2015 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 12. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Preview of Western Carolina-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

Pregame “notes” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mark Speir on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/9 press conference (includes comments from Tevin Floyd, Dominique Allen, and Mariel Cooper)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Game story for Mars Hill-Western Carolina from the Asheville Citizen-Times 

– Tevin Floyd was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after making eight tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown against Davidson. You may recall that as a freshman in 2013, Floyd recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 28-21 victory over Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

From my preview of last season’s game:

…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.

Western Carolina won that game against The Citadel, 29-15, and moved to 6-2 for the 2014 season. The Catamounts then hit a major roadblock, getting drilled 51-0 by Chattanooga.

WCU lost at Samford the week after that, and later lost to Alabama, but picked up a home victory over VMI in between those losses. Western Carolina finished with a 7-5 record.

The Catamounts finished the 2014 season with the program’s first winning year on the gridiron since 2005; its most wins in a campaign since 2001; and its best record in league play since 1992. It was a largely gratifying season for the Western Carolina faithful, and probably something of a relief as well.

Now the question for Mark Speir is this: what can you do for an encore?

It could be argued that one of the tougher things to do in college sports is to put together two straight good years after enduring many, many bad seasons. That is what Western Carolina is attempting to do in 2015.

More than a few people have newly-found confidence in the Catamounts. WCU was picked to finish third in the SoCon in the coach’s preseason poll; the league’s media voters thought even more of Western Carolina, ranking it second in the conference.

It’s not altogether surprising that folks like the Catamounts’ chances. The SoCon release notes that 23 players listed as starters returned from last year’s squad, including all eleven on the offensive side of the ball.

However, there are still some doubters when it comes to Western Carolina, and that’s perfectly understandable.  Like I mentioned earlier, repeating success after a long period of failure isn’t easy.

Just ask The Citadel about the 2013 season.

In 2012, the Bulldogs were 7-4, finishing off the campaign with three straight victories and a winning league record. It was the first winning season for The Citadel in five years and only the second winning year since 1997. The five SoCon triumphs were the most since 1992.

Hopes were high the following year. The Citadel returned many of its top players, and fans were ready for a great season.

Instead, the Bulldogs only won five games. It turned out not to be the start of something big; rather, it was the end of an era.

There are no guarantees.

Statistical comparisons, 2014 SoCon games only (seven contests):

– The Citadel averaged 75.4 plays per game; Western Carolina averaged 66.1 plays per game.

– The Bulldogs’ time of possession per game: 32:40. The Catamounts averaged 29:57 per game.

WCU actually held the ball longer than its opponents in five of seven games. UTC had an almost 2-to-1 edge in time of possession against Western Carolina, skewing that particular statistic to a certain degree. The other league team that out-possessed the Catamounts: The Citadel.

– The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.6 yards per play; that includes 5.4 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina’s defense gave up 5.9 yards per play in league action, including 5.3 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass attempt.

– Western Carolina’s offense averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 4.8 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per pass attempt. The Citadel’s defense allowed just over 7 yards per play, including 5.7 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt.

– The Catamounts were sacked five times in league action in 2014, while the Bulldogs’ D had eight sacks in seven SoCon contests.

– The Citadel’s 3rd-down conversion rate was 46.3%, while Western Carolina’s defense allowed opponents to convert 3rd downs 50% of the time.

Conversely, WCU’s offense converted 3rd downs at a 45.2% clip, while the Bulldogs’ defense allowed SoCon opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 41.5%.

– On 4th down, The Citadel’s offense converted 12 of 20 4th-down attempt (60%), while the Catamounts’ D held opponents to a 40% 4th-down conversion rate (4-10).

Western Carolina’s offense was 7-10 on 4th down in league play (70%). The Bulldogs allowed a 4th-down conversion rate of 52.9% on defense.

– In the Red Zone, The Citadel’s offensive TD rate was 67% (18-27). WCU’s defense had a red zone TD allowed rate of only 41.7% (10-24).

The Catamounts’s offense scored touchdowns on 13 of 17 red zone possessions (76.5%), while the Bulldogs allowed TDs 15 of 25 times opponents moved inside the 20 (60%).

Western Carolina’s defense close to the goal line in league play was impressive last season, and a not-insignificant factor in the team’s win-loss record.

As its league campaign progressed, WCU started allowing more and more yards on defense. After a fine effort against Wofford (273 total yards allowed), the rest of the season for the Catamounts’ D went like this: 400 yards given up versus Mercer, 443 allowed to The Citadel, 512 to Chattanooga, 461 to Samford, and 471 to VMI.

In those last three games, WCU opponents scored 112 points.

Western Carolina threw the ball 39.7% of the time in league play. Passing yardage accounted for 52.7% of the Catamounts’ total offense in SoCon action.

Troy Mitchell is Western Carolina’s alltime leader in total offense, a mark he set last week. A fair amount of that yardage has come against The Citadel:

– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2012: 117 rushing yards, 67 passing yards (2 rushing TDs)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2013: 106 rushing yards, 136 passing yards (1 passing TD)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2014: 131 rushing yards, 292 passing yards (1 passing TD)

There aren’t many quarterbacks who have rushed for over 100 yards three different times against the Bulldogs. The native of Texas will have a chance to go 4-for-4 on Saturday.

Mitchell isn’t the only Catamount who has had success running the football against the Bulldogs. Halfback Darius Ramsey had two 100+ yard performance versus The Citadel as a freshman and a sophomore. Last season, Ramsey settled for 72 yards (and a TD) on nine carries. His backup, Detrez Newsome, ran for 123 yards and two TDs on only eleven rushing attempts.

The starters on Western Carolina’s offensive line average 6’2″, 288 lbs. There is a lot of experience on the o-line, though left tackle Zach Weeks is a redshirt freshman.

Spearman Robinson is a preseason all-conference wideout selection. Robinson is big (6’4″, 215 lbs.) and has good speed. He had eleven touchdown receptions last year.

His first TD catch of this season came on the first play from scrimmage against Mars Hill last week. Detrez Newsome threw a halfback pass to Robinson that went for 75 yards.

Karnorris Benson is also a talented receiver. He is a redshirt senior who caught 12 touchdown passes two seasons ago.

Western Carolina will miss Terryon Robinson, who had a huge game against The Citadel last year (10 catches, 183 yards). He reportedly broke his wrist just before the season started.

WCU will throw the ball to its tight ends as well. 6’4″, 240 lb. Tyler Sexton caught three touchdown passes last season; the sophomore had five receptions last week against Mars Hill.

The Catamounts usually feature four down linemen on defense (as part of a base 4-3), but as always, that might be adjusted against The Citadel’s triple option attack. During his radio show, Mike Houston mentioned “split fronts” as a look the Bulldogs’ offense might see on Saturday.

Though he did not play in the opener (injury precaution) and is not listed as the starter on Western Carolina’s depth chart, expect defensive tackle Helva Matungulu (6’5″, 290 lbs.) to get a lot of playing time on Saturday.

Matungula is originally from Kenya, and played Rugby 7s before arriving in Cullowhee. Mike Houston specifically referenced Matungula (“he’s an outstanding player”) during the SoCon teleconference.

DT Ezavian Dunn (6’2″, 300 lbs.) started seven games as a freshman.

Defensive ends John McBeth and Caleb Hawkins have combined to start 57 games. Hawkins, in particular, will be a very tough matchup for The Citadel’s offensive line.

Linebacker Daniel Riddle had 74 tackles last season, third-most on the squad. Another ‘backer, Tyson Dickson, missed half of the 2014 season with injury, but did play against The Citadel — and made 16 tackles in that contest.

Sertonuse Harris is a LB/DB combo type who was a second-team All-SoCon pick by the coaches last year. Cornerback Trey Morgan was a preseason all-league choice. He had six interceptions last year.

Western Carolina’s depth chart lists two possible starters at placekicker, Logan Howard and Blake Metcalf. Last week, Howard converted the PATs while Metcalf was the kickoff specialist.

According to the team’s website, Logan Howard has “a black belt in martial arts and is a three-time world champion kick boxer.”

WCU has a new starting punter this season, redshirt freshman Ian Berryman. Kickoff returns are handled by Detrez Newsome and Karnorris Benson, while C.J. Goodman is the Catamounts’ punt returner.

Chandler Addertion is in his third season as Western Carolina’s long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The ESPN3 production will feature Kevin Fitzgerald as the play-by-play announcer and Sadath Jean-Pierre as the analyst. Fans of the Bulldogs know former defensive back Jean-Pierre, a 2013 graduate of The Citadel.

Fitzgerald is a recent graduate of Syracuse who has called games in a variety of sports, including radio play-by-play for the women’s basketball team at the University of Vermont. This summer, he was the voice of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

– WCU did not play a game in SoCon action last season that was decided by fewer than 12 points. However, the Catamounts were 4-1 in league games decided by two touchdowns.

Western Carolina lost two non-conference games by five points last year. The Catamounts lost 36-31 in the season opener at South Florida (a game the Catamounts led at halftime), and 19-14 at Presbyterian.

The Blue Hose had two pick-6 TDs in the latter contest, the second coming with less than two minutes remaining in the game. WCU’s offense was victimized by five turnovers, including four interceptions thrown by three different quarterbacks (Troy Mitchell got hurt midway through the third quarter).

– The Catamounts’ roster features 53 players from the state of North Carolina, by far the most from any state (as would be expected).  There are 25 natives of Georgia on the team, and 7 South Carolina residents.

I was a little surprised that there are as many Catamounts from Kenya as there are from Tennessee (one each).

The aforementioned Helva Matungulu is from Nairobi. The one native of the Volunteer State, freshman defensive back Mikey White, went to Science Hill High School in Johnson City; that’s the same school sharing a stadium this season with East Tennessee State.

– Western Carolina’s opponent last week, Mars Hill, travels to Chattanooga this Saturday to take on the Mocs. That game starts at 1:00 pm ET. Later in the afternoon, there may be some comparing of scores in the tailgating areas — or there may just be more eating and drinking.

Mars Hill, of course, is the alma mater of Mike Houston. On the CBS online college football schedule, the school is listed as “MARS”.

– WCU had a good home crowd last week, with an announced attendance of 12,348. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sizable number of those fans make it down to Charleston on Saturday.

– Western Carolina-The Citadel is the first SoCon league game of the season, and the only one on this week’s schedule. In fact, there is only one conference matchup per week for the next four weeks.

There won’t be a full slate of conference games until October 10, when all eight SoCon teams compete in league action.

Mark Speir pointed out during the SoCon teleconference that after Saturday night, Western Carolina won’t be playing another league game for almost a month. The same is true for The Citadel.

– Per the WCU game notes, this is the earliest league road opener for the Catamounts since playing The Citadel in Week 2 in 1998.

– Western Carolina’s release also listed the three times in recent history that a matchup between the two schools has been moved or postponed: 1989 (thanks to Hurricane Hugo, with the game played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia); 1999 (Hurricane Floyd); and 2001 (9/11).

– In a now-annual tradition, I want to officially criticize Western Carolina for blowing a chance at having a truly fantastic school nickname back in 1933, when “Catamounts” was chosen. The runner-up choice was “Mountain Boomers”.

Mountain Boomers! How can you not pick Mountain Boomers as your nickname when you have the opportunity? C’mon.

– Western Carolina was The Citadel’s opponent the last time the South Carolina Corps of Cadets was not in attendance for a home game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That happened on November 20, 2004 (a 17-0 victory for the Bulldogs), while the corps was on Thanksgiving break.

After the game, a meeting of The Citadel’s Board of Visitors was held. Action was taken:

The Board of Visitors passed a resolution that The Corps be present and in uniform at all Citadel home football games in the future. The resolution passed unanimously.

That is why The Citadel now always concludes the regular season on the road.

– Saturday’s game is Military Appreciation Night. At halftime, the Parris Island Marine Band will perform. It always puts on a good show.

– This game has been designated as a “white-out”. Fans are supposed to wear white; the Bulldogs are expected to wear white jerseys and white pants with their white helmets. I’m unsure if the corps of cadets will wear their standard summer leave uniforms, or if they will be wearing “dress whites” (which I believe would be unprecedented).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over Western Carolina on Saturday. The over/under is 55.

– Unfortunately, the long-range weather forecast is not promising. Showers and thunderstorms on Saturday are “likely”, according to the National Weather Service. There is a 50% chance of rain on Saturday night.

I expect this game to be close. It could go either way, though to be honest I am a bit pessimistic about the Bulldogs’ chances. Which, to be fair, is my default outlook…

Last season, Western Carolina had seven rushes of 20+ yards against the Bulldogs. There were also three pass plays of 20+ yards.

Most of WCU’s cast of characters from that game are back, most notably Troy Mitchell. The Citadel has not had much luck in recent years defending dual-threat QBs, and that certainly includes Mitchell.

He isn’t perfect, though. In three games against the Bulldogs, Mitchell has thrown four interceptions. It’s also true that The Citadel has won two of the three games in question.

While the Bulldogs did what they had to do against Davidson, I was a little concerned that The Citadel’s defense only registered one sack (plus one hurry) against nineteen pass attempts. On the other hand, having a passes defensed rate of 42% tends to alleviate that issue.

Comparing how Western Carolina did last week against Mars Hill versus how The Citadel performed against Davidson is pointless. Neither SoCon team was challenged, though Mars Hill is probably better than Davidson.

WCU more or less took most of the second quarter off against the Lions, while the Bulldogs never let up versus the Wildcats. That’s of no real consequence, though.

I think it’s going to be a high scoring game. I feel reasonably confident about that, so a 13-9 final is inevitable.

At any rate, I’ll be there on Saturday. Can’t wait.

Go Dogs!

College Football TV Listings 2015, Week 2

This is a list of every game played during week 2 of the college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school.  All games are listed, televised or not.  For the televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline reporters (where applicable).  I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2015, Week 2

Additional notes:

– I include ESPN3.com games; they are denoted as “ESPN3″.

– I also list digital network feeds provided by various conferences when they are free of charge. For some of these feeds, the audio will be a simulcast of the home team’s radio broadcast. Other online platforms have their own announcers.

For now, the digital networks I am including in the listings are those for the Mountain West, Big Sky, Big SouthOVC, NEC, SoCon, and Patriot League.

Occasionally individual schools (almost always at the FCS level) provide video feeds free of charge. When that is the case, I list those as well.

– I do not include PPV telecasts, regardless of whether or not the matchup in question features FBS or FCS schools. These games are increasingly rare.

– The local affiliates for the ACC Network “national” game of the week (Wake Forest-Syracuse) can be found here: Link

– Listed in notes on the document are the regional sports networks carrying the following games: Houston-Louisville, UTEP-Texas Tech, Tulane-Georgia Tech, Eastern Michigan-Wyoming, Central Arkansas-Oklahoma State, Lamar-Baylor

– Local affiliates for American Sports Network games: Presbyterian-Charlotte, Austin Peay-Southern Mississippi, Marshall, Ohio, Norfolk State-Old Dominion, Incarnate Word-McNeese State, Rhode Island-Albany

– BTN (formerly Big Ten Network) “gamefinder”:  Link

– AP Poll (FBS):  Link

– FCS Coaches’ Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s totally comprehensive and utterly indispensable site College Sports on TV, a must-bookmark for any fan of college sports.

Also to be credited, as always, are the indefatigable information collectors (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

Game review, 2015: Davidson

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike HoustonDominique Allen, Isiaha Smith, James Riley, and Tevin Floyd

Box score

The season opener went about as well as could have been expected, at least on the field. Random thoughts and observations:

– The announced attendance of 8,665 seemed accurate. The two storms that passed over Johnson Hagood Stadium in the 90 minutes preceding the game certainly had a negative impact on attendance in general and walkup sales in particular.

We may have to wait another week to see if the initiatives aimed at improving attendance have had a significant effect.

– The Citadel averaged 8.1 yards per play, including 7.8 yards per rush and 13.4 yards per pass attempt. The yards per pass completion was also 13.4, as Dominique Allen completed all five of his pass attempts (including a TD toss to Jorian Jordan).

– I really liked the pass play call on 2nd-and-1 from the Davidson 26 (during The Citadel’s second offensive series). That was a good tendency-breaker, as the Bulldogs only attempted four passes in 2nd-and-short situations all of last season.

The play itself was well conceived and executed. Dominique Allen waited patiently for Isiaha Smith to make his move, and for Jorian Jordan to run his route (which cleared out space on the right side of the field). Smith had all kinds of room to maneuver after catching the ball.

– Obviously, the defense had a good night as well. Besides pitching a shutout, the Bulldogs held Davidson to 2.2 yards per play. That included a meager 1.6 yards per rush and 3.1 yards per pass attempt.

The Citadel intercepted more passes on Saturday night (four, including a pick-6 by Tevin Floyd) than it did all of last season (three). The four interceptions led all of FCS after Week 1.

– After a sack by Mitchell Jeter in the second quarter, the PA played “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” (the Dan Tyminski/Soggy Bottom Boys version). Major, major props to the individual responsible for that musical cue.

– After one game, The Citadel leads FCS in rushing offense (with almost 100 more yards than second-place Southeastern Louisiana). Interestingly, the FCS national leader in passing offense after the first week of the season is…VMI.

– Eric Goins had touchbacks on seven of his nine kickoffs. That is outstanding. I think it’s fair to say the crowd was very appreciative of his efforts, too.

– The Citadel only had five penalties, though a couple were ill-timed (one led to the Bulldogs’ only punt). As Mike Houston pointed out in his post-game press conference, however, only two of the penalties were committed by the first team offense or defense.

Davidson was only called for four penalties.

– Rod Johnson’s “fumble” probably wasn’t a fumble (there is actually a good angle of that play in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery linked above; see picture #3). The Citadel won 69-0, though, so we’ll let the official off the hook this week.

I was glad to see Johnson score a touchdown later in the game after being denied one on the earlier call.

– By now if you read anything I write, you know I’m not a fan of The Citadel’s “uniform program”. I’ll gladly make an exception for last night’s togs, though. The Bulldogs looked good.

– Fans will have to get used to longer games now that all home contests are on ESPN3. Saturday night’s game took exactly three hours to play.

– The team’s performance was matched by its fellow members of the corps of cadets. I thought the corps was really good on Saturday night. The overnights for the sophomores, juniors, and seniors were deserved (and I say this as an old fogey).

I expect nothing less than the same next week. I hope the corps brings it again when Western Carolina comes to town.

– The “featured Bulldog” in Saturday’s game program was accounting major Tevin Floyd. The “fall feature” that focuses on other Bulldog athletes also profiled a football player: Caroline Cashion.

– On a personal note, I can now say that I’ve seen in person both of The Citadel’s highest-scoring games against Davidson: last night, and the 56-21 victory in 1974. The latter contest was the second game I ever attended at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Those are also the two games that bookend the Bulldogs’ current nine-game winning streak against the Wildcats.

– While it’s fun to watch The Citadel score ten touchdowns in a game, next week’s SoCon opener against Western Carolina will be a far different test. More on that in my preview later this week.

For now, here are a few pictures. These are the best I had, which should tell you something about the ones that I’m not posting. I’m a bad photographer with a mediocre camera, and the weather didn’t help matters either…

College Football TV Listings 2015, Week 1

This is a list of every game played during week 1 of the college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school.  All games are listed, televised or not.  For the televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline reporters (where applicable).  I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2015, Week 1

Additional notes:

– I do not include PPV telecasts, regardless of whether or not the matchup in question features FBS or FCS schools. These games are increasingly rare.

– I include ESPN3.com games; they are denoted as “ESPN3″.

– I also list digital network feeds provided by various conferences when they are free of charge. For some of these feeds, the audio will be a simulcast of the home team’s radio broadcast. Other online platforms have their own announcers.

For now, the digital networks I am including in the listings are those for the Mountain West, Big Sky, Big SouthOVC, NEC, SoCon, and Patriot League.

Occasionally individual schools (almost always at the FCS level) provide video feeds free of charge. When that is the case, I list those as well.

– The local affiliates for the ACC Network “national” game of the week (Wofford-Clemson) can be found here: Link

– Listed in notes on the document are the regional sports networks carrying the following games: South Dakota State-Kansas, Sam Houston State-Texas Tech, Georgia Southern-West Virginia

– Local affiliates for American Sports Network games: Southeastern Louisiana-Northwestern State (Thursday); Old Dominion-Eastern Michigan (Saturday); Wagner-Rice (Saturday); Southern-Louisiana Tech (Saturday)

– Affiliates for The Walk TV network’s coverage of Delaware State-Liberty: Link

– BTN (formerly Big Ten Network) “gamefinder”:  Link

– USA Today Coaches Poll (FBS):  Link

– FCS Coaches’ Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s totally comprehensive and utterly indispensable site College Sports on TV, a must-bookmark for any fan of college sports.

Also to be credited, as always, are the indefatigable information collectors (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

2015 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Davidson

…But one day, when across the Field of Fame the goal seemed dim,
The wise old coach, Experience, came up and spoke to him.
“Oh Boy,” he said, “the main point now before you win your bout
Is keep on bucking Failure till you’ve worn the piker out!”

“And, kid, cut out this fancy stuff — go in there, low and hard;
Just keep your eye upon the ball and plug on, yard by yard,
And more than all, when you are thrown or tumbled with a crack,
Don’t sit there whining — hustle up and keep on coming back;

“Keep coming back with all you’ve got, without an alibi,
If Competition trips you up or lands upon your eye,
Until at last above the din you hear this sentence spilled:
‘We might as well let this bird through before we all get killed.’

“You’ll find the road is long and rough, with soft spots far apart,
Where only those can make the grade who have the Uphill Heart.
And when they stop you with a thud or halt you with a crack,
Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.

“Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,
Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.”

– from “Alumnus Football”, by Grantland Rice

The Citadel vs. Davidson, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 5. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin O’Rourke providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Orangeburg: WORG 100.3FM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

From three weeks ago: my de facto preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel, which is something of a statistical review of last year. Math is involved.

Other topics related to The Citadel’s football program that I’ve written about over the past few months:

– A post in which I somehow wrote about both FCS non-conference football schedules and “The Man in the Brown Suit”
– A brief overview of the SoCon’s 2015 football signees
My take on the school’s recent football uniform history (written before the latest “unveiling”)
– The “Gridiron Countdown” series of posts, including analysis of attendance issues, among other things

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

– Game-week depth chart report from The Post and Courier

STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last)

– College Sports Madness SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish sixth)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last in both polls)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Davidson

SoCon weekly release

Pioneer League weekly release

Pioneer League preseason poll

FCS Coaches poll

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/1 press conference (includes comments from Sam Frye and Tevin Floyd)

Paul Nichols previews the game on his coach’s show

Davidson College was founded in 1837, and established on land purchased from William Lee Davidson II . The school is named for his father, a Revolutionary War general who was killed in battle in 1781.

The college was originally established as a Presbyterian institution and is still affiliated with that church, though mandatory chapel was discontinued more than four decades ago. Davidson is located just north of Charlotte, with a 665-acre main campus. Most of Davidson’s 2,000 students live on that campus.

The college has an endowment of around $650 million. The school motto is Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas, which is a Latin phrase that translates as “Let Learning Be Cherished Where a Basketball Goal Has Arisen”.

Davidson played its first football game against outside opposition in 1898, losing its opener 11-0 to North Carolina but following that up with an 6-0 victory over South Carolina. The next year, five games were played; that 1899 campaign also featured a loss to UNC and a win over the Gamecocks. Indeed, Davidson’s first four seasons of football all included victories over South Carolina, three by shutout.

That is, if 1898 was actually Davidson’s first season of football. The most recent online edition (2013) of the school’s football media guide includes two games allegedly played in 1897, and the Davidson “Quick Facts” sheet also lists 1897 as being the first year in program history.

However, the college’s website references the 1897 “season” as simply consisting of matchups against area club teams. The two would-be 1897 opponents mentioned in the media guide are the same two schools that Davidson officially played in 1898 — North Carolina and South Carolina. Neither of those schools includes an 1897 game versus Davidson in their media guides.

Meanwhile, the College Football Data Warehouse lists four opponents for Davidson in 1896. It also identifies the Wildcats’ first opponent in 1897 as North Carolina State, not North Carolina (and lists a different score than the school media guide). Just to make things more interesting, NC State does list Davidson as one of its 1897 opponents.

All in all, I’m a bit undecided on the “When was Davidson’s first season?” question.

The Wildcats (a moniker acquired in 1917) continued to play regional opponents throughout the early part of the 20th century, including The Citadel. The first gridiron matchup between the two schools, in 1909, ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

In 1936, Davidson joined the Southern Conference, the same year The Citadel and Furman became members. The initial league campaign was a promising one for the Wildcats, as they finished 5-4 overall with a 4-3 record in the SoCon. However, that would be the last time Davidson finished with a winning record in conference play until 1954.

Davidson found something of a gridiron savior in the mid-1960s, with the arrival of Homer Smith as head coach. Smith, one of the more respected coaches of his generation, gradually built a title contender, thanks in part to instituting a two-platoon system that featured many more scholarship players. Everything came together in 1969.

That season, Davidson went 7-4, with a 5-1 record in the Southern Conference, sharing the league title and grabbing a berth in the Tangerine Bowl. It was the only time Davidson ever got even a piece of the conference crown. Incidentally, the Wildcats’ solitary SoCon loss in 1969 was a 34-28 setback at The Citadel.

Smith had a reputation as an offensive mastermind, and that is reflected in some of Davidson’s 1969 games. The Wildcats put 77 on the board against Furman, and 59 more versus VMI.

Entering the league finale against East Carolina, Davidson needed a win to clinch a tie for the conference title. ECU led 27-0 with less than a minute remaining in the first half, but Davidson scored six unanswered touchdowns and won, 42-27.

Things went south for the football program in a hurry, though, after that 1969 season.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Prior to the 1969 season, Homer Smith told reporters that football was unwanted at Davidson by “most of the faculty and staff…at least 80%. These people are working, some feverishly, to do away with subsidized college football.”

Smith also claimed the same was the case for Davidson basketball (!), but that Lefty Driesell’s teams had been successful enough to essentially pay for themselves.

(The column linked above mentions that Furman had also moved at that time to reduce its football budget. Furman eventually reversed course. Davidson did not.)

By February of 1970, Homer Smith was no longer Davidson’s football coach. Smith left (eventually taking the job at Pacific) after Davidson’s board of trustees slashed the football budget by almost half.

Over the next three seasons, Davidson won a total of six football games. Then as the 1973 season wound down, the administration at Davidson went one step further, in the process winning that year’s “Worst Communicators” award by acclimation. While the team was on the road at Air Force, a press conference was called. I’ll let John Kilgo (at that time writing for The Robesonian) describe what happened:

Davidson decided to de-emphasize football. There would be no more football scholarships. They would be distributed on a basis of “need” only.

The press was brought in and told what the decision was — but no one bothered to pick up the phone and relay the word to [head coach Dave Fagg] or Athletic Director Tom Scott. Fagg, who was aware the action might be taken, was notified officially by a newsman who called to question him.

When Fagg and his team got back to [campus on] Sunday, Davidson president Sam Spencer was out of town. He had still not bothered to inform his athletic director or head football coach that the football picture had been completely changed.

If you’re thinking that the Davidson administration couldn’t have possibly been more obtuse, you’re wrong:

The Spencer Administration did not accept [head coach Dave Fagg’s] advice about scheduling. The coach wanted to play other schools that award scholarships on a need basis. This would have taken Davidson out of the Southern Conference football picture.

Dr. Spencer obviously disagreed.

He feels Davidson can play what he calls “the less ambitious schools” in the Southern Conference. Dr. Spencer was not available for comment, but when asked to identify some of these colleges, a Davidson spokesman replied: “That’s a good question. I could not name the so-called less ambitious schools in the Southern Conference.”

Kilgo theorized that Spencer was referring to Furman, The Citadel, VMI, and Appalachian State. However, he pointed out that Davidson had struggled against those schools even with scholarship players — and that it was “not clear how [Davidson hoped] to compete against them [with] no players on football grants.”

In 1974 Davidson won two games, beating Hampden-Sydney and Defiance College (both Division III programs). A victory over D-3 Kenyon was the Wildcats’ only triumph in 1975.

In those two years, Davidson played a total of six Southern Conference games, two each against VMI, The Citadel, and Appalachian State. The Wildcats lost all six contests by an average score of 48-6.

By 1976, Davidson was ready to make a move. At least, that was the idea.

Davidson College announced Tuesday [June 22, 1976] it is dropping out of the Southern Conference, where it has been a member for 40 years, to seek “national-level” basketball competition…

…[Davidson officials] consider as a possibility joining a new conference being discussed by six Southern schools. They include East Carolina, South Carolina, the University of Richmond, William and Mary, and Virginia Military Institute.

That potential league didn’t happen. Davidson leaving the SoCon in 1977 didn’t happen either:

Davidson College announced the school will not leave the Southern Conference in July [of 1977] as previously announced.

“Being in the Southern Conference gives our minor sports a chance to compete in postseason play,” said athletic director Thom Cartmill. “There is an automatic NCAA tournament bid, and it makes scheduling easier.”

In other words, Davidson didn’t wind up in a new conference. The school thus had to decide whether to compete as an independent in basketball (and presumably most, if not all, of its other sports) or remain in the SoCon. It chose the safer route.

By this time basketball was the only varsity sport for which Davidson was offering athletic grants-in-aid. It seems rather clear that by then, Davidson had caught the “big time hoops” bug for good, and that sport has been the school’s primary (if not sole) focus for the past forty years when it comes to decision-making on the athletics front.

It is obvious (at least to me) that the most influential person in the history of Davidson athletics is Charles G. “Lefty” Driesell. Davidson had never won the Southern Conference title in hoops before Driesell’s arrival in 1960; by the time he left after the 1969 season, basketball was part of the college’s ethos.

I think it is fair to suggest that if it weren’t for Lefty Driesell, Davidson would no longer have a Division I athletics program. It is likely the school would have dropped down to Division III during the early 1970s if not for the success of his basketball teams.

Davidson did not technically compete for the SoCon title from 1974 to 1982, playing only one or two league schools (usually Furman and/or The Citadel) in most of those seasons. By 1983, though, the rest of the SoCon was ready for Davidson’s football program to participate in the league, or else the college would need to find a new conference to call home.

Since it didn’t have a lot of options at the time, Davidson agreed to play a league slate in football (a minimum of five games at first, later apparently increased to six). The immediate problem was that the Wildcats and the other conference schools already had their schedules set for the next several years, so a compromise was reached. What a compromise it was.

Davidson wound up playing in “designated league games” against the likes of Lafayette (twice), Penn (twice), James Madison (three times), and Bucknell (three times).

If you think that was bizarre, it gets better. Davidson’s games in 1985 against Bucknell, Penn, and James Madison all counted in the standings. The Wildcats’ games against Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel all counted in the standings that year too — but only for Davidson.

Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel were not credited with a league victory after each defeated Davidson, because the other league members that didn’t get to play the Wildcats were not about to let those schools get an edge in the standings by picking up what was assumed to be an easy win (and in fact, those three schools outscored Davidson that season by a combined total of 102-7).

Things didn’t get much better for the Wildcats in 1986. The squad went 0-9 overall, including a number of blowouts (63-14 versus Marshall; 63-6 against Appalachian State; 59-0 versus Furman).

In a four-year stretch between 1985 and 1988, Davidson won a combined total of two games (both against Wofford).

In the latter two of those four difficult seasons, the Wildcats were no longer playing in the Southern Conference.

A request by Davidson for an exemption from playing league football was rebuffed by the rest of the conference membership. The school’s administration had earlier elected to place its football program in the newly formed Colonial League (later renamed the Patriot League).

The decision basically put the rest of Davidson’s varsity sports in limbo, though the college actually remained in the Southern Conference for all sports except football and women’s hoops (which was dropped by Davidson in 1986) through the 1987-1988 school year.

Davidson competed as an independent in men’s basketball for two seasons, then joined the Big South for two years. The school would eventually return to the SoCon in all sports but football, starting in 1992-1993.

Of course, Davidson left the league again last year, this time for the Atlantic 10. However, from this point on in its varsity sports history I’m going to focus on Davidson’s football program.

Two years in the Colonial League were enough for Davidson, which went 0-7 in league play in those two seasons. The school’s board of trustees voted to move the program to Division III, though that stance would soon become moot; a 1991 NCAA bylaw change mandated that Division I schools would have to conduct all sports at the D-1 level (a decision occasionally referred to as the “Dayton Rule”).

The program proceeded to compete as a I-AA independent for the next decade, generally playing D-3 schools during that time. The change in schedule led to more wins; Davidson went 5-3 in 1990, won five more games in 1992, and added six victories in 1993 and 1996.

Head coach Tim Landis won eight games in both 1998 and 1999, but then departed after seven seasons. He was replaced by Joe Susan, a former Princeton assistant coach.

The new boss led the Wildcats to a perfect 10-0 season, the most wins in school history. He then immediately left Davidson to become an assistant coach at Rutgers.

Susan is now the head coach of Bucknell. The coach he replaced at Bucknell was the same coach he had replaced at Davidson — Tim Landis.

Davidson joined the Pioneer Football League for the 2001 season, and its football program has remained in that conference ever since. The Pioneer League is a football-only conference for schools that compete at the Division I level but don’t offer athletic scholarships in the sport.

For the past two years, the Pioneer League’s champion has received an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. There are eleven current conference members: Davidson, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Morehead State, Valparaiso, Butler, Dayton, Drake, Marist, and San Diego.

Mercer, of course, played in the league for one season before joining the SoCon last year.

Davidson’s win-loss record while a Pioneer League member has ranged from decent to really bad. The “really bad” includes the last few seasons.

The program has won only eighteen games in the last seven seasons, and has only one victory over the past two years. Unfortunately for Davidson, even that lone win carries a huge asterisk.

You can watch highlights of Davidson’s 56-0 victory over College of Faith (NC), assuming CoF’s uniforms don’t give you a headache. You can also read comments from an anonymous Davidson player on Reddit that were posted soon after the contest. Here are the first two:

I play for Davidson College, the team that played CoF last week. This was the most embarrassing [] ever…We had our starters out before the end of the first quarter and barely ran our offense because we felt bad for almost putting up 50 in the first half. If we had just kept playing I don’t see how we could’ve scored less than 150. They were so bad and it sucks as a player to have to try and justify any reason why we should’ve been playing them to other people. It was embarrassing as an athlete. But I suppose it’s a win, and we’re moving on to the rest of our schedule now.

Also they didn’t have athletic trainers… A bunch of their players got hurt and our trainers had to handle it for them.

The NCAA doesn’t think College of Faith is a legitimate school, and isn’t counting statistics for any future games played against it or any other schools the NCAA doesn’t deem “countable opponents”. In fact, College of Faith was specifically referenced when the NCAA made the ruling this past May.

Davidson had provisionally scheduled a game against College of Faith for this season, too, but in March the college replaced CoF on the schedule with Kentucky Wesleyan (which was another school that had played CoF last year).

(As an aside, East Tennessee State had also scheduled College of Faith for this year, but dropped CoF and replaced it with…Kentucky Wesleyan.)

When Davidson defeated College of Faith last season, it marked the first career victory as a head coach for Paul Nichols. It is also his only career victory as a head coach after two seasons at Davidson.

That is a far cry from his career as a player. Nichols was Davidson’s starting quarterback in 2000 when the Wildcats went undefeated.

Putting aside the College of Faith game for a moment, it does appear that Davidson made progress in 2014, at least when compared to its wretched 2013 campaign, a year in which Davidson lost every game it played by at least thirteen points.

Last season, Davidson lost one game in five overtimes (against Dayton), another by one point (at Campbell; the Wildcats led until the final minute), and a third by six points (versus Stetson).

There were also some blowout losses. VMI beat Davidson 52-24, while Princeton defeated the Wildcats 56-17.

A trip to Des Moines did not go well, as Drake manhandled Davidson 51-14. The Wildcats were also thrashed on their own Senior Day, 56-0, by Jacksonville. In those two games, Davidson was outscored in the first half by a combined 72-0.

It didn’t help Davidson’s cause when starting quarterback J.P. Douglas was suspended from the team in October following an on-campus altercation. Douglas was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. The charges were later dropped, but his gridiron career with the Wildcats was already over by that point.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Davidson in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Davidson, I decided to throw out the College of Faith game, so the statistics below are for the other 11 games the Wildcats played last season. Davidson’s opponents in those eleven games: Catawba, VMI, Morehead State, Princeton, Dayton, Drake, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Marist, and Valparaiso.


Davidson The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 5.6 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 3.55 5.35
Offense yards per play 4.64 5.56
Offense points per game 20.27 24.86
Penalties per game 5.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 33.9 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 58.6 60
Offense Red Zone TD% 62.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 9.2 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.98 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 6.66 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 43.36 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 50.3 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 61.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 70.3 60
Time of possession 29:35 32:40

The one common opponent for the two teams last season was VMI. Both games were played at Foster Stadium in Lexington, VA.

Davidson-VMI box score

The Citadel-VMI box score

Davidson describes its offensive package as “multiple”. Last season, the Wildcats threw the ball (or were sacked attempting to pass) 56.6% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 64.6% of Davidson’s total offense. [Note: those numbers do not include the game against College of Faith.]

Taylor Mitchell will start at quarterback for the Wildcats. He started the final four games of last season following J.P. Douglas’ arrest.

Mitchell, a 6’1″, 191 lb. sophomore from Buford, Georgia, was 81-161 passing last season, with two touchdown passes against eleven interceptions, averaging 4.78 yards per attempt.

Running back Jeffrey Keil rushed for 725 yards and eight touchdowns last season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He was named the Pioneer League’s Offensive Freshman of the Year.

Another sophomore running back, Austin Wells, saw considerable time last season and also serves as the team’s primary kick returner.

Davidson’s best offensive player is probably senior wideout William Morris, a 6’1″, 179 lb. native of Dallas. Morris (a first-team all-Pioneer League selection in 2014) caught 98 passes last year for 1,224 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per reception.

Morris had 16 receptions for 208 yards against VMI last season. The Citadel’s defense will certainly have him on its radar.

Average size of Davidson’s presumptive starting offensive line (per its two-deep): 6’1″, 291 lbs. The five players combined to start 48 games for the Wildcats last season.

Both right tackle Josh Daryoush and right guard Matt Brantley started all 12 games for Davidson in 2014. Caleb Krause, the center, has started 31 games for the Wildcats during his career.

Last season, Davidson operated out of a 4-3 base defense (which I’ve also seen listed as a 4-2-5). The Wildcats could have a very different look on Saturday, of course, given the Bulldogs’ triple-option attack.

Defensive end Chris Woods, a senior from Burlington, North Carolina, received some preseason honors. He had 5.5 tackles for loss last season.

Woods only weighs 214 lbs., the lightest member of Davidson’s defensive line. Defensive tackles Grant Polofsky and Alex Behrend both started 11 games last year.

Linebacker Zach Popovec started nine games as a freshman. Fellow outside ‘backer Ricky Tkac is the leading returning tackler for the Wildcats.

Senior cornerback William Curran started seven games last season. The other three listed starters in the secondary combined to start just two games in 2014.

Sophomore placekicker Trevor Smith had a solid year for Davidson in 2014, making 9 of 13 field goals and 28 of 29 PATs. He made a 44-yarder against Dayton (sending that game into OT), his longest made field goal of the season.

John Cook shared punting duties in 2014. He averaged 36 yards per punt, with a long of 55.

None of his punts were blocked, while 3 of his 26 punts landed inside the 20 (with no touchbacks). Cook is also the backup quarterback for Davidson.

Long snapper Conrad Mueller is in his second year in that role for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats averaged 20.7 yards per kick return last season, slightly better than average nationally (and almost two yards per return better than The Citadel). Davidson’s kick coverage units were inconsistent from game-to-game; Princeton, in particular, dominated the special teams battle when the two teams played.

Davidson only returned one punt all season (for seven yards). I thought that was a typo at first, but it isn’t.

Odds and ends:

– Paul Nichols is only 34 years old, and the Davidson head coach also has a very young coaching staff. College graduating class years of his eleven assistants: 2005, 2008, 2012, 2011, 2007, 2001, 2012, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

– Dave Fagg was the head football coach at Davidson (his alma mater) for two separate stints, 1970-1973 and 1990-1992. He was also the head wrestling coach at The Citadel for one season, 1964-1965 (serving as an assistant football coach for the Bulldogs in 1964). There probably are not too many people who have been Division I head coaches in both football and wrestling, and at different schools.

– Davidson has 95 players on its roster (as of August 28), and they come from 24 different states. North Carolina is home to 21 of those players, while 15 are natives of Georgia. Other states with significant representation: Florida and Ohio (nine each), Texas (eight), and Maryland (five).

Nick Wheeler and Derek Jones, both sophomores for the Wildcats, were classmates at Eagle High School in Eagle, Idaho.

Junior linebacker Nate Casey (Tega Cay/Westminster Catawba Christian) and freshman offensive lineman Daniel Runck (Mt. Pleasant/Wando) are the only two South Carolina residents on the squad.

– Of those 95 players, there are 13 seniors, 19 juniors, 29 sophomores, and 34 freshmen. Last season, Davidson reportedly had 77 freshmen and sophomores on its roster.

– After playing The Citadel, Davidson will host Catawba next Saturday. The Wildcats then have a week off before beginning Pioneer League play on September 26, travelling to Kentucky to face Morehead State.

– Earlier in this post I quoted from a John Kilgo article, a stinging criticism of the actions of Davidson’s administration circa 1973. Kilgo has been an institution in the Charlotte sports community for more than 50 years.

He co-wrote Dean Smith’s as-told-to autobiography (the two were good friends) and hosted Smith’s TV show. Kilgo also enjoyed a noteworthy career as a radio commentator, and was a writer/publisher for a variety of newspapers.

In the mid-1960s, he was Davidson’s sports information director. For the past 15 years, he has been the play-by-play voice for Davidson men’s basketball.

– Per Davidson’s game notes, 34 members of the Wildcats’ 1965 squad will be in attendance on Saturday, dressed in red and seated behind the Davidson bench. According to Paul Nichols on his preview show, two assistant coaches from that year will be there as well: Dave Fagg and Dick Tomey.

After leaving Davidson following the 1966 season, Tomey would eventually have a long, successful career as a head coach at three schools: Hawai’i, Arizona (including the “Desert Swarm” years), and San Jose State.

– Famous people who attended Davidson but did not graduate include Woodrow Wilson, William Styron, and Stephen Curry.

If you’re wondering why I wrote the previous sentence in that manner, it’s because Davidson’s list of alumni athletes on Wikipedia includes Curry but notes in parenthesis that he “did not graduate”, singling him out despite the fact he is far from the only listed ex-player not to get his degree from the school. Apparently Curry’s lack of a college diploma is a cause of angst in certain quarters.

– Mike Houston has faced Davidson once as a head coach. In 2013, his Lenoir-Rhyne team defeated the Wildcats 34-18. In that game, Lenoir-Rhyne rushed for 419 yards; the Bears also scored a touchdown on a 98-yard kickoff return. Davidson’s William Morris, then a sophomore, had 119 yards receiving and a TD.

The contest was Paul Nichols’ second game in charge of the Wildcats, and his home debut.

– The Citadel leads the alltime series against Davidson 31-21-4 and has won the last eight matchups (and 14 of the last 15). The two teams’ last meeting was in 1985, a 31-0 victory for the Bulldogs.

Despite the fact the two programs haven’t met on the gridiron in 30 years, Davidson has played The Citadel more times than any other school except VMI (which has faced the Wildcats on 58 occasions).

– The Citadel’s fans are being encouraged to wear light blue to the game against Davidson (this request was also printed on the season tickets). Presumably the team will wear the traditional home uniform of light blue jerseys with white pants. At least, I hope so.

– Mike Houston’s radio show will air on Wednesday nights this season from 7-8 pm. It will originate from Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ in West Ashley. Mike Legg will host the show, which will be broadcast on WQNT (1450 AM) in Charleston.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 41.5 point favorite over Davidson on Saturday.

This game is not expected to be close, and I don’t really think it will be. However, I am less than comfortable with the premature enumeration of fowl.

Regardless, I’m not expecting an absolute shellacking. Davidson’s tendency to throw the football more often than not could pose problems for the Bulldogs; the program in recent years has not been noted for stellar pass D.

Offensively, The Citadel should move the ball without too much difficulty, though the Wildcats’ statistics against the run last season were not that bad. The key will be making sure all the skill position players are on the same page, which could be an issue with a new quarterback, and the fact that it is the opening game of the season.

The experience and ability of the Bulldogs’ offensive line should be a major advantage for The Citadel, however.

Assuming a victory, the final score probably won’t be the best way to evaluate the Bulldogs on Saturday. Consistency of execution on offense, playmaking on defense, success on special teams — those are the elements that will matter in the long run.

I’m looking forward to this game. I’ve been looking forward to it since last season ended.

Haven’t we all.

Gridiron Countdown: a quick update on attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium

Also in the “Gridiron Countdown” series:

Preseason ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

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

The Citadel competes to win games — and fans

The Citadel’s run/pass tendencies, per-play averages, 4th-down decision-making, and more

Recent links of interest:

This post is really just a quick update on attendance. Last year, I created a spreadsheet that included attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium since the 1964 season (attendance totals prior to that season are difficult to find and/or occasionally suspect).

I’ve updated the spreadsheet to include the 2014 attendance totals at JHS. You can access the spreadsheet at this link:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2014

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

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

I listed those categories primarily to see what impact constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends. My findings were not clear-cut, to be honest.

As I noted last year, the numbers seemed to suggest that a good season tends to drive walk-up sales more than might be expected, particularly compared to season ticket sales for the following campaign. It is also true that due to The Citadel’s struggles on the gridiron over the last two decades, it is hard to draw hard-and-fast conclusions about what the school’s attendance goals should actually be in this day and age.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Since 1964, The Citadel’s record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 176-109, for a winning percentage of 61.75%. The program’s record at home since 1993, the season after the Bulldogs won the SoCon title, is 67-55 (54.91%).

Of course, that only tells part of the story. The Citadel’s overall record from 1964 through the 1992 season was 159-155-3. That’s a 29-year period of basically being a .500 program.

In the 22 years since, the Bulldogs have an overall record of 95-150 (winning percentage: 39.58%). The road record during that stretch is a horrific 28-95.

If the football program had continued to break even in wins and losses over the past two decades, would attendance in those years have been significantly better? I think it obviously would have, though I also believe there still would have been a dropoff, due to a lot of factors beyond The Citadel’s control (the exponential increase in televised college football games being the #1 issue).

Since 1964, over 4,000,000 fans have watched football games at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The average attendance over that period is 14,233 per game.

The last time The Citadel averaged that many fans per game over the course of a season, however, was 2006. Last year’s average (9,505) was the lowest in 51 years.

That has to improve dramatically, and in a hurry. However, it’s worth putting The Citadel’s attendance in perspective.

If you follow college athletics, you are probably aware that the Sun Belt is considering expanding. Two of the candidates to get a berth in that league are Eastern Kentucky and Coastal Carolina.

These are two schools that want to move up to the FBS ranks. They are ambitious. They want to be “big time”. And yet…

The Citadel, in its worst season for home attendance since at least 1963, still had higher average attendance than both EKU and Coastal Carolina last year.

Think about that.

The Citadel isn’t interested in a Sun Belt invite, though. If the Pac-12 were to call, maybe the military college would consider the offer. Maybe.

Less than two weeks to go…

Gridiron Countdown: The Citadel’s 2014 run/pass tendencies, per-play averages, 4th-down decision-making, and more

Also in the “Gridiron Countdown” series:

Preseason ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

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

The Citadel competes to win games — and fans

Link of interest:

Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier writes about The Citadel’s quarterback/slotback situation

Last year, I wrote about tendencies in playcalling by the then-new coach of the Bulldogs, Mike Houston (and his offensive coordinator, Brent Thompson), and compared what Houston had done while at Lenoir-Rhyne the year before to Kevin Higgins’ last two seasons at The Citadel. This post will be similar.

This time, I’m comparing what Houston and company did last year at The Citadel with the 2013 season for the Bulldogs, as well as the aforementioned 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne campaign. My focus, as it was last year, is on down-and-distance run/pass tendencies, fourth down decision-making, and assorted other statistical comparisons.

Most of the statistics that follow are based on conference play, and only conference play. That’s where the gridiron success or failure of The Citadel will be judged, not on games against Florida State or Charlotte.

The conference slates looked like this:

  • The Bulldogs played seven games in 2014 versus SoCon opposition. The teams in the league last year: Wofford, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.
  • The Citadel played eight games in 2013 against SoCon foes. As a reminder, those opponents were: Wofford, Western Carolina, Furman, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Chattanooga, Samford, and Elon.
  • Lenoir-Rhyne is a member of D-II’s South Atlantic Conference. In 2013, the Bears played seven league games in 2013 versus the following schools: Wingate, Tusculum, Brevard, Newberry, Mars Hill, Carson-Newman, and Catawba.

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 The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2014. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2013, and that will be followed by Lenoir-Rhyne’s run percentage for that situation in 2013 (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): 88.9% (77.1%) [92.1%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 88.9% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 77.1% of the time in 2013. Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball 92.1% of the time on first down during its 2013 campaign.

Lenoir-Rhyne went undefeated in SAC play in 2013 and had substantial leads in the second half in most of its league games, which probably explains the slightly higher percentage of first down run plays (as compared to last year’s team at The Citadel, which was coached by the same staff). I don’t think the fairly sizable difference between the Bulldogs’ 2013 and 2014 squads in this category is an accident.

Overall, The Citadel passed the ball on 15.7% of its plays last season in league action. As a comparison, Lenoir-Rhyne threw the ball only 10.8% of the time in 2013 SAC play.

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

– 2nd-and-short: 84.0% (95.8%) [90.0%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 90.2% (87.8%) [87.7%]
– 2nd-and-long: 82.2% (75.0%) [84.1%]
– 3rd-and-short: 95.5% (85.7%) [95.8%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 90.3% (90.9%) [93.1%]
– 3rd-and-long: 57.4% (54.0%) [71.1%]

A caveat to these numbers is that there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs.

There were also six would-be pass attempts in conference play that resulted in sacks. However, those six plays are considered pass attempts in terms of playcalling, even though the yardage lost in sacks is subtracted from a team’s rushing totals (this is how the NCAA does it; in the NFL, sacks go against a team’s passing yardage).

I think the bracketed percentages (from Lenoir-Rhyne’s 2013 season) probably come close to Brent Thompson’s ideal in terms of how often he wants to run the football in those down-and-distance situations. Other than 3rd-and-long, The Citadel’s playcalling last year was very similar to what the Bears did that season. Again, that reflects the difference between a team that was usually in the lead versus a team that wasn’t always so fortunate.

In 2013 conference play, Lenoir-Rhyne only attempted one pass in a 3rd-and-short situation. It fell incomplete. In 2014 league action, The Citadel only attempted one pass in a 3rd-and-short situation; however, that came on the final play of the game against Samford, and shouldn’t really count as a standard down-and-distance playcalling situation.

That 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne squad attempted three passes on 2nd-and-short. Two of them were incomplete; the third try resulted in a sack.

Last year, The Citadel attempted four passes on 2nd-and-short. The first three of them fell incomplete.

In the season finale at VMI, however, the Bulldogs did complete a 2nd-and-short toss, a Miller connection (Aaron to Vinny) that went for 26 yards and set up a field goal to close out the first half of that contest. Upstairs in the Foster Stadium press box, Brent Thompson undoubtedly heaved a sigh of relief after calling his first successful 2nd/3rd-and-short pass play in league action in almost two years.

On a serious note, The Citadel has to convert at a higher rate when it passes the ball in 2nd- and 3rd-and-short situations. The offense must take advantage of having the element of surprise in its favor.

– The Citadel’s offense in 2013 in SoCon action: 69.6 plays per game, 12.0 possessions per game
– Lenoir-Rhyne’s offense in 2013 in SAC play: 73.0 plays per game, 12.1 possessions per game
– The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon action: 75.4 plays per game, 11.0 possessions per game*

*This does not include the Bulldogs’ overtime possession against Furman

As I mentioned last year, there is occasionally a misconception that under Mike Houston, Lenoir-Rhyne ran a “hurry up” offense. In truth it ran a “no huddle” offense. Indeed, it is hard to imagine too many “hurry up” offenses that only possess the football for eleven drives per game, as The Citadel did last season.

In 2014, The Citadel had a time of possession edge over its league opponents that exceeded five minutes (32:40 – 27:20). Holding on to the football is generally good for offensive production, to be sure, but it also is greatly beneficial for the Bulldogs’ defense. Keeping the other team’s offense off the field is often the best defense.

Incidentally, in 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne had an edge in time of possession versus its SAC opponents of over seven minutes (33:38 – 26:22).

– The Citadel’s offense in 2013 in SoCon action: 5.41 yards per play, including 5.13 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per pass attempt
– Lenoir-Rhyne’s offense in 2013 in SAC play: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.81 yards per rush and 8.5 yards per pass attempt
– The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon games: 5.56 yards per play, including 5.35 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt

Last year, the Bulldogs’ offense improved in all three per-play categories listed above. I think the goal going forward might be for yards per rush to exceed 5.75, and for yards per pass attempt to exceed 8.0 (or at least 7.5). I don’t know what the coaching staff thinks about that, of course (or if they think about it at all).

Now let’s look at yards per play numbers for the defense:

– The Citadel’s defense in 2013 in SoCon action: 5.47 yards per play, including 4.39 yards per rush and 7.2 yards per pass attempt
– Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense in 2013 in SAC play: 4.25 yards per play, including 2.37 yards per rush and 6.2 yards per pass attempt
– The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 7.02 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt

Uh, yikes.

This wasn’t a situation where a one-game outlier affected the average, either. The Citadel allowed more than seven yards per play in four of seven league contests. Not coincidentally, it allowed more than nine yards per pass attempt in four of seven league games as well.

The yards per rush statistics wouldn’t be so bad if the totals for the game against Western Carolina weren’t included, but that’s like asking Mary Todd Lincoln if the rest of the play was decent.

Did the Bulldogs consistently put pressure on the quarterback last year? Well, not exactly.

– The Citadel’s defense in 2013 in SoCon action: 12 sacks, 26 passes defensed in 204 attempts (12.7% PD)
– Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense in 2013 in SAC play: 32 sacks, 31 passes defensed in 212 pass attempts (14.6% PD)
– The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 8 sacks, 14 passes defensed in 176 pass attempts (8.0% PD)

Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions. Averaging only two passes defensed per game isn’t good, especially when opponents are throwing the ball 25 times per contest.

Hard and fast statistics in passes defensed are not easy to find at the FCS level, so I don’t know for certain how The Citadel stacked up on a national basis. Cross-division comparisons aren’t perfect, but I think it’s worth mentioning that Idaho finished last in all of FBS in 2014 in passes defensed per game, with an average of…two.

That isn’t all about the secondary, either. It is very hard to defend the pass when the quarterback has plenty of time to throw the ball (in addition to a measly eight sacks in league play, the Bulldogs only had eleven “hurries” in those seven games).

In seven conference games, The Citadel’s defense allowed 47 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more — 21 rushes and 26 pass plays.

Western Carolina had seven of those rushes. VMI’s Al Cobb personally accounted for eight 20+ yard plays from scrimmage against the Bulldogs (seven passes and a run).

Yes, there is a great deal of room for improvement on defense.

During the 2014 campaign, The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action was 46.3%, about in line with its conversion rate for all games (47.8%, best in the league). The Bulldogs’ offensive 4th-down conversion rate was 60% (12 for 20).

On defense, The Citadel held conference opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 41.5%, which is a little better than it did when including all games (45.3%). However, the Bulldogs were not as good stopping opponents on third down as the upper-echelon SoCon squads were. Counting all games and not just league contests, both Chattanooga and Samford held their opponents below 33% for the season.

In 2015, The Citadel’s defense has to do a better job of “getting off the field” on third down. It also would help to pick up a few more stops on 4th down. League opponents converted 52.9% of 4th-down attempts against the Bulldogs.

Fourth-down stops were an issue against Samford (which converted on 4th down during both of its final two possessions, with each drive resulting in a touchdown) and Wofford (which went 4 for 4 on 4th down). Of course, the key to the game against the Terriers was a successful fourth-down conversion by The Citadel that was ignored by the on-field officials.

The red zone isn’t a misbegotten region of communist influence, but instead is a reference to the area of a football field inside the 20-yard line.

In SoCon play, The Citadel’s offensive TD rate in the red zone last year was 67% (18 TDs in 27 trips inside the 20). That was an improvement over 2013 (60% TD rate). Lenoir-Rhyne’s rate in 2013 was 73%.

League opponents successfully converted red zone appearances into touchdowns 60% of the time against the Bulldogs’ defense (15 TDs in 25 trips). Last season, that number was 67%. Mike Houston’s 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne squad only allowed opponents to score TDs in the red zone 46% of the time.

A quick look at fumbles:

In 2014 league play, The Citadel’s opponents fumbled fourteen times, with the Bulldogs recovering seven of them. On offense, The Citadel fumbled ten times, losing six of those.

There wasn’t any real “fumble luck” either way for the Bulldogs last season. When the ball hits the ground, each team usually has a 50-50 shot at getting it.

While there were a few ill-timed fumbles last season, I think it could be argued that The Citadel in general did a better job of not fumbling than might be expected for a triple option team. Aaron Miller has to get a lot of credit for that.

The Citadel was called for 37 penalties in seven league contests last season, an average of 5.3 per game. That is actually a little less than the number of infractions assessed against Lenoir-Rhyne in 2013 (6.1 per league matchup).

However, it was more than fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium had seen in recent years. The program had led FCS in fewest penalties per game for three consecutive seasons. Last year, The Citadel tied for 45th nationally in the category (counting all games, the Bulldogs were whistled for 5.9 penalties per contest).

– Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2013, SoCon action: 6 (in eight games)
– Punts by Lenoir-Rhyne while in opposing territory in 2013, SAC play: 3 (in seven games)
– Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2014, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)

One of the six punts in opposing territory came in the season finale at VMI. Leading 45-25 early in the 4th quarter, the Bulldogs faced a 4th-and-7 on the VMI 33.

The Citadel wound up taking a delay-of-game penalty, moving the ball back to the VMI 38, and punted into the end zone for a touchback. Taking a delay penalty didn’t do anything in terms of taking time off the clock, because the previous play had been an incomplete pass.

Nevertheless, I see no particular reason to question a fairly conservative decision when up 3 scores in the 4th quarter. It’s too bad the net on the punt was only 18 yards (and in effect only 13 yards, taking into account the penalty).

Interestingly, the penalty-before-punt scenario was a part of four of the six punts The Citadel had in opposing territory.

Late in the first half against Western Carolina and holding an 8-7 lead, The Citadel lined up to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the Catamounts’ 39-yard line. The Bulldogs were called for a false start penalty, and wound up punting rather than going for it on 4th-and-7 from the WCU 44.

With less than six minutes remaining in the contest and the Bulldogs trailing 21-15, The Citadel again lined up to go for it in WCU territory. This time it was 4th-and-3 from the Catamounts’ 37-yard line — and once again, the Bulldogs were foiled by a false start penalty. On 4th-and-8 from the WCU 42, The Citadel punted.

Early in the fourth quarter against Furman, the Bulldogs faced a 4th-and-4 on the Paladins’ 43-yard line. The ensuing punt was a touchback.

Three plays later, Furman scored on a 65-yard pass play to take a 35-28 lead (though the Bulldogs would ultimately win the game in overtime).

Against Samford, The Citadel moved the ball to the SU 33 with just under a minute remaining in the first half, but wound up in a 4th-and-10 situation. Like the VMI game, the clock was stopped after an incomplete pass.

The Bulldogs wound up taking a delay-of-game penalty and punted into the end zone. Samford ran out the clock to end the half (with The Citadel trailing 7-0 at the break).

The Citadel’s opening offensive possession of the third quarter in that game resulted in another punt after crossing the 50. This time, the ball was on the Samford 47, and it was 4th-and-7.

None of the decisions to punt were egregious. The issue, of course, is that The Citadel had a limited number of possessions in any given game (as noted earlier, an average of 11). It’s critical to cash in when there are opportunities on a short field.

I don’t know if Mike Houston regrets any of these six decisions. If he didn’t, I could easily understand.

The most questionable of them was arguably the second punt in opposing territory against Western Carolina. Down six points in a game in which The Citadel would likely only get one more possession (and facing an offense that had moved the ball up and down the field all day against the Bulldogs’ defense), going for it may have been worth the gamble, even after the penalty.

Speaking of whether or not to go for it on 4th down, here is a summary of what The Citadel did in those situations in 2014 when the Bulldogs were inside the opponent’s 40-yard line (and also mentioning when the Bulldogs went for it in other areas of the field).

Not included in these numbers: 4th-down “desperation” or “garbage time” situations, and “accidental” fourth down tries. Last season, there were no “accidental” attempts (dropped punts, that type of thing).

I determined there were four “desperation” 4th-down tries, and one “garbage time” attempt. For the record, these five plays were:

– Down 34-7 to Chattanooga very late in the 3rd quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-3 from its own 49
– Down 29-15 to Western Carolina late in the 4th quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-6 from the WCU 19
– Down 17-13 to Wofford late in the 4th quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-4 from the Wofford 31
– Down 17-13 to Wofford very late in the 4th quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-3 from the Wofford 3
– Down 13-10 to Samford late in the 4th quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-3 from the Samford 38

Okay, now for some 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

In league play, The Citadel was faced with 4th-and-short in the Red Zone twice. The Bulldogs attempted a field goal (which was missed) late in the game at VMI. The other time the 4th-and-short situation came up was in overtime against Furman, and Aaron Miller ran for a first down inside the 2-yard line (he would score two plays later).

The only two times the Bulldogs had a 4th-and-medium situation in SoCon play in the Red Zone, Eric Goins successfully converted field goals (both against Wofford). I should mention that the decision to kick one of those field goals was influenced by the fact that only 19 seconds remained in the first half of the game.

Goins also kicked a field goal on the one occasion in which The Citadel faced a 4th-and-long in the Red Zone (versus Samford).

On 4th-and-short in the Front Zone, the Bulldogs went for it three times (not counting one of the two false start/punt situations that were discussed in the previous section of this post). The Citadel ran the ball all three times, and picked up the first down twice.

On 4th-and-medium in the Front Zone, The Citadel went for it twice (again, not including one of the false start/punt situations against Western Carolina).

One of those 4th-and-medium tries was a failed rushing attempt at Mercer. The other play, however, was a 32-yard TD pass from Aaron Miller to Alex Glover against VMI.

On 4th-and-long in the Front Zone, the Bulldogs did not have a lot of luck, missing all four field goal attempts in that situation, and also failing on a rushing attempt and a pass play.

The Citadel went for it six times on 4th-and-short in the Mid Zone, and made five of them (all six attempts were rushing plays). There was also a converted first down in this situation that was the result of the defense jumping offsides (that was against Furman).

Incidentally, one of the six attempts could have been considered a “desperation” situation. That came slightly more than midway through the fourth quarter against Samford. Later in the same drive, the Bulldogs were faced with another 4th-down call, and I did consider that one a “desperation” play. Your mileage may vary.

In reviewing all 4th-and-short situations for The Citadel’s offense in league play, it appears there was only one 4th-and-short situation in the Mid Zone in which Mike Houston did not go for the first down. That happened on the Bulldogs’ opening drive of the game against Chattanooga. On 4th-and-2 from its own 49, The Citadel punted.

I think this illustrates Houston’s philosophy on 4th-down decision-making fairly well. In 4th-and-short situations in the Red, Front, and Mid zones, The Citadel lined up to go for it twelve out of fourteen times in SoCon action. The two exceptions were a late, relatively meaningless field goal attempt and an early-game punt from near midfield.

Basically, once the Bulldogs got past their own 40-yard line, they were a threat (if not outright expected) to go for it on every 4th-and-short situation.

I like that. I like that a lot.

As you can probably guess, I’m ready for the season to start. Who isn’t?


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