Our weekly Q&A series took me to Mercer to find some of the best football analysis I’ve seen yet. Kyle Mullins was awesome to work with, and give their Twitter a follow @MercerCluster.
Brent: Most of us have probably never seen a Mercer game unless we tuned in a while back hoping you’d upset Auburn. Compared to your own conference, how has your team performed this year? Above or below expectations?
Kyle: Going into the season, it was really a toss-up to determine how Mercer was going to perform. We had just lost a huge senior class, including our star quarterback who had been leading the team ever since the Mercer Football program was re-established in 2013. So, we had a redshirt freshman quarterback, Kaelan Riley, who had to fill some pretty big shoes. Overall, I think he has done a pretty good job. There were some disappointing losses this season, mostly caused by Mercer’s inefficiency in the fourth quarter, where many of the games were lost. Overall I would say the team performed better than expected considering the huge adjustments that had to be made from last season. The team performed 4-4 in conference play this year, which ties last year’s final record. It’s not the most satisfying result, but I think it leaves a lot for the team to work with for next season.
Brent: Who’s the best player on offense? Will he have a big game against Bama this weekend?
Kyle: It’s hard to choose a “best” player because the team’s performance relies heavily on each player being able to pull their own weight. When one is underperforming, it can really have a huge effect on the team. If I had to choose one player worth keeping an eye on though, I would go with wide receiver Chandler Curtis. This season he has managed 446 receiving yards. I guarantee he’s coming into this game hungry to prove himself in what is his last collegiate career game. Mercer has a pretty decent run game as well, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the pass be the go to for this game. No point in playing it safe. Running back Tee Mitchell is another player I feel Alabama fans should watch for. In Mercer's last game against Western Carolina he rushed for 120 yards. I'm hoping he will carry that momentum over into this game.
Brent: What is the strongest position group on your defense? Weakest?
Kyle: I would have to say that the front seven constitutes a huge part of the defenses’ strength. While the defensive line is great as a whole, the best positional group is probably the linebackers. Lee Bennett, LeMarkus Bailey and Will Coneway have done a great job of causing turnovers this season. They’ve combined for six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and two interceptions this season. Bennett himself has racked up 102 tackles in 10 games. The weakest positional group on defense would be cornerback. Since re-establishment, Mercer has been thin at corner. Stephen Houzah has a knack for forcing turnovers at corner, but there’s not a lot of depth at the position.
Brent: If there was one positional or personnel matchup that Mercer has a chance to exploit on Alabama, what do you think it is?
Kyle: I know Nick Saban prides himself on special teams (and Alabama may not have to punt very often in this game), but Mercer punt return man Chandler Curtis, who I’ve mentioned before, has shown a lot of hustle this season. Although he has not returned one for a touchdown, he has helped Mercer to lead the Southern Conference with a 13-yard punt return average. Offensively, Mercer will look to slow down the pace and control the clock, but again Curtis is a player worth watching in case Mercer decides to take a couple deep shots.
Brent: Final score prediction?
Kyle: Alabama will probably be the toughest opponent Mercer Football has faced in its history as a program. I’m not expecting a win, but I am hoping to see some amazing work from our defensive line. I’m predicting a final score will be 45-13. Alabama is a high scoring team, but Mercer defense has an impressive ability of being able to stop yards and cause turnovers, as was seen in our game against Auburn where the defense caused 5. The only issue will be the offense being able to capitalize on defensive turns. It’s still a huge point difference, but what Mercer is hoping to do is make an impression. Putting numbers on the board against the number one ranked FBS team and generally just putting on an enjoyable show would definitely work wonders for this small university.