SOCON: Week 4 Review and Power Rankings

It was a light week for the Southern Conference as three teams (The Citadel, Mercer and Western Carolina) had the week off.  VMI played out of conference at Bucknell and Furman was at FBS bound Coastal Carolina.  The conference race actually cleared a small amount with a key match up between UTC and Samford.  Wofford also faced off against a rising ETSU.

Wofford 31 ETSU 0   (box score)

In its first conference game of the season, Wofford made a big statement by knocking off ETSU in dominating fashion, 31-0. In its second consecutive shutout, the Terriers also made a statement about its defense.  After holding ETSU to just 76 total yards, it has now passed fellow SOCON member UTC for the number one spot for total defense in FCS.

Running up an impressive rushing total of 350 yards, Wofford moved into the #3 spot in rushing in FCS. Wofford’s leading rusher was Lorenzo Long who finished with 156 yards on 18 carries for an impressive 8.2 average.  He added 2 TDs as well.

Wofford began the game with a solid 79 yard drive of 12 plays which took nearly 6 minutes. After a three and out by ETSU, Wofford did it again for 60 yards in 13 plays and it took almost another 6 minutes off the clock. The TD came on a 4th and goal from the 4.  That was one of four, fourth down conversions by Wofford on the day.  They also scored on a 13 yard scamper on another 4th down later.

By the end of the 1st quarter ETSU was still on its second possession, and they had to punt that one away as well. That is how the day went for ETSU.  Wofford totaled nearly 40 minutes of possession in the game.  In the second quarter the ETSU defense stiffened up a bit and the teams traded a few punts to leave it at 14-0 in Wofford’s favor at the half.

The third quarter saw Wofford score on its first possession after holding ETSU to a 3 and out. After trading a few punts, the Terriers again scored on a 60 yard drive at the beginning of the 4th to make it 28-0.  They tacked on a FG late in the 4th for a 31-0 victory.

Bucs QB Austin Herink was held to just 80 yards going 14-22. The Wofford defense registered 3 sacks on the day.  The Wofford defense held ETSU to a minus 7 on the ground, sunken greatly by the sack yardage.  Overall, the Terriers defense recorded 9 tackles for loss against the Bucs.

The only blemish for Wofford’s numbers was a disappointing 3rd down conversion record of 3-15. But with 21 1st downs they really didn’t need them.  The Terriers also did not need any passing yards to get the job done finishing with just 14 yards through the air on the day.

It was a fairly mistake free and clean game for both teams with no turnovers and a mere 4 penalties called in the entire game.  On special teams, Wofford got a 34 yard field goal and missed a 45 yarder.

ETSU gets no break as they face the #2 FCS defense of Chattanooga next week at home. Wofford will travel to Samford to see if they can contain Samford’s aerial attack as well as UTC did last week.

# 6 Chattanooga 41  #22 Samford 21 (box score)

Last September, UTC dimmed Samford’s conference championship hopes 31-21. They did it again in an even more convincing manner and put Samford in the hole for the conference title.  Mocs QB Alejandro Bennifield delivered a great effort going 19/34 for 236 yards and 2 TDs.  But the star for the Mocs, at least in the second half, was running back Derrick Craine who ran for 222 yards for a scorching 9.7 average and 2 TDs.  Although Samford had some success through the air, the Bulldog’s anemic running game was held to a dismal 46 yards by the stout Mocs defense.

The game started out with the foes trading punts or turnovers for most of the 1st quarter except for a UTC TD which came after a 5 play 91 yard drive which nearly ended in disaster for the Mocs. After Bennifield connected with his receiver, and on his way to the goal after a 70 yard jaunt, Samford forced a fumble.  Luckily for UTC they fell on it in the end zone for the first score.

At the beginning of the second quarter a Samford fumble at midfield gave the Mocs great field position which they capitalized on with a 51 yard, 8 play drive for the second score. After trading more punts, both teams would then trade scores, with Samford finally getting a sustained drive of 85 yards in 9 plays to cut the score to 21-7 prior to half.

After forcing a three and out to start the second half, Samford had excellent field position at the UTC 48 after a great punt return. Two plays later Bulldog QB Devlin Hodges connected for a long pass and a near TD only to have UTC force a fumble of its own and get a touchback out of it.  That about sums up Samford’s outing for the day.  They suffered 1 interception and 2 fumbles in the game.  Against a dominating Chattanooga defense, this was fatal.  To be fair, the UTC secondary did have something to do with those turnovers.  Even so, Hodges had fairly impressive numbers going 33/53 and 343 yards, but couldn’t piece it together to put points on the board.  He also didn’t have enough time with UTC holding the ball for an enviable 39+ minutes.   And when he did have it, Hodges had to dodge Preseason All American Keionta Davis who recorded 3 sacks on the day.  UTC would get to the Samford QB 5 times in all.

Samford did score on their next possession and again in the fourth, but UTC would match them each time and tack on a couple FGs as well. As well as Bennifield played, the second half could have been called the Derrick Craine show.  Samford had no answer for the elusive Mocs running back who tallied nearly 200 yards in the second half alone.  It was his career high and third highest in school history.  That is how you play conference games.

As mentioned, it was a bit of a sloppy game by both teams. In addition to the 2 turnovers, UTC had 8 penalties for 79 yards with one of those keeping a Samford drive alive.  Samford turned it over three times.  Also, UTC again had poor numbers on 3rd downs making only 6 of 18 attempts, but they got all the yardage they needed racking up 518 in total.  But they were also 2 of 2 on 4th downs making the first one on a 4th and 4, fake punt, direct snap to Craine at their own 39.  He picked up 32 yards.  The other one they got on a 4-1 at the Samford 35.  Craine ran that one as well…for 35 yards and a score.

Now at 4-0 and tied with the Citadel at 2-0 in conference, UTC is in the driver’s seat having knocked off one of the best teams able to threaten its chance at another conference championship.   They travel to Johnson City next week in what will probably be a one sided affair at ETSU.  Samford, now 2-1 and 0-1 in the SOCON, has to get up, dust itself off and face a disciplined Wofford team at home next week.

VMI 23   Bucknell 17 (3OT) (box score)

VMI had not won two consecutive road games since 1982. Wow!  I was a cadet back then.  It took 3 overtimes to do it, but they pulled out their second consecutive road win of the year, this time against Bucknell.  And in what can only be viewed as a bizarre ending, the first 2 OTs were completely scoreless.

VMI looked like they took control early. To open the game, they held the Bison to a couple first downs and forced a punt.  The Keydets then marched 88 yards in 8 plays.  This included 4 runs by VMI’s leading running back, Daz Palmer, who ran for 27 yards including a 9 yard TD run on the drive.  It also included 4 passes by their solid QB, Al Cobb, who passed for 61 yards.  Cobb also became VMI’s leading career passer on this drive.  VMI didn’t convert and the score was 6-0.

After this first score, the two teams first traded interceptions, then missed field goals. Bucknell struck next at the beginning of the second on an 8 play, 69 yard drive to make it 7-6.   On the very next drive Cobb threw his second interception on a long ball deep in Bucknell territory and it looked as though he was again infected with the turnover bug.  He had held them check so far this year with none coming into this game.  But neither team could produce much except punts for the rest of the half and the score remained 7-6 at the break.

Bucknell held VMI on their opening drive of the second half and then drove 70 yards in 10 plays to go up 14-6. VMI answered right back with an 8 play 64 yard drive.  They also got back even at 14 with a two point conversion.

On the next drive Bucknell made an impressive 11 play 67 yard effort but VMI stopped them on a 4th and 2 at the VMI 6 yard line to get the ball back. Bucknell held VMI in turn and went on another drive at the start of the 4th quarter, this time ending with a 22 yard FG to make it 17-14 Bucknell.

With 8:28 to go VMI began what they hoped was a game winning scoring drive. The Keydets moved the ball well, but Bucknell snapped up yet another Cobb interception at their own 20.  But the VMI defense stepped up and forced a 3 and out.

With 5:44 to go VMI tried it again. They drove 59 yards in 15 plays only to be stopped at the Bucknell 7.  They did kick a 25 yard FG to even things at 17.  Bucknell threatened on their final drive with less than a minute to go, but the game headed into OT.

VMI won the toss and obviously elected to go on defense. Bucknell made it to the 5 but decided to go for it on 4th and 2 only to be stuffed by the VMI defense.  Only needing a field goal to win it, VMI required ball security and a few yards to seal it.  Oh yeah, and a good kick as well.  They made it to the Bucknell 5 only have their FG attempt blocked.

In the next OT VMI only got to the 21 and missed the 38 yard attempt wide left. Wow.  Now Bucknell only needed a FG to win.  Enter VMI’s defense.  They held the Bison to 0 yards and the 42 yard attempt missed as well.  I am not sure I have ever heard of two scoreless OT periods before.

Now in the 3rd OT, the VMI defense stepped up again with an interception on Bucknell’s first play. Not taking any chances this time with an iffy field goal attempt, the Keydets ran 5 times.  The last run was by Daz Palmer for 12 yards and the win.

It is easy to look at Cobb and Palmer as the VMI saviors, but the real heroes appear to be the Keydet defense. Specifically linebackers Cratsenberg and Francis who combined for 34 tackles between them, including 6 tackles for loss.

Cobb did finish 34/52 and 285 yards, and as mentioned, the all time leading career passer at VMI. His three interceptions could have been costly, but VMI’s defense did not let Bucknell convert any into scores.  VMI ended with 443 total yards to Bucknell’s 403.

It will definitely be remembered by the VMI faithful as one for the history books. And it could very well give the Keydets some much needed confidence as they head into conference play.  They open with Mercer at home next week.

Coastal Carolina 41   Furman 21 (box score)

The good news for Furman is that they scored more points in this game than in any so far this year. They also outgained CCU and they held a hefty advantage in TOP.  Their defense was actually pretty good as well.  The bad news is their special teams broke down on multiple levels and led to at least 3 Coastal scores.  Ouch.  It’s hard to recover mentally from that.

Coastal took the opening kickoff down to the Furman 35 to give them the short field and an eventual score to go up less than 2 minutes into the game. After a short drive Furman had to punt, but they held CCU as well. Furman’s next drive fared no better and they had to punt again.  This time the Chanticleers drove 77 yards in 13 plays but were forced to settle for a FG.  Score one for the Furman D.

After a decent kickoff return Furman’s offense got some traction and made it to the CCU 25 yard line. But they were held and they had to settle for a FG attempt.  But CCU blocked it, scooped it, and scampered 60 yards for a score to make it 17-0 mid way through the 2nd quarter.

As if this was not enough, after Coastal kicked off, Furman ran two plays deep in their territory and fumbled it. But CCU got nowhere and they had to settle for a field goal again to make it 20-0.  Score another one for the Furman D.

After CCU’s defense forced a 3 and out, Furman punted and suffered an 80 yard punt return for another score to make it 27-0 toward the end of the 2nd quarter.

Furman did engineer a ten play, 72 yard scoring drive to make it 27-7 at the half, but Furman would have to dig deep to come back from such a poor half time showing.

To their credit, Furman did come out in the third ready to play. They drove their opening possession 7 plays and 65 yards for a TD to close the gap to 27-14.  CCU answered right back to keep it a 20 point lead at 34-14.

The next 4 possessions for Furman were disasters; one punt and 3 interceptions. CCU moved the ball each drive, but got no more offensive scores.  But they did return one of the three interceptions for a TD to make it 41-14. Furman scored late on a 65 yard drive to make 41-21.

Furman’s senior QB Reese Hannon started after P.J. Blazejowski left the game at UTC last week with an injury. Hannon went 26/45 for 305 yards with 3 interceptions and 2 TDs.  Furman ended up with a mediocre 103 yards rushing.  Furman outgained the Chanticleers, who had 253 on the ground and only 130 in the air.  But who need yards when your defense and special teams can score 21.

This was a disappointing finish to Furman’s brutal September schedule. They may get a break next week at home with Kennesaw State.

Power Rankings:

1) Chattanooga

2) The Citadel

3) Wofford

4) Samford

5) VMI

6) Mercer

7) Western Carolina

8) Furman



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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