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After Opening Loss, Mocs' Huesman Says It's Time To Win
Jax State QB Similar to Nebraska’s Martinez
There are those outside the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football program that may believe the Mocs’ season starts this weekend against 10th-ranked Jacksonville State (Football Championship Subdivision) at Finley Stadium.
Mocs coach Russ Huesman does not agree with them.
“The season started last week and we lost,” Huesman said Tuesday at the Mocs’ weekly media day. “We’re 0-1. We need to be 1-1 and I hope our guys think along those lines.”
The No. 23-ranked (FCS) Mocs opened the season with a 40-7 loss to No. 10 (Football Bowl Subdivision) Nebraska in Lincoln. On Saturday, UTC will be on a more level playing field against the visiting Gamecocks, who compete in the Ohio Valley Conference.
It marks the first time two nationally ranked teams have played a regular season game at Finley Stadium. It’s the first time two ranked teams have met in Chattanooga during the regular season since 20th-ranked UTC upset No. 1 Furman, 21-14, in 1984 in a Southern Conference showdown.
“I hope it’s going to be a big-time atmosphere with a big crowd,” Huesman said. “I know every time we get a crowd, it’s an advantage to us. They’re into the game. They’re there because they want to be, not because somebody’s dragging them in there. They’re Moc fans.
“And I always want to win for our fans. I hope our players feel a sense of responsibility for the alums, former players and people who come out to watch us play. Maybe they play for themselves. Maybe they play because they hate to lose. I know we want to put on a good show in front of a nice crowd. We owe people in the stands a lot more than they owe us.”
Jay Blackman, UTC’s sports information director, said 4,000 tickets had been sold to the opening game as of Tuesday morning. Fans can purchase tickets online and a satellite ticket office will be open at Finley Stadium on Friday from noon to 5 p.m. Officials said 3,000 blue and gold T-shirts will be given away at the game, with blue-clad fans sitting on the north side and gold-clad fans on the south. Thirty-five hundred thundersticks also will be given away, along with 2,000 schedule magnets and 2,500 seat cushions.
Huesman said the Mocs held up well under the pressure of playing in front of 80,000-plus fans in Lincoln, Neb., last weekend and the 40-7 score was, in his thinking, a bit misleading.
“We went toe-to-toe with them,” he said, “and I think we played better than the score indicated. But that’s what the score will be for 200 years. I was awfully proud of our kids.”
Playing an opponent more on its level still won’t be easy, Huesman said, and the recent past would back him up on that. The Mocs lead the series with JSU, 25-10, but the Gamecocks have won four in a row – UTC hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown in that stretch – and five of the past six meetings dating to 2004. Prior to that, UTC beat JSU seven straight times between 1976 and 1983.
Huesman was asked if Saturday’s game will be a better barometer for his team’s early-season status.
“It’s a big game because we’re playing a good football team, and we need to win,” he said. “But it’s going to be real, real hard. They can run. They’re physical on both sides of the football and we haven’t beaten them in four years. It’ll be a tough game.”
Huesman wouldn’t rule a key factor in this week’s game an advantage or disadvantage for the Mocs. In their season opening 24-23 come-from-behind win over UT-Martin, the Gamecocks lost starting quarterback Marques Ivory suffered a season-ending leg injury.
Coty Blanchard, a 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore from Leesburg, Ala., will start in Ivory’s place. Blanchard has the credentials to be a solid offensive weapon for the Gamecocks. He was the OVC Freshman of the Year in 2010, playing in 12 games. He passed for 296 yards and eight touchdowns.
And, Blanchard is a two-way threat, something that greatly concerns Huesman.
In their opener, the Mocs had trouble containing Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who completed 11 of 22 passes for 116 yards and ran 19 times for 135 yards. He scored on runs of 3, 43 – that coming on a fourth-and-two – and 47 yards.
“(Blanchard) is one of the biggest concerns because we didn’t defend Martinez on scramble situations very well,” Huesman said. “We had Martinez in third-and-long on three or four occasions and he gets out of the pocket, scrambles and gets a first down. If that happens this week, we’re going to be in trouble. Coty can do those things for Jacksonville State.”
Huesman added, “The thing people don’t realize about (Blanchard), and there are just guys like this in the world, and I don’t know where they come from, but somehow they know how to win. Maybe they don’t throw the best ball, maybe they don’t run the fastest. But somehow they’re going down and flip it over to a wideout or a back and make a big play. He’s like that. He makes those plays and he’s going to be hard to defend.”
Martinez bailed the Cornhuskers’ offense out. UTC’s tenacious defense cut off Nebraska’s rushing attack between the tackles by crowding the line of scrimmage. Nebraska averaged 2 yards on first downs, not counting Martinez’s 47-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He ‘Huskers converted 9 of 18 third downs. On all but four, they needed at least 6 yards and faced third-and-10 or longer seven times.
Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead ran for 75 yards, 52 coming on one play, an option play to the left sideline. He averaged 2.3 yards on his other 10 carries.
So, more consistency by the Mocs’ defense would go along way toward controlling Blanchard and the Gamecocks.
UTC’s senior linebacker Ryan Consiglio, who had a game-high 14 tackles, two tackles for loss, one pass breakup and a forced fumble against the Cornhuskers, said that the Nebraska and JSU quarterbacks utilize similar playing styles, but the offenses have distinct differences.
“Nebraska really spreads it out,” Consiglio said after Tuesday’s practice session. “Jax State has some power backs, they’re a little bigger and they run downhill more than trying to make you miss. Jax State wants to run first and everything else flows off that. They do run some play action, some nakeds with the quarterback to get him on the corner so he can throw the ball.”
What about a speed comparison of Martinez and Blanchard?
“Martinez is a heck of a player who could really run,” he said. “He’s probably one of the fastest guys I’ve ever seen play quarterback. I thought we did a pretty decent job against him, although he made some big plays. (Blanchard) has good feet, too, and he runs the ball well. If we can do some of the things we did against Martinez, I think we might keep (Blanchard) in check.”
Sophomore free safety C.J. Key believes Blanchard is a more accurate passer than Martinez.
“And he really likes to get the ball to his receivers where Martinez likes to run the ball,” said Key, who recorded 11 tackles, recovered a fumbled punt, had one tackle for loss and one pass breakup against Nebraska. “They’re both good players. We just have to get ready each day in practice, be prepared and ready to play on Saturday.”
Key is looking forward to the Mocs’ 6 p.m. home opener.
“The Nebraska trip was nice,” he said. “But we’re all excited about playing at home. I believe the fans will be excited too.”
By Larry Fleming, Chattanoogan