published Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

UT-Martin Skyhawks present many challenges to UTC Mocs

  • photo
    University of Tennessee at Chattanooga safety Zach McCarter (47) catches a ball during practice at Scrappy Moore Field on Tuesday. The Mocs are preparing for their season opener against University of Tennessee at Martin on Aug. 29.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense is expecting a Jason Simpson offense to look like a Jason Simpson offense when the Mocs and UT-Martin meet at Finley Stadium on Aug. 29.

There will be multiple sets and looks, but at its core UT-Martin tends to be prolific at throwing the ball. The Skyhawks ranked No. 10 in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in passing in 2012, throwing for 299.6 yards per game. In total offense they ranked No. 24 with an average of 427.4 yards.

"They just execute well," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said after Tuesday's practice. "They're well coached, you can tell; they execute; they know what they're doing; and they've got some people that can make people miss. I think their wide receivers are phenomenal."

UTC fans have seen Simpson's work before, when he was the Mocs' offensive coordinator for three seasons (2004-06) under Rodney Allison. When Simpson left for UT-Martin, Carmen Felus was hired as UTC's offensive coordinator. Felus stayed through the end of the Allison era in 2008 and is starting his third season as Simpson's offensive coordinator

After a couple of weeks of implementing its systems and developing and evaluating its personnel, UTC now is focused on the Skyhawks. The Mocs began preparing their scout teams last Saturday and resumed Tuesday at Scrappy Moore Field.

"We watched film today and, man, they are athletic," UTC safety Zach McCarter said.

The Mocs won't have to prepare for some of the Skyhawks' biggest weapons from 2012. Quarterback Derek Carr, who threw for 3,271 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior, is gone, as are top receiver Quentin Sims (1,092 receiving yards and 16 TDs) and the Skyhawks' top two rushers.

Simpson hasn't named a starting quarterback yet, which presents more of a preparation challenge for the Mocs.

The starting QB likely will be Jared Neal, Tyler Rice or transfer Dylan Favre, the nephew of Brett Favre, who originally signed with Mississippi State before attending Pearl River Community College.

"They've got a lot of guys back, but at the same time there's some unknowns, like at the quarterback position," Mocs first-year defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said. "They have some talent, and we have to come up with a scheme to put our guys in a good position to make plays."

Defensively, the Skyhawks have played a 3-4 scheme, something the Mocs don't see that much of in the Southern Conference. UT-Martin returns linebacker Ben Johnson, who led the Ohio Valley Conference with 131 tackles in 2012.

"They've got some guys that can play on defense, and it's going to be interesting scheming for them," UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman said. "That's what it's all about, playing your opponent. For the last several weeks our opponent has been the Mocs. It starts off being fine because you're playing football again, but you want to hit somebody other than your teammate. It will be nice to finally do that."

The Skyhawks went 8-3 last season, starting with a season-opening upset of Memphis. They finished 6-2 in the OVC and tied for first but were left out of the playoffs. They have six starters returning on each side of the ball.

Extra points

UTC defensive end Zach Rayl said he did suffer a torn ACL, as well as some other damage, in his right knee during the Mocs' scrimmage last Friday. A surgery date has not been scheduled. ... Left guard Synjen Herren (ankle) was among the Mocs with minor injuries who returned to practice Tuesday.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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