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BYU’s Unga proves worth as big running back

Talk of a bruising running back in a UNLV game usually centers on 5-foot-10-inch, 240-pound junior Frank Summers.

But that wasn’t the case Saturday, when Brigham Young’s own burly back — 6-foot, 221-pound freshman Harvey Unga — stole the show in the Cougars’ 24-14 win over UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Unga, recruited out of Provo, Utah’s Timpview High School by the Rebels, California, Oregon and others, compiled career highs of 177 yards and 25 carries, and he scored two touchdowns to lift BYU to victory.

Unga, whose father Jackson played running back for the Cougars in the early 1980s, averages 4.9 yards per carry and leads BYU with 539 yards rushing. He’s also second on the squad with 25 catches for 332 yards and two scores.

“He has a unique combination of size and speed. You’re talking about a 220-pound player who runs extremely well and who can change direction and catch the ball like a wide receiver,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said in Tuesday’s Mountain West Conference teleconference. “He’s versatile. There’s no limit to what he can do.

“But what impresses me most is that he’s a team player. At no point has he tried to draw attention to himself, like young players do. He’s quiet and soft-spoken.”

• SUMMERS OVER — BYU, 20th in the country in rushing defense at 98.5 yards per game, snapped Summers’ streak of three straight 100-yard rushing games. The Cougars held Summers to 50 yards on 13 carries and limited the Rebels to season lows of 96 rushing yards and 217 total yards.

• STILL ROLLING — The Cougars (4-2, 3-0 MWC) extended two MWC win streaks, capturing their record 11th straight league win and ninth straight road win.

BYU hasn’t lost a conference game since a 41-34 overtime defeat to Utah in 2005, the same year the Cougars kicked off their road run with a 27-24 win at New Mexico.

• TICK, TICK, TICK — After holding the ball for 37:24 in its win over UNLV, BYU is now the No. 1 team in the nation in time of possession. The Cougars, who controlled the ball for 12:02 of the third quarter against the Rebels, own the ball an average of 34:25 per game.

BYU took 6:10 off the clock during a 12-play, 93-yard march in the second quarter and also put together scoring drives of 14 and 15 plays.

• HIGH RANKINGS — BYU ranks 16th in the nation in total offense, at 462.8 yards per game, and it also stands 21st in total defense at 313.3 yards per game. Sophomore quarterback Max Hall, who threw a career-high three interceptions against UNLV, is sixth in the nation in total offense at 330.8 per game.

• UPCOMING OPPONENT — BYU will host Eastern Washington, ranked 22nd in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA), at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Eagles (4-2, 2-2 Big Sky) are 20th in scoring offense (34.3 points per game) and scoring defense (19.3 ppg) in FCS but are just 7-14 against top-tier schools and 0-3 against current MWC members.

With this being the year of the upset in college football, Mendenhall isn’t looking past Eastern Washington.

“As many teams have found out, I-AA doesn’t mean a lesser opponent,” he said. “But it does mean lesser depth.”

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