UTC has modest but definite goals against Alabama

Russ Huesman knows his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga team won't be favored when the Football Championship Subdivision 11th-ranked Mocs face Football Bowl Subdivision top-ranked Alabama tonight in Tuscaloosa.

But he does suspect his team will play well.

And with the FCS playoffs potentially looming next week, a little momentum can never hurt.

The Mocs split in their last four contests, having looked largely underwhelming in those games. Chances are the Crimson Tide aren't the "get right" game the Mocs may need, but that doesn't mean whatever happens on the scoreboard has to be indicative of the play on the field.

Offensively, UTC wants to move the ball.

"We've just talked about taking care of Chattanooga," offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said. "Alabama is a great football team - what a great measuring stick to see where we are, where you are as a player. Somehow we've got to find a way to be greater than the sum of our parts.

"We just want to get better this week. We're really close; we know we have a good football team and I think when you play good people you get better, so let's don't do what Alabama makes you do: Let's don't get turnovers; let's don't get sacked; let's don't do some of the things that have hurt us in our season. We have to guard against that and make them play defense.

"I want to run some plays and make them play defense, and in order to do that you've got to convert some third downs, you've got to be able to run the football. We'll get better, and I'll find out who the real competitors are on Saturday."

UTC is setting mini-goals for the game. The offense wants first downs, which could lead to touchdowns (or field goals), which would be an improvement over the last two times the Mocs played the Tide (45-0 in 2009, 49-0 in 2013).

"We don't want to go three-and-out all the time," offensive lineman Corey Levin said. "We're going to try to keep the offense on the field, and we want our defense to keep them out of the end zone as much as they can."

Although the Mocs are the only FCS team on the Tide's schedule, they are by ratings not the worse. UTC ranks 117rd out of all Division I programs, 25 slots ahead of the Kent State FBS team that Alabama beat 48-0 on Sept. 24. Today might not yield a great result, but it could bring out the best in the underdogs, which Huesman would not complain about if it led to a playoff run.

"Any chance you get to go up against the No. 1 team in the nation, it's always a good feeling," linebacker Nakevion Leslie said. "It's good exposure, not only for our players but for UTC as a program.

"It's a chance to show the world what we can do and the type of players we have here on the FCS level."

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