Weber St., Mocs set for first meeting
(STATS) – Going up against some of the worst defenses the FCS has to offer while playing in the wide-open Big Sky, Weber State wasn't exactly an offensive dynamo.
In its first playoff appearance in seven years, it's facing one of the division's top defenses.
A week after putting a bit of a scare in the top team in the FBS, No. 11 Chattanooga looks to frustrate the 25th-ranked Wildcats when they meet for the first time Saturday at the Mocs' Finley Stadium.
The Mocs are appearing in the FCS playoffs for the third straight year, and last week they looked like they belonged in the FBS' College Football Playoff – at least for one quarter.
Facing Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Chattanooga (8-3) put up a fight against the FBS' unanimous No. 1, leading 3-0 after 15 minutes. It trailed 14-3 at the half and was still only down 11 until the Crimson Tide began to pull away late in the third quarter to hand the Mocs a 31-3 loss.
Although the score ended up being lopsided, Chattanooga didn't make things easy on the defending CFP champions. The Mocs sacked Jalen Hurts three times to match No. 22 Texas A&M for the most sacks on the Tide QB this season while limiting Nick Saban's team to 332 yards – Alabama's second-lowest output of the season.
Despite the loss, Chattanooga is brimming with confidence heading into the playoffs.
“It can definitely boost our confidence, playing guys like that,” junior quarterback Alejandro Bennifield said. “Usually, you come in and you do not think you're going to do too well, but once we started going, guys got a lot of confidence. Now we know we can play with them. We can play with anybody.”
It certainly appears like they can play with Weber State (7-4), which entered Sunday's rankings for the first time since 2010 to round out the STATS FCS Top 25.
The Wildcats ranked in the bottom half of the Big Sky in total offense and were 10th in scoring (27.1 points per game) despite playing in a conference that had four of the 10 worst defenses in the FCS and seven of the bottom 23.
Treshawn Garrett had a team-high 517 rushing yards but totaled just 120 and averaged 2.9 per carry over the final six games. Senior Haini Moimoi had a career-high 101 yards running in last week's 34-28 comeback win at Idaho State while the offense put up a season-best 544 yards against the FCS' fourth-worst defense.
Weber State is in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, going 6-2 in the Big Sky to finish behind undefeated co-champions Eastern Washington and North Dakota.
“We're really excited to make the playoffs and have our season continue,” coach Jay Hill said. “This team, especially the group of seniors, deserves this opportunity so we are excited to go play Chattanooga. We felt we deserved to get in the playoffs by finishing third in the Big Sky and we've accomplished a lot this season and glad to keep playing.”
They're going up against a Mocs team that was sixth in the FCS in total defense at 281.8 yards per game and ninth in scoring defense at 18.2. Chattanooga has the best pass defense in the FCS, surrendering an average of 139 yards, and limited the Tide to just 136 through the air.
Lineman Keionta Davis is on the STATS Defensive Player of the Year Watch List and was named the Southern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year. He led the league with 8 1/2 sacks.
All of this will present problems for Jadrian Clark, who was second in the Big Sky with 2,823 passing yards but also was tied for the league worst with 12 interceptions. Nine of his picks came in six road games, with Weber State going 3-3.
The Mocs outscored opponents 251-101 in going 5-1 at home this season and have won 15 of 16 at Finley Stadium.
They were 6-2 in league games to tie with Wofford for second place in the Southern Conference and were first in conference games in scoring at 32.6 points and second in total offense at 416 yards.
Bennifield has thrown for 2,173 yards with 23 touchdowns to seven interceptions and is seventh in the FCS with a 158.9 passer rating.
Derrick Craine, who is on the STATS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List, was fourth in the Southern Conference in rushing with 808 yards and his average of 6 yards per carry ranked second among those with at least 100 attempts.
He'll go up against a Weber State defense that allowed an average of 192.1 rushing yards per game. Like the Mocs, the Wildcats are strong against the pass, allowing a Big Sky-low 197.1 pass yards per game.
“Our offensive coaches have been very impressed with them,” Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman said of Weber State's defense. “I think they have pretty good team speed on defense. They're comparable; they kind of look like us. They're very comparable and we're very comparable to them.”
The winner moves on to play fifth-seeded Sam Houston State.