Heading into Saturday's game with New Mexico, Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham faces an intriguing dilemma.
Two solid QB's, one choice.
The dependable tried-and-true Junior or the precocious, strong armed Freshman.
The man who can run or the boy who can throw the long ball.
The argument for Terrance Cain is simple. With Cain under center, the Utes are 7-1, ranked 14th in the BCS and in a dead heat with TCU for the MWC championship. Not bad for a "rebuilding" year.
So why change anything?
Especially when the defense appears to be hitting stride and playing at peak performance while RB Eddie Wide III has become synonymous with 100-plus rushing yards per game. (Eddie's had five straight games with over 100 yards.)
At this point, doesn't Utah just need an efficient game manager who can distribute the ball and let others make the plays?
Yes. So why not Cain? Why not stick with a proven commodity?
After all, he has been remarkably efficient. Boasting a 140 passer rating (Brian Johnson was 149 in 2008) with 11 TDs over five picks. He has been productive, averaging over 200-plus yards per game, and he has been accurate with a 64 percent completion rate.
And he has also brought another dimension to Utah's spread offense—the run game. A dimension that really distinguished Terrance from Freshman Jordan Wynn to begin with, and perhaps the reason Cain won the job in the first place.
Cain's ability to make big plays with his legs has kept defenses honest and has helped open up short passing routes, which he has been hitting crisply. Cain burnt the Oregon Ducks with an impressive 19-yard TD run and posted a 10-plus yard run in each of his first six starts.
Therein lies the problem.
In the first six games, Cain averaged over 50 yards rushing and over four yards per carry. His last two games? 14 carries, -18 yards, and most significantly, three fumbles.
Sure, Eddie Wide may have picked up one of Terrance's fumbles and turned it into a crucial 44-yard Touchdown. But I doubt Kyle Whittingham was impressed, at least not with Cain. In fact, it probably concerned him more that one of only two big plays by the Ute offense that day happened in spite of Cain.
And Terrance knows it. While he has been fairly efficient throwing the football, his ball security problems have toyed with his confidence.
Taking away his dual threat capability and rendering him hesitant and indecisive at times, killing drives with awkward sacks or short, unproductive runs. All this, may not be his fault. It may very well be the coaches advising him not to run.
Either way, with one of Terrance's strongest assets off the table, he has become a one-dimensional QB as a horizontal passer.
A dream for opposing defenses to game plan against. Defenses have been able to crowd the box, limit the run game, and disrupt the short passing lanes all at the time, slowing the Ute offense to an anemic crawl.
With only three points on the board at Halftime against Wyoming, Kyle Whittingham went to the bullpen.
Enter Jordan Wynn.
Wynn may or may not be the answer for the rest of 2009, but he was the answer Halloween night. While Cain didn't play poorly, he was 10-of-13 for 121 after all, the Utes were not putting up points.
Wynn brought emotion, energy, and enthusiasm in a way that only a true freshman could. Like Britton Johnsen against North Carolina in the Final Four, he brought a certain spark and youthful exuberance to a sleepy offense.
In just his first three throws in Division I football, a few observations became readily apparent about Jordan Wynn.
- Cannon arm
- Poised and spirited temperament
- Beautiful spiral
- Severely limited running ability
With each series, new insights emerged.
- Reads defenses well and adjusts quickly
- Strong vertical game
- Spreads the ball well to various receivers
- Prone to freshman-like mistakes
After all was said and done, Wynn looked sharp and precocious. His touted football IQ was apparent, his arm strength and poise better than advertised, and more significantly, the Utes scored nearly every possession.
Eddie Wide came alive and ran 100-plus yards in the second half alone. Much better than his 30-plus yards he had at the half.
But was Eddie's success attributed to Wynn or did Eddie's first-half struggles make matters more difficult for Cain?
Who knows. There are a number of variables to consider.
But the key point is whether or not Utah really needs to change directions or stick with the status quo. Especially now that Utah is just a Boise State loss and a win over TCU (and BYU) away from a return to the BCS.
Is the promise of raw potential more enticing than a proven commodity like Terrance Cain?
It's hard to say. This probably isn't an easy decision for Coach Whitt, especially after his experience with the Johnson-Ratliff-Grady fiasco in 2005. And especially when the Utes have been winning.
But they've barely been winning...against inferior opponents...at home. Thanks largely to the defense, stalwart running by Eddie Wide and big plays from WR David Reed.
The fact that we're seeing Jordan Wynn for the first time is in itself very telling. It means that Utah hasn't been putting even the least of their opponents away.
Which is why Kyle Whittingam must find it so refreshing to be playing an 0-7 New Mexico. At home.The way the Defense is playing, Utah could probably expect a win from either starter.
So why not kick the tires with Wynn? Let's see what we have. Get a feel for his level of play. Does he consistently make the right reads, will he make costly mistakes, does his stronger arm open up the run game for Eddie Wide III?
Do you really need a running QB when you have four players, including Cain, who have made exceptional gains from the wildcat?
You can get a sense for many of these questions quickly, without anything to lose.
If Wynn plays poorly, you have an excellent backup in Cain who could quickly come in and care-take the Utes to victory.
If Wynn plays well, he has the potential to ignite this offense and take the team to a whole new level of play heading into a conference title game with TCU.
Sure, Wynn will take his lumps; he'll make costly mistakes, more so than Cain would. He may even single-handedly lose the TCU game. Who cares, the way the offense has been digressing, nobody is expecting to beat TCU, anyway.
But somehow I get the feeling that Jordan's football IQ, coupled with his golden arm, could prove a game-changer. Especially in his ability to spread the offense and create more space for the running backs, which given how explosive Eddie Wide III has been, should be the focus of the offense to begin with.
It's a calculated risk. Plenty to gain. Little to lose.
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