Work in progress

Riley Nelson's first start this season – and the first game in which he got every rep at quarterback since he was a true freshman at Utah State in 2006 – was a success in some ways (three touchdowns, 284 total yards, no punts all game long) and a work in progress in others (three turnovers). One can likely expect him to start this Saturday at Oregon State, but nothing is official yet.

"I really think Riley had a strong game in his first start," said Coach Mendenhall. "The complement of the running game, quarterback mobility and passing the football I think made us much more difficult to defend. I think that it provided a spark and an inspiration to our team, and it gave us some momentum going into a road game [which] we haven't had in a while."

The offense did indeed look improved at times last Saturday against San Jose State, and the Cougars scored three first-half touchdowns. However, that success couldn't be sustained in the second half, when the Cougars had to settle for field goals.

"The game to me wasn't executed quite as cleanly [in the second half]. There was one point where I thought we were on the verge of running away with it, having a pretty commanding lead," said Coach Mendenhall, who was referring to both the offense and defense.


Really, BYU should have scored more than three touchdowns in the first half, but a Nelson fumble and interception in the blue zone killed two promising drives.

Then, in the second half, an interception killed another promising drive, and the offense also played more conservatively. The Cougars leaned heavily on the running game, which was quite successful. Mendenhall said "I expected we might have had one more score, maybe two, but that was really the only thing I would say I was disappointed with the second half."

All in all, one must take the good with the bad – or is it the bad with the good? There may have been more turnovers on Saturday than one would like, and also a questionable decision or two, but there has also clearly been more offensive production since Nelson took over at quarterback late against Utah State. So far, the good seems to be outweighing the bad.

"Riley just has a lot of grit out there," said McKay Jacobson, who was on the receiving end of a long touchdown pass from Nelson and also dropped another. "He's a very tough player, and I think he does a good job just going out there and playing. I think the last game he made a lot of great plays, and obviously offensively we did a lot of good things. [There's] some room for improvement with scoring and taking care of the ball a little bit better, but I think he did a great job."

One can't determine anything conclusively based off of a game or two, of course. San Jose State has the lowest total defensive ranking (92 out of 120 teams) among all the teams BYU has played so far. Ole Miss is next with the 86th rated defense. Utah State is ranked 29th.

Indeed, the BYU staff is holding off on proclaiming Nelson the full-time starter for the rest of the season. Mendenhall even refused to announce him as the starter this Saturday against Oregon State, but at the same time had mostly positive things to say about Nelson's first start since the third game of last season.

"He threw the ball in drop-back very well," Mendenhall said. "The only thing I would fault him on would be ball security, and other than that, executing the game plan … I thought he did a really nice job."

Regardless of which player starts in any given week, don't expect the backup quarterback to be given some of the reps.

Mendenhall said there has been some talk about getting the backup quarterback into a game, but said they have a "great chance to continue to either develop one, which adds consistency, or train two, which takes away from consistency, which I learned a year ago. So most likely the starter, as long as they're playing well, they're gonna play probably through the whole game."

Jacobson noted that it's tough when a teammate struggles, so they're all trying to support each other, but added that Heaps – if anything – has been working harder since being pulled.

Ultimately, the quarterback situation appears far from settled.

"They both have different skill sets, things that they do well," said Jacobson. "I think particularly, Riley, he's a guy who's a little bit more scrappy, I would put it, and he can extend plays a little bit more. And I think as a defense, that's hard sometimes to play a quarterback that can kind of move around a little bit more and do things like that."


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