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BYU’s Three-Headed Monster

23 November 2010 Brett Richins 11 Comments
JJ Di Luigi (BYU Photo)

JJ Di Luigi (BYU Photo)

When it became apparent that the BYU Cougars would be without Harvey Unga in 2010, a great deal of doubt was cast upon the BYU running game.

The Cougars were left to try to fill in for the school’s all-time leading rusher by going with a running back-by-committee approach.

Three players — one considered to be an underachiever, another considered a pedestrian overachiever and still another that was an unproven true freshman — would be called upon to somehow fill Unga’s shoes.

As it turns out, they have exceeded expectations and have even been referred to as a “three-headed monster” in the backfield for the Cougars this season.

JJ Di Luigi, Brian Kariya and Joshua Quezada have rushed for a combined 1,662 yards and 16 touchdowns with one regular season game and a bowl appearance left to go.

They are the reason that BYU has averaged an unusually high 172 rushing yards per game this season, including an average of nearly 244 yards in the last four games.

The trio has also caught a total of 64 passes for 543 yards and two touchdowns. All totaled, they have accounted for 2,205 yards from scrimmage in 11 games.

They are a primary reason the Cougars have captured momentum and are looking for their fifth win in a row and the sixth their last seven games.

JJ Di Luigi

The 5-9, 190-pound junior has been the best and most consistent player on offense this year, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and leading the team in rushing with 805 yards, in receptions with 41 and in receiving yards with 410.

JJ has accounted for 1,277 total yards while scoring eight touchdowns, trailing only Mitch Payne’s 68 points in scoring, and Jake Heaps’ 1, 739 yards from scrimmage.

Billed as more of a scat back, Di Luigi has been extremely durable and has surprised many with his ability to handle the workload asked of him in 2010.

He came into this season after what would have to be considered unfulfilled expectations, after coming to Provo as a highly regarded talent from Canyon Country, California.

But the water bug in pads has made up for it this year by exceeding expectations. If he remains at his current pace, he will end the season with nearly 1,000 yards rushing and just under 1,500 yards of total offense.

He is currently averaging 6.4 yards every time he touches the ball, so it’s fitting that the LaVell Edwards Stadium staff now plays video game sound effects over the public address system after JJ makes a play on the field.

Brian Kariya

The main responsibility of the 218-pound junior this season has been to punch opposing defensing in the mouth, and he’s done exactly that.

Kariya epitomizes what it means to be a BYU football player in Bronco Mendenhall’s program, and in a real sense has been the leader on an offense that has had to go through a massive maturation processes this year.

He has been a battering ram with the ball and an effective blocker when he’s been asked to clear the way for Di Luigi and Quezada, or protect Jake Heaps in the passing game.

Brian has been particularly impressive in short yardage situations, running behind slobber-knocking fullback Zed Mendenhall on third and fourth downs.

One impressive thing about Kariya’s play this year is the improvement he has made in his vision and footwork. It has allowed him to be a much more effective runner as the season has progressed.

Joshua Quezada

“Juice” has begun to hit his stride as the Cougars have entered the home stretch of the season. Last week against New Mexico the true freshman rushed for a career high 107 yards and a touchdown.

The thing that has been noticeable all season long about Quezada is the way he finishes his runs. When you watch him carry the ball you will see that he is the one delivering the blow at the end of his runs. He is always moving the pile forward.

He still has work to do in being effective in blocking assignments, but that will come as he gains more experience. He is no doubt a talented player that has just begun to tap into his potential as a running back in the BYU system.

It’s not a stretch to envision that Juice working as the primary running back and Heaps as the quarterback are going to make things very difficult for opposing defenses in the years to come.

Offensive Line

We can’t make mention of the success of the BYU running game and not give credit where credit is due, that is to the BYU offensive line.

Remember that these guys have been recruited to BYU for their ability to pass block, they didn’t come to Provo with the idea that they would be plowing the way for a group of unproven running backs. But that is what they have been asked to do this year and they have done a great job of adjusting their games and sacrificing some for the good of the team.

The BYU Running Game vs. the Utah Defense

With an inexperienced quarterback at the helm, the BYU offense has had to approach things differently this year, by establishing the run to then set up the pass.

Continuing that plan will be a major challenge this Saturday at Utah. The Utes are 10th in the nation in yards given up per game on the ground. When the Cougars have the ball it will be strength against strength.

If BYU is ineffective running the ball, it could open up the flood gates for a blitzing Utah defense that leads the conference in sacks.

Don’t be surprised to see the Cougars make somewhat of a return to their traditional roots and look to open things up through the air first, in order to then loosen some things up on the ground.

Utah has struggled in recent weeks to defend the pass and this game may represent the opportunity for Heaps and the Cougar passing game to now take center stage.

Whether it’s a run-first or run-second game plan on Saturday, if the Cougars and their three-headed monster are successful on ground, they should come away from this contest as the victors.

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  • Gorum the Old said:

    Kariya was a huge surprise to me. I thought Quezada would have taken most of his between the tackles by now. I was very wrong. I wouldn’t call him a battering ram. His strength is in how quick and hard he hits the hole. You don’t see him running over people, but he runs hard and keep his feet moving.

  • guitarperry said:

    Great article. I think BYU has a chance of winning this game. Even if they don’t they have made a terrific turnaround. Just stay healthy. The future is bright! I can’t wait till next year. I just wish they were opening with some weaker teams to start the season. But you have to beat the big boys if you want respect.

  • WaybackCougar said:

    It’s kind of nice to have the luxury of not taking this game quite so seriously this year. I’ll be disappointed if we lose big but I think I’ll still feel pretty good about the season if we make a game of it. It will be very interesting to see how strong we look after the creampuff section of our schedule. I really hope at the very least we show we can move the ball well against the Utes. No matter what happens I think we are justified in having high hopes for a much better season next year.

  • Spencer said:

    All 3 backs are studs. I definitely think that each one has stepped up their game this year and will continue to improve. Speaking of running backs what do u think our chances are of landing harvy langi? He would be a huge pick up and a very nice duo with juice next to him. I’m crossing my fingers on that one but I’m thinking that I’m hoping for too much lol. Go cougars!

  • Ryan F said:

    As someone in Maryland, I’m excited to just get to watch a game again finally. I’ve been seeing blowout scores for the last 3 weeks but haven’t been able to watch.

    Excited for Saturday. It will be fun to see Quezada. The games I saw, he didn’t see much action. Di Luigi is fun to watch and Kariya has seemed to really get better and getting 2-3 more yards a play than earlier in the season.

  • Brett Richins said:


    It’s highly unlikely that Langi will go to BYU. I spoke with his coach a couple of weeks ago and he thinks that Harvey is headed to Utah, although it appears as if USC and Oregon are showing more interest now. Stanford has been one of his favorites, but I’m hearing he may not have the grades to get in there.

  • Brandon said:

    I can only hope it is a pass-first game plan. I am consistently amazed that teams do not throw more on 1st down. It is the best down to the throw the ball as you’re less likely to get a ‘multiple’ look from the defense, and much less likely to get blitzed. I would argue the probability of a successful play on 1st down against the Utes will be higher by passing the ball – to say nothing of a higher expected value. (Granted, when playing a Fr. QB against poor teams, the probability of a successful play is higher….I get running to set up the pass there.)

  • Seasider said:

    From what I’ve heard BYU has pretty much pulled out of the Harvey Langi sweepstakes. One of the reasons is BYU is not really in the market for RB’s this year. As we all know, we’re pretty well stocked at the moment with RB’s for next year, Drew Philips being one of them.

  • J 2 said:

    A couple of thoughts:
    If the Cougs rush for over 250 yards they win convincingly. If they rush for 150-200 yards they win a close one. If they rush for 100-150 they lose a close one, and less than that is obviously a loss.
    The other component is the passing game being efficient and getting more than 200 yards, then it is a definite win.
    As to Langi….. it would be a plus, but there quite a few backs in the wings and on missions that should be enough to keep the team moving for the foreseeable future.

  • Gorum the Old said:

    I agree. The run game is huge. BYUs succes on saturday will largely be predicated on how well they can run the ball. Some advocate a “throw first” mentality in this game. I disagree. For the most part, the teams that have had success against the Utes defense did it by first establishing the run. Look at all of the teams that have scored 20+ against them.

    1)@ Iowa St. The Cyclones scored 27 points against Utah. They ran the ball 32 times for 170 yards. They were 13/31 passing with 2 INTs for 171 yards. Clearly the Cyclones run game was the most effective part of their offence.

    2)@ AF. The Falcons scored 23 points. They rushed 41 times for 210 yards and completed 8 of 13 passes for 201 yards and 2 INTs. One might say “Hey AF threw for over 200 yards against Utah. If they can do that, BYU should throw it most of the time” The problem with that is a) clearly the Falcons used their run game to set up the pass, and b) even then they were picked of twice. In 13 throws. Thats a pic every 6.5 attempts.

    3)vs TCU. If there was ever a game to use as a blue print to beat utah, it is the TCU game. TCU threw for for 381 yards with 22 completions in 27 attempts while only running for 177 yards on 45 attempts. It could be tempting to say “See! See! Passing is the way to go. TCU averaged 14.1 yards per pass attempt and only 3.9 per rush.” If Passing is the way to go, why did TCU run the ball almost twice as often as they threw it? Is it because the TCU Offensive Coordinator is stupid and a poor play caller? With the Frogs averaging 41.3 points per game, I am inclined to doubt that explanation. They rean the ball to set up the pass.

    4) @ Notre Dame scored 28 points. They were 13-20 passing with 129 yards and 127 yards on 29 carries. They ran the ball almost 50% more than they threw it.

    5) @ SDSU may seem like an anomaly. SDSU scored 34 points with 528 of their 587 yards comming in the air. The problem is that the Aztec became one dimensional and that allowed the Ute D to take advantage. SDSU QB Lindly was picked off 3 times. Twice in the final 6:04 of the game. The final one comming in the end zone with 1:22 remaining.


    4 of the 5 teams that were able to score 20+ against Utah ran the ball more often than they passed. The 2 teams that beat utah ran the ball 45% (ND) and 67% (TCU) more often than they threw it.

    I am a defensive guy personally and don’t know all of the intricacies of offense, but it seems fairly obvious to me that BYU needs to establish the run if they are going to move the ball effectively.

  • Brandon said:

    @Gorum – the problem with your analysis is that TCU passed to set up the run. They threw the ball downfield to get their lead. Essentially they ran the ball once they were ahead. Similarly, Notre Dame ran the ball a lot (like TCU) because they were ahead and were bleeding the clock.

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