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Now that everyone — including Kyle Whittingham — has determined that Utah's offense blew it last year, that it must become more consistent, more explosive, more passing-aggressive for the Utes to boost their chances of climbing to the top of the Pac-12, what about the guys on the other side, the ones who have played such a large role over the years in gaining the ground Utah football has already won?

What about … the defense?

Well. No big surprise: It's going to be good, maybe great.

"At times," Whittingham says, "they've looked real good."

Much of the confidence he is feeling stems from that basic, foundational fact. When a coach has Lowell Lotulelei and Hunter Dimick and Kylie Fitts and Filipo Mokofisi and Pita Taumoepenu and Marcus Williams and Reggie Porter and Dominique Hatfield and Justin Thomas and a whole lot more, a warm feeling fills his heart and possibilities fill his mind.

No matter what those pretty boys, those glory guys over on the offense do, the ones who throw and catch the passes and run with the ball and score the touchdowns and who get the headlines and the girl, the defensive grunts are the ones upon whose backs the team's success is built.

Think Alabama.

In two of the three years Nick Saban has won national championships with the Crimson Tide, his defense finished first in scoring defense and first in overall defense. Last season, when he got his third title, Alabama ranked in the top five in both of those categories. Meantime, the Tide offense, which has had some nice running backs, was nobody's idea of exceptional or innovative.

The notion that defense wins championships has always been tired and bothersome. Last time anybody checked, you've got to score points to win. The equation must be balanced, or at least not as lopsided as an Akebono backflip. But while the offense is still figuring itself out, with a new quarterback, a new starting running back, key new receivers, or receivers that haven't proved themselves in the past, it sure is a beautiful thing for the Utes to know what they've got, on the whole, when it comes to interfering with the typically potent offenses in the Pac-12.

One national publication in the preseason ranked Utah's defensive front as the second-best in the country. Another had the secondary among the best. And it's easy to see why. A number of the big'uns up front will be playing in the NFL when their college days are over, led by Lotulelei, who will be a first-round draft pick. Dimick and Fitts will make life worrisome for the conference's quarterbacks and, in tandem with the talented back end, are well equipped to severely limit the points offenses can muster.

Dimick, a senior who has been named a team captain, says he's more excited for this defense, and this Ute team in its entirety, than any of which he's been a part: "Everybody knows their job and is doing their job in camp. Everybody's flying around. Everybody's clicking. This defense can be good, really good. I'm really excited about it."

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley repeats a thought he's stated since being promoted to that position during the offseason. He not only wants his defense to be physical, daunting and intimidating — a reputation it has earned under previous D-coordinators — he wants it to be cerebral.

"The smarter you are on defense, the better," he says. "If you understand situations, if you know an offense's tendencies, if you communicate with your teammates, if you put yourself in good positions, you can be relentless with the other stuff — causing turnovers, creating havoc, being tough and nasty. That's what I want."

One of the encouraging signs he's seen with this defensive iteration, along with the talent, is its connectedness: "I love the camaraderie. The more guys in their down time are talking to each other about football, that's a good thing. When they have a love and a passion for it, when they're consumed by it. I'm excited where we're headed."

Whittingham says Scalley has stirred strong effort out of his players, and "there's been no drop off in effort, intensity, focus, concentration. He's got those guys playing hard and that's 90 percent of it. If the players will play for you, you've got a chance."

If the Utes can get solid play out of their linebackers, athletes such as Sunia Tauteoli and Cody Barton and Kavika Luafatasaga, who are replacing a stellar group formerly led by Jared Norris and Gionni Paul, their defense will be complete.

"It will be a fun group to watch," Scalley said. "I can tell you that."

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.