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DEKALB, Ill. — Utah’s defense came up big in Saturday’s 17-6 win at Northern Illinois. As such, it was only fitting that linebacker Chase Hansen’s 40-yard interception return for a score sealed the deal late in the fourth quarter/

The Utes held the Huskies to just 228 yards of total offense to win the first meeting between the teams. Cody Barton and Hansen combined for 25 tackles. Jaylon Johnson added eight, while John Penisini accounted for seven stops. Corrion Ballard finished with six and two forced fumbles.

Utah’s offense and special teams, though, didn’t play as well — in fact, not even close because of miscues and missed opportunities.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that the degree of difficulty goes up with the Washington Huskies coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday.

“The degree of difficulty goes up,” he said. “And we have got to perform much better and I think our guys will. I think they’ll bounce back.”

WHY HERE?: New Utah athletic director Mark Harlan addressed the big question before the Utes left Salt Lake City.

“Well, I don’t have all the answers as to why we’re playing at Northern Illinois. What I can say generally is scheduling is a riddle in any place I’ve been,” Harlan said. “So I don’t disparage, nor anything further, about why we’re playing there.”

Harlan added that he is familiar with NIU’s winning percentage, particularly at Huskie Stadium.

“We competed against them when I was at South Florida a couple of years ago,” Harlan said. “Tough, tough team.”

FIRST TIMERS: Earlier in the week, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey noted the significance of having a Pac-12 team play at Huskie Stadium for the first time.

“To have a quality opponent like Utah coming in, it’s a big deal for us — our community, our university and all that,” he said.

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BEEHIVE CONNECTIONS: College football fans in Utah will see a lot of NUI. The Huskies play at BYU on Oct. 27. The Utes will host the Huskies on Sept. 7, 2019, while the Cougars are headed to DeKalb for a game on Oct. 24, 2020.

EXTRA POINTS: Left guard Orlando Umana made his first career start for the Utes . . . Utah used approximately 700 of the 800 tickets it was allotted . . . Scouts from the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders were credentialed for the game. The CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders were also represented . . . The announced attendance was 16,762.