UC tries for 4-0 today vs. Shepherd
With a 3-0 record, the University of Charleston is off to its best start since going 8-0 in 2009 and on track to pick up its first West Virginia Conference championship since the Golden Eagles football program was reinstated in 2003.
Today's showdown with Shepherd could go a long way toward attaining that distinction.
UC (3-0 overall, 1-0 WVC) takes on the Rams (2-1, 1-0) at 1 p.m. at UC Stadium. By the early numbers, they're the top two teams in the conference.
Shepherd, coming off a 42-6 win over Seton Hill in its WVC opener last week, boasts the conference's highest-scoring offense (34.7 points per game) and has allowed the fewest points per game in the league (17.0).
UC, which knocked off defending WVC champion Concord 17-14 last week in Athens, leads the conference in other major statistical measures - the Golden Eagles are No. 1 in the league with 419 total yards of offense per game and lead in fewest yards allowed per contest (265).
With returning quarterback Maurice Leak sidelined with injury for a majority of its first two games, UC has churned out league highs of 263 rushing yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry, thanks mostly to the work of former Scott Kennedy Award winner Jordan Roberts, who has averaged 123.7 yards per game on the ground (with 6.9 per carry and three touchdowns). Roberts also leads the WVC with 187 all-purpose yards per game.
Ah, but UC's strength on offense has been Shepherd's strength on defense. The Rams are allowing an average of just 43 rushing yards through three games, but that might be a function of the big early leads they've run up on Seton Hill last week and in a 34-7 win over American International on Sept. 8.
Shepherd's offense has been led by quarterback Bobby Cooper, who leads the WVC in passing efficiency rating (153.6). He's completed 59 of 89 passes (66.3 percent) for 674 yards (second-best in the league) and has thrown seven touchdown passes against just one interception. Cooper, a 6-foot-4 senior, was named WVC offensive player of the week last week after completing 24 of his 28 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns against Seton Hill.
Cooper will be watching out for UC defensive lineman Jeff Green, a 6-2 senior who had four sacks at Concord while earning WVC weekly defensive honors.
John Knox has filled in admirably at UC in Leak's absence, going 18 for 33 for 307 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns, including a school-record 99-yarder in the Golden Eagles' Week 2 win over St. Joseph's.
Shepherd was a lopsided 59-10 winner over UC in last year's meeting in Shepherdstown. The Golden Eagles' last win over Shepherd came in 2009, a 30-17 decision at Shepherdstown.
West Virginia State (1-2) is also home today, taking on Concord (1-2, 0-1) in the Yellow Jackets' WVC opener at Laken Field in Institute. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
State is coming off back-to-back games against Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) opposition that resulted in losses to Elon (48-18 last week) and North Carolina A&T (77-0 on Sept. 8).
Concord has dropped two straight since winning its season opener, with the loss to UC last week preceded by a 30-22 home setback against Winston-Salem State.
The Mountain Lions lost starting quarterback Zack Grossi to a season-ending injury suffered in an auto accident. Albert Rose took over and threw for 137 yards against UC in his first start.
Concord's leading rusher is Chris Rodriguez, who has 131 yards and gets 5.5 yards per carry.
For State, quarterback Ricky Phillips has thrown for 415 yards and three touchdowns, and his top target is Josh Johnson (10 catches, 132 yards). Ervin Kent averages 18.3 yards per catch and has two touchdowns.
In the ground game, Aubura Taylor leads the Jackets with 151 yards and LeFloyd Phillips averages 6.1 yards per carry.
Concord has won the last three meetings with State, including a 38-7 victory last year at Athens.
Also today, Seton Hill (0-3, 0-1) is at West Virginia Wesleyan (0-3, 0-1) for a noon kickoff and West Liberty (2-1, 1-0) is at Fairmont State (0-3, 0-1) in a 1 p.m. start.
Reach Nick Scala at 304-348-7947 or firstname.lastname@example.org.