UTC (3-2) at TENNESSEE (2-3)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Neyland Stadium in Knoxville
SEC Network TV; 96.1 FM
Not since the Peanuts character Linus has there been a more trusty security blanket than Faysal Shafaat is for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman.
The Mocs' senior tight end finally was completely healthy again for last week's game against VMI. and the results were immediate as the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder caught four passes for 49 yards and two touchdowns. One of his other catches converted a third down to keep a drive alive.
"Having Faysal back is big time," Huesman said afterward. "It adds a whole other dimension to the passing game, that's for sure. He made a great catch in the corner for that first [TD], and on the second one the middle of the field was open and he had a [line]backer on him, so I put it up where he could catch it. That was vintage Faysal going up and bringing down a tough catch."
A two-time All-Southern Conference selection, the Orlando native led the Mocs in catches (35) and receiving yards (322) last season and was a preseason All-America nominee coming into the season. But he suffered a bruised shoulder in the opener, and although he continued to play, he was not as effective because of the nagging injury.
"I had high expectations both for the team and myself, so it's been frustrating," Shafaat said. "Even though I didn't have any catches against Samford, I was feeling better and able to block more. It was good to get to come out and play the game healthy, and I'm definitely glad I got that first one [TD] out of the way.
"I want to be the No. 1 guy when the ball's in the air. I believe I'm able to do some things that teams are going to have to respect in the middle, and that should open some things up on the edge. Our offense is starting to realize we've got a lot of playmakers on that side of the ball, and it's good to feel like I'm a part of that again."
His size and athletic ability -- he was a basketball star in high school -- help make Shafaat a primary target in red-zone situations and could help him pose as a matchup problem for Tennessee this week. In the Mocs' spread offense, having a reliable weapon in the middle prevents opposing defenses from focusing solely on the outside receivers. Shafaat also has developed into a solid blocker in the run game.
"He can make a quarterback look really good the way he goes up and gets the ball," UTC offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said. "Where he's underrated is in the run game. He's taken some pride in that, which has helped my life be a lot easier.
"Having him out there is big for our play-action stuff, and he's one of those players we're looking at specific ways to get him the ball. As far as going up in the air to get it, as a vertical threat, not too many can match him."
Webb on Rice list
The Sports Network has announced UTC freshman safety Lucas Webb is named to the Jerry Rice Award watch list, given to the FCS national freshman of the year. Webb already has four takeaways this season -- three interceptions and a fumble recovery. He returned one of his interceptions 37 yards for a TD and also has 22 tackles and a pass breakup. He was named SoCon freshman of the week after the Jacksonville State game and was the national defensive player of the week for his performance in a win over Samford.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.