Utah’s Kyle Whittingham was asked on Monday how much of an area of emphasis touchbacks are in the kickoff game and he immediately quipped back with some playful banter to mask what is some very real frustration.

“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,” he told a reporter at his Monday press conference.

UCLA’s Kaz Allen caused the Utes problems. He got three cracks at kick returns on short boots. He returned one for 27 yards, one for 33 yards, and one for 43 yards.

“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,” Whittingham said. “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.”

UCLA’s drives started, on average, at the 34-yard-line. There were other factors that contributed to a 42-32 loss to the Bruins on Saturday, but you don’t want to be giving good offenses shorter fields to work with. The longer a drive has to sustain, the less likely it is to score. Utah lost the field position battle for the first time this year.

Do it again against USC this weekend and the Utes might get hit with a similar end result.

Interestingly, Florida is the only FBS team Utah has faced this season that hasn’t had an average starting field position of at least its own 30 this season. Touchbacks aren’t coming nearly often enough.

Jordan Noyes and Jadon Redding have handled kickoffs so far this season, with 43 between the two of them. They rank 11th and 12th among 13 qualified Pac-12 kickers in touchback percentage.

“Kickoff coverage was once again a negative for us,” Whittingham said. “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.”

The 20th-ranked Utes host No. 7 USC at 5 p.m. PT on Saturday.