BYU’s Harvey Unga poses challenge for UNLV defense

Junior tailback is on a roll with hamstring injury behind him


AP/Douglas C. Pizac

BYU running back Harvey Unga (45) struggles for more yardage against UNLV defensive back Wiselet Rouzard (22) on Oct. 25, 2008.

Game Preview: BYU vs UNLV

After a horrific loss to UNR, the Rebels try to bounce back this Saturday against BYU. Listen as players and coaches preview the game.

October 8: BYU-UNLV Preview

Ryan Greene of the Las Vegas Sun joins the show to preview the upcoming UNLV-BYU showdown.


Alex Adeyanju and Ryan Greene of the Las Vegas Sun look back at the UNLV-UNR game.

The Rebel Room

Here come the Cougars

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.

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What others are saying

Read what other writers are saying about UNLV's upcoming game against BYU:

BYU junior running back Harvey Unga admits that he salivated a bit this week when he glanced at the 559 yards that UNLV yielded to UNR on the ground last week.

“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.”

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  1. So if Whittingham turned him off, does that Reynolds and Mendenhall turned him on??? They really do have a different brand of brotherly love going on up there, don't they?

  2. Bishop Gorman & Palo Verde poses problems for the rebels defense.

  3. A talented player, but did anyone at the Sun want to ask the question why Harvey "had" to sit out a year before enrolling at BYU?

    The young man's story has limited credibility, but since the other side of the story is not going to be told I guess his version will go into the history books.

  4. This will be Sanfords final game as coach.

    55-17 BYU

  5. Harvey got into a little hooliganism at the end of his senior year of high school. Nothing where he got caught, but he owned up to running with the wrong crowd and one thing leading to another. High school stuff, indeed, which many kids get into.
    His atonement is impressive.
    Time was limited with Harvey after a practice this week, so talk was confined to this season and what he's up to now, and Saturday night's game.
    I'll provide a link to those past shenanigans.

  6. Here is a link to Harvey's high school ordeal

  7. Unfortunately, Mike123, I think you're right...on both the score and Sanford's last game. That's what I've been telling all my buddies who also follow the program. Unless some sort of miracle occures and we actually beat byu or Utah.

    By unfortunately I mean that it's too bad that MS couldn't make it work. He has an obvious passion for UNLV and football alike. I for one had high expectations when he was hired and believed him when he said we were heading for national prominence based on the Utah magic of that same year.

    Wish he would have let Therell go long ago. It might have samed him.'s to Monday morning quarterbacking.

  8. saved...he he.

  9. theres gotta be other things to do in vegas rather than watch UNLV get clobbered by BYU. look at the bright side, after the first quarter you can watch something better on tv.

  10. Daily Herald: BYU needs to watch out while Rebels fight themselves. Written by Jason Franchuk.

    This guy is a freaking jerk! I don't know that I've heard worse from a reno fan about UNLV. Absolute MORON!

  11. My two cents, which is usually worth half that... take the OVER tonight... :-)