It looks like the question of whether Utah’s star players, quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe, would play against the Florida Gators has been answered one day before kickoff.
Pete Thamel of ESPN is reporting Rising is doubtful to play in the season opener on Thursday night, though no official word has come from Utah.
“Cam Rising, the starting quarterback for Utah is doubtful for the game tomorrow night and not expected to play,” Thamel said on ESPN’s College Football Live. “Sources told me last night that Bryson Barnes the junior who had won start last year and victory at Washington State and then came in for Rising in the Rose Bowl after he tore his ACL, will get the look as a starting quarterback for the Utes. We will also see some of Nate Johnson.”
Thamel extended his report with more on Nate Johnson, “The one thing Kyle Whittingham was not vague about this week was that the young quarterback who gives them a Wildcat look, will play no matter who the starter is. It looks like Barnes will be the primary quarterback with Nate Johnson filling in some snaps to give them some different looks from under center.”
In another hit to the Utah offense, multiple sources are also reporting that star tight end, Brant Kuithe is also expected to miss the opener.
Junior Bryson Barnes enters his fourth season with the program, having seen action in 13 games with one start. He has played in both Rose Bowls along with starting against Washington State in 2022 while leading the team to victory.
Three of his 13 career games have been full of dramatics, including:
- Coming into the Rose Bowl in 2021 with under 10 minutes to play, tying Ohio State 45-45 with a 15-yard TD pass at the 1:54 mark.
- Learning 5 minutes prior to kick-off at WSU in 2022 that he would be the starter, recording career highs in passing yards (175) and completions (17), leading Utah to a 21-17 win.
- Once again entering the Rose Bowl late for an injured Rising in 2022, he went 10-of-19 passing for 112 yards and a TD.
Barnes found himself in a backup quarterback battle this fall camp with Brandon Rose and Nate Johnson and Utah coach Kyle Wittingham likes the consistency Barnes shows. “He’s just making less mistakes,” Whittingham said of Barnes. “He knows the offense better than the other two. He’s a little more consistent, a little more steady. The other two guys have bright futures, can make some spectacular plays here and there, but it’s all about taking care of the football and moving the chains.”
Nate Johnson will offer a change of pace at the quarterback position. Johnson made a splash as a newcomer in 2022, showing off his speed in the run game while also throwing his first-career passing touchdown against Stanford. He played in four games last season which included rushing for two touchdowns against Arizona.
Johnson was a four-star dual-threat quarterback out of HS, rated the No. 16 QB nationally.
What is Utah missing in Rising and Kuithe?
Cam 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 on Florida through the air. However, his ability to run also proved detrimental to the Gators, as he gained an additional 91 yards on the ground. His mobility paired with his arm will be missed for the Utes.
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 there was thought he would be ready in time to take on Florida.
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.
The news that Cam Rising and Brant Kuithe not being available is probably no surprise for Utah and they’ve been game planning heavily with Barnes and Johnson as the focal points at quarterback. This is still a good test for new Florida defensive coordinator, Austin Armstrong.