And so an era draws to a close. For the final time, Elon University will play a Southern Conference football game Saturday, Nov. 23. The Phoenix and the Samford University Bulldogs will do battle in Birmingham, Ala. On the line for the Phoenix is trying to avoid double-digit losses for the first time since 2003.
For the Bulldogs, however, there is a lot more on the line. With a win over Elon and a Furman University loss to Wofford College on Saturday, Samford clinches an automatic berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
What does Elon have to do to spoil the party and leave the SoCon a winner? Let’s get to the keys.
Elon Offensive X-factor: Score early, score often
In every one of Samford’s four losses this year, the Bulldogs have allowed 28 or more points. The last time Elon scored 28 or more? Oct. 5 against Furman University, which was subsequently the last time Elon won a game. Elon can’t settle for field goals, but score touchdowns early and often in order to outpace the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.
Samford Offensive X-factor: RB Fabian Truss
Senior running back Fabian Truss torched the Phoenix in 2012, gaining a career-high 219 yards on 34 carries. This season, Truss is averaging less than 80 yards per game, and his single-game high is 125 yards. Samford will be able to bury the Phoenix if they get the Nov. 10, 2012 Truss to show up. He could be a question marks coming into the game, though, as he did not play in the second half of the Bulldogs' game last week against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Elon Defensive X-factor: Stops before and after the break
All season long, Elon has struggled with giving the opponents momentum by allowing scores just before halftime and subsequent quick scores after intermission. In games against Coastal Carolina University, The Citadel, and Georgia Southern University, this problem plagued the Phoenix. If Elon wants to pull the upset, they will need a leg up in the middle of the game.
This season, Elon has found itself in numerous third-down and long situations. The Phoenix is a mere 57-167 (34 percent) on third down in 2013, so if a team holds Elon on first and second down, it almost guarantees a stop. Samford can dominate the game on defense by forcing Elon into these third down and long situations and controlling possession off of the stops.
While Elon would love to end its run in the Southern Conference and the careers of nine seniors on a high note, Samford will come out motivated with a title on the line. Look for another close game with the Bulldogs coming out on top after a strong second half.
Samford 35, Elon 16