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Wofford gets a rush out of running the ball
Based on the evidence, offensive balance is overrated as far as the Wofford College football team is concerned.
“We’re going to run the football,” the Terriers say. “Try to stop us.”
Think they’re bluffing? Just look at the numbers. Wofford rushed for 3,830 yards during the regular season and passed for a whopping 574. That’s a game for Old Dominion.
Senior fullback Eric Breitenstein is the focal point of the Terriers’ triple option attack they call the wingbone. He averages 150 yards rushing per game and has gained more than 100 yards in all but one game this year.
The lone exception was when he was pulled early in an 82-0 blowout of Lincoln the second game of the season. The 5-foot-11, 230-pounder has rushed for more yards this year (1,653) than Wofford has undergrads (1,550).
“We do a lot of different things out of a lot of different formations,” said Breitenstein, the two-time Southern Conference offensive player of the year. “You hear announcers say teams run the ball to set up the play-action pass. A lot of what we do is run the ball to set up other running plays. We run the ball a million different ways out of a million different formations. If something isn’t working we’ll go to something else. We run the ball to set up the play-action run I guess you could say. People know it’s coming, but it’s pretty hard to stop the way we do it.”
Ten different players have rushed for more than 100 yards this season for the Terriers, who host the University of New Hampshire at Gibbs Stadium on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN3) in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Wofford’s ground game ranks second nationally behind only SoCon rival Georgia Southern. In fact, the Terriers have ranked first or second in rushing in each of the last seven seasons.
UNH ranks 67th nationally against the run and in its last game gave up 415 yards on the ground in a 64-35 loss to Towson at home.
“When you play against a team that doesn’t see the triple option two or three times a year that’s a plus,” Breitenstein said. “We think that gives us an edge.”
Following a 5-0 start, the Terriers are 3-3 in their last six games, including a 24-7 loss to South Carolina of the bowl subdivision in the final game of the regular season.
The contest was tied at 7 going into the fourth quarter when the No. 10/11 Gamecocks scored 17 unanswered points. No. 9 Wofford, which outgained South Carolina and rushed for 259 yards, lost a season-high three fumbles in that game, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
“The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win the game,” said longtime Wofford coach Mike Ayers. “The team that creates problems for themselves with fumbles and interceptions will be in for a long afternoon.”
The No. 11/13 Wildcats have won six of their last seven games and will be making their ninth consecutive appearance in the Division I-AA/FCS playoffs, the longest active streak in the nation.
It could be a short stay if they can’t contain the Terriers’ ground game and its ability to move the chains or create some turnovers. UNH ranks 103rd nationally in total defense.
The unit is anchored by senior linebackers Matt Evans and Alan Buzbee and senior tackle Jared Smith.
“They do a good job” Breitenstein said. “They’ve been big-played here and there a little bit this year, and I think that’s what killed them. They have that star linebacker (Evans). He does a lot for them. We’ll have to play our best game.”
“Defensively, I think they’re one of the top teams in the country in takeaway margin,” Ayers said. “They’re a team that plays defense to the end of the whistle. They have talented players.”
Wofford is making its third straight trip to the FCS playoffs and fifth in six years. The Terriers earned a share of the Southern Conference championship with Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
The Terriers complement their rushing attack with a defense that ranks 10th nationally in fewest points allowed per game (17.7).
“They have all the bells and whistles as far as reverses and running with their quarterbacks,” Ayers said of UNH. “They throw it all over the lot and they run every pass route known to man.”
In terms of offensive philosophy, the teams are polar opposites. The Wildcats couldn’t be more balanced with 2,604 yards rushing and 2,578 passing.
They’re ability to control the ball and finish drives could be their best defense.
“New Hampshire is a great football team,” Breitenstein said. “Obviously they proved that this year and over the past decade. They know how to win. We’re going to have to show up and play our game and do what we do.”
Wofford is 5-0 at home this season.
“You’d like to say their team is going to come down here and lay an egg,” Ayers said, “but that’s not going to happen.”
By AL PIKE, Foster’s Daily Democrat