This debate greatly increased in intensity after backup quarterback Riley Nelson posted a 205 pass efficiency rating as he rallied BYU from 11 points down to a 27-24 win over Utah State. The winning drive was 96 yards long and started with just 2:36 left on the game clock. Nelson did enough to win the starting quarterback job.
Conversely, Heaps has done enough to lose the starting quarterback job. In five games, he has not played good for more than one half in any game. The offense has not scored more than two touchdowns in a game with Heaps at the helm. In the last game against Utah State, the offense needed a penalty by the Aggies to convert third down, twice, on the only touchdown drive led by Heaps.
Bronco Mendenhall, with the help of Brandon Doman, now has to decide what to do with Heaps—both short and long term.
This is easy. Move Heaps down to second string quarterback. A week ago, I wasn’t ready to do that. This week I am. Heaps played his worst football of the year against the worst defense he has faced. The goodwill that he earned through his play to finish 2010 has finally run out.
Additionally, Nelson came in and outplayed Heaps. This isn’t just a case of fatigue over Heaps being unproductive. Nelson proved he is a viable option. Nelson should be the starter against San Jose State and beyond.
The long term plan will be dictated by what happens the rest of the year. Does Nelson continue to be a quality quarterback? Does he continue to move the BYU offense, put points on the board, and win games (especially the Oregon State, TCU, and Hawaii games)? Does he do all of this even with defenses preparing for his style of play? If so, then Nelson should start as a senior in 2012.
It is clear that Heaps has a long term goal to play in the NFL. With only one year of separation between Heaps and Nelson, Heaps would benefit from redshirting 2012. He would go into the 2013 as the assumed starter and it would be his job to lose.
Heaps would have two seasons to play. That is plenty of time to restore his image at BYU and even earn a spot as a BYU great, and to build his stock for the NFL.
If Nelson struggles the rest of this year, then Mendenhall and Doman have to evaluate each player and decide what is best for the future. They will have to evaluate Nelson, Heaps, and even James Lark, and answer how much each will progress in one offseason?
The major question that remains is what would be Heaps’ reaction? He was always clear about his desire to play from the beginning. Would he go along with the plan to redshirt, especially after tasting what it is to play?
This question goes back to what I wrote way back in the beginning. What I wrote then about redshirting Heaps in 2010 and how he may respond is equally applicable now.
Neither Bronco, nor any BYU coach should let the fear of losing Heaps influence the outcome of the quarterback battle. If his pride is bruised that much because he doesn't get to start as a true freshman, then I seriously wonder if he has what it takes to be a great BYU quarterback.While I don’t doubt that Heaps feels he can play better, he has to be man enough to accept that he played very poorly the first five games of the year and deserves to get benched. Consequently, if Nelson proves to be an effective starter, then Heaps needs to be man enough to wait his turn and watch Nelson start in 2012.
Transferring would make no sense whatsoever. Heaps would still redshirt the 2012 season. He would have to go to an inferior program, and he would lose all that he has invested in learning the BYU system, integrating into the team, and otherwise paying dues. By transferring, Heaps would let his pride get the better of him and seriously jeopardize what chances he has left at the NFL.
WHAT TO DO WITH JAKE HEAPS?
My first choice would be for Heaps to be Nelson’s backup the rest of 2011. Hopefully, there will be a couple of blowouts, and Heaps can play a little at the end of a few games.
Starting in January 2012, Heaps would start his redshirt year. He and Doman would identify Heaps’ weaknesses and define how to turn them into strengths. Beyond finding his weaknesses, Heaps needs to do some soul searching and figure out what went wrong this year. Why did he experience a terrifying regression? Confessing those faults to Doman and asking for his counsel wouldn’t hurt, either.
In my estimation, spending a year redshirting is paramount to Heaps making something good out of his college career. Again, going back to what I wrote over 18 months ago:
My opinion is that the best case scenario for Heaps would be to redshirt this year ... and be content to be the back up for one additional year. He should still work his guts out and study till his head hurts for these two years. History shows that quarterbacks who wait two years after high school before they start are very successful.It was expected that in one offseason Heaps would make the jump to the next level. Instead, Heaps has regressed to the point that he is playing like a true freshman. Reversing his regression and getting him to the point he needed to be this year will take more than one offseason. That is the advantage using his redshirt year provides. Heaps has two offseasons to get back on track and it leaves two years of eligibility for BYU to get something back for its investment in Heaps.
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