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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / UTC football coach Rusty Wright walks along the sideline during the Mocs' game against James Madison University on Saturday at Finley Stadium.
some text Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / UTC football coach Rusty Wright looks down during a timeout in the Mocs' home game against James Madison University on Saturday at Finley Stadium.

Three weeks. Three losses. Three stretches of such poor play that University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Rusty Wright feels like Bill Murray in the movie "Scrooged."

"It's a bad dream right now," Wright said with a wipe of his brow after Saturday's 37-14 loss to James Madison University at Finley Stadium. "I hope we snap out of it."

The Mocs (1-3), as Wright and UTC players noted Saturday, believe they have performed well enough in stretches to find optimism even during a three-game skid in which they have completed less than half of their passes, averaged less than 4 yards per carry and allowed a whopping 1,400 yards.

"We've shown flashes of doing great things," senior quarterback Nick Tiano said. "It's just getting over that hurdle, and doing it every play for four quarters and learning how to get a win in a tough game against a good team."

The competition has no doubt contributed to the bad run, with games against Football Championship Subdivision powers JMU and Jacksonville State and the Southeastern Conference's Tennessee Volunteers. Wright acknowledges it but isn't about to make excuses.

"Sure, we've played some good football teams and that team over there (JMU) is probably the best team we will play this season, but we can't sustain any level of high play right now," said Wright, a former UTC assistant in his first season in charge at his alma mater.

"It won't be easy to turn this around. It's a lot like trying to win the first one again. We've played some good football teams, and I'm not taking anything away from anybody, (but) we have some self-induced stuff, that's for sure."

As in the Jacksonville State game, the Mocs put together a stretch Saturday that gave a glimpse of what they believe they can become. In a 14-0 run against the Dukes that tied the score in the first quarter, Tiano passed to five receivers, the offensive line gave him ample time to throw and special teams made a possible game-turning play.

The momentum was brief, though, as the Dukes answered with three consecutive field goals before the Mocs were intercepted in the red zone during the third quarter to kill any upset hopes.

"You hate 1-3, obviously, with how much we have put into it," said Tiano, who passed for 161 yards and a touchdown while also running for a score. "This isn't the result we wanted, but it was four really tough games. We showed a lot of good things and fought really hard.

"All our goals are still in front of us, we can still go win the conference and do all the things we want to do. We just have to use this as fuel, get better and learn from our mistakes."

It's those successful stretches, though, that seem to frustrate the Mocs the most as they prepare for the start of Southern Conference play Saturday at home against Western Carolina (1-2, 0-1).

"When we play well, we can play with anyone in the country," senior tight end Chris James said. "We've just got to execute. It's not physical. You watch the Tennessee film, and we are driving guys 5 and 10 yards down the field. It's mental execution problems, and we've all got to fix them."

How do such things get corrected? James believes it has to start early this week.

"It's doing the right things on and off the field and executing the right way in practice," he said. "We talked about it all week, but we started slow again today. Coach Wright harps on it all the time, and we all know we can't start games like we did today. It has to start in practice.

"We start conference next week, and I think we will get it rolling then."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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