2012 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 13.  The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and 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 roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Comments from Kevin Higgins at his weekly press conference

Mark Speir SoCon teleconference

Hey, read about The Citadel’s outstanding punter, Cass Couey. He likes to fish!

When The Citadel played Western Carolina last season, I wrote (among other things) the following:

The game against Western Carolina isn’t about a learning experience, or moving forward, or anything like that. There is only one goal for the matchup with the Catamounts, and only one acceptable outcome.  The Citadel must win this game.

That was true then, and it is true now, though the circumstances are not quite the same. The Citadel was 2-4 at this point last season, having lost two straight games, and played WCU on the road.

This year, the Bulldogs are 3-3, but have lost three consecutive contests, with the last two games being dispiriting affairs. The seventh game of 2012 will take place at Johnson Hagood Stadium, on Parents’ Day.

Last year, The Citadel took care of business against the Catamounts, winning 35-7. What about Saturday’s game?

First, let’s take a quick look back at last Saturday’s game against Samford. Yes, we have to do that…

I think at this point The Citadel is a known quantity on defense. It is a unit that has some limitations, including a lack of experience in key spots. To be fair, though, that was the concern heading into the season.

For example, I believe most people liked our starting linebackers but were worried about depth at that position. Now the Bulldogs have lost two of those three players for the season. That is a problem and will continue to be one for the rest of the campaign.

It doesn’t mean the defense is a lost cause; far from it. There is still talent on that side of the ball.

The main problem on D against Samford, in my view, was that the defensive line did not have a particularly good day, getting very little pressure on Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin, and not having much luck against the run either.

I think the d-line is better than that one game. That was certainly the case against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. It is also true that against Samford, the defense didn’t get any help from the offense, and that took its toll in the second half.

The offense’s play was the really disappointing thing about the game in Birmingham. It wasn’t the first time The Citadel had struggled offensively against Samford, though.

In three games against Samford since moving to the triple option, The Citadel is a combined 6 for 39 on third-down conversions. That is…not good.

Samford’s “bear” front basically forces a team to go outside or over the top to beat it. A team that is successful in doing so can break a lot of big plays. Georgia Southern couldn’t convert on third down against Samford either (0 for 10), but had three long touchdown runs. In the last three games against Samford, The Citadel has only had four plays from the line of scrimmage that went for longer than 20 yards.

In his weekly press conference, Kevin Higgins referenced both issues. I felt a little better after hearing his comments. The game plan, to me, appears to have been a fairly good one:

Our goal going into the game was to be aggressive…We went for it on fourth-and-one because we wanted to send a message out to our guys that we wanted them to play aggressive. We were fortunate to get the first down. The very next play we had a play-action throw, as Ben Dupree hit Matt Thompson for a 48-yard strike and we got some momentum going there.

We had two legitimate shots for touchdowns that we just didn’t throw the ball real well or we dropped it. We ended with six dropped balls on the day. Several of those being real tough catches, but we needed to make those plays. Additionally in the second quarter Dupree threw an interception off a scramble and that hurt us [it certainly did, as it was returned for a TD].

Third down conversions were not good…We didn’t do a good job at continuing drives, as we ended up going 1-14 on third-down conversions. If we would have moved the ball better in the first half, it would have taken pressure off of our defense.

That comes close to summing up the offense’s afternoon.

Before moving on to the Western Carolina game, a special teams observation. The Citadel had a field goal blocked against Samford, never a good thing, but paid back that mishap with its own field goal block a short time later. It was yet another rejection for special teams stalwart Domonic Jones. He also got a hand on a second Samford field goal attempt that eventually sailed wide.

In his last 17 games, Jones has blocked six punts and two field goal attempts (not counting the deflection against Samford). He blocked two punts against Jacksonville in last year’s opener, and would later block a punt versus Elon and another in the VMI game (of course, you had to take a number to do that against the Keydets).

Jones has burned Appalachian State in consecutive seasons, blocking a punt for a TD in both the 2011 and 2012 games against the Mountaineers. His first career block of a field goal attempt came this year and was a critical play in the Bulldogs’ victory over Georgia Southern (and may have influenced the Eagles’ other FG attempt, a last-second miss).

Blocking a kick every other game is rather remarkable, and while Jones has drawn some recognition for his kick-blocking exploits, I’m not sure he has really received his just due. I think the SoCon needs to consider adding a place on its all-conference team for a special teams performer who isn’t a kicker or return man. Jones would be an obvious candidate to fill that spot.

Times have been tough for the Western Carolina football program in recent years. If you need confirmation of that, all you have to do is look at the WCU game notes. I’ve seen a lot of releases over the years, but the folks in Cullowhee have apparently made a commitment to stating brutal truths. No sugarcoating is allowed, I guess. The lowlights include:

- An 18-game losing streak in SoCon play, which is the longest current streak of futility for any FCS team in its own conference. The last time Western Carolina won a league game? Well, it was the last time WCU played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

- That win over The Citadel in 2010 is also the last time the Catamounts defeated an NCAA Division I opponent, and the last time WCU won a road game.

- Western Carolina lost 20 SoCon games in a row from 2005-08.

- WCU has lost five straight games this season after winning its opener against Mars Hill.

- The Catamounts are 4-29 in their last 33 road contests, a stretch that dates back to 2005. WCU’s current road losing streak stands at 11 games, which is the sixth-longest such streak among FCS schools (Idaho State has lost a staggering 36 consecutive road games).

- WCU beat Mars Hill 42-14. The fourteen points allowed by the Catamounts marked the fewest points scored by an opponent since, you guessed it, the 2010 game against The Citadel (a 24-13 WCU victory).

- Western Carolina has lost 47 of its last 50 Southern Conference games. Two of the three victories have come against The Citadel.

On the bright side, most observers applauded Western Carolina’s selection of Mark Speir as its new head coach. Speir was a student assistant at Clemson during the latter part of the Danny Ford era in Tigertown. He then moved to Western Carolina for several years before three-year stops at Presbyterian and Elon. He had been on the Appalachian State coaching staff since 2003, and the recruiting coordinator for Jerry Moore since 2004.

Speir comes across (at least in the media teleconferences the SoCon puts out every week) as folksy, but not overly so. While listening to him this week, I was particularly impressed with a comment he made (basically unprompted) about this year’s Catamount squad:

I told [the WCU players] we are still here for this team, the 2012 team, to be a good football team, and we have five more opportunities to become a good football team…and our staff is not looking to next year, we’re looking [forward] to this week and the next four weeks…

That sounds like the opposite of, say, Charlie Weis. Being the opposite of Charlie Weis as a football coach strikes me as a good place to be (although Weis apparently has a great agent).

Speir clearly has his work cut out for him, though, especially this season. This year’s WCU outfit has been okay offensively, but on defense…not so much.

The aforementioned game notes actually include a paragraph entitled “Western Carolina’s Troubles With The Triple Option”. I couldn’t wait to read that section.

- Wofford rushed for 590 yards against the Catamounts, averaging over 8.5 yards per carry. Three Terriers rushed for over 100 yards.

- Georgia Southern rushed for 614 yards against WCU, averaging over 7.7 yards per carry. GSU had five different ballcarriers rush for at least 89 yards.

- You didn’t have to run the triple option to run on Western Carolina, though. Furman averaged 7.9 yards per carry in its victory over the Catamounts; the Paladins’ Jerodis Williams rushed for 239 yards on only 18 carries. Williams also added a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD.

- Samford running back Fabian Truss rushed for 180 yards against Western Carolina.

In that Samford game, though, Western Carolina actually had the lead in the fourth quarter before giving up 15 unanswered points and losing 25-21. Still, that level of competitiveness should get The Citadel’s attention.

WCU opened the scoring against Samford with a fumble recovery for a touchdown, one of three fumble returns for TDs the Catamounts have had this season. Maybe it isn’t the world’s greatest defense, but it appears WCU’s D is at least opportunistic at times.

Western Carolina runs a spread offense, not unlike that of Appalachian State. Eddie Sullivan has received the bulk of the snaps at quarterback, but Troy Mitchell will also see a lot of time. Against Georgia Southern, the two were interchanged for each other on almost every down, and occasionally were in the backfield together.

The Catamounts have several running backs; the two-deep’s listed starter, Michael Vaughn, has fewer rushing yards than three of the other RBs. Jacoby Mitchell is Western Carolina’s leading receiver, but keep an eye on 6’4″ freshman Spearman Robinson, a native of Greenwood.

There appears to be a bit of uncertainty on the left side of WCU’s offensive line, with both the LG and LT spots on the two-deep listed as an “or” situation. Josh Weinberg is a 260-lb. true freshman who will start at right tackle.

On defense, Western Carolina’s best player is linebacker/tackling machine Rock Williams, a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Randy Pressley isn’t listed as a starter at linebacker, but he made 16 tackles against Georgia Southern last week, including the Catamounts’ only tackle for loss.

WCU’s defensive line is not particularly large, as only two of the nine players on the depth chart weigh more than 265 lbs. and four of them weigh less than 250 lbs. The secondary is young; two of the starters are freshmen, and two others are sophomores.

Western Carolina punter Clark Sechrest is having a good year thus far. He presents a different challenge for Domonic Jones and company in that he is left-footed and can employ the “rugby style” of punting. He is also the backup placekicker. According to WCU’s website, he kicks field goals and PATs with his right foot.

The regular placekicker for WCU, Richard Sigmon, is 4 for 8 on FG attempts with a long of 45. He has had one kick blocked. Sigmon is also the kickoff specialist. Four of his 27 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Western Carolina’s punt return unit is not particularly strong. On kickoff returns, the long for the season for the Catamounts is 38 yards.

Tangent alert…

I need a ruling. Is Saturday’s game Parent’s Day (as noted on the school’s game preview) or Parents Day (on the website’s season schedule)? Actually, I think Parents’ Day would be more correct than either.

The press release from External Affairs refers to “Parents’ Weekend” throughout, except for (of course) the title of the release (“Parents Weekend”).

I’m going to go with Parents’ Day on this blog post. Yes, I know nobody cares.

What we really care about is the action on the field. The Citadel needs to win this game. It doesn’t really matter how, although I would personally be in favor of a blowout victory in which everyone gets to play a lot and the cadets all get overnights. Hey, I’m generous. Also, I remember Parents’ Day 1986 all too well. Not a good weekend.

There have been some good Parents’ Day games (the most famous being The Citadel’s 1950 victory over South Carolina), but lately things haven’t gone the home team’s way at what I call the “celebration” games — Parents’ Day and Homecoming. The Citadel has lost five consecutive celebration games.

Since 1953 (when the modern yearly Parents’ Day/Homecoming advanced schedule began), The Citadel has never lost six consecutive celebration games.

Incidentally, in none of those five losses did The Citadel wear its “traditional” uniform of light blue jerseys/white pants. Sure, that is just a coincidence. Still, perhaps Kevin Higgins’ Leadership Council can get together and appease some old alums while reversing a little karma. Just a suggestion.

I think the Bulldogs will win on Saturday, although I’m not overly confident. Nobody should be confident, given the results of the last two weeks. It is also worth pointing out that despite Western Carolina being a terrible football program for a number of years now, the Catamounts have won two of the last three games in this series.

WCU has players on its roster who know they can beat The Citadel. They will be more confident against the Bulldogs than any other SoCon team.

On the other hand, the stats don’t lie. League opponents have run the ball at will against Western Carolina. Saturday’s game is a good opportunity for Triple O’Higgins to put up some big numbers, and for the players to regain some lost confidence.

Perhaps the fans can regain some lost confidence as well.

Congratulations to all the seniors as they get their rings, with a gentle reminder that it isn’t over yet. There are still diplomas to be acquired.

Congratulations also to the freshmen who have made it to this benchmark. You still have a long way to travel, but you’ve survived the most stressful part of the trip.

I hope everyone has a good time this weekend. Let’s win this game.

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