ARLINGTON, Texas — During several stages, the BYU game against TCU felt exactly like those in recent history.
Before even five minutes were gone, BYU found itself down 14-0 in what looked to be another embarrassing effort against their former conference foes.
But unlike recent years, the Cougars fought back, and a big reason why was the grit and determination of quarterback Riley Nelson.
The Cougars were able to cut the lead to 14-10 just before the end of the first quarter. Then, just as they snatched the momentum and looked to take the lead, TCU got off three straight touchdowns and a 35-10 lead just after the half.
But again, unlike they had in recent years, BYU fought back.
They were able to close the gap and fought the bitter end, scoring the final touchdown of the game on a Bryan Kariya run from one-yard out with 2:01 remaining. Nelson then ran for the two-point conversion to close to 38-28.
It was a remarkable run by Nelson, stretching the ball just over the goal line for the score, but it was his reaction after the conversion that was perhaps even more remarkable. Nelson met the outstretched arms of the referee signaling the made conversion with a high five, giving everyone in Cowboys stadium and those watching ESPN a good look into what exactly Riley Nelson is.
"Anyone who wonders who he (Nelson) is — I don't think they should," said Bronco Mendenhall. "He's a fierce competitor and a great leader and our team loves him."
Nelson in turn loves the game and it's contagious. He has fun with every part of it and seems to thrive with every brutal hit he takes while playing his hyper-aggressive quarterbacking style.
Ultimately, it is was a bevy of costly mental errors that led to lapses in coverage, stupid penalties and untimely turnovers, several of which were made by Nelson, but that's what you're going to get with him.
What Nelson does on the field is rarely pretty, but it's proven to be effective — even against TCU.
Nelson finished the game with 84 yards rushing and 215 yards passing, which was by far the most productive effort put forth by a BYU quarterback since their last win against the Horned Frogs in 2007.
He also accounted for three turnovers, two of them coming inside the redzone, which could have proven to make up the final 10-point deficit. But that's not the point, the point is that he got them there.
Yes, there were several instances when Nelson would have been best served to take a sack rather than serve up a turnover trying to extend the play. With 12:20 left in the game, and with BYU at the TCU 17-yard line, Nelson threw an errant pass that was ruled a lateral instead of taking a sack. TCU jumped on the ball, costing the Cougars a crucial scoring opportunity late.
It's the sort of play that drives most coaches nuts, but it's something Mendenhall is willing to accept, given everything else his new starting quarterback brings to the table.
"I don't question Riley at all," said Mendenhall. "That guy — he's one competitive (and) tough individual. …I think we fought hard and I like this team. It was a privilege to coach this team today, because they wanted to keep playing. …They realized and were frustrated with the mistakes that we made out there today, but they were having fun and they were supporting each other. They believe in one another and I believe in them."