published Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Elon no longer pass-happy Phoenix

Elon's Tracey Coppedge runs the ball.
Elon's Tracey Coppedge runs the ball.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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It should come as no surprise that Elon has more passing yards than rushing yards. For years the Phoenix have been a pass-happy bunch with very productive quarterbacks and some All-American wide receivers.

What may come as a surprise is how balanced Elon's offense is this season. Through seven games, the Phoenix have 1,572 passing yards and 1,046 on the ground.

A year ago, Elon finished with 972 rushing yards (last in the Southern Conference) and 3,264 passing (first in the SoCon). Star wide receiver Aaron Mellette had 1,398 receiving yards, 426 more than Elon's ground attack.

Elon is fifth in the SoCon in rushing this season and third in passing.

"It's a big change," said University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman, whose Mocs face Elon on Saturday. "Now you just can't say, alright, let's get in this [coverage] and defend [the pass] all day. You're going to have to stop their running game and that makes a big difference because you may give up a little bit in the passing game doing that."

Elon coach Jason Swepson's confidence in his rushing attack was never more evident than in the final minutes of last Saturday's game. Trailing No. 12 Wofford 31-27 late last Saturday, Elon (2-5, 1-2 Southern Conference) used a mix of runs and passes to move the ball to the Terriers' 5-yard line with 1:10 remaining.

Needing a touchdown to win, Elon handed the ball to running back B.J. Bennett four plays in a row. On fourth-and-goal at the 2, he was stopped for no gain and Wofford was able to hold on for the victory.

"I'd do the same thing again because that's where we want to go," Swepson told the Burlington Times-News after the game. "That's who we want to be. We want to be a physical team that runs the football. And we've proven that we can run the football. It's not an unknown."

It is an adjustment, however, as Swepson admitted during Tuesday's SoCon teleconference.

"I never thought we'd be balanced or heavy run," the third-year coach said. "I'm a guy that likes to throw the football, but you've got to play to your personnel and right now we're a team that can run the football."

When the Mocs (4-2, 2-1) make their final visit to Rhodes Stadium on Saturday -- Elon is leaving for the Colonial Athletic Association after this season -- the Mocs' defensive attention will be more divided than it has been in years past.

Elon quarterback Mike Quinn, a junior in his first season as a starter, has completed 64.5 percent of his 248 passes and thrown for 1,492 yards, with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. His top receiving targets are Rasaun Rorie (36 catches for 473 yards), Kierre Brown (28 for 205) and Justin Osborne (20 for 214).

On the ground the Phoenix are spreading the ball around, as well. Tracey Coppedge leads the team with 305 yards, Bennett has 301 and Karl Bostick has 266.

"They're running the ball so well," Huesman said. "And they're running it on downs that you wouldn't expect them to run it on normally. In the past, any time it got to third down, they were just throwing it, pitching and catching it. And they've always been really, really good at that."

The Phoenix can still do that, but it's not all they can do.

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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