Game review, 2014: Gardner-Webb

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Shelby Star

Video from WCSC-TV, including interview with Mike Houston

Box score

It’s good to win, especially when the month of September is coming to a close and you haven’t won yet. The victory over Gardner-Webb was cathartic for both the team and its fans.

The Citadel did a lot of things right on Saturday night, but the Bulldogs weren’t perfect. I’m going to discuss a few things that could stand improvement when I preview the Wofford game later in the week.

Having said that, there were a lot of positives in this game, on the field and off. What follows are a few observations (and the usual assortment of motley pictures).

- I wrote this at the beginning of my preview of the Gardner-Webb game:

The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

The Citadel turned things around in the passing game by changing its approach at the beginning of the contest, throwing the ball on the first two plays from scrimmage. Gardner-Webb was caught flat-footed by the Bulldogs’ Air Raid attack, and before all the cadets had filed into the stands, The Citadel had its first lead of the season.

The Bulldogs averaged 12.4 yards per pass attempt, which will usually get it done. Aaron Miller’s second throw of the day went to Rudder Brown, who caught the ball and then crisscrossed the field for a 47-yard gain. That almost doubled the previous long reception of the season (24 yards).

Ten of The Citadel’s fifteen pass attempts came on first down. Indeed, the Bulldogs threw the ball 28% of the time on first down versus Gardner-Webb, twice as often as the first three games (14%). Breaking tendencies, anyone?

- Aaron Miller completed eight passes during the game, while his counterpart for Gardner-Webb, Lucas Beatty, completed 29. Despite that discrepancy, each quarterback completed passes to six different receivers.

I could describe that as an oddity, but it’s not. The Citadel may not throw the ball a lot, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs lack capable pass-catchers. There is considerable depth in that department.

- Through three games, opponents had converted 33% of their 3rd-and-long attempts against The Citadel’s defense, which was obviously too high a percentage. The Bulldogs did a much better job on Saturday, as Gardner-Webb only picked up one first down on seven 3rd-and-long situations.

G-W was 0-6 attempting a pass on 3rd-and-long (with three of those plays resulting in sacks by The Citadel). Gardner-Webb’s only successful 3rd-and-long conversion was a run by quarterback Lucas Beatty after he broke containment.

- It isn’t often a fan can be generally satisfied with his team’s pass defense when the opposing quarterback is 29-35 through the air, averages eight yards per attempt, and is not intercepted. That was the case on Saturday, however. Of course, recording ten sacks (and the accompanying 70 yards of lost yardage for G-W) does make a difference, especially when four of those sacks come on third down. Recovering a fumble on one of those sacks helps, too.

- There was one coaching decision during the game I questioned, although not for long. During the second quarter, Gardner-Webb began a possession at The Citadel’s 35-yard line after a fumble recovery-and-return (the fumble was bogus, but whatever).

After starting the drive with an incomplete pass, Beatty was sacked by the law firm of Thomas & Jeter on second down. That left G-W with a 3rd-and-18 situation.

On third down, a completed pass returned the ball to the original line of scrimmage. However, G-W was called for holding on the play.

Mike Houston then had the option of accepting the penalty, and setting up 3rd-and-28 from the Gardner-Webb 47; or declining the penalty and taking the result of the play, which would leave G-W with 4th-and-10 from The Citadel’s 35. He chose to decline the penalty.

I would have been inclined to take the penalty, myself. It was obvious Gardner-Webb would go for it on 4th down in that situation (Carroll McCray certainly wasn’t going to have his placekicker attempt a 52-yard field goal).

It would have been tough to decline the penalty, and then have Gardner-Webb pick up the first down. Ten yards wasn’t that unmanageable, either.

At least, that’s what I thought, and then on 4th down Tevin Floyd raced through the G-W offensive line and sacked the quarterback in 0.7 seconds. I immediately shouted, “Good decision, coach!”

Score one for Mike Houston.

- The 1960 throwbacks were a hit with the crowd. Very sharp. If you want to buy one, check out the auction.

I’ve been critical of The Citadel’s constant uniform tinkering in the past, but the helmet tweaking for Military Appreciation Day was excellent. You can see the uniforms up close in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery.

- I also appreciated the small (and not so small) touches for Military Appreciation Day, including the red-white-blue end zone motif. I thought that on the whole, the school did a very nice job on that front.

- Hey, the band played more than twice during the game! It was noticed, too.

There are still a few things to get worked out. Twice during the second quarter, the videoboard went into sound-explosion mode just as the band started to play, so a little more coordination is still needed.

I gather the band will need time to expand its repertoire, so it may be next year before the ideal is reached, but that’s okay. Baby steps.

They did play the theme from “Hawaii 5-0″, although I’m not sure everyone heard it. The acoustics at Johnson Hagood Stadium are a bit of an issue.

- I thought the freshmen were in good form on Saturday. Some (not all) of the upperclassmen weren’t quite as spirited.

One thing all the cadets (and other supporters) did like was the placekicking contest following the third quarter. There is nothing quite as enjoyable as watching a fellow member of the corps attempt a 35-yard field goal in his shined leathers.

I would advocate more cadet-oriented contests. There should be at least three such events during the game.

- In my opinion, the cheerleading squad makes a difference, and was badly missed during its hiatus. Also making a difference: the omnipresent Spike The Bulldog, surely the hardest-working anthropomorphic mascot in college athletics.

- Attendance was low, officially announced as 8,573. I think that was an accurate total.

There were a lot of factors at play: South Carolina played a home game at the same time, Clemson was on TV at the same time, the weather was threatening, Gardner-Webb didn’t bring many fans, and the home team was 0-3. That said, it was the smallest crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium I could recall since the Thursday night game against Benedict in 2004.

Improving home football attendance is just one of the many tasks for new AD Jim Senter, but it’s an important one. Longtime fans can remember when attendance at The Citadel’s home games was significantly higher.

In the game program on Saturday was a blurb with the headline “On This Day in Citadel Football History”, which noted that on September 27, 1980, The Citadel defeated UT-Chattanooga 29-13 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Attendance for that game was 18,345 — almost 10,000 more than showed up at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game exactly 34 years later.

Below are some pictures I took before and during the game. Some of them are actually in focus.

2014 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 27. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

- Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

- The Bulldogs must “stick to their guns”

- SoCon weekly release

- Big South weekly release

- Mike Houston 9/23 press conference

- Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

- Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray previews The Citadel

- American Sports Network affiliate list for two SoCon football games, worth a look for future interest (namely Chattanooga-The Citadel on 10/18)

Some statistics of note through three games:

- The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

- To succeed on third down, The Citadel has to be better on first and second down. The Bulldogs have faced 3rd-and-long (5 yards or more) no fewer than 26 times this season. That’s 60% of all third downs for The Citadel’s offense.

- Mike Houston was generally pleased with the defensive performance last week, and I can understand that. However (as I mentioned in my review), The Citadel did not force a turnover in that game or any other so far this season.

The defense needs to make more game-changing plays. The lack of turnovers and sacks (just three through three games) is a little troubling.

The Bulldogs’ secondary is guarding against big plays in the passing game, which I think is a good idea with this squad. That makes it all the more important for the front seven to pressure the quarterback, particularly on passing downs.

Opponents have had 21 3rd-and-long situations this year. They have successfully converted seven times. That’s too high (33.3%). Six of those seven conversions have come via the pass.

- This may surprise some people, given the number of times penalties have affected the Bulldogs this year, but The Citadel is tied for 12th nationally in the category of fewest penalties per game. The Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Gardner-Webb, is tied for 10th.

It’s not as much the number of penalties that have hurt The Citadel, it’s the timing of those infractions. The Bulldogs cannot afford drive-killing penalties. The margin of error for The Citadel is not nearly big enough to overcome those.

Speaking of penalties, while Mike Houston is restricted in what he can say about officiating, I’m not. The officials did not have a good game last week.

There were multiple bad calls, and most of them didn’t favor The Citadel. From a technical perspective, probably the most egregious error by an official was the pass interference call on Walker Smith, which appeared to have been made by the field judge. I have no idea what the official was thinking on that play.

The men in stripes were ACC/SoCon officials, so Houston is likely to see them again during the season, making it even more important that he not burn any bridges. I did like that in his press conference, Houston referred to the referee as “White Hat”.

“White Hat” was in charge for the 2012 Army-Navy game, while his compatriot with the interesting theory on pass interference worked last year’s Sugar Bowl. It makes one wonder if officials such as these who are assigned games outside the ACC don’t fully concentrate when calling FCS games.

Gardner-Webb started its institutional life as a high school, in 1905. By 1928 it had become a junior college; the school began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at UNC and NC State.

Gardner-Webb is closely affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 200-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. There are around 4,300 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Spangler Stadium, which is a 9,000-seat multi-purpose stadium. I mention that because The Citadel’s football team may be making a trip to Boiling Springs in the next few years, perhaps in 2016.

Head coach Carroll McCray is a Gardner-Webb alum with a lot of coaching connections familiar to Bulldog fans. He was an assistant under Sparky Woods at both Appalachian State and South Carolina, spent seven seasons as the offensive line coach at Samford, then took over the Austin Peay football program as its head coach for four years (2003-06).

McCray then served as Bobby Lamb’s offensive line coach at both Furman and Mercer, before replacing Jamey Chadwell as North Greenville’s head coach in 2012. After one year there, his alma mater hired him as its head coach.

Gardner-Webb was 7-5 in McCray’s first season in charge, with victories over both Furman and Wofford (along with a puzzling 27-9 loss to VMI).

This season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are 2-2. G-W has lost road games at Wake Forest and Furman (the game in which Paladins starting quarterback Reese Hannon broke his ankle). At home, Gardner-Webb has defeated Virginia-Lynchburg and Wofford. The 43-36 victory over the Terriers came last week.

In his Tuesday press conference, Mike Houston described Gardner-Webb as a “60-40” team in terms of its pass-run ratio. That’s about right in terms of yardage (56% of G-W’s total yards have come via the air), but the actual play calls have been very close to 50-50 (taking sacks into account).

Gardner-Webb rushed for 126 yards versus Wofford, but struggled on the ground against Furman (69 rush yards) and Wake Forest (77).

It is interesting (or perhaps curious) that the G-W defense was excellent against the run against the Paladins and Demon Deacons, more or less matching the opposing D, but allowed 322 rush yards to Wofford. In Gardner-Webb’s world, either both teams run the ball, or neither team runs the ball.

Gardner-Webb is led by quarterback Lucas Beatty, a fifth-year senior from Charlotte who has started 32 games for the Runnin’ Bulldogs during his career. This season, Beatty is completing 59% of his passes, averaging just over six yards per attempt, with five touchdowns versus two interceptions.

Beatty’s backup is a freshman, Tyrell Maxwell, who has seen limited action thus far for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. However, he has already rushed for 173 yards, and scored touchdowns against Virginia-Lynchburg, Wake Forest, and Wofford. A native of Cordova, Maxwell attended Edisto High School and was selected to last year’s Shrine Bowl.

The star offensive performer for G-W is senior wideout Kenny Cook, an imposing (6’4”, 218 lb.) target who caught 76 passes last season for over 1,000 yards and nine TDs. Cook, a native of Cross Hill, missed the Wake Forest and Virginia-Lynchburg games with an injured hamstring.

He returned against Wofford last week, catching six passes (one of which went for a touchdown). Cook will be a very difficult matchup for the Bulldogs.

Cook’s presence also allows more freedom for Beatty’s other passing targets. They include tight end Seth Cranfill, a 6’4”, 246 lb. redshirt senior who has two TD catches this year, and Deonte Swinton, another tall wideout (6’2”) who is also a redshirt senior.

Swinton is one of seven different Runnin’ Bulldogs with five or more receptions, as Beatty likes to spread the wealth. He’s not afraid to throw to his running backs, either.

One of those backs, Juanne Blount, was a preseason All-Big South pick after rushing for 1,040 yards during the 2013 campaign. He is yet another redshirt senior.

That is a recurring theme with Gardner-Webb. This is a team with a lot of experienced, older players, particularly on offense. Six of the offensive starters listed on the two-deep are redshirt seniors.

Another Runnin’ Bulldog trait is size. It’s a very tall, rangy team. Four of the starting offensive linemen are 6’4” or 6’5”, as are Cranfill and Kenny Cook. Juanne Blount is the only offensive starter under 6’1”. In addition to their size, the word “athletic” is thrown around a lot describing the majority of Gardner-Webb players.

The offense has 15 plays from scrimmage this season of 20 or more yards, ten passing and five rushing.

Gardner-Webb has taken a few hits on defense, including the loss due to injury of “spur” linebacker Chad Geter, who was leading the team in tackles after two games. Another injured linebacker, two-time All-Big South selection Tanner Burch, has yet to play for the Runnin’ Bulldogs this season.

Then there is defensive Shaq Riddick, who finished fifth in the voting for last year’s Buck Buchanan Award. Riddick would have been a fifth-year senior at Gardner-Webb this season, but elected to transfer to West Virginia for his final year of eligibility.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs are hardly bereft of quality defenders, however. From The Citadel’s perspective, perhaps the key player for Gardner-Webb is noseguard O.J. Mau, a 6’2”, 308 lb. rock in the G-W defensive line. Mau was a first-team All-Big South pick last year and is expected to contend for national honors this season.

He is still developing, too, as Mau will not turn 20 years old until the day after Gardner-Webb plays The Citadel. He is from American Samoa, and played in the 2012 Oceania Bowl, helping lead his team to a 93-7 victory over Australia.

Defensive end Tyler Hough-Jenkins is yet another large (6’4”, 274 lb.) redshirt senior. The other d-line starter is junior Jebrai Regan, a converted linebacker.

Aaron Cook, who plays the “bandit” position in Gardner-Webb’s 3-4 base defense, currently leads the team in tackles with 25. Cook is a sophomore. True freshman Jeffrey Pegues will start at one of the inside linebacker positions.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs do have some linebacking experience in the person of senior Donald Buie (taking over Geter’s “spur” role) and junior Azziz Higgins. Another player who should see action is redshirt freshman Quinton Patterson, a transfer from North Carolina State.

The defensive secondary is led by cornerback Ivan Toomer, who doubles as a kick returner for Gardner-Webb. He leads the team in pass breakups with four, and also had an interception return for a touchdown against Virginia-Lynchburg.

Toomer is one of seven different Gardner-Webb players with an interception (one each). The Runnin’ Bulldogs also have a fumble recovery (by yet another defender). Gardner-Webb has a +5 turnover margin for the season, and has scored 20 points off turnovers while allowing no points off its own turnovers.

It should be noted that three of those interceptions came against an overmatched Virginia-Lynchburg team (as did four of G-W’s nine sacks). Virginia-Lynchburg had a net rushing total of -21 yards versus Gardner-Webb.

The placekicker for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, Paul Schumacher, is a freshman from West Palm Beach, FL. He is 4-8 on field goal attempts, with a long of 29 yards. Redshirt sophomore Dustin Holder has been the punter, though Gardner-Webb’s two-deep suggests that South Carolina transfer Andrew Komornik is an option for the game against The Citadel.

Toomer and wideout J.J. Hubbard will handle kickoff return duties, with Hubbard also serving as the punt returner for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Hubbard returned a kickoff for a touchdown last season against Charleston Southern.

A few miscellaneous numbers:

- Gardner-Webb has outscored its opponents in the third quarter 33-10. I guess Carroll McCray can give a good halftime speech.

- The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a red zone offensive TD rate of just 53% (8-15), but have excelled defensively in the red zone, with a TD rate of 45% (5-11).

- I’m not sure I believe this, but according to Gardner-Webb’s statistical summary, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have picked up 15 first downs via penalty, while the defense has not given up a single first down by penalty all season.

Odds and ends:

- Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at The Citadel. The halftime show should be a good one, with the Charleston Police Department Pipe and Drums on hand, to be followed by The Citadel Chorale (fresh from rave reviews in Boston) singing “God Bless America”.

Players will wear a helmet sticker bearing the number “440”, representing the number of cadets who have died serving their country.

Incidentally, last Saturday was Military Appreciation Day at Gardner-Webb.

- During the first quarter, fans can have their picture taken with the coveted Silver Shako. Don’t miss the chance to get a selfie with the greatest trophy in all of sports.

- Bags and purses will be subject to search this week as part of a new security policy at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This might cause a delay in entering the facility, so keep that in mind. This may be a response to an incident at the stadium during the Sertoma Classic in August, when a teenager brought a gun to the game, then threw it in one of the end zones as he was running from the police.

- Players will be wearing 1960 replica jerseys on Saturday, honoring the 1960 team that won eight games, including the Tangerine Bowl. The jerseys will be auctioned off to raise money for the department of athletics. Let’s hope these uniforms won’t be judged as illegal, unlike last season’s uniform debacle (“Unigate”).

The Citadel badly needs a victory. Do I think the Bulldogs can get one this week?

It’s possible, but to be honest I’m not very confident. My confidence doesn’t matter, though. It’s the team’s self-esteem that matters.

I hope the Bulldogs expect to win on Saturday. I hope even more that they actually win.

Game review, 2014: Charleston Southern

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

School release

Box score

Brief comments:

- While I wasn’t surprised the Bulldogs lost, I was disappointed in how they played. They weren’t disciplined or sharp enough on Saturday night.

Special teams play reared its ugly head again, allowing a punt return TD (and was very lucky on the field goal, as it was tipped). Defensively, The Citadel allowed too many long third down conversions, including three of nine yards or more.

On offense, the Bulldogs were just 4 of 14 on third downs, not good enough for a triple option team, and evidence of a lack of success on first and second downs. Of the fourteen 3rd-down plays, eight of them were 3rd-and-7 or longer.

There were too many penalties, including multiple drive-killers (though I thought the Bulldogs were hosed at least twice by the officials on that front). The Citadel also had two lost fumbles, both costly.

- Speaking of turnovers, through three games the Bulldog D has yet to force one. No interceptions, no recovered fumbles (and only one forced fumble).

In addition, The Citadel only has three quarterback sacks so far this season. The Bulldogs have been credited with five pass breakups in 91 opponent pass attempts (5.5%). The lack of sacks and pass breakups goes a long way to explaining why Bulldog opponents are completing 71.4% of their passes.

By contrast, The Citadel has only completed 24.2% of its passes (8-33). The Bulldogs aren’t going to complete an exceptionally high percentage of passes in the triple option, but they must be better than 24%. Much better.

- I thought Mike Houston made a mistake early in the game. On the opening drive, with 4th-and-1 on the CSU 46, he decided to punt.

That’s not the percentage play, especially for the triple option offense. He let the visiting crowd down early with that call.

I’ll delve into a few more numbers when I preview the Gardner-Webb game later in the week.

Now I’m going to talk about (well, write about) the game location and future scheduling, since this has been a topic of discussion. I suspect not everyone is going to be happy with what I’m going to say.

I will preface what follows by stating the obvious: I’m not an insider. There may be more to this subject than I know. I would be shocked if that weren’t the case.

So, massive caveats and all that…

First, here is my preview of the CSU game from last week, which has some background: Link

Apparently as part of the two-year contract, The Citadel will not pay Charleston Southern any money for playing at Johnson Hagood Stadium next year. That is not a good enough reason to have made the deal, from my vantage point.

Charleston Southern presumably wants to play The Citadel on an annual basis, and home-and-home. The announced crowd for the game on Saturday was 7,954.

I think the actual attendance was probably closer to 5,500, which is nothing to apologize about, but not really that close to the 12,000-13,000 for the previous games held at Johnson Hagood Stadium. For the attendance to have been close to 8,000 fans, that would have meant at least 3,300 people would have been lined up (or in their cars/trucks) around the fence enclosing the track.

Also, that’s assuming there were 4,700 seats available at Buccaneer Field in the first place. I suspect it was more like 4,262, based on previous information released by the school.

There weren’t 3,300 people milling about around that fence.

Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell emerged from the locker room Saturday night wearing a smile and a T-shirt with a message.

“Charleston, it’s Southern’s City,” read the shirt…

…”In this city and for what we are trying to make with this rivalry, it’s big on that end,” said Chadwell.

This message was also sent in a Thursday column by The Post and Courier‘s Gene Sapakoff that might as well have been ghost-written by the CSU administration. He concluded his column by implicitly wishing for a Buccaneer victory on Saturday night, but I want to highlight this statement instead:

This is a good game for the Lowcountry and there is no reason it shouldn’t continue on an annual basis well beyond a scheduled meeting next year at The Citadel. It makes financial sense for a pair of cash-strapped programs 16 miles apart.

I think it’s debatable whether or not the matchup is a “good game for the Lowcountry”. That suggests the Lowcountry awaits the matchup with tremendous anticipation. There is nothing the Lowcountry really awaits with tremendous anticipation, with the possible exception of local school board meetings.

(It also seems at odds with Sapakoff’s insistence in recent years that what the Lowcountry is really desperate for is another Clemson-South Carolina baseball game at Riley Park, but that’s another story.)

However, let’s assume it is a good game for the Lowcountry. If that were the case, and if it “makes financial sense for a pair of cash-strapped programs”, then why would anyone want to ever play it at the much smaller stadium?

I estimate between 2,000-2,500 fans of The Citadel were at the game on Saturday. It was an exceptionally good turnout considering the circumstances (including threatening weather). If the game had been held at Johnson Hagood Stadium, there probably would have been about 9,000-10,000 Bulldog supporters.

I gather folks at CSU would prefer a regular, or at least semi-regular, home-and-home series (and if I’m wrong about that, I apologize in advance for making an incorrect assumption).

They would want it for recruiting, and also to erase the stigma of being “the red-headed stepchild” on a local level (Jamey Chadwell made that comment during the Big South teleconference).

I understand that. I also understand that if The Citadel tells CSU it only will play future games at Johnson Hagood Stadium, CSU may not be interested, especially if a much larger guarantee is not part of the equation. If it’s not in the best interests of Charleston Southern to play The Citadel only at JHS, then Charleston Southern shouldn’t play The Citadel there.

My position is simple. I care about what is best for The Citadel.

There are at least two major problems with playing at CSU, in my opinion:

1) Charleston Southern’s facility is simply not of Division I caliber

It does not benefit The Citadel’s football program to play a non-conference road game at Buccaneer Field. It is not beneficial to The Citadel in recruiting. It is not beneficial to The Citadel’s fan base.

The Citadel may have made a short-term financial gain by playing at CSU on Saturday, but school administrators should be thinking about the long-term impact on the football program.

I also want to repeat something I said on Twitter, which is that quite honestly Jamey Chadwell and his players deserve better than what they have right now in North Charleston.

2) The Citadel’s future scheduling is too restrictive to have an annual home-and-home series with Charleston Southern

This is something that doesn’t always get mentioned, so I probably need to explain it in some detail.

Next year, FCS schools will revert back to an 11-game regular season schedule. That will be the case until 2019 (when FCS teams can schedule 12 games, as was the option in 2013 and 2014). After 2019, there won’t be another 12-game schedule opportunity for FCS programs until 2024.

In 2015, The Citadel will play seven SoCon games and four non-conference games: home against Charleston Southern (the second game of the current contract), home against Davidson, and road games versus Georgia Southern and South Carolina.

Beginning in 2016, the number of SoCon games on the slate will increase from seven to eight, as East Tennessee State begins league play. That leaves three non-conference games per season. One of those three will almost certainly always be a “money game” against FBS opposition (unless those games come to an end, which I tend to doubt, but that’s another issue).

In 2016, the Bulldogs are tentatively scheduled to play at North Carolina. In 2017, The Citadel will play at South Carolina.

This leaves two games on The Citadel’s schedule each year. One of them has to be a “designated home game” — in other words, a game in which the opposing school does not get a return game at its place. That’s to ensure there are at least five home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium every season.

The other game is what I will call a “flex game”. It could be a non-conference home-and-home with another FCS school, or a matchup with another FBS program. While the latter possibility may not be as likely, there are scenarios in which The Citadel would gladly take a second FBS game (especially if it were against Army or Navy).

Charleston Southern could play The Citadel every year in the “designated home game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. However, it would not be in the best interests of The Citadel to hamstring its future scheduling by eliminating the “flex game” to play an annual home-and-home series versus CSU.

The Citadel needs the flexibility of that game to pursue opportunities that could be of significant benefit to the school and its football program, whether a “bonus” money game, a matchup with a service academy, or perhaps a home-and-home with a team outside the region.

While it is more expensive to play a home-and-home against an FCS school in another part of the country, there are important ancillary benefits to occasionally doing so. They include exposing the school to a wider audience, and reconnecting with certain parts of The Citadel’s far-flung alumni base.

I remember attending The Citadel’s game at Princeton. It was an excellent public/alumni relations event for the military college (even with the Princeton band’s, uh, involvement). I also remember the large contingent of Bulldog supporters who showed up for that contest, probably more than attended the game at Buccaneer Field on Saturday night.

Because of those considerations, among other things, I don’t see a home-and-home with CSU going forward as practical or beneficial for The Citadel.

Again, if Charleston Southern won’t play The Citadel without a home-and-home, I get that. I wouldn’t blame CSU at all for taking that stance.

I realize scheduling can be problematic. That is why ADs get paid good money — to solve those problems, and to do so in a way that is good for students, coaches, fans, and long-term program/school interests.

I didn’t take quite as many photos on Saturday as I usually do. I had trouble getting a good angle for the “action” shots, and of course I’m not a very good photographer as it is. Nevertheless, here are some pictures, mostly of dubious quality.

2014 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

The Citadel at Charleston Southern, a/k/a the Larry Leckonby Bowl, to be played at Buccaneer Field, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 20. 

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. The game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

In addition, the game will be streamed by the Big South Digital Network (link).

This preview will be broken up into two distinct parts: a review of the Florida State game, and the fallout from that contest; and a preview of the Charleston Southern game, including a discussion about the fact The Citadel is the road team on Saturday.

There won’t be as much statistical minutiae in this post as usual. There will be more commentary, though.

First, however, the links.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Charleston Southern game notes

Charleston Southern roster

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Mike Houston 9/16 press conference

Mike Houston on the weekly SoCon teleconference

Jamey Chadwell on the weekly Big South teleconference

Some observations about the Florida State game, followed by a few thoughts about the story that developed afterwards:

- Despite a rainy afternoon (and the threat of more thunderstorms to come), Doak Campbell Stadium was packed. Florida State had announced on Friday that the game was a sellout, and FSU fans (along with a hardy band of Bulldog supporters) showed up in a major way for the Seminoles’ home opener.

During an ESPN GameDay segment in which there was discussion about the day’s relatively high number of small school/big school matchups, Kirk Herbstreit moaned about FBS schools playing FCS teams, running off a list of reasons why those games should not be played. Included in his diatribe was a comment that “fans aren’t going to these games”.

Well, they went to one in Tallahassee, Kirk — just like they went to one at Clemson last season when The Citadel played the Tigers.

- Mike Houston wasn’t all that excited about facing Florida State (as I wrote about in my game preview). However, he clearly gave some thought on how to approach the matchup with the Seminoles.

The result was, in my opinion, an exceptionally well-managed game by The Citadel’s head coach.

It was always going to be a struggle for the Bulldogs to hold back FSU’s offense. However, The Citadel did a fine job of keeping Jameis Winston and company off the field, controlling the clock throughout the contest.

Florida State finished the game with only nine offensive possessions, and one of them began with only twelve seconds remaining in the game, so in effect FSU only had the ball eight times the entire night. The Citadel had the edge in time of possession by over seven minutes, which led to the Seminoles running 67 plays on offense (contrast that with, say, the South Carolina State-Clemson game, where the Tigers ran 93 plays en route to a 73-7 victory).

On Saturday night, Aaron Miller routinely let the play clock move under five seconds before receiving the snap from center. That was excellent game management.

- The Bulldogs were unafraid to run the ball on third-and-medium and third-and-long situations (a feature of Brent Thompson’s offensive philosophy for any game, not just this one), and it paid off on more than one occasion. That said, The Citadel actually passed the ball a little more often than I expected — and with some success. There may not be many teams that register two TD passes against FSU’s defense this season.

Aaron Miller threw the ball well after a couple of errant tosses at the beginning of the game. The pass to Alex Glover was of particularly high quality.

Okay, about the Victor Hill situation…

I agree with the “indefinite suspension”. Hill will not play this week against Charleston Southern, and I think that is appropriate.

Mike Houston may choose to reinstate Hill after this weekend, or he may wait another week or two. I’m on board with whatever decision Houston makes on that front.

I’ll be rooting for Hill when he comes back. He’s a good player, and is also a civil engineering major. He’s smarter than his comments made him out to be.

There are Bulldog supporters who disagree with the decision, believing that Hill should not miss any games at all. After all, he didn’t do anything. No FSU players were injured by illegal blocks (as noted by, among others, Jimbo Fisher). Hill just talked (or rather, typed).

My response to that viewpoint (which I understand) is that while Hill didn’t hurt any FSU players, he did hurt his teammates, his coaches, and his school.

The Citadel’s football program (and by extension, the college as a whole) got roasted in the days immediately following Hill’s ill-advised post. Even though it wasn’t true, the less-educated elements of the mob reached a verdict: “dirty team”.

That is the kind of thing that can have a lasting effect, possibly for an entire season. If you’re Mike Houston, and you’re trying to establish a program, you cannot afford to have your offense labeled in such a fashion two games into your tenure.

Triple option teams are constantly having to defend their reputations against “cut block/chop block” naysayers. Hill’s comments won’t help. I’m sure the Bulldogs will be called for several imaginary chop blocks during the SoCon season, just because officials will be looking for penalties, even when they aren’t there.

That’s why Hill’s suspension was justified. It was based on what is best for The Citadel.

The hysterical rantings of the much-mocked “FSU Twitter” horde were not a factor. That is a good thing.

Opinions from various members of the FSU fan base ranged from laughable (demanding an NCAA investigation and the “death penalty”) to scary (a poster on SBNation’s FSU site openly wished that Hill’s family would get killed in a car accident; that comment was quickly deleted by the moderators, along with other odious statements).

There is a reason #FSUTwitter is a frequently-used hashtag (and not a complimentary one). A few wannabe trolls even tweeted at me.

Those encounters tended to confirm that a lot of fans don’t know the difference between a cut block and a chop block. One determined Seminole supporter even produced a photo, claiming it showed an illegal block (it didn’t, of course). I have to wonder how much football some of these people actually watch.

It was amusing to watch the column on my Tweetdeck application devoted to “Citadel” mentions, as seemingly desperate FSU fans would constantly tweet the same thing over and over to various college football writers and personalities, demanding attention (or a reaction) and some sort of frontier justice. One goofball even called Tim Brando’s SiriusXM program to whine, only to be more or less eviscerated by Brando and Tony Barnhart.

Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed. Jimbo Fisher’s comments probably helped in that regard, to his credit.

This week, the shoe has been on the other foot for Florida State fans, thanks to the continuing misadventures of Jameis Winston, who seems to be an unusual combination of immense talent, charisma, and complete obliviousness.

A video of Winston appearing to punch a Bulldog during the game didn’t get much traction (despite the efforts of a bunch of Clemson fans on Twitter, basically mimicking the actions of FSU twitterers from the week before). However, Winston’s bizarre (not to mention offensive and vulgar) shouting near Florida State’s Student Union certainly did. He’ll miss the first half of the Seminoles’ game against Clemson.

That may not matter, though it should be pointed out that after Winston left the game against The Citadel, the Bulldogs scored four times as many points as FSU…

Now, about the Charleston Southern contest:

The story surrounding the game this week is as much about where it is being played as it is the action on the field.

Will The Citadel’s fans go to the game?

…there is some question as to exactly how enthusiastic Bulldog fans are about making the trip to CSU Stadium, located in North Charleston off U.S. Highway 78 near Interstate 26. The Citadel ticket office sold just 170 of the 530 tickets it received from CSU for consignment, returning 360 to Charleston Southern. The Bulldogs also received 250 complimentary tickets for the 6 p.m. game.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m not sure of why that is,'” [The Citadel's director of athletics, Jim] Senter said of the returned tickets. “I’m not sure if people were not aware we had tickets to be purchased, or if people think it’s sold out, or if people think Charleston Southern’s stadium is too small to accommodate Citadel fans.”

To answer one of Jim Senter’s questions, I think it is highly likely that most Bulldog fans did not know the school had tickets available for the game. I know a few people who bought tickets from Charleston Southern as soon as they could, not knowing that The Citadel also was selling tickets for the contest.

As for Senter wondering if people think CSU’s stadium is too small to accommodate The Citadel’s fans: yes, people do think the stadium is too small. They think it is too small because it is too small.

CSU Stadium has a capacity of 4,000 seats, and Charleston Southern announced last week that it would add about 700 seats to the visitors’ side of the stadium, expanding that side to 1,628 seats and the total capacity to 4,700. CSU Stadium can also accommodate standing-room only crowds, which explains last year’s record of 6,135 fans for a game against Coastal Carolina.

CSU athletic director Hank Small said Tuesday that there is not a “sell-out” limit on the number of tickets available for Saturday’s game.

“We had very large crowds last year for our Charlotte and Coastal games and did not ‘sell out’ due to the fact that we will continue to sell general admission tickets,” Small said in an e-mail. “We have very large standing room areas that will accommodate general admission. People need to plan to arrive early to be assured of a general admission seat or to purchase a reserved seat.”

After reading Hank Small’s comments, I’m guessing a significant number of hardcore Bulldog supporters made other plans for this weekend.

The previous games between the two schools were played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with 12,000-14,000 fans in attendance for each of those contests. Now the game is being held at a 4,000-seat facility with a less-than-optimal parking/access setup and a brutally reviewed restroom situation. No one is going to be enthused about “large standing room areas”, either.

The administration at Charleston Southern probably anticipates (if not hopes) that many Bulldog fans will pass on making the trip. If the usual number of “regulars” (8,000-9,000) were to actually show up, it is hard to imagine the general infrastructure (and game management staff) being anything other than completely overwhelmed.

Incidentally, I’m not entirely sure the 4,000-seat capacity (to be increased to 4,700 for the game against The Citadel) is the “real” number. In a recent press release, Charleston Southern officials referred to “plans to add permanent additional seating over the next five years increasing stadium capacity from 3,562 to 5,320.” So is it 4,000 or 3,562?

That leads to another question, a fairly obvious one: why is this game being played at Buccaneer Field now? Why not at least wait and attempt to host the game after the next phase of stadium expansion is completed?

There is little argument as to what benefit The Citadel gets out of playing this game away from Johnson Hagood Stadium. It gets no benefit.

This game should have been played at a stadium capable of holding the usual number of fans who would have attended it. The fact that it is not is considered by many loyal Bulldog fans to be a metaphorical slap in the face, one administered by Larry Leckonby, the former AD at The Citadel.

The fact Leckonby left his position a few months later (giving the impression he already had one foot out the door when he scheduled the game) also doesn’t sit well with some observers.

All that being said:

I would urge Bulldog fans to attend this game. The reason to go to this game is to support the players and coaches who will be representing The Citadel. They deserve our support, and our presence.

Will fans have to make some adjustments? Yes. Check out the parking situation carefully before starting your drive. Make a quick trip to a place with a restroom before arriving.

(From the linked review of the facilities, which was from last year’s heavily attended game against Coastal Carolina: “On the visitor side, there are no plumbed bathrooms. Rather, the university brings in approximately fifteen port-a-johns and one larger bathroom ‘truck’…found both the [truck] toilet and faucet to be inoperable.”)

Prepare to be as patient as possible when it comes to anything and everything, especially with the threat of bad weather (bring your poncho). Keep in mind that CSU’s campus is alcohol- and tobacco-free.

Put on your light blue clothing and gear, and go to the Larry Leckonby Bowl. Go, and bring as many friends and family members as you can, and cheer like crazy for the Bulldogs.

Charleston Southern’s starting quarterback at the end of last season was Daniel Croghan, who started the final six games of the season for the Buccaneers after Malcolm Dixon was injured. Croghan was 5-1 as a starter, including wins over Charlotte and Coastal Carolina.

This year, Croghan is the backup quarterback, with UAB transfer Austin Brown taking over as Charleston Southern’s top signal-caller. Brown started fifteen games over two seasons with the Blazers, including a win over Tulane his freshman year in which he threw for 409 yards.

Brown played the first three quarters for the Buccaneers in their season-opening romp over Point (final score: 61-9). He went the distance in CSU’s 16-10 victory against Newberry, and played all but three series in Charleston Southern’s 34-10 win versus Campbell.

In the game against the Camels, Croghan played the third series of the first half, and the sixth series of the second half.

For the season, Brown is completing 60% of his passes, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt, and has thrown six touchdown passes against one interception. Brown can also run the ball (a necessity for a QB in Jamey Chadwell’s spread option offense). He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and had a 50-yard run against Campbell.

Christian Reyes returns as the primary running back for the Buccaneers. Reyes had 92 yards in last season’s game at Johnson Hagood Stadium, probably more than any other native of Rogue River, Oregon has ever had against the Bulldogs.

Tangent: Rogue River is such a great name for a town/river. “Roundup at Rogue River” could be the title of a Louis L’Amour novel.

Ben Robinson is the “change of pace” back for CSU. While Reyes is a fairly big running back (218 lbs.), Robinson is 5’7″, 175 lbs.

They run behind an offensive line with a good deal of experience, led by right guard Clayton Truitt. CSU also returns last year’s starters at center and both tackle spots.

Charleston Southern has experience at slot receiver with Alex Cruz and Nathan Perera, the latter having been injured for most of the last two years. Also returning: 6’8″ tight end Nathan Prater, who already has two touchdown receptions this season.

As I did last year, I would like to complain about Prater’s jersey number (81). Prater is from Ninety Six, South Carolina. How can he not wear #96?

Talk about a missed opportunity. Bill Voiselle would be very disappointed.

The other wideouts are less experienced, but do have big-play potential (Jared Scotland has three receptions for 20+ yards, including a 52-yard TD against Newberry).

CSU normally plays a 3-4 base defense, but is liable to change things up against The Citadel’s triple option attack, as do many other defenses. Last year CSU used multiple fronts throughout the game against the Bulldogs.

The Buccaneers have experience and depth along the defensive line. Notable performers include end Dylan Black and noseguard James Smith (who is listed as a co-starter on the depth chart with Isaac Lowrance, the latter having started the first three games of the season).

The linebacking corps attempts to confuse its opponents by featuring linebackers Zac Johnston (the middle ‘backer, #25) and Zach Johnson (the “spur”, #22). I bet the sports information staff at CSU can’t wait until those guys exhaust their eligibility.

Zach Johnson is backed up by freshman Bobby Ruff, whose father Brian is arguably the greatest football player in The Citadel’s long gridiron history.

Weakside linebacker Aaron Brown had a very good game against the Bulldogs last season. He currently leads the Buccaneers in tackles through three games, with twenty.

The “bandit”, Gabe Middlebrook, went to West Ashley High School, where he was All-Region in tennis. There are not a lot of Division I starting linebackers who can claim to have been All-Region in high school tennis.

The secondary features veteran free safety Demaris Freeman, a redshirt senior. Freeman leads a group that in general is not as experienced as the other units for the Buccaneers. Starting strong safety Davion Anderson is a freshman.

Charleston Southern returns its punter from last season, Truett Burns, who did a good job last season placing kicks inside the 20. So far this season, four of his thirteen punts have been downed inside the 20, though his average yards per punt (31.9) needs to improve.

Placekicking appears to still be a work in progress for the Buccaneers, with David Kennedy now designated on the depth chart as the starting placekicker, and Bryan Jordan handling kickoffs for CSU. Both are freshmen who went to Summerville High School (though Jordan turns 22 years old in December).

Long snapper Joseph Smith is a native of Easley, but he actually started his collegiate career at Delta State, where his coach was Jamey Chadwell. When the coach took the Charleston Southern job, Smith returned to his home state to continue his football career with Chadwell.

It’s hard to get a handle on how these two teams compare with one another. A statistical summary of the season thus far is probably pointless, because Charleston Southern has yet to play a scholarship Division I program, while The Citadel has played Coastal Carolina and Florida State.

It must be said, however, that Newberry is a solid Division II team (winning nine games last season). Mike Houston suggested that Newberry could hold its own in the SoCon. At the very least, the Buccaneers have had one good test.

All of CSU’s games so far have been at home, and all at night under recently installed lights. Meanwhile, The Citadel has played one home and one road game and didn’t play at all last week (Charleston Southern played on Thursday night).

Those opening four home games, by the way, are a first for a Big South team. No other school in that conference has ever hosted its first four games of the season.

A few other odds and ends:

- Derrick Freeland Jr., a freshman from Charlotte, is expected to start at right tackle for the Bulldogs in place of Victor Hill. It will be the first time Freeland has seen action for The Citadel.

- The Citadel is tied with Wofford for the FCS national lead in rushing yards per game (304.0). However, the Terriers are averaging 6.08 yards per rush, while the Bulldogs are averaging 5.02 yards per carry.

One interesting note that ties into the rushing totals: The Citadel had 65 rush attempts against Coastal Carolina, the second-most in a game by an FCS team so far this season. The Bulldogs ran the ball 56 times versus Florida State.

- Charleston Southern currently leads all of FCS in total defense and is fifth nationally in scoring defense.

- In terms of time of possession, The Citadel is tied for 24th nationally; Charleston Southern is 30th. Last season, CSU led the nation in that category.

- The Citadel is one of five FCS programs that has yet to commit a turnover this season (please don’t let that be a jinx). Charleston Southern has only committed one turnover in three games.

- Somehow, the Bulldogs have fumbled ten times this season without losing any of those fumbles. It’s a freak statistic that won’t hold up over time. The Citadel has to do a better job of hanging on to the ball.

There are a couple of things at play for Saturday’s game.

Charleston Southern has set everything up for a showpiece victory — the home game, the ralliesthe parties, the publicity generated by a potentially large crowd (at least by Buccaneer Field standards), the inevitable bandwagon column by Gene Sapakoff, etc. School officials have been targeting this game as a major event ever since the announcement was made that CSU would be hosting it.

The Buccaneers want to dominate this game, and probably expect to do so (though the players and coaches aren’t dumb enough to publicly say so). They’ve seen the Sagarin Ratings. This is a team that by the end of last season was playing better than it was at the start of 2013, when it beat The Citadel.

Mike Houston knows that. He also knows that The Citadel could use a win.

This would be a very good week to get one.

Despite everything, I think The Citadel can pull it off. It’s time for these Bulldogs to show some bite.

2014 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina

Football.

Football!

FOOTBALL!

FOOTBALL!

The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, August 30. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the newly minted “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Florence/Darlington: WJMX 1400AM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Orangeburg: WORG 100.3FM
Sumter: WDXY1240AM/105.9FM

From two weeks ago: my sort-of-preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel. There are numbers in it.

Links of interest:

- Season preview from The Post and Courier

- The Sports Network SoCon preview

- Game notes from The Citadel and Coastal Carolina

- SoCon weekly release

- SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls

- Big South weekly release

- Big South preseason poll

- FCS Coaches poll

- Phil Kornblut (SportsTalk) interviews Mike Houston, along with Aaron Miller and Justin Oxendine

Coastal Carolina institutional quick facts:

The school opened in 1954 as Coastal Carolina Junior College, an extension of the College of Charleston. Soon afterwards CofC got out of the extensions business, however, and Coastal briefly operated as an independent JC.

In the early 1960s, Coastal Carolina was converted into a regional campus of the University of South Carolina. Coastal began offering four-year degrees in 1974, and the school became autonomous in 1993.

Enrollment has more than doubled in the last two decades. As of fall 2013, there were 9,478 students at Coastal Carolina.

Coastal Carolina first fielded a football team in 2003, hiring David Bennett to start the program. Bennett had been a successful head coach at Catawba, and he guided the Chanticleers to a winning record (6-5) in that first season. The following year, CCU went 10-1 and won the Big South Conference (which at the time had five football members).

Bennett won nine games at Coastal Carolina in each of the next two seasons, but then alternated five- and six-win campaigns in the next four years.

In 2011, his ninth season at the helm, CCU finished 7-4. That year, Bennett also became an internet sensation after making anti-feline comments at a press conference.

It would be Bennett’s last season as head coach of the Chanticleers. He was fired December 9, 2011:

[Bennett] was coming off a recruiting trip that took up most of his week. It goes without saying that Bennett had absolutely no idea what was about to happen later in the day. Bennett was supposed to attend the Mr. Football awards ceremony, but never got there as he was summoned to a meeting with Dr. David DeCenzo and Hunter Yurachek where he was relieved of his head coaching duties…

…CCU President Dr. David DeCenzo focused on dollars and cents and poor attendance as reasons for a change.

“Of the 125 FCS schools, our spending on football operations is easily in the top 20. With that investment, we expect to annually place in the top 20 programs, with sights set on competing consistently for the FCS playoffs and national championships. That is simply not happening. In addition, when you look at our record over the past five years, we have beaten only 3 teams that had winning records. Our attendance at games has fallen sharply; we sell about 50 percent of our available tickets. It is imperative that we find a way to create excitement around our program, attract more fans to Brooks Stadium, and increase our revenues to offset our expenditures.”

…Names will get thrown around during Hunter Yurachek’s search for the next Coastal football coach. Sources [say] that one name that will be a target for the next CCU coach is Gamecocks assistant coach Steve Spurrier, Junior.

Well, I guess some sources are better than others. As a matter of fact, Coastal Carolina’s next head football coach had met with the school president (and was apparently offered the job) before Bennett was actually fired:

The university president, having generated his own ideas about what makes a successful coach, and having read media reports about a retired chief executive officer turned United Football League coach named Joe Moglia, and having heard that Moglia recently moved into his community — a prosperous subdivision of Pawleys Island known as Prince George — sent Moglia an e-mail.

“Hello from a Neighbor in Prince George,” the university president wrote in the subject line.

Two weeks later, the university president and the multimillionaire met for breakfast at a restaurant called the Eggs Up Grill. Afterward, the university president seemed convinced he had found his man. Three weeks later, the school held a press conference at which it announced the firing of David Bennett, who had gone 63-39 in nine seasons at Coastal Carolina University.

Not surprisingly, the coaching change (and the circumstances surrounding it) did not go over well in some quarters.

Joe Moglia’s story is now fairly well known (and has already resulted in at least one biography), but just a quick recap:

  • Grew up in New York, went to Fordham
  • After graduating from Fordham, spent eight years coaching high school football in Pennsylvania and Delaware
  • Was then a college coach for six years at Lafayette and Dartmouth (defensive coordinator when the Big Green won two Ivy League titles)
  • Left coaching for the financial world; worked at Merrill Lynch for 17 years, rising through the ranks (became head of municipal lending)
  • CEO at TD Ameritrade from 2001-2008
  • Unpaid assistant/”advisor” at Nebraska for two years, basically shadowing Bo Pelini
  • Head coach of the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks for one season
  • Named head coach of Coastal Carolina in December 2011; 20-8 record in two years (winning the Big South both seasons)
  • May or may not be a billionaire (sources vary), but at any rate he can afford to pick up the check

Moglia’s transition from coaching to finance to coaching again has fascinated a lot of people in the national sports media, and as a result he has been the subject of a number of profiles. USA Today‘s Dan Wolken seems particularly enamored with the coach’s background, but Moglia has also come to the attention of ESPN and Sports Illustrated (among many other outlets).

While part of Moglia’s job description is to sell people on the promise of Coastal Carolina, sometimes it appears that the relationship is the other way around — that Coastal Carolina is selling people on the promise of Moglia. It’s very much a two-way street.

Incidentally, Moglia is not just the head football coach at Coastal Carolina. His official title is Head Football Coach/Executive Director of Football. He is also the Chairman of the Coastal Carolina Athletic Division. I am not quite sure what being Chairman of the Coastal Carolina Athletic Division entails, but I assume it doesn’t affect his current status as Chairman of the Board for TD Ameritrade.

At the Big South’s Media Day, Moglia was asked by interviewer Mike Hogewood why Coastal Carolina has been so successful over the last two seasons. Moglia started his response by saying:

“I think it really begins with a philosophy. There are a lot of teams that have a lot of rules. We actually don’t have any rules in our program. We have a mission, to put a team on the field that Coastal is really proud of…”

Moglia went on to explain his “Be A Man” mantra. It’s not that he doesn’t have any rules; he has “a standard”. It’s really just semantics. Still, he might be better served not to begin answering a question by saying his program doesn’t have any rules.

Moglia did something interesting during Coastal Carolina’s spring practice this year:

[Moglia] outlawed tackling during practice.

“We want to have a culture of being physically and mentally tough,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “Trying to establish that while not being as physical is something I had to learn.”

For a football lifer like Patenaude, the plan undercut the very foundation of his coaching philosophy, but Moglia sees tradition as an inefficiency in the marketplace. Learning is like investing, he believes. Information compounds the same as interest, growing geometrically rather than linearly, but injuries derail the system. This spring, injuries were the enemy, so Coastal’s players endured just 65 minutes of tackling — 15 in the first scrimmage, 20 in the second and half of the spring game.

Now, Moglia is wrapping up the spring by distributing the results of this madness, typed, printed and passed among the room full of once dubious coaches. The team ran 400 more snaps this spring than last. Injuries in the spring game were cut in half. Practices missed due to injury declined by 250 percent.

I think this is a good idea. It reminds me a little bit of the approach taken by legendary Division III coach John Gagliardi.

Having said that, the author of the article tried a little too hard for a tie-in with Moglia’s business career. “Inefficiency in the marketplace”, “Learning is like investing”, “Information compounds the same as interest”, etc.

Also, I’m going to assume that Moglia, who holds a B.A. in Economics from Fordham and an M.S. in Education from Delaware, and who was the CEO of a major online brokerage for seven years, did not tell the writer that practices missed due to injury “declined by 250 percent”.

Per Coastal Carolina beat writer Ryan Young, the limited-contact philosophy has carried over to fall practice, with CCU having had “a couple of hard-hitting days, but most aren’t intense contact.” I greatly appreciate Young responding to my question on the subject.

Coastal Carolina played South Carolina last season and lost 70-10, with the Conway school paid $375,000 for the game. CCU doesn’t face an FBS opponent this season, and won’t face one in any other season if Joe Moglia has anything to say about it:

I don’t understand, someone has to do a better job of explaining to me the advantage of playing FBS opponents. No. 1, they don’t pay you enough. Now, the FCS hasn’t figured that out yet, but they don’t pay the FCS enough. They’re playing a guaranteed game and they have 80,000 people in their seats – they probably make $4 million that day, so they don’t pay you enough.

No. 2, what happens if early in the season you have a shot at having a pretty good season, and just because of the physical differences you end up losing two or three of your best guys [to injury against an FBS team]? You lose your season. That’s an incredible cost.

I would rather see schools go out and do a better job of raising the money, or commanding a far greater premium from the FBS schools. I don’t see what the advantage is. I don’t see any advantage…

…I might help raise the money – and I’m not going to be a fundraiser – but if there are people out there that I think might be able to help us, I’m willing to make those phone calls because I recognize I’m the one who says I’m not crazy about the [FBS games]. But I’m not funding the [money]. And that’s accurate.

CCU dropped scheduled games against Clemson, Kent State, and Georgia Southern. Not many schools would be willing to go along with such a request by a coach, but then not many schools have a coach with the ability to facilitate a $5 million gift from a major bank (a bank that may or may not be affiliated with the company for which said coach is Chairman of the Board).

Let me again quote Coastal Carolina president Dr. David DeCenzo, at the press conference announcing the firing of David Bennett:

Of the 125 FCS schools, our spending on football operations is easily in the top 20. With that investment, we expect to annually place in the top 20 programs, with sights set on competing consistently for the FCS playoffs and national championships.

Indeed, Coastal Carolina has spent a great deal of money on its football program in recent years. A look at the Knight Commission’s spending database is instructive.

From 2006 through 2012, CCU increased its football spending on a per-player basis by 190%, to $60,557. The national FCS median increase was 45% ($31,213). The Citadel’s spending per player over the same time frame increased 4%, to a number ($31,640) very close to the national median.

Coastal Carolina’s per-player spending without including scholarship expenses increased 244% over the 2006-12 time period, to $42,332. The national median in this category in 2012 was $17,499 (a 36% increase). The Citadel’s spending without including scholarship expenses from 2006-12 actually declined 3%, to $15,262.

With that kind of monetary commitment, it’s fair to ask what the future holds for Coastal Carolina’s football program, and for its department of athletics in general. In May of 2012, the school’s Board of Trustees gave DeCenzo the authority to “take all actions necessary” regarding a potential conference switch.

The Board of Trustees asked DeCenzo in February to look into whether a potential move to another conference would make sense for the university. He said exploratory talks were held with the Southern Conference and Colonial Athletic Association.

“Those two seem to be potentially good fits for us,” DeCenzo said.

The school president seemed confident CCU could find a new home with relative ease.

If Coastal Carolina ends up leaving the league, there must be a conference who wants them. And President Dr. David DeCenzo does not think that will be a problem—at least facility-wise. “With the opening of the recreation, convocation center and what we are doing with the baseball and softball facilities, I think that makes us very attractive.”

The motion by the Board of Trustees was passed more than two years ago, but Coastal Carolina remains in the Big South. Conference realignment issues certainly affected both the CAA and SoCon (a combined total of nine schools departed from those leagues over the last two years), but despite all that movement, CCU didn’t land in either conference.

The “exploratory talks” with the SoCon and CAA referenced in the first article were presumably held between February and May of 2012. Based on those talks, DeCenzo and the Board of Trustees were obviously secure in going public with the motion.

Here is what I find interesting about that. Shadesof48, a blog devoted to William & Mary athletics, filed a Freedom of Information request to W&M for any information pertaining to conference realignment, including anything related to the CAA or the SoCon. The blog received emails from June of 2012 to April of 2013, mostly having to do with the CAA.

When I was going through the information for my own blog post on the subject, one of the biggest surprises (at least to me) was that Coastal Carolina was not mentioned in any of the emails. There wasn’t even a reference to the school approaching the CAA during that time period.

Among the schools that appear in the correspondence: Hampton, Fairfield, Appalachian State, UNC-Greensboro, Boston University, Davidson, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth, and Furman.

Elon, College of Charleston, Albany, and Stony Brook are all in the emails too — but not Coastal Carolina.

So sometime between February and May of 2012, Coastal Carolina held exploratory talks with the CAA. Beginning in June of that year and lasting at least through April 2013, though…nothing.

As for why Coastal Carolina wasn’t offered an invite to the SoCon last year, there are multiple reasons. Here are some of them:

1) Location, location, location

Some people think location is an advantage for CCU, but in terms of getting in the SoCon, it’s actually a problem.

The league already has three football-playing members in the state of South Carolina. While the conference is in essence a “bus league”, having four football schools in one small state would probably be one school too many.

CCU becoming a SoCon member wouldn’t provide any real benefit to Furman, Wofford, or The Citadel. It doesn’t do those schools any good to add another instate institution with significant differences in mission and resources.

One current advantage those three schools do have over Coastal Carolina: league affiliation. Why give that advantage up?

2) CCU’s long-term game plan

While it may not be fair, the reality is more than a few SoCon observers look at Coastal Carolina and think “Marshall II”, only with a billionaire football coach instead of George Chaump/Jim Donnan.

Coastal Carolina may not have hired Joe Moglia because it has the FBS in its sights. However, that is the perception in certain circles.

In the ESPN article I linked earlier in this post, Moglia was reported to have said that CCU had only achieved 75% of his vision. Not everyone is sure what the remaining 25% of his vision would be.

3) The SoCon membership dynamic

While the league has a few medium-sized public institutions and recently added another (East Tennessee State), those schools aren’t dramatically increasing in size. I think at this time the SoCon is content with a membership consisting of smaller private/public schools.

Hey, let’s talk about action on the field!

First, a comparison of the two teams in select statistical categories from 2013. The Citadel’s statistics are for conference games only (eight contests).

For Coastal Carolina, I debated what would work best in terms of illustrating team tendencies/strengths/weaknesses. I decided not to include the two games in which the Chanticleers were completely outclassed (South Carolina and North Dakota State). I also threw out CCU’s game against VMI, because quarterback Alex Ross did not play in that contest (not that it mattered much).

In other words, Coastal Carolina’s statistics below are for the 12 games started by Alex Ross in which the Chanticleers were competitive, which I think is a fair way to look at CCU’s 2013 season.

 

CCU The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 8.82 6.40
Offense yards/rush attempt 5.87 5.13
Offense yards per play 6.92 5.41
Offense points per game 43.75 24.25
Penalties per game 6.3 2.4
Penalty yardage/game 52.2 20.5
Offense 3rd down conversion % 55.7 38.2
Offense 4th down conversion % 100.0 59.1
Offense Red Zone TD% 80.0 50.0
Offense pass completion % 65.6 52.1
Defense yards/pass attempt 7.09 7.20
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.52 4.39
Defense yards allowed per play 5.64 5.47
Defense points allowed/game 26.0 23.25
Defense 3rd down conversion % 43.1 45.0
Defense 4th down conversion % 48.3 33.3
Defense Red Zone TD% 60.8 65.6
Time of possession 28:08 33:05

[CCU offensive coordinator Dave] Patenaude said he wanted his quarterbacks to complete 65 percent of their passes. “The tempo’s going to be dictated by you,” he said. “This is a quarterback-driven system.”

Patenaude would have been pleased with last year’s completion percentage, as the above table shows. Actually, a 60% completion rate appears to be good enough to make his system work.

Last season, Chanticleer quarterbacks completed over 60% of their passes in ten of Coastal Carolina’s fifteen games. CCU won all ten of those contests. In the five games where the completion percentage dipped below 60%, the Chanticleers were 2-3.

The tempo mentioned by Patenaude could be fast-moving at times. While Coastal Carolina averaged just a few more offensive plays per game last year than did The Citadel (70.3 for CCU, 65.2 for the Bulldogs), keep in mind that the Chanticleers’ time of possession was a lot less.

Coastal Carolina averaged 2.57 offensive plays per minute last season, significantly higher than The Citadel (2.03 per minute) or, for that matter, Mike Houston’s Lenoir-Rhyne squad (2.13).

In 2013, Alex Ross cemented his status as one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS division. For the season, Ross passed for over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns (against only nine interceptions), and added 540 yards and six TDs on the ground.

At Montana in the FCS playoffs, Ross was 16-21 for 202 yards through the air, and picked up an additional 123 rushing yards, as the Chanticleers beat the Grizzlies 42-35 in a “statement” win for the program.

His list of preseason accolades is long and Ross is considered a serious candidate for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the top player in FCS. He isn’t a big QB (6’1″, 205 lbs.), but he has a habit of making big plays.

Ross will have to work with a largely different cast of skill-position players on CCU’s offense. The Chanticleers are replacing a host of wide receivers and All-American running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (who rushed for 1,729 yards last season).

The new starting running back for Coastal Carolina will be Summerville High School alum De’Angelo Henderson, who rushed for 599 yards last season in a backup role (averaging 7.3 yards per carry) and who may be “the most exciting player on the field this season“. In 2010, Henderson was a finalist for South Carolina’s Mr. Football award along with (among others) Jadeveon Clowney, Everett Golson, Justin Worley, Brandon Shell, and current teammate Quinn Backus.

While the wide receiving corps will feature four players with experience, Coastal Carolina lost its top three pass-catchers from 2013, a trio that combined for 145 receptions and 18 touchdowns. The returning wideouts expected to fill the depth chart caught a total of 62 passes last season, seven for TDs.

CCU has a lot of depth at tight end, with four players who could be part of the rotation this season, including Thomas Pauciello (three TD catches last year).

The offensive line must replace two quality linemen, including left guard Jamey Cheatwood, a four-year starter and two-time All-Big South performer. Last year’s right guard, Mo Ashley, will move over to take Cheatwood’s spot on the left side, which leaves two new starters at guard and tackle on the right side.

One of the players expected to compete for a starting role, Georgia Tech transfer Morgan Bailey, is injured and not expected to play against The Citadel. It could be argued that the right side of the OL is Coastal Carolina’s only real point of concern entering the season.

Coastal Carolina’s defense is looking to improve on last year’s campaign. The unit took its lumps at times, particularly against the run. While tough games against South Carolina and North Dakota State could be excused, allowing 323 rushing yards to Charleston Southern was a different matter.

In that game, CSU controlled possession for over 40 minutes, including the final six minutes of the contest, holding off a CCU rally after the Chanticleers spotted the Buccaneers a 25-point lead.

There were other difficult moments for the CCU defense, including allowing Liberty to run up over 600 yards of total offense and 52 points (albeit in a double-OT game that Coastal Carolina eventually won). However, it was the game against Charleston Southern that may be of the most interest to The Citadel’s coaching staff, at least in terms of approach.

This year, Coastal Carolina has made some adjustments, according to linebacker Quinn Backus:

Some of the difficult concepts that we had in the past, they’re kind of simplified now. Or the concepts that were more difficult in the past, we got rid of them and [the coaches] kind of put the plays to our strengths. Checks that used to be like three calls, it’s like one simple call now. And little things like that [so] we can [play] rapidly and be able to play faster.

Backus himself doesn’t really need to make any adjustments. The native of Greenwood is the reigning two-time Big South Defensive Player of the Year and a legitimate contender for the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the top defender in FCS. Backus enters the 2014 season as the division’s active leader in tackles (314).

Other standout players on the Chanticleers’ D include safety Richie Sampson (who is currently battling an injury), cornerback Denzel Rice, and defensive end Calvin Hollenhorst.

Hollenhorst will be joined on the defensive line by Leroy Cummings, a transfer from Savannah State who has been “one of the most talked about players in preseason camp“.

Cummings is one of several transfers expected to see action for the CCU defense. Other newcomers who should be on the CCU depth chart include fellow DT Jabarai Bothwell (a transfer from Western Michigan) and defensive back Kyle Fleetwood (who was at South Carolina last year). Of the nineteen players on the Chanticleers’ roster who began their careers at junior colleges or other four-year schools, eleven are defenders.

Just a formation note: CCU tends to play two linebackers and three safeties, although that could change against The Citadel’s triple option. Then again, it may not.

Alex Catron was 10-13 on field goal attempts last season for the Chanticleers. He was the all-Big South placekicker. Catron made three field goals of 46 yards or longer last year, all on the road (including a 50-yarder against Charleston Southern).

CCU also returns its punter from last season, Austin Cain. He averaged just over 38 yards per punt in 2013, with 16 of his 56 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Cain is a good athlete capable of overcoming a botched snap (which he did against Hampton, running for a 25-yard gain) and executing a fake (a 25-yard shovel pass for a first down versus Liberty).

Devin Brown, one of Coastal Carolina’s wide receivers, is also a dangerous kick returner. He had a 95-yard kickoff return TD against VMI last year.

The Chanticleers were 16th nationally in kick return defense in 2013, allowing an average of 17.3 yards per return. CCU also finished in the top 20 in average punt return yardage allowed.

Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier has produced an excellent series of articles on each of The Citadel’s position groups. I see no reason to regurgitate similar information for this post; rather, I would encourage anyone interested to read Hartsell’s breakdowns of the quarterbacksfullbacks, slotbacks, offensive line (both stories), receivers, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, and kicking game.

Earlier in the post I linked my preview of The Citadel’s upcoming season. It focuses more on tendencies than specific players, and also delves a little into ball-possession/pace-of-play issues. Related to that, Mike Houston mentioned “tempo” as a key in the P+C preview, and there is also an interesting discussion along those lines late in Phil Kornblut’s interview of the coach.

Odds and ends:

- Coastal Carolina’s teams are known as the Chanticleers. The school wants to make sure everyone knows how to pronounce “Chanticleer”, so much so that a pronunciation explanation for the nickname is listed on two of the first three pages of the CCU football media guide.

The proper pronunciation is SHON-ti-clear. You may also hear Coastal’s athletic teams referred to as Chants (SHONTS) to shorten the Chanticleer nickname.

- Next season, Coastal Carolina’s football facility (Brooks Stadium) will have an artificial turf field — and the turf will be colored teal. Yes, a teal turf.

“It only made sense to be the first school in the country with a teal field,” [interim AD Matt] Hogue said.

Okay, then.

- In the Grantland article I linked earlier that profiled Joe Moglia, writer Michael Weinreb made a reference (in a footnote) to “Coastal Jersey”. That’s because, while 54% of CCU’s enrollment consists of South Carolina residents, the state with the next-highest number of students at the school is New Jersey (7% of the total enrollment).

There are almost three times as many CCU students from New Jersey as there are from neighboring North Carolina. There are also more than twice as many students at the school from both New York and Maryland than North Carolina.

Based on the CCU media guide’s numerical roster, 68% of Coastal Carolina’s football players are from out of state. Almost one-quarter of the Chanticleers are from the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast corridor (Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts).

At The Citadel, 51% of the corps of cadets is from South Carolina (as of 2013), while 48% of the Bulldogs on the current football team are from the Palmetto State.

- Coastal Carolina’s interim director of athletics, Matt Hogue, was formerly the Chanticleers’ radio play-by-play announcer. This year, Joe Cashion (previously the sideline reporter) will call football games for CCU.

Cashion is a public affairs officer for the South Carolina Air and National Guard. He missed most of the 2010 football season while deployed in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Cashion wrote a preview of the upcoming CCU season for the Palmetto & Pine Sports Network.

- For a CCU preview from the perspective of a conference opponent, I recommend Liberty beat writer Chris Lang’s look at the Chanticleers: Link

- After last year’s “Unigate” situation, with The Citadel’s players forced to change jerseys after warmups for the Furman game, the last thing the military college needed was another uniform to be deemed illegal. Fortunately, that didn’t happen:

The Citadel’s plan to include the words “Honor, Duty, Respect” – the motto of the military school – on the back of football jerseys this season meets NCAA rules, school and Southern Conference officials said Wednesday…

…In the NCAA rulebook, Rule 1-4-5 says that other than the player’s number, the jersey may contain only the player’s name, school name, NCAA logo, sleeve stripes, the American and/or state flag and a logo for the school, conference, mascot, postseason game, memorial or the military.

The rule also states: “By interpretation, only military service academies may substitute words such as Honor, Integrity, etc., for the player’s name on the back of the jersey … civilian institutions may not substitute other words for the player’s name.”

For purposes of this rule, The Citadel is considered a military service academy, said Jack Childress, coordinator of officials for the Southern Conference.

The interpretation lacked a little clarity in its reference to “military service academies”. When that was added to the fact The Citadel is by nobody’s definition a “civilian institution”, the Bulldogs were (correctly, I believe) allowed to wear the uniforms.

- As of Sunday night, at least one establishment in Las Vegas lists Coastal Carolina as a nine-point favorite.

It’s hard to have a good sense of what might transpire on the gridiron when it’s the opening game of the season. My own (undoubtedly faulty) analysis:

- I think The Citadel’s front seven on defense has the athleticism and intelligence to hang with Coastal Carolina’s high-powered offense. It won’t be easy, but Mitchell Jeter, Carson Smith and company should be able to ask some questions of CCU’s reconfigured offensive line.

- I am not as sure about the Bulldogs’ revamped secondary. There could be some issues in the defensive backfield, particularly given that the defense is expected to be considerably more aggressive this season.

That’s why it is imperative The Citadel gets pressure on Alex Ross. If the Bulldogs don’t do that, it could be a long day at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Opponents generally did not succeed in harassing Ross and Coastal Carolina’s other signal-callers last year. Chanticleer QBs threw 397 passes but were only sacked 20 times.

- On the offensive side of the ball, I have confidence in Aaron Miller at quarterback. The receiving corps should be excellent, if not overly used as pass catchers.

- The Citadel should be okay at the B-back position. The decision by the coaching staff to return Vinny Miller to slotback was a good sign.

- Aside from Vinny Miller, the available slotbacks on Saturday are not all that experienced. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t talented.

I am more than a little curious to see Cam Jackson playing the position. At the very least, he’ll be a tall target for a pitch.

- The Bulldogs’ offensive line is a work in progress. I’m concerned about how much progress can be made by gametime.

The lack of seasoning on the o-line could really be a problem against CCU’s talented defensive front.

It’s a tough matchup for the Bulldogs to begin the season, but shirking from a challenge is not exactly the ethos of The Citadel. Just the opposite, in fact.

Like everyone else wearing blue and white, I’m looking forward to Saturday. Let’s get out to the stadium, have some fun, make some noise, and root the home team on to victory.

Oh! they rambled, they rambled.
They rambled all around.
In and out of town,
Oh! they rambled, they rambled.
They rambled ’till the Bulldogs cut ‘em down

Go Dogs!

2014 Football, The Citadel: a statistical review of the past in an attempt to foresee the future

Links to a few things I’ve written about The Citadel’s football program since last season ended, if anyone hasn’t seen them yet:

Secret memo to Mike Houston

Corps Day, spring football, and some Beautiful Bulldogs

Prime SoCon football recruiting areas

Improving the gameday experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium

What teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Competing for a Crowd

Jeff Hartsell writes about “five questions” Mike Houston will have to answer as fall practice begins

Another season of gridiron activity is just around the corner, and it can’t get here soon enough. The expectations for The Citadel’s football team in 2014 may be relatively modest, but that doesn’t reduce anticipation among supporters of the Bulldogs.

I’ll link to various SoCon previews scattered across the internet when I write about the season opener against Coastal Carolina. For this post, I’m going to take a look back at certain elements of offensive and defensive play from a statistical perspective. I’ll largely be comparing last season’s team at The Citadel to Mike Houston’s 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne squad.

The idea is to get a sense, at least in general terms, of how the new coach and his staff will approach things on the field. Obviously, there is a difference between FCS and Division II, but that doesn’t mean some basic concepts and tendencies won’t carry over.

It may not be optimal as the basis for a preview, but I’ve got to hang my hat on something. I’m used to ill-fitting caps, anyway (I wear a size 7 3/4).

All of the statistics to follow (unless otherwise noted) are based on conference games only, both for The Citadel and Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bulldogs played eight games in 2013 against SoCon foes. As a reminder, those opponents were: Wofford, Western Carolina, Furman, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, UT-Chattanooga, Samford, and Elon.

Lenoir-Rhyne is a member of D-II’s South Atlantic Conference, and played seven league games versus the following schools: Wingate, Tusculum, Brevard, Newberry, Mars Hill, Carson-Newman, and Catawba.

As it happens, Lenoir-Rhyne played Carson-Newman twice last season, once in regular-season conference play and once in the D-II playoffs, winning both games (though the postseason contest was much closer). For the purposes of my review, however, I’m only including the league game between the two teams.

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball in that situation in 2013. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2013, and that will be followed by The Citadel’s run percentage for that situation in 2012 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 92.1% (77.1%) [85.5%]

Thus, Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball on first down 92.1% of the time, while The Citadel ran the ball in that situation 77.1% of the time in 2013 and 85.5% of the time in 2012.

The differential was a bit surprising, but keep in mind that game status was a factor. Lenoir-Rhyne went undefeated in SAC play in 2013 and led after three quarters in all seven contests, on several occasions by significant margins.

Meanwhile, The Citadel was 4-4 in SoCon play in 2013 and had to throw the ball more often than it wanted in some of those games as it tried to overcome a deficit. That doesn’t explain all the difference, but some of it.

As I wrote in my review of The Citadel’s 2013 campaign, the attempt to diversify the offense in spring practice/preseason simply backfired. The offense threw the ball on 22.6% of its plays. That percentage, for a run-first/second/third type of team, was too high.

Lenoir-Rhyne passed the ball on only 10.8% of its offensive plays in league contests.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories:

– 2nd-and-short: 90.0% (95.8%) [86.7%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 87.7% (87.8%) [93.6%]
– 2nd-and-long: 84.1% (75.0%) [80.9%]
– 3rd-and-short: 95.8% (85.7%) [100.0%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 93.1% (90.9%) [86.3%]
– 3rd-and-long: 71.1% (54.0%) [49.1%]

A further caveat to these numbers, in terms of playcalling, is that there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs.

Few teams can claim to have been as committed to the run as Lenoir-Rhyne was in 2013. Running the ball on 37 of 52 long-yardage third-down plays, as the Bears did in conference action in 2013, is very unusual in the modern game.

Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball in every 2nd-and-short situation it faced in its first six league games. In its final SAC contest, against Catawba, offensive coordinator Brent Thompson changed things up a bit, calling for three pass plays on 2nd-and-short. Those three plays resulted in an incomplete pass and two sacks.

Only once during the conference campaign did Lenoir-Rhyne attempt a pass on 3rd-and-short. It fell incomplete. I’m guessing that in 2014, Thompson will continue to call running plays most of the time in short yardage situations.

It should be noted that The Citadel did not fare any better the few times it attempted to pass on short-yardage plays. The Bulldogs attempted only four passes in 45 such situations in 2013 conference play.

The hope for throwing on 2nd-and-short or 3rd-and-short would be to surprise the defense and produce a long gainer. However, The Citadel was only 2-4 passing in short yardage, for a grand total of twelve yards. One of the incompletions was actually an interception in the Red Zone.

Lenoir-Rhyne averaged 6.09 yards per offensive play in SAC action, which included 5.81 yards per rush and 8.5 yards per pass attempt. Corresponding numbers for The Citadel: 5.41 yards per offensive play, 5.13 yards per rush, 6.4 yards per pass attempt.

The Bears averaged 73 plays per game and 12.1 possessions per contest (slightly more than The Citadel, which averaged 69.6 plays and exactly 12 possessions per game in SoCon play).

I wanted to mention the plays per game and number of possessions to correct a misconception, that of L-R running a “hurry up” offense. Lenoir-Rhyne ran a “no huddle” offense, but definitely not a hurry-up operation a la Oregon.

L-R had a time-of-possession edge of over seven minutes against its league opponents (33:38 – 26:22). That certainly was a benefit to the Bears’ defense (more on that unit later).

The primary benefit of the no-huddle look (at least from my perspective) was that it kept Lenoir-Rhyne opponents from freely substituting after each play. Each drive (for the most part) turned into an 11-vs.-11 battle, and clearly L-R thought that was to its advantage.

I do wonder if this particular strategy had its origins in depth issues, which could be more of a factor at the Division II level than in FCS. However, I get the impression that this coaching staff is not in the business of regularly rotating players, regardless of how many scholarship athletes are on hand.

I would expect starters to play most of the snaps this year at The Citadel, at least on offense. Among other things, it would be in keeping with Mike Houston’s stated desire to redshirt as many freshmen as possible.

Having said that, it is to the staff’s credit (and the players as well) that Lenoir-Rhyne advanced to the D-II national title game despite losing two quarterbacks to injury. Winning three playoff games with a third-string QB behind center was very impressive.

Also of interest: Brent Thompson called plays from upstairs in the coaches’ box during games at Lenoir-Rhyne, and is expected to do the same at The Citadel.

Next, a little game theory discussion, which I went into last year as well. I wanted to see how aggressive Kevin Higgins and Mike Houston were in fourth down situations.

Not included in these numbers: fourth down “desperation” or “garbage time” situations, and “accidental” fourth down tries. That means I’m not counting Eric Goins’ first down dash for The Citadel after he dropped a punt snap against Western Carolina. However, the excellent fake punt for a first down Goins ran against Samford does count.

Terms (as defined by Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

- On fourth down and two yards or less to go: Lenoir-Rhyne went for it five times in the Red Zone, successfully converting four times. On a sixth 4th-and-short situation inside the 20, the Bears kicked a field goal.

In the Front Zone, L-R went for it twice on 4th-and-short, making it both times. Lenoir-Rhyne punted on all three occasions it faced 4th-and-short in the Mid Zone (in each of those instances, L-R had the ball on its own side of the field).

In 2013, The Citadel went for it on two 4th-and-short situations in the Red Zone, converting once. The Bulldogs picked up a first down on four of five tries on 4th-and-short in the Front Zone.

Against UT-Chattanooga, The Citadel twice went for it on 4th-and-short in the Back Zone while attempting to hold a lead in the fourth quarter. Both times, the Bulldogs got the first down.

- On fourth down and three to five yards to go: Lenoir-Rhyne had one fourth-and-medium opportunity in the Red Zone in league play, against Brevard (a 41-0 blowout), and elected to kick a field goal in that situation. In the Front Zone, the Bears had six 4th-and-medium plays; twice L-R decided to go for it, and it went one for two picking up the first down. The other 4th-and-medium situations all resulted in field goal attempts.

Lenoir-Rhyne punted three times when faced with fourth-and-medium in the Mid Zone. Of those three situations, the opposing 49-yard line was the furthest the Bears had advanced the ball.

The Citadel had eight 4th-and-medium situations in 2013 SoCon play that took place in the Red, Front, or Mid Zones. Of four Red Zone opportunities, the Bulldogs tried three field goals and went for the first down once (failing to make it; that came on a fake field goal attempt). The Citadel was one for two in 4th-and-medium attempts in both the Front Zone and the Mid Zone.

- On fourth down and six or more yards to go: Lenoir-Rhyne attempted two field goals when faced with 4th-and-long in the Red Zone. In the Front Zone, L-R attempted three field goals. On one occasion, the Bears punted. That came against Brevard, on a fourth-and-14 from Brevard’s 39-yard line.

The Citadel faced 4th-and-long three times in the Red Zone, and attempted a field goal all three times. As mentioned above, the Bulldogs also attempted a conversion from the Back Zone on 4th-and-long, successfully executing a fake punt against Samford.

On two occasions last season, Mike Houston was faced with this scenario: his offense had the ball on the opponents’ 1-yard line, but there was only time for one more play before the end of the first half. Go for the touchdown, or kick a field goal?

This situation first happened against Tusculum, with Lenoir-Rhyne holding a 14-3 lead, five seconds remaining in the half, and facing third-and-goal from the 1. Houston elected to go for the TD — but the Bears got stopped, and didn’t get points or momentum.

A little over a month later, versus Carson-Newman (in the regular-season matchup), almost the exact same set of circumstances came to pass. Lenoir-Rhyne led 14-3 as halftime approached, and had the ball on the 1-yard line. In this case, six seconds remained in the half and it was 4th-and-goal for the Bears.

Did Houston decide to kick the field goal, mindful of the failure against Tusculum? No. He went for the TD again, and this time Lenoir-Rhyne punched it in for six points.

Lenoir-Rhyne punted three times last season in league play while in opposing territory. Those three instances: a punt from the Brevard 39-yard line on 4th-and-14 (mentioned earlier); a 4th-and-5 from the Brevard 49-yard line; and a 4th-and-19 from the Mars Hill 44-yard line.

The Citadel punted six times in SoCon action while on its opponents’ side of the 50. The Bulldogs did so twice against Furman (on 4th-and-9 from the Paladins’ 48-yard line, and on 4th-and-7 from Furman’s 42); once versus Appalachian State (a 4th-and-9 from the App 44-yard line); once against Georgia Southern (a 4th-and-6 from the GSU 45); once versus UT-Chattanooga (a 4th-and-6 from the UTC 43, with Aaron Miller originally lining up behind center and then punting the ball away); and once against Samford.

The only dubious “short field” punting situation was probably The Citadel’s punt in the Samford game, which came on 4th-and-12 from the SU 33-yard line. However, that occurred after a delay-of-game penalty; originally, it was 4th-and-7 on the Samford 28.

That happened with about five minutes remaining in the game and The Citadel holding a 28-20 lead. I think going for it would have been the correct decision in that situation, at least from the SU 28-yard line.

As it was, despite pinning Samford back on its own 9-yard line following the punt, The Citadel still allowed a TD drive. Fortunately for the Cadets, the potential tying two-point conversion attempt did not succeed.

Lenoir-Rhyne’s most-mentioned statistic from the 2013 season was its season rushing yardage. In fifteen games, the Bears rushed for a total of 5,563 yards, an all-divisions record. Even when considering they played fifteen games, that number is striking. Lenoir-Rhyne’s rushing yards per game led Division II as well.

However, when looking through L-R’s team totals, it is clear that a high-powered offense was far from the only reason Lenoir-Rhyne went 13-2. In fact, it may not have been the biggest reason.

Here is something that might surprise a few people: Lenoir-Rhyne did not lead the South Atlantic Conference in scoring offense in 2013. It also didn’t lead the SAC in total offense, or first downs made, or red zone scoring percentage, or red zone TD percentage, or even time of possession.

Last season, the SAC was a very offense-friendly league. Six of the eight teams averaged at least 27 points per game in conference play. Newberry allowed 22.1 points per game, and that was the second-best scoring defense in the SAC.

The best? That would be Lenoir-Rhyne, which allowed only 10.7 points per contest.

That is not a typo. L-R allowed fewer than half as many points as the league’s second-best defense.

Lenoir-Rhyne only allowed 4.25 yards per play last season. The Bears were particularly stingy against the run, only allowing 2.37 yards per rush. L-R gave up more than 2.7 yards rushing per play in only one of its seven league games (though it’s only fair to point out that sacks in college football count against rushing yardage totals).

L-R gave up 6.2 yards per pass attempt last year.

The Citadel’s defense improved its yards per play numbers in 2013, from 5.75 (2012) to 5.47 (2013). The Bulldogs allowed 4.39 yards per rush in 2013.

In terms of yards per pass attempt, The Citadel was actually a little better defensively in 2012 (6.5) than 2013 (7.2).

Note: the numbers that follow for passes defensed are slightly different from those I mentioned in last year’s season review. I have corrected a small statistical error from that post.

The Citadel defensed (broke up or intercepted) 26 passes in eight league games in 2013. Conference opponents threw the ball 204 times against the Bulldogs, so the PD rate was 12.7%. This was marginally better than 2012 (12.4%).

That’s not a particularly good percentage. Now, a fair-to-middling PD rate doesn’t necessarily mean a defense is mediocre; as I mentioned in my review, Michigan State’s defense was unquestionably superb, including its dynamic defensive secondary, and its PD rate was 14.4%.

If you aren’t breaking up or intercepting passes, you have to be doing something else. That something else sticks out in a major way when comparing The Citadel’s defense with Lenoir-Rhyne’s D in 2013.

I mentioned a few sentences ago that 204 passes were thrown against The Citadel’s defense in conference action. That is a similar number to what Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense faced. SAC opponents threw the ball 212 times against the Bears.

* Number of sacks by The Citadel’s defense, league play: 12

* Number of sacks by Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense, league play: 32

Lenoir-Rhyne had more sacks in its first two conference games (fourteen) than the Bulldogs had in eight SoCon contests.

Mike Houston likes to use the words “aggressive” and “attack”, and they appear to be good descriptors for his defensive philosophy. That is the key point I got out of reviewing Lenoir-Rhyne’s statistics, and also watching some of the action from the Bears’ playoff run.

Part of that aggression may have resulted in a few more penalties, though L-R did not commit that many infractions (6.1 per game in league play). Of course, The Citadel has led all of FCS in the “fewest penalties” category for three consecutive seasons, so six penalties per game for the home team might seem like a lot at Johnson Hagood Stadium this fall.

That way of playing worked out for Lenoir-Rhyne most of the time, obviously, but every now and then the Bears got burned. Mars Hill was only 3-8 last season, but stayed in its game against the Bears thanks to two long touchdown runs (77 and 81 yards) and a 34-yard TD pass.

In its playoff game versus North Alabama, L-R’s defense allowed touchdown passes of 71 and 48 yards. West Chester also scored on a long pass play (60 yards) to take the lead in its national semifinal against the Bears (only to see Lenoir-Rhyne score 30 unanswered points).

When an opposing team got into the Red Zone, Lenoir-Rhyne was very tough, allowing only a 46% TD rate (that number is for all games, not just conference play). At times, though, the Bears were susceptible to giving up a score before the other team actually moved the ball inside the 20.

Speaking of the Red Zone: The Citadel’s offense only scored touchdowns on 60% of its trips to that stretch of turf, a disappointing percentage (again, Red Zone numbers are for all games). Lenoir-Rhyne’s offense scored TDs 73% of the time when reaching the opposing 20-yard line.

The Citadel’s defense allowed touchdowns 67% of the time when the opponent moved inside the Red Zone.

A brief word on fumbles (these numbers are for all games):

- Lenoir-Rhyne put the ball on the ground 29 times in 15 games last season, losing 14. Defensively, the Bears forced 19 fumbles and recovered 10 of them.

- In twelve contests, The Citadel fumbled 24 times and lost 11 of them. On defense, the Bulldogs forced 17 fumbles, recovering 7 of them.

There isn’t really much to gather from that, other than in terms of being fumble-prone, the two offenses were very similar.

Just a couple of notes about Lenoir-Rhyne’s kicking game from last season:

- The Bears had a solid field goal kicker, which may have caused Mike Houston to go for field goals slightly more often than he otherwise would have, because he would have had a relatively high degree of confidence in his placekicker.

It’s possible Houston might be more aggressive in fourth-and-short and/or fourth-and-medium situations inside the 30-yard line this year, dependent on how much he wants to rely on the kicking game.

- In fifteen games, Lenoir-Rhyne only allowed 28 punt return yards, which was the fourth-lowest total in all of Division II. The Bears were 26th nationally in net punting, which suggests the coaching staff preferred allowing a minimum of return yardage at the expense of a certain amount of punt distance.

When it comes to getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014 football season, I hope this post has helped those who have read it in some small way.

Given the length of this missive, you might be under the impression that I am ready for football season to begin.

You would be correct.

Competing for a crowd: alternatives to the action at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2014

There are a lot of opinions on how The Citadel can attract bigger crowds to its home football games. I have shared more than a few of my own in the past.

However, the purpose of this post is simply to highlight some competition the school will face on each of its six home dates in 2014. It goes without saying that winning is a key factor in producing better attendance, but there is more to it than that.

Anyway, without further ado:

August 30 — The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina, 6 pm

South Carolina plays on Thursday night (August 28). Clemson plays at Georgia in an ESPN game that starts at 5:30 pm.

South Carolina State plays Benedict in Columbia at 5 pm, while Charleston Southern opens on Thursday.

Those are the nearest football options. Also taking place on August 30:

- Lowcountry Jazz Festival (North Charleston Coliseum)

Multiple jazz performers will be featured. Luckily for The Citadel, festival headliner Bobby Caldwell is performing on Thursday night. Since he will presumably be free on Saturday, perhaps Caldwell can team up with the regimental band at halftime for a unique rendition of “What You Won’t Do For Love“.

- Shrimp and Grits Chefs’ Competition (Charleston Visitor Center)

For $35 at the door, you can sample some of the cuisine. My suggestion: have some shrimp ‘n grits for lunch (or breakfast) instead, and then head out to the game.

September 27 — The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb, 6 pm

It’s a long time between the first and second games at home, isn’t it?

Clemson and South Carolina are both on home on this date, playing North Carolina and Missouri, respectively. Times have not been announced (which is the case for most of their games this season).

SCSU hosts Hampton at 6 pm, while CSU is at Charlotte.

Other events on September 27:

- Folly Beach Pier Tournament

The good news is that the tournament will be over by 2 pm, so you can get your fishin’ fix in and still make it to Johnson Hagood Stadium with time to spare.

- MOJA Arts Festival

It’s the 30th anniversary of this ten-day happening.

- Taste of Charleston

The main event takes place on Sunday at Boone Hall Plantation. Saturday night will feature catered food on Charleston Harbor. I’m sure you can find more edible fare in Johnson Hagood Stadium’s concessions area.

October 11 — The Citadel vs. Charlotte, 2 pm

This is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel. Rings ahoy!

South Carolina is off this weekend, while Clemson hosts Louisville.

Meanwhile, South Carolina State tangles with North Carolina Central in Orangeburg, and Charleston Southern is at Vanderbilt.

Horning in on the October 11 action:

- Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Music and Food Festival (Blackbaud Stadium)

This actually doesn’t look half-bad, though perhaps a bit expensive (admittedly, I’m kind of thrifty). The general type of music being featured isn’t really my cup of tea, but I’ve seen worse lineups.

If you must see Big Head Todd, Blues Traveler, and/or Bela Fleck, though, I’m sure they won’t get going until later in the evening, convenient enough when an afternoon football game is in the offing. Be sure to tell all your friends and neighbors the same thing.

October 18 — The Citadel vs. UT-Chattanooga, 1 pm

This game is being televised on the American Sports Network, which may or may not be available in your locale.

South Carolina hosts Furman, with that contest also kicking off at 1 pm. Clemson ventures north to face Boston College, a traditional banana peel of a game for the Tigers.

S.C. State is off this week. Charleston Southern is at home and plays Presbyterian at 3 pm.

Also of note:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

For $75, you can learn to fly fish, just like Brad Pitt.

November 8 — The Citadel vs. Furman, 2 pm

It’s Homecoming Weekend at The Citadel. All the cool people will be tailgating at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This year’s 25th-anniversary reunion features the Class of 1989.

Neither South Carolina nor Clemson play on this date. The Gamecocks are off for the week, while the Tigers play at Wake Forest on Thursday night.

South Carolina State is on the road, playing Florida A&M. CSU hosts Gardner-Webb, with that game starting at 11 am.

Other events:

- Charleston’s Veterans Day Parade starts downtown at 10 am. If nothing else, those going to the football game might want to make note of that. It should be over by around 11:15 am.

- Lowcountry Hoedown (Charleston Visitors Center)

This event runs from 7 pm to 11 pm and includes “Bourbon, Moonshine, BBQ, and Bluegrass”. Well then. Featured performers: Barefoot Movement (they don’t wear shoes, as you may have guessed) and Seven Handle Circus (an act that, oddly, appears to only include six musicians).

- YALLFest (American Theater ballroom, American Theater cinema, Charleston Music Hall)

YALLFest “is the largest and most renowned festival in the country specifically geared toward Young Adult and Middle Grade Literature, with over 5,000 international fans expected to attend.” A bunch of young adult author types will also be making appearances at this particular shindig.

The official YALLFest band: Tiger Beat. So, so predictable.

November 15 — The Citadel vs. Samford, 1 pm

Clemson, South Carolina, South Carolina State, and Charleston Southern are on the road this week. Their respective opponents: Georgia Tech, Florida, Morgan State, and Liberty.

Remaining in the Charleston metropolitan area:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

Yes, it’s back! It’s a monthly thing, and this is November’s scheduled date.

- Plantation Days (Middleton Place)

If you’re into sugarcane pressing, gourd making, and leather tanning (and who isn’t?), this is the event for you.

There you have it. That is a sampling of what the folks in the marketing department are up against as they promote The Citadel’s home football schedule this year.

At least the Scottish Games and Highland Gathering (September 20, Boone Hall Plantation) won’t conflict with any of The Citadel’s home games this season. That will come as a blessed relief for bagpiper groupies.

However, if crowds this year at Johnson Hagood Stadium are to become truly massive, the maxim of a former assistant football at The Citadel must come into play:

Just win, baby.

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