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UTC right guard Josh Cardiello (72) prepares to block Shorter's Justin Filmore (55). The University of Tennessee/Chattanooga Mocs hosted the Shorter University Hawks in NCAA football action on Sept. 1, 2016.
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Josh Cardiello (72) plays right guard for UTC. The University of Tennessee/Chattanooga Mocs hosted the Shorter University Hawks in NCAA football action on Sept. 1, 2016.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offensive line followed up perhaps its worst performance of the season with one of its best.

And against a higher level of competition.

A week after giving up a season-high four sacks in a 36-28 loss against Wofford, the front five held Alabama without a sack in the season finale in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Mocs took a number of superlatives away from the game, but none may be more impressive than the fact that Alabama didn't record a sack for the first time all season.

Right guard Josh Cardiello is part of the starting unit. He said the group can do nothing but take positives away from the game.

"It's always good to gauge your competition against guys that are potentially first-round draft picks, potentially top-10 draft picks," he said. "It's cool to see where you stack up, and I think as an offensive line we played great. We didn't give up a sack.

"There's not many teams that can say that versus Alabama."

In fact, Saturday ended a streak of 14 consecutive games with at least one sack by the Alabama defense.

Of course, the game plan was different. Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield was trained all week to get the ball out in three seconds or less to avoid taking unnecessary hits, but even when he had to hold it longer, the line held up to give him a chance to throw.

The Mocs methodically drove down the field for a field goal on the game's opening possession, going 50 yards on 10 plays. That was enough for not only the line, but the entire offense to take away a number of positives.

"Moving the ball and scoring are two different things," offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said. "We have to take the approach to take care of the football, take care of our defense and essentially run the ball against Alabama. Once they got up two scores, we decided to play a bunch of kids, but we knew if we got off to a good start we could have some success.

"Now we want to build on it. We won't play a better team than we just played, and I think it's exciting. Some of the younger players realized that there is a difference (in the level of competition), but not that big of a gap. I also saw us playing footloose and fancy-free. Our motto is to 'Go Reckless, Stay Loose and Score.' From 500 feet above (in the press box), that's how I saw our guys playing."

Head coach Russ Huesman praised the effort of the line and its ability to protect Bennifield. He singled out redshirt freshman Malcolm White, who was left on an island with likely first-round draft pick Jonathan Allen and held him in check.

"Malcolm has really quietly put together a really good year, and he's got an unbelievable future for this place," Huesman said. "He's really good and he's getting better and better. We're so thrilled and pleased with his progress. He could be the next really great one. He's a hard worker and a fantastic kid."

Durden seconded Huesman's praise of White's game against Alabama and said that that was the type of game to build confidence in the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder. Four-fifths of the line has played in that sort of atmosphere before, with White being the lone newcomer this season to the line.

"To be a freshman in this league, to play and start is unbelievable," Durden said. "His best football is in front of him, and those are the guys I'm talking about (gaining confidence). Corey Levin knows he can play; he knew he was going to play well Saturday, and he did. For Malcolm to go in there and block that guy (Allen), you can see a little bounce in his step, a little more confidence.

"If you think you're a good player, you probably are. If you don't think you are, it's really hard to be good."

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

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