SOCON: Week 9 Preview

Probably the biggest game this week in the Southern Conference will be between Mercer and Wofford in Spartanburg. They are both 4-3 and on the playoff bubble. Furman travels to VMI to see if they can get win #2. Chattanooga travels to WCU hoping to continue its winning ways. The Citadel faces a struggling ETSU in Charleston. The Samford Bulldogs travel to Starkville, Mississippi to face the SEC Bulldogs of Miss St. (SOCON weekly notes)

Mercer at Wofford  1:30PM (ESPN3) (Mercer game notes) (Wofford game notes)

The Mercer Bears got a little lax last week late in the game against a scrappy Austin Peay. They can’t do that this week. Wofford is coming off an emotional loss in OT and they will be pressing to get back on track.

Mercer has a fairly balanced offense with 175 a game on the ground and 220 through the air. They are ball hungry too. Mercer is at +7 in turnover margin. John Russ, Mercer’s Sr QB, is pretty good. For the year he is 138/225 with 11 TDs and only 4 interceptions. He can throw the deep ball fairly well.  They have good running backs which can burn you as well.

Mercer will be challenged by the Wofford Terrier’s defense. Somewhat of an enigma until last week, the Terriers bared their teeth holding The Citadel to its lowest rushing total all year. Wofford is #1 in rushing defense in FCS and #2 in total defense. They aren’t allowing many first downs and are first in the SOCON giving up only 14 a game. But their best defense is obviously their ball hogging ways on offense. They lead FCS with a possession time of 35:12. Hard for other teams to score if they don’t have the ball.

On offense Wofford is #4 in FCS rushing offense with 310 a game. They can move the ball. If they have any weakness, and it showed last game, they can drop the ball. They are still pretty good on the year and are at +3, but ball security can suffer it they get careless, especially against a good defense. They only average 67 yards through the air a game, but they usually don’t need it.

On defense the Bears are doing pretty good against the run giving up only 176 yards a game. Looking back at their game with The Citadel they did well allowing only 262 yards.  But on the year they have given up 421 total yards a game on average.  They are also giving up third down conversions at a rate of 43%.  Not good against a team like Wofford.

This game could have big implications for both teams. With each team being 4-3 and 2-2 in conference play, they really need to win out in order to have a good shot at the playoffs. Mercer still has Samford and Wofford has UTC later, but this game will probably knock the losing team out of contention.  So look for it to be a hard fought game. Last year it took OT to decide and Mercer lost due to a missed XP.  Wofford should win by 10 at home.

Furman at VMI  1:30PM (ESPN3) (Furman game notes) (VMI game notes)

Already faced with a losing season, Furman (1-6, 1-3) can only hope to make it look respectable this year. They finally seem to be clicking in their last game. Using their SR QB Reese Hannon, they may be over the hump as far as offensive output goes. VMI, (3-4, 1-3), is still fighting for a winning season. Their last one was in 1981.

Furman’s defense has kept them in game. They are good. It’s their offense that has let them down. Furman has averaged 367 a game, but that has gone up dramatically since Hannon took back over. They are now getting 263 a game through the air which is not bad. There 100 or so yards a game on the ground isn’t helping them though.

On defense they are giving up 375 a game, including a respectable 177 through the air. They got slashed a couple times when they were hit by injuries to their linebackers. Now healthy again, they should get back to some lower numbers especially on the ground.

But they don’t need to worry too terribly much about the ground this week. VMI is primarily an aerial attack although they have been trying to run more apparently.   Not with great success.  Al Cobb, VMI’s Jr QB has gone 162/250 for 1697 yards with 9 TDs and only 5 interceptions. He is doing much better at not throwing it to the other team this year. He had 18 last year. On the ground the Keydets are averaging only 112 a game.

With both teams probably slinging it much of the game, pass protection will be critical. VMI has allowed 19 sacks so far but Furman has gotten just 8 to date. The Paladins are protecting their QB a little better allowing 10 with VMI’s defense gaining 11 on the year.

Give Furman the edge in this game, but by no more than 10 points.

ETSU at #5 The Citadel 2PM (ESPN3) (The Citadel game notes)

They say that defenses win championships. If that was demonstrated at all last week, The Citadel’s defense did it. With their offense all but shut out most of the game, it was the defense that saved the day. The heartening part for the Bulldogs faithful is that their defense was on the field a lot last week against Wofford and they still stood up late in the game. The Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0) return home to Charleston for only the third time this year.

This week will be a little bit easier than last week, at least on paper. The ETSU Bucs (3-4, 1-4) are only averaging 270 yards a game. Bucs QB, Austin Herink has gone 95/162 for 870 yards with only 3 TDs and 2 interceptions. ETSU has allowed 19 sacks on the year. Not good news with The Citadel defense gaining 19 so far. ETSU is gaining 135 yards on the ground each game. I don’t see them getting much traction against the Bulldogs defense on the ground so expect Herink to toss it quite a bit.

The Dogs are giving up 136 on the ground and 171 through the air each week. But like Wofford, their best defense is usually holding on to the ball with long drives and keeping it away from the other team. They lead the SOCON in third down conversions at 49%.  The Citadel’s defense is also adept at forcing turnovers.  They have done well in that department giving the Dogs a +8 turnover margin on the year.

The Citadel leads FCS is rushing with 354 yards a game. While they have been challenged a couple times this year, the Buc’s defense will not be up to it. The Bucs have been giving up 185 rushing a game along with 202 through the air. While defending a passing game is not too much of a concern with The Citadel’s option attack, the Bulldogs really need to step it in that department.  At least a little bit.  This could be the game where they try and air it out more.

Look for the more experience Bulldogs to run at will, but not do to anything more fancy than pass a little more. Dogs by more than 28 at home.

#9 Chattanooga at WCU 3:30PM (SOCON Network) (UTC game notes) (WCU game notes)

The Mocs (7-1, 5-1) took care of business last week against VMI. They also seemed to have a found a replacement for running back Derrick Craine, at least until he is better. They were fairly effective in limiting VMI’s QB Al Cobb.

This week they have to deal with Tyrie Adams of Western Carolina. He is not as experienced or poised as Cobb, but he can be effective. Adams has gone 157/243 for 1818 yards on the year with 12 TDs and 8 interceptions. He can certainly throw the ball. As a redshirt freshman, he will only get better. One thing limiting him right now is the Cats have suffered a league leading 20 sacks. Not good news for the league leading sackers, UTC, who have 22.

WCU (0-5, 1-6) is also rushing for only 117 yards a game but Detrez Newsome can be effective. He has dropped off as of late, but he is still a dangerous runner. But Chattanooga allows only 98 yards on the ground each week, so don’t look for WCU to win this on the ground.

On offense, Chattanooga has been rolling with or without Craine. They remain the epitome of a balance offense averaging 436 yards a game with 219 through the air and 217 on the ground. Moc’s QB, Alejandro Bennifield, has gone 126/193 with 17 TDs and only 4 interceptions. He is a dangerous runner as well.

On defense Western is last in the SOCON in both scoring defense and total defense. Giving up over 500 yards an outing, the Cats will need to step up this week if they hope to slow the Mocs down. WCU is also deep in the hole on turnovers at -8 for the year. They certainly can’t give the Mocs any freebies.

Chattanooga put a hurt on the Cats the last couple of years. Don’t expect anything different this year, but it should be a tad closer in Cullowhee. Mocs win by about 14.

#16 Samford at Miss St  3:30PM (TV-SEC Network) (Samford game notes)

Samford (6-1, 4-1) has continued to rise in the polls, slowly but surely. This is not a timely game for that to continue…unless they win of course. FBS games are always a little bit of love hate thing for fans. Sure if you pull off the big upset, it is awesome, but mostly you just get to see your teams get steamrolled by the deeper rosters. Could the Samford Bulldogs pull it off? Sure. AGS. However, with Samford having some injury issues and a big game in two weeks against The Citadel, not sure their head will be it.

Samford by far has one of the best passing games in FCS. Devlin Hodges has the third most yards in FCS behind the Eastern Washington’s and Sam Houston’s QBs. He has gone 212/298 for 2445 yards with 24 TDs and only 5 interceptions. Not bad. And Samford has even stepped up in rushing, at least in the last game where they ran for 215 yards.

But they will face a sturdy SEC defense that is giving up 389 yards a game but only 235 in passing. I have no doubt that the SEC Bulldogs will not be able to totally stop Hodges, but he will probably not see his nearly 350 yard a game average.

On defense, Samford has given up a respectable 376 yards a game, with most coming through the air. Miss St has a pretty balance offense with 396 total yards with 192 through the air and 204 rushing.  Samford’s defense has 15 sacks on the year.

If Samford is to have a chance they will need to keep their defense off the field, which means longer drives. Samford scores so fast sometimes, 1-2 minutes, their defense plays an awful lot. But in addition to scoring fast, their offense only converts third downs 34% of the time. They have a lot of three and outs slinging the ball around. Their TOP is only about 26 minutes a game. They will get run down if this happens against Miss St. Maybe that is why they opened up the running game last week.

You never know what will happen in these games, but Samford will certainly need to have the ball bounce their way once or twice to have a realistic shot. Most likely, it will be Miss St by 28.

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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