Mocs earn respect in 31-3 loss at Alabama

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, runs the ball against Chattanooga defensive back Montrell Pardue, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - If the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team winds up having some success in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the Mocs can look back to Saturday as the springboard.

Coming off a lackluster four-game stretch, the Mocs led Football Bowl Subdivision top-ranked Alabama for a quarter before the Crimson Tide got on the board. The home team then took advantage of a UTC miscue to add to its lead before manufacturing some second-half points on its way to a 31-3 victory in front of 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The Mocs (8-3) find out their playoff fate this morning. Alabama (11-0) hosts Auburn on Saturday.

Alabama coach Nick Saban had called UTC's defense "an SEC defense" this past week, and the Mocs played like it. The Tide finished with 332 yards of total offense, their second-lowest output of the season (to 323 against LSU), and the Mocs had three sacks, which tied Texas A&M for the most Alabama has allowed in a game all season.

Alabama led 14-3 at halftime and had only 145 yards of total offense. One of its first-half touchdowns came on a four-play, 9-yard drive after UTC's C.J. Board muffed a punt.

"I said to them, 'Do you believe me now?'" Saban told reporters. "I've been telling them all week (how good UTC's defense was)."

The UTC defense ended its four-game stretch without forcing a turnover when Dale Warren, who had seven tackles (three for loss) and a sack Saturday, forced and recovered a fumble with 9:49 to play in the game.

The offense was able to move the ball somewhat. Alejandro Bennifield threw for 106 yard before leaving the game with a minor injury in the third quarter. Derrick Craine rushed for 36 yards and Richardre Bagley had 35.

"Going up against the No. 1 defense is always tough," Bennifield said. "Our play-calling helped us out a lot, (and) we did some different things with our schemes to make us successful.

"Scoring on the first drive was big for us: It let our guys know we had a chance."

On the Mocs' first possession, Bennifield passed to Board three times, including a big 31-yarder into Alabama territory. Board then made a tough diving catch for 8 yards to put UTC in position for a field goal, and Henrique Ribeiro connected on a 47-yard field goal.

It was only the second time that Alabama had trailed after a quarter all season, with Ole Miss being the other.

Alabama slowly took over in the second quarter. Jalen Hurts had touchdown passes of 47 yards to Calvin Ridley and a yard to Gehrig Dieter, who also caught Hurts' last touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

In between, Damien Harris had a 25-yard third-quarter run.

"I thought our guys played hard," UTC coach Russ Huesman said. "They had a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. You can't make mistakes against a really good football team, but I thought we played real good defense out there. Offensively we got some first downs. They've got a really good football team and they probably slept-walk coming into this thing, but our guys were pretty excited to play and I was awful proud of them."

Harris led the Tide with 91 yards rushing. Hurts had 68 rushing to go along with 136 yards passing and three touchdowns, while Ridley had 94 yards on seven receptions.

"We made a few mistakes here and there that cost us, but for the most part, we played hard and fought," UTC defensive end Keionta Davis said. "Any time you do that, you're going to have a good outcome.

"Everybody's excited right now (in the locker room). Everybody's ready to get back on the field."

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