Prior to the start of the college football season this fall, Utah tight end Brant Kuithe was all set to become a household name in the college and NFL sports world.
He finished last season by earning all-Pac-12 second team honors — totaling 34 catches for 602 yards and six touchdowns, while adding another 102 yards rushing on six attempts and three more scores on the season. Hunter Bryant of Washington, who is now signed with the Detroit Lions, earned first-team honors last year.
He had two major breakout games last season — against UCLA when he caught five passes for 132 yards and a score — and against Colorado when he caught three passes for 63 yards and two scores while adding two rushes for 59 yards and a touchdown.
"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," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said after the UCLA game last season. "He has been playing really great football for us all year long, but he’s a tremendous weapon. He’s a tough match-up. ... He’s only a sophomore too."
Kuithe came into this season with as much fanfare as any Ute, garnering all-Pac-12 preseason honors and a number of All-American preseason honors. So when he was essentially shutdown (4 catches, 23 yards) by USC during Utah's season opening 33-17 loss last weekend, it was entirely shocking considering the hype entering the year.
So when asked early last week about what needed to change on offense for the Utes entering their game against Washington on Saturday, Whittingham had a very short answer.
"We need to get Brant Kuithe the ball to more."
And for a quarter and a half on Saturday, it appeared that offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was listening to Whittingham postgame. Kuithe caught three passes, albeit for 11 yards, while adding a nine yard rush on an end-around as well.
But that was short lived as Kuithe was targeted just one more time the rest of the game, a 12-yard reception in the third quarter. When the offense was sputtering most and needed a big play, Ludwig and the offense elected to avoid the best tight end in the Pac-12.
When asked postgame about why Kuithe didn't get more targets, particularly in the second half, Whittingham said he had no answer. In sort for a bewildered manner, Whittingham wasn't sure why Kuithe, the team's best offensive player, was taken out of the game plan.
Through the first two games, Ludwig isn't doing Kuithe any favors either with the route schemes. Too often is Kuithe pushed up against the sideline in play calls, rather than allowing him to navigate the middle of the field where he found a lot of success last season.
Short answer is that there is no reason why Kuithe shouldn't be overly involved in the game plan each week. He's a complete mismatch for any defense, either too big and strong for defensive backs OR too athletic for linebackers to cover. It's why he came into this season with such high expectations.
During his weekly press conference, Whittingham said the Utes will look to establish Kuithe early-and-often against Oregon State as his dominance has the potential to change the projection of any game. Bentley agreed with Whittingham's statement, but also alluded to the fact that opposing defenses roll coverages to Kuithe so they'll have to find more creative ways to get him involved.
There's a correlation between getting Kuithe the ball in the first half and leading 21-0 against Washington, and even more so when he's completely ignored in the offensive game plan and the team is shutout 24-0 in the second half.
If Utah is to turn this season around, its primary objective has to be getting Kuithe involved a lot more. Whittingham said it best at the end of the game against USC, but maybe he needs to add "for the entire game" next time he speaks about getting Kuithe getting more involved.
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