BYU game was listed as one of the three can’t miss Pac-12 nonconference games by the Arizona Daily Star. The other two were, you know, I like this quote actually, before we get the other two. “It doesn’t get the attention of the Apple Cup, Civil War, Territorial Cup, or Big Game, but the Utes and Cougars have a rivalry that makes the term bitter seem mild.” And the other two were Oregon-Auburn, which almost lived up to its hype for the Ducks, they were right there. And Oklahoma-UCLA was another Pac-12 game to watch.

No. 4, the BYU-Utah rivalry game isn’t just a fun game on a local level. It’s garnered tension outside of the Beehive State as well. The Washington Post called it one of college football’s underrated rivalries. Bleacher Report ranked it No. 25 on its top 25 best rivalry games list and also called it underrated. And Athlon sports has it No. 14 on its rivalry rankings and noted the holy war might be the best name for any rivalry in the nation. I know we at the Deseret News don’t love the holy war moniker as an organization, but I personally love it.

I’d add No. 5, with college football opening up on a large scale last weekend. USA Today also noted that the Utah BYU game was one of the top best games to watch with this quote, “A rivalry win for Utah will set the Utes on pace for a torrid start that could put them on the path to playoff contention.” After BYU, the Utes have just one tough road game at USC on Sept. 20 until heading to Washington on Nov. 2. Meanwhile Utah is the first test in BYU’s daunting stretch open the year. Utah, Tennessee, and then back home for USC and Washington. So that’s our top five Utah by 5 this week.

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DF: Folks, thanks again for listening to the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast. A reminder, you can get us wherever fine podcasts are found, encourage you to listen. Thanks again and we’ll talk to you next week.

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