By John Mitchell — Sports Editor
Bye weeks are a wild-card for a lot of football teams.
Some teams need the extra week to gameplan for their next opponent. Others use the week to work on themselves in efforts to make a late playoff run. But for the Mocs, all they needed for their off week was rest.
“We gave them a lot of time off,” UTC head coach Russ Huesman said during the Mocs’ first practice of their bye week last Friday afternoon. “They’ve lifted a couple days, but this late in the season we wanted them to refresh their minds and their bodies a little bit.”
With just two games remaining in the regular season, Chattanooga was one of the last teams in the entire FCS to have their bye week. In fact, many Southern Conference teams went through their bye week in early-to-mid September. Despite the three month grind up to this point, the team turned the other cheek and focused on the positives of a late rest.
“In years past Coach Huesman hasn’t always given us as much rest, but with it being this late in the season I think he saw that we kind of needed it,” two-time All-American offensive lineman Corey Levin said. “The stretch has been tough, but we came into it 8-1 so we’re happy about that. Of course we’re not happy about dropping the one game, but we’ve had a lot of injuries that can be contributed to playing so many weeks in a row. So this week should let us get a lot of players back to their best.”
Speaking of injuries, the Mocs are looking forward to the return of their leading rusher Derrick Craine, McDonough, Ga., who is scheduled to play in his first game since suffering a lower-body injury last month against ETSU.
But due to players like Levin, the offensive line hasn’t missed a beat with backups like Richardre Bagley, Powder Springs, Ga., Alex Trotter, Chattanooga, and even quarterback Tyler Roberson, Martinez, Ga., filling in at times.
“Our mentality really didn’t change at all,” Levin said about UTC’s offensive line in dealing with injuries. “We just focused on what we could do to make sure the next guy could run as good as Craine or step back and throw like (Alejandro).”
The impact that seniors like Keionta Davis, Chattanooga, Nakevion Leslie, Powder Springs, Ga., and Vantrel McMillan, Albany, Ga., have on the game is easy for Mocs fans to see week in and week out. But there’s one unsung hero on this year’s defensive unit whose success can be contributed to the play-making veterans.
“Between all the seniors on this team I’ve learned so much from all of them,” junior linebacker Dale Warren said. “Their wisdom can just rub off the longer you’re around them, and you can use that on and off the field.
Warren is currently second in tackles with 73 — five tackles behind Leslie who is the team leader.
The most recent playoff predictions released by the FCS committee last week has Chattanooga earning the eighth spot — meaning the Mocs would have a first-round bye, and a home game in the second round. Given UTC fell from No. 3 to No. 8 following last month’s loss to The Citadel who clinched the SoCon’s automatic bid last Saturday, the team is thankful for the FCS’ format that allows more teams a shot at the national title.
“There’s nothing better than playoff football. Especially when it’s more like how the NFL does it,” Levin said. “Any team can get hot in November and just run with it, so that makes it exciting, and I think it’s the best way to prove who the best team in the nation really is.”
Contact John Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter.com/JZMitchellUTC