STATESBORO, Ga. - Third-down stops had been the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense's strength for most of this season. Not Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
Top-ranked Georgia Southern produced some of its biggest plays on third-and-long, enough to hold on for a 28-27 win. The Eagles were 6-for-8 in the first half on converting third downs into firsts and finished 7-of-13.
Coming into the game the Mocs and Elon shared the Southern Conference lead in third-down defense, holding teams to a 29.7 percent conversion rate.
"We had two third-and-longs and we had them stopped both times but missed tackles," UTC coach Russ Huesman said of the first-half plays that helped the Eagles to a 21-7 lead at halftime.
With the game scoreless in the second quarter and the Eagles facing a third-and-14 at the Mocs' 22-yard line, Dominique Swope made several cutbacks and eluded at least three would-be tacklers on the way to the end zone.
On the Eagles' next drive, GSU converted a third-and-2 and three plays later quarterback Jaybo Shaw passed to J.J. Wilcox out of the backfield for a touchdown on third-and-9 at the UTC 20. The powerful Wilcox broke through several arm tackles on his way to the 14-0 lead.
"We didn't tackle well the first half, but the second half I thought we played good," Mocs linebacker Gunner Miller said. "They made one big play and that was the game."
That one big play came on a second-and-6 at the GSU 49 midway through the fourth quarter. Robert Brown took a handoff and burst up the middle for 48 yards to the UTC 3. Shaw scored two plays later.
Linebacker Ryan Consiglio led UTC with 12 tackles, and safety D.J. Key had 11.
The Mocs had done next to nothing on the ground the past few weeks and Georgia Southern was No. 2 in the country in stopping the run, so surely UTC wouldn't run all over the Eagles, right?
UTC's offense changed when quarterback B.J. Coleman went out with a shoulder injury. Terrell Robinson came in and ran for big chunks of yardage against a GSU defense that didn't know what to expect from him.
Robinson finished with 114 yards rushing on 21 carries and ran for three touchdowns. He's the first UTC player with three rushing scores since Eldra Buckley in 2006.
Meanwhile, Marquis Green had 58 yards on nine carries, J.J. Jackson had 58 on 11 runs and fullback Taharin Tyson had 21 yards on three rushes.
"I think we can successfully run the ball on anybody in the Southern Conference, but I think it was partly because they didn't know it was coming," said Jackson, who scored on a 20-yard run.
Coleman not worried
How long Coleman remains out won't be known until today, at the earliest, but he said after the game that he didn't think it was too serious an injury.
"I'm OK. The guy [linebacker Josh Rowe] just took a helmet right to my AC joint and I just couldn't lift it," he said, adding that he didn't think it was a multiweek injury. "It's not for me to say right now, but obviously as a competitor I want to get back. But I'm going to do what the doctors say."
Coleman was 2-for-5 for 25 yards when he was injured. The Mocs didn't throw the ball much after that. Wideout Joel Bradford led them with four catches for 56 yards.
Bradford not only started at wide receiver but also replaced Mike Hammons as UTC's punter. Hammons had struggled in recent weeks and Huesman benched him in favor of Bradford, who never had punted in a college game.
The All-America receiver's first effort covered 53 yards, down to the GSU 9, and he finished with three punts for an average of 48.3 yards. He also ran for a first down on a fake.
"I'm just doing whatever Coach Huesman says," Bradford said.
Six games into his third season at UTC, Huesman has an overall record of 14-14. ... The game got off to a strange start when GSU's eagle, Freedom, flew away during its pregame flight down to the field. It was recovered a few minutes later in a nearby parking lot.