Chattanooga’s defense showcased its run-stopping ability against The Citadel’s triple-option offense two weeks ago, but Saturday’s trip to Greenville, S.C., presents another, slightly different challenge.
Furman’s pro-style attack is the nation’s No. 24 rushing offense (197.5 ypg) — fifth in the Southern Conference — but the Paladins’ potent ground game has a more physical feel to it than the SoCon’s many option teams.
“A lot of people think private, preppy,” head coach Russ Huesman said. “But their football team and program is about as blue collar as you get."
Running back Jerodis Williams is second in the SoCon in rushing (127.7 ypg), trailing only Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein (178.6 ypg).
Chattanooga hasn’t faced a pro-style offense since its 27-24 loss at Jacksonville State, but the Mocs are ready for the challenge.
“They played against them last year, so they understand what type of game it’s going to be,” defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said. “They understand the type of game it’s going to take from us, and we want to make sure that when it comes to the fourth quarter, we’re still ready to play.”
The Mocs’ front seven welcomes the challenge.
“First off, I’m glad we’re back to the pro offense,” junior Derrick Lott said. “I’ve been practicing against it my whole life. We’ve come out this week and prepared for it, just like we prepared for Jacksonville State. If I execute like I did at Jacksonville State, or better, I’ll have a good game.”
The 6-4, 303-pound defensive tackle registered his first sack at UTC and finished with four tackles against the Gamecocks.
“As a linebacker, if they’re in a spread and they’re throwing it around everywhere, we might not get much action,” junior Gunner Miller said. “When they run a pro-style offense, you know you’re going to be right there in the game and be part of it. It’s kind of on your shoulders. You’ve got to show up and be ready to play — play physical. If you don’t it could a long day.”
But while the Mocs will be facing a completely different scheme this week, they won’t turn away from the things that keyed their stellar run-stopping performance two weeks ago.
“There’s still a guy carrying it and blocks up front,” Fuller said. “I think when you have to stop people from running the football, there’s a lot of things you can carry over no matter the scheme — pad level, leveraging blocks, tackling, great knee bend, and the toughness it takes. The constantness of the game; one crack can equal an 80-yard run.”
It won’t all be between the tackles, though.
True freshman quarterback Reese Hannon has proven to be a proficient pass for Furman. The 6-1, 192-pounder will start just his fifth game for the Paladins on Saturday, but Hannon hasn’t played like a freshman thus far.
“He has been a very steady performer,” Fuller said. “He can make a number of throws, does a really good job at the line of scrimmage and you can tell he’s a winner. You can tell the moment isn’t too big for him.”
Hannon is third in the conference in passing efficiency (140.3), and aside from last week’s three-turnover performance at Wofford, he has taken good care of the football.
He has over 1,100 yard through the air and six touchdowns on the season, including a 255-yard, four-touchdown effort in his first collegiate game against Coastal Carolina.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.