I think he was hungry. Not to say he wasn't hungry to lead the team before, but he looked poised to me and he looked confident and he looked like he was anxious to re-establish himself.
Nelson was injured while throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to Cody Hoffman midway through the first quarter. From there, sophomore Jake Heaps took over at QB, completing 15-of-20 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Early Sunday morning, BYU officials announced that Nelson, who was kept overnight at the hospital, will be sidelined for next Saturday's game against New Mexico State (8:15 p.m., MT, ESPNU).
So it appears that Heaps, who started the last 10 games of the 2010 season and the first five contests this season, is once again the Cougar starter — for at least one more week.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall was pleased with Heaps' effort against the Vandals.
"I think he was hungry. Not to say he wasn't hungry to lead the team before, but he looked poised to me and he looked confident and he looked like he was anxious to re-establish himself," he said. "Just in watching his mannerisms, I thought he made good decisions and threw the ball well."
At the same time, Mendenhall was also very concerned about Nelson's health.
"I had mixed feelings," he said. "I was thinking so much of the game about Riley and trying to get feedback for what his injury was and how hurt he was and then trying to watch Jake and encourage him as well."
As far as the quarterback battle between Nelson and Heaps, which began in the spring of 2010, Mendenhall said Saturday's game doesn't change anything.
"My opinion is the same. We have two excellent quarterbacks. As I've said many, many times, I think Jake is an NFL quarterback. Riley has a very unique way to lead the team and his own set of strengths and skill sets, as does Jake. The decision might be made for us just because of an injury to Riley at this point."
Cougar players, including Heaps, said they were very concerned about Nelson. Heaps added that he was happy to be back on the field again.
"It was just good to get out there and throw and be with the guys and go out there and play," Heaps said. "At that point, when Riley goes down, he's done great through this whole season. I definitely have big shoes to fill as far as his production. Coming in there, it's nice to get things rolling. I think it was great for our team and we just really hope he comes back soon … Hopefully Riley comes back and he's healthy. If not, I'll be there to step up and fill that void."
On Sept. 30, Nelson replaced Heaps late in the third quarter in the Utah State game. Nelson rallied the Cougars from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to a dramatic 27-24 victory over the Aggies and has started the last five games since then.
"Through this whole thing, it's been different but it's really helped me," Heaps said. "Just going out there and doing the best that I can and just doing whatever it takes to win the game, that's all I'm focused on."
Said running back Michael Alisa, who rushed for 99 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, "Jake's a great player. The way he's handled this season has been fantastic. I respect him a bunch for that."
"(Heaps) played his butt off tonight and it showed on the field," said linebacker Kyle Van Noy, one of Heaps' close friends. "You can't come back from going back to second string, and come in first string, and play better than that."
Hoffman, who caught six passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns, said he saw a "different" Heaps on the field Saturday.
"I feel like he had a different leadership. He knew we needed to win. He was coming in with a chip on his shoulder. He just did what he needed to, to win … It hurts losing our first-string quarterback. But since Jake started last year, the chemistry was still there."
New Mexico State (4-6) is coming off a big 48-45 home victory over Fresno State Saturday. Aggie quarterback Matt Christian threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Taveon Rogers with 1:50 remaining to seal the win. Christian threw for 360 yards and two TDs against the Bulldogs.
Cougars on the air
New Mexico State (4-6) at BYU (7-3)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM