UConn football starting QB competion going down to the wire
Storrs – Ideally, a clear-cut winner would have emerged in the starting quarterback competition by now with UConn’s football season opener less than two weeks away.
That’s not the case.
Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage did little to help any of the four candidates – transfers Ta`Quan Roberson and Cale Miller, Tyler Phommachanh and true freshman Zion Turner – state their case.
“Unfortunately, I have to say no,” said coach Jim Mora when asked if any of the quarterbacks helped themselves. “I wish I could stand here and say that this guy jumped out at me, or that guy jumped out at me. Unfortunately, I can’t say that.
“That doesn’t mean that I’m disappointed in any of them, because I’m not because they work at it. Am I disappointed in the day that we had at that position? Yes. Am I disappointed in the players? No. Am I still encouraged? I am. But we have to start making some real time progress at that position.”
The coaching staff is running short on time to continue to evaluate the four QBs. UConn opens the regular season on Saturday, Aug. 27, at Utah State.
The Huskies will begin to switch from camp to game preparation-mode this week.
It’s an inexperienced group.
Only Phommachanh, a redshirt freshman from Stratford, and Penn State transfer Roberson, a redshirt sophomore, have seen action on the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
In his three starts last fall before suffering a season-ending knee injury, Phommachanh completed 35 of 72 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 92 yards and two scores on 24 carries.
Roberson appeared in four games in 2021 for Penn State, going 11 for 28 with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for 24 yards on 12 carries.
Turner, a freshman, had an impressive high school career, leading St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida to three state championships while Millen, the son of former NFL quarterback Hugh, started his college career at Oregon before switching to Northern Arizona, a FCS program.
“We’re young in that (quarterback) room and there’s talent in that room,” offensive coordinator Nick Charlton said. “It’s my job to make sure we’re progressing and getting to where we need to be.”
Competition among the quarterbacks has been fierce in camp, as all four look to state their case for playing time.
“We have a great battle here – me, Ta`Quan, Tyler and Cale,” Turner said. “We’re all working really hard to get that No. 1 spot.”
The starting quarterback will likely either be Roberson or Phommachanh . They’ve regularly received snaps with the first team offense during summer camp.
The coaching staff isn’t ready to anoint someone to lead the offense just yet. At least not publicly.
“It’s becoming more clear,” Charlton said. “I’m going to sit down with coach (Mora) and we’re going to go through it. Obviously, we grade everything. It’s not just (Saturday’s scrimmage), it’s the body of work and who is getting reps with who.
“So, we have a good idea of where it’s really going. But we’ve got to evaluate that and really take a hard look at it. But, in terms of where it was a year ago with the (quarterback) room, it’s night and day. These guys have really improved.”
So, what is Mora looking for from a quarterback?
A smart decision maker is the first trait that Mora mentioned.
Accuracy and timing are important, as is poise, mobility and being a strong leader, according to Mora.
Phommachanh showed flashes of all of the above during his three games in charge of the offense last year. He has the ability and mobility to turn what appears to be a nothing play into a big gain.
He admits that he struggled at the beginning of camp before resetting and picking it up. He’s still dealing with some soreness in his knee.
“I’m always going to be confident in my abilities and what I can do,” Phommachanh said. “It’s definitely been hurting me. But you’ve got to push through the soreness, pains and aches.”
One thing that all four quarterbacks have in common is they’re learning a new system under Charlton. That just adds to the challenge.
“It’s a lot of offense,” Charlton said. “We’re a pro spread, so we do a lot of different things. It’s West Coast based, so there’s a lot of different language and things to learn, so we put a lot on the quarterbacks.
“I’ve been pretty impressed with our ability to actually take those installs and put them on the field pretty fast. We’ve got to get everything in before the end of the camp, because otherwise you’re not going to call that during the year.”
The quarterback competition will not end when a starter is named for the season opener, but they’ll be rooting for whoever is handed the keys to the offense.
“We’re all battling and we’re all great friends, which is the most important thing,” said Millen, a redshirt sophomore. “At the end of the day, there is one quarterback out there playing on Saturdays, but we’re all together.
“Whoever is going to be the guy, I’m sure it will be best for the team and best for the unit. And we’ll keep competing regardless of who that guy will be.”