2012 Football, Week 11: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel at Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 17.  The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Doug Chapman supplying the analysis. It can also 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

Furman game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show (following the game against VMI), Part 1 and Part 2

Kevin Higgins’ 11/11 press conference quotes

Bruce Fowler’s SoCon teleconference for 11/12

According to legend, the game between The Citadel and Furman had been each school’s regular-season finale for as long as the sun had heated the earth.

One dismal day, however, an evil wizard arrived. Certain seers from the Upstate claimed he had come from the land of Denison, but no one was sure. The wizard cast a terrible spell that moved the game to a non-November month. This horrible event happened two long decades ago.

Finally, after an incantation from the Magician of Monsey, the spell was broken. The game was shifted to its rightful place on the calendar. Surely, it will stay there forevermore.

– Excerpt from The Golden Book of Tall Football Tales, 2012 edition

The Citadel and Furman will close their respective 2012 campaigns on the gridiron this Saturday. There are people who believe the game should always be the season finale, and more than a few of them think that it always was until the last twenty years.

They are wrong about that, of course. I’ve pointed this out before, but it seems to be a very hard thing for some fans to grasp.

It’s not just fans, though. Furman’s sports information department has a blurb in its game notes that is titled “Back Where It Belongs” and includes this comment:

This year arch-rivals Furman and The Citadel will meet for the first time in the regular season finale since 1992, when The Citadel passed on a SoCon scheduling option for year-end traditional rival games. The option was put in place by the SoCon, which at the time was adjusting future schedules to accommodate the addition of Georgia Southern to the league.

I am less than impressed with this attempt by Furman’s SID to suggest that the series was usually played at season’s end until The Citadel ruined everything. The paragraph in Furman’s release is more than a little obnoxious. At any rate, the facts are simple:

– The Citadel and Furman have played 91 times; the two schools have faced each other every season since 1919 with the exception of three years during World War II.

– The game has been the regular-season finale for both schools 19 times.

That’s it. Those nineteen games were the sixteen games played between 1977 and 1992, and a three-year stretch in the mid-1960s (1965-67).

The matchup has actually been played more often in October (51 times) than in November (37 times). Three times it has been played in September, including the last two seasons.

Do I think playing this game in September is too early? Yes. However, I don’t think it needs to end the season, either. There isn’t a long tradition of it doing so.

Besides, these days it can’t end the season — not every year, anyway.

The Citadel is not going to host any game on the last weekend of the regular season (regardless of the opponent) as long as the current school academic calendar is in effect. The corps of cadets goes on Thanksgiving break on the Friday before the holiday. That wasn’t always the case, but it is now, and I suspect it will be for the foreseeable future.

There won’t be any regular-season home games scheduled without the presence of the corps of cadets. Next year’s pre-Thanksgiving weekend game is at Clemson; the week before, the last weekend the corps will be on campus, The Citadel is hosting VMI.

That doesn’t mean the game can’t be the season-ender when it is played at Furman, and maybe a good way to set up the series would be to have the matchup as the last game of the season in Greenville, and a midseason clash in Charleston.

That would be similar to the Notre Dame-Southern California series, which is traditionally played at midseason in South Bend and late in the year in Los Angeles.

I never liked having the game played at the end of the year because it was generally ignored by the state media in favor of the Clemson-South Carolina contest, which was played on the same day.

However, with the Clemson-South Carolina series moving to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, there is less chance of the game between The Citadel and Furman being lost in the shuffle, so I don’t have an issue with the game ending the season when it is hosted by the Paladins.

There is one other thing I would like to see adjusted, in terms of Furman and scheduling. Right now The Citadel plays Furman and Wofford at home in odd-numbered years and on the road in even-numbered years. I think that ideally the Bulldogs would make just one trip to the Upstate every year, and play one of those two schools at home each season.

Of course, all of those potential moves are subject to the whims of the SoCon office, which is just as likely to schedule Furman-The Citadel on September 14 next year as it is October 19.

Furman is 3-7, 2-5 in the SoCon. The Paladins have not had a lot of luck in close games, leading Kevin Higgins to state in his Monday press conference that “they are the best FCS team in the country with their record.”

There is a snakebit quality to Furman’s losses. The Paladins opened with a 24-21 loss at Samford when the Birmingham Bulldogs converted a last-minute field goal. Furman lost the next week at home to Coastal Carolina in triple overtime, 47-45.

Wofford beat Furman 20-17, with the winning points coming on a long TD pass in the third quarter. Last week, Appalachian State slipped past the Paladins 33-28, with the difference being two second-half Mountaineer field goals.

Furman hasn’t been very lucky. Truthfully, though, it hasn’t been all that good either.

The Paladins are next-to-last in scoring offense in the SoCon, and seventh in the league in scoring defense. That’s not a combination that generally leads to winning seasons.

Furman is balanced on offense , perhaps more so than any SoCon team other than Chattanooga, but it is not a particularly efficient passing team (seventh in the league) and does not pick up a lot of first downs (also seventh). FU is last in the conference in third down conversion rate and red zone offense.

The Paladins are next-to-last in the league in defensive pass efficiency, allowing more passing yards than any team in the conference. How much that really matters against The Citadel is open to question. Furman’s games against the other triple option teams in the league may provide an answer.

Against Wofford, Furman did a good job containing the Terriers’ run game (303 rushing yards, 364 total yards) but allowed that aforementioned touchdown pass (52 yards).

That solid effort came on the road. At home against Georgia Southern, Furman gave up only 275 rushing yards, but got burned through the air on a couple of occasions, including a 75-yard TD strike.

Furman is the league’s best team when it comes to returning kickoffs, but is last in the conference in punt return average. FU is next-to-last in net punting (though well ahead of last-place Elon in that department).

The Paladins are -5 for the year in turnover margin, the worst mark in the SoCon.

Perhaps the statistic that best defines why Furman is 3-7 is fourth quarter scoring. The Paladins have been outscored 91-26 in that period. Furman’s opponents have a slight advantage in the third quarter as well, offsetting the Paladins 110-64 edge in the second quarter.

I haven’t seen any of Furman’s games, but it makes me wonder if the Paladins have issues with line play as the game progresses. It suggests a lack of depth. I could be completely misreading that, of course.

Furman’s best player is running back Jerodis Williams, who was impressive in last year’s game against The Citadel and will be a major problem for the Bulldogs’ D this year as well. Williams is tough, hard to tackle, and has good speed too.

He is the reason Furman leads the SoCon in kickoff return average, as he has taken two kicks back for touchdowns this year (each for 100 yards). One of those TD returns came last week against Appalachian State. Williams’ understudy at running back, Hank McCloud, is also a talented player.

Reese Hannon is a true freshman from Greer who has started most of the season for the Paladins. He has completed 61.6% of his passes this season, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is not a running threat in the Paladins’ offense.

Kevin Higgins mentioned Furman had “excellent speed” at the wide receiver position, but the Paladins will miss their leading receiver, Will King, who is out for the season due to injury. Furman does have an outstanding tight end, Colin Anderson, and that position has traditionally posed a problem for The Citadel in this series.

Furman’s best offensive lineman is left tackle Dakota Dozier, not to be confused with backup quarterback Dakota Derrick.

The Paladins have some fine players on the defensive side of the ball. Sophomore linebacker Gary Wilkins leads the team in tackles. Other players of note include defensive end Josh Lynn, safety Nathan Wade, linebacker Mitch McGrath, and backup lineman Ricky Lang (who has five sacks).

Backup safety Marcus McMorris has two return TDs this season, including a 95-yard fumble return that was the key play in the Paladins’ victory over Elon.

Placekicker Ray Early is 8 for 14 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 48 yards. He has also done the majority of the punting for the Paladins this year.

I don’t think The Citadel has much of a chance at a playoff berth even if the Bulldogs are fortunate enough to win in Greenville on Saturday. However, just in case the Mayans were right, I’ve made a checklist of sorts. It features games that would affect the Bulldogs’ (admittedly remote) chances of postseason play.

Obviously The Citadel must finish 7-4. The other “must” game, from the Bulldogs’ perspective, is Samford-Kentucky. The Wildcats have to win that game. I wouldn’t bet on it.

Here are the remaining games to watch. The teams Bulldog fans want to win are listed first:

VMI over Liberty
New Hampshire over Towson
Lafayette over Lehigh
Old Dominion over James Madison
William & Mary over Richmond
Delaware over Villanova
Cal Poly over Northern Arizona
South Dakota over South Dakota State
UC Davis over Sacramento State
Charleston Southern over Coastal Carolina

I’m listing the CSU-CCU game even though it technically won’t affect the number of at-large bids available (don’t ask why, that would take three paragraphs) because a win by the Buccaneers would result in CSU finishing 6-5 (a really good achievement after going 0-11 last year).

That would result in The Citadel having a non-conference victory over a team with a winning record. Those aren’t always easy to come by. For example, of the six CAA teams battling for a playoff bid, only Villanova has beaten a team out of conference with more wins than losses. The Wildcats actually have two such victories (over Fordham and Penn).

It should be a nice day for a game in Greenville on Saturday. The preliminary forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 60 degrees, perfectly acceptable late-season football weather.

I don’t have any idea how the Bulldogs will play on Saturday, not that I ever really do. The Citadel has accomplished its major goal, a winning season. A playoff bid is a longshot. Finishing with a winning record in the SoCon (something Derek Douglas mentioned in the Monday presser) is something to shoot for, but not exactly a huge prize either.

Playing Furman means something, and I’m not trying to soft-pedal that (despite what the first part of this post may suggest). However, I’m not completely sure how much it means to the players. It may be a big deal to them; I don’t know.

I’m sure the game would be World War III if some of the alums on both sides had anything to say about it, but they aren’t the ones putting on the pads.

My guess is that the game will be spirited and intense on both sides, and close. It’s the last game of the year between two proud teams. There won’t be a lack of effort.

I’m looking forward to one more Saturday of gridiron action. One more round, you might say.

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