Mocs may need expanded passing game this week

Mocs may need expanded passing game this week

October 20th, 2016 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

UTC wide receiver C.J. Board, right, competes with Presbyterian defensive back Kenneth Coleman for a pass in the end zone during their game last month at Finley Stadium.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

The fact that Virginia Military Institute's football team plays an odd front on defense means running the ball might be difficult for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The Mocs' solution? Throw around them some — and over them some.

A few more passes than usual might be in store for eighth-ranked UTC (6-1, 4-1 Southern Conference) against the Keydets (3-3, 1-2) in Saturday's 2 p.m. game at Finley Stadium. VMI ranks third in the SoCon against the run, allowing 127.7 yards per game with only two touchdowns, but is dead last against the pass, allowing 293.3 yards with nine touchdowns in three contests, tied for most in the league.

UTC quarterback Alejandro Bennifield has attempted an average 22.9 passes per game in his first season as a starter, but Mocs coach Russ Huesman said that number could "get up to 30 or so" this week with standout running back Derrick Craine questionable to play because of an ankle injury.

Craine did not practice Tuesday.

"I think we're going to see a lot of man coverage this week," UTC offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said. "When people move around, it's to limit some of the run game schemes that's why they do it. We've got to come up with some things that negate that, and one is to get the ball downfield, work hard to protect the passer.

"If he's clean, he can make the throws when he needs to."

That suits Bennifield perfectly. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior averages more than 14 yards per completion with 16 touchdowns this season, with 10 coming on plays of 20 or more yards. The team's top three receivers — C.J. Board, Xavier Borishade and James Stovall — each have receptions of at least 45 yards, with Board linking up with Bennifield for a 75-yard score in last week's loss at The Citadel.

With Craine questionable and VMI set up to stop the run, the Mocs hope to get more players involved in the passing game, which means potential opportunities for Bingo Morton, Dejuan McQuarters and Wil Young.

"We have to throw and catch a little better this week," Board said. "I think Dro throws the ball really well, and we're going to work hard to make sure we make plays like we need to, correct the mistakes from the last game and play hard.

"The good thing about us is we're getting everybody in the receiver group going, making sure the backups are paying attention during practice in case they've got to get in the game. It'll create a lot of opportunities for all of us."

OL commits to Mocs

The Mocs picked up a commitment earlier this week from Clayton McConnell, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound offensive lineman from Alabama's Foley High School.

"Thanks to all the schools and coaches who have recruited me this past year. I would like to announce my commitment to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga! #GoMocs," McConnell tweeted.

He chose the Mocs over an offer from Football Bowl Subdivision program Georgia State, along with offers from Jacksonville State, East Tennessee State and Southeastern Louisiana. He is the Mocs' sixth commitment for the 2017 signing class.

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