Chattanooga isn’t just an old FCS team

The Chattanooga Mocs entered Champaign with a 3-0 record with wins over Wofford, Eastern Illinois and North Alabama. Let’s preview what the Mocs will look like on Thursday night.

Rusty Wright has been coach at Chattanooga since 2013 and head coach since 2019. Prior to this season, he had an 18-13 aggregate record at Chattanooga and barely missed the playoff attempt last year.

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Offensive coordinator Joe Pizzo and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward both started with Wright in 2019. The Mocs pride themselves on defense as they have led SoCon in every major category including scoring, interceptions and sacks in 2021. In defense overall, they ranked 10th in the FCS and kept their opponent to 11 points per game.

Preston Hutchinson has started every game for the Mocs this season. It’s a rolling transition from Eastern Michigan where he started 9 games, threw 16 touchdowns and ran for 11. In front of North Alabama, he threw for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns and ran for 2 more. He’s the double-threat quarterback who has hurt opponents with both arms and legs this year and is one of the Mocs’ biggest playmakers.

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The Mocs’ backfield is led by Ailym Ford, who ran for over 100 yards twice prior to this season. This year, he’s off to a hot start, racking up 229 yards and 4 touchdowns in his first three games at Chattanooga.

Ford is only 5 feet 9 feet tall, but it’s a backwards-managed force that works through interventions and finds a way to get the extra yard. While effective at SoCon, Illini should be able to slow Ford’s influence in the game.

The Mocs do not have a dominant receiver, and instead prefer to spread the ball around (seven receivers gained 20 yards or more against North Alabama). If Hutchinson tried to create space with his legs, wide receivers would receive more opportunities.

Sam Phillips led the Mocs in receiving yards against North Alabama. He had 5 receptions for 96 yards. Chatarius Williams has been walking Alabama in 2020 and 2021. He moved to Chattanooga and is 6-foot-3, 187 pounds. In general, Chattanooga’s spacious reception room is inexperienced and will struggle against the Illinois defense.

Mocs’ defense is one of the best in SoCon. Defensive end Devonnsha Maxwell leads the defense and is a two-time FCS All-American. Unsurprisingly, Maxwell was named Defensive Player of the Year at this year’s SoCon pre-season. Last year, he led the conference with 12 sacks and 15.5 interventions for a loss. So far this season, he has 1.5 sacks and 8 tackles.

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Along with Maxwell, the Mocs are led by linebackers Ben Bruton and Jay Pearson who have both been productive in reaching the quarterback this season. Among the midfielders Ty Boeck is the All-SoCon pre-season pick who has had 25 total tackles so far this season. The Mocs pride themselves on their defense, and it’s their best unit this season.

While the Mocs are 3-0, they haven’t played a team with Illini’s talent level.

To win, Eleni needs to give Chase Brown space to run, helping Tommy DeVito complete open passes. Eleni also needs to shift during their chances in the red, a point of conflict against Virginia.

While the Mocs will stay with Illini through the first quarter, Illini should take the lead soon and outsmart the Mocs.