It’s red vs blue, church vs state, the Cougars vs the Utes. When you break it down though, there are a lot more moving parts that make up a rivalry game. It’s more than the Cougarettes vs Ute cheerleaders or Cosmo vs Swoop. There are 22 players on the field at a time. Each player has a specific position with a role they need to fulfill to help their team win. It’s time to break down a very important position for one of the most heated rivalries in college football.
Running Back: Depth vs Star Power
If we were asking who had the better depth at Running Back last year, the answer certainly should have been the Utes. That’s because they didn’t really miss a beat once Zack Moss got injured and Armand Shyne took his place. This year is a different story though. Moss will be back getting most of the carries and Shyne left to play for former Utah State Aggie and current Texas Tech coach Matt Wells as a grad transfer.
The Utes weren’t the only team to lose a running back on their roster to an Aggie coach. Riley Burt, a Running Back on the BYU roster last year, will be playing with Coach Andersen at Utah State as a grad transfer. This is part of the business but the Utes certainly suffered a bigger loss by losing Armand Shyne.
Utes Depth Chart
1. Zack Moss: This is an A level running back. It’s not that complicated. The Utes just need to run with Zack Moss and throw when they have to. Too many times they tried to get cute with Tyler Huntley scrambling and throwing picks on early downs when he didn’t need to. Let’s not be like Pete Carroll here. If you have the guy to run it you punch it in. You don’t throw on a short down with a Super Bowl on the line, let alone a Rose Bowl.
Let’s just take a quick look at the stats Zack Moss has accumulated to show just how good he really is:
Career yards: 2,651 yards
That is 1.51 miles or 6 laps around a standard track!
He needs just 569 yards to surpass great Ute rusher Eddie Johnson for most career yards! He currently ranks fourth behind Johnson, Tony Lindsay and Devontae Booker (who accumulated an amazing 2773 yards in just two seasons).
Moss will need to turn it up a notch to surpass the school single season rushing record. His 1,173 yard sophomore campaign already ties him for 8th all time but the record was set by John White in 2011 with 1,519 yards.
As consistent as Moss has been, none of his games rank in the top 10 in single game rushing yards among Ute running backs. His best rushing game was last year vs UCLA where he amassed 211 yards on the ground. He’s only 11 yards off of 10th place which is a tie between Joe Williams vs Indiana in the 2016 Foster Farm Bowl and Devontae Booker’s stellar 2015 performance vs Cal on College Gameday.
The jury is out on whether Moss will show up in those big games to that level. He struggled against BYU in 2017 and was out last year with an injury for the Holy War.
Last year Zack Moss recorded 11 rushing touchdowns which was just one shy of cracking the top 10 in single season rushing TDs for the school. He has 23 career rushing touchdowns which already ties him for fourth all time among Ute rushers.
BYU Running Back Corps:
BYU might not have a single NFL Running Back on their roster but they do arguably have a deeper depth chart at his position. With the departure of Armand Shyne, the Utes outside of Zack Moss haven’t had a lot of carries. Zack Moss is also reported to have a little hand injury but he didn’t confirm or deny it. He did guarantee he will be ready for the Holy War though!
These are the three running backs to watch out for at BYU:
1. Lopini Katoa: Katoa wasn’t the top back last year but he did have a decent amount of carries last year. Take a look at his freshman stats:
Rushing Yards: 423
Yards per Carry: 5.6
Rushing Touchdowns: 8
Katoa had a breakout performance in a victory over New Mexico State as he broke the century mark. It will be a more difficult competition but he should be ready to take a step forward as the lead rusher for the Cougars.
2. Ty’son Williams: This South Carolina transfer should bring an immediate impact in the Cougars backfield. He had a similar workload as Katoa did last year as he recorded 4.7 yards per carry against SEC defenses. He will be able to share a decent portion of the running workload and will make BYU a two headed monster. Look for Williams to make the Cougars backfield that much deeper. If BYU gets an elite running and passing game then watch out. The Cougars have always had an elite defense but they haven’t really had an elite offense since Lavell Edwards was still coaching. Defense has been their calling card and the offense has done just enough to win games.
3. Emmanuel Esukpa: A senior transfer from Rice University should add depth but he will have to work to earn carries. He did have more yards than either of these two running backs las these but don’t be fooled. Despite getting 122 carries he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry which is the lowest among this group.
Bottom Line: As long as Zack Moss is healthy he should carry the Utes running game which they will need to be successful. It’s hard to trust that in the pressure of the rivalry game that Tyler Huntley can make all the right throws. If they start with the run and open up with the pass they should be in good shape. Moss hasn’t had the chance to prove himself since his underwhelming 21 yard performance two years ago.
If this were the last game of the year I’d put my money on the Cougars as they almost pulled it off last year vs a depleted Utes team. The best ability is availability. As crazy as it is to say, the Cougars have more depth than the Utes at Running Back but depth shouldn’t matter in Game 1. Moss will be ready to carry the Utes to a good start.
The magic number is 100. BYU has to have at least one running back go for 100 and hold Zack Moss below 100. If they do that then they have a good chance to win the football game, albeit a puncher’s chance. The Utes will be motivated this year so don’t expect them to go down 20-0 in the first half. This will be a dog fight to the finish and it starts in the trenches!