Overview of Week 4:
Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will be looking to rebound from losses (both which came to The Citadel the last time out) as the SoCon race begins to enter the meat of league play in Week 4, with three league matchups.
Appalachian State, which is coming off a 52-28 home loss to The Citadel last Saturday, heads to the Scenic City to meet Chattanooga for the Mountaineers' first road contest of Southern Conference play.
If two teams can afford to start off Southern Conference play with a loss, it's Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, two of the three teams that have managed to win a league title after losing the league opener.
The Mountaineers, which lost their league opener 42-31 to Wofford, went on to claim a share of the 2007 Southern Conference league title before also eventually claiming the FCS national title.
The Eagles, which lost their Southern Conference opener 14-7 to Wofford in 2002, went on claim the league's outright title that same season.
Georgia Southern (1-1, 0-1 SoCon), meanwhile, had an off week to lick its wounds from a 23-21 loss to those same Bulldogs in Charleston. The Eagles will host Elon, looking for their third straight win over the Phoenix.
The Citadel (3-0, 2-0 SoCon), which is off to its best start since its last Southern Conference title season two decades ago, will step out of Southern Conference play and take on FBS foe North Carolina State on the gridiron for the first time since 1986.
The unbeaten Bulldogs will be in search of their first win over an FBS foe since defeating Army 15-14 in that very same championship season of '92. The Bulldogs also were able to knock off Arkansas 10-3 to open the '92 campaign, shocking the college football world.
Samford (3-0, 1-0 SoCon) is quietly making some noise in the Southern Conference this season, and the other Bulldogs head to Western Carolina (1-2, 0-1 SoCon) to try and move to 2-0 in league play for the first time since Samford joined the league in 2002.
Samford is off to its best start since 1995 and the best start the Bulldogs have enjoyed under sixth-year head coach Pat Sullivan.
The Catamounts will be in search of their first win of the Bulldogs since the Bulldogs joined the Southern Conference in 2008, and if Samford is able to pull off the win, they will deliver head coach Mark Speir his first Southern Conference win as a head coach, as well as the first win against a Division I opponent.
The Catamounts opened the season with a 42-14 win over Mars Hill. The Catamounts' only win in nine meetings with the Bulldogs came way back in 1969.
Finally, Furman heads to Presbyterian for a non-conference test, and it will mark the first time since 1975 that the Paladins have played in Clinton, snapping a streak of 16-straight clashes in Greenville.
The Paladins are off to their first 0-3 start since 1979, which interestingly enough, is the last time the Paladins lost to PC on the gridiron, which was a 17-10 loss in Greenville.
Furman's 13 straight wins over PC is the second-most consecutive wins over an opponent, with the only other opponent the Paladins have more wins over being VMI, as the Paladins have claimed 21 consecutive wins over VMI.
WHO: Furman (0-3, 0-1 SoCon) at Presbyterian (1-2, 0-0 Big South)
WHERE: Bailey Memorial Stadium (6,500)
WHEN: Sept. 22, 2012, 12 p.m.
Overview: When Furman heads to Clinton, S.C., to face Presbyterian College on Saturday, it will look to right the wrongs of the opening three weeks of the 2012 season. It's the first time Furman has begun a season 0-3 since 1979.
Interestingly enough, that 1979 season is also the last time the Paladins tasted defeat against PC, as the Paladins dropped a 17-10 decision to the Blue Hose at Sirrine Stadium in Greenville.
Furman has dropped its opening three games of the 2012 season against Samford (24-21), Coastal Carolina (47-45, 3 OTs) and then-No. 11 Clemson (41-7).
Meanwhile, Presbyterian opened the 2012 campaign with a 45-10 win over Division II Brevard, but have been outscored 117-3 in the past two weeks against Georgia Tech (59-3) and Vanderbilt (58-0).
Saturday, PC will be hosting Furman in Clinton for the first time 1975, ending a streak of 16 straight games played in Greenville.
Furman comes into the matchup holding a commanding 41-11-1 all-time series edge and have claimed 13 straight wins over the Blue Hose, which accounts for the longest streak held by the Paladins against any opponent.
The Paladins and Blue Hose met last season, with the Paladins claiming a 62-21 win at Paladin Stadium on what was a record-setting afternoon for Paladin senior quarterback Chris Forcier, who set a league record for TD passes in a game with seven scoring tosses.
Preview: Furman is coming off perhaps its best performance of the 2012 season against Clemson last Saturday in Death Valley, and that may sound awkward, considering the Paladins were beaten handily, 41-7, by the Tigers.
Of particular note was the continued efficiency of the offense under the direction of true freshman quarterback Reese Hannon (41-for-64 passing, 490 yds, 5 TDs, 1 INT), who comes to Clinton on Saturday with officially 1.5 games of experience in his career as a Paladin, making just his first start as a Paladin last week.
Hannon leads a Furman offense that enters Saturday afternoon's showdown with the Blue Hose ranking 57th in the nation in scoring offense (24.3 PPG), 50th in total offense (383.3 YPG), 67th in rushing offense (135.0 YPG) and 28th in passing offense (246.3 YPG).
Hannon has helped the Paladins, who averaged 246.3 yards per game through the air, to the top of the SoCon in passing offense over the past couple of weeks.
All Hannon did last week was show that his SoCon Freshman of the Week performance that he provided two weeks ago against Coastal Carolina was no fluke, turning around and putting up solid numbers against Clemson last week. In the 41-7 setback to the Tigers, Hannon, a freshman from Greer, S.C., completed 19-of-29 passes for 239 yards, with a TD and an INT.
Hannon has plenty of solid receiving options to call upon, including preseason First Team All-America tight end Colin Anderson (8 rec, 114 yds, 14.2 YPR), who enters Saturday's matchup against the Blue Hose having caught 68 passes for 1,157 yards and 11 TDs in his career. Anderson is coming off a solid performance last week, hauling in four passes for 43 yards.
Senior Will King (14 rec, 250 yds, 2 TDs, 17.9 YPR) enters Saturday afternoon's contest against the Blue Hose as the SoCon's leading receiving option. King, a former walk-on, is in his first season as a starting wideout for the Paladins.
It was last year against PC in which King enjoyed his first scoring catch, hauling in a 10-yard pass for a score to give the Paladins a 48-14 lead heading into the halftime locker room. King will start at the slot receiver on Saturday for the Paladins.
Rounding out the starting contingent of receivers on Saturday against the Blue Hose will be split end Ryan Culbreath (15 rec, 200 yds, 2 TDs, 13.3 YPR) and Gary Robinson (3 rec, 27 yds, 9.0 YPR) at flanker. Culbreath is one of the most physical wideouts in the SoCon, as the 6-4, 213-pound junior has really come into his own in now his second season as a full-time starter for the Paladins.
Robinson is a talented sophomore that has yet to see the ball come his way all that much as of yet, but many around the program expect Robinson to be one of Furman's primary big-play receivers in this his first season as a full-time starter.
Furman has one of the top one-two punches in the backfield of any team in the SoCon and maybe the nation entering Saturday's contest against the Blue Hose. Jerodis Williams (54 rush att, 270 yds, 2 TDs, 5.0 YPC) and Hank McCloud (26 att, 95 yds, 1 TD, 3.7 YPC).
Williams, a senior from Prattville, Ala., entered the season as a First-Team All-SoCon selection and he ranks sixth in the SoCon in rushing through the first three games of the season. In his career, Williams has rushed for 2,197 yards and 20 TDs, currently ranking ninth on the school's all-time rushing ledger.
Williams has yet to eclipse the century mark through the first three games of the 2012 season, but came close in the season opener, rushing for 98 yards and a score. In last season's 62-21 win over the Blue Hose, Williams rushed for 95 yards on 17 carries.
McCloud is Williams' heir apparent in the Furman backfield, and he has already given Furman fans much to be excited about in the very near future.
McCloud is an explosive runner and he can be dangerous if he gets to the second level of the defense with his tremendous speed. McCloud had a solid game against the Blue Hose last season, rushing for 54 yards and a TD on 13 rush attempts.
The offensive line for the Paladins is anchored by Dakota Dozier, who entered the season as an all-league left tackle.
Countering what has been a potent Furman offense in the past two weeks will be a Presbyterian defense that enters the contest ranking 117th in total defense (525.6 YPG), 113th in scoring defense (42.3 PPG), 121st in rushing defense (325.6 YPG) and 38th in pass defense (274.0 YPG). The Blue Hose will operate out of a 4-3 defensive scheme on Saturday.
The Blue Hose came into the 2012 season with six regulars from last fall returning on the defensive side of the ball, but also lost some key performers, such as Justin Bethel, which is now playing on Sundays.
Anchoring the defensive front for the Blue Hose this fall have been defensive end Keyadd Miller (12 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and senior defensive tackle Xavier Boatwright (7 tackles). Boatwright was a key component of the PC defense last season and is one of those six returning starters on the defensive side of the football.
Weakside linebacker Donelle Williams (26 tackles) anchors what is a solid linebacking unit, and his 26 tackles lead the team this season. He will be joined on Saturday by bandit L.J. Perry (9 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 PBU) and Isaiah Lynn (4 tackles) will occupy the middle linebacker position.
The secondary was the strength of the PC defense last season, but that primarily had to do with the presence of Bethel. Anchoring that unit this season has been Cedric Byrd (16 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 4 PBUs), who ranks second on the team in tackles coming into Saturday's contest.
Furman, which returned eight starters on the defensive side of the football coming into the 2012 season, has struggled to this point in the 2012 season.
Furman comes into the contest ranking 90th nationally in total defense (422.6 YPG), 97th in scoring defense (37.3 PPG), 54th in rush defense (148.6 YPG) and 100th in pass defense (274.0 YPG). Like PC, Furman will also utilize a 4-3 base on the defensive side of the ball.
The Paladins are led up front by the talented defensive end tandem of Josh Lynn (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU) and Shawn Boone (7 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF), as the duo is one of the more talented units in the Southern Conference. For his career, Lynn has 22.5 TFL and seven sacks.
The Paladins have been solid at linebacker this season, and the unit will be anchored by a pair of seniors, in middle linebacker Matt Solomon (31 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBUs) and strongside linebacker Mitch McGrath (21 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT).
Solomon currently ranks second in the SoCon in tackles this season, while McGrath was a preseason All-SoCon selection and has one of the Paladins' two INTs as a defense this fall. Weakside linebacker Gary Wilkins (28 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU), a talented, athletic sophomore, rounds out the trio of starters for Furman.
After struggling through the first couple of weeks, the Furman secondary seemed to rebound a bit last week, and one of it the bright spots last week was true freshman cornerback Reggie Thomas (6 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT), who drew his first start for Furman and picked off his first pass as a college football player.
Furman's secondary has been anchored by preseason All-SoCon safeties Greg Worthy (19 tackles, 1 PBU) and Nathan Wade (28 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 PBUs). Both are hard-hitting players and are playmakers on the defensive side of the ball for the Paladins.
PC brings an offense that has struggled the past couple of weeks, but that's understandable since the Blue Hose faced a couple of FBS foes the past couple of weeks. Coming into Saturday afternoon's showdown, the Blue Hose rank 99th nationally in the FCS in total offense (274.0 YPG), 93rd in scoring offense (16.0 PPG), 60th in rushing offense (144.0 YPG) and 103rd in pass offense (130.0 YPG).
The Blue Hose have employed the services of as many as three signal-callers this season, with the top performer in that trio being Tamyn Garrick (29-of-54 passing, 291 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs), and it will be Garrick that gets the start on Saturday for the Blue Hose. Kaleb Griffin (8-for-20 passing, 71 yds) and Chad Sanders (1-of-2 passing, 28 yds/7 rush att, 13 yds) have also seen time under center this season for the Blue Hose.
The leading receiving threat for the Blue Hose coming into Saturday's contest against the Paladins are Arthur Williams (9 rec, 80 yds, 1 TD, 8.9 YPR), Jeremiah McKie (6 rec, 59 yds, 9.8 YPR) and Michael Ruff (6 rec, 56 yds, 9.3 YPR). Ruff is probably the best all-around receiving threat of the three, while McKie and Williams are big play threats.
The ground attack will be led by Lance Byrd (45 rush att, 220 yds, 4.9 YPC), who's an All-Big South running back candidate, and he will run behind a solid offensive line, which is anchored by a pair of junior tackles, in Sterling Jenkins and Tim Fowler.
Final Score Prediction: Furman 42, Presbyterian 21
WHO: Elon (2-1, 0-0 SoCon) at No. 11 Georgia Southern (1-1, 0-1 SoCon)
WHEN: Sept. 22, 2012, 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Allen E. Paulson Stadium (20,000)
Preview: Preseason Southern Conference favorite Georgia Southern returns to the gridiron this Saturday after the off week, as the Eagles will host Elon in Statesboro in a key Southern Conference matchup.
The Eagles will be looking to rebound from a 23-21 loss at The Citadel a couple of weeks ago, and now have some ground to make up if the Eagles hope to regain their footing and live up to those preseason expectations.
The good news is, Georgia Southern is one of three teams in Southern Conference history that has rebounded from a loss in the SoCon opener to go on to claim a SoCon title, as the 2002 Eagles accomplished that feat after dropping their SoCon opener, 14-7, to the visiting Wofford Terriers.
Elon comes into the matchup having recovered nicely from its 62-0 shellacking it took in the opener to ACC member North Carolina, and the Phoenix have claimed consecutive wins over North Carolina Central (34-14) and West Virginia State (48-14).
Elon was without its head coach last Saturday, as second-year head coach Jason Swepson was hospitalized with some chest-pain related issues, but has now been cleared to return to the sidelines for the Phoenix this Saturday for the SoCon opener.
Georgia Southern has claimed two straight wins over Elon, including a 41-14 win over the Phoenix last season at Elon. Saturday's meeting will mark the 13th all-time between the two programs, with the Eagles holding a commanding 9-3 all-time series edge.
Coming into Saturday night's contest at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, the Eagles have claimed 11 straight wins on home turf, which is tied for the second-longest streak in the FCS heading into the matchup.
Saturday's matchup offers one between one of the nation's most explosive rushing attacks, in Georgia Southern, and one of FCS' most prolific aerial assaults, in Elon.
Georgia Southern comes into the contest ranking second in the nation in rushing offense (370.0 YPG), while the Phoenix, who have led the SoCon each of the past seven seasons in passing offense, coming into the nation ranking 64th nationally (192.0 YPG) in passing, but the ranking is a little skewed with Elon's opening opponent having been North Carolina. The Phoenix are still expected to field one of the nation's top aerial assaults this fall.
One of the reasons that there is so much respect for the Elon passing attack is because of an aerial assault that features senior quarterback Thomas Wilson (44-of-78, 538 yds, 6 TDs, 2 INTs) and senior wide receiver and preseason Walter Payton Award candidate Aaron Mellette (15 rec, 178 yds, 3 TDs, 11.9 YPR).
Mellette put together the best single-season in the history of the Southern Conference by a wide receiver last season, and he comes in ranking in the top 10 all-time in SoCon history in every major receiving category .He currently ralinks fourth in receptions (222), fourth in TDs (29) and seventh in career receiving yards (3,034).
The Phoenix have made a more dedicated effort to the ground game this season, and when the Phoenix do take to the ground, it will look to Karl Bostic (35 rush att, 141 yds, 2 TDs, 4.0 YPC) and Truc Phan (35 rush att, 133 yds, 3.8 YPC).
Georgia Southern will once again look to Ezayi Youyoute (5-of-13 passing, 57 yds/31 rush att, 265 yds, 4 TDs, 8.5 YPC), who will draw most of the snaps under center on Saturday night, but expect Jerick McKinnon (15 rush, 100 yds, 2 TDs, 6.7 YPC) to score some reps under center as well, just to change things up. Youyoute has the better arm and both are explosive in the open field.
Fullback Dominique Swope (39 rush att, 233 yds, 4 TDs, 6.0 YPC) has proven to once again be a force on the ground for the Eagles this season, as have B-backs Jonathan Bryant (5 rush att, 41 yds, 8.2 YPC) and Robert Brown (3 rush att, 63 yds).
Bryant has also proven to be a solid receiving option when the Eagles go to the air, having hauled in two passes for 33 yards (16.5 YPR), while Kentrellis Showers (2 rec, 9 yds, 4.5 YPC) could cause problems as a deep threat with his tremendous speed.
The GSU offensive line has three starters back from last fall, and the unit is being anchored by left tackle Dorian Byrd, who was preseason All-SoCon selection.
Elon had a strong season defensively last fall, and seems to have settled down after understandably struggling in the season opener against North Carolina. The Phoenix enter Saturday night's matchup ranking 34th nationally against the run (114.6 YPG), but will get their first major test against defending the run on Saturday night against the Eagles.
Leading that Elon defense this season have been linebacker Jonathan Spain (16 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack) and safety Blake Thompson (16 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT), who enter Saturday's contest as the top two tacklers on the Phoenix defense this season.
Georgia Southern has played exceptionally well on the defensive side of the football so far this season, and it starts with the veterans the Eagles have playing along the defensive line, led by nose tackle Brent Russell (6 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack), who entered the season as the reigning Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, anchors what is one of the best defensive lines in FCS. Russell anchors a defense that enters the matchup ranking second in the nation in total defense (215.5 YPG).
Russell teams with Josh Gebhardt (7 tackles, 2.0 TFL) up front and the two veterans could have a big evening against the pass-happy Phoenix.
Senior middle linebacker John Stevenson (12 tackles, 1 PBU) is off to a strong start this season, and he anchors a veteran linebacking corps, while safety Darius Eubanks (12 tackles, 0.5 TFL) and is tied with Stevenson for the team lead in tackles and leads a talented, but somewhat young secondary, especially at cornerback.
Final Prediction: 48-10 Eagles
WHO: No. 17 Appalachian State (1-2, 0-1 SoCon) at Chattanooga (1-2, 0-0 SoCon)
WHERE: Chattanooga, Tenn., Max-Finley Stadium/Davenport Field (20,000)
WHEN: Sept. 22, 2012, 6 p.m.
Overview: It gets no bigger for Appalachian State this Saturday than its game at Chattanooga, as the Mountaineers are coming off a 52-28 blasting at the hands of The Citadel last Saturday in Boone. The loss snapped an 18-game winning streak in league openers at The Rock, as well as snapping an 18-game regular-season winning streak inside the friendly confines.
Chattanooga enters the contest coming off its first win of the season, which came in a 35-0 win over Glenville State on Thursday night in the Mocs' home opener. It will mark the 36th all-time meeting between the Mountaineers and Mocs, with the Apps holding 25-10 all-time series edge.
The last time Appalachian State started 0-2 in Southern Conference play, you have to go all the way back to 1977, when the Mountaineers lost their opening two games of Southern Conference play to both Chattanooga (14-7) and Richmond (21-13).
Chattanooga hasn't knocked Appalachian State on the SoCon gridiron since 2004, when the Mocs claimed a wild 59-56 win over the Mountaineers in a game that was the highest combined scoring game between two Southern Conference foes in the history of the league.
ASU enters the contest having won six-straight games In Finley Stadium, including the three-straight national title wins in 2005, '06 and '07, along with with wins over Chattanooga in '06, '08 and '10.
The Mountaineers have a pretty impressive mark after a loss in the same season, having gone 22-1 in their last 23 games following a setback. The last time ASU lost back-to-back games in the same season was to begin the '09 campaign, which saw the Mountaineers drop games to East Carolina (29-24) and McNeese State (40-35) in the first two weeks of the season.
Preview: Chattanooga and Appalachian State will play a Southern Conference game with huge Southern Conference playoff implications on it Saturday, when the two league foes square off on Saturday afternoon in the Scenic City.
Chattanooga comes into Saturday afternoon's contest against the Mountaineers ranking 69th in total offense (350.0 YPG), 57th in scoring offense (24.0 PPG), 79th in passing offense (176.7 YPG) and 40th in rushing offense (173.3 YPG).
The Mocs will likely utilize a pair of quarterbacks on Saturday afternoon against the Apps, as both Jacob Huesman (43-of-69 passing, 478 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT/45 rush att, 213 yds, 1 TD) and Terrell Robinson (8-for-12 passing, 62 yds/13 rush att., 43 yds, 3.3 YPC) will likely step under center. It is not clear who will start on Saturday, but Robinson saw his first action under center last Saturday and looked good in his limited time under center.
Huesman has shown some breakaway speed when he gets into the open, and he comes into the contest as UTC's leading rusher.
Chattanooga played both quarterbacks on Thursday night against, as both Huesman and Robinson have proven that they can both effectively run the spread offense this season.
Huesman, at this point, might be the better passer of the two, however, Robinson certainly has shown himself to have a stronger arm this season. Robinson may also see action at wide receiver on Saturday against the Mountaineers. He showed his tremendous big-play ability and speed, as he caught a couple of passes for 55 yards, including a 42-yard scoring catch in the win over Glenville State.
The Mocs enter the contest was some with some solid weapons in the passing game, which include speedy wideouts Tommy Hudson (13 rec, 98 yds, 7.5) and Ron Moore (4 rec, 55 yds).
The top option in the passing game for the Mocs is Marlon Anthony, who should be 100-percent when he returns to the starting lineup heading into Saturday's matchup. Anthony is a big, and at 6-5, 220 lbs, he has proven to be a tough matchup for opposing SoCon defensive backs. Against the Black and Gold last season, Anthony led the receiving efforts with six catches for 48 yards.
The most effective wideout for the Mocs this season has been tight end Faysal Shafaat (11 rec, 119 yds, 1 TD, 10.8 YPR), who is off to an outstanding start catching the football for the Mocs, and turned had his best performance of the season in the season opener, as he hauled in five catches for 60 yards in the loss to South Florida. In the home opener last Thursday night, Shafaat hauled in three passes for 25 yards and a score in the 35-0 win over Glenville State.
The Mocs have shown the ability to dedicate more attention to the ground attack in the new spread offense this season, and leading the way are rushing duo Marquis Green (16 rush att, 92 yds, 2 TDs, 5.8 YPC/1 rec, 13 yds) and Keon Williams (35 rush att, 98 yds, 2 TDs, 2.8 YPC), who are powerful, athletic backs that also catch the ball extremely well coming out of the backfield.
J.J. Jackson (22 att, 60 TDs, 2.7 YPC/6 rec, 79 yds, 13.2 YPR) has excellent speed and he is the veteran leader of that ground game. Green was the only one of the three that logged significant action against the Mountaineers last season, posting 36 yards on 15 rush attempts. Green also had three catches for 29 yards against the Mountaineers last season. Williams did not play against ASU last season, as he was suspended for the season.
Last season, Chattanooga had the SoCon's worst offensive line in the Southern Conference, however, the unit is playing better this fall and currently anchoring the unit is anchored by right tackle Adam Miller, who entered the 2012 season as a preseason All-SoCon selection.
Miller will be joined along the offensive front this Saturday by pretty "green" unit which will include sophomore Brandon Morgan (LT), redshirt freshman Synjen Herren (LG), sophomore Patrick Sutton (C) and junior Kevin Revis (RG).
For a unit that came into the season expected to be one of the top units in the SoCon and at the FCS level, Saturday's 52-28 home loss, which saw the Mountaineers surrender 618 yards to the Bulldogs, including 463 yards on the ground, certainly raised some eyebrows around the league and nation.
Coming into Saturday's contest, Appalachian State ranks 112th nationally in total defense (497.0 YPG), 100th in scoring defense (38.0 PPG), 113th in rush defense (262.3 YPG), 85th in pass defense () and tied for 44th in turnover margin (+0.33).
Appalachian State's strength defensively is its linebacking corps, anchored by Jeremy Kimbrough (41 tackles, 3.0 TFL) and Brandon Grier (29 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF), who both had solid performances on Saturday despite the overall struggles for the ASU defense.
Kimbrough led the way for ASU for the third straight game this season, posting 14 stops and a tackle-for-loss, while Grier chipped in with seven stops. Kimbrough's 41 tackles through the first three games continues to lead the league.
It was Kimbrough's 46-yard INT return for a score against Chattanooga last season that proved to be the game-winning score for the Mountaineers. In addition to that monumental play for the Mountaineers against the Mocs last season, Kimbrough also contributed 11 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks and broke up a pair of passes to grab National Defensive Player of the Week honors (The Sports Network).
Starting at the respective outside linebacker positions going into Saturday's matchup with the Mocs will be James "Deuce" Robinson (20 tackles, 3.0 TFL) and sophomore 'star' linebacker Joel Ross (12 tackles, 3.0 TFL. 1 PBU). Both young players have shown athleticism and Robinson has gotten effective pressure off the end, while Ross has been in exceptional when asked to drop into pass coverage, as evidenced in the win over the Montana.
One of the areas that has been a bit of a concern in ASU's 3-4 defensive scheme this season has been the defensive line, as the Black and Gold will once again start two freshmen and a sophomore up front Saturday.
Defensive end Ronald Blair (15 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 FR) anchors the unit, and he has really been the only player, along with linebackers Robinson and Grier, that have been able to get effective pressure on opposing quarterbacks so far this fall. Blair had one his more quiet games in his freshman campaign last fall against the Mocs, recording two stops.
Freshmen Davante Harris (8 tackles, 2.5 TFL) and Stephen Burns (10 tackles, 1.5 TFL) round out the starters along the defensive front, at defensive end and nose tackle, respectively. Harris, a rangy, athletic player is one that has a huge upside, but is still developing his pass-rushing skills on the edge for the Apps.
In the loss to The Citadel last week, Harris registered three stops and a TFL. Burns also had three tackles and a TFL in Saturday's setback.
The secondary has been a bit spotty this season, but looked very good against Montana a couple of weeks ago with the exception of a couple of big plays surrendered. However, last week was a game that the Black and Gold secondary starters would rather forget, giving up 155 passing yards on Saturday.
To put that number in perspective, ASU, who came into the matchup as the league's leading passing offense, had only 164 passing yards on Saturday. ASU did not allow a single passing yard to The Citadel in its last trip to Boone back in 2010.
Anchoring the secondary are a couple of All-America candidates, in seniors Troy Sanders (21 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FF) and Demetrius McCray (11 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 INTs).
Sanders, the strong safety and one of the hardest hitters on the defensive side of the ball for the Apps, is the most experienced player on the ASU defense heading into Saturday's matchup, having played 46 career games and having made 28 consecutive starts at LB or safety. In the win over the Mocs last season, Sanders recorded a pair of tackles and a couple of quarterback hurries.
McCray entered the 2012 season cited by The Sports Network as a member of the Buck Buchanan Award watch list after leading the SoCon with five picks last fall, becoming the first ASU cornerback to accomplish that feat since 1991 when Mark Mayo accomplished the feat. With his two picks already this season, he now has eight career INTs. McCray registered a strong performance last season against the Mocs, posting four tackles, a TFL, a sack and three PBUs.
Chattanooga has seemingly picked up where it left off last season on the defensive side of the ball this season, after completing the 2011 season ranking tops in the SoCon and 13th nationally in total defense. The Mocs come into Saturday afternoon's ranking 37th nationally (20.3 PPG) in scoring defense, 12th in total defense (272.3 YPG), 29th in rushing defense (106.0 YPG) and 31st in pass defense (166.3 YPG).
The Mocs have maybe the best front seven in FCS football, and arguably the top defensive line in the sub-classification. The Mocs have two excellent defensive ends, in Josh Williams (3 tackles, 1 FR) and Davis Tull (9 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks), who are off to a bit of a slow start this fall, but are considered the top defensive end tandem in the league. Williams was a preseason All-America selection, and is the school's all-time leader in sacks, having recorded 21.5 quarterback sacks in his career.
Against Appalachian State last season, Williams had four tackles and a PBU, while Tull contributed a couple of stops. Both are athletic and quick and will offer ASU's offensive tackles with their stiffest blocking assignments of the season thus far.
The two starters at defensive tackle for ASU heading into Saturday's contest will be University of Georgia transfer Derrick Lott (8 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR) and veteran returning starter Toyvian Brand (5 tackle, 2 QBH).
Lott has shown why he was sought after to be a part of an SEC defense early on this season, putting forth the best numbers of any of the UTC defensive linemen so far this season, and had three tackles and a fumble recovery in the loss to South Florida, while posting a sack in the setback to Jacksonville State.
Brand is also a strong part of this defensive line, and his top performance came against Jacksonville State, as he registered three stops.
The Mocs also counter with a solid contingent of linebackers, led by Wes Dothard (18 tackles, 2.0 TFL), who entered the 2012 season as one of the top linebackers in the Southern Conference, anchors the middle of this Chattanooga defense that has been very strong against the run this season.
Dothard had a nice performace against Appalachian State last season, recording 11 tackles. Like Appalachian's Kimbrough, Dothard began the season as a member of the Buck Buchanan Award Watch list.
Teaming with Dothard on Saturday night against the Apps will be Shane Heatherly (13 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) and Gunner Miller (13 tackles, 1.0 TFL). Heatherly will start at the strongside linebacker position, while Miller will start at weakside linebacker position for the Mocs.
Miller should make a strong case for All-SoCon accolades this fall, and he is one of the more underrated linebackers in the Southern Conference. He reminds me of a linebacker that head coach had playing outside linebacker for him when he was the defensive coordinator at Richmond back in 2008, cast in the same mold as Spiders linebacker Patrick Weldon.
Miller enjoyed his top game this season against South Florida in the opener, posting five stops. He also had four tackles and an INT in the second week loss at Jacksonville State. Miller registered three tackles in the Mocs' 14-12 loss in Boone last season.
The Mocs also have talented, experienced defensive backfield. Anchoring the unit heading into Saturday's contest are cornerback Kadeem Wise (16 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU) and strong safety D.J. Key (21 tackles, 1 INT).
Wise is a two-time All-SoCon selection and was a preseason All-America selection, and he is one of the top lockdown cornerbacks in the SoCon. In the 14-12 loss to Appalachian State last season, Wise recorded seven stops and an INT.
Key is a hard-hitting safety, and came into the campaign as a preseason all-league selection. He had seven tackles and a PBU against ASU last season and enters the Saturday SoCon showdown with four-career INTs.
Joining Key and Wise and rounding out the starters in the secondary for the Mocs will be Chaz Moore (10 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 4 PBUs) at cornerback and Sema'je Kendall (7 tackles, 3 PBUs) at free safety. Kendall is the least experienced player for the Mocs in the secondary, making just his fourth start on Saturday night against ASU.
Appalachian State showed major struggles for the first time this season in the loss to The Citadel last week. The Mountaineers enter Saturday night's contest ranking 28th nationally in total offense (417.7 YPG), 54th in scoring offense (24.3 PPG), 37th in rush offense (176.3 YPG) and 31st in pass offense (241.3 YPG).
Junior Jamal Jackson (70-of-106, 724 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs/31 rush att, 152 yds, 2 TDs) saw his streak of nine straight games with 200 or more yards passing end last week, passing for 164 yards in the 52-28 loss to the Bulldogs. Also for the first time in his 10 starts as a Mountaineer quarterback, Jackson failed to amass 250 or more yards of total offense in a game. Both aforementioned streaks were already school records.
Coming into Saturday night's showdown with the Mocs, Jackson comes into the contest averaging 292 yards of total offense per game, leading the Southern Conference and ranking 12th nationally in that same category.
Jackson's 241.3 passing yards per game ranks him tops in the SoCon in passing and 19th nationally. Despite only 10 starts as the Mountaineers' signal-caller, Jackson needs just 131 passing yards to become just the 13th Mountaineer quarterback to reach the 3,000 yard passing plateau for his career.
The junior from Atlanta enjoyed one of the most productive games in his two seasons as a full-time starter for the Apps against No. 12 Montana, as he connected on 24-of-34 passes for 260 yards and a pair of scores, while rushing for 68 yards and a score to finish with 328 yards of total offense and three TD responsibilities.
Jackson has led a potent offense so far this season, which began the season in strong fashion with 419 yards of total offense against FBS opponent East Carolina, marking the most yards the Mountaineers have compiled against an FBS opponent since an overtime win over Wake Forest in 1998.
The Mountaineers struggled more in 2011 than any other season since transitioning to the spread offense back back years ago, however, seems to have put those struggles behind them this fall, averaging 27.5 more offensive yards per game despite six new starters on the offensive side of the ball.
In 84 games since the spread offense was installed at the start of the 2004 season, the Mountaineers have scored 30 or more points in a game 58 times (69.0%) and 40 or more points on 33 occasions (39.3%), and a lot of that has to do with the return of Scott Satterfield as the offensive coordinator.
When Jackson decides to go to the air, he will have several solid options in what many feel is the top receiving corps in the Southern Conference this season. His top targets are veteran wideouts Andrew Peacock (15 rec, 177 yds, 1 TD, 11.8 YPR) and Tony Washington (11 rec, 136 yds, 12.4 YPR/1 rush att, 22 yds, 1 TD).
Peacock and Washington will occupy the "M" and "Y" wide receiver positions on Saturday. Washington's only TD of the season came on a 22-yard run last week, while Peacock had his lone scoring catch of the season against Montana on a 25-yard scoring catch in the fourth quarter of the 35-27 win over the Grizzlies.
After being suspended against The Citadel last week, Sean Price (8 rec, 103 yds, 1 TD, 12.9 YPR) returns to the ASU starting lineup to occupy the "X" wide receiver spot for Saturday's contest. Price is the player most have compared to former ASU great Brian Quick, who was the first pick of the second round by the St. Louis Rams in the most-recent NFL draft.
All of Price's 103 receiving yards came in the win over Montana, including a 32-yard TD catch on what was just his second-career catch for the Black and Gold.
Other contributors in the passing game on Saturday night for the Apps could be impressive freshman wideout Malachi Jones (11 rec, 136 yds,12.4 YPR), who's currently the team's second-leading wideout, and tight end Drew Bailey (3 rec, 32 yds, 10.7 YPR).
The ground game has been undermanned since the opener when Rod Chisholm suffered a broken hand, and he won't return until next month. Originally slated to tag-team those duties with Chisholm, senior Steven Miller (62 rush att, 305 yds, 5 TDs) has seen a majority of the reps over the past couple of weeks.
Miller has been able to run behind a strong an offensive line that has looked better than it did last season, and the unit has been keyed by the play of left tackle Kendall Lamm and right guard Alex Acey so far this season.
--In what is the "Game of the Week" in the Southern Conference, Appalachian State looks to avoid its first 0-2 start to Southern Conference play for the first time since 1977. An 0-2 start would mean a third loss for ASU. Originally, I had picked Appalachian State to lose this game in the preseason.
What will be the fallout from The Citadel loss? The last two seasons have seen these two play extremely tight games. I believe a more focused Appalachian State team takes the field this Saturday, and takes a close on the road at Chattanooga.
Appalachian State 28, Chattanooga 24
WHO: Samford (3-0, 1-0 SoCon) at Western Carolina (1-2, 0-1 SoCon)
WHEN: Sept. 22, 2012, 3:00 p.m.
WHERE: Cullowhee, N.C., E.J. Whitmire Stadium (13,573)
Preview: Samford heads to Cullowhee off to its best start since 1995, which was the last time the Bulldogs qualified for the FCS postseason. A 2-0 start to conference play would be unprecedented for Samford, who has not started 2-0 in conference play since joining the league in 2008.
Meanwhile, the Catamounts will be looking to garner their first win over the Bulldogs since the 1969 season, as Samford has won eight of the previous nine meetings between the two schools, including all four previous meetings as SoCon foes.
The Catamounts, which lost 49-21 at No. 7 Wofford last week, will look to deliver head coach Mark Speir his first Southern Conference win as head coach of the Catamounts. A win would also snap WCU's 15 straight games in SoCon play. The Catamounts have lost six straight SoCon openers, dating back to a 41-21 win over second-ranked Furman to begin SoCon play in 2005.
Samford enters the contest already having a Southern Conference win under its belt, having opened the season with a dramatic 24-21 win over Furman in Birmingham. The Bulldogs easily dispatched Big South member Gardner-Webb, 44-23, last week, and have plenty of momentum heading into Saturday's contest against the Catamounts.
The Bulldogs have had an efficient offense this season, and one that has been pretty balanced. The Bulldogs are averaging 226.3 PPG and 170.7 YPG on the ground.
Leading that Samford offense this season has been Memphis transfer Andy Summerlin (67-of-97 passing, 644 yds, 3 TDs, 2 INTs), who has gotten his career in Birmingham off to a nice start in succeeding the school's second all-time leading passer, in Dustin Taliaferro.
Taliaferro has excellent weapons to call upon at the skill positions entering the contest, with Fabian Truss (46 rush att, 268 yds, 5.8 YPC ) at running back and both Riley Hawkins (8 rec, 110 yds, 2 TDs,13.8 YPR) and Kelsey Pope (16 rec, 147 yds, 1 TD, 9.2 YPR).
Western Carolina continues to have struggles on the defensive side of the football, as those struggles seemed to have carried over from last season. The Catamounts enter Saturday afternoon's contest, ranking 114th nationally in total defense (514.3 YPG). Western also enters Saturday's contest allowing 38.3 PPG to rank 102nd nationally.
Leading the WCU defense this season have been linebackers Courtland Carson (24 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 PBU) and Rock Williams (18 tackles, 2 FFs), while Elijer Martinez (13 tackles) is back from suspension, giving the secondary one of the better cover-corners in the league. He'll have his hands full Saturday against one of the top wide receiving corps' in the SoCon.
For Samford defensively, it enters the matchup having played pretty well through the first three weeks of the season, and the Bulldogs bring a unit to Cullowhee that ranks 59th in the FCS in total defense (349.6 YPG).
The Bulldogs have relied on the strong play of the secondary so far this season, which includes two of the top talents in the league, in safeties Alvin Hines II (21 tackles, 2 INTs) and Jaquiski Tartt (25 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 PBUs, 2 INTs). Both are off to strong starts to the 2012 season, combining for four of the Bulldogs' league-leading seven INTs so far this season.
Defensive ends Nicholas Williams (8 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 PBU) and Jerry Mathis (11 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 2 PBUs) have anchored a Samford defensive line which came into the season having to replace three starters from last season's unit. The Bulldogs also have two of the more experienced LBs in the league, with Darien Sutton (25 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 PBUs) and Keith Shoulders once again anchoring the solid unit.
Western Carolina has looked strong offensively so far through the first three weeks, and leading the way have been Marshall transfer signal-caller Eddie Sullivan (47-of-77 passing, 493 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT), and he leads a Catamount offense that enters Saturday afternoon's encounter ranking 27th in all of FCS in total offense (418.0 YPG).
Sullivan and the Catamounts has been explosive at times through the first three weeks of the 2012 season, with Jacoby Mitchell (23 rec, 214 yds, 1 TD, 9.3 YPR) being the top option through the air, while Darius Ramsey (38 rush att, 187 yds, 1 TD, 4.9 YPC) has been arguably the most explosive freshman playmaker through the first three weeks of the campaign.
This game might be closer than some think, but Truss could be a factor as a kick return threat on Saturday. Truss was explosive last week, returning a kickoff 97 yards for a score last week against Gardner-Webb, and comes in averaging an impressive 38.2 yards-per-kick-return on the season.
Final Prediction: Samford 38, Western Carolina 31
WHO: The Citadel (3-0, 2-0 SoCon) at North Carolina State (2-1, 0-0 ACC)
WHEN: Sept. 22, 2012, 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Raleigh, N.C., Carter-Finley Stadium (57,583)
Preview: When The Citadel takes the field on Saturday against NC State, it will be looking to do something it hasn't been able to accomplish since 1992, and that's notch a win over an FBS foe.
That '92 campaign saw the Bulldogs, powered by the wishbone attack, which former legendary head coach Charlie Taafe made so famous, powered by the likes of quarterback Jack Douglas and fullback Everette Sands and others on a stout defense, like linebacker Lester Smith and defensive back Torrence Forney made the Bulldogs a formidable force among their FCS brethren and a threat to upset anyone they played at the FBS level, which both Arkansas (10-3) and Army (15-14) would ultimately come to find out.
The Bulldogs meet the Wolfpack on the gridiron for the first time since 1983, which saw NC State win in easy fashion, with a 45-0 win. The Citadel is 0-27 against ACC teams since the formation of the conference in 1953, while NC State is 26-3 against FCS competition since re-classification of Division I in 1981.
The three losses the Wolfpack suffered since re-classification came against Southern Conference foes, as the Wolfpack were beaten by East Tennessee State (29-14) in 1987, while Furman claimed wins over the Wolfpack in both 1984 and '85.
The Bulldogs are 7-43 all-time against the FBS, with six of those seven wins coming under the watchful eye of Charlie Taafe in four seasons from 1988-92. However, the Bulldogs have dropped 23 straight to the FBS entering Saturday night's clash.
Off to its best start since that '92 season, head coach Kevin Higgins has the cadets hard work pay off in their third season since transitioning back to the triple offense of those glory years under Taafe, and at 3-0, the Bulldogs appear to be keen on re-visiting at least a run at the league title and potential playoff berth.
Leading a Citadel offense, which comes in ranking third nationally in rushing offense (370.0 YPG) have been electrifying quarterbacks Ben Dupree (3-for-8 passing, 82 yds, 1 TD/54 rush att, 349 yds, 4 TDs, 6.5 YPC) and Aaron Miller (9-for-13, 206 yds/27 rush att, 57 yds, 1 TD, 2.5 YPC), who both helped orchestrate an offense that demoralized Appalachian State's defense, to the tune of 52 points and 618 yards in last Saturday's 52-28 whipping of the Mountaineers in Boone.
Also vital to that ground attack are Darien Robinson (29 rush att, 241 yds, 2 TDs, 8.3 YPC) at fullback, along with B-backs Rickey Anderson (23 rush att, 212 yds, 5 TDs, 9.2 YPC) and Van Dyke Jones (11 rush att, 58 yds, 1 TD, 5.3 YPC). The backfield of Dupree, Robinson, Jones and Anderson are the veteran-most part of the Bulldogs' offense, while center Mike Sellers anchors a core of four returning starters that have helped the Bulldogs ground attack look like clockwork through the first three weeks.
The Bulldogs have capable targets at receiver, too, though they don't go to the air all that often. Domonic Jones and Greg Adams (2 rec, 28 yds, 14.0 YPR) are physical wideouts with good size, and both are exceptional blockers on the perimeter. Former quarterback Matt Thompson (4 rec, 128 yds, 32.0 YPR) has the speed to cause problems in a variety of different ways.
NC State's defense entered the season with a highly-publicized secondary, with most of that preseason hype surrounding talented cornerback David Amerson (13 tackles, 2 PBUs, 2 INTs). The Wolfpack defense enters Saturday's matchup at Carter-Finley Stadium surrendering 359 yards per game, and less than 100 yards per game (92.3) on the ground.
Joining Amerson in that talented Wolfpack defensive backfield and a player that figures to have plenty of responsibility on Saturday against the Bulldogs is boundary safety Earl Wolff (31 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT), who fittingly, leads the Wolfpack in tackles this season.
The defensive line is an area that year-in and year-out the Wolfpack have been able to turn out talent, stretching from Mike O'Cain to Chuck Amato, and now into the Tom O'Brien era. Leading a talented defensive front are veteran defensive end Brian Slay and defensive tackle Ty McGill, while weakside linebacker Rickey Dowdy (20 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) has been spend a lot of time in opposing backfields through the first three weeks, with 4.5 TFL.
The Citadel brings a defense into Saturday's matchup that has improved with each week through the first three weeks of the season, and the Bulldogs rank 56th in the FCS in total defense (348.0 YPG) and sixth against the pass (103.3 YPG).
Leading The Citadel's defensive front this season are defensive ends Bay Armhein (9 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and preseason All-SoCon selection Chris Billinslea (19 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 PBUs,1 FF), who will only see his numbers increase with the return of his partner-in-crime, bookend Derek Douglas in the next few weeks.
A young group of LBs is buoyed by the lone returning starter, Carson Smith (17 tackles,1 INT), who is a very savvy and astute LB along with possessing good athleticism. Rah Muhammad (24 tackles, 1 FF) has been one of the top young linebackers in the SoCon through the first three weeks, and he will occupy one of weakside linebacker position for the Bulldogs.
The secondary has been outstanding through the first three weeks, especially cornerbacks Brandon McCladdie (11 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 3 PBUs) and Sadath Jean-Pierre (17 tackles, 1 PBU).
NC State has an offense that is centered around the strong arm of 6-6 signal-caller Mike Glennon (66-of-110 passing, 749 yds, 5 TDs, 4 INTs), and as he goes the Wolfpack seemingly go, as witnessed with NC State's 35-21 setback to Tennessee as part of the Chick-Fil-A Classic in the season-opener in Atlanta.
Glennon leads an NC State attack that enters Saturday's showdown with the Bulldogs averaging 351.3 YPC, with 249.7 of those yards coming through the air.
Glennon's leading receiving target this season has been Quintin Payton (12 rec, 238 yds, 1 TD, 19.8 YPR) being the primary target of those Glennon passes. Sophomore Tony Creechy (31 rush att, 130 yds, 2 TDs, 4.2 YPC) has been the primary option when the Wolfpack have sought the ground attack.
It's hard to imagine the Bulldogs were a 4-7 team last season, but many of those close losses, such as the ones to Georgia Southern (14-12) or Appalachian State (49-42) have helped the Bulldogs build a championship contender this season.
With that said, I think Higgins' Bulldogs pull off an upset Saturday that will have many recalling where they were when James Madison beat No.13 Virginia Tech or when Appalachian State defeated No. 5 Michigan.
Final Prediction: The Citadel 31, NC State 30