Darrell Bridges was thankful Saturday night. He was also optimistic about the prospects of his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team, even after a 35-point defeat.
He wasn't alone.
Bridges rushed for a solid 88 yards and a score in the Mocs' 45-10 loss at LSU. That production came on 15 carries, and his total was the most yards the Tigers had allowed to a single runner since Texas A&M's Keith Ford gained 100 last Nov. 24 — a 54-39 LSU victory.
"I thought Darrell ran really well," UTC coach Tom Arth said. "I think offensively our offensive line, our tight ends, fullbacks did an outstanding job in the run game for the most part. We didn't have very many negative runs. Some runs were 2-yard gains, but that's good, that's positive.
"As long as we're staying in phase and going second-and-8 to third-and-6, we feel very good about our opportunity to convert. I was pleased about our run game, particularly in our 21 (formation) personnel — it looked really, really good — and that's definitely something we can build on in the future."
Arth's words were echoed by his players, most of whom took to social media postgame to express their excitement for the rest of the season.
"There's signs of greatness when we execute and do our job," said receiver Joseph Parker, who had six catches for 104 yards. "When one man just does his job and does not worry about the big picture — not worry about too much — we can really do a lot of great things no matter who we play.
"There are great things to take away from tonight, but we've got to take the scoreboard to heart. We didn't play as well as we should have."
But the Mocs did play well against a Football Bowl Subdivision power, for the most part. As for Bridges, he spent a lot of time thanking everybody around him for the effort the team put forth blocking for the former Ridgeland High School standout.
Saturday's effort was a far cry from UTC's first game, when Bridges and fellow senior Richardre Bagley — who missed the LSU game due to injury — combined for 22 yards on 14 carries in a 27-13 loss to Jacksonville State.
"The offensive line came out with a better mindset," Bridges said. "They got the first-game jitters out of the way and wanted to make a point against some NFL talent. The running back room, we definitely wanted to be more physical, have the determination to get extra yards and keep pushing.
"The big key for us coming in was execution. We didn't execute as well as we could against Jacksonville State, so this game was about execution, and we showed that we could (execute). When we didn't, it looked bad, but we're OK; we're going to settle down, continue to execute and continue to make plays."
Bridges was highly regarded coming out of high school and wanted to go to UTC. He instead ended up at Presbyterian, where in three seasons he had 2,182 yards and 12 scores for a program that won only 10 games in three seasons, and after graduating in the spring he returned to his hometown to play his final season.
Scoring for his hometown team was something he'd always wanted to do, and he got that chance Saturday, running through a hole created by left tackle Malcolm White and a kickout block by tight end Bailey Lenoir for a touchdown with 12:18 to play.
It was the first touchdown the LSU defense had allowed in 34 possessions.
"Lot of emotions," Bridges said of the score. "Words can't describe it. It's definitely going to be a great feeling to get back home and play that first game in blue (this Saturday against UT-Martin). I'm excited and ready to see what this season holds for us, because we're a great team — we just showed that tonight.
"As long as we continue to execute and continue to make plays, we'll be fine."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.