Backup quarterback James Lark led the BYU Cougars to a 50-14 victory over the New Mexico State Aggies Saturday night, leaving fans with one question:
Cougar fans have been kept on their toes this season, riding a quarterback roller coaster run by Riley Nelson, repaired by Taysom Hill and reconstructed by Lark.
With Saturday's victory clinching BYU's seventh consecutive winning season, it seems as if backup quarterbacks have prevailed this year — and Lark's playmaking against the Aggies only encouraged that idea.
In his first-ever game as a starter, Lark threw for 384 yards — the most ever by a first-time starting quarterback. Even more impressive were his 34 out of 50 completions — a number that was last matched in 2007 by Max Hall.
And putting those statistics aside, more basic numbers told the story even more plainly: six passing touchdowns and zero interceptions (a feat not impressive to many college football teams, but very much so for BYU).
"I was very impressed," said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I was just grateful to have a chance to let James (Lark) show what he could do. I thought he managed the team really well. He threw the ball exceptionally well and he had so much fun."
Though the cynics may argue that yes, BYU won and Lark played well, but it was only because New Mexico State is terrible (the loss bumped the Aggies to a 1-10 season), for many, talented football is talented football, and Lark proved himself.
"It is a dream come true," Lark said. "That's the only way I can describe it — something I have been waiting for my whole life. I'm just happy."
Not everything was sunshine and daisies for the Cougars on Saturday, though. The first quarter yielded no points for either team, and in the second quarter, the Aggies were the first to put up points. Come halftime, BYU only led by 13 points, 20-7.
Concerning the change from the first half to the second half, New Mexico State head coach DeWayne Walker looked to BYU as the more prepared team coming out of the locker rooms.
"They kind of took us out of being able to match them personnel wise and give us a chance to line up and play football," Walker said. "So I thought that was really smart on their part and we just couldn't answer the bell when they got the advantage on us."
Lark's answer wasn't that BYU differed its matchups, but simply began calling plays in the playbook the coaches and players knew would work against New Mexico State.
Some of those plays went straight into the hands of wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who contributed five of the six Cougar touchdowns.
"(Lark) put the ball where he needed to, and I was able to come down with them," Hoffman said. "It just shows the confidence he has in me and I have in him."
Of course Lark's superb performance brought about the "what-if?"question for some of those in the stands and at home watching. What if Lark had played all season long instead of Nelson? His performance also upped the banter over any jealousy between the two quarterbacks.
In a classy manner, Lark put any rumors of quarterback strife between himself and Nelson to rest.
"To me, life is so much more than football," Lark said. "I love football. I've done it my whole life, and just because I'm competing against a kid doesn't mean I couldn't love and respect him. (Nelson) and I get along so well; he's one of my best friends that I've ever had. And so just because we're competing doesn't mean I should ever let that get in the way of a friendship we could have. I've supported him through his ups and downs. I've been so happy for him when he succeeded and I know he's happy for me today as well."