|via the SL Trib|
It didn't go how I thought it would, but the season-opening win over Washington on Sept. 4 should be enjoyed by BYU and its fans for a while. Although the schedule gets far from light from here (including road games at Air Force and Florida State in back-to-back weeks), the Cougars solved a few enigmas of the post-Max Hall/Harvey Unga era —and on the day Hall was bumped to Backup No. 1 in Arizona.
The game was far from conclusive as to how BYU's season will turn out; after all, they were slight favorites in the books before kickoff. And the best quarterback on the field was probably UW's Jake Locker, even though his only stat that mattered was the 0-for-3 he put up in the Huskies' potential late game-winners.
Here are three quick thoughts on Saturday's performance:
1. THIS IS RILEY NELSON'S TEAM, NOT JAKE HEAPS'
In the battle of "St. Jake vs. Elder Nelson," bout 1 should go to the junior quarterback from Logan, Utah. While Heaps had magnificent arm strength, with more zip on the ball than I've seen out of a freshman quarterback from BYU, he had numerous gaffes that shouldn't be overlooked when Bronco and Co. review the tape tonight.
Both quarterbacks passed for 131 yards, with Heaps completing 13 of 23 passes to Nelson's 11 of 17 (which could also mean that Nelson knows when to keep the ball in his pocket after effectively reading a defense). But the similarities seem to stop there.
Nelson threw both BYU touchdowns, the first to freshman Josh Quezada for his first — and only — reception of his career, and the second to J.J. DiLuigi, who did a fabulous impersonation of Andrew George's prance into the end zone in last year's epic overtime win against Utah. Nelson was also the team's second-leading rusher, running downfield eight times for 45 yards and setting up both of his TD passes.
Last year's backup to Hall also seemed to have better chemistry with his teammates, especially No. 1 wide receiver McKay Jacobsen. The wideouts didn't seem to trust Heaps as much as they did Nelson, with many of his passes sailing high, low or out of reach of his receivers. It's as if the Skyline High wonderboy from Sammamish, Wash., expected everyone to work their way into his passes; not becoming of a team's No. 1 signal caller.
2. HARVEY WHO?
Okay, so maybe Harvey Unga's abrupt dismissal from the school on Honor Code violations and subsequent selection by the Chicago Bears in the NFL Supplemental Draft will impact BYU's ground game a little bit this year, but junior J.J. DiLuigi seems like he can handle stepping into the Cougars' main role.
Last year's sparingly used backup from Canyon Country, Calif., had 69 yards on 13 carries in the first week, and also found himself on the receiving end of Nelson's scamper-pass to win the game. He may not be as tough as the school's all-time leading rusher, but DiLuigi should be an apt replacement, especially when he can count on Brian Kariya and Nelson to shovel a few of the carries, as well.
3. THE MOUNTAIN WEST ISN'T DEAD YET.
I bring this up here, only because BYU, Utah and TCU all put up very strong performances in CAH-LEDGE's opening week. Utah edged Pitt in overtime Thursday night, despite Kyle Whittingham's epic fail at double-icing the kicker on the game-tying PAT. TCU quarterback Andy Dalton proved he could use his legs as well as his arm, overcoming two interceptions against Oregon State in Dallas by rushing for two touchdowns to lead the Horned Frogs past the Beavers.
Overall, the MWC picked up six wins this week — with Air Force, Wyoming and San Diego State also earning wins (though, admittedly, not against top-notch competition like the Big East or Pac-10).
The conference still appears destined to crumble next year — despite Boise State's best efforts — with flight of Utah to the Pac-10 and BYU to irrelevancy (errr, independence). But for one more weekend, and hopefully one more year, the MWC should be attracting the country's attention and causing every member of the BCS Selection Committee to chew through his fingernails.