Nearly three years ago, Utah Utes running back Chris Curry was contributing to LSU’s national championship run. And upon his transfer to Utah before the 2021 season, it was reasonable to think he could be a fixture among the running backs here.
But Curry barely touched the ball for the Utes.
In nine games last season, he got just 18 carries that amounted to 80 yards. He appeared fourth on the depth chart before the season opener, and was completely off it three weeks later as the chart went only two deep.
But Curry stayed the course. He lived by the words of Utes running back coach Quinton Ganther, who continually tells him to “finish everything you do” and “put your pride into it.” He prayed, and received support from this parents and teammates.
“I just kind of stayed focused on the end goal and where I want to be at,” Curry said.
It all translated into Curry putting on a breakout performance in Saturday’s 73-7 rout of Southern Utah.
“Chris played very well,” coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. “In fact, I guess you could confidently say that was his best game as a Ute. He was very productive, ran the ball well. He’s just a guy that is someone we have complete faith in and confidence. … He’s good at everything.”
Curry didn’t get the most touches, but he did amass the most rushing yards among the running backs. He had 60 yards on six carries and one touchdown. The six carries are his most ever in a Utah uniform.
Against Florida, Curry had five carries for 13 yards.
Curry has taken a liking to Ganther, who is the new running backs coach this season. He respects Ganther for his playing experience not just at Utah, but in the NFL. Ganther has also coached at the NFL level with the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I just want to be a sponge to him,” Curry said. “Everything he says, I really take it to heart.”
Curry is part of a group that includes Tavion Thomas, Micah Bernard and Jaylon Glover. He’s third on the depth chart right now with an “OR” next to his name, indicating that he still has the chance to get into the two-deep.
Whittingham said Tuesday that Thomas, being the lead back, will get the most touches on most weeks. But when it comes to sharing the wealth, that will be a week-to-week conversation.
“If we get a back that has the hot hand, then the reps will go up accordingly,” Whittingham said.
While there’s competition in every group of players of the same position, Curry said what stands out about the group of Utes running backs is their love for one another.
“Everybody feeds off each other’s energy,” Curry said. “We usually learn from each other. Like Micah might make a good cut be like, then I’ll be like, ‘Dang, I want to do the same cut.’”
Utes focusing on run defense against San Diego State
Utah was disappointed in how poorly it stopped Florida’s ground game. It corrected that against Southern Utah, but the lopsided nature of that game may not provide enough evidence of a true change.
So it’s Saturday’s game against the Aztecs that could be the true test of whether the Utes have turned their run defense around.
“They run the ball a lot,” sophomore safety Cole Bishop said Tuesday. “Last year they ran the ball a ton on us. We just have to be really physical.”
Bishop pulled his hamstring the week before last year’s matchup with SDSU, but still feels the sting of that loss despite not playing in it. He said some of the defensive issues have been missing tackles, but feels Utah is ready to flip that script.
“I think we’re going to show them that we are physical and that we can tackle,” Bishop said.
Luther Elliss, who coaches the defensive tackles, said thinks there is room for a lot of growth in the run defense.
“Right now, I think we have the potential to be really, really good, “ Elliss said. “But we have to do things the right way.”