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UTC running back Derrick Craine breaks a tackle by Weber State safety Josh Burton during the Mocs' first-round FCS football playoff game against Weber State at Finely Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. UTC won 45-14.
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UTC quarterback Alejandro Bennifield slips away from Weber State linebacker Landon Stice during the Mocs' 45-14 win last Saturday at Finley Stadium in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

In all the talk this week about Sam Houston State's prowess on offense, what's been lost is the fact that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's offense will eventually be on the same field Saturday.

And the Mocs believe they can be just as successful as their opponents in the Football Championship Subdivision second-round playoff game.

Sam Houston State (11-0) is first in the country in a number of statistical categories, with a high-powered offense that has produced an average of 54.2 points per game. Yet the Mocs (9-3) rank in the top 20 in scoring and average more rushing yards per game than the Bearkats.

Why could that be important? There is a 100 percent chance of rain in the forecast at kickoff for Saturday's game in Huntsville, Texas, so ball control could be important — and not simply eating the clock but avoiding turnovers.

The Mocs seem to have embraced their "underdog" role, with many observers around the country presuming they can't stay on the field with their high-powered opponent, which was seeded fifth for the playoffs but was ranked No. 1.

"We don't have any pressure on us," UTC offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said. "Our mission is to go play the best game you can, and that game is still out there for us. Every game you walk away as a coach and go, 'We could have done this a little bit better.' We're putting it all together, and I think our kids have made progress.

"If you look at our playoff record the last couple of years, we've been ready to go offensively, and we pride ourselves on getting better every game."

The Mocs have averaged 402.7 yards and 34.1 points per game this season. They could present a challenge for the Bearkats because, although not as explosive over the course of 60 minutes as their opponents, the Mocs have shown they can make big plays, either with quarterback Alejandro Bennifield's arm (25 touchdown passes, four games of four touchdown passes) or the legs of running backs Derrick Craine and Richardre Bagley.

Despite missing two games and only playing in two fourth quarters of his senior season, Craine has run for 968 yards and 10 touchdowns. Bagley, a junior who took over while Craine was out because of injury, has 568 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns.

"We kind of look at it as a challenge," UTC offensive lineman Corey Levin said. "We know what we bring to the table. We have explosive players, we can run the ball, we can grind out the clock. We feel like we can do whatever is asked of us, and on Saturday if we have to grind out the clock to keep their offense off the field by doing that, we're going to rise up to the challenge."

On defense, the Bearkats are led by end P.J. Hall, who has 21 tackles for loss and 11 sacks and is a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the top FCS defensive player. The Bearkats have totaled 36 sacks, and while quarterback protection has been a weakness for the Mocs at times — they've allowed four sacks in two of their past three games — Durden believes that can be fixed, saying "we've got some tools in the toolbox."

Confidence has never been a problem for Bennifield, and he feels good about what he and the Mocs can do Saturday to help them reach the quarterfinals.

"We have to be consistent," he said. "I feel like we have to play great the entire game. Their offense is going to score points and play great, so we have to match that intensity and greatness with execution."

Academic honor for Craine

For the second straight season, Craine was named a College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-American. A health and human performance major who has a 3.61 grade point average, Craine was a first-team selection from a pool that includes all of Division I football after being a second-team member last season.

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

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