SOCON: Week 10 Preview

Week 10 in the Southern Conference  has two games that may have a big impact on post season chances.  First, it’s a battle of Bulldogs as The Samford Bulldogs take on The Citadel Bulldogs in Charleston.  If The Citadel wins they take the SOCON autobid.  If Samford wins it will be a three way tie between The Citadel, Samford and Chattanooga all at 6-1 and the following week’s games will decide the autobid.  Next up is Furman at Wofford where the Terriers will try and continue to secure at large playoff berth.  In other games ETSU visits Mercer who theoretically could end up at 7-4, but they would need to win out and 7-4 probably will not get them a playoff spot.  The last game is VMI at Western Carolina.  This will be WCU’s best remaining chance at gaining a conference victory this year.  #8 Chattanooga has the week off.   (SOCON weekly notes)

#17 Samford at #5 The Citadel 2PM (ESPN3) (Samford game notes) (The Citadel game notes)

It is the pass against the run this week in Charleston. Samford has the #2 passing offense in FCS. The Citadel has the #2 rushing offense in FCS. Which will prevail? It will obviously come down to which defense can be most effective.

The Citadel’s defense is stout. It has allowed just 300 yards a game this year with 171 through the air and 129 on the ground. It has 22 sacks on the year and 8 interceptions. It leads the SOCON in turnovers at +7. It also leads the conference in third down conversions and allows only 30%.  Suffice to say that the defense of The Citadel Bulldogs has also won them a couple games as well when their offense has sputtered.

Samford’s defense allows 413 yards a game including 179 on the ground and 234 through the air. While passing will not be a big concern on Saturday, The Citadel does strike through the air occasionally after they put you to sleep on the ground. Samford has not allowed an opponent to rush for 300 yards this year including Wofford which had 291 yards. Samford has allowed opponents third down conversions only 35% of the time. They are also at +5 in turnovers.  However, they will be down on defense due to some injuries and a first half ejection due to a targeting call last week in the second half.

The Citadel likes to control the game with long drives. It has a positive TOP at 34:10 a game. Samford strikes quick with a huge number of TD drives of just 1-2 minutes each. As a result, its TOP is only at 26:32. But that does to seem to hurt them with a record at 6-2. What that means for The Citadel is they will need to dominate to TOP to the tune of about 38-40 minutes if they want to win, unless they find a way to stop Devlin Hodges passing attack. Hodges has gone 254-367 for 2913 yards this year with 28 TDs and only 8 interceptions. He is very accurate and his line gives him good protect and time to be accurate.  He can scramble pretty good as well, if needed.  In any event, it is unlikely that Samford will run 104 plays like they did last week.  That’s right, they ran 104 offensive plays against Miss St.

If Samford hopes to stop The Citadel’s running game it will obviously need to stop the FB. It will be interesting to see how they line up defensively against The Citadel. The Charleston Dogs will also be probing the perimeter. The Citadel’s Cam Jackson has had good success outside against some opponents. Wofford is about the only team which shut down both The Citadel’s inside and outside running attack, but they should know best how to do that.

As always, special teams could play a part in a tight game. The only difference here is it appears The Citadel might have an advantage on punt returns. Their punt returner is averaging 14 yards a return and has one TD return.  He has been fearless taking returns and has been plastered a couple times.  Luckily for The Citadel, he hasn’t dropped any.

The Citadel has one more advantage. It is at home for only its 4th, and last time, this year. It is also homecoming and the stadium will be packed. Even so, The Citadel has not seen a passing attack as potent as Samford’s all year. Its secondary has been burned a few times with long gains. With Samford’s passing skill, it may only need to strike a few times to gain the upper hand. Look for Samford to stay just ahead of The Citadel and win by a TD or less.

Wofford at Furman 1:30PM (ESPN3) (Wofford game notes) (Furman game notes)

Wofford is now at 5-3 and 3-2 in the SOCON. They lost by 3 to the Citadel in OT and by 2 to Samford on a failed 2 point conversion. They have to be fuming. They could easily have been at the top of the SOCON right now. A victory in this game will only get them a reprieve though as they still face UTC a week from Saturday. But they still need to win this game. If they win out, at 8-3 with losses only to The Citadel, Samford and Ole Miss, and win against Chattanooga, they will be sitting pretty at 8-3 and will most likely get a playoff berth. But they got to get by Furman first.

Furman’s defense is its strength, although its offense seems to have new life. The Paladins are allowing 184 yards a game on the ground. They limited The Citadel to just 191. Wofford has been averaging 297 on the ground. Furman has also been limiting opponents to 38% on third down conversions, which is what they need to do against Wofford’s running attack.

One area that has hurt Furman is in turnovers. They trail the conference at -9 with mostly interceptions hurting. But their QB, Reese Hannon, did not have any last week and that may bode well for the Paladins. He also looks to be running more.  Overall in six games, Hannon has gone 132/200 for 1668 with 15 TDs and 6 interceptions. Furman’s running game remains in the doldrums at only 118 yards a game.

On defense Wofford is allowing just 260 yards a game including 193 through the air and just 68 yards on the ground, which is good enough for #3 in FCS. To win, it looks like Furman will have to get it done in the air. Wofford also 21 sacks for 144 yards, so it will be hard.

In comparison to Wofford’s running game, their passing game is not impressive, but they do gain 75 yards a game with it. They have a much better completion percentage than The Citadel does and Furman needs to be wary of it. The Citadel passed for 100 yards earlier this year against the Paladins after their running game was stymied. Wofford averages 13 yards a completion. If Wofford puts them to sleep running, they can burn the Paladins through the air occasionally.

On the ground, the Terriers leading rusher is Lorenzo Long who has had six consecutive 100 yard games.  He also leads the Southern Conference in rushing.

The teams are fairly well matched in specials teams. Overall, one big advantage for Wofford is obviously their FCS leading TOP at 35:20. They will need it. Furman is at home and Wofford has not won there since 2007.

In light of Wofford’s need to win this game to keep their post season play hopes alive, they will be tough to be beat. Look for them to play hard and pull out all the stops. Wofford should win by at least a TD.

VMI at Western Carolina 2PM (ESPN3) (VMI game notes) (WCU game notes)

For Western Carolina, this is their first game after their defensive coordinator was let go. WCU is last in the SOCON in most defensive stats. Will it shake things up any? Maybe. Maybe not. They will get a bonus in that VMI’s stud QB, AL Cobb looks to be out this week after being injured at the end of the second quarter last week. Instead VMI will be led by redshirt freshman Austin Coulling this week. He may have a big week his first time starting, but probably not.

On the flip side, WCU’s red shirt freshman QB Tyrie Adams has done fairly well this year. He has gone 170/266 for 1935 yards with 13 TDs and 8 interceptions. The Catamounts also have a very capable runner in Detrez Newsome who has averaged 94 yards a game rushing. He set a school record last game with 277 yards against a stingy Chattanooga defense.

VMI’s defense is right next to WCU’s on the SOCON roster. They have given up 454 yards a game including a league worse 287 yards a game through the air. The only have 11 sacks on the year.

Between WCU’s change in defense and their offensive ability, they should not have much problem taking care of VMI at home. The Catamounts should win by at least 3 scores to gain their first conference win of the season.

ETSU at Mercer 3PM (TV – FoxSSE) (ETSU game notes) (Mercer game notes)

Mercer has an outside chance to make the playoff if they win out, but it will be tough depending on the rest of the field. If they do win out they will have to beat Samford a week from Saturday. They would be 7-4 with one win against a top 25 team if they win out. This week should be a bit easier with the ETSU Bucs coming to Macon.

The Bucs are not a bad team in only their second year playing again. They have a pretty good QB in Austin Herink. He has gone 107/187 for 1027 yards. He has only four TDs, but also only 3 interceptions. Overall, ETSU gains only 269 yards a game. They have had problems scoring and have only 4 TDs in their last 5 SOCON games. They did score 34 against WCU though in week two.

On defense they have done ok. They give up 402 yards a game on average including 215 on the ground and 187 through the air. They allow opponents to convert on third downs 40% of the time.

Mercer on the other hand, in only their 4th year playing football again, has done fairly well on both sides on the ball. While their stats are about average, they are relentless in games and play all four quarters, every game.

They average 386 yards a game with 226 in the air and 160 on the ground. Senior QB John Russ has gone 168/270 for 1799 yards with 14 TDs and 6 interceptions. The Bears have two runners in the SOCON top 10 with Alex Lakes and Payton Usher averaging 118 yards a game between them, but either one of them are capable of gaining 100 yards.

On defense, Mercer allows 410 yards a game with 179 on the ground and 231 in the air. They also have 17 sacks. They have also allowed opponents to convert 41% on third down conversions.

One area that Mercer has struggled with is in penalties. They lead the SOCON with 58 for 603 yards which is good for 75 yards a game. They also struggle with possession time and are in the red at 28:32 a game. ETSU also struggles with penalties at 60 yards a game.

It is homecoming for Mercer.  They should not have any problem with the Bucs although ETSU may score more than they have. Expect The Bears to win by at least 3 TDs.

Written by 

Born and raised in New Jersey, but gravitated south to graduate from The Citadel in 1985. Served 23+ years in the USAF retiring in 2008 as a Field Grade Officer. Logged 4600+ flying hours as an Aircraft Commander and Instructor Pilot in the KC135. After retiring from active duty, worked as a Program Manager on various Air Force weapon systems. Retired completely as of May 2016. I have followed SOCON football since my days as a cadet. I like statistics, but also find value in looking at the intangibles as well, such as a team's emotions and motivation.

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