With three weeks now in the books, the race for the Southern Conference crown seems more open than ever. There are still lots of questions to be answered. While Wofford had the week off, The Citadel, the 2016 SOCON Champ, struggled a bit against ETSU. Furman, Samford and Mercer all went down as expected to their FBS opponents, but Mercer made a respectable showing. Western Carolina took care of business easily at Gardner-Webb, while the Chattanooga train was derailed at home against Tenn-Martin. And finally, VMI’s woes continue as they went down on the road at Robert Morris.
#12 The Citadel 31 ETSU 25 (box score)
The Citadel had a heck of a week leading up to this game. Looking for its 500th program victory, it took a tour of the upcountry for most of the week due to Hurricane Irma. After the game last week at Presbyterian, it went to Johnson City, then to an upstate camp, then to Clemson, then back to Charleston, then back to Johnson City. Sadly it also had to deal with the loss of former teammate and SOCON standout Mitchell Jeter who was tragically killed in a car wreck.
The Dogs Started out pretty flat with many miscues including a bad punt snap, an interception, a bad FG kick resulting in a block, a couple drive killing penalties, and some late first half clock issues. ETSU capitalized quickly on the botched punt and scored on one play to go up early. After The Citadel scored on its next possession, it had to punt a couple times and threw an interception.
ETSU got a break with a roughing the punter call in their endzone at one point which kept one of their drives alive. ETSU also scored on a 51 yard drive after the botched field goal attempt by The Citadel. With about a minute to go in the half, The Citadel actually moved down the field pretty well and picked up 66 yards on a mix of runs and passes, but out of timeouts, they were unable to spike the ball in time with 2 seconds remaining. The sticks had not even been set before the ref started the clock though. Even though they were down 14-7 at half, the Bulldogs mostly got it done. Overall in the first half, The Citadel tallied 201 yards while holding ETSU to just 100 yards.
If the Dogs were a flat the first half, they came out ready to play in the second. After ETSU drove well, they were stalled and had to settle for a field goal on their first drive. Down 17-7 at this point, the Bulldogs went work. They scored on their next 4 possessions. ETSU had an impressive 75 yard drive in the fourth to close the score to 28-25 after a successful two point conversion. After kicking a booming 46 yard FG that would have been good from 60 yards, The Citadel went up 31-25. ETSU stalled on their next possession and turned it over on downs and with less than two minutes to play The Citadel ran out the clock.
Overall The Bulldogs racked up 435 total yards with 101 in the air. QB Dominique Allen threw a couple really nice passes in this game. Something that he has issues with at times. The Dogs went 9 for 17 on third down conversions and held the ball for 37 minutes. They totaled 5 penalties for 60 yards with a couple that were very untimely. On defense they held ETSU to 2/12 on third down conversions.
The ETSU Bucs totaled 208 yards with only 26 yards on the ground. That included losing 30 yards on 4 sacks. ETSU had only 2 penalties for 10 yards. The Bucs QB, Austin Herink had a respectable day going 18/32 for 182 yards. He threw 2 TDs and one interception.
At times ETSU seemed to stop the Dogs and their running attack, but The Citadel has so many weapons at its disposal, ETSU could not shut it down. The Citadel also pulled out some new plays which left ETSU flatfooted like a reverse by WR Raleigh Webb who scored a TD untouched from 7 yards out.
It may not have been pretty, but The Citadel got its 500th program victory, and ETSU took another of those painful steps in reestablishing its program. They are coming along just fine and will be in the hunt for the title soon enough. Now at 3-0 The Citadel has a much needed bye week before meeting Samford in two weeks. ETSU, now 1-2, hosts Mercer next week.
Western Carolina 42 Gardner-Webb 27 (box score)
The Catamounts of Western Carolina had another banner day on offense as they racked up 435 yards including 146 by running back Detrez Newsome. In the first half WCU scored on 3 of their 5 possessions to go up 21-13 at the break. An apparently revitalized WCU defense held Gardner-Webb to a TD and 2 FGs in the first half.
After punting on their first possession in the third quarter, WCU scored on their next two to go up 35-13. Gardner-Webb scored early in the fourth after WCU threw an interception deep in their own territory. WCU returned the favor after intercepting Gardner-Webb to make it 42-20 midway through the fourth. A late TD by Gardner-Webb as time expired closed the final score to 42-27.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb have had a tough season so far and their offensive output has been pretty bad. They did better this week and totaled 368 yards. Regardless, WCU’s defense appears to be doing better though and held their opponent to 6 of 16 on third down conversions. They also had 2 sacks.
On offense the Cats moved the ball well behind the arm of Tyrie Adams who went 14/23 for 224 yards. He also threw 3 TDs and 1 interception. Newsome scored twice as well including an 84 yard scamper for a one. WCU totaled 199 on the ground including 57 by QB Tyrie Adams. The Cats had 5 penalties for 37 yards and held the ball for 26 and a half minutes.
Westerns biggest question this year has been its defense. On the road against a team hungry for yards, they did ok. Their offense seems to be running on all cylinders. They face Samford next week in what could be a breakthrough win for them if they can get it done.
Auburn 24 Mercer 10 (box score)
Mercer represented the SOCON pretty well in its first of two SEC games this year. It really is easy to say that the score was that close only because of 5, that’s right, 5 Auburn turnovers. But they were all forced turnovers and Mercer gets that credit. It was just 10-3 Auburn at the half. Mercer was playing to win.
The Bears kept it close with those 5 turnovers, but they couldn’t move the ball terribly well against Auburns stout defense. In all they totaled 246 yards including 100 rushing and 146 passing. The Mercer QB, Kaelan Riley went 20/32 and had 1 TD and no interceptions.
Otherwise, Mercer did what it needed to in order to give themselves a chance. The Bears had no turnovers and just two penalties. As mentioned, they got 5 turnovers. It was just hard for them to move the ball. They were 6 for 18 on third down conversions. They did have one good drive in the third quarter which went for 83 yards in 12 plays and resulted in a touchdown.
On defense they allowed Auburn to move the ball pretty well, at least through the air. They gave up 364 yards passing. The Bears also had one sack. They did hold Auburn to 3.4 yards a carry for 146 total rushing. That’s not too shabby.
The theme of the game was pretty much Auburn driving a long way, turning it over and then Mercer stalling on the subsequent drive. They got their 10 points off those turnovers, but they punted on 8 of their 12 drives and gave it up on downs on their last one. Still, they can be fairly pleased with their performance on defense. Holding a ranked FBS opponent to 24 points is an accomplishment. Mercer travels to ETSU next.
NC State 49 Furman 16 (box score)
With 2:35 remaining in the first half it looked like Furman was keeping pace with the NC State Wolfpack. Furman’s PJ Blazejowski tossed a 71 yard strike to bring the Paladins within a score at 21-13. But NC State answered right back just before halftime and never looked back. Furman also scored on two first half field goals including one on their opening drive.
For the Day Blazejowski went 9/17 and 180 yards. He had one TD and 1 interception. On the ground Furman gained just 133 yards on 47 attempts for 2.8 yards a carry. They did go 8/16 on third down conversions.
On defense they allowed 490 yards including 242 on the ground and 248 through the air. They logged one sack.
Miscues by the Paladins in the third broke the game open for NC State. These included a blocked punt and two turnovers. They also resulted in 21 more points for the Wolfpack.
Now 0-3, Furman’s season looks to be a repeat of last years for first year head coach Clay Hendrix. They are a pretty young team and miscues happen. They go on the road next week to face Colgate.
Robert Morris 23 VMI 0 (box score)
For the second game this year VMI got shutout. The Keydet offense must be reeling. They totaled just 182 yards and 12 first downs. Against a mediocre team like Robert Morris, this is just bad. Even more disturbing, VMI committed 6 penalties. They had totaled just 2 combined in the previous two games. Frustration must be settling in a little.
VMI QB Austin Coulling went a disappointing 12/22 for 106 yards, no TDs and one interception. He was sacked four times as well. On the ground they gained just 75 yards all game with 2.8 yard per carry average.
On defense the Keydets gave up 336 yards including 297 passing. The one bright spot for VMI was allowing just 39 yards on the ground with an enviable 1.3 yards per carry stat. Their defense needs good performances to at least give their offense a chance at producing a game winning effort, or at the very least score some points.
VMI faces Chattanooga at home this week. One wonders if this might just be the lowest scoring game of the week.
Tenn-Martin 21 #19 Chattanooga 7 (box score)
Chattanooga is going through some issues. With a new coach, first year QB, and the complete absence of a running game, the Mocs appear in disarray.
UT-Martin was not a world beating opponent. They are a pretty good team, but the Mocs were completely impotent on offense. They punted on all five of their first half drives. They totaled just 3 first half yards. THREE yards! Something is rotten in Chattanooga. Sure, losing your expected starting Sr QB, getting new coaches, losing a star running back can all have an impact, but these issues appear to have shocked the Mocs.
Down only 14-0 at the break, Chattanooga might have made a comeback, but fumbled on their first possession of the second half. After another punt, they finally scored on a 91 yard drive late in the third. But not until Tenn-Martin had tacked on another score.
On defense, the Mocs are still a force. They held the Skyhawks to 293 total yards (193 passing/110 rushing). The did allow Tenn-Martin to convert 50% of their third downs.
The numbers on offense got a little better in the second half for the Mocs, but they finished with 150 total yards with just 6 yards rushing. That brings their rushing total up to 150 for the year over three games. I guess they want to be like Samford. Overall the Mocs QB Nick Tiano went 13/27 for 144 yards with 1 TD and 1 interception. He was sacked five times.
I guess the questions that most Mocs fans are asking is, “did we hire the right coach?” and “when is Bennefield back?”
Chattanooga travels to Lexington this week to face off against VMI in what may be destined to be a low scoring affair.
Georgia 42 #18 Samford 14 (box score)
In a battle of the Bulldogs, Samford went down to ranked Georgia team this past week. Outgained 459 to 249 yards, the Samford Bulldogs were outpaced for most the game by Georgia.
After punting on its first 4 drives, Samford finally got on the board with a nice 10 play 75 yard drive in the second quarter. Samford’s QB, Devlin Hodges, finished the day with respectable stats against this SEC team. He went 26/35 for 227 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. He was sacked three times. Glaring as usual was Samford’s lack of an effective running game. They finish with just 22 yards on the ground. They also lost one fumble and had a field goal blocked. Samford scored again early in the fourth on an 18 yard pass after a seven play, 75 yard drive.
On defense, where questions remain for Samford, they gave up 284 yards on the ground and 175 passing. Georgia was able to convert 9/15 third downs. They did not get any sacks, but did tally 5 tackles for loss. Samford’s time of possession, again as usual, was south of 25 minutes. That doesn’t help their defense.
All that said, it was an SEC offense they had to try and stop and that is a tall order. How well their defense performs in conference action will be seen this week when they travel to Cullowhee to face WCUs potent offense.
2. The Citadel