published Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Wofford keeps on winning

Wofford's Donovan Johnson
Wofford's Donovan Johnson
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Year after year, Wofford keeps winning. This season is no different.

The 1,600-student school, among the smallest in Division I, has one of the most consistent programs in the Football Championship Subdivision. From the 2000 season to today, the Terriers have won 101 games.

Consistency might be Wofford's defining characteristic.

"It's amazing to me how they do things," said University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman, whose No. 23 Mocs host No. 15 Wofford in a critical Southern Conference game at Finley Stadium on Saturday. "They can lose six or seven players on each side of the ball [as they did from last season], line back up the next year and look identical to a third-round playoff team. Most people can't do that."

UTC (7-2, 5-1 SoCon) has a half-game lead in the SoCon standings over the Terriers (5-3, 4-1) and Samford (6-2, 4-1). Saturday will be the home finale for UTC's seniors, who have yet to participate in a win over Wofford. The Mocs won in 2009, when UTC's fifth-year players were redshirting.

In the past seven seasons, Wofford has won less than eight games only once, that 2009 season, when injuries and a severe flu outbreak decimated the Terriers' roster. UTC routed Wofford 38-9 that season, in a matchup Huesman likened earlier this season to playing the Terriers' JV team.

Wofford won just three games in 2009, but the following season coach Mike Ayers had the Terriers back, winning 10 games and sharing the SoCon title. Wofford shared the title again last season after beating UTC in overtime in the Terriers' SoCon finale.

Ayers arrived at Wofford in 1988 and has won 176 games in his 26 seasons. Wofford's offensive coordinator, Wade Lang, has been part of all of those wins and has directed the Terriers' option attack for the past 24 seasons.

In the offseason, when Wofford lost its defensive coordinator for the past 13 seasons, Nate Woody, to Appalachian State, Ayers promoted defensive line coach Jack Teachey, who is in his 20th season on the staff.

"Most of these guys have been with me a really long time and most of them have played for me," Ayers said of his assistants.

The Terriers not only have staff consistency, they have scheme consistency. They do what they do and they continue to hone it.

"What we try to do is give our guys something they can do and we try to build on it year after year," Ayers said. "We've been playing 50 defense forever and we've been running option football forever.

"The thing that we try to do is not reinvent the wheel every year. We just try to make the wheel a little bit better. For us, I think that's afforded us a chance to succeed."

The Terriers are succeeding this season with a lot of new faces in key roles, most notably at fullback, where Donovan Johnson has taken over for one of the SoCon's most prolific rushers ever in Eric Breitenstein, whose 5,734 career yards rank second all-time in the league.

Johnson, a senior, had already established himself before this season. He came in with 1,793 yards and 14 touchdowns on 236 carries -- including a 141-yard rushing performance against UTC in 2011 -- and he's averaging 105.9 yards a game this season.

"I would say it's the work ethic," Johnson said when asked to define Wofford's key to success year after year. "It's something Coach Ayers and the rest of the coaching staff really stresses. When one guy goes down or goes out, there should never be a drop off."

Extra points

Of UTC's trio of injured linebackers, Muhasibi Wakeel (ankle) is questionable for Saturday's game, Gunner Miller (shoulder) is doubtful and A.J. Hampton (elbow) is out. Huesman said running back Keon Williams (ankle) remains doubtful. ... Mocs redshirt junior center Patrick Sutton (31 consecutive starts) will not use his final year of eligibility. Also not playing next season are wideout Bryant Belew and defensive end Devin Scates. ... Mocs defensive end Davis Tull was named the SoCon defensive player of the month Wednesday.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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