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BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall said starting quarterback Riley Nelson did not practice on Monday, two days after suffering a rib cartilage injury in BYU's 20-14 loss at San Jose State.
"He's hurt," said Mendenhall of Nelson after an evening practice indoors. "Hopefully he'll be back by the (New Mexico State) game, but he got pounded (at SJSU)...he took a lot of shots."
"That he finished the game after watching it...it's pretty impressive."
Head trainer Jeff Hurst says Nelson suffered "an injury to the spot where the rib attaches to the cartilage" on the front right side of his torso. Hurst says there is no fracture observed and that the injury "is progressing daily; felt better today than yesterday, and better Sunday than it did Saturday after the game. Kind of a day-to-day thing right now."
"He has a huge heart," said Hurst of Nelson, "and a ton of desire and willingness. Wouldn't surprise me me at all if he were ready to go" Saturday in Las Cruces.
Hurst says "the rotational part" of Nelson's physical responsibilities "complicates it a little bit, just because there is some range-of-motion that's involved with (the injury), but we'll just see how he does."
Of Nelson's absence from Monday's practice, Mendenhall said "for him to be out today is pretty significant, because the guy doesn't miss many."
You can hear post-practice interviews with Mendenhall, Hurst, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and quarterback James Lark in "Cougar Cuts," above left.
Mendenhall said that senior backup QB James Lark "will play and he'll start this week if Riley can't play for any reason."
Asked how close, if at all, that coaches or he personally have come to playing Lark at any point during this season, Mendenhall told me: "Not really close."
"Not because of lack of trust," said Mendenhall. "I tried to explain why Taysom Hill was the backup in terms of continuity of system with Riley. During the last game a couple of times it was maybe a breath or two away from putting James in."
The coach was asked if Nelson has received too much blame for BYU's 6-5 record, and Mendenhall said "no question" in response.
"I mean the guy does everything he possibly can to help our team," said Mendenhall, who indicated that BYU's offensive woes are more than simply the result of quarterback performance. "Offensive execution is protection, it's route-running, it's protection by the running backs, it's check-down routes, etc."
"Yeah, (Nelson) is most visible, and he's handling that really well, but (the difference is) one or two plays, seems like, in a bunch of games. (We're) also in every game right to the very end, and Riley has given us a chance to do that."
Mendenhall said he was informed right before meeting with the media of a Monday media report that BYU, San Diego State and Boise State had all been a part of "conversations" with the Mountain West about the possibility of re-joining that league (SDSU and BSU are slated to leave the MWC for the Big East next season).
In a statement to Jeff Call of the Deseret News, BYU Associate AD Duff Tittle said "I certainly understand why you would seek comment, but the report regarding BYU is simply speculative. As you know, BYU chooses not to respond to conjecture."
For his part, Mendenhall said "I don't know anything about it."
Asked if he'd be 'shocked' if the first report had any veracity, Bronco said "there's nothing I'd be shocked by, with realignment, etc...I don't know what to think, y'know... I'm just trying to get our team ready to play."
I asked Mendenhall what he thinks of BYU's access to college football's new postseason format that begins with the 2014 season, and he said that with BYU as an independent, he anticipates "about the same access we had before, the way I see it."
"We'll still have to be undefeated to be considered" for access to the new postseason format, Mednenhall believes.
Photo: Courtesy BYU Photo