published Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Mocs seeking better play from special teams: Kicking and return inconsistency has been a problem

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team is two wins away from earning a share of the Southern Conference championship. For a program that hasn't been a consistent winner since the last league title, in 1984, these are heady times.

Looking at where the Mocs (5-4, 4-2 SoCon) rank in the league in some important categories heading into Saturday's game at No. 14 Wofford (7-2, 5-2), it's a wonder UTC has the opportunity it does.

One area that's been inconsistent all season and a serious trouble spot the past two weeks is special teams.

"We're not blocking people, that's one change on the return stuff," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "And we're not covering people and making plays. Really the only the unit that has been productive for us has been punt, where we've had some pretty good success and our kids are covering."

In Nick Pollard's first season punting, the Mocs are third in the SoCon in net punting at 37.9 yards. Henrique Ribeiro replaced Pollard as UTC's place-kicker last week at Western Carolina after Pollard, who is 7-of-12 on field goals, missed an extra point early in the game.

Ribeiro made a 32-yarder and is 2-of-3 in his freshman season. Huesman said as long as Ribeiro delivers, he'll be atop the depth chart.

"I was happy for me and I was sad for Nick because he'd missed the PAT," Ribeiro said following Wednesday's practice at Finley Stadium. "At the same time, things happen and you have to move on with it."

The Mocs rank eighth in the SoCon in kickoff returns (19.2 yards per return) and ninth in punt returns (3.2). UTC is No. 115 out of 121 Football Championship Subdivision programs in punt returns.

Return miscues hurt the Mocs badly in their triple-overtime loss to then-No. 2 Georgia Southern on Oct. 27. After Chaz Moore struggled to clearly catch the opening kickoff, Marquis Green got a turn and fumbled after he was hit.

Later in the game, when UTC had a 24-21 lead, punter returner Tommy Hudson fumbled a return.

Against Western Carolina, UTC had trouble cleanly fielding kickoffs and Hudson got out of the way of every punt. Hudson will continue to return punts and senior running back J.J. Jackson will return kicks.

Extra points

The Terriers lead the SoCon in scoring (35.8 ppg) and total offense (464.6 ypg), though those numbers are inflated by an 82-point, 602-yard game against Division II Lincoln. ... Mocs tight end Faysal Shafaat (34 receptions) has had at least three catches in every game except one (Jacksonville State) this season.

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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