Welcome to week seven of the SoConversation, featuring The Citadel beat writer Jeff Hartsell of the Charleston Post and Courier, Elon beat writer Adam Smith of the Burlington Times-News and UTC beat writer John Frierson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Before we discuss what happened elsewhere in the SoCon last week, let’s take a moment to go over what happened with the teams we cover. The Citadel was drilled at Samford, Elon hung with Appalachian State for three quarters and most of the Mocs spent the day on the couch watching football. Thoughts?
ADAM: Another good-but-not-good-enough performance from Elon became another lost opportunity at a meaningful victory. The Phoenix again held up in a tough road environment and led late in the third quarter at App State, just as it had two weeks prior at Georgia Southern.
A scheme adjustment turned decisive for the Mountaineers on homecoming.
By SoCon standards, App State long has been regarded as a stockpiler of elite, game-changing talent. And that’s accurate, of course. But credit offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield for tweaking the deployment of that talent to effectively subdue Elon.
App emptied its backfield as the second half grew older, stretched the Elon defense with four- and five-receiver sets and simply ran away from the Phoenix in space.
After Elon went up 17-14 — on Aaron Mellette’s third touchdown; yes, man-sized — App State responded with a pair of critical touchdowns by getting smaller, faster players matched against Elon linebackers in coverage.
Some of Elon’s numbers were the stuff of fantasy football gold. Thomas Wilson threw for 419 yards and Mellette morphed into Megatron mode with 13 catches for 237 yards and three scores. But the Phoenix still left with a loss, its third straight in what was a gauntlet to open SoCon play.
Elon could have led 20-7 at halftime. Instead, App was ahead 14-10, after Elon drives to the Mountaineers’ 2 and 13 ended in no points and App’s Tony Washington turned a 5-yard pass into a 54-yard touchdown with 1:01 left in the second quarter.
OK, catch your breath.
And pinch your nose.
Because Johnny Frierson is about to disgust you with tales of his slob-tastic, bachelor lifestyle.
JEFF: Before the season began, any reasonable Citadel fan would have been perfectly happy with a 3-3 record at this point, considering that the Bulldogs faced N.C. State, App State and Georgia Southern in the first four games. But the way The Citadel got to that 3-3 record has created consternation in Bulldog Nation, with wins over GSU and App State (by 52-28!) and losses to Chattanooga and Samford.
With two starting linebackers lost to injury in the last two weeks, this Citadel team is badly in need of an open date. But the Dogs won't get one until after this week's game against struggling Western Carolina. A win in that game sends The Citadel into the open week with a 4-3 record and a realistic shot at a winning record, which was the most reasonable goal all along (until App State happened).
JOHN: I had a great day of doing exactly what I wanted to do, starting from hitting the snooze button about five times to all the bad-for-me grub I stuffed down my gullet to choosing to cut the Georgia-South Carolina game off after less than a quarter. (I didn’t go to Georgia but I grew up less than 300 yards from campus, during the Herschel years.) I wound up watching more of yet another horrible Adam Sandler movie than I did the game. Disgraceful.
It was a day that reminded me of how regular people live in the fall, which is far different from a beat writer’s normal Saturday.
Here are last week’s results: Georgia Southern def. Western Carolina 45-13, Samford def. The Citadel 38-7, Appalachian State def. Elon 35-23 and Wofford def. Furman 20-17. What caught your eye during week six?
JEFF: Samford is a solid team and more athletic than you might think, with the law firm of Truss, Pope, Hawkins and Tartt leading the way. Elon seems to be pulling it together and will be a tough out the rest of the season. Sounds like Wofford vs Furman was a backyard brawl, which Wofford vs Furman should be. Wofford has been hit by an injury bug, but beware the wounded Terrier.
To me, the league seems to be getting better than I was giving it credit for a couple of weeks ago. Should be a fun homestretch.
JOHN: Other than the Eagles cruising past the Catamounts, as expected, there were some very interesting games last week. Elon played very well against ASU for three quarters and then the Mountaineers pulled away. In its last three games — wins over UTC, Coastal Carolina and Elon — ASU has outscored its opponents 52-13 in the fourth quarter. That has to say something about the Mountaineers’ conditioning, depth and “strategery.”
Can Furman be a very good team at 2-4? Maybe not, but the Paladins do a lot of things very well. And they nearly knocked off the Terriers in a tough, physical game. As for Samford thumping The Citadel, I sure didn’t see that coming. The Birmingham Bulldogs sure look for real and they lead the SoCon in a lot of statistical categories.
ADAM: Wofford’s hard-fought struggle against Furman was intriguing, but Samford’s dismantling of The Citadel had my eyebrows doing up-downs with every update from SoCon assistant commissioner Jason Yaman — he of the exceptional organization and class, stationed beside me in the App State press box.
What happened to Citadel’s magic? The team that shredded App for 52 points in Boone suddenly has managed a total of 17 in its last two games, both losses.
Speaking of magic (or witchcraft), if somehow you flipped Citadel’s SoCon results — giving the Bulldogs early victories against Chattanooga and Samford and recent losses to Georgia Southern and App State — it seems significantly more tolerable than the current state of affairs.
On the flip side, a big shout-out to Samford, taking care of business at 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the league, and ranked in the FCS Top 25 media poll for the first time since October 1993. Impressive stuff.
Back to Furman (2-4, 1-2), that narrow miss at Wofford was the Paladins’ third loss this season by three points or less. The thin line has not been kind. A break here or there and we might be heaping praise on Furman coach Bruce Fowler and Co. here at the season’s midpoint.
Here are this week’s matchups: UTC at Furman (1:30 p.m., ESPN3.com), Western Carolina at The Citadel (2 p.m.), Appalachian State at Samford (3 p.m.) and Wofford at Georgia Southern (6 p.m.). Other than Wofford-Georgia Southern, which we’ll get to in a bit, any predictions on what’s to come this weekend?
JOHN: Furman and UTC are probably two teams that have underachieved so far this season. Offensively they’ve both demonstrated talent and explosiveness, but have too often failed to finish off drives. The team that gets it done in the red zone Saturday will win.
The Mocs will keep their good offensive mojo going and win by a touchdown, setting up a very interesting game next week against Samford.
Elsewhere, Mark Speir and the Catamounts will stun the reeling Citadel Bulldogs by a field goal, ASU’s Sean Price will catch the game-winning TD pass with less than two minutes remaining and see below for my thoughts on Wofford-Georgia Southern — hint: the better passing option team will win.
How’s that for specificity?
JEFF: A good weekend slate, and in each of the four games I would not be shocked to see either team win. I've been asked by certain Citadel fans to refrain from picking the Bulldogs to win due to my horrific record in predicting Citadel games. We'll try that for a week and see how it goes.
Elsewhere, I think Furman is developing a nice run/pass balance with RB Jerodis Williams and freshman QB Reese Hannon, and I like the Paladins at home. Samford will squeeze about 10,000 fans into cozy Seibert Stadium for its biggest game since it joined the SoCon, but Jamal Jackson and Co. will be too much. App State by 10.
ADAM: Predictions for Saturday — to the cuticles, we go.
Chattanooga over Furman in a nailbiter.
Citadel over Western Carolina in a nailbiter.
App State over Samford (on homecoming in Birmingham) in a nailbiter.
As for me, well, since you were wondering, with Elon on its bye and our local ACC teams either on byes or playing out of state — many thanks, John Swofford — I’m planning on getting reacquainted with the homestead.
Smith over the yard in a weedeater.
The game of the year in the SoCon could take place in Statesboro on Saturday, where the Terriers will try to take a huge step toward the SoCon championship with a win and the Eagles will attempt to open things up for themselves and several other one-loss teams.
Will this be the best SoCon game of the season and who will prevail in this triple-option throwdown?
ADAM: It certainly has the potential to be the most rugged SoCon game of the season. And excellent work by Frierson with the use of “triple-option throwdown” up there in the lead-in question. Kudos.
If there can be contrasting styles between offenses that both run the triple option, this is it. Wofford’s misdirection that thrives on execution vs. Georgia Southern’s speed to and around the edges.
Check the SoCon stats and you’ve got to the league’s top two rushing offenses AND rushing defenses. Buckle up.
Saturday night could be considered Round 1 of a title bout for Wofford. After venturing down to Statesboro this weekend, the Terriers have a trip up to Boone where Appalachian State — Round 2 — is waiting next weekend.
Had Georgia Southern not stumbled at The Citadel, this would be a meeting of unbeatens. Even still, it’s one of two marquee matchups in the FCS on Saturday. (No. 6 Eastern Washington is at No. 2 Montana State.)
And if it’s a prediction you’re needing, I’ll say Wofford over Georgia Southern.
In a nailbiter.
JOHN: I’d love to be in the press box at Paulson Stadium — well, at least in the stadium — for this one. I like good defense and I like watching triple-option teams go at it. It’s like if two similarly designed and programmed robots got in a fight.
Ever since its loss to The Citadel, Georgia Southern has quietly gone about its business, winning three in a row. Wofford (and fullback Eric Breitenstein) have received much more attention so far, which I’m sure is just fine with Eagles coach Jeff Monken.
While I have some reservations about the Terriers because their opponents to date are a combined 6-23, I do think this will be the game of the year. And, shock, I think the passing of Wofford quarterback Brian Kass will be the difference. Wofford 27, Georgia Southern 24.
JEFF: I've poked fun at Wofford for the Terriers' easy opening stretch of games, but last week's slugfest with Furman should prepare them for this week's Armageddon in Statesboro. I'm just afraid that Wofford has been weakened by injury, and I can't see any team going undefeated in the SoCon this season. Eagles by a field goal.
If you’ve got a question, e-mail the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. The guys are also on Twitter: @Jeff_fromthePC, @adam_smithTN and @MocsbeatCTFP.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...