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Kansas Defensive Coordinator Raves About New QB

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Jake Heaps excelled as a freshman at BYU before falling out of favor. Now he's in position to turn around Kansas' anemic quarterback play. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.
Jake Heaps excelled as a freshman at BYU before falling out of favor. Now he's in position to turn around Kansas' anemic quarterback play. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

Dave Campo is used to having his eyes on the quarterback, and the University of Kansas defensive coordinator likes it when he sees panic and mistakes. Bad body language is a good thing because Campo’s calls were probably the trigger.

Campo sees none of that so far from Jake Heaps, one reason the Jayhawks like their new quarterback so much and why they feel good about the 2013 season.

“You like your quarterback to take the bull by the horns and get out there and get after it,” Campo said on a conference call last month. “As a defensive coach, you look at it and one of the things that sticks out to me is guys who when the chips are down can make plays. Obviously, he has not been in a game here in the Big 12, but I think you’re going to see this guy is a winner and a leader and those are the things we really need back there.”

Kansas had plenty of problems in 2012. A lot of the issues were on offense and because of the quarterbacks, who gave the team nothing memorable. The Jayhawks never completed 60 percent of their passes in a game. There was but one 300-yard game and no others with more than 220 yards passing. Only twice did Kansas have more touchdowns than interceptions. 

Dayne Crist, who Kansas coach Charlie Weis recruited to Notre Dame and who joined Kansas for a postgraduate year, started the season, but didn’t last. He completed 47.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and nine interceptions. Michael Cummings gave it a shot as a redshirt freshman, but was actually less accurate and merely hung around while Kansas transitioned to an offense that ran the ball far more than it passed it.

Heaps ran the scout team against Campo’s defense last season and riddled it throughout spring practice. In the spring game, he was 20-for-28 for 252 yards and four touchdowns.

“He is very, very accurate,” Campo said. “I think the thing that hurt Dayne the most this past year was getting the ball to people when it counted.”

Kansas was also bad on third down last season, ranking No. 114 out of 120 teams by converting 32.3 percent of the time. A lot of that again had to do with the pass. Quarterbacks were 40-for-108 passing on third down with 25 first downs and seven interceptions, according to cfbstats.com. The offense couldn’t stay on the field and couldn’t score.

The result was a 1-11 record with 11 straight losses and an 0-9 mark in Big 12 play. Nobody in a BCS conference has lost more league games in a row than the 21 straight the Jayhawks have lost. The Jayhawks have been trying to change that for a while — since Nov. 6. 2010, a 52-45 win against Colorado that stands as the last Big 12 win.

The Jayhawks started to collect believers a little more than a year later. Weis was talking Campo into coming to Kansas in December 2011 when Campo asked a seemingly simple question.

“I asked what the quarterback situation was,” Campo said on the conference call. “He said, ‘Two years from now, Jake Heaps will be ready to go.’”

Campo knew Heaps was the No. 1-ranked quarterback prospect in the Class of 2010 and that he went to BYU, but greater than that was what Camp knew about a good quarterback’s value to a college team. True, he’d spent the previous 23 years in the NFL, where quarterbacks still matter, but he started his career with 16 seasons in college before that.

“I thought, ‘Well, the program has a chance to be in good hands,’ ” Campo said on the conference call.

Heaps started 10 games in his first season at BYU and set all the freshman quarterback records in 2010 — and that’s no small feat for a program that’s had Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer and Max Hall play as freshmen. But Heaps struggled a year later and eventually lost his starting job to Riley Nelson, whom Heaps replaced after Riley was injured a year earlier.

He’s generated rave reviews at Kansas, but the conversations are about to change unless he’s surrounded by a better cast than the one that was with Crist and Cummings. Kansas had the fewest playmakers in the Big 12 last season and the leading returning receiver is running back Tony Pierson.

It seems help is coming. Weis has designs on using Pierson like West Virginia used Tavon Austin. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay will be eligible in the fall. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound McCay was a five-star recruit in high school and he caught eight passes from Heaps for 99 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

Junior college transfer Rodriguez Coleman arrives in the summer. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Coleman was first-team all-Ohio in 2010 and caught 70 pass for 1,055 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore last season at Garden City Community College, where he was considered one of the top 100 players in the country.

It can only help Heaps, who can only help Kansas. Weis hasn’t named Heaps his starter, but that seems like a formality based on what Campo’s eyes have seen.

“He’s going to be the guy who, I think, gives us a chance to win some ball games,” he said on the conference call.