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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jake Heaps (9) throws against UCF in Provo Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. BYU won 24-17.

PROVO — It's clear that BYU quarterback Jake Heaps is still a work in progress.

The sophomore completed less than half of his passes (16-of-34) for 133 yards, and threw an interception, in Friday's 24-17 win over Central Florida.

While Heaps was thrilled with the victory, he understands that he has plenty of room for improvement.

"It was really hit and miss, to be blunt," Heaps said, when asked to assess his performance. "There were critical plays, third downs and stuff, where we needed to make some throws and keep the chains moving. Those are things that we'll fix … The best part about it is, I'll learn from it and I'll work extremely hard this week to apply stuff that I learned from this game."

The Cougars (2-2) host in-state foe Utah State next Friday. BYU players took the day off Saturday while coaches reviewed film of the UCF game.

Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman changed his vantage point on Friday — choosing before the game to call plays from the press box rather than from the sidelines — and it seemed to help, Heaps said.

"Obviously, things weren't working. It wasn't a strategic decision. It was like, 'Hey, it hasn't been working so far, so let's go up in the booth,' " Heaps explained. "It worked out and it probably is going be a permanent thing now, maybe just playing off of superstition. I don't know. But it was great to be able to have our guys on the sideline take control without him being on the sideline and having (tight ends coach Lance) Reynolds on the sideline, having his presence there.

"We were all really positive and excited. The attitude was positive on the sideline, which was great. I think Coach Doman enjoyed being up in the box as far as being able to see the field."

Coach Bronco Mendenhall said it was Doman's decision to call plays from above and that he supported the move.

"When you're in a leadership position, it takes courage to make choices like that, knowing that they're going to be scrutinized," Mendenhall said. "But I think he made the right choice."

While the Cougars' passing game wasn't particularly sharp on Friday, the running game improved significantly as the Cougars rushed for 127 yards and scored its first two rushing touchdowns of the season.

Mendenhall was pleased with "glimpses of our running game starting to emerge in the second half and running for power and moving the ball for first downs … We simplified the number of runs from fewer looks with easier assignments. We sacrificed a lot of disguise of where it might go and we handed it off and blocked and ran hard. That started us down the right track."

COVERAGE BREAKDOWNS: Against BYU's defense, UCF quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey was 17-of-25 for 272 yards. The most troubling thing for the Cougars was, Godfrey completed long passes of 33, 54 and 58 yards.

Mendenhall said those breakdowns are part of the growing pains that result from losing graduated safety Andrew Rich, who anchored the defense last season. The coach explained that on a couple of those long passes, the safety was out of position.

"When that happens, 50- or 60-yard chunks show up pretty fast," Mendenhall said. "We have quite a bit of work to do in managing what we refer to 'eye control,' looking at what they're supposed to look at. We'll have to keep improving that or no matter what size of lead we might gain, we could be at risk because of the chunks of yardage that could come by not executing the over-the-top coverage, which is a bigger part of it than the underneath coverage because of the point potential."

On the other hand, Mendenhall praised his two boundary corners, Joe Sampson and Preston Hadley, who have been splitting time.

Sampson recorded a sack, a tackle-for-loss and a crucial fourth-quarter interception, while Hadley had four tackles and a pass breakup.

"We have two excellent boundary corners," Mendenhall said. "They are good tacklers and good football players. Preston on a day-to-day basis does everything with exactness and is eager. Joe is a football student. He loves watching games and studying players. We have a pretty nice combination over there."

LIFE OF RILEY: Backup quarterback Riley Nelson came into the game as a QB on fourth down two times on Friday.

In the second quarter, on fourth-and-2 at the UCF 32-yard line, Nelson threw an incompletion, which ended that drive.

Then, on the opening drive of the third quarter, BYU faced fourth-and-3 from its own 39 when Nelson ran the option and pitched the ball to running back David Foote, who gained 21 yards for a first down.

"We've worked on it from the very first day of fall camp," Mendenhall said of using Nelson on fourth-down plays. "We were just waiting for the right time. It was the right time."

Though that series that included Foote's run ended with a punt, it pinned the Knights deep in their own territory. On the Cougars' ensuing drive, they got the ball in UCF territory and ended up scoring a touchdown on a 16-yard run by JJ Di Luigi to tie the game at 10.

email: jeffc@desnews.com