• VMI (1-4, 0-2) at UTC (2-2, 1-0)
• Saturday, 4 p.m.
• Finley Stadium
• 96.1 FM
It was a change out of necessity, but it may be the move that was needed to put the right pieces in place for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offensive line to get untracked.
In the days leading up to last week's Southern Conference opener, UTC coaches moved three linemen around -- Corey Levin rom left tackle to left guard, Hunter Townson from right tackle to left tackle and Brandon Morgan from left guard to right tackle -- in trying to create more of a positive push up front.
Although playing musical chairs along the offensive line is not an ideal situation, especially four games into a season, the result was the most productive ground game the Mocs have had so far with 252 rushing yards and four touchdowns, going 4-for-4 in red-zone scoring chances.
"We had two great weeks of practice with the bye week, and by the looks of the score it looks like we put the puzzle pieces in the right place," said Levin, a Freshman All-American last season. "It's definitely feeling good to finally make a statement for ourselves. We want to go out and be the most physical, and we were.
"To get 250 rushing yards on them says a lot about the five guys up front and the running backs and the work we've put in. It felt great to grind out some good yards and to pop a couple of big ones."
The Mocs, who converted 7 of 15 third downs into firsts to reverse a troubling early trend, had six runs of 10-25 yards, which was three times the number in the three previous games combined. Also against Samford, they ripped off the only two runs of 25-plus yards this year, as well as 10 quality gains of 5-9 yards and fewer plays that went for negative yards than any previous game.
Senior running back Keon Williams went over the 100-yard mark (131) for the first time this season, and quarterback Jacob Huesman added a season-high 86 yards on the ground. Huesman was sacked just once while throwing 19 passes.
"The OL, I was proud of those guys, I'l tell you what," the quarterback said afterward. "Every time we came back over [to the sideline] they said, 'Run the ball behind us.' We did that and started to wear Samford down a little bit. I'm proud of those guys because they really stepped up.
"It's one thing to ask for it; it's another to deliver on it."
The offense established itself early, scoring 10 points on its first two possessions and posting three scores by halftime (special teams accounted for the other). UTC scored 17 points off Samford turnovers to win its conference opener for the first time since 2007.
"The line played lights out," said Williams, who recored the seventh 100-plus yard rushing game of his career. "They were getting on top of blocks and finishing them. That's what we need week in and week out.
"It felt good to come out and execute the way we did. It set the tone. That's one of the better teams in the conference, so that lets everybody know we can do what we're capable of. Once I got the ball, the line did a heck of a job making lanes all night, so I wasn't holding back."
But while there were definitely plenty of positive signs, it didn't escape coach Russ Huesman's attention that there is still work to do. UTC was forced to punt on its first five possessions of the second half and picked up just 12 first downs, and Samford ran 19 more offensive snaps.
"We want to get our best five on the field up front, but there were some things we missed," Coach Huesman said. "We didn't stay on blocks long enough on a few occasions. It's still a work in progress. We've still got a ways to go. We've got to get better. We won a football game but didn't play great as an offense.
"There were some positives to build on, and I did think we did a good job of getting Keon some running room and Jacob a little bit of running room. We had some great individual performances and the defense played pretty good, but other people need to step up."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.