Mocs' big-play potential was reality in opener

Offseason additions to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football roster made it seem reasonable to expect the Mocs' offense to be better this year.

At least for a game, that has proven to be true.

UTC unveiled a big-play attack in its season opener last week, rolling up 455 yards of total offense - the most in Tom Arth's 12 games as coach - in the 34-10 win over Tennessee Tech that started Thursday evening but didn't finish until after midnight due to a weather delay.

A season ago, the Mocs never topped 400 yards in a game and surpassed 300 yards on just three occasions. Against Tennessee Tech, they averaged 7.3 yards per offensive play (9.9 yards per completion and 4.6 yards per carry).

The Mocs will try to keep it up Saturday, when they open their Southern Conference schedule against The Citadel (0-1, 0-1) in Charleston, South Carolina.

"We started off the season with a big win, but the best part is it could get even better for us," quarterback Nick Tiano said. "We made some mistakes and we have a lot to learn from, but we'll have a lot of momentum going forward into next week. There's nothing like being able to throw to these guys, make a 10-yard throw and let them take it 90 yards. It's what we worked all offseason for, and in our mind, we should have had even more.

"We're really excited about that."

A season after generating a total of eight "dynamic" plays (runs covering at least 20 yards, passes covering at least 30 yards), UTC's offense had six against the Golden Eagles, who forced the Mocs to throw early in the game. Tiano and his receivers made sure that wasn't a bad thing. The junior had 220 yards on 21 passes in the first half, including completions of 89 and 42 yards to sophomore wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly and 30 yards to junior running back Tyrell Price, a junior college transfer.

Tiano's success in the first half led to some opportunities on the ground for Tiano and Price, who combined for 112 of UTC's 115 rushing yards in the second half. Price, who finished with 98 rushing yards, had a 40-yard touchdown run that was set up by Tiano's 24-yard scamper.

Tiano had a 63-yard touchdown toss to Wil Young and finished with 318 yards on 21-of-31 passing. Price had 56 receiving yards.

"Both of those guys played well," Arth said of Price and Tiano. "Nick will go back and watch the tape and see some opportunities he left out there. Some missed throws, some missed reads. We'll correct that, but for game one, to come out and play as clean as he played was really exciting.

"You'll see as the game goes, Tyrell gets stronger. That's what we hope to see from him. We're excited to continue to work and improve our offensive line and in our run game, and hopefully that will be a strength of our team as we go through the season."

The growth was a good sight for a number of defensive players who watched as the Mocs' offense struggled much of last season. Senior defensive tackle Derek Mahaffey had seen the progress of the offensive line in practices, so he wasn't surprised to see that unit improve. Tiano was sacked twice and hurried once Thursday night.

"It was beautiful," Mahaffey said. "To see how hard those guys worked every day, to see them do it on this stage is beautiful, and I couldn't be more proud of them. Those guys were blocking their tail off.

"One thing they struggled with last year was they'd have a one-on-one block, but they didn't help out with the other block. To see them finish their job and go out and help somebody else was great."

Thursday night, so was almost everything pertaining to UTC's offense.

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.