Isaiah Buehler is a junior with the Mercer defense, so he knows exactly what to expect Saturday when the Bears travel to The Citadel.
Mercer’s defense will face an option offense for the third time this season against the Bulldogs. The Bears beat Jacksonville in their season opener and then lost to Wofford in their Southern Conference opener.
Next up is The Citadel.
“I think we are going in there hungry. Looking back at the past couple years, it has been a bloodbath to play against a triple-option like The Citadel, especially with them being old school,” Buehler said. “Their offense line is coached really well. Their backs are coached really well. It’s nothing but cuts and base blocks, so honestly we are just coming in their focused, prepared and hungry. You’ve got to bring everything you got.”
The Citadel is 3-0 against Mercer since the Bears joined the Southern Conference, winning those games by five total points. The Bulldogs are 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the conference this season after losing to Samford last week.
Mercer is 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the conference after its win over VMI to stop its three-game losing streak.
“I have always said you want to be a defensive coordinator of an option team. In practice, it may be a little hard to defend it, but in the game, you don’t play too many plays,” Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. “They are leading the nation in time of possession at 37 minutes per game. They are very stingy with the ball. They are also second in the nation at 333 yards rushing (per game) and first in SoCon in defense at 293 yards per game. That presents a lot of problems for us. We have obviously played (against) the same staff for the last couple years; (Citadel head coach) Brett Thompson and his staff do a great job.
“It is a huge challenge for us to go on the road, so we have to narrow things down on offense because you aren’t going to get the ball for a very long time. Even if they have drives and don’t score, the clock is still running so we have to do a good job with that.”
Mercer leads the conference in scoring defense (19.8 points per game) and is fourth in total defense, allowing 346 yards per game. The Bears are allowing 144.2 yards rushing per game, which is third in the conference.
Mercer is tied for second in the conference in turnover margin at plus-four (The Citadel leads at plus-five), and the Bears lead the conference with 11 forced turnovers.
“Teams like The Citadel and Wofford, those option teams, their entire offense is based off of discipline,” Buehler said. “So on the slight chance they miss a pitch or a beat, you have to take full advantage of it. If the ball is on the ground, we have to hop on it before they do. Just poking the ball out and getting any opportunity in the game can change it.”
Mercer at The Citadel
2 p.m., Saturday