Freshman Jake Heaps, BYU’s ballyhooed savior with a pigskin at his hip, finally got his introduction to big-time college football on Saturday.
It was a painful lesson, a 34-10 loss administered in the sweltering heat of Tallahassee’s Doak Campbell Stadium to the mighty Florida State Seminoles, but was one that gave hope to the future.
Heaps received the keys to a sputtering BYU engine in the second quarter at Florida State. His only problem? He couldn’t give that car enough gas.
Junior Riley Nelson played in spots in the game, but it was obvious who was chauffeuring and who wasn’t.
Nelson sat for a good portion of the first half–and all of the second–with a clipboard in hand and a headset on, helping direct the prodigal son from the sidelines.
That left Heaps to his own design, as the freshman completed 15 of 31 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown. Not Herculean numbers by any stretch, but no interceptions were thrown.
By comparison, Nelson entered the game as the starter, but after an ineffective first series, the situation–as head coach Bronco Mendenhall had alluded to all week–was such that Heaps entered on the next series.
The freshman was sacked to end his first series–and was sacked six times on the day–and on the merry-go-round went, as Nelson re-entered and started well with a 9-yard draw up the middle, only to have his pocket picked three plays later.
Back in came Heaps, and a tight 3-0 FSU lead in the first quarter gave the Cougars hope. That hope would soon evaporate, however, after a costly false start penalty.
That miscue brought Nelson back into the game for a play, and a sack and fumble by the junior would mark the last time he stepped foot on Florida State’s turf.
Though the Cougar defense bent, it didn’t break and the Seminoles converted the turnover into just a field goal for a 6-0 lead.
Heaps reentered the game for good on the next series and watched a promising start to his series (a 15-yard pass to O’Neill Chambers) go for naught after a busted run play and two incompletions.
After a FSU touchdown run of 83 yards, the Cougar offense started showing life in its run game, only to slow up with another false start. BYU moved all the way to the Seminole 11 on the drive but an incomplete pass on 3rd down forced the Cougars to kick a field goal for its first points of the game.
It got better prior to halftime on their next drive. The Cougars scored their only touchdown, a 4-yard bullet on a crossing route from Heaps to freshman receiver Cody Hoffman.
The points had to–at least for a moment–restore hope that the Cougars will someday return to their scoring ways and BYU trailed only 13-10 at the break.
The Cougars got the ball to open the second half, and went for broke, heaving up a long pass attempt after a J.J. DiLuigi 6-yard run. They went three-and-out, punted and that’s when the Seminole sack party began.
Heaps spent the entire afternoon avoiding leaks in the offensive line as Seminole defenders entered his backfield uninvited. It probably didn’t help that future NFL draftee and offensive tackle Matt Reynolds went down with a knee injury–and fortunately, tests came back negative–but it also didn’t help that Heaps wasn’t Nelson with his feet.
Heaps never will be, and so therein lay the dilemma for Cougar faithful: do you give the squeaky faced teenager the keys to a brand new Porsche, or Volvo, depending on the situation?
Or, do you give a proven quarterback–albeit not as flashy with a less-gifted arm–the opportunity to win a few games, knowing that your best option is sitting in the passenger seat?
That said, the second half proved that Heaps will one day lead the Cougar offense to victory. The freshman had moments of personal glory, directing his scaled-down offense on screens and sideline tosses. Conversely, the Seminoles scored touchdowns and ultimately played a better football game.
The Seminole sacks on Cougar third downs killed drives by Heaps and Co. on four of six BYU sojourns in the second half and may have been the difference in the outcome.
Speaking of future talk, it doesn’t look promising next week; consider that BYU does have one thing going for itself: it did defeat a team with a Heisman contending quarterback at home this season.
That’s a good sign considering high-scoring Nevada and its contender, Colin Kaepernick will be in Lavell Edwards Stadium this Saturday.
It also looks as though Bronco will go with the unproven youngster in a nod to the future, a decision that will likely be painful this season but that will pay off in 2011 and beyond as the school begins its journey as a football independent.