The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense is in some good company when it comes to red-zone defense, even if that company is to be found in an undesirable location.
UTC and top-ranked North Dakota State, the two-time defending Football Championship Subdivision national champions, are tied for 121st -- dead last -- in the FCS in red-zone defense. When the opposition has driven into the red zone against both teams, it has scored every time.
For the Mocs (5-2, 3-1 Southern Conference), opponents are 17-for-17 in the red zone. For the Bison, opponents are 9-for-9. Yet NDSU leads the FCS in scoring defense, while UTC is fourth.
How is that possible? By limiting trips to the red zone and by holding opponents to field goals when they get there. In UTC's case, the Mocs have forced teams to settle for field goals in nine of the 17 trips inside the 20-yard line.
UTC won 20-9 at Elon (2-6, 1-3) on Saturday, holding the Phoenix to three red-zone field goals. In its previous game, a 31-9 win against Furman, UTC allowed two red-zone field goals and a 50-yarder.
"I think that's been an area we've needed to improve on for the last couple of years, our red-zone defense," said Mocs junior defensive end Davis Tull, who became UTC's career sack leader (24.0) Saturday. "We've put an emphasis on it and to have last week no touchdowns and this week no touchdowns; the ultimate goal is no points, but no touchdowns certainly helps."
Elon had its greatest success offensively using short passes to its wide receivers on the outside. That limited the effectiveness of the Mocs' pass rush and the repeated modest gains were enough to move the chains. Elon quarterback Mike Quinn finished the game 31-for-44 for 237 yards, averaging 7.6 yards a completion.
On Elon's second drive, a 16-play, 80-yarder, the Phoenix had a first down at the UTC 5. A run gained 2 yards, Quinn threw an incomplete pass and another run was stuffed at the 2, forcing a field goal.
The Phoenix's next trip inside the 20, in the second quarter following a Keon Williams fumble, began at the UTC 13. A holding call pushed Elon back and then UTC's defense held, forcing another field goal.
Elon's only other trip to the red zone came in the third quarter. The Phoenix, trailing 17-6, had a first down at the 11 and managed just 5 yards on their next three plays. John Gallagher then came in and made his third field goal of the game.
"We know when we get down in the red zone we've got to get down and get tough," said senior linebacker Wes Dothard, who had a game-high 13 tackles. "That's every team -- every defense prides itself on stopping teams in the red zone."
Mocs quarterback Jacob Huesman said having a defense like UTC's, which leads the SoCon in scoring defense (16.7 points per game) and total defense (301.6 yards per game), makes life much easier for the offense.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of us," he said. "Not to say we had a ton in the first place because the defense picks up most of it, but they've done a phenomenal job the last couple of weeks and really the whole season."
And those red-zone stops the past two weeks have made a big difference in UTC's wins, he said.
"It's the same thing as last week, if some of those [field goals] turn into touchdowns then we were looking at a completely different ballgame," Jacob said.
The Mocs host The Citadel (2-5, 2-3) this week at Finley Stadium. The Bulldogs were off Saturday.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
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 ...