Provo • Although details are scarce regarding the extent of BYU quarterback Riley Nelson's rib and lung injuries, a football representative confirmed Sunday that Nelson will not play Saturday when the Cougars play host to surging New Mexico State at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
It is Jake Heaps' job again and he played well enough in relief in Saturday's 42-7 win over Idaho to earn it, directing the Cougars on touchdown drives on five of his six possessions and completing 15 of 20 passes for 185 yards.
But coach Bronco Mendenhall made it clear after the game that nothing has changed in the starting quarterback battle. In other words, Nelson will start again when he's healthy probably against Hawaii on Dec. 3.
"My opinion is the same," Mendenhall said, shaking his head when asked if Heaps' outstanding play changes things long term.
"We have two excellent quarterbacks, and as I've said many, many times, I think Jake is an NFL quarterback," Mendenhall continued. "Riley has a very unique way to lead the team, and a set of strengths and skill sets, as does Jake. The decision might be made for us because of injury to Riley at this point. My biggest concern right now is just finding out exactly what his status is and getting him the right care."
Heaps should be able to shine again against New Mexico State, which improved to 4-6 with a 48-45 home win over Fresno State and is clearly capable of scoring a lot of points, but just as vulnerable to giving up plenty. The Aggies have given up 45, 63, 48 and 45 points their past four games and are 111th in the country in total defense, yielding 466.3 yards per game.
Asked if he believes he should be the full-time starter moving forward, Heaps declined to jump into the controversy.
"I mean, hopefully Riley comes back and he's healthy," Heaps said. "If not, then I will be there to step up and fill that void. I don't know what to tell you. But we are hoping that he will be OK and that he comes back."
Some players acknowledged after Nelson stepped in for Heaps in the third quarter of the Utah State game and led the Cougars to the 27-24 come-from-behind win that they played harder for the junior than they did the sophomore, but Saturday night linebacker Kyle Van Noy and running back Mike Alisa had nothing but praise for Heaps and both expressed confidence that he can lead the team.
"I think all of us as a team, the last few weeks it has been amazing, watching all of us grow together," Alisa said. "And Jake's a great player. The way he handled [his benching] this season has been fantastic. I respect him a whole bunch for that."
One factor that made Heaps' job a lot easier Saturday than it did in his first starts of the season is that BYU now has a decent running game. The Cougars gained 243 yards on the ground against Idaho and constantly put Heaps in favorable situations to throw the ball. And now he will get the bulk of the reps in practice again.
"I think that chemistry is always something that has to be worked on because the team has adjusted [to Nelson]," Mendenhall said. "If it does become [a situation] where Riley is out, the team will adjust back to Jake, and that takes a little time, but the week of practice will help that."
New Mexico State at BYU
P Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPNU