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It turns out the quarterback controversy that besieged the BYU football team earlier in the season may be a good problem for the Cougars after all.
The Cougars benefitted from depth at quarterback Saturday after junior Riley Nelson went down with a broken rib in the first quarter, riding the arm of sophomore Jake Heaps to a 42-7 dismantling of the University of Idaho at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The Cougars amassed more than 500 yards of offense and improved to 7-3 for the season.
Nelson played well before his injury, completing 4 of 7 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown strike to Cody Hoffman. The team is still evaluating Nelson’s status for the remainder of the season.
In relief, Heaps was sharp, going 15 for 20 for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“I think [Heaps] managed the game well, moved the team well and made a lot of good decisions,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I think he was hungry, not to say that he wasn’t hungry to lead the team before, but he looked poised to me. He looked confident and he looked anxious to reestablish himself.”
But Mendenhall said Nelson would remain the starter if he is healthy enough to play.
“My opinion is the same,” he said. “We have two excellent quarterbacks. … The decision might be made for us just because of [the] injury to [Nelson] at this point. My biggest concern right now is just finding out exactly what his status is.”
Heaps, who led touchdown drives of 22, 57 , 70, 73 and 78 yards, said he wasn’t nervous to fill in because his preparation hasn’t changed since Nelson was the named the starter.
“I was pretty pleased by the way we did things,” Heaps said. “From the very beginning we were moving the ball. We did pretty much whatever we wanted to today. It’s just good to get out there and be with the guys and play. … Hopefully [Nelson] comes back and he’s healthy, but if not I’ll be there to fill that void.”
After Nelson’s connection with Hoffman, the Cougars continued to build on their lead against the overmatched Vandals. By midway through the second quarter, senior running back Bryan Kariya had added a pair of rushing touchdowns. Hoffman ended the first half scoring with his second touchdown grab of the night, this time from Heaps. The Cougars entered halftime with a 28-0 lead and the game out of reach.
BYU added to its lead twice more in the third quarter, when sophomore running back Michael Alisa carried it in from 38 yards, and Heaps found freshman wide receiver Ross Apo for an 18-yard score. Alisa led all running backs with 10 carries for 99 yards.
“The blocking [from the offensive line] is just unbelievable. I think some of the holes were five yards on some of my plays,” Alisa said. “I think we were all strapped up and ready to play.”
The Vandals avoided a shutout late in the third quarter, scoring on an 82-yard touchdown run from senior running back Princeton McCarty.
For most of the game, however, the Cougar defense was dominant, particularly in the secondary. Midway into the third quarter, the Vandals had amassed minus-6 yards passing, and freshman cornerback Jordan Johnson and sophomore linebacker Spencer Hadley each snuffed drives with interceptions in the game.
“There were a lot of screen attempts [the Vandals] were throwing, a lot of things underneath and we had a good plan for that,” Mendenhall said. “The game got out of hand so fast they weren’t able to establish the rhythm and balance they were hoping for.”
BYU plays its final home game of the year this Saturday at 8:15 p.m. against New Mexico State.