PROVO — Though known for its traditionally prolific passing offense, BYU has produced an impressive list of running backs through the years, such as Jamal Willis, Luke Staley, Curtis Brown and Harvey Unga.
However, like last season, the Cougars don't have a featured back in 2011. It will be, once again, a rushing attack with seniors Bryan Kariya and JJ Di Luigi, and sophomore Josh "Juice" Quezada providing the punch.
The three running backs are comfortable with the group-effort approach.
"I've been asked how I like the running back-by-committee, or the three-headed monster," Kariya said. "At the end of the day, we just have guys who can make plays."
A year ago, the trio combined to rush for an average 150.6 yards per game and they scored a total of 19 rushing touchdowns. Di Luigi led the team in receiving and all-purpose yards, while Kariya and Quezada were also among BYU's top five leaders in all-purpose yards.
"We have different strengths and we complement each other so well," said Di Luigi. "It doesn't matter which way the ball's going. All of us can block, all of us can run."
"Since we're different types of runners, we always bring a different vibe," Quezada said. "You never know what to expect. JJ is more of the quick, fast type and Bryan's more of a downhill type of guy. I do my best to learn from both of them."
Kariya said their main goal is to help the team win.
"Whether it's JJ or Juice or me out there, hopefully the team has confidence in what we can do and that they have confidence in us in any situation. We have different skill sets and our talents are better suited to different things on the field. But I have confidence in both of those guys on any given play, and I hope they have the same level of confidence in me as well. As a group, we have a goal to rush for 300 yards every single game. We just want to do the best we can to help our team, however many yards we need to do that."
Di Luigi is expected to line up all over the field, including the slot, so the Cougars can capitalize on his abilities as both a runner and a receiver. Does Di Luigi prefer running the ball, or catching it?
"It doesn't matter to me," Di Luigi said. "I just like having the ball in my hands and being able to make plays for my team."
First-year running backs coach Joe DuPaix has helped, Di Luigi said.
"Coach DuPaix has brought a lot of energy. He really knows how to motivate us to play. He just focuses on such little things, from running the play to holding the ball high and tight. He really stresses ball security and all of the little details, like pass-blocking and how to get to those blocks. He really breaks it down in small steps."
DuPaix, who spent the three previous seasons at run-oriented Navy, has emphasized the fundamentals and playing with passion.
"There's always a lot of little things to work on," DuPaix said. "A couple of big things I've been pushing are, first, ball security, to take care of the football at all times and the understanding of securing it will help us win football games. Second, just to love the game and play with fanatical effort each and every play. Whether you're getting the ball or blocking, it's irrelevant. You need to play the game because you love the game and play it at a high level with a high effort."
DuPaix loves the versatility that Di Luigi, Kariya and Quezada offer the Cougar offense.
"They all bring different strengths, without question," he said. "You have Bryan Kariya, who's just a complete stud, an overall back that you can just trust. He's reliable and a bigger back. He's an unbelievable kid. JJ is more of your little scat back. He's got super-quick feet and he's hard to cover one-on-one. He sees the holes really well and has great vision. He's elusive. Juice is more of a pound-it-down-in-there, run-you-over-and-carry-a-couple-of-guys-with-you type of guy with great vision. They all have great hands and really good vision, seeing holes. They're different running styles, but they're great assets to our football team."
As much as quarterback Jake Heaps enjoys throwing the ball, he appreciates the three backs in the offense.
"I value the run game just as much as the pass game," he said. "I absolutely love to see those guys do their thing out there. We've got some great running backs."
NOTES: The Cougars did not practice Wednesday while the coaching staff game-planned for the season-opening opponent, Ole Miss. BYU returns to practice Thursday.