TERRE HAUTE – Indiana State is testing the playoff waters for just the third time in its gridiron history that has featured more downs than ups and its hopes to extend what has been a miraculous season continues this Saturday in round two of the NCAA FCS Playoffs when the Sycamores head south for a showdown against the No. 8 Chattanooga Mocs.
But just as last week’s first round was unfamiliar territory for a football program that had not tasted the postseason in 30 years, the Sycamores tread into even deeper waters this weekend, making their first appearance in the second round since 1983 after a come-from-behind 36-16 victory at Eastern Kentucky. Ironically, the last time Indiana State made it to the second round in the 83 season, its first round win came against the Colonels before bowing out against Southern Illinois.
Chattanooga, 9-3 on the year and 7-0 in the Southern Conference, is currently riding a six game winning streak including its regular season finale win, a 45-19 bashing of Furman on the road. But aside from two games against FBS opponents, a narrow 20-16 loss at Central Michigan and a 45-10 loss at Tennessee, the Mocs have played a fairly light schedule, facing just one ranked team in the FCS ranks; losing to then No. 9 Jacksonville 26-23 in overtime on Sept. 6.
The Sycamores are just the second ranked team Chattanooga will be pitted against, but ISU boasts the strongest strength of schedule the Mocs have seen out of an opponent in 2014.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the opponent is lacking on talent. The Mocs carry plenty of weapons that are ready to fire on Saturday afternoon, which will put the Indiana State defense on its toes for four quarters. A well-balanced attack by a stout defensive unit is sure to have its work cut out for them.
Chattanooga carries a dual-threat quarterback whose numbers are nothing short of impressive this season. Jacob Huesman, a junior, has thrown for 2155 yards and 21 touchdowns to just seven interceptions with a 68 percent pass completion rate and has done just as much damage on the ground. Huesman has sprinted out of the pocket to the tune of 763 yards on 152 carries with 10 scores, ranking second among all Moc runners in both yards and touchdowns.
Surrounding him are a variety of options both on the line and in the backfield. Huesman’s touchdown passes have connected with 10 different receivers led by senior wide receiver Tommy Hudson‘s 503 yards and five touchdowns. The five are tied for team-high honors with fellow receiver Faysal Shafaat who has recorded an additional 310 yards on 27 catches. Four receivers, Hudson, Shafaat, Xavier Borishade and C.J. Board have at least 300 receiving yards or more.
The running game has churned out 204 yards per game, helping an offense that has dazzled with a 35 points per game mark through 12 contests. Huesman’s yards out of the quarterback slot have been a major factor, but senior back Keon Williams churns out a lot of work himself, carrying the ball 187 times in 11 games. Williams has amassed 891 yards from the tailback spot and found the endzone 13 times.
Switch to the opposite side of the football and Chattanooga’s defense has kept pace with its offense, holding opponents to to 18.5 points a game while the offense flourishes in response, allowing the “D” to rest for an extended amount of time on the sideline.
While Indiana State struggled to score in the opening half against Eastern Kentucky last week, putting up just seven points in the opening two quarters, it is imperative that the Sycamores get off to a hot start in the second round as the Mocs’ defense has thrived in the first half.
Chattanooga has held 12 opponents to only 101 combined points in the game’s opening 30 minutes, allowing the offense to get on the field often and total 268 points; a prime example that the Mocs have been able to frequently put themselves in the driver’s seat early.
On the ground, the Mocs have allowed over 100 rushing yards per game but what stands out against a pass-heavy Sycamore offensive crew is the fact that the SOCON champs have given up just 147 pass yards per game.
Much of the success has stemmed from turnovers forced by Chattanooga, including eight fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. Lucas Webb, a freshman defensive back has starred in his first season, collecting five picks and returning them for a combined 75 yards. Sophomore back Dee Virgin has two interceptions to go along with 48 tackles and a sack.
Senior Davis Tull, at 6’3 and 240 pounds, anchors the defensive line. Tull has pushed through for 10.5 sacks and 55 tackles this season with 17 of those pops resulting in a loss of yards. Senior linebacker Muhasibi Wakeel leads the team with 98 tackles.
Kickoff is slated for 1:05 p.m. at Finley Stadium. Broadcast coverage will be provided by hometown station 95.9 WDKE and 959dukefm.com. Video streaming is available on ESPN3.