There’s the sound of gnashing teeth and piles of pulled out hair blowing like early fall leaves across the river. There’s a bit of a pop in the step and smiles over on this side of the river, at least around the Maryville College campus.
College football can do that. The perhaps unrealistically high hopes for the Vols are wallowing as if caught unaware by Hurricane Joaquin, and the resulting disappointment of three losses from what had been three promising leads is starting to turn ugly.
Conversely, the slight angst that ensues anytime a good head coach leaves a program is subsiding as victory piles on victory for the Scots, who are quietly off to a 4-0 start.
Boiling down a lot of factors, one of the main reasons Maryville is thriving while UT is diving is that 60-foot long stretch of grass extending from the 20-yard-line to the goal line, and how the two are playing in that space.
Suffice it to say, Tennessee is having issues in their Orange Zone. In five games, the Vols have come away with 16 touchdowns on 26 trips inside the 20. Given Tennessee’s losing demonstrations of why touchdowns are better than field goals in that area, the 61 percent success rate isn’t stellar. It drops to 50 percent when the cupcakes are removed.
UT was better in Saturday’s 24-20 loss at stopping the other guy in that space, but after Florida had three TDS in three red zone trips and Oklahoma got four TDs and a field goal in its five trips inside the 20, almost anything can count as an improvement.
That hasn’t been a problem for Maryville’s stop group. The talented group shined in front of 65 recruits and their families seated directly behind the Cooper Center end zone during the first half of Saturday’s 29-23 win over Methodist.
MU’s first trip was squashed at the 19 as freshman Ladarius Jordan tipped away a screen pass on second down, and sophomore Franchez Marshall went charging into the backfield on third down to force a high pass. The Monarchs settled for the first of three field goals — two of those from inside the 20. The second Methodist trip to the red zone reached the 3 before Gabe Johnson put a helmet on the ball to knock it free and Calvin Short recovered for Maryville. Third trip it was corner Nasir Beyah reliving his performance at Emory & Henry — where the sophomore forced three take aways and had a fourth down stop in the red zone — by picking off a Dylan DeGroot pass at the 17.
Despite the Monarchs taking advantage of Maryville miscues to make it close, five trips inside the 20 while netting one touchdown pretty much summed up the day for the Scot defense.
“It shows what kind of team we are, we fight,” senior captain Zach Capehart told The daily Times. “If you look at every game we’ve played, it’s been a dog fight. The scoreboard might not show it, but it has been.
“The mentality is just we need a stop. It’s overcoming adversity, putting everything else out of your mind and focusing on the fact we have one job — stop that offense, our goal line or the other goal line, doesn’t matter.”
Four games into the season and one game into the USAC schedule, MC may be if not the best red-zone defensive team in Division III, at least the most opportunistic. While the Scots are plus-nine on turnovers, they’ve produced three interceptions and forced three fumbles with their back to the wall. Add in two fourth down stops inside the 20 and a blocked field goal that was just outside the zone at the 22, and it’s no wonder opponents have netted just seven touchdowns in 18 trips (38 perc.) to the red zone.
“There aren’t many touchdowns being scored down there against us,” first-year head coach Shaun Hayes said. “We take it away, force field goals. I’m so proud of (our defense).”
“The defense, we all believe in each other, the whole thing is just family,” added defensive lineman Jonathan Clark. “It’s just being clutch. We bend, but we won’t break.”
At the same time, the stats don’t do justice to Maryville’s scoring efficiency. Officially MC is 9-of-12. Take out two games that ended with the Scots holding the lead and just burning time off the clock under the shadow of the other guy’s goal post, and its a missed field goal away from a perfect mark with seven TDs and two 3-pointers.
Factor in 11 of MC’s 18 touchdowns have come on chunk plays covering 20 yards or more and Maryville’s first 4-0 start since 2007 is pretty easy to quantify, even if it is only an indicator and not the genesis of the Scots’ success.
That goes much deeper. Near the midway point, Maryville’s indicator is hitting the L in Full. Tennessee’s gauge is a blinking red warning light.