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How Jake Heaps' big spring game was different from Dayne Crist's in 2012


For the second year in a row, last Saturday's Kansas University football spring game featured a strong performance from a new quarterback to whom KU fans, coaches and players alike have tied their wagon for the upcoming season.

So, for the second year in a row, I wrote about the quarterback.

Last year it was Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist who looked sharp, decisive and, frankly, different, in leading the more talented Blue squad to a runaway victory over the White. And last Saturday, it was BYU transfer Jake Heaps who did the same.

As we all know, Crist's spring game performance turned out to be one of his few highlights during a disappointing season. I don't think we'll be saying the same thing about Heaps by December.

Here's why.

Throughout the spring, the one question I was asked more than any other was, 'How does Heaps look?' Each time I gave an answer that painted a picture of a talented QB who could make a difference for the KU offense.

That question, however, was surpassed by another during the couple of days since the spring game, with the more cynical but certainly understandable, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, but didn't we say the same thing last year?' becoming the more popular inquiry.

I'll be honest; I did. I even went back and read what I wrote about Crist after the 2012 spring game. Here's a taste:

More important than the final score (45-0) or the statistics (Crist was 11-of-19 passing for 156 yards, no interceptions and no TDs) was the fact that Crist showed everyone in attendance that the Jayhawks were running a different, more efficient offense. No play better illustrated that than sophomore running back Tony Pierson’s 88-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. As Crist walked to the line of scrimmage, he surveyed the defense and identified the middle linebacker, a staple of Weis’ offense. Not seeing the set he wanted, Crist called an audible and Pierson did the rest.

I don't remember much about last year's game — that's why I went back and read my story — but I do remember enough to know that what I saw from Heaps on Saturday was much different than what I saw from Crist 12 months ago.

From what I remember, Crist looked good — big, strong and smart, a far cry from anything KU had put under center for the previous few seasons. Heck, in many ways, Crist even looked better than Todd Reesing.

But Jake Heaps actually played good.

A year ago expectations were so low (at least from the realists) and the program was in such bad shape that even the mere presence of players who looked better on the field made it seem like things were headed in the right direction.

The eye test won't fly this time around. And that's why it's important to emphasize that what Heaps showed last Saturday was far more than the ability to be KU's quarterback. He showed he can play.

Even Heaps admitted that he was far from perfect during the spring game. He finished 20-of-28 for 257 yards and four touchdowns, but also took a couple of sacks, short-armed a throw or two and said there were moments that the tempo could have been better, which he put squarely on his shoulders.

But it's not fair to use Heaps' personal standards to judge his play in this one. We all saw his ability for ourselves and there was plenty to like.

In the past 16 months, I've probably seen Heaps throw 5-10 times, including once in last year's spring game, where he was 7-of-10 for 116 yards and the game's lone TD. Saturday's performance was by far — allow me to add a little emphasis to that, BY FAR — the most impressive I've seen him look.

Here's how:

• He threw with confidence. You can't get the ball out in less than three seconds on half of your plays without (a) knowing what you're doing or (b) believing that what you're doing is right.

• He threw lasers. Half the time Heaps threw he released the ball before his receivers (most often chemistry-compadre Justin McCay) had even come out of their breaks. Just about every time the ball was on a line and looked as if the receiver had no choice but to catch it.

• He showed decent mobility, proved he could throw on the run and was wildly accurate. That last one might be his biggest strength.

• And, most importantly, he carried himself the way any fan, coach or teammate would and should want a quarterback to carry himself — with fire, focus, purpose and fun.

See, Heaps is passionate playing the game of football and will do anything to make sure he can play it for as long as his body allows.

I enjoyed my year of covering Crist and think he's one of the better dudes to come through the KU football program. But I didn't always sense his love of the game the way I get it from Heaps. I think it was there, but it didn't always surface. Call it pressure, call it fear, call it a guarded personality or call it self-doubt. Whatever it was, I think it severely prevented Crist from lining up and letting it all hang out. That won't be a problem with Heaps.

So, if you want the truth, it wasn't so much Heaps' final numbers or the fact that he lit up KU's second string defense for four TDs and a 71 percent completion percentage that impressed me. It was the way he did it.

Heaps is not Todd Reesing. He's not as exciting, not as electrifying and certainly not as much of a rebel gunslinger. But he can play. And for the first time since Reesing graduated, Jayhawk fans may find themselves falling in love with their quarterback again this fall.


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