"Oh, Uani is tough. He's played really, really well," said Coach Mendenhall. "He's big and he's physical and he's consistent and he's playing as good at inside backer right now that I've seen since I've been around."
"Oh man, that means a lot," said Unga. "Whatever people say to me, that always comes at a surprise to me, like having 16 tackles [against Utah State]. Just to hear what Bronco has to say is a surprise, but I'm grateful to be here and be able to play. I'm glad I'm able to come out and be one of his top middle backers."
It was quite the comment when Coach Mendenhall said that Unga has played as well as any inside linebacker he's had. After all, Mendenhall has had some great inside linebackers throughout his tenure. Cameron "The General" Jensen comes to mind, along with Ogletree and Kaveinga.
But, as mentioned, Unga had a whopping 16 tackles last Friday against the Aggies.
"I thought the defense did well, and there was a surprise for me that I didn't even know," said a humble Unga. "I thought I had like eight or nine. I was surprised."
Coach Poppinga manned the middle of the Cougar defense in 2007 and led the team with 113 tackles. In the Mendenhall era, Poppinga has recorded the most tackles in a single game with 17 in 2007 against TCU, tying Rob Morris' performance in 1998 against SDSU. Unga just barely missed that 17-tackle record, and his personal focus last Friday allowed him to have such a productive evening.
"I know I put an emphasis that day to relax and just not worry as much," he said. "A lot of times I'm trying to get a hold of my wife and see how my kids are doing. I just remember that day I just kind of told my wife that I want to keep to myself today and see how it works out and see if that routine works. I'll probably be doing that more often. Hopefully my wife doesn't mind."
Against Virginia, Unga was second on the team behind Manumaleuna with 10 tackles (three solo). While playing hurt against Texas, he was fourth on the team with eight tackles (two solo). Against Utah, while still playing hurt from the rhomboid muscle injury, Unga recorded seven tackles. He only had three tackles against Middle Tennessee, but was used sparingly so he could get healthy.
"Well, I've been banged up lately and injured here and there," Unga said. "There are spots on my body and my legs have been sore at times, but I think just last Friday it was just my mind kind of being free and the coaches doing a great job of preparing us for that game. So, I was able to play fast and not really have much on my mind other than what I need to do."
The next team Unga will bring his tackling skills to bear against will be Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech's triple option offense could allow for another high-tackling performance.
"There's a lot of running, so our front seven is going to have to be ready to come out and play," said Unga. "They like to just run that option and triple option and kind of shove it down your throat, so we just have to come out and be ready to hit up with a lot of linemen, which is going to be tough and I'll probably be banged up after the game. Hopefully it will be good."
So what type of offense does Unga prefer to play against?
"I haven't really thought about it," Unga said. "I like playing against teams that throw, I like being in coverage, but I also like being able to come down and be able to stop the run and hit somebody."
The triple option offense is designed to get specific players to commit to one option so that the offense can take advantage of that mistake. Discipline is the key to defeating the triple option attack, and BYU's defense has plenty of discipline to go around.
"I think [it will take] everybody just doing their own job," said Unga. "Everybody has their own assignment. If you have the dive, or the quarterback, or the pitch man – if you know who you have – everybody will be fine."
In order to more effectively defend against the triple option, Coach Mendenhall likes to simplify his defense.
"[Georgia Tech will] basically will be in one formation most of the entire game," said Unga. "Our play calls will be very few. We won't have very many play calls and that will allow us to play fast, just like last year. The calls that we are going to be getting are gap assignment-sound. Once we get the call, we know where our gap's at, and once we get a reaction from the offense, you hit one gap or the other. With Mendenhall's game plan, we'll be able to play fast this week and hopefully it will work out for us like it did last year."
The triple option revolves around a rushing quarterback, or pitch man. Georgia Tech is led by 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pound quarterback Vad Lee. Behind him will be the b-back, or dive back, who will be 6-foot, 225-pound David Sims. Sims runs more like a fullback up the middle. Behind the b-back are two a-backs, which are essentially the running backs. Deon Hill (6 feet, 205 pounds) and Robert Godhigh (5 feet 7 inches, 190 pounds) are the two a-backs. The players Unga is responsible for will be either the b-back or the quarterback.
"It's either the dive or the pitchman," Unga said with a smile.
Facing the triple option this week at home, Unga has to be smiling. With his new approach to game day and playing against a rushing team, maybe he can beat Coach Poppinga's single-game tackling record.
"Maybe, I don't know how it's going to work out," Unga said, smiling a little wider. "I wasn't really thinking about beating any record, but now that you tell me about it, I'll probably try. I won't be thinking about it on the field. I'll be thinking about doing my assignment, and if the play comes my way, hopefully I can make the play."