Hodges has Samford taking the SoCon's path less traveled - through the air
(STATS) - The Southern Conference's two best teams will beat you in different ways. The Citadel's bread and butter is its death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts triple option while Chattanooga will spread things out, equally content to run or throw.
The team that's lurking as the SoCon's challenger to those contenders has an entirely different idea in mind: Take to the air and get down the field - fast.
Samford has been one of the most one-dimensional offenses in the country so far, but Devlin Hodges has been so good spreading the ball around that an almost complete lack of a running game hasn't hindered Chris Hatcher's team.
The offense, known as the "Hatch Attack," is working thanks to its sophomore signal caller.
Hodges took over midway through his redshirt freshman season in 2015 after starter Michael Eubank went down, and the results were promising right away. He tossed 11 touchdowns and three interceptions while starting the Bulldogs' final five games, completing 70.4 percent of his throws while averaging a whopping 44.6 pass attempts and 345.4 yards per game. Throw in 303 rushing yards and it looked like Samford had a dual-threat QB for three years to come.
He hasn't had nearly that success on the ground through the first four games of his sophomore season - the Bulldogs are 118th of 125 FCS teams in yards per carry (2.5) and 121st in yards per game (68.0), but that hasn't held them back. Twelve of Samford's 20 scoring drives have taken less than two minutes, with four coming in a minute or less.
The "Hatch Attack" mandate is simple: Get the ball to the talented receiving trio of Emmanuel Obajimi, Kelvin McKnight and Karel Hamilton and get out of the way.
"This offense is built for me," Hodges said last month. "My job is to get the ball to the wide receivers as fast as I can and let them make plays. As long as I can get them the ball, I'm confident that they are going to make plays and get yards after the catch. We have a great chemistry."
Hodges has upped his completion percentage to an FCS-best 73.3, though that's perhaps not too surprising given the quick-release nature of the Bulldogs' offense. His 10.37 yards per completion rank just 93rd of 114 qualifying QBs.
There might be an opportunity to take some more shots downfield against Furman (0-5, 0-2). The Paladins have seen only 66 passes hit the air so far this season - the next-lowest total in the FCS is Columbia's 86, and the Lions have played three games - but those throws have yielded a subdivision-high 11.32 yard per attempt.
The bulk of the damage, though, has been done on the ground. Furman's opponents have averaged 46 carries per contest and 5.0 yards per tote - maybe enough of a reason to believe there's hope yet for Samford's running game to get going. Should Hurricane Matthew dump a lot of rain on Greenville, South Carolina, prior to or during Saturday's contest, it may need to.
"I think we need to get better in all phases, especially in the running game," offensive coordinator Russ Callaway said Wednesday. "We have to do a better job, out wide, of blocking. We have to do a better job of inside blocking. We have to do a better job with the running backs, the quarterbacks, really everybody. But, obviously, improvement in the running game would be huge for us."
Furman's record looks unsightly, but the quality of the Paladins' competition is hard to ignore. The were in a one-score game midway through the fourth quarter at Michigan State in the opener. They led at The Citadel until the final two minutes, lost by a touchdown to Chattanooga and were undone by turnovers and special teams at Coastal Carolina. Furman's worst performance came in last Saturday's 52-42 loss to option-heavy Kennesaw State - the Paladins trailed 49-14 at the half - but they'll be facing an entirely different type of offense this week.
"They've had a great deal of bad luck this season," Hatcher said.
Samford lost both games against the SoCon's resident powerhouses last season, and came up empty in its first test in this one, falling 41-21 at Chattanooga on Sept. 24. The Bulldogs' schedule looks pretty manageable over the next few weeks before an Oct. 29 trip to Mississippi State, though. The big one lies a week later with a visit to The Citadel that could make or break Samford's shot at a playoff spot.
But don't expect Samford to look past Furman. The Paladins came from 17-0 down at halftime to stun the Bulldogs 20-17 on Jon Croft Hollingsworth's field goal as time expired last Oct. 31.
"You can never underestimate anyone," Samford defensive back Marquis McCullum said. "Especially teams that have struggled early on in the season.
"They're always looking for that next opportunity to get them going to where they want to be."