Quarterback situation in flux

Over the past several years the quarterback position has been in fluctuation at BYU, whether due to injuries or poor performances. This Friday as BYU gets set to face Hawaii, the quarterback position could once again be in a state of flux.

He's suffered bumps and bruises, broken ribs and even a collapsed lung. But during the Boise State game, it was obvious Riley Nelson wasn't himself. He even admitted he was playing at about 65 percent capacity, which was sort of a surprise given what was at stake.

"I'm alright, man," said Nelson with a smile. "Everyone plays hurt and obviously I don't look the same way as I looked for the Washington State game. I think that's pretty obvious. I'm battling through it and I'm doing all that I can to get healthy. If I get an opportunity to play this Friday, then great. If the coaches think that I'm not healthy enough, or not able to put us into a position to win the game, then it's on to next week getting healthy and ready to play."

"Regardless of what the quarterback does, it's our job to protect him," said Braden Brown. "We have to help him not take hits in the game and that's on us. Whether he's scrambling around or not, we have to stay on our blocks longer and fight for him, especially if he is hurt."

Against Boise State, Nelson was pulled and replaced by freshman backup quarterback Taysom Hill, who had been used sparingly in wildcat situations. Whether or not Nelson gets the go against Hawaii remains to be seen.

"Coach Doman and the coaches have said it's a game-time decision," said Hill. "We'll see how [Riley] feels and what he's capable of doing Friday."

Hawaii are coming off of a horrible 69-24 defeat to Nevada. If there was a game in which Nelson could afford to sit out and rest, it would be this Friday.

"Yeah, I'm certainly excited for that," Hill said about possibly getting to start on Friday. "For any football player it would be exciting to go out and play in that environment. If it does come my way, I'll be prepared. I'm super excited. If that does happen I'll take advantage of that opportunity."

Hill has to now prepare himself to go from simply executing a wildcat play to potentially leading the offense as a starting quarterback.

"It's a different mindset," he said. "I think going in for one play as I have been for the wildcat, if it's not a success, you don't know when that next opportunity will come. Whereas if you're in a drive and something goes wrong, you can come back the next play and fix it, whereas the wildcat, with that one play, it's hard to do that."

BYU will look to come out with a fast start to try and get things going early.

"Yeah, it's huge and we would love to come out and score on the first drive, especially with the defense that we have right now," said Hill. "If we can come out and score early, it gets us in a great situation to win the game, and, you know, our defense hasn't been giving up many points. If we score early there is a good chance that we win the football game."

"We would like to start fast and, man, we would like to get some points going in the first quarter," Nelson said. "But that's not the key. The key is just consistent execution throughout the game. If things don't go well the first quarter, then fine, the second and third, and maintain a systematic workman approach. The biggest thing is execution and getting as many people as you can executing on a play at the right time."

During Monday's practice, Hill took a majority of the reps with the first-team offense. While Nelson isn't full healthy, Hill has to approach this game as though he is the starter.

"As far as getting my mind ready to go, and as far as preparation goes and getting my head where it needs to be as far as the plays and the offense and everything else, it's where my mindset is right now.

"Right now practice has been more intense. We don't let the little mistakes slide in practice, and those things will carry over into the game. It's not just one big thing as we break down film, it's a lot of little things that add up to a big thing. Now in practice, the emphasis has been fixing those little things which we have."

Having never played an entire college game, Hill has to be able to execute the offense.

"I'm comfortable with the offense and the plays that we have in for this week and in my ability to run those," Hill said. "I think that goes to show and reflects in our coaching staff. Coach Doman has done a great job in getting me ready for this time in the season. I think a big part of that has to do with me coming in last January. From the first day of me getting here, I was in the playbook. I was learning those things, getting ready for spring ball to be able to compete to have the opportunity to do what I'm doing now."

"I'm confident in my ability, like I said, to run the offense, and I'm confident with the guys around me. We have great receivers, running backs, tight ends and o-line. There is no reason why we shouldn't be scoring points right now. Like I said, we're ironing a few things out on the practice field right now."

The current quarterback situation is sort of déjà vu all over again. Having seen some of the chemistry problems that occurred last year with a right-handed Jake Heaps and a left-handed Nelson, the receivers have already voiced some of those to concerns to the right-handed Hill.

"They mentioned a few things," Hill said with a laugh. "It is different catching the ball from a right-handed quarterback than a left-handed quarterback. You know, Riley and I throw the ball a little differently but it gets there. We got good enough guys around us that they'll make plays."

If given the go, another challenge that Hill will face is a unique base coverage that Hawaii's defense runs.

"They play a lot of man and man-press," said Nelson. "Their defensive coordinator has some NFL background and that is something very unique, especially man-press. I mean, we saw a little of it in the Boise State game, but these guys do it a lot. In fact, that's like their base defense.

"It will probably be the only defense that we play this year that is man-based and presses us as much, so release with our wide receivers is very important and timing is very important. Timing is so important. The only reason why they do that is to disrupt the timing so the pass rush can get to you. It's a unique defense and I'm actually excited to face it because it's a unique challenge you don't get to face very often."

If Hill gets the start and is to be successful against man coverage, he'll have to find his timing and chemistry with the Cougar receivers quickly.

"Your guys are going to do certain things to get open verses man coverage," Nelson said. "You have to know what those are and you have to be timed up. You have to know where he's going and what he's going to do to create separation, because in zones you're so used to guys sitting in zones, so you can throw in zones. With man you can't because you're waiting on your guy. If you know what he's going to do before he does it, then you can get into a rhythm with the passing game."

The timing and chemistry between Hill and his receivers is still a work in progress, as was evident during the Boise State game. This week will test Coach Doman's ability as a quarterback coach even more.

"That's been a little tough, you know," Hill admitted. "The game last Thursday there were a few plays, you know, where I threw an out route to Kane [Friel] and I was expecting him to run out of it and he kind of turned and sat. So, there are a few things like that. I just haven't ran with those guys and I never ran that play with Kane and I didn't know how he was going to run that route. There are a few things like that, which is big. And right now it's been a great opportunity for me to run and make some plays with those guys."

"It's about anticipation and timing," Nelson said. "Instead of reading zones and lanes, it's now knowing, ‘Alright, when my guy plants this foot this way that means he's breaking, so I have to let the ball go now.' That's the challenge for this week."

Against Hawaii, there should be opportunities to open up the playbook and take some shots downfield against man coverage.

"We haven't thrown a lot of fades this year mostly because a lot of teams have been playing a lot of deep thirds and quarters against us," said Nelson. "Not to give too much away from our game plan, but we hope to throw up a couple of fades. We know they have some good corners, but let's give our guys some chances to win the one-on-one situations. And that's what it is; it's one-on-one and I think our guys will rise to the occasion."

Regardless of who is given the go for the Hawaii game, Cougar fans everywhere are hoping that every offensive position will rise to the occasion.

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