published Thursday, October 4th, 2012

SoConversation: Week 6

Welcome to week six of the SoConversation, featuring 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.

Before we discuss what happened elsewhere in the SoCon last week, let’s take a moment to go over what happened with the teams we cover. UTC won a must-win game at The Citadel (SoConversation worlds colliding) and Elon got run over by Eric Breitenstein and Wofford. Thoughts?

JOHN: The Mocs had a really good week of practice, especially on offense, and they carried that sharpness to the field. That doesn’t always happen, but given that in a lot of ways UTC’s season was on the line last Saturday, I expected a very good performance — and the Mocs delivered.

The Mocs’ two-QB system with Jacob Huesman and Terrell Robinson was its most effective to date. The offense sputtered a bit before Robinson got it going with a couple of tremendous plays that demonstrated why the ball needs to be in his hands at least 35 times a game.

Robinson’s eight-second (or so) scramble before finding wideout Ron Moore alone in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown may be one of the plays of the year in the SoCon. (The video is here — http://goo.gl/9YIyA — and the play is at the 3:15 mark.)

The big question for UTC is, can it build on this and reel off a bunch of wins in a row? The Citadel, meanwhile, has to wonder if it is the team that completely thumped App State or the one that was held to 10 points by UTC.

ADAM: Here’s the mental image that endures. Wofford lining up on offense, first-and-10, pinned back near its own end zone. Elon getting set on defense, safeties already creeping down.

The ball is snapped. Elon crashes the line of scrimmage. And big, burly Eric Breitenstein bursts through into wide-open space up the middle, swiveling his head left and right as if he can’t comprehend the vast running room available.

Surely, you think for a second, somebody will catch him, right? Nope. Not even a chance. His first touch goes for a 90-yard touchdown. When he’s done flattening the Phoenix, he has bulldozed to a SoCon single-game record 321 rushing yards, bettering Armanti Edwards’ previous mark by 8 yards.

If you need a sound effect that sums up the rainy afternoon, well, remember who loves you and click the link: http://youtu.be/Tl911P93qUk

Elon got manhandled and gave up 500 rushing yards for the game, an all-time worst for the school, in what obviously was a step in the wrong direction after a solid account of itself in an oh-so-close loss at Georgia Southern.

Back to Breitenstein, who I’ve respectfully called a monster ever since we started our SoConversations. He has piled up 538 rushing yards and six touchdowns in Wofford’s last two games against Elon.

After catching 13 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, Elon stud receiver Aaron Mellette said: “To see a great player like that do what he did, it sucks because it’s against us, but my hat’s off to him.”

Breitenstein, what a beast.

JEFF: I’m impressed that Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman told The Citadel exactly what he was going to do — run the quarterbacks — and then did exactly that, to the tune of 177 yards between Silk Robinson and Jacob Huesman. It's none of my business, but my take on the Mocs' QB "controversy" — Huesman the younger is good and has a chance to be very good; Silk Robinson is a special talent. Good problem to have, I guess.

The real Citadel team lies somewhere between the squad that won at App State by 52-28 and the one that managed a lone TD vs. Chattanooga. The Bulldogs are probably right in the middle of that spectrum, which means they could beat or lose to any SoCon squad — except Wofford, which they can't seem to beat under any circumstances.

Here are last week’s results: Georgia Southern def. Samford 35-16, UTC def. The Citadel 28-10, Furman def. Western Carolina 45-24, Wofford def. Elon 49-24 and Appalachian State def. Coastal Carolina 55-14. What caught your eye during week five?

JEFF: App State seems to have recovered nicely from that 52-28 drubbing by The Citadel, which suddenly seems like it happened a long time ago, if it happened at all. QB Jamal Jackson, WR Sean Price and RB Steven Miller are a three-headed Mountaineer Monster. Furman seems to be developing a nice pass-run balance with QB Reese Hannon and RBs Jerodis Williams and Hank McCloud, and Georgia Southern is proving that the forward pass is highly over-rated. And then there's Breitenstein, the Frankenstein of the SoCon.

JOHN: I was struck first, like everyone, by the numbers Eric Breitenstein put up against Elon. As I wrote in the TFP earlier this week, breaking a SoCon record is one thing — breaking an Armanti Edwards record (in this case 313 rushing yards in a game) is something else.

Just as Edwards ran an offense that perfectly suited his skill set, Breitenstein is perfect for Wofford’s option. I’ve had several people say to me that it seems he’s been there for about eight years. That’s what happens when a guy regularly runs all over you.

I was also struck by Furman’s Jerodis Williams, who ran for 239 yards on just 18 carries against Western Carolina. That’s getting it done, as well.

ADAM: Please scroll up for my ode to Wofford fullback/monster Eric Breitenstein, who did more than catch my eye. Let’s call it a Vise Grip of the eyeballs.

Week 5 took it back to the old school SoCon with all the beefy rushing numbers. All five games had at least one 100-yard runner. And three backs Furman’s Jerodis Williams (239 yards), App State’s Steven Miller (202 yards) and You-Know-Who from Wofford went over the 200-yard mark.

How about Williams. He scored three times, with one an 89-yard run and another a 100-yard kickoff return, and finished with 370 all-purpose yards. Purple Power, indeed.

Furman and Georgia Southern took care of business. Chattanooga became the first SoCon team to solve The Citadel.

And as Uncle Jeff Hartsell points out, App State appears to be turning its blowout loss at home against Citadel into an aberration with each passing week. That’s 89 points scored, 31 points allowed for the Mountaineers in their last two games.

Here are this week’s matchups: Furman at Wofford (1:30 p.m.), The Citadel at Samford (3 p.m.), Georgia Southern at Western Carolina (3:30 p.m.) and Elon at Appalachian State (3:30 p.m.). Any predictions on what’s to come this weekend?

JOHN: Since the Mocs are off, I predict that on Saturday I will watch the Arsenal-West Ham match on ESPN in the morning, followed by 18 holes of golf and then I’ll pick up some BBQ on the way home and watch football (or Survivorman reruns) the rest of the day.

I might also do some laundry and hang up some paintings that have been leaning up against the wall in my living room for about a year. Or not.

Of this week’s games, I predict Wofford survives its first real test, Samford edges The Citadel with a late field goal, Georgia Southern scores at least 50 at Western Carolina and App State holds off Elon by less than a touchdown.

JEFF: There are currently six one-loss teams in the SoCon, and only once since 1982 has a two-loss team won or shared the SoCon championship. That was in 2007, when 5-2 App State and Wofford teams shared the crown. It could happen again this season, but the margin for error seems thin for one-loss teams Furman,

The Citadel, Samford, Georgia Southern and App State, with The Citadel vs. Samford amounting almost to an elimination game. I've been awful at picking Citadel games this season, but I think it will bounce back and win a close one at Samford. Wofford, GSU and App State roll.

ADAM: This weekend looks quite clear-cut to me, which probably should set off some alarms wherever Big Brother might be watching.

Wofford, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State — hey, Elon, it’s homecoming in Boone — should be considered heavy favorites. Victories would have the three traditional powers back in the top half of the SoCon standings after a topsy-turvy first month of the season.

The schedule is about to get real in a hurry for unbeaten Wofford, with trips to Georgia Southern and App State coming in the immediate wake of Saturday’s home game against Furman.

This weekend’s closest game figures to be Citadel at Samford, both sitting at 2-1 in the league. Has Citadel’s magic dimmed? Maybe. But a win sets the table for a potentially inviting run through the second half of the season, excluding, of course, the Oct. 27 date at Wofford.

I’m calling a tight win for Citadel’s Bulldogs over Samford’s Bulldogs. Semper Fi.

Now that we’re halfway through the season, or about there, let’s hand out some metaphorical hardware. Who are your offensive and defensive players of the year so far, top coach and top newcomer?

ADAM: Offensive Player of the Year So Far — Breitenstein, who, with 735 rushing yards in four games this season, seems poised to again do to Aaron Mellette what Armanti Edwards used to do to former Elon stars Terrell Hudgins and Scott Riddle. That’s shut the door and win all the headlining awards.

Defensive Player of the Year So Far — Georgia Southern interior defensive lineman Brent Russell. His numbers aren’t going to jump out and grab you. But two weeks ago in Statesboro, I sat next to a Kansas City Chiefs scout, who confirmed what we’ve often said here, that Russell’s disruptive presence affects nearly every snap. (That scout disappointed me, though, by refusing his business card. Hey, guy, the readers of Burlington would’ve embraced you).

Top Coach So Far — The Citadel’s Kevin Higgins, with extra credit given to his post-game locker room speeches after defeats of Georgia Southern and App State. Wofford’s Mike Ayers and Samford’s Pat Sullivan could change things depending on how the second half of the season plays out.

Top Newcomer So Far — App State redshirt freshman receiver Sean Price, a 6-foot-5 game-changer when he hasn’t been serving a team-imposed suspension. His averages of 8.7 catches per game and 120.3 yards per game would lead the league if they qualified. And if Mellette is considered the present among SoCon wideouts, Price looks like he could be the future.

Bonus Category: Best SoCon Alum in the NFL So Far — Former Citadel receiver Andre Roberts of the Arizona Cardinals, coming off a six-catch, 118-yard, two-touchdown performance in a victory against the Miami Dolphins. He has produced 15 catches for 229 yards and some textbook military salutes in the end zone after his four scores.

JOHN: Breitenstein is once again running away (see what I did there) with the Offensive Player of the Year award, despite some excellent play by the likes of Williams, Elon’s Aaron Mellette and App State’s Jamal Jackson and Steven Miller.

Defensively, the three best players in the league have been Georgia Southern defensive tackle Brent Russell, App State linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough and UTC defensive end Davis Tull.

Tull is tied for the lead in sacks and has it outright in tackles for loss, while Kimbrough leads the SoCon in tackles. Russell’s numbers are seldom super-impressive — it goes with the position — but everyone knows what a monster he is. I’ll give a slight edge to Russell because I don’t want to look like a homer.

It’s easy to overlook Mike Ayers and the job he does at Wofford because his program is consistently very good. He appears to have the most complete team in the league and deserves a ton of credit for that. Still, The Citadel’s Kevin Higgins and Samford’s Pat Sullivan are in a dead heat for the top coach award.

As for the newcomers, Furman freshman QB Reese Hannon has been very good, UTC freshman QB Jacob Huesman has been good and App State freshman wideout Sean Price might be the best of the bunch with 26 receptions and five touchdowns in just three games.

JEFF: Before the Chattanooga game, I would have handed the coach of the year award to The Citadel's Kevin Higgins, hands down. Now, we'll have to wait and see. If he or Samford's Pat Sullivan can guide their squads to seven or eight wins, they should be the front-runners. Players of the Year? The preseason picks were right on.

Defensive tackle Brent Russell of GSU impacts games way beyond his stats, and you can't argue against The Breitenstein Monster as offensive POY. I like 6-5 WR Sean Price of App State (26 catches for 361 yards and five TDs in three games) as the newcomer of the year.

One of our readers posed a good question: What do you think the SoCon will look like in five years?

JEFF: As the landscape of college athletics continues to shift (because that's what landscapes do), it's silly to think the SoCon will go unaffected. Worst case? College of Charleston and Davidson bolt for the CAA, and Georgia Southern and App State get invited to join the Sun Belt. That would weaken the league significantly in both basketball and football. To counter, the SoCon welcomes back VMI and recruits Mercer, which is starting football under former Furman coach Bobby Lamb. Best case? Only C of C leaves, as it seems determined to do, and the SoCon soldiers on as an 11-team basketball league with no divisions.

ADAM: Jeez, I shudder to think what I’ll look like in five years, much less the SoCon, positioned on the lower rungs of the college sports pecking order, and thus apt to be impacted by the proverbial domino effect of league movement at any of the higher levels.

In five years will the SoCon have been forced to poach, say, the Coastal Carolinas and Gardner-Webbs of the Big South to restock a depleted league membership? Doubtful, but predicting this sort of stuff is the ultimate in crystal ball work.

App State was ready to go FBS in football yesterday and the day before and the day before and so on. College of Charleston seems enamored — strangely, in some ways — with moving to the Colonial Athletic Association. Certainly not a bold prediction here, but I say both are gone from the SoCon by 2017, if not much sooner.

Davidson, by most accounts that I trust, seems content and unlikely to leave, right now at least, for the CAA.

As for Georgia Southern, looking to move up and out of the SoCon in a football-fueled maneuver, that drive there a few weeks ago served as a glaring reminder of Statesboro’s remoteness. Rich tradition aside, Georgia Southern’s location is going to be a tough sell for a bigger league, which no doubt will be concerned with market size, a common buzzword attached to realignment and expansion.

File this away. Mercer probably would be the first invite if the SoCon needed/wanted to add a new member. I first heard that in May and, according to multiple administrators and even coaches from multiple SoCon schools, that remains the case.

Apparently, of course.

JOHN: Before considering what the SoCon looks like in 2017, let’s ponder what Division I looks like at that time. I suspect that the BCS conference will be even bigger and more powerful, and we could be close to seeing the divide in D-I being between the BCS and everyone else instead of the FBS and the FCS.

I’m guessing App State, Georgia Southern and the College of Charleston will be out of the SoCon by 2017, or on their way out, and maybe Kennesaw State, Mercer and someone like Tennessee Tech will be in the league. And you know what, life in the SoCon will go on just fine.

There will still be championships to play for, there will still be rivalries and fans will still cheer for their alma maters or hometown teams. Teams have come and gone from the SoCon for many, many years now and the games still go on. That will be the case in five years, as well.

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_smithTN 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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