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BYU football: Riley Nelson plays with fire after hearing Mike Leach's comment

Riley Nelson makes a call at the line of scrimmage Thursday. He threw for 285 yards and two scores in the victory.
Riley Nelson makes a call at the line of scrimmage Thursday. He threw for 285 yards and two scores in the victory.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — One week ago, Washington State coach Mike Leach said, when talking about his "Air Raid" offense and the roots of that aerial attack, "We may look more like BYU than BYU."

Well, BYU senior quarterback Riley Nelson heard that comment, and he took exception to it.

Nelson made a statement on the field by leading a balanced offense that gained 426 yards in BYU's 30-6 whipping of Washington State Thursday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium. WSU, meanwhile, finished with a paltry 224 yards of offense (including minus-5 rushing).

Then, after the game, Nelson made another statement.

"When an opposing team comes in saying, 'We're going to look like BYU more than BYU will,' how are you supposed to take that?" he said. "We had a great defensive effort and a great offensive effort. … It was clearly evident tonight that BYU looked like BYU and the other team was the other team. So I was happy with our performance."

While BYU scored 30 points — the most ever for the Cougars in an opener against a FBS opponent under coach Bronco Mendenhall — Nelson knows his team could have scored much more.

"We are definitely leaving this game hungry because we feel like we left points and some yards out on the field," he said. "We're excited because we played well enough to win the game and still have a lot of stuff to clean up and get better at. We're excited for Week Two."

BYU hosts Weber State next Saturday (1 p.m. MT, BYUtv).

BYU scored just three field goals on four trips inside the 10-yard line against Washington State. That's something the Cougars will address this week.

"That was definitely frustrating for us," said running back Michael Alisa, who rushed for a game-high 54 yards. "That's the biggest focus we're going to have going into next week — our red zone plays."

Against Washington State, BYU implemented a fast-tempo, hurry-up offense that stymied WSU.

"Riley is just so competitive and so tough and he has great leadership," Mendenhall said. "That (hurry-up offense) suits him really well. He demands respect and controls the game. When it's hurry-up, he makes sure everyone gets to the line. For a stretch in there, it put our opponent on their heels and they had a hard time recovering."

Nelson loves the up-tempo offense.

"It's what I did in high school. It really puts pressure on a defense," he said. "It's easier for me to process the defense. Besides that, I just like the tempo. It takes the thinking out of it and we've repped it so much that it's just our base plays. You go through your reads and make easy completions."

Nelson hinted that the offense can do much more than it showed in the opener. "You didn't see our whole package tonight," he said.

BYU's fast pace took a toll on WSU's defense.

"You could tell we were wearing them down. They were tired. It seemed like they were faking some injuries, I don't know," said tight end Kaneakua Friel, who caught six passes for a game-high 101 yards and two touchdowns. "We've been practicing it and we've been ready. We can move quick when we want to, slow it down when we need to. I think it will wear people out. People that want to play against us, they're going to have to move fast if they want to stop us."

Freshman left tackle Ryker Mathews, who made his first career start, said the offensive line enjoys the fast tempo.

"It's good for our offense. (Offensive line) coach (Mark) Weber did a good job getting us in shape," he said. "We all lost weight during the offseason. It's tough, but our bodies are ready for it. I worked nice (against Washington State). We just wanted to go out and mash people. We didn't set specific goals as far as yardage. We wanted to play with grit and play with heart, run around on the field and have fun. That's what we tried to do."

INJURY UPDATE: Wide receiver Cody Hoffman suffered a quad contusion, "a deep bruise," according to Mendenhall, in the first quarter against Washington State. Safety Craig Bills sustained a "bell-ringer," Mendenhall said, while defensive back Skye PoVey suffered a foot injury. Wide receiver Dallin Cutler aggravated a hamstring injury he originally hurt in fall camp while defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah had a shoulder sprain, but he returned to the game.

CLIMBING THE HILL: Freshman quarterback Taysom Hill made his collegiate debut and he completed one pass for an 18-yard touchdown to Friel in the first half.

Hill came into the game in other red zone situations.

"That will be his role. We trust him with the ball in his hands," Mendenhall said. "He's so versatile, he can run it and throw it. You'll see him in critical moments. That's kind of what his role will be moving forward."

CENTER OF ATTENTION: Going into the opener, Mendenhall said there was a good chance that BYU would play two centers — Blair Tushaus and Houston Reynolds.

As it turned out, Tushaus, a sophomore making his first start, handled every snap.

"He did great. He stepped up and made good calls," Mathews said. "From what I could tell, he did pretty good."

THE KICKING GAME: Senior Riley Stephenson kicked 3-of-4 field goals against WSU — not bad considering he had never attempted a field goal in a college game before.

He was replacing Justin Sorensen, who didn't kick much in fall camp after undergoing offseason back surgery.

"We actually put Sorensen in for a kick there at the end. He kicked it into the end zone," Mendenhall said. "He was ready physically, it's just that hadn't had as many live reps. It kind of was his call, that he thought Riley might be a little bit more prepared. Other than the one missed field goal, I thought Riley had a nice night."

Contributing: Brandon Gurney