NCF Nation: Brandon Doman

Riley Nelson is now in his fourth season at BYU. But believe it or not, this is actually the first time the starting quarterback job is his and his alone in the spring.

The Cougars hope that means a return to the high-flying offense that fans have come to expect in Provo.

No question BYU has sputtered the last two seasons in what was always an area of strength, primarily because it has not been able to rely on an experienced signal caller. Nelson and Jake Heaps traded starts, allowing for no time to build chemistry, cohesion and a true understanding of the offense.

[+] EnlargeRiley Nelson
Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireRiley Nelson enters spring practice as the QB taking all the reps for the first time in his career at BYU.
Nelson, in particular, has been at a disadvantage the last two springs. He had to split reps with Heaps in 2010 as they battled for the No. 1 spot. Last season, he only got 20 percent of the reps as the backup to Heaps.

So for the first time since he has been on campus, Nelson is the one getting the majority of reps during the spring. At BYU, that means about 80 percent of the snaps.

"He needs to get as much volume as he can," offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said in a recent phone interview. "That's how we do it here. For 30 years, BYU has trained quarterbacks by giving them a high volume. This offense really requires a quarterback that has had some experience, and who has been able to get the volume necessary. So this is a much needed time of the year for him."

Anybody who watched the second half of last season understands that Nelson brings an undeniable winner's mentality to the Cougars. All the adversity he has faced has changed his outlook, and also given his teammates a reason to rally around him. The way he was able to lead the Cougars back against Utah State, and in the bowl win against Tulsa was illustration yet again of the intangibles his coaches always praise.

But for a deeper understanding of what he can bring to BYU on a full-time basis, this stat is more telling. Nelson replaced Heaps in the starting lineup in Week 6. In the first five games with Heaps leading the way, BYU was ranked No. 78 in the nation in third-down conversions (39 percent). After Nelson took over, BYU was No. 1 in the nation over the next seven games.

In October, BYU converted 66 percent on third down, and in November the Cougars converted 70 percent. BYU ended the season ranked No. 5 overall on third downs, converting 51 percent of the time. Just look at that jump in the span of eight games. The reason -- Nelson brings his athleticism into play. He can make nothing into a little something, keeping BYU out of second-and-long, and third-and long. His ability to run and make plays also gives him a better shot to convert on third down.

Those are clear answers for folks who still wonder whether Nelson has the capability of following in the footsteps of all the past BYU quarterback greats. Can he throw for 3,000 yards and help BYU average 40 points a game? Doman says absolutely.

For his part, Nelson has really taken to studying film and understanding where he can be better. While he had a solid understanding of the playbook last season, game experience will help him take that next step, particularly when it comes to recognizing check downs to his backs.

"It's akin to a surgeon," Nelson said in a phone interview. "Geniuses can tell you every procedure there is, but it's the surgeon that gets in there and if all of a sudden something unexpected happens, he can use that depth of knowledge to react. Before I got thrown in last year, I knew the playbook in and out, but there are times I'm sitting there watching myself on film saying, 'What are you doing? You know you have to check down to the back side.' Where I wasn't doing that last year, I hope I can do that this year with as many reps as I can get and still have the play making ability if things break down."

The goal is to get to a completion percentage of 65 percent. Nelson was at 57 percent last year, throwing for 1,717 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Already, Nelson has watched successful quarterbacks in this system, including Max Hall and John Beck. He also has watched Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to study what each of them does so well at the quarterback position.

BYU wants to work in Nelson's athleticism, so the Cougars are going to incorporate more play action, movement, naked boots, and sprint outs because he's really good at them.

But there is no question the base offense at BYU is a passing offense.

"We have to get him real confident in getting the ball out on time and making as many good decisions as he can in this drop-back style of offense,"Doman said. "If he can get ahold of that, all the rest will be icing on the cake for him."

And for BYU.

Midseason report: BYU

October, 11, 2011

Record: 4-2

Year 1 as an independent has been a bit clunkier than maybe the Cougars envisioned. With a new offensive coordinator and nearly every starter returning, it was easy to believe the Cougars would return to their days of old and put up points left and right. But the offense has struggled in many of the same ways it struggled last season. Jake Heaps never looked comfortable running the new offense, and was pulled during the Utah State game. Riley Nelson took over, keyed a comeback and has regained his starting job. None of the playmakers that were projected to emerge have done so. The leading receiver, Cody Hoffman, has 258 yards total. The running game also has struggled, as the Cougars rank No. 98 in the nation. In all, BYU is No. 101 in the country in scoring offense and has failed to score over 30 points this season. The low point game in Week 3 against in-state rival Utah. BYU lost 54-10 and turned the ball over seven times -- three of them by Heaps. Has the problem been Brandon Doman calling the plays? Heaps not getting the job done? The offensive line struggling? The defense has played well for the most part. In fact, if it were not for the defense, BYU would have lost to Ole Miss to start the season. If it were not for special teams, the Cougars may have very well lost to UCF, too. So many questions remain as the Cougars hit the second half of the season with some tough games remaining. This may not have been the start fans wanted to see, but BYU is still trying to feel its way in this brand new world.

Offensive MVP: QB Riley Nelson. I am going all unconventional here and going with a player who has gotten into one and a half games. Why? Because he has more touchdowns (five) than anybody else on the team and provided a spark to a pretty poor offense. Name me somebody else who has played well on offense this season. Didn't think so.

Defensive MVP: LB Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy has been everywhere for the Cougars, ranking second on the team with 28 tackles. He also has a sack, two interceptions, two quarterback hurries and that all important fumble recovery in the end zone to give BYU a 14-13 win over Ole Miss.

Luster off BYU-UCF game

September, 23, 2011
The good feelings and optimism about Year 1 as an independent have turned to concern and consternation for BYU following a disastrous loss to Utah last week.

The Cougars (1-2) have managed 13 points in their last six quarters. They have committed nine turnovers in the last two games - a whopping seven in a 54-10 defeat to their bitter rivals. They turn their attention to UCF on Friday night -- another team that is coming in off a disappointing loss. The Knights, ranked for the first time last season, fell to FIU last week thanks in part to two costly fumbles that the Panthers turned into points.

So the luster is a bit off what should have been a high-quality matchup of two top non-AQ programs. It is hard to imagine another program needing a win as badly as the Cougars, who are in danger of seeing their season spiral out of control.

"If we don’t respond, it can set us back," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "If we are able to respond and finish with a strong season, and with how many wins, certainly increases your chances. That is something I have to acknowledge as we prepare for UCF. The more wins we can get our first year of independence the better."

BYU is going through some of the same struggles it did at the beginning of last season, when it failed to generate much on offense. Mendenhall made a change at offensive coordinator, but that has not really helped. The running game has stalled. The offensive line is playing poorly. Jake Heaps is not doing a good enough job making plays or protecting the football. BYU could very well be worse offensively than it was at this point a season ago.

Of the change to Brandon Doman as coordinator, Mendenhall said: "The results haven’t shown yet. The day-to-day function of the organization and the way the players have responded, the way they are being treated and being coached, I am very comfortable with and at some point that is going to show on game day. It is certainly taking longer than the fans would like but I am confident it is going to happen. I like the decision and the results will be forthcoming."

Meanwhile, BYU cornerback Corby Eason lit up the UCF message board earlier this week when he said this about the Knights and their quarterback, Jeff Godfrey: "They have a great quarterback, like, it's the staple of their offense. If we stop the quarterback, like, they have no offense. He's a great player. He can run the ball and he can pass the ball. We just have to stop him. Once we stop him, I don't believe nobody else can beat us."

UCF actually has a solid running game and depth at the position. But Godfrey had a costly fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the FIU game. The Knights' defense has played well, too, and ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense. That should make it an even more daunting challenge for the BYU offense to get back on track.

All eyes on Jake Heaps vs. Utah

September, 14, 2011
BYU sputtered offensively last season, failing to put up big scores and big yards consistently for the first time in a long time.

Changes were made in the offseason. Brandon Doman was promoted to offensive coordinator. Jake Heaps was firmly entrenched as the starter at quarterback. And plenty of talent returned at running back, receiver and the offensive line.

Given all that, expectations were ratcheted up for the offense in 2011.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireInconsistencies have prevented Jake Heaps and the Cougars from getting on track offensively.
But headed into its rivalry game against Utah on Saturday, the offense looks just as plodding as it did at the beginning of 2010.

Heaps has not gotten into much of a rhythm. The ground game has been nearly nonexistent. So have the big plays. The result? Here is where BYU ranks in the NCAA stats through two games:

  • No. 76 in passing offense, averaging 208.5 yards a game.
  • No. 108 in total offense, averaging 275.5 yards a game.
  • No. 107 in scoring offense, averaging 15 points a game.
  • No. 113 in passing offense, averaging 67 yards a game

“Offensively, we’re not happy with the amount of points we’ve put up on the board,” Heaps told this week. “We feel we could put up more and we should put up more. The way we’re driving the football, the way we’re able to move the football, we’re happy about that. Now it’s a matter of one or two plays we didn’t execute that cost us putting seven points on the board.

“We’re so close to just exploding. We’re so close to having this offense rise to what everybody thinks this offense should be and what our team believes this offense could be.”

The inconsistency has been particularly maddening. BYU took a 13-3 lead at halftime against Texas, but managed only a field goal the rest of the way. One of Heaps’ interceptions helped swing momentum to the Longhorns. After coming from behind to beat Ole Miss in the opener, the Cougars feel they let one get away in Austin.

“It’s extremely frustrating because we know we could have won that game, and we know we could have won it in dominant fashion,” Heaps said. “We left the door open for a good Texas football team. That’s no one else’s fault other than our own. We know we can play with anybody.

“We know we can dictate and control the game with the best of them. We just have to make sure we’re executing at a high level and putting together everything offensively. We can’t afford to make crucial errors on a play that could be a touchdown. We just can’t have that happen. The difference between putting three points on the board versus seven points on the board or zero points, there’s a huge difference.”

For his part, Heaps is 46-of-76 for 417 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. When asked what impact having a new offensive coordinator has had, Heaps said, “Coach Doman has done a great job coaching. Yeah, he’s going through some learning experiences himself, but our offense and our team has full confidence in every play he’s going to call. It’s our job to go out there and execute that play call. We could have walked away from that Texas game with the scoreboard a little bit different, and we take that very seriously offensively. I know these guys have taken it upon themselves not to let that stuff happen again.”

When asked for his assessment, coach Bronco Mendenhall said the offense needs more consistent go-to players.

“There’s still some searching for the right combination and the right identity in terms of run-pass ratio and in terms of the critical ball carriers and ball handlers at the right time,” Mendenhall said. “The offense … they want to win. They’re determined, diligent and right now those things are exceeding the level of execution. We have to get their execution to match their will.”

What will that take?

“We know we have all the talent and all the tools we need to be a great offense,” Heaps said. “That’s not in question. It’s just a matter of executing at the right times and being consistent in our execution and that’s a huge thing. We’ve been working on that and we’re going to keep getting better and better at that. We’re going to take off in that aspect hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Video: BYU's Brandon Doman

August, 17, 2011

Andrea Adelson talks with BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman about the upcoming season.

BYU is now Jake Heaps' team

August, 17, 2011
Their relationship began when Jake Heaps was a sophomore in high school. Heaps set foot on the BYU campus to attend a football camp, and right then Brandon Doman knew instantly the player before him would turn out to be a star.

Doman was not exactly in the minority there. Heaps became one of the top quarterbacks in his recruiting class out of Issaquah, Wash., a player so highly touted, powerhouse schools from the West Coast to the East Coast wanted him. Many thought hometown Washington would win out in the fierce recruiting battle that ensued.

But BYU had something Washington did not -- Doman. The two forged an instant bond.

[+] EnlargeBYU's Jake Heaps and Brandon Doman
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinJake Heaps and offensive coordinator Brandon Doman have a close relationship.
"He trusted me more than everyone else," Doman says now. "He related to me in a unique way because of my experiences as a quarterback at BYU. I played in the NFL. He related to me because of our faith, and the demands placed on him. He bounced things off me he could not ask other coaches."

Indeed, Doman turned out to be a big reason why Heaps chose the Cougars. So it is understandable why there is little trepidation about what awaits them this season. Doman was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator to his young protégé, and the strong relationship the two already have should make the move rather seamless when the season begins.

"I’ve been around a lot of great quarterbacks coaches, and he’s one of the best there is," Heaps says. "To be able to be around him and pick his brain and to be able to to have the opportunity to not only have him as my coach but now as the offensive coordinator, being able to be on the same page and work together, it’s just phenomenal. We’re very close. It gets as close as you can get between a coach and a player."

Doman is implementing an offense that should hearken back to the days when he played from 1998 to 2001. Not so much spread, but more a version of the West Coast offense, there will be some noticeable differences. Heaps will be dropping back to pass from center, a new development for a shotgun-style quarterback.

But chief among the differences from last season is having one quarterback under center. Last season, the Cougars floundered in the first half of the season because coach Bronco Mendenhall could not decide between Heaps and Riley Nelson -- more of a runner than a passer. Mendenhall has repeated that winning the opener against Washington was the worst thing that could have happened, because it gave him a false sense of the merits of a two-quarterback system.

After Nelson was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, the team was turned over to the true freshman Heaps. He got better as the season progressed and closed the season by setting a BYU bowl record with four touchdown throws in an easy win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl. He finished the year throwing for 2,316 yards and 15 touchdown passes -- pretty paltry numbers for a team used to having a 3,000-yard passer.

Much of what happened last season was out of Heaps' control. But he went into the spring and summer with the knowledge that he would be the full-time starter in 2011 and acted that way. Heaps took on more of a leadership role and worked to get better. He put on 15 pounds to help increase the strength in his upper and lower body and to help him with the rigors of being a starting quarterback.

Heaps also spent more time watching film and working out with his receivers. BYU was plagued by dropped balls last season, perhaps in part because Heaps did not have as many reps with his receivers during fall practice and the early part of the season. Now, he feels as if his receivers recognize the type of ball he throws and where he is going with it. That has helped him grow as a leader, even though he is just a sophomore.

"I've seen more confidence, more leadership. He's really grown into his role as a quarterback," offensive tackle Matt Reynolds said. "That position is just naturally one of the leaders of the team and he's embraced that and grown into that."

The return of Heaps has BYU fans excited, especially with the talent at the skill positions. Indeed, Doman said, "People think Jake is better than Jake is right now" in the hopes of perhaps tempering some of the expectations. But there is no question Heaps has the talent, confidence and ability to get BYU back to a 10-win season.

And he has the perfect coordinator to help him get there.

BYU media day news and nuggets

July, 12, 2011

PROVO, Utah -- I bet you can guess the hot topic of conversation during BYU media day on Tuesday.

Talk of going independent dominated sessions with coach Bronco Mendenhall, athletic director Tom Holmoe and players as well. Everyone is excited about the prospects of partnering with ESPN, having an exclusive network in BYUtv and testing the waters in an unconventional way.

Will independence work? We have to wait for the answers. But here are some notes and nuggets off a day spent visiting with a variety of BYU officials.

Scheduling: Despite rampant speculation, there were no scheduling announcements made Tuesday. Getting games on the schedule as an independent has been a bit tricky, because other teams are tied into their conference schedules past September. Many others already have games planned through 2018, and there are those who want 2-for-1 deals instead of home-and-homes. Holmoe said he would like to take BYU all over the country, and would like to schedule games against the service academies, possibly even Northwestern or Vanderbilt. Mendenhall mentioned getting games against teams like Boston College, and playing in the Southeast, Midwest and Northwest.

The 2-for-1 deals, like the one with Texas, are not ideal. But Mendenhall said, "I’m willing to play some 2-for-1s for the sake of establishing credibility. Hopefully after that, more will want to come to Provo and view us on equal footing."

BCS: BYU does not have an automatic berth guaranteed into the BCS. If the Cougars finish ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings, then they would be eligible for an at-large berth. But both Mendenhall and Holmoe are confident that an undefeated BYU team with the schedule it has lined up for this year would get into the BCS -- something that has never been done before at the school. Mendenhall also seems confident that in the future, a one-loss BYU team might be given consideration if the Cougars string together multiple 11- or 12-win seasons.

Winning: Both Holmoe and Mendenhall know there are risks with going independent. With 10 games set to be aired on ESPN, all national eyes are going to be on the Cougars. They cannot afford another 7-6 season in Year 1 of being an independent. The pressure is on. "I’m willing to take the risk," Mendenhall said. "It’s intriguing. There are many fans that aren’t BYU fans that can’t wait to see BYU stumble with all the exposure. It’s pretty clear our program is strong. We have a worldwide following, we’ve partnered with the worldwide leader in sports. With that, whether folks are BYU fans or not, I bet folks tune in and are anxious to see what happens."

One bit of news emerged today. Mendenhall said he signed a three-year contract extension that will keep him with the school through 2013.

"I would like to coach here as long as I'm wanted and as long as I feel it's where I'm supposed to be," he said. "I was invigorated and so excited by the chance to continue to move the program forward. This idea of independence, while many would have backed away from it, I'm anxious to be the coach to take it on. There's a huge amount of risk but there's also a great opportunity for reward."

A few more nuggets from media day:
  • Left tackle Matt Reynolds has lost 25 pounds and is down to 308. To lose the weight, he did two hours worth of cardio every day and kept to a tight schedule and watched what he ate. "I feel so much better now," Reynolds said. "I look better, too. All the weight was in my midsection and now this is going to help me move a lot better on the field.
  • Quarterback Jake Heaps is preparing to take more snaps from center this season as more of a pro-style offense will be featured with new coordinator Brandon Doman. "It's definitely a different feel with the drop-back," said Heaps, a spread quarterback in high school. "I have been working on that a lot this summer, and trying to get my timing down with the receivers as well."
  • Doman on how he feels headed into his first fall as a coordinator: "In December, I turned 34. Now I feel like I'm 44."
  • Linebacker Jordan Pendleton makes his return this season after missing half of 2010 with a knee injury. He wasn't quite ready to declare himself 100 percent, but said he does feel better than he has in a long time. He has spent the summer getting back into shape, taking it slowly so he would not suffer any setbacks.

BYU spring wrap

May, 10, 2011
2010 overall record: 7-6

2010 conference record: 5-3 MWC

Returning starters

Offense: 10, defense 8, punter/kicker 1

Top returners

QB Jake Heaps, WR Cody Hoffman, OT Matt Reynolds, LB Brandon Ogletree

Key losses

S Andrew Rich, LB Shane Hunter, LB Jadon Wagner, K Mitch Payne

2010 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: JJ DiLuigi* (917 yards, 8 TDs)

Passing: Heaps* (219-of-383 for 2,316 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTs)

Receiving: Hoffman* (527 yards, 7 TDs)

Tackles: Rich (110)

Sacks: Vic So’oto* (five)

Interceptions: Rich (five)

Spring Answers

1. Heaps the man. There was no question or hesitation this spring. Even with a healthy Riley Nelson back, Heaps is the unquestioned starter at quarterback. That helped immensely not only with his development, but with his ability to lead the team.

2. Daniel Sorensen emerges. The big question on defense is who would step up to replace Andrew Rich, the team’s leading tackler, leader in interceptions and emotional leader as well. Sorensen returned from his mission and had a great spring, leaving coaches confident he has what it takes to step right in at safety.

3. Camaraderie. The Cougars struggled at the beginning of last season, but ended the year with wins in five of their final six games. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said his team picked up where it left last season off, and had a camaraderie, spirit and energy that led to the best spring in his tenure.

Fall Questions

1. Starter at right guard. That is the only position that isn’t solidified on offense going into fall camp. Among the contenders: Walter Kahaialii, Houston Reynolds and Marco Thorson. Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman didn’t rule out the possibility of playing true freshman Ryker Mathews at the position.

2. Independence. How is BYU going to do in its first season as an independent? The Cougars only have one championship to play for -- a national championship. Even then, they would have to go undefeated and hope for some help to get into that. With a tough schedule, how will the team stay motivated throughout the season for a berth into the Armed Forces Bowl?

3. High-flying offense? Everything is in place for the Cougars to return to their productive ways on offense. Doman says BYU may resemble the days of the 1980s and 1990s. Heaps has another year of experience, depth at receiver and running back and a solid offensive line. But will it all come together?
I am going to begin taking an occasional look at true freshmen who could make an impact this season. First up is BYU offensive tackle Ryker Mathews.

The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Mathews enrolled in school early and practiced with the team in the spring, allowing offensive coordinator Brandon Doman a first look at one of the top offensive line prospects in the country. He raved about Mathews and said there is a chance he could play this fall as a true freshman.

Mathews is listed as the backup at the all-important left tackle spot behind All-America candidate Matt Reynolds. With Reynolds out for the spring, it was up to Mathews to protect the blind side of Jake Heaps. "He did a fantastic job," Doman said.

"He was in here for winter conditioning for January, February and March and prepared himself with strength and conditioning," Doman said. "With spring ball, that will catapult him with experience and the foundation physically in fall camp. The second thing that impressed me was he was unfazed. He had the perfect mentality. The better the defensive line he went up against, the better he played. Most young guys, the more nervous they got the worse they played. For this guy, it was the complete opposite. He showed glimpses of greatness, and hopefully he is one of our next great O-linemen here."

Doman mentioned that Mathews would be in the mix to play at right guard with Walter Kahaialii and Houston Reynolds (younger brother of Matt), the only position that is up for grabs on the starting offensive line. But his future is at tackle, so the coaches will have to make a decision about whether to play him immediately in an eight-man rotation, or redshirt him and potentially have him as a four-year starter. Matt Reynolds obviously has the left tackle position locked up for this season, barring injury.

"If he's not a starting player, maybe we redshirt him, but he’s battling to be a Saturday game-day guy," Doman said. "We'll have to make that decision down the road."

New coaching faces at BYU

April, 21, 2011
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall made a decision once last season ended that he wanted a fresh infusion of energy on his coaching staff, particularly on offense.

So he met with his staff and told them he planned to make changes. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae left for Arizona, so Mendenhall promoted quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman to coordinator. Mendenhall also hired Ben Cahoon to coach the receivers, Joe DuPaix to coach the running backs and be the recruiting coordinator, and promoted Kelly Poppinga to linebackers coach. Mendenhall decided he would stay on as defensive coordinator.

The result was one of the best springs under Mendenhall.

"There’s a fresh energy and a new excitement and I think that contributed to the type of spring we had," Mendenhall said in a recent phone interview. "Rebirth would be too strong of a word, but after being together with our last staff for six years, we maybe maxed out what that group of men could do under my leadership I thought there had to be change to reach a different level. The new coaches were very positive, enthusiastic and super high energy."

The Cougars offense struggled last season under Anae, and his play calling came into question. Doman says he wants less predictability in his offense, which could look more like a version of the West Coast offense. He has a great assistant in DuPaix, who has plenty of experience with running backs thanks to the time he spent at Navy. BYU has a plethora of backs returning, with J.J. Di Luigi, Bryan Kariya and Josh Quezada.

Cahoon was a receiver at BYU and just finished his career in the CFL. This may be his first job as an assistant, but he has the experience of having played the position and the knowledge of what it takes to be a successful receiver in Provo. He also has plenty of talent, with Cody Hoffman, Ross Apo and McKay Jacobson.

Doman has transitioned nicely into the role of coordinator, saying, "It was quite nerve wracking and stressful leading up to spring identifying what we were going to do, what stuff we were going to keep, how to stimulate that. There was a lot of position mastery stuff I felt we really needed in some of our skill areas. But we have a great coaching staff and we put together a good scheme offensively and that eased everything for me."

With Jake Heaps and four offensive linemen returning, along with depth at receiver and running back, expectations will be high for this offense. So the pressure will be on Doman from the outset to deliver.
We saw a different BYU offense in the second half of the season, one that actually scored points, moved the ball and had one quarterback. The way the Cougars struggled early in 2010 was painful to watch at times, but here are three reasons they will be better from the start of 2011.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBYU hopes consistent play at quarterback from Jake Heaps will pay off in 2011.
1. Jake Heaps is the starter. No question waffling between Heaps and Riley Nelson severely hampered the way BYU played. The Cougars started 1-4 for the first time since 1973 and ranked No. 96 in the nation in total offense. They turned it around in the second half of the season and ended on a tear. Now, Heaps is firmly entrenched as the starter and has one year under his belt. He will be more comfortable in the offense, and BYU will have one true leader.

"The volume he received in spring ball was helpful for him with his reads," new BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman said. "Quarterbacks are the last line of defense, and we gave him the ability to audible and change plays. By the time we're done with 29 practices in fall camp, he will be a wise and veteran guy."

2. Doman is in. BYU fans became increasingly disenchanted with offensive coordinator Robert Anae last season because of his questionable play calling and predictability on offense. Coach Bronco Mendenhall felt it was time for a fresh start for his offense, so he promoted Doman from quarterbacks coach. You can expect a return to a more BYU-traditional offense this season.

"As we launch forward, teams will consider us to be a West Coast offense," Doman said. "We will be under center more often, run play-action stuff that we’ll build into our passing game. That’s a skeleton of who we are. I think people will look at it and say this looks like BYU of the early '90s and '80s."

Heaps is your prototypical dropback passer, so expect to see three-, five- and seven-step drops in a progression-type offense. But BYU also has the ability to do no-huddle from the shotgun. Variability is the key, and so is being less predictable. With Doman in charge, you can expect something old-but-new from this offense.

3. Depth. The Cougars are loaded everywhere. At receiver, they have McKay Jacobson and Cody Hoffman back, and have high hopes for Ross Apo, whom Doman calls "as talented a receiver our school has ever had." The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Apo redshirted last season after injuring his finger and is expected to be a big-time contributor. At running back, JJ Di Luigi, Josh Quezada and Bryan Kariya all return. Di Luigi was the most consistent player on offense last season. Quezada really turned heads this spring with his ability to run and catch out of the backfield. "He showed he's going to be a bona fide running back in this program." The offensive line returns four starters, including All-America candidate Matt Reynolds at tackle. There also are potential young contributors in Houston Reynolds, Matt's younger brother, and highly touted freshman Ryker Matthews.

Q&A: BYU OC Brandon Doman, Part II

January, 11, 2011
Here is the second part of my Q&A with new BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. You can read Part I here.

What are the challenges not only as a new coordinator, but playing an independent schedule against teams unfamiliar to BYU?

BD: I am so excited for our football program to go independent and the prospects of the future are exciting for me. It’s quite a daunting task when you don’t know your opponents as well as you did for the last few years. It poses a unique challenge and every year, we have to be smart about who we’re scheduling to have a strong strength of schedule, but also able to put together a schedule that allows us to be very successful and have a great football season. With that said, we’re going to have to be better than we’ve ever been with the schedule we have.

Our coaching is going to have to be at its peak. We’re going to have to play physical. Our offensive line is going to have to be the best it’s ever been. We’re going to have to have depth at that position -- be able to run block, be able to pass protect. The D-ends an defensive linemen are more athletic and faster week to week than what we’ve faced. If we’re able to do that on the offensive line, our quarterbacks are already very talented and will be very good. We’ll be able to run the ball effectively and efficiently enough that we’ll be a very difficult offense to defend for anybody. But if you have a tough time keeping your offensive line healthy and a tough time in the trenches, then BYU will struggle. Right now we’ve done a fantastic job over the last five years. We’re poised and ready up front to be able to take on this schedule that we have and be very successful with it.

With that said, it must be a relief that Matt Reynolds is coming back for his senior season.

BD: We have a left tackle that’s as good as any offensive lineman in the country. He’ll be a senior and a leader. That will create all sorts of opportunities for us in our first season as an independent. We’re not going to have to figure out who’s going to be our left tackle. We also have four returning starters on the offensive line along with Matt. It’s the perfect year. We have experienced quarterbacks coming back, an experienced offensive line, a running back corps that’s experienced with one of most physically talented receiver corps in years. It’s on us to coach these guys well because we have plenty of talent.

How much can we expect with highly touted receiver Ross Apo returning for 2011?

BD: He was out there practicing for our last three games and getting back into things. We haven’t had receivers that run around and look like him very often in our program. To have a guy run around like him is very fun and quite exciting for the future. He’s raw and he has a lot to learn in regard to running routes and creating separation, but I’m confident our coaching staff will put him in positions to succeed. He has the potential to be good as any receiver in college football by the time he’s done. That’s how talented he is physically. But potential doesn’t mean anything until you get it done. We also have Cody Hoffman. Their bodies look the same. To have 6 foot 3, long lanky strong receivers at Brigham Young University – we’re used to having shorter and not quite as fast wide receivers. But this is the first time we’ve had that here, and we’d be crazy not to be excited.

Q&A: BYU OC Brandon Doman, Part I

January, 10, 2011
BYU promoted quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman to offensive coordinator last week, in a move the Cougars hope will get the offense back into high gear. I had a chance to catch up with Doman for a quick phone interview, and he had plenty to say, from his offensive philosophy, to the looming quarterback competition, to what went wrong in 2010.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Doman
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinNew coordinator Brandon Doman and QB Jake Heaps will will play important roles for BYU next season.
Doman will continue to coach the quarterbacks along with calling the plays. Here is Part I of my interview with him:

What is your offensive philosophy?

BD: It will be unique because I am the quarterbacks coach and we always preach that the quarterbacks are the last line of defense for our offense. Hopefully if the offensive coordinator calls a play that doesn’t fit, then our quarterback is prepared well enough to get us into the right play, I’m a BYU guy and I’ve grown up being a BYU guy. I played quarterback here. I love what we’ve been able to do for a long time, throwing the football. I want to see us be a prolific throwing and passing offense. I want us to be a Top 10, Top 5 passing offense, but I also want us to be very balanced. I want us to be pro-style in that we’re able to run the football effectively and physically. But I want us to maintain the traditions of the past and be able to throw the football very well.

What went wrong for the offense this season? Was it the quarterback rotation at the beginning of the season that threw everything off kilter?

BD: Yes, that’s exactly what happened.

So what is going to happen in the spring with Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson?

BD: Riley will be healthy. The way that Jake played and finished the season was exceptional for a true freshman, and I think our team has rallied around him. He’s done a good job leading for the limited opportunity he’s had, but I think our head football coach will be the ultimate say on that. I know he would like it to be a very open competition with Jake Heaps being in the front. He will be the front-runner coming out of this season, but the other guy’s trying to get the job he currently has. To say that Jake and Riley are in equal position, it’s difficult to say that because Jake will be taking the first snaps. The other thing is at the end of every season, we have player evaluations. We do meetings and have a good feedback system here, and I haven’t had a chance to do that with each of the quarterbacks. I’m interested to see how they each are feeling about their position and how they’re doing. I’m anxious to see how enthused they are about the competition part of it. I’m anxious to see what these guys are thinking and what they want to do to proceed.

So given the struggles of last season, are you planning on picking a starter and having one quarterback in 2011?

BD: Yes.

How much does the experience of this season help Jake going into the spring?

BD: He played much wiser in that bowl game and wisdom is the application of knowledge. You don’t play at a high level until you’ve gained that knowledge. How your receivers run a 10-yard out, how one guy runs his curl, and the timing of the route that’s consistent down in and down out so a quarterback starts gaining confidence and learning how to apply it. The defenses change all the time, the game environment changes, stadiums are different, the weather is different. He went through all that as a young quarterback learning how to apply what he learned. For being as talented as he is, it happened pretty fast. I would say he played as wise as you possibly could for his age. Now I’m anxious to see him progress.

What does he need to work on to improve?

BD: Strength and conditioning. Sometimes I look at him, and I’m wondering if he’s going to have facial hair. He’s a young pup. He needs a strong foundation in the weight room to become an explosive athlete. He can throw it as good as anybody. Now he has to endure being a college quarterback, and that means working on his strength.

Lunchtime Links

January, 6, 2011
College football is back! Whew! Who you got in the Bowl between Middle Tennessee and Miami (Ohio) tonight? Keep in mind the Sun Belt is 2-0 vs. the MAC in bowl play.

Now on to some links:

Brady Hoke fits the maize and blue print.

Michigan has not contacted San Diego State for permission to speak with Hoke.

TCU has a big party planned to celebrate its football team.

Boise State adds two more to its recruiting class.

Middle Tennessee hopes to cap its late-season surge with a win.

New Miami (Ohio) coach Don Treadwell met with his team for the first time Wednesday.

Vai Taua has matured into a Nevada back.

New Kent State coach Darrell Hazell has hired Purdue assistant Brian Rock as offensive coordinator.

North Texas quarterback Riley Dodge plans to transfer to an FCS school.

Brandon Doman will bring plenty of changes to BYU's offense.

Lunchtime Links

January, 5, 2011
No football on tonight? What ever shall we do?

If San Diego State coach Brady Hoke goes to Michigan, here is an early list of potential candidates to replace him.

Nevada arrives for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl ready to play a football game.

Utah's season was marred by a poor finish.

Middle Tennessee defensive end Jamari Lattimore wants to make a big impact in the Bowl on Thursday.

Brandon Doman says it's a dream come true to be BYU's offensive coordinator.

Miami (Ohio) players talked briefly about former coach Mike Haywood's arrest last week.

Tulsa offensive coordinator Chad Morris toured the Clemson campus but it's unknown where he stands in the hunt for the same job at that school.

Western Michigan receivers coach Mike Grant is headed to North Texas.

FIU plans to give coach Mario Cristobal a contract extension.