How does a football team put together a six-game win streak that includes three straight victories in tight games? Sure, having the top defense in the Southern Conference helps. So does playing clean, smart football.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga committed just one penalty in last week's 20-10 win against Wofford, which earned the Mocs (8-2, 6-1) at least a share of the conference championship. UTC also won the turnover battle 4-1, and Nick Pollard averaged a school-record 54.7 yards per punt.
The week before, in a 35-28 win at Appalachian State, the Mocs had just three penalties for 14 yards. In the 28-24 come-from-behind win against The Citadel on Oct. 26, UTC had one 5-yard penalty and the Bulldogs, who lead the Football Championship Subdivision in fewest penalties (2.8 per game), had three for 24 yards, including a critical one late that killed what could have been a win-sealing drive.
"I talked to our team on Sunday and just congratulated them on what we're doing as far as penalties," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said Monday. "When you have a lot of penalties, a lot of it is lack of discipline, lack of focus; some of them are stupid, and some of them are selfish. ... We haven't been getting them, and that's why we've had some success here lately."
"Some success" is a six-game win streak heading into Saturday's SoCon finale at Samford (6-3, 5-2).
UTC ranks second in the FCS with just 3.6 penalties per game -- the anomaly was the Mocs' 11-penalty performance in their 23-21 loss at Georgia Southern on Sept. 28 -- and third with 30 penalty yards a game.
The Mocs are No. 13 in the FCS and No. 2 in the SoCon in net punting (38.7 yards), and they are tied for 21st in the FCS with a plus-6 turnover margin.
Pollard's prolific punting, which included a career-long 78-yarder, and his two field goals (29 and career-long 42 yards) earned the junior the honor of SoCon special teams player of the week.
UTC linebacker Nakevion Leslie was named the freshman of the week Monday following his 14-tackle performance against Wofford.
The Mocs have had at least one player named in the SoCon weekly awards for the past five weeks.
UTC moved up in both major FCS polls with its defeat of Wofford, which was the highest-ranked SoCon team last week at No. 15 in the coaches' poll and No. 17 in the Sports Network poll.
The Mocs moved from No. 24 to 17th in the Sports Network poll and from No. 23 to 15th in the coaches'. The Terriers fell to No. 21 in the coaches' and No. 24 in the other poll. Samford dropped out of the top 25 in both with its second straight loss.
Huesman said running back Keon Williams (ankle) should return to practice this week. ... All-America defensive end Davis Tull has been named to the Collegiate Sports Information Directors of America academic all-district team for the second year in a row.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.