Two themes were constant throughout the second half of spring football practice for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga: the Mocs really like the offense under new coordinator Jeff Durden and the young players, especially on defense, better get better if they want playing time in the fall.
The Mocs wrapped up spring practice Saturday at Finley Stadium with an entertaining spring game that ended on a Jacob Huesman 39-yard touchdown pass to win it for the White, 36-33. The game featured six touchdowns of 23 yards or longer.
UTC's defense, among the best in the Football Championship Subdivision the past two seasons, gave up 466 yards passing (Jacob was 20-for-26 for 370 yards and four touchdowns) and 274 yards rushing. It wasn't all backups getting beat on plays short and long, but many of the defense's starters saw minimal action, which was the case all spring long.
Mocs coach Russ Huesman said it was a productive spring overall, with the offense showing improvement at most positions. Defensively, he has some concerns.
"If anything, I think we didn't come far enough along defensively," he said Saturday. "With some of the young guys, some of the backups, [they] did not come along as quickly as we would have liked. And that's discouraging."
The Mocs should return nine starters from last season and UTC could have the best defensive line in the Southern Conference, if not all of the FCS. Huesman also said he was worried about UTC's depth at linebacker.
"I think we're going to be fine on defense," he said, "I don't think that's a question, but I don't know that we've got the depth that really need."
Offensively, Durden's version of the spread has been an immediate hit with the players. The running backs and receivers are more involved and the offense seen in the 15 spring practices was just the beginning.
"I love this offense," said tight end Faysal Shafaat, who caught two touchdown passes Saturday. "Durden is doing a really good job with it, and like he said earlier today, we got a glimpse this spring of how explosive it can be. So I'm excited about that."
Durden, who ran the spread during his nine seasons as James Madison's offensive coordinator, said was impressed by the enthusiasm the offense showed in the spring.
"The biggest compliment these kids can give us is, 'Hey, I understand, I know what I'm doing and I can play fast,'" he said. "We don't coach effort around here."
With spring practice done and no mandatory workouts until preseason practice begins in late July, it's up to the players to keep working and improving during the months ahead. Huesman said Thursday that UTC might look into signing a transfer or two, but that will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.