Associated Press
Oregon State's Andrew Seumalo, left, tries to tackle BYU quarterback Riley Nelson in Saturday's game. (13) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday Oct. 15, 2011.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — When BYU quarterback Riley Nelson was allowed time to improvise, he usually made the Oregon State defense pay.

Nelson rushed 12 times for 89 yards, and completed 17-of-27 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, to lead the Cougars to a 38-28 victory Saturday at Reser Stadium.

"Riley just gives you a unique element because he can scramble for those yards, even when the play isn't designed for him," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "It's difficult to defend."

Nelson, who took over the quarterback job in the second half of the win over Utah State, has provided a spark to the once-listless Cougar offense.

Nelson brings "attitude and grit. It does change the way you play," said left tackle Matt Reynolds. "I can't just block for the normal four seconds. It's got to be the whole time until I hear the whistle, because I never know where Riley's at. It's taken our offense tfrom a three- or four-second offense to a five-, six- or seven-second offense. It's changed our offense."

However, Nelson did make a crucial mistake when he threw a ball intended for Ross Apo near the sideline. OSU defensive back Jordan Poyer picked off the pass and streaked 51 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, tying the game at 14-14 with 1:18 left in the first half.

"That pick-six was rough," Nelson said.

Mendenhall called it "a poor decision." But he added that Nelson "made a lot of great decisions as well."

BRONCO'S HOMECOMING: For the first time since he was fired as OSU's defensive coordinator in 1996, Mendenhall returned to his alma mater this weekend.

"It was good to be back at Oregon State. It's been a long time," he said. "It was fun to see the stadium upgrades. It doesn't look at all like what it used to look like."

Mendenhall, who was a starter on the Beavers' defense in 1986 and 1987, was impressed with the facility upgrades, too. The place was almost unrecognizable to him.

"It took me a while to get my bearings," he said. "It's fun to see the progress that's come that way."

INJURY UPDATE: Defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo injured his ankle in the first quarter and did not return. Linebacker Austin Heder was sidelined with a stinger and tight end Richard Wilson suffered a knee injury. Defensive lineman Romney Fuga and linebacker Ezekial Ansah also went out with injuries.

Mendenhall said he was "concerned" about the high volume of injuries. Those players will be treated and evaluated over the weekend.

FLAG BEARERS: Keith Rivera (1971-74), a two-time All-WAC first-team defensive lineman, carried out the alumni flag prior to Saturday's game. Senior tight end Matt Edwards carried out the team flag and junior Mike Hague carried out the special teams flag.

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FOR THE FIRST TIME: Three Cougars scored their first career touchdowns on Saturday: sophomore running back Michael Alisa, on a 10-yard TD run in the first quarter; sophomore wide receiver JD Falslev, on a 2-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter; and sophomore tight end Kaneakua Friel, on an 8-yard TD grab with 3:37 remaining in the game.

EXTRA POINTS: Announced attendance was 42,584. … Saturday's game was officiated by referees from the Big 12 Conference. … BYU has won six consecutive games against members of the former Pac-10 dating back to 2006. … Sophomore linebacker Kyle Van Noy recorded his third interception and fourth forced turnover of the season. He returned an interception for 43 yards early in the second quarter, setting up BYU's second touchdown of the game.