For this week’s game preview, we thought we’d enlist Elon’s brand new CAA sports blog: “Fight in Flight,” which is the new go-to blog for the Elon Phoenix. If you haven’t checked them out already, definitely make sure to do so–they have loads of quality content, and have already written a preview article for this weekend’s W&M vs. Elon game. It’s always great to see new CAA bloggers joining the fold, with pre-existing blogs such as the JMU Sports Blog and ourselves, we hope and expect to see more following suit in the coming years.
To get us kicked off, this weekend will mark the second-ever game played in “new Zable Stadium.” We’re expecting another solid turnout for this one, and another complete game for the Tribe. Despite injuries, the W&M offense will need to continue to hum along, aided by an emerging run game, while the defense will need to continue to hold serve, aided by young, up-and-coming freshmen. So without further ado, we present to you: a Q&A with Fight in Flight, the Elon Sports Blog. Roll Tribe.
Elon just joined the CAA two years ago. What are your thoughts on the league, the competition, and more specifically, the football?
“The CAA is an incredibly deep and talented football conference. While Elon is certainly used to tough FCS football, after spending a decade in the Southern Conference that included FCS powers App State and Georgia Southern, the CAA’s depth creates a true gauntlet of a schedule each year for its members. For Elon, there have been some growing pains as it adjusts to the new conference, (some of which have had to do with the coaching change that brought in Rich Skrosky the same year the Phoenix joined the CAA), but after picking up 3 conference wins last year, the program appears to be headed in the right direction and all hopes are that Elon will be competing for conference championships in the near future.”
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite position: could you describe Elon’s QB situation, how he’s performed so far this year, and some of his strengths/weaknesses?
“Elon has one of the more unique QB situations in the CAA (if not all of FCS). Going all the way back to last year’s preseason, there has been a two-man battle for the starting QB spot between current sophomores Daniel Thompson and Connor Christiansen. Coming out of preseason last year, it appeared Thompson had the edge after getting the start in the season opener against Wake Forest. However, a non-football related neurological condition forced him to miss the next few games, and as a result, Christiansen became the default starter at QB. The QB controversy continued through the entire 2015 football season and gave Christiansen and Thompson basically equal playing time, starting five and six games, respectively.
Fast forward to this year and it was Christiansen this time who had the edge in the QB battle coming out of preseason, earning the start against Gardner-Webb in the season opener. However, after suffering an injury during that game to his throwing arm that will require season-ending surgery, it’s now Thompson back under center as the starter.
Losing Christiansen in week 1 was devastating news, but Thompson has proven to be a very capable QB for the Phoenix. Last year he completed 52% of his passes for 775 yards and 4 TDs. He already has 599 yards passing this year through 2.5 games (didn’t play the first half against Gardner-Webb). Thompson does have a tendency to force throws a bit, which got him into trouble last year (10 interceptions). While he seems to be making better reads and decisions with the ball so far this year, it should be noted that he already has 3 picks through 3 games.”
Aside from quarterback, who are some Offensive players that W&M should watch out for this coming week?
“Those that don’t follow Elon closely should know that this is an extremely young squad. In fact, roughly 75% of the Phoenix roster had 3 or more years of eligibility entering this season. That said, there are some young talented players emerging on offense for the Phoenix. Keep an eye on freshman WR Jeremiah Bridges, who has 10 catches for 157 yards and 1 TD this season. Also, while he hasn’t had a break out game yet this year, sophomore RB Malcolm Summers runs with purpose and power. Another sophomore, Corey Joyner, is also a threat at the WR position, but a concussion in week two against Charlotte will probably still have him sidelined this Saturday. Finally, junior RB Brandon Gentry leads the team with 12 catches and 2 rushing TDs on the year.”
What do you see as the biggest weakness on this year’s Phoenix defense? Who are some defensive players that W&M should keep an eye on?
“Depth and inexperience are two of Elon’s biggest weaknesses on defense. Elon will only be starting two seniors on Saturday (LB John Silas and CB Adrian McClendon) and have shown an early season trend of wearing down in the second half, (conceding 55 total points in the second half of games, compared to just 26 in the first half). Last week the team did hold Fayetteville State (NCAA DII) to just 3 points, but expectations are that W&M will really test the team’s depth as the game wears on Saturday night. The defense is lead by senior LB John Silas and junior LB Warren Messer (out with a knee injury for this game), who have 24 and 20 tackles on the year, respectively.”
What do you perceive to be the biggest overall strengths/weaknesses of this year’s Elon team?
“The biggest strength right now for Elon, as strange as it may sound, is probably its kicking game. Senior kicker John Gallagher is 6-6 on field goals and senior punter David Petroni has placed 5 of his 14 punts inside the 20. Both players are extremely reliable, (hopefully this doesn’t jinx them for Saturday). And while it’s not necessarily a strength at the moment, the youth and potential on both sides of the ball will certainly be exciting to watch develop through this season and into the future. The biggest weakness that Elon has shown this year is its inability to turn successful drives into points. The team ranks 5th in the CAA in total offense (357 yards per game), but 10th in scoring offense (15 points per game). This is likely a huge emphasis for the offense heading into Saturday. However, if they continue to struggle to get in the endzone, at least they have Gallagher who can get them 3 points.”
How do you predict Elon will finish this year? Any bold statements or win-loss predictions?
“After going 0-8 in its inaugural year as a member of the CAA, last year’s three CAA victories marked a huge step forward for the Phoenix and generated a lot of optimism for the immediate future. However, after a 1-2 start and the loss of starting QB Connor Christiansen to injury, expectations have been tempered a bit. Now in year three as Elon’s head coach, Rich Skrosky is still searching for his first true signature win and it’s not really clear when that could happen. It’s hard to find a game left on Elon’s schedule where they might be a favorite, but as Stony Brook proved last week against Richmond, anything is possible. Best case for Elon, they go 4-4 in conference play and finish 5-6 on the year, for its winningest season since 2011. Worst case, the team continues to struggle on offense and gets shutout in CAA play for a 1-11 record. Our prediction is that it will be somewhere between the two, with the Phoenix figuring out a way to steal a few wins en route to a 4-7 season that matches its win total from a year ago.”
Again, we at the W&M Sports Blog wanted to offer our thanks to Fight in Flight for this Q&A, and we look forward to doing more with them in the future!