March 12, 2011
Assessing 2011's field generals, in no particular order. Today: BYU sophomore Jake Heaps.
• Typecasting. Heaps is the latest and arguably the most hyped enrollee of BYU's Finishing School for Whitebread Pocket Passers, arriving last spring as both the top-rated quarterback in the entire 2010 recruiting class and just another in a long line of largely immobile, pocket-bound slingers of the highest moral fiber. (With the possible exceptions of Steve Young on the former front and Jim McMahon on the latter, though even the "punky" McMahon managed to stay within the university's strict honor code until his eligibility was up). Before Heaprs, three-year starters John Beck (2004-06) and Max Hall (2007-09) easily led the Mountain West in yards and touchdowns in six straight seasons, the last five of those under head coach Bronco Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Robert Anae, a former Mike Leach assistant at Texas Tech who made the Cougars the most consistently pass-oriented outfit in the conference.
This year, Anae is out as part of a general offseason house-cleaning; alum Brandon Doman, trigger man of the nation's No. 1 total and scoring offense in 2001, is in. But the offense is hardly starting from scratch: Doman served six years as quarterbacks coach under Anae, and Heaps' startling progress over the second half of his debut season puts him on pace for a prolific career. Beck and Hall both left with a little over 11,000 yards to their names, just back of former Heisman winner Ty Detmer on the school's all-time list; Heaps is a good bet to outgun them all.
• At his best... Heaps spent two nightmarish months last fall looking like an overwhelmed, overrated freshman, until the light came on in November. Abruptly: Prior to Halloween, he was hitting barely 50 percent of his passes for five yards per attempt and an embarrassing (even for a freshman) ratio of two touchdowns to seven interceptions; accordingly, BYU started 2-5 and stumbled through its third win over MWC bottom dweller Wyoming. After Halloween, Heaps completed almost two-thirds of his passes for just shy of 250 yards per game and connected on 13 TDs to just two picks; the Cougars won four of their last five and topped 40 points in all four. Heaps' efficiency rating nearly doubled/
Statistically, the highlight the late surge was a 15-of-20, 242-yard, four-touchdown effort at hapless Colorado State, an easy, 49-10 BYU win. But the real breakout that solidified Heaps' up-and-coming star power for a national audience was clearly the 264-yard, four-touchdown payload he dropped on UTEP in another Cougar rout in the New Mexico Bowl, site of three scoring strikes to fellow freshman Cody Hoffman alone. Hoffman was the most productive of six players coming back this fall who brought in at least 100 yards receiving last year, and one of a dozen who caught passes in multiple games.
• At his worst... Heaps' apparent revelation came against four of the worst secondaries in the country, by far — UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico all finished among the bottom ten teams nationally in pass efficiency defense, and UNLV, New Mexico and UTEP were all among the worst at getting to the quarterback. Even Utah, the Cougars' only respectable opponent after Halloween, came in ranked 88th in pass efficiency D, and still managed to keep Heaps in check (228 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) in a 17-16 BYU loss to close the regular season.
In truth, Heaps appeared so far behind the curve early on that he may not have been on the field at all for the easy pickings if the Cougars had had any other options. He began the season alternating with nominal starter Riley Nelson, who took most of the snaps — with only marginally less bad results — before going down with a season-ending injury at Florida State on Sept. 18. (The 'Noles sacked Nelson twice, and Heaps six times in a 34-10 thumping.) That was the second game in a four-game slide in which BYU scored a grand total of 53 points, ending in a rock-bottom turn at traditional whipping boy Utah State, where Heaps connected on less than half of his passes and was picked twice en route to a lopsided, 31-16 Aggie upset. His decision-making improved as the year wore on, but his inability to consistently threaten defenses with his legs or less-than-spectacular arm could put a cap on his production for the next three years.
• Fun Fact. For no reason whatsoever, Heaps decided to add his contribution to the trick shot craze that briefly swept a nation of bored cubicle dwellers in February by knocking down a three-pointer (four-pointer?) from the seats after BYU's basketball win over Utah on Jan. 11:
For Jake's sake, just hope that none of these girls saw that.
BONUS Fun Fact! Heaps was chilling by himself in LaVell Edwards Stadium on a Sunday night last August, two weeks before his first college game, when he was escorted out from the premises by security. Don't you know who he is, man?
• What to expect in the fall. Independence may help BYU pad the coffers, but not by padding the stat sheet: The Cougars' first three games this fall are "Big Six" dates with Ole Miss, Texas and Utah, and the fourth is against Central Florida, which easily led Conference USA and finished in the top 20 nationally last year in every major defensive category. October sends them to Oregon State and TCU, owner of the nation's No. 1 defense three years running. (BYU was one of four teams the Horned Frogs held out of the end zone completely in 2010, mustering a measly 145 total yards in a 31-3 massacre in Fort Worth.) There's a good chance Heaps will hit November again lagging behind high expectations.
Still, whatever trials he endures as a sophomore certainly won't match last year's plunge into the deep end. With a full season at a normal comfort level in the offense, 3,000 yards should be a minimum; ideally, his touchdown:interception ratio will improve to close to 3:1. His ascension ascension to "Jimmer" status isn't on the schedule until he has the Cougars threatening for a coveted BCS bid as an upperclassman, but if he gets through the September-October gauntlet with optimism, record-setting pace and the Cougars' bowl eligibility intact, Heaps will be safely on track to fulfill his destiny as the next BYU great. .
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.