WHO: No. 15 Samford (6-2, 4-0 SoCon) at The Citadel (2-6, 2-4)
WHEN: Nov. 2, 2013, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Johnson-Hagood Stadium (20,000) Charleston, S.C.
CHARLESTON, S.C.–A game that some seem to be overlooking on the Southern Conference gridiron this weekend, but with only three games on this weekend’s schedule, the clash between Samford and The Citadel on Homecoming at Homecoming at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in the Port City will go a long way in deciding the Southern Conference champion in 2013.
Samford comes into the contest ranked No. 15 in the FCS and chasing its first conference title since joining the league in 2008, and first league gridiron title as a Division I member.
The Citadel comes into Saturday afternoon’s contest mired in what has been a disappointing season for the most part, having posted a 2-6 overall record and a 2-4 Southern Conference play, with the wins in conference play coming against Appalachian State (31-28, OT) and over Western Carolina in Cullowhee (28-21). The Bulldogs have dropped games in league play to No. 23 Georgia Southern (28-21) and Chattanooga (28-21) on the road, and Furman (24-17) and Wofford (21-10) at home.
The Citadel has seen four of its six losses come in SoCon action, also having dropped non-conference contests to FBS transitional Old Dominion (59-58) on the road, and to 8-1 and nationally ranked Charleston Southern (32-28) in the home opener. The Bulldogs have lost just once by double figures this season, which was a 21-10 setback to Wofford in their SoCon opener, while having lost to four foes that have been ranked, either when the Bulldogs faced them or after the fact.
Samford comes into the clash with The Citadel coming off an impressive 34-27 win at No. 12 Wofford last week, and have won four in a row in Southern Conference play since dropping a wild 34-31 decision to Southeast Louisiana in non-league action back in the third week of September.
It really is uncharted territory for Samford head coach and former Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan at the helm of the Samford football program. Since taking over the Bulldogs program a year prior to joining the Southern Conference, he has posted a 38-36 record in his seventh season at the helm.
The Bulldogs have won six-straight Southern Conference games dating back to last season, and have won two-straight over The Citadel, including an exciting 19-14 come-from-behind win in Dustin Taliaferro’s last game as the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs at Johnson-Hagood Stadium.
It was Samford’s first ever win inside the facility. It was a comeback win that has established a current winning mentality for the program, which has all of the sudden become an elite program in SoCon football in just a couple of years. Since that win over the Bulldogs to close out the 2011 season, Samford has won nine of 12 Southern Conference games coming into Saturday afternoon’s clash with The Citadel.
Saturday’s clash between the two teams with the same mascot in the Southern Conference will mark the seventh between the two foes, with Samford claiming an impressive 34-7 win in Birmingham last season. The Bulldogs bring with them to Charleston an offense that as potent as any in FCS football, averaging 445.6 YPG to rank second in the Southern Conference in total offense, while ranking 26th nationally in total offense.
Leading that potent offensive pro style offense for the Bulldogs is quarterback Andy Summerlin, who is having an outstanding season for Samford under center, averaging 366.5 yards passing per outing. Summelin, who transferred in from Memphis prior to the 2012 season, has really found his rhythm, setting a new school record for single-game passing yards twice this season, with the last time he accomplished that feat coming in a 44-34 win over Georgia Southern, with 495 yards passing in the big home win. In a little over one and a half seasons as the Bulldogs’ signal-caller, Summerlin has passed for an impressive 4,554 yards and comes into this matchup ranking ninth nationally this season in passing yards, with 2,278 yards through the first eight games of the campaign for Sullivan’s Bulldogs. Summerlin also has 17 TD passes to just seven INTs.
Summerlin’s success and his potential for joining his head coach as the top individual award winner for his classification is bolstered by the players around him, such as Fabian Truss (128 rush att, 663 yds, 6 TDs, 5.2 YPC) in the backfield, who is leading the SoCon in all-purpose yards for a third-straight season, and Kelsey Pope (36 rec, 544 yds, 2 TDs 15.1 YPR), who is the best of what might be one of the best receiving corps’ in FCS football.
In addition to Truss’ rushing totals, he has 263 yards receiving and a TD on 27 catches, while averaging a league-leading 31 yards-per-return, and has two kick returns for touchdowns this season. Pope comes in ranking fourth in the SoCon in receiving, averaging 67.1 YPG. Pope is joined in that talented receiving corps by Chris Cephus (17 rec, 323 yds, 3 TDs, 19.0 YPR) and one of the SoCon’s most explosive freshmen wideouts, in Karel Hamilton (17 rec, 351 yds, 6 TDs, 20.6 YPR).
The Bulldogs have been impressive on the defensive side of the football as well this season, with All-American and Buck Buchanan Award candidate Jaquiski Tartt (51 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 6 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 TD) anchoring the league’s top secondary, which also features potential All-SoCon honorees James Bradberry (18 tackles, 6 PBUs, 1 INT) and Josh Kimberlin (19 tackles, 3 INTs).
Linebacker Justin Shade is putting up Buck Buchanan Award numbers this season, leading the SoCon in tackles (90), tackles-for-loss (12.5) and sacks (7.0) so far this season. He is part of a Samford defense that comes in with the most aggressive pass-rush in the SoCon, with the team’s 18 sacks this season leading the league.
The Citadel will have its work cut out for it on Saturday, but the Bulldogs are among the toughest teams in the FCS to play at home, posting wins over Georgia Southern last season and Appalachian State this season inside the friendly confines. The Citadel ranks fourth nationally and tops in the SoCon in rushing offense this season, averaging 275.4 YPG.QB Ben Dupree and RB Darien Robinson are at the helm of that ground game, with 1,357 combined rushing yards this season, while Aaron Miller has been called upon mostly in passing situations in his career, having passed for 409 yards this season, while Dupree comes in leading the SoCon in TDs (12) and scoring (72 pts) so far this season.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have struggled against teams with the same makeup as Samford, with Old Dominion coming to mind as one of those teams that gave The Citadel plenty of problems defensively earlier this season. The Bulldogs come into Saturday’s clash with Samford ranking third in the league, allowing 189 yards per game, while Samford averages 302 through the air per game to lead the league. Brandon McCladdie, who has seven INTs in his career for the Bulldogs, will need to rally what is a talented Citadel secondary if the Bulldogs hope to spring the upset and find their first victory since an Oct. 5 victory over Appalachian State.
FINAL PREDICTION: The Citadel makes things real interesting in the Southern Conference, snapping six-game winning streak by Samford against SoCon foes, as the the Cadets open the month of November with a big upset in the SoCon,
FINAL SCORE PROJECTION: The Citadel 35, Samford 31