SALT LAKE CITY — For the ninth time in a row, the Utah Utes kept the BYU Cougars out of the win column in the latest rendition of the in-state rivalry game. Even an hour-long weather delay couldn’t stop the Utes from claiming a 30-12 victory on the road at LaVell Edwards Stadium early Friday morning.
The game, which started out slow on the offensive side of the ball, opened up in the second half. Utah controlled the clock and limited the mistakes as the Utes rolled to victory.
Zack Moss is healthy and still really good
It’s safe to say senior running back Zack Moss is healthy and ready for another standout year at running back. The Florida native finished the night with 181 rushing yards and one touchdown on 29 carries as he led the team to victory with an unstoppable run game.
Moss opened up the game with a few short runs, but wasn’t completely in regular form for much of the first half. But a big run near the end of the first half gave Moss the confidence he needed to know he could do what he needed to. Moss said after the game that after taking a few hits and getting a few runs, he felt more like his old self before last year’s season-ending injury.
The second half then belonged to Moss, who scored the team’s second offensive touchdown of the night on a 4-yard rush to start out the fourth quarter. Most importantly, Moss gave Utah the yards it needed to wear down the final 9:01 in the game in the team’s last drive.
Turnovers are king in the rivalry
Ah, the turnover battle and the rivalry game. We’ve seen this played out many times over the years, and it reared its face again Thursday night as Utah capitalized on a pair of BYU turnovers that flipped the tide in the game.
The first came in a much-needed time in the first half when Utah struggled to move the ball. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson attempted to scramble out of a collapsed pocket by Utah’s defense as Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae got ahold of Wilson’s foot as he was throwing.
Instead of a BYU receiver catching the ball, it was former BYU linebacker Francis Bernard with the easy interception that was returned for a 58-yard touchdown. The interception flipped the momentum into Utah’s favor despite the slow first half.
In the second half, Utah safety Julian Blackmon picked off another Wilson pass for a 35-yard pick-six touchdown, making it the second consecutive rivalry game the Layton High School product has returned an interception for a touchdown.
Utah managed a clean game in the turnover battle to claim another victory over the Cougars.
The kicking game
Coming into Thursday night’s game, there were still questions on whether Utah had a bona fide placekicker. Andrew Strauch was named the starter for the game, but struggled to make an impact after missing a PAT and a 25-yard field goal. The UCLA transfer was replaced by Jadon Redding, who went perfect for the rest of the night with two made PATs.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said he was obviously disappointed in the special teams effort Thursday night and has made a full-time switch to Redding as the team’s starter (for now). Redding will get the start next Saturday as Utah welcomes Northern Illinois to town, though Whittingham said that’s subject to change if Redding has similar struggles in the kicking game.
Whittingham said Redding was leading the kicking battle in fall camp before he sustained an injury that limited his ability for about two weeks. Strauch will still be the team’s kicker on kickoffs, as Whittingham said he was pleased with his effort there.
The kicking game will continue to be a question until consistency is established. But maybe Redding is another version of Matt Gay, who won the starting job in the first game of his junior season.