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Times are good for the Samford Bulldogs football team.
They are 7-1 overall and sitting on top of the Southern Conference standings with a 5-0 record. The climb upward in the national polls reached a season-high 10th this week in the FCS Coaches poll and Stats Perform FCS Top 25. The overall record is the best start to the season since 1992, and it’s the first time that the Bulldogs have won their first five conference games.
Heady stuff for a team that takes a simple approach to reaching these numbers.
“It’s like we preach to the team each week, this week is the biggest game of the year, strictly because it’s the only one we play,” said Samford head coach Chris Hatcher. “It’s been that way the previous eight games as well, and it will be that way moving in the future.”
Seemingly, that approach could be hard to follow this week. Samford returns home to Seibert Stadium on Saturday to play a struggling VMI, which is 1-7 overall and has been outscored 219-68 in five SoCon losses.
Two of the biggest games in recent Samford football history — a trip to Chattanooga and a home game against Mercer — close the regular season schedule. In the most recent FCS rankings, Mercer is 11th and Chattanooga is 12th. Human nature tells us that this week’s matchup with VMI could be easily overlooked.
Within the program, though, this week’s game takes precedence over those other two games. Winning the next one — or probably more accurately preparing to win the next one – is the focus.
“Right now, I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Hatcher said. “It looks like our guys are having a good time, which is always important, especially late in the season, that the guys are still having fun playing. We got a lot of work to do. We got to improve in our practice consistency, and hopefully, we’ll do that this week and be a little better team than we were last week. The best teams that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, as a coach and a player, I’ve always thought they improved each week. I think we’re doing that, not as quickly as I would like. But, I think, at the end of the day, we’re finding ways to win games.”
Hatcher said the key to last week’s 38-3 win at The Citadel was the effort in all three phases of the game. However, it’s hard to look past a Samford offense that has been nearly flawless the past two games. In those two games, road wins over ETSU and The Citadel, the Bulldogs produced 93 points, 1,012 total yards, seven passing touchdowns and four rushing touchdowns. They ran 165 plays without a turnover and quarterback Michael Hiers was 75-of-88 passing. Playmakers have been spread throughout the offense, receiver Kendall Watson has been particularly explosive with 21 catches for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’ve improved each and every week,” Hatcher said. “We had our inconsistencies early in the season. By no means are we perfect in any way, but, the past two weeks, we really have been playing a lot more consistent, we’ve been playing with much better tempo. Mike’s done a really good job distributing the ball to his playmakers. That’s led to [high scoring] the last two weeks.”
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