Harvey Unga has played his last game as a BYU Cougar and his former teammates are now left with the task of moving forward without their team leader on offense.
Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune first reported the story today that Unga, the all-time leading rusher at BYU, will not return after voluntarily removing himself from school recently after violating the BYU honor code. It's expected that he will enter the NFL Supplemental Draft.
Unga thrilled the BYU fan base earlier this year when he announced that he would forgo entering the NFL draft and return to BYU for his senior season. It was a decision that was looked upon as being huge for the Cougars, who would be breaking in a new starting quarterback in 2010. It was expected that Harvey would be the rock that the new quarterback could lean on, especially at the start with an early season schedule that includes the much improved Washington Huskies and a road game at Florida State.
Instead expect to see Brian Kariya, JJ Di Luigi, and freshman Joshua Quesada to be called upon to shoulder the load in what could be a running back by committee approach, at least for the first few games.
Kariya was called upon in place of an injured Unga in last year's opener versus Oklahoma. His hard-nosed style battered the Sooners in both running and receiving in the Cougars’ upset win. Brian, however, finished the year with just a 3.6 yard per carry average.
Di Luigi actually had a higher per-carry average than Unga did last season. But JJ isn’t an every down back. In fact, the Cougars were toying with the idea of using him as a slot receiver this year. Now expect to see him used primarily in the backfield.
Quesada is very talented but has never played in a college game. He should be fine running the ball, but how will he perform as a receiver and blocker? He may well end up as the heir apparent to Unga, but expect him to take at least some time to get to the point where the coaches can feel confident in his blocking and receiving responsibilities.
Make no mistake about it, the loss of Unga is a big blow. It may well mean the end of Bronco Mendenhall’s streak of four ten-plus-win seasons. Having to replace Max Hall, Dennis Pitta, and now Harvey Unga is tough enough.
Then consider that fact that the Cougars have to face Jake Locker and Washington as well as travel to Florida State, TCU, and Utah.
As it stands now, BYU will be an underdog in all four of those games. Any major slip-ups by this young offense in any of their other regular season contests, and the Cougars could find themselves fighting just to post a winning record.