Flashback: Newcomers form the Nucleus of the Offense

Just like every other school, the Brigham Young Cougars welcomed a class of talented football players to the team a week ago. Unlike everyone else, BYU annually welcomes back a group of returned missionaries. While both return missionaries and freshmen face major challenges to make a significant impact, five years ago newcomers formed the nucleus of the BYU offense.

Following the 2006 season, BYU lost its career rushing leader, its second leading career passer, and its two-time all-conference tight end. Little did anybody know that the 2007 team would feature the new career rushing leader, new second leading career passer, and new all-conference tight end, as well as the new career receiving leader. Return missionaries Austin Collie and Dennis Pitta, transfer/return missionary Max Hall, and freshman Harvey Unga gave the BYU offense a new identity, but the results were just as good.

Collie’s greatness caught no one by surprise. He was the Mountain West Conference (MWC) freshman of the year in 2004. In 2007, he picked up right where he left off. Collie set a new BYU and MWC record with 366 all-purpose yards in game three at Tulsa. Injuries slowed Collie down mid-season, but he finished on a roll with over 100 yards receiving in five of the last six games. He totaled 56 receptions for 946 yards and seven touchdowns. At the Las Vegas Bowl, Collie was named the game’s MVP after making six receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown. The play in 2007 that Collie will be most remembered for is his 49-yard catch on 4th-and-18 against Utah on the game winning drive.

Pitta saw limited action as a freshman before his mission. In 2007, he made his mark in the first game of the season with a touchdown catch. Like Collie, his real breakout came against Tulsa. Pitta made six grabs for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Golden Hurricane. He followed up that performance with a season high 114 yards on five receptions against Air Force. By season’s end, Pitta had a team-high 59 receptions. He finished with 813 yards receiving and five touchdowns. It was good enough for first-team All-MWC.

Pitta and Collie were able to do what they did because of the standout play of quarterback Max Hall. Hall transferred to BYU from Arizona State following his mission. When he took the field in the 2007 season opener, it was his first meaningful snap since 2003. He had a solid start guiding BYU to 20 points and a win in his first start. He passed for a career high 537 yards, and a season high four touchdowns against Tulsa. His most efficient game of the year was against Colorado State. Hall completed 73.3% of his passes (22 of 30) for 355 yards and three touchdowns for a pass efficiency rating of 205.7. On the season, Hall had five 300-yard passing games on his way to leading the nation in passing yards by a sophomore (3,848). He led the MWC with 26 touchdown passes, and joined Pitta as a first-team All-MWC selection.

The BYU offense wasn’t just a threat through the air in 2007; Harvey Unga made sure of that. Of the newcomers, Unga was the biggest surprise. Just a freshman, he had one of the best season’s ever by a BYU running back in any class. Ironically, Unga was the team’s leading receiver in the season opener catching nine passes from Hall for 127 yards and one touchdown. He also added 67 yards rushing and a second touchdown in that game. He had back-to-back 100 yard rushing games against Tulsa and Air Force. After one game sub-100 yards, Unga had a second streak of back-to-back 100 yard games against UNLV and Eastern Washington. His 177 yards against UNLV was a career high. In the final three regular season games, Unga averaged 137.3 yards rushing (over 100 yards each game) and scored seven touchdowns (six rush, one receiving)—including the game winning touchdown against Utah. For the season, Unga had 1,227 yards (fourth most in BYU history) and 13 touchdowns rushing.

As evidenced by the season opener, Unga was a receiving threat out of the backfield, as well. He had a second 100-yard receiving game against Colorado State (110 yards on three receptions). Only once did he have less than two receptions in a game. He finished the season with 44 receptions for 655 yards and four touchdowns. That gave Unga 1,882 all-purpose yards, which set a new MWC record and was the second most in BYU history, at that time. Appropriately, he was named the MWC freshman of the year and a freshman all-American.

Whether the 2012 signing class and return missionaries have a dramatic impact this year or in future years, BYU will be well served if they can come close to matching the success of these four newcomers from five years ago.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at bluecougarfootball@gmail.com