Some loyal University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football fans may have been clamoring for a new offensive line unit following Saturday’s tough loss to third-ranked Appalachian State.
True, the hard-charging Moutaineers defenders beat and banged on UTC quarterback B.J. Coleman all afternoon, and the finger pointing seemed to be directed at the guys up front.
Hold on, folks.
Take a closer look, which is exactly what Mocs coach Russ Huesman did.
What did he see?
A perplexing lack of protection for Coleman should not be placed solely on the shoulders of the line. He also cited an ineffective running game for contributing to the problem. Maybe a more telling culprit was a below par showing from another area of the Mocs’ offense.
“I don’t want to say this to be mean,” Huesman said, “… but it was our receivers. That’s pretty harsh to say, I guess, but I’m not telling you guys (media) something that they don’t know.”
“App felt like they could line up and cover our guys one-on-one all day long, press them, and be effective doing it. And they did,” Huesman said.
Coleman was sacked a season-high four times – for minus-26 yards – to bring to 12 the team’s total through four games. Nebraska and Eastern Kentucky each recorded three sacks against UTC.
The Mocs’ ground game produced an anemic with 32 yards, averaging barely over 1 yard per carry. That won’t loosen up any defense in the Southern Conference.
Coleman, hurried and harassed all day in a 14-12 loss, completed 22 of 42 passes for 302 yards and one touchdown, a 20-yard strike to Sloan Allison with 51 seconds left in the game. Before that, UTC had to settle for two 22-yard field goals by Nick Pollard.
Once the Mountaineers buttoned down the Mocs wideouts, they stacked up inside against the run. Once the run was under control, they teed off on Coleman with blitzes, some of which the Mocs had seen previously on film, some they had not.
What happens the next time a defense uses those same tactics?
“Our wideouts have to play better,” Huesman said. “We have to block better, we have to get off press coverage, we have to catch every ball thrown to us and we have to get open quick for B.J.”
“We have to protect B.J. better,” Huesman said. “Everybody blames our offensive line, but our wideouts didn’t play very good at all on Saturday, probably the worst group out of everybody. They’ve got to get better.”
Wide receiver Jeff Veres, who led all Mocs receivers against ASU with five catches for 57 yards, said the wideouts certainly have to share the blame for Coleman repeatedly being knocked to the ground.
“We believe there were plays we didn’t get open fast enough,” said Veres, a junior from Thompson’s Station, Tenn. “Sometimes it was our offensive line missing an assignment, or either our receivers are not recognizing a blitz pickup soon enough. We need to speed up our routes. It was just a combination of things.”
Veres also said much of the credit goes to Appalachian State’s defensive scheme.
“It was a different look we had not really seen,” he said. “They were in our face.”
Bone-jarring tackles Coleman took Saturday, such as a blindside, can take a toll on any quarterback.
“It might get you on your back foot just a little bit,” Huesman said. “B.J. was pretty bruised up after the game, but in good spirits. He doesn’t blame the offensive line. He doesn’t blame anybody. He throws the ball, he gets back up, he gets in the huddle and leads.”
Ironically, Huesman said the Mocs had seen the blitz in question and planned for it during game prepatations.
“We just didn’t do it,” he said. “There were some mental mistakes and we have to cut them out.”
On another occasion, Coleman was blitz-blasted on one the Mocs hadn’t seen ASU use in previous games, Huesman said.
“We had (freshman running back Marquis Green) in there and he’s actually checking the linebacker,” the coach said, “and they brought the safety. Marquis is just standing there and the guy runs right by him. The linebacker got picked up because they were in an odd front. Marquis has done a phenomenal job for us, but he’s a freshman.
“If he had two or three years experience … J.J. Jackson (junior) would have naturally gone, ‘Bang, and he’s got the linebacker.’ Marquis was probably one of the best players on the field we had offensively. Not probably, he was. I love watching him play. But, again, Marquis is a freshman.”
NOTE: Defensive tackle Nick Davison, a senior from Calhoun, Ga., will have surgery next week to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will miss the remainder of the season. Davison suffered the while sacking Jacksonville State quarterback Coty Blanchard in the second game of the season.
Huesman said injured running backs J.J. Jackson and Chris Awuah are “healthier” and should get playing time when the Mocs (2-2, 0-1) take on The Citadel at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Finley Stadium.
Jackson (ankle) has missed the last three games and Awuah got only three carries for 26 yards, 21 of which came on one run, against Appalachian State.
“Both of them will be dressed and ready to go,” Huesman said. “How effective they are, I don’t know.”
Pressed into carrying more of the load against ASU due to the injuries to Jackson and Awuah, Green ran 15 times and managed 36 yards.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)