Week 6 in the Southern Conference may prove to be as disruptive as the previous week. In what is obviously the game of the week in the conference, and maybe in all of FCS, the Western Carolina Catamounts travel to Spartanburg to meet the Wofford Terriers in a pivotal conference game. The Citadel hosts the Mercer Bears in a key game both teams. Samford travels to Lexington Virginia to meet the VMI Keydets. The Furman Paladins take on the Chattanooga Mocs. And finally The Bucs of ETSU host Robert Morris.
Regardless of who wins in Spartanburg, both WCU and Wofford will still be sitting comfortably in the conference. If Mercer loses, they will be done. If The Citadel loses, they will most likely be in win out situation. Same goes for Furman. Chattanooga could all of a sudden come alive, but it is a steep road due to their personnel issues. ETSU could play spoiler, but they will not go the distance unblemished. Samford will not lose and be right there sitting at one loss. But it is the SOCON, and with half the conference games decided by a score or less already, anything is possible.
Since I am on the road, at the beach with my wife, I will be making more condensed summaries. Please check out the detailed stats at the links for the SOCON and team notes.
The Catamounts have been on a roll lately. Now at 4-1, 2-0, WCU is poised to take a huge step forward if they can knock off Wofford (4-0, 2-0), the preseason SOCON favorite. The winner will be the only remaining unbeaten team in conference play and in the early drivers seat for the conference title. The game will feature WCU’s steamrolling offense against Wofford’s stout defense. And Wofford’s grinding, time consuming option attack against the Catamounts rejuvenated, but largely untested, defense. WCU’s defense was tested against Samford’s prolific passing attack a couple weeks ago. They won that game, but they gave up 600+ yards. They obviously will not give up that many yards against Wofford’s option offense, but the question remains, can they get enough stops against a Wofford offense that has been historically competent, but a little uneven this year?
Turnovers are Wofford’s, or any option team’s, Achilles heel. This will be especially true against as potent an offense as WCU seems to have this year. If Wofford holds onto the ball and cashes in most of its long drives, it will probably be enough to win. On defense they need to merely get some stops. They will not stop WCU every time. WCU has too many potent weapons on offense. But if Wofford keeps the ball away from them, WCU’s offense can’t score. All that said, Wofford needs to play passable on special teams as well and not give WCU any short fields, if able.
On the flip side, if WCU can get Wofford into a hole and force them to pass more, something they can do, but obviously are not as proficient at, WCU can control the tempo. The Terriers do pass fairly well, and something that the they have always been good at is blending their passing game into their running scheme. If Western can get a few stops and rob Wofford of some potentially long drives, they will force their type of game on Wofford. Wofford has been proficient, but not dominating on defense. WCU needs to mix it up and make the Terriers defense earn it on every play. The Cats dual threat QB and outstanding running backs can make that happen.
This will be a close game. Both teams will be fighting hard for the conference lead. In the end, the nod goes to Wofford, if for nothing else: experience. They have a more veteran team and will handle the pressure better. Wofford takes it at home 28-24.
It was a tough loss last Saturday for The Citadel Bulldogs, 3-1, 1-1. Down 35-0 early in the second quarter was humbling for them. But they made a good show of it after that. They simply ran out of gas after driving deep into Samford territory on numerous occasions and coming up empty and eventually lost 35-14. The Mercer Bears, 2-3, 1-2, started slow last week, but had a blow out win over VMI in the end. Since joining the SOCON three years ago, Mercer has yet to beat the Bulldogs. They are 0-3 against the Dogs, but they lost those three games by a total of 5 points. Wow.
The Citadel got stuffed last week by a pretty determined Samford defense that had been maligned by many. Mercer’s defense is pretty decent. Last year they held the Dogs running game in check for most of the game. They may do even better this year. The Bulldogs offensive line has not been as dominant as it was. There are lots of freshman on it. But an additional difference from last year is a freshman stater, versus an All American, at the critical B-Back position. There is still a bit of work in progress as a result. The dual QB strategy has also been in use for many games so far this year for the Dogs. Both QBs have had ups and downs. Not sure if a real controversy is occurring or not. But both are good players and supportive teammates so even if there is a competition, no big deal. If Mercer can slow the Dogs running game down and get just a few stops, they will be sitting pretty considering their offensive capabilities.
Mercer seems to have found a pretty good freshman QB. They have some fairly decent receivers and running backs as well. There is little doubt that Mercer will try to emulate Samford’s magic last week by tossing some deep balls and trying to put the Bulldogs in a hole quickly. Whether there are actual cracks in the Dogs defense or last week was just a one-off, horrendous performance, is yet to be seen.
Mercer went toe to toe with Wofford and held up well against Auburn by mainly forcing turnovers. When you couple the Bears abilities with a burning desire to finally beat the Bulldogs, especially considering the Bulldogs may be down, Mercer will probably win this. Look for a close victory by the Bears, 27-24.
Samford has one of the most potent offenses in FCS. VMI has a pretty bad defense overall. VMI also has a really bad offense and Samford has a defense that appears to be coming alive. Result: it may get really ugly in Lexington this week.
I see Samford taking this opportunity to really try and improve it running game. VMI does have some pretty good linebackers and it will be a good test for Samford to see if they can sustain any sort of running game. The Samford coach would be foolish to not try and run a bit more this game. If it sounds like this game will be a scrimmage, it will. Samford is that good and VMI is that bad. Samford wins easily 52-10.
This game should have been a big one with a lot at stake in regard to the SOCON race. It might still have an impact if Chattanooga wins. Furman, 2-3, 1-1, is two scores from being 4-1 with tight losses to ranked Wofford and Elon. They seem to be coming together nicely under first year head coach Clay Hendrix. That is good news for the Paladin faithful who have been lost in the wilderness for the last few years.
On the flip side, Chattanooga, 1-4. 1-1, has probably fallen faster than any FCS ranked team from last year. Also under a new head coach, Tom Arth, the Mocs faithful, may not be nearly as faithful if the slide continues. The big problem for the Mocs is on offense. They scored 63 against VMI, but most of those were short field gifts from the Keydets. Take away that game and they have scored 13, 10, 7, and 7 points in each of their other games. This is not last year’s Chattanooga team for sure. To top it off, they lost their starting QB in camp to academics, then they got him back last week, then they lost him on their first drive last week. Then they lost their previous starter as well later in the same game. They are down to a freshman walk-on as QB or maybe pulling a red shirt off another. The extent of the injuries to the other two veteran QBs is still TBD. They have also been down from injuries or other suspension issues on defense. Yes, the Mocs have issues. It may be a couple years until they return to form. What they did not need this week was a seemingly hot Furman team coming to town seeking some redemption after having dropped their previous five against the Mocs.
Furman has got it going on offense apparently. Their defense is a little uneven and young, but they may look real good against a decimated Mocs offense this week. In a battle of new first year coaches, Furman takes it comfortably, 31-14.
The ETSU Bucs, 2-3, 1-2, are not rolling over as a still relatively new team. They scored a good OT win over Mercer, and played The Citadel and Furman close for a good portion of those games. They get better and better every game. You can see the confidence of the young Bucs rising every week. Maybe it is their new stadium. They have a decent QB who has a nice touch when needed. Their defense has not been stellar, but not bad at times. They fought hard last week against Furman in what turned out to be a track meet of sorts. They scored the most points they have all year last week, 35. Look for them to continue with that offensive momentum this week as they knock off Robert Morris, 28-17.