Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks knows this much: the Mike Hartline/Randall Cobb two-quarterback system is here to stay, at least for the time being.
The trickier part is figuring out who will start each game and how many snaps each quarterback will play.
Brooks said on Thursday that he's close to deciding who will start Saturday night's game against Middle Tennessee State. UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips may have let the cat out of the bag, saying after practice that Hartline would take the first snap against the Blue Raiders.
"Mike Hartline's the starter," Phillips said. "He's still the starter. He'll line up underneath the center when we start off against Middle Tennessee."
Brooks said that both QBs would see early action regardless of who starts.
"We'll play both quarterbacks in the first half, and depending on who's moving the ball the best, that one might play a little more than the other one," Brooks said.
Cobb came off the bench and electrified the Commonwealth Stadium crowd last Saturday night, leading the UK offense on its first three touchdown drives of the season. Cobb finished with 136 yards of total offense in the Wildcats' 38-3 win over Norfolk State.
On the surface, it seemed like the most scintillating debut by a Wildcat true freshman since Tim Couch came off the bench and threw a TD pass against Louisville in 1996.
But Brooks has pointed out in the days after that Cobb's performance was far from flawless. And Cobb, who admitted he's his own harshest critic, had a somewhat surprising assessment of his first game.
"I played horrible," Cobb said. "My teammates made up for a lot of my mistakes. A lot of people didn't see it. But I saw it and I have a lot of things I need to work on. I might have made a couple of plays, but overall it wasn't good enough for us to compete in the SEC."
Brooks has said that Wildcat fans should expect both players to have their ups and downs. And realistically, if either Cobb or Hartline were without flaws, there wouldn't be a need for the two-quarterback system in the first place.
"We need them both, and we're one injury away from only having one," Brooks said. "We need to have them both ready to take snaps."
So what was wrong with Cobb's debut? In addition to throwing an interception and another pass that was nearly picked off, he didn't pick up a protection that led to a sack and lost fumble.
Cobb said he needs to get better at making the right play calls against certain coverages and brush up on technique instead of relying on his athleticism to improvise.
"Those things can really hurt you in the long run," Cobb said. "It's more important to make the right play call than it is to make a big play. That way you don't put stress on yourself and you allow your teammates to help you out."
Brooks said that it's extremely rare for a freshman of Cobb's ability to possess such humility.
"I think Randall has a pretty good grasp of reality," Brooks said. "He knows he didn't do the things he's supposed to do in a game at all times. The one thing I'm confident about him is you don't have to tell him two or three times about what he needs to do better. He's very conscientious about those things. He didn't get caught up in the hype and he knows what he has to do better."
Hartline's numbers are a mixed bag. He hasn't thrown for a touchdown, but he hasn't thrown an interception, either. Brooks said part of that lies at the feet of the coaching staff.
"That first game against Louisville, we were so intent on not screwing up that we might have coached a little too much caution in him," Brooks said of Hartline. "We're going to give him a little more freedom this week."
Brooks would also like to see Hartline's supporting cast step up. In the Louisville game, sophomore receiver Kyrus Lanxter let two potential touchdowns fall off his fingertips. Against Norfolk State, Hartline delivered a perfect strike over the middle to junior receiver E.J. Adams that would have been a big play and possibly a TD, but it bounced off Adams' hands.
"He has not had much luck in the first two games," Brooks said. "He hasn't had much help."
Phillips said regardless of the numbers, Hartline has managed the offense enough for UK to win games.
"I told Mike that he is 2-0 as a starter," Phillips said. "That's what a starting QB is measured on."
The two-quarterback system could give Kentucky an edge from a preparation standpoint. Hartline is a tall (6-foot-6) right-hander who possesses some mobility. Cobb is a shorter (5-foot-11) lefty who can pick up big yardage downfield.
"They both bring different things to the table and put different strains on the defense," Brooks said.
Phillips didn't rule out the possibility of having both quarterbacks in the game at the same time, something the Wildcat offense has done in the past with Jared Lorenzen and Shane Boyd and Curtis Pulley and Andre Woodson.
"You get Randall in the game, and you're not sure if he's going to line up at quarterback," Phillips said. "We haven't done it yet, but you've got to at least be aware of it."
While both players possess different skill sets, Phillips said the packages for the two QBs are similar.
"It's not that different," Phillips said. "We'll sprint out with Mike, we'll sprint out with Randall. With the exception of one protection, Randall can run the whole offense. He can drop back or sprint out."
Chemistry is an important ingredient to making the two-quarterback system work. The team can become divided if the two players involved don't get along, but Hartline and Cobb appear to have a good relationship. When Cobb scored his first touchdown, the first person to run out on the field and congratulate him was Hartline.
"When (Cobb) scored, the first thing I wanted to do was find Mike," Phillips said. "I looked down the sidelines and couldn't find him, so I look up in the end zone and he's in there celebrating with Randall. Those two guys are rooting for each other."