SoConversation: Week 9

SoConversation: Week 9

October 26th, 2012 by John Frierson in Local Regional News

Welcome to week nine 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. While Jeff Hartsell and The Citadel were focusing on other matters during their off week, UTC put together a quality win over Samford and Adam Smith got a lot of homecoming hugs (at least according to his tweets) while Elon picked up its first SoCon win. Thoughts?

ADAM: Elon quarterback Thomas Wilson nearly turned in a spotless performance, throwing for 412 yards and five touchdowns (that covered 31, 75, 48, 55 and 47 yards) against Western Carolina. That he needed only 20 completions - he finished 20 of 28 - to put up those numbers was even more impressive.

For one half, with Wilson distributing and Elon bolting to leads of 28-0 and 35-7, the Phoenix looked like the prolific 1998 Minnesota Vikings offense that featured Randall Cunningham bombing passes to Cris Carter, Jake Reed and a rookie named Randy Moss.

Sure, Western Carolina never, ever, ever will be confused for the 1985 Chicago Bears. But, hey, let's not get picky here and ruin an analogy. And obviously, Elon stud receiver Aaron Mellette would be Moss in this mental adventure.

In the end, Elon left with a 42-31 victory and some teachable points about second-half complacency. It was Western Carolina's 20th straight SoCon loss. There have to be brighter days ahead, though, with true freshman quarterback Troy Mitchell, a sick athlete, at the controls. How were the Catamounts able to recruit him out of Texas?

Homecomings, when done right, are like family reunions. And families hug. Remember, more hugs equal fewer problems. Get on board and get in here where it's good.

JOHN: The Mocs picked up their third win in a row, no small thing after a 1-3 start to the season. The defense was great for a little more than three quarters and then struggled a bit late. The offense was methodical and effective enough, but not too creative or impressive.

UTC was up 20-3 early in the fourth quarter and wound up having to knock down a Hail Mary pass on the game's final play to avoid overtime. The Mocs' defense has held three straight opponents (The Citadel, Furman and Samford) to 13 points or less. Not too shabby.

JEFF: I'm quite impressed with Chattanooga's rebound from a 1-3 start and a QB controversy that could have imploded the Mocs' season. As you could probably tell, I was no huge fan of how coach Russ Huesman handled his QB situation early in the season - and I guess Silk Robinson wasn't either - but the Mocs have pulled it together.

Huesman saw that he needed his two best offensive players, Jacob Huesman and Silk, on the field together and has made it work, with creative flair to boot. From afar, I give a lot of credit to Robinson for accepting his new role, and to the Mocs' stingy defense.

Here are last week's results: UTC def. Samford 20-13, Georgia Southern def. Furman 38-17, Elon def. Western Carolina 42-31 and Wofford def. Appalachian State 38-28. What surprised you or caught your eye during week eight?

JEFF: Controversy has followed GSU the last couple of weeks, what with allegations of ankle-twisting against Wofford and running up the score with an unnecessary late TD and 2-point conversion against Furman.

Monken explained the 2-point try with 20 seconds left by saying, "This is a great rivalry, and I would never put a black mark on this rivalry by running up the score. We have a long season left, and our guys need momentum and confidence. That's not Georgia Southern's style (running up the score). I felt like we needed to win, and I did the thing I felt was the best thing for our team."

Furman coach Bruce Fowler took the high road in his post-game comments, but the incident is not likely to be forgotten anytime soon in Greenville.

JOHN: A very big thumbs up to Wofford for going to The Rock and pulling off a very impressive win. Given the tough game (and loss) at Georgia Southern the week before and the number of Terriers that were banged up, it seemed a lot to ask for Wofford to get the win.

For a half it looked like Furman was going to have a shot at upsetting the Eagles, but Georgia Southern rolled in the second half after trailing 7-3 at the break. A week after not attempting a pass against Wofford, GSU's quarterbacks go 6-for-10 for 165 yards, including a 75-yard TD pass.

And I don't get going for two after scoring with 20 seconds left. For that matter, I don't get not taking a knee on what could have been the final play.

ADAM: Nothing really too surprising for me from last weekend, but definitely some eye-catching stuff.

Furman was ahead of Georgia Southern at the half and deep into the third quarter before the SoCon-leading Eagles broke away with big plays.

Wofford, coming off a smash-mouth game down at Georgia Southern, a loss that took a physical toll, showed toughness - and, really, the strength of its program in some ways - by responding to beat App State up in Boone.

And how about Chattanooga riding its defense past Samford to climb to 3-1 in the SoCon, with a major opportunity coming this weekend at home against Georgia Southern.

The Mocs are tied in the loss column with the Eagles (5-1) and Wofford (4-1). Buckle up for what could be an interesting ride through the final four weeks of the regular season.

Here are this week's matchups: The Citadel at Wofford (1:30 p.m./ESPN3), Furman at Elon (3 p.m.), Appalachian State at Western Carolina (3:30 p.m.) and Georgia Southern at UTC (6 p.m.). Any predictions on what's to come this weekend?

JOHN: Huge, huge, HUGE game at Finley Stadium this weekend. The No. 2 Eagles are rolling and the Mocs are playing some pretty good ball themselves. Both teams (along with Wofford) have only one SoCon loss, so there are championship implications at play.

UTC typically defends the triple option well and both teams have good defenses - Georgia Southern is No. 2 in the FCS in total defense and UTC is No. 7 - so this could be a tight, low scoring game. Call me silly, but I actually think the punters and kickers could decide this one.

Predictions: Georgia Southern wins with a late field goal, Wofford runs away from The Citadel in the second half, ASU works out some frustrations against the Catamounts and Wilson-to-Mellette is too much for Furman to handle.

JEFF: Lot of folks will be pulling for Chattanooga against GSU and for The Citadel against Wofford, results that would hand the Eagles and Terriers their second league losses. Methinks the Mocs have the better shot at pulling the upset, what with home field advantage and a defense that already has shut down one triple-option squad (see a 28-10 win over The Citadel).

The Citadel has lost 13 straight to Wofford, but I think the Bulldogs are catching their nemesis at as good a time as they could hope for. Wofford is coming off a big, emotional effort in a 38-28 win at App State and could be primed for a letdown against a Citadel team it has dominated. And the Terriers got a bit beat up on the Rock, and will be without five starters/regulars against The Citadel, according to Todd Shanesy.

Still, I see GSU and Wofford rolling on, App State winning big and Elon taking a shootout vs. Furman.

ADAM: First off, my goodness gracious it's getting late in the proverbial day. Georgia Southern and Western Carolina have only one more SoCon game left after this weekend. Wow.

As for this weekend, I've got a feeling - maybe it's just early onset shingles - that Chattanooga, after losing an oh-so-close one in Statesboro last year, finds a way to beat Georgia Southern. The Eagles almost let Furman hang around too long last week. I'll say the Mocs win by a Chris Pollard field goal.

Elon's Thomas Wilson to Aaron Mellette combo seems to be on something of a mission. So, homer-rifically, the Phoenix generates enough offense to beat Furman for the fifth straight year (a streak that's quite the source of pride around Elon, from the athletics department to the president's office).

Even with the insider knowledge of new coach Mark Speir, who spent the last nine years at App State working under Jerry Moore, Western Carolina won't be able to keep up with the Mountaineers. App State easily retains the Old Mountain Jug for the 26th time in the last 28 years.

And I'm interested to see what plays out in Spartanburg. How does Citadel respond off its bye week? And how does banged-up Wofford respond after rugged road games against Georgia Southern and App State? I'll go with the Terriers and their wingbone over the Bulldogs and their triple option.

Last Friday the College of Charleston Board of Trustees got together and voted - the margin was 12-5 - to move forward with its talks with the Colonial Athletic Association. Officially, the Cougars aren't going anywhere yet, but it now seems to be only a matter of time.

Which is more harmful at this point, CofC leaving the SoCon or this whole thing continuing to drag out for a few more months? And how big a deal is it that it appears that only CofC is heading for the exit?

JEFF: Word is that reports that Davidson will remain with the SoCon, at least for the near future, took CofC officials by surprise and impacted the BOT vote. The trustees had been expected to vote outright to join the CAA, but instead voted to "begin negotiations," which of course began long ago. Regardless, the Cougars are leaving and probably will be gone for the 2013-14 season.

In my opinion, the SoCon need be in no hurry to replace College of Charleston. An 11-team basketball league with no divisions would work just fine. In baseball, the Cougars' departure leaves 10 teams, again a workable number. The SoCon should wait for/pursue a quality replacement and feel no pressure to fill the hole immediately. You never know who might pop up looking for a new home.

ADAM: For months now, this has been like your buddy's impending breakup with his girlfriend that everybody in the group sees coming and coming, yet still seems to take forever to finalize.

The CAA wants College of Charleston. And the decision-makers at College of Charleston, at least the majority of them, want to go. It has been that way since May. Next week it will be November. Let's move this thing along for the good of the land.

For the SoCon, if only CofC is leaving - if the silence from Elon indeed is just silence - then I think you feel pleased, like you survived, for now at least, this latest round of realignment rumblings.

That would mean Davidson, the SoCon's marquee basketball school, is staying put. And the league's football membership, again, at least for now, remains intact. So if you're commissioner John Iamarino, you either can be selective in replacing CofC or opt not to and gauge how standing pat would work.

JOHN: My initial reaction is: Just do something already! To quote "Glengarry Glen Ross" - one of my all-time favorite films - "A guy don't walk on the lot lest he wants to buy." It seems like the Cougars have been on the lot a long time.

As for what it all means, including Davidson's decision to stay, I don't know anyone that thought the Wildcats were headed for the door. The SoCon needs Davidson's men's basketball program, which has the most cachet in the league, and the Wildcats have done very well in the SoCon.

When CofC leaves, I do think it's important that the SoCon act quickly and decisively. All the league's decision makers have had a lot of time to mull over their options and if for no other reason than appearances, the SoCon must look strong and, if possible, have a replacement lined up and ready to be announced ASAP.

Uncle Hartsell's road trip last weekend, to look at colleges with his son, raised a couple of interesting questions. What are your favorite SoCon campuses and is what you like in a campus/college town now different from what your 18-year-old self preferred?

ADAM: The picturesque views around App State and Western Carolina are unique. But a special feel emanates from The Citadel, too, with its fortress-like architecture, the palm trees and those nearby historic neighborhoods.

Davidson and Elon are lovely college towns. And this might not be a trendy pick, but don't sleep on Samford. That hilly campus is pristine. Although you get the sense that parties there could be weak.

When I was around 18, one of my friends (who had epic battles with Torry Holt back in the day) spoke the term "fruit bunny" into existence. A fruit bunny is a female who is pretty and wearing a sundress.

And so there were many, many days when you'd hear something like "man, the fruit bunnies are everywhere."

What did like about college campuses when I was a teenager?

Fruit bunnies.

What do I still prefer on college campuses now?

Fruit bunnies.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, fruit bunnies are forever.

JOHN: I'm a big connoisseur of college campuses and college towns. I grew up in one of the best college towns (Athens) and I went to college at a school with an awesome campus (Ole Miss).

UTC is a fine school and I love living in Chattanooga, but it's not really a college town. Neither is Birmingham, Charleston, Greensboro, Greenville or Spartanburg. There's too much happening outside of campus for them to qualify.

Boone is by far the best college town in the SoCon, and one of the best in the South. It's got character and characters, a good music scene, a downtown area with good-but-cheap eats and it's all set in the mountains. You can't help but feel like you're "off at college," a feel that all great college towns have.

I love parts of so many SoCon campuses. Everything about The Citadel and the College of Charleston touches a part of my soul - but part of that is probably tied to my total love for all things Charleston - and I love strolling through Wofford's campus.

But to me nothing in the SoCon tops Furman's campus. It's got great buildings, tons of green space, tree-lined drives and loads of charm. It's not a perfect setting, but it's pretty darn close.

What I like about Furman is what I liked about Ole Miss, a semi-small college that makes you feel safe and secure and in the company of good people. Like you're lucky to be there and in on a good secret.

JEFF: I think the SoCon is full of great college towns and campuses - Wofford, Furman and Davidson are among my favorites, and Samford is pretty, too. The Citadel is certainly "unique" and you may have heard that Charleston was recently named the No. 1 city in the world to visit by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

My 18-year-old self wanted to make sure there were plenty of "distractions" in and around campus; my 50-year-old self wants to make sure there are not too many "distractions" in and around campus.

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.