Tyler Cobb, Deseret News
The entire Utah defense has been getting in on the action this season in leading the Utes to a top ranking.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's defense has been pretty stingy.

The Utes have kept opposing offenses out of the end zone — limiting them to field goals or less — in 20 of 28 quarters this season. They enter Saturday's game at Air Force ranked among the nation's elite in scoring defense (fourth, 12.9 ppg), total defense (fifth, 247.3 ypg), rushing defense (sixth, 87.4 ypg), passing defense (10th, 159.9 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (107.7 rating).

"I think we're playing assignment-sound football. We've got good players on defense," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "It starts with the defensive line. They've played well all season long. The linebackers have played well. The secondary has played well."

Over the past eight quarters of play, they've given up just one touchdown and two field goals.

"We're just executing our assignments that much better. I think with time, over each game, we've improved defensively," said defensive end Christian Cox. "Collectively we understand exactly where we need to be and we get those jobs done like we're supposed to do."

Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga noted that it requires focus on every play.

"The main thing is we're keeping ourselves disciplined in what we do," he said.

Siliga explained that the variables include the way they tackle and the way assignments are filled. Trust is also an issue, knowing that guys will be in the right spots.

"We just do our job. We just really stick to what we're supposed to be doing," Cox said. "Our defense is designed that if you do that, then teams will struggle offensively against us."

Statistics, though, don't motivate Utah's defense.

"We're not really big on stats and so you'll never see me trying to look at all the stats and where we rank," said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. "All I care about and all this staff cares about is winning. I think it's gone to our players."

At 7-0 overall and 4-0 in Mountain West Conference play, the mission is being accomplished — and in a big way.

"All we care about is the win. Whether we win by five points, one point, it doesn't really matter," Sitake said. "We're just trying to get the win. Stats, I guess, that's just for everybody else to worry about."

The bottom line is the bottom line for Utah's defense.

"It's a group of guys that takes a great deal of pride in what they're doing," Whittingham said.

Utah's defense by the numbers

517 — Tackles

288 — Assisted tackles

229 — Solo tackles

159.9 — Average pass yards allowed per game

87.4 — Average rush yards allowed per game

55 — Tackles by Chaz Walker

51 — Tackles-for-loss

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35 — Percentage of red-zone touchdowns allowed

30 — Percentage of fourth-down conversions allowed

28 — Percentage of third-down conversions allowed

24 — Pass breakups

22 — Sacks

9.5 — Tackles-for-loss by Lamar Chapman

5.5 — Sacks by Lamar Chapman

5 — Interceptions

4 — Forced fumbles

4 — Pass breakups by Brian Blechen and Brandon Burton

3 — Fumble recoveries

2.5 — Average rush yards allowed per play

Utes on the air

No. 8 Utah (7-0) at Air Force (5-3)

Saturday, 5:30 p.m.

Falcon Stadium, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.

TV: CBS C Radio: 700 AM

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com