Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
BYU's Riley Nelson looks to make a pass as BYU and Notre Dame play Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in South Bend.

PROVO — Traditionally, when BYU has a senior quarterback, it translates into an outstanding season for the Cougars.

However, that hasn't been the case this year with Riley Nelson, who hasn't progressed as much as expected in his final season.

Of course, some of that has to do with a back injury that Nelson suffered in the Weber State game. It hampered him in the losses to Utah and Boise State, then he missed the next two games.

"I think injuries are certainly part of it, and our strength of schedule is certainly part of it," coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Nelson. "But we're really close. Our program intends to keep grinding out, and there have been four really close games and tough losses. But I still think we're gaining momentum and making progress. Riley is leading us while we do it. It might not be the prolific breakthrough that people want, but I still see us inching really close to breaking through."

Nelson admitted he made some mistakes in last Saturday's 17-14 setback at Notre Dame.

"On a couple of throws, my feet weren't set like they should be," he said. "(The Fighting Irish) did a good job with the pass rush. It was getting down to crunch time, and I didn't want to get blindsided and have the ball pop out and fumble and go the other way. I was moving around in the pocket. I was a little bit jittery at times, playing with a little bit of doubt. Rather than be on attack, I was maybe playing a little defensive, not wanting to give them a big play. It caused us to miss a few throws. Nothing catastrophic happened, but we probably missed out on a couple of opportunities. But, oh well, they were a good opponent. They played well, and we didn't do enough to win the game."

TIALAVEA SHINES: BYU senior defensive lineman Russell Tialavea played three seasons before departing for a mission. Tialavea, who returned from his mission, is back in the program and has been a key contributor on the Cougar defense.

"Russell's played phenomenal. He's played better than he ever played before," Mendenhall said. "He's working harder, he's more productive, he's just better in every way. He's really playing good football."

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SYMPATHY PAINS: When asked about Idaho's decision to fire coach Robb Akey over the weekend, Mendenhall said, "I'm saddened and disappointed. Just a couple of years ago there was a bowl game for Idaho. Longevity for head coaches is not something that's recognized past two or three years. It's hard to see friends not have the success others deem necessary to keep going. I think he's a good man and a good coach."

The Vandals promoted Jason Gesser, a former Washington State quarterback, to interim head coach.

Akey posted a 20-59 record at Idaho after being hired in 2007. He enjoyed one winning season, in 2009. Louisiana Tech drubbed the Vandals last Saturday, 70-28, and yielded 839 yards of total offense.

The Cougars host Idaho (1-7) on Nov. 10.