Column: A decision to make: Hartline or Cobb?

The UK offense awaits instructions from freshman quarterback Randall Cobb during its 38-3 win over Norfolk State on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Cobb contributed on three UK first-half scores. Photo by Allie Garza | Staff

The UK offense awaits instructions from freshman quarterback Randall Cobb during its 38-3 win over Norfolk State on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Cobb contributed on three UK first-half scores. Photo by Allie Garza | Staff

In light of the upcoming 2008 presidential debates, what better time is there to have a debate about the UK quarterback position than now?

In one corner we have the flashy true freshman Randall Cobb. In the other, the steady sophomore Mike Hartline. Both are inexperienced. But both could very well hold the fate of the 2008 UK football season in their hands.

Let’s start the debate.

First up is Cobb. From the second Cobb spurned Tennessee and landed on UK’s campus, he’s been one of the most talked about players on the team. Brooks has praised the kid’s talents and effort. Offensive coordinator Joker Phillips has commonly referred to Cobb as having that “it” factor, whatever “it” really is.
But nobody was sure what effect Cobb would really have on the UK offense. Brooks said they would have to find a way to get the kid touches whether it be at the quarterback or wide receiver position, but nobody really expected Cobb to stake a legitimate argument for the starting quarterback position as a true freshman.

Until Saturday.

Cobb replaced Hartline near the end of the first quarter Saturday and immediately injected life into a stagnant UK offense. His first play he bolted up the middle for 16 yards. Two snaps later, he scampered 18 yards for his first career college touchdown.

Then he fired a laser beam to Kyrus Lanxter for 27 yards, capped that with a touchdown run, and then floated a beautiful 14-yard fade to Dicky Lyons Jr. in the end zone. Just like that it was 21-0.

“When we made that substitution, it gave us a real spark,” Brooks said.

More like it added fuel to an offensive that was in desperate need of a little firepower. In just three drives, Cobb did what Hartline could not do: put points on the scoreboard.

Cobb led UK to 21 points in just over a quarter’s worth of work. Hartline, on the other hand, had mustered just seven points in over a game, with the one touchdown coming at the benefit of a Louisville turnover last week.

But Cobb turned the ball over twice. One was a fumble where Cobb sat in the pocket too long, and the other was a bad interception where he tried to force the ball into space that just wasn’t there. They were typical freshman mistakes.

They were mistakes Hartline, UK’s second candidate, hasn’t made yet. He’s been steady, reliable and almost boring to a point. That isn’t a bad thing.
Sometimes you need a quarterback who can manage the game, not make mistakes and let everybody else do what they need to do to win the game. With the way the defense has played through the first two games, that doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea.

Plus, Hartline has shown the qualities of somebody you want leading your team. Amid the pressure of replacing All-Southeastern Conference quarterback Andre Woodson and the saga of Curtis Pulley, Hartline has said and done all the right things. His teammates and coaches rave about his leadership on and off the field and have been behind him from the moment Woodson was drafted by the New York Giants.

But is leadership alone enough to keep the starting job? After all, Hartline doesn’t possess the speed, potential or big-play ability that Cobb does, plus it was pretty obvious Sunday who was running the offense more efficiently.

Maybe five quarters wasn’t enough to warrant the change at the quarterback position, but Brooks said they had planned to play both guys all along. That’s why Hartline, despite clearly being outplayed by Cobb, started the second half.

That brought about a classless chorus of boos from Commonwealth Stadium, which was completely uncalled for given the limited action we’ve seen from both quarterbacks.

“There’s no place for that in this stadium,” Brooks said. “Those two young men are both inexperienced quarterbacks. They’re both going to probably play as we move forward. We need them both, and we’ll put the players on the field when we need to win the game, but we don’t need to be booing our own damn players in Commonwealth Stadium. That just makes me sick to my stomach.”

The spattering of jeers made it pretty obvious who the nearly 70,000 fans want throwing the pigskin. But that isn’t going to affect who Brooks decides to go with under center. For now, Brooks said he won’t name a starter for the Middle Tennessee game until later this week and that both will see the field for the foreseeable future.

“If we’re not moving the ball, we’re going to shake it up,” Brooks said. “If I had my druthers I’d rather not do that, but that’s where we are right now and that’s what we’re going to do.

“I know we’re going to probably have a lot of people that want to help us make this decision, but we’re going to do what’s best for the young men we’re working with.”

Those people might not be able to help make Brooks’ decision, but there’s certainly nothing stopping them from voicing their opinions.

Let the debate begin.
Eric Lindsey is a journalism senior. E-mail