It’s time for a little Monday Morning Quarterback, Brigham Young Cougars edition. This MMQB likes to stretch the field, so we won’t just look back at last Saturday’s game. Let’s go long, real long, and break down the past week.
The BYU quarterback race finally ended Tuesday, September 21, 2010, when the school announced that “Riley Nelson will have surgery to repair a shoulder injury suffered Saturday during the Florida State game and will be out the remainder of the 2010 season.” The week wasn’t without good news for Nelson. That same day, BYU also announced that the junior quarterback was named to the 2010 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
Jake Heaps is not only the undisputed starting quarterback, but he is THE quarterback. No more rotating every series. Three games into his career everyone is looking to him to take an offense that is on life support and turn it into a feared beast. A tall task, but that is exactly why Heaps came to BYU.
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is no stranger to criticism, even with a 50-18 career record. The back-to-back losses and the two QB system made Mendenhall a target for criticism this year. Fans and some media outlets found something else to jump on this week: his reaction to Riley Nelson’s injury. Mendenhall was painted as a partisan coach who could only praise Nelson as he ignored Heaps. He delegated the responsibility to inform Heaps that he would be the unquestioned, full-time, starting quarterback to the assistant coaches. There were even rumors that Bronco promised Nelson a significant role in the offense next year.
I dug a little, and Bronco did have plenty of positive things to say about Nelson. That is understandable. A good coach should like his players and want to give them props during a difficult time. I can’t substantiate the rumor about Bronco promising Nelson a role as a quarterback next year. The closest thing I found was this from the Deseret News: “‘I think he wants to come back and I think he wants to play here and I think he wants to play quarterback,’ Mendenhall said. ‘That's what I'd like to see happen as well.’”
As for giving Heaps the cold shoulder, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Bronco did praise Heaps. From the same Deseret News article, I found this: "Who knows whether he's prepared or not? It's a freshman playing football. If there's anyone that is prepared, his experience to this point has led to me feeling very comfortable. I believe in his potential. It's just a matter of catching up on experience and playing football. He's very capable. It's just going to be decision-making, experience, execution, and just playing ball."
Another criticism about Coach Mendenhall is that he gives preference to older, more experienced players over younger, more talented players. I think that even those criticizing Mendenhall understand the value of experience, just as much as they understand the value of talent. Bronco appears to be extremely concerned about the culture of the program, and he would rather err on the side of caution and play an experienced player who will preserve the culture of the program, than play a talented phenom and risk losing that culture and identity.
I support Bronco ardently protecting the culture of BYU football, but I understand the critics. It seems paradoxical that a coach who thought he could make a two QB system work would think that he couldn’t preserve the team’s culture by playing talented young guys that HE recruited. By insisting on not playing younger players, even if they are the best player at their position, are you admitting that you recruited the wrong guys? Did you compromise your standards to land these talented players hoping that two years in the program would change them?
Wednesday, September 22, 2010, Bronco Mendenhall apprised the public that wide receiver O’Neill Chambers was suspended from the team for two weeks. This suspension could not have come at a worse time for Chambers. Not only will he miss playing in two games, he is not allowed to practice with the team. For someone looking to have a breakout year and be a major contributor, this is a huge blow. With Heaps moving to the starting role and getting all the practice reps, Chambers might find that he gets fewer looks from the quarterback when he does return. The offense is looking to establish an identity and for each player to fit the needed roles. How does an invisible receiver get a role?
BYU inked a deal to play the West Virginia Mountaineers in 2016 at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. The game will be played September 24 and, most likely, will be broadcast on ESPN. I like this game for two reasons.
First, it is not on Labor Day. After Florida State nearly lost to a FCS team following a Labor Day loss in 2009, and Virginia Tech actually losing to a FCS team following its Labor Day loss to Boise State this year, I don’t want BYU to be part of any Labor Day games. Even though it is the same as playing a Saturday game followed by a Thursday game the next week, the Monday to Saturday cycle seems to be very problematic for losing teams.
Second, I like BYU’s chances. West Virginia is a top tier Big East team that plays very well in bowl games, which sounds a lot like Utah. Regardless of the season, I have always felt that BYU could beat Utah. Beating West Virginia should be as much of a challenge as beating Utah. Hopefully, a win will get BYU the same national respect that Utah got this year by beating Big East favorite Pitt.
Oh, yeah, BYU did play football this week. If you want a game day recap, click here. My Monday morning analysis is that although 1-3, BYU is in a better position. The offense and defense showed signs of life in the second half. Nevada’s only score came on a 21-play drive—and that only resulted in a field goal. Late in the fourth quarter the defense did not pack it in as a loss; they kept fighting. Vic So’oto intercepted the ball deep in Nevada territory to keep the outcome in question for a few more minutes. However, the defense did suffer a blow losing nose tackle Romney Fuga for the season. Jake Heaps started to find a rhythm as he made multiple connections with McKay Jacobson and Cody Hoffman. Receivers were still droping passes, however, and the tight ends weren’t involved. Another week of practices and the offense should be pretty cohesive, which might do the trick this week for BYU to win game five.