Utah delivered USC its only loss of the season six weeks ago at Rice Eccles Stadium on the backs of veteran quarterback Cameron Rising and unlikely star tight end Dalton Kincaid.
Rising’s performance was no surprise; he’s an excellent dual-threat quarterback, and he torched the Trojans, who have struggled all year to contain mobile QBs, for 475 total yards and five total touchdowns.
Kincaid has been one of Utah’s most reliable weapons all season, totaling 850 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Over the course of his college career, he’s accumulated over 2,500 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Kincaid's stardom came out of nowhere. He played just one year of high school football at Faith Lutheran in Las Vegas and then walked on to play at the University of San Diego with no scholarship offers.
Four years later, he torched a then-undefeated USC team for 16 catches, 234 yards and a touchdown on the way to a 43-42 comeback victory. The Trojans had no answer for the six-foot-four, 240-pound senior. His 16 catches are still the most by any player in FBS this year, and his 234 yards are the most by a tight end.
“He made some big-time plays and [there were] big-time throws and we didn't do a very good job getting him on the ground,” USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “Anytime someone has a career day against you there’s a level of embarrassment about it,”
USC had an opportunity to compete against another big, physical tight end in Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, the leading target for the Fighting Irish. While Mayer was still able to get loose for eight catches, 98 yards and two touchdowns, his impact wasn’t quite felt the same way as Kincaid’s was in the Utah game, but maybe that was just because the Trojans ended up beating Notre Dame.
Kincaid and Rising make quite the dynamic duo, and Rising’s best game of the year also came against USC. He outplayed Heisman Trophy frontrunner Caleb Williams that night - and now he'll have to do it again on a neutral field in Friday's Pac-12 football championship game.
There is certainly room for improvement in breaking up the Rising-Kincaid connection, and USC will need to shore up its game plan for slowing Kincaid down.
Grinch’s primary objectives are to improve the tackling and maintain the commitment to forcing turnovers, an emphasis that has paid off for the Trojans all year.
“If he makes big-time catches, if we don't tackle him, I know exactly what's going to happen. It's going to be the same damn thing,” Grinch said.