2014 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Mercer, to be played to be played in Macon, Georgia, at Mercer University Stadium, with kickoff at 4:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 1. The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Dan Mathews providing play-by-play, D.J. Shockley supplying the analysis, and Hannah Chalker reporting from the sidelines.

Note: this game 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 new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

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

Links of interest:

Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston at his 10/28 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Bobby Lamb on the SoCon teleconference

Bulldogs plagued by self-inflicted mistakes

Mercer gears up for The Citadel

Mike Houston (in that above-linked “plagued by self-inflicted mistakes” article):

Saturday’s game was frustrating, because it goes back to what I said at the beginning of the season. And that is that we can win our share of games as long as we do what good football teams do.

Late in the year, good football teams take care of the football, don’t have penalties on critical downs and play good, fundamentally sound defense. And although we did some good things Saturday, we didn’t do those things that we needed to.

This is especially true when there is less margin for error, as is normally the case for varsity teams at The Citadel. When the Bulldogs turn the ball over three times in their opponents’ territory, and commit two false-start penalties when preparing to go for it on 4th down — well, they aren’t going to win many games, particularly on the road.

Frustrating is a good word for The Citadel’s performance against Western Carolina. The Bulldogs were ready to play last Saturday against the Catamounts. The effort was there. The execution was not.

In my game preview I wrote that I wanted to see “crisp play on both sides of the ball”. It wasn’t quite present in Cullowhee, at least from the Bulldogs’ perspective, and so the result was another loss.

The offense had the aforementioned turnover and penalty issues. As for the defense, one statistic sums up the day: Western Carolina averaged 9.6 yards per play.

The Citadel has to get better if it wants to record another victory this season. That’s the bottom line.

What is now Mercer University was founded in 1833. The school was originally located in Penfield, Georgia, a small town between Atlanta and Augusta. The campus relocated to Macon in 1871.

The institution is named for Jesse Mercer, a Baptist leader who was the first chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees. The college was originally established by Baptists, but no longer has an affiliation with the denomination.

MU has about 4,400 undergraduate students and almost 4,000 graduate/professional students. They are enrolled at twelve different colleges located in Macon (the primary campus), Savannah, and Atlanta.

Mercer has over 68,000 alumni. Its most notorious graduate is probably Nancy Grace.

Obviously, Mercer is new to the SoCon, so just to quickly recap some varsity athletics particulars:

- The school fields teams in 17 of the league’s 20 sports. The exceptions are men’s track and field (both indoor and outdoor) and wrestling.

- Mercer also has varsity squads in two sports that are not sponsored by the SoCon: women’s lacrosse and sand volleyball.

In ’92, Mercer played its first college football game.

That would be 1892. In January of that year, the Bears played Georgia in Athens, losing 50-0.

Mercer may have lost the game, but it acquired a nickname/mascot. Well, allegedly:

The choice of the bear as Mercer’s mascot is said to have been prompted by a University of Georgia football player. In that first football game between the two schools, one of the Georgia players saw a Mercer player burst through the line of scrimmage and exclaimed, “Whence cometh that bear?”

If you really believe that a football player at Georgia said “Whence cometh” while a play was in progress, I have a washed-out bridge in Adams Run to sell you. It strikes me as a latter-day explanation provided by the sports information director of a bygone era, someone inspired by Epicurus or the Bible.

Two months after the Georgia game, Mercer played the Savannah Catholic Library Association, losing 20-2.

The Bears’ first victory came in November of 1892, when they defeated Georgia Tech 12-6. The contest (which was Tech’s first-ever football game) was played in a local Macon park.

Mercer played once in 1893, losing 10-6 in a rematch with Georgia Tech played in Atlanta. The coach of the Bears for that game was George Tweedy Stallings, who had recently finished his regular job for the year, that of a professional baseball player. Stallings also served as the Bears’ baseball coach during this period.

He would play only seven major league games, but still managed to carve out his place in baseball history. Stallings managed the 1914 “Miracle Braves” of Boston, a team that was in last place in the National League on Independence Day before surging to the NL pennant. The Braves then swept the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s in four straight games to win the World Series.

For that accomplishment, Stallings was known for the rest of his life as “The Miracle Man”.

Incidentally, Stallings is not the most famous baseball coach in Mercer history. Cy Young coached at Mercer from 1903-1905.

(One more note on Stallings: some references list him as a graduate of VMI. However, there is apparently no evidence Stallings ever attended that school.)

Mercer started playing football games on a regular basis in 1906, when it joined the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The football program would move to the Dixie Conference in 1930.

That victory over Georgia Tech in 1892 would be the only one Mercer ever recorded against the Yellow Jackets, as the Bears lost 15 of the other 16 games in the series (one matchup ended in a tie). Mercer was 0-22 versus Georgia.

The Bears were more competitive against another bunch of Bulldogs, winning four of eleven games against The Citadel (with one tie). The teams played six times in a seven-year period between 1925-31, meeting in several different locations (Charleston, Macon, Augusta, and Savannah).

That 1931 game would prove to be the last between the two programs until this season. Mercer would disband its football program following the 1941 campaign, never restarting the sport after World War II — not until last year, that is.

On November 19, 2010, Mercer’s Board of Trustees voted to reinstate varsity football, though not as a scholarship sport. The school hired former Furman head coach Bobby Lamb to lead the program two months later.

Lamb signed his first class of recruits in February of 2012, with an eye on competing in the Pioneer League (which had accepted Mercer as a member). However, when the school announced in May of 2013 that it was joining the SoCon (beginning with the 2014-15 school year), it also stated that it would transition to scholarship football. Lamb thus did not sign a full class of scholarship recruits until February 2014.

Mercer also built a new football/lacrosse complex. The 10,000-seat Mercer University Stadium opened for gridiron activity in 2013 with more fans in the stands than seats, as 12,171 supporters watched the Bears defeated Reinhardt 40-37 in the school’s first football game since 1941.

The Bears would finish last season with a 10-2 record, winning their first four contests before losing at San Diego. Mercer’s other loss last season came on the road against another Pioneer League opponent, Marist.

Not coincidentally, USD and Marist were two of the three best teams in the Pioneer League in 2013 (along with Butler). Arguably the best win of the season for Mercer was its victory over Drake.

Mercer opened this season with a back-and-forth, who-has-the-ball-last kind of game, a 45-42 home triumph over Reinhardt (which is an NAIA school in Georgia). There were ten lead changes in the contest.

The following week, the Bears lost 25-20 to Furman, the Paladins’ first game after losing starting quarterback Reese Hannon to a season-ending injury. The key play in the game was a pick-six by Furman in the fourth quarter.

MU rolled in its next two games, winning at Stetson 49-0 and pummeling Ave Maria of the NAIA 42-21 (the Bears led the Gyrenes 42-7 at halftime). Mercer then won its first SoCon game, a 27-24 triumph at VMI in which a last-minute interception near the goal line preserved the victory.

Mercer has lost three of its last four games, all conference matchups. The lone victory in that stretch was a 49-21 walloping of Austin Peay.

Samford defeated the Bears 21-18. The score was 21-10 with a minute remaining when Chandler Curtis (more on him later) returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown. A subsequent onside kick was recovered by the homestanding Birmingham Bulldogs.

Turnovers and penalties doomed Mercer against Western Carolina (sound familiar?). The Catamounts won in Macon, 35-21.

Last week, the Bears lost at Chattanooga 38-31. Mercer trailed 35-14 before mounting a comeback, but couldn’t quite reel in the Mocs.

General statistics for consideration, Mercer’s offense/The Citadel’s defense:

Mercer has passed (or been sacked on passing plays) 39% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for just over 50% of the Bears’ total offense.

MU leads the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency and total offense. It is second in scoring offense, and third in rushing offense.

One caveat: While Mercer is averaging 33.6 points per game overall, that number drops to 23.4 points per game in league play.

Mercer is averaging 5.1 yards per rush and a SoCon-high 8.9 yards per pass attempt, which combined have resulted in a league-leading 6.5 yards per play.

The Citadel ranks next-to-last in the league in scoring, rushing, and total defense, and last in passing defense  and pass efficiency defense. The Bulldogs are allowing 5.3 yards per rush and 8.4 yards per pass attempt, which adds up to 6.6 yards per play.

The 63-56 2OT game against Charlotte skews those numbers slightly, but the Bulldogs have not played well on defense in the two games following the matchup with the 49ers either. The statistics bear that out.

Despite the fact that the Bears lead the conference in first downs per game (20.4), Mercer has not been all that successful on third down. Its conversion rate of 35.4% ranks behind every other SoCon team except Furman. Saturday’s matchup may be a case of the stoppable force versus the movable object, however, as The Citadel’s defense ranks last in opponents’ third-down conversion rate (an unsightly 49.2%).

MU’s offense has a red zone touchdown rate of 69%, while the Bulldogs are second-best in the SoCon with a defensive red zone TD rate of 51%.

Mercer is +3 for the season in turnover margin, a number that is mostly to the credit of the Bears’ defense. Only two SoCon offenses have turned the ball over more often than Mercer.

The Citadel’s defense did intercept its first two passes of the campaign last week, but the Bulldogs still rank last in the conference in turnovers forced.

General statistics for consideration, Mercer’s defense/The Citadel’s offense:

Mercer is fifth in the league in scoring defense, sixth in total defense and pass defense, fourth in rushing defense, and third in defensive pass efficiency. The differential between passing defense and defensive pass efficiency can be partly explained by the Bears’ league-leading nine interceptions.

MU is allowing 4.4 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass attempt, resulting in a 5.7 yards/play average.

The Citadel leads the league in rushing offense and is fourth in total offense. The Bulldogs are just sixth in scoring offense, however, and are next-to-last in passing offense (and last in offensive pass efficiency).

From a per-play perspective, The Citadel is last in the league in passing yards per attempt (5.8) and second in yards per rush (5.3). Overall, the Bulldogs are tied for fifth in yards per play (5.4).

The Citadel leads the SoCon in third-down conversion rate, at 49.2%. Mercer’s D is middle-of-the-pack in that category (39.9%).

The Bulldogs are scoring touchdowns 71% of the time when they enter the red zone. Conversely, MU’s defense is allowing TDs at a 60% clip once an opponent advances inside the 20-yard line.

Mercer is tied for the league lead in forced turnovers, with 18 (including the aforementioned nine interceptions). The Citadel’s offense is tied with Wofford for fewest turnovers committed (nine).

The odds that Mercer’s D records a sack in this game are probably not good. The Citadel’s offense has only given up a sack twice this season, while the Bears are tied for last in defensive sacks.

General statistics for consideration, special teams and miscellaneous-but-interesting:

Mercer leads the conference in punt return average, with a ludicrous 20.7 yards per return (which also ranks third nationally). The Bears have three punt return touchdowns (and also a kickoff return TD).

The Citadel is last in kick return average.

The Bulldogs have made seven of their eight field goal attempts, while Mercer is only five for ten on FG tries.

Mercer is apparently adept at drawing penalties, as opponents have committed 75 infractions while playing the Bears this season, a number that leads the SoCon. The Citadel is the exact opposite, as it ranks last in the league in opponents’ penalty yardage (and next-to-last in total opponent penalties).

The Citadel leads the conference in time of possession. The Bears are next-to-last in that category.

Mercer has a young roster, which is what happens when you’re only playing your second year of football since 1941. Mike Houston made a good point in his weekly press conference, however.

He noted this is Mercer’s third year (in terms of signing classes) and that more than 50% of the roster is the same age as Bulldog regulars like Mitchell Jeter and Nick Willis.

One example: free safety Lendell Arnold (who Houston recruited while coaching at Lenoir-Rhyne) originally attended Air Force’s preparatory school. He is a now a sophomore who will turn 22 in two weeks.

Bobby Lamb mentioned during the SoCon teleconference that Mercer currently has about 38 total scholarships in its program (presumably made up of full and partial offers, though he didn’t specify that).

John Russ (6’0″, 199 lbs.) leads the Southern Conference in passing touchdowns, with sixteen (he has been intercepted eight times). A native of Buford, Georgia, Russ leads the SoCon in pass efficiency as well.

He is completing 58% of his throws, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. In his second year as a starter, Russ has developed a reputation as a fine downfield passer. Mercer is averaging 15.5 yards per pass completion, fifth-highest in all of FCS.

Running back Alex Lakes leads the conference in rushing at 102.6 yards per game, and is also tied for the SoCon lead in rushing touchdowns with twelve. He is averaging an impressive 6.2 yards per carry, and was named the SoCon Player of the Month for September.

Lakes is from Newnan, Georgia. He spent one semester at AFA’s prep school, then wound up at West Georgia the following spring, playing defense.

When Mercer announced it was going to play scholarship football, Lakes moved to the Macon school (where he had made a previous visit) to play running back, redshirting during his first year on campus.

Mercer has another big-play running back in 5’10”, 186 lb. freshman Tee Mitchell, who played high school football at The Bolles School in Jacksonville. Mitchell had an 80-yard touchdown reception against Austin Peay and a 74-yard TD catch versus Chattanooga. He also had a 41-yard run against VMI.

Chandler Curtis (5’10”, 186 lbs.) isn’t listed as a starting wideout on the Bears’ depth chart, but don’t let that fool you. He is an impact player of a very high order.

The freshman has twenty receptions, two rushes, nine punt returns, and twelve kick returns. Ten of those forty-three “touches” have resulted in touchdowns.

He leads all of FCS in return TDs with four, including a 99-yard punt return against Samford. When is the last time you saw a guy return a punt 99 yards?

Quite a few of Curtis’ big plays have come against Mercer’s non-conference opponents, but he is not just bullying outclassed teams. Curtis has four 40+ yard receptions in league play.

Mercer got some bad news earlier this week, when it was revealed that leading receiver J.T. Palmer would miss the rest of the season with a hand injury. The junior had 39 catches (five for TDs).

Tight end Robert Brown has had his share of injury problems as well, but had 49- and 35-yard receptions last week against Chattanooga. The product of Nashville is not the largest TE in the world (6’1″, 218 lbs.), but he has a habit of making big plays (averaging 18.6 yards per catch).

Brown’s primary backup, Derek Owings, is a bigger tight end (6’3″, 248 lbs.) who has started three games this season. He spent two years at Eastern Michigan before heading south to Macon.

Mercer’s offensive line has been largely unchanged through most of the season. Average height and weight of the starters: 6’2″, 288 lbs.

Right tackle A.M. Posey is the biggest of the group, at 6’6″, 321 lbs. He began his collegiate career at Tennessee. Kirby Southard has started at center for every game over the past two seasons.

Mercer usually lines up in a 3-4 on defense. As always, things may be different when a team faces a triple option offense.

Defensive end Tunde Ayinla is second on the squad in tackles for loss, with 4.5. He also shares the team lead in sacks with two.

Nosetackle Bret Niederreither is one of two players on the Bears’ roster who played high school football north of the Mason-Dixon line (Derek Owings is the other). The 6’3″, 290 lb. Pennsylvania native transferred to Mercer from Temple.

“Bandit” linebacker Kyle Williams leads the team in tackles for loss, with six. Like several Mercer players, he spent a year at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School.

Devin Davidson is third on the team in tackles. He’s a 6’1″, 218 lb. sophomore linebacker from Suwanee, Georgia.

Middle linebacker Tyler Ward (6’1″, 231 lbs.) is a hometown kid, having played at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon. He has been the Bears’ MLB since day 1 and currently leads the team in tackles by an enormous margin (he has 82; the second-highest total is 48).

That 48-tackle total belongs to Alex Avant (5’8″, 170 lbs.), a cornerback who (like Ward) has started every game for Mercer over the last two seasons. He played one season at Tuskegee before moving to Mercer. Avant has 14 pass breakups and three interceptions this season.

Strong safety Mike Gray is from Jacksonville. He is another player who has started every game for Bobby Lamb at Mercer.

Three different placekickers have attempted field goals for Mercer this season; each has a 50% success rate.

Jagger Lieb is listed as the starter this Saturday. He has a season long of 42 yards, and is 3 for 6 overall in field goal tries.

Tyler Zielenske is the starting punter, though Rob East (who also holds on placekicks) has the most punts for the Bears in 2013. He’s listed as the backup punter this week.

Will Roper, who handles the kickoffs, is the only senior on the Mercer roster. For the past three seasons, Roper served as the kickoff specialist at South Carolina State.

I mentioned Chandler Curtis’ return heroics earlier in the post. The regular lead kick returner for the Bears is Payton Usher, a 5’7″, 173 lb. backup running back. In limited time, Usher is averaging 8.0 yards per carry.

Odds and ends:

- The second annual Medal of Honor bowl, an all-star game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, will be nationally televised this year by NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). That should give the game a welcome boost; for one thing, it will likely attract more quality players as a result.

- Mercer has 63 players on its roster from Georgia, 14 from Florida, 6 from Tennessee, 3 from Alabama, 2 from North Carolina, and one each from Michigan and Pennsylvania — but none from South Carolina.

- For the second week in a row, The Citadel will be a school’s Homecoming opponent.

Bobby Lamb expects an electric atmosphere.

“There’s nothing like coming home,” Lamb said about this week’s game. “From what I’m hearing, the homecoming numbers are off the charts and people being back on campus. There’s lot of excitement, and I think we’re going to have great weather.

“This late in the season, we need this, and we need the support to try to finish this season on a positive note.”

- Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 4-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 56.

- This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Benny Beaver, the mascot for Oregon State University.

Vote for Spike!

For the fourth week in a row, the Bulldogs face a team with a dual-threat quarterback who has a lot of options at the skill positions. The defense has not fared well against the previous three squads.

Anyone less than certain about Mercer’s offensive chops should check out the statistics from the Bears’ game last week against Chattanooga. Mercer rolled up 440 yards in total offense against the Mocs, averaging a very healthy 6.7 yards per play.

On offense, I think there will be opportunities for The Citadel. Mercer struggled against Reinhardt’s wing-T offense, allowing 270 rush yards and 469 total yards. That strikes me as promising from the Bulldogs’ perspective.

Ultimately, I’m not confident in The Citadel’s chances on Saturday. The offense has to prove that besides moving the ball, it can hold on to the pigskin. It also has to avoid the killer penalties that have derailed so many potential scoring drives this season.

The defense has to get pressure on the quarterback, and get off the field on third down. Winning the turnover battle would also come in handy.

If The Citadel plays at the level it did against Western Carolina, taking into account all factors (consistency/penalties/turnovers/big plays), the Bulldogs will probably lose. If the team plays like it did against Chattanooga, the Bulldogs will lose badly.

Here is hoping that the team can get better. If it does, the Bulldogs will win this Saturday.

Improve or worsen. There are no other options.

2014 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 25. 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. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston at his 10/21 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mark Speir on the SoCon teleconference

Great starts key great start for WCU football

Carson Smith was reinstated by the SoCon on Wednesday, following an appeal by The Citadel to the league’s executive committee. This will allow Smith to participate in Saturday’s game against Western Carolina.

I’m glad the executive committee made the right decision. Obviously, it would have been nice if the call on the field had not been botched in the first place, but you can’t have everything. Smith will presumably be more than ready to go against the Catamounts after missing almost the entire Chattanooga contest following the errant ejection.

The league’s press release was rather perfunctory, consisting of only eight sentences. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea for the SoCon to include an explanation from the committee as to why it overturned the suspension, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting an angry screed from the conference about the injustice of the situation.

That’s my job.

You may recall that last year, Western Carolina played what I called “Division I’s most absurd schedule”, as it faced three FBS squads (Middle Tennessee State, Virginia Tech, and Auburn) and two transitional FBS schools (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern), all on the road. This, after having not beaten a Division I team of any kind (FBS or FCS) since September of 2010.

That was last year. WCU eventually did pick up that elusive D1 victory later in 2013 (beating Elon in OT at Homecoming), but finished with a 2-10 record.

In 2014, things have changed. Western Carolina is still loading up on FBS opponents, with two this season (South Florida in the opener, Alabama in the finale), but the Catamounts currently sport a 5-2 record that includes three SoCon victories, including two straight.

That 3-0 SoCon record is a very big deal for WCU, given that the Catamounts entered this season having only won four league games since 2006. Western Carolina had lost 29 of its last 30 conference matchups prior to 2014.

WCU hasn’t been 3-0 in the league since 1994. If the Catamounts win on Saturday, they will match their best-ever league start.

It has taken time, but Mark Speir appears to have things moving in the right direction in Cullowhee. A competitive WCU program is good for the league, in my opinion.

The Citadel has won eight of its last ten meetings with the Catamounts, but clearly is going to have to get better going forward to continue having the upper hand in this series. That’s okay, though; the military college has to get better on the gridiron anyway.

While there is no question that Western Carolina has improved, I’m a little uncertain as to the level of improvement. WCU has defeated two non-D1 schools (Brevard and Catawba), a team with QB injury problems (Furman), and a conference debutant (Mercer).

However, the Catamounts can also claim a 26-14 home victory over Wofford. In that game, WCU ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown, blocked a 24-yard field goal attempt, forced a fumble when the Terriers had 2nd-and-goal on the 1, and picked up a safety on another Wofford miscue.

Western Carolina actually had fewer total yards than the Terriers. On the other hand, Wofford had averaged 430 rushing yards in its previous eight games against the Catamounts, but was held to 270 yards on the ground this time. Wofford also had no aerial attack in that contest, completing just one pass for three yards.

That is an impressive defensive performance.

WCU’s season opener was a loss to South Florida in which the Catamounts led at halftime and only lost by five points (36-31). Western Carolina quarterback Troy Mitchell was 46-66 (not a typo) passing for 374 yards against the Bulls.

Mark Speir had a notable quote after that game, which after all was a very solid effort against an FBS program:

There will be no more moral victories in Cullowhee. You either win or you lose. We lost.

The Catamounts’ other defeat came at Presbyterian by a 19-14 score. PC won that game thanks mostly to a pair of pick-sixes, including one in the last two minutes of the game. Western Carolina outgained the Blue Hose 359-222, but couldn’t overcome five turnovers (including four interceptions).

The dynamics of the reshuffled SoCon and the loss to Presbyterian combine to make it difficult to assess just how good Western Carolina is this year. In all fairness, though, PC is 3-1 against FCS opposition so far this season. The Blue Hose spoiled Charleston Southern’s homecoming last week, suggesting Harold Nichols has turned the corner in Clinton.

Some general statistics for consideration:

Western Carolina has passed (or been sacked attempting to throw the ball) on 42.9% of its plays. It should be noted, though, that 53.5% of WCU’s total offense has come via the air; the Catamounts are second in the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency.

WCU is third in the SoCon in scoring offense and (perhaps more surprisingly) second in the league in scoring defense. Western Carolina is third in both total offense and defense in the conference.

The Catamounts are averaging 4.5 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt; those numbers combine for  a 5.7 yards/play average. As a comparison, The Citadel’s offense has a 5.4 yards/play average, while the Bulldogs’ D is allowing 6.1 yards per snap.

WCU’s defense leads the league in defensive pass efficiency, but is only sixth-best in rush D. The Catamounts are allowing 4.5 yards per rush, a higher average than any SoCon squad except VMI and (sigh) The Citadel.

Western Carolina leads the SoCon in kickoff return average and is second in interceptions (conversely, The Citadel’s defense has yet to pick off a pass in 2014). WCU’s kickoff coverage unit isn’t nearly as good as its return team, as it’s next-to-last in the league.

WCU is the second-most penalized team in the league. However, The Citadel is last in the league in opponents’ penalty yardage.

The Bulldogs simply don’t force the opposition to make mistakes that result in penalties. Either that, or officials are simply less inclined to flag teams playing The Citadel; you be the judge.*

The Citadel and Western Carolina are 1-2 in the conference in third-down conversion rate (47.5% for the Bulldogs, 44.9% for the Catamounts). While Western Carolina’s D is middle-of-the-pack in third-down conversion rate against (39.6%), The Citadel is dead last in that category (a very poor 49.5%).

The Catamounts have dominated fourth down in 2014, converting 8 of 11 tries on offense and only allowing 4 of 12 conversions on defense. Both marks lead the conference.

Western Carolina’s offensive red zone touchdown rate is 73.9%, tied for the second-highest mark in the league (The Citadel’s offensive RZ TD rate: 72.4%). Defensively, WCU has a red zone TD rate of 52.4%; The Citadel’s 50% defensive TD rate in the red zone is the SoCon’s best.

*I threw that last line in for the commish.

Troy Mitchell is the starting quarterback for the Catamounts, and the key to WCU’s offense. He has been playing hurt in recent weeks, but Mark Speir downplayed that in the SoCon media teleconference:

“He’s a lot better. He threw the ball well last week, had the zip back on his passes. He gets a little bit sore, but is having no pain. I would say he was about 90-to-95-percent last week. With our athletic trainers, he’s done a great job in rehabbing. He’s back to 100-percent, Troy’s at full speed.”

Mitchell (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is a dual-threat quarterback, especially against The Citadel. The native of Houston has two career 100-yard rushing games; both have come versus the Bulldogs. In last season’s game, Mitchell was also 16-22 passing against The Citadel for 136 yards and a TD (with one interception).

This season, he is completing 65.4% of his passes, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt. Mitchell has thrown eleven touchdown passes while only being intercepted three times.

His rushing numbers in 2014 are relatively modest, averaging 4.0 yards per attempt, and 43 rush yards per game. That’s still the third-highest rush yardage total for the Catamounts.

Backup QB Garrett Brown has appeared in all seven games thus far for Western Carolina, and will likely see action on Saturday as well. Brown has changed roles a couple of times during his career in Cullowhee, having played running back and receiver as well as quarterback. As a freshman in 2011, he caught a 61-yard TD pass against The Citadel (and like this week’s contest, that was WCU’s homecoming game).

Darius Ramsey is the primary running back for WCU. Like Mitchell, Ramsey is a junior, one of many third-year players who have “grown up” in Mark Speir’s program. Also like Mitchell, Ramsey has two 100-yard rushing games on his résumé against The Citadel, having run for 118 yards in 2012 versus the Bulldogs and 102 yards in last season’s matchup (scoring two touchdowns).

Western Carolina has experience and productivity at the wide receiver position. Spearman Robinson (6’4″, 215 lbs.) has eight touchdown receptions this season. He had 120 yards receiving and two touchdowns against Furman, and added three more scores (and 102 receiving yards) last week versus Mercer. He’s a major threat.

Spearman Robinson (who is from Greenwood, SC) is one of two wideouts named Robinson who start for WCU, with sophomore Terryon Robinson being the other. Terryon Robinson and Spearman Robinson (not related) both have 28 receptions for the Catamounts so far this season.

Despite not having the surname Robinson, Karnorris Benson is still allowed to start at wide receiver for Western Carolina. That’s probably because Benson caught 12 touchdown passes last season, tying a school record. He’s missed some time this season, but was back for the Mercer game, catching his first TD pass of the campaign.

Western Carolina’s starting offensive line averages 6’2″, 281 lbs. It is made up primarily of third- and fourth-year players, though left guard Ethan James is a sophomore.

Right tackle Josh Wineberg is the tallest of the group, at 6’6″. He was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Starting center Jake Thornton is the grandson of former Buffalo Bills guard Billy Shaw, a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Tangent: Billy Shaw is the only player in the Hall to have never played in the NFL, having spent his entire career (1960-1969) in the AFL.

Western Carolina’s defense normally operates out of the 4-3, though as always that is subject to change given The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Defensive end Caleb Hawkins (6’3″ 255 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with 6 1/2. Rapidly improving defensive tackle Helva Matungulu (6’5″, 280 lbs.) is a native of Kenya who played Rugby 7s before trying American football at Western Carolina.

Noseguard Ezavian Dunn is a 6’2″ 315 lb. true freshman who has started three games this season for the Catamounts, including the last two. He blocked a field goal attempt against Wofford.

Linebacker Christon Gill has 63 tackles, most on the squad. He also leads WCU in sacks with three (two of which came versus Mercer last week).

Daniel Riddle is the Catamounts’ second-leading tackler. The linebacker is a question mark for the game on Saturday after suffering a shoulder injury against Mercer (though he is listed on WCU’s depth chart as a potential starter).

Sertonuse Harris was a safety in 2013; this year, he’s an impact linebacker. So far this season, Harris has six tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, three pass breakups, and two fumble recoveries.

The Catamounts have a fine secondary, led by sophomore cornerback Trey Morgan (who has four interceptions to lead the conference). Morgan is from North Augusta, and is one of seven South Carolinians on Western Carolina’s roster.

Strong safety Ace Clark has good size (6’3″, 220 lbs.) and athleticism (he blocked a field goal attempt against The Citadel last year). Clark was a second-team all-SoCon pick by the league’s coaches following last season.

Sophomore safety Bryson Jordan is the son of former Falcon/Brave Brian Jordan.

Placekicker Richard Sigmon has only attempted three field goals this season, making all three (with a long of 33). He is also perfect on PATs. Last season, Sigmon was 10-13 on field goal attempts, and did not miss from inside 39 yards (8-8).

Sigmon has shared kickoff duties this season with Mark Powell.

Destry Barnwell is a true freshman from Charlotte who has done all the punting for Western Carolina this season. Barnwell is averaging 40.0 yards per punt, with eight of his thirty-three punts landing inside the 20-yard line (he also has four touchbacks).

Backup running back Detrez Newsome is the primary kick returner, and he’s a good one. He is averaging over 30 yards per return and took one back 100 yards for a TD to open the game against Wofford.

Terryon Robinson or Garrett Brown will serve as WCU’s punt returner on Saturday, as regular return man C.J. Goodman is out.

Odds and ends:

- Next season, Western Carolina will again play multiple FBS opponents. WCU will square off against Texas A&M and Tennessee in 2015.

- The game against The Citadel on Saturday will be Western Carolina’s Homecoming. The Catamounts and Bulldogs have met six times during Homecoming in Cullowhee; The Citadel is 5-1 in those games, with WCU’s sole victory coming in 2009.

Western Carolina was 0-5 entering that 2009 game, but defeated the Bulldogs 14-10 in one of the more inept offensive performances of the Kevin Higgins era.

- The Citadel also lost to WCU the following season, in 2010, which was the last time the Catamounts had beaten a Division I program until last year’s game against Elon.

- Bob Waters Field is an artificial surface. The most recent change in the field came in 2008, with the installation of Desso Challenge Pro 2 turf, a “nylon-like, woven base interlaced with synthetic ‘blades of grass’ that are approximately two inches in length.”

- Western Carolina’s nickname (“Catamounts”) was chosen in 1933. The second choice was “Mountain Boomers”. How great a nickname would “Mountain Boomers” have been? Oh, WCU, you missed a chance there.

Before adopting the “Catamounts” moniker, Western Carolina’s teams were known as the “Teachers” and also (according to some reports) the “Yodelers”.

- Per one source that deals in such matters, WCU is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel on Saturday. The over/under is 56.

- Spike The Bulldog is 6-2 so far in the Capital One Mascot Challenge. This week, his opponent is Boise State’s Buster Bronco.

Vote for Spike!

This is going to be a tough game for the Bulldogs. Western Carolina’s program has been imbued with a confidence that hasn’t really existed in Cullowhee in about a decade.

The players expect to win, and so does the fan base. My understanding is that Whitmire Stadium will be filled close to capacity on Saturday, so the atmosphere should be excellent.

I expect a fair number of blue-clad fans will be in attendance on what promises to be a beautiful day in the mountains. I can’t be among them this week, alas.

That’s okay, though. What is much more important is that the team comes ready to play.

When I watch the game on the SoCon Digital Network (hopefully figuring out a way to “simulcast” it with Mike Legg and Lee Glaze on the radio call), I expect to see spirit and commitment, things that appeared to be absent during the Chattanooga game. That is imperative.

I also want to see crisp play on both sides of the ball. For each and every game, I expect to see improvement in the team’s play. That obviously didn’t happen last week.

If things don’t get better, the Bulldogs won’t have much of a chance. However, I suspect The Citadel will rebound this week. If it does, I think there is an opportunity to pull off a road victory on Saturday.

Go Dogs!

Game review, 2014: Chattanooga

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Box score

This isn’t going to be lengthy, because it doesn’t have to be…

I do not understand why a team is not ready to play a football game. There aren’t that many of them in a season. Shouldn’t players have the required intensity for each and every game?

The lack of fire in the Bulldogs on Saturday was striking, and deeply disappointing. I’ve seen The Citadel lose many games over the years, but rarely have I been as disgusted in the team’s play.

This egg-laying type of performance happened occasionally in Kevin Higgins’ tenure, too, and it was just as infuriating when it happened then. I was hoping that with a new coaching staff, there would never be a question as to the Bulldogs’ effort, or desire.

When the game story in the local newspaper uses the words “sleep-walking” and “drowsy” to describe the home team (and the URL for the webpage includes “sluggish”), you know the team didn’t go about its business in an enthusiastic manner. Spirit and passion are mandatory for players when The Citadel plays a football game. Those qualities did not appear to be present on Saturday.

The lack of sharpness was most evident in the number of missed tackles by The Citadel’s defense. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many missed tackles by the Bulldogs’ D in a game.

Chattanooga ran 67 offensive plays from scrimmage. Based on that, I would guesstimate the Bulldogs missed about 100 tackles, as they seemed to miss 1 or 2 tackles on every play.

The Mocs averaged 7.13 yards per play. There is no telling how many extra yards UTC running backs and receivers picked up after the initial hit.

The entire contest, from The Citadel’s perspective, was bad. Offense, defense, special teams — everything. The missed tackles, though, stood out.

The best on-field performance by a member of the corps on Saturday didn’t come from one of the football players, but by a cadet who was invited to compete in a contest after the third quarter. Cadet Patton (I think that was his name) successfully threw a 25-yard pass through the goalposts, winning $100. Congratulations to him. (Nice toss, too. Good, tight spiral.)

It’s been a tough year for Mike Houston and The Citadel when it comes to officiating, and Saturday’s game brought more of the same.

(Just to make myself clear: officiating had nothing to do with the outcome of the game in any way.)

Carson Smith was ejected from the contest against Chattanooga with a little over nine minutes remaining in the first quarter. He was dismissed for throwing a punch. It was not a good call.

I’ve watched the video numerous times. I have no idea why the umpire (who threw the flag) thought Smith was throwing a punch. It was rather obviously a “football play”, to use a trite (but true) phrase. I would hate to think how many players would be ejected from games for making similar plays during a typical contest.

I’m not even sure Smith could have been called for unnecessary roughness (or a late hit), because I don’t think the whistle had blown and ended the play while he was attempting to punch the ball out of the running back’s hands. Maybe you could argue that.

I doubt anyone is going to claim that an ejection was the correct course of action on that play, because it wasn’t.

Smith, a junior, was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Mocs’ second possession of the game. That resulted in an ejection, which means Smith will have to sit out all of next week’s game at Western Carolina.

Smith appeared to be trying to punch the ball away from Mocs running back Richardre Bagley when he was penalized.

“The deal with Carson really bothers me,” Houston said. “He was trying to strip the ball out, trying to punch it out and everybody in the stadium could see that. That’s deemed a punch at a player and an ejection? I don’t know … I don’t know.”

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino, on hand for the game, said there’s no review of the call unless the officials mistakenly ejected the wrong player.

Houston and SoCon coordinator of officials Jack Childress had a lengthy conversation after the Wofford game. I’m guessing any conversation the two men had on Monday would have been much shorter. There isn’t a whole lot Childress can say.

If you are an official, you have to be very, very sure of what you’ve seen to throw a player out of a game. It’s not the same as calling holding or a false start.

John Iamarino stated that there is no review of the play. I’m assuming he meant during the game itself, which is true. Targeting penalties can be reviewed at halftime in FCS football, and possibly overturned, but that’s a recent NCAA rule change and there is no provision for other kinds of ejections.

However, the additional one-game suspension is not an NCAA stipulation, from what I understand. That’s a league rule.

As such, I see no reason why the league can’t acknowledge an error by a game official and waive the additional one-game penalty. It strikes me as the fair thing to do. Otherwise, Carson Smith will miss almost two full games because an official made a mistake.

We’ll see what the conference does as the game against Western Carolina draws nearer.

This week’s pictures, taken by a bad (and glum) photographer:

 

 

 

 

2014 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 12:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 18. The game will be televised by the American Sports Network (affiliate list), with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Corey Miller supplying analysis.

The contest will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform. It will also not be available on ESPN3.com.

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 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 Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 10/14 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Russ Huesman 10/14 press conference

Russ Huesman on the SoCon media teleconference

Aaron Miller is the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week

Cam Jackson is the SoCon and (nationally) TSN Freshman of the Week

Brandon Eakins is WCIV-TV’s Athlete of the Week

Mid-season progress report for the Bulldogs

Mocs wary of The Citadel, especially its run game

Let’s talk about television coverage…

Chattanooga-The Citadel will be televised by the American Sports Network. What is the American Sports Network?

A total of 18 live SoCon events, including six football games, are scheduled for carriage by a network of regional Sinclair stations under the banner of the newly formed American Sports Network (ASN).

Sinclair Broadcast Group owns a bunch of stations around the country, including several in South Carolina. Most of the Sinclair stations are located in the southern and midwestern part of the United States.

In terms of the game on Saturday, this is what we’ve got:

- The game will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network (which is a fairly standard practice when a game is televised on “linear” TV).

- It’s not on ESPN3.com, either (unlike the Wofford game earlier or the matchup with VMI later in the season).

- It may be on a station near you. Or it may not.

For satellite TV subscribers, probably the best bet for seeing the game is Altitude Sports, which is carrying UTC-The Citadel for the Rocky Mountain region. Altitude is available as part of DirecTV’s Sports Pack; the game is listed in the guide as appearing on channel 681-1 (an alternate feed for Altitude). Dish Network should also have Altitude Sports.

There is always a possibility the game could be “blacked out” in one or more regions, but at this point I tend to doubt it. I think it will be televised nationwide on Altitude.

For cable subscribers, things may be a little trickier if Altitude Sports is not available. A lot of the local affiliates getting the game are actually carrying it on digital subchannels; for example, in Washington, DC, it will be on WJLA’s “MeTV” subchannel (D-2).

There are also certain areas within the SoCon footprint where the game will not be televised by a local affiliate, notably Columbia and Charlotte. It’s rather disappointing no station in either of those markets is getting Chattanooga-The Citadel.

At the same time the action in Johnson Hagood Stadium begins, Western Kentucky-Florida Atlantic will kick off in Boca Raton. That game is also part of the ASN package, and it’s being televised in Charlotte — but the SoCon matchup is not.

I am frankly puzzled that UTC-The Citadel is not being televised in Columbia, especially since Western Carolina-Furman was carried by Sinclair’s Columbia affiliate (WACH) earlier this year.

Obviously, there are a lot of graduates of The Citadel who live in Columbia and Charlotte. They are not going to be very happy about the way this game has been distributed.

It’s a double whammy for them, in the sense that not only is the game not on TV in their area, but they can’t watch it on the SoCon Digital Network either. Some of The Citadel’s far-flung alumni will have the same problem (the same is true for Chattanooga fans, of course).

I understand what the SoCon was trying to do with this arrangement, and I’m not inclined to be overly critical about it. However, at this point I suspect most fans would rather not have the ASN package at all, and simply take their chances with the SoCon Digital Network.

The good news, from The Citadel’s perspective, is that Saturday’s contest will be the only football game involving the Bulldogs carried by ASN this season.

Update, 10/17/2014: The game will also be televised by MASN, a regional network based in the Baltimore/Washington DC area.

Over the years, I’ve written about Chattanooga (a/k/a UT-Chattanooga, a/k/a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a/k/a UTC) and its branding difficulties. The school has a webpage on its varsity athletics website devoted to one essential question: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill.

In the past, “Moc” was short for “Moccasin”, and referred to a snake, or a shoe, or an Indian (two of them, actually — Chief Chattamoc and, later, Chief Moccanooga). Now it’s a bird.

Chattanooga is similar to The Citadel’s most recent opponent, Charlotte, in that it has been striving for a number of years to establish a “standard” name for its sports teams, i.e. Chattanooga. In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I see no harm in repeating it. A lot of people think The Citadel is a private school, though it is not and has never been.

UTC, on the other hand, was a private college for much of its history (the school was founded in 1886). It did not become a public institution until 1969, when it merged with the University of Tennessee.

Last week, Chattanooga lost 45-10 to Tennessee. For playing the Vols in Knoxville, UTC’s department of athletics received $450,000.

It was the second time this season the Mocs had played an FBS opponent, as Chattanooga had opened the season with a 20-16 loss at Central Michigan, a game for which UTC got a check for $350,000. Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman agreed to play a second FBS school this season in part because most of the money received for playing CMU is going to help pay for a new athletics and training center, which has an estimated total price tag of $12-$14 million.

Although still in the planning stages, the new facility, which will be 50,000-60,000 square feet, will include a large team meeting room, academic lounge, expanded offices for the football staff, a state-of-the-art training room and locker room that would be a dramatic upgrade from the team’s current cramped facility.

“The one thing that will allow Chattanooga athletics to take the next step forward, like a Georgia Southern or Appalachian State or North Dakota State, is if we can get an athletics facility built,” [Mocs AD David] Blackburn said. “Given our city and geographical footprint, that’s the only thing we lack. The biggest benefit of having that new facility built is recruiting. This would help us sell the program to the type recruits our staff needs to take that next step.

Of course, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have made the move to FBS. There is no indication that Chattanooga is in a hurry to join those two schools, though last year it was revealed that UTC was on a list of institutions that were “candidates” for Sun Belt expansion.

One of the results of Chattanooga playing two FBS opponents this season is that the Mocs only have five home games. It does help UTC a little that four of them are league contests (against three road conference matchups).

Next year, the Mocs will play Florida State.

Last year, Chattanooga came oh-so-close to finally making the FCS postseason party, a feat the football program has not accomplished since 1984, when UTC made the playoffs for the only time in school history.

That year (1984) was also the last time the Mocs had won the SoCon until last season, when they tied for the title with Furman and Samford. The Paladins received the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs by winning a tiebreaker, while Samford garnered the conference’s sole at-large berth.

Chattanooga was left home with an 8-4 record (the most wins for the program since 1980). The critical loss was probably an overtime setback at Samford late in the season.

The SoCon’s major postseason awards were split last season, with the media and coaches differing on most of their selections. The Mocs swept the coach’s honors, however, with Russ Huesman (Coach of the Year), Jacob Huesman (Offensive Player of the Year), and Davis Tull (Defensive Player of the Year) all collecting trophies.

Jacob Huesman and Tull both return this year, along with several other fine players from last season’s UTC squad. Given that, along with the upheaval in conference membership, it was no surprise when Chattanooga was picked to win the league by 29 of 30 voting media members.

Chattanooga is 3-3 so far this season. The Mocs opened the year with the aforementioned game at Central Michigan, a contest UTC led 16-0 late in the first half before the Chippewas made a comeback.

In its next game, the home opener, Chattanooga dropped a 26-23 overtime decision to Jacksonville State (which is currently ranked 8th in FCS). UTC didn’t score an offensive touchdown in that game; both of its TDs came on interception returns. The Mocs were held to 111 yards of total offense.

UTC picked up its first victory of the season at Austin Peay, soundly defeating the OVC school 42-6. After a bye week, the Mocs defeated Samford 38-24, winning the turnover battle 3-0 and also returning a punt for a touchdown.

Chattanooga then crushed VMI 55-7, with the Keydets avoiding a shutout by scoring with 36 seconds remaining in the game. In the loss to Tennessee on Saturday, the Mocs turned the ball over three times.

UTC employs a run-oriented offense, having passed the ball (or been sacked attempting to do so) on 37.3% of its plays. However, 46.2% of Chattanooga’s total offense has come via the air.

The Mocs are currently last in the SoCon in total offense, though that is often a misleading statistic. Obviously, UTC’s non-league schedule has included two FBS squads and a top-10 FCS opponent as well, though that is balanced somewhat by games against Austin Peay and new conference member VMI.

Perhaps of more concern to UTC fans is its 4.9 yards per offensive play, the second-lowest average in the SoCon (ahead of only Furman). The Mocs are averaging 4.1 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per pass attempt (Chattanooga is second in the league in offensive pass efficiency).

UTC is converting 35.7% of its third-down attempts, not a particularly good percentage (The Citadel leads the conference in that category, at 49.4%). Chattanooga’s red zone offense has been effective, however, with a TD rate of 70.6%.

The Citadel’s offensive red zone TD rate is 70.3%, a stat buoyed by last week’s performance against Charlotte, when the Bulldogs scored nine touchdowns in nine red zone trips. Samford’s 78.9% TD rate leads the league; Furman’s ghastly 35.3% TD rate is last.

Jacob Huesman is the coach’s son, but he’s not starting because of nepotism. He’s a fine dual-threat quarterback. Earlier this season against VMI, Huesman passed two different career milestones — 2,000 yards rushing, and 4,000 yards passing. He became the first player in program history to attain both marks.

In 2014, the junior signal-caller has completed 62.5% of his passes, averaging 6.38 yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns against five interceptions. Huesman threw a 70-yard touchdown pass against Central Michigan. Against VMI, he tossed four TDs in the first half, ran for another, then opened the third quarter with a 44-yard touchdown run.

Huesman has been sacked eight times this season, with four of those coming against Jacksonville State.

Running back Keon Williams was a preseason All-SoCon selection. He missed last week’s game versus Tennessee with a wrist injury, but is expected to play against The Citadel. In last year’s matchup against the Bulldogs, Williams was injured on the opening kickoff and did not play for the rest of the game.

Williams rushed for 131 yards (on 21 carries) against Samford, his one dominant performance so far this season.

Tangent: in the SoCon weekly release’s “superlatives” section, Williams is credited with 131 yards *receiving* against Samford. That’s a mistake, as all of his yardage in that game came on the ground.

Tommy Hudson has missed the last two games with a turf toe problem, but should be back this week. Mike Houston described him as a “playmaker”, and no wonder.

Hudson is a wideout who also returns punts, and when he returns a punt, he has a tendency to go a long way. He has two punt return TDs already this season (a third TD was called back due to a penalty) and is averaging 32.8 yards per return, albeit on only four attempts.

As a receiver, he is averaging 14 yards per catch, with three touchdowns. He was on the receiving end of that 70-yard TD against Central Michigan thrown by Huesman.

C.J. Board, a 6’2″ sophomore, leads the Mocs with 16 receptions. He is averaging 11.75 yards per catch. The other starting wideout for the Mocs, Xavier Borishade, caught a 33-yard TD pass against the Bulldogs last season.

Faysal Shafaat, UTC’s starting tight end, is a 6’5″, 250 lb. handful. He caught a touchdown pass against The Citadel last year, part of an all-conference campaign (and also scored against the Bulldogs in 2012). This year, the native of Orlando has been hampered by a shoulder injury, but Shafaat has been healthy for the last two weeks, and had three receptions against Tennessee last Saturday.

UTC’s offensive line suffered a blow prior to its opening game when preseason all-conference pick Synjen Herren injured his knee and was lost for the season. Herren has now been replaced at left guard by Corey Levin (who had been the left tackle), one of several moves on the line.

The o-line is fairly big (two-deep average size: 6’3″, 287 lbs.). Starting right guard Chris Mayes, who began his collegiate career at Navy, is a senior who was moved from the defensive line in the spring.

Hunter Townson is a redshirt freshman who has started the last three games at left tackle for the Mocs. Starting center Jacob Revis is also a redshirt freshman, while right tackle Brandon Morgan has made 27 career starts.

While UTC may be last in the SoCon in total offense, it leads the league in total and rush defense, and its average yards/play allowed of 4.2 is the best mark in the conference.

Chattanooga is only allowing opponents an average of 3.1 yards per rush. The Citadel will have to do much better than that if the Bulldogs are to have a chance at winning this week.

The Mocs have 17 sacks on the season, which leads the league. In second place are the Bulldogs with 15, though 10 of those came in one game (versus Gardner-Webb).

Chattanooga opponents have only converted 36.1% of their third-down attempts. UTC’s defense has given up TDs 55% of the time in the red zone; the league leader in that category happens to be The Citadel, at 51.7%.

UTC has forced 12 turnovers, second-best in the SoCon, and has a turnover margin of +3, also second-best in the league. Chattanooga has recovered six opponents’ fumbles and intercepted six passes, returning two of those errant tosses for TDs (both against Jacksonville State, as mentioned earlier).

Against The Citadel’s triple option attack, the Mocs will likely not deviate from their standard front of four down linemen.

Defensive end Davis Tull is the active FCS leader in sacks, with 32.5. He already has six sacks so far this season, with eleven total tackles for loss. Four of those tackles for loss (and two sacks) came against Samford, a game in which Tull also forced a fumble.

UTC has two quality players at the nosetackle position. Daniel Ring is a transfer from Navy who has started 17 consecutive games, while Derrick Lott is a major roadblock for any offense. Lott, who started his career at Georgia, is a 6’4″, 303 lb. wrecking ball with four sacks this year, his sixth as a collegian (he was injured for most of last season and did not play against The Citadel).

Josh Freeman has two sacks this season, and they came last week against Tennessee. The other starter on the d-line is end Zack Rayl. His backup at right end, Keionta Davis, has three sacks and two forced fumbles this year.

Middle linebacker Muhasabi Wakeel leads the team in tackles, with 49. Last year against The Citadel, he was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after a 17-tackle performance.

Nakevion Leslie had 17 tackles versus Central Michigan and has 36 stops on the season. Strong safety Cedric Nettles is averaging 6.8 tackles per game.

Redshirt freshman Lucas Webb is the starting free safety. He has three interceptions, two against Samford and a pick-six versus Jacksonville State.

The other player to return an interception for a TD against JSU, cornerback Dee Virgin, is a 5’10” sophomore from Donalsonville, Georgia. He is second in the SoCon in passes defended, with eight.

The other starter at cornerback for the Mocs, Jeremiah Hay, is also 5’10”, and the first junior college transfer to play for UTC since Russ Huesman became the head coach. Hay is a native of Miami who began his collegiate career at Mississippi before transferring to Pasadena (CA) City College.

Chattanooga has excellent special teams across the board. Hudson is clearly a threat to take any punt back to the house. The Mocs also have an outstanding kick coverage unit.

Placekicker Henrique Ribeiro is a native of Brazil who went to high school in Chattanooga, where he discovered football. He is 6-6 this season kicking field goals (with a long of 47), which means this game will feature two kickers yet to miss a FG this season (as The Citadel’s Eric Goins has made all seven of his field goal attempts).

Nick Pollard handles both the punting and kickoff duties for the Mocs. He is averaging 42.2 yards per punt, with no touchbacks. Eleven of his thirty-nine punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Odds and ends:

- Last season, Chattanooga defeated The Citadel 28-24. I guess UTC was lucky that the final margin was four points, since the Mocs have lost 10 straight games decided by three points or less.

- Chattanooga has no players from South Carolina on its roster. The Mocs do have one Palmetto State connection, as linebackers coach Rusty Wright is from Petticoat Junction, SC.

- Aaron Miller’s 197 rushing yards against Charlotte were the most by any SoCon player so far this season. The 553 rushing yards the Bulldogs had as a team in that game were the most for any FCS squad in 2014.

- Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 49 1/2.

- Earlier this week, The Citadel’s game next season against South Carolina was confirmed. The game will be played on November 21, 2015, and will be the final regular-season matchup that season for the military college.

The Bulldogs will play seven league games next season (four at home) and four non-conference contests (remember, next year the regular-season schedule reverts back to 11 games). The four games The Citadel will play outside the SoCon: at South Carolina, at Georgia Southern (provisionally scheduled for September 19), home against Charleston Southern (on September 26), home against Davidson (the season opener in 2015, on September 5).

This week, The Citadel’s defense will face an offense with a dual-threat quarterback, a quality running back, a big-play threat at wide receiver, and a fairly large offensive line. The Bulldogs encountered a similar cast of characters against Charlotte, and the result was not pretty. As an unwanted bonus, UTC also features a talented tight end who is a serious matchup problem.

The Bulldogs’ D has a major challenge on Saturday. It’s not an impossible one, but it’s difficult.

On the other side of the ball, The Citadel’s offensive line must win the battle up front with an outstanding defensive line, one with multiple playmakers. That will not be easy.

Chattanooga’s special teams units also tend to have the upper hand in most of its games. The Bulldogs must be very sharp in the kicking game on Saturday.

All that said, The Citadel can win this game. It’s an opportunity for the Bulldogs, a chance to make an impact on the conference title race.

It should be a nice, sunny day in Charleston on Saturday. I’m looking forward to an early kickoff at Johnson Hagood Stadium and an exciting, competitive game.

It will be even more exciting if it ends in a Bulldog victory.

 

Game review, 2014: Charlotte

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Charlotte Observer

WCSC-TV highlights; also, extended interviews with Mike Houston, Aaron Miller, Rah Muhammad, Cody Richardson, Dalton Trevino, and Cam Jackson

WCIV-TV highlights

Box score

When it was finally over, after Cody Richardson had preserved the victory for The Citadel by batting away Charlotte’s last-gasp pass, I didn’t immediately celebrate. I didn’t shout or jump for joy or high-five everyone around me.

I just sat back down, and put my head in my hands.

That game wore me out. I can’t imagine what it did to the players who played in the game, or the coaches who coached in it.

Someone asked me later how long my game review was going to be. My initial reaction was that the review would be two sentences. “We won. Thank God.”

A complete breakdown of the back and forth of this contest would be so long as to make Tolstoy throw up his hands in despair. I am certainly not going to try.

I do have a few thoughts on the game, though…

- The Citadel ran 100 plays from scrimmage on Saturday, a school record, although the two overtime periods are responsible for it being a record. The old regulation mark of 93 plays still stands, as the Bulldogs ran 92 plays from scrimmage against Charlotte before OT began (and then ran eight plays in overtime action).

Actually, The Citadel ran 102 plays from scrimmage, but two of them didn’t count because of penalties.

Of those 100 plays, twenty-five of them went for ten yards or more. Yes, one-fourth of The Citadel’s offensive plays resulted in a gain of at least ten yards.

That’s almost twice as many as the total number of plays the Bulldogs ran that went for no yardage, or lost yardage. The Citadel had thirteen of those — nine incomplete passes, two running plays for no gain, and two running plays that lost one and two yards, respectively.

The Bulldogs had twenty running plays of 10+ yards, and six other rushes that gained nine yards. That means exactly one-third of The Citadel’s 78 running plays wound up as gains of 9+ yards.

In a way, it makes you wonder why The Citadel threw as often as it did, but I’m not going to question any of Brent Thompson’s playcalling. Why should I? His offense finished with 36 first downs, 689 yards of total offense, an average gain of almost seven yards per play, and nine TDs.

That’s good enough for me. It’s good enough for anybody. I’m just glad it was (barely) good enough to win the game on Saturday.

- Attention, slick coaching move alert: this alert went off late in the fourth quarter, when a trick punt formation by The Citadel forced Charlotte to call its remaining timeout. That lost timeout for the 49ers was arguably crucial in helping the Bulldogs survive until overtime. Nicely done, Mike Houston.

- In my game preview, I referred to Charlotte wide receiver Austin Duke as “very good, and very dangerous.” He was all of that and more against the Bulldogs, despite dropping two potential TD passes during the game.

The 49ers’ season-long propensity for big plays continued unabated on Saturday. Six of Charlotte’s seven touchdowns were thirteen yards or longer; 83- and 71-yard TDs for Duke, a 13-yard reception for Trent Bostick, and touchdown runs by Duke (15 yards), Kalif Phillips (26 yards) and Maetron Thomas (25 yards to open the first overtime period).

In addition to those touchdowns, the 49ers had five other runs of 15+ yards and pass completions of 15, 21, and 28 yards.

- The one thing Charlotte struggled with at times on offense was finishing drives when it got close to the goal line. The 49ers only scored three touchdowns in seven red zone trips (conversely, The Citadel’s nine offensive trips inside the 20 all resulted in TDs).

Charlotte had trouble punching the ball into the end zone the closer it got to it. Duke scored from 15 yards out on the 49ers’ first possession, but UNCC’s third drive bogged down after having first-and-goal from the Bulldogs’ 8-yard line, and Charlotte settled for a field goal.

The 49ers subsequently scored from 13 yards out on a pass to Bostick, and Duke later had a 7-yard TD catch, but Charlotte wasted other opportunities deep in Bulldog territory. The Citadel stopped Charlotte on downs at the 10-yard line on a 4th-and-2 play in the third quarter (when the 49ers were in position to take their first lead of the game). Charlotte was held to another field goal later in the game after having 2nd-and-goal on the Bulldogs’ 4-yard line.

Of course, the 49ers’ other goal-to-go failure came in the second overtime period, with eight plays from inside the 11-yard line (including one that resulted in a Bulldog penalty which gave Charlotte a fresh set of downs at the 3-yard line).

The game’s final sequence may have illustrated the difference between the two teams. If it’s possible to say there was a decisive factor in a 63-56 2OT game, red zone offense and defense might have been it.

- Matt Johnson has been inconsistent at times for the 49ers this season (he entered the game against the Bulldogs with 7 TDs and 8 interceptions), but the Charlotte quarterback hardly put a foot wrong on Saturday. He threw an excellent deep ball and showed good accuracy on short- and mid-range passes.

His decision-making was also good, as he made very few mistakes, none of any real consequence. His most impressive move may have actually been an incomplete pass on the next-to-last play of the game, imaginatively throwing the ball away to avoid a sack by Mitchell Jeter.

- Speaking of people who had a good game, Aaron Miller was exceptional. His performance was essentially a “how-to” guide for playing quarterback in an option offense. He made excellent reads, put the ball exactly where it needed to be on pitches, and threw the ball well all day long.

Miller was at his best when running with the football. I particularly liked how he finished runs, regularly falling forward for extra yardage while maintaining good ball security. All in all, it was a tour-de-force for #12.

- I just wanted to note here that I thought the scattered booing for Kalif Phillips when he got hurt near the end of regulation was unwarranted. Booing an injured player is always wrong, of course.

I understand that some people thought he was faking an injury to stop the clock, but it wouldn’t have affected the game anyway, since the 49ers had picked up a first down on the previous play and the clock had stopped to move the chains. As it happened, any advantage Charlotte may have gained by saving time was lost when the 49ers didn’t immediately snap the ball after the clock was re-started.

Some of the crowd’s ire may have been a result of Charlotte having several players go down (mostly on defense) as the game progressed. Phillips got “blamed” for being the last 49er to leave the field, if you will.

Phillips may have just been worn out. It would be understandable, as he took a lot of hits while toting the ball 22 times. Phillips didn’t return for the overtime periods, though I don’t think his absence affected the game’s outcome. Charlotte’s failure to score in the second OT was (as mentioned above) another example of its game-long difficulties inside the 10-yard line.

- The attendance (10,467) was both unsurprising and disappointing. Jim Senter has work to do.

I thought the amount of people on campus for Parents’ Day was fairly typical. I didn’t think it was possible for that many individuals to be in the campus bookstore at the same time, though.

The number of people tailgating didn’t seem to me to be quite as high as normal, but I could be very wrong about that. I would be willing to listen to other opinions on the subject.

- I don’t know if the coaches were a little disappointed in the limited number of fans cheering on the team during the Dogwalk. I could understand if they were, but it’s a direct reflection of the morning parade ending just prior to the players arriving at the stadium. The timing just isn’t ideal for the big weekends (Parents’ Day, Homecoming).

This week’s photo gallery (seen below) features a smattering of Saturday’s non-football activity, including some shots inside Murray Barracks, the parade, etc. You know the drill by now — the photos are not going to win any Pulitzers, there is an element of randomness, the photographer is beyond hopeless, etc. This time, there are quite a few pictures. Quantity over quality, I guess.

Mike Houston greeted the media after the game by quietly exclaiming, “Holy Cow!”

You said it, coach.

 

2014 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Charlotte

Edit 10/12/2014 — The followup post: Game review, 2014: Charlotte

The Citadel vs. Charlotte, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 11. 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 Charlotte

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 10/7 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Video clip of Brad Lambert’s 10/7 press conference

49ers face undesirable option

Mitchell Jeter is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

Profile of DeAndre Schoultz by The Aiken Standard

Mike Houston said of his team and the game against Wofford that “we’re moving on“, and that’s fine with me. That’s not to say the ruling on the game’s final play will be forgotten. There will always be a giant asterisk associated with that contest.

This week’s opponent is Charlotte. I grew up referring to the school as “UNC Charlotte” or “UNCC”.

Now, however, the school wishes to be referred to simply as “Charlotte”, at least for its sports teams. The actual name of the institution remains the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

It might surprise some people to know that the change to “Charlotte” for varsity athletics was actually made in 2000. I think it’s fair to say that it’s taken a while to catch on as the default name. Of course, continuing to call the school “UNC Charlotte” in other arenas has probably made it harder to get everyone on board with the move.

In this post, I’ll mostly call the football team “Charlotte” or the “49ers”. I’ll throw in an occasional “UNCC”, though, in honor of the great Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell.

The city of Charlotte had wanted a public school to call its own since the end of the Civil War, but it had to wait a while. When the State of North Carolina decided to establish a land-grant college in 1887 (after an argument over the terms of the Morrill Land-Grant Act), the location of the new school was in play.

However, Charlotte lost out to Raleigh, which became the home of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. That school is now known, of course, as North Carolina State University.

In 1946, North Carolina opened fourteen evening college centers across the state in an attempt to meet the educational demand created by returning World War II veterans. One of the fourteen centers was in Charlotte.

Three years later, the state closed the schools, but the Charlotte Center was taken over by the city and renamed Charlotte College, operating as a two-year program. That takeover-and-survival happened in 1949, and is the primary reason the university’s sports teams are now called the 49ers.

The college moved to its current campus in 1961, became a four-year school in 1964, and was made part of the UNC university system in 1965. It is now the fourth-largest school in the system and has over 27,000 students, including 21,500 undergraduates.

While this is the second year of Charlotte’s modern-day football program, the school actually fielded teams in 1946, 1947, and 1948. They were known as the “Owls” (due to the students attending classes at night) and played other schools’ JV squads.

In 1947, the Owls played a Thanksgiving Day game against a team called the “Brookland-Cayce All-Stars” in Columbia. The coach that season was a former guard at Clemson named Marion “Footsie” Woods.

Why did the school decide to start (or technically, re-start) a football program? Chancellor Philip Dubois:

This is a long-term strategic plan that will pay huge dividends for students, alumni, faculty and staff at this vibrant university. It will foster a full university experience that many students crave as undergraduates.

It also will help build closer relationships with our growing ranks of UNC Charlotte alumni and the greater Charlotte community. Despite the economic challenges facing us all, this university is growing by leaps and bounds. We expect to have 35,000 students on campus by 2020 and we have strong support for football. We expect that will grow even stronger as we get closer to making it a reality.

Another factor may have been trying to create a common bond among students at what is still in many respects a commuter school (only 24% of undergraduates live on campus). Then there was the sentiment expressed by at least one alumnus:

For us to be a real school, and for us to have a college community that schools with football have, we had to have football.

Originally, Charlotte was going to be an FCS program, with no real designs (at least officially) on moving up to FBS. That changed in a hurry. From May of 2012:

A source with knowledge of the football-driven situation confirmed to the Observer on Tuesday afternoon that the 49ers will return to the league they played in from 1995-2005…

…The timing of Charlotte’s move is not known. The 49ers begin playing football in 2013 as an FCS (formerly I-AA) independent and must stay at that level for at least two years before moving up to FBS. Charlotte’s other sports programs could conceivably join CUSA earlier than that.

That is exactly what happened. (Another move mentioned in the linked blog post that didn’t happen: a CUSA-Mountain West merger. Uh, no.)

Next season Charlotte’s football program will begin competing in CUSA. Is it ready for that jump?

So far, the 49ers’ progress on the gridiron has arguably been a little slower than fellow CUSA startups Old Dominion and UTSA. ODU won seven games against scholarship D-1 programs in its second season, while UTSA won eight games in its second campaign, including five against FBS teams.

To be fair, it’s still early. The rest of Year 2, and the following seasons to come, will tell the tale.

Charlotte was 5-6 in 2013. The 49ers made their debut at Jerry Richardson Stadium with a 52-7 thrashing of Campbell, part of a 4-2 start to the season that included a a 42-21 win at Presbyterian and a dramatic, come-from-way-behind 53-51 victory over Gardner-Webb. In the latter contest, Charlotte trailed by 21 points entering the fourth quarter, but scored 29 points in the final period (including touchdowns on three consecutive offensive plays) to get the win.

The rest of the year was a bit of a struggle, however. Charlotte lost four straight games, including sizable defeats to UNC-Pembroke, Charleston Southern, and Coastal Carolina. The 49ers also lost to Division III Wesley College before closing their initial campaign with a resounding 61-17 victory over Morehead State.

UNCC opened this year by winning at Campbell 33-9, then hammering Johnson C. Smith 56-0. The 49ers followed that up with a 40-28 victory over North Carolina Central, though there were warning signs despite the triumph.

In that game, Charlotte led 40-0 after three quarters, but had to put its starters back on the field later in the fourth quarter to ensure its large lead wouldn’t be completely blown.

The next game was a matchup at Elon, and the 49ers lost their first game of the season 20-13. Charleston Southern then came to town and left with a 47-41 OT victory, a contest that Charlotte trailed 34-17 before making a valiant comeback.

Last week, the 49ers went to Gardner-Webb and lost 27-24, scoring a late TD to pull within three points, but never getting the ball back after the Runnin’ Bulldogs recovered an onside kick. Charlotte is now 3-3 on the season.

The head coach of the 49ers is Brad Lambert, who was a defensive back at Kansas State in the mid-1980s before beginning a career as a college coach. Lambert was on Jim Donnan’s staffs at Marshall and Georgia before taking a job as Jim Grobe’s linebackers coach at Wake Forest in 2000.

Six years later, Wake Forest would win an improbable ACC title and play in the Orange Bowl. The following season, Lambert would become the Demon Deacons’ defensive coordinator. The job with the 49ers is Lambert’s first head coaching position.

On offense, Charlotte runs a no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense. The 49ers run the ball 58% of the time, but 54% of their total yardage has come via the pass.

The pass completion rate is 51%, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt. Charlotte has thrown seven touchdown passes, but has been intercepted ten times. The 49ers are averaging 5.4 yards per rush.

In its last three games (all losses), Charlotte really struggled on third down. The 49ers were 5-15 against Elon, 2-9 against Charleston Southern, and 2-14 against Gardner-Webb.

One thing that stands out about Charlotte’s numbers are the number of plays from scrimmage, both for the 49ers and their opponents, particularly in relation to time of possession.

UNCC is averaging 68.3 offensive plays per game, which is not an exceptional amount. However, it’s actually a high rate when you consider that Charlotte has a time of possession average of only 24:40. Opponents have had the ball almost eleven minutes more per game than the 49ers.

Charlotte’s offense is thus running 2.77 plays per minute, which is a very high number. For comparison, Coastal Carolina (which likes to line up and go, too) averaged 2.57 plays per game in 2013.

So far this season, The Citadel’s offense is averaging 2.23 plays per minute (last year, that number was 2.03).

This has a tendency to skew both the offensive and defensive statistics for the 49ers. What it does to the defense on a practical level is open to question. It certainly hasn’t helped the D in its last three games.

Elon had the ball for 36:17 against the 49ers. Charleston Southern’s time of possession was 41:52. Gardner-Webb’s was 36:49.

That can wear out a defense. Charleston Southern ran 89 plays in regulation from the line of scrimmage (not counting plays wiped out by penalty).

Elon ran 97 offensive plays against Charlotte. The Phoenix has not run more than 76 plays in any other game this year, but may have decided to go up-tempo to take advantage of the 49ers’ lack of depth.

Charlotte is a big-play team in every respect. It gets ‘em, and it gives ‘em up. Offense, defense, special teams — 49er games are rollercoaster affairs.

The offense has produced twelve pass plays of 35 yards or more, including three in its last game against Gardner-Webb for 55, 59 (TD), and 80 (TD) yards. The 49ers have had six rushing plays of 40+ yards, including a 77-yard TD run versus Charleston Southern and a 70-yard rush against North Carolina Central.

That tendency to break a long gainer is a major reason why Charlotte has had 11 touchdown drives this season that lasted less than 1:30 in duration. Three of those possessions were one-play scoring drives.

The defense has chipped in with three scoring plays of its own, including a pick-six last week in the Gardner-Webb game.

Conversely, opponents have also had some moments to savor. Charleston Southern had two 45-yard plays, a run and a pass reception (with the run going for a TD).

Gardner-Webb’s scoring plays included a 71-yard reception and a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs had two other pass plays of 30+ yards. North Carolina Central’s four 4th-quarter touchdowns included a fumble return by its defense and a 21-yard reception (with a 35-yard completion setting up another Eagles TD).

Charlotte and its opponents have combined to average 4.7 turnovers per game and 16 penalties per contest. Also, while the 49ers have had a solid year kicking field goals (14-18), their opponents are only 5-15.

In other words, Charlotte’s games this season have featured a lot of erratic but entertaining play.

Starting quarterback Matt Johnson has started every game for Charlotte over the past two seasons. He’s a big QB (6’3″, 230 lbs.) who can run or pass. He threw for 335 yards against Charleston Southern, and ran for 150 yards versus North Carolina Central.

Like several of the 49ers’ skill position players, he’s a big-play threat. Johnson can make it happen via the air (eight completed passes of 50+ yards) or the ground (a 70-yard run against North Carolina Central and a 49-yarder versus Gardner-Webb).

In the SoCon media teleconference, Mike Houston described Charlotte running back Kalif Phillips as “dynamic”. He’s a 5’11”, 205 lb. sophomore from Kannapolis.

Phillips is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and almost 100 yards rushing per game. He has ten rushing touchdowns, including a long of 77 yards versus Charleston Southern. Phillips can catch the ball, but has not really been asked to do so this season (only two receptions).

The most difficult individual matchup for The Citadel on Saturday might be 5’9″, 152 lb. receiver Austin Duke, a true blazer from Independence High School in Charlotte.

He caught 62 passes last season for 727 yards and six touchdowns, and is well on his way to exceeding those numbers this year. In fact, Duke is likely to surpass his 2013 reception yardage against The Citadel, as he already has 712 yards receiving through six games (on 44 receptions).

Duke is averaging over 16 yards per reception and has five TDs, including an 80-yarder against Gardner-Webb, a 65-yard score versus North Carolina Central, and touchdowns of 61 and 74 yards against Charleston Southern. His TD catch versus Elon went for a mere 19 yards. He’s very good, and very dangerous.

Fellow wideout Dmarjai Devine is more than capable of picking up the slack if teams pay too much attention to Duke (if it’s possible to pay too much attention to Duke). Devine has caught twelve passes this season, including 55- and 59-yarders just last week against Gardner-Webb.

Will Thomas, who backs up Duke at receiver, was Charlotte’s first official football signee.

The 49ers’ H-back, Justin Bolus, went to James Island High School. He has a relatively modest six catches so far this season, but Bolus bears watching — he burned Campbell for a 62-yard reception. Bolus underwent stomach surgery twice in 2012, but returned to the gridiron and played in all 11 games the following year.

Charlotte has a large offensive line, with both tackles and both guards starting every game this season for the 49ers. Average height and weight of the starters: 6’4″, 304 lbs.

Right guard Daniel Blitch, a redshirt senior, is a transfer from Wake Forest. Blitch and right tackle Danny Book (who started his career at Albany) are both 6’6″; left guard Casey Perry, at 335 lbs., is the heaviest of the starters.

The 49ers operate out of a base 3-4 defense, though how they decide to line up against The Citadel’s triple option attack is another matter. While Charlotte has already played one option team in Charleston Southern, the Bulldogs will present a slightly different look.

“This is truly a triple-option,” said Charlotte coach Brad Lambert…”It’s very similar to what they run at Navy, Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern that we’ve seen before. Over the years we’ve played against this kind of offense quite a bit. So we know what we’re getting into.”

[Mike] Houston knows what he’s doing with the triple-option. He rode it all the way to the NCAA Division II championship game at Lenoir-Rhyne last season. After three years as the Bears’ coach, he left for The Citadel in January.

“Mike’s won a truckload of games over the years,” Lambert said. “Wherever he’s been, he’s been a proven winner.”

…[Aaron] Miller “is operating the offense pretty good,” Lambert said. “He’s making better decisions the further they get into it.”…

…“We’ve got to stay fundamental against them,” Charlotte safety Desmond Cooper said. “They’ll be running, running, running, then hit you with a pass.”

Mike Houston described the 49ers’ defense as “tall, lean, and athletic”, adding that “they run very well”.

The defensive line is rangy, with no player on the two-deep shorter than 6’2″. The heaviest member of the d-line is starting nosetackle Larry Ogunjobi, a 275 lb. redshirt sophomore from Greensboro.

Charlotte has had some injury problems in its linebacking corps. The two starting inside linebackers on the season’s first depth chart are both out. Their replacements are both redshirt freshmen; one of them, Dustin Crouser, has two interceptions for UNCC.

Outside linebacker Nico Alcalde (6’2″, 205 lbs.) has started every game for the 49ers over the last two seasons. Fellow outside ‘backer Tyler DeStefani (6’4″, 220 lbs.) is a redshirt senior pursuing a masters’ degree in mathematical finance.

Safety Branden Dozier has a fumble return and an interception return for a touchdown this season. He’s a transfer from Butler County Community College who wears #3, the same number sported by 49ers running back Kalif Phillips.

Fellow safety Desmond Cooper is also a transfer, having started his career at Wake Forest. Cooper is a redshirt senior.

Cornerback Greg Cunningham Jr. has two interceptions this year, one of six Charlotte players with at least one pick. Cunningham is 6’2″, while the other starting corner, the excellently named Tank Norman, is 5’10”.

Placekicker Blake Brewer is 12-16 converting field goals this season, with a long of 50 yards. He also serves as the 49ers’ kickoff specialist.

Arthur Hart, the starting punter, is a freshman from Grafton, Wisconsin. He attended the Model Secondary School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Washington, DC. Hart has been hard of hearing since birth.

He is averaging 36.6 yards per punt, not a huge number. However, only one of Hart’s 27 punts this season has been returned (for six yards).

Damarrel Alexander is Kalif Phillips’ backup at running back and also the principal kick returner for the 49ers. He has a long return this season of 30 yards. Austin Duke also returns kickoffs for Charlotte (though only one so far this year).

Ardy Holmes, a transfer from Marshall, is the starting punt returner. Holmes took over those duties against Gardner-Webb after regular return man Corey Nesmith suffered a foot injury.

Odds and ends:

- The Citadel is the first SoCon team that Charlotte has played, either this year or last. The 49ers have played six games against Big South opposition (going 2-4) and are 1-1 versus MEAC teams and 0-2 against CAA squads.

- Saturday’s game will, rather curiously, be the last road game of the season for Charlotte. The 49ers will have a bye next week and then play their final four games at home, against James Madison, Coastal Carolina, Wesley College, and Morehead State.

- Charlotte’s tight ends coach, Johnson Richardson, was a tight end at Wofford before beginning his coaching career. He is the grandson of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, for whom the 49ers’ football stadium is named (Richardson gave the school $10 million to help it build the facility).

- For the third time this season, The Citadel will play a gridiron opponent for the first time, with Charlotte joining Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb in that category.

- Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 12-point favorite over Charlotte (as of Thursday morning). As always, keep in mind that FCS odds are often…odd.

- Charlotte is transitioning to FBS status and thus is in the process of increasing its scholarship allotment for football. According to Adam Smith of the Burlington Times-News, the 49ers currently have about 75 players on scholarship. The ceiling for FBS is 85; the limit for equivalencies in FCS is 63.

- In a recent interview, Jim Senter mentioned that under his administration, facility rentals would be a key element in providing incoming funds to the department of athletics.

It is no surprise, then, that a page devoted to such rentals recently popped up on the school’s sports website.

- This weekend is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel, and as usual there are a lot of things going on all over campus. I don’t know how many people will be in attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, but there is no doubt in my mind that the tailgating areas will be packed to capacity. They always are.

- Congratulations to the seniors who will get their rings this week. As always, a reminder: rings are nice, but diplomas are even nicer.

- I’m also happy for the freshmen who this week will pass the first of many benchmarks in their cadet careers. I’m sure they thought cadre would never end, but it could have been worse.

They could have been freshmen during a cadre period that lasted until November 2. [Involuntary shudder]

- Spike The Bulldog is now 5-1 in the Capitol One Mascot Challenge, having triumphed over Iowa State’s Cy The Cardinal last week. This week, our hero takes on Big Red, the nightmare-inducing mascot for Western Kentucky.

Vote for Spike!

I have two main concerns about this game:

- Charlotte has a lot of talented players. The 49ers may not be the deepest team, but you only have to play 11 at a time.

Will the Bulldogs be able to contain Austin Duke and Kalif Phillips? How does the defense prevent a dual-threat QB like Matt Johnson from having a big game?

Can the offense move the ball consistently and avoid the turnover bug? The 49ers, if nothing else, are a ball-hawking squad.

- The other consideration is more psychological. Mike Houston said “we’re moving on,” and it’s important that the players do just that.

My greatest fear is that the call at the end of the Wofford game winds up costing The Citadel not one but two wins, because of a hangover effect. The coaches must prevent that from happening.

One thing everyone learned over this past week is that The Citadel’s fan base is a passionate group. It demands effort and quality in all areas.

I’m quite sure Mike Houston already knew that, but I suspect new AD Jim Senter may now have a new appreciation for just how much the fans care about the football program (and the school). They can be a boisterous lot, too.

I’ll be in the stands on Saturday, along with a few of my occasionally rowdy friends. I have high hopes for the atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium this weekend.

I also have high hopes for a victory.

Game review, 2014: Wofford

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Box score

Oh, well. What can you do? Aaron Miller appeared to score the game-winning touchdown for The Citadel, only for the SoCon officials to rule he didn’t score, and thus handing the victory* to Wofford.

You could see the end-play debacle by the men in stripes coming, as they seemed unprepared for the Bulldogs’ last-minute push for a TD. The players and coaches on both teams did a good job of handling the time management issues associated with end-game drives, but the officials seemed confused (if not outright chaotic) in their movements.

This was best exemplified by the bizarre “double spike” sequence on first-and-goal, in which Aaron Miller had to repeat spiking the ball on first down because the ball was deemed not ready for play, even though it had been put in play by the umpire. That’s because the clock didn’t start.

I had never seen that happen before, and I doubt anyone else had either.

On the final play, the officials hesitated, then apparently decided “well, he probably scored but let’s just give the game to the home team and get out of here.” Then they quickly ran off the field (no significant discussion necessary), looking a lot like characters from a Mack Sennett movie.

The ruling was very hard to swallow for anyone who supports The Citadel. I can’t imagine how the players and coaches feel (especially as it’s already the second time this season the Bulldogs have lost a game in which poor SoCon officiating played a major role).

It was arguably not as bad as the 2008 Elon game, which featured multiple ludicrous late-game officiating decisions, but that’s small consolation.

The call served as yet another reminder that at least in recent years, the conference has not treated The Citadel very well in a wide variety of areas. One that I’ve written about before, of course, is the fact that no one associated with The Citadel is in the SoCon Hall of Fame, despite the military college being a member of the league since 1936.

When there is controversy over the officiating like there was in Spartanburg on Saturday, what makes the Hall of Fame snub even worse is the knowledge that the league changed its rules for eligibility in order to elect two basketball officiating supervisors to the Hall.

The league is essentially saying that no one from The Citadel is good enough for its Hall of Fame, but those in charge of the league’s oft-maligned officials are more than good enough.

Perhaps the SoCon could have taken the money it allocated for its Hall of Fame and used it to help fix its longstanding officiating problems. Then again, the conference sometimes struggles with long-term decisions, as demonstrated by how it has gradually run the league baseball tournament into the ground.

Ultimately, The Citadel has to win games like this by two or three scores, to ensure the officials can’t play as large a role in the outcome. It’s a tough thing to say, but it’s true.

To have won the game by multiple scores on Saturday, the Bulldogs needed to be a little better in certain areas:

- Wofford converted all four of its fourth-down tries. That made up for the Terriers only going 4-12 on third down. The Bulldogs needed to force a defensive stop on a couple of those fourth down plays, particularly on the long drive in the second quarter.

- The Citadel only averaged 3.7 yards per rush. The longest run from scrimmage for the Bulldogs was 15 yards. Conversely, Wofford had five rushing plays that went for more than 15 yards.

- I wasn’t completely sure about Mike Houston’s decision to eschew a 43-yard field goal attempt on the opening drive in favor of going for it on 4th-and-16 from the Wofford 26. It is possible that 43 yards was on the fringe of Eric Goins’ range, and the wind was against the Bulldogs at the time.

It’s just that 4th-and-16 is a very low-percentage offensive situation. I’ll defer to the coach, though, on whether or not is was still a higher percentage than a field goal attempt would have been.

Positives:

- Well, I’m still alive despite how the game ended. I guess that counts as a positive.

- I thought the team played very hard on Saturday. There is no question that the effort was there. The result should have been there, too.

- I just want to note (and not for the first time) that Spike The Bulldog is a hard-working mascot. As an alumnus, I really appreciate this. I also want to give a shout-out to Spike The Bulldog’s press agent, Cadet Diefendorf, who is never far from Spike’s side.

- It was also good to see General II and Boo X at the game. I wish that for future road trips (or at least relatively short ones), the same can be said for the cheerleaders, and perhaps a small pep band.

- As usual, a lot of alums and other supporters of The Citadel were in attendance. No school in the league has fans who “travel” better.

- Jim Senter’s tie received rave reviews.

Now, The Citadel’s new director of athletics needs to have a long conversation with SoCon commissioner John Iamarino, who was also at the game on Saturday. As usual, Iamarino’s hair was perfect, and his officials were not.

Senter may not know yet (though he’ll soon find out) that basketball officiating in the Southern Conference is even more ridiculed by veteran league observers. The AD should let Iamarino know that the conference really needs to get its act together on all fronts.

This may be unfair or unwarranted, but there is a definite sense among many loyal supporters of The Citadel that the conference takes the military college for granted. The commissioner might want to do something about that.

This week’s crop of mediocre-to-bad photos ends about midway through the fourth quarter, due to battery issues.

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