Part 7 – Running Backs
2011 is an opportunity for the BYU Cougars to bounce back from a rebuilding season in 2010. After a rocky start a year ago, the Cougars recovered by winning 5 of the last 6 games, went bowling and won convincingly with a very young team. While BYU failed to reload in 2010, the challenge this coming season is to see whether the growing pains of 2010 will pay dividends as the team embarks on its first season as an independent.
When considering players who would have started all season but were injured along the way and players who started at least six games, BYU has a staggering 18 full-year starters coming back in 2011, nearly double the returning experience of a year ago; 10 starters return on offense, while 8 starters return on defense, along with 10 other players who also started at least one game at some point during the 2010 season.
2010 was supposed to be a victory lap for BYU’s all time leading rusher Harvey Unga. Unfortunately he was unable to compete as a senior, entered the NFL’s supplemental draft, and spent the year on injured reserve for the Chicago Bears. The Cougars filled that immense gap through a trio of running backs in J.J. DiLuigi, Bryan Kariya, and Josh Quezada. The three-headed attack combined for over 2,000 yards rushing, with DiLuigi just missing a 1,000 yard season by 83 yards. In retrospect, the running game was crucial for a young offense last year that struggled with the quarterback controversy and shaky play from the receivers and tight ends, and was really a mainstay in the middle part of the season. The good news for this coming season is that every single contributor at running back returns save for Mike Hague, who has switched over to safety.
Three full year starters return at running back for BYU in 2011, when you count Zed Mendenhall’s 6 starts as a starter. Foremost among them is redshirt senior J.J. DiLuigi, who played in every game and started 10. He was the center focus of the Cougar offense early on, and had 917 yards rushing on 178 carries and 8 touchdowns, to go with 443 yards on 45 catches and 1 touchdown. All but receiving yards and touchdowns were team bests. Bryan Kariya, a senior, played in 13 games while starting 9, and recorded 537 yards on 137 carries with 6 touchdowns, with 21 catches for 122 yards. Junior Zed Mendenhall played in 12 games while starting 6, and had 1 rush for 1 yard and a touchdown, along with 5 receptions for 34 yards as the starting fullback.
Other running backs who return with experience include Joshua Quezada, David Foote, Ryan Folsom, and Michael Alisa. Quezada, a sophomore, played in every game last year, with 505 yards on 99 carries and 5 touchdowns, to go with 8 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. A redshirt junior, Foote played in 12 games last year, with 8 carries for 53 yards and a memorable touchdown at CSU. Folsom, a redshirt sophomore, played in 7 games in 2010, and had 8 carries for 92 yards, including the longest of the season for BYU, a 74 yarder also against CSU. The sophomore Alisa played as a reserve linebacker in 2008 before going on a mission and switching to running back.
The sole running back who has been on the team but without playing time is freshman Drew Phillips, who redshirted in 2010.
Newcomers at running back include walk on freshman RM Nate Carter; scholarship freshman RM Adam Hine; and 2011 true freshman fullback Manoa Pikula.
New running backs coach Joe Dupaix has the same problem as the linebacker coaches—how to get so many deserving players enough touches. The 2011 prospectus essentially lists four starters, and they are the same group that saw the bulk of work last season. The first two listed are Bryan Kariya and J.J. DiLuigi, while Zed Mendenhall is listed as an “and” starter with Kariya, and Josh Quezada is listed as an “and” starter with DiLuigi. Quezada got more and more opportunities as the year wore on, and could reasonably be expected to have a somewhat increased role this year. Along the same vein, DiLuigi may be used more as a slotback, while Kariya might feature in the short yardage game, with Mendenhall primarily blocking. That leaves some question as to what to do with highly touted younger players like Adam Hine and Drew Phillips. The former may be a redshirt candidate for that reason, while Phillips may be used primarily in the return game this season. Other players will provide depth.
There isn’t a lot not to like with the running back crew as it shapes up for 2011. Kariya and DiLuigi are seniors and will provide veteran leadership, while Quezada appears to be a star in the making. With the soft back half of the schedule this season, perhaps some of the younger players will also get some quality minutes in relief. Certainly Cougar fans have high expectations both for Hine and Phillips. The running backs ought to be set for a successful year, particularly with a strong offensive line coming back. BYU coaches can also enjoy significant depth at the position. Altogether, the outlook is good for the Cougar running game.
You can read Part 6, Wide Receivers/Tight Ends, here:
Part 5, Offensive Line, here:
Part 4, Special Teams, here:
Part 3, Defensive Line, here:
Part 2, Linebackers, here:
And Part 1, Defensive Backs, here:
Article written by truebluecougars contributer Gary D. Millward.