BYU rides a stable of running backs
Provo • Whether BYU's primary motivation was ability or necessity, the Cougars have found success running the football to a degree that seemed unlikely when they lost the school's all-time leading rusher.
As illustrated in Saturday's 40-7 win over New Mexico at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Harvey Unga has been replaced by three backs who have keyed the Cougars' five victories in Mountain West Conference play.
Thanks to a solid, consistent offensive line, BYU has hammered the league's defenses except for Texas Christian's. The 258-yard effort against the Lobos was just more of the same, with the first 100-yard game for freshman Josh Quezada distinguishing the latest showing.
BYU has averaged 249.2 rushing yards in its MWC wins over San Diego State, Wyoming, UNLV, Colorado State and UNM. The Cougars registered 146 yards in a nonconference defeat of Washington. But in their five losses, they've averaged only 101.8 yards.
BYU entered the game ranked fourth in the Mountain West and 47th nationally in rushing. Expectations were lowered after Unga was denied readmission to the school in May, costing him his senior season. But his replacements have responded.
While Unga left a huge void, "We also knew that we were capable of contributing to the team in that manner," Bryan Kariya said.
Quezada needed only 15 carries to gain his 107 yards Saturday, while J.J. Di Luigi and Kariya combined for 124 yards on 19 carries.
"The line was blowing up some big holes for us, and we were just running downhill," Di Luigi said.
That enabled the Cougars to have moderate success on third down (six of 13), although nothing like last weekend at Colorado State, where they were 12-for-13.
The running success "builds a lot of confidence when it comes to converting on third down," Quezada said.
It certainly makes Jake Heaps' life easier. The freshman quarterback is now 5-3 as a starter and is improving statistically and subjectively, but he has not won any games by himself. Heaps passed for 231 yards and two touchdowns, but the bulk of BYU's 29 first downs came via rushing plays.
BYU also dusted off a quarterback-draw play, designed mainly for original co-QB Riley Nelson. Heaps ran for 13 yards to the 1-yard line on a second-and-12 play, then sneaked in for BYU's first touchdown.
"They run the ball well and they take pressure off their young QB," said New Mexico coach Mike Locksley. "We just couldn't find a way to stop their running game."