Provo • Quarterback Jake Heaps seemingly answered the critics the second half of last season, leading BYU to a 5-1 record the last six games, marred only by that razor-close 17-16 loss to Utah, a game in which he also played reasonably well.
Well, the critics are back.
As the Cougars prepare to take on Utah once again this time on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium (7:15 p.m., MDT) the sophomore finds himself under fire once more after having struggled in BYU's first two games against Ole Miss and Texas, respectively.
Here we go again.
Sure, Heaps looked like an All-American against the likes of UTEP, New Mexico, UNLV and Colorado State, his detractors say. But when he faces legitimate defenses from BCS schools, he doesn't get it done. And in some cases, such as last week against Texas, he isn't afforded the chance to get it done, due to play calling many saw as too safe, too conservative.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said Heaps continues to make progress. While his counterpart at Utah, Kyle Whittingham, called Utah's offense "abysmal" after the Montana State game, Mendenhall rarely, if ever, criticizes his team or an individual player.
"I think [Heaps] is about right on [track]," Mendenhall said. "Again, the biggest thing that would be more helpful to Jake and our offense would be more balance being able to run the football more effectively, I think, would have his development take off. He is having to carry a little bit too much of the load right now."
Heaps will not be made available for media interviews this week, but after BYU's 17-16 loss to Texas on Saturday he acknowledged that he made some critical mistakes that hurt the Cougars' upset bid, including an interception that led to Texas' first points and reversed the offense's momentum.
"My interceptions came at unfortunate times during the game both of them. If the first one hadn't happened, we might be sitting here with a 16-14 [victory] smile, so it is tough. But we are hoping this will help us grow as a football team," he said, later adding, "these guys needed me, and needed to count on me. I won't let that happen again."
Through two games, Heaps' numbers aren't abysmal, but they aren't exactly stellar, either. He has completed 46 of 76 passes for 390 yards with three interceptions and two touchdowns. Against Utah last year, he was 22 of 37 for 275 yards. He threw a touchdown pass to McKay Jacobson, but was intercepted early in the game.
Against Texas on Saturday, Heaps was 14 of 24 for 153 yards in the first half, but just 8 of 14 for 39 yards in the second half.
"Hard to say how much was Jake, and how much was overall [poor] execution. Certainly, Jake is the most visible," Mendenhall said after the game. "But I am not sure the majority of it goes to his shoulders. Nor do I know enough right now to say how much should be there. We just needed to move the ball a little bit better, execute a little bit better, and that's on both sides."
For their part, Heaps' teammates seem to be solidly in his corner, unlike at the start of last season when some players favored veteran Riley Nelson in the starting quarterback battle.
"I know Jake's a competitor and he wants to win every single time he goes out on the field, every play that he plays," said senior running back Bryan Kariya. "I trust him, and I think our entire team trusts him. We are standing behind him. If he throws touchdowns or interceptions, he's our guy and we are going to be there doing everything we can to play as a team as a cohesive unit."