The formula has been pretty simple for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team since the arrival of offensive coordinator Jeff Durden.
Run the ball. Set up the pass. Don't turn the ball over, and rely on an above-average defense to do its job.
The formula has been a success. A primary reason for that this season has been the offensive line.
The eighth-ranked Mocs have averaged 485 yards per game offensively in their last two contests — 10-point wins over NCAA Division II member Mars Hill and Southern Conference rival Samford. Tackles Corey Levin and Hunter Townson, guards Synjen Herren and Josh Cardiello and center Jacob Revis helped the versatile offense average 37.5 points, 26.5 first downs, 262 yards rushing and 223 yards passing in those two games.
Those linemen were whistled for only four penalties in those games.
"I think we're playing well as a unit," said Cardiello, a Georgia transfer. "We have a good bond together, and the offense overall is making steps each week that, if we keep going like we're going, can do something special."
The coaching staff's primary focus about the offensive line at this point is to develop additional depth. The starting five is solid, but Durden said Tuesday that the team still needs to find a backup at tackle, guard and center — "in case disaster strikes."
That was the case last season, when the Mocs lost Herren to a torn knee ligament in preseason training camp.
Offensive line coach Chris Malone has continued to raise the expectations for the unit. The former Virginia Tech offensive lineman described himself as one who "lives in a miserable world" at times because, as a coach, he's continually pushing his players.
"We talk about standards, and having a way of doing things on a daily basis," Malone said. "We're constantly pushing the bar and raising the level of play; it's human nature for kids to take plays off. We're trying to eliminate those one or two plays each guy is taking off, because, at the end of the game, that adds up to 10-15 plays we're not on the same page and not giving great effort.
"That's what I harp on. They get tired of hearing it, but when they get tired enough, they'll fix it."
But even he was pleased overall by the unit that paved the way for running back Derrick Craine's 169 yards against Mars Hill and quarterback Jacob Huesman's 150 running yards against the Bulldogs. It was the first time in school history that two different players rushed for 150 yards or more in consecutive games.
"I make sure I take the time to breathe in the positive and pump it out to the kids, too," Malone said. "You live in a 'What if we'd done this or done that' world, and it can bring you down, so you've got to make sure to keep it even keel with the kids.
"If we're healthy, we have the chance to be a really good unit, but we're still not a finished product and we've got work to do."
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