Brant Kuithe injury mars No. 13 Utah’s dominant win at Arizona State

Kuithe, a three-time All-Pac-12 tight end, was injured on the final play of the first quarter at Sun Devil Stadium

Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) catches a touchdown pass in front of Arizona State defensive back Chris Edmonds during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Tempe, Ariz. • The most important thing that took place on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium was not the University of Utah dominating Arizona State to win its Pac-12 opener.

It wasn’t the 34-13 final score, nor was it Cam Rising turning in another encouraging effort. It wasn’t Dalton Kincaid’s two touchdown catches, it wasn’t a lights-out defensive performance that yielded six Sun Devils rushing yards, five sacks and three turnovers.

All of that took a backseat late Saturday night to the fact the 13th-ranked Utes (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) are likely to be without Brant Kuithe, unquestionably Rising’s most-dynamic weapon, for the remainder of the season.

On the final play of the first quarter, Kuithe came up gimpy after hauling in his second catch of the night, an 11-yard strike from Rising down to the Utah 28-yard line. The three-time All-Pac-12 tight end was helped to the injury tent, where he spent 20 minutes of real time. He peeked his head out of the tent with 5:14 to play in the first half without his shoulder pads and a towel over his head. Kuithe eventually emerged from the tent with his right knee wrapped in ice before taking crutches and having a seat on the bench.

Kuithe’s status for a critical contest on Saturday afternoon against Oregon State (Noon, Pac-12 Networks) was officially TBD postgame, but Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham did not paint an optimistic picture.

“Brant Kuithe is probably the big negative of the game,” Whittingham said. “We’ll find out more tomorrow, but it doesn’t look good. We’ll have a report on Monday at the press conference whether or not that’s season-ending. I just felt horrible for the kid. Such a great teammate. He’s a leader, he’s a captain, he came back for another year to be with his team and to help us win. We’ll hope for the best, Like I said, it’s not definitive, but it doesn’t look good.”

Added Kincaid: “Brant’s a huge part of the offense. He’s a huge leader on the team, so we’re going to need to lean on him for his leadership, but that was definitely a brutal loss and it hurts a lot.”

While such a scenario is unlikely given Kuithe has already flirted with the NFL Draft the previous two offseasons, if the Katy, Texas native is finished for the season, he would have the option to return to Utah in 2023 for a sixth season. Per NCAA rules, players who have not previously taken a redshirt are allowed to compete in up to four games and maintain their eligibility.

Kincaid already takes on a significant pass-catching role, so if Kuithe is ruled out for the season, Kincaid’s duties become even more important. Saturday was a good look at what Kincaid is capable of.

Before Kuithe’s injury, recent concerns of slow first-quarter starts crept back up as the Utah offense, with true freshman running back Jaylon Glover getting his first career start, went four-and-out to start the game.

Those concerns didn’t last beyond that first drive.

On the second play of the ensuing drive following an Arizona State punt, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig went deep into the playbook, hitting on a reverse fleaflicker as Rising found a wide-open Kincaid down the right sideline for a 29-yard touchdown pass.

Kincaid was also responsible for Utah’s other first-quarter touchdown. On fourth-and-1 from the 6, Rising evaded the rush, moved to his right, and on the move, slid a pass to the back-corner of the end zone. The pass looked destined to be batted away, if not intercepted, but it found a stretched-out Kincaid for a 14-0 lead after the extra point from Jordan Noyes.

“He’s a guy that’s just a playmaker,” said Rising, who is now 12-3 for his career as Utah’s starting quarterback. “Any time you can put it in his vicinity, he’s probably going to come down with it more times than not. That was the ultimate faith play right there.

“He’s going to be the No. 1 guy inside and we’ll be looking for him to produce,”

Rising finished 19-for-29 for 260 yards, two touchdowns and an interception as Utah’s offense racked up 462 total yards. Through four games, the fifth-year junior is completing nearly 67% of passes, having thrown 10 touchdowns against just two interceptions, the second of which came against Arizona State (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12).

After an aberration of a showing to open the season at Florida on Sept. 3, Morgan Scalley’s defense produced a third consecutive strong showing, giving up just 267 yards of total offense. Through three quarters, Arizona State had minus-7 rushing yards, finishing with just six for the night.

“Coach Scalley and the staff really helped us get a good game plan going during the week,” said sophomore safety Cole Bishop, who finished with three tackles, a sack and an interception, in addition to avoiding a second-half ejection for targeting. “We knew a lot of their tendencies, we just came out and executed. WE played physical, fast, and we got the job done.”

Added linebacker Karene Reid: “I feel like I’ve seen a big change in practice this week. I feel like the intensity has turned up a notch. You practice hard so you can play games easy, I feel like that’s how it was.”