Atlanta • The real news stemming from BYU quarterback Riley Nelson's performance Saturday was not so much that Nelson threw an interception that Georgia Tech returned for a touchdown, but that coach Bronco Mendenhall was ready to take drastic action.
Acknowledging that his "threshold" for living with the quarterback's mistakes was lower than ever, Mendenhall said Nelson "was going to have to come back strongly, and he did."
Nelson responded later in the first quarter with a 43-yard pass to Ross Apo, leading to a touchdown that sent BYU back in front, and the Cougars took a 41-17 victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Coming against an Atlantic Coast Conference team, the win ranks as one of the most significant in Nelson's career. But it will lose some value if Tech (3-5) fails to qualify for a bowl game, and it also required BYU's overcoming another of Nelson's errors.
The pick-six was the third Nelson has surrendered in his last four games, and the latest mistake was the worst of them all. While scrambling, he forced a pass into coverage. Tech's Isaiah Williams made an easy interception and ran 22 yards into the end zone.
You've heard this before: Nelson is promising not to do it again. He blamed his "natural instincts" for making him throw the ball into traffic, trying to make something out of nothing.
To his credit, he recovered. Because the Yellow Jackets kicked off, "I had no choice but to move on to the next play," he said. "You just have to forget about it. I wish it didn't have to come to that. … Nothing really had to be said."
With his numbers boosted by a shovel pass that running back Jamaal Williams turned into a 39-yard touchdown, Nelson completed 19 of 28 passes for 204 yards. He also ran for a 10-yard score, bouncing off tacklers.
Saturday marked the senior's last opportunity to a face a team from a BCS conference. His only victory to date against a power-conference team that would play in a bowl game came in his first BYU start in 2010, when he and Jake Heaps combined to beat Washington.
Nelson's statistics in wins over teams from BCS conferences
Year Opponent Comp. Att. Yds. TDs
2010 Washington 11 17 131 2
2011 Oregon State 17 27 217 3
2012 Washington St. 25 36 285 2
2012 Georgia Tech 19 28 204 1