Southern Conference Week 8 Preview

Last week’s results in the Southern Conference have done what we have come to expect from the conference in recent memory – it made it anyone’s conference to win. It looks like Wofford and Western Carolina are out of the race, but the other 7 teams are still in the picture. Five of the teams have one conference loss. There will be a lot of shuffling and great football over the final five weeks of the season.

Devonnsha Maxwell had five sacks to lead a Chattanooga defense in a win over East Tennessee State. Tyrell Price ran for over 100 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Riddell and Quay Holmes struggled for ETSU but Jacob Saylors went over a hundred yards and scored a touchdown for the Buccaneers.

Samford beat Wofford 27-24 in another close game. But this one wasn’t a shootout for the Bulldogs. Liam Welch accounted for all three touchdowns. Wofford is winless in the conference and has struggled to find offensive consistency. They did go over 500 yards but still could not get the win.

VMI scored immediately on a pick six against Mercer which set the tone in a 45-7 blowout. The Keydets won the game the way Mercer wanted to control the game. VMI ran for 306 yards and allowed only 23 yards on the ground.

Furman won its second straight game by forcing three turnovers and running for over 200 yards against The Citadel. Jaylan Adams had 241 of total offense to lead The Citadel.

#21 VMI takes this week off. The other eight teams face of in conference matchups.

Last Week: 2-2, Season: 28-12

Chattanooga at Samford Saturday October 23, 1:00pm, ESPN3

Chattanooga is getting back to basics of running the ball and playing strong defense as they were expected to do all season. Last week’s win over East Tennessee State highlighted that blueprint. Devonnsha Maxwell set a school record with five sacks and the offense ran for 235 yards and three touchdowns. The running game features two backs, Aylin Ford and Tyrell Price, who average 98 and 76 yards per game respectively. Both backs have six rushing touchdowns. Cole Copeland has been the starter at quarterback the last few weeks. He has three touchdowns and five interceptions with a 55% completion rate. Those numbers will need to improve if the Mocs are going to have a shot at the conference title. On the season, Maxwell has 9.5 sacks to lead the defense that averages over 3 sacks per game.

Outside of their opening weekend win over Tennessee Tech, each of Samford’s other five games have been decided by six points or less. That has the Bulldogs sitting at 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the conference. They are the high-event, see-saw team that they have been for the last half decade. They score just under 40 per game and allow nearly 35 points per game. Samford averages 489 yards of offense; their opponents average 478. Samford has 12 turnovers; they have forced 13. Liam Welch has thrown for over 2000 yards and 15 touchdowns. But his 9 interceptions have cost the Bulldogs momentum at times.

This game features the best offense in the Southern Conference against the best defense in the Southern Conference.  The penchant for Samford to commit turnovers and the aggressive nature of the Chattanooga defense leads me to think the Mocs take this one.

Fearless Prediction: Chattanooga 27, Samford 20

Western Carolina at The Citadel Saturday October 23, 2:00pm ESPN+

Its been the same song and dance for Western Carolina as it has been in the past few years: turnovers and poor defense keeping them out of the win column. The Catamounts enter this week 0-6 allowing 47 points per game having committed 21 turnovers. A new coach has brought a new offensive philosophy which has seen the Catamounts move the ball more, but it hasn’t translated into wins. WCU is averaging 407 yards per game but allowing 487. Rogan Wells is expected back from injury this week which gives the Catamounts a chance to score points. But they cant turn the ball over against a Citadel team that will grind the clock and limit their possessions.

The Citadel enters this weekend 1-2 in conference play with a win over a ranked VMI team and losses to ETSU and Furman. Jaylan Adams has established himself as the leader of the Bulldog offense. Adams has run for 628 yards and six touchdowns and thrown for 591 and three touchdowns. His passing certainly needs week as he is under 50% with three interceptions, but he has started to figure out the balance of the option offense, making the right read and going with it. The Bulldogs are still struggling on defense, allowing over 33 points per game.

These two teams have struggled in recent years and will both be looking at this game as an opportunity for a victory. With the turnover issues of Western Carolina and The Citadel limiting opponent’s offensive possessions with their run game, I will take the Bulldogs in a close one.

Fearless Prediction: The Citadel 28, Western Carolina 24

#14 East Tennessee State at Furman Saturday October 23, 2:00pm, ESPN+

East Tennessee State suffered its first loss of the season in a tough matchup against Chattanooga. They’ll look to bounce back on the road against a tough opponent in Furman. The back half of the schedule is a big challenge for the Buccaneers. Starting last week, they play the other four teams with one conference loss plus Western Carolina. There is no time to rest for the Buccaneers.  We have spoken a lot about Quay Holmes (814 yards, 9 touchdowns). But his backfield mate, Jacob Saylors is a standout back as well but doesn’t get quite the publicity of Holmes. Saylors has run for 522 yards and seven touchdowns himself. Although he struggled last week, Tyler Riddell has played well under center for the Buccaneers. Defensively, ETSU allows under 20 points per game and has 40 tackles for loss.

Furman has shaken off a rough spring and is 4-1 against FCS opponents so far this season. Their offensive and defensive numbers are very similar which would make you think they play in a lot of close games, however the Paladins are yet to play in a one score game. Devin Wynn averages 110 all purpose yards per game and has six touchdowns on the season. Hamp Sisson started the season at quarterback and played well, but he has taken a step back in recent weeks. Jace Wilson played most of the game last week against The Citadel. Defensively, cornerback Travis Blackshear has frustrated opposing quarterbacks. The Junior has four interceptions which leads the team.

This should be a battle in the trenches. But the game may come down to which quarterback can make a good throw at the right time. Trust Tyler Riddell to do that.

Fearless Prediction: East Tennessee State 20, Furman 17

Wofford at Mercer Saturday October 23, 6:00pm, ESPN+

As Wofford continues to push to incorporate more passing into their offensive game plan, they continue to lose more games. At 1-5 it’s a lost season for the Terriers; although, three of their losses have been by one score. Not only is the pass game not improving, but the Terrier defense is also struggling as well, allowing 30 points and 425 yards per game to their opponents. The lone bright spot for Wofford is running back Irvin Milligan with 572 yards (7.2 per carry) and seven touchdowns. If Coach Conklin is committed to adding more passing, its going to be a long transition and the fans need to be ready to accept that. Defensively, Wofford doesn’t stop the run well either. They allow over 200 yards per game and average allowing two rushing touchdowns. There is a lot of work to do for this team to return to their form from the last half decade.

Mercer was rolling through their season with their only loss to FBS Alabama. Then, Fred Payton’s first pass of the game against VMI was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The Bears never recovered and lost to VMI 45-7. How they respond to a big loss will tell a lot about their prospects for the rest of the season.  Prior to last week, they looked to be well on their way to a playoff berth. They can still get there, no doubt, but they cant afford any more big losses. They close the season against Chattanooga and ETSU which will probably decide their fate. The pass game will ultimately be Mercer’s downfall. They are fine in close games, but if they get down a couple scores, the game is over. The quarterbacks and receivers they have are not capable of a big comeback.

If Mercer is going to win the SoCon, they have to be the bottom teams. This is one of those games. Mercer will find a way to stay in the hunt.

Fearless Prediction: Mercer 26, Wofford 16