Maybe it was unrealistic to expect Davis Tull to come out tearing through offensive linemen like they were tissue paper.
Maybe it was impossible for the 6-foot-3, 240-pound University of Tennessee at Chattanooga All-America defensive end to pick up in 2013 where he left off last season, finishing with a school-record and Southern Conference-leading 12.5 sacks, including 8.5 in UTC's final six games, as well as a league-high 19 tackles for loss.
Tull, last season's Southern Conference defensive player of the year, is now a marked man -- or at least a known quantity -- whom offenses know they have to try to limit. Through three games this season the redshirt junior has been rather quiet, if quiet can include two sacks, three tackles for loss and a lot of pass rushes that got into the backfield but didn't get to the quarterback.
"I think the difference is, people know," Tull said. "Last year I might have taken it for granted. ... I think the difference is your one-on-one [opportunities] go down. Me and J-Will [UTC all-time sack leader Josh Williams] were talking about that the other day -- you've just got to take advantage of the times you do have a one-on-one."
Williams ended his career in 2012 with 23.5 sacks. Three games into his junior season, Tull has 19.5 in 25 career games. It seems only a matter of time before Tull is on top, and Williams helped him get there by teaching him and by being the proven sack man on the other side in 2011 and '12.
Now, not only do teams know about Tull but they also don't have to contend with Williams. Toyvian Brand is a first-year starter at the other end spot after starting the past two seasons at defensive tackle. Brand, who missed the first six quarters of the season due to suspension, did have a sack last week against Austin Peay.
Tull had more spring in his step against the Governors, and for good reason. About a week before the season began, he caught a serious stomach illness, possibly salmonella, that floored him for several days and lingered for a while.
"I was sick for about two weeks and I even had to go to the hospital one day when it got really bad," Tull said. "I'm pretty sure it was the salmonella stuff from the cafeteria."
UTC spokesman Chuck Cantrell said there were numerous reported illnesses on campus, all stemming from chicken served on Aug. 20, in the campus eatery Crossroads.
Despite barely practicing the week before the opener, a weakened Tull played every defensive snap against UT-Martin. He has been able to rest a bit the past two weeks, in the Mocs' blowout wins, so conditions haven't exactly been ideal for a stat-heavy start to the season.
"He had the illness there that knocked him out for the first game, and he still played every snap, and then he was still sick leading up to [the Georgia State game]," UTC coach Russ Huesman said. "I think by game time he felt better, but you just don't practice a lot. I think [against Austin Peay] was the first time he really felt good going into it."
The Mocs (2-1) are off Saturday, so this week has been spent preparing for next Saturday's SoCon opener at Georgia Southern (2-1, 0-1 SoCon). Sacks will be hard to come by against the triple-option, run-heavy Eagles, but that doesn't mean UTC's defensive line won't play a pivotal role.
In Georgia Southern's overtime win at UTC last season, defensive tackle Derrick Lott had 15 tackles and Tull had 12, with a sack and three tackles for loss.
Tull said he's feeling much better, the line is coming together as a group, and it's all happening at a crucial time.
"I think we're, right now, this is the best we've felt as a team," he said. "I think we're starting to, all of us really, hit form and get excited for this game."
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
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 ...