With the home opener for APSU Football days away, I’ve already been asked several times what to expect come game time.
I can’t speak for our opponent, Chattanooga, which is the purpose of this Q&A piece. This week, I caught up with sports editor of the UTC Echo, Zack Kirby, to talk football as the Mocs travel to Clarksville to play APSU this Saturday, Sept. 13.
Special thanks to Zack for taking the time to give me a rundown on what to expect from the Mocs. My questions will be listed as “CA”, while answers are labeled, “ZK”.
CA: After back-to-back losses to start the season, what’s the mindset of this team right now?
ZK: “It’s pretty down right now, I’d say. The first game was against Central Michigan, a big FBS school. We were up 16 in the first half, and then in the second half we looked like a completely different team as they scored 20 unanswered points to end up beating us. From what I saw, this was a winnable game, definitely, that they let it slip up from them. Then, last game was against Jacksonville State, who are ranked sixth in the FCS, I believe. It was our home opener. Our defense is the strong suit of our team, while our offense, on the other hand, couldn’t really get anything going. We had zero first downs and -5 yards in the first half.”
CA: Yeah, I read on Twitter that someone said, ‘How does Chattanooga have no first downs and 14 points?’
ZK: “Yeah, because the first two touchdowns were pick-sixes. The defense is the best defense they’ve had in years. Davis Tull, a senior, is one to look out for. He’s had scouts looking at him in practice, and think he might be a late draft pick. I’d say our other best player on defense is safety Dee Virgin. He had a pick-six and multiple pass break-ups in the last game, (including) a pass deflection that turned into the second pick-six, so he was all over the place. But we have a problem dealing with running quarterbacks. Jacksonville State had a dual-threat quarterback system, and just ran all over us.”
CA: On the offensive struggles, what’s it going to take to turn things around, starting with QB Jacob Huesman?
ZK: “I believe he threw five interceptions all of last year, and he had four against Central Michigan. But our best offensive lineman, Synjen Herren, got hurt in training camp and is out for the year. That really hurt the team, so offensive line is really the point that is lacking. Our running back, Keon Williams, is probably our best player on offense, as far as running back goes. We alternate about three running backs, and he couldn’t get anything going at all. They couldn’t find any holes and Jacksonville State basically ate us alive.”
CA: What about WR Tommy Hudson?
ZK: “He had two touchdowns against Central Michigan, and he’s our best receiver. He’s the most experienced and the only senior wide receiver on the team. If Huesman is able to get him the ball, he’s a playmaker. Late in the game, (against Jacksonville State), we fought back and ended up tying the score 20-20 in the fourth quarter. They punted (to us) and Tommy Hudson returned one for a touchdown. There was 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but the play got called back for a block in the back. That’s been the play everyone has been talking about here. So, we played into overtime, and Jacksonville State won the coin toss and chose to defend first. I thought that was smart, because if our offense can’t get anything going, how are we going to stop them? Our defense was shot after taking so many plays on the field. They held us to a field goal, and when it was their turn to have the ball, they had it at like the 20-yard line, and their quarterback just ran a quarterback draw to win the game.”
CA: With close losses like this, that’s gotta put some pressure on them. It seems like, what better way to come into our place for our home opener and just unleash everything before conference play?
ZK: “Thankfully, they have a bye week after we play you guys. Our coach said today that it’s kind of a must-win for UTC, because they did not expect to start 0-2. I think the Central Michigan game was a shocker, like holy cow we’re up 16 on them in the first half. But they end up coming away with a four-point win, and the same thing happens against Jacksonville State. It’s 0-2 already, and this is the highest-ranked team we’ve had in the FCS during Coach Huesman’s era. The expectations are high, and these first two games haven’t lived up to that yet. But that week will be needed to make some adjustments to prepare for Samford in conference play. Samford is no slouch, either. I could see them beating Chattanooga.”
CA: Didn’t they beat Chattanooga in overtime last year?
ZK: “They did. That was a SoCon title clinching game. If we would have beaten Samford, we would have won the SoCon title outright and then the playoffs. Instead, when Samford beat us, we got in a three-way tie with Samford and Furman.”
CA: Key injuries?
ZK: “Yeah, our tight end, Faysal Shafaat, had a minor injury at Central Michigan. He’s a big tight end at 6-5, 250 pounds, so he’s a big body who can catch the ball. He rarely drops anything and is Huesman’s main target. I don’t remember any time he played against Jacksonville State, and I think not having him really hurts. I could count so many times last year where it was Huesman to Shafaat every time. Shafaat would do a hesitation route and he’d just dump it off to him.”
CA: I noticed Huesman was the second-leading rusher in the Jacksonville State game, so how much of a mobile quarterback is he?
ZK: “He’s not a running quarterback, because he has an arm, but he’s moderately fast, I would say. If he needs to scramble, he will. We rarely run under center. We’re always in pistol formation or shotgun. He just doesn’t have much time to throw due to the offensive line. Huesman was the offensive player of the year last year in our conference, so he’s had a rough start to this year.”