Nevada offensive guard John Bender’s cheap shot on BYU nose tackle Romney Fuga is difficult to swallow on many fronts.
First, it not only ended the season for Romney, but it’s the kind of injury that could linger into next season as well.
The brutal hit tore both the ACL and LCL in Fuga’s left knee. The injury will require surgery and then eight to 12 months of rehab to get back to the playing field.
Some players are never the same after such an injury.
Since Fuga is a returned missionary and played in more than three games this season, he is unlikely to receive a medical redshirt from the NCAA.
Luckily for the junior, he does have a regular redshirt season that he can utilize if he cannot come back 100% next year.
The second thing that sticks in your craw if you have interest in the BYU program is the cavalier response to the hit from Nevada. There has been no public apology from the player, Nevada head coach Chris Ault, or university officials.
In a report in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Bender said that he had sent a message to Romney with his hopes for a speedy recovery, but that he doesn’t feel his hit was dirty.
“I’ve had a lot of negative publicity sent my way, a lot of hate mail,” Bender said. “If that’s what they want to do, that’s what they want to do. I feel bad about what happened. I wish him the best. I’ve already sent him a message telling him I’m going to pray for him and hope that he recovers fast."
"I thought I got across his face. I thought he knew I was there. I threw the block and could see the side of his eyes and I got on the front part of his knee. I was always told that if you hit on the front part, you’ll be fine. It was a questionable call, obviously. Everybody had an opinion on what they thought.”
Nevada coach Chris Ault was quoted in the same report as saying that the block was illegal, but not a dirty play.
“It was a clip. There’s no question about it,” Ault said. “John didn’t do it on purpose. It was a reaction to a screen pass, and it should have been called. … There’s nobody sicker than John Bender, but that is a reaction to a play that happened. He thought the guy had a chance to (make the tackle). He took an angle and clipped him.”
The WAC will review the hit today and could hand down a penalty to Bender.
With the combination of glossing over dirty play, the bait and switch Nevada pulled on BYU by jumping to the MWC, and the ugly way BYU fans were treated in Reno in 2002, don’t expect the Wolf Pack to be on BYU’s schedule in any sport anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Bronco Mendenhall and the Cougars are left to pick up the pieces. The hit was a major blow to Mendenhall’s defense. Earlier in the season Bronco indicated that Fuga and safety Andrew Rich were the two key players on the defensive side of the ball for BYU.
With Romney out, look for Eathyn Manumaleuna to move from defensive end to NT and team up with Jordan Richardson in the rotation. On Monday Mendenhall said that he wasn’t sure which of the two would start in Friday’s game at Utah State, but one would think that Eathyn would be the likely choice as the season progresses.
There really isn’t a big drop off at nose tackle with Manumaleuna manning the spot. After all he was a star at the position prior to his mission. Where Fuga’s injury really hurts the Cougars, though, is at defensive end.
Assuming Eathyn plays most or all of his snaps at nose tackle, that leaves the Cougars trying to fill in with Matt Putman and two true freshmen, Thomas Bryson and Graham Rowley, opposite Vic So’oto.
BYU was planning on redshirting Graham but will now have to get him up to speed in a hurry.
The 6′4″, 261-pound Rowley is a tremendous athlete who will in all likelihood be a major player on the defense as he develops, but his insertion into the rotation means that the Cougars will become even younger and more inexperienced.
Putnam is not considered an every-down type of player, so that means that one or both of the true frosh defensive ends could see significant playing time.