It can be difficult to find reliable opponent sources for Q&As during FCS game weeks, so we're very fortunate to be joined by Gene Henley, who covers UTC athletics for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Gene gives us some great insight into the Chattanooga Mocs, who are FCS playoffs-bound, and a program with which I'd wager not many 'Noles fans are too familiar. Let's jump right in.
TN: The FCS #8 Chattanooga Mocs currently sit at 8-2 and have clinched their third straight Southern Conference Championship. Tell us a bit about the caliber of the program historically and what expectations were for this season.
GH: Well, historically, most of their positive history has been in the past seven years. Head coach Russ Huesman has built this team, basically from the ground up as they were 1-10 in 2008, the year before he was hired with a historically bad defense that allowed about 450 yards and almost 40 points per game. They were bad, but in recent years, they've killed it in recruiting (back-to-back recruiting classes ranked No. 1 in FCS) and as a result the team has a lot of young talent that has made them good not just last year and this one, but will make them really good for years to come. The expectation was a national championship and that's still the goal. They were ranked as high as No. 3 this season before a loss on the road, but have top-10 talent nationally and I feel can compete with any FCS program in the country.
TN: The Mocs' offense certainly appears to be a run-first attack, currently 12th in the nation in rushing offense averaging 238.7 yards per game. What does this group do so well to produce a formidable ground game?
GH: Most of their offense comes from the quarterback, Jacob Huesman (Russ's son), and running back Derrick Craine. Both are within 50 yards of going over 1,000 yards on the season. They have good schemes to get those guys in space, and have an experienced offensive line that includes a former Georgia transfer, a 2014 All-American and six guys with starting experience.
TN: Which players will be key if the Mocs are going to move the ball successfully against the Florida State defense?
GH: Well, it's going to start with Huesman and Craine. If they can establish any sort of ground game early on, that's going to open up their passing game, which is better than the stats suggest. They don't throw it a ton, but they have as many as seven guys capable of making plays through the air if called upon. Most had FBS offers, but chose to come to UTC because of the opportunity to play and win championships.
TN: What does the UTC's 18th-ranked total defense like to do schematically, and who are its top players FSU fans should keep an eye on?
GH: They run a 4-2-5 that's designed to get the team's best athletes on the field to better defend in space. They've got a defensive end (junior Keionta Davis, 6-4, 260) that has 10.5 sacks and will probably have the opportunity to play on Sundays. Linebackers Nakevion Leslie (junior) and A.J. Hampton (senior) are solid, and sophomore safety Lucas Webb is a playmaker, with two interception returns for touchdowns in his career.
TN: Obviously all football players are competitive, and UTC's goal will be to win the game, but I have to think this is somewhat of a strange situation traveling to play FSU late in the season with the team's national championship goal on the horizon and un-impacted by this game. In your view, what's the value in this game for this Mocs team?
GH: For the fans? Obviously the monetary bonus for the program, but I think the atmosphere would have to be the biggest thing. FCS programs don't typically have a choice in when the game is played...I'm pretty sure Charleston Southern (FCS playoff team) doesn't want to be playing Alabama right now and is going through the same thing, but big-time schools, especially in the South, like playing these games before their rival games the following week.
TN: Finally, tell us how you see this game unfolding. There's currently no point spread on this one. What sort of things should Mocs fans be looking for, and what kind of output would you consider a success in Doak Campbell on Saturday?
GH: A successful day would have to lead with the obvious implications from a huge upset, but realistically, I think coming out of Tallahassee without any injuries is the biggest goal. I think UTC can move the ball some against FSU, but I expect a lot of guys that haven't done much statistically to get a lot of playing time for both teams, and for the Seminoles to win. Let's say, 38-10.
Thanks to Gene for his time and perspective! You can find him on Twitter here.