The season didn’t begin the way No. 7 Utah hoped it would. An instant classic inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium went the way of the Florida Gators after a last-minute interception halted a potential game-tying or game-winning drive from Utah at the end. The Utes lost 29-26.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham met with the media Monday morning to discuss the game, the interception from quarterback Cameron Rising, a “nightmarish” travel schedule after the game — Utah’s flight home was canceled, stranding the team in Florida — the run defense, and more.

You can find everything he said below, edited very lightly for clarity. The press conference can also be seen in its entirety at the bottom.

Opening statement

“Tough, physical game down in Gainesville. Just what we expected. They’re an outstanding football team. Quarterback’s a tremendous player. They’re physical, they’re fast, everything you’d expect in an upper-level SEC team. That’s who they are. Hostile environment. It was loud. But all that stuff… nothing took us by surprise. We were expecting exactly what we got as far as the atmosphere and the match-up.

“A lot of good things with us. I thought the offense played exceptionally well, with the one glaring exception of red zone production. That’s a big exception. Had we been productive in the red zone, we win the game. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We were in the red zone six times and only came away with three touchdowns. That’s not good enough. Conversely, they’re in three times and came away with touchdowns all three times. That, really, was the biggest difference in the game.

“Otherwise offensively, we took care of the football other than the last interception. Had good production — 450 yards, ish. Ran the football exceptionally well, particularly in the second half.

“Defensively, different story. We weren’t very good on defense. That’s the bottom line. We were far too soft in the run game, missed too many tackles, not good enough in the red zone. That was really disappointing to see our defense not play as well as they’re capable of. We’ve got to coach them better.

“We won the special teams battle but special teams was not really a factor in this game. There was no big standout special teams plays that swung the momentum one way or the other, but we were solid on special teams — which was good to see because last year we had our struggles, special teams-wise. It was good to see us start off against a quality opponent with a good outing.

“We’ve got to put it behind us. We had our chances to win. We make one play on defense at the end there, one play on offense — one more play on offense I guess I should say — we win the game. We didn’t get it done. They did. They made the plays they needed to make. They’re a good football team. I expect them to win a bunch of games this year. Their quarterback is, as I said, exceptional.

“We’ve got to get ready to play this week. It’s a typical game-week, in-season schedule. We’ll go out and do some walk-through stuff today, then put the pads back on tomorrow and get after it. It’s going to be great playing in front of our home crowd at Rice-Eccles. … A lot of football left. I like this team a lot and I think we can win a bunch of games this year.”

On the travel issues

“You guys heard about that, huh? Yeah. In my 30 years of coaching that was the most nightmarish, ridiculous situation that I’ve ever come across. I’ll leave it at that. It was one thing after the other. Didn’t get home until late last night — not real late, but 8:30-ish I think we pulled in here. Feel bad for the players because those guys, when you play a physical game like that — any game is physical but especially that one — and you have no time to rest and recover. I mean, you’re sitting on a bus and then sitting on a plane and then sitting in a terminal. I felt bad for those guys. Coaches, we can deal with it, but the players, it was unfortunate to have them have to go through that.”

On the third- and fourth-and-goal stops that might have been reviewed, and who would tell him to challenge

KW: “Whoever gets a good look at the monitors is upstairs. They have the feed.”

Q: “Are you talking about the officials up there or the coaching staff?”

KW: “No. Coaching staff. The officials never communicate to us on stuff like that. It’s from our own personnel. Again, they look at every play. It’s not like if you don’t challenge it, it’s not being reviewed. It is being reviewed. Every play is reviewed. Every single play in the entire game, the replay guys are looking at things and if they see something suspect or questionable they stop and keep looking. Nobody up there thought that… or at least nobody had a vantage point where they thought it should have been challenged by us.”

Q: “Have you seen the play?”

KW: “I’ve seen it on our tape and it looks questionable on our tape. I’ve had people tell me that watched it on TV that, ‘No, (Rising) was down.’ I don’t know. Part of the game, though. But they had ample time to look at it.”

On the red zone struggles

“We fell down on the play a couple plays previous. I think he had a walk-in. It was a G-Lead play to our left side and Tavion (Thomas) tripped on Cam’s knee and fell down, otherwise he gets in. The last fourth-and-goal, they made a nice stop on Tavion and kept him out of the end zone. As you re-examine it, we can be a little more creative play-calling-wise. That’s the first thing coach (Andy) Ludwig will tell you, maybe we (shouldn’t) be quite so vanilla down there. But, last year we were a very good red zone team. Again, give a lot of credit to Florida for what they did down there.”

On getting better this week

“We’ve got to worry about ourselves. Who we play this week — at least today — is inconsequential until we get our own problems solved. If you watch the tape, our run defense was just abysmal. We gave up nearly 300 yards rushing. Didn’t gap control well, didn’t take on blocks well, didn’t do anything well, didn’t tackle well. There’s nothing we did of any redeeming value in the run defense.

“Their throw game didn’t really… I mean, they were efficient with it but 160 yards, that’s very pedestrian in this day and age of college football. It was the run game that really did us in.”

On if there was one thing that stood out about the run defense

“Not really. It wasn’t one particular play or schematic. The quarterback obviously hurt us. He had 100 yards rushing or somewhere in that neighborhood, and that was a big part of it. A lot of those yards came off broken pass plays, so it wasn’t just traditional run plays. Just too soft overall and the gap control was sloppy inside. Just really sloppy. The fits. The run fits were not good.

On the third-and-goal play from Rising, again

KW: “So you’re telling me Cam was in without a doubt?”

Q: “No, there’s a doubt. There was one angle that was questionable.”

KW: “Questionable? Yep. Any time it’s questionable, you’re not going to get the call because it’s going to be upheld or whatever they call it — stands, the ruling on the field stands. That probably would have been the outcome.”

On the interception to end the game

“Dalton (Kincaid) fell down. That’s who he was going to. It was a little turn route and Dalton fell down. They played a nice scheme with two low rat players in the red zone, that was their coverage of choice down there. The inside rat player did a nice job and I don’t think Cam saw him. I haven’t talked to Cam specifically about it, but I watched the tape and talked to Andy about it.”

On that play being a learning moment

“Every game’s big, so I don’t buy into this is any more important than the other game. Cam is our guy. I thought he had a good night. Nearly 70% completion percentage, over 200 yards. Very valuable running the football. Cam is our leader, and even though he wishes he had that one back, I thought he played well for the most part.”

On what defensive changes can and should be made

“Well, you make changes if you think you’ve got guys that are better that aren’t playing that need an opportunity. If you’re questioning your personnel then you give guys in practice more of a look. But we’ve just got to get better across the board in the front seven. The front seven was just not what we’re used to. It was sloppy, which is a word I keep going back to because that’s what it was. Sloppy technique-wise, sloppy fundamentally, sloppy tackling, sloppy fits. We just were not in the right places at the right time. And when we were there, I think we missed 27 tackles. Way high for us. We’re usually single digits.”

On the receivers

“We’d like to see more production on the outside. But we sure got great production from Brant and Dalton added a few catches. Those guys are going to be as much of a focal point in the throw game as the wideouts because they’re so talented.

“Devaughn Vele needs to have more of a presence in the game. Credit the Florida DBs. They’re quick, fast DBs. Those corners are outstanding. That’s as good a personnel as we may see all year long. Maybe the best. I’m just telling you right now, they have excellent personnel. Danny Mullen did a great job of recruiting there and leaving that cupboard completely stocked.”

On the offensive line play

“I thought they played very well. I thought they played very well given the first game of the season, the level of the opponent. We didn’t play as well in the first half as we did in the second but we allowed zero sacks. Cam had plenty of time on most all the dropbacks, even though he left the pocket a couple of times when he didn’t need to because the protection was clean and it was a clean pocket.

“I give them a B+ grade. They were physical. We made a late move, Sataoa (Laumea) out to offensive tackle, he performed admirably out there. That’s a move that’s going to stick. Michael Mokofisi, the freshman, was very physical and I know his best days are ahead of him. I think we’ve got the right five out there and I thought they played very well. Wasn’t perfect, but again, they were playing against really good guys, so they’re going to make some plays on the other side of the ball.”

On what led to Laumea’s move to tackle

“Just in practice, the speed rushers, we knew Florida had speed off the edge and we just felt like — and he played tackle in high school so it’s not new to him — after long evaluation and examination that that was our best option and it proved to be the case. Like I said, barring injury or unforeseen circumstances that’s going to be the configuration.

On if that moves Mokofisi to right guard


On where Jaren Kump fits in

“Jaren is one of our six best linemen. He’s going to get reps inside and outside. If we have an issue or someone goes down — barring the center because the center’s the unique spot and you’ve got to have a different skillset being able to snap the ball, Jaren’s not real comfortable there yet. He’s going to get reps inside and if we have an issue then he’s the guy that would be the first guy up.”

On the linebackers in the run defense

“Need to play better. They were obviously part of the incorrect run fits. Didn’t match up in the route combinations like we needed to at times — left some guys open, overran some things, weren’t real disciplined there. If you look at the entire game — the entire offense, defense, special teams — our biggest deficiencies were in the front seven on defense. That includes front guys and the ‘backers.”

On how to make sure an early loss doesn’t snowball

“Learning from what we did wrong, correcting mistakes. Continue to work hard. Not ever change your work habits based on the opponent. You’ve got to work at a high level. You’ve got to prepare the right way. Everybody’s gotta get better.

“I really like this team, like I said. I think this team’s got a bunch of wins in it this year. We’ll see how far we can take it. One game early in the season is not going to derail that as long as the leadership stays strong and everyone stays focused. I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t happen.”

On the benefits of playing in The Swamp

“I thought we handled it exceptionally well, especially on offense where the noise really factors in. … I thought our offense was exceptional handling the noise. We had only three penalties the entire game. One was by design, the delay of game trying to get them offside. We had two false starts in Game 1 and that was it. When you look at it in that respect, I thought our guys handled it very well. We’ve been in big games before, big environments, and so I don’t think they were overwhelmed in the least.”

On what he says to the team after the game

“You just point out why we lost. It wasn’t for lack of effort or lack of competitiveness or heart or any of that stuff. It was just things that we can control and get better at. That’s what you point out and then you move forward.”

On Jaylon Glover

“He didn’t (play). He was scheduled to possibly get time. There wasn’t a plan where he was definitely going to get time. He’s got a bright future here. He’s had some issues through fall camp, things he needs to get better at before we feel completely comfortable putting him in the game. He’s working hard toward that end. You’ll see him. As the season progresses, you’ll see him.”

On Chris Curry’s work ethic

“It’s a credit to him and his toughness and seeing the big picture and being a team guy and not running away when the competition gets a little stuff. I’m proud of Chris. I’m a Chris Curry fan. I think he’s a great teammate and a great guy to have as one of your leaders. Players respect him. He did give us meaningful snaps, had a couple nice runs. That speaks to a guy who just will stay the course and stick it out and not turn tail the first sign of having to be challenged by somebody.”