Maybe the offensive identity of the University of Utah football team has already changed. Pac-12 Conference play will certainly provide a better indication, but Utah looked like a team geared to attack through the air first and foremost on Saturday night.
If ever there was a defense that appeared tailor-made for the Utes to gash for huge chunks in the running game, San Jose State’s fit the bill on paper. Through three previous contests, SJSU’s defense had allowed an average of 305.7 rushing yards per game.
So there should’ve been little shock that the Utes piled up 501 yards of total offense against their guests from the Mountain West Conference in a 54-16 win. The surprise, however, comes in that 341 of those yards were generated via the passing game. The Utes attempted more passes (44) than runs (40). Eight players caught passes, and six caught two or more.
“The key was to spread it around to the playmakers, as I did,” sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley said. “I gave the ball to the playmakers and they made a lot of plays and that’s what it came out to be.”
Huntley became the first Utes quarterback with back-to-back 300-yard passing games since Brian Johnson in 2008. Huntley, who has completed 72 percent of his passes this season, tossed four touchdowns and went 30-for-41 on his way to a career-high 341 passing yards against SJSU.
Meanwhile, Huntley’s top target Darren Carrington II eclipsed 100 receiving yards by halftime and wrapped up his night with nine catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns.
“There was definitely a lot of open space in there for us to find,” Carrington said. “With this offense, all we need is a little space and the score is just going to go up.”
Carrington already has 409 receiving yards this season in three games. Last year, Tim Patrick led the Utes in receiving yards for the season with 711 in 12 games.
Considering the Utes brought in new offensive coordinator and quarterback guru Troy Taylor to revamp the passing game, perhaps those sorts of passing numbers will become the new normal. Eastern Washington averaged 401 passing yards per game under Taylor last season.
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham has repeatedly said that there has to be give and take between the passing game and the run game, but he clearly still has the mindset of a coach who wants his team to push the opposing defense around and consistently open up holes for the running backs.
“In a perfect world, we’d be running the ball better,” Whittingham said. “I think we ran it better this week than last week.”
The Utes rushed for 160 yards against SJSU after being held to 116 last week against rival BYU with Huntley having accounted for the vast majority of the rushing attack (19 carries, 89 yards) against the Cougars.
Saturday night, Huntley rushed for 53 yards, while Zack Moss rushed for 43 and one touchdown and had another 32 yards receiving out of the backfield. Devonta’e Henry-Cole added 42 rushing yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, wins during conference play will be the measuring stick for how well this new offense has performed. Aerial attacks like the one Utah unleashed Saturday night give Whittingham at least some measure of confidence that the Utes have begun to address what has been an offensive shortcoming since they moved to the Pac-12 in 2011.
“It’s a work in progress still, but we certainly have made huge strides in my opinion since last season, the last few seasons, the last several seasons,” Whittingham said. “Troy has a lot more in the bag. It’s just the players digesting it, getting good at some things and adding slowly. You’ve just got to be patient, understand it’s the first year in the scheme … My feeling is you’re going to see continued improvement, continued production.”