The Citadel at Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 6. The game will not be televised. The contest can be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze patrolling the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pregame, halftime, and postgame commentary. Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Samford.
Links of interest:
Some quick facts about Samford…
- Samford was called Howard College until 1965, when it became a university. In an effort to avoid being mistaken for Howard University, the MEAC school located in Washington, DC, the name was changed to Samford.
- While it is now in suburban Birmingham, Samford was originally located in Marion, Alabama. The decision to move to Birmingham (which happened in 1887) was far from unanimous, and among those staying in Marion was the school president, Col. James T. Murfee, who had in the post-Civil War era brought a military atmosphere to Howard College.
On the old Marion campus, Murfee founded Marion Military Institute, which is now a junior college and “The State Military College of Alabama”.
- Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961, one of only two such transactions involving a law school in the U.S., and the only one in which the law school moved across state lines.
(In case you were wondering, and I’m sure you were, the other law school to be bought and moved was the one at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington. It was sold and moved to Seattle University in 1994.)
- Samford played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, defeating Birmingham-Southern 9-0 on November 19, 1927. Samford also played in the first night game at Legion Field (in 1928), losing 12-7 to Spring Hill.
The school’s football team also played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico in 1954 and 1963. Samford discontinued football in 1974, but reinstated the sport ten years later.
- Samford’s athletic teams, like those at The Citadel, are known as the “Bulldogs”. Also like The Citadel, its cartoon mascot is called “Spike”. It even has a live mascot now, like the military college, but there the similarities end. Samford’s bulldog is a female named “Libby“.
- Bobby Bowden was 31-6 as head coach at Samford (his alma mater), and his son Terry was 45-23-1 at Samford before taking the top job at Auburn. He is now in his first season as head coach of Akron. Terry Bowden’s first quarterback at Samford was Jimbo Fisher, who succeeded Bobby Bowden as head coach at Florida State.
[Pat] Sullivan said [last week] that this [Samford] team was the best he’s had in his six years at the school. The Bulldogs had their best grades in the offseason and have united as one.
“I’ve been talking about this team since last January,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know how the rest of the year is going to come out, but what I do know is that these players and coaches have been on a mission. There’s been no hidden agendas. Everybody talks about one family and this has truly been one (family) this year.”
I’m not sure if people knew what to make of this year’s Samford team before the season started. The Birmingham Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth in the SoCon by both the media voters and the coaches, but there was (and is) clearly a lot of respect for several individual Samford players (eight of whom were preseason choices for first- or second-team all-conference).
This is a team with a lot of talented players. The question, I suppose, is whether Samford has enough depth across the board to be a contender for the league title. Currently, Samford is 4-1 after suffering its first loss of the season last week at Georgia Southern.
If you have followed SoCon football at all over the last few years, you know that Dustin Taliaferro had been Samford’s quarterback since 1916, when the team was called the “Baptist Tigers”. Okay, I’m exaggerating — but Taliaferro ran Samford’s offense for so long that opponents actually knew his last name was pronounced “Tolliver”.
Taliaferro has finally used up his eligibility for Samford, and his replacement at QB is Andy Summerlin, who is a fifth-year senior transfer from Memphis. So far, Summerlin has been solid, although he struggled at Georgia Southern last week. He is completing 62.9% of his passes, and has thrown for five touchdowns against four interceptions (one of which was returned for a TD in the GSU game).
Fabian Truss is an excellent running back. He rushed for 102 yards against Furman and 180 yards versus Western Carolina. He is also an outstanding kick returner. His backup, Jeremiaha Gates, is no slouch either; after Truss was injured against The Citadel last season, Gates rushed 12 times for 59 yards, and followed that up with a 119-yard effort the next week at Auburn.
Wide receiver Kelsey Pope should be a familiar name to fans of The Citadel, since Pope caught 17 passes in last season’s matchup in Charleston. One of the other fine wideouts on the Samford roster, Riley Hawkins, is also a very good punt returner.
Samford traditionally has a large offensive line, and this year is no different. The listed weights of the five projected starters on the two-deep: 285 lbs., 295 lbs., 285 lbs., 285 lbs., 315 lbs. The most highly regarded of that group is center Ryan Dudchock, a redshirt senior who has made 27 consecutive starts. Dudchock was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.
Last year’s offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, left to join Gus Malzahn’s staff at Arkansas State. From what I can tell, this year’ s offense is similar to what Samford ran in 2011, which was basically Malzahnish. Samford is averaging 74.6 plays from the line of scrimmage this year, almost the same hurry-up pace it had last season (75.6).
By way of comparison, The Citadel’s offense is averaging 60.8 plays from the line of scrimmage this season, after averaging 61.5 plays per game in 2011.
Samford’s play selection is very balanced, having so far this campaign rushed the ball 188 times while attempting 185 passes. Last year the Birmingham Bulldogs rushed 436 times and threw 396 passes.
The statistic that most correlates to winning and losing for Samford over the past season and a half is offensive rushing yardage. In ten victories, the rushing yardage totals have been as follows: 304, 160, 181, 348, 303, 113 (that was against The Citadel), 150, 227, 135, and 174. In five losses (not counting the Auburn game): 61, 34, 84, 92, and 63 (last week at Georgia Southern).
Samford runs the “Bear” defense against triple option teams. At his weekly press conference, Kevin Higgins described the defense:
The “Bear” front is basically when you cover up the center and both guards and then you have what we would call outside linebackers that are off of the offensive tackles…then out on the perimeter…when we bring our receivers in they are going to take their corners and press a little bit. They are going to take their “mike” linebacker and he’s going to be the guy to try to get from sideline to sideline because they keep him covered up as they cover [up] your five offensive linemen…their safety is also in the middle of the field, single high, and he’s going to be running hard on plays.
Higgins noted that the defense makes it harder “to get the B-Back going” because of the number of players on the inside.
Samford against the SoCon’s triple option teams over the past few seasons:
2010 The Citadel 119 rushing yards allowed (2.7 ypc)
2010 Wofford 360 rushing yards allowed (6.2 ypc)
2010 Georgia Southern 122 rushing yards allowed (2.4 ypc)
2011 The Citadel 248 rushing yards allowed (5.1 ypc)
2011 Wofford 443 rushing yards allowed (6.8 ypc)
2011 Georgia Southern 263 rushing yards allowed (5.4 ypc)
2012 Georgia Southern 360 rushing yards allowed (6.8 ypc)
In that game last week against GSU, Samford allowed touchdown runs of 41, 67, and 40 yards.
Nicholas Williams was a preseason all-conference choice on the defensive line. The 310-lb. DT is likely to be a key player in Saturday’s game, as is noseguard Jerry Mathis (who tips the scales at 292 lbs.). While there is beef in the middle, one of Samford’s starting defensive ends (Brinson Porter) only weighs 211 lbs.
Samford has a great deal of experience in the linebacking corps. All three starters are seniors. The aptly-named Keith Shoulders will have to shoulder a considerable load on Saturday at middle linebacker. His backup, Justin Shade, is the son of secondary coach Sam Shade, who some may remember from his days as a star safety at Alabama and in the NFL. The younger Shade may be a backup on the depth chart, but he recorded 63 tackles last season, second on the team.
The leading tackler last year was strong safety Alvin Hines II, another preseason all-league pick (on the second team). The other starting safety, Jaquiski Tartt, was merely the SoCon’s defensive player of the month for September.
Tartt already has 51 tackles this season (25 solo stops), along with two interceptions. He also returned a fumble 80 yards for a score against Georgia Southern.
Samford has very good special teams units. Earlier I mentioned Truss and Hawkins, both of whom are dangerous return men. The Birmingham Bulldogs also boast reliable placekicker Cameron Yaw and have a solid punter in Greg Peranich.
Last season’s game between the two teams turned on two blocked field goals by Samford (one by Hines). This year’s special teams battle will be a tough one for The Citadel.
Odds and ends:
- Saturday’s game will be Youth Day at Seibert Stadium. Any youth football player or cheerleader who attends the game in uniform will be admitted for free.
- Samford has won its last five games after a loss.
- Samford has just concluded a three-game road trip, one that ended with its players still in an exam period. Students at the Birmingham school began fall break on Friday.
- The Citadel is the least-penalized team in the Southern Conference (in terms of yardage) by a considerable margin. Samford has been penalized more (in terms of yardage) than any SoCon team, also by a considerable margin.
- Samford leads the league in the following categories: kickoff return average, kickoff coverage average, punt return average, sacks, interceptions, defensive pass efficiency, and turnover margin.
- With regards to turnover margin, Samford is currently at +7 and is on pace for a fifth consecutive year of a positive turnover margin (previous four years: +7, +9, +1, +14).
- The Citadel is next-to-last in the SoCon in 3rd-down conversion defense. That has to improve, as the Bulldogs D has to be able to get off the field. Not surprisingly given that stat, The Citadel is also next-to-last in first downs allowed (and also next-to-last in offensive first downs).
One way to improve The Citadel’s third-down issues on defense is to stop the run, something the Bulldogs have at times struggled to do so far this year. Against Samford, that becomes even more important. The Birmingham Bulldogs don’t have the true running threat at QB that is associated with a lot of teams that run the Gus Malzahn style of offense, but make up for it with their running backs.
Stopping those RBs on Saturday will be a difficult task, particularly with the loss of Carl Robinson for the season due to a knee injury. Ian Thompson will step into the starting lineup in Robinson’s absence; Yemi Oyegunle and Doyen Harris will also see more action, per Kevin Higgins. I hope they tackle well. I hope the whole team improves its tackling, for that matter.
One positive from last week’s loss to Chattanooga was the passing game, which was reasonably effective and efficient. Indeed, Triple O’Higgins is second in the league in offensive pass efficiency. As I wrote in my review of the UTC game, I think The Citadel should be in run-run-run mode when feasible, but I think the game against Samford may present the military college with an opportunity to call some play-action passes.
Saturday’s game at Samford is going to be a very tough assignment for The Citadel. It may be a challenge too difficult for the cadets to overcome.
On the other hand, it is also an opportunity. The team can essentially wipe away the disappointment of the UTC loss with a victory over Samford. If that happens, it also stamps The Citadel as a legitimate contender in the Southern Conference.
That isn’t something you could say about The Citadel in recent years. It would be nice to be able to say it this season.
One more round.