Game Preview: VMI football looks to build on back-to-back road wins

vmi-footballThese are exciting times for VMI football, with the Keydets at 2-1 and Mercer (1-2, 0-1 Southern) coming to Lexington for their 2016 home opener on Saturday.

VMI has famously not had a winning season since 1981, and hasn’t had more than four wins in a season since 2003, but second-year coach Scott Wachenheim has the program on an upswing.

After a season-opening 47-24 loss at FBS Akron on Sept. 3, VMI won at Morehead State, 17-13, in Week 2, and defeated Bucknell on the road, 23-17, in three overtimes, on a 12-yard touchdown run by Daz Palmer.

The Keydets defense came up big in the Bucknell win, stopping the Bison on each of their three OT possessions.

Quarterback Al Cobb struggled at times, throwing three interceptions, but he had his moments, too – throwing for 285 yards, completing 34 of his 52 pass attempts.

Wideout Dane Forlines worked the middle of the field for 12 catches and 157 receiving yards.

So that’s back-to-back road wins, for a program that hadn’t won back-to-back games anywhere since 2005, and had not won two straight on the road since 1981-1982.

“We have this wristband with the team, TPF, for trust, play, finish,” Wachenheim said. “The kids trusted each other, they trusted their coaches, they trusted their preparation and played to win and then they finished. I couldn’t be more proud of the players.

“The O-line and Daz Palmer found a way to win. The defense and the defensive line came back- they were running the ball on us in the second half but they found a way to bow up in overtime. I’m just excited, a total team victory, and the first time we’ve won back-to-back road games in 35 years. It’s pretty special,” Wachenheim said.


Get to know: Mercer

Mercer is coming off its first win of 2016, a 34-27 win over Tennessee Tech two weeks ago, ahead of a bye week for the Bears.

The Bears played #9 The Citadel tough in their Sept. 1 season opener in a 24-23 loss.

The offense averages 371.0 yards per game. Quarterback John Russ has completed 62 of his 98 pass attempts (63.3 percent) for 656 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Russ is also the team’s second-leading rusher, gaining 144 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and scoring four touchdowns on the ground.

Payton Usher (168 yards, 6.0 yards per carry) and Alex Lakes (111 yards, 3.3 yards per carry) split the rest of the carries in the backfield.

Russ has three primary targets in the passing game – Avery Ward (14 catches, 15.8 yards per catch), Marquise Irvin (21 catches, 8.7 yards per catch) and Sam Walker (10 catches, 8.8 yards per catch).

The Mercer defense gives up 347.3 yards per game, with the numbers skewed toward the running game, because of their first three opponents being run-heavy (46 attempts, 214.7 yards per game).

The leading tacklers are linebacker Tyler Ward (22 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss), linebacker Tripp Patterson (19 tackles, one sack) and linebacker Lee Bennett (17 tackles).

Punter Tyler Zielenske averages 43.5 yards per kick, with four of his 10 punts downed inside the 20.

Placekicker Cole Fisher is 6-for-7 on field-goal attempts with a long of 49 yards.


Get to know: VMI

The Keydets average 387.7 yards per game on offense. Cobb has thrown for 691 yards, completing 76 of 121 pass attempts (62.8 percent), with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Palmer leads the team in rushing, gaining 188 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and scoring two touchdowns.

Aaron Sanders is Cobb’s top target, catching 27 balls, but averaging just 6.4 yards per catch. Forline has 18 catches and averages 12.9 yards per catch.

Ryan Swingle has eight catches and averages 10.4 yards per catch. Quan Myers is a dual-threat, catching eight balls and averaging 15.4 yards per catch, and gaining 66 yards on the ground (2.9 yards per carry).

The VMI defense gives up 449.0 yards per game, with the pass defense burned for nine touchdown passes through three games.

Linebacker Ryan Francis leads the D in tackles (33), with 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Linebacker Allan Cratsenberg has 27 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery.

Defensive back Greg Sanders has 21 tackles and an interception, and corner Riug Trotman has two interceptions, a pass breakup and three passes defensed.

Punter Bill Hogan averages 36.2 yards per kick, with two of his 16 punts downed inside the 20.

The Keydets use two kickers – Reed King is 3-of-6 on field goals with a long of 37, and Dillon Christopher is 0-of-5, with all of his attempts from 40 yards or more.

Preview by Chris Graham


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