Sitting here in this never ending Groundhogs Day land of semi-quarantine I’ve been thinking, who was the engine that kept Utah’s offense going in 2019? Without a doubt the two leading contenders are Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss. The question comes down to those two, and I think it is an interesting discussion topic, because one one side you have a senior quarterback that’s fought through some line inconsistency, and was learning a new offense, while leading the most potent Utah offense is a decade. On the other hand, you have the most decorated Utah running back in history that was virtually unstoppable for much of the season.
Let’s make the argument first for Huntley. He was the first ever First-team All-Pac-12 quarterback. He was a finalist for multiple off season awards, including the Unitas and Manning Award, while also a semifinal its for the Walter Camp and Davey O-Brien Award. He started all 14 games, which is beyond rare for Utah quarterbacks, even after suffering a scary leg injury against ASU, which he battled through. He threw for 19 touchdowns, while throwing just 4 picks on the season, going over 3000 yards with 3092. Possibly the most impressive thing about Huntley’s season was that he finished second in the FBS and first in the Pac-12 in completion percentage, at 73%. He was an absolute joy to watch at quarterback all season, and Andy Ludwig really tapped into his potential. If you want to see what made Huntley so special this past season, just watch any game between game 2 and game 12. He used his legs to avoid pressure all season long, while keeping his eyes downfield. Some of his most dynamic plays was when he would break open a busted play and punish the defense for being greedy. His patience in the pocket kept Utah ahead of the sticks all season long, and made them lethal on 3rd down. His pose and patience in Seattle to beat UW on the road may be one of the Crown Jewels of his career. Sure, it wasn’t the best UW team, but falling behind double digits, he orchestrated drive after drive in the latter third of that game to give the Utes the much needed road win.
Let’s move to Huntley’s backfield-mate, Zack Moss. His resume is also impressive. He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, the first in program history, and Pac-12 All-Conference first-team. Moss also picked up Pro Football Focus All-America first-team, CBS Sports and FWAA All-America second-team, and AP All-America third-team. He was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award and the Doak Walker Award, AP Co-Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year (with Huntley). He led the team in carries (235), rushing yards (1,416), rushing touchdowns (15) and rushing yards per game (108.9), while breaking all-time records in those categories. He also finished third on the team in receptions (28) and yards (388) with two receiving touchdowns, plus a team-high 1,804 all-purpose yards for 138.8 yards per game. That’s quite the list for a single season. That’s all while also he missed a game and a half of action after he injured his shoulder vs USC and missed the Washington State game. Moss was often times the beneficiary of Huntley’s improve and broken off many plays when Huntley would break the pocket. He was the focus of every defense that the Utes faced, and very rarely could they stop him. Even when they would stop him, they couldn’t stop him. See his dead leg juke that he gave multiple defenders in the backfield, including BYU and Cal as two of the best.
Now the question is, who as the most valuable. Both were so great that it is an interesting debate. Here’s where I would fall in the discussion, I think it was Tyler Huntley. Utah has been no stranger to great running back play through the years, including Moss, Devontae Booker, John White, Joe Williams, and that’s just in the Pac-12 era. The key difference that led to the 11 win regular season, and a win away from the College Football Playoff was Huntley. He just saw the light turn on for him in the regular season, where defenses could not consistently stop the offense. That is something we are unaccustomed to at Utah. The offense wasn’t a juggernaut, like say Oregon teams of past, but they would flirt with 40 points consistently, and would just drain peoples will and soul from them over the course of the game, similar to Stanford of years past. Huntley was distribute the ball all over the field, while also being the running threat that he has been all season. He also helped cover up some blemishes by the offensive line and make lemonade from lemons. I think we saw when Moss went down, they had the collective unit to help fill his shoes. If Huntley goes down, I don’t think we see 11 wins.
This was a special team, and one that we should hold in the highest regard, and the fact that they had such a one-two punch is something that Utes fans won’t forget for a long time.
The question is, who would you say was the offensive MVP for this past season? Moss, Huntley or someone else?