Courtesy of Mercer Athletics
It’s the amount of points you score for making a basket behind the arc. It’s the amount of terms FDR served. And it’s the amount of points Mercer’s offense scored Saturday.
It’s the least amount of points the Bears have scored in a game since the program was re-established in 2013. (Its previous low was six against Wofford Nov. 22, 2014.) They’ve scored more points against teams like Georgia Tech and Auburn.
Mercer lost 20-3 to Samford on Homecoming because of the poor offensive outing. The Bears led the game at one point, connecting on a 36-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. But there weren’t many positives after that.
Samford tied the score with a field goal and then scored a touchdown with 33 seconds remaining before halftime to take a 10-3 lead at the break.
The second half was worse. Quarterback Kaelan Riley threw an interception and fumbled, the special teams had a punt blocked, and the offensive line allowed two safeties. Two. Safeties. In one half.
Samford scored its lone touchdown of the second half midway through the third quarter to lead 16-3, then used the two safeties in the final 15 minutes to put away the Bears.
Here are the three takeaways from the loss:
(1) The offense was stifled
Mercer entered the game averaging 29 points per game, so it’s not like this has been an issue throughout the season. They were just stifled in every aspect of the game.
They struggled to run the ball; the Bears carried it 26 times for 33 yards. The passing game was ineffective most of the game, largely due to pressure on Riley. He was hurried a season-high nine times.
Before the game, Mercer’s offensive line ranked 25th in the country allowing 1.25 sacks per game.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to, you have a man in front of you, [and] you have to win the battle,” head coach Bobby Lamb said. “We didn’t win enough battles [Saturday].”
Riley finished 18-of-38 for 158 yards, an interception and a fumble. On top of not running it or throwing it well, the offense lost three turnovers and allowed two safeties. Lamb was pretty straightforward with his reasoning for the poor offensive effort.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of protecting, we didn’t do a good enough job of throwing, catching or coaching,” he said. “We could not get anything going. When we did, I look out there and there’s a yellow hankie … We shot ourselves in the foot, especially in the first half.”
And there were several penalties that hurt the offense, but still: It was a pretty bad performance. It was not the Mercer offense we’ve come to know this season.
Running back Tee Mitchell was truly one of the lone bright spots in the game. He had six carries for 33 yards and six catches for 32 yards. But even he was having trouble determining why the offense struggled so much.
“Honestly, I can’t even tell you,” Mitchell said. “I can’t tell you.”
(2) Kickoff chaos
The opening kickoff was a pretty good foreshadowing of how the game would go for the Bears. Well, I should say opening kickoffs.
There were three. On the first attempt, Mercer was called for an offsides. On the second attempt, the ball was kicked out of bounds. Samford declined and made Mercer kick it again.
Then the Bears kicked it out of bounds again. Finally, Samford was like, “MAKE IT STOP!” so it took the penalty and the game continued.
After Mercer scored its field goal, it kicked off again. And there was another penalty. The Bears had four straight penalties on kickoffs to start the game.
There have been a couple kicks sent out of bounds this season, but Saturday was certainly another level. Lamb said the team simply needs to execute better.
“We’ve had a really good year in special teams, but [Saturday] it kind of came crashing down,” Lamb said.
(3) Defense continues to shine
I know I’ve mentioned this in nearly every column this year, but it deserves to be said again: This defense ain’t messing around.
The Bears’ defense held Samford to only 16 points, an offense that was averaging 28.9 points per game. The defense also forced four turnovers, one of which was at the goal line right after a Mercer turnover.
The defense did everything in its power to win this football game.
“I want to commend our defense for holding a very powerful offense to 16 points,” Lamb said. “I thought our defense played exceptionally well, flew around to the ball and made a bunch of big plays … It’s just a shame we didn’t give them anything on the offensive side to help them out.”
Six of the 16 points came off a play that easily could have been an interception. Samford’s Chris Shelling bobbled it, then caught it, then bobbled it again, then caught it, then bobbled it again, then finally caught it.
All in all, it resulted in a touchdown that helped seal the game for Samford.
Senior linebacker Lee Bennett, who leads the team with 86 tackles, said his defense never gave up.
“What we tell each other on the sideline is, ‘We can’t control what the offense does,’” Bennett said. “We can only control what we do. We went out and gave our all like we showed. That brotherhood that we have, it just shows out there.”
(4) Bears can only play for pride
After the loss, Mercer’s record fell to 4-5 overall and 3-4 in conference play. The playoffs are out of the question now, but two games remain.
“I told the team this: ‘At the end of the day, it’s all on my shoulders,’” Lamb said. “We have to come back to work. We obviously don’t have anything to play for, but we have to play for pride, and we have to play for the love of the game.”
The Bears will travel to Cullowhee, NC, Saturday to play Western Carolina in their final conference game of the year.
And then, the big kahuna. Say it with me: “We want Bama.”