On one hand, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team's 2018 season was a success. On the other, a late-schedule swoon will stick with coaches and players over the next eight months.
The Mocs' 49-9 loss at South Carolina on Saturday night left them at 6-5 with their third consecutive loss. The six wins double last year's total in coach Tom Arth's first season, but they missed the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the second year in a row after making the postseason field three straight seasons.
"We have a long way to go," Arth said early this past week. "It's so interesting, I talked with some of the coaches about this last week. In some regards, we feel like we're right there and we're a possession away or a touchdown away on offense from coming into this one 10-0 or 8-2, whatever the case may be.
"The margin of error is so small. I can say we're this close, which we are, but at the same time we're that far away. It's like last year, where we had to go through some adversity and challenges our players hadn't had to face. We weren't in many games, and we weren't very competitive."
Until Saturday, UTC either led late or had the ball with a chance to take a lead late in each of its first four losses. Offensive problems, particularly finishing drives, were prevalent in the losses. In the Mocs' six wins, they averaged more than 30 points. In their losses, the average dipped to just more than 10.
"What you have to look at now is there are obviously some things we are not doing properly, and we have identified some of that, so I expect us to learn from them and for us to grow," Arth said.
"I expect us, that when we find ourselves in those types of close games, we find ways to pull them out. That was really the difference for us this year. When we got down, we had a hard time fighting our way back. You just have to go through the obstacles and challenges before you learn how to overcome them."
Individually, the Mocs had several standout seasons. Junior quarterback Nick Tiano finished with 2,710 passing yards, the fifth-most in program history, and his six interceptions were the fewest of any UTC quarterback who completed 200 or more passes in a season.
Sophomore receiver Bryce Nunnelly, who had 141 yards on five catches against South Carolina, finished the season with 1,237 yards, the second-most in school history. He surpassed 100 yards in six games this year, tying a program record, and had 11 catches of 30-plus yards after UTC had only five as a team in 2017.
Nunnelly and Tiano were keys to helping the offense gain 850 more yards than in 2017, and they will be two of nine offensive starters who return next year, when nine of the 10 linemen on the two-deep chart will be back. Receivers Joseph Parker and Will Young were the only senior starters this year for the Mocs on that side of the ball.
The losses will be much steeper on a defense that was among the Southern Conference's best in nearly every statistical category. Five starters will graduate, including standout linemen Isaiah Mack and Derek Mahaffey and cornerbacks C.J. Fritz and Kareem Orr.
However, leading tackler Marshall Cooper, fourth-leading tackler Tavon Lawson and super freshman lineman Devonnsha Maxwell will be back.
"Moving forward, there is a lot of talent and I have confidence the guys that are under us are going to step up and play well," Young said early last week. "I like the direction we're going. Obviously, we're going to finish with a winning record, which is progress from last season.
"I feel like we've got the ball rolling in the right direction. This senior group wanted to leave a legacy, so for us to leave on a winning note is a positive.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.