Kyle Whittingham doesn’t recognize his team’s offense, and it isn’t sitting well for Utah’s coach in the middle of his 13th season at the helm of the program.
While Whittingham hired offensive coordinator Troy Taylor in order to improve the team’s passing game — which Whittingham acknowledges Taylor has done — the grumbles about the lack of a running attack or willingness to abandon the run have grown more prominent.
So, the Utes’ ability or inability to mount a rushing attack will be a major theme on Friday when UCLA (4-4, 2-3) — and a Bruins defense that is allowing the most rushing yards per game in Football Bowl Subdivision — visits Rice-Eccles Stadium. UCLA is yielding an average of 307.1 yards per game on the ground through eight games.
The Bruins gave up 333 rushing yards last weekend against Washington, including 169 yards to Myles Gaskin and 94 yards to Lavon Coleman.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to go out here and run the ball very well against this team,” Utes sophomore running back Zack Moss said. “I mean, they’ve given up  yard per game against a lot of teams. A lot of good backs have been able to do a lot of good things against them, and we’ve got them them here at our home Friday night. I think we should be able to do some things.”
UCLA at Utah
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • FS1
The Utes’ loss at Oregon put a spotlight on the Utes’ struggles to run the ball. They gained a whopping total of 3 yards in the first half on 14 rushes. Six of those runs came from quarterback Tyler Huntley, while Moss rushed just five times in the first half and just 10 times in the game.
Center Lo Falemaka said last week that he felt like the Utes seemed to run away from the running game at times. Whittingham expressed similar sentiments earlier this week when talking about the team’s loss at Oregon.
“We have to be more committed in the run game this week as well,” Whittingham said. “Zack Moss had 10 carries for like 5.3 yards a carry, so we have to get him the ball more. That was going to be a point of emphasis going into the game and then we got behind and went away from that a little bit too early.”
Moss, a sophomore who Whittingham has described as a potential 1,000-yard back, enters this week averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season. The team’s leading rusher, Moss has also averaged slightly more than 14 carries per game.
The Utes have had a back rush for 1,200 yards or more in each of the past three seasons and four of the past six seasons. This year’s move away from its tradition as a run-oriented offense hasn’t been lost on Moss.
“I don’t think we’re as much a dominant run team as we were in the past,” Moss said. “That’s the reason I came here. I don’t think we’ve done that this year consistently.
The “O-line has been doing pretty well, he added. “They’ve been gelling well. We’ve just been getting better. Early in the year we ran it a lot. We just weren’t gelling together well. Now that we are gelling well together, we just haven’t been putting it together really.”
Even without a new offensive coordinator, the Utes rushing attack would have a new look this season. Four starting lineman from last year’s team went on to the NFL as did running back Joe Williams. Moss and a reconstructed offensive line have taken their lumps this season as they’ve tried to find their footing.
“You are never going to have everything exactly where you want it,” Whittingham said. “But we have had a dominant run game for many years and our inability to throw the ball with effectiveness is what we felt was holding us back. We got to a certain point with that M.O. and that mentality and tried to jump start the throw game this year and consequently the run game has suffered. It is not just because of that one factor, but it is odd.”
UTAH RUNNING GAME
Kyle Whittingham era (2005-Present)
2005: 494 rushes, 2,142 yards, 178.5 yards/ game
2006: 451 rushes, 1,826 yards, 140.5 yards/game
2007: 541 rushes, 2,177 yards, 167.5 yards/game
2008: 499 rushes, 2,034 yards, 156.5 yards/game
2009: 485 rushes, 2,084 yards, 160.3 yards/game
2010: 428 rushes, 1,988 yards, 152.9 yards/game
2011: 497 rushes, 1,957 yards, 150.5 yards/game
2012: 446 rushes, 1,605 yards, 133.8 yards/game
2013: 481 rushes, 1.864 yards, 155.3 yards/game
2014: 577 rushes, 2,683 yards, 206.4 yards/game
2015: 571 rushes, 2,381 yards, 183.2 yards/game
2016: 570 rushes, 2,782 yards, 214 yards/game