Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009 | 2:33 a.m.
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Ryan Greene, Rob Miech and Alex Adeyanju digest all there was to take in from UNLV's 59-21 loss to BYU on Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.
- Opponent: Utah
- Date: Oct. 17, 7 p.m.
- Where: Sam Boyd Stadium
- TV: The Mtn. (Cox ch. 334)
- Radio: ESPN Radio 1100 AM
Then again, the Cougars were in Provo West, or Sam Boyd Stadium. And the foe was UNLV, with one of the worst defenses in the nation.
Unga blasted away for 114 yards and three touchdowns in the first half to lay the foundation for the 18th-ranked Cougars’ 59-21 dismantling of the Rebels.
A majority of the crowd of 25,597 wore BYU blue. They arrived early and cheered throughout the first game in 27 years in which the Cougars hit double figures in scoring in all four quarters.
BYU (5-1, 2-0 in the Mountain West Conference) remained undefeated in eight games against UNLV (2-4, 0-2) in the Rebels’ own stadium.
Before the game, Unga stretched and warmed up on the field beside fellow Cougars running back Manase Tonga. Even then, blue dominated the stands.
“Wow,” Tonga told Unga, “where’s all the UNLV fans?”
After the game, Unga smiled frequently.
“It was good to see the (BYU) fan base out there, the number of blue shirts out there,” he said. “It’s always good to have them rooting for us.
“We don’t really thrive off that kind of stuff. We thrive off one another. We lean on each other. We worry about that more than anything else, no lie. But it’s fun to see our fans out here.”
Unga’s left hamstring is still tender from a preseason injury, but he didn’t need to operate at full strength against a UNLV defense that came into the game ranked No. 112 in the country.
If he’s that good at 90 percent …
“Hopefully, my teammates think that and the opponents think that,” said a smiling Unga. “I just love playing the game, going out there and giving it my all. If I do that, my team will see that and thrive off that, and do the same.”
Unga finished with 149 yards on 20 carries, which helped senior quarterback Max Hall – who went 21-for-27, for 320 yards and two touchdowns – torch the Rebels through the air.
Tonga ran five times for 29 yards and caught five Hall passes for 62 yards.
“He’s consistent and he makes it look pretty easy. Before you know it, there’s 100 yards-plus,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Unga. “He and Manase are really nice complements to each other. I don’t think you can mention one without the other.”
It was Unga’s 13th triple-digit rushing effort as a Cougar and his second against UNLV at Sam Boyd. He zapped the Rebels for a career-best 177 yards here as a freshman.
Yes, he likes the desert climate and the closely cropped grass.
“This feels like a fast field,” Unga said. “There are a lot of times we’re back at home and the grass isn’t so great. It’s hard to make cuts. Out here today, it felt good making cuts, trying to get upfield, seeing the green and trying to get to the end zone.
“It was a nice feeling. A fun thing.”
“It was a designed play, to run up the ‘A’ gap,” Unga said. “It’s the game of football. There’s going to be some open gaps here and there. I saw one and took it. I tried to race (Martin and Purvis) on the outside.
“Fortunately, I got to the corner before they did.”
He punched in a 1-yard TD for a 17-0 advantage early in the second quarter. Two minutes later, Unga barreled into UNLV linebacker David Blair around midfield.
Blair, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound redshirt freshman, wrapped high and looked like he tried to rip Unga’s helmet from his noggin.
Unga, at 6-feet and 237 pounds, just spun to his right, away from Blair, and dashed in for a 52-yard touchdown run to make it 24-7.
“I had no idea what was going on,” Unga said of his 114-yard performance in the first 30 minutes. “I was excited to break some runs and help the team. It was a good feeling. It had been a while since I broke some plays.
“ … The line had a great push. They made holes, and I tried to hit the gaps as fast as I could and as hard as I could to get those extra yards.”
A UNLV defense that let UNR ring up 773 yards of total offense last week yielded 611 to BYU. That’s three quarters of a mile, plus the length of two basketball courts, in two games.
“In any game, as long as you can establish the run it opens up the passing game,” Unga said. “It enables Max to pick whoever he wants to go to. That’s a big part of our offense. Without both aspects, it’s hard for us to win games.”
It’s all about pressure, Unga said, and the Cougars like to come out and score, and throw as many points on the board as quickly as possible.
“That can be kryptonite to some teams,” Unga said. “We like to start fast, get in there and get things done, put pressure on other teams to play catch up, to come play with us instead of us playing with them.”
If that squad on the other side happens to be 13-40 under its beleaguered coach, as the Rebels are under Mike Sanford, so be it. The football field is no place for sympathy.
Especially when the surface is fast.
“That’s the college life of a head coach,” Unga said. “Going into any program, you’ll take a risk now knowing what will happen every week. I don’t really know how they run their program here or what’s going on in their neck of the woods. We don’t pay attention.
“We worry what we can do to play the game to the best of our abilities. In the end, if we do that at a high level, things start rolling our way and the other team makes mistakes. Everything falls into place.”