published Friday, October 11th, 2013

SoConversation: Week 7

Welcome to 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.

We’re also honored and lucky to be joined this week by Appalachian State beat writer Tommy Bowman of the Winston-Salem Journal.

Week six of the college football season had some modest surprises (Samford def. Georgia Southern 44-34 and The Citadel def. Appalachian State 31-28), some standard fare (Wofford def. Presbyterian 55-14 and UTC def. Western Carolina 41-21) and in a toss-up Elon edged Furman 28-25.

We will get to the game you covered in a bit, but what was your overall reaction to what happened in the SoCon last week?

JEFF: Samford declared itself as a top contender, rallying from a 21-10 halftime deficit for a 44-34 victory over Georgia Southern. QB Andy Summerlin is off to a fantastic start, with 1,754 yards and 14 TDs against just four interceptions in six games. Meanwhile, Georgia Southern and App State's plans for a Grand Final Tour of the SoCon are crumbling fast.

I'm not sure what App State's problem is — some of their best players seemed barely interested on Saturday against The Citadel — but GSU has been racked by injury. Coach Jeff Monken said some 20 scholarship players missed the Samford game due to injuries or off-the-field reasons.

JOHN: Samford really impressed me last week. The Bulldogs generated 651 yards of offense while having the ball for just 25:44. They averaged 9.2 yards a play, which is Oregon-like. Quarterback Andy Summerlin had been solid in the past, but he has really come on strong this season.

While full credit goes to The Citadel for beating the Mountaineers and picking up an important win, last week again left me (and plenty of others, I’m sure) wondering what’s up with App State.

ADAM: Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin is hot like fire. His passing numbers from the last three games are, as the kids say, ‘ridic’. And Samford has taken on the look of a high-scoring machine, hanging 44 points on Georgia Southern a week after lighting up Western Carolina for 62 points.

Here’s the quick by-the-numbers on Summerlin: 478 yards, three touchdowns, one interception against Southeastern Louisiana; 327 yards, four TDs, no INTs against Western Carolina; and 495 yards, three TDs and no INTs against Georgia Southern.

His staggering three-game total: 1,300 yards, 10 touchdowns, one interception.

My man love for Samford do-everything back Fabian Truss has been well chronicled here. And I remain committed. I do. It’s just that sometimes my eyes tend to wander …

Also, quite noticeably, the quarterback situation at Appalachian State is revolving no more. Jamal Londry-Jackson’s run of two-plus seasons as the starter has ended. He displaced DeAndre Presley back in 2011 to gain control of the job. Now Kam Bryant has displaced him.

TOMMY: Strange times in the SoCon. Apparently taking to heart they can't officially win a championship this year, Georgia Southern is 1-2 in league play and App State 1-4 overall. Those were the preseason favorites. And there sits Samford, picked to finish fifth, at the top and playing like it could win this thing.

Now for the games you guys witnessed. Give us a taste of what happened, maybe a standout performance or two and what does it mean going into this week and beyond?

JOHN: The Mocs didn’t play all that well but still handed Western Carolina its 25th straight SoCon loss. UTC did pick off passes on three straight Catamount possessions in the second quarter, which isn’t something you see too often.

The win improved UTC to 3-2 (1-1 SoCon), with three wins over struggling programs and losses to a pair of solid opponents in UT-Martin and Georgia Southern. In other words, it’s still hard to get a read on just how good the Mocs can be.

Running back Keon Williams had his third 100-yard game of the season and continues to be a bright spot for the offense, alongside Jacob Huesman. They’ve been the most consistent playmakers so far this season.

ADAM: Elon finally broke through with some game-changing plays (Chandler Wrightenberry’s 33-yard interception return for a touchdown and Mike Quinn’s 73-yard TD bomb to Rasaun Rorie), finally delivered some clutch defensive stops (two in the last six minutes) and beat Furman to finally end its losing steak on the road (seven games dating to November 2011).

The win was a much-needed one for Elon for many obvious reasons. And at 1-1 in the SoCon, the Phoenix, at least right here, right now, can look at the muddled standings and feel like it could become a factor in the league race.

Meanwhile, it was impossible not to feel bad for Furman, which left the loss with one healthy quarterback on its roster — third-stringer Duncan Fletcher, a true freshman. Starter Reese Hannon didn’t suit up due to a knee injury. Backup Dillon Woodruff already had been lost to a season-ending shoulder injury earlier this year. And in the third quarter against Elon, Terry Robinson, who had rotated at QB with Fletcher, suffered a season-ending knee injury.

TOMMY: I was in Charleston for the App-Citadel game. Great game to watch unless you are a beleaguered Mountaineer fan. Big plays and more touchdowns from App freshman Marcus Cox and Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree in a game with a ton of momentum shifts and weird ending in overtime. The Mountaineers left snake bit again, having lost their third game this season by three points.

JEFF: The Citadel is a tough team to figure this season. Two of their losses, to Charleston Southern and Old Dominion, came by a total of four points. If the Bulldogs had dropped one punt instead of two against CSU and recovered two of three onside kicks vs. ODU instead of just one, they would have won both those games.

On the other hand, they needed Immaculate Interceptions to pull out close wins over Western Carolina and App State. The Citadel was the better team for most of the day against App State, and took a 28-21 lead with just 1:19 left. But then the Bulldogs allowed App State to go 79 yards in just five plays for the tying TD with only 20 seconds left.

QB Ben Dupree is the X-factor for the Dogs; in The Citadel's two wins, plus the loss at ODU in which the Dogs scored 58 points, he's averaging 137 rushing yards and scored nine touchdowns; in the three other losses, he's averaging 36 yards and scored one TD.

We’re at the midpoint of the season, give or take depending on who’s had an off week, so it’s time for some assessments. Who is your midseason player of the year, coach of the year and what’s been the surprise of the year so far?

ADAM: Midseason Player of the Year — Samford QB Andy Summerlin. He’s flirting with 500-yard passing games on the regular for an early unbeaten in the league at 2-0. For additional info, see my love note to him from the first question of the SoConversation.

Midseason Coach of the Year — Mike Ayers, who’s in his 27th year at Wofford and may have a bit of a clue about this coaching thing. In the preseason I picked the Terriers to slide back to the middle of the SoCon pack. So far they’re 2-0 in the league and maybe a downpour against Gardner-Webb shy of being 4-1 overall. And I continue to be a moron.

Surprise of the Midseason — App State’s struggling 1-4 start to the season, its worst record through five games since 1993. Furthermore, App and Georgia Southern are a combined 4-6 overall and 2-3 in the league, a collective SoCon swan song to this point that a third eye couldn’t have seen coming.

JEFF: A couple of Samford Bulldogs have to lead the way for player of the year at this point. We extolled the virtues of QB Andy Summerlin above, and running back Fabian Truss is the top all-around threat in the league. He's sixth in rushing (86 ypg), 10th in receiving (22 catches, 190 yards, 1 TD), first in all-purpose yards by a big margin, and has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Other nominees: GSU QB Jerick McKinnon, Chattanooga QB Jacob Huesman, Wofford FB Donovan Johnson, Samford LB Justin Shade. Coach of the year looks like a two-man race between Samford's Pat Sullivan, who battled off-season back surgery to come back to lead his team; and Wofford's Mike Ayers, who produced another quality Terriers team despite the doubters (okay, that was me). Chattanooga's Russ Huesman could get in the conversation if his Mocs go on a second-half run.

I was impressed with App State RB Marcus Cox; he and teammate John Law, a fine linebacker, should battle it out for freshman of the year. For me, the surprise of the year so far has been the way Georgia Southern and App State, touted as the top teams in the SoCon during their farewell seasons, have stumbled out of the gate.

JOHN: Given what he’s doing as a running back and receiver — a combined 162.6 yards per game — App State freshman Marcus Cox should probably be in the conversation for player of the year so far. But at this point you have to go with Summerlin, with Truss right behind him.

Summerlin’s 292.3 passing yards a game is more than 80 yards more than anyone else, and he’s thrown 14 touchdown passes to just four interceptions in 201 attempts.

Given Sullivan’s at least partial absence early in the season, I’ll just say the Samford coaching staff deserves a round of applause for the job it has done through the first half of the season. A nod also goes to Wofford’s Mike Ayers, who has the Terriers playing at a higher level than I anticipated given all the studs they lost from last season.

The surprise has to be App State being 1-4 for the first time since 1993. It’s still hard to imagine or understand.

TOMMY: I'd go with Samford's Andy Summerlin and Pat Sullivan right now. The big surprises have to be the early losses by Appalachian and Georgia Southern.

There are several interesting matchups on the SoCon schedule this week: The Citadel at Georgia Southern, Elon at Wofford, Samford at App State and Furman at UTC ... oh, and Western Carolina is visiting Auburn. What will you be keeping an eye on Saturday?

JEFF: App State has lost three games by a total of nine points, and I keep waiting for the weekend that the Mountaineers put it together. But after home losses to Charleston Southern and North Carolina A&T and after watching them against The Citadel, I don't know if they can put it together against a Samford team that's rolling.

The Citadel made a field goal to beat Georgia Southern by 23-21 last year, and missed one to lose by 14-12 at GSU in 2011. Five of the last six games have been decided by seven or fewer points, and I fully expect Saturday's game to be the same way.

The Citadel has not won at Statesboro since 2003; as beat up as Jeff Monken says the Eagles are, this might be the Dogs best chance since then. But it won't be their last; The Citadel will play a non-conference game at GSU in 2015 -- for a fee of $175,000, thank you very much.

Auburn, Chattanooga and Wofford should roll, I would think.

TOMMY: Two of those games jump out. The Citadel-Georgia Southern in a triple-option battle. And Samford at App State. If there is a turning point to App's season this has to be it. Once virtually unbeatable at home, the Mountaineers have lost their last three home games. Samford has a win over every SoCon team except for App since joining the league. Big one in Boone for a lot of reasons.

JOHN: If the Mocs are going to get on a roll and really challenge for the SoCon title and a playoff spot, they’ve got to string some wins together. And starting with Western Carolina last week, UTC is in a five-game stretch in which it plays teams that at present have losing records. They need to be getting while the getting is good, or whatever that expression is.

I’m certainly curious to see which Citadel and Georgia Southern teams show up Saturday. GSU coach Jeff Monken had downplayed injuries and not used them as an excuse a few weeks ago, but he spoke about them for about six straight minutes on the teleconference Tuesday. It might mean nothing, but I noted the change.

As for Samford at App State, well, App State has to be APP STATE at some point this season, right? Or does Summerlin throw for another 400 yards?

ADAM: Samford plays the first in a string of four straight road games in Boone, where App State is winless so far. Samford’s schedule is strange. Three road games in a row to open the season, followed by three home games in a row, followed by four straight on the road, followed by two at home to end the regular season. Just bizarre. The Bulldogs don’t play at home again until Nov. 16.

Chattanooga should feast on hurting, quarterback-starved Furman.

Can Elon hang in and challenge Wofford? The last time these teams got together, a hairy beast named Eric Breitenstein rumbled for a SoCon record 321 yards. That has been nightmare fuel for the Elon defense ever since.

The Phoenix did find some confidence in beating Furman last week. That nearly became a blowout. Elon was on the verge of going ahead 35-10 late the third quarter before fumbling at the goal line and opting to dial back for a careful approach the rest of the way.

As we continue the nostalgia/farewell tour for Adam and John, as well as Tommy who will be covering the Mountaineers in the Sun Belt next season, here’s an App State-related question: What’s your favorite or most memorable Armanti Edwards moment?

TOMMY: Lots to choose from. Edwards was an often-underrated passer and a perfect fit as a Spread quarterback with his running ability, and he wasn't one to shy from contact. The performance that really stands out to me is when he rushed for 313 yards in a 2007 playoff victory over Richmond.

JOHN: Tommy and I are thinking alike. Back when Chattanooga hosted the FCS title game, I essentially became an App State beat writer and covered their playoff games leading up to the title game.

In 2007, I was in Boone, N.C., for that playoff game against Richmond and watched with my mouth agape as Edwards put on an incredible show against a Spiders defense led by none other than Russ Huesman, now UTC’s head coach.

Edwards ran, he threw, he did whatever the heck he wanted, or so it seemed. As Tommy noted, he finished with 313 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns; he also had 182 passing yards and three passing TDs in the 55-35 win.

I’m not comparing Armanti to Cam Newton, but I hadn’t seen anyone else do what Armanti did until Newton came along and set the world ablaze in 2010. And that’s darn good company to keep.

ADAM: My favorite Armanti play is his touchdown run that put App State up 28-14 on Michigan in the monumental 2007 upset. The box score from that day says, simply, that it was a 6-yard run. Really, he flew into the end zone, going vertical and climbing high above two defenders at the goal line and then stretching completely horizontal to the ground to finish the score.

App State fans took the images from that highlight-reel move and cropped many a Superman cape onto the back of Armanti’s shoulder pads. It was, indeed, spectacular.

I also enjoyed talking to him at a preseason kickoff event and listening to the story about Clemson recruiting him as a defensive back. Talk about a college decision that would have altered the course of history.

JEFF: It is difficult to pick an Armanti moment against The Citadel, since he pretty much had a career in four wins against the Bulldogs -- 62 of 93 passes for 874 yards and eight TDs, with 52 carries for 504 yards and six touchdowns. On average, his line in four games vs. The Citadel was 16 of 23 for 218 yards and two TDs, with 13 carries for 126 yards and 1.5 touchdowns in a 41-21 victory.

In his final game against The Citadel, in 2009, he broke the Bulldogs' heart with a game-tying 74-yard TD pass to Brian Quick in the final minutes, forcing an overtime game that App State won, 30-27. But the bow-legged kid from Greenwood was at his best during the Mountaineers' 45-24 win in 2007. He ran for 291 yards and two touchdowns and passed for two more touchdowns in front of a homecoming crowd of more than 19,000

That was the year, of course, that App State beat Michigan, went 13-2 and won the national championship. All hail, Armanti.

That’s it for this week and thanks for reading, as always. If you’ve got a question or comment, 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 @MocsBeat — and you can follow Tommy at @AppTrailWSJ.

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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