published Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Elon giving, Mocs taking away

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense has shown a knack for taking the ball away this football season. Saturday's opponent, Elon, has made a habit of giving it away.

UTC is second in the Southern Conference in turnover margin at plus-8. The Mocs (3-4, 1-3) have forced 18 turnovers, including a league-high 10 fumbles.

Elon (4-3, 2-2), meanwhile, ranks 119th out of 120 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision with 25 turnovers. The Phoenix have thrown 16 interceptions and lost nine fumbles.

In its 43-31 loss at Samford last week, Elo turned the ball over six times. Two fumbles sandwiched an interception in the first five minutes of the third quarter.

"The story of our season is turning the ball over, and that's something that we've got to get corrected," Phoenix coach Jason Swepson said.

Elon quarterback Thomas Wilson has thrown 15 interceptions, but he's also averaging 264.9 passing yards a game and remains the definite starter.

"There's no ifs, ands or buts about that," Swepson said.

Mocs coach Russ Huesman isn't displeased with UTC's 18 turnovers -- "I don't think we're the greatest turnover machine in the world; we're OK, we're creating some," he said -- but he and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller set lofty goals for takeaways.

"As a general goal, and you're not going to get it every week, obviously, we want to get three a game," Huesman said. "That's kind of a point of emphasis for us."

Huesman knows what kind of difference a ball-hawking defense can make. In 2008, when he was defensive coordinator on Richmond's national championship team, the Spiders finished the season with 43 takeaways.

Conversely, just last season the Mocs' offense gave the ball away 27 times. In their losses to Appalachian State, Elon and Wofford -- and a win in any of those games would have likely sent UTC to the playoffs -- the Mocs had a combined 12 turnovers.

Swepson said Elon would be spending more time on individual drills this week, working on ball security among other things. The Mocs defense always spends several periods practicing stripping the ball and scooping it up, as well as making interceptions.

Even though Elon has been turnover-prone, the Mocs won't change the way they play defense.

"Going into this game we're not going to try to create more turnovers than we already do," said linebacker Ryan Consiglio, who returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown last week against Western Carolina. "If we could get 15 turnovers a game, we would try to do it. They'll give us opportunities, and when they do we're just going to have to make the most of them."

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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