Riley Nelson or Jake Heaps? A former BYU quarterback's insight

Published: Monday, Oct. 3 2011 12:00 p.m. MDT

As I woke up Saturday morning and read the Deseret News, I was reminded of my favorite game I played in 1997.

The top 10 all-time games between Utah State and BYU were ranked and there at No. 6 was the game I had a chance to play in. A flood of memories came back about that game and how it unfolded.

The 1997 season began with me being named the starting quarterback, only to be benched at halftime of the first game of the season, and relegated to second string after that.

I remember the frustration I felt as I thought my time would never come again — I was 24 years old, a junior, and had been so patient up until that time — and now I had lost the starting role.

Would I get another chance to play?

That question was answered four games into the season, under very similar conditions as last Friday night — same opponent, down late in the second half. With 12:21 left in the fourth quarter, and trailing 32-27 to Utah State, my number was called.

On the first drive I had a 65-yard completion to Dustin Johnson. That was followed by an 18-yard touchdown pass, also to Johnson. After a successful two point conversion pass, we took the lead 35-32 and the crowd began to get very loud.

Utah State then marched down the field and kicked a field goal to tie the game. Needing a score to win, Will Snowden capped the comeback with a touchdown run. With the scoreboard showing BYU 42, Utah State 35, the crowd stormed the field and the fans were chanting my name.

I couldn't help but reflect on that experience last Friday night as I sat in LaVell Edwards Stadium with my family. Trailing Utah State as the third quarter was winding down, Riley Nelson was called into the game to spark a lackluster offense.

I couldn't believe what was happening. I said to my wife and kids, "This is exactly what happened to me!"

I couldn't help but cheer on Riley even more — and just solely for a win — I was hoping he would perform great as well. I heard the crowd chant "Riley, Riley" and I looked at Jake Heaps to see his reaction. He stood on the sideline, obviously disappointed, and I could only think of the quarterback controversy that was going to take place.

After our 1997 win against Utah State the coaches choose Kevin Feterik to start the following week against Rice, which ended as disappointing 27-14 loss. I was very frustrated that I wasn't able to carry the momentum into the next game.

So the question from my experience is, who should start at quarterback against San Jose State?

You can name Nelson the starter and ride the momentum as long as possible or go with Heaps, who is the future and has more potential as a quarterback. I sense the team would rally around Riley for his spark in the Utah State game and would question the coaches if Jake is named the starter.

This can be a dangerous decision for the coaches as not only does it affect this year but future years. From my vantage point, there are pros and cons of both quarterbacks.

Nelson has momentum, team confidence and fan support. He also can make plays with his feet and arm. However, he lacks a true quarterback arm. He rarely throws a good spiral, hasn't been known as overly accurate and thus teams force him to pass. There is a reason Heaps was picked as the starter over Nelson last year.

Heaps on the other hand has a very strong arm, is only a sophomore and has tremendous untapped potential. But ... he has been given five games to prove what he can do with little success. His confidence is low, and it's the unknown if the team will rally around him like they will Nelson.

I call many of the BYU coaches personal friends of mine and have two words for them on this decision: good luck!

Quite frankly, BYU is playing San Jose State so historically either quarterback should be able to perform well, but my vote is for Nelson.

If Nelson were a senior my choice would be different, but let's see if he can take this chance and make the most of it. Heaps is BYU's future and will turn out to be an awesome quarterback but for now BYU is struggling offensively and Nelson has the momentum.

Ride that momentum for all it's worth!

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