Scouting the Cougars

BYU followers are a notoriously tight-walleted bunch, and even legendary coach LaVell Edwards once cracked about them in a way that still draws a laugh -- how Cougars faithful won't break commandments, or a $20 bill. But how about this 2-for-1? Could there really be a good value in playing two quarterbacks?


Sixth-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall is doing this for the first time, announcing eight days before the Sept. 4 opener against Washington that he will indeed use a pair of signal callers -- junior Riley Nelson (left-handed, and a runner) along with highly touted freshman Jake Heaps (righty, and a more natural passer).

"We plan on playing both Riley and Jake at quarterback and feel both will be effective leading our team," Mendenhall said Aug. 27 to sort of end a few weeks of speculation. "Each is a talented player with a different style, which will pose some difficulties for opposing defenses. Both players are committed to this decision and excited to lead our team."

How long it'll last -- a quarter, a half, a game, a couple of weeks? -- is anyone's guess at this point. Heaps is the future, but coaches didn't feel like he did enough to establish a clear pecking order.

Nelson, last year's backup to Max Hall, will get the first series. Mendenhall talks often about the respect he has for veteran players, those who have toiled in the program and have worked and deserve opportunities.

Said Nelson: "I know this will give us an opportunity to have a highly successful season. Jake and I both have the ability to lead our team and offer unique skills that will help us be successful as an offensive unit. I am excited about this opportunity and fully expect that we will carry on the great tradition and legacy of the quarterback position here at BYU."

Mendenhall added: "It could modify after Week 1. What I told both quarterbacks was [that] it's based now on how they handle game experience. So the reps could remain dead-even. They could shift one way or another, or it could change by opponent."

--BYU has not allowed newcomers to speak during fall camp. That's alleviated the most attention from Jake Heaps, who will likely not start but will see action against Washington. It was the Huskies he turned down last before deciding on BYU. "I am 100 percent behind this decision [to play a pair of quarterbacks]," Heaps said through a school press release. "I feel the coaches have made the right decision for both Riley (Nelson) and I and this football team. Riley is a great player and I'm excited to have the opportunity to contribute. This isn't about me or him; it's about us about doing what we can to help our team."

--BYU will be "by committee" at a few spots, it appears. Training camp did not create any winners at tight end or a few of the linebacker spots. "I am a big believer in the collective," head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "I am completely confident the pieces will fall into place when they are supposed to."

The coach has said three position battles still remain: inside linebacker, tight end and, of course, quarterback.

"So basically, all the ones that we started camp with," Mendenhall said wryly.

The coach, however, said one battle was settled -- Jason Speredon will be the starter at right guard, ahead of Nick Alletto. Speredon was supposed to be a starter last year but tore a rotator cuff during fall camp.

--Watch out for junior RB J.J. Di Luigi. He gets the task of replacing Harvey Unga, who had a year of eligibility remaining but was booted from the conservative Mormon school for having a child out of wedlock (he and the mother have since married). Di Luigi knows it won't be an easy task replacing a guy who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. But he's in his best shape and state of mind he's been in since coming to the program as a highly touted non-Mormon recruit from California.

SERIES HISTORY: Washington leads BYU 4-3 (last meeting, 2008, BYU won 28-27).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Some of the concepts and scheme will depend on the quarterback. Riley Nelson is a lefty and Jake Heaps is a righty. The greatest impact will be felt then on the offensive line. Tackle Matt Reynolds, a potential all-America, will rotate to protect either players' blind side. BYU is fairly inexperienced at running back and receiver, which makes the opening game a bit of a crapshoot. BYU has big targets to catch passes; guys who can make some plays if the quarterbacks aren't pinpoint. The competition for the signal-caller job now spreads into the regular season, and it remains to be seen how awkward and effective that will be for all parties.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: For once, it's BYU's secondary that has the fewest question marks. Safeties Andrew Rich and Steven Thomas are the keystones, and the linebacker corps and defensive line are both young. With lockdown cornerback Brian Logan, as well, expect BYU to play tight coverage so there can be some high-risk/high-reward plays up front. Watch out for the linebacker spots. Playing time is still in question for the pair of inside roles. Brandon Ogletree, Shane Hunter, Aveni Leung-Wai, Austen Jorgensen and Zac Stout are all in the mix to start, and all five should play as the Cougars try to replace two graduated inside linebackers. Also, Jameson Frazier (one of the stars of camp) and Kyle Van Noy have been cross-trained. Returning starter Jordan Pendleton will be key at linebacker, provided he can return from offseason shoulder surgery. He was kept out of tackling drills in fall camp.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it would be wise to wait too long (rather) than not long enough." -- coach Bronco Mendenhall on the continuing race for BYU's starting-quarterback spot.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Washington at BYU, Sept. 4 -- BYU (first game) has to hope its two-quarterback setup doesn't become total chaos, in either confidence or timing issues for the team as a whole. It's as much drama as the Cougars have had in a season opener since coach Bronco Mendenhall's first game in 2005. He has always wanted to have one starting quarterback, but it hasn't worked out that way. Only time will tell how long he can hang on to this idea.

KEYS TO THE GAME: BYU looked lost in third-and-long often in fall camp. Riley Nelson doesn't have a gun for an arm. Meanwhile, freshman Jake Heaps could look quite young. The key will be disciplined football that allows the Cougars to move the ball methodically.


QB Jake Heaps and QB Riley Nelson -- Can anyone get the edge against the Huskies? No one knows how and when the Cougars will flip-flop quarterbacks. It forces Washington to prepare for two, which could work in BYU's favor. But who gets the big drives in the fourth quarter, if it comes down to that?

DE Vic So'oto -- He moves to his third position at BYU. The once hotly recruited tight end was a linebacker two years ago when he shattered his leg in the first series of the season opener at Washington. Now a defensive end, he had a strong camp with a horde of sacks.

S Andrew Rich -- The quarterback of the defense, coordinator Jaime Hill has said often that the unit is as good as Rich is. He must get a talented but inexperienced linebacker and D-line group to mesh quickly. Ideally, the Cougars would give the offense lots of chances to sort out the continuing quarterback controversy. His hard hitting set the tone in last year's stunning win against Oklahoma.


--S Andrew Rich and OT Matt Reynolds have been selected as team captains for this season, head coach Bronco Mendenhall announced in late August. "Andrew and Matt are both fantastic representatives of our program and outstanding football players," Mendenhall said. "Both have demonstrated they are capable of leading our team on and off the field."

--USC transfer Uona Kaveinga lost his appeal to be eligible immediately. He transferred shortly before the NCAA handed down sanctions to the Trojans, and allowed players to transfer at will and be able to compete right away. Mendenhall was disappointed by the decision. Kaveinga could have started at linebacker. He can practice, and did so successfully in camp with the second team. Top Stories