Thursday night’s season opener against UT Martin was supposed to be the UTC football program’s coming out party. It turned out to be anything but that.
“Everyone’s kind of shocked,” senior cornerback Kadeem Wise said after the Mocs’ season-opening loss to the Skyhawks. “We didn’t expect to start the season this way."
Chattanooga finally had the chance to prove to itself and everyone else that it deserved all those preseason pats on the back. Based on all the praise heaped upon the Mocs this offseason, 2013 was supposed to be the year.
It still might be, but if Thursday’s 31-21 setback to the Skyhawks was any indication, UTC had better get back to work, quickly.
“It was an ugly, ugly day,” Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman said.
It wasn’t just the fact that the Mocs lost, but rather how they lost.
The Skyhawks, who had two running backs eclipse the 100-yard mark in D.J. McNeil and Trent Garland, piled up 289 yards on the ground, while the team’s two inexperienced quarterbacks, Jarod Neal and Dylan Favre, carved up a depleted Mocs secondary throughout, finishing a combined 19-for-27 through the air for 162 yards and a touchdown.
“[This is] probably one of the worst days since I’ve been here, to be physically manhandled by those guys and also to get out-coached — and that’s me,” added Huesman. “[Garland] looked like Walter Payton out there. It was ridiculous — the missed tackles, them pushing the piles, the missed assignments.”
Chattanooga’s offense wasn’t much better.
Sure, the Mocs racked up a respectable 368 yards of total offense — most of which came in the second half — but it turned out to be too little too late.
“I think offensively we did make some adjustments at halftime and made some plays, but you can’t wait until the second half to decide what we’re going to do,” Huesman said. “It still wasn’t what we’re looking for offensively.”
Added junior quarterback Jacob Huesman, “It definitely gave us some things to work on next week. Offensively, early on, we couldn’t get anything going ... We need to go straight into attack mode instead of waiting for things to happen.”
UTC’s offense, under the direction of first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Durden, looked eerily similar to last season’s. Quarterback Jacob Huesman finished as the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 22 time for 90 yards, while running backs Keon Williams, Marquis Green and Taharin Tyson combined for just 54 yards on 15 attempts.
The Mocs (0-1), who faced a 7-0 deficit at the break, found themselves in a 14-point hole following Favre’s 13-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Jacob Huesman connected with junior receiver Tommy Hudson for a 41-yard completion — Chattanooga’s longest gain of the evening — and on the very next play, Huesman found junior tight end Faysal Shafaat in the end zone from 18 yards out.
The Mocs’ defense never managed to deliver that crucial stop, though.
The Skyhawks extended their lead to 21-7 on Favre’s 13-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Chris Thompson, and while UTC answered with a six-play, 59-yard scoring drive — capped by Huesman’s 29-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Marquis Green — a special teams breakdown cost the Mocs dearly.
After narrowing the deficit to one score — 21-14 — UT Martin’s Corey Jordan returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards, setting the Skyhawks up with excellent field position.
“We definitely had the momentum swing in our favor,” Jacob Huesman said. “The crowd was getting into it, but you know, those kind of things happen, and we can’t just deflate completely.”
The Mocs’ defense managed to keep its opponents out of the end zone, but a 29-yard field goal from kicker Jackson Reddit once again extended the Skyhawks’ lead to two scores.
Garland, who finished with 116 yards on eight carries, added his team’s final score of the night, finding the end zone from 33 yards out to all but end UTC’s chances. And while Jacob Huesman hooked up with Shafaat on a 13-yard scoring strike with 1:32 left to play, it did little more than pad the standout tight end’s stats.
“We just have to put this game aside, and come back ready to work and get better,” said Green, who finished with five receptions for a team-leading 72 yards. “This game is over, I mean it doesn’t make or break our season. We still have 11 games ahead of us. We just have to come back and work harder, work on our flaws. Whatever we’re messing up on, just get better from there.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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