SOCON: Week 2 Review and Power Rankings

In the second week of the season the SOCON saw 2 FBS games,  4 FCS OOC games, and one conference game.  Both Wofford and Mercer had respectable outings in their FBS games.  The SOCON went 4-0 in the FCS OOC games including wins against the Southland, Pioneer, and two wins against the Big South.  In the conference standings, The Citadel is out to an early lead going 2-0 in SOCON play to start the season.

#8 Chattanooga 34 – Presbyterian 0 (box score)
The Blue Hose of Presbyterian College slipped into the Chattanooga Mocs Finley Stadium for a Big South – SOCON match up. Presbyterian struggled the week prior gaining just 126 yards against a Central Michigan squad now in the spotlight. Any hope PC had was dashed by a stout Chattanooga defense that allowed them only 196 total yards and a meager 2.1 yards per rush on the day. After crushing Div II Shorter last week the Mocs hoped to get a better test for their new starting QB Alejandro Bennifield. The defense did their part for the Mocs forcing PC to punt 6 straight times and forcing a turnover on downs to account for PCs 7 first half possessions. But it took a while to get the Chattanooga offense in gear as they had to punt on their first 2 possessions. While the Blue Hose allowed the Mocs 496 total yards they also exposed an apparent weakness in the Mocs offensive play calling or execution in that they prevented Chattanooga from converted any 3rd downs. The Mocs went 0-9. They obviously did not need them gaining 16 first downs, but that is a poor statistic nonetheless. The Mocs offensive output was fairly balanced with 217 rushing and 279 through the air. Bennifield went a respectable 11/15 and hurled 4 TDs. Mocs running back Derrick Craine had 118 yards on 9 attempts for an impressive 13 yards per carry. The Mocs will get their stiffest test to date next week as they make their first road trip of the year to face the Furman Paladins in Greenville.

Georgia Tech 35 – Mercer 10 (box score)
In their first game against an FBS opponent since restarting their program, the Mercer Bears struck first on a John Russ to Avery Ward TD pass for 32 yards. Mercer played the kind of game they needed to in order to give themselves a chance in this game. They had zero turnovers and a moderate 45 yards in penalties. TOP was even. They racked up 320 yards of total offense and went 10-18 on third down conversions. QB John Russ went 24-38 for 225 yards. They averaged nearly 46 yards on their 4 punts and their special team coverage did not give up any long returns. The one thing they could not do is contain the Ga Tech rushing attack. The Yellow Jackets ran for 364 yards and averaged 7 yards a carry. After fumbling on their open possession, Ga Tech scored on 3 of their next 4 first half possessions to go up 21-7 at the half. Mercer came out in the second half determined and achieved a 17 play, 61 yard drive. The drive ate up over 8 minutes and even though they were held to a FG to make it 21-10, they kept it within striking distance. Although Ga Tech only had 3 possessions in the entire 2nd half, they scored on two of them for a comfortable win of 35-10. Mercer returns home next week as they host Tenn Tech where they hope to avenge last year’s loss at the hands of the Golden Eagles.

#19 Ole Miss 38 – Wofford 13 (box score)
The Terriers traveled to Oxford, Mississippi to face the expected wrath of #19 Ole Miss after they melted down at Florida State last Monday. To sum up, Wofford did pretty good. Wofford used its option attack to keep the ball out the hands of the Rebels and recorded of TOP advantage of 11 minutes over the Rebels. The Terriers racked up an impressive 233 yards on the ground while holding Ole Miss to just 174 yards rushing. The Terriers also recorded eighteen 1st downs and went 2-3 on 4th downs. FBS games are clearly a time to get your players some experience and the Terriers took full advantage of this by having 11 players rush the ball. Although the game was never in doubt, and down 24-3 at the half, Wofford had an impressive, short drive in the second half led by QB Brad Butler ending with his 17 yard TD run to make it 31-10 mid way through the fourth quarter. Wofford hosts Div II JC Smith next week and opens its SOCON schedule, also at home, with ETSU on 24 Sept.

#14 The Citadel 19 – Furman 14 (box score)
In its home opener, and for the second week in row, The Citadel faced a SOCON opponent. After sticking with Michigan St into the fourth quarter the previous week, Furman was poised to make a statement early in the SOCON race. Always a hard fought game between these South Carolina rivals, special teams, penalties, and turnovers would mostly likely play a pivotal role in the outcome. The Citadel took the opening kickoff and proceeded to fumble it deep in their own territory on the return. Furman went to work behind QB P.J. Blazejowki and quickly scored in 5 plays to go up 7-0. But The Citadel methodically answered back with a long 17 play, 75 yards drive that ate up half the 1st quarter where they converted 4 third downs. On the next drive Furman appeared to move the ball well although the Bulldog defense was keeping Furman’s rushing game in check. Forced to keep it in the air, Blazejowski tossed his first of three interceptions on the day. Both defenses settled in for the next few possessions and the teams traded punts and Furman missed a 51 yard FG attempt. Late in the second, after stalling out again in the teeth a determined Furman D which held the Citadel’s option in check most of the night, The Citadel punted yet again only to recover a muffed, ill-advised punt reception by Furman at its 4 yard line. Although The Citadel scored fairly quickly, it suffered an uncharacteristic missed PAT by graduate student and FBS transfer Cody Clark to make it 13-7. Furman missed another long 47 yard FG attempt and the Bulldogs went into the break with a one score lead.

The game remained mired in a defensive struggle in the third until Furman engineered a 7 play 67 yard drive behind the arm of Blazejowski to go up 14-13. After a missed 42 yard FG by The Citadel early in the fourth, it appeared that the momentum had shifted to Furman. But on the next possession, Furman tossed its second INT and the Dogs were well positioned to score again. But the Furman D held fast on a 4th and 1 at their 24 yard line. Not to be outdone, The Citadel D answered and forced a punt and the Dogs started a drive at their own 22. For the second week in a row, The Citadel O ran off a long 4th quarter drive to earn a winning score. This one was led by the Bulldog QB Dominique Allen who had sporadic playing time throughout the game after being out with an injury for 4 weeks of camp and serving a one game suspension last week. The drive went for 11 plays and 78 yards and was highlighted by a 29 yard pass on a 3rd and 7. Up 19-14 after the TD, the Bulldogs opted to go for 2 only to be stuffed by a still determined Furman D with 2:07 to go. On the next possession, Furman got a quick 1st down, but on a 3rd and 15 The Citadel D recorded its 3rd interception on the day to seal the win. Both defenses played extremely well with Furman holding The Citadel to just 191 yards on the ground while the Bulldogs held Furman to a meager 70 yards on the ground and got 3 interceptions and a fumble from the Paladins.  Pre-Season All American Junior Cornerback Dee Delaney snagged 2 of the INTs. There is no let up for the Paladins as they face UTC at home and CCU on the road to finish their brutal September schedule. The Bulldogs travel to Boiling Springs, N.C. to face Gardner-Webb next week.

VMI 17 – Morehead State 13 (box score)
VMI’s QB Al Cobb came up short in becoming VMI’s all time passing leader but his 148 yards through the air were enough to lead the Keydets to their first victory of 2016. VMI aerial attack has been productive when Cobb keeps his interceptions in check. He didn’t throw any INTs but the Morehead State Eagles defense was effective enough to dampen his productivity. A steady rain most of the game and a lightning delay didn’t help either. The opponents traded punts or gave it up on downs for the first 7 possessions of the game. Then they traded fumbles with VMI capitalizing on their take away with a 94 yard, ten play drive to get on the scoreboard first. Mixing up runs and passes, the VMI score came on a 43 yard strike to start the 2nd quarter. After forcing a 3 and out the VMI offense again drove for TD. The drive consisted of 4 straight runs until Cobb connected again for 12 yards and the score. After trading a few more punts, it was Morehead’s turn to score following a 49 yards drive. The score remained 14-7 at the half.

VMI pieced together a 62 yard drive to start the 3rd which included a 45 yard scamper by running back Daz Palmer. Unfortunately on a 3rd and goal from the one yard line a muffed snap resulted in a loss of 5 yards and the Keydets had to settle for a FG to make it 17-7. Once again the defenses held and the teams traded punts the next 5 possessions until VMI gave it up on downs at the Eagles 38. Morehead then went on a 62 yard, 12 play drive to score with about 9 minutes remaining to make it 17-14. Neither team did much else on offense with VMI missing a 34 yard FG with a bounce off the upright and Morehead fumbling in VMI territory. After a couple more punts, VMI ran out the last 2 and half minutes to gain the victory. On the day, VMI was fairly balanced and gained 186 on the ground including 95 by Daz Palmer. Cobb went a disappointing 17/37 and 148 yards. Morehead actually out gained VMI with 368 total yards but 2 fumbles erased their efforts. VMI takes next week off, but the week after they make make yet another road trip when they travel to Bucknell.

Western Carolina 44 – Gardner-Webb 14 (box score)
Western Carolina hosted the Runnin’ Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb for its home opener. WCU hoped to find its defense after it was beat up last week 52-7 by a pretty good ECU team who just handled NC St this Saturday. On the road yet again, Gardner-Webb was hoping to repeat its performance of the previous week when it smashed Elon. Western Carolina went right to work driving 75 yards in 5 plays including 67 yards by running back Detrez Newsmen. His 52 yard TD run exceeded his entire output of the prior week. G-W answered right back with 9 play 83 yards scoring drive of its own to tie it up. The Catamounts answered right back with 83 yard scoring drive to make it 14-7 with 6:17 to go in the 1st. The Runnin’ Bulldogs then drove all the way to the WCU 7 only to suffer a forced fumble and it looked like WCU would take advantage driving all the way to the G-W 5. But the Dogs forced a fumble of their own.  Although the G-W drive stalled and they were forced to punt, WCU QB Tyrie Adams quickly gave it back via an interception deep in his own territory. With the short field, G-W scored quickly to tie it up at 14. Another long drive by WCU of 64 yards featuring a long ball by Adams ended in disappointment on a missed 28 yard FG. After forcing a 3 and out, WCU put together yet another drive with another long ball thrown by Adams for 45 yards. This time it paid off with a 38 yard FG and a halftime lead for WCU of 17-14.

The adjustments made by the Catamount defense paid off as G-W had three punts on their first three possessions following the half. WCU scored on their second possession following a 14 play 95 yard drive where their RSF QB Tyrie Adams went 7/8 and tossed a 17 yard TD. A missed XP made it 23-14. After another G-W punt, Western went on another scoring drive, this time for 65 yards, again behind the arm of Adams who went 4/5 and tossed another TD to make it 30-14. Western would score two more times in the fourth in this convincing OOC win. On the day, WCU chalked up 690 yards of offense including 263 on the ground and 427 passing. WCU running back Deter Newsmen lived up to his preseason billing by gaining 148 yards on 19 rushes. Adams accounted for all of WCU’s passing yards going an impressive 36/43 and tossing 5 TDs. The only blights on the day were his 2 INTs and a fumble. G-W totaled 271 yards on the ground and only 86 through the air but the Runnin’ Bulldogs could find no answer on D to stop the WCU offensive output. Looks like WCU may have a stud QB again.  Western Carolina faces ETSU at Bristol Motor Speedway next week in a SOCON opener for both teams.

#23 Samford 35 – Central Arkansas 29 (box score)
The Samford Bulldogs met the Bears of Central Arkansas in what can only be described as a tale of two games. Samford led 28-10 at the half. Two of their 1st half scoring drives lasted only 1 minute and the other 37 seconds. This somewhat explains their meager 23 minutes of TOP for the game. In addition to Samford being able to score quickly, they benefited from 3 turnovers which included a fumble scoop and score in the second. By the end of the 1st half it appeared as though they would run away with it even if they could not move the ball on the ground. Samford totaled a negative 25 yards on the ground for the day. Samford QB Devlin Hodges went a respectable 23/35 for 282 yards and three TDs for the day.

But the Bears were not going to make it easy. After trading punts to open the second half, and then trading interceptions, Samford again scored defensively when they returned a pick six 57 yards to make it 35-10 near the end of the third. Unfortunately for Central Arkansas, they faltered more than once after long, time consuming drives. But the fourth quarter would be theirs. After a 75 Yard, 17 play drive the Bears made it 35-16 after missing a 2 point conversion. After holding Samford to a 3 and out, they again scored on an 8 play, 85 yard drive that took only 2 minutes. They again failed in scoring a 2 point conversion to make it 35-22. After yet another 3 and out for Samford, the teams traded 4 and outs around the Central Arkansas 30. With 4:10 to play, the Bears would yet again go on a 8 play 73 yard drive to score and make it 35-29 with 2:11 remaining. Forcing yet another Samford 3 and out they had one last chance to accomplish an amazing comeback. But with only 28 seconds remaining, Samford finally held them to stop the rally. Gaining 577 total yards (346 passing and 231 on the ground) Central Arkansas’ loss had to be heartbreaking. Samford took advantage of the their errors and it proved enough even if they appear to have serious issues on defense. Samford gets a bye week to work on their defensive weaknesses and their running game before they meet Chattanooga 24 Sept in what could prove to be a key conference game.

ETSU had a bye week where they have been revving up for their return to the SOCON against WCU in a game to be played at the Bristol Motor Speedway. There were 157K spectators there this week to watch Tennessee beat Va Tech. This game will probably not draw that many, but it will still be a unique venue for ETSU’s return to the SOCON.

Power Ranking

  1. UTC
  2. The Citadel
  3. Samford
  4. Wofford
  5. WCU
  6. Mercer
  7. VMI
  8. Furman
  9. ETSU

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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