College football is back in the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs are currently 2-1 overall and 1-0 in SoCon play after defeating Western Carolina in a barn-burner. The team is now preparing to face Mercer in what could be its toughest road game of the season.
Mercer is currently 1-1, with their one loss coming against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Their one SoCon opponent thus far, Furman, is also one of the best teams in the conference. It is safe to say that the Mercer Bears could be the most battle-tested team in the entire conference.
The quarterback position appears to be a dilemma for the Bears early on this season. In preseason, Carter Peevy was tapped as the starter. During the Alabama game, backup Fred Peyton got his shot and threw for 159 yards and completed 60% of his passes for two touchdowns. Head coach Drew Cronic could very well make Payton the permanent starter against the Bulldogs.
While questions surround Mercer’s quarterback room, there are no questions about who will be slinging the rock for Samford.
Liam Welch has continued his dominance for the Bulldogs, throwing for nearly 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in his first three games. The Bulldogs have four receivers who have accumulated at least 100 yards this season. The receiving core is led by preseason All-American Montrell Washington who already has 245 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior DeMarcus Ware has emerged as the clear go-to running back for the Bulldogs. His week three performance against Western Carolina was a career game, where he rushed for 118 yards and three touchdowns. His recent impact has opened a treasure chest of play calling possibilities for head coach Chris Hatcher and offensive coordinator Mitch Stewart.
While Samford has the high-powered offense, the question remains, can the defense keep up?
Among fellow SoCon opponents, the Samford defense is sitting around the middle of the pack in most dimensions, except for interceptions. Defensive coordinator Nick Benedetto’s defensive backs lead the conference with seven interceptions, and will need to continue their reign of terror against a talented Mercer offense.
The Mercer defense has allowed 24 points per game while scoring around 42 points themselves. Keep in mind that Mercer has only played two games, with one of them being against the Saban-led Crimson Tide in one of the most hostile environments in football.
With a defensive stud like Solomon Zubairu, who had 10.5 tackles for loss last season, and hard-hitting safety Lance Wise, as well as a crowded and talented quarterback room, this Mercer Bears team will be a tough road opponent for the Bulldogs.
If Samford wants another SoCon victory, Liam Welch will have to continue his offensive dominance, and the defense will have to hold the Bears under 30 points. This win is critical for the Bulldog’s quest for their first SoCon title since 2013.
The game will take place at 5 p.m. this Saturday, October 2 in Mercer, Georgia. The game will also be broadcast on ESPN+.