SALT LAKE CITY — Making big plays comes naturally for Utah's Dres Anderson. After all, it's in his genes.
The junior who is leading the Utes receiving corps this season in several major categories is following in the footsteps of his father, former NFL receiver Flipper Anderson.
During his 10-year NFL career, Flipper Anderson had 5,357 yards and 28 touchdowns on 267 receptions while playing for the Los Angeles Rams and the Indianapolis Colts, along with stops with the Broncos and Redskins. He set a single-game NFL record for yards receiving after accumulating 336 yards on 15 receptions for the Rams in a 1989 game against the New Orleans Saints.
Dres has made a major impact of his own on the Utah offense. After four games, he leads the Utes in receptions (18), receiving yards (404), yards per game (101.0) and touchdowns (3). He set a career-high with 141 yards on eight catches in a 20-13 win against BYU last weekend.
"Dres has been a big plus this year for us and I've been waiting for Dres to step up and put up those kind of numbers for a couple of years now," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "I was bragging on him for the last couple of years and this year is the year he has come into his own."
It isn't simply a case of Anderson putting up numbers. The way he's doing it is making a huge difference for the offense.
With the Utes (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) clinging to a 6-0 second-quarter lead against the Cougars, Anderson broke things open when he took a short pass on a slant route, eluded a few tacklers and took it 74 yards down field before being pushed out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
It set up Utah's first touchdown en route to the team's fourth consecutive victory against BYU.
It's the sort of play Anderson looks to make on every series.
"It's fun," Anderson said. "I'm trying to do that all season. That's the type of things our team needs, so when I make those types of plays, it gets everybody hyped. It gets the momentum swinging in our favor. It's just great for us."
Growing up in the shadow of a former NFL star didn't just earn Anderson a nickname — he's known as "Little Flipper." It also created a set of expectations for him as a player.
Many people remember how explosive his father was as a receiver and how well he could stretch defenses.
Anderson feels confident that he is living up to that potential as a junior. He has evolved with the rest of the Utah offense this season.
There are more explosive plays and fewer stalled drives. Anderson has played a major role in helping things unfold that way. And he feels confident he can continue to do what needs to be done as the Utes dive full time into Pac-12 play next week. After a bye this week, the Utes host No. 13 UCLA next Thursday.
"I just feel like every time I get the ball, I have the potential to take it to the house," Anderson said. "Growing up, I played a little bit of running back, so I got good vision. When I catch the ball, and see little holes, I just use my speed to make explosive plays out of it."
Anderson has already surpassed 100 yards in three games this season. He is the first Utes receiver to accomplish that feat since DeVonte Christopher did it in 2010. It has helped him eclipse the team-best 365 yards he had in 12 games a season ago.
As far as his coaches and teammates are concerned, Anderson is just scratching the surface of what he can do this season. He has brought the Utes offense a reliable deep threat it has lacked during the team's first two Pac-12 seasons.
His consistency on the field has made things easier for his teammates.
"He's a huge threat overall," Utah quarterback Travis Wilson said. "He's definitely a deep threat and he's definitely a shallow threat, too. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he's fast and a quick runner. I'm really excited watching him play."