Craig Has The Scout - Chattanooga
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Craig is still locked out of his admin login, so once again I am asking you to realize that even though the byline over there says Robert, this was written by Craig. I mean, THIS part wasn't written by Craig. This is the intro, written by me, Robert. But everything below that line right there? 100% Craig. He's the one who has the scout.
Who: Chattanooga Mocs
When: 7:30pm - September 22nd, 2022
Where: Home Sweet Home
Head Coach: Rusty Wright. Wright is a former Moc player, and coached previously at Chattanooga before being named the head man. Tom Arth left Chattanooga to take over Akron (and played Illinois for his first game), and the administration wanted to bring in a guy who wanted to stay there. Wright was a TE, but his coaching chops are on the defensive side of the ball. His team reflects that. Wright has finished .500 or better in each of his three seasons and returns an experienced team. Chattanooga is the SoCon preseason favorite and on track to get to the playoffs with a 3-0 start.
Offensive Style: Balanced Spread. Joe Pizzo is the offensive coordinator for Chattanooga, and he has a long FCS track record of solid offenses. Pizzo's offense looks similar to the offense that Tony Elliott is trying to install at Virginia. Pizzo has his own wrinkles, he has been an OC for the better part of 30 years.
Defensive Style: 4-2-5 with plenty of zone. The DC is Lorenzo Ward. Ward is a veteran DC with extensive ties to the Southeast. Ward first made his mark as Frank Beamer's DB coach. Ward was also Steve Spurrier's DC at South Carolina, and later popped back up on Bobby Petrino's staff at Louisville. When Petrino imploded, he moved to Chattanooga and has been there ever since. Ward is a 4-2-5 guy who has incorporated the 3-4 against the power spread run game that has proliferated in the college ranks.
Specialists: Both sides have had their kicking issues, but Illinois has had the worse of it so far this season.
2022 Chattanooga at a Glance:
2022 Record: 3-0, 1-0
Rushing Offense: 183.7 ypg
Passing Offense: 250.7 ypg
Total Offense: 434.3 ypg
Scoring Offense: 36.7ppg
Rushing Defense: 116.7 ypg
Pass Defense: 220.3 ypg
Total Defense: 337 ypg
Scoring Defense: 11.3 ppg
Turnover Margin: +2
Three Things to Watch
Penalties. Illinois has committed 25 penalties so far in 2022. Chattanooga has committed 17. These are two teams putting some sloppy play on tape. The more penalized team will put themselves at a huge disadvantage.
Explosive Plays. Chattanooga is a bend but don't break defense. The Mocs are adept at preventing long rushes, and Illinois has made their hay this year on the big Chase Brown runs. Chattanooga will try to bottle up the Illini run game off-tackle. Illinois needs to prevent the deep passes seen against Indiana.
Time of Possession. Chattanooga will try to limit the numbers of plays in the game. One strategy will be to slow the game down and grind out yards. Illinois has been one of the highest pace of play teams in the country, while holding the ball for 35:20 per game.
Scouting Review - Offense
Joe Pizzo leads an offense with some explosive tendencies, but with a lockdown defense the primary function is to control the clock and avoid turnovers. Pizzo's mantra is run to pass, then pass to win. The focal point of the offense is running back Ailym Ford, who has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of his two full seasons in Chattanooga. Ford is averaging 5.5 ypc, and is a breakaway threat. Additionally, he has solid hands out of the backfield. To supplement the offense, the Mocs brought in Eastern Michigan transfer Preston Hutchinson at QB. Hutchinson has been efficient, and brings enough to the Mocs run game to keep defenses honest.
Chattanooga is a zone blocking outfit. The Mocs OL lost four players with starting experience last season, but return an OT who could play in FBS. The right guard is also returning, and Chattanooga brought in seven (!) linemen from the transfer portal. The interior of the line has had issues holding the point of attack so far this season though, which will be an ongoing concern for the Mocs.
As the running game looks to get back on track, Pizzo has relied the short passing attack more frequently this season. Jamoi Mayes was the leading returning receiver, but the receiving corps is being led by freshmen and sophomores this season. Mayes is the leading receiver, but has taken on more of a possession role. Pizzo has more faith in the passing game this season with the arrival of Hutchinson.
The zone blocking scheme is run out of the shotgun spread. They mix inside zone, read-option, and outside zone. When they are in run specific scenarios, they will move the H-back into the backfield and mix in zone lead.
The primary run though is the inside zone run. Ford is 5'9" and 213 lbs. and hard to tackle. It is not surprise he has rushed for 1,000 yards twice in his career already. Here is the pure zone read play. Pizzo has been motioning Ford into the Pistol on this run play and a majority of the time in pistol they run opposite the side Ford motioned from.
As seen on this play, the Chattanooga OL are good at getting to the second level when unimpeded. The Illini defensive line will need to encumber the OL to allow the LBs to roam freely.
The other primary run play is the read option off the zone blocking scheme. As mentioned before, Hutchinson can move. His mobility helps prevent teams selling out on Ford. Here is the read-option where Hutchinson kept against Eastern Illinois.
It's hard to say what all went wrong here, but the safety was absolutely not supposed to suck up towards the line. Hutchinson pulled the ball very early on the play, but the defense was selling out on stopping Ford on the play. A majority of the time, the play is a give.
The Mocs OL again got to the second level, and the downfield blocking got the WR into the end zone. Pizzo will most likely add much more read option into the play mix this week to eliminate an Illini defender as a blocking assignment. Newton and Randolph have both proved very disruptive thus far, and with a single established offensive tackle, it is an effective way to eliminate a tough assignment.
The Mocs have shown outside zone a few times in their first three games, but it is not a staple and for good reason.
The lateral movement of the OL is limited. The play removes the greatest threat of the offensive line, which is ability to move aggressively to the second level. Eastern Illinois got push up the middle against the look and had some TFLs against the blocking scheme.
As Pizzo looks to establish the run more, he will pull the H-back into the backfield. The run game was a much more prominent part of the offense last season, but Hutchinson has allowed Pizzo to de-emphasize the power run game. Here is the lead play utilizing the H-back as the lead blocker behind inside zone blocking.
Ford finds the tiniest crease on this and explodes through the hole. The run game of Chattanooga is mundane. Pizzo is adding some pizzazz to the offense with RPOs and the passing game.
This is the same H-lead action as the previous play. Here, Hutchinson is reading the MLB. As soon as the MLB sucks up on the run play, the Post route opens in the middle of the field. The conflict for the LBs will be a problem for Illinois, but Illinois will most likely run more man coverage to increase the level of difficulty on the throw.
The Mocs have also intermixed play-action passing into the gameplan. Illinois should see more of this on Thursday as well. The Mocs cue the run heavily when they motion Ford to Pistol. Pizzo will definitely keep this type of play in mind though when the Illini ILBs start to come downhill hard on the play.
The crossing route in this case was a freshman Javon Burke, part of the young and talented receiving corps. Pizzo will need to scheme open the receivers, the Illini defense is bigger and more physical than any the young Moc offense has seen yet.
Another way Pizzo schemes the receivers open is with combo routes. Chattanooga's passing attack utilizes passing routes to attack the opposing safeties with the concept on a side. In multiple instances, they will drag a crossing route behind a Seam route attacking the safety. Here is an example.
The In/Seam concept is especially useful against Quarters coverage. The Seam route attacks the safety, and the RB flare route pulls the LB and freezes the near side corner for a step. In this play the safety a PAP Post/Out concept to the field to attack Quarters coverage. The idea is to pull the Safety with the deep route allow the QB to hit the wide-open crossing route.
Another such conflict route concept is the Scissor route combination. The Moc version is a deep shot play, where the inside receiver runs a deep corner route. The outside receiver trails the inside receiver and will cross over and run a post route. The play ideally pressures the safety and pulls him to the outside receiver as he is being handed off to the corner. When that happens, the post route opens up.
Eastern Illinois' corner was out to lunch on this play, and the safety chose the outside route opening up the easier throw for Hutchinson. Indiana ran similar conflict routes with the Illini safeties and broke some big plays. This route concept worries me the most for Thursday.
The other side of the field has a safety valve for Hutchinson though, he has more options than a challenging 20-yard throw. In the above version, the receiver opposite the twins runs a Hitch, then releases to a Go-Route when Hutchinson is looking deep. Here, he throws the Hitch.
Hutchinson locked into the Hitch on this play, which means he is reading the defense pre-snap for the throw. I'm not sure what the read is, it might be the press coverage / man look presented by the defense.
Pizzo seems to design easier throws for his QB, with plenty of In-routes and Drag-Routes in the offense. Here is an example of a quick read / easy throw route combo.
The routes are set to beat zone coverage with the two top receivers settling into zones. The drag receiver is trying to open on the cross in the case of a man defender. Hutchinson locks into the cross here, and patiently waits until the receiver crosses the LB in zone coverage. With the number of throws made over the middle by the Mocs, I think Illinois will have a LB interception in this game.
The final component of the passing attack is the screen game. The Mocs will use the Illini pass rush against them to break big plays out of the screen game. Pizzo mixes up the screens, but the favorite in the games I watched was the tunnel screen. Illinois is pretty successful against these recently, but Chattanooga would be remiss if they didn't try to beat the Illini with it.
Chattanooga caught EIU in a blitz here which helped with the yardage, but the key block here is unlocked by Ford. Most teams use the outside receiver for the screen and use the inside receiver as the screen for an attacking corner. Chattanooga runs the screen with the inside receiver against the soft coverage. The other screen utilized often is the HB screen. Pizzo uses this to add touches for Ford, the best weapon in the offense. The first version here is on a 3rd and 26, but the other is within the normal rhythm of the offense.
The Illini edge rushers will be vulnerable to this, but if the Illini LBs are tracking Ford they should be able to snuff these out.
Pizzo is an experienced OC, and has continued to tinker with his offense over those years. Pizzo is a grizzled veteran of the lower levels of college football, and does not face top level defenses often. Last year against Kentucky, the Mocs put up 339 total yards and led into the 4th quarter against the Wildcats. Ford had 128 yards rushing in the game, and the Mocs beat the Wildcats for a touchdown on a tunnel screen as shown above. Chattanooga moved the ball well until the red zone, where the offense bogged down.
This season Pizzo has a better signal-caller, and is leaning more on the passing attack. The combo routes will challenge the Illini secondary to cleanly hand off routes when in zone. The Mocs OL is still a work in progress, but Ford is probably the best back Illinois has faced this season. The OL though is still a work in progress, and the receiving corps is very young. Chattanooga's offense is in the top quarter of FCS offenses, and good enough to put up points on FBS teams. One would not be concerned about the offense of Western Illinois if they were coming to town though, and Chattanooga is statistically worse than Western. The defense is the calling card of this team
Scouting Review - Defense
Chattanooga was the Iowa of the SoCon last season. They had an amazing defense, but an offense that could not get them over the hump and into the playoffs. Their pass defense was stout, and the top DL had 12.0 sacks (Maxwell). Chattanooga has 10 sacks so far this season and the DL continues to create issues for opponents. The secondary is the biggest concern for the defense. The Mocs have been opportunistic (3 INTs and 4 PBUs vs. Illinois with 4 INTs and 20 PBUs), but are susceptible to opposing passing attacks.
Lorenzo Ward has been calling defenses at the highest levels of college football for a long time now. Ward does not blitz often, and uses primarily zone defense on the back end. Ward does a good job of mixing up his looks, but will sit in a Cover 2 shell with 5-across zone defenders. Ward turns his DL loose to control the line of scrimmage. The DL is very well coached, always aligned correctly and great hand placement. The Illini OL will need to be aggressive in attacking their DL assignments in the game or the Mocs will create havoc with the Illini run game. Here is an example of the DL disrupting an opposing offense.
The DT crushes his block against the OG, and the DE maintains leverage against the TE. The running back is trying to minimize the damage on this run. The DL brings the same heat in passing situations too.
The aggressive push by the DL allows the secondary to sit back in soft coverage keeping everything in front and chase the receivers.
The 4-2-5 defense of Ward is disciplined, and he mixes up the secondary coverages to create confusion and turnovers. As mentioned before, he tends to run Cover 2 as his base, but here he mixes in Cover 3.
The EIU QB was expecting Cover 2 on the play, but the post route was covered by the safety in the middle of the field. The result was the QB pulling the ball down as the pressure arrived. The ability to challenge QBs with the pass rush and confusion on the back end is what helps set Ward apart in FCS.
Another feature of the Ward defense is keeping the ball in front of them at all times. Ward's zones tend to get more depth than usual, which allows his defense to chase the ball carrier.
The defenders are disciplined in their drops, and they also keep their eyes in the backfield. Once the ball is out, every defender reacted to the direction of the pass.
Ward rarely uses line stunts, but he may more against Illinois to free up his star DE. Here is an End-Tackle Twist they used to bring pressure up the middle.
The other action is a run stopping stunt. In this instance he fires the the DE on a slant, then scrapes the LB to the outside. The action is incredibly useful against zone blocking schemes as it frees the LB, but may be less useful against the gap blocking of Illinois.
Ward is a cruiser-weight DC fighting in the middle-weight class at Chattanooga. Ward is 55 though, and seems to have found his calling at the lower levels. Wright will keep him as long as he stays at Chattanooga. The defense is incredibly disciplined, and they flow fast to the ball. The defensive scheme is predicated on preventing explosive plays, and forcing opponents to make incredible plays to score. Chattanooga has been dominant so far this season, but has not played anyone with near the talent level of Illinois. If Illinois does not show up offensively they may end up in the same situation Kentucky did which puts Ward in the driver's seat.
What does it mean?
Chattanooga has some really nice pieces, and is a legit top 10 team in FCS (#6 in the SP+). Chattanooga will try to establish the run and pass opportunistically. Additionally, they will try to take away the Illini rushing attack. The DL is the strength of Chattanooga, but if they had next level talent at the position it would have hit the transfer portal in the off-season. The Mocs will be willing to grind out the game with Illinois and hope the Illini beat themselves with penalties, missed opportunities and turnovers.
Chattanooga is a relatively young team (for the FCS). Chattanooga will be doing a quick practice week install for the Illini, while Illinois has had time to prepare for Chattanooga. I suspect Walters will be able to present some wrinkles forcing Chattanooga to be more vanilla than normal.
For Illinois to Win:
Illinois needs to get right on offense. The extended time for the Illini should allow them to get healthy and rebuild the cohesion on the OL. It should also allow Lunney to add a few new chapters to the playbook. If Illinois can establish their rushing attack, they will put up points.
Defensively, the Illini need to make the Mocs one-dimensional. If Illinois establishes a lead, they will force the Mocs to speed up the pace and allow more havoc from the Illini creating turnovers.
For Chattanooga to Win:
The Mocs need to make this a game similar to playing a service academy. Chattanooga wants their rushing attack to generate long drives, and minimize possessions. If the offense can limit possessions, it bodes well for the Mocs as the Illini can be scored upon.
Defensively, the Mocs need to continue their strong performance against opposing rushing attacks. Eastern Illinois opened an early lead, and were able to run for 197 yards. The Mocs need to prevent the early scores and make Illinois beat them in the air.
This feels like a cardiac game in the first half, and then the depth of Illinois will take over. Chattanooga struggled with Eastern Illinois, and dominated a bad Wofford team. Illinois should open this up in the second half and cover this. (Line pulled from an off-shore book).
Craig YTD Against the Spread: