For BYU true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, it's been a season of firsts. First collegiate snap. First completion. First interception. First touchdown pass. First start.
On Saturday, he'll notch another big first — playing in his first rivalry game against arch-rival Utah. What's more, it's on the road.
"It's going to be a fun experience for me. It's the first time that I'm going to experience
this rivalry and get a taste of what it's like," Heaps said. "I hear lots of stories. I hear all sorts of things and I can already get a good taste for what this rivalry's like, but you don't really know until you go out there and experience it.
"I'm excited for it. It's going to be a great atmosphere, playing at Utah. … I'm going to go out there and enjoy the moment."
Ute sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn went through the same experience last season, starting against BYU in Provo as a true freshman. He completed 21-of-41 passes for 198 yards and an interception and helped Utah battle back from a 20-6 fourth-quarter deficit and force overtime before falling, 26-23.
Being a California native, Wynn didn't realize how emotional the rivalry can be.
"Going into the game last year, I didn't know it was that intense, but I found out firsthand. It's definitely a very intense rivalry, a lot of emotion, a lot of passion, and I expect nothing different (this year)," he said.
Wynn, who helped guide Utah to a 38-34 victory over San Diego State last week, added that it took only one painful play last year to be introduced to the rivalry.
"What kind of sticks out for me last year is I remember getting hit and getting hurt and their fans booing," he said. "And that was like, 'This is that kind of rivalry.' So it's definitely a lot of emotion, a lot of passion. The fans get involved and it's exciting."
Cougar safety Andrew Rich was impressed with Wynn's performance last season.
"With the exception of a couple of balls, he made a lot of good decisions," said Rich, who recorded an interception against Wynn. "He did a good job of leading their team and bringing them back to have a chance to win the game. I was really impressed with him."
BYU quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, who started — and won — two games against Utah as a Cougar QB, has imparted some rivalry advice to Heaps.
"I told him on Saturday after the New Mexico game, 'Now it's the real deal.' To experience this game, in this environment, in this setting is as good as it gets in college football," Doman said. "I told him to get ready and prepare the best he can because if he's well-prepared, he'll play well. I told him to absorb the moment, too. With the Mountain West Conference still intact, it's quite unique and he gets to do it for the last time."
Doman has seen a lot of quarterbacks on both sides of the rivalry shine, and stumble, on the BYU-Utah stage.
"When quarterbacks struggle in this game, they wrap all of the outside forces and everything that goes into this game, they allow that to get into their heads and it becomes bigger than it really is," Doman said. "The bottom line is, it's a football game and there's mutual respect out there. The team that executes at the highest level is going to win."
Heaps took over the starting role in the fourth game of the season and now has eight starts under his belt, going 5-3 in those games.
"He's started to execute. It's wisdom. He's gaining knowledge and learning how to apply that knowledge," Doman said. "He's becoming a good quarterback. He's putting the ball where it needs to be, he's making good decisions, and he's keeping us out of turnovers for the most part, and converting on third down."
"He appears much more confident," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of Heaps. "Any true freshman that gets his first opportunity, there's going to be a learning curve.16 comments on this story
"I think he's settled in and feels comfortable in the offense. Physically, he's got a lot of ability. He's got good size. He's got a quick release. He's got a good arm. So, he's got a lot going for him.
"But Division I football is a big step up from high school, and that was just the natural learning curve that he went through," Doman said.
And there's nothing like playing in a BYU-Utah game for the first time — especially for a true freshman quarterback.
Utes, Cougars on the air
BYU (6-5, 5-2 MWC) at Utah (9-2, 6-1)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV: The mtn., CBS C Radio: 700 AM, 1160 AM, 102.7 FM Heady