BYU Football: Week 5’s What to Watch For

Cougar fans are on a roller coaster ride as they watch their team this year.  This week is no different.  After a thrilling comeback over Utah State, BYU is now 3-2 and face San Jose State next.  All three wins this season have come in the final minutes of the game.  BYU is 2-1 at home.  Many question marks still remain for BYU.

Heaps vs. Nelson

The first and most obvious question being tossed around is, who will start at quarterback?  Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall more than likely didn’t think he’d be asking himself this question after current quarterback, Jake Heaps, put up impressive numbers during the second half of last season.  Jake was his starter.  That was until Offensive Coordinator, Brandon Doman, acted on a hunch and replaced Heaps for backup quarterback Riley Nelson towards the end of the third quarter against the Aggies.  Nelson lead the team to two pivotal touchdowns, the last of which put BYU ahead by three with eleven seconds left in the game.

So who should start?  Time to go by the numbers.  So far this year, Heaps has struggled to finish drives.  Outside the “blue zone” Heaps has completed the ball over 57% of the time which isn’t bad by any means.  Inside the opponents’ 20 yard line, however, is where Jake has struggled.  His percentage drops to 33% and 25% inside the ten.  In comparison, former BYU quarterback, Max Hall in 2009 completed 64% of passes outside the “blue zone,” 72% inside the opponents’ 20, and 83% inside the ten.  Now, to be fair, Max was a fifth year senior and Heaps is a true sophomore.  But besides comparing raw numbers, what should be taken from this is that Max actually performed better in the “blue zone,” where Heaps is actually performing worse.

It’s hard to say Nelson should start the remainder of the season.  Though successful so far, Riley has played around 20 minutes all season in a game in which the opposing team didn’t gameplan for him.  But look for him to get the nod this week.  With Heaps struggling and Nelson bringing a much needed spark of life to the offense, Bronco should ride this train for as long as it goes.

The Injury Bug

Good news on the injury front.  Athletic trainer, Kevin Morris said that lineback, Jordan Pendleton and lineman, Houston Reynolds  are listed as “probable” for this week’s matchup against San Jose State.

Conference Expansion

With the news that TCU has received an invite to play in the Big XII, BYU’s future continues to look uncertain.  The Horned Frogs were co-members of the Mountain West Conference with BYU before the Cougars went independent.  Then TCU accepted an invite to the Big East.  After the Big XII lost Texas A&M and potentially losing Missouri, outside teams such as TCU, BYU, Boise State, Louisville and Pittsburgh were all viable candidates to fill empty positions.  Now that TCU will be joining, one of those spots are taken.  It’s like college football’s version of musical chairs.

Matchup and Prediction

San Jose State seems to be much improved after winning only one game last season against an FCS team, Southern Utah.  SJSU is 2-3 so far this year with wins against Colorado State and conference foe, New Mexico State.  The Spartans’ leading rusher, Brandon Rutley, is listed as questionable.  They also have a quarterback battle between the mobile Dasmen Stewart and the pure passer, Matt Faulkner.  Faulkner has been the better quarterback and should start but if Rutley can’t play, look for BYU to defend the pass and force SDSU to run the ball.  The Spartans haven’t been good on the road.  SJSU beat Colorado State last week which snapped a 16 game road losing streak.

Prediction: With Pendleton’s return and BYU’s already dominant defense, SJSU will be unable to consistently move the ball on offense.  Riley Nelson gets the start and continues to be successful.  BYU 28 SJSU 10