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There’s a reason Harvey Unga believes Cougars could win 10-plus games again

BYU running backs coach has seen the ‘flywheel effect’ make an impact many times at BYU, which is why he’s so confident about the 2022 season

SHARE There’s a reason Harvey Unga believes Cougars could win 10-plus games again
BYU Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall gets pushed by Utah Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III.

BYU quarterback Jaren Hall gets pushed by Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III during game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. BYU won 26-17.

Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

This time a year ago, Kalani Sitake had lost five players, including No. 2 pick Zach Wilson, to the NFL draft process and the void in his locker room was noticeable from a team that went 11-1.

A spring and fall camp later, the remaining faces won 10 games, went 5-0 against Pac-12 teams and 6-1 against Power Five opponents, achieving at one point a national ranking as high as No. 10. Again.

Running backs coach Harvey Unga is in a unique place to put in perspective why that happened and how that momentum could carry on in 2022.

It is what behavioral scientists callthe flywheel effect.

It’s what Unga saw during the transition between the John Beck to Max Hall eras under Bronco Mendenhall in the early 2000s.

BYU enters 2022 without the nation’s top-scoring running back Tyler Allgeier, center James Empey, receiver Neil Pau’u and veteran QB Baylor Romney.

“If people start doubting me and thinking how we are going to do this or that without that and that guy, I think it’s a lot more motivation for the boys in that running back room.” — BYU running backs coach Harvey Unga

But just like a year ago, Unga has something to sell his guys in the running backs room.

“I hate referring back to my playing days, but I don’t know if people remember when John Beck and Curtis Brown were here and the defense and special teams we had and finished 11-2. The following year we came back with Max Hall, who had never played and Dennis Pitta who had hardly played and Austin Collie was trying to figure things out after coming back from his mission and nobody knew who I was and I didn’t even play in the first game.  We went 11-2 again.”

Unga asks his running backs all the time, “Why would you ever think less of what we’re capable of? 

“People told us all the time, ‘You guys lose this guy and that guy,’ but in my head, I’m like, so what? To me, that just feeds a fire inside for me. If people start doubting me and thinking how we are going to do this or that without that and that guy, I think it’s a lot more motivation for the boys in that running back room. They thrive off that kind of stuff.

“I have all the faith in the world in our guys to come out and have another great season if we take care of business.”

Jaren Hall must have felt that way all last spring and summer when Wilson was going through his pro day and NFL preparations to join the Jets. What was he going to do to show that it was his turn and he would not blow it?

Well, he helped mow through Arizona, Utah, Arizona State to start the season — a run very few experts predicted.

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BYU running back Harvey Unga stiff-arms TCU defensive end Matt Panfil in Fort Worth, Texas, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008.

Donna McWilliam, Associated Press

Leaving the practice field last August, did Unga truly believe BYU would go 5-0 against the Pac-12?

“In my head, I always think we’re winning every game, like we have been here before and we’ve done this. I know the type of guys and the players we have and when we are 100% healthy and running on all cylinders, I wholeheartedly believe we could win all of those games against the Pac-12.

“But if you were to tell me, guarantee me in August that we would go undefeated against the Pac-12, I’d be skeptical. That’s a tough thing to do and not many have ever done it. What I do hope this team does is realize what they are capable of doing it because of what happened in 2020 and 2021.”  

In that span, BYU football went 21-5.

In 2022 the Cougars play Baylor, Arkansas, Boise State, Stanford, Oregon, Utah State, East Carolina, Wyoming, Liberty and Dixie State.

Spring football begins Feb. 28 for Sitake, Unga and company.