Monson: Riley Nelson just isn’t a good enough quarterback for BYU
Published: October 1, 2012 11:37AM
Updated: January 7, 2013 11:31PM
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Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence sacks Brigham Young's Riley Nelson during an NCAA college football game Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Joe Jaszewski)

Boise, Idaho

It’s official.

QBU needs a quarterback. What it has is a plucky little dude who is a scrapper and a fighter, but not a big-time quarterback. Not a BYU quarterback. Not a quarterback who can win games against quality opponents.

Another loss, a 7-6 defeat against Boise State here — somewhere LaVell Edwards is feeling the onset of a migraine — on Thursday night, gave the latest sorry evidence.

Riley Nelson had his chances in this game — and when he had them, he blew them, he threw them to the Broncos, he fumbled them away. He couldn’t do what a Cougar quarterback has to do for BYU to win.

Pass great. Play great. Be great.

This is not meant as a rip job on an honorable college athlete, an athlete who appears to be a fine student, a strong leader, a tough guy with a lot of admirable qualities.

What it is meant is the hard truth.

It is whispered that Nelson is hurt. He has a bad back, which is a mother of an injury for a football player. Anyone who ever has suffered back pain knows that not only can it slap down a quarterback, it can slap down anybody, it can change a man’s personality.

But Nelson’s problem, even before the pain, is this: He cannot throw the football. Not the way a BYU quarterback has to throw it — with precision, with purpose, with accuracy.

As Robbie Bosco once said it, the guy behind center for the Cougars has to be nothing short of fantastic. He has to be the man. He has to be the center of the universe. He has to be the player who all the other players look to for excellence, for confidence, for performance. He has to make plays. He has to be the engine that makes everything go.

If he’s not, the whole thing seizes up.

Well. The whole offense seized up Thursday night.

Nelson completed just 4 of 9 passes for 19 yards. That contributed to a meager 61 passing yards for the Cougar O — that’s an O for offense, not a zero for no points.

In the early dismal drip, Nelson stunted a deep drive that made it to the Boise State 2-yard line before a chop-block penalty backed the ball out to the 17, which preceded a bad interception thrown by Nelson. Later in the first half, Nelson killed another drive when he fumbled while scrambling.

Punch up a pillow and get comfortable, we’re just getting started here.

At the 13:24 mark of the third quarter, Nelson fired a pick straight into the hands of BSU defensive lineman Mike Atkinson, who rrrrumbled 36 yards for a touchdown, giving the Broncos their only score.

During a subsequent possession, Nelson threw another interception, this one tipped before it was picked, setting up another Boise State drive that the Cougars’ defense nobly shut down.

All of this offensive ineptitude was not the quarterback’s fault. Just most of it. Before checking out midway through the third quarter, Nelson had those four completions against three interceptions and a fumble.

Have I mentioned that he’s a good kid and a good student from a good family? That’s true, too. But this isn’t a Boy Scout blog. This isn’t the Sunday School Tribune. At times like this, I kind of wish it were.

Nelson’s just not a Cougar quarterback. He can run around a little. He can fire up teammates. He can beat bad-to-mediocre teams. But he cannot beat the teams BYU must beat to validate itself. He has not, anyway.

And he did not Thursday night before turning in and making way for freshman Taysom Hill. Side note: Hill led a terrific drive at the end — maybe he’ll be the guy? — that nearly won the game with a TD and two-point try.

But it did not. Let’s review: BYU scored a total of six points.

Against that subpar backdrop, on the other side of the ball, BYU’s defense played great all night. But not well enough to exorcise the offense’s demons.

And without the center of the Cougars’ universe, those demons are hanging around — until BYU gets what it needs: either a bad opponent or a great quarterback.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.