In Jake Heaps we trust?

All off season, expectations for Brigham Young Cougars sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps grew by the week. BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL is guilty of indulging in the hype and speculation. (See exhibit A, and exhibit B.) However, it wasn’t like the high expectations weren’t unfounded. Heaps finished 2010 on fire. He played at a high level in spring and fall. History even provided support that big things were in store this year.

Game one at Ole Miss did more than put a damper on the Heaps hype. Cougar fans worldwide are scratching their heads wondering what to make of Heaps’ play Saturday.

The good in Heaps’ performance is largely overshadowed by two plays. The first play was an interception that killed a great scoring opportunity when the game was 3-0. The interception was subsequently returned 96-yards for a touchdown. The second was Kyle Van Noy scoring the winning touchdown, and robbing Heaps and the offense of an opportunity to win the game.

Heaps had some technical concerns as well. He was telegraphing passes, including the interception. Heaps also lost some touch on the shorter passes, which caused him to miss open receivers.

It is very easy to be disappointed with Heaps after game one. Heaps will probably say that he is disappointed. The question is how disappointed should we be? Is Heaps improving, or has he regressed?

Looking strictly at the numbers, Heaps played virtually the same as he did against the University of Utah in the final regular season game of 2010.

Utah: 22-37, 228 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int.
Ole Miss: 24-38, 225 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int.

Heaps had a 116.3 pass efficiency rating on Saturday. He had a 116.2 pass efficiency for all of 2010. In a sense, he is “picking up where he left off.”

After the Utah game, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL claimed that Heaps had “it.” What about after Ole Miss?

The first thing to remember is this was the first game of the season, and the first game with a new offensive coordinator. It would have been a nice sign of progress if Heaps’ numbers were better than the Utah game. However, that isn’t always fair. The timing and rhythm of the passing game doesn’t pick up where it left off from nine months ago. One sign of hope is that Heaps showed great improvement from the first half to the second half. Heaps was 11-22 in the first half for 74 yards. In the second half, Heaps was 13-16, 151 yards.

The proper comparison might be looking at early season stats from one year ago. In that case, Heaps has shown improvement. The game from 2010 that best matches the conditions of the Ole Miss game on Saturday is probably Florida State. Heaps’ numbers against Florida State were 15-31, 114 yards, 1 TD.

Against Ole Miss, Heaps had the offense playing well. Even with no points in the first half, BYU was moving the ball. The time of possession was overwhelmingly in BYU’s favor. Three of Heaps’ 11 first half completions came on third down, and all three resulted in a first down.

The best quarterbacks respond well to adversity, like throwing a pick six, and they step up and deliver when the game is on the line.

The interception made it a 10-0 game. Heaps immediately came back and took the offense back into scoring territory. The drive stalled inside the 15 yard line, so BYU attempted a field goal that was wide right.

BYU got the ball back, now, trailing 13-0. It was also the fourth quarter. It was a must score situation. Heaps was cool and collective. He completed all five of this throws for 49 yards. He found McKay Jacobson for 19 yards on the only third down of the drive. The drive concluded with Heaps throwing a touchdown.

The next time BYU had the ball, the Cougars were in the lead. Only 3:21 remained. It was time to run out the clock.

Heaps responded to the adversity in the Utah game last November by doing everything necessary for BYU to win. Against Ole Miss, Heaps responded like a man. The way the game went he didn't get a chance to make the play to win the game, but he made the most of his opportunities the rest of the way.

What if Kyle Van Noy doesn’t score the touchdown? Could the offense have scored another touchdown to win? There is little doubt that the offense would have gotten into scoring position. Each of their last three drives were 66 yards or longer.

Apparently, Ole Miss coaches saw the BYU offense as a big enough threat to drive for a second touchdown that on 3rd and 27, deep in their own territory, they asked their young quarterback to drop back and pass the ball. Running the ball would take time off the clock. Ole Miss would punt the ball back to BYU with just 4:30 to play. Houston Nutt would put the win in his defense’s hands. BYU have to drive the length of the field to score, and a field goal won’t be enough. If you were Nutt who do you have more confidence in?

If this is the case, does Heaps deserves some credit for Van Noy’s touchdown?

All of these are tough questions. That may be the worst part of all. BYU fans want to have an assurance that their quarterback can be counted on to get the job done anywhere, anytime. They had confidence in Heaps a week ago. Now, they aren’t quite sure. The way the Ole Miss game played out, Heaps’ play can’t be spun in such a way that Cougar fans can have peace of mind.

The situation, however, isn't one of desperation. The important thing is BYU won. Heaps provided some positive signs. A week to review the film and to adjust to the lessons learned should provide dividends. Maybe Heaps will earn the full faith and confidence of the fan base this week. Until then, rest easy Cougar Nation knowing in Bronco you can trust.

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