This is all you need to know about the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's spring football game Saturday afternoon at Finley Stadium:
Dayton resident Larry Owlings, grandfather of UTC starting center Jacob Revis, said afterward, "I thought the defense looked good."
When a relative of the offensive team says the defense carried the day, well, you begin to understand how the Blues and Whites fought to a 7-7 tie.
Not that Mocs coach Russ Huesman was completely upset about the score or the two interceptions that starting quarterback Alejandro Bennifield threw early on before tossing a 42-yard touchdown pass to Kota Nix. Defense is Huesman's thing. He'd far rather win a real game 7-0 than 37-30. Defense is reliable. Constant. Unaltered by bad weather or bad luck.
As the eighth-year UTC coach noted afterward, in the Finley end zone nearest First Tennessee Pavilion filled with autograph seekers and "good work" greeters: "I wasn't thrilled with the interceptions, but it wasn't fair. We had the Blues (Bennifield's offense) throw the ball every snap. We didn't do anything to keep the defense honest. And we actually have a pretty good defense. We've got six or seven of the best defensive players in the league."
That's the thing about spring football games. They're never completely on the up and up. You can't hit the quarterback. The coaches don't really want anybody hitting anybody too hard. No one rushes the kickers, at least until Saturday's last kick, which might have broken the tie but didn't, at least partly because the defense rushed, a surprise and illegal tactic (at least for this game), but also one somewhat admirable in its will to win.
To further accentuate Huesman's goal for a "vanilla" offense: "If (season-opening foe) Shorter's watching," he said, "they've got no shot to know what we're doing."
What UTC might be doing is building an attractive tradition to pull fans to the spring game. Regardless of the action on the field, it had a festival feel to it due to the Chattanooga Market and its unique collection of vendors filling up so much of First Tennessee Pavilion. Live music. Great food. Arts and crafts.
There was even a wing contest (the flavor quality of the chicken, not who could eat the most) that Huesman helped judge and Bill Cobb won. Given all that — the Market, the perfect weather, the wings — the game was almost the least exciting part of the day.
At least it was until halftime arrived and they handed out the third set of Southern Conference championship rings won by the Mocs over the past three seasons, which makes you wonder if — don't take this the wrong way, hoop coaches Jim Foster and Matt McCall — it might be time to start calling UTC a, oh my, football school.
Bennifield even showed up for postgame interviews wearing all three of his on his right hand as he attempted to hold microphones from three local television stations.
Asked what he'd do if UTC can claim a fourth straight this season, would he opt to slide it on thumb or pinky, the quarterback answered, "Pinky."
And with 18 of 24 starters back (including kickers), these Mocs would certainly seem to be in the pink. The coaches might even ask honorary White team assistant coach Gary McDonald, who runs UTC's mechanical engineering department in his spare time, to make fourth-down decisions on offense. The one time he was asked his opinion on the subject, he said, "Go for it," and the attempt was successful.
Of course, Robert Dooley — honorary Blue coach and dean of the business school — battled McDonald to a tie, so maybe they could both earn some overtime money paroling the sideline next fall with Huesman.
Saturday was also a chance to connect generations of Mocs. Back in the late 1980s, Sean McMahan played for UTC. This year's Blue-White included his parents — Wade and Glenda — driving in from Lexington, Tenn., to watch their grandson Sean begin his Mocs career as a freshman defensive back.
"Wonderful," Glenda said of the experience. "It's kind of fun to hear our grandson's name called over the loudspeaker the same way we used to hear our son's name called."
It is certainly a wonderful time across the board to be a Mocs fan. McCall's men Mocs and Foster's women Mocs both reached the NCAA basketball tournaments. The football team is working on its fourth straight outright or shared SoCon championship. Wrestling is wrestling, arguably the school's strongest sport of all. Volleyball's surging. Golf's tremendous. Tennis is rebounding. Track and cross country coach Bill Gautier still directs the smartest team on the planet.
But Saturday was about football, and about what football could produce at autumn's twilight and winter's dawn.
Said Fred Maxwell, a grizzled Brainerd High School grad now in his 60s, a brand new camouflage ballcap marked by a "Power C" covering his flowing gray hair: "I like what I saw out there. I've been reading the sports page since I was 4 years old, and I think we can win the national championship."
Judging from Saturday, the UTC defense already appears capable of reaching that goal. Too bad it will be 130 days from today before both Shorter and the Mocs Nation begin to learn whether the offense can carry its share of the load in a run to FCS title No. 1.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org