Utah running back Zack Moss aims to build on breakout season

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Figuring out how to stop Zack Moss could become a shared nightmare for Utah opponents this season.

Moss already offered a glimpse of what he could do in the backfield a year ago after rushing for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Now the junior has the size he needs to be a truly dominant back in the Pac-12.

He entered Utah’s fall camp this week at 220 pounds after putting an extra 10 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame during the offseason.

”Hasn’t lost a step. He’s got his speed and his quickness. He’s like a man on a mission right now,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Moss said he feels stronger in his lower body. He is also more explosive when it comes to his raw foot speed.

Will it translate to more chunk plays in the run game for an offense that was starved for such big gains a year ago? Moss hopes he can be the sort of impact player that past backfield stars Joe Williams and Devontae Booker were in past seasons.

Breaking out a year ago influenced the direction of his offseason preparation.

”It definitely gave me more confidence knowing what I could do with my ability,” Moss said. ”I’m trying not to be the same player as last year, knowing the expectations. It’s been making me work a little harder this summer, mentally and physically.”

Moss has undergone as much of a mental change as a physical one. Things are clicking with him in a way they didn’t at this same time a year ago. Whittingham noted that last year’s 28-27 loss to Southern California, where Moss rushed for 141 yards, marked a turning point.

At the time, it was just the second career 100-yard game for Moss. He produced three more 100-yard games against UCLA, Colorado and West Virginia before the season’s end. The Utes won those three games by an average of 22.7 points.

He ranked seventh in the league in total rushing yards and eighth in yards per game. Bryce Love, Myles Gaskin and Khalil Tate are the only returning Pac-12 players who finished with more rushing yards than Moss last season.

Based on his progress in the spring and summer, Whittingham thinks even bigger things are in store for Moss, which could mean really good things for Utah.

”He’s been trending in the right direction ever since he got here and he’s an outstanding back,” Whittingham said. ”I’m telling you right now, he’s a big-time back.”

Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor said there’s no question in his mind that Moss can be one of the league’s best backs in 2018.

”Zack is a very talented guy and he’s learning to be really consistent,” Taylor said. ”He’s shown flashes where he looks really unstoppable. I think what Zack wants to do is he wants to be a guy that, play in and play out, he’s very consistent and dominant, because you can see he has the ability to do that.”

Moss hasn’t been alone in his emergence on offense. Tyler Huntley and Demari Simpkins, his high school teammates, are both important pieces to the puzzle as well. Simpkins is one of Utah’s top returning receivers after tallying 354 yards and a touchdown on 29 catches last season. Huntley enters camp as the team’s starting quarterback after totaling 2,948 yards on offense in 10 games as a sophomore.

It has been gratifying for Moss to see himself and his two long-time teammates mirror one another in carving out important roles.

”We’ve been working together since high school,” Moss said, noting the trio spent the entire summer practicing and working out together. ”We know what type of year we’ve gotta have for this offense, where we need to be at. It’s been fun because this is what we pictured for ourselves coming here.”

More AP college football: https://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25