After reviewing the film from Saturday’s 31-9 win over Furman, head coach Russ Huesman stood firm in his assertion that it was the Mocs’ top overall performance of 2013.
Aside from three second-quarter turnovers, the offense was productive. UTC piled up 19 first downs and 302 yards of total offense, including the squad’s fifth consecutive 200-yard rushing performance.
“We were pretty efficient, but I don’t think we’re throwing the ball anywhere near how we need to,” Huesman said. “But I think the formula we’ve got — play really good defense and run the football — we’ve got a chance to be in every game.”
The defense, on the other hand, was exceptional throughout, limiting its opponent to less than 200 yards. More importantly, though, Chattanooga’s defense kept the Paladins out of the end zone, even in the second quarter when they had some short fields to work with.
“I thought defensively it was exceptional,” Huesman said.
To receive that kind of praise from their defensive-minded head coach is certainly saying something.
“Sometimes you take your guys for granted, but to give up 189 yards to a good team in your league is a pretty good thing,” Huesman said. “I guess I expect so much from our guys that you almost expect them to do that every time.”
Junior defensive end Davis Tull exploded, registering a career-high 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Senior cornerback Kadeem Wise hauled in a fourth-quarter interception and senior safety D.J. Key recorded a team-high nine tackles.
“We know Davis Tull can rush the passer, we know Kadeem Wise can cover people and D.J. Key can tackle,” Huesman said. “We know all those things, but when you get 11 guys doing what they’re asked to do, I think you’ve got a chance to be special.”
Through seven weeks, the Mocs’ defense has been exactly that. Especially considering the fact their defensive front has been decimated by injuries. So much so that Huesman has considered removing the redshirts placed on true freshman D-linemen D.J. Prather and Taylor Reynolds.
Senior defensive tackle Derrick Lott is probably done for the season. Redshirt freshman defensive end Keionta Davis has missed time with a knee injury and junior end Toyvian Brand left Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury.
“He goes down and we’ve got two [healthy] defensive ends,” Huesman said. “I’m looking up and thinking what are we going to do, and thank goodness Toy’ came back ... You don’t have depth; you can’t rotate and roll people through, and you don’t want to burn redshirts.
“I want to save D.J. Prather and Taylor Reynolds. They’re going to be two really good players for us. It’s a hard call, and the further you get into the season the tougher the call is.”
Davis could return in time for Saturday’s game at Elon, but nothing’s guaranteed. For now, the Mocs’ defense simply has to do more with less, and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing.
Even with all the injuries, including the shoulder stingers to starting linebackers Wes Dothard and Gunner Miller on Saturday, Chattanooga ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense (303.0 ypg), pass defense (144.0 ypg) and scoring defense (18.0 ppg), and it leads the Southern Conference in all three categories.
“We’re thin,” Huesman said. “I think we’re going to get Keionta Davis back this week, and we’ll know more [Tuesday]. We’re thin on the offensive line, too, but the guys we’ve got playing are playing hard and that’s all you can ask."
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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