Wofford's option the latest challenge for UTC defense

Wofford's option the latest challenge for UTC defense

October 22nd, 2015 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

Wofford quarterback Evan Jacks evades Clemson defensive end Dane Rogers during last month's game in Clemson, S.C. Jacks has combined with running backs Lorenzo Long and Ray Smith for 1,157 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground this season in the Terriers' run-heavy option offense.

Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is seemingly running a gauntlet of opposing offenses in its Southern Conference schedule.

The Mocs (5-1, 3-0) opened conference play against pass-happy Samford on Sept. 19 — they won a nonconference game at Presbyterian the following week and then had an open date — before facing the balanced offense of Furman and taking on a Virginia Military Institute team that entered last week's game averaging 41 pass attempts per contest.

Now UTC's defense is getting ready for a trip to Wofford, which employs a triple-option offense.

This season, VMI has 272 passing attempts and Samford has 241. Wofford has thrown the ball 72 times in seven games, so the Mocs know what they have to prepare for.

A team that runs the ball about 80 percent of the time while using a lot of cut blocks.

"We've got to prepare for getting cut," UTC linebacker A.J. Hampton said. "We have to react quick. When we see the option a few times and get comfortable with it, it won't be too bad. It's a little different, though; the option is different than who we've been playing. We're going to face a lot of run plays, I'm sure. We have to play assignment football."

The Terriers (3-4, 1-2) average 258.7 yards rushing per game, with 17 touchdowns on the ground. The Mocs rank first against the run in the SoCon, allowing 121.3 yards per game. They've given up four rushing touchdowns this season.

Mocs defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said planning for the run-heavy Terriers "doesn't get any more different."

"Wofford has some elements of the old-school traditional triple-options but has some elements of the new-age spread, zone-read option," he said. "There's a little bit of carryover, but they have such a disciplined approach, you have to have the mindset of discipline, the mindset of giving fanatical effort while being disciplined while knowing it's going to be a 60-minute slugfest.

"They're never out of a game, so you've got to get up one play at a time, keep punching and keep your nose down until it's over."

The Terriers are led by the three-headed attack of quarterback Evan Jacks and running backs Lorenzo Long and Ray Smith, who have a combined 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jacks has only attempted 46 passes this season, so what the Terriers don't want is to get behind and be forced to throw. That could unleash the Mocs' pass rush, which leads the league with 22 sacks and a plus-4 turnover margin.

Wofford had five turnovers last week in a loss to Western Carolina.

"When we hold on to it, we're pretty good. When we put the ball on the ground, we're not so good," Wofford coach Mike Ayers said Tuesday. "Probably the only thing that's been consistent for us has been our inconsistency. We've had games where we've done extremely well, and if we hold on to the ball, we have a chance. But if we turn the ball over and give people short fields, they'll have opportunities at having the ball five more times because we gave it away, and they'll take advantage of it.

"We want to have the opportunity to create some points, eat up the clock and give the opportunity to give our defense some rest."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/genehenleytfp.