A lot of people want to talk to Terrance Cain these days. After all, the newly promoted Utah quarterback is the X factor heading into Wednesday's Las Vegas Bowl, where the Utes will face powerhouse Boise State.
What's he thinking after pulling sideline duty for most of the season? Is he up to the challenge? How does it feel to go from bench to hot seat?
Everybody wants to know.
Just don't ask Cain about it. He can run and pass and win games, but he's not much of a talker. Ask him to run the spread offense on the field; just don't ask him to tell you what's on his mind.
"I've got to warn you; he's very quiet," Utah sports information director Liz Abel told me. "He doesn't have much to say."
This isn't the best news I ever heard heading into an interview. Talk is a writer's lifeblood. Cain and Abel — surely a meeting with Biblical implications — met shortly before I showed up for practice so she could urge him to be more verbose.
I could tell you that Cain filled my notebook, regaling me with stories and quotes. But I'd be lying. Not that he's unfriendly — quite the opposite. He was unfailingly polite and frequently flashed a winning smile. He even talked some; he just didn't have much to say, other than a little coachspeak.
"I was never the hype guy," he says.
Terrance Cain is to journalists what Everest is to climbers and what cold fusion is to scientists. Terrell Owens, he's not. In an age of shameless self-promotion, he is even a little refreshing.
But about that interview ... This guy is naturally quiet, but he's also a little media wary. "Just seems like the media is always trying to stir something up," he says.
Such as a quote?
"He's opened up since he's been here," says head coach Kyle Whittingham. "When he first got here he was extremely quiet."
This is an improvement?
Cain is so quiet that even when he was in the starting lineup, few reporters bothered to go to his locker room after games. Imagine no one bothering to talk to the starting quarterback — the winning starting quarterback?
"People stopped talking to him," said one observer. "He won't return calls. He doesn't talk. It doesn't matter if it's ESPN or a local paper. He just doesn't have much to say."
Cain has heard all of this before. He's even been coached to talk. "We've talked to him about it," says Whittingham. "It's important for a quarterback to talk. It's a leadership role by virtue of the position. That's something that needs to be a part of the equation."
"We'd like a quarterback to be more vocal," says quarterback coach Brian Johnson. "I've talked to him about it a couple of times, but guys can see if it's forced."
Cain is easily the most intriguing figure of Wednesday's game. With an injury to starting quarterback Jordan Wynn in the final regular-season game, Cain moved into the lineup for the Las Vegas Bowl. Just like that, a guy who didn't play a down in four of Utah's 12 games and barely played in four others, faces a team that came within one missed field goal of an unbeaten season and possibly playing for the national championship.
"At this stage I'm just excited to play again," says Cain.
Cain came to Utah from Texas's Blinn Community College almost by accident. Ute assistant coach Morgan Scalley was recruiting a pair of wide receivers at Blinn when he began to notice the guy was throwing the ball to them.
"The more I watched the field, the more I was impressed with their quarterback," says Scalley. After showing video to Utah's offensive coordinator at the time, Andy Ludwig, the Utes recruited Cain, who was named national JC offensive player of the year.
"He was very quiet," recalls Scalley. "The first time I talked to him it was tough to get two words out of him. But the Blinn coaches loved him. He was a quiet, confident leader on that team, very calm in the pocket. Andy was not bugged by the fact that he wasn't vocal. He was just a great kid."
Cain, a Division 1 academic qualifier out of high school who chose to go the JC route anyway, was able to complete his AA degree early so he could transfer to Utah in time to participate in spring practice in 2009. He won a close competition with Courbin Louks and Wynn for the starting job.
Cain started the first eight games of the 2009 season and won seven of them. He played in all 12 games and, despite spending much of the season as a backup, he finished among the Mountain West Conference leaders in pass efficiency (third), total offense (8th) and passing yards (8th).
Against Wyoming in the eighth game, he completed 10 of 13 passes with no turnovers in the first half, but the Utes managed just three points. Wynn started the second half and has kept the job since then.
Cain returned to the starting role in the second and third games this season while Wynn was recovering from an injury. He led the Utes to two more wins against inferior teams, bringing his record as a starter to 9-1. He passed for a total of 455 yards, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions against lowly New Mexico and Nevada-Las Vegas. He set a school record for completion percentage (86.95) by completing 20 of 23 passes against New Mexico. Then he returned to the sideline.
Cain's only significant playing time since then came on Oct. 23 in a 59-6 rout of Colorado State. He completed 9 of 11 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. In the five games since then, he didn't play a down in three of them and threw a total of eight passes in the other two. Now he faces a team that would be playing in a BCS bowl game if not for an overtime loss to Nevada.
"It's not like he has no experience," says Whittingham. "He's not coming in cold."
Cain has produced starter-like numbers in two seasons, throwing for 2,234 yards, 17 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. But he also is coming off his worst performance as a Ute. In the regular-season finale against BYU, he relieved a struggling Wynn and completed just 2 of 7 passes for 8 yards and 2 interceptions before being benched again.
"This is definitely a great opportunity for Terrance and a great way to end his career," says Johnson of the Las Vegas Bowl. "I'm ready to watch him play."
Cain will have a lot of sentimental support in the game. He has won the respect of coaches and teammates for the way he handled his demotion to a reserve role behind Wynn. He has played well enough to start at most schools and his stats are certainly comparable to Wynn's, but he kept his disappointment largely to himself.
"He wants to play, but when things didn't work out for him he reacted as well as you could hope," says Whittingham. "It speaks to his maturity and character. In lots of places it could have been a volatile situation."
"Nobody is happy to get pulled," says Cain. "But it's all about team. The coaches make the calls." Prodded further on the subject, he adds, "It was hard looking at the big picture, but it's not about Terrance Cain."
Cain and Wynn have remained friendly. They arrived together for their first Ute practice in 2009. Cain didn't have a car, so Wynn picked him up at the dorms and gave him a ride. They have been roommates on road trips for two seasons.
"I knew who he was and he knew who I was," says Wynn. "We're in this thing together. We have both experienced difficulties. We've told each other that we have each other's backs. We do everything together — meetings, lifting, throwing, films. We'd better get along."
"We've always supported each other," says Cain. "When he comes to the sideline, I tell him what coverages I'm seeing. If I throw an interception, he's telling me not to worry about it."
Looking ahead to Wednesday's game, Wynn says, "Terrance has it in him. He's a good quarterback, and now he gets one last opportunity."
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