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With a weekend to chew it over, coach Kyle Whittingham's message didn't change: The offense needed to get better and contribute more in Saturday's 28-27 loss to Washington State.

But losing by one point hasn't sat well on Utah's defense either. They know a stop just as easily could've won the game as another point, especially when the Cougars scored twice on fourth down.

Defensive end Hunter Dimick found it tough to shake the memory of getting his right paw on Connor Halliday on the very first touchdown pass, right before halftime. If only.

"I feel like on both of those, he had way too much time - way too much time - to throw the ball," Dimick said. "Plays need to be made. I had a hand on him, it slipped off. Little things like that have to get done."

Whittingham said despite a strong first-half effort, he felt his defense wore down. Part of that was purely match-ups: Wazzu used eight receivers in its rotation, while the Utes only went four-deep at cornerback. Tired legs played a role, Whittingham said.

But on those crucial fourth downs, when Utah could've gotten the ball back but instead surrendered six, Dimick said he thought pressure was a main issue. On both plays, pass rushers arrived a little bit late.

It's worth noting on the second of the two scores, the second had only a three-man rush with most personnel downfield to cover Washington State's four-receiver set.

Dimick said typically the defense relishes the chance to make plays when those opportunities come up.

"I like that, those third- or fourth-and-longs, because we just pin our ears back and run," he said. "It's just critical to be able to hit."

Utes unsure of Carter's return • Looking on tape, it's clear to see Utah missed starting free safety Tevin Carter on Saturday night.

They could use him this Saturday, but Whittingham said he simply doesn't know if that's the case yet.

"We sure hope so," he said. "We don't know for sure right now, but we hope to have him back. He's a very good player and it would be great to get him back."

Starting in Carter's stead, freshman Marcus Williams made nine tackles on the night. But he made critical errors on the late touchdown passes. On Halliday's third scoring pass, he bit down on a route in front of him as Dom Williams got open from behind. On the go-ahead score, Williams missed a tackle on a streaking Vince Mayle, and that was the last time a Utah defender was in front of him on an 81-yard touchdown.

The Utes do have an experienced free safety on hand, he just happens to be their starting cornerback. Whittingham said "it isn't in the cards" that Eric Rowe could make the switch back to safety. If Carter isn't available against UCLA, the next man up will simply have to do.

"Eric's playing well at corner," he said. "He had the pick-6 for us on Saturday. He's doing a lot of good things for us, so it's robbing Peter to pay Paul when you make a move like that. We're just going to be optimistic and plan on having Tevin back."

Booker officially No. 1 back • The big non-surprise of the Monday afternoon press conference was a depth chart tweak. Although Devontae Booker and Bubba Poole were listed as co-starters, Whittingham clarified that ranking.

"Devontae Booker's our guy, and Bubba Poole is our backup," he said. "After what's gone down the first four games, it's become apparent that Devontae is the most productive. He will be the starter, and Bubba is No. 2."

Booker is coming off a 178-yard breakout game in which he scored the only offensive touchdown. Poole was a virtual non-factor, rushing five times for nine yards and not getting a carry after halftime.

For the year, Booker has 357 yards on the ground with three touchdowns, and he's averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Poole has 145 yards with a score, and he's averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

Phillips gets physical • On a kickoff return right before halftime, one of the Utes special teamers managed to wrap up around the Washington State returner and wrestle him down to the turf.

Wait, No. 39? That was Andy Phillips?

Believe it or not, the Utah kicker doesn't just work with his legs. When it comes down to it, if he needs to make a tackle, he's prepared to get nasty.

"It changes, but yeah, I'm an aggressive safety," he said of the tackle, his only takedown this year. "Coach likes to use me that way, I'm a big body. If I can't bring down the guy, I can at least make him go one way or the other."

But Phillips was much more than a directional pusher on the play, as he pursued the ball carrier, determined to not let up a big return.

Phillips said he was a scout team linebacker as a redshirt freshman, and also played on some special teams scout units. He had a few conversations this fall with Jared Norris about what to do if he had to lay a guy out.

But a lot of the words of wisdom flew out of his mind as his gut told him what to do.

"I never thought an opportunity would present itself like that," he said. "At that point, I didn't even really remember what happened, I just kind of picked it up off instinct to get him down."

Whittingham wowed by UCLA's talent • The ritual of a head coach complimenting his upcoming opponent is as old as the game itself, but Whittingham's comments on the Bruins had an extra ring of authenticity as UCLA is coming off a 62-27 win over Arizona State.

There's no doubt the Bruins will be a handful. Last Thursday in primetime, they dismantled the Sun Devils riding a wave of takeaways and explosive plays. Four touchdowns came on plays of 80 yards or more, including two return touchdowns by cornerback Ishmael Adams.

"Very dangerous player, return man in the special teams aspect," Whittingham said. "Just a tremendous player. UCLA has players like that across the board."

The most praise was reserved for quarterback Brett Hundley, who is ranked in the top 10 in both passing completion and efficiency. The preseason Heisman candidate stuttered a bit at the start, but loaded up 427 total yards and five scores in his latest appearance.

He's grown up a lot since he first started under center in 2012, Whittingham said.

"As a freshman, it was painfully obvious that he had a ton of talent," he said. "But he has really honed and fine-tuned his game. He is absolutely a complete quarterback in every sense of the word. He runs the ball effectively, throws the ball effectively, makes great decisions. You can tell he's in charge of that football team."

Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon

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