By Tim Fontenault, Senior Staff Writer
Sporting a blue windbreaker, khakis and a visor, Casey Cochran looked like the rest of UConn’s assistant coaches when he ran out of the tunnel at Rentschler Field before Saturday’s 38-21 loss to Boise State.
Cochran, the Huskies’ starting quarterback entering the season, has decided to stop playing football as a result of multiple concussions. He will remain on UConn’s sideline in a coaching role, a natural role for the son of Jack Cochran, one of the greatest coaches in Connecticut high school football history. Cochran’s duties began this week, when he was responsible for scouting Boise State’s secondary.
Watching from the sidelines, donning a headset like any other assistant, Cochran watched as Chandler Whitmer torched the Broncos’ secondary early, finishing 16 completions for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s interesting,” Whitmer said. “He’s very intense, probably like his dad. But it’s great to have him around – another brain that we can pick. And he’s helped us out a lot, and we appreciate it.”
Whitmer played all but two series for the Huskies Saturday afternoon. Even without Cochran, head coach Bob Diaco wants to be able to play two quarterbacks, resulting in Tim Boyle earning his first action of the year.
The Huskies originally planned on sitting Boyle for the season, allowing him to utilize his redshirt and retain a year of eligibility. Without Cochran, a star quarterback at both New London High School and Masuk High School, the Xavier standout showed off some of his own skill.
After an early three-and-out drive, Boyle, who started four games for UConn last season, led an impressive drive in the fourth quarter that nearly resulted in a touchdown. The sophomore found Dhameer Bradley open in the end zone, but Bradley could not maintain possession to the ground, resulting in a turnover on downs.
Despite the miscue, Boyle completed six of nine passes for 33 yards.
“It was good, nice for him to get back in there a little bit,” Whitmer said. “He’s got to be ready to go – it’s only us two. He’s got to get himself ready mentally, he’s done a good job of that, and I think getting his feet wet out there on the field again is good for him in case anything happens or he needs to get in there. He did a good job.”
The problem both quarterbacks endured was a lack of protection, a running theme for the Huskies in recent years.
UConn’s offensive line surrendered eight sacks – Whitmer endured seven – against the Broncos. The Huskies’ line has had difficulty giving quarterbacks and running backs time to make plays this season, but as Diaco points out, there are several young players on the line.
“There’s a learning curve there, and they’ve got a lot of work to do,” Diaco said. “It’s not easy to play in that front. It’s challenging.”
One of those young linemen Diaco mentioned is Andreas Knappe, a redshirt sophomore from Denmark who made his college football debut Saturday.
Knappe spoke highly of the chemistry on the offensive line is in the preseason. After making his debut on the line, however, he acknowledges that the chemistry developed in the preseason needs to become a productive on-field product.
“There’s a lot of components going into that,” Knappe said, “and obviously just knowing each other. The offense is not like playing defense…one guy makes one mistake it’s most likely not a good play, whereas on defense if one guy doesn’t do what he’s necessarily supposed to, it might still be a tackle for loss.”
Three games in, UConn is entering the meat of the season. The Huskies play South Florida to open their American Athletic Conference schedule Friday night, and they do so with a group of players that are collectively better than they were on Aug. 29, Diaco said.
It is also what Diaco is calling the second quarter of the season. The first quarter was called the preparation phase. The second quarter, which features games against USF, Temple and Tulane, has a new name.
“The present,” Diaco said.