Wiedmer: Mocs wouldn't mind a little rain against The Citadel

UTC head football coach Russ Huesman paces the sidelines during the Mocs' home football game against the Mercer Bears at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
UTC head football coach Russ Huesman paces the sidelines during the Mocs' home football game against the Mercer Bears at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Before Russ Huesman became the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head football coach tasked with helping his defense stop The Citadel's triple-option offense this coming Saturday, he once was a UTC defensive back attempting to slow Arkansas State's wishbone attack and its future NFL running back Maurice Carthon.

"The game was in Jonesboro (Ark.)," Huesman recalled of that 1981 contest. "It rained hard all day. The water was around our ankles. Nobody could do anything on offense. We won 3-2. But if it had been a dry day, they might have scored 70 on us. That offense and Carthon were that good."

Unfortunately for Huesman's Mocs, there's currently no more than a 10 percent of rain when No. 3 UTC visits No. 8 The Citadel this weekend in a Football Championship Subdivision showdown of unbeaten Southern Conference foes.

"It'll be a bloodbath out there on both sides of the ball," Huesman said Tuesday of the physical play he expects to be on display inside the Bulldogs' Johnson Hagood Stadium. "The triple option's hard to prepare for in one week. (long pause) It's hard to prepare for in six weeks."

No one need look further than Navy's 46-40 victory over previously unbeaten and former No. 6 Houston last Saturday to understand how a wishbone style offense can wreck the dreamiest of seasons.

Viewed as a possible dark horse to crash the FBS four-team format before that game, Houston must now hope for a win over Louisville on Thursday, Nov. 17, if they expect to have any shot at a top-tier bowl.

This isn't to say that UTC probably has to worry about making the 24-team FCS playoff should it fall to The Citadel. Assuming the Mocs don't lose another game after that one until traveling to top-ranked Alabama on Nov. 19, the school should earn its third straight playoff bid and might still possibly host a second-round game if The Citadel's only loss from this point forward comes at North Carolina on that same Nov. 19.

Still, a UTC win would tie the 1968 team that finished 9-1 for the best start in school history (7-0). Beyond that, it would all but wrap up a fourth straight won-or-shared SoCon title and probably assure the Mocs of hosting at least one playoff game.

Nor do the Mocs sound like they're taking anything for granted.

"We know they're a top-10 team," said junior noseguard Taylor Reynolds. "We remember how they beat South Carolina at the end of last season. That really made our conference look good, but it also shows how good they are."

The Bulldogs are undeniably good, especially on offense, where they've averaged 497 rushing yards in their last three contests. The Citadel's 559 rushing yards against North Greenville are the most accumulated in a single game by an FCS team all season.

And just in case you think their strength is offense alone, their eight sacks against Western Carolina are the most by a SoCon team all season and tied for the most in FCS.

Yet as impressive as The Citadel is running the triple option, as well as Navy and the other service academies so often perfectly execute option football, Huesman believes there's one very good reason so few schools run it, especially at the FBS level.

"Just look at Clemson's defense against Georgia Tech (and the triple option) a couple of weeks ago," Huesman said of the Tigers' 26-7 win. "With that kind of speed, they'll chase you down. There's nowhere to run. When you're talking about a Power Five conference team, I'm just not sure you can win a national championship today running the triple option."

But you can certainly win a big game here and there, as The Citadel proved last season against South Carolina or Navy proved last week against Houston.

And because of that, Huesman is understandably concerned about the Bulldogs.

"I think our players and their players like this (game)," Huesman said of this battle of top-10 FCS foes. "For them it's fun. But for me, I've already got a sore neck from the stress."

For that reason alone - though Hurricane Matthew made sure the east coast of South Carolina is no longer as desperate for rain as the Tennessee Valley - if anyone sees the Mocs doing a rain dance at their Charleston hotel Saturday morning, the request probably came from their head coach.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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