Nelson’s performance creates unsettled QB situation

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Steve Young. Ty Detmer. Jim McMahon. Robbie Bosco. BYU has seen some incredible quarterbacks pass through its ranks.

Bosco led BYU to its first national championship. Detmer won a Heisman Trophy. Young was a Super Bowl MVP. McMahon rewrote the BYU and NCAA record books. But each of these outstanding players didn’t explode on the field until their second or third season.

Many BYU fans thought this was the year sophomore Jake Heaps would break out and start his legacy as one of the great Cougar quarterbacks. Heaps finished his freshman year as the MVP of last year’s New Mexico Bowl. But after getting benched during last Friday’s last-minute victory against Utah State, Cougar fans are now wondering if Heaps will even be the starter this week against San Jose State.

“How best we’ll use our quarterbacks will remain to be seen,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I probably won’t announce a starting quarterback, at least publicly, until maybe Thursday.”

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Quarterback Riley Nelson runs with the ball Friday evening during the BYU-USU game. BYU brought home the victory 27-24.
Junior Riley Nelson took command of the offense on Friday and engineered the game-winning drive. Nelson not only led the team to victory but also led the team in total passing and rushing yards, 144 and 62, respectively. His performance helped him earn the FBS Independent Co-Offensive Player of the Week. He shares the honor with Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood. Rivals.com also named Nelson the Independents Player of the Week.

While Heaps excels in staying in the pocket to deliver the ball, Nelson is a dual-threat quarterback with his ability to run the ball well.

“When Riley came in, the analogy I used was much like our game against Texas, when we were defending a completely different style of quarterback, with mobility and with some quarterback run options,” Mendenhall said. “It took Utah State awhile to adjust to that.”

Last year, Heaps and Nelson shared snaps for the first few games, until Nelson was knocked out for the season with an injury. The coaches allowed each quarterback to play two drives at a time, and then the second player would come in and lead two drives. Some Cougar fans think they’ll see a similar rotation again this year.

“I’m not ruling out playing both quarterbacks, but it’s hard to get into a rhythm and a routine, especially if you’re alternating series,” Mendenhall said. “I think it would be: we name a starter, we go for a while and hopefully that’s working well, and if not, and if for some reason they’ve adjusted to that style, then we might be able to complement it and finish with another [quarterback].”

The players seemed to all agree they would rally behind whoever starts the game at quarterback this Saturday.

“This year’s team, we’re unified,” tight end Austin Holt said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a split in the locker room with the way the quarterback situation is going. Both of them have the positives and we love the way both Jake and Riley compete.”

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