Where do Mercer Bears go from here? What to know after loss to Chattanooga

The Mercer Bears drop their fourth straight game with a 34-17 loss to the Chattanooga Mocs.

Mercer got off to a good start with a touchdown on the opening drive as quarterback Robert Riddle hit Steven Peterson on a back-shoulder pass. It was Peterson’s first touchdown as a Bear.

The Mocs stalled on their first drive but a fumble by Mercer’s Deondre Johnson set Chattanooga up with good field position.

Johnson made up for the fumble with a 98-yard touchdown return on the kickoff following the Mocs touchdown by quarterback Nick Tiano to wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly. This would be the Bears’ final lead of the game at 14-7.

From there the Bears lost their footing as the Mocs scored 20 unanswered points before Caleb Dowden nailed a 32-yard field goal for the Bears’ final score of the game.

Chattanooga would add a score late in the game on a short touchdown run by Tiano. The Bears are now heading into the bye week before a home game against VMI.

1. Where will the wins come?

The chances for Mercer to get wins on this schedule is dramatically dropping. Out of the bye week will be a matchup at home against VMI. The VMI Keydets knocked off the Citadel by a score of 34-21 a team that just beat Georgia Tech a couple of weeks ago. The bye week will give them a chance to refocus.

“Coach Lamb said in the locker room, this bye week couldn’t have come at a better time,” Riddle said. “We have just got to refocus. And take this bye week to get people healthy and come out the next week following the bye week just full speed.”

From there, the Bears will travel to the Citadel before coming back home for games against Wofford and Samford, then on the road to close out the season against ETSU and North Carolina. The Bears are staring down a schedule that is not going present many opportunities where they will be favored heading into the game.

The 2-0 start to this season seems like a distant memory now. A season that had hopes of a potential Southern Conference title seems to be crashing and burning quickly. The Bears are now 2-4 on the season and 1-2 in conference play. Mercer must dig deep coming out of the bye week to see where this season goes from here.

“Our mindset is we have an open date and we have got to get better as a football team,” head coach Bobby Lamb said. “We have got to improve at practice and turn ourselves into a better football team and not worry about what’s ahead.”

2. Mercer must find answers in the run game

The Bears struggled for most of the game just to get out of the negative in the rushing yards category. Deondre Johnson eventually emerged in the second half and finished with 45 yards rushing. He was the only ball carrier with positive yardage. The absence of Tyray Devezin with an ankle injury was on full display as Johnson is best suited as a change of pace speed back. He was more successful against Campbell a week ago after Devezin wore down the defense.

“The bigger blow is we started two freshmen on the offensive line,” Lamb said. “No excuses but we’ve got to block better, we’ve got to run better, we’ve got to scheme better, the whole gambit has got to get better.”

The Mocs front seven keyed in on the run game early and never let them get going. This forced Riddle to try and beat the Mocs with his arm. The lack of balance in the offense proved to be costly and is something that must be addressed in the bye week for the Bears. Riddle continues to struggle with interceptions as he threw his another one against Chattanooga to make it 10 on the season. The Bears must strike balance soon if they hope to salvage this season.

“When you can’t run the ball all the pressure goes to number 10 (Riddle),” Lamb said. “He is not Brett Favre. He can’t handle that load like an NFL quarterback can. We have got to help him.”

3. Mercer has to limit the mistakes

The Bears had four turnovers in the game, which proved to be the deciding factor in this game. It repeatedly put the Bears defense in bad situations as the Mocs consistently had good field position for much of the game. Mercer fumbled the football four times in the game with three of them recovered by the Chattanooga defense. Riddle had one interception but almost threw two or three more.

“Across the board we have got to play better,” linebacker Sidney Otiwu said. “It really doesn’t matter how short the field is. I like my guys regardless ... We have got to play a complete game.”

The Bears’ inability to protect the football has been the down fall for them this season. Mercer came into the game with 13 turnovers on the season and then added four against the Mocs. If the Bears can fix the turnovers, they have a chance to turn the season around.

“We are not a very good football team as far as taking care of the ball,” Lamb said. “We are just not a very good football team overall ... just a disappointing night at Five Star Stadium.”

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Justin Baxley is the fan life reporter at The Telegraph and writes stories centered around entertainment, food and sports in the Macon community. Justin joined the Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2017 with a degree in criminal justice and journalism. During his time at Mercer he served as the sports editor for The Cluster.