Utah backup quarterback Terrance Cain handled the loss of his starting role in 2009 as well as anyone could have hoped. He never pouted or discredited his replacement publicly, and concentrated on his deficiencies in practice.
Now, with Wynn listed as day-to-day with a sprained thumb, Cain just might get a shot at redemption Saturday when the Utes host UNLV in the conference opener.
If his number is called, Cain said, he is ready.
"That is why you practice hard, to keep the team going so it doesn't miss a beat," he said.
Cain had one of his better games against UNLV last year, completing 17 of 24 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns and rushing eight times for 22 yards and a touchdown to lead the Utes to a 35-15 win.
Good, consistent stats such as those are what earned him the starting role in the first place. However, Cain struggled with his reads at times, leading to a slower tempo than the Utes wanted, and frustrating sacks. Cain was benched at halftime of the Wyoming game when the Utes trailed 10-3 and replaced by Wynn, who rallied the Utes to a 22-10 victory.
Wynn started the rest of the season while Cain made some limited appearances. He didn't participate at all in Utah's 37-27 Poinsettia Bowl win over Cal, a game in which Wynn won MVP honors.
A player who has never revealed much to the public, Cain quietly accepted the coaches' decision and continued to work hard in the spring, summer and fall to improve his game. He succeeded and made better decisions and played with more confidence in the spring and fall camps. While he didn't improve to the point of sparking a quarterback controversy, Cain is playing "lights out," in quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson's estimation.
"He has a year now under his belt in our system and he has grown exponentially and really understands what we are trying to do," Johnson said. "He is playing with a ton of confidence. Everything in the game has slowed down for him and he is more confident and that is what you need if you are going to be in a starting position. I'm proud of him."
Cain came to Utah after an extremely successful stint at Blinn College in Texas, earning NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2008 after leading the nation in passing yards (3,138), completions (223) and touchdowns (29).
However, the move to Division I required more of an adjustment for Cain than he expected. Defenses were faster, reads were trickier and schemes were unfamiliar.
"Coming from JC and not being in the system, he had some growing pains just like anyone else would in that position," Johnson said. "But he has grown."
Cain feels like he has changed, too.
"The game has slowed down for me and I feel I've improved a lot," he said. "Knowing what the defense is going to do, where my players are going to be, knowing where the ball should be going has all gotten better."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham isn't letting on what his plans are for the quarterbacks on Saturday, other than saying the Utes have a contingency plan in place if Wynn can't play.
"We have a great deal of confidence in Terrance," he said. "He is a much more confident player."
If Cain doesn't play, he'll continue in his role of helping Wynn from the sidelines by telling him what he sees in the defense, what adjustments might work and so forth.
If he does play, Cain feels he can give Utah fans a glimpse of how far he has come in the past year.
"You always have to stay focused as a player and be ready just in case something happens like this," he said. "I want to keep on playing and keep us going."
Terrance Cain stats
G Comp Att Yds TD INT
12 137 215 1624 11 5
Terrance Cain file
Height • 5-foot-11
Weight • 194 pounds
Class • Senior
The skinny • The Utes' fastest QB with a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash, Cain is more of a scrambler than Jordan Wynn. Last year, he did a good job moving the offense in short-yardage situations but struggled with his accuracy when throwing downfield.