SOCON: Week 5 Preview

The Southern Conference cranks up a full slate of conference play with 4 games scheduled this week. Furman plays Kennesaw St from the Big South in the lone out of conference game.  The Paladins are looking for their first win after a cruel September schedule left them 0-4.  One of the biggest games is Wofford at Samford where the Bulldogs hope to bounce back in the conference title run after being handled last week by Chattanooga. (SOCON Weekly Notes)

#4 Chattanooga at ETSU 12PM (SDN Video) (UTC Game Notes)

After rolling Samford last week the Mocs of Chattanooga hope to continue their winning ways as they travel to Johnson City, TN to face the Bucs of ETSU. Chattanooga has been proficient on both sides of the ball putting up 436 yards a game and holding opponents to just 220 yards.  After winning their opening two games in upsets against Kennesaw St and Western Carolina, ETSU got thumped by Wofford last week by a disappointing 31-0 score.  It will only get worse for the Bucs against the UTC defense.

The Mocs QB, Alejandro Bennifield has gone 49/74 for 796 yards with 3 interceptions and 11 TDS. He has rushed for 145 on the year as well.  Chattanooga running back Derrick Craine is averaging 114 yards a game and just came off a huge, career high, 222 yard performance in last week’s game against Samford.  And not to be forgotten, the Mocs defense, # 2 in FCS, has allowed only 35 points in 4 games.  The Mocs Keionta Davis and Vantrel McMillan are leading the SOCON in sacks with 5 and 4 respectively.

ETSU is averaging only 290 yards a game including 101 on the ground. Bucs QB Austin Herink has gone 56/85 for 563 yards in 3 games with no interceptions and 3 TDS.  The Bucs offense moved the ball fairly well against their first two opponents, but against a pretty good Wofford defense last week they were shut down and gained a mere 76 total yards.  It will be a long day again for the ETSU offense against a ferocious Mocs defense which is holding opponents to a scary 15% third down conversion rate.

The last time these teams met in 2003, ETSU put a hurt on the Mocs 68-7. Look for the Mocs to return the favor.  Chattanooga will win by as much as they want.

Mercer at VMI  1:30PM (ESPN3)  (Mercer Game Notes) (VMI Game Notes)

VMI did something last week that they haven’t done since Reagan was president. They won back to back road games.  It is week 5 and this is also their first home game.  The Mercer Bears are coming to town to avenge a 28-21 loss to VMI last year in Macon.  So far this year Mercer has lost a close one against The Citadel, didn’t get blown out at Ga Tech, and did better than the score indicated against Tenn Tech.  VMI has played respectable against Akron, and squeaked by both Morehead and Bucknell on the road.  Now back in the friendly confines of Foster Stadium in Lexington, VMI is setting its sights on a third consecutive victory.

VMI’s Jr QB Al Cobb is 76/121, for 691 yards, 3 interceptions (all coming this past week) with 4 TDs. VMI has been running for 143 a game with Daz Palmer leading the way with 63 yards a game.  VMI is converting only 39% of their 3rd downs and has made only 1 of 6 on 4th down tries.  Cobb is dangerous and his O line has protected him allowing only about 1 sack a game.  His interceptions are down from last year, but as the last game showed, he can get sloppy.

The Mercer defense has been fairly effective with the Bears holding opponents to 347 yards a game including only 133 through the air, but with both The Citadel and Ga Tech games in those averages, that is skewed a little bit. They did hold Tenn Tech to 249 yards passing which was bit below their average.  Mercer has held opponents to 215 yards on the ground, but again that included some fairly run heavy offenses.  The Bears are allowing 50% on third down conversions, which could be a bit better.

On offense Mercer is led by Sr QB John Russ who has gone 62/98 for 656 yards in 3 games. He has only 1 interception and 3 TDs.  Overall, Mercer produces 371 yards a game with 149 on the ground.  Their leading rusher is Payton Usher who is gaining 56 a game.  But Usher is quite dangerous.  He put up 89 at The Citadel on 10 tries.  Mercer has a respectable 45% 3rd down conversion rate.

Last week VMI’s defense had a standout game. Keydet linebacker Ryan Francis had a career high 16 tackles along with 2 sacks, four tackles for loss, and a pass break up.  His efforts gained him SOCON Defensive Player of the Week.  But as good as last week’s performance was, VMI does have issues on defense giving up 449 yards a game including 300 through the air.  However, they are still coming up with plays when they need them though, holding opponent to a 34% 3rd down conversion rate and 37% on 4th downs.

On special teams, the Keydets are averaging 35 yards a punt with Mercer at 39. On  kickoffs, VMI is gaining 22 each time to Mercer’s 20.  They are both in the plus column on turnovers.  The one edge VMI has is in penalties.  The Keydets are disciplined averaging just 39 yards a game.  Mercer has been called for about 73 yards each game.  Mercer has an edge on field goals making 6/7 with a long of 49.  VMI has gone a dismal 3-11 with a long of 37 with 2 blocked.

Mercer will be prepared for this game and probably have some good success against the VMI defense. The Keydets will move the ball with Cobb throwing it around, but be unable to string together enough scoring drives.  VMI will also have to deal with the emotions of last week’s 3 OT win.  Look for Mercer to win by at least 2 TDs.

Kennesaw State at Furman 3PM (ESPN3)

I hate to say that there is such a thing as a must win game, but it might be appropriate in this case. Furman played an ambitious schedule in September and paid the price going 0-4.  They need a win…BAD.  Kennesaw, in its second season of football, is looking for a banner win against a marquis program.

Furman’s offense has been poor averaging just 297 yards a game and putting up a measly 15.5 points a game. Granted they faced with good teams and stout defenses, but Furman needs a breakout game to get out of its rut.  Kennesaw may be the answer.  Although the Owls have held their opponents to just 315 yards a game, this has come against ETSU, Point, and Duquesne.   And Furman has had some success here and there.  They have had sustained scoring drives against all their opponents, but they are inconsistent.  They have a depressing 32% 3rd down conversion rate.  Although PJ Blazejowski started the first two games at QB, Reese Hannon has played the last game and a half.  Last week he went 26/45 for 305 yards with 3 interceptions and 2 TDs. It will again be interesting to see if Blazejowski returns or Hannon continues to start.

Furman’s strength has been in its defense. The Paladins have held their 4 good opponents to an average of 332 yards a game including 143 through the air and 189 on the ground.  But they are allowing 42% on 3rd down conversions and have not been effective in the red zone allowing opponents to score every time.  Kennesaw has been racking up 451 yards a game with 242 on the ground, but again, the opposition was somewhat weak.

Although Furman had been solid on special teams, it failed them utterly last week at Coastal. They gave up long returns including a punt return for a TD.  They also had a FG blocked and returned for a score.  Take away their surprisingly bad special teams play and they would have been in it.

They also had a problem with turnovers this past week losing 4. They are last in the conference, by a good bit, in turnover margin.  But they have a bright spot in that they are limiting their penalties at 39 yards a game, so they got that going for them.

At this point, Kennesaw may be just what the doctor ordered for what ails Furman. It may be a gut check for them, but Furman should be able to move the ball well and put some points on the board.  If their defense continues to play as they have, they should be able to limit Kennesaw’s yardage as well.  Look for Furman to recover from its doldrums and win big.

Wofford at Samford 3PM (ESPN3) (Wofford Game Notes) (Samford Game Notes)

Wofford has had a fairly quiet schedule so far. They handled a mediocre Tenn Tech on the road, had a respectable outing at Ole Miss, and handled JC Smith and ETSU as they should have.  In their first true test of the year they face a Samford team bent on recovering some prestige after getting manhandled by Chattanooga.

Wofford has a more than competent running game averaging 315 yards a game which is good enough for #3 in FCS. Tack on 70 yards through the air each game to keep their opponents honest, and they are gaining 385 a game.  They are making over 47% of their 3rd downs and 73% of their 4th downs.  If there is any issue, it is getting going each game.  A lot of their points, twice as many, have come in the second half.  They have used a couple QBs this year with Brad Butler the primary one, but he was injured in the ETSU game and it looks like Brandon Goodson will start this week so expect some issues for their offense.  Their leading rusher is has been Lorenzo Long with 106 yards a game, but they are deep with runners.  They have done a pretty good job not dropping the ball, losing only 2 funbles in 4 games.

Samford’s defense has been average at best. They gave up huge chunks to Central Arkansas late, but they held on to win anyway.  Against UTC they also gave up ridiculous amounts on the ground.  They are giving up an average of 449 total yards with 187 on the ground each game.  Take out the Mars Hill game and they are giving up an average of 550 total yards a game between UCA and UTC.  Granted they are two top 25 teams, but this stands out as a concern.

While Samford’s defense may have issues, their offense is pretty potent, or at least their passing is. They are averaging 406 yards a game with 326 in the air.  But their ground game is seriously lacking averaging just 81 a game.  Again, take out the Mars Hill game and they drop to just 21 yards…total…in 2 games.  People sometimes criticize option teams for having no passing game.  For a passing team, I think this is worse having no running game.  You can’t normally win if you run for 10.5 yards a game.  But Samford has been effective with their QB Devlin Hodges going 98/140 with only 2 interceptions and 11 TDs. However, if Samford hopes to have a descent season, they have got to step it up on the ground.

The Terrier defense looks pretty formidable on paper. They are now ranked 1st in FCS for total defense giving up a mere 213 yards per game.  Take out the JC Smith game and this jumps to 252 yards.  Still pretty good considering they had Ole Miss in there.  And for the record they allowed Ole Miss 416 yards, but that was also with a TOP advantage of 11 minutes for the Terriers so they gave it up in huge chunks.  They did hold Tenn Tech to only 257 yards.  The best defense that Wofford has is probably their ball hogging strategy.  They hold the ball about 34 minutes a game.  The other team can’t score if they don’t have the ball.

On special teams Wofford punters are averaging about 48 yards per kick which is not bad to say the least. Samford is getting about 44 yards a kick. Wofford has gone 4 for 7 on field goals and Samford has yet to try one.  On kick returns Wofford has had a poor showing with only 16 yards on kickoffs and 4 yards on punt returns.  Samford has done a bit better at 22 and 11 yards each.

Wofford’s defense will surely be tested by Samford’s prolific passing attack. That is, if Samford can get time enough to execute it.  Likewise, Samford will be sorely tested to stop Wofford’s grinding running game.  All things considered Samford should be able to keep Wofford’s secondary on its heels and prevail at home by at least 10.

#9 The Citadel at W. Carolina 3:30PM (ESPN3) (The Citadel Game Notes) (WCU Game Notes)

With each of these teams enjoying a week off, they should both be itching and prepared to notch a SOCON victory this week. The Citadel has been enjoying being 2-0 in the SOCON to start the season, while WCU emotions have gone from ecstasy in thumping Gardner-Webb, to misery in getting beat by ETSU.  The Citadel is probably hoping for not just a victory, but one that does not entail a fourth quarter comeback, which has become their trademark in the first three games.

The Citadel has had rough going in their first three games in executing their option attack. Averaging just 291 yards a game, they are well off their 2015 averages.  With their veteran QB Dominique Allen finally back in action most of the last game, and a week off to catch up on reps which he missed in fall camp due to an injury, he may finally be back in form for this game.  And he is listed as the starter for the first time this year.  Fullback Tyler Renew fell off a bit at Gardner-Webb as they were able to shut him down, and he now averages 85 yards a game.  Even if they have had problems, The Bulldogs lead the SOCON in 3rd down conversions with a 49% success rate, and have accomplished the scoring drives when needed.

WCU has had problems on defense allowing 506 yards a game including 250 on the ground. This places them last in the SOCON in both categories.  Their defense is also allowing 3rd down conversions at a 59% rate.  To make matters worse, the Cats only hold the ball for 26 minutes a game.

But while the Catamount defense may have problems, their offense has been impressive. They are averaging 314 yards a game through the air and 170 on the ground.  Western’s red shirt freshman QB Tyrie Adams leads the SOCON in passing per game.  He has gone 74/106 with 3 interceptions and 7 TDs.  Their impressive running back Detrez Newsome averages 77 yards a game and leads the conference in scoring with 7 TDs.  However, they will face an aggressive defense in the Bulldogs.

The Citadel’s defense is holding opponents to 339 yards a game including 169 both through the air and on the ground.   The Bulldogs are limiting 3rd down conversions to just 35% and held both 4th down attempts made against them.  They are also enjoying a +1.33 turnover margin per game.  The one blemish is that they have allowed all 7 red zone attempts to score against them, although they have limited them to just 4 TDs.  Western’s passing attack will be the stiffest test yet for the Bulldogs secondary led by standout CB Dee Delaney who has recorded 2 interceptions in 3 games.  The Bulldog defense is also very stingy in the 4th quarter.  The have only allowed 7 total points in 3 games and an average of 41 yards per game in the final period.

Special teams have been a bright spot for The Citadel which leads the SOCON in both kickoff and punt return yardage including a punt return for a TD. The Dogs have gone 2/4 on field goals. Western is 2/3.  The Citadel is averaging 45 yards a game in penalties while WCU has the largest SOCON total with 74 yards a game.

The game will come down to how effective the Citadel’s defense is in stopping WCU’s passing game. If it can limit it, the Bulldogs can simply grind the yardage and come out on top.  The Citadel should go to 4-0 with a win of at least 2 scores.

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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