For the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offense to reach its full potential in 2012, contact with the defense can't be the impediment that it was last season.
Yards after contact, especially in the running game, were minimal, which led to few easy drives or big plays during the Mocs' 5-6 season. Whether it is yards after contact for the running backs or yards after the catch in the passing game, the offense has to make more plays, offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said.
"It's making a play," Satterfield said following Wednesday's practice at Scrappy Moore Field. "Like today, Ron Moore ran a curl route, made a guy miss and scored a touchdown. That didn't happen last year."
According to Satterfield, last season UTC's running backs averaged 1.73 yards after contact last season. J.J. Jackson, who averaged 1.72 yards after contact, said the team's numbers were "embarrassing" and have to improve.
"I wouldn't really say yards after contact is an emphasis, but the fundamentals that lead up to yards after contact have been," Jackson said. "For example, pad level and definitely lower-body strength. Things like that we're definitely working on to improve those numbers."
Satterfield and Jackson credited new running backs coach Thomas Brown with bringing a more physical approach to the position, which is paying dividends.
"I think there's a lot more creativity in the style, they're making people miss and I think we're running through some arm tackles that we weren't able to do last year," Satterfield said. "Coach Brown, he does a great job and we've emphasized it. On his first day I showed him that sheet and I said, 'that can't happen.'"
Going down on contact can't happen for the receivers either, wideouts coach Will Healy said. Whether it's 6-foot-5 wideout Marlon Anthony using his size to first get separation from cornerbacks and then push them aside, or smaller receivers like Ron Moore or Tommy Hudson using their quickness and agility, the Mocs have to get more yards after the catch.
"I think each guy, it's about their strengths," Healy said. "For Marlon, yards after the catch is more about getting your pads down and trying to rip through a tackle because he's not going to make you miss a whole lot in the open field.
"He's got to be physical enough to make a guy pay when he does tackle you up high."
Mocs coach Russ Huesman said part of making plays is mental. The players have to want to fight for more yardage every time they touch the ball.
"Some of it's a mindset - it's got to be," he said. "You can catch it and fall down or you can catch it and get positive yards. I think you can work on it in the spring and the fall, just getting backs to stay on their feet and not let a sideways shot get them on the ground."
The Mocs struggled to close out games in several of their losses last season. Their inability to run the ball late in some games, and keep the clock moving, contributed to blown leads against The Citadel and Wofford. UTC averaged 1.42 yards after contact against the Bulldogs and 1.48 against the Terriers.
If Keon Williams hadn't been suspended for the season, those numbers might have been better. The 6-foot, 225-pound Williams is well suited to contact, delivering it as often as he receives it, and his return should also make a difference next season.
Another difference is UTC's new offense. By spreading the field, there are more running lanes and more chances for backs to get rolling before contact.
"I truly believe that those runs are going to come," Jackson said. "We've got a very talented backfield and if we get everybody healthy I definitely think those are going to come.
"I'm confident in the fact that we'll have some bigger plays and yards after contact. We've just got to get those numbers up."