Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / UTCs Gage Upshaw (84) carries a flag as the Mocs run onto the field before Saturdays game against James Madison University at Finley Stadium.
The good, the bad and the ugly of JMUs Week 4 matchup vs. Chattanooga
The expected toughest stretch of its regular season over after Saturday's 37-14 loss to second-ranked James Madison University at Finley Stadium, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team believes, despite its 1-3 record, better days are ahead.
Losses against Football Championship Subdivision powers Jacksonville State and JMU that sandwiched a rout at Southeastern Conference member Tennessee have left the Mocs limping into next Saturday's Southern Conference opener at home against Western Carolina. The hope, from first-year head coach Rusty Wright to senior quarterback Nick Tiano to first-time starters Ty Boeck and Chris James, is that having faced elite competition will ultimately make them better.
“You hope that it does,” a frustrated Wright said afterward. “Those are great teams, but we've shown in spurts we can play with them. But we have a lot of football left and we can still achieve our goals.
“I think they will fight you. We may not be the smartest group all the time, but they will fight their butts off. They will give us an opportunity, but we have to give them better chances to succeed and that starts with me.”
Boeck, a sophomore linebacker from Soddy-Daisy who led the UTC defense Saturday with 10 tackles, believes the only thing standing between the Mocs and a winning streak are self-induced wounds.
“We can play with anybody,” he said. “We just have to cut out the mistakes. Week by week we've progressed, and that's very, very important. We have to clean the mistakes up, and by the time we get into conference play we will be OK.”
A week after making his first start for the Mocs, senior Chris James achieved another milestone with his first touchdown for UTC.
James capped the Mocs' first scoring drive with a 19-yard catch on a pass from Nick Tiano late in the first quarter, setting off a celebration with happy teammates. The Elljay, Georgia, native, who transitioned from quarterback to tight end midway through preseason practices, relished the moment.
“It was the same thing we've been working on in practice,” James said of the touchdown catch. “Me and Nick work on that kind of play every day after practice, and it paid off today. The moment was surreal for me, but I think I would rather have the 'W' than the touchdown.”
“That guy deserves it,” Tiano said. “Chris James is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen. Whatever he does, he gives it all he has. Everybody on the team should admire what he's done, and he's going to be a big mismatch all year for this team.”
The second-ranked Dukes (3-1) held the Mocs to 245 offensive yards, including just 84 rushing on 29 carries, and the great majority of the good defensive work was done from their base package, which had seven men in the box on early downs and two safeties deep.
Despite having one-on-one opportunities for much of the game, the Mocs did not threaten to make big plays outside of one early drive. Wright was obviously frustrated with the lack of production.
“They pressed us up and manned us up, but you've got to fight,” he said. “Sooner or later, when it's man on man, you have to win. The will to win has to be stronger. We complained a few times about not getting pass-interference calls, but that happens. Sometime, somewhere, somebody has to win on the outside, and it seems like we can't.
“They were pretty good up front. They played two high safeties and put people in the box and said, 'We're going to see what you're made of.' We struggled moving it. We probably have to be a little more creative to move the football.”
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.