Wiedmer: Mocs opener may be most disappointing ever

Wiedmer: Mocs opener may be most disappointing ever

August 30th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

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UTC linebacker Wes Dothard (25) tries to break up a pass by UT Martin quarterback Dylan Favre (1).

UTC linebacker Wes Dothard (25) tries to break...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

It may or may not go down as the worst football loss in University of Tennessee at Chattanooga history. After all, when your program stands 494-504-35 overall in the 105 years you've played the sport, you've got plenty of company in the "blankety-blank, #&%%#,this stinks" department.

But Thursday night's 31-21 shortcoming against UT-Martin might easily rank as the most disappointing ever, if only for the high hopes it melted like ice in the stifling late August heat.

All those message board posters who predicted UTC might arrive at No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 23 with an undefeated record.

All those Moc Maniacs who truly believed this was the year the Blue and Gold would finally break that 29-year playoff drought.

All those coaches who placed them in the Top 25 in the FCS preseason coaches' poll and third in the the Southern Conference preseason rankings.

After all, if fifth-year seniors such as defensive back Kadeem Wise were saying, "This is our time," who were the masses to argue? Bring it on. Bang a gong. The ghosts of UTC's football past be gone.

And it certainly felt that way in the weeks and days and hours leading up to Thursday's kickoff, complete with a regional cable television audience and UT-Martin minus 10 of last year's 22 starters while the Mocs were returning 20 of 22.

Nor did UTC's advantage appear to end there. The Skyhawks were playing a new quarterback. Mocs QB Jacob Huesman -- the head coach's son -- was not only the first QB in school history to lead the team in rushing last year, but he also threw 13 touchdown passes to just five interceptions.

Unless the Favre on UT-Martin's quarterback depth chart was Brett instead of his nephew Dylan, how could UTC possibly lose?

But as Mocs boss Russ Huesman wondered aloud during Tuesday's media luncheon -- much as new UT coach Butch Jones voiced similar concerns Monday -- there's always the fear of the unknown during a season opener.

What's going to happen that you didn't prepare for? How would the Mocs respond to their two new coordinators: Jeff Durden on offense and Adam Braithwaite on defense? Who might arrive flat? Who might get hurt? (Playmaker extraordinaire Terrell Robinson, never saw the field.)

No one could know the answers to those questions for sure until the action was live, the Finley Stadium crowd of 11,063 in full throat, the opponent no longer yourself.

But what ultimately transpired Thursday has been painfully well known to most UTC fans for the past 29 years. When it mattered most, the defense couldn't stop the run or the pass. When it needed it most, the offense couldn't consistently solve the Skyhawks defense, which was replacing five starters from a unit that surrendered nearly 30 points a game a year ago.

Even when they did something good, such as pulling within 21-14 with more than seven minutes to play, the Mocs immediately gave up a UT-Martin kickoff return to the UTC 30. The subsequent Skyhawks field goal ended any reasonable doubt about the eventual winner. The later 33-yard scoring run by 5-foot-9, 180-pound UTM running back Trent Garland -- who broke five tackles on his way to the end zone -- only furthered the embarrassment.

Not that most of the 11th largest crowd in Finley history was still around to watch. Either the disappointment of the evening, the knowledge that school and work would beckon in less than 12 hours, or the allure of catching the second half of the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt game on television emptied out more than half the crowd by the end of the third quarter.

When a Jacob Huesman run forced a punt with 11:48 to go and the Mocs down 21-7, those few frustrated souls who remained briefly booed, then gradually filed out, silent and sullen.

One thing is certain, according to Russ Huesman, "We've got to get better fast."

Not that all is lost for Moc Maniacs. UTC basketball tips off 70 days from today against Covenant College. Keep your fingers crossed that no nephews of Michael Jordan or LeBron James suit up for the Scots.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com