Some observers predicted a drop off in Elon’s football fortunes when Coach Pete Lembo departed for Ball State.
In four years Lembo had resurrected the Phoenix program, making it one of the most respected in the Southern Conference with quarterback Scott Riddle as the anchor of the program.
Riddle, who set a SoCon career record with 13,264 passing yards, graduated and Lembo left for the FBS Cardinals who are off to a 3-1 start which includes wins over Indiana and Army.
Jason Swepson, the running backs coach at North Carolina State, was hired as Lembo’s replacement, and the Phoenix haven’t missed a beat.
Elon (3-1, 1-0) opened Southern Conference play last weekend with an 18-15 overtime win over The Citadel, the fourth straight season it has started 3-1.
Georgia Southern (3-0, 2-0) will put its No. 1 ranking on the line against the Phoenix at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Elon, N.C.
It will be the first time Elon has ever hosted a No. 1 ranked team, and it’s second ever meeting with a No. 1 team. Last year the Phoenix lost at then-No. 1 Appalachian State, 34-31.
Based on early results Swepson hasn’t made too many changes offensively in that the Phoenix still feature one of the top passing attacks in FCS.
`Junior quarterback Thomas Wilson leads the Southern Conference in passing at 283.2 yards per game. Wilson is hitting on 70 per cent of his attempts, having completed 99 of his 141 attempts for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns. He has been intercepted six times.
“He’s still a young quarterback,” Swepson said. “He’s got only five starts under his belt. There’s still a lot of teaching going on, and he’s getting better at protecting the ball.
“He’s thrown some interceptions and Georgia Southern is leading the conference in interceptions (five),” Swepson said. “We’ve had to do some things this week to give him a chance against an extremely fast defense, one that likes to strike.”
While the Eagles share the interception lead with Appalachian State and Chattanooga they also suffered a major loss when they lost safety Derek Heyden for the season after suffering a neck injury in last week’s 52-20 win over Western Carolina. Heyden had two of the five picks.
Wilson completed 26 of 41 attempts with eight different receivers catching passes last week against the Bulldogs..
Aaron Mellette is Wilson’s favorite target as he has caught 42 passes for 591 yards and four touchdowns. His 10.5 receptions per game easily lead the SoCon.
Wilson picked up a new target last week as Jeremy Peterson played in his first game of the season, and caught a game high nine passes for 88 yards.
This will also mark the second straight week Elon has faced an option team, and Swepson says that is good and bad.
“The good is that we played The Citadel first and got a chance to get a look at it,” Swepson said. “The bad is Georgia Southern has it on film."
“Georgia Southern has a few more wrinkles,” Swepson said. “We’ve got a young defense and it did a great job against The Citadel except for two long plays — a halfback pass and a long run. We’re growing as a team and as a defense.”