In more than 30 seasons as a college head coach, Mike Ayers has seen just about everything a head coach can encounter.
That includes road games. Ayers’ teams have played a lot of games away from home and won many of them ... on many campuses.
Ayers and his Wofford Terriers get another chance to do so Saturday with their first trip to Mercer’s Five Star Stadium.
“From what I understand, they have a tough venue to play,” Ayers said during this week’s Southern Conference coaches teleconference. “They normally pack it, and it’s going to be a big crowd. From what I understand, it’s going to be a hostile environment, and you have to be ready for that type of environment. You can’t let it get to you. You have to be ready to play physically and mentally.”
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The Terriers are 2-2 this season, including 0-2 on the road. But those losses came to FBS programs Clemson and Idaho.
Mercer is 13-3 at home in its two-plus seasons.
“First and foremost, your kids have to be focused,” Ayers said of road preparations. “You can’t play the game on Friday; you’ve gotta play it on Saturday. You’ve got to give them a chance to relax a little bit. You want to make sure your team is rested. You want them to enjoy themselves. But at the same time, you want them to be focused.
“You’ve got to have, I think, a definite starting point where you let them know, ‘Hey, it’s focusing on the game, focusing on your opponent and be ready for game time.’ ”
The game is the Southern Conference opener for both teams, and the Terriers have struggled in conference play the past two years.
After finishing tied for first, tied for second and tied for first again in conference play from 2010 through 2012 and reaching the FCS playoffs each of those seasons, the Terriers have gone 11-11 the past two years, including 8-7 in conference play.
Mercer is 2-1 after going 6-6 last year, including 1-6 in conference play.
“Now, we start into the heart of the schedule as far as conference play, and we open up with Mercer, an outstanding team, a team that has progressed extremely quick,” Ayers said. “They present a ton of problems, and they have some outstanding players offensively and defensively. They do some things from a technical standpoint and a philosophical standpoint that present problems for us.”
Both teams are battling key injuries.
Mercer will play without running back Alex Lakes, linebacker LeMarkus Bailey and defensive lineman Austin Wysor.
Wofford will be without safety Cole Higbie, cornerback George Gbesee, linebacker Alex Horlak, halfback Will Gay, linebacker Terrance Morris, offensive lineman Mike Jones and wide receiver Wade Francis, all players who were out for season.
Also banged up are nose tackle E.J. Speller, defensive lineman Jordan Perlotte, linebacker Jim Dolinak, wide receiver Bryce Motes and offensive lineman T.J. Chamberlin.
“Wofford has some people banged up; we have some people banged up,” Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. “That’s part of football, across the board. That’s why you have a second string and a third string, and you have to have other people step up for your team.”