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Mocs Chess Game: Will It Be Coleman Or Robinson?
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga quarterback B.J. Coleman, injured during first-half action last week against No. 1-ranked Georgia Southern, has been walking around the last few days with his right arm in a sling (he tossed it aside on Tuesday).
A shoulder injury could keep him out of Saturday’s homecoming game against Western Carolina at Finley Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and the Mocs will be trying to snap a three-game losing streak, one that has dropped them out of the Top 25 rankings.
The Mocs’ Terrell Robinson, a dual-threat redshirt freshman signal caller from South Pittsburg, is going around campus with his confidence boosted by a strong performance in relief of Coleman, almost rallying UTC to a win over unbeaten Eagles.
OK, coach Dennis Wagner. Who do you prepare for?
“It’s one of those things, we’re not sure who we want to play,” Wagner said on Tuesday’s Southern Conference coaches’ teleconference. “I’m sure coach (Russ) Huesman is hoping he gets B.J. healthy and has that option to make a choice. I think they both bring a lot to the table and that makes it hard to prepare when you’re not sure which guy’s going to be in there.
“We have to do our best to defend both situations.”
As of Tuesday, Huesman wasn’t sure whether Coleman, a senior, or Robinson would be taking snaps this weekend for the Mocs (2-4, 0-3).
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Huesman said. “We’ll see how B.J. comes along. I’m not sure what we’ll be offensively right now.”
After taking over the offense from Coleman, the 6-foot-3-inch, 195-pound Robinson, who had been playing receiver this season, gave the Mocs a spark. He rushed 21 times for 114 yards and three touchdowns in a heart-stopping, 28-27, loss.
Robinson said he got in for one play – the Mocs’ coaches had a small package prepared for him as a “changeup” – before Coleman was injured.
Coleman, the SoCon’s fourth-leading passer with 215.8 yards per game and who averages 31 attempts each time out, completed two of his only five passes for 25 yards before leaving the game in the second quarter.
So, that’s a dilemma for Huesman and Wagner.
“Whichever guy it is, they have the weapons to go with them and make some things happen on offense,” Wagner said.
Huesman will monitor Coleman’s right shoulder – probably on an hourly basis – the rest of the week and then make a critical decision. Does he go with the former McCallie School product, who played a year at Tennessee before transferring to UTC? Or, does he give the youngster, who led South Pittsburg to a state championship, his first start for the Mocs?
“When B.J. gets healthy, he’s going to be our quarterback,” Huesman said. “If it’s this week, it’s this week. If it’s next week, it’s next week and Terrell will be our changeup guy. I think B.J. is a great football player. When he’s ready to go, he’s going to go. I’m sure there are people who don’t agree with that, but I don’t care.”
While Huesman is not about to throw Coleman to the wolves, he does recognize the potential that Robinson brings to the offense. After all, Coleman has been credited – by Huesman and fans – with helping restore lost respect to the UTC program.
“He was fantastic (against Georgia Southern),” the coach said. “He was electric. He brought energy and life to the offense. If we don’t have Terrell, then we have no shot to win that game. We probably get beat 38-7 or something like that.”
Robinson, who passed for 1,687 yards and rushed for 1,322 in his final season under Pirates coach Vic Grider, is ready for the spotlight that will be shining on him as the Mocs prepare for the Catamounts this week.
“I know I have to stay focused this week,” he said. “Last week, Georgia Southern wasn’t prepared for me. Now this week, they know that I am going to be the starter unless B.J. comes back ready to play Saturday. I just have to prepare and get the team rolling. I have to take the team under my wing now.”
The unsettled status at quarterback is not Huesman’s only worry this week.
The Catamounts (1-4, 0-3), who share last place with UTC in the conference standings, have a pretty potent offense – they operate out of the pistol – themselves, led by sophomore quarterback Brandon Pechloff.
Western Carolina has the league’s second-best passing offense, averaging 257.4 yards a game. By comparison, UTC is two spots behind the Catamounts at 225.5 yards per game.
In total offense, Western Carolina is fourth (403.0) while UTC is eighth (341.8). The kind of production the Catamounts are getting now is why Wagner changed his offense in the spring.
“We hadn’t done a very good job the first three years moving the chains,” Wagner said on his segment of the teleconference. “We tried to build around the personnel the first two years and wanted to make the switch in year three. Finally, in the spring we said we’re going to make that switch. We went and visited some people (at other programs) and felt it was to our benefit to make the move.”
It was worked out well despite the Cats having won just one game this season.
“It certainly made us more exciting to watch and our kids enjoy the offense,” Wagner said. “We’re averaging (29) points and over 400 yards in offense. But the bottom line is I’ll take wins over that any day.
“Obviously, our statistics are better and we’re scoring a lot of points, but we can’t leave points on the field. The offense’s job is to score one more point than the other team. If it takes 39 to win last week, that’s what we had to get, and we had an opportunity but didn’t do it.”
However, it’s not lost on Wagner that UTC has the league’s best total defense (292.7 ypg) and the No. 1 pass defense (111.8 ypg).
“Defensively,” he said, “they’re a salty group. They have a great scheme, they believe in it and they execute well.”
Huesman doesn’t want any of his players to look at the won-loss record and overlook the Catamounts and what they’re capable of doing. That would be a mistake that could lead to trouble.
“We’re playing a team that’s scary,” he said. “Obviously, they’re like us – their backs are against the wall. I don’t think they’re getting enough credit for how well they’re playing offensively. Their quarterback is throwing the ball well. They’ve got skill kids that can beat you. Whether you’re in the pistol, the spread, whether you’re in the I, it’s all about executing and they’ve been executing pretty well offensively.”
The bottom line for Huesman is trying to snap that disappointing three-game slide, salvage what he can of the remaining regular-season schedule – Western Carolina, Elon, Furman, Samford and Wofford – and have some kind of shot at the playoffs when it’s over.
“Hopefully, we can regroup,” he said. “I think our kids are excited about playing this week.”
by Larry Fleming, Chattanoogan