The Mercer Bears (2-1) took on conference rival the Samford Bulldogs (1-2). The Bears came away with a signature win 30-24 over the Bulldogs. This is a big step for the Mercer program. Here are our three takeaways from Mercer’s big win over Samford.
1. This is Robert Riddle’s team ... maybe
In the first two games, Bobby Lamb elected to let his quarterbacks split the first four drives then go with the hot hand the rest of the way. This week Robert Riddle trotted out to open the game as the starter. He led a scoring drive to open the game for the Bears. Then came back and led another one. Unlike previous weeks, though, Kaelan Riley stayed on the sideline after those first drives. Lamb elected to stick with Riddle for the rest of the game. This is an interesting decision as Riley is coming off of a Southern Conference freshman of the year award. Riddle seems to have supplanted him with excellent play early in the season as well as in practice. Late in the game he hit wide receiver Stephan Houzah on a 73-yard bomb. It was the best pass by any Mercer quarterback in the last five years. Riddle finished with 316 yards passing and one touchdown. He also ran for two touchdowns. He looked effective against one of the best teams in all of FCS football. It will be interesting to see if Lamb fully commits to Riddle for the rest of the season or if it was just for this game.
2. Mercer defense tries to contain the Samford passing game
If you watched the Samford Bulldogs square of with ACC powerhouse Florida State a week ago, then you know they like to the throw the ball. Senior quarterback Devlin Hodges has won back-to-back SoCon offense player of the year awards. He came into the game against Mercer with 800 yards passing through two games. Mercer came out with the attitude that its players would not be beat by the passing game. The same offense that burned Florida State was left looking for answers at the half as the Bulldogs found themselves down 17-7 and unable to move the ball much. The Bears held Hodges to 291 yards passing and three touchdowns. The Bears kept the ball in front of them and did not get burned by Hodges.
3. Mercer on the verge of something special
The Bears stood toe-to-toe with a top-level FCS team. Samford has one of the best teams in the conference and can run away from most teams. Despite being big underdogs, the Bears refused to go away. Mercer was able to upset the No. 9 ranked Bulldogs by playing its brand of football. The Bears made just enough plays to walk away with arguably the biggest win since the program restarted in 2013. The Bears outplayed the Bulldogs in all three phases of the game. Kicker Cole Fisher hit a clutch kick to seal the game. The defense forced a turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter. Riddle took over throwing darts all over the field late. If they can finally put together a run of wins, then this team could challenge for a SoCon title this season and its first playoff berth.