Kuithe emerges as Huntley's favorite target... and might be the best TE in the Pac-12

Ryan Kostecka

All season long, opposing defenses knew about Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss. Huntley is one of, if not, the best signal-caller in the conference, and Moss is right along that same status with the rest of the running backs in the Pac-12.

Blessed with a talented offensive line and skill players who can make people miss in the open field, it would appear that Utah's offense is operating at a level the Utes haven't been able to reach in the past decade.

But still something was missing. When Utah's receivers, with lack of a true star, struggle to get open against man coverage, and teams load the box to contain Moss, who can make a play for the Utes? Who does Huntley and head coach Kyle Whittingham trust enough to win a one-on-one battle along the sideline? Who do they trust enough to go through traffic and make the catch to keep a drive alive?

Well that answer eluded Utah for the first half of the season — but not anymore. Welcome to the show Brant Kuithe!

"I knew I could do it if I was just given the opportunity to make plays open in space," Kuithe said following Saturday's 45-15 victory over Colorado.

For 3/4 of the season, Kuithe was largely an after thought in the offense. But since the UCLA game three weeks ago, he's been nearly unstoppable and become a much bigger staple in the offensive attack.

Over that span, he has 12 catches for 276 yards and and three touchdowns, while adding four carries for 68 yards and three scores. All of those numbers are better than the combined total he had for the first nine games of the year.

And Whittingham has noticed.

"I don't think it is one thing that he is doing differently. … He has just been open, and Tyler has done a good job of finding him,” Whittingham said. “When he does get the ball in his hands, he is dynamic with the ball and making plays. The last two games he has really started to emerge. He is talented and talent usually rises to the surface at some point."

He's a matchup nightmare for opponents as he's too big for safeties and cornerbacks, yet too athletic for linebackers. Listed at 6-foot-2, 235-pounds, he reminds me of San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle, who like Kuithe is really making a name for himself this season. 

“I don’t know if teams really know how to account for him because he can’t be covered by a linebacker and even safeties struggle with him,” Whittingham said. “One of the strengths of Andy (Ludwig, Utah offensive coordinator) is he puts guys in position to maximize their ability and what they do best. He’s certainly done that with Brant Kuithe.”

With Utah wrapping up the Pac-12's South division crown tonight in the win, Kuithe will be given one more opportunity to make the case that he's the real deal and not just a one-hit wonder. He will be facing an Oregon defense, that apart from Utah, is the best in the Pac-12. 

The Ducks can throw multiple defenders at him, with uber-athletic linebacker Troy Dye able to run with Kuithe, and safety Jevon Holland showcasing the skills to play him man up. But if Kuithe's production can stay where it's at and Huntley keeps finding him, good luck to the Ducks.

Kuithe isn't the biggest tight end in the conference, that honor goes to UCLA's Devin Asiasi, or the best known, where Washington's Hunter Bryant holds the crown. But it's very clear who the best tight end in the Pac-12 is, and he wears red for the Utah Utes.

“He’s just a tremendous athlete and it’s not anything we scripted differently other than he just happened to shake free more often than he had in the past,” Whittingham said. "He’s played really good football for us all year long, but he’s a tremendous weapon."