When the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team revealed its version of the spread offense last season, the Mocs were like actors improvising a scene. Ten months and a lot of work and study later, UTC will know its lines when it takes the field Saturday.
"We had zero idea what we were doing in some games [in 2011], especially compared to where we are now," offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said. "I think now we know there's a rhyme or reason for what we're doing. Last year I can't promise you we had any rhyme or reason for what we did other than, hey, that looks like it would be fun, let's try that.
"Now we've researched it and we've got a more sound plan."
The offense has undergone quite a few changes since the "pro spread" system was implemented last October after then-senior quarterback B.J. Coleman was injured. A redshirt freshman, Terrell Robinson came in and made a myriad of plays with his arms and legs, earning Southern Conference freshman of the year honors despite starting just three games.
Robinson's play was reminiscent of former Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards, who twice won the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. UTC coach Russ Huesman faced off against Edwards both as Richmond's defensive coordinator and in his first season with the Mocs.
In 2007, Richmond lost 55-35 to Edwards and ASU in the playoffs. Dual threat Edwards had one of the finest performances in FCS history, finishing with 313 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns and completing 14 of 16 passes for 182 yards and three scores.
Huesman said UTC has studied that game video and "pulled concepts and ideas" from it. Thinking the Mocs can look like the Mountaineers of 2007, who won the program's third straight national title, against South Florida on Saturday is probably a lot to ask. Huesman liked what he saw out of the offense in the preseason, making plays against what should be a good Mocs defense.
"In the spring we were a one-back offense, and we weren't doing things that we were capable of doing in this offense," he said. "[In the preseason] it's been fun and I've been pleased. I think our offensive line has developed the way I'd like for it to; we're protecting really well against some pretty good pass rushers."
Whether it's the quick-but-undersized offensive line, quarterbacks Robinson and Jacob Huesman or the rest of the skill-position players, the new offense appears to be a good fit for the Mocs' personnel.
"I think it better suits the offense and the weapons that we have," said sophomore wide receiver Ron Moore, one of five Florida natives on UTC's roster. "We can utilize all the weapons that we have."
Fifth-year senior right tackle Adam Miller said the offense's production last season and the dramatic improvements since then give the unit confidence heading into the opener.
"We can look at it and have the confidence from knowing what we did in those games," Miller said. "We know this does work for us and we can do this."
The only true freshmen making the trip to South Florida are wide receiver Tray James, kicker Henrique Ribeiro, cornerback Dee Virgin and defensive end Vantrell McMillan. Huesman said he'd like to hold out Virgin and McMillan to protect their redshirt status, but they will travel in case they're needed. ... Senior backup tight end Sean Stackhouse has left the team and will not play this season, Huesman said.