For the past three seasons, Utah had the luxury of a 1,000-yard rusher, Zack Moss, to bolster its offense.
Last season, he ran for 1,359 yards and 15 touchdowns on his way to being named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. Moss became the most prolific running back in school history, which is saying something.
Moss became the Utes’ all-time leading rusher with 4,167 yards and he broke school records for career carries (712), career 100-yard rushing games (18), career rushing touchdowns (38), career all-purpose plays (778) and career total touchdowns (41).
Now, Moss plays for the Buffalo Bills after being selected in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft.
So as Utah gets set — once again — to kick off its 2020 season Saturday (8:30 p.m. MST, ESPN) against No. 20 USC at Rice-Eccles Stadium, it’s natural to wonder who will try to fill Moss’ big cleats in the Utes’ backfield.
The current depth chart lists junior Devin Brumfield or sophomore Jordan Wilmore as the top two.
In 2019, Brumfield had 59 carries for 263 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
“Devin is more of an inside runner,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “He is our biggest back at 215 pounds. He is a physical runner in between the tackles, he is a guy that never makes a mental mistake and he handles his pass protections and blitz pickups exceptionally well. He also catches the ball out of the backfield well. He is very steady and consistent with his play.”
Wilmore recorded 194 yards on 49 attempts (4.0 yards per carry) and one touchdown last season.
“Jordan Wilmore is a little more elusive, more of an outside guy, although he is pretty tough inside the tackles,” Whittingham said. “Jordan has made a lot of strides since last year.”
Also in the mix are speedy Texas prep standout Ty Jordan and redshirt freshman Micah Bernard.
There has also been some attrition at this position in recent months. T.J Green entered the transfer portal last month, and senior Devonta’e Henry-Cole left the program last winter after transferring to BYU and then he transferred to Utah State.
This season, the Utah ground game is expected to be staffed by the four aforementioned backs — Brumfield, Wilmore, Jordan and Bernard.
“We are four backs deep. These guys have continued to compete day-in and day-out. And they have continued to develop, so you are going to see all four guys go out there and play in some sort of capacity,” said running backs coach Kiel McDonald. “It is going to be fun. I think that we are going to continue to develop depth at that position. They are explosive and they are tough, so it should be a physical affair with that group of guys.”
Whittingham acknowledged that because Moss had been relied on heavily in recent seasons, there’s not a lot of experience in the backfield. But he’s confident in the potential of his running backs.
“Nobody really got a bunch of work the last couple of years with Zack Moss taking the vast majority of the carries, but (Brumfield and Wilmore) both bring something to the table as do Micah Bernard and Ty Jordan,” he said. “They will also be on the field, getting their reps in situations and they have their package plays where we can utilize those guys.
“It will be a by-committee running back situation early on. If somebody clearly demonstrates through live game work that they are ahead of the other guys, then we will gravitate toward that guy. Right now, we plan on using all four and we feel good about all of them.”
Brumfield likes the way that Utah’s running backs have developed.
“It has been great. We all are there to push each other and make each other better,” he said. “We don’t look at it as us having to share our reps with three other guys, we look at it as the fact that we can do it as a group. Coach (Andy) Ludwig, coach Whittingham and coach McDonald will put us in the position to be successful and that is all we care about.”