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Huskies hope Cochran can lead them to victory

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published November 13. 2013 4:00AM
Bob Child/AP photo
Ex-New London QB Casey Cochran will make his first career start for UConn on Saturday against SMU in Dallas.

Storrs - Casey Cochran has prepared his whole football life for this opportunity.

He's worked hard in practice, regularly studied a ton of video and mentally prepared to be a starting quarterback on the college level.

Now he's getting his shot at UConn.

Coach T.J. Weist named Cochran, the former New London High School standout, his starting quarterback on Monday. Cochran will make his first career start on Saturday at SMU in an American Athletic Conference game in Dallas, Texas.

Cochran steps into a difficult spot, leading the struggling Huskies (0-8, 0-4).

"It's been a long season so far," Cochran said "It hasn't gone our way for eight games and a lot of guys have been disappointed. But I was very excited to hear the news and excited to see what we can do against SMU."

Cochran, a 6-foot-1, 226-pound redshirt freshman, was third on the depth chart at one point this season. True freshman Tim Boyle replaced redshirt junior Chandler Whitmer after four games and lasted just four games before losing his job. Boyle had eight interceptions, zero touchdowns and completed just 44 percent of his passes.

"He gives us the best chance at this point and time," Weist said of his decision to go with Cochran. "He's done a great job last two games coming in and leading us to scoring drives. He's made good decisions."

".... We just think it is time for him to step up and get his shot."

Cochran has seen spot duty in four games this season, completing 17-of-28 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He threw his only interception against Buffalo on his first play of his first game. He's faced mainly second team defenses in blowout games.

That limited exposure was invaluable, according to Cochran.

"Going in at the end of the game when there was a little less pressure, for me, that really helped a lot," Cochran said. "I know now things might rev up, but it was nice to get some snaps under the lights."

Cochran arrived at UConn with some impressive credentials. A two-time Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year, he set state high school records for passing yards and completions. He led New London to the 2008 Class SS title and Masuk to the 2010 Class L crown.

At New London, he developed his quarterback skills playing for his father, Jack. He fondly remembers his first start against Windham in November of 2008, taking over for an injured Jordan Reed as a freshman on undefeated team.

Talk about pressure.

"Being in New London and stepping in when I did after Jordan Reed got hurt, that really made me grow up pretty quickly and (adjust) to situations where you may be uncomfortable and you may not be ready for," Cochran said. "I was 14 years old when I got my first start against Windham.

"I remember I was scared. I didn't know what to expect and I just went out there and performed and just played each play. ... I think that really did help me out, being thrown into the fire as young as I was."

New London won that game, 34-7.

Cochran hopes to keep the UConn starting job for the last four games. Weist will continue to evaluate the position and made no long term plans beyond Saturday's game.

Weist has been impressed with Cochran's work ethic and football IQ.

"He's a very smart quarterback," Weist said. "He's probably one of the hardest working players on our team in terms of off the field. He comes in and watches film more than any other player that we have.

"... Casey has got to go out and prove himself on the field against the No. 1 defenses and in pressure situations leading this team."

Weist doesn't expect to make any other changes on the offensive end. It's just a matter of executing and limiting mistakes.

"It's not like we're going to re-invent our offense," Weist said. "We just have to get better at it."

g.keefe@theday.com

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