PROVO — BYU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman knows exactly what's it like to play QB for the Cougars.
After sitting on the bench for most of his career, Doman started his final 16 games at BYU in 2000 and 2001, posting a 14-2 record. He understands the accountability, the pressure and the scrutiny that accompanies the job. He experienced both the good and the bad.
So he can empathize with senior Riley Nelson, who has absorbed considerable blame this season as the Cougars get set to play their final regular-season game Saturday (1:30 p.m., MT, ESPN3) at New Mexico State.
Nelson, who has a 4-5 record as a starter this season, suffered a rib injury in last weekend's 20-14 loss at San Jose State and is probable for Saturday. If Nelson isn't healthy enough to play, senior James Lark will make his first career start.
Doman said too much blame has been directed at Nelson.
"Riley's the quarterback at BYU. Whether it's right and justified, it's part of the job, and he understands that," Doman said. "He shouldn't take all the blame. No way should he take all of the blame for that game (at SJSU). There were a lot of other factors that caused that loss to occur. It certainly wasn’t all because of Riley."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall agrees that too much blame has been placed on Nelson.
"The guy does everything he possibly can to help our team," the coach said of Nelson. "Offensive execution is protection, it's route-running, it's protection by the running backs, it's checkdown routes, etc. He's the most visible, and he's handling that really well. One or two plays in a bunch of games, but also in every game right to the very end, Riley's given us a chance to do that."
Lark said being the quarterback at BYU means dealing with criticism when things don't go well.
"That's how it goes. That's everyone opinion. It's the life of football, especially when you play for a program with a rich tradition like BYU, they expect greatness out of the quarterback tradition. That's just what happens sometimes."
As Nelson wraps up his career at BYU, what is his legacy?
"Probably the most tenacious, competitive guy I've been around yet in eight years," Doman said.
Against San Jose State, Doman recalled, an ailing Nelson was being examined by team doctors and trainers late in the game when the Cougars recovered an onside kick.
"The doctor was sitting there checking him out and all of the sudden the onside kick happened," Doman said. "He grabbed his helmet and took off running. The doctor wasn't quite sure what was wrong. He said, 'I'm not sure, but he's in a lot of pain.' He fought all the way to the end, until someone smacked him right in the place he was hurt. That's a testament to the young man."
"I'll say this: When you get knocked down, you have to choose to get up," Doman continued. "He has gotten up every single time. I've been around some quarterbacks, or players, or people that don't get up off the ground. He got up every time. I'll love him for that forever for being tenacious that way and never quitting. That's how I'll remember him."
Doman reminded reporters this week that this season has been tough on everyone in the program, including Nelson, who missed two games in the middle of the season due to a significant back injury.
"It's been a hard year for everybody. It's been a hard year for the coaches, for me, for everybody collectively," he said. "It's been a neat experience to come together with these players. They could have easily started pointing fingers and lost trust. I'm sure that can waver and has wavered. But for the quarterbacks, particularly Riley, we've had some unique experiences together this year in relation to fighting through some injuries that will serve him forever throughout his life. He'll look back at those and realize it was a blessing in disguise for him to overcome some battles that he needed to."
Cougars and Aggies on the air
BYU (6-5) at New Mexico State (1-9)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m., MT
Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, N.M.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company