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SoCon Weekend Primer

By Southern Pigskin Staff
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If Georgia Southern topples Appalachian State in Paulson Stadium this Saturday, the Eagles will once again win the SoCon championship.

Just when you think it can't get any bigger, the Southern Conference finds a way to one up itself. Sure, Southern Cal-Oregon is big. Yes, Alabama-LSU is even bigger. But ask folks in North Carolina and Georgia what game they are most looking forward to, and there’s a good chance they will answer with the renewal of the Georgia Southern-Appalachian State rivalry. So, we have GSU-ASU, we have the Citadel, Chattanooga and Samford all fighting for their playoff lives, and Wofford hoping for a Mountaineer upset to try and keep their conference title hopes alive. It’s just another November weekend in the SoCon.

No. 14/15 Appalachian State (6-3, 5-2 SoCon) at No. 1/2 Georgia Southern (7-1, 6-1), 2 p.m., ESPN3

There is plenty on the line in this game. With a victory, the Eagles would clinch their second-straight conference title. The Mountaineers need a victory to try and keep their playoff hopes alive. Oh, and then add in how this has been arguably the most competitive rivalry in the SoCon (maybe even the FCS) in recent years, and you get a sense of how big this game is.

Appalachian State has been boosted by big plays from everyone on its offense recently. Running back Steven Miller is coming off a career day against Western Carolina (245 yards, one touchdown), receiver Sean Price has developed into one of the most explosive threats at the position in the conference and backup quarterback Logan Hallock had a debut to remember a week ago. Hallock will have to do his best if Jamal Jackson cannot play – Jackson has been limited in practice and is listed as questionable for the game – for App to keep up with Georgia Southern’s offense. The Mountaineer defense will also need a big game, but that could be easier said than done. Against the conference’s two other triple option offenses – The Citadel and Wofford – ASU gave up 463 and 393 rushing yards. That’s not encouraging when you are facing the no. 2 rushing attack in the country.

But it hasn’t been all perfect for the Eagles either. In their triple overtime thriller against Chattanooga last week, Georgia Southern’s defense, which ranks as the fourth-best in the country, gave up 170 rushing yards to UTC quarterback Jacob Huesman. That could be a problem against an ASU offense that often sports an athletic quarterback who can run and pass the ball, and both Jackson and Hallock (who rushed for 966 yards as a senior in high school) fit that mold. On top of that, the Eagles also are tied for the second-worst turnover ratio in the SoCon, with a minus-two (thanks to a conference-high 12 lost fumbles) margin. On the bright side, the Eagle offense sports two of the best rushers in the conference in running back Dominique Swope (729 yards, 12 TDs) and quarterback Jerick McKinnon (734 yards, eight TDs).

Meanwhile, defensive linemen Brent Russell and Javon Mention are anchoring the Eagles, as they both rank among the best in the conference in sacks and tackles for loss.

Do yourself a favor - find a computer, find ESPN3 and make sure you do not miss this game. It is always a classic when these two teams play, and the Eagles have revenge on their minds after the Mountaineers shut them down a year ago at the Rock.

Prediction: Georgia Southern 27, Appalachian State 23

Elon (3-5, 1-4) at The Citadel (4-4, 3-3), 2 p.m., Bulldog Insider

Though often overlooked, the Phoenix and the Bulldogs have played some great games of their own in recent years. For proof, look no further than last year’s 18-15 overtime victory for Elon. Need more? The all-time record between the schools stands at 6-5 in favor of The Citadel. It’s always fun when these two squads get together.

The Bulldogs come into this game reeling, having lost four of their last five games to go from conference title favorites, to fighting to stay alive for a playoff berth. It is no coincidence that season-ending injuries to linebackers Carl Robinson and Rah Muhammad have coincided with these losses, and now starting offensive guard Keith Carter has been lost for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon. That could have an effect on the nation’s fifth-best rushing attack, spearheaded by back Darien Robinson (701 yards, five TDs) and quarterback Ben Dupree (610 yards, six TDs). Last week’s tough loss at Wofford has left a sour taste in the Bulldogs’ mouth, and they now know that they are fighting for their playoff lives. Combine that with Saturday being the Bulldogs’ final home game of the season, and you can expect an emotional Citadel squad to come out firing come kickoff.

Things went downhill quickly for the Phoenix last week against Furman, as a 95-yard fumble return for a touchdown by the Paladins turned a 14-7 game into a 21-7 lead that Elon could not recover from. Good news for Elon: receiver Aaron Mellette is having another ‘Merle’ season, as his season stat line now sits at 69 catches (good for fifth in the nation) for 1,008 yards (third in the nation) and 15 TDs (tops in the FCS). Quarterback Thomas Wilson continues his fine season (2,276 passing yards, 64.7 completion percentage, 20 TDs, eight INTs), leading the conference in passing and passing efficiency. Bad news: The Citadel has the third-best passing defense in the nation. Worst news: Elon’s rush defense gives up an average of 218.9 yards per game and has struggled in recent weeks. And everyone knows how much The Citadel loves to run the ball.

Prediction: The Citadel 35, Elon 23

Chattanooga (4-4, 3-2) at Western Carolina (1-8, 0-7), 3:30 p.m.

Preseason predictions for the SoCon are beginning to pan out as most expected. Finally after nine weeks of football, the conference is beginning to take shape. Chattanooga was expected to be in the middle of the pack, and that is exactly where the Mocs sit. Last week, Chattanooga took on the best team in FCS football in the Georgia Southern Eagles, taking them to the wire in a three overtime thriller. While the Mocs fell short, what they showed was an undeniable resiliency. Jacob Huesman continues to impress, winning SoCon Freshman of the Week. He accounted for 288 yards of total offense and three touchdowns against the Eagles.

This week, Chattanooga faces a much weaker opponent in Western Carolina. Ranking 119th in total defense and 69th in total offense, a struggling Catamount team will look to bounce back against a Mocs team that has truly found its rhythm and is playing great football. As is the case for most teams in the SoCon, establishing the run game will prove pivotal for both teams. But this game is a little different, as there are no option or wishbone offenses battling it out in the trenches. Both teams will look to catch the other off guard with its different style of play. The Catamounts have struggled, but quarterback Eddie Sullivan has shown talent with over 900 yards of passing and four scores.

For Chattanooga, the gameplan will not change or differ one bit: get the Huesman show rolling and grab the popcorn. The Mocs come in with a 28-16 lead in the all-time series, and won last year's meeting 51-7.

Prediction: Chattanooga 41, Western Carolina 10

No. 7 Wofford (7-1, 5-1) at Samford (5-3, 3-3), 3:00 p.m.

The Wofford Terriers come into Seibert Stadium with a two-game winning streak. The dominating performances from Eric Breitenstein continue, as he is averaging over 150 yards per game on the ground. Thanks in large part to Breitenstein's performances, Wofford ranks first in the FCS in rushing. Defensively, the Terriers continue to impress, ranking in the top 20 nationally in total defense. We as sports fans hear all the time about teams that punch you in the mouth and play physical football, and no team embodies that more than the Wofford Terriers. The wishbone has proved very successful for Mike Ayers during his tenure, and it continues to prove that the SoCon is the SEC of the FCS.

For Samford, this game will come down to the play of quarterback Andy Summerlin, who faces the 44th-ranked passing defense in the FCS. Summerlin must play mistake-free to pull off the upset for the Bulldogs. Along with Summerlin, Fabian Truss must establish a rushing game and keep the Terriers off the field.

Prediction: Wofford 31, Samford 20


The Socon Weekend Primer is put together by Southern Pigskin writers Russell Varner and David England.