The opening game at new Governors Stadium wasn’t the result fans were hoping for.
However, Chattanooga was going to be the better team going into Saturday without question, and it was only a matter of time before they buried their offensive struggles. The negatives will outweigh the positives for APSU, but improvements were evident against the Mocs compared to the opening game at Memphis two weeks ago.
Here are my five takeaways.
Booker setting an example
Against Memphis, the poor weather conditions didn’t allow the Govs to find an identity in the passing game.
But on a day with ideal football conditions, senior receiver Javier Booker set an example for the long list of young wideouts to follow with a career-high performance. Booker caught six balls for 88 yards, with his 45-yard touchdown reception from Darrien Boone being the only APSU score of the day.
It was the first passing touchdown for the Govs, at least in real game action, since Nov. 2 of last year. The recipient of the previous score? Javier Booker. With a highly-touted group of freshmen receivers now in uniform, Booker has quietly maintained his spot as APSU’s top target.
I thought Boone and Booker had good chemistry going in the first half, using quick throws to set up the long touchdown. However, head coach Kirby Cannon wants more from his offense.
“Not enough points,” he said. “I think when it comes down to it, moving the ball is important, but scoring is what it’s all about. I just think offensively we were misfiring, just nothing really came off clean. Sometimes, if you’re thinking too much, then your effort becomes questionable. We’ve got a lot of work to do on that side of the ball.”
This leads to my next topic of discussion…
Boone has ups and downs while Taylor is held out
Coming into the program as a redshirt freshman, Boone has had to challenge himself to become a starting quarterback.
Trey Taylor did not play on Saturday due to a shoulder issue, allowing Boone to play over half the game until Timarious Mitchell entered in the fourth quarter. Boone was shaky throughout the game, fumbling twice along with an interception that was called back due to an offside penalty on UTC. His passes may not have been pretty at times, but Boone still managed to go 15-for-20 with 124 yards and the touchdown to Booker.
Coach Cannon made it clear that Boone is the starter moving forward, and if healthy, Taylor will be the backup. Regardless, Cannon still wants to see better play from the signal caller.
Boone has the ability to be a threat as a multi-purpose quarterback, but his inexperience and decision-making are still issues raising concern.
An improved front seven showed up
The biggest weakness that stood out against Memphis was the front seven on defense.
On Saturday, the defense was more efficient than the 42 points would indicate. Sure, the Mocs totaled 351 total yards, but the pursuit to the ball was much better in slowing down UTC at times.
“We keyed on the back this time, and it worked better than last week,” linebacker Antonio Turner, the team’s leading tackler at nine, said. “The defensive line opened gaps to run right through them to make tackles in the backfield for no gains.”
The Govs as a whole finished with nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage, while also forcing one forced fumble as Benedict Louis made a hit on UTC running back Keon Williams. A number of young players, such as Louis, along with Tyler Schneider and Zach Stuart, continue to show they are capable of seeing the field over some veteran players.
“Anytime you’re on their side of the line of scrimmage, you’re doing something right,” Cannon said. “I think our defensive line has got a chance. We’re going to be disruptive to some people, and I think that showed up today.”
Running game was below average, but don’t panic
Against a stout UTC defense, the Govs just couldn’t move the ball on the ground.
Justin Roberson and Rashaan Coleman combined for 20 carries in the ballgame, but neither could find big gains. The longest run from scrimmage was nine yards, an area that has to be improved to allow the passing game to open up.
But don’t read too much into this. Both Roberson and Coleman, along with the quarterback Boone, have all showed flashes of big gains in their careers. Credit has to be given to the UTC defense, which is the strength of their team. It’s one of, if not the best, defenses they’ve ever had, and their front seven swallowed up the Govs rushing attempts.
“They’re very good,” Cannon said. “I think we helped them with some schemes, I really do. I think we were put in a bad position counting on one guy to block somebody whom he can’t block. Both of their defensive ends are draftable kids. Their defensive line dominated Central Michigan and did a decent job against Jacksonville (State), so if you’re going to play good people, you better get ’em blocked.”
Off to Illinois
The Govs will now travel north for the next two games, beginning in Charleston, Ill., to take on the Panthers of Eastern Illinois. Kickoff for Saturday, Sept. 20 will be at 1:30 p.m.