BYU quarterback — Are changes going to be made?


There were BYU football fans who saw this coming. What fans loved most about senior quarterback Riley Nelson — his fight and will to win — may have resulted in an injury which has forced the coaching staff to make some tough decisions about who will play quarterback Friday night against Utah State.

Nelson was hit in the back late in the first half against Weber State earlier this season. The hit resulted in an injury coaches and Nelson insisted was not serious and did not limit Nelson’s play.

After the game against Utah, however, word spread about the condition of Nelson’s back, and fans began to question if Nelson’s play was limited because of injury.

At practice on Monday after the Utah game, reporters questioned Nelson about information pointing towards the possibility of cracks in his vertebrae.

“Is that what our injury report said?” Nelson said. “I don’t know what they put out.”

After the game at Boise State, Nelson admitted that he had not been 100 percent healthy.

“I learned you have to be honest,” he said. “When it hurts, you have to tell (the coaches) it hurts, and when it’s fine you tell them you’re fine.”

Nelson’s exciting, gritty style of play is what won him the starting position midway through last season over highly-touted Jake Heaps, but how long can a six-foot, 196-lb quarterback take repeated beatings with the way he plays?

What if Nelson were to be hurt worse during a game? Would he be able to take himself out of the game?

“No, I wouldn’t,” Nelson said, with a touch of laughter in his voice. “I can’t do it. I couldn’t do it…. If I can stand and if I can move my left arm, I’m going to try and be out there.”

The official injury report for BYU’s Sept. 28 game against Hawaii listed Nelson with only a sore back, but Nelson did not enter the game. There is no word yet on his status for Friday’s game against Utah State.

Quarterback Taysom Hill jumps over a Hawaii defender and continues to run for a touchdown during Friday night’s game at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Quarterbacks senior James Lark and true freshman Taysom Hill are the backups and prepared for their opportunities.

Hill reached expectations with his play against Hawai’i as he earned his first collegiate start.

He finished the night 12-21, 112 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in just under three quarters of play.

He showcased his playmaking abilities as well when he dashed 68 yards outracing the Hawai’i defense for the score. It was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback since Jim McMahon led the Cougars.

Lark took over the offense late in the third quarter and played mistake-free ball, finishing 2-2 for 32 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

Both quarterbacks played well, but neither was given the opportunity to truly show off their throwing.

BYU relied heavily on the run throughout the game, finishing with 396 yards rushing. The bright side is that was the first time BYU rushed for over 300 yards in a game in five years. However, BYU mustered 144 yards through the air on only 14 total completions.

Hill led the team to its season-high of 47 points and showed he is capable of leading the offense without a decrease in output.

So who should Cougar fans expect out on the field when the Utah State Aggies come to town Friday night?

Again, there has been no official statement made by the coaching staff as to who will start.

Coaches have implied a healthy Nelson will be the starter, but how will coaches (and fans) assess the play of Hill after his first career start?

Some emotional factors may also influence Nelson’s desires to be ready to play Friday night against Utah State: Nelson played as a true freshman for the Aggies, then transferred to BYU upon returning from his LDS-church mission.

The Cougars will be looking to improve their recent mark of 11 wins in the past 12 games against the Aggies. The Aggies have come on strong this season, led by stellar defensive efforts.

The Aggie defense has been giving up only 14 points per contest this season and was key in their win over the Utah Utes earlier this season.

Who is most deserving to get the start Friday night?

Nelson is a proven winner, but an ailing back may have limited him in the past two Cougar losses.

Hill is an athlete with a bright future, but is he ready to take on the spotlight and pressures of being the BYU quarterback?

And there is still senior James Lark who knows the offense well, and has never messed up in games when he has been given the ball.

“The coaches have to make the tough decisions, and sometimes the players are just subject to that,” Nelson said about the quarterback situation.

For fans, the decision of which quarterback will start may be intriguing, but for the players, these are possibly program-changing decisions.

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