Utah’s rushing attack was better in 2021 than you’d think.

That sounds like an outlandish statement to make considering it produced a tailback that finished third nationally in rushing touchdowns from a group that finished second nationally in rushing efficiency, but CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli highlighted just how often Utah was facing loaded boxes last season and how, often times, it meant absolutely nothing.

Among Power Five teams, Utah ran the third-most offensive plays when facing nine defenders in the box. On those plays, the Utes averaged 5.7 yards per rushing attempt. The Utes also ran the most first-down plays against nine-man boxes, where they averaged over 6 yards a carry.

For a defense to say, “We won’t let you beat us with the run”—which is effectively what a nine-man box says—and the offense to respond with, “Cool, we’re still going to do it,” is the stuff of legendary offenses. That’s 80s Barry Sanders, 90s Nebraska, 2000s Wisconsin.

Utah, by the way, finished 10th nationally in passing success rate, so perhaps Fornelli’s stat isn’t so much highlighting a lack of respect for what quarterback Cameron Rising could do with his arm, but rather an affirmation that defenses were petrified by Utah’s ground game.

Tavion Thomas and Micah Bernard, two from the three-headed monster last season, return for the 2022 campaign. They’ll be joined by freshman lightning rod Jaylon Glover. There are some replacements up front along the offensive line, but Braeden Daniels is a preseason first-team all-conference pick and Sataoa Laumea is a preseason second-team pick.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig have the pieces back to make another run—pun intended—at the Pac-12 crown.