This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Last weekend, for the first time in nearly five years, quarterback Riley Nelson played every offensive series of a game for his team.
The issue, continuing to play itself out Saturday when BYU visits Oregon State, is how long that will last.
This is the real test for Nelson, the game that will determine if he's any kind of long-term solution for the BYU offense. He may become just a sidebar story to this season as a No. 2 QB who rescued a win over Utah State, played adequately to beat San Jose State and then handed the ball back to Jake Heaps.
Oregon State's defense is geared to stop the run. If the Beavers slow down BYU's running backs (and Nelson) on the ground, Nelson will have to beat them with his passing, which represents both a big chance and a big challenge for him.
This trip is all about maintaining momentum, both BYU's and Nelson's. Obviously, he intends to keep his job. The Cougars' 29-16 defeat of San Jose State marked the first game since October 2006, when Utah State lost a shootout at Louisiana Tech, in which Nelson went from start to finish as his team's quarterback. That full game's experience should help him, in addition to getting the starter's share of the work in practice.
"Personally, for me, that was my Week One," Nelson said. "And so, hopefully, the biggest spike in performance is from week one to week two and week two to week three. And we kind of get things rolling."
Which would keep Heaps on the bench. Strangely enough, that would be a good sign for BYU, meaning Nelson is thriving and the Cougars are winning. But that's seemingly subject to change at any time, in the middle of any game including Saturday in a Northwest venue down I-5 from Heaps' hometown of Seattle. This would have been a showcase game for Heaps, facing an OSU secondary that features Pac-12 athletes, but also is vulnerable.
Instead, Heaps' struggles through five games and Nelson's response have created another starting assignment for the former backup QB.
Nelson deserves credit for staying prepared, even when Heaps was entrenched as the starter.
"One thing I kind of focused on was that if an opportunity came, I wasn't going to let it pass by," Nelson said.
His approach? "Forcing yourself to focus in practice when you don't want to," he said, "forcing yourself to pay attention in games when your natural self is telling you otherwise."
It worked, and now all the attention is on Nelson.
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman is looking for growth in Nelson's second start of 2011, after his otherwise impressive outing against SJSU was blemished by two interceptions and a fumble.
"The plan's not a difficult plan," Doman said. "It's stuff that he knows how to execute, and I just want to see him manage it and protect our team by securing the football. If he does everything else he did last week and then secures it, we'll be hard to stop."
And Nelson may become more than just a temporary fix.