Whether sparked by the memory of the improbable ending to last year's Alabama/Auburn game or just the inner boy scout within coaches to be prepared for any situation, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team spent the final stages of the last day of preseason camp working on end-game situations Saturday.
Before giving the team Sunday and Monday away from the practice field, UTC coaches threw a variety of "what-ifs" at the players. From hurrying the field-goal unit onto the field for a pressure attempt with time running out, to onside-kick recovery, to defending a Hail Mary (bat it down!), the Mocs spent nearly an hour getting prepared for any late scenario, regardless of how unlikely.
"None of it may ever happen, but you never know," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "For example, we'll practice the long field goal and having somebody back there, because we saw how that happened last year (Auburn/Alabama). We have to make sure our kids cover it, too, and know what to do. Is that ever going to happen again? Who knows.
"I don't think last year we had a Hail Mary situation at all. We've been practicing that 'Mayday' field goal situation for years but haven't had to use it. A lot of these fourth-quarter things you practice and maybe they don't ever come up. But if they do, you better not say you didn't practice for them."
Near the end of Saturday's practice, Coach Huesman added pressure to the field-goal competition when he designated Nick Pollard to represent the defense and Henrique Ribeiro to represent the offense, and whichever side won would not have to run gassers after practice. With the offensive and defensive players heckling the other side's kicker, yelling and trying to distract him, both made their first two attempts and then each missed from 39 yards away. Pollard connected on a 42-yarder and Ribeiro missed from the same distance, setting off a wild celebration from the defenders.
When the final drill of camp was over, the defensive players whooped and hollered as they ran off the field toward the locker room, and the offense stayed to run wind sprints.
"I think they're both kicking well," Huesman said. "They're not perfect, but I don't know that there's ever a kicker who is. That competition, deciding who will kick field goals, will probably go all the way until game week, and then we'll make that decision.
"We've been charting every kick in practice. We'll look back at the whole camp and see who's the best one. My gut feeling is Nick will handle kickoffs. Even though he doesn't have as strong a leg, he puts it where we want it to be put."
The kickoff teams also worked on recovering and defending onside attempts, and when the Mocs worked on defending a Hail Mary pass, even senior tight end Faysal Shafaat used his basketball background to box out receivers and go up to knovk down passes in the end zone.
The Mocs return to Scrappy Moore Field this afternoon to begin preparing for next Thursday's season opener at Central Michigan.
"We'll start working on our first opponent, but I think the big thing is there's a fine line between starting to work on Central Michigan and not continuing to improve," Huesman said. "That's a balance you have to hit as a coaching staff and as players. There are some people who still have to get better.
"There's probably about six to eight kids who have to continue to work on improving themselves, not just [facing] Central Michigan. We've got some kids that we think can play and they have the athletic ability, but they have to continue to work at it and get better."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...