By David Coulson
College Sports Journal
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Wofford coach Mike Ayers displayed a confident smile as he emerged to meet the media following Saturday night’s 34-14 victory over Tennessee Tech.
In his 28th year at Wofford and his 31st season as a head coach, Ayers has around long enough to know when he has the ingredients to build a strong team and he said he likes what he has seen from his current crop of Terriers.
“They don’t know how good they can be,” said Ayers. “When they figure out what it takes in terms of hard work, we will be fine.”
A week earlier, Ayers suffered through a disheartening 48-10 loss to Clemson, potentially one of the best Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country.
“When we looked at the films, we realized we weren’t that bad,” Ayers said with a smile.
Wofford (1-1) was challenged at times in this Southern Conference versus Ohio Valley Conference matchup, but the Terriers won the battle of big plays to turn this into a 20-point win.
With 10 starters returning on offense, nine on defense and two on special teams, the Terriers have the experience similar to some of Ayers’ most successful teams.
In addition, Wofford has been fortified a number of redshirt freshmen who are expected to make contributions after “spending some time in the smokehouse,” Ayers said, and seven talented true freshmen have seen playing time in the first two games this year.
After Tennessee Tech (0-2) turned an opening-drive fumble into a 14-play, 45-yard touchdown drive, Wofford began to do what it does best with its wingbone option offense — control the ball.
The Terriers scored on three of their next four possessions, holding the ball for over 20 minutes in the first half, to take a 17-0 lead.
But early in the second half, the Golden Eagles appeared poised to get back into the game, mixing runs and passes to take the ball from their own 25 to the Wofford four on the first drive of the third period.
On third and goal, Terrier defensive end Steve Cornellier shot through the line to force a fumble that Tyler Vaughn recovered at the six.
Ninety-four yards later, sophomore quarterback Brad Butler caught the TTU defense overplaying the option and hit Hunter Windham for a 25-yard scoring strike. Instead of being back in the game at 17-14, the Golden Eagles trailed 24-7.
Radir Annoor returned the ensuing kickoff inside the red zone for Tech, with Chris Armfield making a saving tackle, but a holding call at the Golden Eagle 25 wiped out the potential game-changing play.
Earlier in the game, TTU All-American kick returner Ladarius Vanlier (10 carries, 80 yards rushing, 120 all-purpose yards) had returned a kickoff 41 yards, but Jared Davis had a pass intercepted by free safety Nick Ward to kill the drive.
“When you play someone like this and you fumble near the goal line, you have a kick return called back for holding and you throw an interception in the red zone, my gosh,” Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown exclaimed. “Those plays were absolutely crucial.”
While Wofford has a wealth of experience, Brown’s squad is dealing with inexperience.
“We are very young at a lot of spots,” Brown said. “We’ve got to quickly regroup and get better. If we stay healthy, we’ll get better.”
Brown could only look at Wofford’s experience and execution and look at the future.
“Wofford is very good and very well coached,” said Brown.
And Ayers has a bunch of weapons to attack opponents with.
Tech never quite figured out how to stop an option as the Terriers rolled up 444 yards rushing and 560 yards of total offense.
Fullback Lorenzo Long piled up 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while halfback Will Gay added 86 yards and another score in 14 attempts. Quarterbacks Butler and Evan Jacks each gained 69 yards on a total of 18 keepers and speedster Ray Smith needed only six touches to contribute 72 more yards.
Wofford will have a chance to make some more significant noise this weekend when it travels to Idaho for another FBS matchup.
Don’t be surprised if Ayers is smiling after this game as well.