SoCon Weekend Primer
By Southern Pigskin Staff
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A number of teams still have hopes of winning a share of the SoCon title.
We have two weeks to go. Two weeks to decide a conference title and to put yourself in prime playoff positioning. Safe to say the picture is slightly muddled at this point, but all the dust could settle by the end of the weekend.
Here’s an update on the conference championship picture – Georgia Southern has already clinched at least a share of the title. With a victory this weekend, so would Wofford. The same goes for Appalachian State, who could also clinch the automatic bid if they win and Wofford loses. And the Chattanooga Mocs still have a shot at the title as well, although they would need to win their two remaining games.
So ok, now that we have that out of the way, what say we get to the games?
Chattanooga (5-4, 4-2 SoCon) at No. 14/13 Wofford (7-2, 5-2), 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
We already mentioned just how big this game is when it comes to the conference title picture. It feels sort of like last year’s matchup, which saw Wofford keep their playoff hopes alive when Mitch Allen snuck into the end zone from a yard out with 37 seconds to go to give the Terriers a 28-27 victory. It will be interesting to see how the Terriers respond following a difficult double overtime loss at Samford a week ago, one that saw the Bulldogs tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion with 0:00 on the clock.
Wofford holds a 10-8 advantage in the series and has won five of the last six games. Back Eric Breitenstein, the nation’s third-leading rusher, leads the tenth-highest scoring team in the nation in his final regular season home game, which will surely be an emotional day for everyone at Gibbs Stadium. The Terriers also limp into the game with a long list of injuries, headlined by back Donovan Johnson and their top two quarterbacks, Brian Kass and Michael Weimer. Breitenstein and company will be challenged earlier and often by the 17th-best defense in the country, but Wofford does sport the best rush D in the conference. Perhaps they can slow down the two-headed monster of Jacob Huesman and Terrell Robinson. Linebackers Mike McCrimon (50 tackles) and Alvin Scioneaux (41 tackles, three sacks) will need to bring their A game come Saturday.
The Mocs found new life in the second half against Western Carolina last week, when they exploded for 29 unanswered points, including 23 in the fourth quarter, en route to a 45-24 win that kept their playoff and conference title hopes alive. They now face a new challenge in trying to slow down the offensive beast that is Breitenstein. The Mocs do give up 142.2 rushing yards per game, third-best in the conference, and sophomore lineman Davis Tull has been a big reason for the defense’s success this season. He is the conference’s leader in both sacks (10) and tackles for loss (13.5). He will not have many chances to add to the former, but will have plenty of opportunities to work on the later. The key for the Mocs is how well Huesman (who is the eighth-leading rusher in the SoCon) and Robinson can play against a solid Wofford D. They are sound against the run, giving up a conference-best 124.6 yards per game, but are susceptible to the pass (192.9 yards per game, third-worst in the SoCon).
Prediction: No. 14/13 Wofford 27, Chattanooga 17
Samford (6-3, 4-3) at Elon (3-6, 1-5), 1:30 p.m., Ustream Elon Phoenix
The Bulldogs are riding high after their improbable double overtime win against Wofford a week ago. They hope to ride that momentum into North Carolina and, eventually, the playoffs. The Phoenix just have not had much go their way this season and are trying to end it on a high note, starting with Senior Day against Samford.
Samford, to the surprise of absolutely no one, has had strong seasons from back Fabian Truss (sixth-leading rusher in the SoCon with 807 yards and nine touchdowns to go with 257 receiving yards and 498 kick return yards and a kickoff return for a touchdown), receiver Kelsey Pope (among conference leaders in receptions – 58 – and receiving yards – 497) and defensive back Jaquiski Tartt (82 tackles along with a conference-high 13 pass breakups and four interceptions). More surprising has been the play of quarterback Andy Summerlin. The senior ranks third in the conference with 2,054 passing yards on a 66.3 completion percentage and nine touchdowns. He, Pope and Truss should have a good chance to add to their numbers as they face a struggling Elon defense that has been susceptible to the big play all year. Look for Truss in particular to have a big game. Tartt will have to try slow down the Phoenix’s top-ranked passing attack, which is no easy task.
It is no secret what Elon plans to do against you on offense – throw and throw often. Quarterback Thomas Wilson leads the conference in most passing stats, including yards (2,627), touchdowns (22), and passing efficiency (156.5). And by now, you surely know of receiver Aaron Mellette and the ridiculous numbers he has put up in his career (this season’s stats: 78 catches, 1,110 yards, 15 TDs, which all rank among the best in the nation). Unforunately, little else has seemed to go right for the Phoenix. Their offense is the only one in the conference averaging under 100 rushing yards per game and the defense, particularly against the run, has struggled throughout most of the season. Jonathan Spain (90 tackles),Blake Thompson (72 tackles) and company will have their hands full trying to slow down the Samford offense.
Prediction: Samford 31, Elon 23
Furman (3-6, 2-4) at No. 12 Appalachian State (7-3, 5-2), 3:30 p.m., GoASU TV
Needless to say there will be a few extra pairs of eyes watching this game. Can the Paladins pull off the upset for the second year in a row against their old rivals? Can the Mountaineers avoid a letdown after their upset of then-no. 1 Georgia Southern? A word of caution to ASU – last year they faced Furman following their 24-17 win over then-no. 1 Georgia Southern. The result? A 20-10 Furman win. In fact, the last three times the Mountaineers have defeated a nationally ranked team, they lost the following week.
Two offensive stars shined for the Mountaineers in their upset a week ago – quarterback Jamal Jackson (383 yards, three touchdowns) and receiver Sean Price (seven catches for 231 yards and a touchdown). That was against the best defense the Southern Conference has to offer. What will Jackson, Price and the rest of App’s offense be able to do against Furman, which has the sixth-best defense in the conference? Speaking of defense, the Mountaineers has been a bit of enigma this season. Last week was a nice microcosm of their season. In the first half, the Eagles’ offense was able to do almost whatever they wanted against App’s defense. In the second half though, the Mountaineers completely shut down the Eagles’ attack. ASU’s defense is much better than the 424 yards per game they allow, which is second-worst in the conference.
The playoffs have been out of Furman’s reach for a little bit now, but the Paladins could put a nice cap on their season with another upset of their rivals from Boone? Back Jerodis Williams has had himself a senior year to remember, rushing for 1,008 yards (18th-best nationally), 10 touchdowns and averaging 36.8 yards per kickoff return (tops in the country). As I said, he’s having a pretty good season. Quaterback-turned-receiver Will King has quietly had a good season of his own, leading the team with 34 catches, 541 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, linebacker Mitch McGrath has led the way with 65 tackles, six tackles for loss, two interceptions and three pass breakups. Sadly, that’s almost all that has gone well for Furman on defense. The squad is giving up nearly 400 yards per game and has the conference’s worst pass defense (233.8 yards and 14 touchdowns given up compared to just five interceptions). Jackson and Price have to be licking their chops after the numbers they put up last week. If the Paladins want any chance to pull off the upset, they have to improve their pass defense. Then again, Furman is the only Southern Conference school with a winning record against the Mountaineers.
Prediction: No. 12 Appalachian State 44, Furman 24
The Citadel at VMI
At one point The Citadel looked to be the team to beat, having wins over Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. It appeared possibly that the Bulldogs could be the new class of the SoCon, but then the SoCon accomplished what it does best and that is ruin dreams. With three losses in a row the dream season quickly turned into a struggle for The Citadel. Now with the tenth game of the season approaching to have any hopes of possibly staying in the hunt of a SoCon title The Citadel must win a non-conference game over Virginia Military Institute.
The battle for the Silver Shako Trophy has historically been a great series with The Citadel holding a slim 35-30-2 lead. The last meeting between the two military based schools was not a game that VMI will have fond memories about in a 41-14 loss. The Bulldogs come in with the fourth best rushing offense in the nation and rank 12th in defending the pass. There is no question that The Citadel relies upon the run and that will not change any time soon. Darien Robinson has been the key to the Bulldogs accumulating over 850 yards on the ground and six touchdowns.
VMI runs a multiple offense set and shows several looks on offense, quarterback Eric Korenbrock has had an All Big South season with over 1,500 yards through the air and has passed for five touchdowns. The key for the Keydets getting back on track will be mixing up formations on offense and keeping The Citadel's defense on it's heels. Something Head Coach Sparky Woods has a good history of accomplishing.
The Citadel will physically overpower VMI at the line of scrimmage and that will be the difference in the game. Darien Robinson could possibly carry the rock over 35 times in this game.
Score Prediction: The Citadel 24 VMI 13
Howard at #7 Georgia Southern
The true makeup of a team is how they bounce back from a difficult loss. That will be what the Eagles have to pull off this Saturday against the Bison of Howard University from the MEAC. This will be no easy task as Howard comes into the showdown in Statesboro with just one less win than Georgia Southern. The importance of this game for Georgia Southern, who holds a slim lead over Wofford in the SoCon title race, cannot be overstated. The game will be one of two polar opposites as Monken's Georgia Southern take on Gary Harrell's Bison; the triple option vs the spread offense. This is the battle of the old school vs the new school, with the old school offensive philosophy working very well for Georgia Southern.
The game will simply come down to Jerick McKinnon who has been the X-Factor this season for the Eagles. With only playing limited snaps in three games the numbers for McKinnon have been very impressive, with over 1,200 yards of total offense and eleven touchdowns. Georgia Southern's offense revolves around the play of McKinnon, but running back Dominique Swope has factored in as a key component as well for the Eagles. Expect to see a lot of McKinnon this week on option reads and draw plays to weaken the Bison defense and open up the big plays for the Eagles.
For Howard the game plan is more complex. The Bison will look to spread Georgia Southern out on the defensive side of the ball, and use speed as a key factor to wear down the tenth best defense in all of FCS football. With Georgia Southern's best pass rusher Brent Russell being suspended, Howard should be able to air out against Georgia Southern. The only weakness in one of the best defenses in the FCS ranks. The running game for the Bison has proved solid as well with Terrance LaFell having just under 600 yards rushing and over 100 carries. Howard will face a tough test in the Eagles defense and must keep the Eagles off the field to win.
With a tough loss last week I fully expect Georgia Southern to play at a high level and pull away in the fourth.
Score Prediction: Howard 17 Georgia Southern 34