SOCON Week 8 Preview

Following Wofford’s win over The Citadel last week, it looks like Wofford, 6-0, 4-0,  controls its destiny at this point in the race for the Southern Conference title.  Western Carolina and Furman are both sitting at sitting 3-1 in the conference, but have already fallen to the Terriers.  Samford sits at 2-1 with the Terriers hosting the Bulldogs this coming weekend.  A win by Wofford will pretty much seal the title barring any melt down by Wofford later on.  With a WCU victory over VMI expected this weekend, and with Furman battling a tough Mercer team, there could theoretically be a four way tie if Samford pulls out a win over Wofford.  Also this week, both The Citadel and Chattanooga look to recover a bit as they face each other.  ETSU is idle.


#17 Samford  at #5 Wofford  1:30PM ESPN3 (Samford notes) (Wofford notes)

This game may very well determine the auto bid to the FCS playoffs for the SOCON.  It will be the run against the pass.  But will it?  The Wofford Terriers had to take to the air last week in its win over The Citadel after the Bulldogs shut down the Terrier’s running game as it hadn’t been shut down in years.  Samford shut down The Citadel’s running game earlier this year so they can do it when they put their heart into it.  With Wofford’s stingy pass defense this game has all the makings of a classic.

With a stout defense overall, Wofford could slow Samford’s prolific passing attack.  The Bulldogs are averaging 320 yards a game through the air.  Devlin Hodges has gone 157/236 for 1899 yards to date with only 4 interceptions and 17 TDs.  The Samford running game is still a bit weak at 93 yards a game on average, but they have made improvements over the last few games.

On defense, Samford is giving up 203 yards a game on the ground with 4.2 yards a rush.  Against the pass they are giving up 246 yards a game and 8.7 yards an attempt.  Normally their pass defense would not be of primary concern against Wofford, but after this past week it may be tested.  If it is, that may be good news for the Bulldogs.  That means they would be stopping the Terriers ground game.  Samford also has 18 sacks and 7 interceptions on the year.

Wofford has been average on offense this year.  They have not been stellar, but they have produced, just enough to get the Ws.  They are averaging 390 yards a game with 262 yards on the ground and 128 through the air, which is well above their passing average for the last few years.  They are converting 48% of their third down tries. The Terriers have been averaging 27.5 points a game, which is again not great, but sufficient.  Wofford has really relied on their defense to seal their wins.

Overall, the Terriers are giving up 20.8 points a game.  They lead the SOCON in total defense at 298.2 yards a game.  That is good enough for #18 in FCS.  Against the run they are allowing 145 yards a game and 4.0 per rush.  They are much better against the pass and lead the SOCON at 153 yards a game.  That is #6 in FCS.  They only have 5 sacks, but they lead the conference in interceptions at 8.  While they have not done great in preventing third down conversions, at 44%, they have been pretty effective in finishing games.  In six games, they have only given up only 3 TDs and 2 FGs in the 4th quarter.  Their defense has given the offense the chance to win when needed.  The Terriers also scored 8 TDs in the 4th quarter.  Three of their victories have been come from behind affairs and another one won in OT.  The more I look at the results, the more it reminds me of The Citadel last year.  They have had many close games, but they took control of their games just when they needed to.  That is what champions do.

This will be a pretty tough game for both teams.  We could find all sorts of stats to see who has an edge here or there and still not figure out who has the critical advantage.  Wofford has experience and skill and a home field advantage although that does not seem to matter lately in so many SOCON games.  Samford has experience and skill as well, not to mention an off week in which to prepare.  Samford has proven that it can stop the run.  If Wofford is forced to the air again it may prove to be their Achilles heel.  Wofford has shown it has a good pass defense but Samford will be their hardest test to date, by far.  Wofford will bend for sure, but will they break?

After a couple emotional and strenuous games for the Terriers the last couple weeks, look for a close Samford victory, and the SOCON race to be thrust into chaos for at least another week or two.  Bulldogs win it 33-27.

Mercer at Furman  1:30PM ESPN3 (Mercer notes) (Furman notes)

This is a must win game for the Mercer Bears, 4-3, 3-2.  A loss here will knock them out of any realistic hope in the title race or an at large berth.  Furman, 4-3, 3-1, is a little bit more alive and has a shot at an at large if they keep winning.  They came up short early in the season going 0-3, but the Paladins have recovered nicely and are now rolling like gangbusters.

They are second in the SOCON in scoring with 36 points a game and second in total offense with 439 yards a game.  Their defense has been average, but good enough behind their powerhouse offense.  Paladin senior QB PJ Blazejowski has been pretty good at 72/124 with 12 TD passes and only two interceptions.  He is averaging just under 200 yards a game.  But the real story is the revitalized Furman running game.  They are averaging 235 yards a game.  And they are leading the SOCON in third down conversions at 51.5%.

They will face a Mercer defense that has been mostly effective.  The Bears are giving up only 337 yards a game and a conference leading 17.6 points per game.  Against the rush they are giving up only 138 yards a game.  Not bad considering they have already played Wofford, The Citadel, and Auburn to boot.  Their biggest characteristic has been their take away ability.  The Bears are sitting at +7 on the year with 9 fumbles recovered along with 7 interceptions.  They also have 13 sacks.  They are also holding opposing teams third down conversion at 37%.

The Bears offense has not been quite as good as their defense.  They are averaging 361 yards a game, but do have 30 points a game.  All those turnovers have helped in the scoring.  They have been fairly balanced between the run and pass.  Freshman QB Kaelan Riley is going to be a good one.  So far he is 112/182 for 1437 yards with 12 TDs and 5 interceptions.  He has only been sack 7 times.  They have been converting third downs at a 39% rate  ONe area that has been very good for the Bears is in red zones scores with them making 26/28 so far.

Facing the Bears offense, the Furman defense has not been too shabby.  They are allowing 372 yards a game with only 123 yards rushing per game and 3.5 yards per rush.  They lead the SOCON in sacks with 20.  They hold opponents to a 36% third down conversion rate.  Furman is at +4 in turnovers.

Furman’s defense has been a bit inconsistent at times so Mercer may be able to move the ball and use up clock.  Also, Furman’s ability to run like they have will be tested against the Bears.  But the Bears will have a hard time stopping the Paladin’s offense output overall.  This game will probably be somewhat high scoring.  Look for a Paladin win, 41-31.

Western Carolina at VMI  1:30PM ESPN3 (WCU notes) (VMI notes)

WCU, 5-2, 3-1, has been on a roll.  Having already lost to Wofford they will a little help to gain the SOCON title but they are poised to sneak into an at large playoff berth if they continue winning.  Not bad for a team that went 2-9 last year.  They still have an uphill battle with Furman, The Citadel and Mercer to go, not to mention UNC, but they are have been hitting on all cylinders.

The Catmounts offense has been awesome so far.  They are averaging 40 points a game and 479 yards per game on average.  They have done that with a fairly balance offense.  It could almost be said to be the Tyrie Adams show lately.  The sophomore QB is rushing for 72 yards a game and is passing for 212 as well.  Overall, he is 105/175 with 14 TDs and 6 interceptions.  But the Cats have a huge arsenal of weapons at their disposal.

The VMI Keydets continue to have a rough season.  Facing the Cats explosive offense will be no easy task.  VMI has given up  42 points and 472 yards a game on defense.  They surrender 4.5 yards a rush and 9.5 yards a pass attempt.  Ouch.

VMI’s offense has been AWOL for most of the season.  They are averaging only 218 yards a game.  They appear to have settled on a new QB with freshman Duncan Hodges after trying various ones so far.  Their only hope against WCU is to execute some ball control, but they are converting 3rd downs at only 27% and their running game gains them only 87 yards a game. A year ago they might have done better against an inept WCU defense.  But what a difference a year makes.

The WCU defense has been rejuvenated somewhat.   They have allowed 24 points a game and a much improved 379 yards a game split pretty evenly between pass and run.  They do lead the SOCON in pass defense efficiency.  They also have 17 sacks.  They also lead the SOCON in defending third downs at 35%.  That is not a bad turnaround on defense.

WCU should have a pretty easy time moving the ball and stopping VMI.  Depending on how fast the Cats score, it could get ugly up in Lexington.  WCU rolls, 48-10.

The Citadel at Chattanooga 2PM ESPN3 (The Citadel Notes) (UTC notes)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Between the these two teams they have won or shared the conference championship the last 4 years with each winning it outright at least once.  Now at 1-6, 1-3, Chattanooga seems to have fallen a bit further under new head coach Tom Arth.  Plagued with eligibility and injuries issues, Arth’s first year in Chattanooga has been a nightmare.  Graduation losses hit the Bulldogs, now 3-3, 1-3, pretty hard.  It isn’t that The Citadel has been that bad, they have just been inconsistent.  Both teams will look to salvage some respectability in this game.

After starting out pretty well, the Bulldogs have been a little lighter on offense after they started conference play.  Still averaging over 400 yards a game, their rushing output has steadily declined as the season has progressed.  They still lead the conference in rushing at 294 yards a game with a 4.9 yard per rush average.  As their rushing game was stymied a bit, first by Samford and then Mercer, the Bulldogs were forced to the air where they had some success, but not consistent enough to overcome these foes.  They are now averaging 109 yards a game through the air which is by far more than they have averaged since returning to the triple option in 2010.  Even after a few miserable games they are still converting third downs at a 46% clip.  And while they are also at +3 in turnovers, the turnovers that they have given up were probably the most untimely of any team I have seen in ages.  Many were in their opponents territory with a couple inside the 20.  Overall in the red zone the Dogs are at 69% and only have 17 TD on 26 trips. Their overall passing stats are not that good.  38/88 with three interceptions and 5 TDs.  They do have a pretty good yards per completion stat at over 17 yards, but only a mediocre 7.4 yards per attempt.  While some pass attempts were well executed, their passing attempts have mostly been born out of desperation with the expected result.

Their biggest problem has been a young offensive line.  That along with a youthful B-Back have doomed their usually well executed drives.   And something that may not seem all that apparent, is a quarterback issue.  The Bulldogs have two very capable QBs in Dominique Allen and Jordan Black.  Skill isn’t the issue.  It seems to be one of consistency and utilizing them appropriately.  That isn’t a knock at the coach.  While I may question the tag team approach, it has been effective at times.  But one wonders if a more effective rotation scheme could be implemented.  As it is, it doesn’t appear to be working too well.  But that is just it, it may be working as well as it can, given the overall experience level of the other positions.

Against the Dogs potentially power offensive attack, Chattanooga should have been well positioned.  But the mighty Mocs defense, their trademark in the last few years, has fallen off.  Between some injuries, suspensions, and now as the season slips away, most likely apathy has taken its toll on Chattanooga’s usually stingy defense.  It is allowing only about 347 yards a game pretty much even between rushing and passing yards allowed.  It is giving up rushes at 4.0 yards per attempt.  It is also allowing opponents to convert third downs at a 43% rate.  It has only registered 8 sacks on the year and 5 interceptions.

While the Mocs defense has been a little bit off, its offense has fallen off the cliff, and into a hole.  It is averaging only 18 points a game.  Take away its scoring bonanza against VMI, and it drops to 10.7 points a game.  Its yards per game is embarrassing at 261.  And it rushing yards per game would make even a Samford fan grin at 57 yards per game.  The drop off in offensive output can obviously be traced to their QB crisis.  With its expected starter out due to academics and then injury, its SEC transfer QB hasn’t been able to make the transition to playing in the tough SOCON.  Now that he was injured as well, its looks like they will rely on Freshman Cole Copeland.  Not a bad idea to get him some much needed experience for the years to come.  He actually did pretty well passing in the two games he has played in.  He may continue putting up some good numbers against The Citadel defense.

The Bulldogs have not been bad on defense, just inconsistent.  They have held opponents on average to under 300 yards a game.  That includes 107 yards a game against the run.  They held Wofford to just 89 yards.  Think about that for a minute…89 yards.  Where the Dogs have faltered a bit, is against the pass.  Faltered may even be a bit harsh.  They are allowing only 192 passing yards a game.  But their secondary has been burned more than once and the fiasco in the Samford game was downright embarrassing.  The Citadel has a good defense, it has just been burned with some untimely big plays.  It has held opponent to a 35% third down conversion rater.  It only gives up a respectable 5.3 yards per play on average.   It has 10 sacks and 7 interception to date.

I have a had a feeling all year that the Mocs were about to wake up.  Every time I predict they will, they slump back into a haze.  They might just make it this week if the Bulldogs let them.   The Dogs should handle them easily if they can tighten up their pass defense a bit.  The Dogs should also handle them on the ground unless the Mocs somehow develop a superior running game this week.  The Citadel TOP ball hogging ways will put the Mocs defense to the test as it is worn down.  The Mocs will also doom themselves if they continue in coughing the ball up.  They are at -11 for the year.  Look for at least a two score victory by the Dogs, 27-17.

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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