UTC (0-1) vs. Jacksonville State (0-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Synjen Herren calls it part of "the brotherhood."
Despite having his season ended before it began with a knee injury, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior offensive lineman was told by coaches that he would continue traveling with the team and was expected to remain an active leader.
Knowing he wouldn't be on the field, Herren found other ways to contribute to the Mocs' season opener at Central Michigan on Thursday.
During the game Herren, still wearing a walking boot to support the fracture in his foot, talked with the offensive linemen as they came off the field and served as a player-coach, giving advice to the inexperienced unit.
After the game, Herren sat on a large equipment crate with a dejected Jacob Huesman, who was taking much of the blame on himself for the loss, and encouraged the Mocs' quarterback, who's also his roommate of four years.
"We've got a great relationship," Herren said. "I know him pretty well and how to talk to him. If he's down, the whole team is down, so I just wanted to pick him up. It's not all on him. That's what I tried to tell him.
"If something good happens, he gives other people the glory, and if something bad happens, he takes all the blame. You can't do that. It needs to be spread out when things go wrong. There's 11 guys out there, and nobody played perfect on every play.
"It [stinks] that I can't physically be out there, but I try to watch what I can and help whoever I can. It's part of the brotherhood we have on this team. I was really glad when Coach [Russ] Huesman said I could still travel with the team. I think I can help some of the younger guys on the offensive line out, too, and just find any way I can to be a part of the team."
Jacob Huesman, who had five passes tipped at or near the line, including three of his career-worst four interceptions, said the postgame pep talk from his roommate didn't sink in initially but meant a lot the more he thought about it.
"We've always had each other's backs and had that O-line/quarterback connection," said the QB, who also threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 46 yards. "He just told me to keep my head up and reminded me that the team is looking to me and how we have to bounce back.
"At the time it didn't mean so much because I was pretty set in my ways, thinking I cost us. Looking back on it, it made me feel a lot better. I'm pretty anxious to get back on the field this week and play another game."
After taking Saturday off, the Mocs returned to the practice field Sunday evening at Finley Stadium to begin preparing for another tough test with Saturday's home opener against Jacksonville State, which opened the season ranked as high as No. 6 nationally. The Gamecocks had a much tougher first-game loss, falling 45-7 at defending Big Ten champ Michigan State.
After watching the video of Thursday's game, offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said the blame for the second-half struggles on that side of the ball should fall on his shoulders.
"I got away from some of the things that were successful for us in the first half, and I put Jacob in some bad situations," said Durden, referring to an offense that collected just 9 second-half yards and had three turnovers. "I've got to do a better job of that, and that's something that we'll correct going into the next games."
The three players who left Thursday's game with injuries are expected to return to practice this week and play Saturday. Senior tight end Faysal Shafaat injured his shoulder in the first half and did not return, while defensive linemen Zach Rayl and Keionta Davis suffered sprained ankles.
Saturday a 'whiteout'
Saturday's 6 p.m. game is a "whiteout," with fans encouraged to wear white to Finley Stadium. The Mocs will wear white-on-white uniforms and there will be plenty of giveaways, including white T-shirts at the gate. Both teams are nationally ranked, marking only the fourth time two ranked teams have met at Finley in the regular season.
A downtown pep rally is planned for Sept. 5 at Miller Plaza.
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 ...