The first version of Utah receiver Britain Covey’s junior season likely has ended, soon enough that he can start over in 2020.
Covey intends to give his surgically repaired right knee more time to heal. He can take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows athletes to appear in four games without using a year’s eligibility.
Covey sat out No. 17 Utah’s 38-13 victory over Washington State on Saturday, the team’s fifth game, to give himself that option. A discussion with his family led him to “look at things logically, rather than out of emotion,” he said Monday.
Utah is off next weekend, before visiting Oregon State on Oct. 12. Running back Zack Moss hopes to be available after missing Saturday's game with a shoulder injury.
Covey, who’s more than halfway to Utah’s career receptions record, took a pounding on multiple plays the previous week at USC, although he said no specific injury resulted from that game. That experience just made him realize he was more susceptible to being hurt, lacking his usual running ability, after the knee became swollen in mid-September.
“He's just not who he is,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He doesn't have that lightning quickness and speed.”
Covey said, “It's not a matter of whether I can or can't play, it's just if I'm playing at 80 or 85 percent as a slot receiver, you need that [extra] 15 percent, if you want to be special. … I just want to be me, completely.”
Covey was motivated in his rehabilitation this past summer by wanting to be part of another potentially big season for the Utes (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) after being injured in the Pac-12 championship game vs. Washington last November. He’s “conflicted” about not being part of Utah’s increasingly dynamic offense this year, but his plan is to redshirt “unless something drastic happens that will change it,” he said.
Whittingham is not ruling out a comeback this season, although he acknowledged there's “a point of no return” in late October when it would benefit Covey and the program more for him to have two full seasons ahead, rather than contribute on a limited basis this year.
Covey would follow the pattern of sophomore Bryan Thompson, who has emerged as Utah’s top receiver this season. Thompson redshirted in 2018 while playing in four of the season’s last five games after recovering from an injury.
Covey’s toughness is not the issue; he played half of the 2018 season with a fractured wrist. But his knee became swollen two days before the Sept. 14 game vs Idaho State. Doctors told him “that’s a big sign that there’s still some healing that needs to take place inside,” he said. “There comes a point where you feel like you’re just trying to survive and you feel a little bit more vulnerable to injury, because you’re not able to avoid the contact as much.”
Covey played against ISU and USC, although he said he didn't go through the regular pregame warmup in Los Angeles, while trying to strengthen his knee. He was thrown down harshly on a running play at USC, drawing an unnecessary-roughness penalty, and took two hard hits on inside-screen receptions.
Covey observed, without complaining, in mid-September that he was playing only about half as much as in past seasons. That's mainly because offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's scheme often features multiple tight ends, instead of a slot receiver.
The irony is that Covey's replacement, Samson Nacua, caught five passes for a career-high 90 yards and a touchdown Saturday and the tight ends rarely were targeted in the passing game. Demari Simpkins filled in for Covey on punt returns and made two fair catches.
Covey led the Utes with 60 catches last season, almost doubling the No. 2 receiver's total. He had 27 catches for 284 yards in the first four games of 2018, compared with 10 receptions for 77 yards this season. His 2019 statistics will count, even if he redshirts.
Covey has 113 career catches; Kevin Dyson (1994-97) holds Utah's record of 192 receptions. Redshirting would enable him to play a fifth game against BYU in 2021 in his hometown of Provo.
NO. 17 UTAH AT OREGON STATE
Oct. 12, 6 p.m. MDT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Pac-12 players of the week
Utah’s impressive showing on both sides of the ball Saturday in a 38-13 defeat of Washington State was rewarded Monday with two weekly awards from the Pac-12.
Ute quarterback Tyler Huntley was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week and linebacker Francis Bernard received the defensive award for the second time this season in voting by media members.
Huntley completed 21 of 30 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 31 yards and two scores. He has not thrown an interception this season in 114 attempts, while completing 74.6 percent of his passes for 1,146 yards in five games.
Bernard made a team-high 12 tackles. His interception, returned for 22 yards in the fourth quarter, came shortly after he had left the game due to injury. Bernard was part of a Utah defense that held the Cougars to about half of their 499-yard passing average and 313 total yards.
Bernard received the Pac-12 defensive honor after Utah’s season-opening win at BYU, where he returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown in a 30-12 victory.
Huntley and Bernard were among seven Utes who made the Pac-12 offensive and defensive teams of the week, as determined by the Pro Football Focus grading. Offensive tackle Darrin Paulo, receiver Bryan Thompson, defensive tackle John Penisini, cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safety Terrell Burgess also were honored.
The No. 17 Utes (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) are idle this week. Utah will visit Oregon State on Oct. 12. The Beavers (1-3, 0-1) play Saturday night at UCLA.