Jake Heaps shed his rookie jacket on Saturday.
He doesn't need a nursemaid. Let him chew on the meat.
Heaps should be treated and trusted like a veteran after doing everything asked of him in trying to defeat Utah last Saturday in Rice-Eccles Stadium in his freshman regular season finale. His progress since the Florida State game proves it; so do his performances after leaving Logan.
The freshman has been officially welcomed into the unique fraternity of quarterbacks at BYU. No, he hasn't rocked the world. But he's established himself in the sphere he was placed upon in Provo.
Fraternity? It's a BYU quarterback community that understands aspects of "the challenge" that nobody else can comprehend. It's a closed group; you can't apply for admittance or pay somebody at the door for an entry. You are only welcomed in as a member when invited, as was Heaps' coach, Brandon Doman, and Heaps' predecessor, Max Hall.
On Sunday, Heaps received a phone call from Washington Redskins quarterback John Beck, who has had his share of ups and downs playing in the Utah rivalry. It was a simple call. Beck told Heaps he had the support of fraternity. It was the third call from former BYU quarterbacks Heaps had taken the past seven days including phone calls from Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer and NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young.
BYU's 2010 season turned out to be all about breaking in freshmen like Heaps, either by redshirt or action. It was about BYU's staff struggles with managing the team's culture as opposed to filling needed positions. It was also a stage with a tough schedule, six teams ranked in USA Today's Top 30.
Heaps came out OK — better than he started with the two-headed platoon QB decision in August.
Now it's time to give Heaps a quality and meaningful platform for 2011. This includes a bowl experience and 15 practice sessions that next year's BCS opponents, Texas and Mississippi, won't get their quarterbacks and offenses.
It would be nice if offensive coordinator Robert Anae dispensed with the training wheels he gave Beck and tried to place on Max Hall in their first years: No audibilizing out of a run play to a pass, only a run to another run.
Dang it, if a run play is absolutely not going to work against eight guys in the box, why not let your guy change it? Opponents like Utah have caught on.
Heaps looked the part last Saturday.
"It's a tough game for a young guy to play in. He's a talented player and he's only going to get better," said assistant head coach Lance Reynolds. "His future is bright for us."
Utah's defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake agrees.
"I've said it before, he's one of the most poised true freshmen to get on the field. What he did and how he handled this environment for the first time was impressive.
"Coach Doman and coach Anae have done a great job with him. I hate to say it, but he's going to be a great one. He's got a good head on his shoulders. I've been impressed, not only in our game, but throughout the season how he's managed the offense."
Standing outside BYU's locker room after BYU's loss to Utah State in Logan, Doman made a vow he would fight to do everything he could to prepare Heaps for the last two-thirds of BYU's season. While the Cougars stood then at 1-4 and finished 6-6 with a win over ranked Utah within grasp, it looks like Doman succeeded in pushing the product forward.
Over the weekend, Doman saw fruits of the progress and a careful timeline woven to set him on a solid path.
In Rice-Eccles, a huge factor before kickoff was the question of how Heaps would respond to his first rivalry experience. Would he melt? Would it get to him? Would he stumble on his butt in mid back pedal? Well, Heaps wasn't perfect, but he wasn't rattled, not at all. Except for a fourth quarter fumble exchange with Bryan Kariya and freshman Josh Quezada, you'd have to get very picky to pull apart the Heaps performance. Even his first quarter interception was a calculated shot, like a punt, and proved harmless.
Item: Heaps' performance, even in a loss, had a better pass efficiency rating than the three performances against the Utes by Hall, the winningest quarterback in BYU history. And it is Hall who had at his disposal BYU's all-time leading rusher Harvey Unga and two of BYU's all-time leading receivers, Austin Collie and Dennis Pitta.
Hall's ratings for his three Utah games stand at 93.99 (2007), 68.83 (2008) and 93.30 on senior day in Provo, 2009. Hall never played Utah as a freshman, but as a redshirt transfer sophomore after a journeyman year behind Beck.
In Heaps' first Utah game Saturday, his rating was 114.74 using freshmen WR Cody Hoffman, all freshman tight ends and true freshman running back Josh Quezada. Hall's averaging career rating against Utah (2-1 record) was 85.37.
"I'm really pleased with the way he played," said Doman. "Under the circumstances, in this setting, being a true freshman and as much pressure we put on him in this game to recognized what they were doing and put us in the right place? Jake made some mistakes, he got us in some wrong plays a few times, but for the most part, man, to play this poised under the gun in this setting? He is a good football player and I'm glad he's a Cougar."