Chattanooga offensive coordinator Jeff Durden’s description of last week’s loss to UT Martin was simple: “Slow start. Strong finish.”
There might be a little more to it than that, but that just about sums in up the Mocs’ 31-21 season-opening loss to the Skyhawks. But the veteran play-caller, in his first season at UTC, was quick to take responsibility for the team’s sluggish start on offense.
“Martin came out in a different defense, and that’s on me,” said Durden, whose unit finished with 368 yards of total offense — about 16 more than the team’s 2012 average. “They played stack defense and that was their change-up defense last year. We’d prepared for it, but not as an every-down defense.”
Needless to say, that drastic defensive switch by the Skyhawks caused plenty of first-half problems for Chattanooga’s offense. The unit went three-and-out on three of its first five possessions, finishing the first half with just over 100 yards and a crucial interception.
To call Jacob Huesman’s second-quarter pick the game’s turning point might be a bit short-sighted, but it certainly swung the game’s momentum in UT Martin’s favor.
“That play call, I didn’t sleep good this weekend because of it, but it could have easily been for a first down,” Durden said. “It was two of our best players, but [Jacob Huesman] could have put the ball in a little bit better spot, and [tight end Faysal Shafaat] could have caught the ball better. We talk all the time about fundamentals, and that was a fundamental play. That ball was a little high, and now it becomes a volleyball play.”
Instead of converting the third-and-five situation, the ball ricocheted off Shafaat’s hands, while UT Martin safety J’Vontez Blackmon hauled in the loose ball, returning it 24 yards to the UTC 14-yard line. Three plays later, the Skyhawks were in the end zone, celebrating the game’s first points while the Mocs were left with a 7-0 halftime deficit.
“To me, that was the game changer,” Durden said of the costly turnover.
From there, the Mocs, who never led in the contest, were playing catch up, and even their 21 points and 262 second-half yards weren’t enough to pull them even.
“The thing I was most disappointed in is we kept chasing points in the second half,” Durden said. “We just needed one thing to go right. [UT Martin] didn’t help us any; they were spot on ... You can't wait for the game to come to you, you’ve got to take it to them."
• Senior safety D.J. Key and redshirt freshman cornerback Will Johnson both participated in Tuesday’s practice at Scrappy Moore Field, but both were wearing red non-contact jerseys.
• Junior safety Zach McCarter was fully dressed out Tuesday, but didn’t participate in any drills.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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