Is Bronco Mendenhall Insane?
You know the old adage: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
If that saying is true, then Bronco Mendenhall may be insane, or perhaps the honor code office at BYU needs to investigate to discover what the coach is smoking.
Shortly after back-up quarterback James Lark’s 384-yard, six-touchdown performance in Saturday’s 50-14 win at New Mexico State, Mendenhall went on his post-game radio segment on KSL and told the world that Lark will be benched in favor of the embattled and oft-injured Riley Nelson–assuming the senior can play come December 20 against San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Bronco’s announcement shouldn’t surprise anyone who has witnessed the last three seasons of BYU football. Cougar fans have been dumbfounded by the coach’s commitment to a player that many believe should never have been playing quarterback in Provo in the first place. It was stunning just how adamant he was that Riley would be back under center, and that without even consulting his offensive coordinator.
Nelson has struggled to stay healthy, and it seems as if each snap with him is an adventure. Just like a box of chocolates, BYU has never known what they will get with the gritty one. He’ll make a Houdini-like escape to make a big play one time, then turn around and throw a pick-six the next. This season Nelson has scored 14 touchdowns (13 passing and one rushing), but has turned the ball over a total of 15 times.
Many BYU fans are fed up with Nelson’s mistakes and popgun arm. And they are frustrated with a coach that apparently values grit and toughness above putting players on the field that can win football games. Some feel that he has wasted a season in which the Cougars fielded one of its best defenses in history. After Lark looked suspiciously like a classic BYU quarterback against the Aggies, fans have been up in arms that such a talent has been relegated to the bench these past three seasons while the offense has struggled mightily.
They can’t really be blamed for wondering out loud about what could have been in 2012. With how Lark played, it’s hard to argue against the reasoning that BYU would have defeated Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and San Jose State with a guy like James at the helm of the offense. The results of the Oregon State game may have been different as well.
Sure, Lark’s performance Saturday was against a team that is barely FBS grade, but it was like finding an oasis in the desert to see a BYU QB throwing nice, tight spirals that hit receivers in stride. Lark was solid in his reading of defenses and showed good speed to elude the rush, speed and athleticism that most did not know he had because he has never seen the field in a situation that mattered. And when things broke down, James kept his eyes down the field while he bought himself time to deliver the football.
Despite throwing for a gaudy number of touchdowns and setting a record for the most yards by a BYU quarterback starting his first start, perhaps the biggest stat of the day was the fact that Lark threw the ball 50 times without a single interception and took a total of 75 snaps from center with nary a turnover. That’s about as un-Nelson as you could get.
Even crazier than summarily sending Lark back to the pine after a record-setting performance was the claim by Bronco that he won’t evaluate his decision this year to stick with Nelson through all his struggles. When pressed by radio play-by-play announcer Greg Wrubell about his decision-making in regards to the quarterback this year, Mendenhall told listeners after the game that he is not interested in looking back on the past and will instead look forward. It was like saying in not so many words that, “I’m right and no one can convince me otherwise.”
The problem for the coach is that the people who foot the bill for the program and effectually pay his salary have been sitting in the stands for decades now and they know good quarterbacking when they see it–and when they don’t. They are not dumb, even if Mendenhall assumes they are. For a coach to say that he is unwilling to re-evaluate any area of his team, especially when you just finished a disappointing 7-5 regular season, is tantamount to committing career suicide.
Those who have supported the BYU program for these past forty years are not going to continue to support a coach that seems unable and even unwilling to make needed changes, especially when it comes to the play of the quarterback. This is Quarterback U after all that we are talking about. They know supporting the same thing over and over again without getting results would be insane on their part.