Mocs' defense rising despite injuries, inconsistency
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Russ Huesman wasn't happy.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach knows what the numbers say about his highly-touted defense, but he also knows what he sees with his own eyes.
Last week, the latter had him convinced his unit was not ready to play.
"We didn't have a great week of practice. Tuesday and Wednesday were really bad," Huesman said. "I came out Thursday while they were stretching and told them they stunk and they weren't very good."
Freshman defensive back downplayed Huesman's speech, citing a "case of the Mondays" for his team's lackluster preparation.
"I kind of remember (his speech) a little bit, but not too much about it," Virgin said. "That's just Coach Huesman. He's always throwing some things out there. (Practices early in the week) never go too well for us."
Regardless of who was telling the truth, there's no debate about how the team responded to Huesman's motivation words. The Mocs picked up the intensity over the final two days of practice and ended up turning in their best performance of the season.
"Maybe they did it to make me mad and look stupid. I don't know," Huesman said. "But no matter what, you have to focus. You have to practice well."
The Mocs held Furman to just 189 yards, it's best overall defensive showing since 2006 and best against a SoCon foe since 2000. UTC recorded six sacks and forced two turnovers while becoming the first team to hold the Paladins without a touchdown since 2003.
The unit now ranks first in the SoCon and stands in the top ten in the country in total defense (303 ypg), passing defense (130.3 ypg) and scoring defense (18 ppg).
"It made a big difference in how we perform," Virgin said of the improved attitude in the Mocs' final two practices before the game. "We were just energized and ready to get out there and ready to make plays."
The biggest plays came from defensive end Davis Tull. The preseason All-American and reigning Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year finished with five tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in the win.
Those numbers earned him national defensive player of the week honors from both The Sports Network and the College Football Performance Awards.
"I think what helped Davis this week is we got Furman in some third and longs," Huesman said. "When you get third and longs he can get into that four-point stance and just shoot out of it.
"That's when he's really, really, really special."
The Mocs (4-2) need him to be that special again this week against Elon and every week moving forward considering how injuries have ravaged the defensive line.
UTC has already lost defensive ends Vantrell McMillan and Zach Rayl, along with defensive tackle Derrick Lott to season-ending injuries. Chattanooga was also without defensive end Keionta Davis last week against Furman, though Huesman expects him to return this week.
There's still plenty of talent on the field between Tull, Danny Ring, Chris Mayes, Toyvian Brand and Devon Scates; however, there's not much of a safety net behind them.
"Toyvian came off the field for a few plays Saturday and I'm looking around and going, 'What are we going to do,'" Huesman said. "You don't have depth. You can't rotate people and roll them through. You don't want to burn redshirts.
"The guys that are playing are playing hard, and that's all you can ask."