VMI offense presents its own challenges, but Mocs welcome the change

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga vs Virginia Military Institute

For the second consecutive week, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team will face a Southern Conference military academy.

And that is where the on-field similarities between The Citadel and Virginia Military Institute - this week's opponent - end.

The eighth-ranked Mocs (6-1, 4-1) and their top-ranked defense host the Keydets at Finley Stadium at 2 p.m. Saturday, which will give UTC a break from the triple-option offense that the fifth-ranked Bulldogs presented last week. VMI (3-3, 1-2) is led by quarterback Al Cobb, who went over the 7,000-yard mark in the team's last game, a 55-21 loss to 24th-ranked Samford. He has 7,166 yards in his career and 20 games of at least 200 yards passing.

The Keydets are best with offensive balance, however. They are 3-0 when gaining at least 100 yards on the ground.

"It's a challenge because you've got to somehow get enough people around the box to stop the run game. That's where they killed us last year," UTC coach Russ Huesman said of the Mocs' 33-27 win after trailing 21-20 at halftime. "They ran the ball on us better than anybody lat year other than the option teams, so you're thinking, 'Let's cheat some people in there,' but now how do you defend their throw game?

"This kid (Cobb) throws to the middle of the field really well. It's not like he's dink, donk outside. He throws digs, posts, seam routes - throws them really well - and they execute them really well."

The Keydets' offense revolves around Cobb and receivers Aaron Sanders, Dane Forlines and Ryan Swingle, but they surprised the Mocs last season by rushing for 59 yards in the first half. Regardless of how they choose to attack UTC this season, it will be a welcome return to the more wide-open spread game that most offenses use now.

Especially for the Mocs' defensive linemen, who had to endure cut blocks in Saturday's battle against The Citadel.

"It's not as physical as playing a triple-option team, but you still have to respect what they do and they'll come out and play physical," defensive end Keionta Davis said. "We have to get back used to playing a more outside, perimeter, spread team. We focused so much on a different technique all week that your step might be different, the spacing might be a little different, so we have to get our eyes back in the right spot and your body back in the feel of things."

The Mocs were carved up some against the Bulldogs, giving up a season-high 342 yards on the ground, and still have to face Wofford - another triple-option team - in the home finale on Nov. 12. UTC still leads the nation in total defense (245.0), yards allowed per play (3.93) and passing yards allowed (134.7) and is second to San Diego in scoring defense (13.6), so the group still knows it's good.

And the Mocs have another opportunity to remind people of that this week.

"Every week presents its challenges," defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said. "We knew what we were getting into last week with the option, but you know going into the season you're going to have to face it twice a year. You just go week to week and try to do the best we can.

"Last week I thought we played really, really hard, but we have to find a way to help them out in certain situations."

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