A couple of years ago, TideFans.com moved away from doing full previews of games against FCS opponents. Yes, occasionally FBS teams, even FBS powerhouses, find a way to lose one of these games, but the chances of it happening are very slim and doing a deep-dive preview on a team that isn’t judged statistically against FBS opposition is difficult at best.
Chattanooga comes into this game 7-3 and fresh off a loss to Furman. The Mocs’ best win was probably over Samford; its worst loss, likely the fact that North Alabama beat the Mocs in the season opener.
With a suddenly resurgent Auburn team waiting in two weeks, Alabama will see a lot of the same concepts this week: spread passing game, high-powered attack, and all the trimmings. What Bama won’t see is a defense on par with what Auburn has put on the field this year.
The Mocs rank 21st in FCS in total offense, mostly on the back of a passing game that ranks 15th. The Mocs don’t run the ball particularly well (66th out of 122 teams at the FCS level) but with a scoring offense that ranks 22nd, they don’t have to. Expect a lot of spread concepts, tempo and general chaos, sort of par for the course when an FCS team with some offensive ability comes in to face a team like Alabama. The Crimson Tide will run its familiar multiple pro-style attack, but the last two or three weeks it seems like the Tide has found an extra gear.
OFFENSIVE SKILL POSITIONS
The Mocs are led by UCLA transfer Chase Artopoeus at quarterback. In 10 games, he has thrown for 2,672 yards, 20 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He’s a good scrambler, rushing 59 times for 146 yards and a touchdown, which includes yardage lost to sacks. As a former FBS player, he has size commensurate with a typical FBS quarterback.
Gino Appleberry and Ailym Ford split the tailback duties. The numbers are much more pedestrian here, with the two combining for approximately 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, but with per-carry averages hovering around just 4 yards per touch. The Mocs don’t utilize running backs as receivers often; Appleberry and Ford together have just 11 catches on the year. Both players are smaller than the typical FBS running back but not by an extreme amount; both are 5’9” and about 200 pounds.
At receiver, the names to watch are Javin Whatley and Jamoi Mayes, who have next-level talent. Mayes has caught 53 passes for 924 yards (17.4 avg.) and 4 touchdowns on the year, and has a thick build for a receiver at 5’11”, 205. Whatley has 44 catches for 802 yards (18.2 avg.) and 8 touchdowns. Production drops off sharply after that, with No. 3 receiver Sam Phillips averaging right around 10 yards per catch. Tight end Cam Overton, who is noticeably smaller than a typical FBS tight end, is the only other player on the Mocs’ roster with double-digit reception totals. Whatley and Phillips are both smaller receivers.
For Alabama, it’s not yet clear if Ja’Corey Brooks will be back this week at receiver. Brooks sat out last week with an arm or shoulder injury, and has been limited now for several weeks. Jermaine Burton, who missed the trip after an acute illness, should be back. Alabama started Kobe Prentice in Burton’s place last week and he responded strongly. Burton, Prentice and Isaiah Bond, along with Malik Benson and Kendrick Law, give Alabama as good a wide receiver group as anyone in the conference. At running back, Jamarion Miller continues to give a spark behind Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams.
OFFENSIVE LINE AND DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN
Size is always an issue for FCS teams, and UTC has even more issues than most. Predictably, the Mocs have plenty of FBS transfers to pick from, but other than Indiana transfer Luke Lane, none of the linemen who play top the 300-pound mark. The Mocs rank 46th in sacks allowed and just 22nd in tackles for loss allowed in FCS, which are good numbers, but they also don’t play defensive lines like Alabama’s very often. On the Bama OL, the continued development of RG Jaeden Roberts and LT Kadyn Proctor is driving a renaissance of sorts as the season has worn along.
Defensively, Ben Brewton is the most active player the Mocs have, but he’s light for a down lineman (220 pounds). Edge rusher Jay Person, an Appalachian State transfer, has a good first step and will be a good test for Bama’s tackles. Marlon Taylor is the odd lineman who is both large (325 pounds) and not a FBS transfer. Overall, the Mocs don’t do a lot of work behind the line of scrimmage, but Brewton does have 8 QB hurries from a down position.
Alabama may or may not get Deontae Lawson back this week, but our money is on Lawson sitting and getting ready for Auburn. If that’s the case, Trezmen Marshall and Jihaad Campbell will again be the starting inside linebackers, with Kendrick Blackshire the rotating backup. Alabama’s defensive line continues to make strides as the season has gone along.
DEFENSIVE BACKS AND SPECIAL TEAMS
Mobile native Kameron Brown has 3 interceptions on the year and knows how to make plays, but he’s tiny. Jordan Walker and Josh Battle are the most reliable of the rest of the Mocs’ defensive backs, and they both have FBS size. The Mocs rank a reasonable 39th in passes intercepted. Overall, the pass defense is a bit better than the rush defense, but both are respectable for the Mocs’ level and they can be opportunistic if Alabama gets sloppy.
On special teams, the Mocs are relatively weak in the kicking game behind Clayton Crile, who will handle both punts and field goal attempts. The Mocs rank 77th in net punting, although Crile is averaging 43.6 gross yards per kick, pointing to a problem with coverage. Crile also tends to spray the ball a bit as a field goal kicker. The Mocs are solid in the return game, however.
For Alabama, it’s a good bet safety Jaylen Key will rest for a second consecutive week as he nurses a quad injury. Kristian Story and Trey Amos will split most of the workload in his absence. Terrion Arnold continues to have a breakout season and has worked himself into possibly being able to test the NFL Draft waters in April.
There’s no real reason to do a positional breakdown; Alabama would lead all eight of our traditional preview categories and strongly lead both OL-DL cross-matchups.
The only way Alabama can lose the game is to simply refuse to show up, or if it suffered massive injuries at multiple key positions. Chattanooga’s best chance to scare Alabama will be to shorten the game but also be efficient on its own possessions.
Staying healthy is the top priority for Alabama, not just so that it can ice this game, but be in the best condition possible for next week’s game in Auburn. Chattanooga brings enough talent to the table to keep Alabama interested, but that’s about it.
Follow Jess Nicholas on X at @TideFansJessN