The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team's play on first downs last Saturday paved the way for a 51-7 Southern Conference win over Western Carolina.
Offensively and defensively, UTC (3-4, 1-3) dominated first down in the first three quarters, when the starters were still on the field.
"It's huge, on both sides of the ball," said coach Russ Huesman, whose Mocs visit Elon (4-3, 2-2) on Saturday.
Opening the game with first-time starter Terrell Robinson at quarterback, UTC reeled off first-down plays of 32, 7, 8, 18, 14 and 9 yards. That's 88 yards of offense just on the Mocs' first six first-down plays.
The numbers weren't quite as gaudy in the second and third quarters, but the Mocs still had eight first-down plays of 4 or more yards.
"It definitely makes a huge difference ... and allows you to be more aggressive," said Mocs wideout Joel Bradford, who caught a 21-yard touchdown pass on a first down in the second quarter.
Western Carolina, meanwhile, managed a total of 6 yards on first down in the opening quarter. The Catamounts had minus-1 yards on first down in the second.
Of the 19 first-down plays WCU ran during the first three quarters, 16 went for 3 yards or less, including six plays that produced no yards and five that lost yardage.
"I know we blitzed a decent amount on first down, and [holding them to little or no gain] impacts an offense," UTC defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. "They can't dictate what the second-down play is, and any time you can have them not dictate what a second-down play is, it just starts the whole trickle effect."
The Mocs defense's first-down effectiveness was a big reason why the Catamounts had just 130 yards of offense and were 4-of-14 on third-down conversions through three quarters.
Quarterback B.J. Coleman said his sprained right shoulder is "getting a lot better" and he hopes to start throwing some this week.
"We've actually added weight to the rehabilitation program this week, and I'm day-to-day right now," he said, "just trying to get myself back out there where I can pick up a football and throw it a little bit."
Coleman and Bradford spoke to the UTC Quarterback Club on Monday, and both seniors said they enjoyed the experience.
"I tell you what was cool was seeing all of the people who have been involved with the program for 30-plus years," Coleman said. "It's neat to see the support of the people who have been on this train for a long time, through thick and thin."
Robinson earned his second straight SoCon freshman of the week award Monday after going 7-for-11 passing for 123 yards and three touchdowns against WCU, while also running for 72 yards.
He's the second UTC player this season to earn a SoCon award in consecutive weeks. Linebacker Wes Dothard was named the top defensive player following the Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky games.
Georgia Southern senior kicker Adrian Mora from Dalton was the special teams player of the week. He made field goals of 23 and 49 yards, set an NCAA FCS record with his 129th consecutive extra-point kick and totaled 12 points in a 50-20 defeat of Furman.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeat.