Utah hits the bye week at 5-2 on the year. Given the fact the year began with College Football Playoff aspirations, that’ll certainly feel like a bit of a disappointment for the Utes.

But the Utes have some serious momentum. A 43-42 win over USC last Saturday gave coach Kyle Whittingham and quarterback Cameron Rising a truly signature win on the year, and gave the program a moment it won’t soon forget. Utah’s hopes for a second consecutive Pac-12 title and a return to the Rose Bowl are still very much alive.

The work done this week will be key in keeping that alive longer. Asked on Monday what the primary goal was for Utah this week, Whittingham was clear.

“Figuring out why we’re deficient on defense right now and simplifying things and getting our players in the right frame of mind,” he said. “As coaches, that’s our job. If we’re not playing well, that’s on us. We’re getting great effort by the defenders. We’ve just got to put them in better positions to succeed. That is job No. 1.”

Utah currently ranks 11th in SP+. In that particular power model, the Utes sit only behind UCLA and Oregon in the Pac-12. Utah is there because it has the ninth-best offense in the country, using SP+.

But the Utes’ defense ranks 45th.

The group ranks 85th nationally in defensive success rate. They’ve slipped to 100th nationally in yards allowed per play and have given up 42 points each in back-to-back games.

Whittingham has been discouraged by the Utes’ inability to generate pressure from standard four-man rushes, and Saturday’s contest represented the third straight game Utah has allowed at least 170 rushing yards. The Bruins and Trojans have both averaged more than 5 yards a carry.

Utah won, but it needed a late drive and a two-point conversion to do so. Whittingham’s decision to go for the win rather than play it safe and tie the game with a PAT said everything about his confidence in the Utes’ ability to stop the Trojans. The head coach has been refreshingly blunt about the shortcomings on that side of the ball this season, and even in a win he didn’t sugarcoat things.

Asked after the game if he thought the result might build some confidence for the defense, and he responded with a sharp no.

“We didn’t play our best on defense as evidenced by the stats, as evidenced by having a hard time getting stops in the first half,” he said. “There was no lack of effort, no lack of running (to) the football. We’ve just gotta be smarter and coach them better.”

The Utes face Washington State next Thursday. We’ll see what the bye week progress brought.