published Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Chattanooga Mocs work to 'finish' better

Appalachian State's Doug Middleton (31) gets to the loose ball before UTC kicker Nick Pollard (30) as ASU scored a touchdown from the Mocs' mishandled field-goal attempt during the Mountaineers' 14-12 win last year at Boone, N.C. The two Southern Conference teams meet again this Saturday at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.
Appalachian State's Doug Middleton (31) gets to the loose ball before UTC kicker Nick Pollard (30) as ASU scored a touchdown from the Mocs' mishandled field-goal attempt during the Mountaineers' 14-12 win last year at Boone, N.C. The two Southern Conference teams meet again this Saturday at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Since the start of the 2009 season, Russ Huesman's first as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach, the Mocs have won 18 games and lost 18.

Take out the money games against Alabama, Auburn, Nebraska and South Florida, and UTC has lost 14 games to Football Championship Subdivision competition. And of those 14, eight have been decided by a touchdown or less.

One of things that has defined the Huesman era thus far -- the Mocs (1-2) open Southern Conference play Saturday against No. 18 Appalachian State (1-2, 0-1 SoCon) -- has been the multitude of close losses.

UTC's last six FCS losses, including the 27-24 last-second loss at Jacksonville State on Sept. 9, have been by a combined 15 points. There is no one thing holding the Mocs back, Huesman said.

"There's a couple of scenarios, if you look at it," he said.

In the three 28-27 losses last season, he said UTC could have gone to overtime at Georgia Southern with an extra point instead of trying (and failing) on the two-point conversion.

"Wofford, if we get a stop -- that's all we've got to do," he said. "The Citadel, we needed a stop and didn't get it."

In the 14-12 loss at Appalachian State, UTC held the Mountaineers offense scoreless. ASU won with what Huesman called a "nutty play," returning a deflected snap on a field-goal attempt 73 yards for a touchdown and 46-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"I don't think any of those are common threads," he said. "One of these days we're going to make a play and win a game."

UTC has proven that it can play with some of the top teams in the FCS -- last season it whipped No. 10 Jacksonville State 38-17 -- but it has seldom closed out opponents when in a position to do so. In most of their tight losses, the Mocs had halftime or fourth-quarter leads.

Mocs senior right tackle Adam Miller said UTC has to "finish" better in order to start winning the tight games.

"That's what we've emphasized since we came out at the start of camp; it was 'finish.' Our team motto is 'Finish the fight,'" he said. "In the close games last year we didn't always finish, and that's what came back and got us, whether it's one play early that we didn't finish or something late.

"We've got to learn to finish and those close games are going to come our way."

In the polls

The Mountaineers dropped from No. 7 to 18 in the FCS coaches' poll Monday following their 52-28 home loss last Saturday to The Citadel, which jumped from No. 23 to 14. In the Sports Network poll, ASU fell from No. 8 to 17 while the Bulldogs moved from No. 21 to 10.

Undefeated Wofford remains the SoCon's highest ranked team at No. 6 in the coaches' poll and No. 7 in the Sports Network poll. Georgia Southern is No. 10 and No. 11, respectively.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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