Mocs defense focusing on discipline against The Citadel's triple-option attack

UTC defensive back Brandon Dowdell (17) returns a punt in Chattanooga's Finley Stadium. (Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter)

This week for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football defense, it's all about eye discipline.

The Mocs hop into Southern Conference play for a week as they prepare to face The Citadel and its triple-option offense. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Bulldogs (0-1) are already a game into the league season, having lost 28-21 at Wofford. The normally efficient Bulldogs ran for only 217 yards against the Terriers - great for a balanced team, but not so much so for one that runs the ball at least 50 times a game.

It's a much different look from the one UTC saw last Thursday against Tennessee Tech, which preferred a more up-tempo approach. It was similar to what the Bulldogs do only in the sense that the quarterback is making the reads on every down, although it differs in how those reads are made.

TTU quarterback Bailey Fisher was more of a dual threat who did most of his damage on third-down scrambles (78 yards on 11 carries). When he threw the ball, he wasn't as successful, completing less than 40 percent of his 26 passes for 117 yards and a pair of interceptions.

This week, Jordan Black will be making the calls of whether to pitch the ball or tuck it and run it himself. He struggled at times against the Terriers, finishing with 40 yards on 15 carries and completing only one of his 11 passes - a 23-yard completion on the last drive that ended inside Wofford's 5-yard line in the final seconds.

Of course, the Mocs know all about The Citadel's attack. The Bulldogs ran the ball 65 times last season in a 20-14 victory in Chattanooga but really hurt the home team on "chunk plays," with five carries gaining 191 yards.

UTC did a good job otherwise, with 60 other carries gaining 214 yards, or less 4 four yards per attempt.

"We're stressing five major points this week," UTC defensive coordinator Matt Feeney said. "We want to kill the dive, protect ourselves from cut blocks, maintain leverage on formation, have great eye discipline and, lastly, limit explosives.

"Our eye discipline helps eliminate those, but our focus this week is on getting that done."

Linebacker Marshall Cooper, who had seven tackles and a sack against Tennessee Tech in his first start, said this week of practice is important to nail down the keys necessary to have a good effort against the Bulldogs.

"We just have to pay attention to the small things and get the deal done, because if we look at the big picture we can give up a big run," the former Hixson standout said. "One of our coaches tells us that 'if you see a little, you see a lot,' so we just want to practice this week on making it a game reality."

Triple-option teams put a lot more strain on the defensive line, due to the amount of cut-blocking that occurs. Senior defensive end Isaiah Mack recalled watching former Moc Josh Freeman tear an ACL and MCL on the same play in the 2015 contest against The Citadel, which detemined who won the SoCon's automatic bid into the playoffs (UTC won 31-23), so it's no wonder he said he "thanks God" when he finishes a game against the Bulldogs with no injuries.

But having played The Citadel three times, registering 14 tackles in those games, he realizes how close the games have been, so he realizes how important a win Saturday could be for UTC.

"It would show people that we're not the team from last year," he said. "We're a whole new bunch of guys with a whole new mentality."

As long as the Mocs - as Mack says - "stop the dive, stop the dive, stop the dive."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.