By Ed Greif
A crowd of 11,163 people and the eighth-largest crowd in the Russ Huesman era watched the highly-anticipated opener for the Chattanooga Mocs and the UT-Martin Skyhawks at Finley Stadium; Thursday night; however, the visitors spoiled the 24th-ranked Mocs opener with a 31-21win, snapping Chattanooga's three-game winning streak over the instate rivals.
Chattanooga, who is favored to win the SoCon, won the first three meetings 21-14 (1991), 37-28 (1992) and 26-7 (1993) over the OVC member school, which finished 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the OVC last season under Coach Jason Simpson (45-34) in seven seasons at Martin.
"Obviously, I'm not happy with the outcome. I'll start by giving UT Martin credit. They played hard and they played physical," said Chattanooga Moc coach Russ Huesman in post-game comments. "I think they played harder than us. We were definitely out coached on both sides of the ball. There is no question about that. They did a way better job coaching. We did terrible all the way across the board. I don't think we played good on either side of the ball. We got better in the second half. We did some things in the second half, but still not great. We have to get better there. We have to get better on defense. It was absolutely ugly.
"D.J. McNeal looked like Walter Peyton out there. It was ridiculous. The missed tackles, the pushing the piles and the missed assignments hurt us. It was just an ugly day. It was probably the worst days that I've been involved with since I've been here. We were physically manhandled by those guys and outcoached."
How ugly was it? The Skyhawks produced 451 total yards offense (289 yards rushing on 50 attempts and 162 passing yards on 19 of 27 with one interception), while holding the Mocs to 368 total yards (142 yards rushing on 37 carries and 226 yards passing on 17 of 30 attempts with one interception.
The Skyhawks led 7-0 at the half on a two-yard run by McNeil, who finished the game 134 yards rushing on 26 attempts and stretched the lead to 14-0 on a 13-yard run by Dylan Favre, who is the nephew of former NFL start Brett Favre.
Favre completed nine of 12 passes for 83 yards with one TD and rushed for 37 yards on nine carries.
The Mocs finally dented the scoreboard with one minute left in the quarter, as Jacob Huesman passed 18 yards to Faysal Shafaat to slice the deficit to 14-7; however, the Skyhawks came back with another score on a 13-yard pass from Favre to Chris Thompson with 12:56 left in the game for a 21-7 lead.
Again, the Mocs retaliated with a six-play,, 59-yard drive, capped by a 29-yard pass from Jacob Huesman to Marquis Green to slice the deficit to 21-14.
UTM scored on a 29-yard field goal with 4:35 left for a 24-14 lead and sealed the victory on a 33-yard run by Trent Garland, who finished the game with 116 yards rushing on eight attempts.
The Mocs made the final score 31-21 on a 13-yard pass from Huesman to Shafaat with 1:32 left in the game, which ended at 10:57 p.m. EDT.
"We just didn't make enough adjustments in the second half defensively to try to get our players in gaps. They were either rough throwing the bobble or running the little inside-pull play. It took us three series to figure that out," said the Mocs' fifth-year head coach.
"I think we didn't defend the pass game very well. In the first half, we did; in the second half, we didn't just because of the little dink and donk. We just didn't do a great job of making adjustments. I think offensively we did make some adjustments at half time and played better and made some plays. We can't wait 'til the second half and decide we're going to figure out what we are going to do. I still wasn't we're looking for offensively."
Despite the 31-21 outcome, several Mocs played well on defense. Senior linebacker Gunner Miller tied a career high with nine tackles, while junior defensive end Davis Tull recorded three tackles and a sack. Tull now has 18.5 career sacks which is second all-time.
Freshman defensive back Dee Virgin recorded his first career interception and recovered a fumble. He recorded two tackles.
Kareem Wise and Wes Dothard each had six solo tackles and three assists, while Derrick Lott and C.J. Murrell each had eight total tackles.
It was a hot, muggy night which took its toll on the Moc defense which was on the field for a long time.
Chattanooga, which is now 4-4 in Thursday night games, will have a couple of extra days to prepare for their trip to Atlanta to face Georgia State in the Georgia Dome this Saturday at 2 p.m. The Panthers opened the season Aug. 30 at Samford, after posting a 1-10 overall record and a 1-7 mark in the CAA.
The Skyhawks will travel to Boise State this Saturday.