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When Riley Goes Down: Analyzing BYU’s QB Options


In the offseason, the backup quarterback debate was a popular topic. Now that needing a backup QB has a much stronger tinge of reality after three games, Peter Case revisits the topic.

It doesn't take a BYU insider to see Riley Nelson's back problems could be worse than BYU is letting on. Many on Twitter commented how he didn't look right when he walked on the field Saturday night to face Utah. It wasn't just his performance, but his body language was off too.

The normally fiery senior quarterback looked noticeably glassy eyed and subdued. He told the media that his back didn't bother him much at all during the game. This isn't a lie -- he may have been so doped up on whatever pain meds they injected him with, he probably couldn't feel his toes (which also may explain why he dropped the ball at the most inexplicable times). It also wasn't lost on many that his teammates went out of their way to avoid slapping him on the back when he made a good play.

If I were a betting man, I'd say BYU will have a new starting quarterback before the end of October. I'm sure Bronco Mendenhall and Brandon Doman sense the same thing and are asking themselves: Who should start when Riley goes down?

James Lark

James is currently the #2 quarterback on the depth chart. James is a senior. Bronco surely feels a tremendous debt toward him for the years he's spent riding the pine in the midst of other quarterback battles. James has looked pretty decent in the few sets he's played this season.

My concern: If James was truly a viable starting option at quarterback, he wouldn't have been #3 on the depth chart most of his career at BYU.

Taysom Hill

It's a foregone conclusion that Taysom will be the starting quarterback next year. Both Nelson and Lark will graduate this year, and although BYU's got a few guys in the stable, none of them compete with Hill. Doman's already used Hill in a few red zone situations and he has looked fantastic for what he's been asked to do. He has 2 rushing and 1 passing touchdowns, which is especially impressive considering Nelson himself only has 5 TD's on the season.

My concern: We know Hill looks great in the red zone, but we don't know how he is driving down field. We also don't know what his command of the offense is or what his leadership qualities are.

On one hand, Taysom's the future and he could use the playing time, especially given BYU's top 20 schedule next season. On the other hand, Lark's paid his dues. Why not send him off with a few notches on his belt? On yet another hand, Bronco has stated publicly that he's against playing somebody based on entitlement (like being a senior who has paid his dues).

I don't think Lark has shown anything to make me believe that he's vastly better than Hill.

I say, play Hill.

He'll get some experience which will help him be more successful next season. His playing style is similar enough to Riley's that the offense won't have to adjust to a new playing style.

What's the worst that could happen?

Even if Taysom does perform worse than Lark this season, BYU has already punched their ticket to the Poinsettia Bowl. (Only need to go 4-5 the rest of the way. Bret Engemann's corpse could beat Idaho, so really 3-5). It doesn't matter much if Lark finishes with 8 wins and Hill finishes with 6 wins, either way they're Poinsettia bound. You might as well start preparing for the future with Taysom. But I actually believe that Taysom would win more games than Lark if he had to finish out the season.

Bronco, Brandon Doman, and Max Hall may be forced to make a tough decision here before too long: Lark or Hill? To me the choice is clear: play Taysom Hill.

I am interested to hear your thoughts. Comment below (make a free account if you don't have one) or hit me up on Twitter: @spaffoo.