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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cougars have running back 'problem'

Some college football teams around these parts are searching for a running back.

On Saturday at UCLA, BYU had so many backs available with the return of Manase Tonga, they kind of neglected using Mountain West Conference player of the week Harvey Unga, who got just two touches in the first half when the Cougars trailed 20-3.

BYU fans wondered if offensive coordinator Robert Anae either hid, protected or held Unga back as part of his game plan.

"We didn't forget about Harvey," said running backs coach Lance Reynolds. "We were using some specific sets and personnel and when we noticed he wasn't getting as involved as he should have been, we made the adjustment."

When asked if he'd have liked to have seen Unga receive more work against the Bruins, head coach Bronco Mendenhall said what transpired with Unga wasn't by design.

"I'd say it was an oversight," said Mendenhall. "A lot of the runs we have are checked (calls) at the line of scrimmage and it can go either way in our two-back set. It wasn't our intention on our part to only get him one touch in the first quarter, but that's how it worked out. We have defined things more clearly in that way."

Unga averaged 4.5 yards a carry and 14.5 yards per reception in the Arizona game while gaining 194 all-purpose yards on 24 touches — 8.4 yards per touch. Against UCLA, Unga had one-third the touches (8 for 71 yards) but still averaged 8.87 yards per play, including BYU's longest run from scrimmage (24 yards). Today, he ranks fourth in the conference in all-purpose yards and No. 2 in receiving yards per game.

Anae sketched in Tonga on Saturday after the junior missed the Arizona game due to a suspension. Mendenhall said because of UCLA's pressure defense, BYU's offensive staff had specific protection plans in place at the start of the game.

The biggest weakness in Unga's game, according to the coach, is picking up blitzes as a blocker.

"Most touches right now will go to Harvey, based on performance the last two games," said Mendenhall. "Manase will have a similar role as last year with Curtis (Brown) carrying the ball and Fui (Vakapuna) carrying the ball ... "

Unga said he's good with whatever BYU's offensive coaches decide to do with him. He wasn't surprised at getting just two touches.

"I didn't think I'd have another blowout game," Unga said. "I trust coach Anae and what he does. I trust our staff and our players. Whatever they decide is for the good of the team and you have to just go with the punches."

Unga said one thing he definitely noticed is he isn't close to being as sore after UCLA as he was following the Arizona game, when he scored two touchdowns.

In other words, he'll be totally fresh for Tulsa on Saturday.

Mendenhall said a review of game film underscored what he thought on Saturday. The big contributors to BYU's loss to the Bruins were field position in the punting game, ball-security issues (three turnovers) and penalties. He opened up punting competition between Brian Smith and two-game starter C.J. Santiago.

"We will construct it the best we can and hopefully there will be improved performance," said the coach.

The Cougars were called for 11 penalties to UCLA's four in the Rose Bowl. The PAC-10 uses its own officiating crews for all nonconference games.

When asked if he favored officiating crews that are comprised of "mixed crews" from different conferences for nonconference games, Mendenhall said: "I'd like to see it every chance we get."

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