SOCON Week 7 Review

Furman 42 VMI 10

Furman extended their winning streak to 4 games as they pummeled the struggling VMI Keydets in Greenville. Clay Hendrix’s high-powered offense led by Senior Quarterback P.J. Blazejowski scored 40 points for the fourth consecutive game this season, a school record.  The Paladins finished the day with 523 yards off offense and held the Keydets to a respectable 256 yards of offense.

VMI was able to put up a fight for the first half of play, forcing the Paladins to punt 4 times and holding them to two touchdowns on seven possessions. The Keydets benefited from a 34 yard Rohan Martin punt return that resulted in a 30 yard field goal by Grant Clemons,  a touchdown pass from Duncan Hodges to Rohan Martin, and botched time management by the Paladins at the goal line to go into the half with behind 14-10.

The Paladins would not be denied in the second half, taking all of five of their second half possessions on long drives, scoring on four of them.  The Furman defense stood tall, forcing two punts and an interception.

P.J Blazejowski continues to prove himself of All-Socon consideration, finishing the day 8 of 15 for 145 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 74 yards on 5 carries.  The Paladins controlled the line of scrimmage all day, out-rushing VMI 354 to 117. Kealand Dirks led the way for the Paladins on the ground, rushing for 82 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns.

Next week, the Paladin offense has a tall order ahead of it against the Mercer Bears, who lead the conference in scoring defense. Furman has moved the ball at will in the last 4 weeks against weaker opponents and the challenge next week will be to continue that level of scoring with a formidable opponent such as Mercer.

VMI has yet to find solid ground to establish momentum for next season and beyond.  It doesn’t help that they play Western Carolina next week, in a game where they will be as heavy of underdogs as they’ve been all season.

Mercer 30 Chattanooga 10

The offensive woes for the Chattanooga Mocs continued as they once again failed to eclipse the 50 yard mark running the football.  Mercer Quarterback Kaelan Riley had an impressive day, completing 20 of 27 passes for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns.

After both teams traded punts to begin the game, Chattanooga was able to put points on the board first, with a 44 yard field goal to start the second quarter. Mercer was able to quickly answer, scoring on a 4 play, 66-yard drive that took only 1:22 off the clock. Disconcertingly, Cole Fisher missed the extra point, his second of the year, capping the Bears lead at 6-3.  The teams then exchanged punts again.  Mercer drove the ball inside the 20, but Cole Fisher missed another field goal.  The Bears would not be denied, however, scoring a 22 yard touchdown pass to Chandler Curtis on their next drive.  At the end of the first half, the score stood at 13-3.

The Bears were able to pounce on the Mocs in the second half, forcing them to punt on their first 3 drives of the second half while answering them with points on each drive.  At the end of three quarters, the Bears controlled the Mocs 23-3.

Chattanooga was able to finally score with 6:24 left in the game on a five yard touchdown run on Darrell Bridges, bringing the tally to 23-10. The Mocs attempted an onside kick that failed, but were able to force a three and out.  Having full confidence in their defense, Bobby Lamb’s Bears punted the ball, downing it at the 1.  The Mocs failed to get a first down in their first 3 downs, and pressed for time had to attempt a fourth down conversion which failed.  On the next play, the Bears easily scored on a 6 yard Tee Mitchell run, bringing the score to its final 30-10.

Next week, Chattanooga’s struggling offense welcomes the 3-3 Citadel Bulldogs. Both teams will be looking to turn their season around as we progress to the second half of the season.  Mercer will bring its stellar defense to play the efficient offensive powerhouse of Furman.  The Bobby Lamb Battle will answer many question SOCON viewers have about the Bears’ defense and the Furman offense. The Bears’ defense have yet to face any of the top offenses in the SOCON (Western Carolina, Furman, Samford), while the Furman offense has pile-driven three of the conference’s worst defenses (ETSU, UTC and VMI).  There’s no denying that both teams appear to be hitting their stride at this point of the season, Saturday will determine who is ready to take their team to the next level. The unmovable object meets the unstoppable force in Greenville on Saturday!

Western Carolina 49 ETSU 10

In this week’s surprise outcome, Western Carolina walloped the Bucs of ETSU.  The outcome was a surprise not because the Catamounts won, but because the way they were able to win.  The Catamounts were held to a season-low 327 yards of offense, but were able to score touchdowns on defense and special teams to maintain their SOCON-leading scoring average.

The real surprise came from the Catamount defense, which held ETSU to a season low 10 points.  The Bucs aren’t a team fully prepared for SOCON football as they’re only in their third full year with a football team, but they have nevertheless shown persistent improvement on the offensive side of the ball, upsetting Mercer earlier this year and hanging 35 points against Furman. Though the Catamount defense has shown improvement this year compared to last, it was unexpected that they would keep ETSU to such low scoring numbers.  When you score fast and often like Western does, no matter how good your defense is, your opponent is more likely to score points because they have more possessions. That was not the case Saturday.

The first half was a defensive struggle (another surprise) that saw Western Carolina lead 7-3 over the Bucs.  The Bucs were able to run for over 90 yards in the first half (another surprise) and Western Carolina was held to under 150 yards of offense.

The Western Carolina Defense blew the game open in the second half, scoring on their first 2 possessions and forcing 3 turnovers which set up 2 easy touchdowns and a pick six.

Western Carolina improves their record to 5-2, edging ever closer to (at least) an at-large playoff berth. They will be favored against VMI in Lexington next week.  The playoff path forward for the Catamounts lies in winning at least 2 of their next four against VMI, Furman, The Citadel and Mercer.

ETSU will get a bye week to prepare for Wofford’s triple option in two weeks. This team is still dangerous, it just can’t afford to lose the turnover battle against potent offenses such as Western Carolina.

Wofford 20 The Citadel 16

Without a doubt, this game was the best of the week.  The undefeated Terriers went into Charleston looking for their sixth win, and the young Citadel Bulldogs looked to turn around their season after dropping two straight SOCON contests. This rivalry game has seen some heightened drama recently: Wofford ended the Citadel’s season last year with a 17-3 win in Charleston in the second round of the playoffs.  The two option offenses and stout defenses are the perfect match up and trap game for each other no matter what.  Four of the last five games and five of the last seven games between the two have come down to one score in the fourth quarter.

To start the game, The Citadel controlled the line of scrimmage, time of possession and ultimately the scoreboard after the first 30 minutes, 14-7.  Wofford struggled to run the option all night, as the veteran Citadel defense had at least one player in the backfield every play. Wofford was able to turn to an unlikely tactic to offset the stout Bulldog defense: the passing game.

For the first time since the 1980s and Wofford’s division one era, the Terrier offense passed for 219 yards. Quarterback Brandon Goodson completed 11 of 17 passes and a touchdown.

The Terrier defense stood tall in the second half, holding the Citadel offense to 1 first down and 68 yards.

A key sequence happened in the third quarter. After Wofford running back Andre Stoddard fumbled a pitch inside the Wofford 20, Citadel Quarterback Jordan Black scrambled toward the endzone but fumbled on the goal line. The ball was recovered by Wofford, but two plays later the stiff Citadel defense tackled Brandon Goodson in the endzone for a safety.

The suspense reached a climax when Wofford took ball with 6:23 left, driving 68 yards on 13 plays and taking 5:13 off the clock. Brandon Goodson completed all 4 of his passes for 39 yards, knocking the Citadel offense off-balance and vulnerable to the option. Fullbacks Andre Stoddard and Chase Nelson together carried the ball 8 times for 23 yards, pounding the ball into the endzone on third and goal. On that drive the Terriers converted 3 of 3 third down attempts, including a strong 8 yard run by Chase Nelson on 3rd and 8 inside the redzone with less than 2 minutes left.

After Wofford came short on the two point conversion, on the ensuing possession they were able to stop Jordan Black a yard short of the yard to gain on a fourth and thirteen. The Terriers held on to win another close game, the 5th this season to be decided by a touchdown or less.

The performance did not produce the desired outcome for the Citadel Bulldogs, but the effort was an improvement on previous contests. The Bulldogs were able to limit their turnovers, breaking even on the turnover battle, but it came at an inopportune time at the goal-line, perhaps costing them at least 1 point and at most 5 points. More concerning for the Bulldogs is the lack of offensive efficiency in the last month of the season. In the last 3 contests, the Citadel offense has scored 14 points in each game. It’s improbable that this team will make the playoffs after this loss, but it’s still possible if they win out.  If they have any hope to do so, they have to score more points. They’ll do so next week at Chattanooga.

For Wofford, the contest falls in line with the trend of the year. The Terriers have won 5 games this year by a touchdown or less.  The Terriers have outscored their opponents 51-19 in the fourth quarter. Halfway through the season, Wofford has the shortest path to a Socon championship as they hold tie-breakers against all possible contenders except Samford, who they play next week in Spartanburg.

If Wofford loses, they can hope to still share the title, but if they beat the Bulldogs from Birmingham they’ll be favored to win the title outright, with their remaining 3 opponents being the three teams at the bottom of the Socon standings.

Samford will be coming off a bye and has the credentials of beating option and flexbone teams such as the Citadel and Kennesaw state. Having only one loss in the Socon so far, they are very much still alive to win at least a share of the Socon. It looks like another Wofford game that will come down to the wire in Spartanburg.

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