The Mercer Bears have had two weeks to think about their first loss of the season. That’s just about enough for them.
Mercer opens Southern Conference play Saturday at Five Star Stadium against Wofford. The Bears were off last week after losing two weeks ago to Tennessee Tech.
Mercer is 2-1 overall, while Wofford is 2-2.
“It was a long week thinking about that game and what we could have done, one or two plays to win that game,” safety Lendell Arnold said of the loss to Tennessee Tech. “We fed off that, and that’s going to help us in this game.”
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The Terriers beat the Bears 34-6 last year to finish the regular season. That’s a loss Mercer’s players have kept on their minds during workouts and practice since.
“It always lingers, but you can’t dwell on that,” running back Tee Mitchell said. “It left a bad taste in our mouths, especially with it being the last game. So we thought about it when we worked out and in practice, and you never want to have that taste again.”
To avoid a repeat, the Bears will have to control the Wofford option attack that is averaging 263.5 rushing yards per game. Mercer leads the nation, allowing 51.7 rushing yards per game but struggled last year against the Wofford offense, allowing 374 yards.
“It’s been a focus since winter workouts because SoCon play is so important to us,” said Arnold, whose team finished 1-6 in its first Southern Conference season last year. “It’s going to be a down and dirty game. It’s going to be physical. Their offense is tough, and they have some tough guys on their offensive line, and their backs run hard and physical. So it’s going to be old-time football.”
The Bears will try to counter with a balanced offense, especially with running back Alex Lakes out of the lineup with a punctured lung. Lakes led the conference in rushing last year, while Mitchell holds that distinction so far this season.
Quarterback John Russ has played well, throwing for 222.3 yards per game and six touchdowns. The junior has completed 63.4 percent of his passes (52-of-82) and hasn’t thrown an interception.
The Bears’ offensive line has played well, as well, leading the way for a rushing attack that has averaged 259.3 yards per game and not allowing a sack.
“We understand what our weaknesses are and where we need to get better,” Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. “But we also understand it’s a long season, and we’re optimistic where we are entering conference play.
“We’re going to have to find a way to run the football, and John is going to have to be effective in the passing game.”