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October 6, 2011

Decision Points

I imagine it's been a long week for BYU coaches, reviewing film, interviewing players, dedicating hours of analysis toward answering a question that may determine their program's destiny. The unfortunate thing is that all that effort is being focused on the wrong question. While everyone in the greater Provo area wonders who should start at quarterback for the Cougars, the problem the team really needs to solve is what has happened to Jake Heaps? And more importantly, how can it be fixed?

 As for the quarterback conundrum, make no mistake, Jake Heaps needs to start this week's game against San Jose State and every subsequent game throughout his career. Oh, there's a case to be made for Riley Nelson (and his abs and hair) no doubt. Leadership, guts, mobility -- the three particulars Jake is made out to lack -- seem to be the rallying point of his supporters. That and his game-winning miracle drive against Utah State of course, all of which provides for only a small sample size of success. Personally (and this stems from me having lived in Logan the last four years) I feel that BYU's fourth quarter rally over USU was less Riley Nelson that it was karma, that universal force which allowed Logan's most hated son to stick it to the hometown that turned its back on him. Call me crazy, but Red Sox fans who witnessed Roger Clemens win two World Series titles after betraying Boston for the Yankess know what I'm talking about. Karma doesn't look kindly on those who turn their backs on former heroes.

 My intention is not to discredit Riley's skill or play-making ability. In fact during last year's fall camp battle I had hoped that Nelson would earn the starting nod for the 2010 and 11' seasons while Heaps developed on the sidelines for two years. After all, there's a precedent in Provo for scrambling, left-handed, beautifully-scalped quarterbacks. But now that BYU is two years deep into Heaps' eligibility, it doesn't make sense to bench the kid for the rest of this season.

If this is who you're going to become Riley, go ahead and start. Otherwise ...

Regardless of who starts for the Y at quarterback, the results of the remaining games are more or less certain: victories are all but guaranteed over the states ( Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon and San Jose) not to mention the actual Idaho University, while a fourth-straight loss is to be expected versus TCU. The only game in question appears to be a toss up against Hawaii which, with a victory, could effectively give BYU their 20th WAC championship (my apologies to Nevada). Thus by promoting Nelson and benching Heaps the Cougar coaches are taking their NFL-talent quarterback out of the game for an improved shot at winning maybe one or two more games than expected.

I'd prefer BYU take the risk and continue to play Heaps despite his abysmal start to the season. I have no idea what is afflicting the quarterback. Lack of confidence in the offensive line? Inability to learn a new offensive philosophy? A concealed injury? Dominant defenses? An absent running attack? Over-thinking the game? But if there's any chance that Heaps can turn it around and regain his lost confidence while facing weaker opponents why not take that risk? True, Heaps may never figure it out and end up an over-hyped bust, but if the former scenario plays out BYU will gain a competitive advantage that few college football teams enjoy: an elite quarterback capable of making any play.

Unfortunately, BYU as an institution and football team have never been known for taking risks. The conservative nature of its governors seems to trickle down to the football squad, where gambles such as blitzes and trick plays are used with moderation. Choosing Nelson would reflect a safe call. The fans want it, the players appear to want it, and we'd all take comfort in knowing what we are getting ourselves into: a gritty leader capable of leading a pretty good offense. With Heaps the results are not so predictable. Bench him now and his confidence may never return. Entrust the offense to him and maybe he'll continue to struggle, or maybe someday he'll reach that upside that made him the number one quarterback recruit in the nation. It's a gamble, but with continued experience Heaps could make one heck of a player come his junior and senior season.

Of course at this point in his career, most BYU fans would be alright if he just went back to playing like he did as a freshman.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I'm ashamed that you graduated from USU.