PROVO — When looking for bright spots and optimism in BYU's 54-28 loss Saturday night to Florida State, the Cougar coaches and fans are going to focus quickly on the rushing game of Harvey Unga.
After missing the Oklahoma game in Dallas, and carrying the ball only four times against Tulane in New Orleans, the junior tailback was the Unga of old against the Seminoles — at least through three quarters until the score dictated that BYU start throwing the ball more and farther down field.
In 10 carries, all through three quarters, Unga rushed for 97 yards — an average of 9.7 yards per carry.
"Oklahoma was a bummer to have to sit out and watch that, but I'm just grateful to be back out here," Unga said. "It's always a fun thing to return after you've been out for a while."
The pleasing part of Unga's game on Saturday for the Cougars was his lateral movement and his ability to change speeds and accelerate quickly. Like Unga of the past, he turned several runs where the designed hole was plugged and bounced outside for a big gain.
"I thought 45 looked good and I thought he did a lot of good things," BYU quarterback Max Hall said about having Unga back in his backfield. "He had a nice run for a touchdown and he broke a few others for some long gains."
Having a healthy Unga gives BYU valuable depth and variety in the backfield, and in the Cougars' play calling, Hall said.
"It allows us not to be predictable in our running game or our passing game. Harvey is obviously a big weapon that we're going to use, so it's good to have him back," Hall said.
BYU's first touchdown came early in the second quarter when Unga took the ball left and cut outside where he outran FSU's defenders in the corner of the end zone. Unga continued his strong second quarter in BYU's next drive, when on a third-and-1 from the 22, he cut right away from a clogged middle and rambled down to FSU's 3-yard line — setting up the Cougars second touchdown. On BYU's third play of the second half, Unga burst up the middle for 30 yards, his biggest gain of the season.
"The offensive line did a great job of making holes and what not, and (Manase Tonga) did a great job of blocking, the wideouts and tight ends. Everyone did their part and it contributed to the running game," Unga said.
So is Unga totally healed from his hamstring injury? He admitted to some tightness on Saturday but said he always felt comfortable.
"The hamstring's kind of a funny thing. It never really goes away," Unga said.
In fact, one reason he didn't play much in the second half was precautionary, making sure he remained healthy for the conference games ahead. Unga says he'll be ready.
"Every single week is a week I can improve, regardless of whether I'm 100 percent or not," he said. "It's just fun to be out here and it's great to be able to play this game."