The Mocs flopped last week.
Can they flip their fortunes on Saturday against Georgia State in the Georgia Dome?
UTC has a few days to figure things out and make that happen.
The get-the-fix-right mentality is well under way and the team’s main focus seemed to be on defense at Tuesday’s press conference at McKenzie Arena.
The self-reflective attitude was much the same from coach Russ Huesman and both players – senior cornerback Chaz Moore and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Corey Levin – who faced the media and the weekly luncheon.
“We were one of the best defenses in the country last year,” Moore said, “and for us to give up (nearly) 300 yards rushing is unacceptable.”
Considering UT-Martin punished the Mocs’ defense for 289 yards rushing, Huesman said he would be surprised if Georgia State, playing its first FBS season in a program in its fourth year of existence, would throw the ball against his Mocs this week.
“If I were them and watched us against UT-Martin, I’d hand the ball off 89 times and never throw a pass,” said Huesman, 22-23 in five seasons. “They have to be licking their chops, saying (UTC) can’t tackle, can’t fit gaps, so see if we can get ourselves 300 yards rushing. I think we’ll see a lot of running.”
UT-Martin ran 77 offensive plays with 57 rushes for 289 yards for a 5.6-yard average. Most of the damage inflicted by the Skyhawks came in the second half when the Mocs were credited with many of their 36 missed tackles.
That was a key factor in UT-Martin scoring 24 second-half points, 17 coming in the fourth quarter when the Mocs were clearly tired and unable to muster the energy to challenge the opposing offensive ground attack.
“That’s not the way we want to play defense here,” Huesman said, “to give up all those yards and not get a stop when we really needed it. I don’t think anybody defensively walked off that field thinking, ‘Wow, I feel pretty good today.’ I think most of them walked off saying, ‘Wow, we were pretty bad today.’ Tackles are great, but missed tackles kill you.”
Any time the Mocs challenged UT-Martin’s lead, the Skyhawks’ ground assault went back to work and scored another touchdown. When it was over, UT-Martin had 451 yards of offense.
What did Moore do after the ballgame?
“I thought about all the mistakes we made, all the plays I could have made,” he said. “I went home and watched more football (on TV) to see what other teams were doing that we didn’t do.”
Georgia State outgained Samford, 469-398, but still lost the debut of coach Trent Miles, 31-21, in the Georgia Dome. However, the Panthers left the Dome feeling much better about themselves than the Mocs did.
“I felt hurt,” Moore said. “I felt like we let each other down. The offense wasn’t clicking, the defense wasn’t clicking. It was a team letdown.
“But we can’t let one game determine our season. There’s no way we can play like that and be a good team in this conference.”
The Mocs’ offense was without versatile Terrell Robinson and once again – despite Huesman’s stated desire to get more players involved – evolved into limited disbursement of player utilization that resulted in sophomore quarterback Jacob Huesman accounting 316 of the Mocs’ 368 yards of offense.
Jacob Huesman passed for 226 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 90.
“We did some good things, but we did some really bad things, too,” Levin said. “We never got sustained drives to get our defense off the field.”
On paper at least, the Mocs may be in for a testy night against Georgia State’s defense, ranked No. 2 in the Sun Belt Conference after one game. The Panthers yielded 298 yards to Samford.
Offensively, the Panthers were impressive. Sophomore quarterback Ronnie Bell completed 28-of-51 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns, but had tossed two interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown.
Bell is the SBC’s leading passer (394 yards per game) and also No. 1 in total offense (394).
Wide receivers Albert Wilson and Robert Davis combined for 15 catches 232 yards, with Wilson having one touchdown grab. Wilson, a senior from Port St. Lucie, Fla., snagged eight balls – tying a career-high – for 167 yards and a touchdown. His reception yardage was 8 yards shy of his school record of 175.
With his strong showing against Samford, Wilson has 4,186 career all-purpose yards and over his career has averaged 135 yards per game. He’s the SBC’s leading receiver in catches and yards per game, in addition to being No. 1 in all-purpose yards (234).
“The one question mark they had this year was at quarterback and the kid throws for 391,” Huesman said of Bell. “We’re playing a good football team, a pretty talented team. They’re big and strong and do have some really good skilled kids.
“If we don’t play better this week, we’ll get run out of the building.”
While coach Huesman stressed getting more players involved with the Mocs’ offense, that idea never panned out in the opener.
Jacob Huesman completed 17-of-30 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns, two going to tight end Faysal Shafaat for 18 and 13 yards. The second scoring toss came with 1:02 left in the game, but UTC failed to recover the ensuing on-side kick and the Skyhawks ran out the clock.
Still, the end result was another first-game loss for the Mocs, who fell out of the Top 25 polls for FCS schools.
Levin, admitting that losing the opener was a tough pill to swallow, feels that if the Mocs beat Georgia State the team will be back on track.
“It’s a new week, a new team we’re going against,” he said. “If we get a win Saturday, last week definitely means nothing. We can’t lose or we’ll be thinking about both losses. So there is pressure on us to win and when we do that it will definitely clear our minds and we can keep moving forward.”
Huesman said Tuesday he would get more defensive players on the field to provide starters time on the sideline for a “breather.”
Of the injured players sidelined for the opener, starting safety D.J. Key, a preseason All-American and All-Conference selection, is the closest to getting on the field. Key was scheduled to practice on Tuesday.
Will Johnson, a redshirt freshman defensive back from Alpharetta, Ga., has decided not to have surgery and is on track to play, but Huesman said it’s unlikely that will happen this week. Junior defensive back Zach McCarter, who played prep ball at Hixson High, would be a non-contact participant in Tuesday’s workout and it’s uncertain whether he can play against the Panthers.
Another defensive back, Dean Haynes, a transfer from North Carolina State who played in six games while battling a foot injury the entire season, will not play Saturday. Huesman said Haynes is a “couple of weeks” from playing.
Saturday’s game in Atlanta will start at 2 p.m. and be televised by ESPN3.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)