It was a joke, Keionta Davis' postgame comment after The Citadel win about catching University of Tennessee at Chattanooga all-time sacks leader Davis Tull. Only a joke, yes, but it seems a little more credible now.
"I told Davis, I'm coming for him. I've got a long way to go, but I'm coming for him," Davis, a former Red Bank High School standout, said after getting 1.5 sacks on the Bulldogs' final drive, helping seal a 28-24 come-from-behind win.
While fellow defensive end Tull, a redshirt junior, has 26.5 sacks and counting, those were the first sacks and tackles for loss of the redshirt freshman Davis' career. But they were just the beginning.
The following week, at Appalachian State, Davis had 2.5 tackles for loss and a crucial quarterback hurry that led to linebacker Nakevion Leslie's game-winning interception return for a touchdown. Last week, in the 21st-ranked Mocs' 17-14 overtime loss at No. 23 Samford, Davis got another sack.
It may not be a Tull-like pace -- the reigning Southern Conference defensive player of the year has his 26.5 in 33 career games -- but it is a good start.
"I think now I'm expected to play well, and I've continued to do that so far," Davis said before Tuesday's practice at Scrappy Moore Field. "I'm more confident and the last couple of games I've been more consistent, so I'm feeling, I don't want to say happy, but I'm glad I'm moving in the right direction."
Career start No. 4 will come Saturday when UTC (8-3) meets undefeated and two-time defending BCS national champion Alabama (10-0) at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Davis started the opener against UT-Martin in place of a suspended Toyvian Brand, but he wasn't really ready, Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. A redshirt freshman should typically have a 10- or 15-snap role and play on special teams, Huesman said.
"We had to force him into a 60-play, 65-play role early in the year and he wasn't ready," Huesman said. "He wasn't playing aggressively and he wasn't running to the ball, but he just got better and better as the year went on, in the very limited snaps that he took."
Brand started seven straight games before Davis was promoted to the starting spot opposite Tull for the Wofford game on Nov. 9. Davis filled in for Brand at times before because of a shoulder stinger, but in the past few weeks he's earned the job.
"He actually looks now, the last three or four weeks, like a college football player," Huesman said. "Earlier in the year, he looked like a high school player."
Davis missed his senior year at Red Bank due to a knee injury and redshirted the 2012 season. Getting up to speed at the Division I level can take a little time for any freshman, defensive tackle Josh Freeman said.
"It takes knowing what's going on out there and watching film," said Freeman, a redshirt sophomore. "Knowing what's going on and being able to diagnose plays, so that as soon as they occur, you're reacting fast. I think the only thing that helps improve that stuff is time and experience. That's what he's getting right now and he's coming along."
Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman (knee) and wide receiver Tommy Hudson (ankle) did not practice Tuesday. Coach Huesman said earlier in the day that he thought Jacob would be able to play Saturday. ... Running back Keon Williams (ankle) continued to increase his activity in practice but remains questionable. He's missed the past two games. Jacob Huesman leads UTC with 894 rushing yards and Williams is second with 687. ... Russ Huesman was listed Tuesday among the 21 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award, given annually to the national coach of the year in the FCS. Furman's Bruce Fowler, Mercer's Bobby Lamb and Tennessee State's Rod Reed also are finalists.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.