Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that despite a back injury to quarterback Riley Nelson, "nothing has changed in my mind" and that his team's starting quarterback "is the same one that we've had," heading into Friday night's home game with Hawai'i.
Mendenhall would only call the injury a "sore back," but acknowledged that Nelson "is a little beat up still."
"Might take til the end of the week before we know for sure if he can play or not (v. Hawai'i)," said Mendenhall after Monday's practice, "...but he's tougher than any of us."
Mendnehall said "medical personnel work on him every day, all week, to get him to where he can play, and it's hard for him to make it through (games)...but I believe in him, and I'd like him to be our quarterback."
"If he's close to being able go then we'll play him (on Friday); if he can't go then he won't play, but that's been similar the last couple of weeks."
Asked if Nelson "is his own worst enemy" when it comes to determining his playing status, Mendenhall said the injury "just puts more responsibility on myself and Coach (Brandon) Doman, knowing that (Nelson will) go until he can't hardly stand up, so we just have to know that and help him make that decision" regarding whether or not he can play.
The coach said that watching Nelson's efforts since the injury (suffered on hits taken in the Weber State game) has allowed him to "have a lot better assessment of what the signs are" when it comes to determining Nelson's effectiveness.
For his part, Nelson said relative to making a call on playing status, "it's tough; I've asked (the coaches) not to put me in that situation."
Asked if his competitive spirit would allow him to tell coaches if he were not able to play, Nelson said "probably the answer is no; I'd probably lie."
"But tape doesn't lie, and reps in practice and things like that," said Nelson. "The (coaches) have been around a long time and they're experienced enough to where, I'll put what I can do out on tape and if they feel that that's sufficient and good enough to help us win, great. If they don't, I can accept that. I'd rather accept that; I don't think I could ever bow out. I don't think I could ever throw in the towel."
Coming off a performance at Boise State that ended with Nelson sporting a -4.49 passer rating, Nelson added that "it's interesting playing with a little bit of an injury. Yeah, it affects you physically, but also mentally. For example, there were a few throws that psychologically I didn't have as much confidence in because I could feel the injury. I'd be lying if I said there was no effect."
"However, that is no excuse," Nelson said Monday. "If the coaches are gonna put trust in me to put me on the field, I need to be able to perform at the highest level; I wasn't able to do that."
Asked if he is planning on starting and playing the whole game against Hawaii, Nelson said "I sure hope so; I'm gonna do all I can to work with our medical staff and manage reps in practice and everything with Coach Doman and Coach Mendenhall to be able to do so. It's my senior year and you know my opportunities are very few, so I hope to take advantage of every one."
At the same time, Nelson acknowledges that his performance level has dropped drastically since the season-opener. His completion percentage and pass efficiency rating have decreased in every successive week, bottoming out in Boise.
"Compare how I played versus Washington St to how I played versus Boise St," said Nelson. "It doesn't look like the same player; I recognize that. However, if the coaches decide that I give us the best chance to win, then I want to be out there and make good on that trust and confidence that they show in me."
BYU's 200 yards of offense at Boise State represent the second-least productive outing of the Mendenhall era, and the 61 passing yards were a new low for the Mendenhall tenure. Offensive coordinator Doman said Monday that "the results we're getting are not what we want, so we've got to change the design a little bit and I've got to ask these guys more and ask more out of them in the way that they practice and hold themselves accountable."
On Nelson's playing status, Doman said "it's just day-to-day with Riley and kind of seeing how he's doing health-wise. If he's not healthy, I don't think we'll play him. Right now it's Monday and we'll just kind of wait and see how it goes. The other guys practiced today and did a good job, so we're 100% confident that if we need to go out and start the game and play the other guys we'll do that and be fine."
Mendenhall was asked if he thinks playing a healthy backup quarterback over a banged-up Nelson would have given BYU a better chance to win the last two games, at Utah and Boise State, and the coach said simply, "I don't, or I would have played someone else."
The "someone else" who relieved Nelson in Boise was freshman Taysom Hill, who came in and proved to be BYU's most effective weapon over the final quarter and a half, passing for 42 yards, running for another 72 and scoring the game's only offensive touchdown.
Hill says he took the majority of practice reps on Monday, and that "if the call does come to put me in (on Friday), I'll be ready and prepared."
Of his play at Boise State, Hill says "I made a couple of bad throws, and moved on. As far as everything else, I felt like I managed the game pretty well."
Hill's rushing score pulled BYU within a single point of Boise State at 7-6, with 3:37 remaining in last Thursday's game.
Hill conceded today that as he celebrated and ran toward the sideline, "I was expecting the kick team to come on."
"But everyone was yelling 'going for two,' and I was excited to go in and run the two-point conversion, and if we make that play, then we're heroes--but we came up a little short and that's football."
Mendenhall said Monday that the post-practice media session was the first time since game night that he'd been asked about his controversial decision to go for two, when an extra point would have tied a game BYU's defense was dominating.
"No one mentioned a thing about it," said Mendenhall about his weekend interactions in the community since the loss. "Our team hasn't (talked about it), our coaches haven't, my wife hasn't, my relatives and friends haven't, so you guys are the first."
Asked if the two-point conversion decision prompted any kind of "philosophical post-mortem" among staffers, Mendenhall said he "wasn't interested" in one.
"I would do it in a second if we played tomorrow...I would do it again. Didn't need a post-mortem."
You can hear complete post-practice interview sessions with Mendenhall, Doman, Nelson, Hill and offensive lineman Braden Brown, in "Cougar Cuts," above left.
Other highlights from Monday's media availability--
No one within the BYU Football program is acknowledging anything specific about Nelson's back injury, and Mendenhall says he should not feel compelled to provide details.
"Why share something with our opponent that they don't need to know before game day?" asked the coach. "There is no reason to announce injuries. I mean, who really benefits, other than the opposing coach?"
Speaking of injuries, defensive end Ian Dulan has been out with a back injury since the opening week of camp, and Mendenhall on Monday said the senior "might be" out for the season, with no possibility of pursuing a hardship waiver. Mendenhall said the team would pursue a waiver for senior defensive end Eathyn Manumaleuna, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Boise State loss.
Hill, on Nelson's assistance since coaches elevated the freshman to primary backup during the week of the Boise State game:
"Riley has been phenomenal. I have had a great experience at BYU ever since I got here in January, and a large part due to Riley, as well as James Lark and those upperclassmen who were ahead of me--they treated me so well."
"And now, after practice today, Riley stayed after, and he and I went through a few different things. Riley wants me to be successful, he wants this team to be successful, and he knows for that to happen, that we need to be playing well, so any coaching opportunity that he has, he has given me."
Hill, on whether he thinks Nelson will be able to play on Friday:
"Riley...he's full of grit and determination, so yeah, probably. Coach Doman and the coaches say it's a game-time decision, so we'll see how he feels and what he's capable of doing come Friday."
Hill, on the possibility of getting the call against Hawai'i:
"I'm certainly excited about that. Any football player would be excited to go in and play in that environment. If it does come my way, I'll be prepared. I'm super-excited if that does happen, and I'll take advantage of that opportunity."
Photo courtesy: Ravell Call, Deseret News