by Zach Reger | Utah’s offense was explosive last year under first-year Offensive Coordinator Andy Ludwig. In his second stint with Utah, Ludwig led the Utes to a PAC-12-leading 2,819 rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns. This rushing attack was led by quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, and together, they brought the Utes to a second consecutive Pac-12 South Title. With both of them leaving this season, how will Utah replace these stars?
Punch #1 – Tyler Huntley
Tyler Huntley, a three-year starter at Utah, signed as an undrafted free agent to the Baltimore Ravens shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft. During his time at Utah, Huntley was very efficient through the air. He only threw two interceptions in the regular season last year. Utah needs to figure out how to replace one of the top quarterbacks in school history if they want to continue to succeed in the Pac-12.
Two polar-opposite transfers make up the most likely candidates for the Utes in 2020: Cameron Rising and Jake Bentley.
Cameron Rising might just be the favorite to win this job, despite not playing a single snap in his collegiate career. Formerly a four-star recruit that committed to Texas, Rising transferred to Utah before the 2019 season but was ineligible to play. Last season, Rising’s primary role was playing scout-team quarterback, and he impressed coaches with his arm and mobility. Rising is an athletic, pro-style quarterback and could make the quarterback change smoother, since he plays a similar style to Huntley’s. Rising’s year with Ludwig gives him an advantage over his competitors, and he even spent home game days in the Rice-Eccles press box to better understand how Ludwig calls games. Rising will have three years of eligibility starting in 2020.
The other transfer, Jake Bentley, has plenty of experience on the field, unlike Rising. During his time at South Carolina, Bentley became one of the most prolific passers in Gamecock history. He ranks second in career completion percentage, third in career passing touchdowns, and fourth in career passing yards for South Carolina. Despite this impressive resume, Bentley is not guaranteed the starting job. First of all, he is coming off a foot injury that ended his 2019 season after only playing in one game. Bentley also must learn a whole new offense and create chemistry with his new teammates. This will be even more difficult this season since he was only able to have 3 practices before COVID-19 halted Spring practices across the nation. Still, Bentley could be an intriguing option if Ludwig wants to throw the ball more, which is a possibility as Utah is returning 5 of their top 8 receivers from 2019. Bentley has a good arm but has never been much of a runner. He has never rushed for over 90 yards in a season, which is a large contrast to Huntley’s 290 yards in 2019. Ludwig, however, has shown that he is willing to innovate his offense to cater to his players, which could favor Bentley’s skill set.
In order to replace Tyler Huntley’s half in the 1-2 Punch and return to the Pac-12 Championship for the third straight year, Head Coach Kyle Whittingham and Ludwig will stick with their run-first, yet balanced attack. Cameron Rising will win the starting job because of his connection with the returning receivers and his extra year under Ludwig. He will succeed most by being an efficient passer that can also run the ball when needed. Being efficient on offense is very important for the Utes in 2020 after losing 9 starters on the defensive side of the ball.
Dark Horse: Senior Drew Lisk
Punch #2 – Zack Moss
Zack Moss, Utah’s all-time leading rusher, got selected in the third round by the Buffalo Bills in the 2020 NFL Draft. What many people overlook, however, is how involved Moss was in the Utah passing game. In 2019, Moss ranked third on the team in receptions. Multiple Utes running backs showed glimpses of excellence last year, especially Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore. Will either of them be able to fill the huge void Zack Moss left?
Junior Devin Brumfield rushed for 263 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2019 while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Brumfield has similar size to Moss (5’10 218 lbs.) and is a bruising, North-South runner. He also flashed some pass-catching ability with his 9 catches for 41 yards last season. Brumfield’s pass protection was also impressive in 2019 and will be important with a new quarterback under center. Brumfield played in all 14 games for the Utes last year and seems poised to take on more responsibility with Moss graduating.
The speedy sophomore, Jordan Wilmore, was also productive on the ground for the Utes in 2019. The 5’8 206 lb. running back rushed for 194 yards and one touchdown while averaging 4.0 yards per carry. Wilmore only caught two passes last season but could see more opportunities in 2020. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham loves to run the football, so even if Wilmore is not the guy Week 1, he could still be a productive weapon in the Utah offense.
Brumfield and Wilmore will both receive work; however, Brumfield will once again receive more carries in 2020. In Whittingham’s 15 years with the Utes, he has coached a 1,000-yard rusher 11 times. In 3 of the 4 years that Whittingham was unsuccessful at accomplishing this feat, he had two running backs combine for over the 1,000-yard mark. Ludwig, himself, has coached 16 1,000-yard rushers, two of them being in the same season (Melvin Gordon and James White in 2013). Brumfield and Wilmore are talented, but I do not see them both rushing for over 1,000 yards this season. I do believe that Brumfield can reach 1,000 yards due to his bruising style with Wilmore also finding some success on the ground.
Dark Horse: Junior TJ Green or Incoming Freshman Ty Jordan