PROVO — When Riley Nelson entered the game against Utah State on Friday late in the third quarter, he and wide receiver Cody Hoffman instantly connected to spark BYU to a 27-24 win over Utah State.
Last year the two players were roommates, passing time watching football and playing video games. Thus, the instant electricity of the Nelson-to-Hoffman connection shouldn't come as any big surprise.
"We know each other very well," Nelson said. "I love Cody like a brother. We've spent a lot of time together, chilling and watching games like this, playing video games and doing all sorts of stuff. I love him a lot, and he's a great player."
The very first pass Nelson threw after replacing Jake Heaps went to Hoffman for a 22-yard gain. After a missed Justin Sorensen field goal attempt, the Cougars got the ball back on their next drive trailing 24-13 with only 12 minutes left in the game.
Nelson efficiently drove BYU to the Utah State 20-yard line, but then lost four yards on a failed scramble. Facing second-and-14, the left-handed Nelson took a shotgun snap, pump-faked and threw across his body to the right pylon of the north end zone. Hoffman skyed over Aggie cornerback Jumanne Robertson and, twisting at the goal line, snatched the ball from the air. Hoffman fell into the end zone for good measure, pulling the Cougars to within 24-20.
In the blink of an eye, two former roomies teamed up to transform the complexion of Friday's game for BYU — and perhaps the team's whole season.
All told Nelson targeted Hoffman three times, completing all three passes for 50 yards and the critical touchdown.
Hoffman, whose kickoff return for a touchdown last week helped turn the tide of the BYU victory over Central Florida, carried the BYU special teams flag onto the field before Friday's kickoff. Against the Aggies he amassed 90 yards on four kickoff returns to go along with his four catches for 68 yards.
Heaps finished the night 11-for-25 for 107 yards and no touchdowns. Although none of the BYU players necessarily threw him under the bus after the game, nobody was really standing up for the benched quarterback, either.
"Undeniably there was a spark (when Nelson came into the game)," junior linebacker Brandon Ogletree said. "When someone comes off the bench and just starts moving the ball, it gets you going. The whole sideline was going. I felt like the offensive players were playing harder, diving for catches. That's noticeable.
"No disrespect to any of my teammates, because Jake works his tail off too — but if any of us aren't performing, someone else comes in for us. That's football."
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall declined to declare a starting quarterback for next week's game against San Jose State.