If there’s such a thing as trying too hard, Kansas University quarterback Jake Heaps may be doing it.
The former BYU quarterback, who took the reins of KU’s offense this offseason after sitting out 2012, has been up-and-down during his first five games as KU’s starter, a stretch in which the Kansas offense averaged 18 points and 305 yards per game.
Heaps’ numbers do not necessarily reflect his struggles, nor do they match the excitement that built around him throughout the offseason. He ranks fifth in the Big 12 in passing at 194.3 yards per game but, perhaps most telling, is nowhere to be found on the list of the Big 12’s 10 most efficient passers. Heaps has completed 55 percent of his passes (108-of-198) for 1,187 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Drops, a porous offensive line and an inconsistent running game have made life harder on Heaps than expected, and on Tuesday, quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus revealed that one of the things plaguing KU’s QB is an intense desire to get things going.
“That’s something that I’ve talked to him about, because he does strain,” Powlus said. “I mean the kid’s in tears after every game that we’re not winning. He’s straining so hard to make the offense work and to have success and to make our team win, and sometimes you try too hard. You lose your timing, you lose your sense of rhythm, you make a throw that maybe you shouldn’t have made.”
Heaps knows all of that. Partly because his coaches have pointed it out and partly because it jumps off the screen at him while watching film. The mistakes screamed louder after last week’s loss to TCU, but instead of getting down and adding stress, Heaps decided to approach this week with more of a free mind.
“Up until that point, vs. TCU, I think I’ve handled everything well and had a great approach,” Heaps said. “In the TCU game, I kind of let it get away from me a little bit as far as trying to be too perfect, worrying about the other things going on around me instead of just focusing on my job and what I can do to help the team.”
Wide receiver Josh Ford, said Heaps was not alone in pressing too much to get KU’s offense running smoothly.
“I think that’s kind of everybody’s problem, really,” Ford said. “We’re trying so hard sometimes or trying to be so perfect that we might mess up ourselves. It’s probably (tougher) on Jake because he touches the ball on every play. I can only imagine how frustrating that is, knowing the type of competitor he is.”
Ford said the 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior does an admirable job of remaining upbeat and strong in front of his teammates. And Heaps himself said Powlus’ read of him being in tears after losses was more about competitive frustration than heartbreak.
“I might be on the verge of tears at times,” Heaps said. “But that’s because I’m an emotional, passionate competitive guy. I hate to lose and I want to win every time we go out there and when that doesn’t happen, it’s tough.”
That’s why Ford believes it’s important for others to pick Heaps up and why he’s proud to be one of the guys who has done that so far.
“It’s probably been more the coaches than the players,” Ford said. “But me and a few other people have gone up to him (and said), ‘We got you,’ and stuff like that because he does it all the time for us. Every day, every play.”
So far this season, KU’s offense has scored more than 17 points just one time — 31 points in the season-opener against South Dakota. And as head coach Charlie Weis changes personnel, juggles coaching responsibilities and constantly searches for a fix — “My son sits next to me (on trips home) and I don’t think I say two words to him,” Weis said. “All I’m thinking is, ‘What can I do, what can I do, what can I do.’” — the quarterback position must be evaluated like all of the others. Proof of that is the first-time inclusion of true freshman Montell Cozart (6-2, 189) as a second-string QB option with sophomore Michael Cummings (5-10, 207) on this week’s depth chart. And even that is something Heaps is not afraid to face.
“Montell’s done a great job in game preparation,” Heaps said of the more-mobile, suddenly-popular quarterback. “All three of us have worked extremely hard throughout the season and continue to do that. This week, different opportunities presented themselves for Montell to get a look, and that’s been good to see. The thing I’ve been most impressed by with Montell is his ability to stay with it.”
The same could be said of Heaps.
“Sure there’s areas of improvement for everybody,” Powlus said. “And Jake isn’t immune to that. But Jake’s also done a lot of good things that we want to keep building on.”