ATLANTA — This was how things were supposed to go for Chattanooga this season.
Not only did the Mocs capture their first victory of the season Saturday afternoon inside the Georgia Dome, they did so in commanding fashion. The offense was sharper, and the defense was dominant. Special teams didn’t get a ton of work, but they were pretty good, too.
“I thought it was a fine game, all the way across the board — all three phases,” head coach Russ Huesman said. “If we come in here and squeak one out or don’t have many positives, I think it probably works a little bit on the psyche.”
Perhaps most importantly, though, the team’s 42-14 win over Georgia State allowed Chattanooga to recapture at least some of that preseason confidence — the confidence that was so severely shattered by the team’s season-opening loss to UT Martin.
“It just seemed like everything we were doing was working, and that’s not something we’ve experienced a whole lot of,” said junior quarterback Jacob Huesman. “We didn’t hurt ourselves at all penalty-wise. We put ourselves in third-and-manageable a whole lot more, and that helps a lot. We kept drives rolling and ended up putting quite a few points on the board.
“Today, it kind of felt like we could do no wrong.”
That certainly seemed to be the case.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound signal caller accounted for four touchdowns in the lopsided win, including a pair of first-half strikes to tight end Faysal Shafaat — the first of which came on a fake field goal attempt from 27 yards out.
“I’ve been kind of nervous about that all week,” said Shafaat, the intended target on the trick play. “Coach said if he got the chance he was going to call it, and sure enough, on our first field goal attempt he calls it. The hole just opened up, and I told Jacob right after that he put it right where it had to be, right in the corner.”
Huesman also added a pair of third-quarter rushing scores, increasing the Mocs’ lead to 35-0 with his 26-yard touchdown run — a scramble up the middle; right through the heart of Georgia State’s defense.
But perhaps the most positive aspect of Saturday’s offensive showing — the unit piled up 509 yards and 25 first downs — was the fact that Huesman wasn’t acting alone.
“We crammed it down their throats,” said Shafaat. “Keon (Williams) was a monster; no one could bring him down. And when Keon’s running like an animal like that, it just opens up so much more of our offense.”
Williams, who accounted for 147 of the Mocs’ 401 yards on the ground, ripped off six first-half runs of 10 or more yards, setting a new career record for rushing yards even before heading to the locker room for halftime. The offensive line certainly did its part, but even when the holes weren’t there, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound back made his own.
“There was a lot of running room,” Russ Huesman said. “But give those backs credit, they ran hard baby. Keon delivered some shots out there. He’s a load to tackle and I’m proud of him ... I don’t know how many third downs we faced, but there probably weren’t many third-and-longs.”
True freshman Derrick Craine also got his first opportunity to showcase his skills, running for 53 yards and a touchdown on six attempts, while juniors Terrell Robinson and Marquis Green combined for 95 yards on 13 tries.
“We were methodical on offense,” Russ Huesman added. “It was four, five, six, 12, and I’ll guarantee that defensive coordinator on the other sideline — and I’ve been there — is thinking how can we stop this.”
And while the offense might have stolen the show Saturday, Chattanooga’s defensive effort can’t be overlooked. The Panthers, who put up 391 yards on Samford a week ago, didn’t even eclipse the century mark until the final quarter.
Sure, the return of senior safety D.J. Key, junior defensive end Toyvian Brand and redshirt freshman cornerback Will Johnson were critical factors in the defense’s dominance, the unit’s focus and mental preparation also played a huge role.
“This game, I felt like we were a little bit more focused; a little bit more ready,” senior cornerback Kadeem Wise said. “Last week we weren’t as ready, and it showed.”
Added senior linebacker Wes Dothard, “I think it was a combination of both. It was real important to play well after the performance we put on last week. A lot of people doubted us, and a win like this — dominating — that takes us into next week. It’s a lot of confidence.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.