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.

2014 football: what teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Is this relatively unimportant? Yes. Are we still in the month of July, and football season for The Citadel doesn’t start until August 30, and that day can’t get here soon enough, so any discussion about football right now is good discussion? Yes.

I posted about this topic last year too, for the record.

Anyway, here we go:

August 30: Coastal Carolina comes to Johnson Hagood Stadium for the first meeting ever between the two programs. It’s the season opener for both teams, so the Chanticleers obviously won’t play anyone before squaring off against the Bulldogs.

Coastal Carolina’s last game in 2013 was a 48-14 loss at North Dakota State in the FCS playoffs.

September 6: The Citadel travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State. It will be Youth and Band Day at Doak Campbell Stadium, and also the first home game for the Seminoles since winning the BCS title game in January.

FSU warms up for its matchup against the Bulldogs by playing Oklahoma State in JerrahWorld on August 30, and then Jimbo Fisher’s crew get a much-needed week off following the game against The Citadel before hosting a second consecutive Palmetto State squad, Clemson.

September 13: No game, as this is The Citadel’s “bye week”.

September 20: Ah, it’s the Larry Leckonby Bowl, as The Citadel travels up the road to play Charleston Southern, a much-criticized scheduling decision by the former AD. This will be the fourth consecutive home game for the Buccaneers, though they don’t actually play on the Saturday before this game. That’s because CSU’s game against Campbell will take place on Thursday, September 11.

September 27: The Citadel’s first three home games in 2014 all feature opponents that have never faced the Bulldogs on the gridiron. The second of these encounters comes against another band of Bulldogs, the “Runnin’ Bulldogs” of Gardner-Webb. On September 20, G-W will host Wofford.

October 4: Speaking of Wofford, The Citadel will travel to Spartanburg on October 4. It will be the first home game of the season for the Terriers against a D-1 opponent. Wofford tangles with UVA-Wise the week before facing The Citadel.

October 11: The Citadel plays Charlotte, which has back-to-back road games against Bulldogs, as the 49ers play Gardner-Webb before making the trip to Charleston.

October 18: Chattanooga has a very tough stretch in this part of its schedule. The week before matching up with The Citadel in Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Mocs will make the journey to Knoxville to play Tennessee.

October 25: The Citadel travels to Cullowhee to play Western Carolina. It’s Homecoming Week for the Catamounts, which play at Mercer before hosting the Bulldogs.

November 1: Another road trip for The Citadel (and another week as a Homecoming opponent), as the Bulldogs play a conference game against Mercer for the first time. The Bears are at Chattanooga the week before this game.

November 8: VMI is the Paladins’ opponent on November 1, so Furman will play military school opponents in consecutive weeks — both on the road. Furman will play The Citadel in Charleston this year, just as it did last season, due to the turnover in the conference (which resulted in some scheduling adjustments).

November 15:  Samford hosts Western Carolina the week prior to its game against The Citadel. The following week, SU plays at Auburn.

November 22: The Citadel finishes its regular season campaign with a game in Lexington, Virginia, versus VMI. The coveted Silver Shako will be on the line.

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

Since Georgia Southern has left the league, there are now only two triple option teams in the SoCon. Only once will a league team face The Citadel and Wofford in consecutive weeks. Furman will play the Bulldogs before facing the Terriers.

Some people think it is important to be the first triple option team on an opponent’s schedule. That is the case for The Citadel when it meets Chattanooga, Mercer, and Furman, but not for its games against the other four league opponents.

Wofford itself will play a triple-option squad before its game against The Citadel, as the Terriers play Georgia Tech on August 30.

VMI actually faces two triple option teams before it plays The Citadel. The Keydets travel to Annapolis for a game against Navy on October 11, and will play Wofford in Spartanburg on October 25.

C’mon, football. Get here…

A quick note on an item from a Board of Visitors meeting

I was perusing the official minutes from recent Board of Visitors meetings recently and read something from the April 25/26 meeting that caught my attention. I don’t think it’s a big deal (not yet, anyway), but while The Citadel searches for a new director of athletics (with an anticipated timeline of late August to make a new hire) and the start of football season remains more than two months away, I figured I would write a quick post about it.

I’m not sure when these particular minutes were posted on the school website. I try to check for updated minutes on a regular basis, but in recent weeks that didn’t happen (I’ll explain why in a few days). It’s possible they were just posted, but it’s also conceivable that they’ve been up for a month or so.

From the minutes:

Friday’s session closed with the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Larry W. Leckonby, introducing the Wrestling Coach, Rob Hjerling, and the Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Coach, Jody Huddleston, who provided highly informative briefs about their respective programs. Of particular note were the exceptional number of athletes who were on the Dean’s List and Gold Stars recipients…

…[the following day] Mr. Leckonby reported on the winter sports and the FY 2014 budget status. Cadet Turtogtokh Luvsandorj…became our third All American Wrestler in the last three years [note: actually in the last two years] and fourth all-time.

The athletics budget is tracking to end the year in a balanced position and fundraising efforts are being accelerated to close the gap of college unrestricted support. The conference realignments within NCAA member schools and its impact on the Southern Conference is a primary concern and may require looking at the Division II model of reduced scholarships in order to balance academics and athletics.

I doubt that this is a case where the board is considering a potential drop down to Division II for The Citadel on its own, but rather as an option for the league as a whole. All of the huge changes in college athletics (and this is not even taking into account the possible ramifications of the O’Bannon and Jenkins cases) have created an even wider chasm between the “power five” leagues and the other schools that compete at the Division I level.

Remember, just last year SoCon commissioner John Iamarino stated that reducing football scholarships could be an option:

The only reason to have 63 scholarships is to be eligible to play FBS teams and count toward their bowl eligibility. If those games go away, the entire subdivision would have to look at if 63 is the right number. Could we save expenses by reducing the number of scholarships? It would seem to me that’s one thing that would have to be looked at.

It could be that with further striations in college athletics, in the not-too-distant future the majority of schools that currently compete in the FCS will move to a different model that includes fewer scholarships across the board, most notably in football. It may be inevitable.

I just thought it was interesting that the Board of Visitors has already at least broached the subject.

The Citadel begins its search for a new AD

On Tuesday, Larry Leckonby resigned as director of athletics at The Citadel to take a similar job at Catawba College, a Division II school in North Carolina.

In doing so, he became the first “modern” AD at The Citadel to take another full-time position. The previous three directors of athletics at the school (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, and Les Robinson) all retired after their respective tenures at the military college.

The move was not unexpected. Indeed, last month a Clemson-oriented website breathlessly reported that “Clemson Associate Athletic Director Bill D’Andrea is the leading candidate to become the new athletic director at The Citadel”, which was news to just about everyone, since at the time the position was occupied (more on that later in this post).

At the time, Leckonby told The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell “Not that I know of,” in response to a question as to whether or not he was leaving. However, rumors persisted through the end of April and into May.

There is a whiff of “jump or be pushed” in assessing the reasons for Leckonby’s departure.

In six years, he developed a reputation as being good at balancing a budget. Some observers occasionally maligned him as a “bean counter”, which was probably unfair.

For one thing, bean counters are necessary. Leckonby had work to do on that front when he first arrived in Charleston. From all accounts, he handled it well.

However, Leckonby’s time at the school was marked by generally unsuccessful performances by The Citadel’s varsity teams. While he was AD, the department only won one SoCon team title (2010 baseball).

The rifle team did capture the SEARC championship in 2011 (the SoCon doesn’t sponsor rifle). It is also only fair to note that the wrestling team had some truly outstanding individual accomplishments in the last few years.

The Citadel’s highest-profile sports, though, were a sore spot. In the last four decades, the military college has only had five school years during which the football, basketball, and baseball teams all had losing records. However, three of those years have come in the last four campaigns.

Leckonby’s hiring of Chuck Driesell as head basketball coach has yet to produce on-court success, to say the least. The football program has continued a 15-year rut (and counting) of mostly sub-.500 seasons, and even the Diamond Dogs have scuffled as of late.

All of The Citadel’s varsity sports are important to the college, but the “big three” have a special place in the hearts of the school’s alums/supporters. It hurts the department as a whole when none of them are doing well.

Leckonby was perceived in some quarters as being largely indifferent to a variety of issues of varying importance. Just to name a few: the corps of cadets’ seating during football gamesthe overall ambiance at Johnson Hagood Stadium; the disposition of the cheerleading squad; the mascot program; and the much-criticized video streaming service.

I’m not going to throw him under the bus for all of that, largely because it’s hard for me to determine how much of that was him being difficult (or shortsighted) and how much was Leckonby simply following orders. You can’t blame him for everything.

In accepting the position at Catawba, Leckonby stated that he wanted to focus on “one-on-one engagement with Catawba’s coaching staff, its student-athletes and with all of those who support the athletics program.” That’s an admirable desire. I wish him well at Catawba. I’m sure everyone else who supports The Citadel does, too. 

I think the newly open position will be an attractive one. It isn’t an easy job by any means (and may get more difficult as the years go by).

However, there is a lot to be said for running the department of athletics at an outstanding school, located in Charleston, with a loyal fan base, and that has a history of being patient with administrators and coaches (the person hired for the job will become only the fifth AD at The Citadel since 1957). It’s a good gig.

Already, a number of people have been mentioned as candidates. The first name that popped up, as mentioned above, was Bill D’Andrea, a longtime Clemson administrator who is retiring from that school. D’Andrea has not been particularly shy about his interest (confirming as much late Tuesday morning in an email to WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau).

I am more than a little dubious about the “sources” referenced by Clemson Insider‘s William Qualkinbush, who suggested in April that D’Andrea was “the leading candidate” for the position. His article also initially stated that The Citadel was a private institution; if a media member doesn’t know enough about the school to know that it is public, then I’m not really confident in any tips he is getting about the inner workings of the Board of Visitors.

Clemson Insider remains confident in its reporting. Fair enough.

D’Andrea has a fine reputation and is very popular in key Clemson circles. However, he is just one of many qualified people who will be in the mix. Other names that will be (or have been) mentioned for the job: Jerry Baker, John Hartwell, Fred Jordan, Geoff Von Dollen, Robby Robinson, Harvey Schiller, and Kelly Simpson. Some of them may not actually be interested. Many will be.

The search for a new AD should be a wide-ranging one that leaves no stone unturned. Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier wrote in his Wednesday column that there is “no need to search from sea to shining sea and bring in 11 candidates for first-round interviews.” I completely disagree.

I have no idea where he came up with the number eleven, but if it is in the school’s best interests to bring in that specific number of people for initial interviews, then the search committee should do so. And yes, I think a “search from sea to shining sea” is more than appropriate. It’s necessary.

This is an important hire. It has be made with due process and careful consideration.

Obviously, the new AD has to be able to grasp what The Citadel is all about sooner rather than later. That is just one of many attributes the new director of athletics must have. Two others are perhaps of the utmost importance.

1) He or she must be a great fundraiser. Not a good fundraiser, but a great one — both from a personal perspective, and in terms of organizational ability.

If a candidate tells the search committee, “I can raise $20 million per year,” the first question a committee member asks should be, “What about $40 million?”

2) The new AD has to have a long-term vision for varsity athletics, one that matches the needs of the institution.

There are some supporters of The Citadel (including me) who believe the school should have a more expansive sports portfolio. Not everyone is on board with that line of thinking, of course. However, I think most alums/supporters would agree with the idea that an educational institution should be treated as an investment, rather than a series of journal entries in a general accounting ledger.

I want the next director of athletics to be an imaginative thinker and a creative force of nature. I want him or her to have big plans, and possess the wherewithal to make those plans come to life.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. I hope they will also be productive.

I’ll be watching, and listening, and maybe pontificating from time to time.

Won’t we all…

Brief commentary on a record crowd at Riley Park

On Wednesday night, The Citadel defeated South Carolina at Riley Park, 10-8. There were 6,500 fans in attendance, the largest crowd to ever see a college baseball game at the facility.

The previous record was 5,851 for a game at Riley Park between South Carolina and Clemson that was played in 2012. In the leadup to that game, columnist Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier wrote (among other things) the following:

For now, the South Carolina-Clemson baseball game set for Friday night at The Joe feels like the greatest sporting event and toughest ticket in Lowcountry sports history.

This is tell-your-grandchildren stuff, two-time defending College World Series champion and No. 3 South Carolina playing No. 15 Clemson in a bragging rights series opener within a small but famously charming facility.

The “War on the Shore” [1991 Ryder Cup] put the Ocean Course on the world golf map and a thrilling United States victory revived the Ryder Cup.

No need to knock one great thing to argue for another, but I’m guessing most Palmetto State people would rather watch South Carolina-Clemson baseball at its peak than any single day of golf.

Link

Clemson and South Carolina baseball fans scrambling for tickets to tonight’s Bragging Rights series opener at Riley Park might have to settle for the large party outside The Joe, or dig a little deeper…the limited number of standing-room-only tickets were gobbled up quickly.

No. 3 South Carolina is the two-time defending College World Series champion. Clemson leads the overall series and is ranked No. 15. This is the first Gamecocks vs. Tigers appearance in Charleston since the programs clashed for the very first time, at Hampton Park in 1899.

Booster clubs from both schools have scheduled major tailgate events…

…The weather forecast keeps getting better for tonight’s much-anticipated South Carolina-Clemson baseball game at Charleston’s Riley Park.

Link

The South Carolina-Clemson baseball squabble has reached fever pitch heading into the first pitch of a three-game series Friday night. The Gamecocks’ back-to-back national championships, the Tigers’ historical edge, a “Batgate” controversy and Omaha drama makes this rivalry a budding baseball version of Duke vs. North Carolina in basketball. The next game in the series is at Charleston’s Riley Park.

Link

Readers may have been under the impression that South Carolina-Clemson at Riley Park was the sporting equivalent of World War III. Everything else in comparison appeared to be second-fiddle (if not second-rate).

Then the game was played. When the actual attendance didn’t quite fit his preconceived narrative, Sapakoff challenged the turnstile count:

There were only a few questionable calls Friday night, but one of them was the turnstile count.

An announced crowd of only 5,851?

On a jam-packed, standing-room-only night at a facility with a listed capacity of 6,000?

They were kidding, right?

Maybe it wasn’t the Riley Park record of 8,426 on Opening Night of the 2007 RiverDogs season, but, in a competition for South Carolina-Clemson games with Greenville and potentially Myrtle Beach, mistakes get magnified.

(Incidentally, notice how he got five paragraphs out of five sentences in that stretch. Excellent work by a veteran columnist.)

When I pointed out to him on Twitter that Wednesday night’s crowd was larger, his response was not unexpected:

hah. depends on who is doing the counting. If you were at both, you know

It’s very important to hold on to your beliefs, even when the cold hard facts don’t cooperate. Blame somebody. Blame the ticket-takers. Maybe the mob was involved.

On Wednesday night, more people attended a makeup of a rained-out game from earlier in the season between South Carolina and The Citadel than 2012’s relentlessly hyped South Carolina-Clemson game at Riley Park. It’s as simple as that.

Why does it matter, you ask? I’m glad you did.

First, Clemson doesn’t play in Charleston very often — only six times in the last quarter-century. One of those games was the 2012 matchup with South Carolina. The other five were against College of Charleston (played between 2002 and 2008).

Clemson has not played The Citadel in Charleston since 1990, when Bill Wilhelm was the Tigers’ head coach and the Bulldogs still played their home games at College Park. Clemson has never played The Citadel at Riley Park.

Instead of the hype machine being focused on Clemson-South Carolina, imagine that kind of coverage for a game at Riley Park between the Tigers and Bulldogs. I want The Citadel to receive that kind of positive attention from the local press, since it is a local school. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, either.

Also, the fact that South Carolina-The Citadel outdrew South Carolina-Clemson should put an end to the discussion about Clemson making a return trip to Riley Park in the near future. The next time the Tigers venture to Riley Park for a game, they should be playing the college team that actually calls the park home.

Clemson probably should play baseball games in Charleston more often. Six games in 25 years is not a lot, and is arguably a disservice to its fan base in the Lowcountry.

There are a couple of reasons why South Carolina always has a lot of fans at baseball games in Charleston. One is the success the Gamecocks have had in recent years, of course.

However, the other thing South Carolina’s baseball team has going for it when it comes to attendance in Charleston is the fact the Gamecocks have played at The Citadel almost every season since the early 1970s. The annual home-and-home series has been good for both programs.

Lowcountry fans of the Gamecocks have become used to the short yearly trip to see their team play. It is an event for them, and has helped build up the number of South Carolina’s “committed” baseball supporters in the area.

Obviously, Clemson is further away from Charleston than Columbia, so expecting the Tigers to play a game or two in Charleston each season is probably a bit much. However, it surely would be in the program’s best interests for the team to make its way to the Port City at least every two or three years.

Perhaps if Clemson played The Citadel in Riley Park on a semi-regular basis, another college baseball attendance record would be set, with no hype necessary…

Corps Day, spring football, and some Beautiful Bulldogs

This is basically just a post to upload a few pictures I took on Corps Day at The Citadel. I arrived on campus in time to watch most of the parade, then wandered over to Johnson Hagood Stadium to see the various entrants for the fourth annual Beautiful Bulldog Contest. I have to say the costumes on some of the dogs were…inventive.

I then watched the spring football game, though I had to leave during the third quarter.

There are, to be sure, other outlets for (much better) photos of these events, including the school’s own website. I also highly recommend this gallery of Beautiful Bulldog Contest pictures from WCIV-TV, and this one from The Post and Courier.

It was a nice day for a parade, and a game, and for a bunch of bulldogs (and their handlers) to goof around.

I don’t have any in-depth observations to make about the football scrimmage. The offense is a work in progress. Mitchell Jeter was arguably the standout player overall.

Key stat: no serious injuries were reported (Walker Smith did twist/sprain his ankle).

There was a decent crowd in attendance, perhaps around 800-1,000 fans. There may have been more; I’m not sure how many people were in the club section.

Riley Report: a brief (and late) preseason preview

Yes, this is late. I was waiting on some information that as of yet isn’t available, so I can’t work on part of the statistical breakdown I had intended to make.

Anyway, what follows is a curtailed preview.

Links of interest:

Schedule

“Quick Facts” from the school website

Season preview from The Post and Courier

SoCon preview, Baseball America

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is picked second in both)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams

Fred Jordan discusses the team’s preparations for the season (video)

Note: all statistics are for Southern Conference games only unless otherwise indicated.

This chart features the 2013 offensive statistics in league play for The Citadel’s returning players:

Player AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
H. Armstrong 120 36 0 13 15 0.383 0.449 0.467 0.916
Mason Davis 140 30 3 7 17 0.336 0.377 0.464 0.841
Calvin Orth 124 26 7 4 25 0.331 0.366 0.565 0.931
Bo Thompson 105 27 9 33 13 0.314 0.493 0.610 1.103
Tyler Griffin 58 14 4 10 20 0.310 0.423 0.552 0.975
D. DeKerlegand 111 22 2 15 23 0.297 0.410 0.441 0.851
J. Stokes 121 20 3 9 18 0.289 0.333 0.413 0.746
Bailey Rush 55 8 2 5 16 0.273 0.328 0.473 0.801
Bret Hines 42 4 0 4 8 0.214 0.300 0.262 0.562
Jason Smith 21 2 0 1 7 0.048 0.087 0.048 0.135
Connor Walsh 3 0 0 0 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Totals 900 189 30 101 163 0.309 0.389 0.471 0.860

Now, compare that to the totals in conference action for the returning players from this time last year:

AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Totals 705 94 7 78 142 0.234 0.318 0.333 0.652

You can see why there is a lot of hope for the Bulldogs’ offense this season. Every one of last year’s regulars returns except for catcher Joe Jackson (though he is a big exception, to be sure), and most of those returnees had good-to-excellent campaigns in 2013. The outlook is a lot rosier than it was prior to the 2013 season.

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Assorted stats from this year’s returning players: as a group they were hit by pitches 25 times in SoCon play. Their walk rate (11.2%) per at bat was a tick higher than in 2012 (11.1%), with almost a third of that total courtesy of Bo Thompson, who walked in 31.4% of his at bats.

Thompson was also hit by pitches six times in the league regular season, second on the team to Drew DeKerlegand (seven).

Hughston Armstong had seven of the team’s 23 sacrifice bunts in SoCon action. Nine of the eleven Bulldogs to get at bats in conference play had at least one sacrifice fly (the team had 12 in 30 league games).

The Citadel’s 2013 returnees stole 30 bases last year in conference play (out of 42 attempts). Armstrong, DeKerlegand, and Mason Davis combined for 28 of those steals, with Bret Hines swiping the other two.

That percentage of successful steals (71.4%) isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, and doesn’t include the seven times Bulldogs on the current roster were picked off in SoCon action.

However, what isn’t taken into account with those numbers is the potential for advancing on errors, balks, etc. Defensive execution in college baseball is not at the same level as it is in the professional ranks, and that goes a long way to explaining the emphasis by many teams on the running game and “smallball”.

Is it overdone on occasion? Yes. However, I never got the sense that was the case for The Citadel last year (other than a Bo Thompson bunt attempt early in the season that made me cringe).

That said, the Bulldogs can do better. In 2012, The Citadel stole bases at a 77.8% clip (42 for 54) while only having five baserunners picked off in league play.

SoCon-only statistics for the Bulldogs’ returning pitchers:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
Brett Tompkins 1 0 3 1 0 0 0 0.00 15.00 6.00
Ross White 9 0 8 10 4 2 0 2.25 6.75 1.13
James Reeves 13 3 32 27 11 9 1 2.53 7.59 1.69
Logan Cribb 10 8 50.1 50 30 21 9 3.75 8.23 1.97
Skylar Hunter 16 0 20 17 10 10 2 4.50 10.35 4.50
Zach Sherrill 23 0 19 16 13 10 0 4.74 7.11 3.32
David Rivera 18 0 19.2 22 11 11 1 5.03 7.32 2.29
Austin Mason 10 9 33 59 43 34 2 9.27 6.00 2.45
Austin Livingston 2 0 1.2 3 2 2 0 10.80 5.40 5.40
Kevin Connell 10 0 10.1 24 17 15 1 13.06 4.35 2.61
Totals 114 20 197 229 141 114 16 5.21 7.58 2.51

Last year’s corresponding totals:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
Totals 91 29 226 259 144 123 14 4.91 5.38 3.83

During last year’s preview, I wrote:

The walk rates [in 2012] were obviously too high, and must be lowered. They were not completely unmanageable…but typical Bulldog pitching staffs do not walk people at that rate. Teams that contend for league titles do not walk people at that rate.

I am particularly concerned with the strikeout totals, however. Having a 5.38 K/9 rate as a team is problematic. Pitchers need those strikeouts.

Well, they got those strikeouts, all right. Look at those improved K and BB rates for the 2013 campaign .

In conference play, Bulldog pitchers struck out almost 2 1/2 more batters per nine innings than they did in 2012, and at the same time lowered their walk rates by about 1 1/3 BB per nine IP (remember, this doesn’t count Austin Pritcher’s numbers, and he was only the league’s Pitcher of the Year).

Based on that comparison, you would have to say the Britt Reames Experience is having a very positive effect.

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There are some things to be cautious about, however. The Bulldogs do have to replace Pritcher in the weekend rotation. Last year, returnees had started 29 of the previous year’s 30 league games.

Also, pitching success can vary from year to year, even among returning hurlers. The good news is that the Bulldogs have a lot of options.

The obvious statistic of concern is the team ERA, which actually increased in league play by 0.3 of a run per nine innings. What is interesting about that is the hit rate per nine innings showed almost no variance from 2012 to 2013.

Homers were up, though. On the other hand, nine of the sixteen home runs hit off Bulldog pitching in conference play were allowed by Logan Cribb, and he still fashioned a fine 3.75 ERA.

The increased ERA can be partly attributed to a few bad outings by Bulldog pitchers,and the conference run environment was also an issue. Updated park factors for the league are not available yet, but there was a significant increase in runs (and corresponding league ERA) in 2013.

There were 2068 runs scored in SoCon play in 2013, after 1843 runs were scored in conference action in 2012. The league ERA jumped from 4.69 to 5.42.

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One other thing: no, that’s not a typo, Zach Sherrill really did pitch in 23 of 30 conference games in 2013. He appeared in 48 games overall, shattering the school record for pitching appearances and leading the entire nation in regular-season games on the hill.

At one point during the season, Sherrill pitched in 11 consecutive games. He was very effective (which is why he kept getting the call from the bullpen), but part of me hopes the Bulldogs don’t have to lean on him so often this year.

The Citadel’s DER (defensive efficiency rating) in SoCon play last season was 68.9%, right around where it had been in 2012 (68.8%). The Bulldogs’ DER the last two seasons is much improved from 2011 (63.2%).

While The Citadel committed many more errors in league action in 2013 (57) than in 2012 (39), in terms of actually getting to balls and recording outs, the results were about the same. This indicates that a number of the “extra” errors were overthrows and other types of mistakes, which allowed opponents to advance further on the basepaths.

Double play totals declined from 25 to 14. That may be related to ground ball/fly ball rates from Bulldog pitchers, however.

The league DER in 2013 was only 66.1%, which was down considerably from 2012 (68.4%). I’m not quite sure what to make of that, other than it certainly contributed to the higher run totals across the conference.

Opponents were 29 for 42 on stolen base attempts against the Bulldogs in SoCon games. Ten opposing baserunners were picked off.

The conference as a whole averaged 52 attempted steals per team in league games, with a success rate of 74.3%. Those numbers are inflated slightly by Wofford, which attempted 101 steals in its 30 SoCon contests (and was successful 78 times).

Only Western Carolina allowed fewer stolen bases in conference play than The Citadel, with the Catamounts having a very impressive 51% defensive caught stealing rate (21 for 41).

This is a season that Bulldog fans have been waiting for since…well, since last season ended. The Citadel should be very good on the diamond in 2014. The squad has considerable talent and a lot of experience.

I really like the non-conference schedule this year. Plenty of quality opponents are on the slate, both at home and on the road.

As a result, the Bulldogs may struggle at times in the early part of the season, but they should be well prepared once league play rolls around.

A few things to watch:

1) The weekend rotation, especially the Sunday starter

2) Possible platoon situations at first base/third base/DH

3) The pitcher-catcher dynamic (particularly with regards to baserunners)

4) New contributors, including some who have been around the program (Ryan Kilgallen, for example), and others making their collegiate debuts (such as Austin Mapes)

5) Whether or not Bo Thompson can hit a ball on the fly into the Lockwood Boulevard parking lot

I’m tired of winter. I’m ready for spring.

Spring on the diamond in 2014 could be a lot of fun.

Improving the gameday experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium

In concert with this discussion: another post with a link to a spreadsheet with attendance information for the last 50 years at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with a brief explanation.

The atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium has been a hot topic among Bulldog supporters for quite a while. It has moved to the forefront of alumni discussion/interest in the last two weeks. This is due mostly to an alumni-organized campaign, one with a goal of having the seating for the corps of cadets moved back to the west stands.

I decided to write “moved back” instead of “returned” in the above paragraph because, historically, the cadets have not always sat on that side. However, it is true that the corps has occupied the west stands for almost the entirety of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium (since 1948), up until the modern renovations to the facility were completed in 2008.

To be honest, I am not really on board with the campaign, though I respect those who are. I’m not going to lead the opposition, assuming there actually is an opposition.

However, my contention has always been that the issues related to corps interest and participation have very little to do with where they are seated, and everything to do with A) the general lack of enthusiasm for team sports in the corps as a whole; and B) the overall stadium experience. Neither of those issues can be addressed by moving the cadets from one side of the stadium to the other.

Regarding the sporting interests of the cadets, I wrote this several years ago, and I think it still applies:

What I believe…is that by and large graduates of The Citadel are significantly less likely to be natural supporters of the school’s athletic teams than, say, alums of larger state schools.

Not only are there more students at larger schools, but a higher percentage of those students grow up rooting for that particular school.  Quite a few of them actually choose to go to a school based on their lifelong support of its athletic teams.  Those students eventually graduate, and so there is a fairly sizable base of true-blue fans just from that group.

Nobody who is not on athletic scholarship chooses to go to The Citadel because of its varsity sports teams.  Because of this, I think that a smaller percentage of its students are destined to become lifelong devoted fans of college football, hoops, etc.  That’s true of most small schools, of course.

(I believe The Citadel has fewer sports fans among its students than even among other small schools, however — at least, that was my impression when I was in school.  That also applied to things tangentially related to sports.  Was there buzz on campus for Bull Durham or Hoosiers?  No.  Full Metal Jacket, yes, a thousand times yes.)

That makes the fact the athletic teams are supported as well as they are by the alumni all the more remarkable.  I think it has a lot to do with the natural camaraderie built up by four years in the corps of cadets.

Alums come back for the games, but they really come back to see each other, or just to be part of the experience that is The Citadel again, even for just a Saturday afternoon.  It’s a nice vibe, complete with the justly-celebrated tailgating scene (which may be too good a scene when it comes to trying to increase attendance inside the stadium).

That was true in 2009, and I believe it’s still true in 2014.

Personally, I wonder if a better idea might be to spread the cadets out a bit in the east stands, maybe seating them between the 30s, but not that high up in the seats (but not so low they don’t have a good view of the action). I could see arguments against that, to be sure.

However, what I really want to discuss is the stadium experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which I think needs serious improvement. Now, a lot of people would argue that the corps of cadets is the essential part of that experience.

I would completely agree, and that’s the problem right now with football games at The Citadel. The focus is not on the corps. Instead it’s on…the videoboard.

I’m glad we have a videoboard. I’m sure it’s great for recruiting. I’m also sure that it’s driven me (and many other fans) crazy over the last few years.

By “videoboard”, incidentally, I’m referring not only to the board itself, but the accompanying sound system and its musical cues (some of which aren’t very musical).

The overuse of the videoboard has led to the following:

- The band rarely gets to play during the game, because of restrictions designed to maximize advertising opportunities. This has to change.

I can see somebody ready to say “gotta pay the bills”. Okay, but then explain why the band has to sit on its hands while the sound system plays a wide variety of pop and hip-hop music. There isn’t any advertising going on then.

In what should be a bucolic small-college football setting, made unique by the presence of the corps of cadets, Johnson Hagood Stadium has instead been turned into a would-be outdoor NBA arena circa 1995.

It doesn’t work. It turns people off. Not all of those people it turns off are old, by the way.

There are times when a musical choice can liven up the crowd and/or corps. In 2012, playing “Gangnam Style” once during the game was a solid option. In 2013, not so much.

In no year would playing “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners be a solid option, but at one point that tune (I’m using the word “tune” loosely here) was unleashed on unsuspecting fans last season. Why couldn’t the band play during that time period? Heck, if somebody really wanted to listen to that song so badly, why not let the band play it?

As a result, we have situations in which the opposing school’s pep band shows up and plays more (a lot more, actually) during the game than our band, because the opposing band doesn’t have any restrictions on when it can play. It’s ridiculous.

Possibly the classic example of sound system overkill came during last year’s game against Furman. The freshmen cadets lined up in the ‘Block C’ formation, and began a “C-I-T-A-D-E-L” chant…only to be completely drowned out by the loudspeaker, as someone decided that was the ideal time to play an offering from the 1980s glam-rock band Poison.

Speaking of the “C-I-T-A-D-E-L” chant, occasionally the sound system will play a taped version of it, apparently in an effort to have it catch on with the crowd. It doesn’t really work that way; at The Citadel, that particular chant has to be organic in its origination.

Also, I am not certain the chant in that form should be played over the speaker system anyway, as canned crowd noise could be construed as an “artificial noisemaker”, which is not allowed in the Southern Conference.

A few other points about the videoboard:

- I think the spots featuring John Rosa and Larry Leckonby are run too close to the actual kickoff time. They probably need to be pushed back about ten minutes or so.

- The “come on, let’s go” clip featuring defensive players needs to be either reworked or junked. It doesn’t do anything to excite the fans; in truth, it’s more mocked than anything else. One problem is that it’s the go-to clip far too often.

- If we’re going to show things on the videoboard, why not more 15-second vignettes highlighting the personal sides (and personalities) of individual players? And not just from the football team. It’s the ideal time to promote our other sports.

It doesn’t have to feature athletes, either. The most well received spot on the videoboard that I remember was a message from astronaut Randy Bresnik.

(As Bresnik was in the regimental band as a cadet, I’ll bet he thinks the band should play more too.)

- I don’t really mind the sponsored red zone and first down tags. I’m mildly surprised Avis doesn’t sponsor second down, though.

- The “air raid siren” that plays when The Citadel’s defense forces a third down attempt seems to usually result in a first down for the opponent. It does cause permanent hearing loss for those in attendance, however, so you can’t say it doesn’t have any effect at all.

While I’m concentrating on the videoboard in this post, there are other gameday issues that need to be resolved. Just to name a couple:

- The lack of cheerleaders is unacceptable. Here are my suggestions:

1) In order to alleviate some of the reported problems the corps has had with regards to the squad, don’t let freshmen be cheerleaders.

2) I would open up tryouts for cheerleaders to female College of Charleston students. I don’t think that is unreasonable or politically incorrect.

CofC doesn’t have a football team, and here is an opportunity for The Citadel to add to its fan base. I would compare it to the Stray Dog Society in this respect.

Obviously any upperclass female cadet interested in cheerleading should be given every opportunity to make the squad. Right now, though, we have to face reality. There just aren’t that many female cadets at The Citadel; additionally, the subsets of “women attending a military college” and “women who love cheerleading” probably don’t intersect on a regular basis.

- This is not something I really lose sleep over, but the administration might be surprised to learn how many people are upset the concession stands don’t provide cups/ice any more. If it’s feasible, bring back the plastic cups.

- If we have issues with cadets not behaving properly during games (and by this I mean lounging/sleeping/etc.), then maybe there should be some “enforcers”. Back in ancient times, there was never a shortage of junior rankholders more than willing to assume such a role.

It doesn’t really matter what side of the stadium holds the corps, from that perspective. Maybe the folks at Jenkins Hall need to make it a point of emphasis (though I am generally not in the business of telling them how to do their jobs).

- I’ve read the SoCon regulations regarding student/visitor seating. Here’s a link:

Regulations

As for the theory that the corps has to sit on the “home side” because to do otherwise would be against conference rules, it doesn’t really hold up once you actually read the relevant sections. I liked how SoCon senior associate commissioner Geoff Cabe thought it might be in the “spirit” of the rules for the cadets to be relocated to the west stands, though.

Ah, the SoCon, always looking out for The Citadel. That’s why there are so many representatives of The Citadel in the league’s Hall of Fame.

- One thing about the corps that does need to be managed better is the number of cadets who aren’t in the stands. I think this was a bigger problem four or five years ago than it was in 2013, but it’s best to remain vigilant.

Last year at the Appalachian State game, a friend of mine and I counted the number of cadets in several rifle companies as they marched into the stadium. There were about 65-70 cadets in each company, which is clearly not as many as you would expect. Some of the missing did wind up in the stadium, but not all of them did.

Occasionally you do hear reports of random cadets who are in the area but not in the stadium. Very few things annoy alums more, and with good reason.

- Also in the area but not in the stadium (or at least, not in their seats): far too many people in the PSL sections. I’m not sure how much “connection” there would be with a corps move to the west stands if those seats aren’t filled anyway.

Ultimately, there is only one thing that will probably lead to all those seats being occupied by kickoff. The team has to start winning again.

Winning more games is also the magic elixir that will solve most of the issues related to the stadium atmosphere. However, to maximize the fun of a gameday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the emphasis on the videoboard has to be reduced.

The spotlight for home football games should always shine on the cadets — those on the field, and those in the stands.

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: a 50-year review

Related: a discussion of the gameday atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium

This post is mainly for use in linking to a spreadsheet I’ve put together that lists attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium over the past 50 years, from 1964 to 2013. You can access the spreadsheet at this link:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2013

As always, I appreciate the availability of these numbers, which can be credited to the staff of The Citadel’s Sports Information Department.

The spreadsheet lists year-by-year total and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the team in each given season. There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1992 is made up of the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons.

I did this mainly to see what, if any, impact on attendance constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends. I would be hesitant to draw ironclad conclusions about the data, for the following reasons:

- The four directors of athletics over this time period (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, Les Robinson, and Larry Leckonby) may have counted attendance in different ways.

- Because The Citadel’s football fortunes have declined markedly over the better part of two decades, it’s hard to determine exactly what attendance “should” be. The fourteen lowest ‘ten-year winning periods’ out of the fifty-year sample are the last fourteen years (which will be evident upon examination of that category on the spreadsheet).

- The stadium renovation undoubtedly affected attendance. Not all the fans came back.

If the data tells a story, it may be that a good season has more of an impact on walk-up sales than it does for increased season ticket sales for the following year, which might be surprising. However, the correlation is not particularly strong either way.

It would really help attendance if The Citadel could reel off a string of winning seasons, of course. Maybe just as importantly, The Citadel can’t have a repeat on the field of the last decade-and-a-half. One winning campaign every seven years or so won’t cut it.

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