By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Camp is over and class is in session. Now the Tennessee Tech football team is ready to take the field and finally hit someone other than themselves for a change.
The Golden Eagles will get that chance Thursday night as they open the 2018 campaign and the Dewayne Alexander era in earnest at Chattanooga. Kickoff Thursday night is scheduled for 7:04 p.m. Eastern time.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 online, while fans not at Finley Stadium can listen to the call on 98.5 KISS FM with Roger Ealey and Dylan Vazzano providing the call.
"We're excited," Alexander said on Tuesday during the weekly Ohio Valley Conference teleconference. "We're ready to get started. There are a lot of unknowns for our staff on our team and I think Chattanooga probably has the same thing. We have a new staff and any time you have that situation, there's a lot of unknowns for both teams. We haven't been able to put our guys in a competitive situation like a game is to see how our guys will respond.
"We've had an excellent summer, an excellent fall camp and we're just excited to head to Chattanooga to open the season."
The Golden Eagles will sport a new look at many positions, as well as bring back a few vets in key spots. One of the most exciting could be true freshman quarterback Bailey Fisher. The Rabun County (Ga.) product has shown great strides in spring practice and fall camp after coming to Tech in January as an early enrollee.
"Bailey was an excellent high school player and played in an excellent program," Alexander said. "We actually had him in January as he graduated high school in December, so he went through winter workouts, spring practice and was here this summer and had a very good fall camp. He will play as the starter and will get the majority of the snaps.
"Luke Ward will be his backup and we do have a package of things that we will do with Luke in the game. I expect both of them to play, but Bailey will be the starter."
Chattanooga is 2-9 in its last 11 season openers, with the last season-opening win over a Football Championship Subdivision team coming in 2006 over Tech.
The Mocs finished 3-8 last year in the first season under the direction of Tom Arth. Chattanooga also has a familiar face running the offense as Justin Rascati, an assistant for Marcus Satterfield in 2016, went to coach for the Mocs last season.
"They're just another year into what Coach Arth is trying to do there," Alexander said. "When Coach Huesman was there, he was a very defensive-minded coach and was the defensive coordinator before he became the head coach. They're still a very good defensive team. Their front makes it really tough to run the ball. They were tough to run on last year – I was at East Tennessee State last year as the offensive line coach and saw a bit of them.
"But he's in his second year now, so he's got the things he wants to do installed and we'll see more of what he wants to do offensively and defensively than they did last year because they've had a whole spring, summer and fall camp to add on to what they've done there. They've brought in some great players and they've got a good mix of young and veteran players. They're going to be an outstanding opponent, that's for sure."
The Mocs currently has a quarterback battle brewing between junior Nick Tiano and junior Chris James. Tiano completed 87 of his 158 passes for six touchdowns and six interceptions, while James is a transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
Chattanooga also brings in running back Tyrell Price, a transfer from East Mississippi, who was a preseason All-SoCon second-team selection, along with X-receiver Bingo Morton and left tackle Malcolm White. On the defensive side of the ball, DE Isaiah Mack was a first-team preseason pick, while DE Derek Mahaffet was a second-team All-SoCon pick last season.
Thursday's game will be the 40th meeting between the two teams, with Chattanooga leading the series 29-10. But getting to open the schedule with an in-state means a lot for Alexander.
"These are games that are important to get on the schedule," Alexander said. "As we go into the future moving forward, I hope we can continue these games with a Chattanooga or an East Tennessee State. I know we're going to play Samford here next season and have a home-and-away with those guys. These are teams within a three-hour drive – especially Chattanooga. They're only an hour and 40 minutes away, they have a lot of Tennessee guys on their roster like we do. When I was on the staff here in the late '90s, we played Chattanooga a lot. We hosted them in 2014 when I was on Watson Brown's staff.
"But the interest in the game – the need for tickets goes up, I have fans and alumni asking about the game. That's why we need games like Chattanooga on the schedule. I certainly hope that's something we can keep doing as we move forward."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information