PROVO — Jake Heaps has to be feeling it now.
After his first start for BYU, a loss to Nevada at home, he obtained valuable experience and at times looked the part of a Cougar quarterback. But other times, and he'll be the first to admit it, he really blew it.
Now, he's living the life of a BYU quarterback where all he does and says is scrutinized. The day after BYU's loss, even his quotes and the sentence structure used in interviews were examined and commented on.
It's business as usual now. Heaps is in the thick of it and there's no turning back as he makes his first trip to Logan for a showdown with Utah State on Friday night.
The drama continues.
"I was impressed with Jake for his first start," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall told the media on Monday. "I think we all saw that he was capable. I was impressed with his poise. I think he handled himself very well, and he'll continue to play better.
"He and I realize now he'll be measured as BYU's quarterback, regardless of what class he's in. That's something I think he's looking forward to embracing."
It is interesting the impact BYU's offensive inexperience and the approach taken since spring to train a Cougar starting quarterback in an unorthodox way have had on the production in the passing game this season.
According to a BYU fan who is a master of stats, Paul Pocock, this is the first time from 2000 to 2010 that BYU has averaged less than 10 yards per completion for three consecutive games.
At Air Force, BYU passed for 88 yards on 10 completions (8.8 ypc). At Florida State, the Cougars passed for 115 yards on 15 completions (7.2 ypc). Last Saturday against Nevada at home, Heaps passed for 229 yards on 24 completions (9.5 ypc). The 100th-rated passer (Vanderbilt's Larry Smith) has an efficiency of 103.69.
Jake Heaps' efficiency is 91.8, which puts him nearly 12 points behind Smith.
A year ago, Max Hall was around 160.
Covering 2000 through 2010, there are 1,294 NCAA Division I team-seasons (including the 2010 partial season). The 2010 BYU team is currently 1281st in yards per completion (9.38) and 1,287th in yards per attempt (4.79), according to Pocock.
The challenge is not only Heaps' inexperience, but performance of receivers, the lack of a presence at tight end and departure of back like Harvey Unga who was a big third-down target in BYU's offense.
Historically, BYU's offense feeds off a tight end and a back who take the majority of throws by a Cougar quarterback. Ty Detmer had Chris Smith and Matt Bellini; John Beck had Jonny Harline or Daniel Coats with Curtis Brown and Unga. Max Hall had Dennis Pitta and Unga.
Right now, BYU's found a target back in J.J. DiLuigi but has struggled to fit receivers in as tight ends or standup slot receivers to compensate for the inconsistency of five freshmen tight ends.
This put a premium on Heaps delivering perfect strikes to wideouts both short and deep with DiLuigi.
"You would expect that with a team that is dinking-and-dunking so much you would at least trade that off with a higher completion percentage, but that simply hasn't been the case so far," said Pocock.
"BYU needs to have a minimum of 60 percent completions and 12 yards per completion to approach having an acceptable offensive output and they aren't even close right now."
Some offenses deliberately trade yards per completion for a higher completion percentage. However, unless they can realize the higher completion percentage, the results can be catastrophic.
Last July in Las Vegas, I spoke to Mendenhall about the emergence of TCU on the national stage and winning MWC championships. I asked him how key it was for the Horned Frogs to have a seasoned quarterback like Andy Dalton during this stretch.
"Having a good, experienced quarterback might be the single biggest factor in determining success of a program," Mendenhall said.
You have seen this come true in BYU's three straight losses to senior quarterbacks Tim Jefferson, Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick.
On Monday, Mendenhall said his offense and his team are taking "incremental" steps in improvement.
These key statistics of BYU's offense the past three games show just how crucial and volatile those baby steps are toward getting a win.
Somebody tell me the percentage success rate of those fade routes BYU called for Heaps in the blue zone against Nevada with football teams in general.
If that one single fade route had been something with a higher percentage chance of succeeding — usually a throw to a back in other BYU offenses — what would have been the outcome?
This is called scrutiny, Jake. It's an art the second-guessers associated with BYU football have made an art form.
Get used to it. Comes with the job.
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