The answers will come Saturday in Pullman, Wash.
For now, only questions are in play for Utah’s offense, regrouping after producing just 17 points in the last two games. What will be the Utes' approach, after the self-study process of a bye week? How much will they try to re-emphasize the running game? Where does Armand Shyne fit into Utah’s rotation of running backs?
Washington State’s defense will have something to say about the whole thing. USC rushed for 113 yards in Friday’s 39-36 defeat of the Cougars, a number that is deceiving in two ways. Fifty of those yards came on one play during USC’s opening drive. The Trojans' rushing total also was affected by 42 yards of losses. The summary is that USC didn’t run consistently against WSU, while freshman quarterback JT Daniels passed for 241 yards.
So giving the ball more frequently to Zack Moss or Shyne may or may not solve Utah’s problems.
The issue of Shyne’s usage also becomes interesting when considered in relation to Moss' health. Ute coach Kyle Whittingham attributed Moss' low number of carries (13) against Washington to an ankle injury, naturally leading to questions about why Shyne didn’t get more than two handoffs.
“You’ve got to practice the right way,” Whittingham said during his weekly news conference last Monday.
Shyne acknowledged he needed to improve his blocking, enabling him to get on the field more often. Besides being an outstanding runner, Moss excels in pass protection.
“I’ve just got to work on a few things practice-wise,” Shyne said, citing pass protection. “Once I prove myself in that category, I’ll be all right. … I’ve just got to keep working at it.”
In October 2016, Moss and Shyne were considered about even in Utah’s program. During a month when Joe Williams was absent, Shyne asserted himself — notably converting a fourth-and-1 play on the winning drive against USC. But then he injured his knee, missing the rest of that season, and a broken arm in preseason camp cost him all of 2017.
Shyne showed good signs in spring practice and appeared to earn a steady role coming into this season, although Moss clearly had established himself as the starter by rushing for 1,173 yards last year. Shyne then lost a fumble after catching a pass in the fourth quarter of the season opener vs. Weber State and has carried the ball only five times for 24 yards in the first three games.
He did come through on two third-and-1 plays against Washington, gaining 4 yards in the first quarter and 11 yards during Utah’s last drive in a 21-7 loss. Shyne believes he’s in good form as a runner. Fully getting back into the flow after missing a season and a half of action, though, involves “a lot of mental stuff,” he said.
While the Utes were idle, their future opponents' performances caused ESPN’s Football Power Index to slightly lower their win projection to 7.0, with the No. 34 remaining strength of schedule. The FPI gives Utah a 40.4-percent chance of winning at Washington State.
Around the Pac-12
Players from Utah high schools came through in key moments for Pac-12 schools. Woods Cross alumnus Sean Barton, a Stanford linebacker, made the fumble recovery that launched the Cardinal’s improbable rally in the last minute of regulation in a 38-31 win at Oregon.
Provo’s Ty Jones made a spectacular touchdown catch in Washington’s 27-20 defeat of Arizona State, giving him four scores in four games. USC needed Bingham product Jay Tufele’s block of a field-goal attempt to preserve its victory over Washington State.