UTC winning despite defenders’ injuries
MARTIN, Tenn. — University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defensive coordinator Matt Feeney knows he can use only what he has to work with.
Week by week, that seems to be a little less and less.
The Mocs played Saturday’s game against UT-Martin without linebacker Tavon Lawson and defensive end Devonnsha Maxwell. During the game, they lost Michael Bean — who moved from outside linebacker to inside to replace Lawson — to an injury, further complicating the depth chart.
The Mocs still won 34-24, but the defense gave up 457 yards to the potent Skyhawks offense, with 305 coming in the second half. As the injuries started to mount, strong safety Jerrell Lawson was moved to inside linebacker, while Adrian King, Rashun Freeman and Jabril Malone were among those who replaced Lawson at his position.
Jerrell Lawson said that he had worked some at the position this week in practice, so he was prepared in the event he was needed — which he was.
“It wasn’t a problem for me,” he said. “Coach Feeney does a great job of getting you ready, so I felt prepared. We have a next-manup mentality, so when Bean went down, I already knew it was my time to step in at linebacker, so it was no problem.”
Ian Hayes, who stepped into Bean’s vacant slot at outside linebacker, had three tackles and was credited with half a sack. Jordan Jones had three tackles and a tackle for loss. Malone, Freeman and junior defensive lineman Tyler Cross were credited with multiple tackles.
“At the end of the day, we practice and it’s about us having that versatility,” said junior outside linebacker Hawk Schrider, who had eight tackles (2.5 for loss) and two sacks. “If somebody goes down, the guys behind them step up and do what they have to do to make plays.”
Feeney has been given the challenge of trying to make all the pieces work. Regardless of those who have gone out there, the Mocs have forced seven turnovers through three games, and the plus-four turnover margin has been huge in the team’s 3-0 start.
“The personnel has been banged up and we’ve moved players around, but I give a lot of credit to those guys. It’s a testament to how hard they’ve worked,” Feeney said. “A lot of credit goes to (inside linebackers coach Oscar) Rodriguez and (defensive backs coach Jeremiah) Wilson. They’re always trying to emphasize the little things, because it doesn’t matter what we end up doing out there with the calls or the scheme. As long as guys are out there striking blocks, getting off tackles, playing ball the right way, we can get things accomplished.
“We have a whole bunch of stuff to clean up. There are a lot of frustrating things out there, with guys playing different positions, so some things schematically definitely need to be corrected, but I’m proud of the guys and the way they’re working right now. There’s a lot of buy-in to whatever the heck we’re doing. I’m proud of the work ethic.”
UTC’s Will Young, left, and Bingo Morton celebrate during Saturday’s game against UT-Martin. Young caught two touchdown passes in the Mocs’ 34-24 victory.