Bowl game quarterback undetermined

James Lark

After just coming off the best performance of any first-time starting BYU quarterback, James Lark is preparing himself for a possible start against San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl. However, it's not known yet whether he'll get to play.

So who will it be? Will it be James Lark or Riley Nelson that gets the starting nod come BYU's bowl game matchup with San Diego State?

"Right now it hasn't been determined," said Coach Doman. "James started practice [on Monday]. Riley came in a spell, and we'll just see in the next few days which guy comes in and gives us the best chance to win. Then we'll play that guy."

Nelson's rib injury was much worse than initially expected, so how much he will play is being determined.

"[Nelson's] not 100 percent yet, so James started [Monday] and Riley came in and practiced and they went back and forth," said Coach Doman. "It's kind of created a quarterback competition out there, which is positive and healthy and good for the team right now."

In the end it will be Coach Mendenhall's decision if Nelson is capable of going.

"Yeah, [Coach Mendenhall] will make that decision, but right now it's to be determined," Doman said.

During Monday's practice, Lark and Nelson split time with the first-team offense.

"They went back and forth every three snaps and we had a good practice," said Coach Doman. "So, these two guys are veteran guys and they're leading us very well, and we'll make a decision on a quarterback. Coach will decide on what we want to do, and then we'll listen to the doctors and trainers. But I have great confidence in James and we've played Riley a lot, and, as you know, I have confidence in him. So, either one of them will do a great job with the game plan that we have and in the bowl game."

How did Lark look coming off a short break from football practice?

"He looked good," Doman said. "In fact they both did good, so having a little quarterback competition isn't bad.

"I have all the confidence in James. I have zero hesitation about going and playing him in this game. And he would do great. If he gets the opportunity to play, he'll go play great."

Doman said he was very proud of Lark after his performance against New Mexico State, in which he threw for 384 yards and six touchdowns for a 172.11 quarterback efficiency rating.

"Oh absolutely, he knew on the sidelines how proud I was of him," said Doman. "We started slow and realized that we just need to go throw the heck out of the ball against those guys. They had spent most of their time defending our run package, and I don't blame them we haven't been great throwing the ball. So they defended the run game and I was confident in what we could do throwing the football, so we went around and threw it around. James did a great job and I was real pleased with how he did, how poised he was with the decision making, protecting the ball and protecting our team, and [he] did a good job."

Doman knows full well what it's like being the third-string quarterback.

"Well, I've been the third-string quarterback on the sideline for a long time. I've experienced that. It's very similar to this. I was a junior and [Lark] is a senior. I came in second to the last game of the year and got my first start. You know, as a coach you try and make the right decisions for the team.

"Hopefully you have enough good players in the program that whoever it is can come in and play well. I think we have enough good players. It just happened to be James' turn. For right or wrong it just happened to be James' turn and I was so happy for him because he's been a loyal teammate. He's been a loyal friend and through all the ups and the downs he prepared himself for the opportunity. I always say preparation plus opportunity meets success and he was prepared."

Now that BYU's bowl game is almost here for two senior quarterbacks, it's certain both Lark and Nelson are preparing to start for their final game. It has to be a tricky situation for Coach Doman, knowing this is their last game and knowing how well Lark did against New Mexico State.

"They're both going to give everything they've got to the very end, and it's a great feeling to know that they're going to try as hard up to the very finish," said Coach Doman. "I'm grateful for both of them and I love them both. I wouldn't trade them. So, we'll finish as hard as we can, whether it's one or the other or both. We'll go play and see what happens."

The season hasn't gone as well as the fans expected, and because of that there has been some criticism, whether justified or not, thrown Doman's way.

"The only reason I have any idea what the fans are saying is because people will call me on the phone wondering if I'm doing okay," said Coach Doman with a laugh. "And I say, ‘Yeah, I'm doing fine. How come you're asking if I'm doing okay?'"

After a short pause, Coach Doman said, "I'm not naive. I mean, I understand we haven't performed to the expectations of the fans, and it's an entertainment sport. Without the fans there isn't football. I love the fans and I'm grateful that there is the game of football and I'm grateful there's fans.

"Sometimes you perform under the expectations of the fans and critics, and that's okay that they say what they feel and what they want to say. I understand that and recognize that and will do the best I can under the circumstances of this year. It is what it is, but we're not finished yet. And so we'll finish as hard as we can and when we're done we'll evaluate what's happened and do the best that we can to repair and prepare a plan for next year. But that's down the road and I appreciate the fans and their expectations."

Knowing there is a naturally high expectation to uphold BYU's high-octane passing attack, Coach Doman fully understands the criticism.

"I think that we can throw the football and be very efficient and effective in doing that, but we weren't this year," Coach Doman said. "I can give you 15 excuses and explanations for why, and no one cares. There is an expectation and there's an execution to get there and that's what matters, so at this point, like I said, we'll do the best we can to finish and do what we can to repair that for next year. But I like to throw it, and [we'll] see what happens come next year."

So with that understanding in mind, Coach Doman is moving forward and preparing for San Diego State. He's had plenty of time to review game footage in order to devise a passing attack.

"A little bit. No, I have a lot," Coach Doman said satirically. "They're good. They're an effort-based defense first and foremost. Then they are a run-stop defense second, and then they're probably a ‘blitz and put pressure on the quarterback, put a lot pressure on the quarterback, get as many hits on the quarterback' third defense. Everything else after that is secondary to this defense, and they do a very effective job of doing all those things."

In order to attack San Diego State's 3-3-5 defense effectively, Coach Doman laid out what he feels the Cougars need to do.

"So if you ask me what we need to do, we need to run the football effectively. We need to protect the passer, so our protection needs to be sound. If we do those two things, I have great confidence in the plan to throw it. But it's going to have to go in that order. Then we're going to have to match or exceed their effort. We've been able to do that for a lot of years. I believe this group can do that. Otherwise we're going to have a tough bowl game. It's going to be tough anyways, but it won't be any fun if we don't do any of those things."

The question on every fan's mind is who will be the one throwing the ball. BYU fans will just have to wait and see.

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