INJURY UPDATE – Last week at SMU, sophomore cornerback David Stephenson made his first start of the season.
Turns out it’ll be his only start.
Stephenson injured his knee against the Mustangs and interim head coach T.J. Weist revealed in his weekly media lunch that the injury is severe enough that surgery will take place on Friday and Stevenson will miss the rest of the season.
Also, linebacker Marquise Vann suffered a twisted knee on the opening kickoff and because of that, forced the team to take a timeout before the first play when Vann could not get back on the field.
“That’s why we had to call timeout,” Weist said. “He was our starting linebacker and he didn’t get injured enough for us to see it on the field. When he came off the field, no one really knew he was injured because he hurt his knee, fell down, got back up and got into the play and then walked off.”
Problem was, Vann went straight to the trainer’s table as the defense was being signaled to take the field. Vann started to leave to return to the field but the trainers wouldn’t let him go, leaving the Huskies with just 10 defensive players.
“No one said that he was out because it happened so fast,” Weist said. “So we had to call timeout because we didn’t have a linebacker in the game. Right now, he’s questionable. We’ll see if he practices today. We’re still evaluating.”
There was hope – for a moment – that safety Ty-Meer Brown (stinger) might play after his name appeared on the depth chart in the starting lineup but that was quickly squashed by Weist.
“That’s a mistake by us,” he said. “He should not be on the depth chart. He hasn’t practiced and he probably won’t. He’s questionable for this game. He’s at a point where he’s got a neck injury and we’re still waiting for that neck injury to either go away or get better and improve and it hasn’t yet. He hasn’t practiced yet for us this week.”
In addition, G Gus Cruz continues to be treated for a cardiac issue-shortness of breath and evaluated on a week to week basis. He will not play against Temple. Sophomore Dalton Gifford gets the starting nod on Cruz’s place.
DECENT DEBUT – The numbers were solid and when asked, the head coach felt the performance was “average.” But overall, Casey Cochran’s debut gave even the die-hard Husky fans a moment of optimism toward even better success over these final three weeks.
Cochran completed 25 of 42 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, there were two late interceptions (one that was returned for a touchdown when the game was all but over) but the foundation was seemingly set for more positive things to come.
“He knows that he has to make more plays,” Weist said. “He knows he has to throw the ball better. He tried to fit some in there early in the first half and guys were double-covered and obviously he made some late, disastrous throws that hurt us with the two interceptions. But overall, from a leadership standpoint, from a communication standpoint, from running the offense, he did a good job and moved the ball down the field.”
One thing about Cochran that impressed Weist was the redshirt freshmen’s ability to run the offense with authority.
“When you look at leadership,” Weist said. “You look at the command that a quarterback has on the field and off the field and coming off the field and talking during a game and understanding what he’s seeing and communicating that to the rest of the players.
“There’s a lot of communication that happens on the phone and he does a good job of changing protections based on blitzes, talking about hot reads, communicating with receivers, getting off the field in-between series and talking through situations and those things. That’s part of a quarterback’s job from a leadership standpoint, to give confidence to the players that he knows what’s going on. He does a real good job with that.”
Cochran’s also tough, something Weist really likes.
“I think a quarterback either has or doesn’t have, a toughness factor,” he said. ”A toughness … a grittiness. It’s about work ethic and having an awareness of football and understanding situations. And being a coaches’ son, he kind of grew up with it, but it definitely can be developed. But it has to start with … there has to be a grittiness to you, there’s got to be a competitive side to you.
“Everybody’s got a different level of competitiveness and that’s got to be a component of a quarterback with good leadership that, when the times get tough, players trust him because he puts his foot in the ground and says, ‘We’re going to do this’ and he’s competitive and he doesn’t give up in situations and really rises to the occasion when you need him.”
FIGHTING TO THE FINISH – For the 13 scholarship seniors — Tyler Bullock, Jimmy Bennett, Steve Greene, Taylor Mack, Ryan Donahue, Jesse Joseph, Shamar Stephen, Tim Willman, Chad Christen, Cole Wagner, Martin Hyppolite, Kevin Friend and Spencer Parker – the season is rapidly drawing to a close. When asked if he thought that the seniors might be looking ahead to life after football, Weist said exactly the opposite.
“Heck no, not at all. Those are the guys that are most engaged,” the coach said. “They have the most at stake. It’s their senior season. It’s their last three weeks. That’s all they’ve got left in their careers. It’s those guys that have to have the most leadership.”
After these players enjoyed the ultimate high of playing in a BCS Bowl game, the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma in 2010 as freshmen or redshirt freshmen, there have been struggles with two 5-7 seasons before his year’s 0-9 start. With games left against Temple, Rutgers and Memphis, there are still three chances to erase that zero from the win column.
“Those are the guys that are most invested,” Weist said. “Those are the guys that everyone’s playing for. We’re playing for our seniors and we’re playing for our pride as football players. We’re playing for UConn. These seniors have worked hard their whole careers, four or five years and they deserve it. I’ll make sure that every player is playing for the seniors. I’m not worried about that at all. Those guys are going to be the hardest ones working today in practice.”