Joel Bradford worried about how opposing defenses would prepare for him in 2011.
After all, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior receiver from McCallie led the Southern Conference with 1,284 yards and finished second in the SoCon with 81 receptions in 2010.
That led to a host of preseason accolades, which he translated into seeing double-coverage, over-under coverage and anything else to limit the number of passes he'd get from quarterback B.J. Coleman, his longtime teammate.
Bradford isn't worrying anymore.
He tied a career high with 15 receptions, gained 162 yards and scored on a lucky 47-yard touchdown pass in the Mocs' 38-17 win over Jacksonville State on Saturday night.
"I was nervous for the season -- like what's going to happen this season? -- but at the same time, I'm still going to have to get open and catch the ball," Bradford said. "I enjoy the connection. It's coming back and we're expecting big things this season."
B.J. to Bradford is back.
They connected only four times a week ago. But as coach Russ Huesman noted, "That was against Nebraska and it's hard to get the ball to him against Nebraska."
Bradford magically turned an interception into a touchdown Saturday. A long pass from Coleman floated over the shoulder and into the hands of defensive back A.J. Davis. But as the Gamecock pulled the ball in, it popped out and Bradford snatched it to give UTC a 23-17 lead it never relinquished.
"I thought he caught it clean, but I reached over and grabbed it," Bradford said. "It was a fortunate play."
Not easy on Ealey
Gamecocks running back Washaun Ealey gouged Georgia Tech for 183 yards in 2009 when he played for the University of Georgia. The Mocs made him look pedestrian throughout Saturday's game and forced the ball from his hands in a critical situation.
"We slowed him down pretty good," Huesman said.
The Gamecocks trailed 31-17 midway through the third quarter and faced a fourth-and-1. Ealey took a quick handoff and lept over the line of scrimmage and appeared to earn a first down, but Mocs linebacker Gunner Miller popped the ball from his hands. It trickled back behind the line of scrimmage and killed thoughts of a quick comeback for JSU.
"That's a big fourth-down stop, a turning point in the game and maybe in the season," linebacker Jordan Tippit said. "Last year we might have given up that fourth down, but we stuck with it this year."
Ealey finished with 43 yards on 11 carries and a 4-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Almost kicking selves
The impact of the kicking game became belittled as the UTC defense bottled up JSU in the second half. Yet it could have played a role if things would have turned out differently.
The Mocs had an extra-point kick blocked in the second quarter. Nick Pollard missed a 47-yard field-goal attempt wide right just before halftime, and Mike Hammons shanked a 29-yard punt in the first half.
Of UTC's seven kickoffs, Pollard booted three for an average of 59.7 yards. Hammons booted four for a 45.5 yard average with one rolling out of bounds.