Gordon Monson: Utah’s Utes have found a new star, and he has a message for Oregon’s Ducks

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah tight end Brant Kuithe (80) runs towards the end zone setting up another Ute touchdown, in PAC-12 football action between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

Brant Kuithe happily looked around at the glorious scene at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night in the aftermath of the Utes’ 45-15 win over Colorado, taking in the whole of it, before running off the field, his work, their work, done.

Well. Almost done.

In victory, Utah clinched the Pac-12 South and qualified for its slot in the league’s championship game against Oregon on Friday night in Santa Clara, Calif.

“We’re going to go win that sh—,” Kuithe said.

And Kuithe, no sh—, played his part in giving his team that chance.

The Ducks are well aware. Better be.

Turns out, the Utes have a weapon that no longer is so secret. But the gap between knowing about it and doing something about it is substantial. Kuithe, a multi-talented tight end, has created that crevice. The sophomore from Katy, Texas, has managed to wedge his way into stardom, among a crowded field of stars on the 2019 Utes.

“I always knew I could do that,” he said. “Just make plays in space.”

That’s something of a surprise, not just because of the number of difference-makers, but because there have been seasons when the Utes’ offense treated the tight end position as though it were a nuisance, a kind of Pleistocene era relic/casualty of most derivatives of the spread offense.

Kuithe’s performance on Saturday night, an individual showing that somehow was more important than it might have been for the Utes, was … necessary.

Early on against the Buffs, Utah’s attack looked like an old stalled-out Buick, abandoned on the side of a county two-lane. Tyler Huntley was getting hit, Zack Moss was getting stonewalled, the Utes were getting beat.

Kuithe jump-started that old wreck, doing what has become much more common in recent weeks for a team that is rolling forward — moving the ball through the air and on the ground.

Against the Buffs, Kuithe caught three passes, two for touchdowns, for 63 yards, and hauled the ball for another 59 rushing yards and a TD. After scoring the first touchdown, on a key play in the second quarter, with the count tied, Kuithe took a handoff from Huntley on a jet sweep and churned 44 yards to the Colorado 7-yard line. That’s correct. Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig called for a jet sweep not for some blurring, fly-weight wideout, rather for a 235-pound tight end.


And he topped that off with the subsequent touchdown catch, giving the Utes a much-needed boost, bumping their lead to 14-7, which by the end of the half was extended to 17-7. His teammates took over from there. In that second quarter, Kuithe had 107 all-purpose yards, accounting for 66 percent of Utah’s entire offense.

Not bad for a kid who wasn’t even supposed to come to Utah. At Cinco Ranch High School, Kuithe ran for more than 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in seven games during a senior season cut short by injury. He caught passes, returned kicks, and punted, averaging 40 yards per attempt. That was meager compared to what he amassed as a junior, when he rolled up 2,784 all-purpose yards. He also threw 30 passes that year. In addition, he was two-time academic all-district and he ran sprints for the track team (100- and 200-meters) and competed in the long jump and triple jump.

Kuithe was ticketed for Rice, alongside his twin brother, Blake, a defensive end. But Owls coach David Bailiff was fired after a 1-11 season in 2017, altering the Kuithe brothers’ plans.

They were enamored not just by Utah football, but by the mountains that surround it.

To Utah they came.

And while Ute coaches found some use for Kuithe in his freshman season, it wasn’t until the latter part of this, his sophomore year, when he discovered all kinds of life. Last year, he caught 20 passes for 227 yards and a score. This season, he’s more than doubled that yardage, which leads the Utes. He’s also scored six touchdowns through the air and three on the ground.

He’s found his place among the Utes.

“We just had to find a way to get him the ball,” Huntley said. “Because he’s a playmaker.”

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.