University of Tennessee at Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman was headed for the sideline phone to talk to offensive coordinator Jeff Durden last Saturday when he saw Mocs punter Nick Pollard running up the sideline.
It was early in the fourth quarter of a 21-21 game at Appalachian State and the Mocs faced a fourth-and-3 at their 33-yard line. Jacob didn't know that UTC was running a fake punt, which resulted in a 17-yard gain, plus a 15-yard late-hit penalty -- a 32-yard play.
"I saw him pass the first-down marker so I was like, that's a good thing," Jacob said after the Mocs' 35-28 win.
Fakes have helped UTC win seven games for the first time since 1997 and move to the top of the Southern Conference standings. The Mocs (7-2, 5-1) are 4-for-4 on fakes, with three coming in league play. Two were last Saturday.
"Your heart's in your throat every time you call it, especially on a punt, but sometimes you've got to do those things," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said.
Wofford (5-3, 4-1) will have to be ready for fakes when they meet the Mocs this Saturday at Finley Stadium, Terriers coach Mike Ayers said.
"The difference between Chattanooga and most people is, Chattanooga's going to call them," he said. "Everybody's got them in their playbook, but are you going to call them?"
The Mocs' first fake field goal was in week two, when Jacob Huesman, UTC's holder, threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Faysal Shafaat in a 42-14 win at Georgia State. Coach Huesman said UTC tried the same fake a few years ago and decided to do it again after seeing a clip on YouTube of Alabama running it successfully.
Next came a fake punt against Elon on Oct. 19, a direct snap to fullback Taharin Tyson, one of up men in punt protection. Tyson took a direct snap on fourth-and-1 at the UTC 34 and ran 24 yards. That brought a spark after a slow start, and UTC won 20-9.
Against App State, trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, UTC lined up for a short field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 7. Instead, Jacob caught the snap and ran the ball in, just getting across the goal line for the score. Later came Pollard's run, which didn't look like a fake because there was a high snap that he had to leap to catch.
Coach Huesman said he has called for several more fake punts than UTC has run. He said Tyson is charged with looking at how the opposition is lined up and deciding whether to stick with the fake or just have Pollard punt the ball.
"On a fake punt, you better be sure," Huesman said.
Pollard is so effective with his rugby-style punts -- his average is 40.2 yards, and 16 of 36 punts have been downed inside the 20 -- that many teams are putting two returners back to try to field the kicks before they start rolling. A fake can exploit having one less defender near the line of scrimmage, while also possibly forcing teams to fear the fake and put 10 guys near the line of scrimmage, opening things deep.
"If you put two people back there, you're fixing to be in a world of hurt," Coach Huesman said. "We can't let them do that, and that's the bottom line. If it means I've got to fake a punt, then we're going to fake a punt. People aren't just going to sit two back there."
The Mocs' successful fakes are part of a very high fourth-down conversion rate of 75 percent (12-for-16), which is tied for first in theSoCon and seventh in the FCS.
Linebackers Gunner Miller (shoulder), Muhasibi Wakeel (ankle) and A.J. Hampton (elbow) did not practice Tuesday. Also out were running back Keon Williams (ankle) and tight end Troy Dye (concussion). ... UTC continues to rank No. 1 in the SoCon in scoring defense (18.8 ppg) and total defense (325.6). Wofford is second in scoring defense (24.2) and third in total defense (384.9).
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.