Copeland’s chance to learn com­ing on the field for UTC

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - WEEKEND BLITZ - BY GENE HEN­LEY STAFF WRITER

It was sup­posed to be a year of learn­ing for fresh­man Cole Copeland at the Uni­ver­sity of Tennessee at Chat­tanooga.

Red­shirt­ing was the plan for the 6-foot-4, 200pound quar­ter­back from Bradley Cen­tral High School, with a chance to learn be­hind 2016 and ex­pected 2017 starter Ale­jan­dro Ben­ni­field and to com­pete with cur­rent sopho­more Nick Tiano for the full-time job in 2018.

But then came a fourgame NCAA man­dated sus­pen­sion for Ben­ni­field for an aca­demics vi­o­la­tion, which made Tiano the starter and Copeland the backup. Copeland’s red­shirt sta­tus, in case some­thing hap­pened to Tiano, was in jeop­ardy un­til Sept. 30, when Ben­ni­field was slated to re­turn.

And aside from a play in the first quar­ter of the Jack­sonville State game in which Tiano’s hel­met came off, ev­ery­thing went ac­cord­ing to plan. (Copeland went in but for­got the play call, so UTC coach Tom Arth had to call a time­out, which al­lowed Tiano to re-en­ter.) Tiano took all the snaps in the first four games, in­clud­ing a 249-yard, four-touch­down per­for­mance in the Mocs’ lone win, 63-7 over Vir­ginia Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute on Sept. 23.

Ben­ni­field came back a week later, so the plan was still in­tact. Ben­ni­field started the West­ern Carolina game, with Tiano back­ing him up.

Then ev­ery­thing changed. Ben­ni­field suf­fered a con­cus­sion in the first quar­ter on a hit by line­backer Tah­jai Watt. Tiano led the team again un­til hurt­ing a shoul­der in the fi­nal quar­ter while fight­ing for ex­tra yards on a quar­ter­back run.

Un­cer­tain of the sta­tus of his two pri­mary quar­ter­backs, Arth de­cided to in­sert red­shirt fresh­man Do­minic Cald­well into the game, in­stead of Copeland.

But last week, as it

“It’s tough, es­pe­cially when you just got a new of­fense, a new coach­ing staff and you have to deal with one of the main po­si­tions on of­fense get­ting in­jured — two great play­ers in the same game.” – COLE COPELAND

be­came clear that Ben­ni­field and Tiano would not be avail­able, Arth placed a phone call to Copeland’s fa­ther, Brian, who Arth said “un­der­stood the sit­u­a­tion we’re in” con­cern­ing the quar­ter­backs.

“We haven’t had a great start to the sea­son, but in re­al­ity, who knows what the con­fer­ence brings?” Arth ex­plained of the de­ci­sion to play Copeland. “Who knows where we’re at when it’s said and done? You feel like it’s a must­win type of sce­nario, and in or­der to do right by the older guys and ev­ery­body in the pro­gram and what we be­lieve per­son­ally, you’ve got to put the best guy out there to do it, and

we felt that Cole was the best quar­ter­back avail­able to play that game, and we put him out there with the in­ten­tion of do­ing a great job and get­ting us a win.”

Copeland passed for 317 yards and a pair of scores in the 41-14 loss to Fur­man, but he also had four turnovers and was “hard on him­self” about the mis­takes, Arth said. The quar­ter­back po­si­tion is the most im­por­tant one on the foot­ball field, and with a lack of ex­pe­ri­ence there this year, the team has strug­gled to gain any level of con­ti­nu­ity on of­fense.

With Ben­ni­field and Tiano both spec­ta­tors at prac­tice this week, it would ap­pear Copeland will get another chance to start.

“It’s tough, es­pe­cially when you just got a new of­fense, a new coach­ing staff and you have to deal with one of the main po­si­tions on of­fense get­ting in­jured — two great play­ers in the same game,” Copeland said. “It’s tough, but we’ve got our backs against the wall and we’ve got to build on it and get bet­ter each week.”

Walk­ing wounded

Although Arth wouldn’t

de­clare any­body of­fi­cially “out” for Satur­day’s game at Mercer (3-3, 2-2 South­ern Con­fer­ence), the Mocs (1-5, 1-2) will be banged up.

In ad­di­tion to the two quar­ter­backs, run­ning back Richardre Ba­gley has sat out this week, as have lineback­ers Tae Davis and Tavon Law­son and de­fen­sive back Markell Bos­ton.

Arth said Thurs­day he wasn’t sure if Ba­gley would be able to play, while adding he “hoped to have him.” If Ba­gley — who has 654 to­tal yards and two touch­downs this sea­son — can’t play, ju­nior Alex Trot­ter, who had a good week of prac­tice, most likely will re­place him in the back­field, with se­nior Dar­rell Bridges tak­ing on a big­ger role. Trevor Wright likely will re­turn kicks in­stead of Ba­gley.

If Davis and Law­son can’t go, se­nior T.J. Jenk­ins and sopho­more Mar­shall Cooper could be in line to play more. In ad­di­tion, se­nior pre­sea­son All-Amer­i­can Dale War­ren — who missed the first six games of the sea­son — is avail­able and will play.

Con­tact Gene Hen­ley at ghen­ley@times­freep­ress. com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @gene­hen­leytfp.

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY DOUG STRICKLAND

UTC quar­ter­back Cole Copeland passes with pro­tec­tion from of­fen­sive line­man Tay­lor Hel­ton dur­ing this past Satur­day’s home game against Fur­man. The Mocs lost 41-17.

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