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SOCON: Week 6 Review and Power Rankings

It was another exciting week on the gridiron in the Southern Conference and the race for the crown became a little bit clearer. Wofford remains undefeated with a victory over Western Carolina in OT. They remain atop the standings now with WCU, Samford, and Furman all nipping at their heels. Samford easily handled VMI. Chattanooga loss to Furman and The Citadel’s loss to Mercer push both the Mocs and the Bulldogs down into the third tier for now, along with Mercer at 2 conference losses each. ETSU got as nice home victory in an out of conference game over Robert Morris.

I am happy to announce that this week we will have the insightful analysis of AGS’s Young Terrier as he contributes the reviews for the Wofford/WCU and Furman/UTC games.

I am going to apologize for not having the Samford/VMI and ETSU/Robert Morris game summaries up.  I have a personal crisis to attend and will try and get something up in the next couple days.  Suffice it to say that Samford took care of business and even ran quite a bit (for them), which was good news for the Bulldog faithful.  ETSU also took care of business and had a better day on defense as they took Robert Morris fairly easily.


#6Wofford 35   #20WCU 28 OT (box score)

The SOCON game of the week lived up to its hype as the game couldn’t be settled in regulation. The Western Carolina Catamounts came to Gibbs Stadium with their high-octane offense to face the grinding defense of the Wofford Terriers. The key to this game was Wofford’s ability to hold onto the football and minimize mistakes. After winning the turnover battle 3-1, possessing the ball for 36 minutes and rushing for 393 yards, they were successful.

The Catamounts received the ball first and quickly moved 27 yards up the field before a Tyrie Adams pass was batted and intercepted by linebacker Colton Clemons. The Terriers were able to grind the ball for 39 yards on 9 plays before stalling inside the 5 and settling for a Luke Carter field goal, putting them ahead 3-0. The Catamounts answered fast with Adams finding Jordan Mathis for a 17 yard touchdown, capping a 5-play, 77 yard drive in less than two minutes, bringing the score 7-3. The two teams exchanged punts for their next two possessions. Then, Wofford’s Blake Morgan took a late pitch into the end zone to put the Terriers up 10-7. Momentum was squarely in the Terrier’s corner as they forced a three and out, but it was soon sucked away as Western Carolina’s Marvin Tillman forced and recovered a fumble on a Joe Newman option-pitch at the 10 yard line. Provided a short field, Tyrie Adams scored 2 plays later on a 7-yard run. Momentum appeared to be with the Catamount as a few Wofford penalties forced the Terriers to punt on their next possession, but George Gbesee intercepted an underthrown Adams pass, giving Wofford the ball at midfield with less than 45 seconds remaining. Senior Quarterback Brandon Goodson showed his experience and put the Terriers in scoring position, however Wofford penalties kept them out of the end zone. The Terriers settled for a field goal, heading into the locker room down 14-13.

The Terriers received the second half kickoff and drove the ball inside the redzone, but not content with field goals, turned the ball over on downs. Western Carolina then methodically drove down field and scored on 38 yard touchdown pass from Tyrie Adams to Terryon Robinson, pushing the lead to 21-13. Not to be dismayed, the Wofford offense answered the bell, driving 72 yards for the tying touchdown and two point conversion. Fullback Andre Stoddard finished the day with 157 yards on 21 carries, 47 of which came on that drive.

As the fourth quarter began, Western Carolina was once again able to drive down field, but had to settle for a 40 yard field goal that their kicker Will Horton missed. Assuming possession with the football and momentum, Wofford pounded the Catamounts with their fullback. On the ensuing 13 play, 77-yard drive, fullbacks Andre Stoddard and Chase Nelson combined for 39 yards on 9 carries. Brandon Goodson capped off the drive with a clutch 4 yard run on third and goal, putting the Terriers up 28-21 with 7:30 remaining in regulation.

But 7:30 was plenty of time for the Western Carolina offense to work with, tying the game at 28 on a 1-yard Donnavan Spencer run. On that drive, the Catamounts drove 75 yards in 11 plays and converted three third downs, two of which were longer than 11 yards to gain. With three minutes left to play, the Terriers assumed possession of the football at their own 20 and drove all the way to the Western Carolina 35, before poor clock management had the Terriers heave a Hail Mary to end regulation.

Western Carolina won the toss in overtime and chose play defense first. Wofford scored quickly, going the 25 yard distance on two plays, booming in on a Stoddard run, putting the Terriers ahead 35-28. On the first down of overtime, Tyrie Adams was tackled for a loss of 9, pinning the Catamounts back to a second and 19 from the 34. On second down he made up for the lost yards, rushing for 11, but on third down he threw an interception in the endzone, putting an end to the best game of the week in the Socon.

Defensively, this was one of the best possible outcomes for the Terriers. Though they surrendered 28 points and over 350 yards of offense, that was well below the Catamounts average of over 500 yards per game. The Terriers contained the tremendously talented Detrez Newsome, holding him to 69 yards rushing on 13 carriers. Overall, the Terriers held the Catamounts (relatively) in check, forced turnovers and limited their points per play to similar numbers as FBS Hawaii. Against a high octane offense such as Western Carolina, you can’t ask for much more than to contain it.

The defensive effort would not have been nearly as successful had the offense not executed at a high level. Having a formidable offensive attack allowed Wofford to limit the amount of possessions Western can have, and thus limited their scoring ability. Going into this game, Western possessed the ball about 66 times and scored on roughly half of those possessions. If you possess the ball 13 times a game and average a score on half of your possessions, you’ll score 7 times for a range of 21-49 points. Wofford’s defense did a phenomenal job of limiting the Catamounts’ scoring to 4 of 11 possessions. Wofford played a strong offensive game, scoring on 6 of their 12 possessions and grinding clock. Without the success of Wofford’s offense to limit possessions, the defense would not have been able to keep the game in reach.

On special teams, Wofford won the field position battle as well, pinning Western Carolina deep inside their 20 all day, while Wofford regularly started possessions between the 35s. Both teams have a lot to work on in the coming weeks, as the teams combined for 20 penalties and over 200 yards and multiple dropped passes.

Western Carolina may have some problems on defense, as Wofford hadn’t gained over 400 yards against a Socon opponent since 2015. Luckily, their next draw is conference relative-newcomer ETSU. ETSU has the passing ability to stay competitive in every game, but their run game is sub-par (averaging well under-100 yards per game) and the only time they saw an offense comparable to Western Carolina’s was defending national champion James Madison (a 52-10 route by the Dukes). Western Carolina should be favored, but if they catch themselves snoozing, they could be another victim to the most-quietly-dangerous team in the SoCon.

Things don’t get much easier for Wofford. Though the Terriers head to Charleston for a night game against a Citadel team that looks ailing, the Bulldogs will be a team most opportune to shut down Mike Ayers’s option attack. The teams played twice last year and split each outing, with both meetings going down to the wire. If Wofford continues its solid defensive play and limits mistakes, the Terriers could be 6-0 for the first time since going division one 20 years ago. If the Terriers get overconfident reading their own press, however, they could lose their lead in the Socon in the blink of an eye


Furman 41 Chattanooga 17   (box score)

The Furman Paladins came into Finley Stadium looking to break the .500 mark for the first time this season, while the reeling Chattanooga Mocs were looking to get back on course after an abysmal 1-4 start. After the injury of veteran Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield and the 1-4 performance of Mississippi State transfer Nick Tiano, first year head coach burned the redshirt of Freshmen Cole Copeland. Combined with the Furman defense being relatively young and injured and Furman themselves having a high-scoring offense led by PJ Blazejowski,, this game had the ingredients to be an offensive thriller.

Unfortunately for the Mocs, it did not live up to expectations.

Furman received the ball first in the second half, driving 75 yards in 14 plays and 6:07, capped off with an 11 yard Touchdown pass to Logan McCarter from Blazejowski. Chattanooga answered strong, with Copeland’s inaugural drive as a college QB seeing him go 4-4 and 60 yards before the Chattanooga offense was stuffed for no gain on 3rd and 1 inside the 15. The Mocs had to settle for a field goal. Momentum shortly swung in the direction of the Mocs as the Grayson Atkins missed a 46 yard field goal for the Paladins on their next drive.

From there, Chattanooga took the lead with Copeland again going 4-4 and 60 yards but this time he capped the drive off with a 40 yard touchdown pass to Alphonso Stewart. For those of you at home, you read that correctly: Copeland completed his first 8 passes as a college QB for 120 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for a freshman.

Down 3 early in the second quarter, Furman didn’t panic and went back to their power run game, going 78 yards for an Antonio Wilcox score, taking the lead 14-10. On the next drive the young Chattanooga QB learned that you can’t win in the Socon without a semblance of a run game, going 0-2 and throwing an interception. From there Furman smelled blood and didn’t look back, going 4 plays and 32 yards for another Blazejowski touchdown pass, this time to Andy Schumpert, and a 10 point lead (the extra point failed). The next 3 drives saw both teams exchanging three and outs. Darius Moorehead then capped a 54 yard drive for the Paladins on a 12 yard touchdown run, for a 27 to 10 halftime lead.

After the half, Chattanooga once again had to punt after five plays. Starting from their own 15 yard-line, Blazejowski threw another touchdown, this time a bomb from 57 yards out to Logan McCarter for a 34-10 lead. Feeling the pressure of being down multiple scores in the third quarter, Chattanooga called 6 straight pass plays with mixed-to-negative results, including a sack and another interception.

Tragedy then struck the Paladins as they missed a field goal on the following drive. The tragedy wasn’t with the points left on the field, but with Blazejowski going down with a knee injury. At the time of writing the exact severity of the injury is unknown, but hearsay suggests it’s relatively minor and we may see Blazejowski back soon.

Following the missed field goal, the Mocs were able to capitalize and scoring a touchdown to bring the score to a respectable 34-17. Backup QB Harris Roberts and the Furman offense were then able to grind the clock with a 7 minute drive that turned over on downs inside the Chattanooga 30. On the first play of the Moc’s next possession, Copeland threw another interception, this time a pick 6 to Dillion Vann, bringing the score to 41-17. Chattanooga was able to drive inside the Furman 30 yard-line, but threw another interception inside the endzone as time expired.

This game marked another win for the Paladins, bringing them to a respectable 3-3. Right now Furman has the second best scoring offense and the third best total defense, a point that’s probably undersold considering they’ve already played 2 ranked teams (Wofford, Elon) and an FBS team (NC State). Losing Blazejowski could be huge for the Paladins going forward, but they were already a young team with lots of injuries. Next week, they play a down VMI team, a team they should probably beat, Blazejowki or not.

The prognosis for the Chattanooga Mocs is not as positive. The Mocs had a total of 7 yards rushing. Though their QB threw for over 300 yards, many of those yards were under duress, and the consequences were four interceptions and three sacks. Though Copeland may be a rising star for the Mocs, if Chattanooga can’t run the ball and protect the QB it’s to no avail. If you’re looking to see why the Mocs are struggling this year, look no farther than their rush offense (less than 60 yards a game) and sacks allowed (a league low of 21) It looks to be a down year for the Mocs this year, but if they can make some adjustments on the offensive line and defense, the future will brighten up fast with young talent. Next week, the Mocs play Mercer a team with a strong rush defense, holding both Wofford and Citadel’s potent option attacks to below their season averages. The Bears have been known to let winnable games slip, so if Chattanooga can adjust their offensive line issues, they’ll be competitive.


Mercer 24   #21The Citadel 14   (box score)

The Citadel won most of the stat lines in the game Saturday, except three very important ones. Obviously the score, but two other stats which doomed the Dogs to go down to the Mercer Bears for the first time since Herbert Hoover was president. The first was turnovers. The Dogs fumbled it 6 times and lost 3. They also tossed an interception. Mercer lost the two fumbles they committed. Having lost the turnover battle, the Dogs also lost their usually envious time of possession margin. Mercer had the ball over 7 more minutes. You can’t win, especially if you run long grinding drives, if you don’t have the ball.

Mercer did a good job of taking away anything up the middle. They must have watched a lot the film from the Samford game. But I guess it sounds silly to say film in this digital age. Unless something changes for the Dogs, The Citadel’s future opponents are going to exploit their youthful offensive line and inexperienced B-Backs. They will settle for the pitch outside and the desperate passes that the Dogs were forced to execute as a result. It wasn’t that the Dogs were not successful.   Sometimes they were. But they were not nearly successful enough to pose a continuous threat. And with Mercer’s ball swatting ways, they were bound to make something happen.

Mercer received the opening kickoff and after a first down the Dogs forced a punt. The Dogs looked good initially gaining a first down in two plays, But on their third play the problems started for The Citadel as Dom Allen completed a pass to Raleigh Webb who fumbled near midfield. That sparked Mercer and they went on a 5 play, 48 yard drive for the first score of the game.

Both defenses settled in and the teams traded two punts each before The Citadel got the upper hand in field position and drove 52 yards in 9 plays to the Mercer 3 early in the second. Then disaster struck again as Mercer forced a fumble on a 1st and goal. After a short drive by the Bears and another punt, The Citadel again drove into Mercer territory and decided on a field goal attempt from 47 yards. It missed wide right.

Again, Mercer got sparked form this and made a good drive of 11 plays for 70 yards and a score.   With under 5 minutes to go in the half and down 14-0, The Citadel needed some momentum. After a first down run, the Dogs again went to the air for three incomplete passes. After punting it away, The Dogs Defense held the Bears to a three and out. The Citadel then looked as if they had it going again and drove into Mercer territory sparked by a 41 yard pass. After making one 4th down conversion, the Dogs found themselves soon facing another one after being sacked and punted it back to Mercer who ran out the clock to go into the break up 14-0.

After The Citadel offense opened the second half with a three and out, the Dogs finally got a break after Mercer fumbled near midfield. That turnover could have very well sparked a comeback by the Dogs. That is unless they didn’t fumble it yet again after driving down to the Mercer 20. After each team punted Mercer put together another long drive for a score to make it 21-0 with 3 minutes to go in the third quarter. After trading two more punts, The Citadel finally put together a drive, which they didn’t fumble, and scored to make it 21-7 with just over 13 minutes to go in the game. It was a quick drive of 1:43 and only 5 plays for 67 yards. That was fast by Bulldogs standards. But they needed fast scores.

After two more punts, The Citadel caught another break with Mercer fumbling it on their own 21. But the Mercer defense stood up and four plays later, the Dogs turned it over on downs. A 72 yard drive by the Bears ended with a field goal to make it 24-7 with just under 4 minutes to play. But the Dogs would not roll over yet. An 8 play 75 yard drive which took only 1:22 made it 24-14. What is interesting is that of those 8 plays, 7 were passing, and one rushing. Yes, Mercer was a bit stingy on defense against the rush. And the Dogs made it even more interesting with an on-side kick, which they recovered with 2:33 to go. After nearly losing a forced fumble on the first play, Mercer effectively finished it off with an interception the next play. After holding Mercer to a three and out, the Bulldogs made an effort to drive but ran out of time at the Mercer 35. Now at 1-2 in the conference, the Bulldogs probably wish they had one or two of those fumbles back. Overall the Dogs gained 381 yards to Mercers 311.

But Mercer did exactly what they needed to in order to win. They held the Bulldogs rushing game in check for most of the game and forced the Dogs to go to the air. They also won the turnover battle. The Dogs had only 201 rushing yards. They also had a season high 180 yards through the air. Bulldog QB Dom Allen went 14/31 with one interception. It is probably time to talk about the QB situation for the Bulldogs. For the first time this year Jordan Black did not play. The two QBs had been tag teaming it for most games. But the problem with that is neither one could get into a good game rhythm. This may very well have been an attempt to get that rhythm going. It obviously didn’t work. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod next week.

While Mercers defense can take the credit for the win via holding the Dogs running game in check and forcing a bunch of turnovers, their offense wasn’t too shabby either. The Bears QB Kaelan Riley went 12/23 for 111 yards. Not bad, but the Mercer running game kept them moving and chewing up clock. They totaled 200 yards on 50 attempts. Tee Mitchell had 88 and two TDs and Alex Lakes totaled 79. They were both elusive on many runs.

Penalties were not too much of a factor as Mercer had four for 41 yards and The Citadel only two for 19 yards. Both specials teams played fairly well.

For the Dogs, it does not get any easier with Wofford coming to Charleston next week. That will probably be the Dogs last gasp. A loss next week would not only doom any faint hope of repeating as SOCON Champs, but any hope at a playoff spot as well. The Dogs are pretty much in a win out situation, sans Clemson. Mercer, with two previous conference losses, is pretty much already in a win out scenario, sans Alabama. They face Chattanooga in Macon next week.


#22Samford 26 VMI 7   (box score)

 


ETSU 16   Robert Morris 3 (box score)

 


Power Rankings

  1. Wofford
  2. Western Carolina
  3. Samford
  4. Furman
  5. Mercer
  6. The Citadel
  7. ETSU
  8. Chattanooga
  9. VMI

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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