LINCOLN, Neb. -- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team walked off the field Saturday with confidence despite a 40-7 season-opening loss to Nebraska.
In fact, the Mocs had more positive things to say after losing to the 10th-ranked Cornhuskers in front of an 84,883-person sea of red at Memorial Stadium than they did following either of their preseason scrimmages.
"I watched it for 60 minutes and we went toe to toe," UTC coach Russ Huesman said. "It wasn't pretty all of the time, but our kids fought. ... Our kids fought and clawed, and I think they know we've got a chance to have a really good football team."
It was that fight, combined with the speed UTC showed, that had players and coaches upbeat after the game. There were mistakes -- including blown assignments, false-start penalties and dropped passes -- but the positives in the loss seemed to far outweigh the negatives.
"They hit us in the mouth and we stood back up and tried to take it to them," Mocs safety Jordan Tippit said.
One of the biggest positives was the amount of negative yardage the defense generated. The Mocs had 12 tackles for loss for minus-26 yards.
"Any time you're getting tackles for loss on the No. 10 team in the country, that's something to be proud of," said Mocs linebacker Ryan Consiglio, who had a game-high 14 tackles.
Nebraska was able to produce some big plays -- star quarterback Taylor Martinez ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns -- but UTC made the highly touted Huskers work for most of their points. And four Nebraska drives ended with field goals.
Defensively, UTC usually held its own with Nebraska on first and second downs, but the Cornhuskers shucked the Mocs on third downs. In the first half, the Huskers converted six third downs of 6 yards or more. Of Nebraska's 364 yards of total offense, 139 came on those six plays.
Those third-down blues were among the only downers for the Mocs in their season opener, for which the Huskers paid UTC $475,000.
"It stinks because we were playing really well on first and second down and then we'd kind of drop back in coverage and we'd get the guy covered and then Martinez would do his thing," Consiglio said.
Nebraska led 13-0 in the second quarter when the Huskers decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the UTC 43-yard line. The Mocs were packed in the box in anticipation of a run inside, but Martinez took off to the left and scooted the distance for a score.
Down 23-0 at the half, UTC drove 72 yards -- it had 74 in the first half -- to open the third quarter and scored on quarterback B.J. Coleman's 13-yard pass to wideout Marlon Anthony.
Coleman finished 19-for-33 for 174 yards. He was sacked three times and his only interception came on a batted pass. Four Mocs had four receptions each: wideout Joel Bradford, tight end Faysal Shafaat and running back Chris Awuah.
Awuah was the Mocs' busiest player. He had 10 carries for 13 yards, the four receptions for 43 yards and five kickoff returns for 115 yards.
"I feel pretty good about what I did," Awuah said.
After Anthony's touchdown, which cut the lead to 23-7, UTC tried an onside kick. Nebraska recovered and then outscored the Mocs 17-0 the rest of the way.
Consiglio was one of several very busy UTC defenders. Safety D.J. Key had 11 tackles and Gunner Miller added nine. Consiglio, Miller, Wes Dothard and Keyon Reed each had two tackles for loss .
The Mocs' offense struggled to get any first downs against the defense in either of the scrimmages, but the offense had 13 and 230 yards of offense Saturday.
"We've got a chance to have a good football team," Huesman said, "and we've got a chance to have a great football season."
The Mocs open their home schedule next Saturday against Jacksonville State, ranked ninth in the Football Championship Subdivision.