Wiedmer: Mocs still believe they can salvage season one day at a time

Wiedmer: Mocs still believe they can salvage season one day at a time

October 4th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UTC wide receiver Alphonso Stewart cannot bring in this pass as he is defended by Western Carolina's Tra Hardy (8) during WCU's 45-7 Southern Conf'erence victory Saturday at Finley Stadium.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

If they've heard any negativity and frustration over this 1-4 start to their football season, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs — all the Mocs, coaches on down — aren't letting on.

"I don't get on social media," first-year head coach Tom Arth said Tuesday, four days before Saturday's visit from Furman and three days after a 45-7 home loss to Western Carolina.

Added senior wideout Alphonso Stewart: "I post (on Twitter), then get off. If (other responses) aren't positive, I don't see it. And I'm not on campus as much this season. We're just focused on the next game. I'm only worried about the vibe from my team, and it's good."

The best news is that, for at least one more week, the Mocs probably still control their own destiny. Let them win out against a remaining Southern Conference schedule that includes home games against Furman, The Citadel (Oct. 21) and East Tennessee State (Nov. 18), as well as rigorous road tests at Mercer (Oct. 14), Samford (Oct. 28) and Wofford (Nov. 4) and it would be difficult to see UTC left out of the NCAA's FCS playoffs.

UTC head coach Tom Arth adjusts his headset during the Mocs game against Western Carolina at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, in Chattanooga.

UTC head coach Tom Arth adjusts his headset...

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

Not that they're looking ahead to any of those games, including Saturday's homecoming against the dangerous Paladins.

"We're just trying to win today," redshirt sophomore linebacker Hawk Schrider said following Tuesday's weekly media luncheon. "Let's just win Tuesday, then Wednesday. That's how we're approaching this. Let's just try to get better every day."

If, as has been rumored, it is a team on the edge of internal turmoil — the defense understandably frustrated by an offense that has averaged only 9.3 points a game aside from that 63-point explosion against VMI — those tensions weren't on display during the media luncheon.

In fact, Arth seemed unconcerned about an apparent verbal exchange between an older defensive lineman and a younger offensive counterpart either during or shortly after the loss to Western Carolina.

"That was unfortunate," he said. "(But) they're trying to inspire and motivate. It's an older guy who's earned a right to speak to a younger guy. And the younger guy has to take it, just say something like, 'Yeah, you're right.'"

And Arth is right regarding the big picture of building this program as he wants it to look. Current Richmond coach and UTC alum Russ Huesman did an amazing job during his eight years running the show, but a new coach sometimes needs time to implement new offensive and defensive schemes, especially switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. Throw in the unavailability of all-conference quarterback Alejandro Bennifield for the first four games — as well as the fact he may miss the Furman game due to concussion issues — and this 1-4 start is fairly easy to explain.

There were reasons why the Mocs were voted fourth in both the SoCon coaches and media preseason poll, and those reasons may be coming to light. Beyond that, Arth already has lost half as many games nearly midway through his first season as he lost through four complete seasons at Division III John Carroll.

"This is certainly challenging me in a new way," he said. "I'm in a place I've never been before."

That his players have never been in this spot before, either — the Mocs have either won or shared the SoCon title or made the playoffs for four straight seasons — also probably doesn't help.

"I thought we'd taken some steps in the right direction (at VMI)," Arth said of that 63-7 win two Saturdays ago. "But obviously Saturday wasn't very good."

Despite it being homecoming, no one knows what kind of crowd will show up at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Finley Stadium.

"It's an inspiring week," Arth said. "But my job is having us play as well as we can. That's about it."

Added Stewart: "I hope (the homecoming crowd is great). But if not, my sideline will get me right."

Getting this right from this point forward this season won't be easy for either Arth and his coaching staff or the players.

But Stewart's words sound as if everyone on UTC's sideline will have the right attitude come Saturday.

"Good can come out of every situation," he said. "You just have to find it."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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