AP/Douglas C. Pizac
Friday, Oct. 9, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Rob Miech discuss UNLV and BYU's upcoming Saturday night clash at Sam Boyd Stadium, which pits a red-hot Cougars offense against a Rebels defense -- and head coach, for that matter -- that is truly against the ropes.
- Notebook: Anthony cleared, ready to dish it out
- Kantowski: Meditations on UNLV’s beleaguered football coach
- BYU quarterback Max Hall talks UNLV, early success
- Mondays with Mike: Questions linger following UNR loss
- Wolf Pack runs Rebels ragged in 63-28 blowout
- UNLV-UNR: By the numbers
- 2009 season stats
What others are saying
Read what other writers are saying about UNLV's upcoming game against BYU:
- Deseret News: BYU heading back on road for MWC games
- Deseret News: Unga back in the saddle
- Deseret News: It's step-up time again
- Daily Herald: BYU needs to watch out while Rebels fight themselves
- Daily Herald: Mendenhall says Te'o's lying about DUI incident led to dismissal
- Salt Lake Tribune: RB Tonga is making comeback worth it
- Salt Lake Tribune: Inexperienced offensive line has been solid
“A part of me does,” he says, “then a part of me doesn’t.”
Unga knows Rebels defensive coordinator Dennis Therrell and his staff are keenly aware of those excessive figures, too.
“I think a defensive coordinator … makes an emphasis to work on the run defense,” Unga says. “It’s nice to hear those kind of things. It gives me hope.
“At the same time, they’ll prepare for the run game because they don’t want the same thing to happen to them the next week, or following week. There’s a good and bad part.”
When No. 18 BYU (4-1, 1-0 in the Mountain West Conference) plays UNLV (2-3, 0-1) on Saturday night, the Cougars will rely on the sure-handed Unga to keep the Rebels off-balance.
He’s a tad dinged up, with a broken pinky and a left hamstring, which he injured during camp, that he pegged at around 90 percent after a practice this week.
But Unga – whose last name has a soft “g” as in “tongue” … see his father’s video at the bottom of his BYU player page here -- definitely will be the danger man Saturday against one of the NCAA’s worst defenses.
With 31 receiving yards, he’ll become the ninth Cougar to record at least 1,000 yards on the ground and through the air.
He’s averaging more than 86 rushing yards this season, which is among the top 40 in the country. And in that select group, his 6.16-yard average is top-10 material.
An NFL scouting service rates Unga as a fourth-round selection in the next draft.
Unga and the rest of BYU’s running backs attribute their stubbornness to assistant coach Lance Reynolds and something the unit describes as efficiency running.
When a Cougar busts through the line for at least 4 or 4 1/2 yards, Reynolds smiles.
“We feel like that’s an efficient run,” Unga says. “That’s a goal we like to get. There are times we’re stuck in the backfield or after a yard or two, but if we can get those extra two yards, coach doesn’t seem too frustrated.
“It helps with the offense, chipping away. In the end, it adds up.”
Unga was close to starting his collegiate career at Utah, to which he had verbally committed after helping Provo Timpview High win a state title in 2004, when he tested new Utes coach Kyle Whittingham.
Coach, I’ve decided to go to BYU.
“He was pretty upset,” Unga told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Whittingham said, ‘Those guys are going to switch you to linebacker … You’re going to wish you never went there … You’re going to call back and want to go to Utah.’
“It turned me off. He flipped on me.”
Then Unga, son of former BYU running back Jackson Unga, rang Reynolds and tested him, telling Reynolds he was going to stick with his original plan to be a Ute.
“He told me, ‘You’re going to do great things up there … It’s going to be tough when we play you guys … we know you’re going to be a great player,’ ” Harvey Unga told the Tribune.
“I thought, ‘These are the kind of guys I want to play for.’ ”
The younger Unga was gauging the coaches’ feelings for him against their feelings for their programs.
“It was sly,” said Jackson Unga.
When Harvey Unga called Reynolds back to tell him of his true intention to be a Cougar, Reynolds said, Oh man, you don’t know how much this means to me.
“It was like Christmas Day for coach Reynolds,” Harvey told the Tribune.
He hasn’t regretted the move. Unga has a dozen 100-yard games, including a career-best 177-yard effort two years ago against UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium.
BYU has won 24 of its past 26 conference games, a run of dominance that Unga attributes to fifth-year coach Bronco Mendenhall’s recruiting efforts.
“They’re hard-working guys, quality guys who know how to get the job done,” Unga says. “We have good camaraderie here. It feels like we play with more respect, just a greater love and care for one another.
“We think of each other as brothers. I’m sure each team does, but it’s different with BYU. BYU’s a different institution, there’s a different meaning behind it.”