SoCon full of big-margin football games last week [photos]

SoCon full of big-margin football games last week [photos]

October 4th, 2017 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

UTC quarterback Nick Tiano (7) lies on the turf after being hit by Western Carolina defensive tackle Jake Helms (94) at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Gallery: Western Carolina smothers UTC, 45-7

more photos

Separation Saturday in the Southern Conference?

It certainly looked that way last week.

After five of the first six SoCon football matchups had been decided by one possession — the outlier being the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's 63-7 win over Virginia Military Institute on Sept. 23 — none of the four league games last Saturday were closer than 21 points.

Furman (56-35 over East Tennessee State) and Samford (35-14 over The Citadel) had the closest wins. Aside from that, Western Carolina beat UTC 45-7 while Mercer defeated VMI by a 49-14 margin.

Wofford and Western Carolina are currently 2-0 in the league, but four teams are 1-1 and two others 1-2.

"Our guys, they're intelligent. They know what's going on," Mercer coach Bobby Lamb told reporters Monday, looking ahead to Saturday's game at The Citadel. "With social media, they know probably more than the coaching staff. We talk about 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, but at the end of the day, we've certainly got a huge challenge going down there.

"As I've said before, you never know what's going to happen in this league. It's a very well-balanced league. I saw where Western Carolina just slid into the (FCS) Top 25, so now we've got four teams in the Top 25."

A season after the SoCon had four teams make the playoffs, its "dog eat dog" nature may limit its participants this year. Or it may not, as the Catamounts' ascent in addition to the starts by fifth-ranked Wofford, 17th-ranked The Citadel and 20th-ranked Samford still could give the league four teams in the 24-team field, although The Citadel (3-1, 1-1) may have some work to do with no quality wins as of yet.

This week's premier game pits Western Carolina (4-1, 2-0) — No. 22 in the FCS STATS poll — visisting Wofford's Terriers (4-0, 2-0). The Catamounts have won four straight, including defeats of Samford and UTC.

"Saturday's win didn't have anything to do with good players. It was how we prepared, and I hope our players understand that," WCU coach Mark Speir told Catamount Sports Weekly. "I tell them, just because you did good on one math test doesn't make you an expert in math. You have to weekly prepare for that test on Saturday, and you've proven you can be a good math student, but you have to prepare each week for that test on Saturday and then you'll eventually become a good math student.

"We've got a lot of math tests left."

Furman on rise?

Maybe Furman is figuring things out.

After starting the season 0-3, with a pair of one-possession losses to current Top 25 teams, the Paladins have scored 101 points in wins over Colgate and East Tennessee State.

In the two wins, they've averaged 500 yards of total offense, led by quarterback P.J. Blazekowski, who has completed 71 percent of his passes for 552 yards and six touchdowns. The Paladins had 609 yards of total offense (308 rushing, 301 passing) in the 56-35 win over the Bucs last week.

The Furman defense has compiled 11 sacks the last two weeks and lead the league with 17 in five games.

"You sense a little more confidence, which should be the case," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said Sunday on his show. "I don't care if you play well, if you don't win it's hard to have that. But I feel we're growing a bit in confidence, which will speed up our progress and development as a football team."

Tight series

The Citadel has had a knack in recent years of finding ways to win close games. No SoCon team knows more about that than Mercer.

Since the Bears rejoined the league before the 2014 season, the Bulldogs are 3-0 against them. The first two were decided by two points and the third was 24-23 last season in Macon, Ga.

Players of the week

Samford's Devlin Hodges, WCU's Tahjai Watt and Furman's Logan McCarter are the latest SoCon players of the week.

Hodges completed over 80 percent of his passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns in the Bulldogs' home rout of previously unbeaten The Citadel. Watt had five tackles and forced a fumble as the Catamounts blitzed UTC, and McCarter had a 47-yard touchdown on an onside-kick attempt in the Paladins' win over ETSU.

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.