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Cougars QB spot up for grabs

Brigham Young coach Bronco Mendenhall faces a difficult decision before Saturday’s home game against San Jose State. Does he stick with struggling sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps or turn to junior backup Riley Nelson?

Heaps is considered the future of the program. He finished his freshman year in spectacular fashion, winning Most Valuable Player honors at the New Mexico Bowl.

But he has regressed this season, completing 54 percent of his passes for three touchdowns in five games.

Nelson gave Mendenhall something to think about with his performance Sept. 30, rallying BYU in the fourth quarter for a 27-24 victory over Utah State. He completed 10 of 14 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed 11 times for a game-high 62 yards.

“I always prepared as a backup quarterback, which I have been for quite a good portion of my career, that you are always one play away, so the model I live by is have your toe on the sideline,” Nelson said.

Mendenhall said of Nelson: “He’s someone who has been told you can’t do something his whole life. He has even been told here, and even I had the opinion he isn’t a prototypical BYU quarterback. He runs drills and covers punts and is more of a football player than a quarterback only.”

The victory invigorated the Cougars and created a delicate situation for Mendenhall, who decided to open up the quarterback competition this week. He hasn’t named a starter, but plans to use Nelson and Heaps against the Spartans.

“I wouldn’t see it going series by series, quarter by quarter or anything like that,” Mendenhall said. “We name a starter and go for a while, and hopefully that’s working. If not, we make adjustments.”

Both quarterbacks pose challenges for San Jose State. Heaps is a traditional pocket passer with a strong right arm, and Nelson is left-handed with an eagerness to run.

“We trust our coaches that they are going to make the right decisions and put us in the right situations to win a football game,” senior safety Travis Uale said. “The only quarterback that I am worried about right now is the San Jose State quarterback.”

Kickoff between the Spartans (2-3) and Cougars (3-2) is at 7:15 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU (320) and KSHP-AM (1400).

■ NELSON KNOWS SPARTANS — Nelson started against San Jose State in 2006 as a freshman at Utah State, completing 21 of 24 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 loss. He left on an LDS Church mission after his freshman year, then transferred to BYU.

■ LATE START — The game kicks off at 8:15 p.m. in Provo, Utah, to accommodate national coverage on ESPNU, the latest start to a home game in school history.

“Part of the reason for independence was for more people to see our team play,” Mendenhall said. “If there are more people watching and seeing BYU win, then we will do it, even if it is unconventional.”

The game also will be the latest start for the Cougars since they played at UNLV in 1999. That game, the first meeting between Hall of Fame coaches LaVell Edwards (BYU) and John Robinson (UNLV), started at 8:37 p.m. in Provo.

■ SPARTANS LEAD SERIES — San Jose State leads the series against BYU 9-5. The Spartans’ last win was in 1968 in San Jose, Calif. San Jose State hasn’t won in Provo since 1961. BYU won the most recent meeting, in 1998 in Provo.

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@8newsnow.com.

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