Chattanooga has faced the Citadel’s triple-option offense twice before, but Saturday’s trip to Charleston will feature a much-improved Bulldogs attack.
How much better?
“Three and one better,” defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “You can just see it in the statistics, you don’t even have to turn on the film, and you can see it just by the level of execution that they’re operating with right now.”
Through four games this season, the Citadel is on pace to rush for more than 3,500 yards. The only team that has managed to slow down the Bulldogs is NC State, and they still racked up 199 yards on the ground.
“(NC State) did a nice job, but I think they’re pretty good,” head coach Russ Huesman said. “On one play one of their defensive ends took the dive, the quarterback and pitch. I don’t know if they coach that or said ‘this is your responsibility on this play,’ but I doubt it.”
The Wolfpack had a huge advantage in size, strength and speed over the Bulldogs, but that’s a luxury Chattanooga won’t have this weekend.
Instead, the Mocs plan to counter the Citadel’s powerful running game with awareness and consistency.
“Going into the game you know what you’re going to get,” junior linebacker Wes Dothard said. “You’re not going to see over 10 or 15 plays throughout the game. Everybody has a job to do, and if everyone does their job consistently throughout the game, we’ll be all right.”
Facing three option teams each season has reduced the learning curve for UTC’s more experienced players, and the younger ones are catching on more every day.
“They get out here with wide eyes on Tuesday,” Fuller said. “On Wednesday it’s a little better, and hopefully tomorrow it’s even better.”
It hasn’t been an easy week of practice for the Mocs, who were in full pads for the second straight day on Wednesday, but that added work load is a necessity.
“After practice I told the defense I appreciated the hard work,” Huesman said. “I know we’ve banged them up pretty good for the last two days, but we had to. You hate to do as much of this on a Wednesday, but you have to.”
One of the biggest challenges for UTC has been replicating the option offense with the players on its scout team.
Last season, quarterback Jacob Huesman was under center prepping the defense, and the year before, sophomore Terrell Robinson was the man. The other two quarterbacks on Chattanooga’s roster, though, Graham Nichols and Zac Fairchild, don’t have the speed to simulate Citadel’s Ben Dupree, so the coaching staff had to look elsewhere.
Running back Chris Awuah is who they found.
“We’ve been very, very fortunate to have somebody like Chris in the program that is unselfish enough to come here and do it every day,” Fuller said. “He looks as tired as I’ve seen him since camp. He’s working at it and doing a great job.”
Awuah, who played quarterback during his senior season at South Cobb High School, not only gives the defense a better look in terms of speed, but Awuah’s 5-9, 200-pound frame is similar to Dupree’s.
“Chris has done a great job with it,” Huesman said. “The speed is what we’re looking for. He didn’t throw the ball anywhere near where you want it, but at least we got the speed down. I’ve got to give our scout team credit. They’ve worked hard and have done a great job. They’ve got to have another great day tomorrow.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.