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Ute coaches know finding replacement for Zack Moss presents ‘challenge’ and ‘opportunity’

Program’s all-time leading rusher carried quite a load for the Utes during his four-year career

Utah running back Devin Brumfield carries the ball during the Utes’ first practice of fall camp on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City.
Courtesy Utah athletics

SALT LAKE CITY — Although Utah’s quarterback competition between Jake Bentley, Drew Lisk and Cam Rising may be taking center stage — and rightly so as camp got underway Friday — the Utes have another big void to fill besides the one left by Tyler Huntley.

There’s the Zack Moss situation. Who will replace the leading rusher in program history?

“It’s a great challenge and a great opportunity for everyone involved in the program,” said offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who praised Moss for being able to turn something bad into an explosive play. “So obviously we’ve got to be much more refined all the way across the board — from designing and implementing run-game schemes, the way that we’re coaching the running backs, the way that we’re calling the plays.”

Moss carried quite the workload during his four years with the Utes. He netted 4,167 yards on 712 career carries. He also broke school records with 778 all-purpose plays, 41 touchdowns scored, 38 rushing touchdowns and 18 100-yard rushing games. In addition, Moss tied marks with 15 rushing touchdowns in 2019 and had two career 200-yard rushing games.

Last season, Moss carried the ball 235 times for 1,416 yards — ultimately earning All-America and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors. He was drafted in the third round by the Buffalo Bills.

His departure, along with Utah’s personnel at receiver and tight end, will likely transform the Utes into more of a passing team in 2020. Ludwig said they’re committed to doing whatever it takes to win.

“So if the strength of the offense is on the perimeter and the quarterback spot is up to the task then things will open up. I really feel like last year we played to the strengths of who we were and stayed true to who we were through the course of the season,” Ludwig said. “Every year is different. We take a lot of pride in our ability to adapt and adjust to the personnel within the scheme.”

Ludwig emphasized that first and foremost it begins with the quarterback position. He added there was no doubt that the depth and talent at wide receiver and tight end will warrant having the ball in the air more this season.

Utah’s initial fall depth chart features Cole Fotheringham and Brant Kuithe as co-starters at tight end with Ali’i Niumatalolo listed as the top reserve. The receiving corps includes starters Britain Covey, Solomon Enis and Bryan Thompson. The listed backups include Jaylen Dixon, Samson Nacua, Devaughn Vele and Tyrone Young-Smith.

Utah’s ground game, though, still exists and should be tightly contested. Junior Devin Brumfield and sophomore Jordan Wilmore open camp on top of the depth chart. They saw limited action behind Moss last season. Brumfield ran for 263 yards and Wilmore rushed for 194 yards. Junior T.J. Green is back as well. He had 68 yards last season. Redshirt freshman Micah Bernard and true freshman Ty Jordan are also in the mix.

Utah running back Micah Bernard carries the ball during the Utes’ first practice of fall camp on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City.
Courtesy Utah athletics

Ludwig predicts it will be a “great battle” for the starting job at tailback.

“It’s a good group in the backfield competing to be Zack’s replacement,” he said. “But we’re all going to have to step up our game to accommodate the loss of the all-time leading rusher in Utah football history.”

A key component, Ludwig explained, is improved depth on the offensive line. He said it’s going to be as big a part of the process as anything.

“I feel very good about the depth. I feel really good about the talent on the offensive line,” Ludwig said. “And I think that will be a real strength for the Utah offense in this upcoming season.”

Four starters return up front for the Utes — junior left tackle Nick Ford (moving over from right guard in place of graduated all-conference honoree Darrin Paulo), sophomore left guard Braeden Daniels, senior center Orlando Umana and sophomore right tackle Simi Moala. Sophomore Johnny Maea is slated to be the starter at right guard.

The current two-deep chart also lists redshirt freshmen Luke Felix-Fualalo, Falcon Kaumatule, Keaton Bills and Sataoa Laumea, sophomore Paul Maile, and senior Bamidele Olaseni — on the offensive line.