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Expectations Meet Disruption in Spartanburg

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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With the winner establishing a decisive edge above the rest of the conference, this is a battle between the much anticipated and the unforeseen.

Most people expected Wofford to be the best team in the SoCon this year. The Terriers were picked first in both the preseason coaches’ and media polls. Mike Ayers’ group is living up to the hype.

However, no one saw Western Carolina’s rise to the top of the conference coming. Picked sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll and seventh in the media poll, the Catamounts are far exceeding the outside projections.

With the winner establishing a decisive edge above the rest of the conference, this is a battle between the much anticipated and the unforeseen.

The must see matchup within the matchup will be Western Carolina’s multi-faceted offense against Wofford’s vaunted defense.

Behind center, for the Catamounts, Tyrie Adams, an already dynamic dual-threat playmaker, as a freshman, has blossomed into the one of the best passers in the FCS, so far during year two.

He’s not just a volume stats guy, either -- the sophomore is in the top ten, nationally, in passing efficiency and top five in yards per attempt.

Terryon Robinson is, of course, Adams’ go-to-guy. The standout senior is averaging over 90 receiving yards per game (23rd in FCS) on 17.38 yards per reception. Although, the emergence of Steffon Hill, who is averaging 21.89 yards per reception (16th), has been nearly as vital to the offense’s overall passing success.

The group will have its toughest test yet, however, against Wofford’s stingy pass defense, which is allowing just 173 yards per game (23rd), 6.18 yards per attempt (22nd), and is 23rd in efficiency.

Cornerback Devin Watson leads the secondary that was ranked second in the SoCon, ahead of the season, and seems to have still been underrated. Watson had already notched a pair of interceptions and three other Terriers have each added one, through four games.

On the legs on George Gbesee’s five havoc plays, the Terriers have a defensive back havoc rate (passes defensed, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles per play) of 6.5%, which is also above average.

That said, only 13.4% of incomplete passes against the Terriers have been a result of passes defensed, which would indicate that the secondary has yet to truly be tested. Basically, the numbers, at least in part, are a result of inaccurate play from opposing quarterbacks, for one reason or another.

Then again, for as efficient as Tyrie Adams has been, his completion percentage, 60.7% (46th), is pretty good, but not overwhelmingly impressive.

Enter Detrez Newsome, the best player in the Southern Conference. (Admittedly, Newsome was all the way down at fourth in the preseason ranking of the league’s best players, but if that list happened today, his name would be first.)

Newsome’s 139.3 rushing yards per game (3rd), with a 7.96 per carry average (6th), are only overshadowed by his FCS leading 216.5 all purpose yards per game.

Still, it’s not completely a one man show. Minus Newsome, last week, the Catamounts were led Corey Holloway’s 105 yards on 14 carries.

Paired with Adams’ dual-threat ability, for the season, Western is even averaging more rushing offense than Wofford, at 281.2 yards per game (7th).

Stopping the run, though, is something the Terriers do well.

Their 3.61 yards per carry allowed is less than half of WCU’s average yards per carry. Something’s got to give.

As it usually does though, the success of either team starts up front.

Wofford has been uncharacteristically unproductive in the front seven, as far as sacks and tackles for loss, averaging 1 (100th) and 3.8 (116th) per game, respectively.

And it’s certainly not for lack of talent, given the likes of Miles Brown and Tyler Vaughn on the defensive line, in front of Datavious Wilson, alongside significant depth in each group.

This week could be a coming out party of sorts, against an offensive line that is giving up 2.8 sacks (98th) and 8.6 tackles for loss per game (118th).

Wofford has been the machine it was expected to be, led by a star-laden, experienced defense. Yet, as they welcome the expectation subverting, SoCon disruptors, that Western Carolina has proven to be, the group will have its hands full with one of the most versatile, explosive offenses that the FCS has to offer.

The only sure thing, on Saturday, is that the winners will leave Gibbs Stadium with a clear foothold atop the Southern Conference.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP