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Dick Harmon: Can Nelson, BYU break the historic pass standard?

Published: Friday, Oct. 14 2011 9:14 p.m. MDT

BYU's Riley Nelson will try to pass for over 300 yards Saturday against Oregon State, something not many Cougar QBs have done a lot lately.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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CORVALLIS, Ore. — It's a simple statistic that used to be routine, a rite of passage, an expectation of sorts back in the day.

Back in the day, BYU's offense and quarterbacks routinely did it. In fact, it was considered about the average, and if it wasn't reached, the QB had a below-average game.

What is it? The 300-yard barrier. About three times down the football field, give or take, starts from the 20s, while adding in penalty yards for holding calls.

Specifically? Passing for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in a game.

Why is it noteworthy today?

Because BYU doesn't do that any more.

In fact, aside from this fall's Utah game (343 yards), the last 300-yard passing game by the Cougars was a year ago against UNLV when Jake Heaps hit 300 right on the button. In that game, the Cougars didn't need more than 300 because they won 55-7 and amassed 516 yards.

So, just two in the last 10 games. Before that, you'd have to go back an additional 11 games when a BYU quarterback passed for more than 300 yards. That occurred in the 2009 season when Max Hall had 377 against Air Force and 314 passing yards the previous week against New Mexico.

That makes just four 300-yard passing games in the past 23 games.

Back in the day, Ty Detmer set an NCAA record for most consecutive games gaining 300 yards at 24. He set the BYU record for 400-plus passing-yard games in a season with eight. Jim McMahon is No. 2 with six.

You get the idea.

The 300-yard plateau isn't met these days. It hasn't mattered if the offensive philosophy has been constructed by Robert Anae or Brandon Doman.

BYU assistant head coach Lance Reynolds has been around long enough to explain why.

"It's a little different than the days of old when we used to have massive numbers in passing yards," said Reynolds.

"There are a lot of reasons for that. One is, we try to be more effective running the ball and our balance of run-pass mix. That has certainly cut down on the number of pass attempts and yards.

"The real object behind the whole thing is trying to win. If you have an effective run game, it gives you a better chance to win and it gives you an opportunity to play better defense.

"Even during LaVell Edwards' years, we were about 50-50 on first down with run-pass. I think there is some misleading feelings or impressions about that. But we like to be effective at doing both things."

Riley Nelson was on target for a 300-yard passing game against San Jose State with 100 yards in the first and second quarters. But turnovers and a coaching strategy to sit and protect a lead led to fewer pass attempts.

Nelson finished 14 of 24 for 219 yards. SJSU's pass defense ranks 63rd in the NCAA, 93rd in pass-efficiency defense.

Today's BYU opponent, Oregon State, ranks 94th in pass defense and 113th in pass-efficiency defense.

Is Riley capable of dinging the 300-yard bell today?

This week's picks:

Michigan 24, Michigan State 21: The Wolverines should be able to hold off the Spartans' upset bid.

Baylor 32, Texas A&M 24: Too much firepower by Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, whose pass efficiency rating of 212.94 is plain sick.

Pittsburgh 17, Utah 14: Low-scoring game where turnovers will prove critical. I look for Utah's defense to give the Utes a chance to win, but worry about a Washington-type third quarter. The early start for a slow-starting Utah team is another issue.

Stanford 44, Washington State 10: Stanford has the best quarterback in the land and will roll.

Utah State 24, Fresno State 19: I like the Aggie offense and personnel Dave Baldwin uses, and that firepower will outclass the Bulldogs early and mid-game just enough to hold on for a win.

Weber State 21, Idaho State 20: Ron McBride deserves the win if his guys can produce for four quarters.

BYU 24, Oregon State 21: Experts favor the Beavers by three points. I'll give OSU three touchdowns, but believe the Cougars will actually do some scoring in this this game. Riley Nelson put up one of his best weeks of practice this week.

Last week 8-1; overall 40-9 (.816)

email: dharmon@desnews.com

twitter: Harmonwrites

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