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Mocs' defense ready for rematch with Appalachian State

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Russ Huesman does not often think about last year's season-opener against Appalachian State.

But it's a game the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach will never forget.

"That was a great game last year. Anyone who didn't think that was a great game last year is nuts," Huesman said at Tuesday's weekly media lunch. "Jerry Moore came up to me after the game and said it was one of the best game he'd ever been a part of."

The final result wasn't as memorable for the Mocs, but that may be what they remember the most.

"You have to think about that," said linebacker Gunner Miller. "You have to think about last year about how we had the lead the whole time and they came back and beat us in the fourth quarter."

UTC took a 35-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, only to watch ASU reel off 28 straight points and hold on for a 42-41 win at Finley Stadium.

"I think we gave up like 40 fourth-quarter points in that game," Huesman said. "(ASU quarterback) DeAndre Pressley was making his first career start, and he was like 28-for-28 for like 8 million yards."

Huesman's math may be a bit off, but the message is clear.

"They came back. They beat us. That's just what they do," he said.

If a similar situation arises this Saturday in the rematch in Boone, the Mountaineers may not be able to do it again. Defense has quickly become one of the Mocs' biggest strengths, especially in the second half.

"All off season and during camp we talked about finishing," said Miller. "I think we're doing a decent job right now of finishing. We just have to continue to do so."

Miller and fellow linebackers Ryan Consiglio and two-time SoCon Defensive Player of the Week Wes Dothard have led the way in back-to-back wins over Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State.

The Mocs posted second-half shutouts in each of those games, giving up just 101 total yards combined after the break. UTC also hasn't given up a single fourth-quarter point in 2011.

"That defense is better man," said receiver Sloan Allison. "Those three linebackers over there are playing extremely well. We've got experience in the secondary, so they handle adversity well.

"And then on third down, we're insane on third down."

The numbers back up Allison's choice of adjective, with EKU and JSU combining to go 3-for-28 on third down against the Mocs in the last two games.

Huesman credits team speed for the turn-around defensively, noting the unit's ability to go cover the field sideline-to-sideline against three straight dual-threat quarterbacks.

"We're not as big up front, but I guarantee you anywhere in the country if they're playing good defense you're seeing guys that can run," Huesman said. "And we can run."

If Chattanooga truly is ready to run with Appalachian State and Georgia Southern as a big dog in the Southern Conference race, a win this Saturday is almost a must.

"Getting one at Boone would really leave a mark," said Allison. "Anytime you can win in Boone or Statesboro, it's a little bit different from the others."

Especially considering UTC has lost 13 straight on the Mountaineers' home field at Kidd Brewer Stadium, a streak dating back to the Mocs' lone playoff season of 1984.

"They know how to win. We're learning how to win. I think our guys are getting used to winning," Huesman said of the contrast between the two programs. "When I got here three years ago, that's what I said. That's what you aspire to be, what they're program is."

A win Saturday would be another huge step towards getting there.

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