Friday, November 7, 2014

Terriers have tall order ahead in matchup with league-leading Mocs

Chattanooga has undoubtedly moved up in the realm of Southern Conference football.

After years of scratching and clawing themselves up, the Mocs, always a tough test in a crucial game for the Terriers, finally reached a form of league supremacy last season. While clinching a share of title, along with Furman and Samford, Chattanooga was denied a playoff spot following a heartbreaking overtime loss to Samford late last season.

The Mocs haven't found themselves in the playoffs since 1984, a 6-5 campaign in which UTC took all but one conference contest -- a 12-0 homecoming shutout at the hands of the East Tennessee State Buccaneers -- and earned a trip to Jonesboro, Ark., to encounter Arkansas State in the opening round.

They fell that day, 37-10, in a battle dominated by the Red Wolves, who would fall in the quarterfinals to eventual national-champion Montana State, both on the scoreboard and in terms of time-of-possession. However, the Mocs likely didn't expect that, a long thirty years later, the program hasn't sent a team to the playoffs since.

Tomorrow at Finley Stadium, they will look to break that skid, as a triumph over Wofford would effectively clinch the outright conference championship and automatic bid to the playoffs.

The evidence in their favor certainly looks convincing. With a defensive showing largely unseen in this competitive league, the Mocs held Western Carolina, who had taken a 26-14 decision over the Terriers several weeks ago, to only 102 total yards, while additionally miring the Catamounts ten out of eleven times on third down and recording a dominant nine tackles-for-loss in the 51-0 throttling of a squad in hot contention with the Mocs.

On the other hand, Chattanooga racked up 512 total yards, including 386 on the ground. Quarterback Jacob Huesman, who is becoming a very real double threat to defenses, and Keon Williams, who had 194 yards, a career-high, and a pair of touchdowns on nineteen carries last Saturday, are just a few of the leaders of this squad, who is well-favored to win against Wofford this Saturday.

All of this firepower, though, hasn't clinched a title just yet. In fact, the Terriers (5-3, 3-1 SoCon) would beg to differ.

Can Michael Weimer lead the Terriers past league powerhouse
Chattanooga this Saturday?
Photo credit: Trenton Brock

Although plagued with injuries, Wofford has enjoyed an off week since their last game, a 38-3 disposal of league returner VMI. In that game, the Terriers saw the continuing cultivation of Lorenzo Long, one of the SoCon's top running backs (third in the league with an average of 86 yards per game) who currently leads the team with a net yardage of 689, and Octavius Harden, a talented halfback who put up 100 yards on seven carries against the Keydets, a career-high.

Michael Weimer, filling in for Evan Jacks, has had several games to settle in and lead this team to two consecutive victories--including a crucial 24-20 road win at Samford before the homecoming triumph over VMI. In those contests, the Wofford defense has only allowed 107 rushing yards, further contributing to their second-place league ranking in rushing yardage allowed per carry (3.2). Second place, that is, to none other than Chattanooga (3.1).

However, the Terrier defense ranks first in the league in rushing yardage allowed per game (114), and third in total yardage allowed (339). They are also first in fourth-down defensive stop percentage (66.7%), while fifth in third-down stops (56.5%).

On the other hand, Chattanooga has put up a 58.3% fourth-down defensive stop rate (fourth in the league), yet a superior 66.2% third-down stop percentage, good for second in the SoCon.

Here's a red zone defensive team comparison:

Red Zone Offense - Wofford: 24-28 <85.7%>  (3) UTC: 29-32 <90.9%>  (2)
Red Zone TDs - Wofford: 22-28 <78.6%>  (3) UTC: 20-32 <62.5%>  (7)
Red Zone Defense Stop % - Wofford: 8-32 <25.0%>  (t-2) UTC: 7-25 <28.0%>  (1)
Red Zone TD Defense Stop % - Wofford: 16-32 <50.0%>  (t-1) UTC: 10-25 <40.0%>  (4)
(SoCon rank)

On the other side of the ball, the Terriers have a 45% success rate on third down (second in the league), and convert on fourth-down 66.7% of the time (14-for-21), a mark that places second in the SoCon. The Mocs have a 41.3% third-down success rate, and a 58.3% fourth-down success percentage (7-for-12).

Among all the statistics, though they are similar in several ways and can prove to be very telling, don't lose sight of the fact that these two teams will both be coming to Finley Stadium tomorrow afternoon with incentive to pull out a victory.

For the Mocs, that's clinching their first SoCon title and playoff berth since 1984. For the Terriers, it's just about staying alive and potentially shaking up the conference title race.

"We're in a growth process, but we've made progress," Wofford head coach Mike Ayers told media earlier this week. "Whether we've made enough progress to go to Chattanooga and beat a great team...I'm not sure."

Get ready for a pivotal SoCon battle tomorrow afternoon at Finley Stadium. David and Goliath? We know the story.

[Special thanks to Mark Hauser for statistics]

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