BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall confirmed after this morning's practice that QB Riley Nelson will "take the first series and be listed as the starter" next Saturday against the University of Washington.
In explaining his decision to list Nelson as the starter in his two-quarterback system alongside Jake Heaps, Mendenhall said "the quarterbacks have been so similar in terms of production; they're both excellent leaders, they both bring different styles of play... ultimately I think we'll need both quarterbacks to help us reach our goals this year. I think it's the right thing to do for the young men involved and the right thing for our team.
I'm completely comfortable with where we stand right now; I think we're in a very good situation. I really expect our team to be unified and for it to be an exciting season."
Asked why Nelson earned the starting nod, the coach said: "I think just basically the maturity of life experiences. Not necessarily the performance on the field, as that was almost identical (to Jake Heaps) in leading our team. When you consider being the quarterback at BYU in this community with the expectations, and the things people say and the things people do, and the exposure that one has... Riley is older, he's served a mission, he's had other life experiences. It's a very unique position, and I haven't adequately been able to prepare any starting quarterback here for what that's going to be like. Riley is the closest to being ready for that. It just made a lot of sense, based on life experience."
Asked about the adage that 'if you have two QBs you don't have one,' Mendenhall said "I certainly don't (feel that way). I think the two that we have would exceed any one that you could have."
Asked what his plans are for the second series and beyond against UW, the coach said "Riley first series, (then) to predict any further from there, the plan isn't far enough along, nor do I think it really matters at this point. Both will play, Riley will take the first series and you know right now as much as i do."
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae said "we have two starters" at quarterback. Asked how he sees the two-QB system playing out, he said "I see us being as successful as we can possibly be. There is going to be quite a bit of new territory, for all of us. The number one thing is being united."
Nelson was asked his reaction to the two-QB system. His response: "Nasty. Lethal. It's going to be real hard to defend. I feel like it's going to make defenses take up more time spreading themselves a little too thin rather than focusing on one aspect of our offense."
"I have nothing but a positive attitude. We could really care less about whose name makes it in the paper more. It's all about getting the Ws on Saturday; that's all we care about."
You can hear full post-practice interviews with Mendenhall, Anae and Nelson by clicking their audio links in the "Cougar Cuts" box above.
More from Mendenhall--
On easing Heaps in as a young QB as opposed to "throwing him into the fire": "That certainly is playing into this. We're not only looking at this season, we also look at the young man's development and the future of this program. It makes complete sense when you look at all three of those criteria to make the decision that we made. I'm at complete peace with (the decision) and very comfortable. There will be those who will want a new quarterback the minute the first incomplete pass is thrown, as I very well know will happen; there might even be boos on occasion. But what I told Riley, and Jake and our coaching staff is (those fans) will not deter us from our plan."
On meeting with the QBs to unveil the plan: "It was one of the best meetings I've had. These two young men looked me right in the eye; there was not one ounce of self-interest. It was 'absolutely, we agree, how can we make this work to the best of our ability,' and getting complete support. It was just an awesome experience. They (Nelson and Heaps) get it, and our coaches get it and our team gets it. That doesn't mean it'll be perfect, but I think it's the right thing to do."
On how long the plan will play out before a modification might be considered: "(Things) could modify after week one; I'm not going to be pinned down. Both (QBs) will play and both will complement each other and both will be used in pretty specific situations."
I think the two-QB system can really work for BYU. It's all about competitive advantage, and the Nelson/Heaps combo gives the Cougars every chance to utilize previously untapped reservoirs relative to formations, personnel and play calls. I'm sure Robert Anae, Brandon Doman and the entire offensive staff are energized by the challenge of reconfiguring BYU's attack to match the skills of its two unique and talented signal-callers.
I applaud Riley Nelson for the way he competed in spring ball and fall camp. He was not intimidated by Jake heaps' reputation or the expectations others may have had for the country's #1 QB recruit. Nelson implemented his abilities as a runner, improved and maximized his skills as a passer, and showed that he's a winner; he intended to win the QB battle. In then end, that battle was a lot closer than many anticipated it would be, and Nelson deserves a ton of credit for leading Bronco to make the decision he made.
I applaud Jake Heaps for refusing to let a sense of entitlement encroach upon the best interests of the team. Someone like Heaps could very well have expected to have the starter's job handed to him. It was not, and in the end, Heaps acceptance and endorsement of Bronco Mendenhall's plan displays maturity and the best attributes of a great teammate.
In Nelson and Heaps, BYU has two potent weapons and perhaps the makings of a QB combo that changes the way people perceive a platoon system behind center; we will soon enough see if this is a master stroke from Mendenhall.
In non-QB news, Bronco said he has made no decision on starters at inside linebacker or tight end.
On the health front, question marks for the Washington game are CB Robbie Buckner (broken hand/surgery), TE Devin Mahina (sprained ankle), and OL Ryan Freeman (knee strain).
Buckner had hand surgery this week, and will be fitted with a cast once the wound heals; he is possible for the UW game. If he cannot go, BC Corby Eason will be the primary backup at both boundary and field corner, with FC Dalin Tollestrup the #4 corner overall.