PROVO — BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that he's not ready to name a starting quarterback and that he likely won't do so until the end of the week.
The last time Mendenhall had to choose between Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson, just prior to the start of the 2010 season, he announced that Nelson would start but that Heaps would play, which resulted in inconsistent performances from both QBs.
This time around, Mendenhall indicated he would like to avoid a two-quarterback system — if possible — as the Cougars prepare to face San Jose State on Saturday (8:15 p.m., MT, ESPNU).
"I don't think it's ideal. I'm not ruling out playing both quarterbacks," he said. "But it's hard to get into a rhythm and a routine, especially if you're alternating series. There's the potential where a game could come out just like it did against Utah State, where maybe at some point we feel like a given quarterback at that time is going to give us a lift and we make a transition. But I wouldn't see it going series by series or quarter by quarter. I think it would be that we name a starter and go for a while and hopefully that's working well. If not, we could ... go with another."
BYU tight end Austin Holt said he doesn't know which way the coaches are leaning, but thinks they will "choose one and go with it and see how it goes. I don't know if they're going to be doing the whole two-quarterback thing. That kind of died out last year."
Nelson replaced Heaps with five minutes remaining in the third quarter last Friday night and sparked the Cougars to a 27-24 victory over Utah State by leading two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.
Several BYU players said after the win that Nelson brought a new energy to the team.
On Monday, during the weekly press conference and interview sessions, the Cougar players made available to the media said they will support whatever decision the coaches make, that they support both Heaps and Nelson, and that the QB situation won't divide the team.
"We love Jake and we love Riley," Holt said. "They both have different aspects and different strengths that they both can do as we can see in the game. Riley can run the ball real well and Jake's definitely got the arm strength. (The decision) is definitely up to the coaches."
"The coaches will make the best decision and we're going to play hard," said center Terence Brown. "The coaches will make that decision and we'll be behind it."
Nelson played with moxie against USU, his former team, completing 10-of-14 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 11 times for 62 yards.
"He's a gritty dude. He's a guy that plays hard," Brown said of Nelson. "He's not 6-foot-2 and can't throw the ball 80 yards, but the dude plays hard. He plays with his heart."
Mendenhall called Nelson "a fierce competitor. Riley's is someone that's been told he can't do things all of his life, either he's too short or not the typical quarterback type. He's even been told here, and even I've had the opinion that he's not the typical BYU quarterback. So I think he's uses that as a motivator. He has a very strong self concept. He's just a football player. He doesn't consider himself as a quarterback only."
Heaps took over the starting job four games into the 2010 campaign after Nelson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Heaps has been the starter ever since, but has struggled in recent weeks. Can he bounce back after being benched against USU?
"I hope so. He's an awesome guy. He's learning and he'll bounce back," Brown said. "It's one of those things. Success is defined as getting up one more time than you're knocked down. It's an opportunity for him to get back up ... Jake's our guy. Jake is going to be a great player. He is a great player. We all have our struggles. He'll be back up. I'm 100 percent confident in Jake and I'm 100 percent confident in Riley."
"If I was Jake," Holt said, "this would definitely motivate me to try to better my game and propel myself to a different level."
Could Heaps benefit from watching from the sidelines rather than playing?
"One of the main reasons a year ago that we started Riley, if not the main reason, was Riley's poise, experience and leadership," Mendenhall said. "Jake was a true freshman. To be BYU's quarterback as a true freshman is a lot. To live in this community as BYU's quarterback is a lot. Certainly, being able to step back or get a breather, or regroup, that might have an effect. But watching someone play the position and play it well is always helpful. Whether we choose to do that now with Jake or not, we'll see."
Brown rejected the notion that the Cougars played harder for Nelson than they did for Heaps on Friday.
"We scored 13 in the first half and 14 in the second half," he said. "I think there was an urgency, because we were down. It was the fourth quarter and you'd better play your butt off and you'd better fight to the end because you're going to lose the game. We're going to play hard for whoever's in there."
Both players are respected in the locker room, said safety Travis Uale.
"Jake is respected just as much as Riley. They're both great competitors and they're both great quarterbacks, though they have different styles," he said. "I don't think one is liked more than the other. We all treat each other as teammates and we treat each other as brothers."
Asked which quarterback gives BYU the best chance to win, Uale replied, "Whoever the coaches pick. We trust our coaches that they're going to make the right decision to put us in the right situations to win a football game. The only quarterback I'm worried about is the San Jose State quarterback."
San Jose State (2-3) at BYU (3-2)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM