Chattanooga’s first season in the pro spread offense was a bit of a mixed bag.
It was good at times and bad at others. It started out fast, then pumped the breaks. It featured an early identity problem, a backfield less productive than Congress and a quarterback controversy with a family twist.
By season’s end, the Mocs seemed to have things figured out. But like the rest of the team, the offense wasn’t satisfied with its 2012 results.
“I think next year we’ll have a much better grasp on what exactly we want to do,” said do-it-all quarterback Jacob Huesman. “We just found a way to make it happen, which is what you’ve got to do. It wasn’t always pretty. It was rarely ever pretty, but you’ve just got to find a way to make it happen.”
UTC finished the season ranked second-to-last in the Southern Conference in total offense (349.8 ypg), but with its late-season resurgence, the unit moved up to fifth in scoring offense (25.5 ppg) and passing offense (183.5 ypg).
“I don’t know if we have an identity on offense yet,” head coach Russ Huesman said. “We got better. We identified playmakers. It’s a work in progress.”
The offense was derailed a bit early in the season as it struggled to find the right speed at which to operate.
The Mocs opened the season trying to move at break-neck speed, similar to the University of Oregon, but it didn’t take the coaching staff long to figure out the up-tempo approach wasn’t the way to go.
“We were having a lot of issues communicating and consistently getting everybody on the same page,” offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said. “We had too good of a defense, and we could do a lot of things really good that for us to experiment with playing fast, it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Another early-season setback for the unit was that one of its quarterbacks and most dangerous weapon decided to quit the team immediately after its season-opening loss at South Florida. Sophomore Terrell Robinson rejoined the Mocs in less than 48 hours, but by then Jacob Huesman had already developed a firm hold on the starting quarterback position.
Robinson saw limited time behind center throughout the season. He performed reasonably well when doing so, but he was much more productive in his new spot — the U.
“We created a new position for him,” offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said. “The U stands for unusual because he plays an unusual position. He meets with me, he prepares like a quarterback, he runs routes and he has certain things in the offense that he executes at the quarterback position if we decide to do that.”
In just about five games in his specialized role, Robinson became the team leader in receptions (40), yards (489) and touchdowns (five). He was third on the team in rushing (232 yards, five touchdowns) and completed 30 of 44 pass attempts for 301 yards and two scores.
“I just did what I can do,” Robinson said. “I felt like I was a threat, and anytime I’m on the field I want to feel like a threat. I’ll continue to work and become an even bigger threat next time I step on the field. Do whatever I can do for this team. Whatever the coaches think is best is what we’re going to do.”
But even with a mutual understanding and a great relationship between the two quarterbacks, there was still outside noise. Neither let it become a distraction.
“(Jacob) has to go through ‘hey you get to play because your daddy’s the head coach from people in Chattanooga or people in the stands,’ ” Satterfield said. “That toughens him up. It’s just amazing to watch him go day to day and see how he operates like he’s just walking on the beach.”
By all accounts, Huesman was the catalyst of the offense.
The 6-1, 210-pound freshman racked up a UTC freshman-record 2,616 yards of total offense and accounted for 20 of the team’s 35 offensive touchdowns. He tied the school’s freshman mark for passing (13) and rushing scores (seven).
“I think he played way, way, way better than a normal freshman is expected to play,” Satterfield said. "I think he was 235 of our 350 yards a game. There was no situation that was ever too tough, and we were in some tight situations. He was able to convert third-and-longs, he put together two-minute drives, 14-play drives, two-point conversions and tough third-and-short and fourth-and-short runs.”
The SoCon Freshman of the Year award runner-up completed a freshman record 167 passes for 1,712 yards, while throwing only five interceptions. Two of those came in the first quarter at Western Carolina, and both slant passes should have been caught by the intended receivers but were instead tipped up and picked off.
While both Huesman and Robinson flourished late in the season, the team’s running backs never seemed to get their footing. That was something the coaching staff had to learn to live with.
Redshirt freshman Kendrix Huitt led the backs with 288 yards and three touchdowns on 57 carries, but the position produced just 745 yards on the season. By contrast, Georgia Southern, which led the nation in rushing yards, had six players gain between 332 and 1,053 yards en rout to racking up 4,012 net yards. Part of that has to do with system, of course, but it illustrates how little the Mocs generated on the ground. They finished seventh in the nine-team SoCon in rushing offense.
The three-man backfield rotation didn’t get much going in the running game, but it did produce in the passing game from time to time. The running backs had a bigger purpose, though.
“They were decoys; we called them wooden ducks,” Satterfield said. “They loved that — not really. We used them to get the flow of the defense going one way and let Jacob keep it and get some tough yards for us. That was the most productive thing we did from a run-game standpoint.”
It might not have been much fun for the tailbacks, but it was for the common good.
“We weren’t just going to hand the balls off to the backs just to try and make everybody happy,” Satterfield said “It’s not Upward Bound Football, it’s college football. Whatever we have to do to gain yards, have a chance to score touchdowns and win games, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The numbers weren’t sexy. Neither were the way in which the Mocs compiled them. but Chattanooga’s offense moved the ball enough to win six games in 2012. UTC had a chance to win all but two of its five losses late in the fourth quarter — or overtime.
There was definitely room for improvement, but that’s what spring practice and next season are for.
Just where will it go from here?
“We’re going to have to go back a little bit and tweak and revamp and add and revisit,” Russ Huesman said. “I thought we got better, and we were probably good enough with our defense to win more than we lost. We probably should have won more."
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.