One Wild Week for the Brigham Young Cougars

It’s time for a little Monday Morning Quarterback, Brigham Young Cougars edition. This MMQB likes to stretch the field, so we won’t just look back at last Saturday’s game. Let’s go long, real long, and break down the past week.

The BYU quarterback race finally ended Tuesday, September 21, 2010, when the school announced that “Riley Nelson will have surgery to repair a shoulder injury suffered Saturday during the Florida State game and will be out the remainder of the 2010 season.” The week wasn’t without good news for Nelson. That same day, BYU also announced that the junior quarterback was named to the 2010 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

Jake Heaps is not only the undisputed starting quarterback, but he is THE quarterback. No more rotating every series. Three games into his career everyone is looking to him to take an offense that is on life support and turn it into a feared beast. A tall task, but that is exactly why Heaps came to BYU.

Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is no stranger to criticism, even with a 50-18 career record. The back-to-back losses and the two QB system made Mendenhall a target for criticism this year. Fans and some media outlets found something else to jump on this week: his reaction to Riley Nelson’s injury. Mendenhall was painted as a partisan coach who could only praise Nelson as he ignored Heaps. He delegated the responsibility to inform Heaps that he would be the unquestioned, full-time, starting quarterback to the assistant coaches. There were even rumors that Bronco promised Nelson a significant role in the offense next year.

I dug a little, and Bronco did have plenty of positive things to say about Nelson. That is understandable. A good coach should like his players and want to give them props during a difficult time. I can’t substantiate the rumor about Bronco promising Nelson a role as a quarterback next year. The closest thing I found was this from the Deseret News: “‘I think he wants to come back and I think he wants to play here and I think he wants to play quarterback,’ Mendenhall said. ‘That's what I'd like to see happen as well.’” 

As for giving Heaps the cold shoulder, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Bronco did praise Heaps. From the same Deseret News article, I found this: "Who knows whether he's prepared or not? It's a freshman playing football. If there's anyone that is prepared, his experience to this point has led to me feeling very comfortable. I believe in his potential. It's just a matter of catching up on experience and playing football. He's very capable. It's just going to be decision-making, experience, execution, and just playing ball."

Another criticism about Coach Mendenhall is that he gives preference to older, more experienced players over younger, more talented players. I think that even those criticizing Mendenhall understand the value of experience, just as much as they understand the value of talent. Bronco appears to be extremely concerned about the culture of the program, and he would rather err on the side of caution and play an experienced player who will preserve the culture of the program, than play a talented phenom and risk losing that culture and identity.

I support Bronco ardently protecting the culture of BYU football, but I understand the critics. It seems paradoxical that a coach who thought he could make a two QB system work would think that he couldn’t preserve the team’s culture by playing talented young guys that HE recruited. By insisting on not playing younger players, even if they are the best player at their position, are you admitting that you recruited the wrong guys? Did you compromise your standards to land these talented players hoping that two years in the program would change them?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010, Bronco Mendenhall apprised the public that wide receiver O’Neill Chambers was suspended from the team for two weeks. This suspension could not have come at a worse time for Chambers. Not only will he miss playing in two games, he is not allowed to practice with the team. For someone looking to have a breakout year and be a major contributor, this is a huge blow. With Heaps moving to the starting role and getting all the practice reps, Chambers might find that he gets fewer looks from the quarterback when he does return. The offense is looking to establish an identity and for each player to fit the needed roles. How does an invisible receiver get a role?

Future Schedules
BYU inked a deal to play the West Virginia Mountaineers in 2016 at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. The game will be played September 24 and, most likely, will be broadcast on ESPN. I like this game for two reasons.

First, it is not on Labor Day. After Florida State nearly lost to a FCS team following a Labor Day loss in 2009, and Virginia Tech actually losing to a FCS team following its Labor Day loss to Boise State this year, I don’t want BYU to be part of any Labor Day games. Even though it is the same as playing a Saturday game followed by a Thursday game the next week, the Monday to Saturday cycle seems to be very problematic for losing teams.

Second, I like BYU’s chances. West Virginia is a top tier Big East team that plays very well in bowl games, which sounds a lot like Utah. Regardless of the season, I have always felt that BYU could beat Utah. Beating West Virginia should be as much of a challenge as beating Utah. Hopefully, a win will get BYU the same national respect that Utah got this year by beating Big East favorite Pitt.

The Game
Oh, yeah, BYU did play football this week. If you want a game day recap, click here. My Monday morning analysis is that although 1-3, BYU is in a better position. The offense and defense showed signs of life in the second half. Nevada’s only score came on a 21-play drive—and that only resulted in a field goal. Late in the fourth quarter the defense did not pack it in as a loss; they kept fighting. Vic So’oto intercepted the ball deep in Nevada territory to keep the outcome in question for a few more minutes. However, the defense did suffer a blow losing nose tackle Romney Fuga for the season. Jake Heaps started to find a rhythm as he made multiple connections with McKay Jacobson and Cody Hoffman. Receivers were still droping passes, however, and the tight ends weren’t involved. Another week of practices and the offense should be pretty cohesive, which might do the trick this week for BYU to win game five.


  1. Good analysis. Personally, I think people to take it easy on Bronco Mendenhall. He is still a very young coach, and this was the first year he had to deal with difficult situation at quarterback. This has been a learning experience for him as much as it has been for his team.

    As for "over praising" Nelson without giving Heaps due recognition after the Nelson injury, what do people want him to do? Just kick Nelson to the curb because his season is over? Of course is going to publicly praise what Nelson has done and the hard work he put in for this team. If he gave a lot of praise to Heaps, how do people think Nelson would feel? Despite the fact that it helped resolve a difficult decision, his injury should not be viewed as a good thing. That would not be fair to Nelson.

    The Chambers suspension should not be blamed on Mendenhall. He is not the one who made the rules (BYU Honor Code), nor is he the one who broke them. I certainly hope to see Chambers return and get involved and have a great season, but I see no reason to criticize Bronco on this one.

  2. Nice analysis.

    I don't understand why people would criticize Bronco for praising Nelson when announcing Nelson will have season-ending surgery. Especially since, part of the reason Nelson will have surgery is because he kept playing when hurt, giving his all to the team.

    Bronco will have all season to praise Heaps.

    I do get the sense Bronco favors seniority over talent. But are we really surprised? Bronco's mantra is "execution," so of course he's going to favor the guy that can "execute." In the end though, it hurts the team. A more talented player riding the bench doesn't do anything for the team. Put the best players on the field. Maybe it will motivate the lackluster players to work a bit harder rather than see their starting spot go to a freshman.

  3. With our lack of a presence at tight end do you think So'oto could help in key spots. He couldn't make the spot with Pitta and George on the team but he looks better to me than what we have now, at least until Chambers is back.

  4. Sorry but WVU is no Utah, they're just not.

    Not that I expect anything but blue goggled man love coming from you when it comes to BYU.

    Utah got their national respect by putting together a string of undefeated seasons, and playing in BCS games, not beating Pitt this year. Utah is at the point where people will start paying attention whenever they put a team on the field. There is a reason why Utah has been able to go from #24 to #12 in 4 games, even against crap competition, that reason is the national cred they've earned in the past half decade.

    Good luck to our cougs against WVU, it will be a total embarrassment to lose on that stage.

  5. That is an interesting idea about So'oto. He seems to be settling in well on the D line. Definitely something the coaches should consider.

  6. Jim, you are reading too much into my comparison of Utah to WVU.

    I was looking for a team BYU faces regularly to help put the game into persepctive.

    Maybe it is a bit of a stretch.

    Who would you compare WVU to?


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