UTC (0-1) vs. Jacksonville State (0-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
It's the reason defensive coaches lose sleep, their hair and their patience more than their offensive counterparts.
The pace of college football games is typically dictated by offensive styles, which means defensive coaches must search for ways to disrupt that tempo. For the first two weeks of the season the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defensive staff and players have had to prepare for distinctly contrasting offensive opponents.
The Mocs opened against a Central Michigan team with a bulldozer mentality of simply plodding behind an offensive line that averages better than 300 pounds. This week they host a Jacksonville State team whose offensive front is about 20-pounds lighter than last week's opponent and who prefers to spread the field to create space for a group of fleet-footed athletes to strike for big plays.
"That's the beauty of college football, you have to be ready for a variety of different styles, whether that's a power-running team or a spread offense," Mocs defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said. "It comes with the territory. Everybody in college football has to deal with it.
"They're a little bit different in terms of having a quarterback who's also a run threat and they've got an Auburn mentality where they want to spread you out and run it. But at the same time they've got some receivers out on the edge and their quarterbacks can get them the ball in space to make plays. There's a lot to prepare for."
While Central Michigan tried to maul the Mocs up front and was content to gain yards in bruising increments, Jacksonville State tries to demoralize defenses by reeling off yards in large chunks, gaining nearly 6 yards per play in averaging 442.5 yards per game last season.
The Mocs defense ranked first in the Southern Conference in four categories last year, including total defense and allowed opponents to rush for an average of 177 yards.
The Gamecocks return their top three rushers, top two receivers and both quarterbacks who started games from last season's 11-4 team that advanced to the FCS quarterfinals. Included in that mix is All America senior running back DeMarcus James, who set a school record with 1,477 rushing yards and an Ohio Valley Conference record with 29 touchdowns as well as sophomore quarterback Eli Jenkins, who ran tallied more than 1,800 all-purpose yards and 11 TDs to help JSU average 35 points last year.
"They're really explosive on offense," said junior defensive lineman Josh Freeman, one of the Mocs' defenders charged with closing the gaps where the elusive Jenkins and James will try to run through on Saturday. "They'll spread us out but they still want to run at you, so we'll go into the game knowing we need to stop the run first. Their quarterback is more of a threat to run, and that's tough because mobile quarterbacks can be a bit of a pest sometimes. You don't want to give him a clear ally to run in.
"They just have a lot more ways to hurt a defense because they have more weapons than we saw last week."
The Gamecocks, ranked No. 9 in both FCS polls this week, also have the added incentive of trying to bounce back from last week's embarrassing 38-point loss at defending Big 10 champion Michigan State. In that game, JSU managed just 22 rushing yards on 25 attempts and averaged fewer than four yards per play in gaining just 244 total yards.
"From a D-line standpoint its tough," said junior lineman Daniel Ring. "Instead of just straightforward like Central Michigan did to us its more like they want to redirect on everything, so now our rush lanes have to be on point. We can't get away from our assignment or we'll give them running lanes.
"It's a big difference from what we practiced last week. You have to be disciplined on every snap because they have a lot of different ways to try and hurt you."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...