Football coaches around the Southern Conference know Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein well.
They know what he can do.
They know what he has done.
They just don’t know how to stop him.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Terriers coach Mike Ayers said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor.”
Breitenstein, a fifth-year senior, goes into Saturday’s home game against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with 5,091 career rushing yards, the fifth-best total in SoCon history.
His 1,639 yards last season set a single-season school record. Having carried the ball 808 times over his career, Breitenstein has averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
“The hardest thing about Wofford is they feature Breitenstein so much,” UTC coach Russ Huesman said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “He’s what makes (that) offense go.
“I don’t think anybody in the league can say enough about him and how good he is. Until you watch him on film and get that rewind button going, you can really appreciate him. You’re looking and saying, ‘How did he get 3 yards on this play.’ He’s got a knack.”
When the Mocs go against the Terriers on Saturday – kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. – at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C., much of their defensive attention will be paid to Breitenstein, 5-foot-11-inch, 230-pounder from Valle Crucis, N.C.
The Mocs have faced Breitenstein three times – he didn’t play against UTC in 2009 due to a knee injury and wound up taking a medical redshirt.
In 2008, Breitenstein was not relevant, carrying 3 times for 7 yards.
Over the last two seasons, however, Breitenstein impacted the games mightily.
“He’s probably got over 500 yards against us,” Huesman said. “He’s not a flashy guy, but coaches around the league have a feel for how good he is.”
It only seems like Breitenstein hammered the Mocs for half-a-thousand yards.
In 2010, Wofford routed the Mocs, 48-14, and Breitenstein rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns on runs of 37, 2 and 2 yards. Last season the Terriers edged UTC, 28-27, at Finley Stadium and Breitenstein gained 140 yards on 30 carries with a 1-yard touchdown run.
“You can’t stop the kid for no gain,” Huesman said. “You hit him at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield and next thing you know he’s got a 3-yard gain. You say, ‘There’s no way.’ He’s got a knack. He’s a tough, tough player.”
Ayers made clear to everyone in the conference how much his offense relies on Breitenstein last week when he carried 35 times for 168 yards and a game-tying touchdown with 1:52 left. He carried nine times on a 12-play drive.
Samford eventually won, 24-17, in two overtimes and denied the Terriers a chance to nail down at least a share of the SoCon title.
“Every time he ran the football he did something,” Ayers said. “It might only be for 6 yards, but it was a special 6 yards. When you’re trying to win you want to go with your best guy. That was the best option for us. It was a great day for him with the amount of effort, energy and commitment trying to help his teammates win.”
Defensively, would the Mocs “spy” Breitenstein much the same way defenses sometimes assign one player to key on a running quarterback?
In short, Huesman feels that would be risky business.
“He’s not their entire offense,” the coach said. “They’ve got other players and they can get on the perimeter really well. I don’t think you can spy him. You can be conscience of him, but you can’t say one guy is going to take him away. We have to have 11 guys take him away.”
While Breitenstein is a key figure, the Terriers have the league’s No. 1 scoring offense, putting up 35.8 points per game.
Wofford is second in rushing (372.9 yards per game), behind only Georgia Southern, and the Terriers clearly hang their hat on that phase of the triple offense. They’re ranked dead last in the SoCon in passing, getting only 52.1 yards per game.
“The bottom line is you have to tackle in space,” Huesman said, “get off blocks and be in your space. If you do all those things and use your team speed, you got a shot.
“If you don’t tackle, you’re dead.
“If you don’t stay in your gaps, you’re dead.
“If you don’t come off your blocks, you’re dead.
“They put a lot of pressure on you. It’s a great offense.
UTC’s defense, of course, is not a rag-tag outfit. The Mocs rank third in rushing defense (142.2) and second in total defense (308.6), that average being 116.4 yards below what Wofford’s offense generates each game.
On Saturday, UTC will again focus on stopping the hard-charging Terriers fullback – or, at the very least slowing him down – as it will be trying to stay alive for a share of the league championship.
Going into weekend play, Georgia Southern, Wofford, Appalachian State and UTC all have two losses. At 6-2, the Eagles’ have completed their SoCon schedule. UTC has to beat the 13th-ranked Terriers on Saturday and Elon next week to join in the shared title.
And the Mocs will welcome a chance to celebrate it because they haven’t claimed a championship since 1984.
Huesman doesn’t care if it’s an outright title or shared. It’s a title.
And there will be rings.
“Yeah,” Huesman said. “If we win we’re Southern Conference champions. I don’t care if there are eight teams tied for it.”
The Mocs, who have no shot at the FCS playoffs because a win over Division II Glenville State doesn’t count toward the required seven for playoff consideration. That leaves UTC one win shy – even if the Mocs win out – of qualifying.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)