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.

Game review, 2014: Furman

Members of The Citadel’s 1990 College World Series team were honored at halftime of the football game on Saturday. This reminded me of a comment from the late great Chal Port after that squad defeated Cal State-Fullerton in the College World Series:

I thought that was one great game. It was not great baseball, but my God that was exciting.

If you substitute “football” for baseball, Port’s comment could easily have applied to the gridiron battle between Furman and The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium. It wasn’t necessarily the most elegant of contests, but it kept the fans guessing for over three hours.

Against Cal State-Fullerton, The Citadel’s baseball team won despite committing seven errors. The football Bulldogs had to overcome a similar number of mistakes against the Paladins to prevail — and, like that 1990 baseball game, regulation wasn’t enough to decide matters.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Greenville News

Game report, WCSC-TV; also, additional comments from Mike Houston

Game report, WCIV-TV

Box score

When it comes to Southern Conference officiating, “open mic night” takes on a whole new meaning…

Late in the fourth quarter, just prior to The Citadel scoring the game-tying touchdown, the game referee had a conversation with Vinny Miller. The running back had been called for three highly dubious holding penalties during the game and was clearly upset (justifiably so), particularly with the last call. What the referee did not know was that his microphone was still on.

After the talk with Miller (whose comments were inaudible), the referee chatted with the umpire and had this to say:

He came to apologize…16 [Miller] came to apologize for being a jackass…why is he staring at me over there, Warren?…The head coach…

Well, I would guess that Mike Houston was staring at you because you had just announced to over 11,000 people that (in your opinion, and your opinion only) one of his players had been acting like a farm animal.

Shortly afterwards, still unaware his microphone had not been turned off, he remarked:

I like excitement. I just don’t like to be involved in the excitement, you know what I mean?

Unfortunately for the players and coaches on both teams (and their increasingly frustrated fans), the officials were all too involved in the excitement of Saturday’s game.

I’m not going to list all the questionable and simply bad calls and non-calls. I’ll just say it wasn’t a good day for the men in stripes.

Despite the officiating, the team that won the game deserved to win it. Some Furman fans may not feel that way, and I understand their misgivings.

However, Furman has now lost eight straight games, and the last half of the fourth quarter (plus overtime) was a partial demonstration of why the Paladins are on their current losing skid. With two golden opportunities to all but ice the game, Furman fumbled the ball away on The Citadel’s 1-yard line, and missed a relatively easy field goal. Teams that do those kinds of things late in close games generally don’t win those games.

Conversely, The Citadel made the big play late in the game when it had to do so, and dominated the OT session on both sides of the ball.

Random thoughts and observations:

- The two teams combined for 509 yards of total offense in the first half.

Furman entered the game last in the SoCon in total offense, averaging just over 305 yards per game. In the first half, though, the Paladins had 212 yards of total offense. Starting QB P.J. Blazejowski accounted for 194 of those yards (including 124 through the air).

- I’ve never seen fewer Furman fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game. It was a bit startling, to be honest. I guess the long string of losses during the season has taken a toll on the fan base.

Those Paladin fans probably wondered about a few of their coaches’ offensive playcalls during the game, including operating out of the shotgun on 4th down and less than a yard; the play near midfield in the third quarter where Blazejowski threw a weird third-and-short pass to no one in particular; and the abandonment of the running game during the overtime period.

- There was some discussion in the stands about the number of fullback carries the Bulldogs had on Saturday. Indeed, Tyler Renew and Isiaha Smith combined for 38 rushes.

That’s a lot. It was almost half of The Citadel’s 78 rushing attempts.

However, it’s also true that those carries by Renew and Smith were good for an average of 4.55 yards per rush. Both backs were consistently getting yardage that put the Bulldogs in manageable down-and-distance situations, a key factor in the 30-18 edge The Citadel had in first downs.

I also wondered if the coaches wanted to avoid overusing the slotbacks, given how thin the Bulldogs currently are at that position. At any rate, all the fullback action set things up nicely on the outside, as the trio of Jake Stenson/Vinny Miller/Jonathan Dorogy averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

Overall, the offensive efficiency was excellent.

- The special teams for the Bulldogs were not very special on Saturday. To review, The Citadel fumbled the opening kickoff, botched a PAT, gave the Paladins great field position with a bad punt, allowed a long kickoff return to open the second half, missed a field goal, and committed two penalties on returns.

Without all those miscues in the kicking game, the Bulldogs probably would have won the game with a little room to spare. As it was, the mistakes in the kicking game made things a lot more difficult for The Citadel.

- On Aaron Miller’s 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, it appeared that Miller was running diagonally through a maze. I noticed on the replay that wideout Jorian Jordan essentially blocked two Paladins on the play, which gave Miller his final lane to the end zone.

- There were several outstanding receptions by The Citadel. The first was Brandon Eakins’ sideline grab in the first quarter, which may have been lost in the shuffle. It was an important catch, though, because it came on third down and kept the Bulldogs’ initial drive alive.

Then there was Alex Glover’s acrobatic snag of a 40-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 in the second quarter. He showed a great deal of athleticism in making that play.

Jonathan Dorogy’s late-game catch was particularly impressive given the fact he was interfered with (though it wasn’t called) and caught the ball anyway. It was also Dorogy’s first career reception. Everyone should clap their hands in appreciation.

That said, I think Jake Stenson’s catch-and-run for a TD was the play of the day, and maybe the best individual play by a Bulldog I’ve seen all season. It had a little bit of everything.

He showed good hands in making the grab near ankle level, shrugged off one would-be tackler, met another defender head-on and bowled him over, and then had the presence of mind (and understanding of the situation) to leap for the goal line, showing great field awareness in the process. It was a very impressive effort.

- Aaron Miller completed only eight passes in the game, but they went to six different receivers. He has options, and he uses them.

- The Bulldogs tried to convert a two-point PAT out of their standard unbalanced formation, and failed spectacularly. It was the third time The Citadel had tried to get two points on that setup, and the first time it hadn’t worked.

Of course, the Bulldogs lost both games in which they successfully converted the two-point trick play, and won on Saturday when they didn’t make it. What does that mean? Nothing.

- I wasn’t a huge fan of going for two at the end of the first half. I felt that was a little too early to begin chasing points, especially when the two teams had combined for eight touchdowns in two quarters of action. It worked out for The Citadel, though.

- The Citadel did not commit a false start penalty in the game. In fact, none of the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen were called for a single infraction. The o-line had a fine day at the office, and the statistics reflect that.

- The kicking contest at the end of the third quarter featured not one, but two cadet kickers. Both of them made their field goal attempts, much to the glee of the Homecoming crowd.

- The regimental band/pipes performance at halftime was excellent. The band needs to be more of a presence during the game, of course. I’ve mentioned this before, and I know the powers that be are working on it.

The crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium got what it wanted, which was a fun football game that ended with the home team celebrating. What was gratifying (and a little surprising) to me was how many people stayed throughout the contest.

Usually at Homecoming games, there is even more action than usual going on outside the stadium. While there were plenty of parties in full swing on Saturday (I can attest to that), the west stands remained mostly full and engaged.

In overtime, the atmosphere was tremendous. I remember looking around at one point and thinking, “This is great.”

I wish it were always that way. It can be. It’s going to take a little time, though — and a few more victories for the Bulldogs.

Homecoming was a lot of fun. I got a chance to reconnect with a lot of old friends. We told a few stories, most of them funny, and counted our blessings.

The new overhead video scoreboard at McAlister Field House is a pleasure to see in person. It’s fantastic. Well done, Class of 1964.

After viewing the scoreboard, I wandered over to the parade ground and watched the Joe Riley announcement. After he leaves office as Charleston’s mayor in January 2016, Riley will be teaching at The Citadel as the first professor in an endowed chair named in his honor, which is outstanding.

I watched the twilight parade, and then went to a reunion party. There, I learned that having multiple food trucks available for sampling at one’s leisure is a very fine thing indeed.

Tailgating on Saturday was quite enjoyable, too.

It was a great weekend. The win over Furman was just the icing on the cake.

Very tasty icing.

This week’s pictures range from surprisingly decent to incredibly bad. It’s a diverse mix, to be sure.

The collection starts with some non-football photos. It was Homecoming, after all…

 

2014 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 8. 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 Furman

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 11/4 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

DeVonta Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

The Citadel looks to finish strong

Furman is still seeking an offensive identity

As a reminder that basketball season is right around the corner, my preview of the Bulldogs’ upcoming campaign:

Getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014-15 hoops season

Revisiting last Saturday’s victory over Mercer:

- I’ll take that first-half performance by The Citadel’s offense every week, preferably for both halves. Five possessions, four touchdowns. They were good, long drives (of 71, 70, 82, and 53 yards).

All four of those scoring drives featured nothing but running plays. The other first-half possession, which resulted in the Bulldogs’ first punt, was short-circuited by a sack on The Citadel’s first would-be pass attempt of the game. That drive also featured the Bulldogs’ only penalty of the entire half (a false start).

- Then there was the second half. In the words of Mike Houston at the SoCon media teleconference:

We always seem to find a way to make it interesting.

Houston added that on the bright side, prevailing in close games helps the players’ mental toughness going forward. I’m not sure the same can be said for the fan base.

The six possessions of the second half resulted in two punts, a missed field goal, a failed fourth down conversion attempt, a lost fumble, and the final drive of the game, when three first downs (including a big 22-yard run by Aaron Miller on 3rd-and-4) clinched the victory for The Citadel.

The Bulldogs were their worst enemy during the latter half. Besides the fumble and the inability to convert on 4th-and-3 from the Mercer 35 (which was about the only time all day Mercer successfully defended on the outside), there were the by now all-too-familiar rash of penalties — six of them.

Now, one of those six penalties was a bit dubious, as I thought the unsportsmanlike conduct infraction called on Mitchell Jeter was weak. It kept Mercer’s final scoring drive alive, too.

However, the Bulldogs also had two false start penalties in the second half. One of them came prior to the opening play from scrimmage for The Citadel’s offense in the third quarter. The other forced the Bulldogs into a 3rd-and-7 that one play later became the aforementioned 4th-and-3 which The Citadel was unable to convert.

There was also an offensive holding penalty (which came right before the fumble — amazing how that works out), a facemask on defense (just a bad break), and a flag thrown on a kick return.

The Bulldogs have to stop committing those penalties.

- The Citadel’s defense did a fine job bottling up Alex Lakes, who came into the game as the SoCon’s leading rusher, at 102 yards per game. He is still the league’s top ground gainer (Aaron Miller is currently second in that category), but on Saturday, the Bulldogs’ D held him to 58 yards on 22 carries, with a long of 11 yards.

Mercer quarterback John Russ had more success running the ball, gaining 96 yards on 14 carries (and that includes lost yardage from two sacks). His 31-yard scamper in the first quarter set up the Bears’ first touchdown.

While I thought The Citadel’s defense for the most part was solid, those rushing yards by Russ are a reminder that the Bulldogs still have issues at times dealing with a QB who can pass or run.

This week, The Citadel will again face a dual-threat quarterback…

- Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb might want a do-over on the Bears’ two-point try. It wound up being a receiver pass to the quarterback, a tricky play that was expertly broken up by The Citadel’s DeVonta Delaney.

In that situation, I thought Mercer would have been better off with either Russ or Lakes trying to make a play, as is usually the case for the Bears. They are the primary ballhandlers for Mercer; a potential game-deciding play probably needs to go through one of them.

- After Aaron Miller picked up a first down on 3rd-and-4 with two minutes remaining (and Miller staying inbounds on the play), Mercer was down to one timeout and thus was not able to prevent the Bulldogs from running out the clock. I was a little surprised The Citadel ran two more “regular” plays (both Miller runs).

Maybe those runs were the Bulldogs’ version of “victory formation”, but I was worried about the chance of a fumble. In that situation, there was no need for The Citadel to risk a Mercer player becoming the college version of Herm Edwards.

Furman is 2-7 overall, 1-3 in the SoCon (with its league record matching The Citadel’s). The Paladins opened the season with a 13-3 home victory over Gardner-Webb, but it proved costly.

After passing for 221 yards, Furman quarterback Reese Hannon broke his left ankle in the third quarter. Just like that, the Paladins had lost their starting QB for the season.

The next week, Furman won its conference opener at Mercer, 25-20. The key play in the game was an interception return for a touchdown by Paladins defensive end Gary Wilkins.

Since defeating the Bears, Furman has lost seven consecutive games, its longest losing streak since 1972, a year in which FU lost its last seven games of the season.

Furman only scored seven points in each of the two games following the Mercer game, a 10-7 loss in Clinton to Presbyterian (the Blue Hose’s first victory over the Paladins since 1979) and a 17-7 defeat to South Carolina State (a team Furman had beaten in the first round of the FCS playoffs last season).

Western Carolina then defeated the Paladins in Greenville, 35-17, the first victory for the Catamounts at Furman in twenty years. WCU converted three Paladin turnovers into 21 points.

The following week saw Furman play arguably one of its better games of the season, eventually losing at home to Coastal Carolina 37-31 in double overtime. Furman had a chance to win the game in the first OT, but a wide receiver pass attempt went awry.

After a bye, the Paladins traveled to Columbia and played respectably in a 41-10 loss to the Gamecocks. Running back Hank McCloud rushed for 106 yards in the contest, including a 60-yard TD run.

The games of the last two weeks, however, could not be described as “respectable” by any fan of the Paladins.

Furman was shut out by Samford, 45-0, a result made worse by the fact it was the Paladins’ Homecoming game. After only one offensive play from scrimmage, Samford led Furman 14-0. It was that kind of day for the Paladins.

It was the worst conference loss for Furman since losing to Davidson 77-14 in 1969, and the first shutout loss to a SoCon opponent since The Citadel blanked Furman in Greenville 24-0 in 1974 (Andrew Johnson rushed for 149 yards in that contest, one of eight 100-yard efforts for Johnson that season).

Last week, the Paladins lost 31-15 at VMI, breaking a 21-game winning streak against the Keydets. VMI took a 24-0 lead in the third quarter and coasted to victory.

Furman only managed 82 yards rushing (on 20 attempts) against VMI. That may have been a more startling statistic than the final score, given that the Keydets had allowed an average of 349.5 rushing yards to their four previous league opponents.

Injuries have been a major theme of Furman’s season. Bruce Fowler didn’t want to go into full-alibi mode at the SoCon media teleconference when asked about it by The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell:

We’ve had a bunch of them, but I don’t like to harp on that. That’s part of [football]. We’ve got some young players who are getting some experience. They’ve been in several games now, some of them, and they’re getting better…

Fowler also mentioned that some of the positions on the roster had been disproportionately affected by injuries.

Exhibit A for that would be at safety. Apparently, being a safety at Furman is the equivalent of being the drummer for Spinal Tap.

Five different Paladins have started at free safety or strong safety in 2014; a sixth (Adekunle Olusanya) is listed as the starter at strong safety for this week’s game against The Citadel. Injuries suffered by Furman safeties include a sprained ankle (three different players), a concussion, a fractured arm (two different guys), a hamstring problem, and mononucleosis. That’s just the safeties, mind you.

Carl Rider, an all-conference pick last season at middle linebacker, tore his labrum. Offensive tackle Charles Emert, who had started 36 games for the Paladins, will miss this week’s contest after suffering a concussion.

There was also Hannon’s injury, of course, along with several others. Even Hank McCloud, who is second among active SoCon players in number of rushes (471), missed a game after dislocating his elbow in a car accident during the summer.

Furman has also been without the services this season of the Robinson brothers, Gary (who had 133 receiving yards versus The Citadel last year) and Terry (who scored two touchdowns against the Bulldogs as a “wildcat” QB). Both suffered injuries last season and have been unable to play this year.

Long snapper Danny LaMontagne fractured his ankle against South Carolina. He had been the regular for 31 games; his backup would normally have been Rider.

That led to this:

…the Paladins turned to the student body [after the South Carolina game] and found senior Andrew Smith.

Smith, who had not worn football pads since playing snapper at Brentwood (Tennessee) Academy in high school, did a solid job [against Samford] but decided not to return this week.

“He’s just got a lot going on as a senior,” said Fowler. “He’s working really hard in school and has some job stuff he’s doing.”

Furman is now using sophomore placekicker Hunter Townes as its long snapper, and offensive lineman Matthew Schmidt as its “short snapper”.

The Paladins have also had some off-field issues, dismissing impact defensive back Jairus Hollman and starting center Eric Thoni during the summer. Then just last week, Furman announced the dismissals of Shawn Boone (a fifth-year player, and a regular in the defensive end rotation) and reserve offensive lineman Aaron Black.

Time for some statistical team/conference comparisons. This week, these will mostly be for SoCon games only.

Furman and The Citadel have each played four league contests. Both have played Mercer and Western Carolina. The Bulldogs have also faced Chattanooga and Wofford, while the Paladins have played VMI and Samford.

If you’ve managed to get this far in my preview, you won’t be surprised to learn that Furman is last in the league in scoring offense (14.2 points per game). The Paladins are next-to-last in total offense and rushing offense.

The Paladins are actually second in passing offense, but in terms of passing efficiency, FU is next-to-last.

The Citadel’s defense is middle-of-the-pack in scoring defense (26.5 points allowed per contest) despite being next-to-last in total defense. The Bulldogs are also firmly in the middle of the standings in pass defense, but are next-to-last in defensive pass efficiency.

As for rushing defense…well, The Citadel is last in that category, trailing even VMI (thanks in part to the Keydets’ wonderful day against the Paladins last week).

One reason both teams don’t fare well in their respective pass efficiency categories: Furman has been intercepted eight times, tied for most in conference play, while The Citadel only has three interceptions (though all three have come in the last two weeks).

Furman’s offense has been in the red zone ten times in four league games. Only twice on those ten occasions have the Paladins scored touchdowns, by far the worst percentage in the SoCon. Counting all games, both league and non-conference, Furman’s red zone offensive TD rate is only 27.2%, so that inability to get into the end zone in league play is not a fluke.

The Citadel’s red zone defense has allowed seven TDs in fifteen attempts (46.7%).

The Paladins are last in the SoCon in third-down conversion rate (32.2%). That may be good news for the Bulldogs, owners of the league’s second-worst third-down defensive conversion rate (48.9%).

Of course, The Citadel’s third-down stats on D may be good news for Furman. Your mileage may vary.

Furman is next-to-last in scoring defense (32.8 points per game), though it is fifth in total defense and fourth in rushing defense. The Paladins are next-to-last in pass defense and last in defensive pass efficiency, though that may not matter much against The Citadel.

If it does matter, that would presumably be good for the Bulldogs.

The Citadel leads the league in rushing offense (and is second nationally), but is only fourth in total offense and sixth in scoring offense (17.5 points per game).

The Bulldogs are second in the league in third-down conversion rate (49.1%), while Furman is last in defensive third-down conversion rate (51.9%). That will be something to watch on Saturday.

As for red zone offense, The Citadel’s TD rate in SoCon play is only 58.3%. Its red zone TD rate in all games is considerably higher (73.5%), so sample size may be an issue when evaluating the conference numbers.

The Paladins have allowed touchdowns thirteen out of seventeen times a SoCon opponent has been in the red zone (76.4%). That number drops slightly (66.7%) when all games are taken into account.

Furman is third in the league in kickoff return average, while The Citadel is fourth in the SoCon (though only seventh when non-conference games are included).

One thing the Bulldogs did very well in Macon was prevent long returns. The Citadel’s kickoff coverage unit was outstanding against Mercer.

Among league teams, Furman is more or less average at returning punts. The Bulldogs rank last in the league in that category.

In conference games, Furman is -3 in turnover margin, while The Citadel is +2. Overall, the Paladins are -6 and the Bulldogs are -1.

The Citadel has held the ball slightly longer than its opponents in SoCon action (30:26); that number rises to 31:30 for all games. Furman is last in the league in time of possession (28:46), but has had the ball longer when all contests are included (30:20).

In conference games, The Citadel has committed nine fewer penalties than Furman, but overall the Paladins have been whistled for eight fewer infractions than the Bulldogs.

The Citadel continues to trail all league teams in the number of penalties called against their opponents. Fans of the Bulldogs are not surprised.

For the season, Furman’s offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 48.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for 57.1% of the Paladins’ total offense.

P.J. Blazejowski (6’0″, 182 lbs.), a freshman from St. Augustine, Florida, was probably a redshirt candidate at the beginning of the season, but once Reese Hannon was injured he became the backup quarterback for the Paladins. He has now started the last four games for Furman.

Blazejowski is completing 52.1% of his passes, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt, with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He is also Furman’s second-leading rusher, averaging 4.5 yards per carry (a number that includes sacks).

Hank McCloud is another Floridian; the redshirt senior is from Tampa. McCloud rushed for 1,092 yards last season, averaging 78 yards per game. He just about hit his average last season against The Citadel, when he ran for 77 yards.

In the 2012 game against the Bulldogs, McCloud rushed for 92 yards on only 12 carries (splitting carries with Jerodis Williams). He has been an excellent player for Furman over his career.

That 2012 contest reminded me of something I noticed from last week’s game against VMI. In both games, Furman got behind and abandoned the run game early. I thought it was a mistake to do so against The Citadel two years ago, and I have to wonder if that was true last Saturday as well.

Furman only rushed the ball 20 times against VMI (and one of those was a sack). Again, VMI entered that contest having allowed 349.5 yards per game on the ground in conference play.

The Paladins’ offensive line has been in a state of flux. Only veteran right guard Joe Turner (6’3″, 275 lbs.) has started every game. Left guard Tank Phillips (6’2″, 307 lbs.) has 24 career starts, so he also has considerable experience.

The loss of Charles Emert to a concussion was a blow for Furman, as he was versatile enough to play anywhere on the line.

Average height/weight of the projected starters on the o-line: 6’3″, 291 lbs. The heaviest of the group is 317 lb. right tackle Terrell Bush, a true freshman from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Last year, Duncan Fletcher was a quarterback for the Paladins. He was 3-3 passing for 61 yards against The Citadel, as he relieved an injured Reese Hannon in that contest. He would eventually start two games at QB.

This season, Fletcher (6’4″, 222 lbs.) is Furman’s starting tight end. He has a 28-yard touchdown reception against VMI (one of two TD catches for him this year), and leads the Paladins in receptions with 33.

Starting flanker Andrej Suttles (5’10”, 182 lbs.) has 30 receptions. Suttles caught 50 passes last season, including four against The Citadel (for 58 yards). He is also Furman’s primary punt returner, and had a 42-yard return against Western Carolina.

Jordan Snellings, the split end, is a taller receiver (6’2″, 190 lbs.), something that occasionally has been a problem for Bulldog defenders. He has 32 receptions this year, and is averaging 13.3 yards per catch. Snellings had 112 yards receiving against Western Carolina, and 111 versus Mercer.

Furman operates out of a base 4-3 defense. That may fluctuate a bit on Saturday, depending on how the Paladins line up against The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Despite all the injuries throughout the team, Furman has had a stable front seven for most of the season.

The defensive line is anchored by Gary Wilkins (6’3″, 240 lbs.), an outstanding defensive end who was the SoCon defensive player of the month for September. The fifth-year senior has made 38 career starts (he was formerly a linebacker).

Wilkins was a preseason all-conference selection, and leads the Paladins in tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6).

There is plenty of experience on the line with Wilkins. Defensive end Ira McCune and defensive tackle John Mackey have combined to make 46 career starts, including every game this season. The other starting defensive tackle is 6’1″, 290 lb. Jordan Hawkins, a sophomore who has already started 18 games for the Paladins.

Middle linebacker T.J. Warren had three tackles for loss (including a sack) against The Citadel last season. Fellow linebacker Cory Magwood leads Furman in tackles with 93; no other Paladin has more than 53.

Marcus McMorris, a redshirt senior from Newberry, had an 89-yard interception return against Samford for a TD last season. This year, he has two interceptions, the only Paladin with multiple picks.

Jamarri Milliken and Reggie Thomas have started every game at the two cornerback positions for Furman. Thomas, at 6’0″, is the taller of the two players.

Nick Miller, a 5’9″, 167 lb. sophomore from Kennesaw, Georgia, is listed as this week’s starting free safety on Furman’s two-deep. Miller is also listed as the backup at both cornerback spots and at nickelback.

As mentioned earlier, Adekunle Olusanya is slated to start at strong safety. He is a redshirt freshman from Tampa.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth is the punter and regular placekicker for the Paladins. He is eight for fifteen on field goal attempts. While erratic, he does have a strong leg, having made a 51-yarder against Western Carolina and a 50-yarder versus Mercer (one of four field goals he made in that game).

Hollingsworth, a freshman from Greenwood, is averaging 39.9 yards per punt, with fifteen of his fifty kicks landing inside the 20-yard line. He had a punt blocked against Samford that was returned for a touchdown.

Nick Miller is one of Furman’s two kick returners. The other is Logan McCarter, a reserve wide receiver who appears to be something of a big-play threat; the redshirt freshman only has three receptions this season, but they went for 27, 36, and 34 yards (with the 36-yarder a TD catch against South Carolina State).

While discussing Furman’s injury troubles above, I referenced the personnel issues the Paladins have had when it comes to longsnapping. It is possible that could be a factor this Saturday.

The Citadel may be more inclined to put pressure on the punter (or placekicker). It is also conceivable that Furman will be more likely in certain situations to go for it on fourth down rather than punt or attempt a field goal.

Odds and ends:

- Furman has 17 players on its team from South Carolina. As is fairly typical, there are more Paladins from Georgia (32) than any other state.

Three other states have double-digit representation on the Furman football roster: Florida (15), North Carolina (12), and Tennessee (10).

- Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 9-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 41.

Keep in mind that The Citadel has only covered the spread twice this season, against Gardner-Webb and…Florida State.

- Members of The Citadel’s basketball team will sign autographs and distribute schedule cards and posters at Johnson Hagood Stadium the hour prior to kickoff.

Also: “the team will also be handing out the 2014 adidas Citadel Homecoming t-shirts.”

- It was announced during Tuesday’s press conference that the 1990 College World Series team will be recognized at halftime on Saturday. (My thanks to WCSC-TV sportscaster Andy Pruitt for mentioning that on Twitter.)

- The honorary captain for the game will be Bill Sansom, Class of 1964.

- This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Wilma T. Wildcat, the mascot for Arizona.

Vote for Spike!

- This is Homecoming weekend at The Citadel. As always, there is a lot going on.

Watch out for extra traffic and parking issues on Friday, as Joe Riley is apparently making a special announcement of some sort on the parade ground at 1:00 pm ET. The longtime Charleston mayor is a member of the Class of 1964, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its graduation.

There are other major reunion events taking place. Rumor has it that at least one of them, that of the Class of 1989, will be particularly over-the-top (even by the standards of The Citadel).

This is not one of Furman’s better teams, to say the least, but it is a dangerous squad nonetheless, one more than capable of disappointing the home crowd on Saturday.

Last year the Paladins held The Citadel to just 132 yards rushing, and many of the players who were on the field for Furman in that game are back. While the offense has had major problems, the Paladins’ defense has mostly held up this season.

In addition, The Citadel is facing yet another dual-threat QB operating out of a spread offense. Furman has talent at the skill positions and some experience on its offensive line. It will not be an easy matchup for the Bulldogs’ D.

That said, Saturday’s game is an opportunity for The Citadel. This is a winnable game.

If the Bulldogs play like they did in the first half last week against Mercer, The Citadel will likely win. If they repeat the inconsistent and mistake-prone play of the second half of that game, however, they will almost certainly lose.

I would highly recommend the Bulldogs repeat that first-half performance.

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