By Brant Daughtry
The First of Many Bulldogs
The Samford Bulldogs are coached by Chris hatcher, an elder statesman of the game in his ninth year in this position. He played at Valdosta State, and has been a head coach of mid-tier programs since 2000. He’s an offensive-minded coach, and his success reflects that. His passing offense are routinely towards the top of their respective leagues, and the win totals, while not always consistent, tend to reflect that. While at Valdosta State, he routinely made deep runs into the FCS Playoffs, and won a national title in 2004.
For the first time this season, Auburn will play a team that it has some history with. The Tigers have met with the Bulldogs 29 times, with Auburn winning 28 of those matchups. The one non-win was a tie that occurred in Birmingham in 1927.
Last year was an interesting one at Samford. Hatcher’s tenure had been rocky, averaging around just 6-7 wins a year. However last season proved to be a little different. Samford went 11-2, and undefeated in the Southern Conference, winning their first outright SoCon title, and making it to the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs. Their only two losses were to eventual national champion Georgia, and eventual FCS national runner-up North Dakota State. It was a dream year for the Bulldogs, but through two games, it appears it may not be a repeat of that dream.
Samford this season has already lost more conference games than they did last year, as they took one on the chin 30-7 last week against Western Carolina. For reference, their loss to Georgia last season was 33-0. Transitive property doesn’t really work in college football, but I think that’s a good indicator of where this team is compared to last year.
What is a factor though, is the fact that Samford returns quarterback Michael Heirs to the team. Heirs was a major factor in the success Samford had last year, competing more than 75% of his passes and throwing for more than 3,500 yards and 36 touchdowns against four interceptions. This season’s poor start isn’t on him either, as he has almost 600 yards and four touchdowns through the two games they’ve played.
Players to Watch For:
Wide Receiver DJ Rias, #0- Rias is stepping up as WR1 following the departure of not one but two 1,000-yard receivers from last year. He was the third favorite target of Heirs last season, gathering about 600 yards, and figures to move into that role this season. He’s a local kid, born in Phenix City and playing a Central High School, so he’ll be looking to show out for a hometown crowd.
Linebacker Noah Martin, #32- Martin is returning as the leading tackler for Samford. He had 92 last year, and already has 21 this season. He’s a ballhawk, and Auburn will have to play him carefully. They also like to use him in different ways, as he’s already registered both a sack and an interception.
As with most paycheck games, this one is a lot more about Auburn than it is Samford. The Bulldogs are a good FCS team, but Auburn should win handily on talent alone. Auburn looked abysmal on offense against Cal, and it has a good chance to work on some stuff before SEC play starts. I want to see more quick, easy throws for Thorne in this game, something I think the offense can use moving forward, and we haven’t really seen enough of since the opening drive of the UMass game. Auburn needs to figure out what its identity is before it gets into conference play, or this could get ugly.