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

Football.

Football!

FOOTBALL!

FOOTBALL!

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

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

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

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

Links of interest:

- Season preview from The Post and Courier

- The Sports Network SoCon preview

- Game notes from The Citadel and Coastal Carolina

- SoCon weekly release

- SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls

- Big South weekly release

- Big South preseason poll

- FCS Coaches poll

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

Coastal Carolina institutional quick facts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Moglia] outlawed tackling during practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Location, location, location

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

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

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

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

2) CCU’s long-term game plan

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

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

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

3) The SoCon membership dynamic

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

Okay, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Dogs!

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

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

Secret memo to Mike Houston

Corps Day, spring football, and some Beautiful Bulldogs

Prime SoCon football recruiting areas

Improving the gameday experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium

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

Competing for a Crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some definitions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terms (as defined by Football Outsiders):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You would be correct.

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

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

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

Anyway, without further ado:

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

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

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

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

- Lowcountry Jazz Festival (North Charleston Coliseum)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other events on September 27:

- Folly Beach Pier Tournament

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

- MOJA Arts Festival

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

- Taste of Charleston

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

October 11 — The Citadel vs. Charlotte, 2 pm

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

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

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

Horning in on the October 11 action:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also of note:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

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

November 8 — The Citadel vs. Furman, 2 pm

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

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

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

Other events:

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

- Lowcountry Hoedown (Charleston Visitors Center)

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

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

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

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

November 15 — The Citadel vs. Samford, 1 pm

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

Remaining in the Charleston metropolitan area:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

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

- Plantation Days (Middleton Place)

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

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

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

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

Just win, baby.

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

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

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

Anyway, here we go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

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

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

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

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

C’mon, football. Get here…

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

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

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

From the minutes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Citadel begins its search for a new AD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clemson Insider remains confident in its reporting. Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Won’t we all…

Brief commentary on a record crowd at Riley Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link

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

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

Booster clubs from both schools have scheduled major tailgate events…

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

Link

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

Link

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

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

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

An announced crowd of only 5,851?

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

They were kidding, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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