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Cougar Tracks: Mendenhall says QB Nelson will start at Hawaii if cleared

Cougar Tracks: Mendenhall says QB Nelson will start at Hawaii if cleared


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BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall says he is "looking forward to renewing this rivalry with Hawaii," but doesn't know who will start at quarterback for the Cougars Saturday in Honolulu.

At his weekly press conference, Mendenhall said QB Riley Nelson (injured rib cartilage/partially collapsed lung) has been cleared to travel to the islands, but has not yet been cleared to play. The coach said Nelson has another check-up scheduled for this week.

"I think the CT scan is today...if Riley were cleared to play, I would start Riley."

Mendenhall added that "we're going to prepare both quarterbacks (Nelson and Jake Heaps) all the way through the week."

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Coming off his team's second November bye week, Mendenhall said "I found myself anxious to get back and to finish our season, and I think that will be the mindset that our team shows (at Hawaii)."

Of renewing the series with the Warriors, Mendenhall noted that "it's been a long time" since BYU and Hawaii met on the islands, with UH's 72-45 win at Aloha Stadium in 2001 standing as the last time these two programs met on Hawaii's home turf.

"I know at one point this was a significant game for both schools. Possibly we could develop it again into a game like that; this will be one of the first steps."

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Addressing the inevitable distractions present on the islands, Mendenhall acknowledged his own focus issues, as a renowned surfer visits one of his favorite vacation spots.

"I checked the surf report, and it's supposed to be good, so if I'm not there at the game, then you'll know what's happened."

Mendenhall says his team will work "aggressively" in Provo on Monday through Wednesday, before leaving for Honolulu later that day. He says Thursday will be the "players' chance to enjoy just being on the island," with a practice also planned for the trip.

"When you go to Hawaii, it's a vacation destination; the weather's nice, there is the ocean right there. It's natural (to be distracted), unless you frame it to your team that there are times to focus on playing and times to focus on fun, and having clear delineations in between."

"The practice model will set the tone for what we expect on Saturday, and that's the best way I know how to handle it. The maturity level of the players will also come into play...some will have a harder time than others."

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More from Mendenhall--

On if there are recruiting advantages in scheduling a series with Hawaii:

"Sure. If a young man comes here and plays just four seasons, the chance to go home twice, and have his family see him play, I think that's a big deal."

"It has also been part of the strategic plan you'll see going forward...of different destinations we play in trying to open up recruiting areas just through exposure."

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On whether BYU's preparation changes since the season-ending injury for Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz:

"We've taken a hard look at that, and really the nature off their offense hasn't changed one bit. They've played two different quarterbacks since (the injury); the routes haven't changed, the receivers haven't changed, the running back hasn't changed, nor have the offensive linemen. They're just doing it with different quarterbacks."

"Short of the experience benefit, they still seem to be moving the ball effectively. I think Hawaii is more systematic than personnel-driven."

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On whether he missed playing the Utah game last week:

"Yeah, I did. I never thought I would say that, because of how much hype and anticipation, but the season didn't seem right to finish. I'm not sure what their thoughts are, in having it inferred that Colorado is their rival...but I think it's just unfortunate that there's not a way to schedule around that."

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On what happened between BYU and the Big East:

"I don't know, I really don't. I'm sure at some point maybe our administration will address that, but I really didn't ask any other questions, other than I told them I would trust their judgement when it ever got down to that point. I gave my input early, updated (the media) whenever that was, and that was when I really bowed out. I trusted our administration to go with it from there."

(Note: BYU AD Tom Holmoe will be a guest on tonight's KSL Radio broadcast of "BYU Football with Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall," during which he plans to address some of the issues related to BYU's position in recent conference realignment discussions. You can hear the show starting at 7:06pm on KSL Radio and BYU Radio [SiriusXM 143]).

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On BYU's long-terms scheduling agreement with Hawaii as a signal BYU wants a rivalry with UH:

"We're looking for the most intriguing match-ups possible in scheduling. There are a lot of LDS people on the islands with ties to BYU; at one point the stadium used to be full--maybe not for any other game in the season but the BYU game."

"I would love to have Utah as the last game of the season. If not, I would...love to have maybe Hawaii be the last game of the season. I would love to have the last game of the season have something of special significance before your bowl game."

"If it can't be the University of Utah...then (ending with Hawaii) was the intent; whether we can get that pulled off or not, I'm not sure."

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On not playing last week:

"It seemed like we should have been playing a game. It was weird, and I did watch football, which was kind of weird as well. Just anti-climactic, and I didn't know what to do. I would have to get in the rhythm of this every year, to figure out how to maybe be more productive over Thanksgiving. I kind of laid around a lot."

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(Photo courtesy Mark Philbrick, BYU Photo)

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