Strengths collide in UTC-Samford matchup

Strengths collide in UTC-Samford matchup

November 16th, 2013 by John Frierson in Sports - College

Andy Summerlin

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

It should be strength versus strength on the field at Seibert Stadium today, when the Southern Conference-leading University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense matches up against Samford's prolific offense. Whether that compelling head-to-head duel actually decides the critical SoCon contest is anybody's guess.

"I've been doing this for a long time and I've been in games like this, where one team is good on defense and the other is good on offense, and you think this is going to be a matter of wills there," said Samford coach Pat Sullivan, the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner. "I don't have any idea what the game's going to be."

It will have big consequences, that's for sure. The 18th-ranked Mocs (8-2, 6-1) are trying to win the league title outright and secure the automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs. Samford (6-4, 4-2) is trying to keep alive its shot at a share of the league title, as well as its playoff hopes.

"Samford is really good and this is going to be our toughest game yet, probably," Mocs linebacker Wes Dothard said.

The Bulldogs, who have lost back-to-back games to fall out of the SoCon lead and are home for the first time since Oct. 5, have a star quarterback (sixth-year senior Andy Summerlin), a star running back/returner (Fabian Truss) and a very good pack of receivers (led by Kelsey Pope, with 57 catches for 728 yards).

"I think the biggest thing with them, and I truly believe this ... is [Appalachian State] and them have the best wide receiving corps in the league," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "I don't think it's close, where anybody can say, we're a close second. I think those two are head and shoulders above everybody.

"They're getting the ball to those guys in a lot of different ways."

Summerlin leads the league with 294.5 passing yards a game and has thrown for 19 touchdowns, as well as 10 interceptions. Truss is a rushing, receiving and returning threat and leads the league with 216.6 all-purpose yards a game. And nine Samford players have 105 or more receiving yards this season, including six with 207 or more.

While UTC might see trouble when it looks at Samford's offense, Sullivan and Samford might see the same when looking at the Mocs' defense. UTC has a pair of All-Americans in end Davis Tull and Dothard, as well as All-SoCon players D.J. Key and Kadeem Wise in the secondary.

The Mocs are allowing SoCon lows of 17.9 points and 320.1 yards per game. UTC also is first in pass-efficiency defense, a more accurate measure of pass defense than yards allowed since the SoCon is such a run-heavy league.

"They've gotten on a roll and are playing with a lot of confidence," Sullivan said. "Defensively, they're right up there at the top, leading our league, as they have the last couple of years. They've got outstanding players, starting with Davis Tull. You've got to know where he is on every snap, because he can turn around and take the game over."

Tull leads the SoCon with nine sacks and is tied with Samford linebacker Justin Shade with 13 tackles for loss.

In its 35-17 loss at Furman last week, the fourth of four straight SoCon games on the road, Samford ran 102 plays and gained 531 yards. Furman ran just 51 plays and had 336 yards.

The Mocs' relatively thin defense could be exhausted by a 100-play day, which means the UTC offense will need to be productive. UTC is third in the league in time of possession at 30:57, which has Sullivan concerned.

"When you've got an offense like they do, they make it a short game," he said. "You don't get a lot of at-bats."

In what projects to be a tight contest, it might be the team with the last at-bat that prevails.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.