Provo • Some of BYU’s football players, along with coach Bronco Mendenhall, put on a fireside for troubled youths Friday night while the weekend’s most intriguing in-state college football game was being played.
Those who stayed at the team hotel watched Utah State’s thrilling, tough-to-turn-away upset of Utah in overtime. That may or may not have accounted for how slowly the Cougars got out of the gate for their expected snoozefest with Weber State.
But other than being an in-state opponent located north of here, the Wildcats are nothing like the Utes or Aggies, and despite the sluggish opening, BYU had more than enough to send the visitors from the Football Championship Subdivision back to Ogden with another lopsided result.
Playing just the first half due to back spasms that sidelined him after halftime, Riley Nelson threw for 244 yards and a touchdown and BYU blitzed Weber State 45-13 at sun-splashed LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Mendenhall called the Cougars’ second win “methodical” and “workmanlike,” which is to say it was rather boring a lot of the time for the 60,314 fans who witnessed it.
“It was about what I expected,” he said.
For the Wildcats (0-2), it was a chance to play in front of the largest crowd in the history of their school, and they showed some positive signs, including a physical, hard-hitting defense that caused Nelson to remark after he sat out the entire second half that it was the hardest-hitting defense he has faced in quite a while.
“Man, we play good football in the state of Utah,” Nelson said, alluding to USU’s win, but also predicting success for interim coach Jody Sears’ Wildcats, who thought his team handled the “tough environment” reasonably well.
BYU’s offense didn’t play all that well early, and was forced to punt its first two possessions. Nelson threw five straight incompletions during the stretch — which included the first three-and-out of the season — but when he finally got hot, he was really hot.
On BYU’s three scoring drives that gave the Cougars a 21-0 halftime lead, Nelson was 10-for-10 for 174 yards.
He spoiled his otherwise outstanding performance just before halftime, however, when he “made a bad decision, on my part” and threw the ball into the waiting arms of Weber State defensive back and punter extraordinaire Tony Epperson. Turned out to be his last pass of the game.
“I won’t do that from here on out. It was dumb, there was no reason to do it,” he said, having finished 18 of 29. Nelson said his back typically tightens up at halftime and after games, is sore on Sundays and then gets better on Mondays.
“It is not anything out of the ordinary,” he said, noting he could have played longer if he needed to.
With Nelson standing on the sidelines, senior James Lark got his long-awaited chance in the second half, and was fairly effective in his four series of work before giving way to freshman Taysom Hill, who got opportunities out of the wildcat formation and as the every-down quarterback.
Lark was 7 for 10 for 45 yards and a 2-yard TD pass to Kaneakua Friel, the first of Lark’s career.
“James has battled for a long time, and he has waited for his opportunity,” Mendenhall said. “I think he was poised and pretty methodical about how he moved the team. So it was fun to see him get an opportunity, and fun to see Taysom get an opportunity as well.”
Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said he wanted to get Jason Munns a series as well, but they ran out of time.
If there was cause for concern for the Cougars, it was that their offensive line did not overpower the FCS team, especially early. BYU finished with 225 rushing yards.
“I was hoping … that we would run the ball more effectively and seemingly easier than what we did,” Mendenhall said. “It seemed like we were having to work pretty hard to run the football.”
With the rivalry game against Utah and its all-world defensive line looming next Saturday, that’s probably not what Mendenhall and Doman wanted to see. Everything else, though, went pretty much according to plan.
R IN SHORT • As expected, BYU has an easy time with overmatched Weber State, after a slow start on offense.
KEY MOMENT • Backup quarterback James Lark, a senior, throws the first touchdown pass of his career, a 2-yarder to Kaneakua Friel.
KEY STAT • Quarterback Riley Nelson is 10 for 10 for 174 yards on the three first-half scoring drives that end in touchdowns.