Dalton Kincaid had a day Saturday. It was the kind of day where even he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what kind of magic was swirling around him during his University of Utah football team’s victory over USC at Rice Eccles Stadium.
In the biggest game of the season — in which the No. 20 Utes defeated No. 7 USC, 43-42, to salvage their hopes of returning to the Pac-12 Conference championship — the senior tight end had the biggest game of his career. Maybe the biggest game of any tight end in the history of Utah football.
To put it simply, he was perfect. Kincaid caught all 16 passes quarterback Cam Rising sent his way. In doing so, he gained 234 yards and scored a touchdown. For perspective, Kincaid accounted for half of the Utes’s completed passes, half their total passing yards and half of their touchdown passes.
“I don’t know what the record is for tight ends here, records or yards,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, “but he has to be right there at the doorstep of that.”
Well yes, he is. Kincaid had the second-most receptions in a game of any player in school history, according to the Utah media guide. He trailed only Carl Harry, who had 255 vs. Idaho State in 1988. Harry was a wide receiver.
So how did Kincaid do it? How did he set a school record and gain almost many yards in this one contest as he had in the previous five (324)?
“I don’t know. … I don’t know,” Kincaid said in bewilderment during the postgame press conference. Rising was “just throwing balls my way and I’d just catch it and do what I can with it.”
But to catch them all?
“That’s the goal,” he said.
Rising had a little more insight on the subject. The quarterback had his own stellare showing with the most passing yards (415) of any Ute since 2005 and it was in no small part because of his connection with Kincaid. Rising said it’s a connection they’ve been working on since the Las Vegas native arrived at Utah in 2020 after playing two seasons at the University of San Diego.
Kincaid started five games this season but often fell in fellow TE Brant Kuithe’s shadow. After Kuithe suffered a season-ending knee injury in the team’s Pac-12 opener at Arizona State, though, it became Kincaid’s time to shine. And on Saturday, in front of a RES-record crowd of 53,609, he did.
“You see what he did tonight,” Rising said. “When he touches the ball like that he makes plays and he extends them and he’s a [run-after-catch] player, so he can do it all. So, we just have to make sure we’re getting him the ball.”
Rising did just that from the very start. His first two completions of the game went to Kincaid. Arguably the most impressive ones, however, came during a drive in the final minute of the first half.
Hustling to try to pull within a touchdown of the Trojans before the break, Rising connected with Kincaid on the first two plays of the drive for gains of 15 and 9 yards. When Kincaid was hit in mid-air during the second catch, referees had reason to suspect targeting. They called for a review of the play, which took several minutes (the penalty was eventually waved off). That review led to another review, this one to check the game clock. And that led to an official stoppage because the reviews had been undertaken with less than a minute left in the half.
So much time passed between the plays that it seemed inevitable the momentum the Utes had built would be left behind like a puddle of sweat on the sideline.
It wasn’t. The delays had no effect on the magic between Kincaid and Rising. In their first play back on the field, Rising found Kincaid’s sure hands for a 30-yard gain and excellent field position. Two plays later, receiver Devaughn Vele caught a 16-yard pass to set the Utes up for what turned out to be a transformative second half.
Kincaid punctuated Utah’s first possession by fielding a four-yard flier from Rising for the tight end’s sixth touchdown on the season. It wasn’t like he hadn’t earned it, though. Four plays earlier, he’d hauled in a 30-yard huck along the Utah sideline. It had been called incomplete, but the call was overturned when a review showed he’d managed to scrape a toe inbounds even as USC defender Max Williams clung to his back.
“He’s a guy who just has a knack for catching the ball,” Rising explained. “So, you’ve got to force him the ball in some situations.”
Kincaid’s score tied the game 28-all. But he was just getting started. Two quarters, and 115 yards later, Rising found his Velcro-handed teammate in the end zone again. This time, it was for a celebratory hug.
Kincaid had a day and Utah lived to fight another.