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BYU football: JJ Di Luigi ready to step up if Michael Alisa can't go for the Cougars

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 28 2011 7:52 p.m. MST

With Michael Alisa's ankle injury, the Cougars may have to rely on JJ Di Luigi (10) and Bryan Kariya for the run game.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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FORT WORTH — With running back Michael Alisa questionable for Friday's Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa due to an ankle injury, BYU could depend heavily on seniors JJ Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya.

How much will Alisa's likely absence impact BYU's ground game?

"Quite a bit, because Mike has been so effective between the tackles the second half of the season," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "So it will really be a chance for Josh Quezada and Bryan Kariya to share or split those type of runs that Mike was successful with. Then we'll have J.J. still doing his normal thing."

Di Luigi is No. 11 in career rushing yards at BYU (1,179) and No. 15 in career all-purpose yards (3,035).

"He's just a few yards away from really being one of the most balanced, and prolific producers at BYU," Mendenhall said. "He'll be joining pretty elite company. We still feel like we have good balance, but no question, without Michael we won't be as effective as what we've been in that part."

Di Luigi said he's confident in the Cougars' rushing attack, even without Alisa, who suffered an ankle injury in the regular-season finale at Hawaii.

"I don't think it affects the running game much. The other running backs take more reps now. I think we'll be fine."

LAST PRACTICE: BYU wrapped up its final practice of the season Wednesday afternoon at Burleson Centennial High School outside of Fort Worth. Former BYU wide receiver Margin Hooks, who hails from Texas, attended the practice.

For the seniors, it was their final practice as Cougars.

"It's a little weird, a little surreal right now," Di Luigi said. "I think it will set in after the game. It's a sad time but it's a happy time."

Senior wide receiver McKay Jacobson, who is No. 16 in career receiving yards at BYU with 1,792 yards, will be putting on a Cougar uniform for the last time this weekend.

"He was the first real significant commitment I received as a head coach, in terms of a player that a lot of other people were after," Mendenhall said. "So he holds a special place to me just because of that decision that he made (to go to BYU). He trusted in me and the program early on before we really had a record to show how good we could be."

PUTNAM OUT: Another senior, defensive lineman Matt Putnam, is academically ineligible for Friday's game, Mendenhall said Wednesday.

Putnam has had a history of classroom woes, and he missed the first six games of this season due to academic issues.

"It was a little bit of a surprise," Mendenhall said. "Matt Putnam ended up getting an incomplete in one class. When he got admitted into school, it was late so he worked like crazy. He needed to pass that class or get credit for it to be able to play in the game. So he was short. He's not playing."

Mendenhall added that Putnam broke his finger last week in practice.

FAMILIAR FACE FROM NEW MEXICO: Tulsa's first-year running backs coach, Holman Wiggins, played at New Mexico when Mendenhall was coaching there from 1998-2002.

"Holman Wiggins was a great running back when I was at New Mexico," Mendenhall said. "I think we came in at the same time and he graduated at the same time that I left. It's great to see him in coaching."

Mendenhall added that Wiggins sends text messages to him on a regular basis.

"He texts probably before every single game, or every single week, wishing us good luck," he said. "This has been ever since I left New Mexico. He was a great player."

QUOTABLE: "I love bowl games and all that stuff. But it's past Christmas and we're still playing football. That's really exciting for me. I want to hold on to every minute of it because after the bowl game, it's winter conditioning and lifting and running your guts out and that's not fun. But practice is fun."

— BYU quarterback Riley Nelson

WEDNESDAY'S EVENTS: While the "Welcome Home A Hero" event, scheduled for Wednesday morning was canceled, five Cougar players participated in a visit to Cook's Children's Hospital — Austin Holt, Richard Wilson, Devin Mahina, Colby Jorgensen and Houston Reynolds. They were joined by Cosmo and the cheerleaders, meeting children at the hospital and presenting them with BYU paraphernalia.

email: jeffc@desnews.com

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