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The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defense obviously wants to make as many plays as possible Saturday at or behind the line of scrimmage. But against Georgia Southern or any triple-option team, games can be won or lost based on backside pursuit -- what happens 10 yards or more downfield.
"They can't block everybody, but they'll block the front side and start hitting it," said UTC coach Russ Huesman, whose Mocs open Southern Conference play Saturday against the Eagles at Paulson Stadium. "If you've got a guy on the back side that's flying and working and giving great effort, then you've got a chance."
When you run the ball the way the Eagles (2-1, 0-1 SoCon) do with the triple-option -- they led the Championship Subdivision with 399.4 rushing yards per game last season and are averaging 408.0 in 2013 -- yards and first downs will be surrendered. It's all but inevitable.
The key is keeping a good run from being a home run.
"They ran a play last year against us, it was an option play, and [GSU quarterback Jerick] McKinnon kept it and he was going down the sideline," Huesman said. "Gunner Miller was chasing on the back side and got him on the ground for an 11-yard gain. In theory if Gunner's not there, it's a 70-yard touchdown."
The Eagles beat UTC (2-1, 0-0) in triple overtime last season at Finley Stadium. In 2011, Georgia Southern foiled a 2-point attempt with 1:44 to play to hold off the Mocs 28-27.
Defensive tackle Josh Freeman had five tackles as a true freshman in the 2011 game and redshirted last season, watching the 2012 slugfest from the sideline. There's nothing easy about playing the Eagles, he said.
"It's a fight, it's a dogfight," he said. "It's fun, but it's physical, and you've got to be prepared for it."
Being prepared means being ready for for one cut block after another, fighting off that block and chasing after the ball. Huesman said defending against the triple-option is the definition of assignment football. It's like man-to-man defense until the ball passes the line of scrimmage and then all 11 defenders have to pursue.
"We have to contain them the best we can and make sure we're assignment sound," Huesman said. "Sometimes these option teams kind of paralyze you a little bit. We can't be paralyzed. We have to chase the ball, we have to get of off blocks, we have to stay on our feet and we have to tackle well."
Cut blocks are a defender's nightmare, and the Mocs will see plenty of them Saturday. Popping up and pursuing the ball after a cut in the first quarter is one thing, but doing it with the same zip in the fourth is more of a challenge -- one the Mocs will have to overcome.
"That's when you've got to be a man," cornerback Chaz Moore said. "You've got to let it all hang out. If you're getting cut, you're getting cut -- it's going to happen. It's part of football and you've just got to play. If you want to win, you've got to play four quarters.
"That's what we worked all summer for -- that one play in the fourth quarter or overtime. We've been waiting for the games like this, and we want to make up for last year."
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...