The comparisons were already being made, which means the questions were going to come eventually, and everyone paying any attention to University of Utah football knew it.
Zack Moss left Salt Lake City last winter with a boatload of career records, including rushing yards, and is universally considered the program’s greatest running back. Ty Jordan was just a true freshman in 2020, but he ran for 597 yards and six touchdowns in just five games on his way to Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors.
In the Dec. 19 season finale vs. Washington State, Jordan became the first Ute to rush for three touchdowns in a game since Moss hung three scores on UCLA on Oct. 26, 2018.
By the time Jordan did what he did just over a week ago, comparisons were already being made between the Mesquite, Texas, native and Moss. After that game, Jordan was asked about that comparison, and he didn’t flinch.
“It means a lot, it means a lot actually to be mentioned with the name Zack Moss,” Jordan said. “He’s done so many great things for the program. I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill, and I haven’t really gotten there yet, so I’m just staying hungry and staying humble. It just feels great. It feels like I made my mom proud, and that’s all I want.”
Jordan died late Friday night, the victim of an apparent accident, a self-inflicted gunshot wound that occurred Christmas night in Denton, Texas, a Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area suburb.
Word of Jordan’s death began spreading early Saturday morning to at least as far as Upstate New York, where Moss is now a rookie with the Buffalo Bills. Moss never shared a backfield with Jordan, but he was familiar enough with the running back who quickly took on the role of his heir apparent over five games and 83 carries this season.
Moss met Jordan on the latter’s official visit to campus the weekend of Nov. 29, 2019. Months later, Jordan was already enrolled over the summer when Moss came back to campus to work out in anticipation of his first NFL season. The two also conversed a few times on social media.
“[Utah running backs] Coach [Kiel] McDonald let me know, this guy could definitely play,” Moss told The Salt Lake Tribune via phone late Saturday afternoon. “They thought he was very electric, could do a lot of different things and I thought he definitely showed that in the games they were able to play this year.
“You could tell he played with a purpose and that he really wanted something out of that spot. You definitely saw those traits, and the passion, and the heart that he played with.”
There is something to be said for the pressure that comes with being “the guy” in a Power Five backfield. As a freshman in 2016, Moss waited his turn behind 1,400-yard running back Joe Williams, then faced that pressure head-on. He is the only Utah player to ever rush for at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. In 2019, he broke six career records and tied two others, while rushing for 1,416 yards and 15 touchdowns in 13 games on his way to being named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
We’ll never know what Jordan could have accomplished in a full college career, which will go down as a significant what-if in Utah football lore, not to mention a shame, because it didn’t take long this fall for him to build his legend.
Over Utah’s final three games, all wins, Jordan rushed for 468 yards and all six of his touchdowns. He rushed for at least 100 yards in all three games, making him the first Ute freshman to go for 100 rushing yards in three straight games since 1995. Those three 100-yard games equaled the number of 100-yard games Moss registered as a sophomore in 2017.
Moss’ greatness in a Utah uniform is unquestioned, his legend profound. Jordan’s early offerings gave off the feeling that, maybe, Moss 2.0 had arrived in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
“It gets difficult, but you always have to remember that you are your biggest critic at the end of the day,” Moss said. “People are not in your shoes, they don’t understand what you go through. It was definitely pressure to perform day in and day out, but that’s why you play the game.
“People don’t expect greatness from normal people.”