The fact that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga set a new season high of rushing yards Saturday is no surprise for a team that likes to feature the run.
The fact the Mocs did so without one of the best running backs in the country may turn some heads, though.
Led by a career-high performance from junior Richardre Bagley, the eighth-ranked Mocs rushed for 297 yards in a 30-13 Southern Conference win over Virginia Military Institute in front of 10,505 at Finley Stadium.
In the absence of injured senior Derrick Craine, Bagley had 189 yards and two touchdowns as the Mocs (7-1, 5-1) remained a half-game behind The Citadel in the SoCon standings. The Citadel needed overtime to defeat Wofford 24-21 on Saturday.
The Mocs visit Western Carolina in their SoCon road finale next week and will be off on Nov. 5.
"Good win," UTC coach Russ Huesman said. "This time of year, any win is a good win. Give VMI credit: They played hard. In the second half they outplayed us, no question about that. We didn't put two halves together, but that being said, this time of year, however you get a win, you've got to get a win.
"We got a win and I'm proud of our guys for that."
Bagley had scoring runs of 27 and 45 yards, breaking a number of tackles down the right sideline on the latter touchdown. He was in for Craine, who ranks in the top 20 in the country in yards per game but is out with an ankle injury.
Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield threw for 224 yards and a touchdown before a knee injury sidelined him after the first possession of the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Tyler Roberson replaced him and rushed for 43 yards for the UTC offense, which racked up 519 yards on the day.
"Having Craine out, we had to step up and do our job better," offensive lineman Malcolm White said, "but Richardre stepped up today. That one play, he looked like Craine. Everybody just feels that when Craine goes down, everybody just assesses it. It's more easily acted upon than said that we needed to rally together and understand that we needed to step up to get the win."
The Mocs sacked VMI quarterback Al Cobb six times, three by senior All-American Keionta Davis, who now has eight for the season. Defensive tackle Isaiah Mack and linebackers Nakevion Leslie and Dale Warren also had sacks of Cobb, who threw for 218 yards and had a 79-yard touchdown pass to Javeon Lara in the third quarter.
The sack total was a season high for the Mocs, and the rushing yards allowed were a season low.
"Guys like Keionta Davis, Vantrel McMillan and Isaiah that pressure the quarterback and get sacks make it easier for guys like Lucas Webb and Montrell Pardue, because they're getting after the quarterback," said Leslie, who had five tackles. "Every time he's dropping back, he's thinking about getting the ball out quick, so he may not make the best throw every time because he's worried about escaping pressure from those guys."
The Mocs dominated the first half in yards (292-39), first downs (13-1) and rushing yards (107-0) yet led only 17-0 after a 21-yard touchdown pass from Bennifield to Bingo Morton — Morton's first career score — a 14-yard run by the quarterback and a 30-yard field goal by Henrique Ribeiro.
After a first half in which they punted six times in seven possessions — the seventh ending the half — the Keydets started to move the ball in the third quarter with 155 yards on 16 plays. They opened the second half by missing a short field goal but quickly got on the board with the long pass from Cobb to Lara.
UTC responded with a 65-yard drive, capped with Bennifield rushing 6 yards on the option and then pitching to Bagley, who sprinted the final 27 for the score.
VMI got a 1-yard scoring run by Cobb, but after the teams traded punts, Bagley had the game-sealing score.
James Stovall led six Mocs receivers and eight pass catchers with six catches for 61 yards. C.J. Board moved into ninth all-time in UTC history with two catches, giving him 126 for his career.