Skip to main content

How did FCS Chattanooga give Alabama all they could handle? A simplified playbook, and a unique mental approach

Look at some Alabama's scores this season, and you can understand why many have been saying all year that this may be Nick Saban's best team yet; 49-10 over Tennessee, 51-3 over Mississippi State, and 52-6 over USC just to name a few.

Then there's this past weekend 31-3 win over FCS Chattanooga, a team that may be FCS playoff caliber, but few expected the Mocs to give Alabama all they could handle, and that's precisely what they did.

Even the Chattanooga coaches shared with that they went into the game reserved to the idea that they'd collect their $500,000 guarantee and take a bit of a beating, while trying to stay healthy for their potential playoff run.

Chattanooga went into every game this season with the goal of producing 400 yards of offense and converting on at least 50% of third-down conversions, but after digging into the film in preparation for the Tide's daunting defense, offensive coordinator Jeff Durden had some second thoughts. He even thought of cutting those numbers in half, since SEC opponents were even having trouble hitting those marks, but Durden ultimately decided to keep the lofty expectations for his guys, and added two more; not allow a non-offensive touchdown, and score.

Other changes that Durden and the Mocs went into the game with that helped keep things very competitive were having their quarterback drilled in the art of getting rid of the ball in 2.8 seconds or less, they allowed the scout team to line up in the neutral zone during practice to simulate the quickness of the Tide defensive front, and he cut down his play call sheet to just 25 plays and eliminated all of their read-option stuff (which is normally a weekly staple for them) because they didn't want to risk injury to their QB.

Overall the changes worked pretty darn good. The Mocs didn't allow a sack to one of the best defensive lines in the country, they scored - and even held the lead at the end of a quarter - and managed just four less first downs than Alabama and Lane Kiffin, meaning the offense was on the field enough to allow the defense to be effective.

What I found most interesting in the article is their mental approach to the big game. Durden told his guys to not look at the game as taking on a vaunted Alabama team led by Nick Saban.

"We're not playing Alabama. If you look at it like that, it will scare the shit out of you. We're playing 11 players who play for them," Durden told his guys.

Head here to read the full piece, including plenty more interesting nuggets on how Durden and the Mocs prepared for Alabama.

The Mocs (8-3) will host Weber State (7-4) in the first-round of the FCS playoffs this weekend.