Jake Heaps finished his true freshman season going 6-2 in the last eight games (6-4 total as starting QB) including his offensive MVP performance in the New Mexico Bowl. The Heaps-led Cougars look to pick up right where they left off in 2011 as they enter their first season as an Independent football program. “There are so many things that are different this year from last year” said Heaps at BYU Media Day and he is correct.
He spoke of what it will be like to be independent and no longer in a conference as reported by Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune: “There’s a lot of growth that I’ll go through. I have to work on all the stuff, but I feel very comfortable with the offense. We’re not on a pedestal, but we know what we’re capable of. We have a strong belief in what we can do. We’re not playing for a conference championship. We’re playing for a national championship. …”
Sure that’s a bold statement but he is right and all of Cougar nation is buying into independence. Lets take a look at the roster of the first ever independent BYU Cougars football team coached by Bronco Mendenhall. New offensive coordinator Brandon Doman has his work cut out for him, but he has the personnel necessary for success. Lets start with the quarterbacks.
Quarterbacks: 2010 began without an official starter. Riley Nelson was splitting the reps in practice with Jake Heaps and the two of them were swapping series’ in the games until the other threw an interception. At that point the other quarterback was given the reigns … unless he threw an interception. After getting throttled at Florida State in week three, Nelson, who is more of a mobile running quarterback, suffered a season ending shoulder injury to his non throwing shoulder giving Heaps the starting nod the rest of the way.
We all know how 2010 finished with Jake at the helm but Nelson is still a play-maker and has the attitude of a leader which is a great commodity for a football team. I don’t think he will be seen as much as he was in the first three games of last season. Expect to see Riley to come in during certain situations as an option running quarterback via a wildcat formation or who knows … maybe he’ll throw a few in the pro-style sets. Doman isn’t giving away anything as to how Nelson will be used. So it remains a mystery other than … expect to see him.
When Nelson went down for the season, Matt Marshall was running the wildcat formation and didn’t do a bad job either. However, I don’t expect we will see him that much with Nelson healthy. Also, James Lark got to see some time a couple of games after Nelson was sidelined.
There will be a new offense. The Cougars are switching to the pro-style to cater to Jake’s abilities. Perhaps he’ll be the next All-American since Steve Sarkisian in ’96 like many are touting him to be. Heaps broke every freshman quarterback record at the Y and the hopes are high for more to come. To vastly understate it, the future is bright with Heaps as the main man for the offense of the Cougars.
The depth chart:
1 #9 Jake Heaps So. 6’1, 205
2 #13 Riley Nelson Jr. 6’0, 201
3 #3 James Lark Jr. 6’2, 202
4 #12 Jason Munns So. 6’5, 254
Offensive Line: BYU almost lost their starting left tackle Matt Reynolds to the NFL draft but thanks to the lockout he decided to return for his senior season. He is a potential first rounder for next years draft. That’s a great insurance policy for Jake Heaps to have protecting him. In fact, the O-Line is, like most years, the deepest offensive position for the Cougars.
Other returners are center Terence Brown, left guard Braden Hansen and right tackle Braden Brown. Matt is joined by his brother Houston who could very well be the sixth man on the line. He’ll likely see the most time as the back up center. Also, Ryker Matthews a true freshman who was a highly touted recruit out of American Fork High School (Utah) last year could see a lot of playing time as well. With a lot of experience and only two seniors (M. Reyonlds & T. Brown) look for the O-Line to continue to be the position with the most depth for BYU.
The depth chart
RG 1) #71 Walter Kahaiali’i Jr. 6’3, 334. 2) #62 Marco Thorson Sr. 6’3, 327
LG 1) #76 Braden Hansen Jr. 6’6, 310. 2) #79 Manaaki Vaitai So. 6’3, 300
C 1) #60 Terrence Brown Sr. 6’4, 330. 2) #78 Houston Reynolds So. 6’2, 308
RT 1) #75 Braden Brown Jr. 6’6, 300. 2) #74 Brock Stringham Fr. 6’5, 280
LT 1) #70 Matt Reynolds Sr. 6’6, 322. 2) #72 Ryker Matthews Fr. 6’6, 285
Running Backs: 2011 could see the best lineup of ball carriers for the Cougars than any other season. There are three main returners in JJ DiLuigi, Brian Kariya, and Joshua “Juice” Quezada. DiLuigi is more of a finesse back who could very likely get the most carries but he’s also a dangerous threat to defenses with his ability of catching the ball out of the backfield.
Kariya is not only the starting fullback and lead blocker for DiLuigi, but he is the power runner who will follow his blockers up the gut on short yardage situations. Except he’ll get about seven or eight yards when only two is needed. He could be the biggest play action threat for the Heaps and the offense. Being used as both a fullback and tailback, Kariya will see a lot of key time with and without the ball and could very well be the most unsung starter of this offensive unit. Since he will be used often, look for Zed Mendenhall to play a lot of fullback as well. It’s likely he’ll be the lead blocker for Brian in the short yardage runs but could get some time blocking for JJ and Juice as well.
Juice is a mix of both JJ and Brian. Many are comparing him to the running style of Harvey Unga. That is music to all Cougar fans ears. Though he won’t be getting as many reps as Harvey did as a Sophomore, he’ll still have a significant contribution to this team and probably challenge DiLuigi for the most carries. He could even challenge Kariya for most broken tackles. Watch for Quezada to be a play-maker and give everyone a reason to talk about him as the full-time starter in 2012.
David Foote also saw limited action in 2010 for the Cougars and may get some reps in this year too. Drew Phillips is another speedy guy that defenses may have to look out for and could likely be used in the return game as well. With the experience and depth at the running back position, look for this squad to play a major role in the offense this season.
The depth chart
RB 1a) #10 JJ DiLuigi 5’9, 190. 1b) #20 Joshua “Juice” Quezada 5’11, 211. 1c) #33 Brian Kariya 6’0, 218. 2) #5 Drew Phillips 5’11, 168
FB 1) #33 Brian Kariya 6’0, 218. 2) #35 Zed Mendenhall 5’11, 239. 3) #27 David Foote 5’11, 208
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: I don’t think anyone wants to relive how atrocious 2010 was on the receiving end of the passes. At least the first half of the season. It was a mystery who would replace tight ends Dennis Pitta and Andrew George but with veteran receivers like McKay Jacobson and Luke Ashworth nobody could predict how many balls were just dropped. Perhaps that had to do with the dual-QB system.
By years end all was well and redshirt freshman Cody Hoffman had emerged as the main target for Heaps. Now with new coaches Joe Dupaix and former Cougar Wide Receiver Ben Cahoon we can expect more of what we saw late in the year. Jacobson is entering his senior season and is ready for another trip to Cowboys stadium to face TCU. In his first trip there, the first ever college football game played in the epic building, he caught the game winning pass from Max Hall as the #15 Cougars knocked off #3 Oklahoma in the 2009 season opener.
Another receiver looking forward to that trip to his hometown is redshirt freshman Ross Apo. Apo was recruited out of Texas to BYU by Jake Heaps and many fans can’t wait to see this duo on the field together. Ross originally committed to the Texas Longhorns but after Heaps announced he was going to Provo, Ross decommited from Texas and chose BYU. He played in the season opener against Washington last season but broke his finger and took a redshirt for the year. I’m sure Apo is also looking forward to the trip to Austin as the Longhorns host the Cougars September 10th. That will be a fun one to watch.
Spencer Hafoka and Marcus Matthews are two other guys on this squad who will see some significant time as well, though Matthews may be lining up as both a wide-out and tight-end. Speedster JD Falslev will see more time as a kick returner than a receiver but could see some time. Matt Marshall is another guy who’s name we heard a bit last season but more as a wildcat formation quarterback. He’s also the holder for kicks and we saw some trick plays out of those formations. As I mentioned before I can’t imagine we’ll see him lineup anywhere else as long as Riley Nelson is healthy.
Last year four freshman tight ends were splitting time and no one really got a chance to emerge. This year, the names Devin Mahina and Austin Holt could be well known by Cougar fans. Richard Wilson is another guy who split time last year but I don’t expect to see him more than Devin and Austin. Incoming freshman Colby Jorgensen has plenty of tight ends to look up to as he may be the guy in the future. He may get some reps this season as well.
This group of receivers is the tallest and most talented BYU has ever boasted.
The depth chart
WR1 1) #2 Cody Hoffman 6’4, 205. #11 Ross Apo 6’3, 202. #80 Marcus Matthews 6’5, 200.
WR2 1) #6 McKay Jacobson 5’11, 190. Spencer Hafoka 6’0, 200.
TE 1) #84 Devin Mahina 6’6, 236. 2) #88 Austin Holt 6’4, 245. 3) #18 Richard Wilson 6’2, 233. 4) #80 Marcus Matthews 6’5, 200
With a guy as hyped as Jake Heaps throwing the ball great things should be expected. Especially with reliable backs and a solid front line. This offense will be explosive.