With Brant Kuithe out, Utah wants — and needs — more production from Dalton Kincaid
Opponents are focused on locking down Kincaid, who has caught 23 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns this season
“We need to get him the ball more,” Whittingham said.
Kincaid caught four passes for 67 yards — he was targeted six times — against the Bruins, so it wasn’t as if he didn’t make an impact.
“Guys are definitely getting comfortable and embracing their bigger roles and getting more playing time. We’ve got to take advantage of it and keep getting better.” — Utah quarterback Cam Rising on the Utes tight ends
But the Utes’ other star tight end, Brant Kuithe, is sidelined after suffering a season-ending injury against Arizona State on Sept. 24.
With Kuithe out, opposing teams are focused on locking down Kincaid, who has caught 23 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns this season.
“Brant was obviously a huge part of the offense. With him and Dalton on the field, it really freed up Dalton a lot more. But players go down,” Whittingham said. “It’s the next-man-up mentality and we have to adjust as coaches and make sure that we feature the right guys each week. The essence of offense is getting the ball to the playmakers. It’s not the plays themselves. It’s getting the ball to the guys that can do it.”
But how can Utah get Kincaid more involved in the offense?
“A lot of teams are making it tough on him, giving him a tough look playing underneath and over the top on him,” Rising said. “We’ve just got to figure out new ways to get him the ball.”
“We have to involve him more. We have to throw the ball to him more, target him more. He had four catches (against UCLA), which is not enough,” Whittingham said. “He has not been as much of a focal point of the offense as he needs to.
“That’s something other teams are very aware of. They do a good job of covering him and trying to take him away. He’s one of our best weapons. He does need more targets. … We need to do a better job of that.”
Tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham said when it comes to getting Kincaid more touches, the onus is on the coaching staff.
“That’s more on us as coaches to be able to scheme the passing game to put him in positions where they can’t necessarily bracket him,” he said. “Dalton’s going to do what he can do. He’s a great route-runner and he’s got incredible ball skills. We’ve just got to scheme it so he has that opportunity to get those one-on-one matchups.”
Meanwhile, Kuithe remains around the program, offering his insights, support and leadership to his teammates.
“He’s still the captain of this team,” Rising said, “and he’s still leading.”
Freddie Whittingham has had to make adjustments with the rest of the tight ends to try to compensate for the loss of Kuithe.
“It’s a sad day to have lost Brant to the ACL injury. He’s been so much a part of what we’ve done, not just an offensive scheme and catching a lot of footballs but just leadership and things like that,” he said. “He’s on his way to recovery. We wish him well. We hope he has a fast and speedy recovery.”
Kuithe still has a redshirt year available to him if he were to choose to return to Utah for one more season.
“His future is still kind of in the air as far as what he’ll decide to do with next year,” Freddie Whittingham said, adding that Kuithe hasn’t decided whether to come back or declare for the NFL draft. Kuithe could have declared for the draft last year but opted to play for the Utes this season.
Besides Kincaid, Utah has other tight ends on the roster — Thomas Yassmin (who suffered an injury against UCLA; his status is uncertain); USC transfer Munir McClain; Idaho transfer Logan Kendall; and Taniela Pututau.
“The guys that are next up, we always have this next one up, you’ve got to fill in and do the job have no drop-off in performance,” said Freddie Whittingham. “We’re going to keep doing what we do with our tight ends. Those guys, the expectation is that they’re going to step in and perform at the same level so our offense can continue to be a high-performing offense.”
Said Rising of the tight ends group: “Guys are definitely getting comfortable and embracing their bigger roles and getting more playing time. We’ve got to take advantage of it and keep getting better.”
Certainly, though, Kincaid is the one experienced enough and talented enough to help make up for the loss of Kuithe on the field.
“Finding ways to line him up in positions and having passing concepts where he’s the first read and being able to find ways to have him be a huge part of what we do in the throw game,” Freddie Whittingham said. “That’s a lot that has to do with the scheme that we come up with.
“We expect that he should catch between five to 10 balls a game and increase his productivity as far as the number of receptions that he’s getting and the ways that he’s involved in the offense. He’s already playing every single snap pretty much. … Now, it’s finding more and different ways to make him the No. 1 read in the passing progression.”
Utes on the air
No. 7 USC (6-0, 4-0)
at No. 20 Utah (4-2, 2-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700