(This story has been updated)
More than a week after being confronted about his deception over whether an offensive starter was injured or suspended, UT-Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman still doesn’t want to explain why he misled the media about the status of the player.
The misleading comments – Huesman said the player in question (receiver Terrell Robinson) was not suspended, but had a hamstring injury – occurred after the Mocs’ embarrassing 31-21 loss to UT-Martin in the season opener at Finley Stadium.
This past Saturday after UTC defeated lowly Georgia State, 42-14, and Huesman came clean by saying actually five players – Robinson, Toyvian Brand, Will Sharpton, Dean Haynes and Kenny Huitt – actually were suspended for the first six quarters of the season.
Huesman has been little more than mum ever since.
At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Huesman was asked by Channel 3 sports anchor Keith Cawley about the injury/suspension incident.
Cawley: “Did you talk with David (athletic director Blackburn) about handling these things in the future and about the way you handled it (after the UT-Martin game)?”
Huesman: “We talked before and after.”
Then Huesman was asked a follow-up question from Chattanoogan.com: Have you handled injuries and suspensions in a similar manner previously while (at UTC)?”
Huesman: “I’m not going to answer any more. We’re going to move forward. Anything else?”
UTC’s Jay Blackman, associated athletic director for communications and marketing: “Anybody got anything else?”
Huesman left the room, saying: “Thanks guys.”
UTC made junior center Patrick Sutton available for the media on Tuesday.
Sutton was asked by Chattanoogan.com if he was either suspended or injured for this Saturday’s non-conference game against Austin Peay at Finley Stadium.
Before Sutton could say anything, Blackman interrupted, saying: “All right, no.”
Huesman’s handling of the injury-or-suspension matter brings into question many similar situations in the past when players missed game action. And when the next starting player or top reserve misses a game and Huesman says it’s due to an injury, will eyes roll?
It is unclear exactly what Huesman meant when he said he and Blackburn talked “before and after” while answering Cawley’s question.
Blackburn, hired on April 20 as the Mocs’ AD, did not respond on Tuesday to a message left on his office phone seeking comments for this story.
Blackburn did call on Thursday and said: “UTC always wants to be as honest and transparent as we can be. There are confidentiality issues that we deal with and we must protect our student-athletes because it’s the right thing to do and the legal way to handle those issues.
“Moving forward our coaches and staff, in any sport, should be honest and transparent in the way they handle issues with injuries and suspensions while still protecting the athletes. There are plenty of ways to do that.”
In questioning of Huesman pertaining to Saturday’s game, the coach provided the normal responses about his 1-1 Mocs and the 0-2 Governors.
“I think (Austin Peay) has got a pretty good football team.”
That comes with the knowledge that Austin Peay opened the season with one-sided losses to FCS teams Tennessee and Vanderbilt by a combined score of 83-3.
Both Huesman and Sutton said it was hard “to gauge” the Governors after having played such dominant foes.
Huesman added, “I don’t wish that on anybody. It’s a tough, brutal schedule for them. But Austin Peay didn’t back down one bit.”
The Governors are providing UTC with is final tune-up before jumping into Southern Conference play with seven consecutive league games, starting with Georgia Southern on Sept. 28 and ending with Samford on Nov. 16.
UTC will end is regular season by playing defending national champion and top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 23.
Sutton was clearly feeling a lot better about the team’s play following the win over Georgia State and believes it will continue at Finley Stadium on Saturday – the game kicks off a 6 p.m.
“We probably felt like we had something to prove (against Georgia State) since we didn’t show anything in the first game as far as being electrifying,” Sutton said. “We probably had a chip on our shoulder.”
After falling flat in the opener and going scoreless for the first 44 minutes against UT-Martin, the Mocs drove 70 yards for a touchdown on their first possession against the Panthers in the Georgia Dome.
UTC led 35-0 after three quarters and breezed home with the one-sided victory, rushing for 401 yards – the Mocs ranked sixth nationally among FCS teams with 271.5 yards rushing per game. The Mocs piled up 509 yards of total offense in Saturday’s rout.
Running back Keon Williams rushed for 147 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. Williams was selected as the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week for his second-game performance.
Sutton said the Mocs’ offensive linemen fed off Williams’ hard-charging effort.
“We saw him making the plays and the energy he was giving and it ran throughout the team,” Sutton said. “He ran over somebody and got up talking a little talk. That gave us something to go off of.”
Sutton was glad to see a running back produce.
“We like to see whoever has the hot hand get the ball,” he said. “We haven’t had the production from the running backs like we did in the last game. That was good to see.”
A year ago, UTC averaged 167.7 rushing yards and ranked 46th in the country. Quarterback Jacob Huesman was the Mocs’ leading rusher in 2012, gaining 82.64 yards per game and that ranked 52nd nationally. UTC did not have a running back in the top 100 rushers.
“(Keon) has been good all camp,” Russ Huesman said. “He made a commitment to be good. The only knock was that I hated his ball security throughout the game and I told him that. But he’s been working hard and work hard at something normally good things happen.”
Huesman pointed out that where the yards come from often depends on what the defense is willing to give or take away.
In the opener, Jacob Huesman, operating the Mocs’ option attack, rushed for 90 yards and threw for 226 and two touchdowns.
Georgia State had an eye on Huesman, holding him to 168 yards of total offense – 84 rushing, 84 passing.
With most of the Panthers’ defensive attention elsewhere, Williams found running room to his liking.
Austin Peay, which has lost 18 consecutive road games and posted only 18 winning seasons in 76 years playing football, has averaged giving up 242 rushing yards per game. The Govs yield 202.5 yards through the air in each game.
The Governors gave up 447 yards to Tennessee, 315 on the ground, in a 45-0 blowout. Vanderbilt put up 442 yards of offense and threw for 273 in a 38-0 win.
Austin Peay probably should be prepared for the Mocs to establish the run, as well.
“If (teams) give us Keon all day, well hand the ball to him all day,” Huesman said. “If they give us (Jacob), we’ll take it. That’s our offense.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)