published Thursday, October 13th, 2011

SoConversation: Week 7

Welcome to Week 7 of the college football season and the seventh SoConversation between The Citadel beat writer Jeff Hartsell of the Charleston Post and Courier, Elon beat writer Adam Smith of the Burlington Times News and UTC beat writer John Frierson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

This week the new TV voice of the SoCon, Darren Goldwater, joins the crew.

John, I think you and Darren had the most interesting game of the weekend with Georgia Southern's 28-27 win over Chattanooga. It seemed like Mocs coach Russ Huesman regretted his decision to go for 2 points in the final minutes. Is that right, and what did you guys make of the decision?

JOHN: I don’t think he regretted it, though he said in his postgame interview that “I lost this game for our football team.” I think that more of a remark in the heat of the moment rather than how he really felt. During our usual Sunday conversation he said he had no second thoughts about the decision.

I look at the situation and I can make a case for going for 2 and kicking it — and having had a few days to ponder it, I’d have likely kicked it. Huesman’s thinking was that Georgia Southern hadn’t stopped quarterback Terrell Robinson the whole game (he finished with 114 rushing yards and three touchdowns), so put the ball in his hands on the 3-yard line and let him make one more play to take the lead with 1:44 to go. I can certainly see the logic in that.

DARREN: First of all, thanks for inviting me to join the SoConversation ... what an honor! The 2-point try was a tough call to make, no doubt. While we've all heard "go for the win on the road, the tie at home," Chattanooga was the better team on both sides of the ball in the second half. The Mocs had all the momentum ... I would've loved to see overtime. Don't forget though, even if Chattanooga had converted the 2-point try, Georgia Southern had three timeouts left and about two minutes. Late in the first half, after a Chattanooga score, the Eagles marched down the field for their third touchdown in 1:40.

ADAM: Do I get to comment here? Or is this just the Frierson and Darren show? Reading the intro, only their opinions are asked for and it just seems like … OK, enough whining, I’m jumping in with my take.

To quote Chicken Little and Tyler Hansbrough (Google it): Oh my goodness, oh my gracious. Every week Chattanooga gets wrapped up in the game of the year. What a ride. Although, for Frierson, I hope it’s not peeling years off his life and hair off his head while adding inches to his waist.

Russ Huesman has some cojones. And I salute him. Obviously, that’s an incredibly difficult call to make on the 2-point conversion, especially after the ups and downs the Mocs navigated just to get there to have that shot at the end.

I was following along in Cullowhee and wondering if a 2-point try might be coming given the circumstances. On the road. Against the top-ranked team in the FCS. With a signature, potentially season-defining comeback victory there for the taking. No need for Russ to regret it. Other than not getting in the end zone, of course.

JEFF: In general, I favor the "Don't lose until you have to approach." By that I mean, kick the extra point and keep the game going as long as you can without betting it all on one play. But I can understand Huesman's thinking — he was looking at overtime, on the road, at the No. 1 team in the nation, with his backup QB. I might have bet it all on one play, too.

What was the major takeaway from the game you were at last week?

ADAM: Elon seems determined — or fated maybe — to cough up turnovers and get involved in hair-raising endings. For the third time in four weeks, the Phoenix found itself either trailing or tied in the fourth quarter and so more clutch escape artistry was needed to survive 38-31 at Western Carolina.

Elon has to be looking for another appendage to shoot because its feet are riddled with bullet holes by now. Three turnovers in the first half last weekend increased — worsened — Elon’s total to 19 giveaways on the season. Only two other teams in the FCS have committed more turnovers this year. Mind-numbing stuff.

Elon’s defense came to the rescue by forcing four second-half turnovers at Western Carolina. That’s certainly an encouraging sign because the schedule is getting rough. After Saturday’s trip to Samford, the Phoenix faces Chattanooga, Wofford, Furman and Appalachian State to close the season.

By the way, I looked it up. Western Carolina is 3-36 in SoCon games since the start of the 2006 season. Again: Oh my goodness, oh my gracious.

JEFF: Wofford is really, really good. I mean, FCS national championship good. Watching the Terriers execute their offense is a pleasure, and the defense is salty, too. The Citadel's triple option wants to be Wofford when it grows up, but right now the Bulldogs are just learning to walk while the Terriers have the keys to Dad's Corvette.

JOHN: Two things were running through my mind as I made the long drive back to Chattanooga after the loss to Georgia Southern. One, the Mocs are unbelievably close to being 5-1 and ranked in the top 5. Change just one play in their losses to App State, The Citadel and Georgia Southern and UTC is atop the SoCon standings. Instead the Mocs have lost three games by a total of four points.

The other thought was that the Mocs appear to be in good hands at quarterback once B.J. Coleman’s career is over. Robinson was a stud in high school and was a stud as the scout team QB last season (sounds weird, but it’s true), and he showed a ton of athletic ability and poise against the Eagles last week. Robinson will probably be in a battle with Huesman’s son, Jacob, a true freshman, for the starting job next season as the Mocs move to a spread offense.

DARREN: Chattanooga is better than its record, but that doesn't change the fact that the Mocs need to find a way to win close games. They may have found the future at quarterback in Terrell Robinson and it won't surprise me to see significantly increased playing time for him even when BJ Coleman is 100 percent.

For the Georgia Southern players, this was probably the eye-opener they needed that things won't be easy every week. They've clearly got the talent and depth to make a deep playoff run but they'll certainly be challenged again. This was a very valuable learning lesson for the top team in the country.

Here are Saturday’s matchups (rankings from coaches’ poll): UVA-Wise at No. 4 Wofford, No. 7 Appalachian State at The Citadel, Elon at Samford, Furman at No. 1 Georgia Southern, Western Carolina at UTC. What's the most intriguing game on the slate this weekend?

DARREN: Shameless self promotion alert! It’s gotta be Furman at Georgia Southern on the SoCon Sports Network, right? With the success Chattanooga's dual-threat QB Terrell Robinson had against the Eagles, Furman and QB Chris Forcier must have seen some dents in the GSU defensive armor. The question is, with the Chattanooga game experience and a week to prepare, how will GSU's defense respond to a similar challenge this week?

We're not done seeing upsets in league play ... if this one happens, Furman is not only suddenly a SoCon Title contender, but a legitimate FCS playoff contender too. This is a huge game for Furman, Bruce Fowler and the Paladin faithful hoping for a return to their glory days.

ADAM: I vote UVA-Wise at Wofford as the most intriguing and by that I mean not at all.

Darren makes some excellent points on the Furman/Georgia Southern matchup, although losing at home to Samford last weekend was far from an ideal note for the Paladins to head to Statesboro on.

I’m actually most interested to see how App State at The Citadel plays out. The Mountaineers are coming off a bye week. How will they respond?

App State quarterback DeAndre Presley (shoulder injury) apparently is questionable, putting sophomore Jamal Jackson in line for his first start under center. And I’ve heard rumblings out of Boone — no, not the deranged alum calling for Jerry Moore’s head last week — that if Jackson performs well, the job could be his moving forward.

That’s just nuts to think about. Presley was magical at times last year. The dude passed for 2,631 yards, ran for another 1,039 and accounted for 34 touchdowns.

JEFF: Don't be embarrassed, Darren, Furman-GSU is the best game of the week, but I don't think the Paladins are up to it yet, especially in Statesboro. Elon at Samford is a big game for both teams, two middle-tier squads trying to establish something. And Chattanooga's hopes for a "good" season hang in the balance with improving Western Carolina coming in, though the Mocs' offense should be able to hang up enough points to win.

App State needs a convincing performance at The Citadel to re-establish the proper order of things (at least from a Boone perspective), and may have to do it with backup QB Jamal Jackson at the helm.

JOHN: From the UTC perspective, the Mocs have to win out to get to seven wins and have a chance at the playoffs. Which brings to mind the famous Jim Mora rant: “Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs? I'm just hoping we can win a game.”

The Mocs need to beat Western Carolina before they can even think about putting together a playoff push.

I’ll be curious to see how Samford does against Elon and if Furman can put a scare into Georgia Southern. Samford and Furman have played well this season, probably above expectations, and a win by either of them Saturday would put a significant stamp of legitimacy on their playoff potential.

Some teams have hit the halfway point of the SoCon schedule. Biggest surprise of the first half? Biggest disappointment?

JEFF: I'll cop out by saying that I think Furman was the early surprise team, but Samford will be the surprise team of the second half. Samford has lost only to Georgia Southern and Wofford, and that win over Furman was convincing. The Samfords could have seven wins by the time they play Auburn on Nov. 10.

I know Chattanooga is disappointed with its 0-3 SoCon record, but only the meltdown against The Citadel could be considered a real shocker. App State is only 1-1 in the league, but the way the Mountaineers have struggled to score has to be disappointing to Jerry Moore. We knew Western Carolina would struggle, but the Catamounts actually seem to be getting better, at least on offense.

I'd say that The Citadel's failure to improve more on offense than it has is most disappointing so far. After fumbling 44 times last year, the Bulldogs are on pace to fumble 37.4 times this season. Still not good enough.

JOHN: I think the biggest surprise has to be Samford, which lost its last three games in 2010 and didn’t have much in the way of mojo heading into 2011, especially after losing a bunch of key starters like running back Chris Evans.

The Bulldogs were competitive in their losses to Georgia Southern and Wofford and definitely raised some eyebrows with their win at Furman last week.

As far as disappointments, UTC being 2-4 at this point isn’t a total shock given the difficulty of the schedule and how young the Mocs are at so many key positions, such as the offensive and defensive lines. Still, blowing the 27-0 lead against The Citadel has cast a cloud over the season that could take a while to dissipate.

I could see App State being a bit of a disappointment given how high the Mountaineers have set the bar for that program. I could also see, especially after a well-timed off week, App State not losing another game during the regular season.

DARREN: Even though Samford edged Furman last week, the Paladins are my surprise team. Tough for a new coach to inherit a team with a lot of veterans and get them to buy into his system, but that's not an issue here. Offensively Furman is putting up great numbers (top 25 nationally in scoring, total yards, rushing yards) with a good bit of balance, while defensively they're second in the league in points per game allowed.

It's easy to say the biggest disappointment is Chattanooga, but they've lost to two of the top teams in the league (App/GSU) by three total points and had chances to win both games ... I think most coaches around the league would welcome the simple opportunity to beat those guys. Instead I'll go with Western Carolina — 119th nationally in scoring and total defense, 120th in run defense. Ouch.

ADAM: The biggest disappointment for me is App State. Yeah, that’s right, I said it (Chris Rock voice). Sure losing at Virginia Tech and at Wofford can never be viewed as a crime. And nobody, no matter how dominant, stays perched on top of the, um, mountain forever.

Still, though, we’ve come to expect a certain gold standard from App State and — as Hartsell deftly has pointed out in previous weeks — something just seems to be missing with the Mountaineers. There’s plenty of time to crank up a run, but right know they look like the third SoCon team in the playoffs. That would be quite a drop-off from recent years.

As for a first-half surprise … well … I’ve got nothing. Elon (4-2, 2-1) and Furman (3-2, 2-1) have climbed into the upper half of the league, where neither was expected to be, but both are due to plummet during the next month. Check their schedules.

If you’ve got a question, e-mail the writers at jhartsell@postandcourier.com, asmith@thetimesnews.com or jfrierson@timesfreepress.com. The guys are also on Twitter: @Jeff_fromthePC, @Adam_Smith10 and @MocsbeatCTFP.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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