Blake Gardner is the voice of the Samford Bulldogs and took the time – following his team’s 49-41 win over West Alabama this past Thursday – to help us preview Saturday’s game. He gives us great insight into the match-up and one of the country’s top FCS programs.
How excited are the Samford faithful with Chris Hatcher as your head coach?
In short, the Samford fans are feeling both excited and pleased through 2+ years of Hatcher’s tenure. I think when former head coach and Auburn legend Pat Sullivan stepped down after four consecutive winning seasons, many Samford fans were a bit wary, knowing the next hire was crucial if this program was going to stay trending in the right direction. So far, Hatcher has been able to keep the winning seasons coming while contending for the FCS playoffs behind an explosive offensive attack.
What makes Devlin Hodges such a special talent at quarterback?
His ability to extend plays and make throws on the move. Ever since Devlin took over as Samford’s starting QB in the middle of 2015, he’s been just as dangerous outside the pocket as inside it. It certainly helps that Hodges has the arm to make all the intermediate and deep throws, and he possesses the confidence that he can get the ball into tight windows of coverage. And with 36 TDs to just 8 INTs last year, he’s usually right.
What are Samford’s goals for this season?
Samford’s goals are twofold and go hand-in-hand. First, contend for the SoCon title, and second, get back to the FCS playoffs. After a playoff drought that spanned from 1993 to 2012, Samford has made the 24 team playoff twice in the last four years and won a share of the conference title in 2013. As tough as the SoCon is at the FCS level (4 teams in the conference made the FCS playoffs last year), a title would be great, but simply contending near the top of the league gives Samford a great chance at making it back-to-back playoff appearances.
What does Samford need to do to beat Georgia?
Quite simply, move the ball, which is easier said than done against this stiff UGA defense. Samford’s offense is up-tempo, but their struggles as a team over the last couple of years often come when the SU offense quickly goes three and out, and the Samford defense is forced to see a lot of snaps from the opposing offense. Look for Samford to use tempo more selectively in this contest, and the more traction and first downs this SU offense can pick up early on, the better. Watch out for WR Kelvin McKnight, he’s more than capable of making a big play and no doubt Samford’s game plan will include getting him plenty of touches.
What is your take on Georgia?
I got the chance to see the Dawgs in person in their opener against App State, and this is a physical team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. This defense is going to cause a lot of problems for teams that want to establish a run game, especially because Roquan Smith and Trenton Thompson are going to a serious problem for every team UGA plays, Samford included. Offensively, this team looks a little different with Jake Fromm at the controls, but the beauty of having two dynamic backs in Chubb and Michel is that the true freshman likely won’t have to try to do too much. If UGA can run the ball consistently like they want to, it will help their offense tremendously, and keep the Bulldogs out of 3rd down and long situations.
What are some changes you would like to see made in college football?
Great question, especially since this contest spans both levels of Division 1 football. At the FBS level, I think there needs to be a long discussion on eliminating the conference title games. Yes, they are traditional and lucrative for most of the conferences, but recently championship games have been either pointless because neither team makes the College Football Playoff (see last year’s Big 10 title game), or a blowout due to divisional imbalance (see every SEC Title game since 2012). By getting rid of conference title games, you can expand the CFP without adding an extra game to the schedule, and maintain one of the best things about college football, that every regular season game matters. The FCS rewards regular season champs with home playoff games, and a similar incentive, I think, could work in FBS as well.