Samford’s air raid offense stands in way of Mercer’s push toward postseason

Mercer football head coach Bobby Lamb says his team faces a big challenge against Samford’s high-flying offense.
Mercer football head coach Bobby Lamb says his team faces a big challenge against Samford’s high-flying offense.

The upcoming task is a simple one for Mercer, which hosts Samford on Saturday in its home finale before traveling to Western Carolina to close out its conference schedule.

Win its final two SoCon games of the season, and the odds of forging into the FCS playoffs for the first time in program history appear to be pretty good for Mercer.

Lose either game, however, and the Bears will be scrapping for position in the middle of the conference standings. Mercer (4-4 overall, 3-3 on SoCon) has won three of its past four games. In addition, two of its losses in the past five games have come by a combined 10 points.

“It’s definitely something we talk about because at this point. It is still one of the goals ahead of us. One of the goals we made was to make playoffs, and if we win out, we’re confident we’ll be in there,” Mercer offensive lineman Thomas Marchman said during Monday’s news conference. “This is a really good conference … last year four teams made it and we think that if we’re in the upper half (of the conference), we’ll have a chance to get in and anything could happen.”

Standing in the way of a postseason burst? Samford (5-3, 3-2), ranked 15th in the most recent FCS coaches poll. To the surprise of few college football observers, the Bulldogs and Macon native head coach Chris Hatcher will bring a high-powered airborne attack to Macon on Saturday. Quarterback Devlin Hodges leads the FCS with 28.8 completions per game. And on an offense with multiple targets with which to spread the field, Kelvin McKnight is the most dangerous. His 11 touchdowns lead the FCS, and he has a touchdown in seven out of eight games this year.

“It all starts with (Hodges). He does a great job reading the field … they give a lot of different looks, but I think the thing that is most impressive is he can extend the play with his feet,” Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. “He does a great job in the scramble drill and hits guys on the move. He’s the guy that we’ve worked hard (in preparation for) all week and we’ll continue to work hard on it.”

Facing Samford will also present Mercer’s defense with the challenge of a quick, up-tempo offense, but the Bears are doing anything but backing down from the showdown.

“The thing about football and playing at a level like this is that you love the challenge every week. You’re coming in against teams that have the potential or have shown they have the ability to score and it gives you more of a mindset that you want to take (that ability) away from them,” Mercer defensive lineman Isaiah Buehler said. “You want to show that you’re better than they are. You do whatever you can just to shut it down. Samford’s offense is ridiculous … it’s like the (2008) Oregon team … and they have a play every 15 seconds. So we just have to do a great job of taking that away from them.”

Lamb also points to making plays in space as a key on Saturday.

“As a defensive lineman, defensive end or nose guard, it’s pretty much pass-rush all day long and then as a defensive back, you are trying to break up the ball and create some turnovers,” Lamb said. “But we know we can’t leave guys running wide open … we can’t leave guys in space because they make plays so well. It’s a big challenge for our defense.”