Riley Report: Previewing the 2015 baseball season for The Citadel

BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL

Links of interest:

Schedule and Roster

Season tickets are on sale now

“Quick facts” from the school website

Preview of the upcoming season for the Bulldogs from the school website

Preview article in The Post and Courier

Preview article from 843Sports.com

College Baseball Today‘s national rundown (The Citadel is picked to finish 5th in the league, and is ranked 193rd out of 301 D-1 teams)

SoCon preview, Baseball America (Drew Ellis is BA‘s preseason Freshman of the Year)

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily (The Citadel is picked to finish last in the league)

SoCon preview, D1Baseball.com (The Citadel is picked to finish 8th in the league)

SoCon preview, Perfect Game (The Citadel is picked to finish 6th in the league)

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is tied for 7th in the coaches’ poll, and is 6th in the media poll)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams (Skylar Hunter and Johnathan Stokes made the second team)

Skylar Hunter named to the preseason NCBWA All-America third team

Two quick comments before getting started:

1) Unless I state otherwise, all statistics that follow are for Southern Conference games only. That’s because A) it is easier and generally fairer to compare teams within a specific subset, and B) ultimately, conference play is what most of the season is all about. I do recognize the limitations of the sample size when making comparisons or analyzing trends (The Citadel played 26 league contests in 2014).

2) This year’s preview includes the return of SS+ and SS-, the most meaningless SoCon baseball stats ever created by yours truly. They are also the only SoCon baseball stats created by yours truly. As a bonus, the SS numbers are based on another statistic that is currently out of date!

I’ll explain in detail later in the post.

The last five seasons for The Citadel’s baseball program have gone like this:

– 2010: League champions in the regular season; won the conference tournament
– 2011: Last place
– 2012: Transition season
– 2013: Good year; just missed winning the SoCon tourney
– 2014: Last place

Last year wasn’t a lot of fun for the Diamond Dogs. Expectations were fairly high, but actual results were rather low.

It isn’t like the league got a lot better last year, either. Here are the conference RPI rankings for that same five-year period:

– 2010: 10th
– 2011: 14th
– 2012: 7th
– 2013: 12th
– 2014: 13th

(Note: the numbers in this section are for all games.)

What must The Citadel do to improve in league play? Well, before answering that question, it might be instructive to see just what kind of league the SoCon was in 2014. I’m not talking about power ratings; no, I’m talking about…power.

I’ll put it like this: in 2014, the SoCon was college baseball’s version of a slow-pitch softball league.

The conference led all of D-1 in runs scored per game. SoCon teams averaged 6.05 runs per contest, the only league to break the six-run barrier (the national average was almost a full run less, at 5.08 runs per game).

How did league teams score those runs? By swinging from the heels. SoCon squads averaged 0.73 home runs per contest, again leading the nation.

They also struck out 7.06 times per game, most in D-1 (okay, maybe that wasn’t quite like slow-pitch softball). There were plenty of pitches thrown when SoCon teams were playing, as when not striking out or hitting homers batters were willing to take a walk. The league was fifth (out of 31 conferences) in walks per game.

Oh, and forget about bunting: no conference averaged fewer sacrifice hits.

Four SoCon teams finished in the top 10 nationally in home runs per game: Davidson (3rd), Georgia Southern (6th), Samford (8th), and Western Carolina (10th). Appalachian State and Wofford finished in the top 25 in that category as well.

Meanwhile, The Citadel was last in the league in home runs per game. Obviously, a good part of that is a function of park effects. Not all of it, though.

Given the style of offense employed by most of the league’s teams, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that SoCon pitchers piled up lots of strikeouts, with a K/9 that ranked third nationally (and that almost one-third of those strikeouts came on called third strikes, the fifth-highest percentage among conferences).

Okay, now for some SoCon-only statistics (with innings pitched totals, “0.7” equates to two-thirds of an inning; “0.3” equals one-third of an inning).

Here are batting totals for the league teams in 2014 in conference action:

TEAM AVG AB R HR SLG BB HBP SO OBP OPS
UNCG 0.322 867 163 19 0.461 85 11 141 0.384 0.845
Davidson 0.308 906 182 29 0.472 96 24 218 0.384 0.856
Furman 0.305 920 169 17 0.435 123 20 173 0.391 0.826
App St 0.294 934 176 26 0.454 100 17 165 0.369 0.823
Samford 0.279 941 193 29 0.446 98 28 205 0.361 0.807
W. Carolina 0.279 870 177 28 0.441 108 30 195 0.372 0.813
Elon 0.278 927 151 21 0.412 105 14 205 0.357 0.769
The Citadel 0.277 881 131 17 0.381 95 30 167 0.361 0.742
Wofford 0.251 844 136 22 0.374 89 38 167 0.344 0.718
Ga Southern 0.248 899 135 18 0.364 110 26 215 0.344 0.708
TOTALS 0.284 8989 1613 226 0.425 1009 238 1851 0.367 0.792

 

Pitching totals, 2014 league games only:

TEAM ERA IP R ER BAA WP HBP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 BABIP
Ga Southern 2.82 239 107 75 0.248 11 22 3.01 7.53 0.64 0.299
W. Carolina 4.32 231 128 111 0.265 32 23 3.90 8.38 0.86 0.323
Samford 4.81 236 157 126 0.273 22 31 4.27 7.25 0.84 0.318
Davidson 4.82 222 147 119 0.268 22 19 3.53 7.30 1.01 0.304
Wofford 5.59 227 168 141 0.294 26 20 4.28 8.13 1.15 0.348
Elon 5.75 234.7 180 150 0.288 24 29 3.95 5.91 0.92 0.313
UNCG 6.13 211.3 188 144 0.310 26 40 4.73 7.20 0.51 0.367
Furman 6.15 228.3 173 156 0.288 35 17 4.26 8.12 0.91 0.346
App State 6.27 224 186 156 0.306 28 20 3.17 6.79 1.13 0.346
The Citadel 6.51 225.7 179 163 0.304 26 17 4.83 6.50 0.96 0.343
TOTALS 5.30 2279 1613 1341 0.284 252 238 3.98 7.31 0.89 0.331

 

Fielding totals, 2014 SoCon games:

Team Chances PO A E FLD% DP SBA CSB SBA% PB DER
W. Carolina 984 693 265 26 0.974 18 15 13 0.536 4 0.6824
Furman 993 685 281 27 0.973 18 28 10 0.737 3 0.6614
Wofford 942 681 235 26 0.972 17 25 11 0.694 1 0.6604
G Southern 1046 717 295 34 0.967 19 34 17 0.667 6 0.7078
The Citadel 964 677 255 32 0.967 22 29 8 0.784 2 0.6605
Elon 1005 704 264 37 0.963 17 19 5 0.792 19 0.6939
Samford 1046 708 297 41 0.961 28 19 10 0.655 4 0.6897
UNCG 897 634 227 36 0.960 25 22 12 0.647 7 0.6385
Davidson 920 666 216 38 0.959 16 22 8 0.733 3 0.6994
App State 1009 672 293 44 0.956 28 37 6 0.860 1 0.6573
TOTALS 9806 6837 2628 341 0.965 208 250 100 0.714 50 0.6752

 

I thought it was interesting that the defensive efficiency rating in conference play (.675) was lower than when all games played by league teams were taken into consideration (.688). Of course, park effects would be one potential reason for the discrepancy.

Speaking of park effects, that brings me to my fabled statistical concoctions, SS+ and SS-, and an explanation.

It’s obvious that statistics can be skewed by park effects. The Citadel plays in a “pitcher’s park”. Western Carolina quite clearly does not. I try to account for this.

First, I use the Park Factors calculated by college baseball statistics guru Boyd Nation. His numbers are based on all games played at a school’s home park over the four seasons from 2010-2013. That gives us a chance to make a valid comparison, based on the “building blocks” of the game — runs. Teams want to score runs, and teams want to prevent them. How they do so doesn’t really matter in the long run.

There are a couple of caveats. One is relatively minor, while the other may or may not be.

The four-year period in question includes one year in the pre-BBCOR era, and three years after the new bat standards went into effect. That could have a marginal impact on the ratings, though to be honest I don’t think it’s that big a deal.

However, a slightly larger problem is that these aren’t the updated park factors. Ideally, I would base 2014’s numbers on park factors from 2011-2014, but Nation hasn’t released the data from last year yet (and probably won’t for another month or two). Despite that, I forged ahead.

Riley Park has a Park Factor (PF) of 83, by far the lowest in the league. Childress Field at Hennon Stadium, home of Western Carolina, has a PF of 123, which is the highest in the SoCon for the 2010-13 period.

I took the PF for every team’s home park, came up with a “road park factor” based on the different road stadia each team played in during the 2014 season, and combined them. Each school thus has a total park factor that is based on where it actually played all of its conference games.

Keep in mind that teams played an odd number of home/road games (and some games were rained out, so not every team played the full allotment of 27 league contests). In my formula, I do account for the different number of home/road matchups.

Okay, here we go:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF Runs SS+
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 193 1.976109215
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 182 1.797708416
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 176 1.630210189
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 163 1.588306943
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 169 1.583423423
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 177 1.560528993
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 151 1.511679644
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 136 1.455144033
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 131 1.413864674
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 135 1.383826879
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Samford, which scored more runs than any team in the league, did indeed have the best offense, even taking park factors into account. This table also suggests that despite finishing third in the league in runs scored, Western Carolina’s offense was actually slightly below league average.

To have had an offense that would essentially match Samford’s production, The Citadel would have had to score 183 runs in conference play last season (7.03 runs/game). The Bulldogs actually scored 131 (5.04 runs/game).

To be a league-average offense, The Citadel needed to score 148 runs (5.69 runs/game).

Now for the pitching/defense:

TEAM Home PF Road PF Combined PF RA SS-
Ga Southern 102.00 94.00 97.55555556 107 1.096810934
W. Carolina 123.00 102.25 113.42307690 128 1.128518142
Davidson 92.00 111.25 101.24000000 147 1.451995259
Samford 102.00 94.20 97.66666667 157 1.607508532
Furman 108.00 105.80 106.73076920 173 1.620900901
App State 115.00 102.80 107.96153850 186 1.722835768
Wofford 88.00 100.91 93.46153846 168 1.797530864
Elon 99.00 101.00 99.88888889 180 1.802002225
UNCG 106.00 99.25 102.62500000 188 1.831912302
The Citadel 83.00 105.82 92.65384615 179 1.931921959
TOTALS 101.08 101.47 101.27692310 1613 1.59266292

Ugh. Not a good look for The Citadel, which allowed the seventh-most runs in SoCon play, but was in reality the worst team in the league at preventing them. Wofford also fares a bit worse when using this metric.

To match the pitching/defense of Georgia Southern, The Citadel would have had to allow only 102 runs in league action (3.92 runs allowed/game). The actual total: 179 (6.88 runs allowed/game).

For league-average pitching/defense, The Citadel’s number was obviously the same as the offensive break-even point, 148 runs (5.69 runs allowed/game).

Now it’s time to take a look at The Citadel’s prospects for 2015. The difference in experience between the position players and pitchers is noticeable.

SoCon-only batting statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs. It’s not a long table:

Player AB R HR BB K AVG OBP SLG% OPS
J. Stokes 97 13 2 11 15 0.289 0.351 0.412 0.763
Bret Hines 57 7 0 2 3 0.281 0.290 0.333 0.623
R. Kilgallen 63 10 1 9 16 0.254 0.365 0.333 0.698
Austin Mapes 14 2 0 2 2 0.286 0.375 0.286 0.661
C. Walsh 20 1 0 1 4 0.200 0.227 0.300 0.527
S. Windham 10 1 0 4 5 0.200 0.400 0.200 0.600
Bailey Rush 18 1 0 1 6 0.167 0.211 0.167 0.378
B. Charpia 3 0 0 0 3 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
S. Hansen 0 2 0 1 0 0.000 1.000 0.000 1.000
Totals 282 37 3 31 54 0.259 0.328 0.337 0.665

– Total SoCon at bats in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 705
– Total SoCon at bats in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 900
– Total SoCon at bats in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 282

Now that’s a dropoff. There are opportunities galore for position players in 2015. Basically, the Bulldogs appear set at shortstop (with Johnathan Stokes), catcher (Ryan Kilgallen) and maybe third base (potentially a platoon situation). That’s about it.

In 2014, Bulldog returnees had hit 30 home runs in SoCon play during the previous season. This year, that number is three.

From the school’s preview:

The offense will rely on the tradition hallmark of Citadel baseball – doing the little things which produce runs in a variety of ways but does not rely on the long ball – as the departed players accounted for 75 percent of the team’s extra base hits and nearly 70 percent of the RBIs.

Not relying on the long ball definitely goes against the grain when it comes to playing in the Southern Conference. While most of their league opponents will zig, the Bulldogs plan to zag.

Last season, The Citadel had an OBP of .361 in conference play, 7th-best in the league. If the Bulldogs are going to succeed at “small ball” in 2015, they will need to get on base at a better clip, something closer to the team’s OBP in 2013 SoCon action (.404).

Johnathan Stokes had one stolen base in 2014 SoCon play, the only steal in a conference game among Bulldog returnees. Overall, The Citadel was 12 for 20 in stolen base attempts in SoCon action last year, after going 33 for 48 in league games in 2013. It’s hard to swipe a bag when you don’t get on base.

A couple of names to watch who aren’t listed in the above table:

– Drew Ellis was named the preseason SoCon freshman of the year by D1Baseball.com. Ellis (6’4″, 225 lbs.) is a native of Columbia who swings the bat from the left side (but throws from the right). He’ll be competing for a spot at first base.

Shy Phillips played this fall on the football team, of course, but the freshman is also a talented baseball prospect who committed to The Citadel in that sport before his senior season on the gridiron (where the Hartsville resident promptly played well enough to make the Shrine Bowl). Phillips (6’0″, 165 lbs.) will be in the mix for a place in the outfield.

SoCon-only pitching statistics (from 2014) for returning Bulldogs:

Pitcher ERA IP R ER HR BAA K/9 BB/9 BABIP
Austin Mason 5.20 36.3 23 21 3 0.271 6.19 4.46 0.313
L. Meachem 1.69 5.3 1 1 0 0.200 8.44 3.38 0.267
Zach McKay 1.93 9.3 5 2 0 0.222 6.75 4.82 0.267
Skylar Hunter 2.65 17.0 5 5 1 0.155 7.41 6.88 0.186
P.J. Krouse 3.18 5.7 2 2 0 0.333 3.18 1.59 0.350
James Reeves 3.44 18.3 7 7 2 0.253 12.76 1.47 0.362
Zach Lavery 4.50 8.0 6 4 0 0.300 4.50 0.00 0.333
Nate Brecklin 9.66 4.7 7 5 1 0.440 3.86 7.71 0.455
Zach Sherrill 10.44 14.7 19 17 3 0.385 6.14 6.14 0.400
Ross White 11.00 9.0 11 11 0 0.429 6.00 9.00 0.500
Brett Tompkins 12.38 8.0 11 11 3 0.303 4.50 7.88 0.269
A. Livingston 12.94 16.0 26 23 1 0.400 7.88 6.19 0.468
Kevin Connell 15.89 11.3 21 20 4 0.407 5.56 8.74 0.400
C. Walsh 40.91 0.7 3 3 1 0.500 13.50 40.50 0.500
Totals 7.24 164.3 147 132 19 0.313 6.97 5.32 0.356

– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2012 for 2013 returnees: 225.7
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2013 for 2014 returnees: 197.0
– Total SoCon innings pitched in 2014 for 2015 returnees: 164.3

There are spots to be won on the pitching staff, too, but for another reason. Plenty of Bulldog hurlers got a taste of the action in 2014. However, there weren’t many who had a great deal of success in league play.

As a group, The Citadel’s pitchers didn’t strike out batters as much in 2014 league games (K/9 of 6.50) as they did in 2013 (7.42). Worse, the BB/9 rate went up dramatically (from 2.56 to 4.83).

The gopher ball was also more of a problem in 2014, with an significant increase in HR/9 (from 0.73 to 0.96). Add it all up, and you get a team ERA (6.51) almost two runs per game higher than it was in 2013 league play (4.69).

There are several freshmen who will be candidates for the bullpen, and possibly the starting rotation. I want to make a couple of quick observations about two of the returning hurlers, though:

James Reeves only threw 18.3 innings in SoCon play due to injury. He is back this season, and if his elbow is okay the Summerville native should be a dependable fixture in the weekend rotation.

Reeves pitched very well last year before being shut down. The lefty was also solid in league play in 2013, with a 2.53 ERA that year, allowing just one home run in 32 innings.

Zach Sherrill had knee surgery in the offseason. Sherrill was a very effective (and frequently-used) reliever in 2013, but struggled last season. If he can return to his form of two years ago, he will once again be a weapon in the bullpen.

While Sherrill clearly got rocked at times in 2014 (allowing 3 homers in SoCon play after giving up none in league action the year before; he also walked too many batters), it’s also true he could use a little more defensive help. Sherrill’s BABIP in 2013 was .281; last year, that shot up to .400 (which was also reflected in his batting average against).

A few defensive numbers on which to ruminate:

– The Citadel’s DER in 2012 SoCon play: 68.8% (league DER: 68.4%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2013 SoCon play: 68.9% (league DER: 66.1%)
– The Citadel’s DER in 2014 SoCon play: 66.0% (league DER: 67.5%)

– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 25
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 14
– Double plays turned by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 22

– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 47 (78.3% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 29 (74.4% success rate for opponents)
– Stolen bases allowed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 28 (80.0% success rate for opponents)

– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2012 SoCon play: 39
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2013 SoCon play: 57
– Errors committed by The Citadel in 2014 SoCon play: 32

I should point out that the DER numbers mentioned above are not park-adjusted. Given the spaciousness of Riley Park, it may be that the Bulldogs were a little better defensively than the seventh-best defensive squad in a ten-team league (Georgia Southern led the SoCon with a DER of 70.8% in conference games).

Having said that, even if you bump the Bulldogs up a notch or two, they still wind up average or slightly below average defensively. Average or slightly below average is simply not good enough.

We’ve got to pitch and defend,” [Fred] Jordan said. “We feel like we should have enough starting pitching, and the back end of our bullpen is very experienced. We hope we will pitch extremely well. Defending? Some of the new faces are going to have to get their feet wet, and we’ll have to be patient with that. But if you can pitch and defend, you have a chance.”

The SoCon’s reshuffling means that this year three new schools are in the league (Mercer, East Tennessee State, and VMI), while four have departed (Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Elon, and Davidson). The conference now has nine baseball teams (Chattanooga dropped its program over thirty years ago).

Mercer and East Tennessee State were most recently in the Atlantic Sun conference, and both made regional appearances two years ago (2013). That season, the Bears were the regular season league champions, while ETSU won the A-Sun tournament under the tutelage of noted clutch hitter Tony Skole.

The Buccaneers had a losing season last year, though they were competitive (27-30). Mercer won 38 games (the fifth consecutive season the Bears had won at least that many games), but went 2-and-BBQ in the conference tourney.

Both East Tennessee State and Mercer should fit right in with the bombs-away nature of the SoCon. Mercer was 15th nationally in home runs per game last season, while ETSU was tied for 24th overall in the category.

VMI was 25-23 last year, with an 11-16 record in the Big South. In stark contrast to the Bucs and Bears, the Keydets hit just 11 home runs in 48 games. The paucity of circuit clouts was a two-way street, however, as VMI’s pitchers only allowed 16 homers in 2014.

In December, VMI named Jonathan Hadra as its new baseball coach, after Marlin Ikenberry unexpectly resigned. Hadra, a 2004 graduate of the school, is the only first-time head baseball coach in the SoCon this season.

ETSU has a relatively new park, Thomas Stadium (referred to colloquially as “The Thom”; at least, that is what Wikipedia claims). It opened in 2013. In a bit of a scheduling fluke, The Citadel’s baseball team will not travel to any of the three new members in 2015. Mercer, ETSU, and VMI all play the Bulldogs in Charleston.

Of course, those three schools will make a return trip to Riley Park for the 2015 Southern Conference baseball tournament, which returns to the Holy City this season.

With eight league opponents this season, The Citadel will play 24 SoCon contests, twelve at home (ETSU, Mercer, VMI, Wofford) and twelve on the road (Western Carolina, UNCG, Samford, Furman). The league opener for the Bulldogs is March 27 in Cullowhee, against WCU.

The non-conference schedule is interesting. There are no early-season “tournaments” at Riley Park this season, however.

The Citadel’s non-league slate includes a fair share of games against former league opponents (College of Charleston, Georgia Southern, and Elon). Air Force comes to town for the opening weekend. The Bulldogs also have three-game home series with Lafayette, UMBC, and Alabama State.

The Citadel plays midweek games against North Florida and several in-state squads, including Coastal Carolina, Winthrop, and Charleston Southern. As always, The Citadel has a home-and-home with South Carolina.

Also as always, there will be no games versus Clemson. The Tigers have not played the Bulldogs in Charleston since 1990.

Boyd Nation put together a preseason “strength of schedule” feature on his website for this season. Of course, no one knows in February what a team’s actual strength of schedule will be.

That said, I was curious as to how programs put together their non-conference schedules. Ranking the preseason SoS numbers, this is how it shakes out for the SoCon:

119 – Samford
149 – UNCG
180 – VMI
184 – Furman
186 – The Citadel
187 – East Tennessee State
197 – Western Carolina
208 – Mercer
280 – Wofford

The two teams that finished 1-2 in the preseason SoCon media poll have two of the three (presumed) weakest OOC schedules.

Just in case you were wondering, here are a few other teams’ non-conference SoS rankings:

1 – Stanford
2 – Cal State Fullerton
3 – Fresno State
4 – Pacific
5 – San Diego

(1 through 5 are California Dreamin’)

25 – Coastal Carolina
38 – Indiana (Chris Lemonis, immediately followed by…)
39 – Louisville (…Dan McDonnell)
45 – Liberty (ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
51 – Georgia Southern
55 – Clemson
59 – Appalachian State
85 – Kennesaw State (also ranked in Baseball America‘s preseason Top 25)
87 – College of Charleston

128 – Vanderbilt (the defending national champion, almost immediately followed by…)
130 – Virginia (…last season’s runner-up)
132 – Elon
168 – North Carolina
172 – North Carolina State
176 – South Carolina
237 – Winthrop
258 – Charleston Southern
296 – Army
300 – Lehigh
301 – Navy (there are 301 D-1 teams)

In the end, none of that will likely mean anything. It’s just early-season fun.

Odds and ends:

– Just like last season, this year’s edition of the Bulldogs will include three Austins and three Zachs. Five of the six Austins/Zachs are pitchers.

– In a further attempt to encourage fans to buy scorecards, The Citadel will also feature twins, freshmen Philip and Jacob Watcher. Both are expected to see plenty of time in the infield and on the hill.

– Zach Sherrill and the Watcher brothers are three of seven players on the roster from Sumter, which appears to be making a 21st-century attempt to become the Official Small Town of The Citadel. I am sure that Orangeburg, Camden, and possibly Kingstree will continue to battle for that title, however (although there is no player from Orangeburg on this year’s roster, which could come back to haunt Fred Jordan).

– The tallest of the Bulldogs is senior righthander Brett Tompkins, who is 6’5″. There are seven players listed on the roster at 5’9″; I bet at least one of them is shorter than that.

– Of the 45 players on the roster, 38 are from South Carolina. Of the seven Bulldogs from out of state, freshman catcher Justin Craft‘s hometown (Waldorf, Maryland) is the longest distance from Charleston.

– There are eighteen “true” freshmen among the Diamond Dogs, along with three redshirt freshmen.

– New volunteer assistant coach Aaron Gershenfeld was a catcher at Louisville, where he played for former Bulldogs Dan McDonnell (the Cardinals’ head coach) and Chris Lemonis (now helming the program at Indiana). Gershenfeld is slated to be the team’s hitting coach and will also work with the catchers.

I’m looking forward to the 2015 campaign. Unfortunately, I’ll have to be a bit of a fair-weather fan (literally) for the first month or so, as my blood is still a bit thin. I’ll be faithfully watching the SoCon Digital Network, though, and listening to cult faves Andy and The Chief (“This is the out we came here for!”).

Having said that, the weather for the opening weekend looks promising, and I plan to be at Riley Park for at least one game of the series against Air Force. I hope a lot of other fans make an appearance, particularly on Opening Day — which also happens to be Friday the 13th. Don’t let triskaidekaphobia stop you from seeing the Diamond Dogs.

The Citadel is not favored to win the Southern Conference this season. Truth be told, the Bulldogs are not expected to be serious contenders for the title, as this year’s team will feature a lot of players who weren’t starters in 2014, along with a bunch of freshmen. Rebuilding is a word being thrown around in some circles.

A lack of experienced players, some freshmen, rebuilding. Hmm…that reminds me of something:

We are not reloading; we are in a rebuilding process.  Our team is made up of reserves of past years and freshmen who will get the opportunity to play this year and hopefully be up to the challenge…Our baseball accomplishments measured by victories this year could be moderate.  From our players we need a dedication of purpose, firm self-discipline and tenacious determination.  Hard work and aggressive play must overcome our limitations.

We will be playing off the enthusiasm of youth, and that should result in some entertaining baseball.  We must judge this team on the basis of their performance, according to their individual abilities and improvement throughout the season.  We want to teach them not to beat themselves and to always play with a fighting spirit and essential mental toughness.

We need to stay out of the way of line drives and recover foul balls so that we can stay within our budget.

– Chal Port, from The Citadel’s 1990 Baseball Media Guide

Go chase down those foul balls. It’s time for baseball season.

McAlister Musings: the SoCon slate has begun in earnest

Previously:

My preview of the season

Well, the season is underway

December on the hardwood

Links of interest:

Bulldogs faring well from the foul line

Quinton Marshall likes to read

The Citadel takes its time on offense

When last we checked in with the Bulldog hoopsters, they were 4-4, with one Division I victory. Since then, The Citadel has completed its non-conference schedule and is slightly more than one-third of the way through the SoCon campaign.

The Bulldogs are 8-10 overall, 3-4 in the league. The Citadel currently has one more victory in 2014-15 than it had all of last season (when the Bulldogs didn’t win their seventh game until March 7).

The Citadel also has one more SoCon win this year than it had in all of 2013-14.

The most impressive of the Bulldogs’ eight victories this season was last Thursday’s win over Wofford at McAlister Field House. That triumph was, without much question, the best result Chuck Driesell has had since becoming head coach of The Citadel. It featured a bravura second-half effort from Ashton Moore (21 of his 29 points came in the second stanza).

Wofford is (even after that loss) ranked in the top 60 of the RPI. There is a good chance the Terriers will finish the season in the RPI top 100.

The Citadel’s last win over a team that finished the season in the RPI top 100 was a 72-65 victory at College of Charleston on January 9, 2010. The Bulldogs have not won a game over a final-ranking top 100 squad at McAlister Field House since pulling off three such victories during the 2001-02 season (those wins were against Davidson, College of Charleston, and East Tennessee State).

The Bulldogs’ four victories since their win over Navy include a 51-47 non-conference win over Bethune-Cookman (a game that was not, perhaps, the most entertaining of affairs) and the above-mentioned upset of Wofford.

The Citadel also beat a struggling Samford squad 77-67 by going on a 11-1 run to close out the game. The Bulldogs’ win at UNC-Greensboro (85-83, in overtime) was most notable for breaking The Citadel’s horrendous 22-game road losing streak.

The six losses the Bulldogs have suffered in the last month can roughly be placed into two different categories: “somewhat understandable” and “rather disappointing”.

There won’t be many complaints about road losses to Michigan State and Virginia Tech; indeed, the Bulldogs gave the Hokies all they wanted, falling by just three points. The loss to Western Carolina was a competitive effort away from home.

Losing by 23 points at Mercer wasn’t good, but was mitigated by the news that several members of the team were ill. That can happen sometimes during the course of a long season.

The other two losses by the Bulldogs, however, were all-around poor performances.

In the conference opener versus Chattanooga, things didn’t go well for The Citadel from the opening tip. The Bulldogs never led and eventually lost by 19 points; afterwards, Driesell said the team had “laid an egg“. Marshall Harris did not play, but that wasn’t enough to explain a less-than-inspiring effort in a contest that was not only the league opener, but a home game.

The most recent defeat also came at home, versus Furman. That game can be summed up by this statistic: the Paladins had almost as many offensive rebounds (14) as The Citadel had defensive boards (16).

Note: statistics in this section do not include games vs. non-D1 opponents

Allowing opponents to dominate the offensive glass has been a problem for the Bulldogs all season. Teams playing The Citadel have rebounded their own missed shots at a rate of 37.0%, which puts the Bulldogs in the bottom 20 nationally in that category. It is the primary (but not sole) reason that The Citadel (per Kenpom) is currently the second-worst defensive team in the entire country (ahead of only 2-15 Mississippi Valley State).

The Bulldogs are not good at forcing turnovers, which has also hurt their defensive statistics, as has the fact opponents are shooting free throws at a 73.4% clip (which is simply bad luck). Yes, if you watch a game involving The Citadel, you will probably see both teams have a good night from the foul line, as the Bulldogs themselves are in the top 30 nationally at the charity stripe (74.3%).

Very few teams shoot as well as The Citadel, which is third nationally in three-point field goal percentage (42.2%, behind only Iona and UC-Davis). The Bulldogs have several players who can make the long-distance shot, with freshman Jake Wright probably the team’s best pure shooter (though it must be noted that Marshall Harris is 15-29 from beyond the arc this season).

That is why the turnover bug is so frustrating. Not only does the defense fail to force turnovers at a high enough rate, but the Bulldogs then turn around and throw the ball away much too often on offense. In SoCon play, The Citadel has the highest offensive turnover rate and the lowest defensive turnover rate.

Inevitably, opponents of The Citadel wind up with a significant advantage in terms of shot attempts, due to the turnover differential and the problems the Bulldogs have had on the defensive boards.

It is somewhat curious that The Citadel is actually a solid offensive rebounding team in its own right (in league games, the Bulldogs are third in the conference in offensive rebounding rate). You might think that would translate to the other side of the court, but it has not.

The Citadel is still an above-average offensive squad, despite the turnovers. Imagine how efficient the Bulldogs would be offensively if they could just eliminate some of their turnovers (and reducing live-ball mistakes would also help on defense).

Quick observation: I have been pleased to see an increased presence from the corps of cadets at recent home games. It makes a big difference (as demonstrated by the Wofford game). I think the new commandant deserves some plaudits in that area (as do the cadets themselves).

Next up for the Bulldogs: a stretch of three conference road games, with trips to ETSU, VMI, and Chattanooga. The game against the Mocs will signal the start of the second half of the SoCon campaign.

 

McAlister Musings: December on the hardwood

Previously:

My preview of the season

Well, the season is underway

Links of interest:

The Citadel loses to Florida State, 66-55

Bulldogs defeat Warren Wilson College, 84-55

The Citadel loses 59-55 to College of Charleston

Bulldogs outlast Navy, 67-60 (also, comments from Chuck Driesell and Jake Wright)

Marshall Harris and his experiences on a basketball mission trip

After four games this season, The Citadel was 2-2. After eight games, the Bulldogs are 4-4. The most recent of those contests was The Citadel’s first victory of the season over a Division I team, an entertaining 67-60 win over Navy.

– The Citadel’s 66-55 loss to Florida State was a 53-possession affair, which worked to the Bulldogs’ advantage. What didn’t work to the cadets’ advantage was FSU shooting 60.5% from the field. The Seminoles were also 14-20 from the foul line (the Bulldogs only attempted six free throws).

Florida State was missing two of its regular starters, but got a wondrous offensive performance from freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored 26 points on only nine field goal attempts (he was 5-5 from beyond the arc, and also 5-5 from the charity stripe). The Bulldogs did not help themselves by committing thirteen turnovers (a 24.5% TO rate).

From the AP story linked above:

Driesell didn’t mince words when asked what was the biggest thing his team took from a midweek ACC game. “First and foremost it gives our school a lot of money,” Driesell said. “That’s probably the No. 1 reason I’m down here, is for the check.”

Okay…

– The next game for The Citadel was its final non-D1 game of the season, an 84-45 pummeling of Warren Wilson College. Five different Bulldogs finished in double figures, led by Ashton Moore’s 15 points.

Of the three games against non-Division I competition, it was The Citadel’s most complete effort.

– The Citadel actually led College of Charleston 55-54 with 48 seconds to play, but the Cougars scored the final five points of the contest. It was reminiscent of the season opener against VMI in the sense that The Citadel had a chance to win, and actually was in the lead with less than a minute to go, but couldn’t make the plays late to pull out a victory.

The Bulldogs committed 17 turnovers, which was the key factor in the loss. Otherwise,a lot of things went well — The Citadel had an outstanding shooting night from three-point land, made most of its free throws (though a late-game miss was critical), worked hard on the offensive glass, and controlled the pace.

The Citadel was 9-16 from beyond the arc, which was great. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs made the same number of shots from inside the three-point line, finishing 9-30 in their two-point attempts (which looks even worse when compared to CofC making 19 of 35 shots in and around the paint).

– The victory over Navy was much-needed. The Midshipmen are struggling right now (partly due to a run of injuries), but the Bulldogs had to beat a D-1 team to gain some confidence heading into conference play.

The game featured twelve lead changes. Neither team led by more than two possessions until The Citadel put the contest away at the line in the dying seconds.

It was a rugged matchup, as the officials “let them play”. The physical nature of the game appeared to occasionally test the patience of a few of the Bulldogs. On the other hand, C.J. Bray seemed to enjoy mixing a little football into his hoops.

Jake Wright was the offensive star for the Bulldogs. He attempted ten shots from the field, all three-pointers, and made six of them, finishing with 21 points. The only other player for The Citadel to ever score as many points in a game against Navy was Ed Conroy, who also scored 21 in a 1989 victory.

Both were home games, though (trivia!) not in the same building. While Wright displayed a fine shooting touch at McAlister Field House last Saturday, Conroy’s performance was in…Deas Hall.

Next up for the Bulldogs:

– SoCon play begins this Thursday at McAlister Field House, as Chattanooga comes to town. After the league opener, however, the Bulldogs won’t play another conference game until January 3 (at Western Carolina).

The Mocs are 4-5, with two D-1 wins, one of which came against Coastal Carolina. Chattanooga is looking for its first road victory of the season. UTC was picked to finish second in the SoCon this season by the league’s coaches and by its media cohort as well.

– After the game versus Chattanooga, The Citadel will play two road games against major conference schools in three days (December 20 and 22). The Bulldogs travel to Blacksburg to square off with Virginia Tech (now helmed by Buzz Williams), and follow that up with a visit to the Breslin Center and a matchup with a solid Michigan State squad, well-coached as always by Tom Izzo.

– The Citadel’s final game of 2014 will take place at McAlister Field House on December 30, as the Bulldogs host Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats are currently 3-6, with a victory over Jacksonville in their most recent contest. Bethune-Cookman will play two straight road games against SoCon teams, as B-C faces Mercer on December 19.

It’s probable that if you are not living in or around the Lowcountry, you may not have seen/heard some recent comments by Charleston Southern head coach Barclay Radebaugh. He is unhappy that CSU is not playing College of Charleston or The Citadel in basketball this season (and also didn’t play either school last year).

This got a little play on local television, with some carryover on Twitter. I think it’s fair to sum up the positions of the various parties like this:

  • Local media: wants the games to be played; not particularly concerned about the issues involved
  • Charleston Southern: desperately wants the games to be played
  • College of Charleston: not interested
  • The Citadel: also not interested

I wish one of the local reporters had asked Radebaugh if he would be amenable to playing at CofC and at The Citadel exclusively, or a 2-for-1 setup, or for CSU to move its home games against those schools to the North Charleston Coliseum.

Charleston Southern currently plays its home games at a gym that seats only 881 people. I would suggest that coaches and administrators at CofC/The Citadel are simply no longer willing to play there.

The fact is that these matchups are only beneficial to Charleston Southern. The other two schools get little to nothing out of playing CSU.

Longtime observers of the Lowcountry sports scene may remember that Charleston Southern and The Citadel did not play for a six-year period between 1986 and 1992, the direct result of a conflict over playing/administering games at CSU (then Baptist College). This isn’t a new issue.

I don’t blame Radebaugh for speaking out. He has a good team, and he wants part of the publicity that tends to accrue to Charleston’s two schools.

It’s just that CSU is not, as he stated in his presser, “inner-city rivals” of CofC/The Citadel. It isn’t a true rival for either of those institutions, and it’s certainly not in the inner city. It’s a relatively young school located in North Charleston.

Radebaugh also mentioned that games between CSU and the other two schools were “highly attended”.

I went back and looked at attendance figures for certain games over the past few years at McAlister Field House, North Charleston Coliseum, and TD Arena (for consistency, I’m referring to CofC’s basketball facility by that name). This is just a cross-section; it’s not meant to be definitive. Still, I think it is illuminating:

  • 11/20/08 at North Charleston Coliseum: CofC-CSU. Attendance: 2835
  • 11/25/08 at North Charleston Coliseum: The Citadel-CSU. Attendance: 2085
  • 1/10/09 at McAlister Field House: Davidson-The Citadel. Attendance: 5336
  • 1/12/09 at McAlister Field House: Chattanooga-The Citadel. Attendance: 1326
  • 1/24/09 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 5107
  • 2/12/09 at McAlister Field House: App State-The Citadel. Attendance: 2178
  • 2/14/09 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 5168
  • 2/26/09 at McAlister Field House: Furman-The Citadel. Attendance: 4219
  • 2/28/09 at McAlister Field House: Wofford-The Citadel. Attendance: 4485
  • 11/13/09 at McAlister Field House: Kenyon-The Citadel. Attendance: 1031
  • 11/17/09 at McAlister Field House: CSU-The Citadel. Attendance: 1268
  • 12/5/09 at TD Arena: Davidson-CofC. Attendance: 3062
  • 12/16/09 at TD Arena: CSU-CofC. Attendance: 3067
  • 1/9/10 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 5370
  • 1/21/10 at TD Arena: Furman-CofC. Attendance: 3248
  • 2/8/10 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 5154
  • 12/2/10 at TD Arena: Davidson-CofC. Attendance: 4361
  • 12/2/10 at McAlister Field House: Ga. Southern-The Citadel. Attendance: 2058
  • 12/4/10 at TD Arena: Georgia Southern-CofC. Attendance: 2417
  • 12/15/10 at North Charleston Coliseum: CofC-CSU. Attendance: 2722
  • 1/13/11 at McAlister Field House: Chattanooga-The Citadel. Attendance: 1653
  • 1/15/11 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 5162
  • 1/22/11 at McAlister Field House: WCU-The Citadel. Attendance: 2143
  • 1/20/11 at McAlister Field House: App State-The Citadel. Attendance: 1519
  • 2/3/11 at McAlister Field House: Furman-The Citadel. Attendance: 2289
  • 2/3/11 at TD Arena: Wofford-CofC. Attendance: 5038
  • 2/5/11 at McAlister Field House: Wofford-The Citadel. Attendance: 2206
  • 2/5/11 at TD Arena: Furman-CofC. Attendance: 5081
  • 2/17/11 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 4131
  • 11/21/11 at McAlister Field House: Fla. Christian-The Citadel. Attendance: 807
  • 12/1/11 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 5101
  • 12/3/11 at TD Arena: Chattanooga-CofC. Attendance: 4358
  • 12/6/11 at McAlister Field House: C. Carolina-The Citadel. Attendance: 1409
  • 12/12/11 at TD Arena: CSU-CofC. Attendance: 3765
  • 12/14/11 at McAlister Field House: CSU-The Citadel. Attendance: 1129
  • 1/26/12 at TD Arena: Furman-CofC. Attendance: 4011
  • 1/28/12 at McAlister Field House: Furman-The Citadel. Attendance: 1602
  • 1/28/12 at TD Arena: Wofford-CofC. Attendance: 4151
  • 2/11/12 at TD Arena: Davidson-CofC. Attendance: 5112
  • 2/25/12 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 4166
  • 1/5/13 at TD Arena: Furman-CofC. Attendance: 3885
  • 1/14/13 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 2742
  • 1/24/13 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 4118
  • 2/16/13 at McAlister Field House: Davidson-The Citadel. Attendance: 2015
  • 2/28/13 at McAlister Field House: Furman-The Citadel. Attendance: 2046

There are a couple of conclusions to draw from this list:

1) The Citadel can put plenty of people in the seats if the team is reasonably competitive. All too often in recent years, that hasn’t been the case. You can bet that Jim Senter is calculating the difference in potential ticket sales.

2) Regardless of how good/bad the teams are in a given year, Charleston Southern just isn’t a big draw for either The Citadel or College of Charleston.

As anyone reading this post probably knows, The Citadel plays multiple home contests against non-D1 teams (and no, I don’t really like those games). The school has to have a certain number of home games each season, and often non-D1s are the only teams The Citadel can play without a return game being required.

It doesn’t do The Citadel any good to play a home-and-home against Charleston Southern if attendance at McAlister Field House isn’t going to be much (if at all) better than a game versus a non-D1. I’m sure the same is true for CofC (if anything, the issue is probably an even bigger one for that program).

Odds and ends:

– I attended the contest against Navy, and enjoyed the game and the surrounding atmosphere. There were about 250 cadets in attendance, and they made a difference. The commandant deserves credit for his assistance in that area.

I’m not sure how many cadets will be able to attend the UTC contest, due to exams beginning the next day.

– The game featured a hard-working DJ, which was fine (playing The Village People’s “In the Navy” was a nice touch).

I did wonder about the absence of the pep band. There may have been a conflict. The band can get stretched at this time of year, to be sure.

– The Citadel is currently last in Division I in adjusted tempo, and in a related development is also last in average length of offensive possessions (22.6 seconds).

I favor that style of play, as I think it is the best fit for the players on the roster. I’m hoping it can also negatively affect other teams, making them rush their own possessions or in some other way get out of sorts.

However, to be fully effective the Bulldogs must improve their defensive numbers, which are poor across the board. There are some things that can’t really be controlled (like opponents shooting 76.5% from the foul line), but there are others that must be fixed. Just to name one issue, The Citadel has allowed too many offensive rebounds, which is one reason teams have a high shooting percentage against the Bulldogs from inside the arc.

The Bulldogs are doing a better job of forcing turnovers so far this season, which is good. However, their own turnover rate has also risen. That has to change.

The Citadel also has a tendency to have pronounced scoring droughts. The offense has to be more consistent if the Bulldogs are going to have success in the Southern Conference.

Here are a few pictures from the game versus Navy. As usual, they aren’t very good…

 

McAlister Musings: Well, the season is underway

Previously: My preview of the season

Links of interest:

Chuck Driesell inks four players in the early signing period

The Citadel loses to VMI, 66-65

Bulldogs defeated by Air Force, 68-55

The Citadel wins its home opener over Toccoa Falls, 71-58

Bulldogs pull away in second half and beat Bob Jones University, 81-50

Four games are in the books, and the Bulldogs are 2-2. The Citadel’s two victories came at home against non-D1 competition, while its two losses were in neutral-site games versus D-1 squads.

– Against VMI, the Bulldogs controlled the pace. The result was a 60-possession contest, the fewest possessions in a game involving VMI since Duggar Baucom took over in Lexington as head coach.

The Citadel won that battle, but couldn’t win the contest. The Bulldogs led by 11 points with 4:41 remaining in the first half, but started the second half so poorly that VMI had a seven-point lead with ten minutes to play.

After a nice comeback, The Citadel played the last 2:02 like a team that didn’t know how to win, with two turnovers sandwiched around a VMI possession that featured four offensive rebounds by the Keydets. The three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining that won the game for VMI seemed inevitable.

Of 58 VMI field goal attempts, 29 (exactly half) were from beyond the arc. Conversely, The Citadel only attempted four three-point shots. That shooting philosophy was reflected in the free throw totals for the two teams (only four for the Keydets; twenty-two for the Bulldogs).

The Citadel did a lot of things right against VMI, but didn’t rebound well enough and couldn’t close the deal when the opportunity was there. Also, for the umpteenth time in the last season-plus, the Bulldogs gave up a halftime buzzer-beater (admittedly, on something of a circus shot by the Keydets’ Q.J. Peterson, but still).

– While the Bulldogs probably should have won the game against VMI, the next day’s matchup against Air Force was a different story. The Falcons were in control throughout most of the contest, leading by as many as 16 points midway through the second half.

The Citadel did keep the tempo in its (apparent) comfort zone, as the game against AFA was a 57-possession contest. The Bulldogs also won the turnover battle (18-11).

However, Air Force shot 56% from the floor, 45% from three-land, and outrebounded The Citadel 34-22. That included a less-than-stellar performance on the defensive glass by the Bulldogs, only corralling 9 rebounds from 21 missed AFA shots (the Falcons actually missed 22 total shots, but one resulted in a “dead ball” free throw rebound).

Also on the negative stat report: The Citadel was only 9-19 from the foul line against Air Force. That didn’t help.

– Individual numbers are basically meaningless after just two games (as are comparing team numbers). I did think it was interesting that through Sunday’s games, Ashton Moore ranked second in the nation in percentage of shots taken by a player for his team while that player is on the court.

Moore took 33 shots in the first two games of the season. His totals from the second two games don’t count towards that statistic (because they were versus non-D1 opponents), but for what it’s worth, he kept firing, with 37 combined shots in those two contests.

– I’m not going to get into much detail about the games against Toccoa Falls and Bob Jones University. Neither was exactly what Chuck Driesell or the fan base wanted, other than two victories.

I attended the Toccoa Falls matchup. The Citadel raced out to a 16-0 lead, and then proceeded to be outscored 58-55 over the last 34 minutes of the game.

That wasn’t what I thought I was going to see, given the recent history of the Eagles’ basketball program, which included a 141-39 loss to Western Carolina less than two years ago. Last season, Toccoa Falls lost to Georgia Southern by 54 points.

Driesell said during his postgame radio interview that Toccoa Falls was “much improved”, but he was still disappointed in his team’s play (as well he should have been). The Bulldogs were too sloppy on both ends of the floor and did not shoot particularly well, either (43%).

Toccoa Falls plays Presbyterian on November 25. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles are competitive in that game as well (last year, PC only beat Toccoa Falls by ten points).

The Citadel outscored Bob Jones University 40-16 in the second half, which was fine. It was the first half that was a bit disquieting, as the Bruins only trailed 41-34 at the break. In its previous game, BJU had lost 107-41 to USC-Upstate (the Spartans led by 32 at halftime in that contest).

The Bulldogs again did not shoot well from outside (6-19 from beyond the arc). The Citadel turned the ball over on more than 20% of its possessions, very poor when considering the competition.

Did The Citadel give up yet another buzzer-beating halftime shot to BJU? Yes, it did — this time on a layup, after a Bulldog turnover with six seconds remaining in the half. Unbelievable.

Next up for The Citadel is a game in Tallahassee against Florida State on Tuesday. The Seminoles lost on Sunday to Massachusetts to fall to 1-3 on the season; FSU has dropped three straight contests, having also lost to Northeastern and Providence after opening the season with a victory over Manhattan.

On Saturday, November 29, the Bulldogs are back at McAlister Field House to play Warren Wilson College, a school that Toccoa Falls defeated 66-62 last week.

The following Tuesday, The Citadel plays at College of Charleston. The Cougars are currently 2-3 and have a game at West Virginia before the matchup with the Bulldogs.

Navy comes to town on December 6 for a Saturday afternoon game that should be a lot of fun. The Midshipmen are currently 0-4, but will play four more games before making an appearance in McAlister Field House.

Odds and ends:

– The new video scoreboard is fantastic.

– There were about 250-300 cadets in attendance (I may be slightly underestimating the total) for the game against Toccoa Falls. They were fed at McAlister Field House (the mess hall being closed on Wednesday night).

For future games, I would like to see the cadets seated behind the scorer’s table as opposed to in the rafters.

– For first-time buyers, season tickets can be purchased for $75. Another promotion: at Saturday’s game, fans received a free t-shirt that will get them admitted to all Saturday home games for free.

I like both ideas. This strikes me as a good season in which to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t, in terms of promotion.

– The halftime entertainment for the Toccoa Falls game was a stepshow performance by students from Lower Richland High School. The crowd (particularly the cadets) thoroughly enjoyed it.

– I assume the pep band will make its debut for the Navy game. Its absence for the home opener was noticeable.

I took a few pictures. If you thought my football photos were bad, wait until you get a look at some of these turkeys…

Gobble Gobble!

 

 

 

 

2014 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 15. The game will not be televised, but will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Pete Yanity providing play-by-play and Will Merritt supplying the analysis.

Note: the contest will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the “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 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 for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston’s 11/18 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Sparky Woods on the SoCon media teleconference

WCSC-TV interviews Mike Houston about The Citadel-VMI

The Citadel’s football team has a “ticked off, mad as fire attitude”

It’s too bad Aaron Miller can’t play another season for the Bulldogs

Does Sparky Woods need to win on Saturday to keep his job?

The former Clemson radio tandem of Pete Yanity and Will Merritt will be handling play-by-play and analysis for ESPN3.com’s streaming coverage of the game. Yanity and Merritt have worked two other ESPN3.com productions involving SoCon teams this season, earlier calling Samford-Furman and Wofford-Chattanooga.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay about VMI’s football history and its re-entry into the Southern Conference for the premier Navy football blog, The Birddog (the Midshipmen were playing the Keydets that week). In lieu of me detailing the program’s recent history on the gridiron, as I tend to do in this space, you can read that piece here: Link

One thing I wrote about VMI for The Birddog last month that did not come to fruition:

Every coach VMI has had since 1953 has suffered through at least one winless or 1-win campaign, with the exception of current head coach Sparky Woods…Woods has yet to suffer through a winless or 1-loss season, but he has had four 2-win campaigns. This year, there is a chance VMI’s victory over Davidson in its home opener may be the only win the Keydets enjoy all season.

Of course, VMI defeated Furman three weeks ago, giving the Keydets their second victory of the 2014 campaign. Sparky Woods remains the only VMI coach of the past 60 years to never have a winless or one-win season while in charge of the Keydets.

VMI opened its season at Bucknell, losing 42-38 in a game the Keydets never led (but tied on four separate occasions). Bucknell’s winning score came on a punt return TD.

Al Cobb’s debut at quarterback for the Keydets was a good one, as the redshirt freshman threw for 308 yards and four touchdown passes. Running back Deon Watts ran for 97 yards.

Incidentally, Bucknell has gone on to have a fine season, as the Bison are 8-2 and have an outside shot at an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.

In its second game, VMI was whipped 48-7 by Bowling Green. The Falcons became the second team in as many weeks to return a punt for a touchdown against the Keydets, and added a blocked-punt TD for good measure.

Bowling Green would go on to upset Indiana the following week and would eventually win the MAC West division title, clinching a berth in that league’s championship game.

VMI played its home opener against a much easier opponent, Davidson, and crushed the Wildcats 52-24. The Keydets finished with 597 yards of total offense.

Aaron Sanders had ten receptions for 215 yards, and Jabari Turner had three TD runs. VMI also picked up a punt-block TD of its own, courtesy of Chris Copeland.

Of some concern for the Keydets, however, was Davidson rolling up 531 yards of offense. The two teams combined for 1,128 yards of total offense; both teams had over 200 rushing yards.

The next week, VMI made the long trip to Birmingham to face Samford. The Keydets suffered through a nightmarish first half, allowing a touchdown on the second play of the game and committing four turnovers. Samford led 49-0 at the break, going on to win 63-21.

A different kind of frustration would come for VMI in its next game, a tough 27-24 home loss to Mercer. A potential game-winning drive in the last two minutes of the game was ended by a Mercer interception. Cobb was 30-44 for 324 yards, but threw two costly picks.

In its next two games, VMI was manhandled 55-7 at Chattanooga and 51-14 at Navy. Against the Mocs, the Keydets only put up 165 yards of total offense.

VMI recovered a fumble for a touchdown against the Midshipmen, but allowed Navy to run for 352 yards on 49 carries (7.2 yards per attempt). I suspect The Citadel’s coaches have watched a lot of video from that particular game.

The Keydets returned home and suffered a double-overtime loss to Gardner-Webb, 47-41. That game featured the largest attendance for a game at Foster Stadium (6,624) since VMI hosted The Citadel two years ago (when 7,863 fans, a fair number clad in blue, were on hand for The Military Classic of the South).

Cobb was 34-53 passing for 351 yards and six touchdowns, each to a different receiver, as VMI made a stirring comeback after being down 18 points in the fourth quarter. It just wasn’t quite enough for the victory.

Wofford then thumped the Keydets 38-3 in a game played in Spartanburg. VMI was outrushed by the Terriers 374-58.

Back at Foster Stadium the following Saturday, VMI would get its first SoCon victory of the season, beating Furman 31-15 in a game not really as close as the score might indicate. The Keydets had lost 21 straight games to the Paladins, but raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead and then forced three Furman turnovers in the second half.

The Keydets had a 14-minute edge in time of possession, helped by converting 12 of 19 third-down attempts. Greg Sanders intercepted a pass for VMI, the third consecutive game he had done so.

After a bye, VMI lost last week at Western Carolina, 42-27. The game featured 1,111 yards of total offense, including 640 by the Catamounts. WCU had over 300 yards rushing and passing, which isn’t something you see every day.

The next three sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for SoCon games only (unless otherwise indicated). Both VMI and The Citadel have played six league contests, obviously against the same teams.

The Keydets’ offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 57.5% of the time, the highest percentage in the conference. Passing yardage accounts for 67.7% of VMI’s total offense, also the league high by percentage.

VMI is last in total offense (4.9 yards per play), scoring offense (18.8 points per game), and rushing offense (3.5 yards per carry). The Citadel is next-to-last in total defense, with a league-worst 6.9 yards allowed per play.

The Bulldogs are also next-to-last in rushing defense, but are actually middle-of-the-pack in scoring D (allowing 21.5 points per game in league action).

VMI is fourth in passing offense, but next-to-last in offensive pass efficiency, with the latter ranking being affected by the Keydets’ league-worst ten interceptions. VMI is averaging 35.3 pass attempts per game in SoCon play, the most in the conference.

The Citadel is sixth in pass defense, but dead last in defensive pass efficiency, allowing 9.1 yards per attempt. The Bulldogs’ D is tied for the league low in interceptions, with three.

When both conference and non-conference games are counted, the Keydets are 28th nationally in passing offense (out of 121 FCS teams), while the Bulldogs are 83rd in passing yardage allowed.

VMI is fourth in offensive third down conversion rate, at 43.5%, while The Citadel is third in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (42.3%). VMI has only attempted five 4th-down plays in conference action, the fewest in the league.

The Keydets have an offensive red zone touchdown rate of 78.6%, the best mark in the conference, though VMI has been in the red zone fewer times than any other team in SoCon play. The Citadel has a defensive red zone TD rate of 50% (11-22), which is third-best in the league.

VMI is last in the league in scoring defense (allowing 40.0 points per game), total defense, and rushing defense (giving up 6.2 yards per carry). The Citadel is fifth in scoring offense (21.5 points per contest) and third in total offense. The Bulldogs lead the league in rushing offense (5.2 yards per attempt).

Including all games, VMI is next-to-last in FCS football in rushing defense (ahead of only winless Nicholls State), while The Citadel is second nationally in rushing offense (trailing only Cal Poly of the Big Sky).

The Citadel is next-to-last in passing offense and sixth in offensive pass efficiency (having only thrown one interception in league play). VMI is fifth in passing defense but next-to-last in defensive pass efficiency.

The Bulldogs are second in the conference in offensive third down conversion rate (46.9%), while VMI is sixth in defensive third down conversion rate, at 48.8%. The Citadel is tied for the most fourth-down attempts in the conference, with 18.

VMI has allowed 19 touchdowns in 23 trips by its opponents inside the 20-yard line (82.6%), the worst defensive red zone TD rate in the league. The Citadel has an offensive red zone touchdown rate of 66.7%, fourth-best in the SoCon.

The Citadel is +1 in turnover margin in conference play, while VMI is -7 (worst in the conference). VMI has actually forced more defensive turnovers than the Bulldogs (11-8), but the Keydets have 18 offensive turnovers, by far the most in SoCon action.

VMI is sixth in the league in time of possession (28:53), while The Citadel is second (32:28).

The Citadel has run 455 offensive plays in its six SoCon games (75.8 per contest), while VMI’s offense has run 388 plays from the line of scrimmage (64.7 per game). In terms of pace, The Citadel runs its plays faster (2.34 snaps per minute) than does VMI (2.23).

The Bulldogs have committed the second-fewest penalties in the league, while VMI is tied for fifth in that category. However, the Keydets’ opponents have committed more penalties than any other team’s opponents. The Citadel is next-to-last in having flags thrown on its behalf, a season-long issue with officiating that has been a constant source of frustration for its fans.

Al Cobb (6’3″, 190 lbs.) is a native of Pulaski, Tennessee who redshirted last season for the Keydets. In his first season as VMI’s quarterback, he is completing 61.3% of his passes, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, with eighteen touchdowns and ten interceptions.

Cobb has completed eight passes this season of more than 35 yards, including two 44-yard completions in his most recent game against Western Carolina.

VMI lists three tailbacks on its two-deep; all three have started at least one game this season for the Keydets. Deon Watts (5’11”, 197 lbs.) is VMI’s leading rusher, with 450 yards (and the senior has also caught 34 passes out of the backfield). Fellow tailback Jabari Turner has seven rushing touchdowns to lead the team.

Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is Cobb’s top receiving target, with 51 catches (including a 60-yarder against Davidson). The sophomore hauled in three passes for the Keydets in last season’s game versus The Citadel.

Redshirt senior Doug Burton leads VMI in receiving touchdowns, with four. VMI uses a three-receiver, one-back offense with a tight end, though starting TE Andrew Lewis only has five receptions all season.

Average size of the projected starters on VMI’s offensive line: 6’4″, 294 lbs. Redshirt freshman center Patrick Doucette and redshirt senior right tackle Andy Marcotte have started every game this season for the Keydets.

Marcotte, at 6’8″, 325 lbs., is the biggest VMI player on the roster, and was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. He set a team record in the weight room with a 635-lb. squat.

VMI operates out of a 3-4 defense when not facing the triple option. When it does, in recent years the Keydets have featured a five-man front.

Nosetackle Joe Nelson (6’3″, 265 lbs.) is one of three Keydets on defense to start every game. The redshirt sophomore has five tackles for loss, including two sacks, and also blocked a PAT against Mercer.

The Keydets’ four starting linebackers rank 1-4 in the team in tackles. Miller Williams, a 6’1″, 220 lb. senior, leads the way with 66 tackles.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Francis (6’1″, 200 lbs.) has three sacks, most on the squad. He is also tied for the lead in tackles for loss, with 6.5.

Francis shares that team lead in tackles for loss with 6’1″, 241 lb. redshirt senior Logan Staib, who has been a mainstay for VMI over the past four seasons. Staib has saved some of his best football for games against The Citadel, having made 14 tackles against the Bulldogs in both 2011 and 2013.

From his position as one of the Keydets’ starting cornerbacks, redshirt sophomore Damien Jones (6’1″, 190 lbs.) has two interceptions and leads the team in passes defensed, with ten. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against Navy.

The other starting cornerback, James Fruehan (5’10”, 187 lbs.) is a senior who has appeared in 44 games for VMI over the course of his career. He is sixth on the team in tackles.

Strong safety Alijah Robinson, a 6’0″, 185 lb. sophomore, is fifth on the squad in tackles. His backup, Greg Sanders, leads the Keydets in interceptions with three.

VMI placekicker Dillon Christopher, a sophomore from Newport News, Virginia, is 7 for 13 on field goal tries this season, with a long of 49 against Mercer. He kicked a 45-yarder against Western Carolina.

Christopher is 32-33 on PAT attempts. He is also the Keydets’ kickoff specialist, with 18 touchbacks in 53 kickoffs.

Punter Hayden Alford is averaging 37.0 yards per punt, with a long of 69. He has had 17 of his 53 punts downed inside the 20.

VMI has allowed three punt return TDs this season and ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in punt return defense, allowing an average of almost 14 yards per return.

The Keydets’ primary punt returner is wideout Dana Forlines, who is averaging 3.9 yards per return. Taylor Stout and Greg Sanders have returned almost all kickoffs for VMI; each has a kick return average of 19.2 yards.

Odds and ends:

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Cocky, the overexposed mascot for South Carolina. It’s a quarterfinal playoff matchup in the Challenge.

Vote for Spike!

– Tickets go on sale this Saturday for the Medal of Honor Bowl, the all-star game being held at Johnson Hagood Stadium on January 10, 2015: Link

– As pointed out in The Citadel’s game notes, The Citadel is 4-0 when it gains more than 500 yards of total offense. When it doesn’t, the Bulldogs are 0-7.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 12-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 63.

– VMI has two players on its team from South Carolina. Not surprisingly, most of the Keydets are from Virginia (53). Other states represented on the VMI roster: Tennessee (10), Pennsylvania (7), Georgia and North Carolina (4 each), Alabama (3), Maryland (2), and one each from Texas, California, Ohio, West Virginia, and Washington, DC.

I’ve said this before, but if you are a graduate of The Citadel, a trip to VMI should be on your personal “bucket list”. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the two military schools.

Every alum should travel to Virginia at least once to see the campus, watch a parade, and check out the gameday experience:

The VMI Corps of Cadets marches from barracks onto the field as The Regimental Band plays “Shenandoah”. The Corps welcomes the team onto the field, as “Little John,” a ceremonial cannon, joins the cheers with a thundering boom. The Rats come out of the stands with every Keydet score, and do a pushup for every point on the VMI side of the scoreboard. The familiar strain of “The Spirit” plays to stir the hearts of the Keydet faithful.

Completed in 1962 at a cost of approximately $250,000 through funds allocated by the General Assembly of Virginia and the VMI Alumni Association, the stadium contains 54 rows, is 173 feet high (not including the press box) and has a seating capacity of 10,000. Fiberglass seats were installed in 1974 and refurbished in 1985.

A new Brute Bermuda grass playing surface was initially installed during the summer of 1998, and the crown on the field was elevated to improve drainage.

I was there two years ago to watch The Citadel (barely) clinch a winning season. I won’t be able to make it this Saturday, alas.

I anticipate Saturday’s game will be fairly high-scoring (and judging from the over/under, so does the gambling community). In VMI, you have a passing team that can’t stop the run. The Citadel, meanwhile, is a running team that has struggled against the pass.

Al Cobb is averaging over 35 pass attempts in SoCon play, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t throw at least 40 passes against the Bulldogs. The best way for The Citadel to prevent that is for its offense to control the game on the ground and completely dominate time of possession.

In his press conference on Tuesday, Mike Houston mentioned that the Bulldogs have not had “great, consistent starting field position” this season. That affects the offense’s ability to regularly mount scoring drives, because there is that much further for it to go.

The game last week versus Samford was a good example of this. One of The Citadel’s drives lasted for 17 plays but produced no points; it was one of two possessions for the Bulldogs that lasted for more than five minutes but did not lead to a score.

Special teams can make a difference in that aspect of the game, but so can the defense. One thing the Bulldogs’ D has not done this season is consistently force turnovers. As I mentioned earlier, The Citadel has only forced eight turnovers in six league games.

If the Bulldogs are to retain the coveted Silver Shako on Saturday, forcing multiple turnovers is almost a must for the defense. To do that, The Citadel likely has to get more pressure on the quarterback.

VMI has come close to winning this matchup in recent years, leading at halftime last season and falling just short of a comeback victory the last time the Bulldogs made an appearance at Foster Stadium. The Keydets’ record is not particularly meaningful when The Citadel is the opponent (the reverse is also true).

Several of VMI’s games this season should give fans of the Bulldogs pause, particularly its convincing victory over Furman. The Keydets’ competitive losses to Mercer, Western Carolina, Gardner-Webb, and Bucknell are also noteworthy.

There are several positives to take from this season for The Citadel. It has been an instructive (and often entertaining) year, as a new head coach has begun to put his stamp on the program.

The biggest positive of all would be to keep the greatest trophy in all of sports in Charleston, where it belongs.

Game review, 2014: Samford

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Birmingham News

Box score

I don’t really have a lot to say about this game, to be honest. Just a few observations:

– In my opinion, it was a well-played game. There were no turnovers, and an absence of really dumb plays. It was a little lower-scoring than I would have expected.

Ultimately, The Citadel needed to make one more play to win the game. It didn’t make that play, though.

– This was arguably the best performance of the season by The Citadel’s defense. It was helped by the offense maintaining possession throughout the game, even when a drive didn’t result in a score (the Bulldogs were 7-19 converting third downs and had a time of possession edge of over 15 minutes).

Samford was 4-13 on third down. Six of the SU’s eleven possessions resulted in short drives (6 or fewer plays, 21 or fewer yards).

– While The Citadel’s offense controlled possession for major portions of the game, it didn’t make that ball control count enough. The Bulldogs had four different drives of seven or more plays that ended with no points being scored (including one that lasted 17 plays).

– I have a great deal of sympathy for Vinny Miller, who is apparently the official whipping boy for SoCon officials. I seriously believe a number change is in order, so the men in stripes aren’t so quick to throw their flags in his direction.

Imagine the pregame conversation Mike Houston could have with a certain SoCon referee:

Ref: “Coach, where’s #16?”

Houston: “Uh, he’s not playing. We’ve got, uh, another guy playing slotback today, #32.”

Ref: “Oh, okay, that’s good. Just between you and me, I thought #16 was acting like a jackass.”

Houston: “Yes, I know. You told the entire Homecoming crowd that during the Furman game.”

– Speaking of Houston, I have a suggestion. The Citadel’s head coach is intense and emotional, which plays very well with the Bulldogs’ fan base (and rightly so).

However, he probably needs a “cool down” period immediately following a game. I think the postgame radio interview can wait a few minutes.

This would have the added benefit of making it easier for fans to hear the coach’s thoughts. They need time to get back to their cars/tailgates after the alma mater is played.

– It was cold. Cold Cold Cold.

Cold.

That partly explained the less-than-sellout conditions at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The attendance could have been worse, however, what with Clemson and South Carolina both in action at the same time.

Samford brought very few fans, though that was perfectly understandable. Birmingham to Charleston is not a short trip.

Now it’s time to get ready for the final game of the season. The coveted Silver Shako is at stake.

The team better be ready. VMI will be, especially in Lexington.

The pictures are…well, they’re in color.

I didn’t have time to annotate them this week, though they are in sequential order. If you want to look for a specific play, it shouldn’t be too hard to find (assuming I took a picture of the play in question). The statistical play-by-play would be a good guide to use.

As usual, I took some pregame shots as well.

 

2014 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 15. 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 for The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 11/11 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Samford defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio on the SoCon media teleconference

Aaron Miller is the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week

Homecoming highlights

Jaquiski Tartt will be Samford’s first-ever Senior Bowl representative

My preview of The Citadel’s upcoming basketball season

Also, a hoops season preview article from The Post and Courier

As this is a Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs matchup, I have to define some terms:

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel, while “Birmingham Bulldogs”, “SU”, or “Baptist Tigers” will serve as references to Samford.

It is possible that this is Pat Sullivan’s last year coaching at Samford. Sullivan has had serious health problems in recent years, and missed the first three games of last season while recuperating from back surgery.

This year, Sullivan missed the season opener at TCU (where he was once the head coach) as he recovered from cervical fusion surgery; he coached Samford’s league opener against VMI from the press box. Most of the coach’s health issues can be traced from chemotherapy and radiation treatments he received after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2003.

Defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio was the acting head coach against TCU and has handled a considerable amount of media obligations on Sullivan’s behalf throughout much of the season.

If this is Sullivan’s final season (and I have no idea if it is), he’s having another solid campaign. The Birmingham Bulldogs are 6-3 and have clinched the program’s fourth consecutive winning season. Samford won’t win a piece of the SoCon title this year as it did in 2013, but it could finish as high as second.

Last week’s victory over Western Carolina was Sullivan’s 46th win in his eight years at Samford. That made him the school’s alltime winningest football coach. The school’s field house will be named in his honor.

Samford has not played a “like” non-conference opponent. Besides TCU, the Birmingham Bulldogs have played two small Alabama schools, Stillman (which competes in Division II) and Concordia (which isn’t an NCAA or NAIA member; it plays in the USCAA).

After it plays The Citadel, Samford will finish its season by playing at Auburn, Pat Sullivan’s alma mater (and where as a quarterback he led the team to three bowl games and won the Heisman Trophy in 1971).

Samford beat the two Alabama colleges by a combined score of 107-0; it lost to a powerful TCU squad 48-14. As far as evaluating SU is concerned, then, it’s best to simply focus on its games in SoCon play.

The first conference opponent Samford faced was VMI, in the third game of the season. SU destroyed the Keydets 63-21. SU led 49-0 at halftime, delighting the partisan home crowd, and rolled up 525 yards of total offense (including 180 yards rushing for Denzel Williams).

Samford’s next game was a 38-24 loss at Chattanooga. Starting quarterback Michael Eubank threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns, but was also intercepted three times and sacked four times.

One week after averaging 7.5 yards per play, SU was held to 4.7 yards per play by the Mocs (despite 129 yards receiving for Karel Hamilton). Samford also allowed a punt return TD in the contest.

The Birmingham Bulldogs rebounded with a 21-18 home victory over Mercer. Samford led the entire game, and was up by 11 points with less than a minute to play when Mercer’s Chandler Curtis returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown. SU recovered the ensuing onside kick to preserve the victory. Hamilton had 10 catches and 101 receiving yards, while Jaquiski Tartt had eight tackles and also intercepted a pass.

After a bye week, Samford lost at home to Wofford 24-20. The Terriers took the lead with less than five minutes in the game, then stopped SU on 4th-and-1 from the Wofford 24, gaining possession and the win.

Samford’s D held Wofford to 3.8 yards per play (and under 200 total rushing yards, though Terriers fullback Lorenzo Long did rush for 128 yards on 20 carries). Michael Eubank passed for 305 yards and a TD (he also threw a pick). Samford was 3-13 on third down conversions and only rushed for 49 yards, which contributed to Wofford’s edge in time of possession (over seven minutes).

The following week, SU destroyed Furman in Greenville 45-0. Samford led 14-0 after less than three minutes, having only run one offensive play. A blocked punt for a TD opened the scoring for the Birmingham Bulldogs, and they never looked back. Denzel Williams rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while Eubank had another 300-yard passing day. Karel Hamilton had 206 yards receiving (on nine catches).

In beating Western Carolina 34-20 last week, Williams rushed for 156 yards and two more TDs, while Hamilton had another 100-yard receiving day. Justin Cooper had 14 tackles to lead a defense that intercepted two WCU passes.

The next three sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for SoCon games only (unless otherwise indicated). Samford has played six league games, facing every conference team except The Citadel.

The Bulldogs have played all but two SoCon teams, Samford and VMI.

In those six conference matchups, Samford’s offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 46.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for 57.8% of SU’s total offense.

Samford is second in scoring offense (34.5 ppg) and total offense, and also second in the league in yards per play (5.9). The Citadel is next-to-last in total defense and is allowing 7.2 yards per play, but is actually fifth in scoring defense (28.2 ppg).

SU leads the league in passing offense, averaging 252.7 yards per game in conference action. Samford is third in the SoCon in passing efficiency, with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. SU quarterbacks have been sacked twelve times, tied with Mercer for the most allowed in league play.

The Birmingham Bulldogs have averaged 32.2 pass attempts per game, which is more than every league team except Furman and VMI.

Samford is averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which is fourth in the SoCon. The Citadel is sixth in pass defense, but dead last in defensive pass efficiency, allowing 9.5 yards per pass attempt. In five league games, the Cadets only have five sacks and three interceptions.

The Birmingham Bulldogs are fourth in rushing offense (4.4 yards per carry), averaging 185 yards per game. Samford’s 17 rushing touchdowns are second in the conference, behind Chattanooga.

The Citadel is next-to-last in rushing defense, and is allowing a league-worst 6.2 yards per rush.

Samford is fourth in offensive third down conversion rate (42.5%). The Citadel is fifth in defensive third down conversion rate (44.8%).

SU has a red zone TD rate of 60%, second-worst in the league (but well ahead of Furman’s abysmal 28.6%). The Citadel’s red zone D has been solid, with a TD rate of 47.3%, second-best in the league (behind only Western Carolina).

Samford is third in scoring defense, allowing 20.2 points per game. SU is also third in total defense (4.5 yards allowed per play) and rushing defense (3.9).

The Citadel is third in total offense (averaging 5.5 yards per play) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs rank second nationally, trailing only Cal Poly). The Bulldogs are next-to-last in passing (averaging only 6.4 yards per attempt), but are actually fifth in passing efficiency.

Samford leads the league in passing defense, allowing 141 yards per game (which is third nationally). SU is also first in the SoCon in pass efficiency defense, and leads the conference in interceptions (9).

At 49.4%, The Citadel is second in the SoCon in offensive third down conversion rate, behind only UTC. Samford is second in defensive third down conversion rate (32.3%), so this will definitely be something to watch on Saturday.

The Citadel has an offensive TD rate of 66.7%, tied for third-best in the league. Samford’s red zone defensive TD rate is 76.5%, sixth-best in the conference.

Samford is +2 in turnover margin in league action, while The Citadel is +1.

As far as time of possession is concerned, The Citadel has held the ball for an average of 31:25, second-highest in the conference. Samford is next-to-last in that category (28:39).

That hasn’t prevented the Birmingham Bulldogs from leading the league in offensive plays. Samford’s hurry-up style has led to it averaging 2.58 plays per minute in SoCon games when on offense. Conversely, The Citadel runs 2.33 plays per minute when it is on offense.

Interestingly, the two teams have run almost the exact same number of offensive plays per game (73.8 for Samford, 73.4 for The Citadel).

The Citadel is tied for the second-fewest penalties per game in SoCon play, while Samford has the second-most. On the other side of the coin, SU opponents commit more penalties per game than all but one team in the league (VMI). As its fans know all too well, The Citadel does not get the benefit of having a lot of flags thrown on opposing teams in SoCon contests; only Wofford has seen fewer in this category.

Samford quarterback Michael Eubank (6’6″, 246 lbs.) is a native of California who was the No. 8 high school dual-threat QB in the nation in 2011, per Rivals.com. He would up attending Arizona State for three years, redshirting his freshman year and then playing in 20 games over the next two seasons, rushing for seven touchdowns and throwing for four more.

In January of 2014, Eubank transferred to Samford. This season, he is completing 64.7% of his passes, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, with ten touchdowns and six interceptions. Eubank also has five rushing touchdowns.

Denzel Williams (5’10”, 191 lbs.) is the workhorse running back in Samford’s spread offense. The redshirt sophomore has 157 of the team’s 392 rushing attempts this season; Eubank is the only other player with more than 37.

For the season, Williams is averaging 87.8 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry; with 15 rushing touchdowns, he also leads the SoCon in scoring. Williams had 180 yards rushing against VMI, and also had 100-yard efforts against Furman and Western Carolina.

Karel Hamilton (6’1″, 190 lbs.) is far and away the leader in receptions for Samford, with 45. The sophomore is averaging a sterling 16.4 yards per catch, with six TDs. As mentioned earlier, Hamilton had 206 yards receiving against Furman; he also had 115 yards receiving versus Western Carolina, 101 yards against Mercer, and 129 yards versus Chattanooga.

Tight end Tony Philpot (6’2″, 243 lbs.) was a second-team all-league selection in the preseason.

Average size of the starters on Samford’s offensive line: 6’4″, 299 lbs. Right tackle Gunnar Bromelow, a preseason first-season All-SoCon selection, is the biggest of the group; the redshirt junior checks in at 6’6″, 305 lbs. Right guard C.H. Scruggs was a second-team All-SoCon preseason choice.

Four of the five o-line starters are in their fourth or fifth year in the program.

In my opinion, free safety Jaquiski Tartt (6’1″, 218 lbs.) is one of the two best defensive players in the league (along with Chattanooga’s Davis Tull). He had a pick-6 against The Citadel in 2012. Tartt is second on the team in tackles, with 57.

Tartt was one of two Samford defensive backs to get a first-team preseason All-Conference nod. James Bradberry, a 6’1″, 205 lb. cornerback, was the other. Bradberry spent one year at Arkansas State before joining the Birmingham Bulldogs’ program.

Strong safety Jamerson Blount (6’1″, 190 lbs.) leads the team in passes defensed and is also third in tackles. He is one of 22 players from Florida on the SU roster.

Samford’s leading tackler is middle linebacker Justin Cooper, a 6’2″, 230 lb. redshirt junior who began his college career at Texas Tech. Cooper has 5.5 tackles for loss this season (69 overall) and is the reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Week.

Fellow linebacker Josh Killett (6’2″, 220 lbs.) has six tackles for loss as part of his 40 overall tackles.

Along the defensive line, Samford is quite imposing. There are a lot of players in the rotation (including three noseguards on the two-deep), and plenty of individual size and skill.

Michael Pierce, a 6’0″, 309 lb. defensive tackle who spent his first two years in college at Tulane before transferring to Samford last year, was a first-team All-SoCon preseason selection. He has 33 tackles this year, including five tackles for loss.

Mike Houston called Pierce “one of the better d-linemen in the league” in his weekly press conference. Pierce’s younger brother Myles is a freshman linebacker at The Citadel who had a tackle last week against Furman.

One of three players listed on the depth chart at the “stud” position, Roosevelt Donaldson (6’2″, 258 lbs.), leads the team in tackles for loss, with seven. He also has the most sacks (four).

For Samford, both kicker Warren Handrahan and punter Greg Peranich were first-team preseason picks for the All-SoCon team.

Peranich is averaging 43.1 yards per punt, with 14 of his 41 kicks downed inside the 20 (against four touchbacks). However, two of his punts this season have been returned for TDs. Samford is in the bottom five nationally in average punt return allowed (17.77 yards).

Handrahan is 5-9 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 47. Last season he was 19-24 on field goal attempts, with a long of 48. That included two field goals against The Citadel (including a 44-yarder).

He did not kick in Samford’s victory over Western Carolina last week. Backup placekicker Reece Everett was 2-2 on field goal tries (and is 4-5 for the season). Everett is listed as this week’s starter on the two-deep.

Samford’s kickoff specialist is Michael O’Neal. Almost 25% of O’Neal’s kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks; he has only kicked the ball out of bounds once this year.

Nationally, SU is 43rd in kickoff return average (21.0 yards/return) and 61st in kickoff return defense (19.8 yards/return).

Robert Clark, a 5’9″, 173 lb. wide receiver, is Samford’s primary kickoff and punt returner. His longest kick return this season was for 45 yards.

From 2010-2012, The Citadel’s offense only scored a combined total of 34 points in three games against Samford’s “Bear” front. In those three games, the Bulldogs faced third down on 39 occasions, converting only six of them for first downs.

Last season’s game was different. The Citadel was 8-17 on third down and scored four rushing touchdowns while rolling up a respectable 338 yards rushing. The Bulldogs overcame a 17-0 deficit to win 28-26, with Vinny Miller rushing for 95 yards.

The Citadel only passed for 55 yards in that contest, however (on 16 attempts). If the Bulldogs hope to win on Saturday, they will likely have to throw for more yardage than that, and more effectively as well.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel’s game notes mentioned the initial encounter between Samford and The Citadel on the gridiron, the 1989 contest. It was arguably the most memorable game between the two teams. It was the first game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium following the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo. The Citadel won the game, 35-16. Three brief comments on that matchup:

  • The Citadel only attempted two passes, completing one of them. I’ll bet you thought Jack Douglas threw that completed pass, but nope: it was Speizio Stowers with a 16-yard pass to Cornell Caldwell.
  • Douglas threw the other Bulldog pass in that game, which fell incomplete, but we’ll cut him some slack, since he rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown while directing an attack that finished with 402 yards rushing. Tom Frooman had 113 of those yards and three TDs, while Raymond Mazyck added 92 yards on the ground and a score. Also prominent in the statbook that day: Kingstree’s own Alfred Williams, with 55 yards rushing on 11 carries.
  • Care to guess what the attendance was? Remember, Charleston was still in major recovery mode from the hurricane (you could say the same about Johnson Hagood Stadium). Okay, the answer: 15,214. Think about that, especially when compared to recent attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere, for that matter).

– Speaking of the game notes, I didn’t realize Jake Stenson became the first Bulldog since Andre Roberts in 2008 to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game. Kudos to him.

– The 22 positions on offense and defense for The Citadel have been started by a total of 32 players — 18 on offense, and only 14 on defense. Eleven Bulldogs have started every game, including seven on defense.

– The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame will enshrine six new members this week. Two baseball players, 1990 CWS hero Hank Kraft and Rodney Hancock (the scourge of Furman) will be inducted. All-American wrestler Dan Thompson will be enshrined, as will football lineman Mike Davitt, a mainstay during the Red Parker era. Charleston mayor Joe Riley and basketball player/cookbook author Pat Conroy will be recognized as “honorary” members.

– The 1:00 pm ET start time will be the fourth different start time for a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2014. Other start times: Noon, 2pm, and 6pm.

– Only one player on Samford’s roster, reserve defensive lineman Cole Malphrus, is from South Carolina. The junior is from Hilton Head.

There are 28 natives of Alabama playing for SU, along with 22 each from Georgia and Florida. Tennessee is represented by seven players, while four hail from Mississippi, three from California, and two from North Carolina. There is even one Alaskan playing for the Baptist Tigers (freshman defensive back C.J. Toomer).

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Aubie The Tiger, the mascot for Auburn.

Vote for Spike!

This is a tough matchup for The Citadel. It’s an opponent with a defense that has a history of success against the triple option (last year notwithstanding) and an offense that would be expected to do well against the Bulldogs’ pass D.

The key to the game for The Citadel is to keep Samford’s offense off the field as much as possible. The SU defense has been good at stopping teams on third down this season; the Bulldogs have to reverse that trend on Saturday.

Samford has had some results that might give The Citadel some confidence, including its games against Wofford and Mercer. On the other hand, the Birmingham Bulldogs drilled Furman (which took The Citadel to overtime just last week) and handled Western Carolina with relative ease.

The Citadel can win this game, but it will probably take the Bulldogs’ best performance of the season. That includes a team effort from not only the offense and defense, but also the special teams, which were subpar against the Paladins (to say the least).

I am a little worried about the atmosphere on Saturday. After the big Homecoming win over Furman, this game might be anticlimactic to some.

It shouldn’t be that way for the team, however. There are still goals to pursue for these Bulldogs, including a third straight victory and a chance to finish the year with a winning season in conference play.

I’m looking forward to this contest. It’s a home game, after all. There aren’t that many of them in a given season.

You have to treasure them all, especially when there won’t be another one until next September.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 711 other followers