SOCON: Week 5 Review and Power Ranking

The world just about turned upside down in the Southern Conference this week. Furman looked real good on offense in its victory over ETSU. Samford got up big, early, over The Citadel to hand the Cadets their first conference loss since 2015. Western Carolina took the Chattanooga Mocs to the woodshed in their first victory over the Mocs since 2008. VMI gave Mercer a slight scare early before the Bears pulled away big. And Wofford appeared a bit sluggish over a fairly inept Presbyterian team for much of the game before pulling away in the fourth. It seems that the SOCON race is truly up for grabs. VMI seems unable to muster what it takes as does probably Chattanooga and ETSU. Mercer’s two losses will make it tough for them although they can still play spoiler and it is early. But Wofford, WCU, Samford, Furman, and The Citadel all seem able still, in that order. At least until next week.

Furman 56 ETSU 35 (box score)

Furman took the opening kickoff and moved fairly effortlessly down the field with a mix of passes and runs. The Bucs were certainly giving the Paladin receivers space and Furman took advantage of it. After a 4 minute drive of nine plays Furman took to the ground and ran an option play to take it in from 22 yards out. The Paladin’s offense was churning for certain. ETSU took the ensuing kickoff out past the 25 and proceeded to fumble it. Luckily for the Bucs, he was called down. ETSU then went to work. They had success in passing, but Furman stopped their running game cold and stopped their drive at midfield with a sack. It appeared as though Furman’s D came to play as well.

After ETSU punted, Furman’s drive stalled, but it was really miscues on Furman’s part rather than the ETSU defense that stopped them. Furman’s QB PJ Blazejowski had a couple bad passes while not under a whole lot of pressure. After the punt, it didn’t take ETSU long to get going. After a first down, Buc’s QB Austin Herink threw a perfect pass to a wide open Vincent Lowe for a 53 yard TD to make it 7-7. If Furman could stop the ETSU run game, they were obviously having some pass defense issues.

On Furman’s ensuing drive they moved in big chunks down the field. It only took them 5 plays to go 75 yards for another score. This time it was a 32 yard TD pass by Blazejowski. Both defenses were giving up some big plays, but Furman got a stop on ETSUs next possession. The Bucs defense needed to do the same. They didn’t, at least for a while. Furman moved down the field fairly easily with mix of pass and run. At the end of the first quarter Furman had outgained ETSU 231-92.

As the second quarter started, ETSU’s defense finally stood up and stopped the Paladin’s drive at their 5 on a 4th and 1. Still within a score, ETSU drove well via the pass. The Paladins were pretty stingy giving up rushing yards, but Herink was having a pretty easy time finding open receivers and the Bucs marched all the way down the field. But after having mostly stopped their running game, the Paladins gave up a three yard rush for a TD to tie things up. ETSU’s drive was 96 yards (17 run and 79 passing) in 9 plays. The key play being a 41 yard pass by Herink to get the Bucs to the 3 yard line.

On Furman’s next drive, which started fairly well, they coughed it up and ETSU returned the fumble to the Furman 21. While it looked like Furman might have held them, ETSU got an opportune pass interference call which kept the drive alive. But The Paladins defense bowed up and stopped the Bucs on a third and goal. ETSU settled for 3 to take their first lead of the game 17-14.

Besides the occasional pass, Furman pitched the ball outside a lot up to this point. On their next drive they again drove fairly well.   It only took them six plays to go 75 yards for another score, a 30 yard pass by Blazejowski to Andy Schumpert.

Down 17-21 with about 4 minutes to go in the half, ETSU, who had deferred to the second half, had a shot at scoring on successive possessions if they could move the ball again with a nice 4 minute scoring drive. But the Paladins defense held them after one first down, and Furman had a chance to score again before the half with 2:43 to go. They didn’t miss the opportunity. The Paladins went 70 yards in 7 plays and scored on 3 yard run by Darious Morehead, his second of the day. With under a minute to go in the half, Furman was in the lead 28-17. But ETSU was not going to go quietly into the half. A couple passes made it interesting. It was especially fun seeing the ETSU lateral clinic to close the half. There must have been at least 8 laterals after time expired as ETSU actually moved back about 20 yards from where they initially caught a pass deep in Furman territory. The teams totaled 647 yards of offense at the half, Furman with 390 yards and ETSU with 257. Wow. The defensive coordinators had their work cut out for them during the break.

Furman’s defense must have been paying attention at half. They forced a quick three and out on the Bucs offense. Furman’s offense went to work again. They scored on a 9 play 66 yard drive. After forcing ETSU to punt again, Furman scored again and the rout was on with Furman up 42-17.

ETSU finally answered with a scoring drive of 12 pays and 74 yards to close it to 42-24. The Bucs held Furman on their next possession, and then drove for a field goal to close the score to 42-27. But Furman returned an onsides kick for a TD to make it 49-27. ETSU then struck quickly with a 78 yard TD pass to close it to 49-35 after ETSU converted on a two point conversion. Furman then took its time to go on a five and a half minute drive to score again to make it 56-35 with 1:53 to go. ETSU tried one last scoring drive, but gave it up on downs.

ETSU did what they needed to on offense. They moved the sticks and kept it close for a while. Furman just had a juggernaut of an offense. Overall, they had 609 yards of offense. Blazejowski went 17/22 for 301 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions. They had 308 yards rushing on 52 attempts. A pretty balanced offense for the day.

Each team had 1 turnover. ETSU had 6 penalties for 40 yards and Furman had 7 for 78 yards.

ETSU’s QB, Austin Herink went 24/37 for 438 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions. Not a bad day. ETSU had only 22 yards on the ground. That included -27 for Herink who was sacked six times. ETSU came up short on the time of possession holding it for only 27:48. They needed to do better if they hoped for a victory.

Furman’s offense definitely came alive this game. ETSU has issues on defense obviously, but this is a step in the right direction for Furman. The Paladins will be tested against a depleted Chattanooga next week on the road. ETSU hosts Robert Morris.

Samford 35   #11 The Citadel 14 (box score)

It was a battle of the Bulldogs in Birmingham Alabama Saturday. It was also a battle of the run against the pass. With the Citadel, leading FCS in rushing yards per game, Samford’s defense would be put to a stern test. Likewise, The Citadel defense would face one of the top ten passing attacks in FCS. Whichever defense figured it out first, would most likely win.

Samford took the opening possession and its first play from scrimmage was…a run for a first down. Their second play was a flea flicker pass to The Citadel 8.   A couple plays later they scored. Samford did what they do best; pass the ball, some trickery, and a one minute scoring drive. Mission accomplished for Samford on their first drive.

But The Citadel Bulldogs know how to play while down. But they obviously had some cob webs to shake out after an off week. The Samford defense held them to a three and out and The Citadel defense would see if they could do better against Samford QB, Devlin Hodges. They didn’t do better. It took all of one pass for Hodges to connect on a 70 yard TD pass. It looked like the pass was winning against the run with Samford up 14-0. The Citadel secondary, suspect all year, had been unmasked.

On their next possession, The Citadel’s offense was stymied again. But they did it to themselves this time with a delay and chop block penalties. They punted again and things looked bleak early for the Bulldogs from Charleston. Samford took three plays to score again. It was 21-0 with 9:40 to go in the first quarter. A route was sure to follow unless The Citadel could swing the momentum.

The next drive was no better and The Citadel was forced to punt again. The Citadel was totally stumped on both sides of the ball. Samford had a game plan on both sides of the ball and they were executing it perfectly. The good news for The Citadel was Samford did not score in one or two plays. The bad news is they scored anyway to make it 28-0 at the 4:19 mark in the FIRST QUARTER. Ouch.

The next series by The Citadel was again no better. Samford’s phantom defense somehow made a showing and totally stopped The Citadel’s offensive output. With 2:51 to go in the first quarter, Samford made their first error all day: a pass interference call which gave The Citadel a first down, their first, and some life. The Cadets drove into Samford territory, but penalties eventually stymied The Citadel again and they had to go for it on a 4th and 3 but came up short at the Samford 18.

Samford did what they do on their next drive. They did some trick, non standard formation, which was immediately followed by another deep pass for a score. The route was definitely on at this point with the score at 35-0. The Citadel just needed to salvage some respect by getting a couple scores.

They got their chance on the next Samford drive when Kailik William snagged an interception off Hodges. The Citadel punched it in a couple plays later to make it 35-7 with 6:55 remaining in the half. Samford drove the ball pretty well, but another interception by The Citadel in the end zone prevented a total embarrassment. One play later The Citadel was at the Samford 29. A beautiful 51 yard pass by Jordan Black gave The Citadel some life.   But a couple plays later, after a running loss and yet another penalty, The Citadel was sacked for the first time this year. A quick pass play got them a 4th and 12 with 1:10 remaining but an incomplete pass gave the ball back to Samford and the score remained 35-7. At the break Samford held a 393-137 yard edge. They had a plan and it worked.

The Citadel came out in the second half ready to play. They drove the length of the field in 12 plays to close it to 35-14. After a 49 yard drive by Samford, where they missed a field goal. The Citadel drove 67 yards in 9 plays to the Samford 7 where they gave it up on downs. Jordan Black replaced Dominique Allen in the second half, but that is pretty usual for The Citadel to switch out QBs periodically. But Black had much more success than Allen had had. After a quick three and out forced by The Citadel defense, The Citadel got it back at their 38. They drove the length again sparked by a 47 yard pass to the Samford 4. But a penalty and stiff defense by Samford doomed The Citadel again and they gave it up on downs at the Samford 6. The Citadel could have, should have, closed it to 35-28 at his point, but it remained at 35-14. The Citadel again held Samford to a three and out, but down by 21 with 8:09 to play, it was a tall hill to climb. Down 10 with 6:30 to go last year was doable for The Citadel, but 21 points was a bit much and Samford was playing some good run defense.

The Citadel was passing much more by this time. Something that is not natural. They had some success on the day, but they are just not consistent. Black threw a couple incomplete passes and then was sacked. A 4th and 15 forced a punt with 7:06 to go. Samford was content to just run it at this point. They didn’t do very well, but they didn’t need to. They chewed up another minute and a half. They had to punt after another three and out.

But the Damage was done and Samford’s defense stood up one more time. The Citadel made it to the Samford 42 and turned it over on downs with 3:13 to go. Samford ran the clock out, by….running.

Samford had a banner day on offense. If anyone thought they were a paper tiger, they need to rethink that. Samford’s Hodges went 21/26 for 323 yards, 3 TDs and 2 interceptions. On the ground, Samford almost doubled their season average with 139 yards. They got out to an early lead and never looked back on offense. Their leading rusher, Moise Satine almost matched their previous season average with 73 yards. They definitely stepped it up with their running game. It kept The Citadel defense guessing. The Citadel only sacked Hodges once.

On offense The Citadel had a hard time getting going. They had 12 drives during the game. They punted on 5 on them. They gave it up on downs for 5 more. They scored twice. Overall, they totaled just 346 yards. Not bad except they could not finish drives consistently. They might have closed the score but the previously anemic Samford defense stood up when needed and stuffed many of The Citadel running plays, especially when it counted. Overall, The Citadel had only 194 yards rushing with 3.5 per carry average, well below their season average. The Dogs were forced to throw more as a result. Overall, they were 6/14 for 152, a season high, but not enough obviously.

One area that also plagued The Citadel was penalties. They had 10 for 61 yards. But more damaging was the timing of many of those. Many came at the wrong time and stifled their drives or extended Samford’s. Samford ended with just 4 for 40 yards. The only turnovers in the game were the two interceptions thrown by Hodges. The time of possession advantage held by The Citadel, almost 37 to 23 minutes, did not matter. Samford showed what an explosive offense can do.

For The Citadel it is time to regroup. They meet Mercer next week for Parents Day at The Citadel, a big weekend where the seniors get their rings. Samford will try and probably succeed in improving their conference record when they travel to VMI.

Mercer 49 VMI 14 (box score)

The 0-4 Keydets needed a boost bad after a pretty miserable start to the season. VMI QB Duncan Hodges, who played last week, got the start at QB this week for the first time. After a three and out and punt to start the game, VMI got a break. An interception thrown by QB Kaelan Riley on Mercer’s first play from scrimmage was returned 60 yards for a VMI TD. But would it be enough of a spark the Keydets? The VMI defense then held Mercer to a three and out. But VMI couldn’t get anything going and had to punt it right back after a couple first downs. Mercer tried again with the same result.   At least VMI was holding down Mercer’s offense form scoring. On VMI’s fourth possession Hodges threw the deep ball only to be intercepted. Mercer then went on a 6 play 78 yard drive to tie things up with 14 minutes to go in the second. After a short dive andf punt by VMI, Mercer struck again, quickly, with a one play 79 yards TD pass to make it 14-7 Mercer.

But when it rains, it sometimes pours. After a quick first down on their ensuing possession, VMI again threw an interception. This time it was a 51 yard pick six to make it 21-7, Mercer.

A short kickoff by Mercer gave VMI pretty good field position next. They drove well and made it down to the Mercer 9 before the Bears defense forced a field goal attempt which the Keydets missed. Mercer then drove down to the VMI 36 after 13 play drive, but the VMI defense stood up and stopped them and the Bear turned it over on downs with under a minute to play in the half.

While VMI kept it close in the first half, it was all Mercer in the second half. They scored on four of their five possessions, punting only once. VMI scored again in the third quarter on a one play 79 yard toss, but also threw an interception. Mercer’s balance offensive attack was just a bit too much for VMI.

Mercer had a banner day against a weary VMI defense totaling 575 yards overall, with Riley going 13/24 for 318 yards with three TDs and 1 interception. On the ground Mercer’s CJ Leggett had 95 yards on 16 carries. VMI did score two sacks against Mercer.

On the other hand, VMI could gain only 225 yards on offense including only 52 on the ground. VMI was sacked 3 times. VMI also used another QB later in the game. This makes 4 they have used in two games. It doesn’t hurt to try different ones until they find the right match.  Mercers defense was pretty stout to boot.

Mercer exploded on offense this week and put it together nicely. Something they lacked last week in their loss to ETSU. One thing they did again though was commit penalties. They had 7 for 50 yards. It didn’t matter but they need to tighten up a bit. Mercer also controlled the clock pretty well with over 32 minutes of possession.

Now at 2-3 and 1-2, Mercer will travel to Charleston to take on a flustered Bulldog team looking for redemption. VMI gets Samford at home.

#24 Western Carolina 45 Chattanooga 7 (box score)

Western Carolina, fresh off its upset win over Samford last week, looked to beat Chattanooga in Chattanooga for the first time since 2005. Heck, they have not beaten the Mocs at all since 2008. They wanted this win bad. The Catamounts of Western Carolina have a pretty good offense. No its is real good. But Chattanooga has a pretty decent defense. The Cats would be hard pressed to put up the big numbers that they have. On the other hand Chattanooga was probably pretty happy they finally had their anticipated starting QB back playing.

The Cats took the opening series down the field to the Mocs 31 and missed a field goal. Chattanooga drove fairly well, now led by QB Alexjandro Bennifield, all the way down to the WCU 30. Then disaster stuck Chattanooga. Bennifield was sacked, and sacked hard. Starting in his first game this year, on his first drive, the anticipated starting veteran QB Bennififeld was helped from the field and left the stadium enroute to a hospital. Nick Tiano who started the previous Mocs games would have to lead the Mocs for a bit longer. After an incomplete pass, the Mocs punted. WCU must have smelled blood at this point. They drove against a pretty stout Mocs defense for 75 yards in 6 plays and scored a TD to go up 7-0. After holding Chattanooga to a three and out, WCU drove for another score. This time it was a 39 yard field goal.

After trading four punts, the Mocs found themselves on the short end of field position at their 9. Two plays later Tiano fumbled in the end zone and WCU got its first defensive score to go up 17-0 with 7:19 to go in the second.   Score one for the much maligned WCU defense.

After trading two more punts, the Mocs again found themselves on the short end of field position at their own 10. It was déjà vu all over again. Tiano fumbled in the end zone and WCU got its second defensive TD. Score “two” for the, not as much, maligned WCU defense. Chattanooga got the ball back with 4:20 remaining and drove fairly well. They got down to the WCU 9 but gave it up on downs. WCU got it back with a little over a minute remaining and ran the clock out with WCU up 24-0 at the half.

After trading three and outs to start the second half, the Cats maintain good field position. To add insult to injury, when the Mocs punted it went for only 19 yards to their own 37! But the Chattanooga defense stood up and held WCU to a three and out. The Mocs got it back at their 6. They got a first down, but then stalled and were forced to punt again form their 19. A fake was not a good idea. Punter fumbled and WCU got it on the Chattanooga 1. The Cats scored on one play to make it 31-0 with 8:39 to go in the third.

After holding the Mocs to yet another three and out, WCU got it back at their own 38 after the punt. At least it was in WCU territory this time. But it did not take long for WCU’s offense to get back in the game. 7 plays and 62 yards later, it was 38-0 after a 38 yard TD pass by WCU QB Tyrie Adams. Oh my.

Chattanooga finally got something going and drove down to the WCU 8. But just when things could not get any worse for the Mocs, Tiano went down with an apparent shoulder injury. At this point Chattanooga brought in a walk on QB, true freshman Dominic Caldwell, who proceeded to throw a TD in a couple plays. So maybe things got better. Chattanooga had a little life and they avoided the shutout with 11:59 to go in the game.

On their following possession, WCU brought in the backups including a new QB, Ray Smith. They drove pretty well, mostly running the ball and chewing up clock. They scored on a 26 yard TD toss by Smith to go up 45-7. The teams traded punts again, but Chattanooga’s fall from grace was complete. And, WCU took another step towards stardom.

On the day, WCU starting QB went 8/15 for 125 with 1 TD and no interceptions. The Cats had over 200 yards rushing including over 100 by Corey Holloway. Overall, WCU had 392 yards on offense. Not bad against a usually pretty good Chattanooga defense. And to make it even more impressive, WCU accomplished this signature win WITHOUT their star running back and leading SOCON rusher, Detrez Newsome. But it was their defense that won it for WCU. And that is a huge step for them.

Chattanooga’s lapses on offense this year have been just devastating. They totaled just 172 yards in the game while holding the ball over 32 minutes. The three QBs they used were just 15/30 for 123 yards. They rushed for just 49 yards. Is Chattanooga the new Samford in rushing?   It is probably safe to say that the Mocs season is probably over except for maybe playing a spoiler down the road. They obviously need to rebuild. I suspect they will now employ Caldwell at QB and get him some experience for the future.

It does not get any easier for the Mocs. They face an apparently rejuvenated Furman team next. At least it is at home. The Catamounts are on the road again next week and face off against the only unblemished team remaining in the SOCON, Wofford.

#8 Wofford 31 Presbyterian 7 (box score)

It probably could not have started out better for the Wofford Terriers during Saturday’s game. After holding the Presbyterian Collage (PC) Blue Hose to a three and out, Wofford ran one play for 94 yards and a score. The teams traded three more punts before Wofford score again. This time is was a signature option drive taking five plus minutes with 11 plays in 80 yards. After two more punts, the PC offense got going. The Blue Hose went on an 11 play, 60 yards drive to close the score to 14-7. The teams traded punts to close the half.

Both defenses were holding the other fairly well. This continued into the second half when the teams traded punts to start. Wofford finally got going on their second possession when they drove 97 yards. The Key play being a 72 pass thrown by Wofford QB Brandon Goodson. But the PC defense stiffened up and stuffed the Wofford runners three times and forced the Terriers to kick a field goal to make it 17-7. The drive took almost 7 minutes.

After Wofford held PC to a three and out, they went on another scoring drive of 6 play for 77 yards to make it 24-7. But PC fought back on their next drive and drove all the way down to the Wofford 9. Unfortunately for PC, on a second and goal a completed pass to the 2 was fumbled and recovered by Wofford in the end zone for a touchback.

Wofford wasted no time and scored in two plays on 75 yard TD pass by the halfback Lennox McAfee to make it 31-7. PC took its last possession into Wofford territory but threw an interception with just seconds remaining.

On the day Wofford totaled 478 yards. Goodson went 3/7 for 92 yards. On the ground, the Terriers gained 311 yards with Blake Morgan gaining 120 with two TDs. He had the 94 yard run on Wofford opening possession. Wofford went 7/13 on third downs. They held the ball for only 26:16. They committed only two penalties for 10 yards.

PC gained only 252 yards including 122 on the ground. PC QB Ben Cheek went 19/30 for 130 yards and 1 interception. They went 9/18 on third downs. They had 4 penalties for 26 yards. Wofford defense did a pretty good job keeping them out of the end zone. PC has had problems all year in scoring.

Wofford faces its toughest test to date next week when it hosts a hot Western Carolina team. Presbyterian has a hard game itself as it hosts a hot St Francis team.

Power Ranking

  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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