COLUMBIA — One glance at the statistics is all that’s needed to see the two best teams in the Southern Conference are likely playing Saturday when Wofford travels to Georgia Southern.
The Terriers (5-0, 3-0 SoCon) are the league’s leading offense and its second-best defense. The Eagles (4-1, 3-1) lead the SoCon in defense and are the conference’s second-best offense.
Wofford coach Mike Ayers said it is just another Saturday in one of the toughest leagues in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“To win in our league, you’ve got to be on,” Ayers said. “You’ve got to have guys who have bought in and are fighting the fight no matter how difficult it is.”
In other games Saturday involving South Carolina’s FCS teams, Furman hosts Chattanooga; The Citadel hosts Western Carolina; Coastal Carolina hosts Stony Brook; Presbyterian hosts Liberty; Charleston Southern hosts VMI; and South Carolina State is at Delaware State.
In Statesboro, Ga., Wofford has Georgia Southern just where the Terriers want them – on the road.
The visitors have won the last seven games between the teams, including last year’s 31-10 win by the Eagles, where Wofford ran for a season low 192 yards.
The Terriers are averaging 449 yards on the ground a game this year, while the Eagles are allowing right at 100 yards rushing.
Wofford is the only team without a league loss in the SoCon, and the Terriers are going into their toughest stretch of the season. In the next five weeks, they will play the four teams that only have one conference loss – Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Samford and Chattanooga.
Eagles coach Jeff Monken said the battle between the two option teams has a couple of different wrinkles, but mostly comes down to which team can run its offense with the fewest mistakes.
“That Wofford staff is going to have a plan for everything we have to throw at them. And hopefully we’ll come out with a decent plan for the things they have,” Monken said. “It just comes down to making plays, blocking, tackling, playing assignments, hanging on to the football and hoping we can slug it out to the end.”
In Greenville, Furman (2-4, 1-2 SoCon) plays what could be an elimination game for playoff hopes against Chattanooga (2-3, 1-1).
The Paladins had another tough loss last week. They led Wofford 14-7 at half and held the Terriers to just 95 yards rushing in the first two quarters. But Furman couldn’t hang on as Wofford won 20-17 behind 208 yards on the ground in the second half.
The Paladins now move on to a Mocs team that has its own unique attack. Chattanooga is using two quarterbacks, who also are the team’s leading rushers.
“They just do a lot of different stuff that you have to prepare for that can stress you in many areas,” Furman coach Bruce Fowler said. “We’ll just have to get ready for it all.”
The Paladins have won 16 of the last 17 games against the Mocs. Chattanooga’s only win during that time was a 38-26 win in 2010 – the last time the teams met in Greenville.
In Charleston, The Citadel (3-3, 2-2 SoCon) will try to gets its season back on track against Western Carolina (1-5, 0-4).
After starting 3-0 with wins over Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs have lost three in a row. Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said the team had a good meeting this week, talking about how there is still time to turn things around.
“We have a bye week coming up and this will give us an opportunity to heal up. Our guys are up for the challenge and will be excited,” Higgins said.
The Catamounts have lost 18 straight SoCon games. Their last league win was in 2010 – a 24-13 victory over The Citadel in Charleston.
In Conway, Coastal Carolina (2-3) opens Big South Conference play with powerful Stony Brook (5-1, 1-0).
“I think Stony Brook is the best team we play on our schedule, period,” Chanticleers coach Joe Moglia said.
Coastal Carolina had a bye last Saturday, but instead of spending the extra week preparing for the Seawolves, Moglia decided his team could spend the time better practicing fundamentals.
“Under normal circumstances, especially with a team that has the caliber of Stony Brook, as good as they are, we would have spent the off week giving our guys a little bit of a break and we would have taken all that extra time to focus on Stony Brook,” Moglia said. “But we thought it would be far better for us to focus on ourselves.”
Not only is Stony Brook the only team with a winning record in the Big South Conference, the Seawolves also lead the league in total offense and defense. Stony Brook is sixth in the seven-team league in passing yards, but they lead the league with an average of 10.5 yards an attempt.
“If you get a little too cute because you need an extra guy coming up in run support or because the other guys up front are not getting it done, they are going to see that and they are going to take advantage in the passing game,” Moglia said.
The Chanticleers have never beaten the Seawolves.
In Clinton, Presbyterian (2-4, 0-1 Big South) will try to beat Liberty (1-4, 1-0) for the first time since joining the league.
The Blue Hose managed just 285 yards in last week’s 17-7 loss to VMI.
Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols is glad to be home after playing four of his first six games on the road. But he wishes he had a different opponent. The Flames have been among the elite teams in the conference for the past two years along with Stony Brook, but they opened the season with four straight losses.
“It’s a tough team to have to go up against it. I think they are one of the more talented teams in our league and have been for a while,” Nichols said.
In North Charleston, Charleston Southern (1-4, 0-1 Big South) is trying to figure out how to turn its offense into points against VMI (2-3, 1-0).
In last week’s 49-7 loss to Stony Brook, the Buccaneers had five drives that went 45 yards or more, but came out with just one touchdown. The other drives ended with two interceptions and fumble and a missed field goal.
“What we did not show is consistency,” Charleston Southern coach Jay Mills said of his offense. “In fact, our last series, we had a 17-play drive that netted zero points.”
The Keydets have won two in a row over the Buccaneers, and a win Saturday would give VMI its first 2-0 start in the Big South Conference since joining the league in 2003.
In Dover, Del., South Carolina State (2-4, 1-2 Mid-Eastern Athletic) will try to figure out something to keep playing for against Delaware State (2-3, 1-1).
Last week’s 40-10 loss to North Carolina-Central likely knocked the Bulldogs out of any chance to win the MEAC.
“It’s been a sobering experience. We’ve got work to do,” South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough said. “It will be interesting to see just how our people character-wise, react from this point.”
South Carolina State’s offense is gaining just 282 yards a game and Pough said he can’t pinpoint any one thing he can do to fix it.
“We’ve had a little bit of everything,” Pough said. “We have not played well as an offensive team.”