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UTC's football team finally gets a break this week after playing nine games in a row to start the season. Remaining on the Mocs' regular-season schedule are a SoCon matchup with Wofford on Nov. 12 and a game at top-ranked Alabama on Nov. 19.

CULLOWHEE, N.C. — As the Western Carolina marching band played and members of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team walked off the field with their eighth win of the season in hand, the coaching staff lined up to congratulate players as they headed to the locker room.

At 6:27 Saturday evening, the "next game" wasn't on their mind.

Rest, relaxation, recovery and refocusing were.

That's the plan for UTC this week with no game Saturday. The grind started early for the Football Championship Subdivision eighth-ranked Mocs, with their first official practice Aug. 3. They've played nine games, with the lone blemish an eight-point Southern Conference loss Oct. 5 at The Citadel, another top-10 team.

The Mocs are in firm control of a playoff spot with one more game against an FCS opponent remaining — senior day against Wofford on Nov. 12 — and a paydate against top-ranked Alabama of the Football Bowl Subdivision a week later.

UTC coach Russ Huesman said getting players "mentally back" will be important this week. Other than some weightlifting, the team won't do much physically.

"It's to the point now that it's been a grind since July, when they were here for the second session of summer school," Huesman said. "It's been non-stop, so we're gonna give them some time off. Early in the season, you go in and say you're going back to fundamentals, and at that point in time you have to, but when you play nine games, the mental aspect is huge.

"We're just going to try to get them mentally back and feeling good about football."

That could be especially important for the defense. The Mocs have allowed two teams — The Citadel and Western Carolina — to top the 300-yard rushing mark in the past three weeks, which took a defense that at one point was ranked first nationally against the run to now allowing 123.6 yards per game.

That's still good for 23rd in the country, but the Bulldogs churned out 348 yards on 77 carries on Oct. 15, and the Catamounts had 329. SoCon preseason offensive player of the year Detrez Newsome rushed for 277 of those yards, the most ever allowed by a UTC defense.

"Tired is not the word," safety Lucas Webb said. "We've been blessed injury-wise; we've still got a lot of guys pretty healthy and nothing too serious, but it's good to get away for a while, just focus on school, be able to relax and get our legs back under us."

Injuries haven't been much of a concern for the defense. That hasn't been the case for the offense, which has been without top running back Derrick Craine the past two games after he injured his ankle against The Citadel. Starting quarterback Alejandro Bennifield has dealt with fluid on his knee and been slowed some while playing through the injury.

Still, in Craine's absence, the Mocs averaged 310 rushing yards per game. Richardre Bagley had 315 yards in the two games, while backup Alex Trotter has also benefited from extra time. He had 16 carries for 84 yards the past two games after rushing for 94 yards in his first 13 games with the Mocs.

"Our team needs this right now. The players need it, the coaches need it," defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said of the break. "Everybody's had one but us. It's a long season. You play nine football games in a row, right from August camp to games, it's a long grind. I know the offense has some injuries and some things that it's crucial to get guys healthy. We're fortunate defensively that we haven't been as banged up, but it'll be a chance for us to get healthy mentally and physically.

"It'll be a shot in the arm. We just have to make sure we use it to our advantage."

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

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