SALT LAKE CITY — Zack Moss has bounced back from a tough finish last season at California. Then, as a true freshman, the Utah running back had a pair of opportunities to score a game-winning touchdown for the Utes in the closing seconds of a 28-23 loss to the Bears in Berkeley.
Moss picked up a yard on a first-and-goal situation from the 2-yard line with 14 seconds remaining. After an incomplete pass on the next play, the offense turned to Moss again. He was stopped just short of the goal line as time expired.
“That was a tough game. That was a tough ending to the game,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “It certainly wasn’t Zack’s fault. There was a lot of things that contributed to that.”
Even so, Whittingham acknowledged that Moss is “very different” since that upset setback in Berkeley on Oct. 1.
“He’s grown up a lot. He’s made a more concerted effort to focus and learn his assignments,” Whittingham said. “Last year he was a freshman, he was a true freshman, and that comes with the territory. But he’s really done a lot of growing up in the last 6-8 months.”
Moss, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound sophomore from Florida, said that he wants to win every time he steps on the field.
“I’ve watched that film countless times and just watched the end of that game, that play, countless times,” Moss said. “it makes me hungry, each and every day, to not let that happen this year and not let the team down.”
Although Moss has put the Cal game behind him, he does take a glimpse at it just to keep going. Moss said the whole thing has made him better.
In camp, Moss was battling junior Armand Shyne for the top spot vacated by the graduation of Joe Williams, who is now with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. An unspecified injury to Shyne, though, ended the competition in the midst of camp.
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Moss is now the undisputed front-runner for the Utes. Whittingham made it clear that he is the lead back and without a doubt the leader of the group.
“There’s no pressure. Like I’ve said before, I just see us playing football,” Moss said. “I think I was going to be able to contribute to the team in a big way if it was me and Armand. But now it’s just me. I want to do the same thing I said I was going to do if it was me and Armand, come out here and attack each and every day and help this team win games.”
Moss, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry while rushing for 382 yards and two touchdowns last season, also wants to break some records.
“I want to be — not just a 1,000-yard guy — I want to be an all-purpose guy,” said Moss, who expressed confidence that the new offense will allow him to do that.
Catching passes in the backfield and putting up some numbers receiving are part of the equation. Moss aims to get 1,500 all-purpose yards.
Since his freshman year, Moss said he’s added six to seven pounds of muscle while adding his protein intake and listening to his strength coaches. His quickness has improved.
“I’ve just been working real hard on my body for this season,” said Moss, who declared himself ready to go.
Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor said that Moss is doing a great job.
“He’s taking a lot of reps and he’s improved with each rep,” Taylor said. “And he’s been great in all three phases.”
Moss has also impressed running backs coach Kiel McDonald. “He’s doing some things well. He’s constantly getting better. He’s becoming more cerebral as a football player,” McDonald said. “His game is actually expanding and he’s stepping up to the challenge.”
McDonald, who coached at Eastern Washington last season, has had a chance to watch the Cal film on Moss. However, it’s very much in the rearview mirror.
“All I know is since I’ve been here the young man has grown. He’s gotten better and he does practice with a chip on his shoulder,” McDonald said. “I think fans can look for him to do some things this year.”