InsideKnights: Last year Samford went into Oxford and led Mississippi after the 1st quarter 7-3 before eventually falling 34-10. What does Samford need to do to avoid a similar fate and leave Orlando with a victory?
Mike Grace: And we should have led 14-13 at the half. After and Ole Miss touchdown put them up 13-7 with under 3:00 left in the first half, our Riley Hawkins took the kickoff back for a TD, but officials ruled he stepped out of bounds at the Ole Miss 39-yard line. Video clearly showed he was in all the way, but they ruled it an "uncorrectable error." Samford then goes three and out and Jevean Snead drives the Rebels 91 yards for a 20-7 lead at the break. I'm not sure that one play changes anything, but it would have sure been fun to hear the rumblings at Vaught-Hemingway had the Dogs had the halftime lead. To actually answer your question, a good start is critical. It's what gave Samford the confidence to play a full four quarters with the Rebels last year and they'll need the same to stay in the stadium with the Knights. Turnovers are always a factor. The Dogs picked Snead twice and never coughed it up themselves. And the other key might be the red zone offense. The Dogs came away empty inside the 20 on two different occasions. If they want to win in Orlando, they have to cash in on every scoring opportunity.
IK: UCF doesn't have quite the recognition as an SEC team like Mississippi, but how big would a win in this opener be for the program of Samford?
MG: Huge! Absolutely Huge. Take Appalachian State for example. Our Southern Conference mates from Boone, N.C. have multiple FCS national championships to their credit, but it was the Mountaineers' win over Michigan at The Big House a couple of years ago that put them on SportsCenter, got them votes in the FBS AP Poll and made most every college football fan take notice. OK, so UCF isn't Michigan…yet…but it's a solid program that's been bowling, a real player in Conference USA..and remember we share the city of Birmingham with a C-USA team in UAB. I think a win over UCF would make a lot of people stand up and take notice of what Pat Sullivan is doing here at Samford.
IK: Starting QB Dustin Taliaferro returns to the Bulldogs for another season, how much will the team rely on him in the opener? What does he bring to the table?
MG: Dustin's in a unique position, having started all 11 games as a true freshman a year ago. With a veteran o-line and a returning 1,000 yard rusher in Chris Evans, Dustin's job last season was to manage the game…and he did just that. He was among the SOCON leaders in passing efficiency. He completed over 67 percent of his passes and threw only five interceptions in 225 attempts, but it was in a fairly conservative offense. I think Coach Sullivan and offensive coordinator Steve Brickey are ready now to "take the gloves" off him a little bit to find out if he can do more than just manage a game, but go out and win one. The entire coaching staff has commented on his progression and maturation now that he's put a spring and a full summer behind him. He's a sharp young man, very calm, very poised, but with a real fire to compete. He has a strong arm and good mobility but as long as he's got Chris Evans behind him, he won't mind handing it off 30-40 times a game. Chris has to put together the first ever back-to-back 1,00 yard rushing seasons in Samford history and led the Southern Conference in rushing a year ago. He's a work-horse and his success goes a long way towards relieving some of the pressure on Dustin and allowing the young QB to just go out and play.
IK: Torrell Troup is one of the top defensive tackles in the nation, how will the Bulldogs offensive line fair against an elite defensive lineman?
MG: That's a tall order! The Dogs are already having to replace three starters from last year's offensive line and a couple of preseason bumps and bruises won't help, but Samford had some success a year ago against a pretty stout Ole Miss front four. Jon Weber anchors the lineup from the center position…a three-year starter and the real heart and soul of that unit, if not the whole team. He'll be flanked either by Jacquez Gray or Jake Petersons on the right side and either Josh Fields or Paul Selmon, a pair or senior, at left tackle. It wouldn't surprise me to see Samford play as many as 10-12 guys up front during the course of the game, and whoever can have a little success against Troup earns some extra snaps.
IK: What numbers do Knights' fans need to look out for as the game changers on the Bulldogs?
MG: Offensively, watch for 4 and 6…Brock Johnson and Riley Hawkins. While Evans is capable of the breakaway run from the backfield, Johnson and Hawkins are probably the two most explosive players on the team. Great speed and quickness…and the ability to turn a 5-yard hitch into a 60-yard score. Defensively…watch 47, Bryce Smith, now at middle linebacker. He led the team in tackles a year ago playing outside and had five picks. And 44, Rumiko Forrester. He was really solid a year ago as a reserve linebacker, and is now working at defensive end. Both guys have a great nose for the ball, are good at shedding blockers and can really be disruptive.
IK: Samford is the alma mater of Pro Bowl corner Cortland Finnegan, what other interesting tidbits should the UCF faithful know about Samford?
MG: 1.) Does the name Bobby Bowden ring a bell? Coach Bowden is a Samford alum, from the days we were known as Howard College. He played here from ‘50-'53 and returned as the head coach from '59-'62 and oh yeah, he was pretty good, even then. He went 31-6, an 83.8 winning percentage, still the best in Samford history. Ask him today and he'll tell you, he's still proud to be a Bulldog!
2.) Pat Sullivan. If they handed out Heisman's for being a true role model, he'd have an extra to go along with the one he earned playing at Auburn.
3.) The new Cooney Family Field House. Even in these trying economic times, the program's "friends" helped build a brand new 39,000 foot facility we moved into about a month ago. A true testament to the "family" that is Samford University.
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