There’s been just one game this season, but the time is right to pause to appreciate Zaccheus Malik Moss, and to look forward to what the Utah running back stands to achieve in the weeks and months ahead.
It’s bound to be memorable.
Already, Moss is among the greatest rushers in school history, a history that includes a list of stellar names, all but two of which Moss has outdone. He’s bound to jump to the top of the chart within a few games. He needs 158 yards to pass Tony Lindsay for the second slot and 382 to stand alone, ahead of Eddie Johnson. Previously, he climbed past Devontae Booker, Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala, Del Rodgers, Juan Johnson and John White. The names farther down are all familiar.
Kyle Whittingham said at Monday’s news conference that Moss returned to Utah after considering making himself available for the NFL Draft for a primary reason: “He had a chance to do things no backs had done here before.”
And that’s saying a whole lot, considering that historical company he’s keeping. Moss is one of four Ute running backs ever to get two 1,000-plus-yard seasons. A third is on the way.
In the opener against BYU, Moss did more than end up carrying the ball for 187 yards. He carried the entire Ute offense. OC Andy Ludwig had the hammer and used it to soften the Cougars’ defense and then used it some more to pummel what remained.
Get used to seeing that, Ludwig swinging away.
It won’t be the last time.
UTAH’S ALL-TIME RUSHING LEADERS
Utah's highest career rushing-yardage totals:
3,219 • Eddie Johnson, 1984-88.
2,995 • Tony Lindsay, 1977-80.
2,838 • Zack Moss, 2016-19
2,773 • Devonta’e Booker, 2014-15.
2,630 • Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala, 1995-97.
Whittingham said he preferred balance in his offense, under normal circumstances, a 50-50 deal that would keep opponents guessing as to what was coming. But these are not normal circumstances, not with Moss. What difference does it make if defenses know full well what’s coming, but cannot act on that knowledge by slowing Moss down?
Better teams with perceptive defensive coordinators might load up on Moss, committing resources to limit him. But if that commences to happen as a matter of routine, the running back’s presence will open opportunities for every other weapon on attack, having every bit the impact he would have if opposing defenses were clueless about him and he went on grounding and pounding.
Either way, Moss, with good health, will be Utah’s MVP this season.
His combination of balance, power and speed is what every coach from Knute Rockne to John McKay to Bo Schembechler to Bill Walsh to Nick Saban ever wanted in his backfield.
Whittingham is right there with them.
“He’s a tough kid,” the coach said after the win against BYU, adding that Moss was “not feeling great; still got some things ailing him.”
Moss suffered a hand injury in preseason camp, but that, rather apparently, wasn’t hindering him much.
For instance, there was a play in the game against BYU where Moss was popped hard behind the line of scrimmage as he moved parallel to it. He absorbed the proper hit, contact that might have sawed a lesser back in half, and continued, cutting upfield for a major gain.
It was most impressive.
And it was hardly an isolated moment. All told, Moss’ total for making tacklers miss mounted into the double figures against BYU. Some say it was 14, others 15. It must have been frustrating for the Cougars defense. Just as it has been for most every defense that has tried to slow the 5-foot-10, 222-pound senior runner.
“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.”
Whatever he lacks? Everybody’s still trying to figure out what he lacks. It’s like attempting to spot a flaw in a freaking Monet painting.
He gained 1,173 yards as a sophomore, when he played in every game, and 1,096 last season, when he missed five games. In his career at Utah, he’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Injury appears the only factor that can interfere with Moss’ success, and nobody wants to send those vibes into the universe.
Two of Moss’ cousins played in the NFL — Santana Moss, who spent 14 years in the NFL as a receiver, and Sinorice Moss, another receiver who played for six seasons.
There will be another Moss, then, coming soon enough to the league. In the meantime, he’ll be busy with the Utes, the busiest man on the field, hauling his team’s offense with him.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.