Despite struggles, BYU’s Heaps has UNLV’s full attention

Highly-touted freshman quarterback hoping to bust out of slump in must-win game against Rebels



BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps attempts a pass during the second half of the Cougars’ 31-16 loss at Utah State on Oct. 1. Heaps enters this weekend’s game against UNLV struggling, with only two touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season spent both as a starter and back-up.

UNLV vs. TCU Football

UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck puts his hand on his head during the second half of their game against Saturday, October 30, 2010. Fourth-ranked TCU won the game 48-6. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. No. 4 TCU

No. 4 TCU stormed into Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday night and maintained its perfect 2010 season with a 48-6 victory over UNLV, who dropped to 1-7 under first-year coach Bobby Hauck.

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For all of the fanfare he received coming into Provo, the first year on campus for BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps has been mostly a flop.

A few games back, the 6-foot-2 physical specimen replaced injured veteran Riley Nelson as the Cougars' full-time starter, and he's certainly taken some lumps in the process.

Heaps is completing 52.2 percent of his passes entering Saturday's game against struggling UNLV (1-7 overall, 1-3 Mountain West), with only two TD passes and seven interceptions to his credit.

"Any time you're playing a freshman, it's hard, in particular at that position," UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said at his Monday press conference. "But playing freshmen is hard. We're experiencing it ourselves week-in and week-out.

"There's nothing easy about getting freshmen ready to compete at this level. At the quarterback position, that's magnified."

In fact, it's likely that BYU's next three games are of the must-win variety, both for the Cougars and the conference.

If he's going to have a kick-start to the season, now would be the ideal time, as BYU (3-5, 2-2) is backed up against a wall and in the closest thing you'll find to a must-win situation.

Three league teams — TCU, Utah and San Diego State — are already bowl eligible. A fourth — Air Force — is one win away and all but a shoo-in to reach the six-win plateau.

The MWC's goal is to make sure all five of its bowl tie-ins are filled, and the most likely fifth team is BYU. Its next three games are against UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico. In other words, against three opponents with a combined record of 4-21, with two of those three games at home.

The Cougars' season finale is against Utah, who could be on its way to a third BCS appearance if it can get by TCU this Saturday in Salt Lake City.

In other words, it is win or potentially go home for Bronco Mendenhall's club.

Saturday looks like it could be a good spot for Heaps in the midst of a frustrating freshman campaign, as the banged-up Rebels will bring a defense to town that ranks 99th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, allowing 427.4 total yards per game.

The UNLV defense has dealt with the same youth issues as BYU has on offense. The Rebels this season have played 23 total true freshmen or redshirt freshmen, with 13 of them being on the defensive side of the ball. As a team, UNLV's 14 total true freshman played is tied with Oklahoma State for the third highest total in the FBS ranks.

Meanwhile, BYU's passing offense largely behind Heaps has been one of the nation's worst, ranking 106th with an average of just 159.8 yards per game. It's a stark contrast from recent years, when the Cougars possessed one of the country's most feared aerial assaults with weapons like quarterback Max Hall (now with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals), tight end Dennis Pitta (Baltimore Ravens) and receiver Austin Collie (Indianapolis Colts).

Facing the Rebels was healthy for fellow heralded freshman Pete Thomas of Colorado State on Oct. 16, when he lit them up for 233 yards on only 10-of-14 passing for three scores and no interceptions.

Thomas has had his struggles, too, and Hauck knows that those bad games aren't indicative of the talent lies beneath.

Both quarterbacks were ranked by as 4-star prospects coming out of high school a year ago. In fact, the respected recruiting service had Heaps tapped as the nation's top pro-style quarterback in the class of 2010.

He was ranked that high for a reason, and despite his early struggles, still needs to be respected.

"Yeah, I think every kid's different, in terms of their grasp, what you're trying to put on them," Hauck said. "Every system's different. Some are more user-friendly and easier to pick up. I don't know exactly what they require their quarterbacks to do, but every kid's different. They're both good-looking kids, both top recruits, and they both should be because they're physically talented. It's just the pace at which they come along.

"(Heap's) got all the physical tools. He's going to be a really good player. My hope is that it's not this weekend."

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