Is Jake Heaps The Worst Brigham Young Cougars Freshman Quarterback Ever?

Jake Heaps is making history in many ways as quarterback for the Brigham Young Cougars this year. Making history isn’t always a good thing. I commend Heaps for getting the win Saturday against Wyoming, and throwing the touchdown pass that sealed the win. However, he only threw for 81 yards, and he had another touchdown pass (pick six) that was a big reason why this game was even close. Add to this that Heaps was coming off of a 91 yard outing with two interceptions and a less than 50% completion rate the week before against TCU, and wheels start to turn in your head and you start to wonder.

Before all the staunch Heaps supporters stop reading, let’s make one thing certain. The fact that this question can even be asked about Heaps is a tremendous compliment to the kid. Rarely does a quarterback come to campus, grasp the offense, and have his skills developed to a point that he can even see significant time on the field as a freshman.

A quarterback cannot be judged on just touchdowns and interceptions, or yards passing. Therefore, before jumping to any conclusions or getting upset. Let’s conduct a proper analysis.

Since 1973, when BYU fully adopted the forward pass, Jake Heaps is just the fifth freshman quarterback to log significant minutes during meaningful moments of games. Ty Detmer (1988), Drew Miller (1997), Matt Berry (2002), and John Beck (2003) are the others. Although comparing statistics is never a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, looking at each quarterbacks’ stats is a good starting point. Following their stats is a little more background information about how those stats were accumulated, which should give us sufficient understanding to rank these five signal callers.

83 completions, 153 attempts (54.2%), 1,252 yards, 13 TD, 10 Int., 138.0 Efficiency

Notes: Detmer threw the most TD passes, has the highest efficiency, however, he also threw the most interceptions. He was 1-0 as a starter, a 65-0 blowout of New Mexico (2-10). He threw for 333 yards and 5 TDs. Detmer came off the bench to win 3 other games, including the Freedom Bowl.

37-67 (55.2%), 430 yards, 3 TD, 4 Int., 112.0 Efficiency

Notes: Miller has the least completions, attempts, and yards. He also had the least interceptions. He was 0-1 as a starter in a ugly loss to UTEP (14-3) when he threw three of his interceptions (one a pick six). He came off the bench to throw 3 TDs and win the TCU game. TCU was 1-10 that year.

108-184 (58.7%), 1,309 yards, 7 TD, 9 Int., 121.2 Efficiency

Notes: Berry has the highest completion percentage, and the most passing yards. He was 2-4 as a starter. In his best game he threw for 360 yards against Wyoming (2-11).

73-145 (50.3%), 864 yards, 5 TD, 5 Int., 104.9 Efficiency

Notes: Beck has the lowest completion percentage. He was just 1-3 as a starter. One of those losses was a direct result of a Beck interception. BYU was leading Stanford 14-12 with 4:20 to play. Beck threw an interception and Stanford promptly scored the winning points. He also came off the bench against Wyoming and threw a pick six that gave Wyoming a 13-0 lead. BYU lost 13-10.

JAKE HEAPS (through 8 games)
120-229 (52.4%), 1,057 yards, 2 TD, 7 Int., 87.9 Efficiency

Notes: Heaps has the most completions and attempts, yet he has the least TD passes. He also has the worst efficiency. Heaps is 2-3 as a starter. He played well off the bench in the only other win of the season (Washington).

Using just the stats and the notes, I would put Jake right in the middle at number 3. However, I have some serious reservations.

  1. Yards per attempt. Heaps averages 4.62 yards per attempt. Anything less than 8 isn’t very good.
  2. Very few touchdown passes. With 45 more throws and 12 more completions than the next closest QB, Heaps should have much more than two touchdown passes. Yes, some passes have been dropped in the end zone, but even with all the drops, you would think Heaps would have at least 5 TD passes. As it is, it takes 115 throws to get one caught in the end zone.
  3. The coaches have consciously decided to emphasize the run. That hurts any quarterback’s case.
Keeping these three concerns in mind, let’s take a closer look at Beck, and Miller. Miller’s position suffers because he saw the least action. I find it a drawback, too, that all his TDs came against a 1-10 team. When he played a 4-7 team the next week he threw three interceptions. I think that had Miller played more, his numbers would get worse, and I don’t know if he would have won a game as a starter. The coaches would have probably shifted and given the ball much more to Brian McKenzie, who ended up rushing for 1,004 yards that year. Miller did have a 6.4 yards per attempt average, which is better than Heaps, but still well below the 8.0 standard.

Beck’s numbers are not much better than Heaps’ numbers. His yards per attempt is just 6.0. Beck also saw his passes reduced from 45 to 35 to 26, while BYU increased its rushes to 45 in the only game Beck won as a starter. Beck bests Heaps in touchdown passes, but Beck definitely had costlier interceptions. He cost BYU two games in 2003. Thus far, I can’t point at one of BYU’s five losses this year and say that Heaps lost that game.

That makes the final ranking of freshman quarterbacks as:

1. Ty Detmer
2. Matt Berry
3. Jake Heaps
4. John Beck
5. Drew Miller

Jake Heaps’ freshman season is not over yet. With four, maybe five, games left, he could still move ahead of Berry, or drop below Beck. Heaps has shown glimpse of his potential. One particular drive in the first quarter against Washington was very impressive. Heaps connected on back to back passes to McKay Jacobson for 13 and 17 yards. A 16 yarder to J.J. Di Luigi followed, which took BYU to the Washington four-yard line. Heaps looked poised and comfortable against Florida State running the two minute offense just before the half on a drive that ended in a touchdown pass. Heaps has demonstrated that he has the tools and the potential. When he starts using those tools to consistently play to his potential will determine where he sits on this list at the end of the year.

As for his sophomore-senior years, the results of the other four give Heaps a 50/50 chance at being the next great BYU quarterback. He also has a 50% chance to be the one who kept the seat warm before the next great QB came along. Detmer and Beck are legends. Miller transferred and Berry lost the job to Beck. For Heaps' sake and the sake of BYU football, I hope he joins Detmer and Beck as BYU quarterback greats.

Other recent posts on BYU FOOTBALL TALK:
Poll Results: Which new BYU record is most impressive?
Game Recap: Brigham Young Cougars 25, Wyoming Cowboys 20
Game Preview: Brigham Young Cougars vs. Wyoming Cowboys
Top 5 O'Neill Chambers Moments With The Brigham Young Cougars
Thursday Trivia: Rushing TDs In One Quarter
Flashback: Jim McMahon's Magical Season (1980)


  1. I find it remarkable that you get through this entire analysis w/o noting the absolutely defining fact that Heaps is a TRUE freshman where everyone you're comparing him to is a redshirt freshman (except for Miller, who's one-start experiment vs UTEP is hardly comparable to Jake's time logged against Florida State, TCU's #1 defense and the best SDSU, USU and UNR teams in a decade or more).

    Detmer was a REDSHIRT freshman who (a) had more than a full year of Norm Chow tutelage behind him before he ever set foot on the field and (b) wasn't asked to start until Week 8 at home vs New Mexico.

    Beck and Berry were both 22 year old RMs one with a redshirt year one with a grayshirt year behind them before they ever set foot on the field.

    I appreciate the rest of your commentary - but that is a drastic difference between those three and Heaps.

    He's really in his own category as the ONLY true freshman QB in BYU history to start multiple games in a season, the ONLY BYU freshman QB to go play on the road against not one but two ranked teams...

    Different story. Not comparable.

  2. Also missing: Not only being a true freshman, but only getting half the reps for all of spring and summer ball and into the season, April thru mid-September.

    Also missing: He's throwing to the worst WR corp in the nation.

  3. The omission of Heaps as a true freshman versus others being redshirts is a critical one. It is also notable that BYU has played a much more difficult schedule thus far this years than in typical years. Both factors are likely having an effect on his performance.

    The "only getting half the reps" argument...well, I'm not buying it. As far as I am aware or can recall, none of these other freshman quarterbacks were named a starter prior to the beginning of the season and therefore given the reps of a starter during any preseason camps. So the point is moot. In fact (and I really do not know), Heaps getting half the reps may have been more than some of the others had seen in spring and fall camps.

    Still, I think I see the editors point. Whether we like it or not, Heaps has not progressed as expected. A lot things factor into that, which likely include us fans simply having too high of expectations. I think Heaps will certainly become a great quarterback, but at this point he is behind, and not a above criticism.

  4. Great comments everyone.

    Regarding the true vs. redshirt vs. RM status, it is something I considered and should have explained why I left it out. Here are my thoughts about it.

    1. Heaps is the equivalent of a greyshirt, since he enrolled early last January. Heaps also has something that the others did not. He had the benefit of attending Elite 11 camps, HS All-American games, etc.

    2. The NCAA and BYU record books don't differentiate between true/redshirt/greyshirt/18 or 21 year old freshmen. If a player is a freshman he is a freshman, and if he sets a freshman record no asterisk is added. The freshman all-american team works the same way.

    3. BYU does not get spotted any points or field position or any other "handicap" because they are playing a true freshman, rather than a redshirt freshman, at QB. On the field a player's class is irrelevant.

    4. Heaps doesn't get his stats adjusted by some scientific factor (i.e. multiply yards by 1.25, TD passes by 1.5, etc) to account for his true freshman status.

    This is one of those "that's the way the cookie crumbles" situations. What is next, we are going to start looking at whether or not a player was a walk-on or a scholarship recipient?

    Should we penalize Detmer for having a dad who coached football? That seems to be an unfair advantage that the others didn't have.
    The varibles of each quarterback's pre-playing time preparation is endless and they can't be compared. But, I believe, the positives and negatives of those variables are refelcted to a large extent in a player's stats.

    The fact is this is Jake Heaps' freshman year. He only gets one, just like everyone else. Every player at every position brings a different skill level and preparation level whether it is their freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior year. It's true, there is no perfect way to compare any two players.

  5. Tougher Competition?
    The TCU defense is very good. FSU, I am not willing to go there with them. Remember what Oklahoma did to them?

    Detmer faced #2 Miami, on the road, and was 16-27, 212, 2 TD, 3 Int

    That was one of Detmer's better games. Heaps had his worst game against TCU.

    Neal, you are slighly off on what my point is. There was no intent to criticize. Before I started this post, I was feeling that Heaps was not progressing, and I was ready to put him at the bottom of the list, but doing the research and analysis for this I am feeling better about his progress.

    It may sound funny, but it is impressive that he has "only" 7 interceptions. Most freshmen would have twice that many on 229 attempts, including everyone on this list.

    I do agree that the sky high expectations can cloud our judgment of his performance so far.

    As for the future, I fully expect Heaps to finish his BYU career with over 10,000 passing yards, 75 touchdown passes, and many, many wins. (That is assuming he starts for three more years, but that is getting into another topic for another day.)

  6. Limited Reps?
    I agree with Neal about the reps. Detmer was second string to Sean Covey. Detmer wasn't in one of these Jordan Wynn situations where the coaches say, this guy really is better, so until he is ready Covey will start. Covey finished 87 as the starter and was the undisputed starter all through spring and fall camp, AND the 1988 season. Detmer's only start came due to an injury to Covey. As soon as Covey was ready to go, he was back in the line up.

    The same is true for everyone else. Miller, Berry, Beck all got their shot because the starter was injured. Even Heaps didn't start this year until Nelson's shoulder became unbearable.

    Heaps probably has gotten more practice reps than any of the others.

    As for the WRs, that has been a problem. Detmer did have Chuck Cutler. Berry had Reno Mahe. Miller had Ben Cahoon. But Beck, he had nobody. Todd Watkins came the year after. McKay Jacobson was supposed to be this year's Cutler/Mahe/Cahoon, and Ashworth and Chambers were supposed to be good complements as well.

    However, I don't think that lack of a receiving corps should give anyone a free pass to the top of the list. I accounted for the poor receiver play, and that is one reason why I don't have Heaps at the bottom of the list because of his lack of TDs and poor yards per attempt average.

  7. I'd like you to revisit this now right before the bowl game.

    He is now 194 for 349, 2052 yards, 55.6%, 11 tds, 8 picks and 110 efficiency.

    He had more attempts and completions than anybody.

    Matt Berry was the only one who had a better completion percentage.

    If he throws two td's he'll have as many as detmer (with a LOT more playing time, so that doesn't exactly carry over)

    Doing the math if they all passed as much as hime, miller would have had 20 picks, berry 17, detmer 22, and beck 12. I know you can't simply do the math and that's what would have happened, but still, he only has 8.

    He does have the second worst efficiency....

    Still, I'd say that with the new comparison, after a full regular season, he is up at the top and not the middle.

    I think if he can improve, and have games like that Utah game, we'll have a good to great season next year, an even better one the next, and maybe a stellar one his senior year. He's shown he can do it, we just need it to keep getting better. We need to get some better or improved recievers around him too.


Post a Comment