In the FCS Huddle: Mocs want to step in from the front porch

As the son of the head coach, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga starting quarterback Jacob Huesman is often held to a higher standard by people around him.

This year, he has company. His teammates are going to get the same treatment.

Chattanooga has raised its program in coach Russ Huesman's four seasons, but has not broken through the logjam ahead of it in the brutally tough Southern Conference.

With a veteran team returning, the Mocs expect to do more than just knock on the front door.

"We think we're close, but until we make that final push, we're still a 6-5 football team," Russ Huesman said.

The Mocs know 6-5. They have finished with that record in three of the last four seasons, while going 5-6 in 2011.

That level is a leap for a program that struggled before Huesman, a 1983 Chattanooga graduate, returned to his alma mater, but the Mocs have lost enough close games to realize they want to have what's dangled outside their grasp - SoCon title contention and a berth in the FCS playoffs.

To get there, the Mocs know who they have to beat - the three usual conference kingpins, and last year's tri-champions, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Wofford.

Huesman has an 0-4 record at UTC against Appalachian State, but that includes a one-point loss in 2010, a two-point loss in 2011 and a loss this past season in a game that was tied through three quarters.

Huesman is 1-3 against both Georgia Southern and Wofford, and that includes one-point losses to them in 2011 and overtime losses to them this past season.

"We have to find ways to get our guys to believe that they can win those games," the 53-year-old Huesman said, "believe that they're good enough to win a championship and play in the playoffs. It's a hard hump to get over, but our guys are working really hard and I think we've got some good kids on the team and we have some really good players, too."

Chattanooga, which hasn't reached the national playoffs since 1984, beat all the other teams in the SoCon this past season, including the Samford and The Citadel squads with whom they tied for fourth place with a 5-3 conference mark.

The Mocs learned to play with discipline, tying for second in the FCS with only nine turnovers lost, tying for seventh in penalties for game and finishing seventh in penalty yards per game.

Such play fits right into Huesman's style. Coming from a defensive background - he was the defensive coordinator on Richmond's 2008 FCS national championship squad - Huesman believes in running the ball, avoiding mistakes and playing great defense.

"So I think we've got a disciplined football team," he said. "I think they're trying to do things we ask them to. I think it's a mental thing to get over the edge and to beat the Georgia Southerns and the App States of the world. We've just got to figure out a way to do that."

The quarterback knows a lot about meeting high expectations. Jacob Huesman finished fourth in the voting for the 2012 Jerry Rice Award which went to the FCS freshman of the year. He wrestled away a lot of the quarterback duties from Terrell Robinson, the 2011 SoCon co-freshman of the year, and rushed for a team-high 902 yards and seven touchdown while passing for 1,712 yards and 13 touchdowns as the Mocs transitioned from a pro-style offense to a spread formation.

Robinson returned to the lineup after briefly quitting the team and went on to catch a team-high 40 passes as a wide receiver while also taking some snaps as a run-first quarterback.

Former James Madison offensive coordinator Jeff Durden has been hired this offseason to take the spread to an even higher level. Including Jacob Huesman and Robinson, the Mocs have nine starters returning on offense.

Even better, there's nine starters, including six seniors, back on a defense that has finished first or second in total defense in the SoCon the last two seasons behind coordinator Adam Fuller.

Defensive end Davis Tull developed into a wrecking ball this past season, earning co-SoCon defensive player of the year honors after collecting a conference-high 12.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Wes Dothard and cornerback Kadeem Wise also are among the best in the conference.

"With spring practice (March 22-April 20), we need to, probably just like everybody else, kind of find more depth," Russ Huesman said. "I think we've got probably eight to 10 kids that are really, really good players that probably don't need a whole lot of spring practice. We've just got to keep 'em healthy coming out and keep 'em in some sort of football condition, and then try to work some of the younger kids for sure, and try to build depth through spring.

"I think that you win big and you win championships and you compete at the highest level when you have redshirt juniors and redshirt seniors on your roster. And I think this is the first year now we'll have probably 10 redshirt seniors and probably 14 redshirt juniors on the team since we've been here. We're trying to build it that way."

Chattanooga will play a 12-game schedule, completing the regular season with an impossible visit to the University of Alabama. By then, the Mocs hope to have some of their SoCon and playoffs goals locked up.