That was the word of the day for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman on Tuesday. Regroup.
That’s all UTC can do – try to bounce back from last weekend’s three-overtime loss to second-ranked Georgia Southern and get ready to play Western Carolina (Saturday in Culhowee, N.C., at 3:30 p.m.), statistically the weakest team in the Southern Conference.
“That was a tough one Saturday,” Huesman said. “It was two good football teams playing a hard-fought game. I told our guys they played with a lot of heart and we had opportunities to win the game.
“We have to regroup now and I think we will, uh, I know we will come back.”
Having Western Carolina (1-8, 0-7 SoCon) next on the schedule before taking on sixth-ranked Wofford and Elon to close the regular season, affords the Mocs a great chance to forget the Georgia Southern setback, a highly hyped showdown that drew just 8,908 fans to 20,000-seat Finley Stadium.
UTC (4-4, 3-2) goes from playing GSU, ranked No. 1 in numerous categories on offense and defense in the conference to squaring off against the Catamounts, who rank ninth – dead last – in 10 statistical categories, seven on defense.
Still, Huesman believes the Catamounts will be a formidable foe.
“I know the wins aren’t coming as quickly as they would want, but you can see they are better (than last year),” he said. “I think Western is competing with everybody they play and look well-coached. They look like they are capable of beating anybody.”
Defensive tackle Derrick Lott, a 6-foot-4-inch, 303-pound junior who transferred from the University of Georgia to UTC prior to this season, agreed with Huesman’s reference to the Mocs regrouping for Western Carolina was on target.
“Some guys might still be down from the loss,” Lott said. “We can’t go into another game focused on the past loss we had or we won’t be able to perform.
“Regardless of whether they’re a team not performing well, we still have to go in focused on this win and getting a win from Wofford to get a place in the playoffs.”
“Not performing well,” quite honestly, is a stunning understatement.
The Cats defeated Division II Mars Hill in the season opener, but have lost eight in a row.
Only one of the losses was within a one-score difference, that a 25-21 margin aganst Samford. In six of the losses, the Cats gave up at least 42 points with a high of 52 at FBS Marshall (3-5). Last week Appalachian State beat WCU, 38-27.
Lott, whose 40 tackles – he had 15 against Georgia Southern – ties him with cornerback Kadeem Wise for fifth-best on the Mocs’ defense, was hesitant to get into a player’s perspective of the Catamounts.
Forget that WCU ranks 120th in rushing defense, 119th in total defense and 115th in scoring defense among the 121 FBS football-playing schools. Lott just wasn’t about to disrespect the Cats.
“I can go on their record, which is not so good,” Lott said when asked for his assessment of WCU. “I won’t say it’s going to be an easy game, but for everybody else in the SoCon it has been.
“This will be my first time to play them. I can’t really say if they’re a good team or how we have to prepare for this team.”
Lott only knows one way to prep for the next opponent – be ready to play a lot of snaps.
Against Georgia Southern, Lott, who made 2008 all-state teams selected by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia Sports Writers Association and the PrepStar All-Southeast Region squad his senior year at North Cobb High School, played 72 snaps and proved to be a constant disruptive force against the league-leading Eagles.
Mocs linebacker Wes Dothard matched Lott’s 15-tackle effort, defensive end Davis Tull registered 12 tackles, including three for loss, and safety D.J. Key added 11 stops.
UTC’s defensive front four – end Josh Williams, Lott, tackle Toyvian Brand and Tull – just might be the best unit in the conference.
Lott went into the GSU game knowing he and his defensive teammates needed to play at their best to control the high-powered Eagles’ offense.
Lott held up his end of the bargain.
“I knew I had a pretty good game,” he said Tuesday. “I didn’t realize until after the game when people that came to watch me play, one of them said he had me with 17 tackles. I was like, ‘No way I had that many tackles.’ ”
As it turned out, statisticians credited Lott with 15 official tackles.
“That’s a career-high for me,” he said. “I never had that many tackles before in one game, not even in high school.”
At his weekly press conference at McKenzie Arena, Huesman praised Lott’s play throughout the Mocs’ first eight games.
And, after reviewing the game film, Huesman said defensive assistant coaches came up with the same total as one of Lott’s friends – 17 tackles.
Regardless of the total, Huesman said Lott turned in a superlative effort.
“Fifteen tackles by a tackle is unheard of,” Huesman said.
What led to Lott's impressive performance?
“At the beginning of the game their center got hurt and went out of the game,” he said. “They put their back-up center into the game, but other than that I don’t think anything really changed. He (the backup) still blocked the same way and had the same schemes.”
As a senior at North Cobb High in Kennesaw, Ga., just north of Atlanta, Lott recorded 111 tackles, with 19 for loss and 15 sacks. He had 63 tackles as a junior when North Cobb posted an unbeaten regular season, only to lose to Peachtree Ridge, 35-28, in the opening round of state playoffs.
That prep success led Lott to sign with Georgia, but he only played in five games over two seasons. He had a two-year high four tackles against Vanderbilt in 2010.
Maybe that’s where he perfected his ability to trash talk on the field.
“Most defensive linemen do that,” Lott said. “I always try to have some sort of communications with the offensive linemen. I talk a little trash and it’s the same with them.
“The worst thing to do is trash talk and not be able to back it up. I think I back up my trash talk every time.”
NOTE: The SoCon’s football teleconference for all nine head coaches did not take place Tuesday because the company that conducts the weekly telephonic gabfest is based in New Jersey and could not handle the calls.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)