Chattanooga at Elon
When: Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. 1:30 p.m. ET
Where: Elon, N.C.
Elon at a glance:
Head coach: Jason Swepson
All-time record: 482-398-18
2012 record: 3-8 (1-7 SoCon)
Returning starters: 6 (offense), 9 (defense)
2012 overview: Elon did a few things really well last season, but not nearly enough.
It moved the ball through the air as well as any team in the nation in 2012, and the Phoenix were even better at defending the pass, ranking fifth in the country (156.9 ypg).
Wide receiver Aaron Mellette, drafted in the seventh round by the Baltimore Ravens back in April, led the nation in touchdown receptions (18) and finished third in receiving yards (127.1 ypg). The 6-2, 217-pounder concluded his career with 304 catches, 4,254 yards, 44 touchdowns and 23 100-yard receiving performances — all of which rank second in both Elon and SoCon history.
Quarterback Thomas Wilson also posted some impressive numbers in 2012, leading the Southern Conference in touchdown passes (25), while ranking second in passing yards (3,149).
All those gaudy stats didn’t add didn’t add up to much in the way of wins, though, as Elon struggled to a 3-8 finish.
After suffering a 62-0 rout at North Carolina to kick off the season, the Phoenix captured back-to-back victories over North Carolina Central (34-14) and Division II West Virginia State (48-14), but things went downhill once the team’s SoCon slate started.
The Phoenix suffered a heartbreaking 26-23 defeat at Georgia Southern, losing to the top-ranked Eagles on a last-minute field goal, and proceeded to lose seven of its final eight games, including a 24-17 season-ending defeat at Finley Stadium.
Three questions for the 2013 matchup:
Can the Phoenix replace all the offensive firepower lost?
With the graduations of Wilson and Mellette, Elon needs to find new ways to move the ball. The Phoenix will probably still feature a pass-happy offensive attack, but expect more running this fall. Tracey Coppedge returns to the backfield after an impressive true freshman campaign, racking up 432 yards and a pair of scores, and the squad still has a couple of capable receivers in senior Rasaun Rorie and junior Kierre Brown. The big question will be at quarterback, though, as junior Mike Quinn takes over as the starter under center.
Will UTC be able to throw the ball effectively?
Despite leading the SoCon in pass defense, quarterback Jacob Huesman didn’t seem to have much trouble throwing the football against the Phoenix, finishing with a season-high 234 yards and two touchdowns through the air. If UTC can duplicate that passing performance — against a secondary that returns all four starters from a season ago — the Mocs have to like their chances in this one.
Will Elon be better against the run?
Opposing teams ran at will on the Phoenix last season. Georgia Southern, Wofford and The Citadel each racked up more than 340 rushing yards against Elon, and all but two teams — North Carolina Central and West Virginia State — eclipsed the 100-yard mark. That needs to improve in 2013, and with the personnel returning to the Phoenix defense, that’s a real possibility. There’ll be plenty of experience along the defensive line in seniors Jay Brown, Tony Thompson and Jordan Jones, while juniors Jonathan Spain and Odell Benton return to lead the linebacking corps after solid sophomore seasons.
How will it play out?
This will be the first road trip for Chattanooga in three weeks, which will obviously make it a tougher matchup, but the Mocs should be favored in this one as well.
It’s hard to imagine Elon duplicating its offensive success from a season ago, especially against a defense as talented at UTC’s. This one’s by no means a “gimme”, but if the Mocs can muster 30 points, it’s hard to imagine the Phoenix keeping up.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.