BYU offense thrives with hard-nosed QB Nelson

Brigham Young quarterback Riley Nelson wasted little time showing Oregon State he meant business Saturday.

When Nelson scrambled for an 8-yard gain early in the Cougars’ 38-28 victory at Corvallis, Ore., two Beavers defensive backs sandwiched the 6-foot, 196-pound junior and knocked his helmet off.

Without hesitation, Nelson leaped to his feet and went nose-to-face mask with Oregon State safety Ryan Murphy.

“That’s right! That’s right!” Nelson screamed.

Then the Logan, Utah, native picked up his helmet, strapped it back on and went to work dissecting the Beavers’ defense for BYU’s fourth consecutive victory.

“Riley is a fighter,” sophomore offensive tackle Houston Reynolds said. “He is there and committed. When you know guys are committed, you fight for them.”

Nelson came off the bench to rally BYU to a 27-24 victory against Utah State on Sept. 30 and has taken every snap since. In nine quarters, the left-hander has passed for 580 yards and eight touchdowns. He also is BYU’s leading rusher during that span with 214 yards.

Amazingly, with Nelson at the helm, the Cougars have punted only once.

“He brings leadership that makes everyone want to play harder, because everybody knows he is going to sell out on every play for them,” sophomore wide receiver Cody Hoffman said. “Everybody wants to do the same to keep the momentum rolling.”

The 6-4, 208-pound Hoffman has emerged as Nelson’s preferred target, making nine catches for 162 yards and a touchdown at Oregon State.

“I think above anything else, when (Nelson) has the ball there is always a chance that even when things don’t go right, he can make something happen with his feet,” Reynolds said.

BYU hasn’t had a left-handed scrambler like Nelson since Steve Young in the early 1980s. Young rushed for 1,084 yards during his career; Nelson has 492.

“Our players like our leader at quarterback to be one of them, so to speak, and he is. He is a football player,” Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He bounces up and isn’t afraid of who hits him, no matter if he is outsized or not. He puts his helmet on and plays again.”

Nelson said: “I’ve always played that way. It’s a fun way to play football.”

Nelson and the Cougars (5-2) host Idaho State (2-5) at noon Saturday in Provo, Utah. The game will be broadcast in Las Vegas on BYUtv (352) and KSHP-AM (1400).

■ NOT FORGOTTEN — This is a tough time for former starting quarterback Jake Heaps. After tremendous offseason hype, the sophomore has been relegated to being Nelson’s backup.

“I’ve been really impressed with how he is handling it,” Mendenhall said. “Certainly he is frustrated, but he recognizes that Riley is playing well.”

Heaps threw only three touchdown passes during the Cougars’ first four games, albeit against tough opponents — Mississippi, Texas, Utah and Central Florida. The team’s struggles on offense led Mendenhall to make a change.

“Jake is in the middle of a tough situation,” offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said. “I believe he will overcome it and learn lessons that are otherwise unattainable.”

■ FBS VS. FCS — Idaho State is a member of the Football Championship Subdivision and plays in the Big Sky Conference. BYU, a Football Bowl Subdivision program, is 4-0 against FCS schools. This is the Cougars’ first meeting with Idaho State since 1951.

The Bengals are 0-15 against FBS schools since 2000.

“I would rather have these kinds of games in the first three weeks of the season, if possible,” Mendenhall said. “The schedule just worked out this way for our first year of independence.”

Dave McCann is a morning news anchor on KLAS-TV (Channel 8). He hosts “True Blue” at 5 p.m. Monday on BYUtv, is the play-by-play voice for BYUtv and hosts “Cougar Countdown” at noon Wednesdays on KSHP Radio (1400 AM). He can be reached at dmccann@8news.com.

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