(STATS) - For all the talk about Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman - and he's proven worthy of the accolades thus far - the other primary reason for the Mocs' successful start to repeat as Southern Conference champions is a defense that appears to have finally caught up to Huesman and the offense.
The fifth-ranked Mocs (5-1, 3-0) take to the road this week trying to spoil Wofford's homecoming weekend. In their 33-27 victory at VMI last week, they limited the Keydets to seven second-half points, recorded a pick-6 for the third consecutive game and also held a third straight opponent under 300 yards.
Saturday's game against the Terriers will be a complete reversal from VMI's pass-happy attack since Wofford runs the triple option. That appears to play into Chattanooga's strength since the Mocs have allowed only 283 rushing yards on an average of 2.4 per carry over the last four games after being gashed for 465 on 6.2 per rush in the first two.
"We never shy away from physicality, so we like to get in there and fight in the trenches," senior defensive lineman Josh Freeman said. "Also, you know it's going to be a long day. It's going to be physical. It hurts after a while, but you have to do what you have to do. You have to get it done."
The Mocs lead the Southern in total defense, yielding 294.3 yards per game, and rank 12th in the FCS. The impressive numbers don't end there since Chattanooga also ranks first in the conference in scoring defense (18.0 ppg), sacks (22) and third-down percentage defensively (33.7). Defensive lineman Keionta Davis tops the league in both sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (11.5), which also rank second in the FCS.
"Our defensive ends have to be athletic and run some things down," coach Rick Huesman said when asked what it will take to beat Wofford. "The safeties and the linebackers are the ones who really have to be on top of it. Interior guys, it's just a mash of humanity and bodies flying and flaring and people all over the place. It's a toughness game there."
Wofford (3-4, 1-2) was held to a season-low 89 rushing yards in a 24-17 loss to Western Carolina and hurt itself with two picks on eight pass attempts. In an odd quirk, the Terriers have averaged only 97.0 rushing yards in their three home games but 219.5 in four on the road, including 222 at current FBS No. 6 Clemson in their season-opening loss.
Defensively, the Terriers will face a stern challenge in slowing down running back Derrick Craine and Jacob Huesman, who rank second and fourth, respectively, in the conference in rushing. Crain has totaled 250 yards in his last two games and Huesman 165 on the ground to go with 323 through the air.
Huesman is 2-1 against Wofford, accounting for 850 total yards. He threw for 250 yards and a score in last year's 31-13 victory, completing 26 of 33 passes. Chattanooga, though, has lost seven straight in Spartanburg, South Carolina, since a 31-3 rout Oct. 3, 1998.
The Citadel (4-2) silenced some of the doubters with its 44-25 victory at Samford to keep pace with Chattanooga, reaching 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1992, and they seek another road win at Furman (3-3, 1-1) in the longest running rivalry in the Southern dating to 1913.
Like the Mocs, the Bulldogs are getting contributions from their defense, which forced four turnovers - including a 25-yard fumble return for a score by Dee Delaney that capped a 28-point second quarter.
Delaney, a sophomore defensive back who is tied for the FCS lead with five interceptions, was added to the STATS Defensive Player of the Year Watch List and was the conference's defensive player of the week after posting a career-high 10 tackles to go with his interception, forced fumble and two pass breakups in addition to his touchdown.
"Every year, no matter how the teams are doing, the Furman game is one where you throw the records out the window," Bulldogs coach Mike Houston said.
"They've played two very good FBS teams, Virginia Tech and UCF, obviously getting the win at Central Florida down there, which is an impressive win. They beat a good South Carolina State game in very bad weather conditions.
"Coming out of the Coastal game (a 38-35 Furman loss Sept. 5), I walked away from that thinking that Furman should have won that game. I think it's going to be one of the most challenging road games we have all year."
Furman leads the all-time series 58-33-3, but The Citadel won last year's game 42-35 in overtime.
Having already lost to both Chattanooga and The Citadel, Samford (3-3, 1-2) must essentially run the table and get help to have any shot at the conference title, and that quest starts at Western Carolina (4-2, 2-1) against a Catamounts team that has reeled off three straight wins since absorbing a 55-10 beating at Tennessee on Sept. 19.
While opponents are keying on Western Carolina running back Detrez Newsome - he's been held to 86 rushing yards the last two games - he did catch a 24-yard touchdown pass in last week's 24-17 win at Wofford, and quarterback Troy Mitchell picked up the slack by throwing for 203 yards and two scores.
Someone will have last place to themselves as the only two winless teams in the Southern - VMI (1-6, 0-3) and Mercer (3-3, 0-2) meet. Both teams have been snake-bit to a degree - the Keydets have lost two of their three conference games by six or fewer points, and the Bears' two Southern defeats have been by a combined four.
Mercer, though, has the momentum of its 52-0 thrashing of FCS newcomer East Tennessee State, rolling up 373 of their 563 yards in the first half en route to a 35-0 halftime advantage. VMI, which averages 264.9 passing yards, will try to find holes in a Bears pass defense that has yielded just 356 yards the last three games.