Chattanooga: It's not just for trains anymore. They have a football team too! A football team that will be traveling up to Mt Pleasant (presumably not by rail however) to open the 2014 football season.
The Central Michigan Chippewas have opened their home schedule against an FCS opponent every year since 2008, and have won every one of those game, but not without some close calls along the way. Last year was particularly scary for the Chippewas as the squeaked out a 24-21 win against New Hampshire.
Chattanooga Mocs 2013 Season Rewind:
2013 was the most successful season in recent memory for Chattanooga. The Mocs finished the season 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the conference which was good enough for a three-way tie for the Southern Conference championship. Their two conference losses in 2013 were close. A 2-point loss at Georgia Southern, and a 3-point loss at Samford were all that separated the Mocs from an undefeated conference season. The other two losses in 2013 were a 10-point loss to start the season against UT Martin, and a 49-point loss against Alabama (yes, THAT Alabama).
Despite finishing first in their conference along with Samford and Furman, Chattanooga was deemed to be the least valuable champion and was not included in the FCS playoffs.
So what is a Moc anyway? Well according to the Chattanooga University website it's simply short for Mockingbird, which is the state bird of Tennessee. The rationale for this name can be a bit baffling, but in short it was decided in 1997 to change the mascot to Mocs to move away from the Native American imagery associated with the old nickname, Moccasins.
Mockingbirds and the nom-de-plume "Mocs" were chosen due to Mockingbirds being "fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage and determination and skill" according to the Chattanooga athletic website. Now I'm not sure how skilled actual Mockingbirds are or how much skill is actually needed to be a bird, but the name works for them.
So the Mocs name came about as the result of political correctness and what I can only assume is an impressive Ornithology program. Be sure to tune in to see if the Chippewas can go all Atticus Finch on those Mockingbirds.
Russ Huesman is the head coach of the Mocs where he will be entering his 6th season at the helm. In his time at Chattanooga Huesman has led the Mocs to a 31-25 record. Those 31 wins is the same amount Chattanooga had earned in the nine years prior to Huesman's arrival. Huesman also has won the Southern Conference Coach of the Year award twice (2009, 2013).
5 Key Players:
Davis Tull - Senior, DE
Jacob Huesman - Junior, QB
Faysal Shafaat - Senior, TE
Derrick Craine - Sophomore, RB
Josh Freeman - Junior, DL
The Mocs' offense was able to put up a few points in 2013, but it's nothing to ride home about. The Mocs are a run-first team, and simply don't put the ball in the air too often. Their passing offense was ranked 111th out of 121 in FCS this past season, averaging only 149 yards per game through the air. The running game was able to pick up the offense however. Chattanooga averaged 212 yards per game on the ground.
The Mocs running game is dangerous due to the ability of quarterback Jacob Huesman to leave the pocket and take off running. Huesman and running back Derrick Craine could be a dangerous pair against a team that struggles to stop the run. I don't see the Chippewas having too much trouble stopping the run this season however, so look for the Mocs to try to force some passes. If the Chippewas can capitalize and force a few turnovers, expect the Mocs offense to struggle.
Chattanooga's strength is without a doubt its defense. The Mocs ranked first in the Southern Conference in total defense, passing defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, and finished second in turnover margin in 2013. The Mocs defense is led by senior Davis Tull who is the two-time defending SoCon Defensive Player of the Year as well as a first team All-American. In 12 games in 2013 the star defensive end recorded 52 tackles (15 TFL), 9 sacks and forced 4 fumbles.
Perhaps some good news for the Chips is that several key players on the Mocs defense have graduated including three of Chattanooga's four first team All-Conference players from last year.
The Chippewas have started seasons slowly in the past, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If the Mocs defense shows up it could be a frustrating day for Dan Enos and company. However if there was one area where the Mocs defense was vulnerable it was the running game. The Mocs allowed teams to run for an average of 177 yards per game. If the Mocs are focused on stopping Titus Davis and the passing game, look for Saylor Lavallii and the CMU Corps of running backs to have a good day on the ground.
Nick Pollard will do the place-kicking and the punting for the Mocs, as he has for the last three seasons. In 2013 Pollard was lights out with extra points making all 43 of his attempts. His percentage was less stellar on field goal attempts however. Pollard made only five of 10 attempts last season with a long of 42 yards
Pollard doesn't have much of a power boot when it comes to punting either. His average punt was good for 40.7 yards, and he only managed 5 kicks over 50 yards. Touchbacks on the kickoffs are rare for Pollard as well, so expect the Chippewas' kick returners to have some decent numbers.
Kick returning was decent from the Mocs in 2013. They averaged 23.5 yards per return which was good enough for 12th in all FCS. Chattanooga also sport a very average 9.2 yards per punt return.
A lot of this game is going to come down to how well the Mocs defense plays. A team whose strength is clearly it's defense, but lost many of it's best players to graduation could be a team that struggles in 2014. Davis Tull will get his fair share of tackles and the Chips offense may start slowly, but I don't see the Mocs pulling off an upset. Their offense is too one-dimensional, and CMU will be able to take advantage of a defense which will not be able to live up to a stellar 2013.
Chippewas win 38-14