Week 7: Separation Saturday On SoCon Gridiron
GREENVILLE, S.C.--In a season that has seen its share of twists and turns through the early portion of Southern Conference football in 2012, the campaign reaches Week 7—a time when the men will be separated from boys on the SoCon gridiron.
Highlighting what could turn out to be a Saturday that could go down as one of we recall for years to come is a classic matchup between a pair of Southern Conference title contenders, when No. 5 Wofford (5-0,3-0 SoCon) heads to Statesboro, GA, and the "Prettiest Little Stadium In America" also known as Allen E. Paulson Stadium, to face No. 7 Georgia Southern (4-1, 3-1 SoCon) in a key with league title implications.
To most of the opposition who visit Georgia Southern for a road game, the mere mention of Paulson Stadium has certain synonyms that come to mind such as "hostile" or "difficult."
In fact, Georgia Southern carries a 13-game winning streak inside the friendly confines heading into Saturday's clash between perennial league title contenders.
However, though Wofford has had some tough battles in South Georgia in recent memory, the Terriers haven't tasted defeat in one of FCS' most malevolent facilities in eight years, having picked up three straight wins at GSU.
Wofford was tested for the first time this past Saturday against Furman, as the Terriers were able to pick up a hard-fought 20-17 win over Furman at Gibbs Stadium on Saturday, helping the Terriers remain unbeaten, while preseason league favorite Georgia Southern comes in having won three-straight, including having easily dispatched of Western Carolina 45-13 in Cullowhee.
It will be another classic matchup between two of nation's top rushing attacks and triple-option offenses, with Wofford and Georgia Southern entering Saturday afternoon's showdown ranking No. 1 and No. 2 nationally in rushing offense, with the Terriers leading the nation with an average of 448.8 YPG on the ground. The Eagles rank second nationally going into Saturday's contest, averaging 437.0 YPG.
But perhaps the aspect of the matchup that is most intriguing heading into Saturday's matchup is the play on the defensive side of the football by both teams through the first half of the 2012 season. The Eagles are the No. 3 total defense in the FCS entering Saturday afternoon's clash, yielding a mere 270.2 YPG on Saturday's matchup. Wofford enters the matchup with the nation's 18th ranked defensive unit (315.2 YPG).
Wofford and Georgia Southern will be meeting on the gridiron for the 19th time on Saturday, with the Eagles holding an 11-7 all-time series edge, including a convincing 38-10 in Spartanburg last season to clinch the 2011 outright Southern Conference title in mid-November.
All-time at Paulson Stadium, the Eagles are the only current Southern Conference member that has a .500 record (4-4) inside one of the toughest environments in FCS and Division I football in general.
Wofford has claimed three straight victories at Paulson Stadium, posting the victories by scores of 28-10 (2006), 38-37 (2008) and 33-21 (2010). The last time the Eagles claimed a win over the Terriers in the friendly confines was 2004, posting a 58-14 rout of the Terriers.
Each of the past two seasons has seen the regular-season victor in this matchup go on to claim at least a share of the Southern Conference title, and Saturday's meeting will also mark the eighth time in the past 10 regular-season meetings dating back to 2001 in which both Wofford and Georgia Southern enter the annual clash ranked inside the FCS Top 25.
No. 25 Samford hosts what might be its biggest games as a Southern Conference member on Saturday afternoon, hosting the lone school the Bulldogs have yet to defeat as a Southern Conference member, in 13th ranked Appalachian State. The Mountaineers remain the only team the Bulldogs have not defeated since joining the Southern Conference in 2008.
Appalachian State is coming off its third-straight win, posting a 35-23 win over Elon on a Homecoming Saturday at The Rock this past Saturday.
The win saw the Mountaineers move up four places in the polls to No. 13, and it saw ASU improve its overall record to 4-2 and its conference mark to 2-1.
In what will be the fifth meeting between the two schools as Southern Conference members, it will mark the first meeting between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs as ranked FCS foes.
Samford, off to its best start since 1992, comes into Saturday afternoon's contest off its first win over a ranked FCS since 1994, as the Bulldogs claimed a resounding 38-7 win over No. 19 The Citadel at Seibert Stadium.
The win improved Samford's overall mark to 5-1 while increasing their conference record to 3-1 in the league. The Bulldogs need just two wins in their final five games to become eligible for the FCS postseason.
Saturday's matchup will also feature the reigning Southern Conference Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week from Week 6, as Mountaineer quarterback Jamal Jackson and Samford defensive back Jaquiski Tartt earned the respective weekly honor on both sides of the ball with their performances from this past weekend.
For Jackson, he racked up a school record 398 yards of total offense, including 304 and four TDs through the air and another 94 and a TD on the ground, to round out his career afternoon. Jackson connected on 20-29 passes and was responsible for all five TDs on Saturday afternoon.
Tartt recorded his second defensive TD in successive weeks after returning an errant Ben Dupree pass 65 yards for a score, while also posting three tackles and a tackle-for-loss, as Samford held The Citadel's powerful offensive attack to 304 yards for the afternoon.
ASU was able to take a 35-17 win over Samford last season in Boone, and the Mountaineers posted a victory in their last trip to Seibert Stadium by an identical scoreline of 35-17 in 2010.
In total, Saturday's meeting will mark just the seventh all-time meeting between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs in the series, with the Mountaineers holding a 5-1 all-time series edge. Samford's lone win in the series against the Black and Gold came during the 1970 campaign, as Samford posted a 42-35 victory in Boone. ASU has a 3-0 all-time mark against Samford in games played in Birmingham.
Another game that has huge postseason implications will take place in Greenville on Saturday, as Furman hosts Chattanooga in a key Southern Conference clash on Saturday afternoon. Both teams must go unbeaten in their remaining slate of games to have any chance at a postseason invitation.
Furman must be feeling as if it is this year's "Chattanooga" having lost to three FCS opponents by a combined eight points, including a 20-17 road loss at fifth-ranked Wofford on Saturday.
Chattanooga had an off week and will look to continue off the momentum of its 28-10 win over then No. 11 ranked The Citadel a couple of weeks ago. The Mocs will bring one of the top defenses in the nation to the Upstate on Saturday, as the Mocs rank 17th nationally and second in the SoCon in total defense, allowing just 315.0 YPG.
The Paladins and Mocs will be meeting for the 42nd time on Saturday afternoon, with the Paladins holding a commanding 27-14 all-time series edge, including having won 16 of the last 17 meetings between the two, including a 14-7 win at Chattanooga last season.
Chattanooga was able to post a 36-28 win the last time it visited Greenville, using an epic fourth quarter peformance to overcome a 28-10 deficit heading into the final frame and allowing the 24th-ranked Mocs end what was a 15-game losing skid against No. 25 Furman.
Saturday's matchup will also mark one between a couple of the nation's top freshmen quarterbacks in Furman's Reese Hannon (86-of-136 passing, 1,107 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs) and Chattanooga's Jacob Huesman (70-of-111 passing, 704 yds, 6 TDs, 3 INTs/67 rush att, 304 yds, 1 TD, 4.5 YPC), as both were named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List--award given to the top freshman player in the FCS by The Sports Network--last week.
The Mocs will also likely utilize the services of Terrell Robinson (16-for-24 passing, 178 yds, 2 TDs/40 rush att, 165 yds, 1 TD, 4.5 YPC) under center on Saturday, as the Mocs have platooned the quarterback responsibilities over the past few weeks.
Both Huesman and Hannon are different style quarterbacks, with Hannon favoring the pass, while Huesman favors the run and in fact is Chattanooga's leading ground-gainer heading into Saturday afternoon's matchup. Chattanooga's two leading rushers heading into Saturday's clash with the Paladins are both quarterbacks.
Hannon has thrown for 200 or more yards in four of five games he's seen action in his career, and will be making his fifth-career start against the Mocs on Saturday.
In the final league clash on Saturday, Western Carolina looks to come full circle as the Catamounts will be looking to snap an 18-game Southern Conference losing streak at The Citadel on Saturday, which ironically dates back to a 23-14 win over The Citadel in Charleston in October of 2010.
The Citadel has been reeling as of late, as the Bulldogs have lost three straight coming into Saturday's contest to fall out of the national rankings after being ranked as highly as No. 7 just two weeks ago.
The Bulldogs attained such a lofty perch in the FCS polls after back-to-back victories over No. 3 Georgia Southern (23-21) in Charleston and handed then No. 7-ranked Appalachian State one of its worst losses in Kidd Brewer Stadium history, as the Bulldogs came away from the High Country with a 52-28 win in-tow back to Charleston.
However, the Bulldogs have suffered three-straight losses by an average of a little over 25.0 PPG since, dropping decisions at NC State (52-14) and Samford (38-7), while also losing to Chattanooga (28-10) inside the friendly confines a couple of weeks ago.
Stay tuned to Bleacher Report for this week's previews coming up later in the week, and take a look at this week's SoCon power rankings listed below.
SoCon Power Rankings After Week 6
1. Wofford (5-0, 3-0 SoCon)
2. Georgia Southern (4-1, 3-1 SoCon)
3. Samford (5-1, 3-1 SoCon)
3. Appalachian State (4-2, 2-1 SoCon)
5. The Citadel (3-3, 2-2 SoCon)
6. Chattanooga (2-3, 1-1 SoCon)
6. Furman (2-4, 1-1 SoCon)
8. Elon (2-4, 0-3 SoCon)
9. Western Carolina (1-5, 0-4)