Analyzing the Enemy: Chattanooga Mocs (10/24/20)
Day: Saturday, October 24
Game Time: 3:00PM CST
Location: Houchens Industries--L.T. Smith Stadium
Series Record: Chattanooga holds an 8-5 lead in the all-time series against WKU. The two last played each other on November 3, 2007 in Chattanooga; WKU won 28-21. This is the first meeting in the series since the Tops transitioned from FCS to FBS in 2009.
Betting Line: UAB -14.0 | O/U: 54
The main question heading into the UAB game was "Who starts at quarterback?" The answer: Kevaris Thomas. His start was with its mistakes but, also, Thomas displayed an apt for similar QB play that the WKU offense flourished from in years past. Despite costly turnovers, there was an undoubtable willingness to throw the ball, stretch the field, and involve different receivers which, arguably, provided a glimpse into "what could be." Should Thomas' become more consistent, and build from those impressive flashes, the entire offense will reap the benefits.
As it will be the case for this entire analysis, there is not a lot to say, presently, about each of Chattanooga's position groups due to FCS moving their games to the spring. In July, the Mocs were facing a QB battle that was thin on experience. It seems that ex-Old Dominion player Drayton Arnold will receive the starting nod. Arnold played in three games last season as backup; he went 5-10 for 36 yards and 2 interceptions.
Prior to the UAB game, tight end Joshua Simon had only been targeted 13 times (7 receptions). Thomas targeted him 8 times against UAB; Simon totaled 6 receptions for 81 yards, 13.5 yards per catch, and 1 touchdown. Involving the big guy proved to be a positive and a step in the right direction. Receivers Dayton Wade, Craig Burt Jr., and Mitchell TInsley combined for 7 receptions, 16 targets, 72 yards, 10.3 yards per reception, 1 fumble (Wade), and 1 touchdown (Tinsley).
The Mocs' top-4 receivers from 2019 all return. Combined, they accounted for 111 receptions, 1,593 yards, 14.4 yards per catch, and 12 touchdowns. Leading the receiving corps is All-Southern Conference first-team selection Bryce Nunnelly who posted back-to-back impressive campaigns. Converted quarterback Chris James found success during his first season at tight end: setting a Chattanooga record for tight ends with 7 touchdowns (from just 23 catches). They are an experienced group, but much will depend on QB play and if a second receiver can step up.
As WKU's air game opened up [and compared to previous games] the ground attack showed signs of hope from individual personnel. Jakairi Moses led the team with 6 carries, 41 yards, and 6.8 yards per carry. Involving Moses seems to be a key to this offense. Gaej Walker - who has struggled this season - had 9 carries for 38 yards and 4.2 yards per carry. To that point, Walker had been averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. Nonetheless, they didn't break 100 yards are still looking for an explosive game out of someone...anyone.
Chattanooga returns an incredible amount of depth and production at running back. Sophomore Ailym Ford, the 2019 SoCon freshman of the year, rushed for 1,081 yards, 5.3 yards per carry, and 9 touchdowns in just 10 games. Ford finished 5th in the voting for the FCS's Jerry Rice Award. He took over during the second game after 2018 All-SoCon second-team selection Tyrell Price was out due to a season-ending knee injury.
WKU's C Cole Spencer was named a PFF top-4 highest-graded OT's in Week 7. But overall, last week was a bit rough. The Tops' o-line allowed 5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. However, as stated last week, the veteran offensive line cannot be solely blamed for the lack of offensive production or mistakes from skill players. They should outmatch the Mocs' defensive line.
Chattanooga returns most of its line from 2019. Despite a number of injuries, they were still a very solid group and one of the best in their conference. They return seven linemen who have logged several starts. Aside from paving the way for a 1,000+ yard rusher, they allowed just 14 sacks on the season.
Despite a fairly quiet season thus far, corner Trae Meadows stepped up in a big way against UAB with 2 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception. It was only the Tops' second INT of the season. The passing defense held the typically sound Blazer air attack to 15-31, 141 passing yards, 4.5 yards per pass attempt, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. The 4.5 yards per pass attempt were the lowest of the season for QB Bryson Lucero and the 48.4% completion rate was the second-lowest rate from Lucero of the season. WKU was responsible for 9 pass deflections.
The Mocs' return a healthy amount of production from 2019, including: Brandon Dowdell, Camiron Smith, Kameron Brown, Jordan Jones and D.J. Jackson. Combined, those five accounted for 162 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 8-of-11 interceptions, 24 pass breakups, and 2 fumble recoveries. Kevaris Thomas is going to have to take care of the ball or else Chattanooga will have a day.
WKU linebackers had a better statistical performance last week than previous games. Kyle Bailey - the team's leading tackler - and Eli Brown combined for 12 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, and 2 quarterback hurries. The overall pass rush put a good amount of pressure on Lucero but, still, the Blazers' ground attack was able to consistently get past the second level.
Chattanooga has a ton of depth and experience with their linebacker corps. CJ Winston, Ty Boeck, Rashun Freeman, and Jay Person all return for the Mocs. In 2019, they combined for 200 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, 1 interception, 6 pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry, 5 forced fumbles, and 5 fumble recoveries.
Same story, different game. Last week, it was DeWayne McBride who exploited the Hilltoppers' struggling rushing defense. McBride was able to put up 131 yards, 13.1 yards per carry, and 1 [71-yard] touchdown. Now, WKU has allowed 199.8 rushing yards per game, 4.9 yards per carry, and about 2.6 rushing touchdowns per game. Additionally, it seems like teams have figured out the Tops' schematically. Most notably, DeAngelo Malone and Juwuan Jones - a usual lethal blow to even the best of offenses - have been shut down and made largely ineffective. The defensive line has to bounce back against Chattanooga.
The Mocs' d-line is spearheaded by the 2019 leader in tackles for loss and sacks: Devonnsha Maxwell. Last season, Maxwell totaled 46 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, and 3 quarterback hurries. Ben Brewton returns, as well. In 2019, Brewton had 11 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, and 2 quarterback hurries.
WKU's John Haggerty has averaged 43.81 yards per punt with 6 punts inside of the 20. Kicker Brayden Narveson has gone 3-of-3 on FG attempts and 12-of-12 on extra point kicks. Against MTSU Narveson made a 43 and 53 yard kick. Between Dayton Wade, Chase Jones, Jeremiah Fails, and Bryson Washington, the kick return game has averaged 15.5 yards on 14 kick returns. Omari Alexander and Dayton Wade have totaled 4 punt returns for an average of 6.25 yards per return.
Chattanooga's Gabe Boring averaged 39.21 yards per punt with 6 punts inside of the 20 in 2019. Kicker Victor Ulmo went 11-of-17 on FG attempts and 32-of-36 on extra point kicks. Last year, the kick return game averaged 21.8 yards per return while the punt return game averaged 7.0 yards per return.
This is absolutely a trap game, and WKU cannot afford to treat this as any less of a game or opponent. However, they've lost to their past two FCS opponents (Central Arkansas in 2019 and Maine in 2018). The Mocs have had time and film on their side since the FCS is not competing until the Spring. With their only game of the Fall, they will show out.