The Utah Utes are set to face off against the Florida Gators in a highly anticipated matchup. With the game just around the corner, let’s take a closer look at some of the key players to watch on the Utah side.
Cam Rising – QB
There are concerns about Cam Rising’s injury as he is coming off a torn ACL. However, if he is able to play, the Gators’ defense will certainly have to contain this experienced quarterback. Rising is returning for his final season with the Utes, having played in 27 career games, including 25 starts. He has been selected to the All-Pac-12 team twice, earning first-team honors in 2021. Additionally, he is currently tied for fifth all-time at Utah in starting quarterback wins, with 18.
Rising has played in 14 career games with 200+ passing yards, including two 300-yard games (306 yards at USC in 2021 and 310 yards vs. USC in the Pac-12 title game in 2022), as well as one 400-yard game (415 yards vs. USC in the regular season in 2022). His 953 career rushing yards rank fourth in program history for rushing yards by a quarterback, and he is just the fourth Ute QB to rush for 900+ yards. In addition, his 249 completions in 2022 were the most by a Utah quarterback since 2008 (Brian Johnson, 268).
Last season, Rising gained 216 yards through the air. However, his ability to run also proved detrimental to the Gators, as he gained an additional 91 yards on the ground. If he is unable to use that aspect of his game, perhaps the Florida defensive coordinator, Austin Armstrong, will dial up pressure to limit Rising’s effectiveness.
Brant Kuithe – TE
Cam Rising’s top target is also coming off a torn ACL from last season, but that happened September 24. Kuithe was limited in fall camp, but looks like he will be able to suit up for the Utes versus the Gators.
Brant Kuithe played a crucial role in last season’s game, setting a career high with nine receptions and recording his third 100-yard receiving game in five seasons with the Utes. Against the Gators, Kuithe finished with an impressive 105 yards and caught a 7-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, giving Utah an early lead.
Overall, Kuithe’s performance against the Gators demonstrated his skill and importance to the Utah Utes. He has had an impressive career, with 148 career receptions for 1,882 yards (12.7 ypc) and 16 touchdowns, 17 carries for 162 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Additionally, he has blocked for one of the best rushing offenses in the Pac-12 and the FBS since 2018.
Kuithe has played in 51 career games with 26 starts and has been a three-time All-Pac-12 selection (2nd team in 2019, 2020, and 2021). He leads all active FBS tight ends in career receptions (148) and receiving yards (1,882). He is also one of three active Power Five tight ends with over 150 career rushing yards and one of two Power Five tight ends with four or more rushing touchdowns.
Junior Tafuna – DT
Junior Tafuna has been named to the preseason watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award, and Outland Trophy. He is a two-time Pac-12 All-Conference pick and was named the 2021 Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. Tafuna has started in 25 consecutive games and played in 27 contests as a Ute entering his junior season. Injuries forced him into action during Week 3 of the 2021 season, and he has been a constant presence at left tackle ever since.
In 2022, Tafuna contributed 27 tackles (3.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack), one interception, two QB hurries, and a breakup. He recorded a season-best six tackles in the Homecoming victory against Oregon State and added five more stops in the game at No. 18 UCLA.
Throughout his career, Tafuna has accumulated a total of 60 tackles, including nine tackles-for-loss. Standing at 6 feet 3 inches and weighing 310 pounds, the defensive tackle has demonstrated the ability to penetrate pockets and clog rushing lanes. He will certainly be counted on to help stop the Florida rushing attack.
Cole Bishop – S
Cole Bishop returns as the leading tackler for the Utah Utes. In 2022, he made 83 stops, including a career-high of 12 against the Gators. Bishop has appeared in 24 games with 19 starts and has been voted captain by his teammates. The preseason All-American finished last season with an average of 5.7 tackles per game in his career, ranking second among Pac-12 active defensive backs.
At 6 feet 2 inches and 207 pounds, Bishop is an excellent run defender. He shows the ability to move down and cover tight ends as well. Bishop can pretty much do anything the Utah staff asks of him, using great instincts to be an effective blitzer and create turnovers.
Bishop struggled to keep up with Florida’s speed and physicality last season, but he has this game circled as an opportunity to show that he is better than what he showed.