Clint Cochran picked his words carefully.
He didn't want it to sound as if he were suggesting his absence from the lineup is the reason the University of Toledo's football team has lost three straight games and dipped to 2-5 on the season.
He didn't want to cast aspersions on either of the two Rockets who have started in his place at quarterback.
And he certainly didn't want to irritate the coaching staff.
"I come out every week with the attitude and mind set that I need to be the starter and the leader of this offense," Cochran said earlier this week.
"It's the coaches' decision. It's a judgment call. It's a matter of who gives the team the best chance to win, me with 70 percent mobility or Aaron [Opelt] at 100 percent. I have to trust the coaches' decision.
"But there's no question in my mind that if I hadn't been injured I would be the starter."
Cochran was the starter in UT's first three games, but was injured at some point during a 37-31, double-overtime victory over Kansas at the Glass Bowl on Sept. 15.
The injury and its severity turned into a guessing game for outsiders since Toledo coach Tom Amstutz hits the mute button regarding injury reports and instructs his players to do the same.
But when Cochran finally returned to action last Saturday in a back-up role at Kent State there wasn't any hiding the brace on his right knee.
"It certainly turned out to be worse than I thought when it happened," Cochran said. "I was able to keep playing that night. I did hear a pop and had a tingling sensation in my knee. But I thought I'd just twisted it. It was a significant deal, though. I tore something. Coach wouldn't want me to say any more than that."
Cochran completed 39 of 49 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening, triple-overtime loss at Iowa State. It may have been the only game in which he was completely healthy, give or take some late leg cramps. He reportedly played hurt - it was not knee related - in a loss at Western Michigan. The injury against Kansas presumably came on the second series of the second half. Cochran was thrown down just after releasing a pass and briefly left the game.
He returned for UT's ensuing possessions, but was on and off an exercise bike on the sideline the rest of the night, leading to speculation that it was a muscle injury.
Instead, there was either ligament or cartilage damage to his knee.
Cochran would not discuss whether surgery was in his future, saying only that "I can't do any more harm to it than I have. The question is if I can get comfortable in the pocket to make game-time plays. It's surprising how it has affected me and how much it limits me in games. I take Advil and wear the brace and it still bothers me."
He was in for two series at Kent, completing just one of four passes and throwing an interception.
Overall, Cochran is 73 of 130 (.562) for 718 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. Opelt, a true freshman who is expected to start his third straight game Saturday at Eastern Michigan, has an identical completion percentage with five TD passes and four picks. Opelt has 149 net rushing yards for the season to Cochran's minus-80, so the mobility issue is not open for debate.
Amstutz said decisions are made on a weekly basis regarding UT's quarterback situation.
"We evaluate everybody's play and decide who's most capable of running the team that weekend," he said. "It's not an ideal situation, but it's the situation we're facing."
Amstutz commends Cochran for his efforts to return to the lineup, but makes it pretty clear that Opelt is the starter for now.
"I like Aaron," he said. "I think he's an outstanding young freshman quarterback. But he's exactly that - outstanding and young and a freshman. We just have to rally around him as a team."
Cochran said he is "nothing but amazed at what Aaron has done as a true freshman. He's going with the flow, using his God-given abilities to make plays. He's done well.
"But I've prepared three years to run this offense. Aaron hasn't had that and is going to only get better. But, I think leadership is so important. I'm sick of talking about it and want to be playing.
"The Kansas game was a big high and we were where we wanted to be and ready to roll. I can't tell you how frustrating and disappointing it has all been since then. I'll do whatever I need to do to help turn things around. If it means backing up, then that's what I'm here to do.
"But, man, I feel like I need to be out there so bad."
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