UTC's Cole Copeland impressive but says he must improve

UTC's Cole Copeland impressive but says he must improve

October 8th, 2017 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

UTC quarterback Cole Copeland (12) passes with protection from UTC offensive lineman Taylor Helton (77) during the Mocs' home football game against the Furman Paladins at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Cole Copeland was good Saturday.

But according to the 6-foot-4, 200-pound true freshman from Bradley Central High School, he was far from good enough.

Copeland had 317 yards passing, the most ever by a UTC freshman, as were his 30 completions. He had a pair of nicely thrown touchdown passes to seniors Alphonso Stewart and James Stovall, but his production was far from enough in the Mocs' 41-17 loss to Furman at Finley Stadium.

"He made a couple of mistakes, a couple of unfortunate plays that resulted in turnovers, but otherwise I thought he did a great job," UTC coach Tom Arth said. "He really came out, played with great confidence and threw the ball really well, and the wide receiver group certainly played really well for him. He did a good job of manipulating the pocket; there were a couple of third downs where he was able to escape, extend the play and find the open receiver.

"He did a good job."

When asked to grade his performance, Copeland wasn't nearly as high on himself.

"We lost, so D. F," Copeland said. "I'm not worried about anything else. I'm not here for stats; I'm just here to win. I've got to be better. I can't turn the ball over, so I wasn't very good."

Copeland had a pair of 40-yard completions to Alphonso Stewart, including a touchdown pass that gave the Mocs a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. He completed his first eight passes, mostly short throws aside from the pair of bombs to Stewart, and was able to move the sticks at will early. As the game went on, the Mocs' inability to run the ball led to a lot of second- and third-down and long situations.

That forced more passing, which Arth and the coaching staff were hoping to avoid with a true freshman.

And with the uncertainty of the quarterback position — senior Alejandro Bennifield (concussion) and sophomore Nick Tiano (shoulder) didn't dress but were on the sideline — it may not be the last start for Copeland, who became the first true freshman to start a game at quarterback for UTC in 22 years.

If that's the case, he's ready.

"Have to work in practice," Copeland said. "I'm a firm believer in practice. You can't just come out here and play; you've got to practice. I need to get more reps, work on reading defenses, spend time in the film room. There's a lot of situations that go into it, so I've just got to get better and find a way to get better quick, because there's not much time."

O-line changes

Junior Luke Schultheiss made his first career start for the Mocs on Saturday, playing at left guard in place of junior Branden Parker. By the end of the game, Schultheiss had moved to right tackle, with senior backup center Alex Hooper playing some at left guard.

The changes didn't matter, as the Mocs rushed for 7 yards — their second-worst outing of the season.

Defensive subs

The defense took a hit Saturday, with linebacker Tae Davis and defensive back Markell Lawson missing the game with injuries. Marshall Cooper replaced Davis in the starting lineup and subbed with T.J. Jenkins. The pair totaled 15 tackles. Trevor Wright, who had 34 starts in his career entering Saturday, replaced Lawson.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.