Football Mocs renew focus, hope for best

UTC coach Russ Huesman shouts to receiver Xavier Borishade during last week's SoCon loss to Wofford, a defeat that cast doubt on the Mocs' playoff hopes. They'll close the regular season at FBS power Alabama on Saturday, then hope to hear UTC's name called when the FCS postseason's 24-team bracket is announced Sunday.

Russ Huesman detected something was wrong with his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team.

Maybe it was a sense of entitlement. Maybe a sense of, "We've arrived." Three consecutive Southern Conference championships and a pair of Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearances can do that to a program.

Even the UTC coach might have been guilty of thinking that way.

Now, with the stark possibility of his 11th-ranked Mocs playing their last game of the season Saturday, both the coaching staff and the players - especially the seniors - are trying to fix it.

"I could see a sense of, 'We're Chattanooga, three-time defending champs. Put the ball down you're playing Chattanooga. Good luck to you," Huesman said Tuesday. "Sometimes you don't do everything that's possible to play well in a game. I could kind of see it. I could see it in me.

"We did this. It's on all of us, but I think there was a (sense of), 'We're Chattanooga. Let's roll.' And it don't work that way."

Huesman said everything around the program changed over a five-week span, leading to losses to The Citadel (22-14 on Oct. 15) and Wofford (36-28 last Saturday), a solid win over Virginia Military Institute (30-13 on Oct. 22) and a lackluster victory over Western Carolina (38-25 on Oct. 29).

The latter game was the Mocs' ninth in a row to start the season, and it wasn't unreasonable to figure the underwhelming performance signaled a need for rest, but last week's loss came after a break.

In the past four games, UTC's defense has allowed per-game averages of 232.3 rushing yards and 346.5 offensive yards while forcing no turnovers. Even with their performances in the past four games not as good as the first six, the Mocs still lead the country in passing yards allowed and rank fifth in total defense.

The offense, while still good, has not consistently shown the explosiveness it did early in the season.

"I think we need to focus on preparation more," UTC offensive lineman Corey Levin said. "I think we take the little things for granted, little things that add up and ultimately might cost us a win. I don't think we're not playing hard or anything like that, I just think something goes wrong and we haven't done enough to try and overcome that. We haven't really known how to play behind, and our two losses we've had to play behind.

"There were different things we could have done, but we had to learn the hard way."

Levin and the other seniors called a team meeting Sunday evening to lay everything out. The session was described as "intense," with different players standing up to make their feelings known about the rest of the season.

The seniors led the meeting, some knowing that their college football careers - perhaps their playing careers - could be over in less than a week. The Mocs close the regular season at the Football Bowl Subdivision's No. 1-ranked Alabama on Saturday night.

"They wanted to let us know this isn't how we're going out," junior safety Lucas Webb said. "It was really a relief to regroup and come together and be like, 'Look guys, we're all right. We're probably not going to be favored to be high in the playoffs if we do make it.

"From here on out, it's a one-game season. We're not 100 percent sure we're going to make the playoffs, but if and when we do get that chance, we've got to take it and we've got to run with it."

Said Huesman: "The bottom line is, it's on me. I could have nipped it in the bud quickly, and I didn't. I was probably right there with them, and that's totally on me. These last four games, I haven't done a great job, but we'll get better.

"I think we'll commit and play better."

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