UTC defense can't rest vs. Lions

UTC defense can't rest vs. Lions

September 10th, 2015 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

UTC coach Russ Huesman shouts to players during the Mocs' season opener against Jacksonville State this past Saturday at Finley Stadium. The Mocs hosts NCAA Division II member Mars Hill at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

If the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense was expecting a reprieve from a talent-level standpoint after giving up 411 yards to sixth-ranked Jacksonville State in last week's season-opening loss, the Mocs were sadly mistaken.

Saturday's opponent, NCAA Division II member Mars Hill, sports some versatility at the skill positions. The Lions finished with 373 yards of total offense against Southern Conference member Western Carolina last week.

The UTC defense should see some familiar things, though. The Lions' style of offense, with misdirection and quick throws to get the ball into space, is similar to the Mocs.

"We better be ready to play on defense, or they'll get a bunch of yards on us," UTC head coach Russ Huesman said.

Mars Hill is led by running backs Shaikel Davis and Jamel Harbison, both of whom earned preseason all-South Atlantic Conference first-team honors this season. Davis rushed for 2,815 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career before missing the 2014 season due to a broken ankle, while Harbison, a Minnesota transfer, had 1,204 yards and nine scores in place of Davis last season. The two combined for 86 yards on 30 carries against the Catamounts in the opener.

Freshman receiver Gilbert Johnson (6-6, 200) had six catches for 144 yards in his first college game. He signed with Georgia out of high school before going to junior college. He then signed with Texas, but never stepped on campus.

Sophomore receiver Keshaun Taylor had nine catches for 81 yards last week.

"They're two pretty good players," UTC cornerback Dee Virgin said. "We just want to watch film, keep practicing hard and having that sense of urgency.

"You have to know who you're going against on the outside."

Two quarterbacks spearhead the offense. Senior Matt Layman is more of a pocket presence, while redshirt freshman Austin Brown presents more of a running threat. The two combined for 274 passing yards last week.

Defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said there's not a different approach when planning for two quarterbacks, because "each presents their different strengths and weaknesses."

Attention to detail has been a focus for the Mocs this week in practice. The defense gave up five big plays totaling 215 yards in the 23-20 loss to the Gamecocks last week, and having players where they need to be on a given play could have made the difference.

"One area that really hurt us last week was our execution. That'll get you beat," UTC defensive tackle Josh Freeman said. "We just want to focus on doing your job every play.

"I think last week's loss was a blessing for us. We needed to learn something from that loss, and we're definitely going to do that. We'll use that as a blessing, a learning tool, and work forward from there."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/genehenleytfp.


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