2013 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

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The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, August 31. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen 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.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

From last week: my preview of the upcoming season

It has numbers and stuff in it; don’t say you haven’t been warned…

Other links of note:

- The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell has a story on the upcoming game, a season preview, and a look at this year’s SoCon

- SoCon weekly release and Kevin Higgins’ SoCon media teleconference

- SoCon preseason media poll (The Citadel was picked to finish 6th) and coaches’ poll (6th again), and the league’s preseason all-conference teams

- My post on the CFPA watch lists, along with preseason FCS rankings from The Sporting News, Lindy’s, and Athlon Sports

- FCS Coaches preseason Top 25 poll, and The Sports Network’s preseason Top 25 rankings (also from TSN: its preseason FCS All-America teams and its SoCon preview)

- Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk interviews Kevin Higgins and the four team captains (Keith Carter, Derek Douglas, Ben Dupree, Brandon McCladdie)

- Also worth a listen: Kornblut’s interviews with Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell and three of CSU’s players

- AP preview of the Bulldogs (predicts The Citadel will finish 6th in the SoCon)

- Hometown articles on Ben Dupree and Sadath Jean-Pierre

- Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

Let’s talk about Charleston Southern…

When The Citadel and CSU met to open the 2012 campaign, the Buccaneers were coming off an 0-11 season, and it may not have been that good. Charleston Southern had changed its offense (essentially for the third consecutive season) and brought in a new defensive coordinator.

Despite all that, CSU actually led the Bulldogs 14-7 late in the second quarter, thanks in part to an ill-timed penalty and a series of fumbles (two of which The Citadel lost). Eventually the Bulldogs asserted their superiority and rolled to a 49-14 victory, but CSU showed flashes of a competitive spirit throughout the rest of its season.

The Buccaneers finished 5-6, a five-game improvement only bettered at the FCS level by Villanova (the Wildcats went from two wins to eight). Charleston Southern won four of its last six contests.

After the season, head coach Jay Mills announced his retirement. Named as his replacement was a former CSU assistant, Jamey Chadwell, who older Bulldog fans may remember as a quarterback at East Tennessee State in the late 1990s. Chadwell was a two-year starter at ETSU in non-consecutive seasons (his playing career was affected by a serious ankle injury).

Chadwell had spent the last four seasons as a head coach at the Division II level. He was the head coach at North Greenville for three years, leaving that job for the same position at Delta State.

The Statesmen (mascot: The Fighting Okra) were only 3-7 in Chadwell’s lone season in charge; prior to that, he had fashioned a 22-14 record at North Greenville, buoyed by an 11-3 record in 2011. That year, his quarterback was celebrated high school star (and former Clemson player) Willy Korn, who is now on Chadwell’s staff at CSU.

Mark Tucker, a former offensive assistant under Charlie Taaffe and Don Powers at The Citadel, is also on Chadwell’s coaching staff. As of August 22, so is former South Carolina (and NFL) linebacker Rod Wilson.

According to Chadwell in his interview with Phil Kornblut, Charleston Southern’s offense this year will feature a spread option look “in the gun”. The Buccaneers will run the ball more than they did under Jay Mills.

Chadwell wants to have a more balanced offense and “get playmakers out in space”. His ideal is Florida circa Tim Tebow, though he acknowledged that incumbent Bucs QB Malcolm Dixon isn’t exactly the second coming of Tebow.

Dixon had his moments against The Citadel in last year’s game, throwing a TD pass and also running for a score. As Chadwell pointed out to Kornblut, Dixon is learning his fourth offense in four years as a college player.

CSU running back Teddy Allen rushed for 56 yards (on only 11 carries) against the Bulldogs last season. Allen was one of two Buccaneers to make the Big South preseason all-conference team.

Also expected to see action at running back is juco transfer Christian Reyes, an Oregon native who has gone to some schools with really cool names, like Rogue River High School and College of the Siskiyous (located in Weed, California). Despite only being on CSU’s campus since January, Reyes (who rushed for 1958 yards last season in junior college) was named one of the team captains for the Buccaneers.

Other Charleston Southern offensive players to watch include Larry Jones III (20.5 yards per reception last season) and wideout Donte Sumpter, a transfer from East Carolina. Starting tight end Nathan Prater is 6’8″; disappointingly, the native of Ninety Six wears jersey #81.

The Bucs have four starters returning on the offensive line, but Chadwell suggested on CSU’s website that some freshmen are battling for those spots.

Charleston Southern was a mediocre passing team last year, ranking 62nd out of 121 FCS teams in passing efficiency. That actually isn’t half-bad, considering CSU completed less than 50% of its pass attempts.

When the Bucs did complete a pass, it generally went for good yardage, resulting in a respectable 7.86 yards per attempt (and 12 touchdowns against 8 interceptions). The Bucs averaged 5.35 yards per play, which was middle-of-the-pack nationally (65th).

Arguably, CSU’s most ominous offensive statistic last season was its third-down conversion rate (30.34%), 11th-worst in FCS football.

Defensive back Elijah Lee was the other Buccaneer besides Allen to garner preseason all-league honors. Lee will be part of a defense that is switching to a 3-4 base after previously being a 4-3. I’m not sure how big an impact that will have on the way the Buccaneers defend the triple option, though.

The key player for CSU against the Bulldogs is likely to be 290-lb. noseguard James Smith. Other defenders of note include linebacker Calvin Bryant and defensive end Will Hunt.

Last season the Bucs’ D topped the Big South in yards per pass attempt, allowing only 6.38 per attempt. Charleston Southern was 32nd nationally in pass efficiency defense.

However, CSU was next-to-last in the league in rush yards per attempt (5.32) and rush yards per game (208.82), leading to a bottom-20 finish nationally in rushing defense. The Citadel rushed for 479 yards against Charleston Southern in last year’s contest.

Opponents averaged 5.7 yards per play against Charleston Southern; the Bucs ranked 81st out of 121 FCS teams in that category in 2012.

When considering CSU’s on-field performance, the yards per play numbers are particularly important due to pace of play considerations. Both CSU’s offense and defense were each on the field for about 62 plays per game last season, which for both units was the eighth-fewest in the entire division. By contrast, The Citadel averaged 63.7 plays per game on offense (15th-fewest nationally) and 66.5 on defense (26th).

Elijah Lee and a pair of freshmen are expected to feature as kick/punt returners for the Bucs. Kickoff returns were problematic for CSU last year, as the team finished with a KOR average of 16.67 yards, 8th-worst in FCS. Charleston Southern finished in the top 20 of FCS in kick return coverage, though the Buccaneers did allow a kick return TD against Jacksonville (on an onside kick that went awry).

Jacksonville also returned a punt for a touchdown against CSU, which finished 87th nationally in net punting. The Buccaneers only attempted five field goals last season, making three (with a long of 31 yards). Both CSU’s punter and placekicker return in 2013.

The Buccaneers were picked to finish fourth in the six-team Big South by a panel of the league’s coaches and media. Charleston Southern will open its home schedule next week against Shorter University. The game will kick off at 11:00 am, one of three CSU home games scheduled for that start time.

Jamey Chadwell told Phil Kornblut that the game versus The Citadel would be a “big challenge” and that “we know going in we’re the underdogs, and rightfully so.” Chadwell also said this:

We’re trying to take that step where we have respect in this state and this city [for our conference]…we’re hoping to go in and compete and establish our identity…if we control the things that we can, our effort and attitude, we think we can compete [with anybody].

Further evidence that Chadwell is going to play the ‘respect card’ in motivating his team for the game against The Citadel: he “favorited” a tweet about the line for the matchup (the Bulldogs opened at -25.5 points). You can bet Chadwell let his players know about that.

Things I’ll be keeping a close eye on this Saturday:

- Execution in the first half

The Bulldogs need to take charge on both sides of the ball while there is still cannon smoke wafting in the air, as opposed to a repeat of last year’s sloppy opening half. The center-QB exchange needs to be second-nature, the “mesh” should be clean, the pitches and passes accurate, the catches made, and the blocking sound.

The team mantra this season is “1-0″. I like it. I want to see the squad live up to it.

- Penalties, or a lack thereof

The Citadel led all of FCS football in the categories “fewest penalties” and “least penalty yardage” in 2011, and matched that feat in 2012 (tying for fewest penalties last year with Lehigh). In all of NCAA football, regardless of division, only Brevard committed fewer penalties per game than did The Citadel in 2012.

- Punting

The Bulldogs actually didn’t punt in last year’s opener. While it would be great to have that happen again, odds are against it. The new punter has some big shoes to fill. The punt return unit will also be under the microscope.

Also worth watching on special teams: The Citadel will have a new long snapper and a new holder (who, as it happens, was last year’s long snapper).

- Third down conversions

Last season the Bulldog offense had a third-down conversion rate of 40.44%. That rate needs to improve. While The Citadel was 50th nationally in that category, fellow SoCon triple option teams Georgia Southern and Wofford were 23rd and 26th in FCS, respectively.

It was actually more of a concern on defense, as Bulldog opponents converted third downs at a rate of 43.08%, only 85th-best in the division. That has to get better, especially when facing the likes of GSU and Wofford (and Chattanooga, which was 30th nationally in offensive third down conversion rate).

- Forced turnovers

I touched upon this topic as part of my season preview. Incidentally, stopping the run (a focus of the coaching staff this season) is a key element to both the defensive third down conversion rate and forced turnovers (because it puts opponents in obvious passing situations).

- Defensive playmakers

Last year, the key moment for the defense against CSU was a fumble forced by Chris Billingslea, who had a knack for being in the middle of game-turning plays like that one. Billingslea has graduated, and the Bulldogs need someone else to carry the big-play torch (or sledgehammer).

One of the more interesting comments from Kevin Higgins’ Monday press conference was about the defense, stating that “we have a little more depth than I anticipated, especially inside.” That was good to hear.

- Freshmen

The Citadel has quite a few freshmen (and redshirt freshmen) on the depth chart. They are going to get a chance to make a strong first impression. The wide receivers, in particular, may get multiple opportunities to shine.

- Attendance

Last year’s opener had a crowd of 14,264, a good turnout at Johnson Hagood Stadium by 21st century standards. Whether or not the team’s fine season last year will lead to improved attendance is debatable.

When I took a look at JHS attendance trends a year ago, the numbers suggested that the success of 2012 will not necessarily lead to bigger crowds for the 2013 campaign. Of course, that’s just the people who actually file into Johnson Hagood Stadium. For all I know, the tailgating scene will continue to expand.

There was an article in The Post and Courier recently that noted Clemson and South Carolina only share one home date this season, November 23. That is unusual. I am not sure how much it will impact The Citadel’s attendance.

Quite honestly, you can make an argument that there are three Saturdays this fall in which Johnson Hagood Stadium will be the site for the most interesting college football game held in the state: September 7 (the Wofford game), September 28 (Furman), and October 5 (Appalachian State).  I just hope the general public agrees.

It is also worth mentioning that the Charleston Riverdogs have a game at Riley Park on Saturday scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm ET — yes, the same time as opening kickoff at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Parking could be at a premium.

Tangent: that article in The Post and Courier also referred to The Citadel’s game at Clemson as a “tune-up” for the Tigers prior to Clemson’s game at South Carolina — not an “anticipated” or an “expected” tune-up, mind you…just a tune-up. I wasn’t very happy with the Charleston paper making a dismissive comment like that about the local team, and said so (via Twitter).

The writer did not seem to understand my point, but then he’s not really writing about Clemson from a Charleston perspective — he’s just writing about Clemson for the Charleston paper. There is a distinction, I guess.

I am reminded of the Columbia newspaper once infamously stating in its gameday feature page that the Gamecocks would win if “they show up”. That was for a game between The Citadel and South Carolina played in 1990.

I’m ready for some football. You’re ready for some football. The players are ready for some football.

Let’s play football.

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