BYU's defense played well enough to win Saturday against Nevada, holding a Wolf Pack offense that averaged nearly 51 points a game to just 27.
The Cougars offense was another story.
Not surprisingly, true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps had his growing pains in this game.
He completed 24 of 45 passes for 229 yards — not terrible numbers for a kid straight out of high school — but at this point he simply doesn’t have the experience needed to consistently move the offense down the field.
Even though you can see that he has the all the tools to be a big time college quarterback, it’s still going to take some time for Heaps to develop and grow into the position.
On Saturday he was off target on several key passes, throwing behind receivers in some instances and leading them too far on many of his deep throws.
It was also obvious that the coaching staff was trying to keep things simple, not asking Heaps to do much reading of the Nevada defense.
He is still developing his ability to read defenses at this level and adjusting to the speed of the college game. It will take time and the Cougars could continue to take some lumps while the process unfolds.
Watching Heaps on Saturday, one could not help but wonder how he would be performing if he were starting his fourth game instead of his first one.
The quarterback carousel with Heaps and Riley Nelson was an effort, in part, to avoid the kind of start to the season the Cougars have experienced. One wonders whether or not the offense would be performing at a higher level currently if Heaps would not have been splitting reps throughout fall camp and into the season.
One interesting note on Heaps so far in his career: he has thrown just one interception in 105 attempts.
On the positive side, the BYU offensive line rebounded from its flop in Tallahassee with a solid effort. The Cougars did a good job for the most part protecting their freshman quarterback, who also delivered the ball quicker than he did at Florida State. Nevada’s reigning WAC Defensive Player of the Year, defensive end Dontay Moch, was effectively neutralized by the Cougar offensive tackles.
BYU may also have discovered a budding star at wide receiver in Cody Hoffman. The 6-4 redshirt freshman led the Cougars with 4 grabs for 74 yards, a week after scoring the first touchdown of his career at Florida State.
Meanwhile running back JJ Di Luigi had another good game with 123 total yards and a touchdown on the ground. JJ has been BYU’s best player on offense this year. He is averaging 6.3 yards per carry, leads the team in both rushing and receiving yards and has scored three of the Cougars’ six touchdowns.
As mentioned above the BYU defense did a respectable job against Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The 27 points that the Wolf Pack scored will likely be one of its lowest outputs of the year. The 435 yards that the Cougars gave up was also 125 yards below Nevada’s average.
Not surprisingly, the BYU defensive game plan was to play assignment football against the pistol rather than to blitz it as was discussed here leading up to the game.
Kaepernick was able to jump on the Cougar defense early, displaying his newly found passing accuracy. His threat as a passer makes this offense almost impossible to defend.
It’s worth noting, however, that BYU did limit Kaepernick to a completion rate of 64%, six percentage points below his average. They also held him to 4.8 yards per rush, just about half of his average coming into the game.
The bottom line is that Nevada has a Top 25 caliber team this year with a quarterback that should be getting a lot more attention as a Heisman Trophy candidate. The Cougars meanwhile are having to rebuild at key positions this year and are a work in progress. The future for this program is bright, but Cougar fans who have been spoiled over the past few years will need to have some patience this season while the foundation is laid for bigger things to come.