Provo • The savvy, athletic junior who rescued the team from an embarrassing home loss to an in-state rival, or the more-talented, but struggling, sophomore and so-called future of the program around whom the offense is built?
After The Salt Lake Tribune reported Friday afternoon that Riley Nelson would be the starter in BYU's game Saturday against San Jose State, coach Bronco Mendenhall ended a week of speculation with an announcement Friday night that Nelson indeed would get the start over Jake Heaps.
"My decision to start Riley on Saturday is based on the productivity of our offense at the end of last week's victory over Utah State," Mendenhall said in a school news release. "After coming out of the game last week, Jake has responded very well with an excellent week of practice and he is eager for his next opportunity. I have confidence that both quarterbacks can lead this team."
Nelson's start in Saturday's 8:15 p.m. game at LaVell Edwards Stadium (ESPNU) will end a streak in which Heaps has started the past 15 BYU football games.
The Tribune's report was based on indications from people who viewed practices this week that Nelson was working with the first-team offense and receiving more repetitions than he has since early in preseason camp. Veterans such as flex tight end Marcus Mathews and linebacker Brandon Ogletree said on Wednesday the last day players were available to the media that even the players weren't sure who would start.
"It is coach Mendenhall's decision, and we are just ready for whatever," said Mathews, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in BYU's 27-24 victory over Utah State. "Riley and Jake bring different things [to the table], and we are ready for both. Because we aren't really sure either."
San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre said in various interviews this week that the Spartans were preparing for both, knowing that Nelson is the better runner and Heaps the better passer.
What is also known is that Mendenhall won't return to the alternating-series format he used at the start of last year, having acknowledged several times since then that it didn't work out. However, the coach has said all week that he's not against using the non-starter as sort of a relief pitcher.
"Productivity immediately will win the day, but again, I don't see this being [a situation] where we name a starter this week, and then it is tenure through the rest of the season," Mendenhall said. "I see it where if we are not quite moving the ball as much as we need to, and we need a spark, certainly the other player could come in and do just what Riley did [against USU], if the roles are reversed."
For their part, the quarterbacks shied away from questions this week about the controversy, especially Nelson. Heaps was clearly humbled and surprised by the third-quarter benching, but vowed to support whatever decision the coaches make.
"Our games are very unique and different. Really, as a quarterback I am just focused on what I can do to get myself better, and not really worrying about anyone else," Heaps said. "All that matters to me is that we win and put W's on the board, and we were able to do that last Friday."
San Jose State comes into the game on its first two-game winning streak since 2008 and full of confidence after rallying past Colorado State 38-31 last Saturday, but with question marks as well. The Spartans' best offensive player, running back Brandon Rutley, sprained his ankle against the Rams and may not play, or may not be at full strength.
"I think you have to [prepare for Rutley to play]," Mendenhall said. "I respect his ability enough to certainly think you gotta be ready for that guy if he plays."
San Jose State at BYU
P At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Kickoff • 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPNU (Comcast 400; DirecTV 208; Dish 141)
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 3-2, San Jose State 2-3
Series history • San Jose State leads 9-5
Last Meeting • BYU, 46-43 (1998)
About the Cougars • They are 81st in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at 39 percent. … They have forced nine turnovers in five games, after forcing 23 last year in 13 games. … LB Uona Kaveinga is ninth in the country in fumbles forced with 0.60 per game. DB Corby Eason is 17th in passes defended, 1.40 per game.
About the Spartans • Brothers David and Peter Tuitupou grew up in Orem, and David spent two seasons on BYU's scout team. Both are part-time starters for San Jose State. … RB Brandon Rutley, who is questionable with an ankle injury, is averaging 103.8 rushing yards per game.
Riley Nelson vs. San Jose State
Date Result C-A-Int Yards TDs
Oct. 14, 2006 SJSU 21, USU 14 21-24-0 145 2