PROVO, Utah - Brigham Young senior quarterback Riley Nelson is dealing with a back injury, meaning freshman Taysom Hill might start Friday against the University of Hawaii football team.
"It's going to be hard if we have to go with a freshman," Cougars offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said this week. "That will be quite a unique challenge for us. But players trust him and coaches trust him."
Hill replaced the mistake-prone Nelson in BYU's 7-6 loss to No. 24 Boise State on Thursday and engineered a 95-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive only to have his two-point conversion pass tipped away as the Cougars fell to 2-2.
After Brigham Young’s Riley Nelson was removed from Thursday’s 7-6 loss to Boise State with a negative efficiency rating.
"He's not a like a true freshman," Doman said of the returned missionary who has been with the team since January. "He's been around for a while and he's smart. Then he brings a high level of poise, so when he walks out there, the players don't feel like he's a freshman and they feel totally confident in him. If we have to play him, I don't think we'll hesitate for a minute."
Doman said coaches likely will decide by today whether to stick with Nelson against the Warriors (1-2) but probably won't announce a starter until game time.
BYU head coach Bronco Men-denhall insisted Monday that Nelson will start if healthy enough.
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"I believe in him and I'd like him to be our quarterback," Mendenhall said. "So if he's close to being ready to go, I'll play him. And if he can't go, then he won't play, but that's similar to the past few weeks."
The Cougars certainly want more than the 61 passing yards they got last week- their lowest total since a 3-0 loss to Utah in 2003 when they netted just 41.
"Sixty-one yards passing ... I feel like I'm 61 years old," said Doman. "It's not good enough."
Nelson was 4-of-9 for 19 yards with three interceptions - one returned for the Broncos' only score - plus a fumble and two sacks for a negative efficiency rating.
Hill was 4-of-10 for 42 yards but also rushed 12 times for 72 yards, including an 8-yard keeper in which he carried several defenders across the goal line.
"He's big and strong and he's got a big heart," Nelson said of Hill, who initially committed to Stanford before transferring to BYU after his church mission to Australia.
Nelson said that he probably was only at 65 percent against Boise State and put himself at 75-80 percent by Monday, though he was very limited at practice.
"It affects you physically but also mentally," Nelson said of the back injury. "There were a few throws that psychologically I didn't have as much confidence in because I could feel the injury. I'd be lying if I said there was no effect. But that is no excuse. If coaches are going to put trust in me to put me on the field, I need to perform at the highest level. I wasn't able to do that."