Left-handed quarterback Riley Nelson used his arm and legs to help lead the Brigham Young Cougars to another ten win season in 2011. Nelson, however, isn’t the first quarterback to have success at BYU with this unconventional style of play.
After starting two games in relief the year before, in 1982 Steve Young became the full-time starter at quarterback for BYU. While his name fit the school, his preference to run rather than throw didn’t fit the BYU quarterback mold. When he did throw, he used the wrong hand. This was going to take some getting used to.
Young and company got off to a rough 1-2 start. He had 97 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground against Air Force, but the Cougars still lost. The next week, Young got BYU rolling with his best game of the year.
In a 51-3 beat down of the UTEP Miners, Young matched his season-high 97 yards rushing from the week before and added 399 yards passing, another season high, by completing 75 percent of his 32 passes. The momentum from this game carried BYU into a showdown in Albuquerque against the New Mexico Lobos.
It was the Lobos who were unconventional in this game. New Mexico rarely finished the season with a winning record, but they were a perfect 4-0 and fresh off a 12-point win over the same Air Force team that beat BYU. Led by Young, BYU rose to the occasion and notched a 40-12 victory—the only loss New Mexico suffered all season. Young did his damage through the air. He completed 18 of 28 passes (64.3%) for 336 yards, his second highest total of the season, and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions. His pass efficiency rating was 188.7. Young’s rushing total for the game was -10 yards. Now, this was a BYU quarterback.
Young had two more games with 90 yards or more rushing and two touchdowns. He finished the year with 407 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground. It was the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in school history, and the second most rushing yards by a quarterback (Virgil Carter, 474).
As unconventional as he may have been, Young kept some important streaks alive. In just 11 games, he passed for 3,100 yards, which ran BYU’s streak to four consecutive seasons, and five of the last six, with a 3,000 yard passer. He was named the WAC Offensive Player of the Year, which marked the seventh consecutive year the BYU quarterback earned that distinction. More importantly, BYU won its seventh consecutive WAC Championship and represented the WAC in the Holiday Bowl for the fifth consecutive year.
Steve Young showed 30 years ago that with his unconventional methods he could still meet BYU’s high standards. Such is Nelson’s task in 2012.
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