"I feel we as a team did better collectively against Washington," Unga said. "The score may not have said so, but I feel as an offense we played better together. I feel we did a good job."
Against the University of Northern Iowa, Unga carried the ball 18 times for 65 yards, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. So what was the difference? Did the offensive line have a better blocking performance, was it the return of Fui Vakapuna who lead the way with fullback duties, or did it have something to do with the Husky defensive scheme?
"They're both good teams and played a well, hard-fought game," said Unga. "For the UNI game, it was the first game for me coming in for the season and I was kind of new with the defense they were running. I was just trying to get into the groove of the game, so it was a bit of a steppingstone and a learning experience for me. I tried to take all of the mistakes I had from that first game, worked on them through the week and tried to capitalize on them with the second game against Washington."
Okay, so Unga places his first-game performance, or what is perceived as a lack thereof, squarely on early-season rust, which can be common as one tries to get into the feel and speed of the game. Max Hall also shouldered some of the blame, stating he should have called better run packages for Unga based on what UNI was doing defensively. While their explanations may be part of the reason why the running game wasn't in top form, additional truth to the matter is that both UNI and Washington did things differently in defending the Cougars' running game.
"Washington tried to spread it out a little bit and play our receivers," said Unga. "They were trying to get up on Austin [Collie] and Dennis [Pitta] with the linebackers and the safeties, so it kind of spread out the field for the running game to open up. The offensive line opened up, obviously, some big gaps and gave us an opportunity to run."
Washington chose to cover Pitta, who had an incredible first game against UNI by catching 11 passes for 213 total yards, and the Cougar receivers on the outside. It was common to see BYU wide receivers making a catch with a safety nearby or in on the tackle as the game pressed on. When Husky defensive coordinator Ed Donatell decided to make adjustments to key in more on Unga more, Max Hall picked apart the defense for 338 yards.
"At time we would challenge them with the run and they would bring the linebackers up," Unga said. "We would challenge them with the pass and guys got open, so it was a well balanced game. That's our goal. We want to force our opponents to have to choose, and then [we] capitalize based on what they choose."
When the Cougars did decide to run, the Huskies' defense simply could not contain BYU's ground-and-pound attack. Much of that was due to the return of big 6-foot-1-inch, 253-pound running back-turned-fullback Fui Vakapuna, who is taking over the fullback duties in the absence of Manase Tonga. Vakapuna was a beast in taking on not only his primary blocking assignment, but oftentimes also taking on a second defender to clear the way for Unga.
"Oh man, did you see that?" said Unga about Fui's performance on Saturday. "The guy was making blocks left and right like crazy. He ran hard and even got a touchdown in there. He's obviously a big, dominating factor in our offense. For me, he saved me a lot in not only taking the hits on the linebackers but also from all the bumps and bruises I would have had if it weren't for him. I really appreciate him and all that he did for me out there. He had a phenomenal game out there blocking and it was some of the best blocking I've ever seen."
With Vakapuna back in the fold taking upon himself the former duties of Manase Tonga, the gradual introduction into the fullback position will mean another Cougar weapon opponents will be forced to key on.
"[Fui is] another threat in our offense," said Unga. "He not only can block, but he can also run the ball and had a touchdown against the Huskies. He can also catch the ball just as well, so Fui is another threat in our offense. When we are in there together, I'll be more than happy to block for Fui when he gets called to run the ball anytime, anywhere. It kind of goes both ways."
The experience, size and physical nature of Vakapuna's game will definitely be an asset to Coach Anae and the Cougar offense. Having nearly 500 pounds of running back in BYU's backfield to draw from was a big difference in the success between the running game against UNI and against Washington.
"Yeah, I believe having someone [that knows] the position, the scheme and has the skills to play fullback makes the world of difference," Unga said. "It's tough to bring in a tight end or someone who may not have the same experience and expect him to play like Fui did. Having Fui back there makes a world of difference."
After missing the first game against UNI, Fui Vakapuna talks about his first game back as part of the offense in the interview below.
Cougar tight end Dennis Pitta caught 10 passes for 148 yards against Washington. Against UNI, Pitta racked up 213 yards. Pitta talks about the various UNI and Washington schematic differences in the interview below.