The few thousand fans who stayed through the weather delay were divided almost evenly between red and blue, occupying the lower rows of LaVell Edwards Stadium early Friday morning. They all witnessed a statement of Utah’s offensive identity.
Any remaining questions about what the No. 14 Utes want to look like in 2019 and how much offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig intends to use running back Zack Moss were answered when the game resumed. He carried the ball eight times for 47 yards in the final sequence of Utah’s 30-12 victory.
Of all the possibilities that existed for the final 9:01 of the game, played after a 53-minute delay, this was the most impressive and satisfying development for Utah: BYU never touched the ball again. The Utes reached the 3-yard line before taking a knee to run out the clock, resisting the opportunity to score another touchdown.
"There’s no secret about us,” receiver Britain Covey said.
Covey added, “There was a lot of talking, and we felt like we didn’t get the respect we deserved. We wanted to come out and prove a point, and I think we did that — in the fashion we did it, running the ball.”
Ute senior quarterback Tyler Huntley’s summary of the delay: “I had Rice Krispies and some oranges and then we came out and Zack Moss ran it down their throat.”
Utah will need an effective passing game in Pac-12 play, after Huntley threw for 106 yards against BYU. Asked about the rivalry, Huntley said: “We’re never going to lose to them. They so poo-poo."
Moss was remarkable, though, rushing for 187 yards on 29 carries in his return from a knee injury that cost him the last five games of 2018. He also overcame an apparent hand injury in preseason camp. With the help of a defense that returned two interceptions for touchdowns, Moss powered the Utes to a ninth straight victory in the rivalry, tying the all-time record.
They enjoyed it, although the players who appeared in the interview room were not giddy. “They’ve got a lot of high aspirations this year,” Whittingham said. “This [game] is not the end-all and be-all.”
• Utah’s offensive line improved in the second half.
With freshman guards Braeden Daniels and Johnny Maea as starters, the Utes initially were not dominant up front. That trend changed after halftime, as Ludwig used more outside running plays with Moss and Huntley. Whittingham liked how the linemen asserted themselves, as Utah finished with 262 rushing yards.
• The kickers remain questionable.
Andrew Strauch kicked off effectively and drilled a 41-yard field goal on his first attempt, but he eventually lost part of his job. Strauch hit the right upright on an extra point and missed a 25-yard field goal. Jadon Redding kicked the last two extra points, and Whittingham said he would have those duties next Saturday vs. Northern Illinois.
Covey returned a punt 40 yards, but Josh Nurse let a kickoff land in front of him and was tackled at the 5-yard line. Whittingham labeled his special teams “disappointing.”
• Ludwig was not kidding about running the ball.
This is what everybody wanted, right? Ludwig returned to Utah after 10 years at four schools, promising “physicality” from his offense and saying the program “is built around the tailback position.” Sure enough, Moss and freshman Jordan Wilmore got 33 carries, among Utah's 61 offensive plays prior to the kneel-downs.
Player of the game
Zack Moss, easily.
BYU held his replacement, Armand Shyne, to 47 yards on 15 carries in November. Moss shredded the Cougars, especially after the weather delay as his first three runs went for 11, 10 and 8 yards.
“He's a tough kid,” Whittingham said, noting the senior was “not feeling great; still got some things ailing him.”
Moss practiced throughout August, while being somewhat limited by the hand injury, but he was mentally sharp and prepared to play. “I try to be the smartest player,” he said. “Whatever I lack in my physicality and athleticism and all that stuff, I try to make up for it.”
Pro Football Focus credited Moss with gaining 121 yards after contact and forcing 14 missed tackles.
Runner-up: Francis Bernard. The former BYU linebacker returned an interception 58 yards for a second-quarter touchdown and made 1½ tackles for loss.
Play of the game
Bernard’s touchdown, aided by Bradlee Anae’s pressure. Bernard’s interception of a Zach Wilson pass came in a 3-3 game, with Utah’s offense not doing much, and he produced the first half’s only TD. After his first game in Provo since transferring from BYU, Bernard cited “a lot of emotions going on; this place is special to me.”
Grabbing a pass deflected by cornerback Tareke Lewis, Julian Blackmon added another pick-six in the fourth quarter, Utah’s ninth defensive touchdown in the last eight meetings with BYU.
Runner-up: Sophomore receiver Solomon Enis’ leaping, 12-yard catch in tight coverage on the sideline on a third-down that extended Utah’s TD drive to start the third quarter (the game statistics mistakenly credited the reception to Donte Banton).
The Utes will host Northern Illinois next Saturday (11 a.m.). NIU will meet FCS member Illinois State in a season opener Saturday. Packaging the Huskies with Idaho State, Utah’s Sept. 14 opponent, doesn’t give the Huskies enough credit. NIU held Utah and BYU to one combined offensive touchdown last season, although former Ute linebacker Chase Hansen’s interception return for a TD sealed a 17-6 victory.