Loyal Cougars

What Taysom Hill can learn from Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson

How pride got in the way of the BYU offense and what Taysom Hill can learn from it.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

There are certain moments in BYU Football history that some fans wish they could wipe from existence, or at least from their memory.

The 1990 Holiday Bowl, 2009 FSU game, and any of the losses to Utah or Utah State all come to mind.

A good percentage of the BYU fan base would suggest that the past three seasons as a whole should be included in this list. That’s not to say there weren’t great games and moments between the 2010 and 2012 seasons, but most fans will look back and say that those seasons were undoubtedly disappointing. The overarching theme seemed to be the overachieving defense and substandard offense, most notably at the quarterback position.

This uninspired quarterback play over the last three years seems to have placed a good amount of pressure on Taysom Hill to not only bring some consistency to the offense, but also to help fans forget the offensive mess they have endured. There is no question these expectations might be unjust, but it’s reality.

It might take time for Taysom to live up to the lofty expectations that fans place upon him, largely due to his impressive skill set, but he can get started in the right direction by studying the careers of his predecessors, Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson — and understanding their failings as signal callers at BYU.

Many point to the fact that an inexperienced Brandon Doman failed to lead a consistent offensive direction. There is no doubt his shortcomings hampered the offense, but the root of the problem was the pride of his quarterbacks that weighed them down.


“The test we must set for ourselves is not to march alone, but to march in such a way that others will wish to join us.” Hubert Humphrey

At the end of the 2010 season, it was clear Jake Heaps was going to be the quarterback for the next three seasons. After struggling through the first seven games of the season, he finally started to play with confidence and the offense began to show signs of life. He demonstrated poise in the Utah game and tossed four touchdowns in the bowl victory against UTEP. Things were finally starting to click for Jake.

It was this progress at the end of the season in 2010 that left everyone stunned by his struggles in 2011. After a last second defensive victory against Ole Miss and a heartbreaking loss to Texas, Heaps looked lost in a blowout loss to Utah. The UCF game following looked as if it could be a nice bounce back game for Heaps, but he continued to struggle, completing only 47 percent of his passes for a mere 133 yards.

What was the difference between the 2010 and 2011 version Jake Heaps? The fact that he wasn’t competing for the starting spot could have had something to do with the change. With Riley Nelson nursing a shoulder injury and Jake’s late season success, it would be absurd to name anyone else QB #1. Maybe it was because he wasn’t with the team as much during the off-season. It’s understandable that he missed time because of his marriage, but it didn’t sound right when players noted his repeated absence during winter workouts. (And yes, there was a change at offensive coordinator.)

Things started to make more sense when Jake was benched in favor of Riley, who the whole team seemed to rally around. Perhaps it’s on the players for not fully sporting Jake anyway, but it was interesting to see how the players responded to a QB that played with all heart and less skill as opposed to one that relied solely on his talent.

No one blames Jake for leaving after he was benched for Riley in 2011. He saw the writing on the wall and there was no point in him sitting on the bench to watch Riley’s swan song. It was, however, disappointing to see such a talented player leave the program without reaching his full potential.


“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” Sophocles, Antigone

Despite his grit and determination, the Riley Nelson era of BYU Football will not be remembered fondly. His valiant efforts and commendable leadership will be overshadowed by his poor decision-making and propensity for turning the ball over. Those sins, however, pale in comparison to his most egregious trespass: being too prideful take himself out of the game.

After fracturing his vertebrae against Weber State, Riley decided to tough it out and log a subpar performance against Utah and an abomination against Boise State. Both of those games were painful losses that could have easily been victories with mediocre QB play. Even after sitting out two games against Hawaii and Utah State, he stepped back on the field knowing he was still not near 100 percent.

There is no question that the coaches should have pulled Riley long before they did, but no one doubts for even a second that Riley assured them every day that he was fine and was capable of playing. By refusing to leave the field and letting someone else take over, he exhibited a lack of trust in his teammates and ended up costing his team in the win column.

Even when healthy, Riley’s pride impeded him from playing within his skill set. His determination was admirable, but towards the end of his career, it was clear his “grit” was the only thing he had going for him. He would never slide when taking off on the run. He would never throw the ball away if no one was open or the play was busted. He would repeatedly make these rookie mistakes, not at the fault of the coaches who undoubtedly counseled him otherwise, because he flat out refused to learn.

It’s never healthy to ask “what if,” but BYU fans can’t help but wonder what could have been if Riley simply would have let BYU play to its defensive strength.


“Where there is unity there is always victory.” Publilius Syrus

Taysom Hill doesn’t need to be the savior of the BYU offense.

The sophomore quarterback is receiving a good amount of attention, but with the talent surrounding him there is no need for Hill to play beyond himself. He has a new offensive coordinator installing a fast-paced offense and one of the best collection of skill players in recent memory, leaving him in a situation almost destined for success. With Jamal Williams to his left and Cody Hoffman to his right, Taysom is certainly not alone in his quest.

This isn’t to say that Taysom doesn’t need to shoulder his load of the offensive responsibility. As we saw with the quarterback with a very gifted arm, simply showing up and relying on talent alone won’t get him very far.

To adjust a phrase frequently quoted in religious circles, Taysom needs to work as if it’s up to him but play as if it’s on the team as a whole to be successful. If he is able to do this and learn from the mistakes of those who came before him, he will blaze a new trail of success that fans will never forget.



Week 1 Depth Chart and Injury Report
Just how good is BYU’s schedule?
Video Quick Hit: Virginia Preview/Predictions


  1. Chris Irish

    August 29, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Great piece. That’s sum up my feelings for the last three years.

  2. Alexander Perkins (@SuperPerks)

    August 29, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Great level-headed post about a really heavy subject for Cougar fans! Taysom is lucky to have a relatively established supporting cast to help shoulder the offensive burden. Can’t wait for the season to start and see these guys in action!

  3. Hot sauna

    August 29, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Looking back not having a competent OC was the main reason for the offensive woes

  4. Sanpete

    August 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    What characterizes almost all commentary about this is sheer assumption. The plain fact is we don’t know what would have happened if Nelson had been replaced earlier. Whether Nelson was holding back in what he told the coaches about his condition or not, they had every opportunity to watch him and the other quarterbacks actually perform in practice and on the field. Their decision was *not* based merely on Nelson’s word. Hill was still green and learning the system early on. After a bad experience starting Heaps before he was ready, as it now seems in hindsight, starting Hill too soon was naturally a reasonable concern. Those who think Lark proved he was a better choice all along by his play in one game late in the season simply ignore that it was against an opponent a high school quarterback could have shined against. Against a tougher opponent he wasn’t noticeably better than Nelson had been.

    That Nelson never threw the ball away when necessary, never slid to avoid a hit, and so on is myth, not reality. He did attempt to run out of trouble more than most would, no doubt, and didn’t slide sometimes when others would, but he also generally ended up with plus yardage on the whole from that and, as far as we know, wasn’t hurt that way. His injuries reportedly occurred in the pocket.

    That Nelson’s pride was the problem, rather than a lack of better alternatives, is mere assumption. It’s an attractive belief to those looking to blame someone. Nelson has become the voodoo doll for frustrated fans looking for someone to lash out against.

    There appears to be an implication that pride was Heaps’ problem too. There’s even less evidence for that. People who know him personally don’t describe him as prideful, quite the opposite. You don’t know why he was absent when he was. That he struggled on the road against even the worst SEC team and Texas more than against the easier teams he faced in the latter part of his freshman year does’t require psychology to explain. The die was arguably cast for player support for him by the end of the Texas game, if not before, and almost surely by the end of the Utah game.

    Hill can of course learn from the experience of Heaps and Nelson. He has said he learned from watching Nelson, and he hasn’t made the mistakes Heaps made regarding team leadership. But he need not base his lessons on myth and unfounded speculation.

    • Chris Irish

      August 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      Riley often made bad decisions and based on what we’ve heard from him and coaches he did push to stay in the games. Thought the article was fair unless your related to one of the QBs.

      • Sanpete

        August 29, 2013 at 2:45 pm

        Huh? I said nothing about that. If the article only said that, I wouldn’t have said what I actually did say.

        • Chris Irish

          August 30, 2013 at 11:04 am

          I stand behind what I wrote. You did imply a lot and I agree with some of what you wrote. But I don’t think its right to hide behind a pseudo name and make negative comments

        • Sanpete

          August 30, 2013 at 11:47 am

          If you have any objection to anything I actually said (or implied), please do say.

    • Brett Hein

      August 29, 2013 at 11:04 pm

      Jake actually didn’t say Heaps’ problem was pride — each section is headed by quotes highlighting different aspects/characteristics.

      • Sanpete

        August 30, 2013 at 8:52 am

        Yeah, I noticed that, which is why I put it as I did. I was referring to the subtitle or caption or whatever it is, “How pride got in the way of the BYU offense and what Taysom Hill can learn from it.” It could be he didn’t write that part. I agree that Heaps made some mistakes in regard to team leadership, though I place most of the blame on the coaches and older players who should have been giving him counsel about such things and making sure players gave their best for any quarterback.

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  6. Rich Beeker (@RichBeeker)

    August 30, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Great article!

  7. Chad

    August 30, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Good article. I think it makes better assumptions and conclusions than most. Bronco and Doman may have done some things differently in hindsight, but ultimately that may not have mattered at all. They may not have had better options than a young Heaps at times, Nelson when he out-shined Heaps, and then an inexperienced Hill, until his injury (the best option really, even last year). Face it cougar nation, Lark, or other backups simply weren’t the answer, either (with more chances for development or not). And as for Nelson? He simply topped out. It is clear he was attempting to make plays and throws he was barely capable of making while not injured. Strangely, when he was not injured he was playing as well as Heaps. A number of things could have factored into the speculation as to why that was the case, but the fact is Heaps was not living up to the hype. Nelson beat him out, when it counted, albeit barely. Personally, I think Heaps bought into the hype too much (a game that is won on paper and not on the field). Truthfully, Heaps had a lot more upside than Nelson, but unless you mold your talents to match your teammates and counteract your opponents it doesn’t matter what skills you have. Apo is still trying to figure that out. Games aren’t won by your measurements on paper. You have to conscientiously work at exposing the mismatches in skill levels and then have the calm composure to execute. We can only speculate if Nelson pulling himself or if the coaches pulling him would have led to a better BYU team. At least he had heart and I must admit BYU did better last year (in every game) than I expected possible with Nelson as the starter. But if you don’t have a true quarterback (in the wings or otherwise) ready for the moment, you just don’t have a quarterback. You can only go so far that way. And for the past few years no couch-fan-coach can tell me we had what we have now in Taysom Hill at the helm (out of any qb options on the field or in reserve), a player who has the abilities but also has humility to continually mold his talent along with his team while confidently taking the lead when needed and riding the shoulders of others when needed. We just didn’t have it. They made Hall and Beck look great: a cut above what we have had in the program since. But that can’t be Anae’s excuse. He has the skill players now, just as he did when he was here before. I expect he will have this offense humming again, but hopefully he learned to not let off the gas and get too conservative. You need a killer instinct to be great, not just good. And hopefully we have a return to the offensive line of LaVell era type prowess, which I think Tujague is already improving from what has been a lackluster effort and culture among that group the past many years.

  8. Ed Kemp

    August 30, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Whether or not you liked Nelson, the fact remains… he made poor decisions, many of them appeared to be based on his pride, that hurt the team. Based on interviews from coaches, players, and himself, he wasn’t up-front with his health, and was reckless on the field. Bottom line is I think he knew this was his one chance to live out a dream, and he chose that dream above doing what was right for the team… consistently. I loved his grit, but he should’ve been able to understand his own limitations, even if it meant he couldn’t be on the field.

    • Sanpete

      August 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      On what basis do you believe his pride hurt the team, though? What evidence do you think he had that some other player would do a better job of leading the team? Was another player doing clearly better in practice? Players have a right to trust in coaches to make those decisions based on performance.

      • Brett Hein

        August 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm

        How he was yelling at his teammates late in the SJSU game made it pretty clear. That, and what Cody Hoffman said about playing with Hill here: http://www.ksl.com/?sid=26027534&nid=272

      • Brett Hein

        August 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

        “You know [Hill] will make the right read and he’ll discipline himself if he doesn’t. In the past, I’ve played with quarterbacks that would try to blame everybody else for their mistakes and that gets frustrating, and that has been the cause of divides on the team.”

        • Sanpete

          August 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm

          Yet more pure assumption. You don’t know who Hoffman was referring to. Even if Hoffman was talking about Nelson, though, it doesn’t follow that some other quarterback was prepared to do a better job before the coaches replaced him as starter. People have assumed what they want to believe about this, going way beyond the evidence.

        • Brett Hein

          August 30, 2013 at 1:27 pm

          There is little to no absolute evidence to be had. Those who know were likely told things in confidence and will not share them publicly. I have been told things from super-solid sources, but if I shared them I wouldn’t be able “prove” them with “evidence.” It would just be my word that A) I was told them, and B) It was said to me by someone with first-hand knowledge. So …. Shall I pursue a sworn affidavit from Riley Nelson saying “Yes, I was being prideful” ?

          Nothing in this whole saga is ever going to be cut and dry. I think you’re looking for beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt “evidence” and many people are considering a preponderance.

        • Chris Irish

          August 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm

          SanPete are you Nelson’s brother? Father? Just giving you a hard time. Go Cougs!

        • Sanpete

          August 30, 2013 at 3:02 pm

          Brett, it’s quite possible Nelson was driven in part by pride, as many of the toughest competitors are, but it’s far from clear that it hurt the team, that there was a player prepared to do better. That’s where the evidence is lacking.

  9. Ken Reed

    August 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    We all saw Heaps develop in his first year. Next year, he had a new OC, who was an option QB and called a lot of QB runs. Heaps was not going to make it in that offense. Period. Had Robert Anae stayed on, I suspect that Heaps would be been good if not great. But Heaps had a problem in addition to his new OC. In the Ole Miss game, Heaps threw a pick deep that was run back for a TD. Heaps did not even try to make a tackle on the guy. After the game, won by Van Noy’s brilliant endzone play, Heaps stayed out on the field to glad-hand the several thousand BYU fans who hung around. Everyone was in the locker room but Jake. In the Texas game after looking terrible the whole second half, Jake was seen on TV pursuing the Texas coach to shake hands with him. This guy was a head-case.

    When Nelson replaced him in the Utah game, Heaps still tried to run onto the field after Nelson took a hit. Of course we all remember Nelson rescuing BYU in the USU game. Next year, he played well against WSU and Weber State. But when I heard Bronco say that everyone was good except that Nelson hurt his back a little, I remember the frisson of fear. And was amazed to see Nelson playing while injured and … well you know the rest.

    My assessment has nothing to do with Heaps, Nelson, and Hill. It had everything to do with Doman. He was simply not ready to be an OC. Thank Heaven that Robert Anae came back. I think we’ll see the difference Saturday.