Before I jumped in to study redshirt freshman Casey Cochran's first career start last Saturday, I had to take a step back.
For if you want to pen an accurate game evaluation of any player, there are three broad things you must consider:
Who did he play against?
Who did he play alongside, and how did they perform?
And finally, isolated from his teammates, how did he perform within his individual assignments?
First off, SMU does not front a good defense. The Mustangs boast a solid group of linebackers, decent athleticism front to back ...and that's about it. This unit did not present the pressure terrors of Louisville or Michigan, nor the tight coverage downfield from UCF. Therefore, we ought to take Cochran's performance with a small grain of salt, in addition to the regular caution taken with a tiny sample size.
Next, Cochran was armed with the same weapons in his debut that Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle went into battle with over the first eight UConn contests this season. Thus, at least in this area, it's fair to directly compare his play with that of his predecessors.
At long last, Cochran's duties as a quarterback are, of course, to direct offense and execute in the passing game. The constant praise he receives from interim coach Weist for his leadership and Xs and Os knowledge indicate his ability to command the unit is very good. In fact, the tape shows there were only a smattering of plays that definitively showed he could have done a better job with his pre-snap assessments. The first sack he took in the opening quarter was the most clear instance of these lapses in judgment.
Evaluating how a signal caller did in the passing game is a much more complicated matter. Football is a team game. It's impossible to wholly isolate a quarterback's performance from that of his receivers and blockers, which have to be taken into consideration given they have such an impact on their field general.
For example, any official pass completion requires a good throw and at least a regular catch on the other end. On the other hand, either a receiver drop or a bad quarterback throw can cause an incompletion and will be recorded identically official stat sheet. Yet, if a passer has done everything he possibly can to make a perfect throw and his receiver drops the ball, should he penalized?
Of course not.
So, we must go beyond the stat sheet and examine quarterback traits. Throw accuracy, throw power, decision-making, pocket presence, mobility, poise against pressure, vision and so on and so forth.
From this view, Cochran's pocket presence, poise and mobility were all sufficient and truthfully, slightly better than what we've seen from any UConn man under center in 2013. Even taking into account the lesser pressure he faced compared to recent contests, Cochran did an excellent job of keeping his eyes downfield and maneuvering within the pocket.
Excluding the two desperate interceptions and a couple of his initial throws, his decision-making can also be described as above average. Cochran's first pick obviously was back-breaking; a pass that should not ever have been made. He was under duress, throwing weakly into the wide side of the field and boom—there went the ball back the other way. His final interception appeared to be a miscommunication on which direction the receiver's route should have rounded off.
Now let's delve into his throwing accuracy, the most critical of all traits for a quarterback.
Officially, Cochran completed 25 of 42 passes for 227 yards or a completion percentage of just under 60 percent. Yet, as you know, this doesn't tell the entire story given that recorded incompletions can be the fault of a receiver or his quarterback. As you'll also recall, I mentioned that Husky wideouts dropped three ball on that hot afternoon in north Texas. Counting these drops for what they are from a quarterback's perspective (still an accurate throw), Cochran's completion mark then bumps up to a very respectable 66.6 percent.
Well done, Casey— especially considering UConn played catch-up in the second half and more than 40 percent of all passes took place far downfield.
How do we glean that last bit of highly specific information? By watching the tape and charting every throw, which have been broken down below.
|11-19 yds||CCC||C, I I||CC, I|
|0-10 yds||CCCCCCC, I I, D||C, I, D||CC, I I I I I I I, D|
|At LOS or behind||CCCCC|
C = completion, I = incompletion, D = drop
I I I
I I I
I I I I I I I I I
Left : 13/16 accurate passes
Middle: 4/7 accurate passes
Right: 10/19 accurate passes
|20+ yards||11-19 yds||0-10 yds||At LOS or behind|
I I I
I I I I I I I I I I
D D D
20 + yards : 2/4 accurate passes
10-19 yards: 6/9 accurate passes
0-10 yards: 14/24 accurate passes
At LOS or behind: 5/5 accurate passes
Let's dig in.
Here we can see that the right-handed Cochran enjoyed a much better day passing left than he did right, particularly when you consider half the completions to his throwing side were made comfortably at the line of scrimmage. This tendency is something to keep an eye on, since most passers throw more accurately towards their dominant side.
His chart for passes over the middle raised an eyebrow as well. Most often, young quarterbacks will seek out these kind of throws (as will their coaches), because they're easier to complete and can help passers get into rhythm. Yet on this day, balls between the hashes were difficult to find against SMU. Cochran's smaller 6' 1" stature hurt him here, as it did during his two passes that were batted at the line of scrimmage. Otherwise, credit must be given to the active Mustang linebackers for their play.
Saving the most surprising for last, we have the redshirt freshman's performance deep downfield. Coach Weist has openly stated multiple times that Cochran does not posses a strong arm. We saw it in summer practice and bore witness to this fact on the tape. Despite his lack of arm strength, Cochran threw with great touch on passes longer than 10 yards, one of which produced a touchdown. A couple balls were underthrown and a few completions largely thanks to the ability of his star wide receivers. But, 8 of 13 is nothing to shake your head at.
More importantly, this kind of accuracy is certainly greater than what we saw from Boyle and Whitmer.
I cannot say Cochran's intermediate/deep ball production will continue. Though there's no denying it's an encouraging sign for an offense trying to get itself out of the doldrums.
Still, most of the UConn passing attack took place within 10 yards, which is where we saw the highest number of iffy Cochran decisions and poor throws. Once his nerves calm down, expect this 14 of 24 figure to improve.
Just over one month ago, freshman Tim Boyle took the field for the first time and put together a very good debut performance that was severely hampered by pass drops. There were plenty of reasons to be excited about the future and just one to take caution— he had only played a single game. Four opening kickoffs later, Boyle's now on the bench with a career stat line of zero touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 44 percent completion mark.
We face the same scenario now. So, let's pump the brakes this time.
Cochran's reported strengths of smarts, work ethic and decision making are all evident on the tape. And, so are his weaknesses. Whether or not he's able to overcome them with more reps remains to be seen. Yet so far, he's done two things the previous UConn quarterbacks couldn't: Consistently make good decisions with the football and lead his offense to three touchdowns in competitive game time.
Those may not necessarily make him the quarterback of the future, but after one game, they certainly make him the right field general for today.