The loss of Romney Fuga after a controversial hit perceived to be a cheap shot by Nevada has caused Cougar coaches to make some defensive line adjustments as they prepare for Utah State.
"Eathyn Manumaleuna and me are going to have to fill some big shoes," said Jordan Richardson, who filled the nose guard spot in place of Fuga during the Nevada game. "We have a quote that says, ‘Everyone is needed, but no one is necessary.’ Romney is a great man and one of my heroes. I really look up to him and try and emulate him. I'll do the best I can when I'm called on."
While Richardson helped fill in for Fuga after his injury, he won’t be the starter at nose guard.
"They'll probably start out with Eathyn [Manumaleuna]," Richardson said. "They might have some rotation or I might come in and relieve him when he needs it. I'm not really sure, and we'll find out."
"They threw me right in the middle," said Manumaleuna with a laugh. "So yeah, it's me and Jordan Richardson in the middle right now."
Going back to nose guard after switching to defensive end has been challenging for Manumaleuna.
"It's been really tough and tiring," Manumaleuna said. "It's been really hard and we do a lot of drills and it's just so tiring. You get tired really fast, but it's helping me a lot right now physically and my fatigue has gone down. Basically my endurance has gone up."
Manumaleuna will now have the thankless task of taking on double- and triple-teams from offensive linemen, which he said was the most difficult thing about the move to nose guard.
"When you're on the outside you're usually one-on-one, but when you're in the middle you have to take on this guy with that guy and this guy in the middle,” Manumaleuna said. “That's the biggest thing. At first it devastated me a little bit and I wasn't really happy about the move, but as practice goes on I'm feeling more comfortable now in the middle."
Manumaleuna hasn't played the nose guard position since his freshman year, but that was three years ago before he served a mission. Having spent all of his time since his return learning the defensive end position, it's understandable why he wasn’t excited about the change.
"It's been a while, but it's coming back to me and I'm getting the feel back,” he Manumaleuna said. “I think going back inside will help me be a better overall player because it's a harder position to play. When I move back out and have to just take on one guy, I think the experience will help me out a lot."
In the meantime, junior Matt Putnam will take Manumaleuna's old spot as the starting left defensive end. As a sophomore, Putnam saw action in all 13 games and was expected to step in as the starter this year until Manumaleuna took that role.
"[Putnam’s] played there a lot before and knows how to play the position,” said Richardson. “Then Vic [So'oto] will play the right defensive end side like he has been all year."
Backing up Putnam will be true freshman Graham Rowley, who was a four-star recruit coming out of high school.
"The coaches just told me to be ready to play and be prepared for whatever happens," Rowley said. "I don't know how many reps I'll get, but from what they told me I'm expecting to get in there a little bit. I'm excited and I'm ready to go. I'm excited to prove that I'm ready to help out if I'm needed."
The new-look Cougar defensive line will be tested this Friday against the Utah State Aggies.
"Their offense is kind of similar to Nevada, so we got some good practice last week," Richardson said. "They run a little bit of the pistol offense and have a fast quarterback that can run. He's really shifty and they're kind of tricky with their plays. We're going to have to be assignment-sound, and with the d-line getting a bit of a change we're going to have to make sure we do that. We'll have to be mentally prepared as well as physically prepared."
"Yeah, they're pretty athletic," Rowley said. "I'm going to take a closer look at them more now that I have to be more ready, but they run a similar offense to what we've seen already."