When it comes to defensive preparation, most college football coaches will try to take something away from an opposing offense on any given weekend.
If, say, Georgia Southern relies heavily on its vaunted rushing attack, the idea would be to smother the run and force the Eagles to throw the ball, which is not what they like to do.
Last Saturday, UT-Chattanooga traveled to Statesboro, Ga., to face the Eagles in a Southern Conference game and knew full well coach Jeff Monken’s outfit would probably run the ball 80 to 90 percent of the time.
After the Eagles’ 23-21 win over the Mocs, the numbers were clear. Georgia Southern rushed for 376 yards and had had zero yards passing.
The Eagles came out the victor despite playing the entire game as a one-dimensional offense and were credited with two pass attempts, although one was an option pitch that was ruled a pass.
So, if Georgia Southern basically refuses to throw the football, what’s a defense to do?
“I don’t think I’ve ever played in a game when the other team had zero yards passing,” Daniel Ring, UTC’s sophomore defensive tackle from Lighthouse Point, Fla., said Tuesday. “That’s a very strange thing.”
Not so much so with Georgia Southern.
The Eagles are 9-0 all-time in games they posted no passing yards.
Here’s the list:
Year Opponent Score
1982 Baptist Christian 42-0
1989 Central Florida 31-17
1993 Furman 31-19
1995 Liberty 7-6
2001 Appalachian State 27-18
2010 The Citadel 20-0
2012 Jacksonville 58-0
2012 Wofford 17-9
2013 UT-Chattanooga 23-21
“Option teams try to surprise you with a few passes,” said Ring, a transfer from Navy. “We didn’t know when they would come, or the timing, but we had to be prepared for them. The way they lined up it was pretty easy to tell what they were going to do. On the one real pass they threw, their linemen fired out, they’re in your face and it was hard to tell whether they were going to run or pass.”
One-dimensional teams – whether by choice or necessity – can win football games.
UTC has been on that side of the ledger a couple times. The Mocs once attempted just two passes against Western Carolina in 1977 and won, 21-10. They put up zero yards passing against Marshall in 1982 and walked away with a 17-7 victory, according to the school’s media guide.
However, most coaches would like their odds to win if they knew going in the opposing team would give up passing or running, which would be the most likely scenario in today’s pass-happy offensive mindset.
Without much of a threat to throw, the Eagles rushed for 376 yards and two touchdowns and ran the ball effectively enough in the fourth quarter to get two field goals to win another close game against the Mocs.
Georgia has won three straight in the series by a combined total of five points.
“Anytime you lose a game that close against a good football team it hurts,” said coach Russ Huesman, 1-9 in games decided by three points or less in his fifth season with the Mocs. “And our football team was hurting after that game. They left everything they had on the field.”
Huesman said several people had brought it to his attention that “we stink on defense” because “we gave up 376 yards rushing.
“They had zero passing,” he said. “And I take no solace in giving up 23 points; I don’t like giving up any.
“We held them under their average in every statistical category, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. They run the triple option and our offense was actually more effective running the ball than they were. They had more yards, but our average per carry was way higher (7.2 to 6.1).”
UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman went 9-for-19 and 92 yards with a touchdown. So the only real head-to-head comparisons are in rushing. Huesman was the Mocs’ rushing leader with 148 yards. Jerick McKinnon paced the Eagles with 172. Each scored a touchdown.
The Eagles had 62 rushing plays to the Mocs’ 33 and they wound up with a 64-52 edge in total offensive plays. The average gain was 6.4 yards to 5.9 in the Mocs’ favor.
Third-down conversions: UTC 6 of 13, GSU 5 of 12.
Fourth-down conversions: Each team was 1 for 1.
Red-zone scores/chances: UTC 1 for 1, a touchdown; GSU 4 for 4, two touchdowns, two field goals.
“If we get 70 snaps, we’ve got 350 yards rushing,” coach Huesman said. “They kept the ball from us, but they do that to everybody. You’re limited in the possessions you get. Possessions and snaps are at a premium and you have to take advantage of the snaps you get.”
It’s likely to be a completely different game Saturday at Finley Stadium when the Mocs (2-2, 0-1) take on perennial cellar-dwelling Western Carolina at 6 p.m.
The Catamounts (1-4, 0-2) haven’t won a conference game since the 2010 season, a string of 23 consecutive league losses, when they beat The Citadel. Western Carolina has dropped 17 straight road games, also dating to the 2010 campaign.
Ring and his defensive teammates can bank on the Catamounts throwing more than two passes. The Catamounts’ sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell leads the SoCon – he’s ranked 17th nationally – with 283.5 yards of total offense per game.
Mitchell has rushed for 285 yards and thrown for 849, completing 58 of 105 passes with two interceptions.
Western Carolina has found itself in an early hole more than once this season and was forced to start throwing the ball around.
“They don’t want to be a spread-them-out and throw-it-all-over-the-place team,” Russ Huesman said. “They want to run, establish the quarterback with the ball in his hands and throw high percentage passes. They’ll be effective running the ball.”
The Mocs lead the series with Western Carolina, 23-16, and have won four in a row, including 24-20 and 51-7 victories in Finley Stadium.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)