Unga prepares for Blue Raiders

BYU middle linebacker Uani Unga hasn't been playing fully healthy. It's a situation that just about every player deals with over the course of a season, but Unga is dealing with an unusual affliction that has limited him. Despite his peculiar injury, he continues to fight on and will do so this Friday against a primarily physical run-based Blue Raider offense.

"Well right now I'm still trying to recover from the Virginia game, mostly from that shoulder injury," said Uani Unga. "I'm also trying to recover from the bumps and bruises of last week's game as well. It was quite physical and the body's beat up. I'm trying to get treatment day-by-day before Friday."

At one point it was thought that Unga had a cracked rib and even a punctured lung, much like Riley Nelson experienced last year. It was even thought that he may have suffered some severe pectoral muscles issues or even a bruised heart. All those turned up negative in the tests, however.

"So, my rhomboid muscle – and I didn't know what that was either – is what was messed up," said Unga. "We don't know if it got stretched or what the issue was with it, but I'm still recovering from that and trying to strengthen that muscle and have been getting treatments.

"It's a muscle that's inside from the shoulder blade. It's kind of where the shoulder blade connects with your muscle. All the muscles – like the shoulder, underneath, pec – just kind of attach, so when I would take a deep breath those muscles wouldn't let me take a deep breath. They would just kind of tighten up whenever I would take a deep breath."

Despite the debilitated muscle, Unga continued to fight on for his team. He played against Texas and was fourth on the defense in tackles (eight total, two solo). He saw action against Utah and had nearly similar numbers (seven total tackles, two solo). Despite not being fully healed, Unga simply continues to play on.

"I know it's there, so I'm not 100 percent completely full-go because I don't want to make it worse," he said. "It kind of alters my game just a little bit. I still try and be as physical as before the injury. I try to play to the best of my ability without pushing it too much. It can be tough at times."

"He's playing really well," said Coach Tidwell. "Uani is very physical and he throws his body around, but he's banged up, but he's okay. None of our guys are going to be [fully healed] until after the bowl game. They're going to be sore. I tell this to my guys all the time – and I'm sure other coaches do as well – there's a difference between an injury and a hurt. You know, you've got to play through the hurts, and injuries, we've got to get them better. We don't want you playing if you're injured. If you have owies and hurts, everybody has them. You just have to play through them."

Injuries are a part of the game and the coaches do their best to minimize the possibility of an injury. They watch their players and monitor the game situations to try and ensure their players are placed in the best situations.

"We're always watching our guys," Tidwell said. "You know, I look back on some games and even look back to when [Brandon] Ogletree and Uona [Kaveinga] were here, and think they may have played too many snaps in a game."

However, there are times when a coach is forced to make a tough decision and take a risk with his players.

"But when you're in a tight game, you want your best players on the field, but we watch them," said Coach Tidwell. "There are TV timeouts now and regular timeouts and quarter breaks, so you monitor that as well. You know, if you're going and going and going and there's no breaks, then you've got to think about substituting. If there's a three-and-out and a timeout, then the kids get rest."

Except for one play, BYU's defense virtually shut down Utah's ground game. The Cougars held quarterback Travis Wilson to a total of just seven yards on the ground, and held the rest of Utah's offense to a total of 122 rushing yards.

"Well, I feel like our defense did really well against Utah. There were just a few mistakes that put us in a hole," Unga said. "With us putting that game behind us and looking forward now, we have Middle Tennessee coming up. We have to continue to improve our defense as the season wears on, and that's something that we look to do against Middle Tennessee. We had one or two people just a little off in their assignment and it can go big for the other team. That's something that happened against Utah, and so we have to fix those things heading into Middle Tennessee."

Scouting Blue Raiders

When Unga lines up on Friday against the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee, he'll face two very good running backs. One is 6-foot-1-inch, 220-pound Jordan Parker, who is more of a power back, and the other is 5-foot-7-inch, 167-pound Reggie Whatley.

"Well they've got more than one; they've got two really good running backs," Coach Tidwell said. "They a bigger bulldozer, hard-nosed, downhill kind of player that's 6'1", 220 pounds, and then they have a quick scatback that's a real good perimeter runner. So, yeah, they've got two really good running backs."

Whatley was named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a career-best 154 yards and three touchdowns in last week's win over FAU. Running the ball is what MTSU does well, so BYU's middle linebackers will be very active and busy on Friday.

"They run the ball," Coach Tidwell said concerning the style of offense the Blue Raiders play. "They do power-zones, the ride, inside zones and stuff like that. They like to run the ball. Teams got the fly-sweep guys and the perimeter guys, so I would compare them to something like that."

"I'll be ready," Unga said. "I'm looking forward to playing this Friday and will do my best. I'm just looking forward to playing and getting back out on the field. I think we've learned some things over the past couple of games and have made some improvements. We'll be ready and I'm excited to play."

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