UTC (3-3, 2-0 SoCon) at THE CITADEL (2-4, 0-1)
Johnson Hagood Stadium
96.1 FM, American Sports Network TV (Comcast 208, EPB 169, Charter 174, Ringgold TC 117, Bledsoe Tel 41, Dalton Utilities 157)
Trying to stop The Citadel's triple-option offense can be once ... twice ... three times the headache of almost any other opponent for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense.
While most teams UTC will face this season run some variation of a spread offense, having just one week to prepare for a team with a completely different offensive philosophy makes for a unique and challenging matchup.
"It's hard because it's so different," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "(Blockers) will be on our D-linemen's legs cut blocking, and you just don't realize how fast it's getting out there until the first time they run it.
"You're not going to be perfect. We still need to pursue and fly around. Hopefully you get some negative plays or on the ground and not let those 9-yards gains turn into 50-yard gains. That's where team speed and relentless effort comes in."
The Bulldogs are one of only two opponents on the Mocs' regular-season schedule that still run the triple option as their base offense. Aside from the unfamiliarity of not seeing that style very often, the very name of the offense indicates what makes it so difficult to stop.
Once the ball is snapped, senior quarterback Aaron Miller either will give the ball to the back lined up behind him on a dive play, or some variation of run between the tackles, or he will fake the handoff, keep the ball and sprint for the corner where he will challenge the outside defenders with two more options, either turning the corner and keeping the ball himself or pitching it to the trailing back once a defender commits to coming up to stop the keeper.
"It's hard because there are so many different run plays they can come with," linebacker Muhasibi Wakeel said. "You've got people that you can't see coming to hit you moreso than any other offense, and you've got people at your feet more. There's no doubt they want to make you slow down and have to think instead of being able to just go make plays."
Add in the occasional play-action pass and the Bulldogs become an absolute nightmare to prepare for.
"It's a challenge for everyone to get ready for in a week," The Citadel coach Mike Houston said. "It's different than what everyone gets ready for week in and week out, and that's what we're counting on. It's such an assignment oriented style -- much more disciplined. It really puts stress on defenders on every snap to be mentally focused on what their assignment is. If one person doesn't do his job, that's where we can make some yards."
The Bulldogs have been making plenty of yards so far this season, leading the Southern Conference in rushing (325.3) and time of possession (32:10) per game. The rushing average is second nationally, and last week the Bulldogs ran up 553 yards, the most by an FCS team this season.
UTC counters with the league's top defense against the run (131.7 yards allowed) and top total defense (299.3), which ranks 13th nationally.
By holding possession for so long The Citadel also puts pressure on opposing offenses to be productive, because they know they'll have limited chances.
"Their whole deal is possess the football," UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman said. "They're going to have long drives that last forever, so when we get the ball we have to make the absolute most of it. With limited possession that's limited opportunities to put points on the board. We can't make mistakes and give them the ball back without scoring."
Making matters worse for opposing defenses, The Citadel's offensive line uses cut blocks -- diving low into defensive linemen to take out their legs and put them on the ground -- which creates a logjam of bodies around the line and forces linebackers and defensive backs to really know whom they're assigned to defend.
"Cut blocking is zero fun," UTC defensive lineman Josh Freeman said. "A lot of times they fake it and send different backs into the line, and there's so many different people who could have the ball that we just attack whoever is close. Sometimes you realize once you get them on the ground that they don't have the ball.
"You find yourself just tackling anything. There are times you just have to grab whatever comes near and hope."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.