The SoConversation ponders Uni-Gate and the Most Disappointing Team

There's a metaphor in here somewhere ...

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere …

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.

Well, the Big South stepped on the SoCon a couple more times last week, which should hardly be surprising at this point. Charleston Southern beat Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina took care of Elon to bring the Big South’s record versus the SoCon to 6-1 for the season.
In other SoCon action, Georgia Southern won another nail-biter against UTC, Furman knocked off The Citadel and Samford thumped Western Carolina. We’ll talk about the games you covered in a bit, but what caught your eye from the rest of last weekend’s games?

JEFF: Well, we can’t blame the Big South’s dominance over the SoCon this season all on Furman anymore. CSU going to Boone and winning was a stunner, and the Lowcountry has now won two in a row over the Mountain Folk, with a chance to make it three straight when App comes to The Citadel on Saturday.
With all the “nail-biters” Chattanooga has lost in recent years, Mocs coach Russ Huesman must be down to the nubs. Samford put up 62 on a WCU team that The Citadel struggled to beat. Impressive.

JOHN: More kudos to the Big South for its pretty remarkable run vs. the SoCon. I certainly expected App State to figure things out last week (more on that later) and take care of Charleston Southern. Quick sidebar: the Gridiron Power Index debuted earlier this week and somehow in the conference rankings the SoCon is No. 6 and the Big South is No. 7. Not sure how that works.
Furman picked up a huge win against The Citadel, which had to leave the Bulldogs more perplexed than ever by what’s happened so far this season. It’s been so rough a start to the season that The Citadel can’t even wear the jerseys it wants to. Ouch.

ADAM: Most eye-catching to me were App State’s continued downturn, Chattanooga’s heartache persisting against Georgia Southern and Furman back from the brink of 0-3 on the season and improving to 1-0 in the SoCon.
Georgia Southern was a couple eyelashes — maybe most notably, an ineligible man downfield penalty in the fourth quarter that wiped out a touchdown for the Mocs — from being 0-2 in the league to start its farewell season before moving up to the Sun Belt. Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman sounded steamed afterward and that was completely understandable, both in the moment and in the bigger picture, with the Mocs again coming up agonizingly short of another high-caliber opponent.
In the latest piece of never-ending evidence that proves me to be a lifelong moron, I figured App State would go home, continue to “get well” and pretty much smack around a Charleston Southern team that looked to be well-scheduled with wins over Campbell, Norfolk State and somebody named Shorter.
And how about Furman, winning at Citadel a week after blocking the chip shot field goal in the final seconds to survive Presbyterian. Could that become a season-turner? Too early to tell, obviously. But the Paladins’ one-touchdown losses to Gardner-Webb and Coastal Carolina seem easier to stomach with each passing week.

Now on to the games the guys covered. Give us a brief recap of what happened and what does it mean in the long run?

JOHN: The Mocs led 21-20 early in the fourth quarter in Statesboro and appeared to connect on a 40-yard touchdown pass. But they were flagged for an ineligible receiver down field, negating the TD. The Eagles took advantage of the break and kicked the game-winning field goal with 1:56 left — and credit to the superbly named Younghoe Koo, a true freshman, for making the 26-yarder.
As for the critical flag, all video evidence seems to show that there shouldn’t have been a penalty. But that’s sports and bad breaks are a fact of life. Still, the Mocs sure seem to catch more than their share in tight games.
The game was a reminder that UTC again has one of the better teams in the SoCon, but the Mocs have to start winning those types of games if they want to make the leap to championship and playoff contender.

ADAM: Elon led Coastal Carolina 28-25 late in the first half and had its offense, specifically its suddenly discovered running game, clicking along at a nice clip. But that good stuff hit the skids. Elon went scoreless the rest of the way and the Chanticleers, behind bruising back Lorenzo Taliaferro (205 rushing yards, three TDs) and slick quarterback Alex Ross (297 passing yards, 85 rushing yards, four total TDs), turned dominant in a 53-28 breakaway.
No word if a halftime nap led to Elon’s groggy second half — at one point, before things derailed, the Phoenix had scored four touchdowns on its first six possessions.
Seriously, though, Coastal Carolina is 5-0 for the first time in school history, big and fast, and the real deal on offense. The Chanticleers of the Big South piled up a school-record 652 total yards and, get this, didn’t have their top wideout Matt Hazel, who was injured.

About 10 years ago, when Bobby Lamb was Furman’s coach, he told me that Coastal Carolina, then starting football, “could become another Georgia Southern.” Just some food for thought. If Coastal Carolina somehow was in the SoCon, a move the school apparently pined for more than once, it would be interesting to see where the Chants would finish this season.

JEFF: The Citadel is 1-4 after its 24-17 loss to Furman, which means the Bulldogs will square off against 1-3 App State Saturday with the title of Most Disappointing Team in the SoCon on the line. Furman’s ability to slow The Citadel’s running game throws into stark relief just how bad Old Dominion’s defense was two weeks ago. The 58 points and 453 yards put up by The Citadel in that game proved to be fool’s gold.
The Furman game was preceded by Uniform-Gate (go to http://blog.postandcourier.com/bulldog-bites/ for details), making the whole night pretty much a fiasco for the Bulldogs. Furman polished off the game with third-team QB Duncan Fletcher going 3 for 3 for 61 yards, including a 43-yarder to set up the game-winning TD. So it was definitely a team effort by the Paladins.
At 1-4, The Citadel must win six of its last seven games to just post a winning record in a season that began with such high hopes. And one of those games is at Clemson.

A pretty strong case could be made that the decline or struggles (or whatever word you choose) of Appalachian State this season is one of the most surprising stories in all of college football. From how the removal of Jerry Moore was handled to now being 1-3, can you make any sense of what’s happening in Boone?

ADAM: It’s impossible not to be part perplexed and part engrossed by this messy start for App State. And really, it’s kind of an extension of how awkward the forcing out of Jerry Moore became, with the longtime coach suddenly out of the job the day after last season ended in the FCS playoffs with an 8-4 record, and then the difference of opinion that played out between him, AD Charlie Cobb and ultimately chancellor Ken Peacock, who has since resigned.
On the field, App State is 1-3 for the first time since 2003 and has lost back-to-back games at home for the first time in 17 years, which underscores just how successful the Mountaineers have been. App’s next three home games are against Samford, Chattanooga and Wofford. There are no slouches in that bunch, so, conceivably — and this is a stretch — App could be winless in Boone until its Nov. 23 season finale against Western Carolina.

Several of my friends are App grads. They by no means can speak for the entirety of the Mountaineers’ fan base, but they are, however small, a sample size. And they aren’t happy, of course, with coach Scott Satterfield, only four games into his tenure.
The limbo-type feel of this season can’t be helpful, either. App is ineligible for the SoCon title and the FCS playoffs, per its transition up a level to the Sun Belt, so those motivators are nowhere to be found.

JEFF: Folks have pointed out that the teams App State has lost to are 11-1 so far, and that’s true as far as it goes. But the Mountaineers didn’t schedule North Carolina A&T and Charleston Southern at home to beef up their strength of schedule.
Sean Price’s early suspension and Jamal Londry-Jackson’s slow start (due to injury?) have been factors, as well as the transition to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Nate Woody. The Mountaineers are also younger than usual in some places (the two-deep at linebacker has four freshmen).
It’s tempting to think that App State is paying for its hubris in shoving Jerry Moore out the door the way it did, and I also think this Twilight Zone season with no titles or trophies to play for doesn’t help. But RB Marcus Cox looks like a rising star, and I think App State will be tough to beat the rest of the way (except for Georgia).

JOHN: The Mountaineers’ postseason results the past few (post-Armanti) seasons have shown that while App State was still good, there has been a clear drop-off from the elite program that won three straight FCS titles and lost a thriller at Montana in the semifinals of Edwards’ senior season.
A drop-off is one thing and being 1-3 is something else, even if, as Jeff pointed out, ASU’s opponents are 11-1 to date. Londry-Jackson sure doesn’t look like the player he was a year ago, there are new coaches and young starters all around, and clearly things are amiss for the black and gold.
Would all this be happening if Jerry Moore was still the coach? I haven’t a clue. Would it be happening if ASU wasn’t ineligible for the league title and postseason? Again, not a clue.
But App State still has a ton of talented players, led by Price, and if my team was still on their schedule I wouldn’t be going ahead and marking that off as a win just yet. My hunch is those guys will get things turned around or figured out sooner rather than later, maybe just in time to play SoCon spoiler for UTC or Wofford.

This week’s schedule features four SoCon games and the now obligatory, or so it seems, SoCon-Big South matchup: Elon at Furman, Presbyterian at Wofford, App State at The Citadel, Georgia Southern at Samford and Western Carolina at UTC. What will you be watching out for Saturday?

ADAM: I will be watching, body clenched (and there’s a lot of muscle involved), to see if Wofford can put any sort of dent in the Big South’s superiority over the SoCon. The league turns its lonely, blackened eyes to you, Terriers.
Georgia Southern at Samford should be fun. Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin has been on fire, throwing for 805 yards and seven TDs in the last two games.
Sounds obvious, but Elon needs a win in the worst way at Furman. Paladin Stadium is the last place where Elon won on the road. That happened back in November 2011 and still stands as the program’s best victory under Jason Swepson, who’s in his third year. At 1-4, with its only victory against Division II West Virginia Wesleyan, Elon could be looking at a 3-9 or 2-10 season if things don’t pick up.
That App State/Citadel game seems like it could go about a bazillion different ways. And while Johnny Frierson belongs in primetime, what’s the deal with Chattanooga only playing night games? (I do realize the Mocs’ game at Georgia State was in the afternoon).

JEFF: Wofford will uphold the tarnished honor of the SoCon against PC, and the Mocs should roll. Am I the only one that finds these games against GSU and App State a little awkward? It’s like, “They are ineligible for the championship, so who cares? But the game counts on your record, so it’s a must win!” Georgia Southern’s game at Samford would be huge if the Eagles were eligible. But it’s still huge because Samford needs to win it — confusing, I know. As stated above, the loser of App State vs. The Citadel is officially the Most Disappointing Team, and CSU’s win in Boone last week would double the embarrassment for the Bulldogs should they lose.

JOHN: If you have a 10- or 20-game win streak there’s pressure on you each week to keep it going, right? Does it work the other way when you play a team that has a long losing streak, meaning is there extra pressure to not be the team that finally gets beaten by the struggling squad?
I ask because Western Carolina arrives in Chattanooga this weekend riding a 24-game SoCon losing streak and a 30-game streak against Division I teams. I don’t think UTC should have too much trouble beating the Catamounts, but SoCon teams better get their licks in while they can because there’s some good, young talent on that WCU squad and most of them are playing a ton as freshmen and sophomores.
Samford vs. Georgia Southern should be a good one and methinks the Bulldogs are going to come out on top in that one — in part because the Eagles are pretty darn banged up. Of course they still have Jerick McKinnon, who may be the early leader for offensive player of the year.

As for ASU vs. The Citadel, it’s a must-win game for both to avoid their seasons heading into the tank. Should be high tension and high drama, if nothing else.

We once again continue the John and Adam nostalgia/farewell tour as we head toward the halfway point of the season. Last week the guys shared the best games they’ve seen in their time covering the SoCon. This week the question is, what’s the strangest thing you’ve seen during a game?

JOHN: The strangest play I’ve ever seen has to have been in the UTC-App State game in Boone on Sept. 24, 2011. It’s yet another example of a bad break breaking the Mocs’ hearts.
UTC led 6-0 with seconds left in the third quarter and was lined up for a short field goal on fourth down at the ASU 9-yard line. The snap went off the right guard’s left leg (the guard was moving before the snap and it probably should have been a false start) and rolled for a second or two before ASU’s Rodger Walker picked it up and returned it 73-yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
App State didn’t score a point offensively in what was a 14-12 Mountaineer win. Afterward, Huesman said he’d never seen anything like the snap off the lineman’s leg.
The other play that comes to mind also happened in a UTC-ASU game, in 2010, when DeAndre Presley completed a screen pass, UTC forced a fumble and Presley recovered the fumble and ran 33 yards for a touchdown that put the Mountaineers up 42-35. They won 42-41.
Is it possible the Mocs are jinxed?

ADAM: In 2004 at North Carolina A&T, Jim Brown — THE Jim Brown — sat right beside me for a quarter in what used to be a very cramped press box. That felt quite strange. He gave a speech at A&T later that night. In 2007 at South Florida, a fireworks malfunction caught a worker on fire and delayed kickoff. In 2008 at Stony Brook, Elon and the Seawolves played in the middle of Tropical Storm Hanna. That was nuts.
To answer the question, and hopefully this doesn’t bite on what Uncle Jeff Hartsell has cooked up, in 2008 at Citadel, Elon defensive end Brandon Ward went after coach Pete Lembo in a rage on the sidelines and a mob scene erupted with players trying to hold him back and all sorts of craziness popping off.

Ward, who was a big, talented, volatile dude, was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting a Citadel player who got laid out by an Elon defender. That turned a third down incompletion into a first down for the Bulldogs and Lembo was livid, subbing out Ward and jumping in his face as he came to the sideline. Lembo let him have it. And that set Ward off, too. He was 6-foot-5 with long arms and impossible to miss, even in a sea of humanity, as he repeatedly pushed and shoved and reached over guys trying to get at Lembo.
Play continued on the field but you couldn’t take your eyes off the swarming activity on the Elon sideline. Lembo ended up far away from the action on the field for a while, standing down near the 10-yard line with hard-hitting safety Walker White nearby, almost as if for protection. Ward eventually returned to the game and made some keys plays in the closing minutes of Elon’s 27-23 victory.
I tried to talk to Ward after the game, but predictably, he wasn’t available. Lembo and several other players totally downplayed the brawl that almost was. But naturally, I went berserk writing about what happened, running off at the keyboard about Elon overcoming infighting to win. It was wild stuff.
JEFF: Ah, yes the Fightin’ Phoenix, I remember them well.

That was memorable, but last week’s Uniform-Gate at The Citadel also qualifies as strange.

The Bulldogs warmed up in their throwback unis, which featured a large block C on the front, with a

Citadel RB Dalton Trevino models throwback uniform

Citadel RB Dalton Trevino models throwback uniform

smaller number at the shoulder. But when the players came out of the locker room for the game against Furman, they had changed into their regular jerseys. The game officials had ruled that the adidas throwback jerseys were illegal (which they are, because the numbers on the front are not the required eight inches high). The Bulldogs could have worn them, but would have been penalized one timeout for each quarter they wore the illegal equipment, a penalty coach Kevin Higgins was not about to accept.

Here’s where it gets murky. Citadel officials say they had approval from the SoCon to wear the throwback unis, but SoCon commissioner John Iamarino begs to differ. He said the league was presented only with a patch The Citadel wanted to wear on the throwback jersey, but that SoCon officials never saw the jersey itself. Iamarino said the game referees acted appropriately in ruling the jerseys illegal.

To complicate matters, Nebraska and Wisconsin had worn similar adidas jerseys last year with no apparent problems, and Central Michigan wore them this season just a few weeks ago. The Big Ten coordinator of officials told me that Nebraska and Wisconsin should not have been allowed to wear the jerseys last year, and that both schools were reprimanded and told not to wear them again. He said the whole alternate jersey trend had become a “headache” for officials and that many of them are illegal and are not being approved for game wear any longer.

The best point was made by SoCon commish Iamarino, who wondered why adidas was being allowed to market illegal uniforms in the first place. Bottom line: The Citadel won’t be able to wear the throwbacks this season. The schools Brigadier Foundation had been auctioning off the uniforms as “game-worn”, but obviously they won’t be.

And then there was the time a pre-game parachutist got hung up in a tree outside the stadium at VMI.

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.

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