University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman said the Mocs' defense will be in for its "biggest challenge" of the season Saturday against Samford. That defense is coming off its two best performances of the season in Southern Conference wins at The Citadel and Furman.
"We've been playing pretty good, especially the last two [games]," he said. "The one thing with The Citadel, you say let's stop the option and play the run game. Against Furman, we can rush the passer pretty good with four [linemen], and we blitzed them a little bit and tried to get after a young [quarterback].
"I think with Samford, they've got players all over the field."
The Mocs (3-3, 2-1) held The Citadel and Furman to 10 points each. Half of the Paladins' 12 drives were three-and-outs. Mocs defensive ends Davis Tull and Josh Williams can give any pass-heavy team problems, with plenty of help from the tackles inside, and Samford's Bulldogs (5-2, 3-2) have thrown a league-high 247 passes - and allowed 15 sacks.
Asked during Tuesday's SoCon media teleconference to discuss what about UTC's defense stood out to him, Samford coach Pat Sullivan replied: "Where do you want to start?"
He started where many do, with ends Tull and Williams.
"Their two defensive ends ... both of them are so quick," he said. "If you try to throw the ball, they're not going to give you much time."
UTC is ninth in the Football Championship Subdivision in total defense (299.7 yards per game) and 20th in scoring defense (19.17 points per game). Mocs defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said every week's different, and he stressed that there are plenty of things the defense needs to do more of, or allow less of, before he's going to jump up and down.
"It's all relative," he said. "It's all about how they play this next game. This will be a huge, huge challenge."
During UTC's team meeting Sunday, Huesman said he issued a challenge to the defenders.
"I said, if Davis Tull is not the best defensive player in this league right now, I don't know who is," Huesman said. "And I said, I'm saying that to challenge all you guys, because if you think you're the best in the league, you've got to step up because this guy is playing lights out."
Tull leads the SoCon and is tied for eighth in the FCS with six sacks. His 7.5 tackles for loss are second in the SoCon.
Huesman said the improved play in the secondary the past two games also had made a difference. Fewer missed tackles and better angles to the ball were part of that, he said, as well as having players settle into roles and staying in them.
Zach McCarter, a former walk-on from Hixson High School, made his first career start against Furman, at free safety, and had five tackles and two pass breakups.