The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team is preparing for its Southern Conference road trip to Appalachian State this weekend. The Mocs are looking to snap a 30-year, 14-game losing streak in Boone, N.C., this weekend.
Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Kidd Brewer Stadium. UTC head coach Russ Huesman, junior linebacker Muhasibi Wakeel and junior running back Marquis Green all spoke to the local media today about the game. Quotes from each press conference are below, with photos and videos attached to this story.
Head Coach Russ Huesman
Recap of the game against The Citadel
“I thought it was a great win for our program to get a win against a good team in The Citadel. I thought it was an important win not only to keep us alive in the race and keep us moving, but we haven’t had a win like that probably since I’ve been here. To come back and win like that I think it’s going to give us a lot of confidence to move forward as a team. We needed one like that. We had to have a win like that. If you’re going to win and win championships, you need to get one or two of those a year and we’ll probably have a couple of more tight ones before it’s all said and done and hopefully we’ve learned from that.
“I thought we played really hard both sides of the ball. You’ve got to give The Citadel a lot of credit. They came to play, they played physical, they did some things that we hadn’t seen – scheme-wise that really helped them. I thought they were well prepared. Their players played real hard, but I also think our guys played really hard. I thought we played pretty good defense for the most part. It’s hard to get those guys off schedule. In the second half we did but in the first half we didn’t. Our kids fought both sides of the ball. I think the bottom line is special teams potentially is what won the game for us. Great win – really excited about it.”
A look ahead to Satuday’s game at Appalachian State
“Obviously it’s time to move forward. We’ve got App [Appalachian State] and I think we’re getting ready to play a really good football team that’s probably going to have some confidence coming in to this after their game against Georgia Southern last week. I think they probably feel that’s how they should have been playing all year and it probably is. They’ve got good players and we’re going to have to play really well to win this thing.”
On reaction at the end of the game
“I do remember when we were taking a knee and a few players came up to me and said ‘You can smile, Coach. We won.’ It was hard to bring a smile because I was still nervous. I was saying my prayers. I was saying ‘Please, Jacob, just catch this snap.’ Where everybody else is taking it for granted, I was still scared up until that last snap but he caught it and took a knee which was nice.”
On the experience of the players to get the comeback win
“We’ve had a bunch of those games where somebody’s driven on us at the end. The key thing, and I think JR had mentioned this on the radio after the game, but that penalty on third and three that they had was a killer for them. You can’t do that. Third and three, they’re probably going to get two and go for it again. Now its third and eight and we send our dime team in there and really they’ve got no chance at that point in time to convert that where at third and three they’ve got a real legit shot. That was a killer for them and I’m sure if they could get that one back… But that’s what happens in those close games. The team that makes a mistake a lot of time loses the football game”
On the defensive effort at the end of the game
Keionta Davis – that was huge. Everybody talks about Davis Tull, and he should be talked about even when he doesn’t get sacks, but if ya’ll think about that, he was the one bearing down on the dude and Keionta gets the sack. A lot of people don’t see those things and his impact whether he gets credited with the sack or not. For Keionta to get a couple there was big. We’re chasing him down on the one – Danny Ring was there – on that last play we had him, he got out of it, he had to throw it late. Thank goodnesss that one was on the ground. It was good to see Keionta get a couple of sacks.”
On no losses in October and a potentially brutal November coming up
“Hopefully our team is not thinking about any kind of stretch right now, just App. I mean that’s a big enough test right now and that should be all concern ourselves with is this one right here at App. Do I think about the stretch? Yeah I guess, but you’ve got to make sure all your players think about is the next one. They’ll be excited to play the game, I don’t think there’s any question. There will be a lot of emotion. I told them, they’re not going to click a switch on Saturday and sing a lot of songs and jump up and down and whoop and holler and get excited and expect to win a game. It’s what we do yesterday, today, tomorrow, Thursday, Friday leading up to it is whether we’re going to be able to compete or not.”
On Appalachian State’s improvement over the last couple of weeks
“They’ve been dangerous. They outgained Furman by about 200 yards in that game but had six turnovers – really silly turnovers, exchange turnovers, things that should never occur. It gave Furman a chance to win that game and they did. In overtime against The Citadel they turn it over. In the Georgia Southern game they looked like a well-oiled machine to be honest with you, all the way across the board. That’s what you kind of come to expect from them and that’s what we need to expect this Saturday is that type of effort from them.”
• Chas Morore is definite to play. He’s gone through the concussion protocol. He’s got to continue but the time frame for him tells us that he’s going to be fine to play.
• Tommy Hudson will not play. He is out with a concussion.
• Keon Williams. We’ll wait and see in the next day or so. He’s made some improvements. It wasn’t as bad as it looked probably, but he’s made some improvement. That will be touch and go for him.
• Toyvian Brand. This is the third week in a row with a stinger. He’s getting an MRI today. We’ll see. I think he’ll probably be ok.
• Gunner Miller. He sprained his hand and probably a stinger. He’s in his fifth year and hanging on for dear life right now. I don’t know how his professional wrestling career is going to take off but he’s fine. He’ll play.
Defensive performance considering number of injuries
“I liked our defensive effort this past week. Against Elon I wasn’t overly thrilled. You hold them to nine points and under 300 yards and then you come into The Citadel and they get 24 points and 390 yards and you feel like you played better against The Citadel than you did against Elon. I told our coaches I don’t think we gave our defense a good enough chance as coaches to help them out. They fought, they fit their gaps, we had one mistake and it cost us a big touchdown run. Other than that I couldn’t have asked for a better effort from a defensive football team. That may sound silly, but that’s the way it was. We played hard.
“I think a lot of guys are pretty healthy. You’ve got some guys that are out and you’ve got some guys that are banged up. D.J. Key is healthy, Wes Dothard is healthy, Davis Tull is healthy. Freeman feels good, Danny Ring feels good. They’re probably all sore and it’s starting to wear on them, but I think they all – their bodies feel pretty good. They’re some you’re just hanging in there with – Gunner’s one, Toy’s one. You’d like to be at full speed – no question about it. This is where we are. We’re not going to get anybody else back defensively so we’ve just got to keep plugging away”
On why it’s so hard to win at Appalachian State
“For one, for the last 10-12 years, they’ve been pretty good. I mean, they’re good. It’s a great atmosphere up there. A lot of people say the atmosphere gives them a home field advantage and it might, but it also gives the visiting team an advantage as well. It’s such an electric environment. If you can’t get excited to play in that, then something’s wrong with you.
“When we up there two years ago, when we were kicking that field goal in the student section area. We snapped it off the guard’s leg and they scooped it and scored. We were fixing to go up 9-0 beginning the fourth quarter. I truly believe their crowd and the crowd noise affected that play to a point where he hitches and we move and he snaps and hits the leg. Nobody can hear a whistle blow - there was no whistle - and everybody kind of stopped and they take it 88 yards for a touchdown and now we’re losing 7-6. It can make a difference when they’ve got a full complement of people in the stands. It’s a great environment.”
On the importance of getting more players involved
“With Tommy [Hudson] being out – one thing is, since we know, we’ll have the opportunity to practice and do things and get guys ready. Sometimes when a guy gets injured in the first quarter and you’ve repped things in practice specifically for him, it hurts more than know right now here’s the situation you’re in. CJ Board had a great day. His catch on that last drive was big and he’s done a really nice job for us. Obviously we’ve got to find more ways to get Terrell more involved. He can be a factor. Xavier – it was nice to see him catch that one post there. We’ve got to keep bringing him along.
“The one thing I was praying for was just to get Tommy back there for punt returns. I was hoping even if he didn’t practice, was that with the concussion protocol that he would get on track for the first contact to be on Saturday, but we’re past that deadline now, so he’s not available. I was hoping he’d be available – not even practicing – have him back on punt returns.
“In a team meeting, I mentioned that Kadeem Wise came in and caught two punts for us. I asked him if he was nervous and he said no. That’s a scary proposition now. They’re punting, we’ve got to have the football and you know he secured it. We had sent him out there and we told him to fair catch the bad boy and he did.”
On postseason implications
“The only way it’s different this year than it is in years past is that we played Wofford last year for a chance at a Southern Conference championship and playoffs. I don’t think there’s any question if we beat Wofford and finish up with Elon we’re co-conference champs with a couple of other people and we’re in the playoffs, I truly believe that. We’ve played for that before and didn’t get it done. I think this year it’s different than any other year is that we don’t have to scoreboard watch. We don’t have to root against anybody. That’s way it should be. This year that’s the biggest difference.”
Nick Pollard and the play of Special Teams
“We won the football game on Saturday because we had one penalty for five yards. That was it. We had no turnovers and we played well on special teams. Nick punted the ball great. That’s why we won the football game. If any one of those three things doesn’t occur – we get an untimely penalty, we get a turnover, we don’t play well on special teams – we don’t win that football game. I told our guys that, I told them that’s the only reason we won the game is because of those three things. That was key. That penalty on third and three for them – most people don’t even realize that – was the biggest play of the game.”
On the final scoring drive
“We had 3:27 to play and two timeouts. At that point in time, that’s an eternity. If it would have been 2 minutes and no timeouts, now you’re throwing the football. Now you’re cranking it up. That amount of time and two time outs, you can run the football. The first play was the handoff to Marquis Green. You really don’t see it until watch the film, Marquis is fixing to get tackled for a one or two yard gain inbounds and he makes the guy miss and works back to the sideline and gets out of bounds for a nine yard gain which was huge. He made a couple of runs on the edge there where he got out of bounds but as it turned out, we didn’t need it because we scored with two minutes to go, but those things are important if they would have stopped us a little bit.
“The three runs with Jacob, I thought Jeff Durden did an unbelievable job. The first one our back heard it wrong and the back didn’t swipe and our back just stood there. Jacob hits up in there for about a 10 yard gain. Then we run another one to Jacob, one of them we ran jet and ran the same play as fast as we could and I thought that kept them off balance.”
Junior Linebacker Muhasibi Wakeel
On contributing on a defense with so many big names:
“It feels like I belong in their company, with so much recognition those guys have had throughout their years here. Sometimes you just have to feel your worth when you are out there playing and you just have to prove it to the team that you can get it done in tough situations, so it feels good.”
On learning about being named the SoCon defensive Player of the Week:
“I think I always check the weekly awards, just to see who got them. I checked this week as well and saw it first-hand through the Internet.”
On Coach Huesman’s prediction about his play against The Citadel:
“He told me that with this offense we played last week against The Citadel, if I had 15 tackles I would be named the Player of the Week in the SoCon. He said it is very possible that you can do that and I agreed with him. I said that is the plan. Since then, I knew he had faith in me that I could do it and I went out there and proved it.”
On building confidence through a performance like he had against The Citadel:
“Not that much. I feel like through preparation throughout the week, it really puts you in the best situations to make plays. As long as we continue to have good practices, I feel like people will be able to produce on the field.”
Any changes in preparing for Appalachian State:
“Same as every week. Prepare, watch film, treat your body well and go out there and be confident in your abilities.”
Any surprise from ASU’s win over Georgia Southern last week:
“It surprised me by far. App has had its share of adversity this season and when they beat Georgia Southern, I was like whoa. We have to come with it this week. They are a resurgent group and it came together at the right time. They are doing some pretty impressive things right now.”
On ending the losing streak to Appalachian State:
“It would feel great to end that streak, but that only comes with great preparation throughout the week.”
Junior Running Back Marquis Green
Where does Saturday’s game rank for you in your college career?
“Probably the best game I’ve had. Keon (Williams) went down so I had to step up.”
Did Keon say anything to you during the game?
“He told me to keep running…keep doing what you’re doing. All of us can run the ball well. Me, Kenny (Huitt), (Derrick (Craine)…all of us can run. Keon was picking us up.”
How do you guys dig out of the hole against The Citadel?
“I guess it’s the “want”. When you want something bad enough, I guess you go out and get it. We made a decision in the locker room at halftime to come out and win this game. Whatever it takes, we’re going to come together and get the ‘W’.”
Was there a point in that last drive that you felt you were going to score?
“I felt confident. The team, everyone knew we were going to come out and score. We have no choice. We have to…we have no other option to win this game.”