No rest for the weary in Salt Lake City. The 20th-ranked Utah Utes have precious few days to try and correct what cost them the game against UCLA this past Saturday — a 42-32 result where the defense could not stop UCLA at all — and prepare for the seventh-ranked and unbeaten USC Trojans.

It’s one of the biggest games on the Pac-12 calendar all season. Utah welcomes USC to Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday at 5 p.m. PT (FOX has the broadcast) and will look to slow down one of the top-scoring offenses in the country.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham met with reporters on Monday to recap the UCLA game, preview USC, and cover a bunch in relation to where his team is at six games into the season. He also offered some very revelatory thoughts on the state of the game with regard to the transfer portal and NIL.

Here’s everything he said, with video of the press conference at the bottom.

Opening statement

“Got beat by a very good UCLA team this past weekend. Most physical UCLA team that we’ve faced since I’ve been the head coach, or since we’ve been in the Pac-12. Very good offensively, ran the ball very effectively, threw the ball effectively. We didn’t do much on defense to deter that. Missed a bunch of tackles. They made a bunch of big plays on us, as evidenced by 42 points with only 21 first downs. That’s uncommon. That means there’s a lot of big plays going on. Give them credit. Give them all the credit. Quarterback played exceptionally well.

“Defensively, it was very reminiscent of the Florida game as far as the overall feel afterward. Little bit different set of problems, but not that much different. Offensively, I thought we played well. We had 480 (yards, technically 479), 32 first downs. Again, when you make a bunch of first downs like that and have 480, it should translate into a few more points, but for some reason, we were only able to score 25 points offensively. Red zone was pretty good, we were 3-of-4 production in the red zone, three touchdowns and one field goal. We just didn’t finish drives like we could’ve, should’ve. Only had 10 possessions, which, again, college football has really gotten much less in terms of the possessions for each team so you have to maximize and make the most of your possessions. Although we moved the ball well, we didn’t score enough points to get it done.

“Special teams, not a big factor again. Kickoff coverage was once again a negative for us. Gave them good field position far too often, which has been a theme for this season so far. We gotta somehow get that turned around. We’ve made every effort. We gotta continue to find ways to get that corrected.

“SC this week, doesn’t get any easier. Good football team. A lot of similarities offensively with us and them as far as production. Very different styles of play and very different philosophical approaches, but we’re both getting within 4 or 5 yards of each other total offense, within a point in total points a game. There’s a lot of common ground there, but they’re far more spread-it-out/four-wide-receiver sets than we are. It’s going to be a big challenge. We’ve got them at home in Rice-Eccles, which is a big plus. Our guys really enjoy playing at home and the home crowd gives us a big advantage.

“We find ourselves in a very similar situation as we did last year. it’s very similar and we handled it well last year. We’ll see if we can handle it well this year. That’s where we’re at.”

On the defensive coverage against UCLA

“We had a Cover 2 hybrid coverage we thought was gonna be effective for these guys. It wasn’t your traditional Cover 2. We just tried to confuse the quarterback, tried to give him different looks, tried to give him pre-snap false indicators.”

On youth in the front seven maybe forcing them to change what they want to do

“No, I think we can do what we need to do. We’re allowing less pass yards than anyone in the conference, I think. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re playing great pass defense because pass efficiency is much more important, but even there we’re No. 2 in the league in pass efficiency defense.”

(Utah is first in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per game, first in completion percentage against, second in quarterback rating against, and fourth in yards per pass attempt allowed.)

“I think that when we have had issues, it’s been primarily run defense this season. I don’t think the pass game has been tearing us up and I don’t think we need to have a wholesale change in our approach. We’ve gotten back to more man coverage.

“We do need to get more pressure on the quarterback. One of our issues is we’re not getting enough pressure with a four-man rush. We’ve got to bring pressure with five or more to get any heat on the quarterback. That’s been a concern and an ongoing problem through the first half of the season, which we’re right at the halfway point. That’s an evaluation that is not hard to figure out.”

On Tavion Thomas not getting much work in the second half

“We were playing catch-up a little bit — not big-time catch-up, but he was a little bit tired. He’s still not in great shape. He did carry the ball 18 times, that’s still a pretty big workload for a game. He did play his best game of the year, most productive game of the year. Maybe in hindsight, should’ve given him a few more carries in the second half. But it wasn’t by design to go away from him in the second half.”

On his consistency and accountability in recent weeks

“Much better. Much better. Much better. As long as we don’t have setbacks, we’re hoping that he’s able to… Because last year it was really about this time where he started to break out. We’re hoping we get the same thing this year where he can stay on track.”

On whether there’s been real improvement for the defense over six games or if the easier games between Florida and UCLA masked things

“Well, we’ve had two bad games and four really good games. We’re still first or second in the league in total D, first or second in scoring D, so apparently other people are having more problems than we are. We’re not perfect. We haven’t been as good as we need to be in two of the six games. There’s no doubt about that. But we were pretty darn good against Arizona State and Oregon State. Don’t know, don’t have a reason why the wheels kind of came off in those two games (Florida and UCLA).”

On USC’s defense

“Really good front four. They’ve got a good front four. They’re leading the nation in sacks. They can get after the quarterback. Secondary’s always athletic at SC. You can look at any year for the last 50 years and they’ve got great athletes back there. Between the secondary and the way the front’s playing, that’s really the reason why they’ve been having success.”

On Thomas Yassmin’s health

“We’ll find out. I don’t know. I haven’t talked to the doctors today but we never talk about likelihood. We hope he’s available but I couldn’t tell you right now. He’s got a problem that is a day-to-day thing. We’ll see. It’s not something you can say definitively this or definitively that. It’s just how he responds to treatment.”

On how they get Dalton Kincaid more involved in the offense

“To get Dalton more involved in the offense we have to involve him more. We have to throw the ball to him more, target him more. I think he had four catches, which is not enough. He has not been as much of a focal point of the offense as he needs to be. Now, other teams are very aware of him, they do a good job trying to cover him and trying to take him away, but he’s one of our best weapons and he does need more targets. I said that last week. We still need to do a better job of that. Devaughn Vele, same thing. Even though he caught another six or seven balls for nearly 100 yards. Those are our two real playmakers in the throw game.”

On other teams being able to key on Kincaid without Brant Kuithe and if he feels the playbook is restricted without Kuithe

“Brant was obviously a huge part of the offense and with him and Dalton on the field, that really freed up Dalton more. Players go down and it’s next-man-up mentality. We’ve got to adjust as coaches and make sure that we feature the right guys each week. The essence of offense is getting the ball in the hands of your playmakers. It’s not the plays themselves. It’s get the ball to the guys that can do it and we’re doing a pretty good job. … We can sit here and talk about what we’re not doing exactly right every week, but overall I think we’re doing a pretty good job offensively.”

On how much of an emphasis touchbacks are in the kickoff game

“It’s a major emphasis and so if you’ve got any eligibility and you can kick, meet me out there at 3 o’clock.

“Ideally, we would like to have every kickoff be a touchback and not have to worry about defending the return. Put the ball at the 25 and let’s go. Right now with the way we’re doing it, we’re better off kicking it out of bounds and putting it at the 35 and let’s go. Teams have been getting past the 35 with regularity. It’s a definite concern.”

On the offensive line

“We had some breakdowns on Saturday that you don’t like to see happen, which led to a couple sacks. But overall, I would say the offensive line is playing efficiently. B-plus, if you want to put a grade on it I guess. We’re not giving up excessive sacks, we’re running the ball effectively. I think we’re second or third in the league rushing the football. … We’re doing some good things with the offensive line. Is there room for improvement? Yeah, just like every other position. But they’ve been pretty productive so far.”

On the emotions of the game considering they will be wearing new “#22Forever” hand-painted helmets for the matchup

“It could have a little effect in that regard. We’ll see. We certainly try to remember those guys every day. It’s not just the game that you wear the helmet. But it could have a little more spark and a little more added incentive.”

On USC quarterback Caleb Williams

“Good quarterback. Him and Cam (Rising) are very close statistically. We look really at QBR and efficiency. He’s thrown for more yards per game than Cam has per game, but when you look at the efficiency rating and QBR. In fact Cam’s ahead of him (in QBR). I think DTR’s the No. 1 QBR in our league now, Cam’s right behind him. I think they’re (No.) 6 and 7. Caleb’s right (there) four or five slots behind them (at No. 11). He’s doing a good job just like Cam is.

“He’s got a bunch of receivers to throw to. That’s as deep and as talented a receiving corps as maybe there is in the country. Maybe the best. A lot of weaponry for him to get the ball and spread it out.”

On not being able to generate four-man pressures

“Huge concern. Absolutely a huge concern. We’ve got to do a better job coaching pass rush and setting our guys up for success. Maybe the twist games, maybe the stunts you run with your front, maybe we need to incorporate more of that. We’re looking at everything. It’s a big concern. But still, as concerning as it is, we’re playing the pass pretty darned good. But we’d like to get more pressure. That would be ideal.”

On Ja’Quinden Jackson’s role in the backfield

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He’s making progress each week. This is only, what, his third week at running back this year? With Tavion starting to emerge, there’s only so many reps and so many touches but he still is right in the mix there. He’s in the top four and you typically use four backs in the season. He’s a guy that, as things progress, hopefully he’ll be able to become more of a factor for us.”

On if Jaylon Glover is in the same situation

“Exactly. There’s only X amount of carries and right now Tavion’s going to get the bulk of those carries.”

On getting Makai Cope and Money Parks involved

“It’s real good. The more guys you can spread the ball to confidently, it takes some of the pressure off those two main targets. Those guys will continue to be the two main targets, but to supplement what they’re doing with Money, Jaylen Dixon, Makai Cope — especially in this game, caught three or four balls — that is a benefit for us.”

On coaching against penalties

“The penalties at some points were damaging, more damaging than at others. Overall, we’re top-third in the league in fewest penalties. I think we’re fourth.” (They are.) “The big one that stands out to me in that game was the roughing the passer. We’d just come off a score, it’s 21-18, we’re about to get a three-and-out and get the ball back and all the momentum was our way. You get that penalty, it extends the drive, and they subsequently score a touchdown. That squashed any momentum we had. Did that one play cost us the game? As I said after the game, no. Absolutely not. There were 70 other, 60 other defensive plays we had. That was an unfortunate, untimely (play).

“You’d like to avoid untimely, damaging penalties, but through the course of the year, there’s gonna be a handful of them. There’s just no way around it.”

On UCLA catching them off-guard with tempo

“A couple times they did. Part of Coach (Morgan) Scalley’s approach to defense is to get a look at the set and get a call in that fits that set and personnel group. You know, we’re first in the league so how can you argue with that? I mean, everything has its pluses and its minuses. We did a study about the tempo and there’s been 43 occasions this year where we felt like our guys weren’t completely set and ready for the play. The statistics on those plays were pretty much the same as the statistics on all the plays where they were set, as far as yards per play.

“We think the benefit (of Scalley’s approach) outweighs maybe getting caught without being completely set. But, again, on those plays where we weren’t set, the stats were no different.”

On what he knows of Lincoln Riley

“Don’t know him very well at all. Crossed paths a few times on the recruiting trail when he was at Oklahoma. Of course, sat in meetings with him a couple times since he’s been in the league. No real time spent with him or sit down and have a conversation. Mainly just casual hellos.

“Obviously doing a great job at USC. Obviously the transfer portal is being manifest how impactful it can be there and at Oklahoma. Oklahoma had mass departures. USC had mass influx of talent. You see what’s happening. Teams are going to be able to make major improvement or go the other way more so than ever before because of the amount of turnover on your roster. There’s far more turnover on your roster now than there ever has been in the modern era of college football.”

On how you go about retaining players

“Pay them a bunch of money. Do you have money we can use to pay them? That’s kind of what it comes down to, that’s what it’s coming to. I’m not accusing anyone of illegal improprieties or anything like that because it’s above board now with NIL, but as I said before, there’s going to come a time in the very, very near future where the top-25 NIL pots of money are going to mirror exactly the top-25 teams in the country.

“That’s just how it is. That’s where it’s headed. There’s no debate about it, unless they change the rules. But I don’t know how (the NCAA is) going to backpedal now with the can of worms that they’ve opened.”

On whether the changes brought about by the transfer portal are hard to embrace

“It’s more than hard. It gives you a huge distaste for the game and for how it’s run and for the direction it’s going. Is that harsh enough?”