August 13, 2016

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MARTIN, Tenn. – Big plays proved to be the difference in the first scrimmage of the fall practice schedule for the University of Tennessee at Martin football team on Saturday evening.

The Skyhawks made the most of their 10th practice of the fall, pitting the offense against the defense in their first of four scheduled scrimmages. Benefiting from a seasonably cool evening, UT Martin ran approximately 90 plays from scrimmage while working on special team scenarios and situationally matchups.

Driven by big plays, the Skyhawk offensive unit tallied 14 first downs on the night while scoring eight touchdowns. While the touchdown total paints a picture, the defense held its own in the contest, limiting successful drives and stifling a pure offensive rhythm. Defensively the squad forced two turnovers – including an interception and fumble recovery – while flushing the quarterback out of the pocket with six hurries and four sacks.

“Nothing is really polished right now as we are trying to find out who can play between the lines when the lights are on, but I thought there were good things on both sides of the ball,” said UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson. “We were big play oriented on offense - which is good to see - but I don’t think that we really established any consistent drives. Defensively we were solid on the run but gave up some big plays in the passing game. With the big plays tonight, you would say that the offense came out ahead tonight but right now we have to come back Monday and get the details of the game right.”

The quarterback competition featured significant contributions from both signal callers Gunnar Holcombe and Troy Cook. Holcombe completed 9-of-13 passes on the night for 163 yards and four touchdowns. Cook posted similar numbers, converting 8-of-13 pass attempts for 139 yards and two touchdowns (one passing and one rushing). Redshirt freshman Kyle Akin also saw action, completing 4-of-9 attempts for 69 yards and a touchdown.

“The quarterbacks were up and down tonight but did make a couple of throws,” said Simpson. “How they played tonight is how it’s been in camp. It looks like it’s supposed to look but I’m looking for one of those guys to start to separate himself from the other. Tonight they both had decent nights but probably not enough to win in the upper part of our league.”

The evening’s scoring began with a three-yard touchdown by running back Terry Norris on the scrimmage’s 14th play. Neither squad would get on the board again for over 20 plays until Holcombe connected with senior Kyle Kerrick for a 14-yard touchdown completion who elusively shed a defender before rumbling the final seven yards into the endzone.

Kerrick’s touchdown would start a chain reaction which would feature five touchdowns over the ensuing 30 plays. Cook would connect with newcomer Londell Lee for three yards before Holcombe found Ty Brown (29 yards) and Jack Gammon (32 yards) for big touchdown receptions. Cook would then notch his final score of the night by scampering 11 yards into the redzone. Akin would later connect with freshman Rod Williams for a 19-yard reception before Holcombe found Tyler Eddings the night’s final points.

On the defensive side of the ball, Khalid Hagen tallied the team’s lone reception, returning the pick nearly 50 yards. Another key stop came on the shoulders of Joseph Murry who pounced on an errant handoff attempt for a fumble recovery. Sheldon Dawson blocked a field goal attempt while the group of Kevin Prather Jr., Ervin Alston, Justyce White and Austin Pickett each tallied sacks.

With the first scrimmage in the books, the Skyhawks will take a much needed day off before on Sunday before returning to the gridiron for a pair of practices on Monday, Aug. 15 at 9:15 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. With the Skyhawks moving into the final week of practice before classes resume, the squad must begin to take shape strategically.

“All of this next week will be about fundamentals and seeing who can do what, but we really have to start to hone in on the fundaments of our base offense and defense,” said Simpson. “By next week you are 10 days from opening the season at Cincinnati. My goal for this next week is to have who will be on the first and second teams defined while seeing who is still competing for playing time.”

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