Utah coach Kyle Whittingham quipped that he almost had to consider using offensive players on the defensive side due to the rash of injuries that have left that unit depleted.

The Utes entered Saturday’s game against No. 19 Washington State with three of their most-impactful players not even in uniform. The team’s second-, third- and fourth-leading tacklers who play in the heart of the defense were all out.

Starting linebacker Sunia Tauteoli (58 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, one interception) and starting safeties Marquise Blair (48 tackles, one fumble recovery for a touchdown) and Chase Hansen (45 tackles, one interception) were all out with injuries. Blair suffered a season-ending injury in last week’s game against UCLA.

During Saturday’s 33-25 loss, the Utes saw defensive end Kylie Fitts go down.

The Utes still managed to hold Washington State’s high-powered offense – the second-ranked passing attack in the FBS coming into the weekend – to 311 passing yards on 69 attempts.

The defense featured myriad moving pieces with cornerback Julian Blackmon playing safety, linebacker Kavika Luafatasaga rushing the passer and Donovan Thompson and Cody Barton starting at linebacker.

“Coach always preaches next man up,” said junior safety Corrion Ballard. “You can’t even think about it. Just next man up.”

Ballard called it “fun” to defend against 69 pass attempts form the Washington State offense. The Utes intercepted Washington State’s record-setting quarterback and former Logan High star Luke Falk twice, including one by Ballard in the third quarter.

“Especially being a [defensive back], you dream about games like this – an all-passing team,” Ballard said. “It was pretty fun.”

What wasn’t fun was the way the Utes offensive struggles put the defense in tough situations. Five times the Cougars started drives on the Utah side of the field. Three of those possessions started inside the Utah 20-yard line. Of those five possessions, the Utes three times held the Cougars to field-goal attempts (one missed) and allowed two touchdowns.

“I was proud of our defense,” Whittingham said. “I thought our defense was lights-out tonight. Washington State averaged less than four yards a play, which is unbelievable good defense. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to overcome six turnovers, actually seven but that last hail Mary that’s not really in that equation. …

“Defense had their backs to the wall the entire first half. It could have very easily got out of hand in the first half, but our red-zone defense was tremendous.”