Amid all the talks of conference realignment, especially the chance of BYU joining the Big East, it could be easy to forget the Cougars still have a couple games left this season, including one this Saturday.
BYU hosts New Mexico State at LaVell Edwards Stadium for the first-ever meeting between the two teams. BYU quarterback Riley Nelson, who was injured last week against Idaho, will sit out against New Mexico State. Sophomore Jake Heaps, who hasn’t started since September, will start.
“Jake [Heaps] had the more difficult part of the schedule to begin with,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Now he has a chance to re-surge. I’d expect him to do it now after having watched a level of increased amount of leadership, excitement, execution and really demonstrate, not only to the team but to everyone around BYU football, just how capable he really is . He showed that last Saturday and I think he’ll show it again this upcoming Saturday.”
Heaps got the first five starts of the year but was benched after the game against Utah State. He said although the past several weeks have been difficult to sit out, he has used this time to improve his game.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Heaps said. “I wouldn’t say anything physically, in a sense, a lot mentally how I approach the game. … I feel really comfortable about where I’m at right now.”
Last week against Idaho, Heaps came into the game during the first quarter. He finished with 185 yards passing and two touchdowns. When asked about the changes in offense fans might expect to see this week, Mendenhall said the play-calling won’t change much.
“I couldn’t give you the percentage of offense that will change because now it’s Jake [Heaps] in rather than Riley [Nelson], other than scrambling ability and the ability to create in the backfield, escaping rushers, etc,” Mendenhall said. “That will be the most noticeable thing.”
The contest marks the final home game for this year’s senior players. BYU will recognize those seniors: linebacker Aveni Leung-Wai, running back Bryan Kariya, cornerback Corby Eason, defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo, linebacker Jadon Wagner, linebacker Jameson Frazier, running back JJ Di Luigi, linebacker Jordan Pendleton, offensive lineman Marco Thorson, wide receiver Matt Marshall, defensive lineman Matt Putman, offensive lineman Matt Reynolds, wide receiver McKay Jacobson, defensive lineman Simote Vea, wide receiver Spencer Hafoka, defensive lineman Steven Thomas, offensive lineman Terrence Brown and safety Travis Uale.
“It definitely hasn’t hit me yet, that it’s my last [home] game,” Jacobson said. “But we’ll see how I feel on game day and after the game. I’m excited to have one more opportunity to go out and play at home.”