A post inspired but FalconBlog's weekly 25 questions.
Where are the Bull Dogs at:
Trying to break out of the middle of the big south. For the past half dozen seasons Gardner Webb has been struggling to break over 500 (only doing it once) and finishing third every single year. The Bulldogs are off to a good start this year going 3-1 through their first four games. Their only loss comes at the hands of North Carolina State.
Last Seasons High Point:
Three straight wins late in the season that got Webb to 5-4 and in line for only their second winning season in five years. The winning streak culminated with a fourth quarter, two touchdown, come from behind victory against conference member Stony Brook.
Last Seasons Low Point:
Take your pick: having a field goal against Georgia Tech blocked with only three seconds left, The score would have sent the Bull Dogs and Yellow Jackets into overtime. Having Charleston Southern put them away with one second left in a conference game, losing a late season game to Coastal Carolina (the only conference win Carolina would manage). Overall last season was a year of heartbreak for the Dogs.
Do they take care of the Ball?
Yes, the Bulldogs have not lost the ball by fumble yet this season, Stan Doolittle has given up two interceptions. Giving up only two turnovers through five games is an amazing accomplishment, no matter what teams you are facing.
How is their Passing Offense?
Solid, Doolittle is throwing for 250 yards a game, with an average of one touchdown and half an interception. He is a sharp quarterback who will make the safe play rather than risk a big turnover.
How is their Rushing Offense?
Pretty weak, one hundred and thirty yards per game might look nice on paper but looking at the Big South as a whole it's a run heavy conference in which the Bull Dog's rank dead last on the ground. As a team they do a respectable job at 3.5 a carry but much of that came at the hands of Division II school Mars Hill.
If their running game has any strength is in the red zone where they have scored half their touchdowns on the ground.
How are their receivers?
Their receivers are pretty quick and work well with Doolittle, they have three receivers getting more than ten yards per reception so they can run the mid to long range routes very well.
How about their offensive line?
Not a bad unit, while they gave up only two sacks on Doolittle when they played NC state (3 total) that represents half of their season total. A solid FBS line should be able to push these guys around it's not a given.
Are they High Powered?
They have not been, outside of Mars Hill, a high scoring offense but they are a team that moves the ball in big chunks ( as seen by their four leading receivers ) but they are capable of grinding out a drive as well (VMI).
How Well do they convert on 3rd?
40% of the time overall but only an embarrassing 1/13 against NC State. While UB's defense is nowhere near the power of the Wolfpack they should keep the Bulldogs under 20%.
Can their offense close a drive?
Yes, 5.8 points per trip into the zone is a testament to not turning the ball over and of not settling for field goals. Best to keep this team outside the 25 if you want to keep them from doing real damage
How Good is their defense?
Average for an FCS program, they are giving up a somewhat respectable 320 yards per game but that is heavily reliant on keeping Mars Hill at nearly one hundred eighty. They have given up at or over 300 yards to everyone else they faced (422 to NC State).
Do they take the Ball Away?
Yes, 3.5 take aways per game, and unlike their performance in 'over all defense' (yardage) they have consistently been able to take the ball away from all Foes (6 from Mars Hill, 3 from Coastal Carolina, 1 from NC State, and 4 from VMI).
Can they stop the Run?
They are the best in the Big South at stuffing the run and average less than 100 yards game, only VMI managed a strong running game (they held NC State to 112 yards on the ground) . The front seven of Gardner Webb is pretty solid and deep.
Can they stop the Pass?
No, even if their stats say otherwise the style of play in the Big South (run, run, and run some more) combined with the fact that NC State dropped 350 on them ( and west Carolina darn near broke 300) makes that stat suspect. They are not bad covering the pass (five interceptions in four games) but their secondary is not stoked with the best tacklers you will find, even at the FCS level.
How do they perform on third downs?
Admirably, the Bulldogs surrender less than 30% of third downs to opponents and despite being dominated on the scoreboard NC State only managed to go 54%.
How is their red zone defense?
Their red zone defense is almost as bad as their offense is good. 5.5 points per trips are given up to opponents.
How well do they get after the QB?
Pretty well, they manged two sacks in their game against NC state and are second their conference with 2.75 sacks per game.
Do they get after you in the backfield?
Yes, aside from sacks they stop the play in the backfield about eight times.
How is their return game?
Pretty bad, they rank in the bottom half of FCS eams in both categories (102 Kickoff returns and 70 punt returns)
How well do they defend returns?
Great on kickoffs not so much on the punts. They are only giving up 16 yards per kickoff but give up a shameful 15 yards per punt return, including one touchdown.
How well do they Kick?
Very well, they are perfect on extra points and Ryan Gates is money inside the 40 on field goals (not too bad from 40-50 at 2/3)
How Well do they Punt?
Does it matter? They give up between 15 and 20 per return, even if their punter was a solid punter (which Purvis is) a 45 yard punt still ends up being a net of 30 That is why despite a punter with a pretty decent leg the Bulldogs are 114 out of 118 in net punting.
How does Gardner Webb do in against FBS schools?
Do not let the NC State fool you, this is a team that took Georgia Tech to the wire last year and they can jump up and do it at any time. They have a solid enough front seven to keep FBS teams from ramming the ball down their throat so if your QB is having an off day they can hurt you.
How Big is this game for Each Team?
For Buffalo this is huge, every game the rest of the season is probably going to be bigger for Buffalo than it is for their opponents but this is both a pride game (nobody wants to lose to an FCS school) but aside from that UB needs to win five or more of their next seven games to make bowl eligibility.
Gardner Webb would love to knock off a IA school, and get themselves off to their best start in years but a loss here does not hurt their prospects within their conference nor in the playoff system.