By John Mitchell, Chattanooga, Tenn., — The football team started wrapping up their two-week training camp Friday afternoon in a rain-shortened scrimmage in preparation for their season opener Sept. 5 at Finley Stadium.
The 70-play scrimmage saw a lot of big production plays from the offense, which left some obvious questions for what is supposed to be a stout UTC defense in 2015.
“I thought defensively we were horrible today,” head coach Russ Huesman said of his defense that allowed two 50-plus yard touchdown plays. “All of the things a defensive team should not do we did today. I hope I can just go in and watch this film and see some good defensive performances and young guys that got better.
“The offense deserves some credit because obviously they made the plays,” Huesman added. “Anytime you play yourself it’s going to be give or take, but what bothers me is we have veteran defensive players who aren’t doing their assignment and that’s why we gave up those big plays.”
The two big plays for the Chattanooga offense came within the first eight plays, and before the hour rain delay. The second snap of the day saw junior running back Derrick Craine, McDonough, Ga., take a handoff up the middle and go 57 yards for a touchdown. Six plays later, freshman Wil Young, Mobile, Ala., found a 55-yard pass from Jacob Huesman, Chattanooga, for another touchdown.
Key To UTC’s Success
Begins with Defensive Front
Being a former defensive back, Russ Huesman’s teams have always been defense-oriented. With that said, Chattanooga’s list of returning players on defense has to make a coach smile; even after a lackluster performance in a scrimmage.
The trio of Keionta Davis, Chattanooga, Toyvian Brand, Greensboro, Ala., and Josh Freeman, and Josh Freeman, Atlanta, will see more playing time and repetitions on the defensive line, following the departure of Derrick Lott and Davis Tull to the NFL. Davis is coming off a season in which he was named to the Second Team All-SoCon in 2014, while Brand is returning after logging 23 starts for the Mocs before redshirting last season. The three upperclassmen have a total of 16 sacks on their resumé.
Herren’s Return Boosts Offensive Line to Elite Level
A knee injury on the final day of fall camp ended Synjen Herren’s, Dalton, Ga., 2013 campaign. The six-foot-four, 305-pound guard started all 22 games of his career prior to the injury. Corey Levin, Dacula, Ga., picked up the slack for Herren at left guard for a majority of the season, earning the Jacobs Blocking Award (top offensive lineman in the Southern Conference), becoming the first sophomore to do so since 1998 and the first UTC player to win the award since 1983.
“The offensive line looks tremendous. I’m really proud of those guys,” Russ Huesman added during his post-scrimmage press conference. “They didn’t see a lot of pressure today, but when they do I have the confidence they can get the job done. I’m real proud of those guys.”
Sophomores Hunter Townson, Ider, Ala., Josh Cardiello, Buford, Ga., and Jacob Revis, Dayton, Tenn., will make up the rest of the starting offensive line for the season opener. The group has a total of 75 career starts, making them one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Southern Conference.
Depth On Offense Could Win Huesman Awards
In 2014, Jacob Huesman was named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List, the FCS’s version of the Heisman Trophy. With a multitude of returning starters and a University of Tennessee transfer surrounding him, the senior quarterback has a realistic shot of taking home the coveted piece of hardware at this season’s end.
Huesman will have some familiar faces to throw to as C.J, Board, Clarksville, Tenn., and Xavier Borishade, Kennesaw, Ga., look to build off a campaign in which they combined for 66 catches and 884 yards. The mystery of the group will be how Tennessee transfer Drae Bowles, Jackson, Tenn., will be inserted into the game plan. The junior played a total of 13 games for the Volunteers, and has been a full participant in fall training camp.
Ribeiro, Bennifield See New Roles on Special Teams
The departure of place kicker Nick Pollard will require two Mocs to take his place. Junior kicker Henrique Ribeiro, from Chattanooga, will now double-up this year, doing field goals, as well as, kickoffs. Backup quarterback Alejandro Bennifield, Lovejoy, Ga., has been taking reps all camp as the team’s new punter.
Sept. 5 begins the most anticipated season opener in Chattanooga history. The Mocs are coming off back-to-back Southern Conference championships, and are the favorites to win a third as they begin the season ranked 8th in the national polls.
Jacksonville State will make their way to Finley with a top-ten ranking to their name as well, as it will be the first time two top-ten teams have met in Chattanooga during the regular season.
Kickoff for the season opener is set for 6:00 p.m. with the first 2,000 fans get “Code Blue” t-shirts.