Wiedmer: A UTC win wouldn't be the first shocking loss UT has experienced this season

Wiedmer: A UTC win wouldn't be the first shocking loss UT has experienced this season

September 10th, 2019 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ UTC head coach Rusty Wright encourages the punt team as they take the field. The University of Tennessee Chattanooga Mocs visited the Jacksonville State Gamecocks in NCAA football action on September 7, 2019.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

A native of South Carolina, Rusty Wright didn't grow up rooting for University of Tennessee football.

"I was a Georgia Bulldog fan," the first-year University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach said Tuesday, which was four days before his Mocs are scheduled to face the big brother Vols in Neyland Stadium.

"But whatever big school you play against or big stadium you play in, this is all about these kids having that experience. Playing in a place like Neyland Stadium against a program like Tennessee is a big deal."

When you're 0-2 for the season, as UT is, every game becomes a big deal. The idea that the Vols might look past the Mocs to next week's trip to Florida went out the window when Tennessee lost its opener to Georgia State, then its next game to Brigham Young.

"It's going to be a tough challenge for us," Wright said. "We're going to get their best shot."

If the Mocs indeed get that best shot, it's hard to see them winning, or even keeping it close. On what is expected to be very hot day for a game that kicks off at noon and will probably grow hotter every hour until it ends around 3:30, UTC will take the field with at least 22 fewer scholarship players than UT's 85.

To point out just one way that could affect the outcome, Wright noted, "We'll probably play our front five (offensive linemen) most of the game, and they'll rotate three noseguards in and out of there. There are some bad matchups out there."

One matchup in the Mocs' favor along that offensive line could be 6-foot-8, 325-pound sophomore McClendon Curtis, a former Central High School standout. Like Wright, Curtis grew up rooting for Georgia, at least partly because his uncle, Roy Lee Curtis, blocked for Herschel Walker.

"But I've got plenty of family members who root for Tennessee," he said. At least 10 of his relatives will attend the game thanks to the 10 tickets Curtis has secured. He estimates another five to 10 family members also will make their way to Knoxville.

"It's a great opportunity to play football in front of 100,000 fans," Curtis added. "You get a shot to show the world what you're made of."

Said sophomore linebacker Ty Boeck, a former Soddy-Daisy High School star: "Neyland Stadium is a big part of the culture around here. Almost everyone that lives around here is a Tennessee fan. I've gotten a lot of calls and text messages talking about the game and how they're looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a great atmosphere and going to be fun for the guys."

Though Wright never got to show what he was made of inside Georgia's Sanford Stadium when he was playing for the Mocs, he did get a Power Five conference moment when UTC visited Clemson in 1992.

"I actually had my first catch against Clemson," Wright said of that 54-3 road loss. "I can still remember running into Death Valley (the Clemson stadium)."

Unless you're a Tennessee Volunteers fan more than a little anxious to win one going away, all stress removed by the second quarter, you almost certainly hope that Saturday's final score is not 54-3. UTC may not have the horses to win this one, but it can still shock the oddsmakers who currently have the Big Orange favored by 28 points.

"I'm more worried about us than them," Wright said. "We're not going to practice any differently. I do have every version of 'Rocky Top' you can imagine, though. I've got banjo versions, guitar versions, all of them."

And because he was the defensive coordinator at Georgia State last season, he's also spent a little more time than usual talking to Panthers head coach Shawn Elliott this week.

"Elliott and I talk once a week anyway," Wright said. "The kicking game might be the biggest key. That's where the game can get away from you against a team like Tennessee. And you've got to have some luck. Tennessee had some open receivers against Georgia State and missed them. A guy fell down one time, got his feet tripped up. You can't be second-and-14 all day (on offense). You can't have them in third-and-short all the time when you're on defense."

When Georgia State shocked UT 38-30, Elliott was justifiably excited, saying he thought the Panthers were the better team on the field that day, that they outplayed the Vols on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

As Wright was wrapping up his news conference, someone asked him if he might be as jubilant as his former boss if the Mocs were to beat the Vols.

"I hope I (have a chance) to be that way," Wright said with a smile.

Stranger things have happened, as every Vols fan already has quite painfully experienced over the first two weeks of the season.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com