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After keeping a public lid on the news all week, BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to let the quarterback cat out of the bag early Friday evening, announcing that junior Riley Nelson will take the starting reins from sophomore signal-caller Jake Heaps against San Jose State on Saturday night.
Mendenhall revealed the news in a school-issued press release, in which the coach was quoted:
"My decision to start Riley on Saturday is based on the productivity of our offense at the end of last week's victory over Utah State," Mendenhall said. "After coming out of the game last week, Jake (Heaps) has responded very well with an excellent week of practice and he is eager for his next opportunity. I have confidence that both quarterbacks can lead this team."
BYU hosts the Spartans in a game that kicks Saturday night at 8:17pm. You can hear the game on KSL Newsradio/BYU Radio and watch it on ESPNU.
As a BYU starter, Nelson is 1-2; as a BYU starter, Heaps is 9-6.
Nelson v. Heaps: Side-by-side Stats Comparison
(Nelson stats are BYU only; played as a freshman at Utah State in 2006)
Nelson (2009-2011; three starts, 16 games played):
40/71 passing (56.3%), 486 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INTs, Pass Efficiency Rating: 134.26
68 rushes, 340 yards, 5.0 yards/carry, 4 TDs
Offensive yards/play: 5.94
Yards/pass attempt: 6.85
Yards/pass completion: 12.15
Heaps (2010-2011; 15 starts, 18 games played):
319/568 passing (56.2%), 3,278 yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs, Pass Efficiency Rating: 110.17
46 rushes, -161 yards, -3.52 yards/carry, 2 TDs
Offensive yards/play: 5.08
Yards/pass attempt: 5.77
Yards/pass completion: 10.28
As you can see, Heaps' body of work is greater by volume of opportunities, but Nelson has been the more effective quarterback in terms of efficiency and productivity, relative to playing time.
Note also that Nelson's stats do not include eight games as a freshman starter at Utah State, where he gained valuable experience before an LDS mission. With the Aggies, Nelson completed 55% of his passes for just under a thousand yards and six TDs, while rushing for almost 300 yards. His mission and season-ending surgery in 2010 leave him only a single eligibility class year ahead of Heaps, but arguably much more seasoned.
Mendenhall's decision to make a change at QB was not reached lightly, and is fraught with implications. At the same time, it is nothing more than an attempt to jump-start an offense that has underperformed and trended further downward with each passing week, until Nelson's insertion last week.
What affect this change will have may be judged quickly, or it may take a longer period of time to properly assess. The same goes for the respective career paths of the QBs involved. While time, patience and perspective are not commodities easily lent to producing week-to-week results in an atmosphere of urgency, bigger picture conclusions should not be rushed.