Russ Huesman began his postgame news conference last Saturday by saying that his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team had won an "ugly" game against Elon. Moments later, he said he quickly had begun turning his attention to 2013.
The Mocs finished 2011 with a record of 5-6, with five losses by a combined 12 points. This year they went 6-5 with a three-point loss at Jacksonville State and other close losses (including two in overtime) to Southern Conference tri-champions Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Wofford.
Huesman, now 23-21 overall and 17-15 in the SoCon after four seasons, said UTC's coaches have to do everything in their "power to get this thing better than this" next season.
"We're not satisfied as coaches, and I hope our players aren't satisfied," he said after the 24-17 win over Elon to clinch the program's third winning record in four seasons -- something that hadn't happened at UTC since 1984-87.
For the fifth-year seniors, who were redshirting as UTC went 1-11 in 2008, a third winning season in their careers was meaningful. But they wanted more for themselves and they expect more from the Mocs in the years to come.
"This is just the starting point," senior right tackle Adam Miller said. "There's so much more improvement that's going to happen here. With everyone being so young, these next couple of years could be great here at Chattanooga."
Miller was one of four senior starters the Mocs will lose, joining running back J.J. Jackson, defensive end Josh Williams and linebacker Shane Heatherly. That means the Mocs will have a very experienced team coming back, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Jacob Huesman and sophomore defensive end Davis Tull.
Monday, Jacob was named the SoCon offensive player of the week and freshman of the week for his performance (109 rushing yards, 234 passing and three touchdowns) against Elon. It was his fourth freshman award of the season, and he has an excellent shot at being the league's freshman of the year.
He also was named one of the 20 finalists for the Jerry Rice Award, which goes to the top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Tull, who set UTC single-season records for sacks (12.5) and tackles for loss (19.0), is a leading candidate for the SoCon defensive player of the year award. With 17.5 career sacks after two seasons, Tull trails only now-former teammate Josh Williams, who ended his career last Saturday with 23.5.
"I feel bad for [Williams] because he's not going to be the all-time sack leader for very long," Coach Huesman said. "I hate to say that, but ..."
The Mocs finished the season first in the SoCon, for the second straight season, in total defense (308.4 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (20.4 points per game).
"We're to the point now that we have the types of players that we're looking for and now it's just about putting it together consistently all the time," defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said.
Offensively, UTC finished fifth in scoring (25.5 ppg) and eighth in total offense (349.8). In its first season running a version of the spread, UTC went through a lot of trial and error as it figured out what worked best.
"From where we started out to where we ended, I think we were two totally different animals," offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said. "I think we were a formidable, functioning offense by the end of the season."
The offense also had to deal with sophomore Terrell Robinson's quitting the team and then returning in week two. Robinson had some stints at quarterback the rest of the way but emerged as the team's top wide receiver with 40 catches for 489 yards and five touchdowns.
Coach Huesman said this offseason is crucial for the future of the program.
"As coaches we've got to create momentum in the offseason and figure out ways to win a conference championship and get in the playoffs and win close games against other people," he said. "I'm excited about this football team coming back. If they work like we're going to demand that they work, and give us everything they can give us, I feel good about next year."
The Mocs' 2013 schedule includes nonconference games against Alabama, UT-Martin, Georgia State and Austin Peay.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.