Welcome to week four 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 take a look at what happened elsewhere in the SoCon, let’s take a moment to discuss what happened with the teams we cover. It was a fairly as-expected week three for the Mocs, but you sure can’t say that about Elon or The Citadel, can you?
JEFF: I'm still not sure what I witnessed in Boone really happened, but it says 52-28 right here in my weekly SoCon football notes. The Citadel played great, App State was terrible, and a 31-0 Bulldogs lead in the second quarter was the result. Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said it was a perfect storm of sorts, with Citadel confidence sky high after its upset of then-No. 3 Georgia Southern. App State was coming off a big win over Montana and was primed for a letdown against a team it had not lost to at home since 1992.
But that's no excuse for the poorly prepared — emotionally and technically — App State team I saw at The Rock. Maybe the Mountaineers will rebound from a 1-2 start and make the playoffs again, as they've done a couple of times in recent years. But not with performances like that.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, have already beaten the top two teams in the preseason SoCon coaches' poll, and might have a real shot at N.C. State this weekend. What's next for these surprising Bulldogs? A SoCon title? A playoff berth? It's like 1992 all over again, except "Baby Got Back" is not on the radio all the time.
ADAM: The expected — Elon roughed up Division II lightweight West Virginia State on the strength of big days, well, big first halves from Thomas Wilson (261 passing yards, four TDs) and Aaron Mellette (nine catches, 129 yards, two TDs).
The completely and utterly unexpected — Elon coach Jason Swepson was in a hospital bed while it happened, monitoring the game through updates from his 15-year-old daughter, who was tracking Twitter. (Kiana, remember, just hit up @adam_smithTN and I’ve got you).
Swepson, who’s 42 and appears to be in fine shape, woke with chest pains around 3:30 a.m. last Friday, which, when I heard that, immediately reminded me of Urban Meyer. Swepson figured it was heartburn and popped some Tums, but the pressure didn’t subside. So he ended up making a predawn trip to the emergency room and ultimately stayed until Sunday.
Swepson had a procedure there that involved a catheterization and placement of a stent to alleviate blockage. And it obviously was an eye-opening experience for the married father of three. There’s a history of heart disease in his family. He’s vowing to improve his eating and exercise habits. Already, his wife has disposed of bags of barbeque potato chips, his favorite snack.
Swepson returned to Elon on Wednesday and it was a neat scene. The welcome-back love flowed everywhere. He was cracking jokes, laughing and seemed to be exactly the same, except with a new perspective on life, of course. (True to form, I filled the notepad with way too much info — a ridiculous amount, really — so keep your head on a swivel for future Swepson’s road to wellness stories)
Barring a change of course from his doctors, Swepson is planning on making the trip with the team to Georgia Southern this weekend.
Defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham, who acted as head coach, and offensive coordinator Chris Pincince filled in ably during Swepson’s absence. And they will need to continue to do so. Swepson is scaling back his work responsibilities for several weeks as he recovers and tries to find his new normal.
JOHN: There was no such drama in UTC’s 35-0 route of Division II Glenville State last Thursday. The offense gained 477 yards (and should have scored more than 35 points), while the defense help the Pioneers to just 78 yards. It was as dominant as you can get without winning 82-0.
The most interesting part of the game was how UTC used quarterbacks Jacob Huesman and Terrell Robinson together. On the Mocs’ second offensive play, Robinson lined up at receiver, got open on a double move and caught a 44-yard touchdown pass.
Robinson ran, threw (his first completion was to Huesman) and caught in the game, and seemed to be enjoying his triple-threat role.
Here are last week’s results: UTC def. Glenville State 35-0, The Citadel def. Appalachian State 52-28, Samford def. Gardner-Webb 44-23, Elon def. West Virginia State 48-14, Wofford def. Western Carolina 49-20, Clemson def. Furman 41-7.
Other than the previously mentioned games involving the Mocs, Phoenix and Bulldogs, what caught your eye during week three?
ADAM: Glance over those scores again. Every one of them played out in predictable fashion.
Oh … except … what … CITADEL DID TO APP STATE.
I know the question asks what else caught my eye. Well, nothing. After Ben Dupree and Co. comprehensively shredded the Mountaineers — 618 yards of destruction — I was picking my eyeballs up off the floor.
And this a week after Citadel knocked off Georgia Southern. Holy mother of Christmas, what a run for the triple-option Bulldogs (pun certainly intended).
You can’t help but feel happiness and respect for coach Kevin Higgins, his staff and especially Citadel’s players, who double as cadets. Theirs is a most demanding of existences away from the field.
As an avid reader of Uncle Jeff Hartsell through the years, I’m reminded that 1992 was the date on the calendar the last time Citadel won the SoCon and reached the playoffs.
Ah, yes, 1992. I was a freshman in high school. Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” was on the radio.
It will be interesting to see if Citadel remixes up something special this season.
JOHN: So I’m in Times Free Press Georgia football ace David Paschall’s Camry heading south to Athens to help him cover last Saturday’s Georgia-Florida Atlantic game (I’m really going home to see the family for a while, plus help out Paschall).
I open the Twitter app on my phone and see that Uncle Jeff Hartsell has tweeted that the Bulldogs have scored first against App State. A few minutes later I check again and see that they’ve scored again, and again. For a while in the first half, every time I refreshed the feed The Citadel had added another touchdown.
Paschall was as blown away as I was. Actually, I was more blown away by how The Citadel never allowed App State to mount a rally and get in the game. As for the other games, who could pay attention after that?
JEFF: Furman 0-3? Wow. But at least the Paladins seem to have a QB in freshman Reese Hannon, and a couple of winnable games upcoming (Presbyterian, Western Carolina) before facing Wofford. The Terriers, by the way, also have found a QB in Michael Weimer. Everyone in Spartanburg insists there's no QB controversy — Brian Kass is still the starter ‚ but we've heard that before, haven't we? And since everyone's finding quarterbacks, how about Eddie Sullivan at Western Carolina. The Marshall transfer threw for 302 yards against Wofford and offers some hope for the Catamounts against 3-0 Samford this week.
Here are this week’s matchups: Furman at Presbyterian, Samford at Western Carolina, Appalachian State at UTC, Elon at Georgia Southern and The Citadel at North Carolina State. Any predictions on what’s to come this weekend?
JOHN: It will be a HUGE game at Finley Stadium on Saturday when UTC hosts App State. Huge for both teams. The Mocs have lost seven in a row to the Mountaineers, including back to back heartbreakers by a combined three points. The Mocs are also still looking for that Russ Huesman Era breakthrough and momentum-building win.
A loss would drop UTC to 1-3 overall with a trip to Charleston next weekend, which would make a 1-4 start a real possibility. A win could really lift this team to a new level.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, showed us all something by beating Montana two weeks ago. They then left us scratching our heads after last Saturday’s game. ASU will arrive in the lovely Scenic City madder than heck (family publication) and how it plays and how UTC handles what will likely be a fast ASU start, will decide this one.
In the other games, Swepson might want to return next week and don’t be shocked if the Catamounts put a big scare into Samford.
JEFF: I failed to predict The Citadel's wins over Georgia Southern and App State, so I'm going to attempt to make up for it by calling for a 24-21 upset of the Wolfpack. There, I said it. Georgia Southern has had two weeks of Monken madness since that loss to The Citadel, and should be ready to explode vs. Elon (welcome back, Coach Swepson). App State-Chattanooga is huge, with two teams badly in need of a win, and the Mocs seem overdue for some breaks to go their way. Furman should get off the schneid, and I think WCU will give Samford a real test.
ADAM: Furman will win for the first time this season. Samford will win for the fourth time this season to improve to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the SoCon with Georgia Southern, Citadel and App State waiting on the schedule.
And I’m very intrigued by the other three games.
How does App State respond at Chattanooga after last week’s disaster?
How does Elon respond to the night-game atmosphere at Georgia Southern, with coach Jason Swepson a week removed from the chest pains / hospital episode?
How does Georgia Southern respond coming off its bye week, which preceded a disappointing loss at Citadel? Judging by that post-game video I saw, Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken looked like he was itching to put his team through ball-security drills before they bussed out of Charleston two weeks ago.
Can Citadel’s magic continue? If it does somehow, the wolves (another pun certainly intended) will be after N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien in full force.
Here’s a lead-pipe lock of a prediction: Hartsell will struggle to avoid entering a food coma after he dives into the pre-game spread at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. And they restock at halftime, Jeff. Prepare to loosen the belt.
Is there a player or two in the SoCon that has surprised you thus far? Maybe someone that you didn’t expect to be contributing so much this early in the season?
JEFF: Not a surprise, but I'm really happy for Citadel running back Rickey Anderson. The sixth-year veteran has suffered two torn ACLs, a broken ankle and a stress fracture while at The Citadel, which is why he's been there six years. He got his first 100-yard game against App State, and has scored five TDs already. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Samford QB Andy Summerlin is a new name who has impressed early, hitting 60 percent of his passes thus far. And can you believe who's leading the SoCon in passing efficiency? Why, it's The Citadel, with QBs Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller.
ADAM: Anybody mentioned anything about Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree yet?
Well, you know, since this week is a Citadel love fest week for me …
We took it back to the 1990s earlier, so let’s go again. All of a sudden Dupree has become a 5-foot-9 version of former Nebraska option maestro Tommie Frazier.
OK, that’s hyperbole, but what a surge in production for Dupree, who shares time with Aaron Miller, Citadel’s “passing” quarterback.
Through three games — yes, I know, it’s still September — Dupree is on pace to double his rushing total from last year (645 yards). He has gained 349 yards on the ground this season, second only to Wofford fullback/animal Eric Breitenstein, which, again, becomes even more impressive when considering the competition The Citadel has faced and the lack general lack of competition that Wofford has faced.
On a different note, it should be interesting to continue to watch the development of young quarterbacks across the league such as Furman’s Reese Hannon, Chattanooga’s Jacob Huesman and Western Carolina’s Eddie Sullivan, a Marshall transfer. All three seem capable of big things, and maybe sooner rather than later.
JOHN: Like Adam, I’ve been impressed with how well the new QBs in the league have played. Regardless of whether or not you think Robinson should be starting for UTC, you have to acknowledge that Huesman has played very well. Heading into Saturday he’s tied for ninth in the SoCon in rushing (71.0 ypg) and fourth in passing average (159.3 ypg), while completing 43 of 69 passes (4 TDs, 1 INT).
The meat of the schedule still lies ahead, but I’ve also been impressed by Thomas Wilson’s play at Elon. His good passing numbers were awesome last season, but they were essentially overshadowed his many turnovers. So far this season, he seems to be taking much better care of the ball.
And to make it 3-for-3, yes, Ben Dupree has been tremendous for The Citadel.
If you’ve got a question, e-mail the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. The guys are also on Twitter: @Jeff_fromthePC, @adam_smithTN and @MocsbeatCTFP.
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 ...