Over the past few years, BYU Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson has gone through lot before finally taking over the starting quarterback. He went through injuries and battling out Jake Heaps last season to be named the starter. Even though Nelson has been winning games going back to last season, it was against WAC schools and a bad Oregon State team.
Last year he was an efficient quarterback and averaged 209 yards per game since he took over the starting job. Even with success as a starter, Nelson is not an elite quarterback that some feel he is. The common phrase used for Nelson is winner or gritty player, and one that can make plays with his feet on occasion.
That is good he is those things but at the Division I level, a quarterback needs to be more than just a leader. Nelson has inefficiencies where he does not read a defense all that well and his instinct is to take off and run if his main target is not open.
Back during fall camp when I was viewing BYU's practices, there were multiple times where Nelson would just stare down his main target and if it was not there he would take off and run. Then the backup James Lark would come in for some reps and he would look around and find another option outside of his first option.
It was known last year that Nelson would lock in on his main target, but during the off season one would have thought he would have broken out of the habit, and at times he has gotten better but overall he reverts back to that tendency. Since he hasn't changed locking into one receiver it is something that Boise State can take advantage of, however Boise State will need to cover Cody Hoffman who is their main target, and one of the best wide receivers in all of college football.
Nelson has many weapons in Ross Apo (which he doesn't use) and tight end Kaneauka Friel, these other players can help spread out a defense. There are stretches were Nelson will get everyone involved, but he is not consistent at doing so.
Also, he has issues making throws that very good quarterbacks at this level should make. Nelson is inconsistent on the deep ball, at times he floats balls up there for defensive backs to grab or he will just be off the mark. He throws off of his back foot or across his body too often. However, Nelson counters some of those with his ability to extend plays and allow his receivers to get open.
One final note that may or not be attributed to Nelson's ability is that he has never won a big game in his career as a starter. He lost to TCU last year and Utah this year, and his best win could possibly be his come from behind win against Utah State last year -- which he needed a little luck on a tipped pass which fell in the hands of a BYU receiver -- or his Armed Forces Bowl win over Tulsa last year.
Boise State is one of the top two teams he has faced as a starter, the other team Utah who BYU had a chance to beat last week, but they had some errors that caused them the victory. So, while people call him a winner, just remember he looked good beating up on the WAC and a decent Tulsa team last year and a bad Washington State team this year.
What Boise State needs to do is to provide a good pass rush which gets to the quarterback and force's Nelson to get rid of the ball quickly which can force him to just give up on the play and run, or it will force him to make a bad throw on the run.
The defensive backs for Boise State will need to follow through on the play and make sure that if or when Nelson does run that he is past the line of scrimmage and can not throw the ball downfield. Basically Boise State needs to provide just some pressure, or the threat of pressure, and they can force Nelson out of the pocket or make poor throws.
For more Mountain West Connection Follow @JeremyMauss