Defending a triple option offense is no picnic in the park. In fact, sometimes it can be a hair-pulling experience for defensive coaches.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense sees the triple option at least three times per season, so the Mocs are old hands at trying to stop an offensive scheme that, in reality, is tough to stop. Or even slow down.
“We feel as good as you can feel going into an option game,” Mocs coach Russ Huesman said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “We’ve had our thoughts in how we want to defend it for a long time, from our days at Richmond playing Wofford and here playing three triple option teams every year.”
When the Mocs (1-3, 0-1) travel to Charleston, S.C., for a Southern Conference game against 11th-ranked Citadel on Saturday at 6 p.m., they will be going against a triple option offense averaging 34.5 points and 406 yards of offense, 327.2 coming on the ground.
Many facets of preparation work for a triple option prove difficult, but Huesman says mimicking during the week what the Mocs will see on Saturday is, at best, nerve-wracking.
“The toughest thing about playing the triple option is getting the ‘look team’ to simulate it,” said Huesman, 2-1 against the Bulldogs.
There are various reasons Huesman has reached that conclusion, but at the top of the list is a scout team’s inability to mirror the speed of an upcoming opponent.
“The speed is never even close to what you’re going to see,” he said. “A lot of times they can’t even get (the ball) to the perimeter. The three technique just blows it up and that’s not going to happen (in the game).
“I actually want to see the quarterback come down the line and pitch the ball and you’ve got the three technique taking the dive, the quarterback and the pitch. If we could do that (on game day) we’d be in great shape.”
So, Huesman spent Sunday “recruiting” some of his better players – not just redshirt freshmen or reserve players with little or no experience – for “look team” duty.
Running back Chris Awuah, a senior from Marietta, Ga., is going to impersonate Citadel quarterback Aaron Miller.
Freshmen Nakevion Leslie, of Powder Springs, Ga., and Will Johnson, from Alpharetta, Ga., will be playing the roles of the Bulldogs’ top backs – Ben Dupree and Darien Robinson.
Together, Dupree and Robinson have combined for 693 yards rushing and seven touchdowns the Bulldogs (3-1, 20 Southern Conference), who are off to a quick start with wins over SoCon rivals Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, both of which were ranked among the nation’s top 10 FCS schools when they lost to Citadel.
“We took the scout team out on Sunday and went through plays, splits,” Huesman said. “There are times in practice you have to tell them here’s the play, the split and the angles. Another hard thing to do against the option is having an idea of where you’ve got to be and the angles you have to take.”
The Citadel, picked to finish eighth in the nine-team SoCon by coaches and media in preseason voting, edged Georgia Southern, 23-21, and hammered Appalachian State, 52-28, to start the league title chase with two opening wins.
A week ago, North Carolina State ripped the Bulldogs, 52-14.
“I think (N.C. State) is pretty good,” Huesman said. “One of their defensive ends, just like I talked about (the three technique), on one play took the dive, the quarterback and the pitch. When you’ve got that kind of speed, even though you might make a mistake and they’ve got things blocked up, you can fix it by having unbelievable speed.
“That’s what N.C. State did. They just ran things down pretty good.”
Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said the Bulldogs have gotten off to a nice start, but he wasn’t all that pleased with the team’s offensive execution against the Wolfpack.
“Our guys are playing hard and with a lot of passion,” Higgins said. “We didn’t execute real well on Saturday, although they played hard and with passion. We’re not overloaded with talent or great players, but they understand their roles and we’re getting it done.”
In the offensive categories – scoring and rushing – that Citadel is solid while the Mocs are struggling.
UTC is ranked ninth – dead last – with 22.2 points per game and 331.2 yards of total offense in the conference. And it ranks eighth in rushing offense with 151.8 yards per game.
That must change and quick, Huesman said.
Jacob Huesman has been the Mocs’ offensive sparkplug thus far, putting up 842 total yards – 618 passing, 224 rushing – in four games. Dupree has about half that total at 435, 350 on the ground.
“I want to see a completely different offense this Saturday,” Huesman said. “Last Saturday is not who we are. We’ve got to run the ball better. I wasn’t real thrilled about how our backs ran. In fact, I was extremely disappointed in a lot of the runs that happened.”
In what he hopes will be a reset of the offense, Huesman wants – even demanding – that Jacob Huesman and Terrell Robinson get more touches for rushes from here on out.
“The bottom line is that Terrell and Jacob better get (more) touches,” the coach said. “This is the last week I’m going to say that.
“When the ball is in their hands they’re our two best players, whether Terrell is at quarterback and Jacob is somewhere else, Jacob’s at quarterback and Terrell is somewhere else, or Terrell’s not in the game and Jacob’s at quarterback, Jacob’s not in the game and Terrell’s at quarterback. They have to touch the ball. If they’re not carrying the ball, there has to be a threat of them having the ball in their hands every time.
“For this offense to be successful we have to get 25 touches from the quarterbacks. This past game, I think we called two quarterback runs and checked out of them for some reason. That’s unacceptable.”
In the 34-17 loss to Appalachian State, which dropped a 52-28 decision to Citadel the week before, UTC rushed for an anemic 87 yards on 32 carries, a paltry 2.7-yard average per carry.
Running back Keon Williams had 52 yards to lead the Mocs. Robinson ran five times for 25 yards and Jacob Huesman gained 11 yards on eight tries.
“It was pretty frustrating because we weren’t finishing,” said Kevin Revis, a 6-foot-2-inch, 275-pound junior offensive lineman from Rhea County.
Appalachian State’s Steven Miller outgained the Mocs by himself – 94 yards on 22 carries.
The Mountaineers rushed for 133 yards and passed for 280 for 401 yards of total offense. UTC managed 270.
Last week N.C. State stymied Citadel, building a 42-0 halftime lead, and made the Bulldogs a one-dimensional offense. Citadel rushed for 199 rushing yards and a trifling 27 yards through the air.
Coach Huesman was asked – for what seemed like the umpteenth time – if he would get Jacob Huesman and Robinson on the field at the same time.
“It’s extremely tempting,” Russ Huesman said. “We have to be creative with it and we will be. We’ll be way, way, way more creative this week.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)