Chattanooga wasn’t horrible on special teams a season ago, but there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement in 2013. Whatever gains the Mocs make in that department this fall — if any — will be due to more players buying in and taking pride in special teams.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids out there [on special teams] — a lot of redshirt freshmen — and that has to be their role,” said cornerbacks coach B.J. Hogan, also the Mocs’ special teams coordinator. “It’s an important process, just trying to get the kids to buy in and understand how important of a phase it is.
“You win and lose games each year on special teams.”
If, by chance, any of the players haven’t yet realized this fact, they might want to take a look at some of the 2012 game film, particularly Chattanooga’s 27-24 loss at Jacksonville State last September. The Mocs, who trailed the Gamecocks by as much as 17 late in the first half, had finally pulled even late in the fourth quarter, tying things up at 24-24 with just 39 seconds to play. That’s when a critical special team’s blunder came into play.
JSU’s Gabrie Chambers returned the ensuing kickoff 34 yards out to the 45-yard line, setting up the Gamecock’s game-winning drive, which ended in a 37-yard field goal from Griffin Thomas as time expired.
“Just getting them to buy in and have pride in it, those are the main goals,” Hogan said.
And with just days away from the team’s Thursday-night opener against UT Martin, head coach Russ Huesman still doesn’t know if that’s been the case.
“Who knows,” Huesman said after Sunday’s practice at Scrappy Moore Field. “We’ll see. I hope so, but you really can’t tell. But there are guys that, you know, that’s going to be their niche — being great on special teams. They need to know that. Hopefully they buy in and do it, and if they don’t, we just won’t take them on trips and we’ll find somebody else.”
Kicking concerns calmed: It’s no secret that junior kicker Nick Pollard didn’t have the greatest of fall camps. Actually, he struggled mightily throughout the grueling three weeks process.
“I worked all summer so it’s hard getting out there with a snapper and a holder,” Pollard said. “You should have the operation down, but if you have a new snapper (like UTC does), you have to adjust.”
The 2009 Tennessee Mr. Football Kicker of the Year and 2011 SoCon All-Freshmen selection seems to have pulled out of that temporary funk, though. At least his head coach hopes that’s the case.
“He’s been making field goals in practice pretty good lately,” Huesman said. “Hopefully he’ll continue to do that.”
Added Pollard: “We’re doing a lot better now. Sometimes you have to go back to the fundamentals a little bit — take a step back, look at it and then go from there.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
Sign up for our email list to get your morning news delivered directly to your inbox. All we need is your email address.