BYU QB Nelson misses practice with rib cartilage injury, status not certain for NMSU game
The BYU Cougars returned to practice Monday night "more determined and resolved," coach Bronco Mendenhall said, after Saturday night's embarrassing 20-14 loss to San Jose State. "The time to be down was the plane ride home and [Sunday]. Now it is right back to work," Mendenhall said. The Cougars started working on a game plan for New Mexico State (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3) on Monday. They will change their routine only slightly this week, practicing early on Thanksgiving Day to be done by noon. Of course, the big questions Monday focused on the health of quarterback Riley Nelson and star receiver Cody Hoffman. Regarding Nelson, Mendenhall said: "He's hurt. And hopefully he will be back by the game. But he got pounded in that game. Took a lot of shots. So he didn't practice today. Hopefully he will be back by Saturday." Trainer Jeff Hurst said Nelson "had an injury to the spot where the rib attaches to the cartilage in the front of his right side. No fracture that we can look at right now. It is progressing daily. Felt better today than yesterday. Better Sunday than it did Saturday after the game. So it is kind of a day to day thing right now." I think he has a huge heart and a ton of desire and willingness. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he were ready to go." I asked Mendenhall what chance he would give Nelson of playing on Saturday. "I don't know enough about it yet," he said. "I probably will know more and more as the week goes, but for him to be out today is pretty significant, because the guy doesn't miss many [practices]." Hurst said Nelson is officially listed as "day-to-day." There's better news as far as Hoffman is concerned. The junior wideout practiced on Monday after suffering a shoulder injury against SJSU. "I think he will be fine, from what I have been told," Mendenhall said. Hurst said Hoffman "did great," in practice. "Looked real good. Real tough kid. He was out here, ran some team reps and went pat and go, and some of the indy stuff. Definitely we will keep him off the ground ... through practice. I would say Saturday he will be good to go," Hurst said. There are some who saw the pain Nelson was in on TV and believe that Mendenhall should not have played him in the fourth quarter."The team respects [Nelson and Hoffman], and they gave us a great chance to win the game. Cody came in after the long drive and recovered the onside kick. Riley just scrambled all over the place and threw it to David Foote and we got close. Just didn't protect well enough to win it," Mendenhall said. The coach was asked how close he has been this season to handing the quarterbacking reins to backup James Lark. "Not really close. Not because lack of trust. I have tried to explain why Taysom Hill was the backup, in terms of continuity of system with Riley. During the last game, a couple of times, it was maybe a breath or two away from putting James [Lark] in. And he will play and he will start this week if Riley can't play for any reason." More comments from Mendenhall after practice:On a season like this and whether the QB is getting too much blame:"No question. The guy, he does everything he possibly can to help our team. But offensive execution is protection, it is route running, it is protection by the running backs, it is check-down routes, etc. So yeah, he's most visible, and he's handling that really well. But [we've] one or two plays, it seems like in a bunch of games. But also in every game right to the end, and Riley has given us a chance to do that." On whether it is tough to make big changes because they are close to winning some of these games: "I think to a point, but intuitively, and as the leader, as you keep watching, and hopefully as objectively as possible, you know whether they are minor tweaks or whether they have to be significant, and that's hard to notice that really during the year as much. Bye week it is easier to kinda step back. Other times maybe after a couple in a row you might be able to step back. But it is hard to say. Each leader kinda has to pick and choose during the season and do the best he can." On the new playoff system and where BYU fits: "It is about the same access we had before, the way I see it. So we will still have to be undefeated I think, to be considered." On whether there was any overconfidence vs. San Jose State:"Not necessarily. I don't really think it had anything to do with the beginning. They made a couple nice downfield throws, and they made them all early, and then it went to business as usual. They had a nice plan to try to get a lead, but after that our guys adjusted well. So that's the way I saw it."