Who: The Citadel (2-5, 2-3) at Chattanooga (5-2, 3-1)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Finley Stadium, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Citadel offensive tackle Devin Bice has heard the talk, not uncommon around football teams that have won only two of their first seven games.
The coaches should devote the rest of the season to getting younger players ready for next year, people say. With goals of competing for a Southern Conference championship and FCS playoff bid out the window, the final five games of the 2013 season should be about the future.
Bice isn’t buying it.
“If we look at the rest of the season like it’s spring practice, or whatever people are saying, we will go downhill,” said the fifth-year senior from Bonifay, Fla. “If we keep our heads up and work hard, we can still have a winning season and still actually do something this season.
“For a lot of us, this is our last time playing football, so we want to do the best we can do.”
The Citadel (2-5, 2-3 Southern Conference) had an open date last week, a chance to rest and get a head start on preparing for Saturday’s game at Chattanooga (5-2, 3-1). It was a welcome respite for a team that had been going non-stop for about three months, since the start of preseason camp.
The Bulldogs practiced three days last week before taking off Friday and Saturday, then returned to practice Sunday for the start of game week.
A lot of the players were able to get off campus. Bice, for example, went to Myrtle Beach with some teammates for “some home-cooked meals and a lot of football,” he said.
Other players got a chance to take care of delayed business. Junior safety Akeem Garnett had his wisdom teeth pulled, for example.
“It was a perfect chance to get them pulled and have time to recover from that,” Garnett said.
The bye week should help the Bulldogs be rested and ready for the season’s stretch run — at Chattanooga, Samford, at Elon, VMI and at Clemson.
At 2-5, The Citadel would have to win all five remaining games to post a winning record, unlikely with Clemson looming at the end of the season. But the Bulldogs could still achieve a winning mark against FCS competition and finish 5-3 in the SoCon with upsets of Chattanooga and Samford and wins over Elon and VMI.
On the other hand, if the Bulldogs lose out, they’d be the first 10-loss team in school history.
“Our focus is on our next opponent,” said coach Kevin Higgins. “We try not to get caught up with how many games you have left, how many you have to win.”
Chattanooga has won three straight since a 23-21 loss at Georgia Southern, and took a 20-9 win at Elon last week. The Mocs’ defense is tops in the SoCon in scoring defense, allowing just 16.7 points per game. Defensive end Davis Tull is second in the SoCon with 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Wes Dothard was the SoCon defensive player of the week with 13 tackles against Elon.
Chattanooga ranks last in the SoCon in red-zone defense, allowing foes to score on 17 of 17 trips inside the 20-yard line. That’s perhaps the most deceiving stat in college football, because only eight of those 17 trips have resulted in touchdowns. That TD-to-trips percentage of .470 is best in the league.
“They’ve got the best defense in the league right now,” Higgins said. “At every level, they’ve got guys who can run.”
On offense, the Mocs have two of the top nine rushers in the league in tailback Keon Williams (98.1 yards per game) and sophomore quarterback Jacob Huesman (79 ypg). Huesman, son of coach Russ Huesman, has also hit 95 of 141 passes (67.4 percent) for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns against four interceptions.
Follow Jeff Hartsell on Twitter @jeff_fromthepc