Utes in review: An offense to complement Utah’s defense? That’s what emerged in October

Troy Taylor’s group topped 40 points and 400 yards in each of four Pac-12 victories.

(AP Photo/Kyusung Gong) Utah coach Kyle Whittingham watches his players during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCLA on Friday in Pasadena, Calif.

Pasadena, Calif. • Utah’s offensive summary of Friday night’s first quarter included a punt, a 1-yard drive for a field goal, an end-zone interception and questions about the usage of running back Zack Moss.

Before showing how far they've come this season, the Utes apparently needed to remind everyone of their September baseline. And then they started scoring like crazy. The Utes produced five touchdowns in the second and third quarters of a 41-10 victory over UCLA at the Rose Bowl, as Moss finished with a career-high 211 yards and three scores.

With the disclaimer of the Bruins' defensive issues, this was another episode in the Utes' theme of October. They’ve suddenly provided an answer to the question dogging the program’s entire Pac-12 era: What would this team look like, with an offense to match its defense and special teams?

The numbers tell the story of a remarkable month, with convincing wins over Stanford, Arizona, USC and UCLA. The Utes scored 40, 42, 41 and 41 points; they registered 421, 495, 541 and 470 yards. Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s approval rating has soared in October, after his work justifiably was scrutinized in September.

“We had to find an identity,” Moss said. “We tried some things that didn't work, and we got back to playing Utah football.”

The offense’s emergence is making Utah something to see, and the players enjoyed a 4-0 month as much as their fans did. Maybe even more. “This team is fun to coach,” Kyle Whittingham said. “I love the personality. You see the personality show through, the way we play.”

Utah (6-2, 4-2 Pac-12) remains in charge of the Pac-12 South race with three conference games to play, beginning next Saturday at Arizona State.

Three takeaways

• Utah is dominating third quarters lately, and that’s a credit to Taylor. In losses to Washington and Washington State, the Utes totaled three points in second halves. The lack of production suggested Taylor was not countering opponents' adjustments, reflecting his inexperience at the Power Five level.

He’s rewriting that story. In the third quarters against USC and UCLA, whose defensive coordinators have NFL backgrounds, Taylor’s offense totaled 362 yards and 35 points.

Taylor’s answer Friday was giving quarterback Tyler Huntley run-pass options on the first drive of the second half. Huntley’s completions then opened more lanes for Moss.

• These are not the Utes you once knew. Utah teams of earlier this decade would have let UCLA hang around a lot longer than a half. The current Utes keep talking about how every week is “the Super Bowl,” and they’re playing like it. If they lose a key game in November, modeling the program’s recent history, it won’t be a case of playing down to the opponent’s level.

“Human nature is to back off, to relax a little bit,” Whittingham said. “We've had a lot of discussion about that.”

• A realigned offensive line thrived in October. Senior center Lo Falemaka missed all four games with a leg injury. His absence is partly a reminder of how healthy the Utes otherwise have remained. The offense’s success also is a tribute to sophomore center Orlando Umana and redshirt freshman guard Nick Ford, who have joined seniors Jackson Barton, Jordan Agasiva and Darrin Paulo.

At some point, line coach Jim Harding will have a dilemma about deploying Falemaka and possibly disrupting his group.

Player of the game

Moss. His 60-yard run in the first quarter went unrewarded, thanks to UCLA’s interception, but it was a sign of where the game was headed. Last weekend, former teammate Joe Williams good-naturedly told Moss, “Don’t go break my record.” Two years after Williams rushed for 332 yards against UCLA, Moss topped 200 early in the fourth quarter. Williams had to keep running all day in a 52-45 win; Moss got a break as teammates completed Utah’s 325-yard rushing night.

Moss has run for 964 yards this season and needs 556 yards to break John White’s school season record, with five games left (six, counting a potential Pac-12 title contest). The bigger question now becomes whether Moss will return for his senior season.

Runner-up: Britain Covey. The sophomore receiver threw his second touchdown pass of the month, caught five passes, returned punts for 36 and 30 yards and ran 19 yards on another option play.

Play of the game

Either of Covey's designed pass plays qualifies.Cole Fotheringam made a leaping catch of Covey's pass for Utah's first touchdown. In the third quarter, after Covey caught a lateral on a designed double pass, his 19-yard run led to another score.

Co-runners-up: Interceptions by linebackers Cody Barton and Francis Bernard. Utah plays only two linebackers at a time, yet that group has four interceptions this season, topping the secondary’s three.

Looking ahead

Arizona State’s 38-35 win over USC made the Utes' visit to ASU next Saturday more meaningful. The Sun Devils helped the Utes, who lead second-place USC by one game in the South (and own the tiebreaker with the Trojans).

ASU, 2-3 in conference play, is still in the race. The Sun Devils could get within a half-game of Utah by winning next weekend. After losing to Oregon State, Colorado (2-3) is now 1½ games behind the Utes.