Utah Utes running back Zack Moss (2) escapes the grasp of West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker David Long Jr. (11) at the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl between the Utah Utes and the West Virginia Mountaineers in Dallas Texas on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017.

Ike Spencer. Matt Asiata. Larry Wilson. These players are considered some of the greatest to play for the University of Utah football team at the running back position. Last year, the Utes were treated to exceptional play from its running back corps, and such a productive group helped facilitate the development of Troy Williams and Tyler Huntley — two quarterbacks who relied on their running backs to facilitate coach Kyle Whittingham’s offense.

In the past, the running back group has served to provide another weapon for the quarterback and short-yard plays, usually to move the chains and provide the Utes a fresh set of downs to operate. The team relies on their ability to convert on short-yardage situations, particularly between one and three yards to gain the first down. The Utes attempted a fourth down conversion 19 times last year. While those attempts can be justified from situation to situation, the fact remains — Utah trusts its running backs when it matters. But who are they trusting?

Last year, the running back group consisted of split carries from Zack Moss, Troy McCormick, Jr. and Devontae Henry-Cole. Moss would end up bearing most of the workload due to his exceptional production and gap exploitation in line play. As a freshman, Moss had the opportunity to study under Joe Williams, a senior who was taken in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Williams hasn’t seen any NFL action due to injuries sustained in training camp, but he was a core part of Utah’s offense in its run to a 9-3 season in 2016. In its game against the University of Southern California (USC), Utah relied on its running game twice in the final drive of the match-up to convert on fourth down, helping them win over the Pac-12 powerhouse. USC’s tendency to stray from running the ball is what brings us to Utah’s competition in the running game, which is fierce to say the least.

Bryce Love leads the group of runners in the Pac-12, as he and Stanford University make their second attempt at a Heisman Trophy before the senior goes to the NFL. Love is coming off of a record-setting season with the Cardinal. With an offensive line of returning players, he is teed up for another legendary season. Myles Gaskin is also a formidable foe in the running race, elusively assaulting Pac-12 defenses. Aside from any threat of a Cinderella season, Zack Moss should find himself among the elite of Pac-12 runners. Moss ran for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns and is set for an increase in production behind rookie quarterback Jack Tuttle. If 1,100 yards is a floor, Moss’ ceiling can beat the best in the conference.

Utah’s reliance on its running game has paid off in recent years because of the team’s excellence at the position. With consistent NFL talent at the position since their inception into the Pac-12, the Utes continue to bring a present and threateningly good running game.

z.janis@dailyutahchronicle.com

@Zach_Janis

Zach Janis
An avid sports fan with a knack for writing, Zach is in charge of the sports desk for the Chronicle, and a junior at the University of Utah. Zach is studying Music Education and Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. When not advocating for the Oxford comma, Zach spends his time calling play by play for various sports around the University, and hopes to become a broadcaster after earning his degree.

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