UTC Mocs defense prepares for Citadel's strong ground game

From left, UTC defensive linemen Toyvian Brand, Keionta Davis and Vantrell McMillan practice earlier this season. The Mocs host The Citadel on Saturday with the Southern Conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs at stake.

As a defensive tackle for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Toyvian Brand took his fair share of punishment inside against triple-option offenses.

Now, as a defensive end, things are a little easier for the fifth-year senior - but his role is no less important.

The Citadel will bring four of the Southern Conference's top 10 rushers to Finley Stadium for Saturday's winner-take-all game for the league's automatic bid for the FCS playoffs. The Bulldogs (7-2, 6-0), ranked No. 20 in one FCS poll and No. 21 in another, have already clinched at least a share of the SoCon title. UTC (7-2, 5-1), ranked eighth in one poll and ninth in the other, needs a win Saturday to share the championship.

Mocs glance

› No. 8 UTC (7-2,5-1 SoCon) vs. No. 21 The Citadel (7-2, 6-0)› Finley Stadium› Saturday, 2 p.m.› SoCon Digital and 96.1 FM

Brand spent two seasons as a tackle in the Mocs' scheme, then moved back to end, the position at which he earned all-state honors at Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"The defensive tackles are getting the most physical part of the game the entire game," he said. "Defensive ends have leeway, can get off blocks and don't have to touch the tackles, but defensive tackles get it every day. It's rough there on the inside I know what it's like.

"I'm happy to be playing end."

The Bulldogs average 350.1 rushing yards per game, which is second in the nation. They average 60 rushing attempts per game and have 33 touchdowns on the ground. UTC leads the league in rushing defense, allowing 140.1 yards per game, and has given up just eight rushing touchdowns.

The Mocs have the top two rushers in the SoCon - running back Derrick Craine (884 yards, 11 touchdowns) and quarterback Jacob Huesman (879 yards, eight scores) - but the Bulldogs have the Nos. 6, 8, 9 and 10 rushers in the league. Quarterback Dominique Allen leads their attack with 598 yards and 11 touchdowns, but Isiaha Smith, Cam Jackson and Vinny Miller have rushing averages between 50 and 61 yards per game.

Allen, a sophomore, also has 636 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air.

"He's really good," UTC head coach Russ Huesman said. "He's a dangerous, dangerous player, and we can't let him kill us out there. He's going to get his yards and complete his passes, but we can't let him destroy us out there."

Huesman joked that the Bulldogs' offensive balance makes them such a tough team to prepare for, as well as to decipher who's who when it comes to all-conference voting.

"That's the way triple-option teams are," Huesman said. "I feel for them sometimes, because they have really good players, but at the end of the year, they've got 87 trillion yards rushing and can't get a guy on the all-conference team because the numbers are so spread out, but that's the nature of their offense.

"This team is good, they're physical and they'll come and get after you."

Whereas Wofford has sprinkled in a few of the new-school spread concepts into its option attack, which the Mocs survived in a 20-7 victory last month, UTC defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said the Bulldogs won't be doing that.

"They're truly an old-school triple-option team that you think of when you hear of that style," Braithwaite said. "They execute at a high level. They know what they want to do, and they understand how they're going to attack a defense. It's like they have a checklist and they go right down it, figure out who's playing the dive man, the quarterback and the pitch man, and they find different ways to get them blocked.

"It's a challenge physically and mentally to a defense to play this type of team."

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