Hagood History: The Citadel 26, Air Force 7 (1976)

I know, I know — The Citadel didn’t play Air Force at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The game was played at Falcon Stadium, in Colorado Springs. “Hagood History” is just a way to identify historical game reviews, which I may do from time to time.

Also, you can’t beat the alliteration.

I first thought about taking a closer look at the 1976 game between The Citadel and the Air Force Academy while reading a post from The Citadel’s new “Off The Collar” blog:

[The current president of The Citadel Football Association, John Carlisle] inherited a project started by former CFA president Charlie Baker to digitize and make available to Citadel fans as many football game films that he could find. That collection currently stands at almost 400 and growing.

I’m not really a connoisseur of game film, but I was intrigued at the list of games, and decided to check one out. I picked The Citadel-AFA 1976 because of its relative anonymity, at least when compared to other notable Bulldog victories.

Ben Martin was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who began his head coaching career at Virginia. In two seasons in Charlottesville, his teams compiled a cumulative record of 6-13-1, but despite that Martin was hired by the Air Force Academy to take over as its football coach in 1958. He succeeded AFA’s first-ever varsity head coach, Buck Shaw, who lasted two seasons in Colorado Springs before moving on to the Philadelphia Eagles (where Shaw would win the NFL Championship in 1960).

Air Force’s 1958 campaign, which was also the senior year of the first class of academy graduates, would be high on any list of “most surprising seasons” in modern college football annals. Air Force had been 3-6-1 in 1957, but in Martin’s first year in charge the Falcons went undefeated, finishing 9-0-2.

The two ties were each rather impressive. The first was an early-season road game at Iowa, which went on to win the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl; the Hawkeyes finished the year ranked #2 in both the AP and UPI polls. The Falcons’ other tie came in the Cotton Bowl, against Southwest Conference champ TCU. Air Force’s victories that year included wins over 8-3 Oklahoma State, 8-3 Wyoming (coached by Bob Devaney), and 7-3 New Mexico (helmed by Marv Levy).

Other than that magical 1958 run, Air Force had mostly mediocre records for the next ten years, with the exception of 1963 (when the Falcons made an appearance in the Gator Bowl). Starting in 1968, however, Air Force ran off a string of six consecutive winning seasons. In 1970 the Falcons won nine games and played in the Sugar Bowl.

By 1976, though, Air Force’s fortunes on the gridiron had declined. The Falcons only won two games in both 1974 and 1975. Ben Martin began his nineteenth season at the academy probably knowing that he was close to the end of his career.

After an easy victory over Pacific to open the ’76 season, Air Force was thrashed the next two weeks by a combined score of 81-13. Admittedly, the two opponents (Iowa State and UCLA) were both very good teams. The Falcons played creditably against a solid Kent State outfit in their fourth game, but lost 24-19.

However, the following week Air Force beat Navy, 13-3. That meant the Falcons would win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time if they could defeat Army at West Point.

Before traveling east, though, Air Force had to play two more home games, against Colorado State and The Citadel. Colorado State whipped Air Force, 27-3, dropping AFA to 2-4 on the season.

Would the Falcons look past the Bulldogs with the game versus Army looming on the horizon? AFA quarterback Rob Shaw didn’t think so. “We can’t afford to look past them,” he said.

In 1961, The Citadel won its first Southern Conference championship. It was the culmination of a three-year stretch in which the program won 23 games. However, The Citadel would not have another winning season until 1969. The Bulldogs were 8-3 in 1971, but only won twelve games over the next three years.

In 1975, The Citadel finished 6-5, its third winning season since 1961 and first under head coach Bobby Ross, who had taken over in 1973. The Bulldogs achieved this despite the loss of all-conference running back Andrew Johnson to a knee injury in the second game of the season.

Johnson had been the SoCon’s player of the year in 1974 after rushing for 1373 yards. Without him, and with injuries throughout the season to other key players, the offense averaged only 13 points per game (10 points per game if you don’t count the 44 the Bulldogs ran up on hapless Davidson) and was shut out three times.

The team managed to win six games that year anyway, though, thanks to an amazing defensive effort, as the Bulldogs only gave up 97 points all season (8.8 points/game average). In eight of the eleven games, The Citadel allowed fewer than 10 points.

The highlight of the year was probably the Bulldogs’ 6-3 victory at VMI, which featured game-saving plays by Brian Ruff and Ralph Ferguson. Both Ruff and Ferguson made the all-conference team after the season, as did tight end Dickie Regan. Ruff was also named the league’s player of the year (and the SoCon Male Athlete of the Year).

For the 1976 season, Ferguson, Ruff, and Andrew Johnson served as team captains. Anticipation for the upcoming campaign was palpable. Despite an exorbitant price of $25, season tickets sold at a record rate. The local newspaper preached caution, however, noting that the Bulldogs faced “a grueling schedule, [with an] unproven offense and [a] lack of depth.”

Indeed, that lack of depth started to come into play before the season began, with an injury to defensive end Alan Turner. This caused some reshuffling on the two-deep, and would unfortunately be the start of an unbelievable stretch of injuries suffered by the Bulldogs, a run of bad luck that would eventually affect the team’s ability to win.

The Citadel opened with a tough loss at Clemson, falling 10-7 in a game the Bulldogs probably should have won. The second game of the season was the home opener, and a big crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium watched the Bulldogs outlast Delaware 17-15. In that game, Andrew Johnson scored two touchdowns in a ten-second span, thanks in part due to a miscue by Delaware’s kickoff return team and an alert play by Jennings Dorn.

The Bulldogs then beat Furman for a sixth consecutive season, 17-16, taking advantage of four Paladin turnovers and a missed extra point. That game was followed by a disappointing (but not entirely surprising) 22-3 loss to East Carolina and a 14-10 victory at home over UT-Chattanooga.

The Citadel then beat Richmond, 20-7, thanks to two TD passes from Marty Crosby to Doug Johnson and some typical heroics from the Bulldogs’ D, including a fourth down stop by Ruff inside the five-yard line and an interception by Kevin White inside the 20. The Citadel moved to 4-2 on the season and prepared for the trip to Colorado Springs to play Air Force.

Most of The Citadel’s concerns for the game had to do with the ever-present injury issues. Dickie Regan had been lost for the season after suffering knee damage against Richmond. That followed season-ending injuries to Mike Riley (hurt on the last play of the game at Clemson) and Ronnie Easterby (injured while playing East Carolina). Alan Turner was back, however, after missing the first six contests.

One of the preview articles in The News and Courier centered around The Citadel’s secondary, known for its ball-hawking tendencies (a specialty of Ralph Ferguson in particular) and ferocious hitting (a specialty of seemingly every defensive back on the roster). Tony Kimbrell had this to say about the Falcons:

They do a lot of things, but some of [them] they don’t execute well. They’ll throw the ball 75%-80% of the time. [Quarterback Rob] Shaw is the best athlete on the team. He has a quick arm and quick feet…I haven’t noticed any super receivers. They try to find an opening and get someone under the coverage.

Air Force had generally featured a short, controlled passing game during Martin’s time as head coach, and the 1976 season was no exception. However, there were indications that Martin was going to change things up for the game against The Citadel. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, even the Air Force players themselves weren’t going to know who was starting until just before gametime.

- Tangent: The Gazette-Telegraph newspaper was most famous for an erroneous advertisement (placed during the 1955 holiday season) that inadvertently led to the ‘NORAD Tracks Santa‘ program. I thought that was worth mentioning.

“We’re just trying to get on the right track and put our best foot forward,” said Ben Martin. The Gazette-Telegraph suggested that changes might be coming due to an “almost totally inept” Falcons running game. Bobby Ross had described the situation a bit differently, suggesting that Air Force “[did not] concentrate on running since passing was [its] game”.

Martin, according to the Gazette-Telegraph, also “indicated that he wanted to see more of freshman quarterback Dave Zeibart under fire.” Martin wasn’t kidding, as he actually started Zeibart against The Citadel, using him in a veer formation. Ziebart made history as the first freshman to ever start a game at quarterback for Air Force, but he wound up being “under fire” a lot more than Martin would have liked.

October 23 turned out to be a good day to play football, with excellent weather conditions for the players and fans (total attendance: 29,138). The game kicked off as scheduled, at 1:30 pm Mountain Time. It was Band Day at Falcon Stadium, with 53 bands from five different states in attendance.

I received two DVDs for this game. One was the actual game film, 43 minutes of action (no sound) in black-and-white. It made for a solid viewing experience. The only issue I had was trying to read the numerals on The Citadel’s white jerseys.

That problem was largely alleviated by the second DVD, which was Ben Martin’s coach’s show. This was a pleasant surprise, as I wasn’t expecting it. Even better, despite the package description of it being in black-and-white, the show actually featured highlights in color, with narration from an off-screen Martin.

The Citadel wore all-white uniforms; a white helmet with a light-blue “block C” helmet logo (very similar to the 2012 helmet logo), pants with a light blue stripe, and light blue numerals with no names on the back of the jerseys. They looked great. Air Force wore dark blue jerseys (with names on the back) and white pants, with white helmets featuring the “lightning bolt” logo.

The end zones also featured painted lightning bolts, and also some type of lettering that I’m sure meant something; I just have no idea what. Two small jets were parked on the Air Force side of the field, away from the majority of the cadet corps, which sat on the other end of the home stands. A sheet hung on the wall beneath one of the cadet sections read “Hi Mama Whitehorn – The Kids”.

The very first play from scrimmage set the tone for the rest of the game. Zeibart took the snap from center, rolled right, hesitated, and then got crushed by David Sollazzo for a ten-yard loss. It would be the first of eight sacks recorded by the Bulldogs. Sollazzo had two of them; his second sack, later in the first quarter, landed him a spot on the front page of the Gazette-Telegraph‘s Sunday sports section.

The Citadel didn’t try to do too much on offense. Marty Crosby only attempted twelve passes during the game, completing eight of them. Basically, the Bulldogs let their defense and special teams dictate the game.

The first touchdown of the game came on The Citadel’s second possession. Air Force was forced to punt deep in its own territory, and then proceeded to interfere with a fair catch attempt, leading to the Bulldogs beginning the drive on the AFA 27.

The Citadel scored in four plays, with most of the yardage coming from Andrew Johnson, including a three-yard TD run. Two different Falcon defenders had an angle on Johnson, but he brushed them aside with relative ease and cruised into the end zone.

During his coach’s show, Martin was effusive in his praise for Johnson. “He’s a very good running back. He could play for anybody,” Martin said.

On the ensuing kickoff, there was a brief delay when the ball fell off the tee as Paul Tanguay ran up to kick. On his second run-up, he boomed the ball through the end zone, a recurring theme throughout the afternoon. Tanguay and punter/linebacker Kenny Caldwell were both outstanding, and a big reason why Air Force had poor field position during much of the game.

All six of Tanguay’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. Meanwhile, Caldwell averaged 44 yards per punt, and Air Force wound up with more penalty yardage on its punt returns than return yardage.

Air Force picked up two first downs on its next drive but was forced to punt. The Citadel marched down the field. Marty Crosby was particularly effective on the possession, with a couple of nice throws to Doug Johnson extending the drive, but things eventually bogged down thanks in part to a penalty for illegal motion. The second quarter opened with a 47-yard field goal by Tanguay, which he made with room to spare.

Rob Shaw entered the game at quarterback for the Falcons, but there was no immediate change in Air Force’s offensive fortunes, as the Bulldog D forced consecutive three-and-outs. After yet another kick-catch interference penalty on Air Force, The Citadel took over in good field position, but that drive stalled and Tanguay’s 49-yard field goal attempt was deflected.

Air Force’s first play from scrimmage after the missed field goal was an eighteen-yard run, but any momentum for the Falcons was short-circuited on the next play by Ruff, who essentially knocked down every member of the AFA backfield. Two plays later, Randy Johnson swooped in for one of his four sacks, and the Falcons were forced to punt again.

A promising drive for the Bulldogs on the next possession ended when Crosby fumbled at the Air Force 10-yard line. The Falcons’ first sustained drive of the half was too little too late, and a 57-yard field goal attempt was well short. The Citadel led 10-0 at halftime, and if anything the score flattered Air Force.

Ben Martin’s highlight narration stopped briefly for a clip showing some of the many bands at the game playing on the field at the half, followed by a closeup shot of a stunningly beautiful white falcon. “That’s our white falcon,” the coach noted. “We don’t fly him too often, he’s just for looking at.”

After a three-and-out by The Citadel to begin the third quarter, Air Force actually had good field position. It did nothing with it, though, and had to punt. The snap was high, and the punt was blocked by Alan Turner. The Bulldogs could not take advantage, however.

The next two drives would prove decisive. Air Force drove from its own 12-yard line to the Bulldogs’ 29, but on fourth-and-two Shaw was stuffed for no gain by Tony Starks, with assistance from Ruff.

The Citadel took over on downs, and 66 yards later, the Bulldogs were at the Falcons’ 5-yard line, facing third-and-goal. The Citadel had enjoyed success throughout the afternoon throwing to tight end Al Major, and went to the well again, this time for a touchdown. Major made a nice catch while falling down in the end zone for his first career TD.

He then got up…and did the Funky Chicken TD dance, a la Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. I laughed hard when I saw that on the DVD.

Ben Martin thought it was funny, too:

That seems to be [in] vogue these days. We’ve got to get our guys to practice [that]. If we ever get in the end zone we might use that one.

I enjoyed Martin’s narration of the highlights, and not just because of the action on the field. He was relaxed, mild-mannered, almost light-hearted; not exactly what I was expecting from a veteran coach circa 1976.

With the Bulldogs ahead 17-0 late in the third quarter, Air Force was up against it. The next series didn’t help. After a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct (a receiver angry at The Citadel’s gang-tackling threw the ball at a Bulldog after the whistle had blown), Shaw was intercepted on his own 20-yard line by Billy Thomas. That led to another Tanguay field goal (37 yards).

Two possessions later, Shaw threw a first-down pass late and over the middle. Everyone knows what happens when a quarterback throws late and over the middle. Ralph Ferguson intercepted the pass and ran it back 31 yards for a touchdown, helped by a nice block from Bob Tillman. The PAT was blocked, but it didn’t really matter. The Citadel led 26-0 with 8:44 to play, and the game was all but over.

Ferguson’s interception was the thirteenth and last of his career at The Citadel, which at the time was tied for the most by a Bulldog. He is still tied for second all-time in career interceptions, behind only J.D. Cauthen (who picked off 18 passes from 1985-88).

After it got the ball back, Air Force tried a third quarterback, Jim Lee. The lefthander guided the Falcons to their only score of the day, though by that time both teams were playing multiple reserves. Having said that, Lee played well and made a fine throw under heavy pressure for the TD (a 22-yard pass to tight end Scott Jensen).

Air Force actually had the edge in total offensive yardage for the game, 310-240, but 147 of the Falcons’ 310 yards came after Ferguson’s TD iced the game for The Citadel.

From the Gazette-Telegraph:

The near free-for-all that cleared both benches on the game’s final play [note: this was not on either DVD] only added to the embarrassment of a beaten Falcon team annihilated by its opponent from the not-too-highly reputed Southern Conference…

The Citadel…presented its case for entrance into the [Commander-in-Chief's Trophy] race — even though it might not want it — by thumping the Falcons.

…Brian Ruff is a 6’1″, 225 [lb.] senior, an Associated Press second-team All-America linebacker last year. He should get Air Force’s vote for the first team. Ruff finished with 19 tackles, 10 solos, and spent more time in the Air Force’s backfield than three Falcon quarterbacks…

Of course, Ruff wasn’t the only Bulldog who had a good game, particularly on defense. Sollazzo, Starks, Randy Johnson, Ferguson, Keith Allen (who had 13 tackles) — heck, I could name about 15 guys on that side of the ball who played well. They played with reckless abandon, too.

There was some serious hitting in this game from both teams, but The Citadel probably had the edge in that category, as it did in most categories on the day. As Bill Greene of The News and Courier put it, “The Bulldogs were much, much better than Air Force. They simply ruled the contest.”

A few other notes from the game:

- If you ever watch a game on TV in which one (or both) of the teams involved is a military school, you will undoubtedly hear an announcer start talking about how players at military schools have great on-field discipline. I think it’s in the broadcasters’ manual. I would hate to have had an announcer try to justify that statement for this game, though.

There were 21 combined penalties in the contest, a staggering 11 of which were “major” (the Falcons were guilty of six of those). The Citadel had 13 penalties for 115 yards, while Air Force had 8 for 96.

Air Force committed not one but two kick-catch interference penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, a late hit, and threw in a clip for good measure. The Bulldogs had personal fouls for a late hit and a facemask, among others, and were also flagged eight times for false starts/offsides.

(Not penalized: Major’s end zone dance. It was perfectly legal to do the Funky Chicken back in those days.)

- The Citadel’s defensive formation was the old wide tackle 6, with an incredible amount of stunting and blitzing. You don’t really see that look anymore, thanks mostly to the development of modern passing attacks. There are schools that run variations of it, though, including Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer was on the staff at The Citadel in 1976, and brought a similar defensive philosophy to Blacksburg when he became the Head Hokie.

- Bobby Ross said after the game that the victory “was a prestigious win for the school and the city of Charleston.” He was far from alone in making that assessment, as approximately 400 fans greeted the team at the Charleston airport when its airplane landed shortly after midnight on Sunday.

Things didn’t get better for Air Force the following week, as the Falcons lost 24-7 at Army, and thus did not win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the first time. However, Ben Martin managed to rally his troops down the stretch, and Air Force won two of its final three games to finish the season with a 4-7 record.

The Falcons were down 15 points before storming back to beat Frank Kush’s Arizona State squad, 31-30. In its season finale, Air Force upset Wyoming 41-21 (the Cowboys, coached at that time by Fred Akers, would go on to play in the Fiesta Bowl).

Martin coached Air Force for one more year, retiring following the 1977 season. His replacement in Colorado Springs was none other than Bill Parcells, who lasted just one year at the academy before taking a coordinator’s job in the NFL. Parcells was followed by Ken Hatfield and, later, Fisher DeBerry.

During much of DeBerry’s long, successful run at Air Force, the analyst for the Falcons’ radio network was Ben Martin.

The Citadel hit a brick wall after the win over Air Force, losing three consecutive games. Injuries took their toll on the Bulldogs. Starting center Danny Eggleston joined the list of sidelined players when he dislocated his elbow in the Air Force game, and Kenny Caldwell was limited to punting duties after re-injuring his shoulder prior to the VMI contest. Sidney Wildes and Randy Johnson both got hurt against Appalachian State.

However, there was still one goal left to accomplish — a winning season. The opponent in the year’s final game was Davidson, and the Bulldogs took care of business, winning 40-6. For the first time since 1960-61, The Citadel enjoyed consecutive winning campaigns. Afterwards, Brian Ruff said:

This is the game we’ll remember, the last game. It’s nice to go out a winner, both in the game and the season.

The day after the Davidson game, WCSC-TV televised a 30-minute special called “Brian Ruff — A Study In Confidence”. Ruff would repeat as the league’s player of the year in football and as the SoCon Male Athlete of the Year. He also became the first (and only) player from The Citadel to be named a Division I-A first-team AP All-American, which got him an audience with Bob Hope.

Ruff was one of three Bulldogs to receive All-Southern Conference honors in 1976, along with Ferguson and Andrew Johnson. Those three joined Starks, Caldwell, and Regan on that season’s All-State team, as well.

Bobby Ross coached at The Citadel for one more season, and then left to become the special teams coach for the Kansas City Chiefs (under Marv Levy). Of course, Ross is now well-known for an outstanding coaching career that included ACC titles at Maryland and Georgia Tech (where he also won the national title), and a Super Bowl appearance with the San Diego Chargers. He even managed to lead the Detroit Lions to the playoffs.

1976 was a year that featured the Bicentennial celebration, along with the syndicated-TV debut of The Muppet Show. Jimmy Carter was elected president, and the Olympics were held in Montreal. A new band formed in Dublin, Ireland, that would later call itself U2.

However, without question the highlight of the year was The Citadel’s victory over Air Force in Colorado Springs. That’s why we will always remember 1976.

McAlister Musings: If you don’t let them see the 3, then they can’t be the 3

Previous editions of McAlister Musings, in reverse chronological order:

Possession is nine-tenths of a win

SoCon voting issues, preseason ratings, and corps attendance

Well, there is no other way to put this: the last three games for The Citadel have been ugly. Very ugly.

The Bulldogs were 3-1 after splitting a pair of games at the All-Military Classic and winning two glorified exhibitions against non-D1 opposition. As far as the latter two games are concerned, there isn’t a whole lot to say, other than The Citadel played much better in the second game, which gave hope that the Bulldogs would perform well in the final game of the initial five-game homestand.

The first half against Radford, however, was a complete debacle, complete with 15 turnovers, which came during the first 15 minutes of play. The Bulldogs were literally turning the ball over every minute.

Following that game, Chuck Driesell had a segment on his show (see Part 2) that included a primer on turnover prevention, which probably also served as a de facto teaser for his basketball camp. Triple threat position, indeed.

I will say that the turnover rate declined in the next game against UNCG, to an excellent 10.1%. It would slip to 17.1% when the Bulldogs played Charleston Southern, although that is still an acceptable rate. The Citadel currently has a turnover rate for the season of 22.9% (D-1 games only); that is 255th out of 347 teams. The Bulldogs need to get that number under 20%.

The problem in the games against UNCG and CSU, then, was not too many turnovers. No, it was too many three-pointers allowed — not just made, but attempted.

Ken Pomeroy had a really good blog post last week in which he noted that the key to three-point defense isn’t as much the percentage made against the D, but the number of shots beyond the arc allowed. As he pointed out:

Nobody with any knowledge of the game would talk about free throw defense using opponents’ FT% as if it was a real thing, yet we’ll hear plenty of references to three-point defense in that way from famous and respected people…With few exceptions, the best measure of three-point defense is a team’s ability to keep the opponents from taking 3’s.

Yes, The Citadel’s opponents are shooting the ball well from three-land — 42.6%, which is the 11th-worst figure in the country for defensive 3PT%. However, some of that (not all of it) is luck. Opponents are not likely to shoot that high a percentage over the course of the season.

If anything, they will revert to a success rate in the 32%-33% range (last year The Citadel’s 3PT% defense was 33.3%). There are no guarantees the percentage will decline to that level, of course (in the 24-loss season of 2007-08, the Bulldogs allowed opponents to shoot 40% from three-land).

The real problem is the number of three-pointers Bulldog opponents are attempting. Almost half (47.6%) of all shots allowed by The Citadel’s defense have been three-point tries; that is a higher percentage than any school in D-1 except for one (Southern Mississippi).

Good defensive teams stop their opponents from attempting three-point shots. Pomeroy mentions the success that the late Rick Majerus’ teams had in this respect.

There is one semi-caveat to all this: sample size. The Citadel has played only five games so far against D-1 teams. Three of those five opponents (VMI, Air Force, and Charleston Southern) rank in the top 20 nationally in percentage of three-pointers attempted per game. Now, do they rank that highly in the category because their offenses tend to take a lot of three-pointers? Or is it because one of their (relatively few) games was against The Citadel?

It’s too early to tell. Over the course of the season, VMI will certainly take more than its fair share of three-pointers, and Air Force might as well. On the other hand, UNCG’s 26 three-point attempts against the Bulldogs may have been an outlier (one that featured six different Spartans making at least one 3, including two players whose only made outside shots all season came against The Citadel).

My general impression, though, is that UNCG and Charleston Southern both purposely set up offensive game plans around hoisting as many shots from beyond the arc as possible. If that is the case, it’s even more important for Chuck Driesell and company to solve the problem.

One suggestion that I’ve seen tossed around is to get out of the 2-3 zone when teams start lighting it up from outside. That is easier said that done, obviously, and possibly not in the best interests of the Bulldogs.

This year’s squad is generally believed to be among the more athletic teams in recent history at The Citadel, which has led some to wonder why they are playing zone instead of man-to-man. That observation, while understandable, doesn’t take into account the fact that a player can be a good overall athlete and yet not equipped to handle the responsibilities inherent in a man-to-man defense. I remember reading about one particular example.

Delray Brooks was a huge high school basketball star in Indiana in the mid-1980s; he eventually signed to play for Bob Knight and IU. However, after a year and a half in Bloomington, Brooks transferred. He wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, mainly because he was a liability in Knight’s man-to-man defensive system. From John Feinstein’s famous book, A Season On The Brink:

Brooks had announced on Monday that he would transfer to Providence College. Knight was pleased about that; Providence was rebuilding and played a lot of zone. Brooks would have a chance there.

It worked out for Brooks. Providence would advance to the 1987 Final Four after upsetting Georgetown in the Elite 8, with Brooks playing a key role alongside Billy Donovan. The Friars would fall in the national semifinals to Syracuse, which would then lose in a scintillating championship game to…Indiana. I guess it worked out for everybody.

Oh, and the coach of that Providence squad, who “played a lot of zone”? His name was Rick Pitino. His teams can play some defense, zone or no zone. I’m sure fans of the College of Charleston would agree.

What I’m saying (in a long-winded way) is that a zone defense doesn’t have to be passive, or susceptible to allowing long-range shots. I mentioned Syracuse above; Jim Boeheim’s teams are famous for playing a 2-3 zone, though Boeheim says it’s not really a zone, but a “trapping, moving defense”. Whatever Boeheim’s defense is called, it has finished in the top 50 in defensive percentage of three-point attempts allowed in seven of the last eight seasons.

In the postgame presser following the CSU loss, Chuck Driesell mentioned that regardless of whether The Citadel played “zone or man, we’ve got to find a way to stay in front, get out to the shooters a little better…we’ve got to play better defense…that’s the bottom line…if we have to throw a few other things in there, we will. We can change a few things.”

Taking a brief look at The Citadel’s offensive numbers:

The Citadel is shooting the ball fairly well, and is doing a solid job of getting to the foul line. However, the offense has been blunted by the turnover rate and the Bulldogs’ inability to grab offensive rebounds. Against UNCG, The Citadel missed 38 shots, but only had 3 offensive rebounds. Games like that are why the Bulldogs are in the bottom 25 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

I am also a bit unsure how to evaluate the Bulldogs’ offense given the lopsided nature of the recent games. As the season progresses and there are more games to factor into the statistical record, separating “garbage” time from competitive play shouldn’t be an issue. At least, I hope not.

It may get worse for the Bulldogs before it gets better. The Citadel has four road games following exams, and all of those contests will be challenging. First up is a game at Gardner-Webb on Saturday. G-W is a respectable 6-5, a record that includes a victory at DePaul and a one-point setback to red-hot Illinois. Gardner-Webb also has a win over Austin Peay and a loss to Wofford.

After that game, the Bulldogs make a long trek to just outside Olean, New York. The Citadel will play St. Bonaventure in one of the more curious matchups on the schedule. Andrew Nicholson is now in the NBA, but the Bonnies should still be a tough opponent. To date St. Bonaventure hasn’t ventured too far outside its region. Four of its five victories are against fellow upstate New York schools Canisius, Buffalo, Siena, and Niagara.

The Citadel then plays two ACC schools, Georgia Tech (which has had a promising start to its season, featuring a victory over St. Mary’s) and Clemson (which has a 5-3 record that includes two losses to top-10 teams).

The Bulldogs could easily be 3-8 by the time they play again at McAlister Field House (against Western Carolina, on January 5). That’s the reality. What will be more important than the record is The Citadel figuring out its defensive issues by that time, and continuing to improve in other areas (like rebounding and ball security).

The season hasn’t started in quite the way Bulldog fans hoped it would. There is still time for The Citadel to recover. It’s not going to be easy, though. It never has been.

McAlister Musings: Possession is nine-tenths of a win

The previous edition of McAlister Musings

The All-Military Classic has come and gone. Everyone involved is relieved that the original plan to play two of the games on an aircraft carrier did not happen…

The Citadel split its two games, beating VMI 84-76 on Saturday and losing to Air Force 77-70 on Sunday. I was at the latter game, along with luminaries like Len Elmore, Paul Maguire, Harvey Schiller, and the biggest celebrity of them all, General. Bulldog basketball is a hot ticket this season.

Chuck Driesell on the win over VMI (video): Link

Also included in that video are brief interview segments with Mike Groselle and Marshall Harris III. The most interesting comment came from Groselle, after it was pointed out to him that the Bulldogs had played a lot of zone defense. Groselle:

Well, statistically we’ve charted it…and [determined that] it’s our most successful defense.

Indeed. That explains in part why The Citadel never gave up on the zone against Air Force, a decision I would not be inclined to criticize despite the Falcons’ hot second-half outside shooting. Considering its personnel, The Citadel probably won’t fare too well playing man-to-man defense against most opponents. If a team gets hot from outside on a given night, the Bulldogs are just going to have to live with it.

Groselle had his 23rd career double-double against VMI, scoring 21 points and corralling 15 rebounds. He was his usual efficient self, only needing 11 shots to get those 21 points and committing just two turnovers.

Against the Keydets, Groselle got help from Harris (19 points, 9 assists) and freshman Matt Van Scyoc (17 points, 7 rebounds).

The Citadel had a 25% turnover rate against VMI, a statistic that usually would result in a loss. However, the Keydets’ helter-skelter style leads to lots of turnovers and lots of points, usually for both teams, as VMI is not a strong defensive squad. VMI did not shoot well against The Citadel’s 2-3 zone, particularly from inside the three-point line (13-31), and when the Keydets aren’t shooting well, they aren’t winning.

The turnover rate for the Bulldogs against Air Force was 27%, and The Citadel paid for it. Although the Bulldogs actually led the game at halftime (30-28), in my opinion that was the half that cost The Citadel the win. Air Force was within two points at the break despite shooting 9-27 from the field and being outrebounded 20-9.

The Falcons actually led for most of the first half, thanks to eleven Bulldog turnovers. Thirty possessions, and eleven gone to waste. Some of them led to easy baskets for Air Force, too.

The Citadel averaged 1.58 points per possession in the first half when a turnover was not committed. If you just cut the actual number of TOs in half, say from eleven to five, a similar rate of offensive success would have resulted in an additional nine points (9.47, actually, but I’m rounding down).

The Bulldogs could have been up double digits at intermission, and that may have allowed them to withstand Air Force’s three-point barrage in the second half. The Falcons were 10 of 17 from beyond the arc in that stanza, including several from the left corner.

I wanted the uniformed cadet in charge of securing the baseline on that side to hit one of the shooters with her waistbelt, just to see if it would throw them off.

Lawrence Miller had a good game for the Bulldogs, making six of his nine three-point attempts for a career-high 20 points, and CJ. Bray played very well (14 points, 5 rebounds). However, after an impressive debut the day before, Van Scyoc had a nightmarish game against Air Force, one filled with turnovers. Freshmen are going to have games like that, especially early in the season.

I will say that in person, Van Scyoc looks like a player. He is a legit 6’6″ and no beanpole, either. He should be able to mix it up in the SoCon without any problems. Another freshman, Quinton Marshall, had some good moments on Sunday and also looks physically ready to play at the D-1 level.

Odds and ends:

- The Bulldogs entered the court prior to pregame introductions through a veil of smoke. At least, I think that was the idea.

- All-Military Classic t-shirts were given away at the game. After every other timeout, one of the game administrators would throw a bunch of them into the crowd. I didn’t get one, but as it appeared the t-shirts were roughly the same size as my cellphone, it was probably just as well.

- VMI coach Duggar Baucom’s “I’m really angry” walk/stalk to the locker room at halftime of the Army-VMI game was a thing of beauty.

Next up for the Bulldogs are two non-Division I teams, Montreat (on Wednesday night) and Union College of Kentucky (Saturday night). I’m not crazy about playing non-D1 schools, but I understand that the team needs to continue to develop confidence, and winning games is part of that development. It’s also a chance for Chuck Driesell to tinker with his rotation and figure out who is going to be able to help the team once SoCon play rolls around.

As for the games themselves, I’m not too worried about them. I don’t foresee a Francis Marion situation; we no longer live in Dennisian times. Montreat is coming off an 86-54 loss at Appalachian State, and I think the Bulldogs could be better than App State this season. The Cavaliers have also lost to Webber International and Ave Maria.

Union College (also called the Bulldogs) looks like it may be a little better than Montreat, as it is currently on a four-game winning streak. One of its victories came against Cincinnati Christian, a school The Citadel has faced on the hardwood before.

I fully expect The Citadel to be 3-1 when Radford comes to town on November 24. It better be 3-1.

A few pictures from the Air Force game…yes, they’re terrible (though arguably not as bad as Air Force’s uniforms):

Putting together The Citadel’s 2012-13 hoops schedule

It’s that time of year when I try to figure out The Citadel’s upcoming basketball schedule before it’s been released. Why do I do this? I have no idea. Marking time until football season begins, I suppose. Anyway, some quick thoughts:

Phil Kornblut interviewed Chuck Driesell recently; you can listen to that here. In the interview, Driesell stated that The Citadel will play fourteen home basketball games this season, and that the first six of those would come in a season-opening homestand at McAlister Field House.

The first two games at McAlister will come at the All-Military Classic against VMI and either Army or Air Force. It doesn’t appear at this time that those games will be played on the U.S.S. Yorktown, as had been rumored. It is possible that the game against VMI could still take place on the carrier, but I tend to doubt it.

Those games will take place on November 10 and November 11. Yes, The Citadel will play VMI in both basketball (at home) and football (on the road) on the same day. That doesn’t strike me as ideal.

After those two games, then, The Citadel will play four more home games before its first road game, which presumably will be the December 1 game against UNC-Greensboro (which has already released its schedule).

There are eighteen games in SoCon play. Nine at home, nine on the road. If The Citadel is opening with six straight home games, then one of them has to be a conference game. That’s because if all six were out of conference, the Bulldogs would be playing 15 home games (those six, plus the nine league matchups).

Since the number of home games is 14, one of the six has to be against a fellow SoCon squad. I’m guessing the date of that game is November 28, based on the recently released Furman schedule.

The other OOC home game that is “known” is Radford. The Citadel will host the Highlanders on November 24. That leaves two more non-conference games at McAlister to be determined.

If The Citadel is playing five OOC home games, then the Bulldogs will be playing six non-conference games on the road. Three of those have already been announced via the release of opponents’ schedules.

The Citadel will play at St. Bonaventure on December 19. Three days later, on December 22, the Bulldogs will travel to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech. Then on January 1, 2013, The Citadel will travel to Clemson.

Larry Leckonby is on record as stating that for budgetary purposes the basketball team was asked to schedule at least three “guarantee games” this season. I’m not positive that the three games mentioned above fit the bill, although they probably do. I am unsure about Clemson, as that game may be part of a previously arranged deal (since the Tigers played at McAlister last season). I am a little curious about the St. Bonaventure game, to be honest.

As for the remaining three road OOC contests, I am assuming (very dangerous, assumptions) that one of them will be against Charleston Southern, which played at MFH last year. As for the other two games, I don’t really have any idea, although I wouldn’t be all that surprised if one of them is another guarantee game.

That’s all I’ve got on the schedule front right now.

Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Bulldogs return to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a 1:00 pm ET game against the Eagles.  First, though, a few thoughts on the Appalachian State game, since I didn’t post a review of that contest.

First, I heard the final score — 39-10.  I later read that during the game, The Citadel:

Did not complete a pass (the first time the Bulldogs had failed to do that in 15 years)

– Committed two turnovers, one fumble and one interception

– Botched two punt snaps, the second of which led to punter Cass Couey leaving the game with an injury

– Lost the battle of time of possession, despite 53 rush attempts (in 59 total plays)

– Only averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return

– Missed out on a defensive turnover thanks to a pass interference penalty

– Allowed TD receptions of 65 and 73 yards

Lost one of its experienced playmakers, running back Van Dyke Jones, with what was later determined to be an ACL injury; Jones’ career highlight, of course, was a 69-yard run against the Mountaineers in last year’s meeting

All of that came on the road, against the #1 ranked team in FCS football.  So how exactly did The Citadel only lose by 29 points?

Well, App State dialed it down some in the fourth quarter, but there were some positives for the Bulldogs, looking at the stat sheet:

– First, full credit to backup punter Alexander Wall for doing a nice job on short notice; he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and only allowed 10 total return yards

– While Matt Thompson started, Sam Martin did play and saw significant time, so his injury from last week apparently wasn’t serious

– The aforementioned PI aside, the Bulldogs only committed five penalties

– The Bulldog D did force two turnovers that counted, including a fumble that was returned 40 yards by Eric Clanton, setting up the game’s first score; a later interception by Brandon McCladdie was the first pick by an App State opponent this season

– The defense, despite giving up two big pass plays, allowed less than 400 yards of total offense, which against App State (and considering it was on the field longer than normal) wasn’t too bad

– App State was only 5-14 on third down conversions

– The Citadel blocked not one but two PATs

Okay, so maybe I had to stretch to come up with some of those positives, but I guess my final analysis of the game would go something like this:  it could have been worse. Hey, the Mountaineers are ranked #1; the Bulldogs are not.  It was never going to be a game for The Citadel to use in measuring its progress this season.

On the other hand, Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is such a game.

Prior to this season, Jeff Monken had spent the past 13 years as an assistant for Paul Johnson at three different schools — Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. (Monken was also a grad assistant at Hawai’i when Johnson was the offensive coordinator there.)  He was hired by GSU to restore the triple option, and with it the glory days of Eagle football.

Perhaps the difference in expectations for the football programs at Georgia Southern and The Citadel can be summed up by this Monken quote:

“Who cares about transition years?  Nobody cares about that.  We want to win. I want to win, our fans want to win, our kids want to win. Nobody wants to hear about transition, or we’re young, or we’re learning. That’s a bunch of talk.

When you play a football game, you play to win. My expectation is the same for this season as it is for every season, and that’s to try and win every game. That’s what I expect.”

Contrast that with The Citadel, where most (although by no means all) fans are content to allow Kevin Higgins a “transition year” in the sixth season of his tenure at the military college.  Of course, Monken knows that he has a little more leeway than what he expressed in the above quote.  Georgia Southern fans aren’t expecting him to compete for the national title this year.

Next year, though, is a different story…

There are also those GSU supporters who aren’t that interested in the FCS national crown, because they would rather see the program move up to FBS land.  I think that would be a mistake, at least as things are currently constituted in the two sub-divisions.  I wrote about this last year, when GSU released its study on the issue.

Of course, now Appalachian State has decided it’s also going to study the pros and cons of making the move.  It’s prudent to assess the landscape of college football, and I don’t blame either school for investigating their options.  It’s my opinion, though, that unless there are major alterations in the world of FCS (or FBS), staying put is the way to go for the folks in Boone and Statesboro.

Georgia Southern is 3-3, 1-2 in the SoCon.  It looked for a while like Monken was ahead of schedule, for going into the game against Wofford the Eagles were 3-1 and ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.  However, a home loss to the Terriers was followed by last week’s setback at Chattanooga, and it’s clear that it’s not yet smooth sailing for GSU in conference play.

The biggest advantage Georgia Southern has had over The Citadel in re-instituting the triple option has been at quarterback, where the Eagles can rely on Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw, who not only ran the offense at Tech, but also ran it in high school.  He’s not an explosive runner, but he can make all the reads and can also throw the ball fairly well (10.3 yards per pass attempt; 4 TDs, no INTs).

GSU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush.  J.J. Wilcox is a solid slotback who can also catch the ball (his eleven receptions leads the team).  Robert Brown is a freshman fullback who actually leads the Eagles in rushing, but he’s been hurt.  There is no Adrian Peterson (GSU version, not Oklahoma version) suiting up this year for GSU.

Wilcox is the only GSU player with more than 95 receiving yards (he has 302).  No other Eagle has more than six grabs, but when one does make a catch, it’s usually for a good gain.  GSU receivers are averaging 19.1 yards per reception.

Georgia Southern has a young-ish offensive line (three juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman), and it’s been a little inconsistent.  While the Eagles are fourth nationally in rushing offense, they have suffered eleven sacks, which is a lot for a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often.

On defense, the Eagles are led by Brent Russell, an interior lineman with 4.5 sacks, three other tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.  He’s a very good player.  Other than Russell, though, GSU is not particularly sack-happy, with 12 total sacks on the year.  Georgia Southern has a solid, if not dynamic, group of linebackers and an improved secondary, although one with a tendency to give up the big play (five TD passes allowed of greater than 25 yards).  Does that sound familiar?

Georgia Southern’s special teams have been outstanding. Placekicker Adrian Mora has not missed a field goal or extra point this season.  He hasn’t been asked to kick long FGs (his longest this year is 41 yards) but he has made all that he has tried. Punter Charlie Edwards is the key factor behind the Eagles’ excellent net punting average of 39 yards, fourth in the country.

Georgia Southern’s 3-1 start included a game at Navy.  GSU lost that game, but only by a 13-7 margin.  Considering it was a battle of triple option teams, both with Paul Johnson connections, I thought it was interesting that the game was low scoring.

The Citadel is also running a similar triple option system, of course.  Will the Eagles defend the same way against the Bulldogs?  And how exactly did they defend, anyway?

Well, a good person to ask would be The Birddog, chronicler of Naval Academy athletics and the unquestioned Tolstoy of the Triple Option.  I’ve mentioned his blog before; for something of an introductory primer on the offense, here are a few posts from it:

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

I asked him a few questions about the Georgia Southern-Navy game.  Some of the Q-and-A is below:

Question:  I read that GSU defended the option in part by using its corners more aggressively (“firing the corners”) than is the norm.  Is that correct?

Answer:  The best way to defend firing corners is just to block.  It’s not an uncommon move; Air Force, Wake Forest, and SMU did it too. The difference between the wins and the losses was personnel, specifically the slotbacks. One of our junior slotbacks who was injured to start the year came back against Wake Forest, and all of a sudden it was no longer a problem.

Question:  Would the passing game be one way to combat that?  Specifically, throwing the ball to a slotback, or maybe even the fullback (on a screen pass)?

Answer:  There are ways to beat it in the passing game too.  The simplest way is to just throw to the uncovered receiver.  I think there’s a video of that in the Air Force writeup.

[Note from SS…that post can be found here:  Link ]

The cornerback blitz is as vulnerable to screen passes as any other blitz, and Navy runs a screen to the fullback in the direction of the blitz on occasion. The wheel-post works really well against blitzing corners too.

The safety has to roll over to cover the wide receiver, which leaves a linebacker to cover a slotback, which is usually a pretty favorable matchup for the offense.  I have an example toward the end of this post:  Link

Georgia Southern’s staff knew the Navy staff’s hand signals, so Navy had to stop going no-huddle early on.  Brent Russell also played a very good game.


Question:  Any thoughts on their splits?

Answer:  GSU’s splits are wider than Navy’s. There was a rule enacted last year that prohibited anyone lined up outside the tackles from blocking below the waist back inside the tackle box. That’s why Navy’s slots line up with their inside foot inside the outside foot of the tackle.  GSU doesn’t bother having their slots cut block inside anymore, preferring to keep the formation more spread.

Thanks again to The Birddog for answering my (probably simpleminded) questions.

The passing game has been a sore spot for The Citadel this year, of course, so the notion that being able to successfully throw the ball against GSU’s defense might be a key to the game probably makes Bulldog fans a little queasy.  The Bulldog slotbacks also must block well; perimeter blocking has been an issue for The Citadel all season.

Earlier in the post I linked Jeff Hartsell’s story about The Citadel’s anemic passing game.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that is worth noting:

…the Bulldogs have to get some semblance of a throwing game in shape before Georgia Southern brings its version of the double-slot option to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that offensive coaches will simplify their passing schemes this week in order to do just that.

“One thing we talked about as a staff (Monday) morning is simplifying what we are doing,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference. “Last week, we carried in 30 to 36 passing plays that you practice on a routine basis, based on what you might see in a game. At this point, I think we have a good idea of what our opponents will be running. Now, in my mind, we’ve got to get that 36 down to 10 or 15 plays.

“We need to run those plays well in practice every day, so that the quarterback is more confident, and receivers and everybody else are on the same page. So I think we’ve got to simplify and practice those specific plays more throughout the week.”

Hartsell also pointed out later in the story that the better you are at running the ball in the TO, the easier it is to pass it.
It should be a nice day for a game on Saturday in Charleston, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.  Let’s hope that the sun finally shines on The Citadel in conference play.

Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

I’ll begin this post with what may become an annual riff on UTC nomenclature.  As I noted last year, trying to determine what to call the athletic teams of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga isn’t the simplest thing in the world to do:

Recently the school began using a ‘C’ mark, for “Chattanooga”.  The university’s teams have variously been referred to over the years as “UT-Chattanooga”, “Tennessee-Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Chattanooga”.

The nickname/mascot history is even more tangled.  A “moccasin” used to be a snake, then a shoe, then a cartoon Cherokee Indian called ‘Chief Moccanooga’, and now a mockingbird train conductor (and “moccasin” has morphed into “moc”, for mockingbird).

There is an explanatory page on the school’s website detailing some of the nickname history.

I’ve actually made a change from last year in how I am referring to the school.  While the school itself is still called the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, it is now consistently calling its athletic teams “Chattanooga” while still using the “UTC” acronym.  Therefore, I’ll drop the “UT-Chattanooga” usage.

Irrelevant but semi-interesting:  while surfing UTC’s website (the main one, not the athletics site) I found out that UTC was actually a private school until 1969, when it merged with the University of Tennessee.  Between 1889 and 1907, it was called U.S. Grant University.

Both UTC and The Citadel have had football programs that have been in the doldrums for a decade or more.  However, the Mocs appear poised to finally move up the ladder in the Southern Conference, under the direction of Russ Huesman.  Huesman inherited a program that had gone 1-11 in the year before he arrived.  In 2009, his first year at the helm, the Mocs improved to 6-5.

This season Chattanooga is 2-2, after losing its first two games to Appalachian State and Jacksonville State, both currently ranked in the FCS Top 5.  The Mocs rebounded with victories over Eastern Kentucky and Western Carolina, the latter game played in Cullowhee.

Those two losses may have excited the UTC fan base more than the two wins, as both were close games against quality opponents.  Chattanooga led Appalachian State 28-7 at halftime before the Mountaineers scored 28 fourth-quarter points to take a 7-point lead.  The Mocs scored what would have been the tying touchdown with under a minute to play, but Huesman elected to go for two.  It didn’t work, and Appalachian State escaped Finley Stadium with a victory.

Chattanooga also led Jacksonville State 17-7 entering the fourth quarter, only for the Gamecocks to respond with 14 fourth-quarter points.  JSU’s game-winning TD came on a 72-yard pass play with 1:16 remaining.  That game, played in Alabama, came one week after Jacksonville State’s stunning win over Mississippi.

UTC’s 42-24 victory over EKU included 548 yards of total offense, including 375 yards passing (4 TDs) from B.J. Coleman and 122 yards rushing from Erroll Wynn.

Against Western Carolina, the Mocs turned the ball over four times, one of those being a fumble returned for a touchdown (Chattanooga lost three fumbles overall).  UTC was also burned by a wide receiver pass for a TD, but prevailed 27-21 in part because the Mocs D forced four turnovers of its own.

Speaking of Coleman (a transfer from Tennessee), you may remember him from last year’s game, in which The Citadel blew a 15-point lead.  During the UTC rally, the Mocs went to a no-huddle offense, and the Bulldogs never stopped it, despite the fact Chattanooga could not run the ball.  Coleman somehow threw 61 passes without being sacked, and was only “hurried” once.

Obviously, The Citadel has to turn that around on Saturday, but it won’t be easy.  For one thing, UTC appears to actually have a running game now, with senior Erroll Wynn averaging exactly 100 yards per game in three games (he didn’t play against App State).  That should take a lot of pressure off Coleman, who is averaging almost nine yards per pass attempt and has thrown 10 TD passes (against only 3 interceptions).

Chattanooga doesn’t seem to be missing Coleman’s main target from last season, Blue Cooper, all that much, as Joel Bradford has already caught 30 passes and is averaging over 126 yards receiving per game (nearly 17 yards per reception). Bradford is also a fine punt returner.

Other than the fourth-quarter problems against Appy and JSU, the Mocs D has played well, holding both EKU and WCU to less than 60 yards rushing and forcing eleven turnovers in its last three games, including nine interceptions.  Four of the picks were made by freshman Kadeem Wise.

Defensive end Chris Donald is another Tennessee transfer making an impact for the Mocs.  He has 4.5 sacks so far this season.  UTC is currently ninth in the country against the run.  One reason for that is linebacker Ryan Consiglio, who is averaging almost eleven tackles per game.

You may have seen Jeff Hartsell’s breakdown of The Citadel’s recent recruiting classes on “Bulldog Bites”.  Just for comparison, here is the two-deep from The Citadel’s playoff game against North Carolina A&T in 1992.  I could be wrong about a couple of these guys, but I should have most of this right.  The number by a player’s name is the year he entered The Citadel (for instance, Jack Douglas entered in the fall of 1988, hence “88″).

QB — Jack Douglas (88) and CJ Haynes (90)

FB — Everette Sands (89) and Travis Jervey (91)

LHB — Erick Little (90) and Terrance Rivers (90)

RHB — Cedric Sims (89) and Undra Mitchem (90)

TE — Marty Fagan (88) and Greg Perry (89, and originally a walk-on)

WR — Cornell Caldwell (89) and Damond Boatwright (90)

LT — David Morelli (88) and Doug Cobarras (89)

LG — Shayne Stephens (89) and Levi Davis (90)

C — Brett Copeland (88) and Bart Hearn (91 walk-on, I think)

RG — Lance Hansen (88) and Scott Reagan (89)

RT — Carey Cash (88) and Mike Wilkerson (91)

PK — Jeff Trinh (91)

DE — Garrett Sizer (89) and Ed McFarland (89, and originally a walk-on)

DE — Judson Boehmer (89) and Brad Keeney (92)

RT — LaQuincy Powell  (89, and yet another walk-on from that class), Todd Lair (91, maybe a walkon; not sure)

LT — Jake Erhard (89) and Lenny Clark (91)

LB — Micah Young (91) and Jim Wilson (88)

LB — Rob Briggs (89) and Tracey Gamble (90)

LB — Mike Wideman (89) and Kendall McKnight (90)

LCB — Torrency Forney (89) and Chauncey Chappelle (92)

RCB — Detric Cummings (90) and Corey Gay (90)

SS — Dan Johnson (89) and Ahren Self (91)

FS — Lester Smith (88) and Speizio Stowers (89)

P — Eric Willingham (88)

The return specialists were all part of the offense-defense two-deep.  Sizer was the long snapper.

46 players –

9 fifth-year seniors (including Douglas, Smith, and Cash)

17 players from the ’89 recruiting class, including three walk-ons

10 from the ’90 recruiting class

8 from the ’91 recruiting class

2 “true” freshmen

One quick note on the above:  the 1991 recruiting class was actually rather thin; only two other scholarship members of that class would contribute in future seasons. Whether that “lost class” was a key factor in the eventual decline in The Citadel’s gridiron fortunes is hard to say, although it certainly didn’t help.

I had plenty to say about the loss to Western Carolina last week, and about some things that rather obviously need to improve.  I’ll add a little to what I already mentioned, and note a couple of other things:

– I was glad to see that Kevin Higgins acknowledged the poor play of the secondary against WCU (you can read about his press conference here and here).  Watching the lack of ball awareness was excruciating.

– He also addressed game-planning for opposing defenses, explaining what he feels the issues are.  I suspect that this wouldn’t be as big a problem if the Bulldogs were in Year 3 or Year 4 of the triple option.

Teams that have run an option attack for a long time, like Navy or Air Force or Wofford, generally force the opponents to adjust to them, not the other way around.  That’s because their players have been in the system long enough to recognize different defensive looks, and understand basically (if not always specifically) what each person’s job is when facing a certain setup.

Having said that, I was a little concerned that Higgins seemed confident in what Russ Huesman’s defense will probably do on Saturday.  He’s basing that on what Huesman has done in the past against the option, but the Mocs have had a week off and presumably a lot more time to put in new things.  What if UTC comes out in a defensive formation for which the Bulldogs aren’t prepared?  Another lost half for The Citadel’s offense?

– Amidst all the talk about changing quarterbacks, his decision to change placekickers has seemingly gone under the radar.

– About those quarterbacks…

I’ll be honest.  I don’t care which quarterback starts.  If Higgins thinks Sam Martin starting might jump-start the team in the opening quarter, then by all means run him out there.  The bottom line is that both Martin and Matt Thompson are going to play, and they’re both going to play about the same number of plays — at least, that’s the plan.

Martin has looked more comfortable in the offense than Thompson, but he hasn’t been that much better.  We’re not talking about the second coming of a healthy Jamelle Holieway here.  At this point, we don’t know if we’re talking about the second coming of a healthy Brendan Potts (which would be okay by me).

Neither Martin nor Thompson has mastered the center/QB exchange (to be fair, neither have the centers).  Thompson seems to still struggle with the “mesh”, and should also heed the advice of John Wooden — be quick but don’t hurry.  However, he’s a true freshman with some obvious talent, and he deserves a chance to show what he can do (as does Martin).  This is, as I’ve said before, a transition season, although not everyone seems to understand that.

While leaving the stadium on Saturday after the WCU game, I overheard a Bulldog fan say, in a non-ironic way, that the loss to the Catamounts meant “we won’t go to the playoffs now.”  You don’t say…

One thing both quarterbacks must improve (and for that matter, their receiving corps): the Bulldogs currently have a pass completion rate of 35.4%.  While The Citadel doesn’t throw the ball a lot in this offense, it has to do better than that.  Completing less than 36% of your pass attempts is just horrendous.  If that percentage holds up, it would be the lowest completion percentage for a Bulldog squad since 1965.  Care to guess how many games that 1965 team won?

Two.

The Bulldogs will be Underdogs on Saturday, and deservedly so.  However, I’ll close this post by pointing out that there is hope for the game against UTC:

1)  Chattanooga, while improved, hasn’t really proven that it’s made a move to the next level in the Southern Conference, at least not yet.  Those two games against Appalachian State and Jacksonville State were both impressive in a lot of ways, but they were also both losses.  Last year The Citadel also lost a close game to Appalachian State at home, in overtime.  It did not lead to a winning season.

I’m not quite ready to buy stock in a team which to this point in the season has only beaten Eastern Kentucky (which has just one win on the season) and Western Carolina.

2)  The Bulldog offense may continue to struggle, but I find it hard to believe that the defense (particularly the DBs) will have two consecutive clunkers.  I think there is a lot of talent on that side of the ball, and sometime (hopefully soon) it will begin to show. Also, there is something to be said for regression to the mean.

We’ll find out Saturday.

A quick look at The Citadel’s future football schedules

One of the many curious things about college football is that fans often are just as interested (if not more interested) in what will happen in the future than what is happening right now.  I’m talking mostly about recruiting and scheduling, of course.

With this post, I’m going to wildly speculate on potential scheduling options for The Citadel.  This is something Jeff Hartsell briefly mentioned Tuesday.  The Citadel will play eight Southern Conference games each season.  In 2011 and 2012, that means the Bulldogs will play three non-conference games (11-game regular season).  In 2013 and 2014, the calendar will allow for a 12-game regular season for FCS schools, meaning The Citadel can play four non-conference games.

Each year one of The Citadel’s non-conference games has to be a road “guarantee” game against a BCS opponent, for budgetary reasons.  Also returning to the Bulldogs’ schedule in 2011 is VMI.  The battle for the coveted Silver Shako will resume at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with the teams alternating home-and-home for six years. It is my understanding that those years are consecutive, although I haven’t been able to confirm that yet.

Another non-conference game each season will take place against a non-conference opponent that won’t demand a return trip — in other words, teams like Chowan and Webber International (or more preferably, Presbyterian and Newberry).  I’ll call this game the Designated Home Opener, or DHO.

The 2011 non-conference schedule will feature VMI (home), South Carolina (away), and a DHO to be determined (home).

The 2012 non-conference schedule will feature VMI (away), North Carolina State (away), and a DHO to be determined (home).  In that season, the Bulldogs will only play five games at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Starting in 2013, things get a little interesting.  Again, assuming the VMI series is for six consecutive years (assumptions always being dangerous), The Citadel’s non-league slate would feature VMI (home), Clemson (away), a DHO (home), and another team to be determined.

The 2014 season would include a road game against VMI, a DHO, and two games to be determined (with one of them definitely having to be a guarantee game).

That leaves Larry Leckonby with important decisions to make about scheduling in 2013 and 2014.  Do you add a second BCS guarantee game in those seasons?  Or do you add a second DHO-type team?

There is another possibility, one that would be very popular with alumni, and that is to schedule a game against Army or Navy (or Air Force, I suppose, although I don’t think there is nearly as much interest in that potential matchup).

A quick scan at future schedules for Army and Navy shows that there is a spot possibly available for an FCS opponent in 2013 for Army and 2014 for Navy (in 2014, Army has scheduled Fordham, which would have been a tough ticket seven decades ago; Navy is playing Delaware in 2013).  Of course, there is a chance that none of the academies would be interested in playing The Citadel anyway.

Scheduling a service academy or a second BCS school would be more problematic in 2014, as the VMI game would be played on the road that year.  I don’t know that Leckonby wants to put the team in position to play only five home games and seven road contests, with two of those being against FBS opponents (and that’s assuming he can find two FBS opponents).

One of the things that will be a factor is attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  If The Citadel continues to have disappointing numbers at the gate, Leckonby may be more likely to eschew a possible sixth (or seventh) home game to grab a more lucrative road guarantee.

Another possibility would be a series like the one The Citadel had with Princeton, a two-game home-and-home (in 2013-2014) against an FCS school from outside the SoCon.   That seems a less likely option to me, but you never know.

We’ll see what happens.  All of the above is mostly uninformed guesswork by yours truly, of course, and should be taken with a grain of salt, assuming that it even deserves the grain.

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