Back Matchup Breakdown: Elon at Wofford

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Matchup Breakdown: Elon at Wofford

By Jim Johnson
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Here are the most and least advantageous matchups within the matchup between the Terriers and Phoenix.

After months of competition, the FCS regular season has come to an end, and the playoff pairings are decided. Two SoCon teams earned postseason bids, ETSU, who will travel to Jacksonville State, and Wofford, who will host Elon.

Two of the three Southern Conference co-champions, ETSU and Wofford each finished 8-3 overall, and 6-2 in league play. ETSU will move on to play at #7 seed Maine with a win, while Wofford would face #4 seed Kennesaw State in the second round.

This marks the third consecutive appearance by Wofford, the fifth longest active streak in the FCS.

Here are the most and least advantageous matchups within the matchup between the Terriers and Phoenix:

When Wofford has the ball:

Biggest Advantage -- The line of scrimmage

Wofford has one of the best offensive lines in the country, behind which they’ve averaged 6.5 yards per carry (3rd in the FCS) and rank in the top five in total rushing. Incredibly, this group has also allowed the 11th fewest tackles for loss per game, despite having run the ball more often than all but four teams ahead of them in that category, not to mention most everyone else in the game. Elon, on the other hand, has been only serviceable against the run, ranking 38th and 39th, respectively, in run defense and TFLs per game. However, while they do boast two of the top ten leaders in stops behind the line of scrimmage in the CAA, both of them play linebacker. One of the keys to stopping Wofford is keeping them off schedule, but Elon’s lack of playmakers along the defensive line, coupled with a 3-3-5 ill-suited against the triple option, does not bode well in that capacity.

Biggest Disadvantage -- Turnover battle

Elon ranks near the top of the FCS in turnover margin more so because of how well they take care of the ball on offense, but the defense has held up its end of the bargain and has been fairly opportunistic. Wofford, conversely, while about average in the turnovers per game category, is coughing up the rock at a higher per drive rate than nearly half of the teams below them in the raw rankings, just given a lower number of possessions per game than most programs. Historically, the team in college football that wins the turnover battle wins the game about 73% of the time, so it’s imperative that the Terriers limit the unforced errors.

When Wofford is on defense:

Biggest Advantage -- Elon’s quarterback play

Since losing their starter, Davis Cheek, back in October, at Delaware, the Phoenix have been plagued by inconsistency behind center, where they’ve tried a couple of different hand to varying degrees of success. Jalen Green led the team to victories in each of his first two starts, although with heavily run-reliant gameplans, he completed just over 25% of his attempts in a loss to Towson and was subsequently benched in favor of Daniel Thompson during the Maine game, although he did get the start. The Thompson-led offense was far more open, but, once more, with limited efficiency. If Wofford can create consistent pressure and force Elon into uncomfortable passing downs, the uncertainty at quarterback could loom large in the contest.

Biggest Disadvantage -- Defending the zone read

Particularly since the loss of Cheek, Elon has relied more heavily on zone read concepts -- not dissimilar from those of Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina, and Presbyterian, which, uncoincidentally, are four of the only six teams that even scored 20+ points against the Terriers vaunted defense. It’s not overly complicated, just a matter of maintaining basic run fits and mixing in some defensive front change-ups, but for whatever reason, Wofford has been bit more than once by it this season.

Special Teams:

Biggest Advantage -- Punting

Luke Carter, who lead the SoCon in punting average, and a solid coverage unit have combined to rank in the top 20 in net yards per punt. On the flipside, Elon currently sits at 120th, averaging just 3.38 yards per return. In what could be a low scoring affair, field position could be of heightened importance, and, of course, the team that wins that battle wins the game 72% of the time.

Biggest Disadvantage -- Punt returns

While the disparity is not as wide in this matchup within the matchup, Wofford, themselves, are just 118th in average yards per return. Elon is closer to the median, ranked 42nd in net yards per punt, but their coverage has been even better than Wofford’s, allowing over a full yard per return fewer than the Terriers.

All things considered, this is a game that Wofford should win. If Elon was at full strength, it would certainly make for a more compelling matchup, but minus their starting quarterback and an All-American candidate at running back, the offense has undertansably taken marked steps in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, Wofford has the best defense in the SoCon and one of the better units in the nation. That, along with the fact that Elon has yet to see a stylistically similar offense to Wofford’s, much less one of the same caliber, should be enough to see the Terriers advance.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP