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Russ Huesman

MOCS GLANCE

• Samford (2-1, 1-0) at UTC (1-2, 0-0)

• Saturday, 7 p.m.

• Finley Stadium

• 96.1 FM

Heading into Saturday's showdown of preseason Southern Conference favorites, it's tough for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga staff to know just how good Samford is. After opening with a 34-point loss at TCU, the Bulldogs cruised past Division II opponent Stillman and a VMI team picked to finish last in the league this year by an average of 47 points.

While the Bulldogs were outmanned at TCU, their wins have come over teams with a combined 2-5 overall record, meaning this weekend's matchup will be the first time they will step on the field against an equally-matched opponent.

"It's hard to judge where they are as a football team," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "Stillman, I'm not sure how good they are. [Samford] jumped on them pretty good and then jumped on VMI pretty good, quickly. Sometimes when that happens you don't really get a true test, good or bad. TCU is obviously pretty good. I thought Samford was physical with them and that score was 24-7 midway through the third quarter so it was a better game than maybe people realize.

"It's hard to gauge how good they are probably. I think they're really good. I mean they've been good since I've been here."

While Samford, which is on a three-game conference winning streak, has yet to play a close game this year, the Mocs, who are looking to win their conference opener for the first time since 2007, must feel battle-tested already after narrow losses at FBS foe Central Michigan and No. 8 Jacksonville State as well as using a big second-half offensive production to pull away from Austin Peay on the road.

UTC has won four of the last five meetings with Samford and three of those were one-possession outcomes, including the Bulldogs three-point overtime win last year that cost the Mocs the outright SoCon title and a playoff berth.

Statistically speaking

UTC is the only SoCon team to be ranked in either national poll. The Mocs are No. 15 in the FCS Coaches poll and No. 14 according to The Sports Network.

Saturday's game will feature a Samford offense that ranks at or near the top of the league in several categories against a UTC defense that is one of the stingiest in the conference. Samford leads the conference in scoring (43 ppg.), which also ranks No. 6 in FCS, and running back Denzel Williams ranks first in scoring average (12.0 ppg). Conversely UTC tops the conference, and ranks third nationally, in red zone defense, allows the second-fewest points among SoCon teams (17.3) and is second in total defense and passing defense. Defensive lineman Derrick Lott averages a league-best 2.0 tackles for loss.

The Mocs offense continues to struggle in third-down conversions, ranking last in the SoCon with a 23-percent (9-of-39) success rate. Despite the fact the offense hasn't yet hit its stride, Samford is aware of the talent and big-play potential the Mocs possess.

"You don't get a lot of sleep when you face these guys," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Bill D'Ottavio said. "They have excellent players. We'll have to tackle well in space. Every snap will be a battle. They put a lot of stress on you."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.

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