STORRS — I've got zero problem with starting Casey Cochran at quarterback Saturday at SMU. Zero.
Why? For starters, UConn is zero and eight. When you are 0-8, no idea is stupid. When you are 0-8, no idea should automatically be ruled out. That's the only good thing about being 0-8. It gives you an opportunity to experiment in the public laboratory. It gives you an opportunity to give players a good look under game pressure. What's the worst thing that can happen? You'll be 0-9.
Besides, and I say this with all respect to young Tim Boyle. Who died and made him Peyton Manning? Boyle is a mature kid, a three-star recruit with a good upside. He's not a five-star Wunderkind who must be pampered to umpteenth degree. He doesn't — repeat, doesn't — have to play every single down the rest of his freshman season to justify burning his redshirt.
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So when coach T.J. Weist confirmed Tuesday that Cochran would be starting in Dallas — saying "Casey gives us the best chance to win," my response was, "I don't know about that, but Casey deserves a chance to prove it."
Look, the hard decision came a little more than a month ago when Weist and, really, Paul Pasqualoni in the hours before he was fired, decided to burn Boyle's redshirt. That's a separate argument and we'll get to that in a moment. Yet when Boyle went 58-for-132 with no touchdowns and eight interceptions in four starts, how can anybody other than maybe Boyle's family think Weist is out of his mind for trying somebody else?
Besides, the only decision that absolutely matters at this point is the one athletic director Warde Manuel makes before the end of the calendar year. Next coach: Focus on that saga, you loyal UConn football fans who are still left at this point. Don't tie yourself in knots over what 19-year-old quarterback will start the ninth game of a 0-8 season. Who knows? Maybe the new coach will have a JUCO quarterback hotshot or a high-school phenom lined up. We don't know what's ahead.
So let Boyle and Cochran, a redshirt freshman, fight it out for a while.
They're not precious champagne glasses. They won't break.
"It's not about young or old," said Weist, who insisted Chandler Whitmer is still in the mix. "It's about who right now gives us the best chance to win a football game. I don't care how old he is. I don't care how much experience."
Let's be honest, if you had to bet your last nickel to win at Temple or beat Memphis to avoid an 0-12 season, you'd start Whitmer. There is a strong element of examining what the program has in its future at work here. I applaud it. Let's not fib about it. And when you have one of the worst offensive lines in the country and your defense is allowing 48 points on the road, there's also not much wiggle room for Cochran to pull out a victory. Let's be honest about that, too.
Is Cochran being thrown to the wolves? Sure, But no more than Boyle was in games against Cincinnati, UCF and Louisville. There's an argument to be made that if Deshon Foxx and Spencer Parker hadn't dropped Boyle touchdown passes in the USF game, Boyle would have had more mojo going right now. The hard truth also is Boyle regressed in recent games. Sitting out a week or two can allow him to regather himself. Take a deep breath. Watch and learn.
Me? I want to be sure that the biggest reason Boyle got the nod over Cochran initially isn't because he's three inches taller. There is so much emphasis put on height, velocity and all the measurables these days that sometimes moxie goes out the window. I want to see Cochran under fire, not late in games against the second team. Let's see what he's got.
"Casey is a very smart quarterback, very football smart," Weist said. "He's one of the hardest-working players on our team, watching film more than any other player we have. He has good savvy as a quarterback.
"You have to have smart, fast decision-making. Before you ever get the ball, you've got to decide what's the coverage, what's the pre-snap read in those three-four seconds. Whether it's changing the play or adjusting the protection to a blitz. It's not going to be any different for Casey than Tim. They're still going to bring the same pressure."
Weist said he went with Boyle over Cochran when he took over as interim coach because "we thought he had a better skill set." Asked what he meant and if it was such a large difference that it was worth Boyle giving up his redshirt, Weist answered: "At that time, we thought Tim threw the football better with more velocity, more accuracy at times. There were times in the spring and in camp Casey showed he threw the ball better, more accurately. At the time, early in the season, Casey had a little bit of a slump, where he wasn't making fast decisions, wasn't playing up to the level he played before.
"That came into play with the decision on going with Tim. Since then, Casey has kept making better and sounder decisions in practice. When he moved up and played the last two games, he has made really good fast decisions. The last two weeks he has done a better job handling the offense in the game. It's less about his skill set and more about his decision-making."
Overall, mostly in slop time, Cochran is 17 of 28 for 183 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Weist said he understands it's not against the first-team defense in early game situations and the good numbers are only part of the decision.
"We've given Tim time to develop," Weist said. "He needs more time to develop. Tim probably had his best game the first game against USF with probably the least pressure. He was disappointed after the game in his performance. Some of his simple passes, even without pressure, his accuracy wasn't that good, along with some of his decisions. He has handled [the demotion] well. He's mature. He's competitive."
Then he should be mature and competitive enough not to break over one week. The odds are Boyle is still the quarterback in UConn's future. And while Weist said he is thinking about no other scenarios than Cochran starting right now, chances are we will see Boyle again this year. If he sits a week or two, gets back and does well in the last few games, he'll barely remember this blip as a senior.
If he never starts again, that means Cochran is far better than the coaches gave him credit and they will have to answer for that — probably with their jobs.
Whether Weist should have burned Boyle's redshirt is an argument to be had over and over. I said it in early October and I'll say it again. It's a close call. I was 70-30 in favor of doing it, but it was never 100-0 and certainly it's the coaches who decided at the time that Cochran was in the same ballpark as Boyle. And now they must nurture two kids along while jointly toughening them to the task.
"We talk to them all the time," Weist said. "It's constantly in flux. It's changing. Do we have every answer? No. It's a week-to-week scenario.
"We've got to [get a quarterback] to lead this team to a victory. We've got to find that solution right now. What that is for the future I don't know. It's got to develop. How many times do you see a quarterback that comes out of nowhere that becomes a star? It's always hard to evaluate. You think some quarterbacks are going to be great and they're not. So it's not surprising. It all comes down to the decision he makes under pressure on the field. We don't know that until you put him in game."
What's the worst that can happen with Casey Cochran at quarterback? They're zero for nine.