2013 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played in Statesboro, Georgia, at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 12. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Georgia Southern game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jeff Monken on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Scouting Report” from The Post and Courier

A good article about a Bulldog football player (Terrance Martin), even more so because it actually doesn’t mention that he plays football

A profile of Justin Oxendine

My brief review of the Appalachian State game

A few more thoughts on the game against the Mountaineers:

- Time of possession doesn’t always tell the story. In the first quarter, The Citadel held the ball for almost 11 1/2 minutes but was outscored 7-0. In the third quarter, Appalachian State had possession for 10 1/2 minutes — and was outscored by the Bulldogs in that period, 7-0.

- Of The Citadel’s four scoring drives in regulation, three took less than 2:40 off the clock.

- The Citadel threw ten passes during the game. Four different players tossed the pigskin for the Bulldogs, resulting in an unusual passes-to-passer ratio.

- The Bulldogs actually threw more passes in the first half (5) than did Appalachian State (4).

- Each team had eleven possessions during regulation; four in the first half, and seven in the second half. Part of the reason the Mountaineers only attempted four passes in the first half had to do with the lack of possessions.

Appalachian State elected to run out the clock with a minute remaining in the first half (somewhat unexpectedly, at least to me). Thus, the Mountaineers only had three drives in which they attempted to score.

Given that Appalachian State did score 14 points in those three possessions, I’m not sure App head coach Scott Satterfield can be faulted for his offensive game plan, odd though it may have appeared to outside observers. The Mountaineers’ approach also surprised Kevin Higgins.

- Having said that, I was puzzled Sean Price wasn’t targeted more by the team from Boone. I believe it may speak to a lack of confidence in quarterback/line play, or perhaps a desire to avoid a time of possession differential like Appalachian State faced in its previous game against Charleston Southern.

- Satterfield made two calls which I thought were good decisions, but got burned both times.

Trailing 7-0, The Citadel picked up seven yards on a 3rd-and-9 play, setting up fourth-and-two on the App 44. However, a five-yard penalty on the Bulldogs gave Satterfield the option of moving The Citadel back and forcing a long third down play.

Satterfield took the penalty (rightly so, I think), but then Ben Dupree proceeded to complete a pass to Matt Thompson for seventeen yards and a first down. The Citadel went on to tie the game on that possession.

Then, on Appalachian State’s drive to open the third quarter, the Mountaineers were faced with 4th-and-1 on The Citadel’s 40-yard line. The drive had already lasted for twelve plays. Satterfield elected to go for it.

In my opinion, that was the right move, but Mitchell Jeter and several of his friends stuffed backup running back Ricky Fergerson for no gain. Two plays later, Ben Dupree scored on a 53-yard run, juking his way past several App defenders (but not needing to evade the Mountaineer who got run over by Jake Stenson).

- Four times this century, The Citadel has won a contest it was tied or trailing by making a field goal inside the last 90 seconds of the game/OT. Thomas Warren has been the kicker of record on two of those occasions. The first of his game-winners, of course, came last year against Georgia Southern.

When the Bulldogs met the Eagles last year, the historical record was not in the home team’s favor. Not only had The Citadel failed to beat a ranked opponent since 1997, the Bulldogs had not won a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium against a SoCon opponent since switching to the triple option offense.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

This year, Georgia Southern is ranked in The Sports Network’s poll, but not in the more or less “official” poll for the FCS, the coaches’ poll that is administered by the Southern Conference. That’s because, of course, GSU is ineligible for the FCS playoffs due to its transition to FBS. Next year, the Eagles will begin play in the Sun Belt.

This won’t be the last meeting between the two programs, however. The Citadel will travel to Statesboro in 2015 in what will be a non-conference matchup, with the visiting Bulldogs receiving $175,000 for their presence at Paulson Stadium.

The Citadel is also scheduled to face South Carolina that season. In effect GSU will serve as a replacement for East Tennessee State (which won’t begin SoCon play until 2016), only it won’t be a league game and The Citadel will add some much-needed cash to the military college’s coffers.

The fact that Georgia Southern was declared ineligible for the Southern Conference title this season clearly bothered some people in the GSU community. One of them was head coach Jeff Monken. In July, he had this to say:

We do get to play the eight Southern Conference teams. We have yet to go 8-0 in the Southern Conference. That’s been one of our goals. It would be hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champions if we go 8-0 in the league.

He continued the theme in an “open letter” to his fan base in August:

This senior class has the goal of winning another Southern Conference championship, whether anyone else will recognize it or not. To go 8-0 in the SoCon would make a statement about this football team and this program…

The “whether anyone else will recognize it or not” part of that statement got some play, as did the “hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champs” line from the month before. By September 14, however, the argument was moot.

That was the day the Eagles played their league opener, which turned out to be a 30-20 loss to Wofford in Spartanburg. Just like that, all the talk about running the SoCon table was over.

Perhaps more people should have seen it coming. From that July article:

…the Eagles were dogged by injuries during spring practice, so much so that the traditional Blue-White spring game was turned into an ordinary scrimmage. Senior slotback Robert Brown was forced to give up football because of injuries, and linebacker Patrick Flowe will miss the season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.

“We had 28 guys in red jerseys,” lamented Monken, referring to the red jerseys Eagles players when they are being held out of practice for medical reasons.

The injury situation has been a major story in Statesboro. Monken discussed it during this week’s SoCon media teleconference:

We are flat struggling right now with injuries…we’ve got twenty scholarship players, not including the redshirt guys…[that were] out for the game [against Samford]…we’ve got a lot of guys starting and a lot of guys playing significant snaps who’ve never played or don’t play a lot…hopefully we’re going to get some of those guys healthy [for the game against The Citadel].

Monken specifically mentioned the running back position as a trouble spot. GSU lost Robert Brown before the season started. Dominique Swope, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2012, suffered a torn labrum and is now done for the year. Two other Eagle running backs are also apparently out for the season due to injury.

The running back situation has led to Jerick McKinnon playing in a wide variety of positions, as Monken has tried to get his best athletes on the field. McKinnon has at times shifted from quarterback (his regular position since midway through last season) to slotback, wide receiver, B-back, kick returner, ticket taker…anywhere and everywhere.

McKinnon rushed for 1817 yards last season for the Eagles. Georgia Southern had 63 offensive plays in 2012 that went for 25+ yards; McKinnon was responsible for 30 of them (17 rushing, 13 passing). In a playoff game against Central Arkansas, he rushed for 316 yards.

This year, McKinnon has struggled as a passer. In three SoCon games, he is 1-9 for 16 yards (with one interception). Against Chattanooga, the Eagles only attempted two passes, completing neither.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Ellison has been the quarterback when McKinnon has moved to other positions, getting the start at QB when the Eagles played Wofford. Ellison is completing almost 63% of his passes for the season, averaging 12.1 yards per attempt. He can run the ball a little bit, too (6.2 yards per carry).

Ellison was 7-7 throwing the ball against Samford, for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He was 6-14 versus Wofford (68 yards, with a pick) and only attempted one pass against UTC.

William Banks, a redshirt senior, started at B-back in the Samford game and rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. Banks, McKinnon (181 yards), and Ellison got the bulk of the work in that contest, as the other GSU players carried the ball a total of six times for nine yards.

GSU had to replace both of its starting wideouts from last season. The o-line, however, features three of last year’s starters, although tackle Garrett Frye has been flipped from LT to RT (and then back to LT) this season due to injuries elsewhere.

Georgia Southern has fumbled fifteen times this season, but somehow has only lost three of them. “Fumble luck” has worked both ways, as the Eagles have only recovered one of six fumbles by their opponents.

Georgia Southern’s defensive statistics may not look that bad on the surface. The Eagles lead the SoCon (counting all games, non-league included) in defensive pass efficiency, passing yards allowed, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, and are second in the league in passes intercepted and first downs allowed.

There is an ominous number that pops up when you look at just SoCon games, however. GSU’s defense is giving up an increasing number of yards per play with each contest.

Against Wofford, Georgia Southern’s D gave up 5.5 yards per play. In the Chattanooga game, 6.36. Samford averaged 9.17 yards per play (on 71 snaps). Yikes.

Last season, Georgia Southern only allowed more than 5.7 yards per play in one league game; in half of GSU’s SoCon matchups, it allowed less than 5 yards per play (including 4.69 y/p against The Citadel).

Yards per play is a good way to determine a team’s effectiveness on both offense and defense; that’s particularly the case in the Southern Conference, which has a wide variety of offensive styles that result in significant differences in the number of plays each team runs during a game.

The Eagles held Samford to only 4.16 yards per play in 2012. That was a game in which the Samford offense ran 85 plays. The Birmingham Bulldogs more than doubled their average gain in last week’s victory over GSU.

The Eagles got burned through the air in that game (Andy Summerlin threw 3 TD passes of 58+ yards for Samford) and were also victimized on the ground (Fabian Truss had 14 carries for 125 yards). Against Chattanooga, GSU allowed 7.2 rushing yards per carry (Jacob Huesman rushed for 148 yards).

I think it’s clear that Georgia Southern misses Brent Russell on the d-line. It also had to replace both of last year’s starting safeties (though last season’s nickel back, Deion Stanley, has moved to strong safety and has three interceptions).

GSU’s defense also suffered a blow with the loss of linebacker Patrick Flowe to injury in spring practice. Flowe was an impact performer for the Eagles last season as a true freshman.

In general, there are a lot of good players starting for Georgia Southern’s defense. There just may not be a whole lot behind them this season, mostly due to injuries, but also possibly because GSU has one eye on next season and its move to FBS. Some redshirts that normally might have been “torn up” are more likely to stay intact, at least for this year’s campaign.

Georgia Southern has used two punters this season. Sophomore Ryan Nowicki is listed as the starter this week. GSU’s placekicker, freshman Younghoe Koo, kicked a game-winning field goal late in the Eagles’ victory over Chattanooga and won SoCon special teams player of the week honors as a result.

Punt returner Brandan Thomas had a 42-yard return earlier this season. As mentioned above, Jerick McKinnon will occasionally return kickoffs (he has three returns so far in 2013). The Eagles have had four different kickers on their kickoff team this year (with Alex Hanks getting the majority of the work); they have combined for 11 touchbacks in 39 kickoffs.

Odds and ends:

- Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Georgia Southern. Between the first and second quarters, there will be a swearing-in ceremony at Paulson Stadium for 35 new Army recruits. There will be various patches and decals worn by GSU players and coaches (Jeff Monken will wear four patches himself).

- GSU defensive end Lennie Richardson is an Army veteran who served as a tank gunner.

- Sources suggest that Georgia Southern is a 16-point favorite over The Citadel (the over/under is 63.5).

- When Georgia Southern’s offense and The Citadel’s defense is on the field, each team will feature a starter who was born in Haiti — cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre for the Bulldogs, and center Manrey Saint-Amour for the Eagles.

- Apparently, there is a movie being made about legendary Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell. One of the grave injustices of college football is that Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. That’s because he is ineligible. Seriously.

I’ve written about this before, but keeping Russell (and Howard Schnellenberger, or Bobby Ross for that matter) out of the Hall of Fame lessens the importance of the entity itself.

- Last week’s commissioned report by James Madison on whether or not it should move to the FBS reminded me that Georgia Southern did something similar four years ago. At that time, though, the powers-that-be at GSU seemed less than enthused about making the transition.

I wrote extensively (probably too extensively) about the report when it was released, in part because the raw data was very interesting. I didn’t think moving to FBS was in GSU’s best interests then, and to be honest I don’t think it is now, either. Having said that, I wish the school (and its loyal fans) the best of luck.

I think there is a good chance that some of the pressure of the Bulldogs’ season has been eased by the win over Appalachian State. I hope that leads to an even better performance in Statesboro. Georgia Southern is still a good team, one capable of making big plays at any time, but The Citadel has a chance to repeat last season’s dramatic victory.

To do so, the defense needs to force more turnovers. It is not an accident that two of the key plays against the Mountaineers were turnovers — a fumble that changed the tenor of the contest, and the interception in OT. If GSU puts the ball on the ground this Saturday, there needs to be a Bulldog nearby ready to pounce on it.

Offensively, I think it’s important to stay the course. Run, run, then run some more. Avoiding 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long is critical.

This is just a hunch of mine, but I think it’s time for The Citadel’s punt return unit to produce a game-changing block or return.

It should be a nice afternoon in south Georgia. It would be much nicer, though, with another Bulldogs victory.

Game review, 2013: Appalachian State

Links of interest:

Game story in The Post and Courier

Game story in the Watauga Democrat

Game story in the Winston-Salem Journal

School release

Box score

WCIV-TV report (video)

Postgame video: Kevin Higgins, Ben Dupree, Thomas Warren

Kevin Higgins’ locker room speech (don’t miss the end of this clip)

Ben Dupree called it a “relief” to get the win, which I think sums it up. The Bulldogs badly needed that victory.

It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch, but good enough. It was a spirited effort on a warm afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium, before a largely appreciative Parents’ Day crowd.

I’ll write more about this game when I preview the Georgia Southern contest later in the week. Just a few quick thoughts:

- It was hot. Hot, hot, hot.

It was hot enough it that occurred to me The Citadel might be better off wearing white jerseys for the game (thus forcing Appalachian State to wear black jerseys). However, I am sure the SoCon officials would not have allowed that, as they clearly enjoy harassing The Citadel about uniform choices.

- Marcus Cox was very impressive for the Mountaineers. He is a very effective runner, and maybe even a better pass-catcher out of the backfield. I won’t mind him playing in the Sun Belt next season instead of the SoCon.

- Both teams weren’t afraid to deliver some big hits throughout the game. Appalachian State’s Tony Washington should get credit for hanging on to the football (for a thirty-yard completion) after getting popped by Brandon McCladdie. Another Bulldog getting his money’s worth was Jake Stenson, who had a major league block on Dupree’s 53-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

- On which play was the ball highest in the air at its uppermost point — Mitchell Jeter’s critical interception in overtime, or Thomas Warren’s game-winning field goal? I think my vote would go to the interception.

- Saturday’s contest marked the first time The Citadel had ever ended an overtime game by converting a game-winning field goal. The program’s only other OT triumph decided by a field goal came at Chattanooga on November 3, 2001. In that game, the kick was made in the first overtime session; the Bulldogs then intercepted a pass while on defense to clinch the win, basically the reverse of what happened against Appalachian State.

The Citadel’s other OT victories all ended with touchdown runs. The two previous OT wins for the Bulldogs at Johnson Hagood Stadium (Western Carolina in 2006 and the crazy Furman game in 2007) were both finished off by Tory Cooper TD runs.

Below are some of the pictures I took on Saturday. There are a lot of them this week. Most of them are mediocre at best, although there are a few that are actually decent (I took those by accident).

Included are a selection of photos from the Parents’ Day festivities. I had never actually been in one of the “new” barracks until Saturday. I took a few pictures of the interior of the first battalion, historically where the most elite of The Citadel’s cadets reside during the school year.

I also had the chance to talk to a few cadets from Alpha Company, traditionally the most outstanding of the companies within the corps of cadets. As usual, all of them were pleasant and intelligent, and patient enough to put up with an ancient alumnus like me.

There are a few photos of the parade, and a few other odds and ends. Most of the pictures, though, are of the game itself. I tried to annotate as many of them as possible, so as to give proper context.

2013 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 28. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Also, as pointed out in a comment below, it’s possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Furman game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

TV promotional spot for the game

Article on Ben Dupree in The Post and Courier

Furman’s Jordan Snellings will be “back in full force” for the game against The Citadel

The Paladins will have a home-and-home series with South Carolina State in 2014-15

Furman has a new secondary logo, because its primary logo “reflects a country club mentality”

Quick thoughts on the game against Old Dominion:

– Brandon McCladdie had 14 tackles in the game, twice as many as any other Bulldog. I hope he spent some extra time in the whirlpool this week.

– The Citadel had eleven possessions; on those drives, the Bulldogs scored eight touchdowns and kicked a field goal. ODU matched both the TDs and FG in twelve possessions (not counting its final drive of the second half as a possession).

– Thanks in part to ODU’s onside kicks and its fumbled kickoff, the time of possession in the second half varied wildly from the third quarter to the fourth. The Citadel only had the football for 4:18 of the third quarter, but held the pigskin for 12:36 of the final period.

– There was considerable discussion in the press about Bobby Wilder calling for three onside kicks during the game, but to be honest both coaches may have been better off trying onside kicks after every score. We’re talking about a game in which over five points were scored per possession. An extreme rate like that has to be considered when evaluating the risk/reward of an onside kick.

– Ultimately, I’m not sure how much The Citadel can take from the Old Dominion game, either offensively or defensively. During the SoCon teleconference, Kevin Higgins referred to the game as an “anomaly” when asked a question by Chattanooga sportswriter John Frierson, and I think anomaly is a fair adjective to use in describing the events in Norfolk.

Higgins pointed out that ODU rarely sees the option, as opposed to SoCon programs like Furman, which has faced it three times each season for several years. Based on the game against the Bulldogs, and two recent playoff matchups with Georgia Southern, it seems apparent that ODU still has no real idea of how to properly defend the triple option.

Conversely, it’s hard to worry too much about the defense’s struggles against the Monarchs, because ODU’s offense has gone into overdrive against a lot of teams. New Hampshire was good enough to make the FCS playoffs last season; the Wildcats allowed 730 yards passing to Taylor Heinicke and company.

I guess what I’m saying is not to read too much into the fact that The Citadel averaged 8.3 yards per play on offense against ODU, and allowed 7.2 yards per play on defense.

– I suppose the special teams kick return unit has some things it can work on this week, though.

– Oh, one last thing: going for two was the right call. I think almost every Bulldog fan agreed with Higgins’ decision, too. It’s rare to see such near-unanimity for that situation.

The coach made an excellent observation about the decision when discussing it with Danny Reed during his coaches’ show. Higgins noted that it wasn’t an absolute end-of-game call, as there was 1:39 remaining in the contest after Jake Stenson’s TD catch drew the Bulldogs within one point. ODU was presumably going to get the ball back with a chance to win, but the pressure (and approach) would have been very different if the Monarchs were trailing, rather than tied.

This will be the third time in four years Furman and The Citadel will meet in September. This is way too early for some people (okay, maybe most people), but as I’ve noted before, the series has been moved around on the calendar throughout the years.

It has been played in October more than any other month. I hope the SoCon considers setting up the matchup for an October meeting every year going forward.

Speaking of conference scheduling, I noticed in Furman’s game notes that the Paladins will play at Mercer in the second week of next season. That will be a league game (probably Mercer’s first). The league actually hasn’t officially released its 2014 schedule yet (that is expected to happen in October).

There is going to be some home-away shifting because of the transition from App/GSU/Elon to Mercer/VMI (and later, ETSU). One thing I would like to see from The Citadel’s perspective is for the league to “split” Furman and Wofford in terms of home and away. Right now, The Citadel plays both upstate schools at home in odd-numbered years and on the road in even-numbered years.

I think it would be more beneficial to play one game in the upstate every year, and one in Charleston. In other words, in years Furman comes to Charleston, The Citadel would travel to Wofford (and vice versa). Upstate alumni could then count on one “home” game for themselves every season.

Furman fired Bobby Lamb after the 2010 season, a campaign in which the Paladins went 5-6. The school had missed the FCS playoffs in four consecutive seasons, and so a change was deemed necessary.

However, at the time it was fair to ask if Furman had actually made a change at all after it hired Bruce Fowler to replace Lamb. Fowler was yet another member of the Dick Sheridan coaching tree. While a school might do worse than grabbing a branch from that particular member of the forest, it could have been argued that Furman needed a different approach.

This is Fowler’s third season in Greenville as the head coach; he will arrive in Charleston on Saturday with a record of 10-15, including a 3-8 mark during last season’s campaign. The Paladins are 1-2 so far this season, suffering losses to Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb (each by 7 points). Furman’s victory came in its home opener two weeks ago against Presbyterian, a 21-20 final.

Losing to Gardner-Webb and CCU had to be disappointing for Paladin fans, particularly the setback in Boiling Springs. However, G-W later followed up its win over Furman with victories over Richmond and Wofford, so the Runnin’ Bulldogs may be better than expected.

The victory over PC, a program that hasn’t beaten Furman since 1979, did not inspire much confidence from the Paladin faithful either. It took a second-half comeback and a last-minute blocked field goal to keep Furman’s 15-game winning streak against the Blue Hose alive. The announced attendance for that game was only 6,500.

While the early results for Fowler haven’t been that great, it may be that Furman’s administration is willing to be patient during what could be described as a transitional period. The school has almost completed a major facilities upgrade for the football program. From Furman’s game notes:

This fall Furman will open the new Pearce-Horton Football Complex, a 44,000 square-foot, four-story facility that will serve as the new operational home for Furman football and include locker room, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, sports medicine center, and “Heritage Hall.” The new building will also feature a club level and new press box…

…Furman’s Paladin Stadium sports a new playing surface this year following the installing of Shaw Sports Turf’s “PowerBlade Bolt” system, which replaces the original natural grass field that debuted with the opening of Paladin Stadium in 1981.

Furman wasn’t expected to compete for the league title this season, ranking fifth (not counting Georgia Southern or Appalachian State*) in both the SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (though one sportswriter gave FU a first-place vote).

*Last season, I was critical of a reference in Furman’s game notes, so I want to give the school’s sports information department credit for its approach to the league standings. Not only are those schools listed at the bottom of the league standings column put out by the school, but Furman also doesn’t credit App or GSU with any league wins or losses. The SoCon’s weekly release does list those schools with conference wins and losses (which it shouldn’t, in my opinion).

Reese Hannon, who started at quarterback for Furman in last season’s game against The Citadel, missed the opener at Gardner-Webb with a strained oblique. Dillon Woodruff became the first true freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener for the Paladins since 1956. Unfortunately, Woodruff broke his shoulder during the game and was lost for the season.

Hannon returned for the game against Coastal Carolina and is expected to start against the Bulldogs. In last year’s matchup between the two teams, Hannon did a solid job of leading the Paladin offense until he got hurt. Furman’s offense was never quite as effective after he left the contest.

At running back, Furman no longer has the services of the always-impressive Jerodis Williams, but it does return Hank McCloud, an excellent option in his own right who rushed for 100+ yards against Coastal Carolina and Presbyterian.

Last year, I thought the Paladins made a mistake by abandoning the run too early against The Citadel, not giving either of its quality running backs a carry in the entire fourth quarter. I don’t expect Furman to forget about McCloud in this game, particularly because the Paladins have not been very efficient in the passing game thus far (5.4 yards per attempt, 3 interceptions in 67 throws, and only a 51% completion percentage).

Furman’s offensive line is led by left tackle Dakota Dozier, the best player on the Paladins’ roster. Dozier, a four-year starter, is probably the league’s top offensive lineman and was named to several preseason All-American lists. According to his bio on the school website, the 6’5″, 303 lb. Dozier also plays the cello.

There is experience along the Paladin o-line at every position except right tackle, where two players have split the starts this year. Another thing worth noting (well, I think it’s worth noting) is that Dozier is also listed on Furman’s two-deep as the backup at left guard and right guard. I don’t know whether or not that says something about Furman’s depth.

At wide receiver, Jordan Snellings (who made the SoCon’s all-freshman team last season) is Furman’s big-play threat; he led the Paladins in touchdown receptions last year. Snellings has only played in one game so far in 2013 due to an ankle problem, but is supposed to back to full strength for this week’s game.

Gary Robinson, Furman’s starting flanker, caught a 70-yard touchdown pass in the Gardner-Webb game and added a 23-yard TD reception versus Coastal Carolina. His brother Terry Robinson is the Paladins’ backup QB; both brothers scored touchdowns against G-W.

The Citadel has historically struggled to contain Furman’s tight end, regardless of who was playing the position for the Paladins. My personal opinion is that your average farm animal could line up at tight end for Furman and catch 4 passes for 60 yards against the Bulldogs. This year, the starter is redshirt senior Cameron Mason, who began his college career at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Furman’s defense has been hit by a rash of injuries, particularly along the line. This week’s two-deep lists a “true” freshman starting at DT and redshirt freshmen backing up all four of the DL spots. In all, the Paladins have a redshirt or true freshman listed as the backup for all but one defensive position (middle linebacker).

The most recent injury among the starters was suffered by defensive end Shawn Boone, who tore his ACL in the week leading up to the game against Presbyterian. As a result, Furman has moved one of its starting DTs to end. The other defensive end spot is manned by preseason all-SoCon pick Gary Wilkins, formerly a linebacker. Wilkins is one of the Paladin defenders with significant experience; another is strong safety Greg Worthy, who will make his 30th career start in Saturday’s game.

Furman’s leading tackler is linebacker Cory Magwood, a sophomore who had 18 tackles against Gardner-Webb. Magwood suffered an ankle injury against PC but is slated to start against The Citadel. Fellow linebacker Carl Rider, also a sophomore, leads the Paladins in tackles for loss.

One of the things to watch will be how well the younger Paladin defensive players adapt to defending the option. Furman’s coaching staff has a lot of experience defending the offense, and the Paladins have generally fared well against it. Whether the coaches can get a large number of relatively inexperienced players up to speed on defending the option is open to question.

That’s why having the week off before playing The Citadel was a huge break for the Paladins. The bye came at a really good time for Furman.

Furman’s punter and placekicker is senior Ray Early, who made the preseason coaches’ All-SoCon team at both positions. Early converted a 52-yard field goal against The Citadel last season.

So far this year, Early is 0-3 on FG attempts.  However, his punting has been exemplary, averaging 46.4 yards per kick (42.8 net), with six of his eleven punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Eight of his thirteen kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Hank McCloud and Gary Robinson are Furman’s kick returners. Starting nickel back Jairus Holloman returns punts for the Paladins. Holloman blocked the potential game-winning field goal to preserve Furman’s victory over Presbyterian.

Odds and ends:

- The Citadel is a ten-point favorite against Furman, according to various sources in Las Vegas. That strikes me as an absurdly large spread.

- On Saturday, The Citadel will wear a special “throwback” jersey/helmet combination. The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game.

This will be the second consecutive time the Bulldogs have worn an alternate jersey for a game in Johnson Hagood Stadium against Furman. In 2011, The Citadel wore its “Big Red” jerseys.

- The halftime show will feature The Citadel Pipe Band and the Charleston Police Department Pipe and Drums.

In my opinion, the key to Saturday’s contest will be if Furman’s mostly young defense can force more than its fair share of three-and-outs and/or six-and-outs against The Citadel’s offense. The longer the Bulldogs’ offense stays on the field, the more likely The Citadel will win the game.

One of the most interesting takeaways from the Bulldogs’ game against Old Dominion was the platooning of the offensive line, with the second unit getting a lot of snaps. I could see The Citadel doing that again versus a very thin Paladin defensive line, hoping for a repeat of last year’s game, when the Bulldogs scored 21 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters.

Defensively, The Citadel must put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and force more turnovers. Sure, that’s obvious, but it’s obvious for a reason.

The Bulldogs were never able to sack ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke, and the only turnover given up by the Monarchs came on a botched kickoff return. The defense has to do better than that against Furman.

I think it’s likely that Furman is better than its reputation. Neither of the Paladins’ losses is that bad. Furman gets one of its key difference-makers on offense back this week, has several impact defenders, and has had two weeks to get healthy and prepare for this game.

The Citadel should be more confident as a team than it was two weeks ago, but it has a tough task ahead of it. I believe this matchup is essentially a toss-up.

We’ll know for sure on Saturday.

2013 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:30 pm pm ET on Saturday, September 14. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, is the flagship station for the network; audio of the game is also available at Bulldog Insider.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference: The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins

SoCon media teleconference: Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins says the Bulldogs are going back to basics on offense

The Post and Courier “Scouting Report”

Profile of Derek Douglas on the “Off the Collar” blog

Donnell Boucher works with the first battalion non-corps squad freshmen

I don’t have a lot to add about the Wofford game that hasn’t already been said or written. Just a few observations…

- Third down conversions: Wofford 9 for 18, The Citadel 3 for 15. That summed up the game about as well as anything else.

- Carl Robinson had an outstanding game, including 16 tackles. Robinson has 30 tackles through two games, which leads the SoCon.

- Brandon McCladdie led the Bulldogs in all-purpose yards. When a defensive back who doesn’t return kicks leads the team in all-purpose yards, it’s generally not a good thing.

- I thought the defense played fairly well with the exception of allowing some big pass plays. Of course, not allowing big pass plays is a key component in good defense.

- Preseason fears about punting have largely been alleviated, thanks to the solid work by Eric Goins over two games.

Kevin Higgins, during his Monday press conference:

It’s apparent that our execution is not where it needs to be. We’re going to simplify as much as we can, maybe get back to the basics more like we did last year.

We want to make sure we are majoring in a couple of things, and do those things real well to give us a chance to be successful.

As Jeff Hartsell pointed out later, “the ‘back to basics’ theme is never a good sign.” Which is true…most of the time. I remember a notable exception.

Prior to The Citadel’s 1991 season, Charlie Taaffe decided to switch from his successful wishbone offense to the veer. Why?

The reason we’re diversifying our offense is simply because most of the teams in the Southern Conference have seen the wishbone so much now they’re getting better at defensing it. We’ve got to do some different things or they’ll be all over us. Plus, it’ll  give us a chance to throw the ball more and be more exciting to watch.

Taaffe added to this as the season drew closer:

I feel like we’ve taken our program to a level [note: this was Taaffe's fifth season at The Citadel]. To get to the next level, we have to be more dimensional. We ran the ball 86% of the time last year. We need more balance in our offense. We need to force defenses to defend more things.

The Citadel started the 1991 season 1-1, not playing particularly well in its opener against Presbyterian and then losing to Wofford. At that point, Taaffe did something that must have been very hard for him to do.

He junked the veer and went back to the wishbone.

That decision saved the season. After losing 33-26 to Chattanooga in a game in which the offense came to life, The Citadel won four of its next five games, and six of its last eight. The victories included wins over Army (a first on the gridiron for the Bulldogs) and Furman (breaking a nine-game slide in that series).

The quotes from this article, which followed The Citadel’s 38-13 victory over Western Carolina that season, are illuminating. The offensive switch-back even had a positive impact on the defense.

In winning their final three games last year, the Bulldogs averaged almost 36 points per contest. If “back to basics” means a return to that type of offensive productivity, then it’s the right thing to do.

Western Carolina is playing what is, in my opinion, Division I’s most absurd schedule in 2013. The Catamounts have already played FBS foes Middle Tennessee State and Virginia Tech; later in the season, WCU travels to Auburn. That’s three FBS opponents to go along with two FBS-transitional teams (Georgia Southern and Appalachian State). Western Carolina will be the road team in all five contests.

This is a program that has lost 12 straight games overall, and 22 straight in the SoCon. Western Carolina’s victory over The Citadel on September 3, 2010, was its last win over a D-1 team.

I know it’s a cash grab, but it’s really unfair to the players and coaches in that situation to have to play three FBS opponents. It can’t be easy for second-year coach Mark Speir.

Having said that, if WCU is going to climb out of its gridiron hole, Speir strikes me as the man to lead the way. I think he was a very good hire (and I’m far from alone in that assessment). This season’s schedule may set him back a year, though. We’ll see.

It is hard to get any kind of read on this year’s edition of the Catamounts, since they’ve only played FBS competition thus far. Actually, going back to last season (when WCU finished with a bye and Alabama, respectively), Western Carolina hasn’t played an FCS school since November 3, 2012.

That was a game against Chattanooga, and the Catamounts led the Mocs after three quarters. The week before the UTC contest, Western Carolina gave Appalachian State a good game (losing 38-27).

The Catamounts also led The Citadel in the third quarter at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, and were tied with the Bulldogs entering the fourth quarter before The Citadel pulled away. That matchup, you may recall, featured a game-turning special-teams play by Vinny Miller.

One of the stars for Western Carolina in that game at JHS was quarterback Troy Mitchell, who rushed for 117 yards and two TDs in the loss. Mitchell did not play in the Catamounts’ game at Virginia Tech, but is expected to start against The Citadel.

Also missing against the Hokies was running back Darius Ramsey, who has not played yet this season for WCU. Ramsey rushed for 118 yards against The Citadel in last year’s game.

Garry Lewis, a freshman, is listed as the starting running back in WCU’s one-back set. The Catamounts may start the game against the Bulldogs with four wideouts.

Western Carolina has some experience along the offensive line, but is also starting a true freshman at right guard, Tanner Poindexter. The caption besides Poindexter’s name on the two-deep in the WCU game notes reads as follows:

Played center in 2012 Shrine Bowl after all-conference at guard … Sports a very interesting hair style – “a mullet”

As usual, the Catamounts’ media relations deparment provide all the necessary information about its team.

Western Carolina has a new defensive coordinator, one who should be very familiar with the Bulldogs’ triple option attack. Last year, Shawn Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Charleston Southern; prior to that, he was at Georgia Southern.

WCU would normally be a 4-3 base D, but that is likely to be adjusted against the Bulldogs.

Quinn will not have the services of Rock Williams this year, much to the relief of Ben Dupree and company. In last year’s game, Williams had 24 tackles, the highest total recorded in the league by a player all season.

As for this year’s players, Bryson Jordan is a freshman who will start at outside linebacker for WCU. He is the son of former Brave (and Falcon) Brian Jordan.

Another freshman, Trey Morgan, is one of the Catamounts’ starting cornerbacks and is highly regarded. He was praised by ESPN3 analyst (and former UNC coach) John Bunting as “a real steal” during the game against Virginia Tech. WCU’s defensive backfield is a team strength, one that also includes preseason second-team SoCon pick Ace Clark.

Western Carolina likes to play a lot of d-linemen, generally a good strategy. There are some interesting backgrounds among the players along the line, including backup nosetackle Helva Matungulu, a native of Kenya who had never played football before arriving in Cullowhee. He is a converted rugby player.

The Catamounts return both their placekicker and punter from last year.

Western Carolina starts four “true” freshmen on its two-deep and played 20 freshmen (including seven true freshmen) in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State. This is a young team.

I don’t know what to expect from the Bulldogs on Saturday. It’s put up or shut up time, I suppose.

One thing that worries me is this has become a big game for Western Carolina. After The Citadel, WCU plays Mars Hill, and then starts a three-game road swing: Samford, Chattanooga, and Auburn. In other words, the Catamounts could really use a win against the Bulldogs, and probably have increased confidence that they have an opportunity, given The Citadel’s struggles.

Oddsmakers list The Citadel as a four-point favorite, a small spread considering WCU’s difficulties in recent years against Division I competition. It is understandable, however, when taking into account what The Citadel has done so far this season.

I am not worried about what Las Vegas thinks, though. My concern is with the mindset of the team. I hope there are still good vibes emanating from those wearing the blue and white.

To bring home a victory from Cullowhee, positive thoughts are a necessity. So are hard hits and tough runs.

I think there is still some bite to these Bulldogs. Saturday is the time to show it.

2013 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

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The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, August 31. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

From last week: my preview of the upcoming season

It has numbers and stuff in it; don’t say you haven’t been warned…

Other links of note:

- The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell has a story on the upcoming game, a season preview, and a look at this year’s SoCon

- SoCon weekly release and Kevin Higgins’ SoCon media teleconference

- SoCon preseason media poll (The Citadel was picked to finish 6th) and coaches’ poll (6th again), and the league’s preseason all-conference teams

- My post on the CFPA watch lists, along with preseason FCS rankings from The Sporting News, Lindy’s, and Athlon Sports

- FCS Coaches preseason Top 25 poll, and The Sports Network’s preseason Top 25 rankings (also from TSN: its preseason FCS All-America teams and its SoCon preview)

- Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk interviews Kevin Higgins and the four team captains (Keith Carter, Derek Douglas, Ben Dupree, Brandon McCladdie)

- Also worth a listen: Kornblut’s interviews with Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell and three of CSU’s players

- AP preview of the Bulldogs (predicts The Citadel will finish 6th in the SoCon)

- Hometown articles on Ben Dupree and Sadath Jean-Pierre

- Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

Let’s talk about Charleston Southern…

When The Citadel and CSU met to open the 2012 campaign, the Buccaneers were coming off an 0-11 season, and it may not have been that good. Charleston Southern had changed its offense (essentially for the third consecutive season) and brought in a new defensive coordinator.

Despite all that, CSU actually led the Bulldogs 14-7 late in the second quarter, thanks in part to an ill-timed penalty and a series of fumbles (two of which The Citadel lost). Eventually the Bulldogs asserted their superiority and rolled to a 49-14 victory, but CSU showed flashes of a competitive spirit throughout the rest of its season.

The Buccaneers finished 5-6, a five-game improvement only bettered at the FCS level by Villanova (the Wildcats went from two wins to eight). Charleston Southern won four of its last six contests.

After the season, head coach Jay Mills announced his retirement. Named as his replacement was a former CSU assistant, Jamey Chadwell, who older Bulldog fans may remember as a quarterback at East Tennessee State in the late 1990s. Chadwell was a two-year starter at ETSU in non-consecutive seasons (his playing career was affected by a serious ankle injury).

Chadwell had spent the last four seasons as a head coach at the Division II level. He was the head coach at North Greenville for three years, leaving that job for the same position at Delta State.

The Statesmen (mascot: The Fighting Okra) were only 3-7 in Chadwell’s lone season in charge; prior to that, he had fashioned a 22-14 record at North Greenville, buoyed by an 11-3 record in 2011. That year, his quarterback was celebrated high school star (and former Clemson player) Willy Korn, who is now on Chadwell’s staff at CSU.

Mark Tucker, a former offensive assistant under Charlie Taaffe and Don Powers at The Citadel, is also on Chadwell’s coaching staff. As of August 22, so is former South Carolina (and NFL) linebacker Rod Wilson.

According to Chadwell in his interview with Phil Kornblut, Charleston Southern’s offense this year will feature a spread option look “in the gun”. The Buccaneers will run the ball more than they did under Jay Mills.

Chadwell wants to have a more balanced offense and “get playmakers out in space”. His ideal is Florida circa Tim Tebow, though he acknowledged that incumbent Bucs QB Malcolm Dixon isn’t exactly the second coming of Tebow.

Dixon had his moments against The Citadel in last year’s game, throwing a TD pass and also running for a score. As Chadwell pointed out to Kornblut, Dixon is learning his fourth offense in four years as a college player.

CSU running back Teddy Allen rushed for 56 yards (on only 11 carries) against the Bulldogs last season. Allen was one of two Buccaneers to make the Big South preseason all-conference team.

Also expected to see action at running back is juco transfer Christian Reyes, an Oregon native who has gone to some schools with really cool names, like Rogue River High School and College of the Siskiyous (located in Weed, California). Despite only being on CSU’s campus since January, Reyes (who rushed for 1958 yards last season in junior college) was named one of the team captains for the Buccaneers.

Other Charleston Southern offensive players to watch include Larry Jones III (20.5 yards per reception last season) and wideout Donte Sumpter, a transfer from East Carolina. Starting tight end Nathan Prater is 6’8″; disappointingly, the native of Ninety Six wears jersey #81.

The Bucs have four starters returning on the offensive line, but Chadwell suggested on CSU’s website that some freshmen are battling for those spots.

Charleston Southern was a mediocre passing team last year, ranking 62nd out of 121 FCS teams in passing efficiency. That actually isn’t half-bad, considering CSU completed less than 50% of its pass attempts.

When the Bucs did complete a pass, it generally went for good yardage, resulting in a respectable 7.86 yards per attempt (and 12 touchdowns against 8 interceptions). The Bucs averaged 5.35 yards per play, which was middle-of-the-pack nationally (65th).

Arguably, CSU’s most ominous offensive statistic last season was its third-down conversion rate (30.34%), 11th-worst in FCS football.

Defensive back Elijah Lee was the other Buccaneer besides Allen to garner preseason all-league honors. Lee will be part of a defense that is switching to a 3-4 base after previously being a 4-3. I’m not sure how big an impact that will have on the way the Buccaneers defend the triple option, though.

The key player for CSU against the Bulldogs is likely to be 290-lb. noseguard James Smith. Other defenders of note include linebacker Calvin Bryant and defensive end Will Hunt.

Last season the Bucs’ D topped the Big South in yards per pass attempt, allowing only 6.38 per attempt. Charleston Southern was 32nd nationally in pass efficiency defense.

However, CSU was next-to-last in the league in rush yards per attempt (5.32) and rush yards per game (208.82), leading to a bottom-20 finish nationally in rushing defense. The Citadel rushed for 479 yards against Charleston Southern in last year’s contest.

Opponents averaged 5.7 yards per play against Charleston Southern; the Bucs ranked 81st out of 121 FCS teams in that category in 2012.

When considering CSU’s on-field performance, the yards per play numbers are particularly important due to pace of play considerations. Both CSU’s offense and defense were each on the field for about 62 plays per game last season, which for both units was the eighth-fewest in the entire division. By contrast, The Citadel averaged 63.7 plays per game on offense (15th-fewest nationally) and 66.5 on defense (26th).

Elijah Lee and a pair of freshmen are expected to feature as kick/punt returners for the Bucs. Kickoff returns were problematic for CSU last year, as the team finished with a KOR average of 16.67 yards, 8th-worst in FCS. Charleston Southern finished in the top 20 of FCS in kick return coverage, though the Buccaneers did allow a kick return TD against Jacksonville (on an onside kick that went awry).

Jacksonville also returned a punt for a touchdown against CSU, which finished 87th nationally in net punting. The Buccaneers only attempted five field goals last season, making three (with a long of 31 yards). Both CSU’s punter and placekicker return in 2013.

The Buccaneers were picked to finish fourth in the six-team Big South by a panel of the league’s coaches and media. Charleston Southern will open its home schedule next week against Shorter University. The game will kick off at 11:00 am, one of three CSU home games scheduled for that start time.

Jamey Chadwell told Phil Kornblut that the game versus The Citadel would be a “big challenge” and that “we know going in we’re the underdogs, and rightfully so.” Chadwell also said this:

We’re trying to take that step where we have respect in this state and this city [for our conference]…we’re hoping to go in and compete and establish our identity…if we control the things that we can, our effort and attitude, we think we can compete [with anybody].

Further evidence that Chadwell is going to play the ‘respect card’ in motivating his team for the game against The Citadel: he “favorited” a tweet about the line for the matchup (the Bulldogs opened at -25.5 points). You can bet Chadwell let his players know about that.

Things I’ll be keeping a close eye on this Saturday:

- Execution in the first half

The Bulldogs need to take charge on both sides of the ball while there is still cannon smoke wafting in the air, as opposed to a repeat of last year’s sloppy opening half. The center-QB exchange needs to be second-nature, the “mesh” should be clean, the pitches and passes accurate, the catches made, and the blocking sound.

The team mantra this season is “1-0″. I like it. I want to see the squad live up to it.

- Penalties, or a lack thereof

The Citadel led all of FCS football in the categories “fewest penalties” and “least penalty yardage” in 2011, and matched that feat in 2012 (tying for fewest penalties last year with Lehigh). In all of NCAA football, regardless of division, only Brevard committed fewer penalties per game than did The Citadel in 2012.

- Punting

The Bulldogs actually didn’t punt in last year’s opener. While it would be great to have that happen again, odds are against it. The new punter has some big shoes to fill. The punt return unit will also be under the microscope.

Also worth watching on special teams: The Citadel will have a new long snapper and a new holder (who, as it happens, was last year’s long snapper).

- Third down conversions

Last season the Bulldog offense had a third-down conversion rate of 40.44%. That rate needs to improve. While The Citadel was 50th nationally in that category, fellow SoCon triple option teams Georgia Southern and Wofford were 23rd and 26th in FCS, respectively.

It was actually more of a concern on defense, as Bulldog opponents converted third downs at a rate of 43.08%, only 85th-best in the division. That has to get better, especially when facing the likes of GSU and Wofford (and Chattanooga, which was 30th nationally in offensive third down conversion rate).

- Forced turnovers

I touched upon this topic as part of my season preview. Incidentally, stopping the run (a focus of the coaching staff this season) is a key element to both the defensive third down conversion rate and forced turnovers (because it puts opponents in obvious passing situations).

- Defensive playmakers

Last year, the key moment for the defense against CSU was a fumble forced by Chris Billingslea, who had a knack for being in the middle of game-turning plays like that one. Billingslea has graduated, and the Bulldogs need someone else to carry the big-play torch (or sledgehammer).

One of the more interesting comments from Kevin Higgins’ Monday press conference was about the defense, stating that “we have a little more depth than I anticipated, especially inside.” That was good to hear.

- Freshmen

The Citadel has quite a few freshmen (and redshirt freshmen) on the depth chart. They are going to get a chance to make a strong first impression. The wide receivers, in particular, may get multiple opportunities to shine.

- Attendance

Last year’s opener had a crowd of 14,264, a good turnout at Johnson Hagood Stadium by 21st century standards. Whether or not the team’s fine season last year will lead to improved attendance is debatable.

When I took a look at JHS attendance trends a year ago, the numbers suggested that the success of 2012 will not necessarily lead to bigger crowds for the 2013 campaign. Of course, that’s just the people who actually file into Johnson Hagood Stadium. For all I know, the tailgating scene will continue to expand.

There was an article in The Post and Courier recently that noted Clemson and South Carolina only share one home date this season, November 23. That is unusual. I am not sure how much it will impact The Citadel’s attendance.

Quite honestly, you can make an argument that there are three Saturdays this fall in which Johnson Hagood Stadium will be the site for the most interesting college football game held in the state: September 7 (the Wofford game), September 28 (Furman), and October 5 (Appalachian State).  I just hope the general public agrees.

It is also worth mentioning that the Charleston Riverdogs have a game at Riley Park on Saturday scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm ET — yes, the same time as opening kickoff at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Parking could be at a premium.

Tangent: that article in The Post and Courier also referred to The Citadel’s game at Clemson as a “tune-up” for the Tigers prior to Clemson’s game at South Carolina — not an “anticipated” or an “expected” tune-up, mind you…just a tune-up. I wasn’t very happy with the Charleston paper making a dismissive comment like that about the local team, and said so (via Twitter).

The writer did not seem to understand my point, but then he’s not really writing about Clemson from a Charleston perspective — he’s just writing about Clemson for the Charleston paper. There is a distinction, I guess.

I am reminded of the Columbia newspaper once infamously stating in its gameday feature page that the Gamecocks would win if “they show up”. That was for a game between The Citadel and South Carolina played in 1990.

I’m ready for some football. You’re ready for some football. The players are ready for some football.

Let’s play football.

2013 Football, The Citadel: some thoughts, themes, and theories before the season begins

Hey, last season ended well!

Looking back on the spring game

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

If you know some people with a lot of money, tell them The Citadel wants to endow the head football coach position

There is always great anticipation at The Citadel when football season rolls around, but this year it is amplified by the belief that the Bulldogs could be a very good team, one capable of contending for the Southern Conference championship. The Citadel has not won a league title (or seriously challenged for one) since 1992, which arguably adds to the interest.

There are plenty of SoCon previews online; I’ll link to most (if not all) of them when I write about the season opener against Charleston Southern. What follows isn’t really intended to be a standard preview. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on a few specific elements of the Bulldogs’ play, primarily from a statistical perspective.

First, though, I want to point out that this could be a season of what-ifs rather than the big-win campaign that is the hope for Bulldog supporters. As always when it comes to the gridiron, the margin for error at The Citadel is small. To illustrate this, think of the task the team faces this year from what might be called the most negative point of view:

- The Citadel will play four opponents that are either FBS or transitioning to FBS (and thus will have more scholarship players). Three of those games will be on the road.

- The Citadel will play two other opponents that defeated the Bulldogs last season by a combined score of 66-17. Both of those teams return most of their key players.

- One opponent hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs during Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of The Citadel, while another has beaten The Citadel four times in the last five meetings.

- Of the remaining four opponents, last season The Citadel trailed one of them midway through the third quarter; was in a one-point game late in the third quarter to another; barely held off a late rally from a third; and was tied at halftime with the fourth.

That is why most prognosticators, including the SoCon media and coaches, believe The Citadel will finish fourth in the league (or sixth, if like the SoCon office the organization ranking the teams made the mistake of including ineligibles Appalachian State and Georgia Southern). Personally, I think the Bulldogs have the potential to be better than that, but improvement from last season’s solid effort must be significant in order to achieve major goals, such as making the FCS playoffs and winning the league.

Before the first game of last season, I wrote the following:

 It appears The Citadel does plan to throw the ball a bit more often this season. If the idea is to average 10-12 pass attempts per game (the Bulldogs averaged a shade under 7 attempts [in 2011]), then I think The Citadel needs to average around 8.0-8.5 yards per pass attempt at a minimum (preferably it should be above 9 yards per attempt). [In 2011] that number was 4.7 ypa, an awful average.

As for interceptions, I am inclined to think the goal should be no more than one per 25 attempts, though that number could fluctuate based on overall total offense production and the number of possessions per game. [In 2011] the Bulldogs threw seven interceptions in only 75 passing attempts, which is very poor.

The Citadel, in fact, averaged 10.6 pass attempts per game in 2012, about what was expected. The Bulldogs averaged 7.7 yards per attempt, which wasn’t great but did keep defenses relatively honest.

Bulldog quarterbacks threw 117 passes, of which five were intercepted, or one every 23.4 attempts. I think that was an acceptable result. There were also four touchdown tosses, which was certainly better than 2011 (when only one touchdown pass was thrown by The Citadel all season).

The efficiency of the passing game must continue to improve. As part of that progression, the Bulldog coaching staff appears to be adding to the team’s repertoire of offensive formations:

The Bulldogs showed off an ever-evolving offense, showing I-formation and shotgun sets in addition to the bread-and-butter triple option formation. The Bulldogs could lineup with one back and four receivers on one play and the TO the next.

This seems promising, but I think that it’s important the offense doesn’t lose its identity as a run/run/run-some-more type of operation. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at run/pass playcalling from the 2012 campaign.

I went back and compiled statistics from the eight SoCon games the Bulldogs played. Some of the numbers are interesting. Keep in mind, this is for league contests only.

First, 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

On first down, The Citadel rushed 85.5% of the time. The Bulldogs ran the ball in other down-and-distance situations as follows (by percentage):

- 2nd-and-short: 86.7%
– 2nd-and-medium: 93.6%
– 2nd-and-long: 80.9%
– 3rd-and-short: 100%
– 3rd-and-medium: 86.3%
– 3rd-and-long: 49.1%

Of course, some running plays were originally pass plays that turned into running plays, and a few were run/pass options. Occasionally a would-be pass play on 3rd-and-long turned into something like this: Link

Taken as a whole, though, I think these numbers give an accurate view of how the coaches called plays in particular situations. In general, I like what the statistics show.

I have a minor quibble with the run/pass ratio on 2nd-and-medium, but it’s not a big deal. There were 47 2nd-and-medium plays in SoCon action; the Bulldogs ran the ball on 44 of them. Maybe there could have been 2 or 3 more pass plays in that group, but again, that’s very minor.

The one area of playcalling I do wonder about, however, is on 3rd-and-short. The Citadel ran the ball in all 21 of those situations in league play. I don’t think it would be a bad idea to throw the ball once or twice per season on 3rd-and-short, partly to try for a big play, and also to “loosen up” opposing defenses.

Ideally a 3rd-and-short pass play would come around midfield or so, because then the Bulldogs might have the chance to go for it on fourth down even if the pass were to be incomplete. That brings me to my next topic…

One of the things that interests me most about football is game theory, including when to go for it on fourth down. I decided to take a look at how Kevin Higgins approached things last season.

I didn’t include fourth down “desperation” situations (like those on the game-winning drive against Georgia Southern) or “accidental” fourth down tries (like the botched punt snap/catch against Chattanooga). I also tossed out a couple of “garbage time” fourth down plays (i.e. punting while up 31 points on Appalachian State in the fourth quarter). Again, all statistics are from SoCon games only.

Terms (as defined by Football Outsiders):

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

- On fourth down and two yards or less to go: The Citadel went for it all four times it was in the Front Zone or the Red Zone. The Bulldogs punted all three times they were in the Mid Zone.

- On fourth down and three to five yards to go: the Bulldogs attempted four field goals in the Front and Red Zones, and went for a first down once (in the Front Zone). The Citadel punted all four times it was in the Mid Zone.

- On fourth down and six or more yards to go: The Citadel attempted two field goals in the Red Zone, two field goals in the Front Zone, and went for a first down twice in the Front Zone. The Bulldogs punted all five times they were in the Mid Zone.

It’s a relief to know that the Bulldogs did not punt on fourth down from inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. However, it is mildly surprising to see the conservatism in the Mid Zone.

It’s one thing to punt on fourth-and-10 from your own 40-yard line, as The Citadel did against Chattanooga. However, it may have been in the Bulldogs’ best interests to go for it on 4th-and-1 on their own 43 (versus Georgia Southern), or on 4th-and-2 at midfield (against Furman).

I did not track complete totals for Deep Zone/Back Zone fourth-down decisions, most of which (obviously) resulted in punts. It is worth noting, however, that The Citadel actually went for it on fourth down no fewer than five times in the Back Zone last season versus SoCon opposition in non-desperation situations.

Four of those plays were 4th-and-1 (or shorter). One was on 4th-and-4 from the 30; that was Cass Couey’s run off a fake punt against Furman.

On all five of those Back Zone fourth down conversion attempts, The Citadel was successful.

Occasionally going for it on fourth down in the Mid Zone section of the field might be worthwhile. For one thing, it may open up playcalling, as it changes third-down options if there is a chance the Bulldogs would attempt (if necessary) a fourth-down conversion.

I also believe that going for it more often on fourth down is an appropriate strategy for a run-heavy triple option team, due to the fewer number of possessions in a game. All you have to do is look at the 2007 season, the Bulldogs’ last winning campaign prior to the switch to the triple option.

In 2007, The Citadel averaged 5.9 yards per play, much like the 2012 squad (which averaged 6.0 yards per play). However, there are fewer plays in a game when one of the teams runs the ball 83% of the time, as the 2012 Bulldogs did. Despite the similar yards per play numbers, the 2007 Bulldogs ran 117 more plays over the course of the season than did their 2012 counterparts.

In 2012, the Bulldogs averaged 11.9 possessions per game, while the 2007 team averaged 13.3 possessions per contest. That’s a significant difference, and something to consider when deciding whether or not to maintain possession by going for it on fourth down.

One of the primary areas of concern for The Citadel this season, at least to me, is punting. The aforementioned Cass Couey was an outstanding performer, and will be hard to replace.

In eight SoCon games last year, only three times did an opponent even return a punt, for a total of 25 yards (24 of those on one punt return in the Samford game). Couey boomed four punts of 50+ yards in league play (averaging 42.8 yards per punt in those contests), and had eleven punts downed inside the 20-yard line in conference action (versus only two touchbacks).

However, finding Couey’s successor is far from the only thing that needs to be done when it comes to The Citadel’s punt units. One of the things that becomes apparent when going through the game summaries is that while the punt cover unit outperformed its expectations in terms of field position, the Bulldogs’ punt return unit did not.

If you go by raw yardage totals, including returns/touchbacks/penalties/etc., the Bulldogs came out ahead in the punting battle by a little over one yard per punt. That doesn’t take into account field position at the time of the punt.

By my reckoning (and I could be wrong), using field position point expectancy tables, The Citadel’s edge (combining both units) had a total value of less than half a point. That’s not per game — that’s over all eight SoCon contests.

Note: that doesn’t count two plays. One was that punt snap/catch snafu against Chattanooga, which cost the Bulldogs an expected 50 yards in field position on the ensuing Mocs drive. The other was the blocked punt/TD in the Appalachian State game.

Between those two plays The Citadel came out ahead by about 3 points in terms of average expected points per drive start. In actuality, it wound up being 7 points, since Carson Smith did pick up that blocked punt and run into the end zone for a touchdown, while the Mocs eventually missed a long field goal after getting the ball at the Bulldog 28-yard line.

Also, I used points expectancy numbers based on FBS data; it is possible the correlation to FCS games isn’t exact.

At any rate, I think it is clear that The Citadel must do a better job of creating better field position via its punt return game. In 2011, the Bulldogs blocked nine punts during the season, including one in four consecutive SoCon games. There wasn’t a major concern about the return aspect because, well, those blocked punts essentially were the returns.

If The Citadel won’t be able to rely on the punt block threat as much in the future (rule changes may have had an effect there), then it is important to pick up yardage after receiving the punt. Perhaps the insertion of Ben Dupree as a punt returner will help, though I worry about putting the starting quarterback at risk for injury (or rather, putting him at additional risk for injury).

As the Bulldogs began preseason practice, run defense was on the mind of the head coach:

The Citadel’s defense was good to average in most categories last year, ranking fifth in the SoCon in total defense and scoring defense, and second in pass defense. But the Bulldogs struggled to stop the run, ranking seventh while allowing 221.7 rushing yards per game.

During a string of four losses in five games, the run D was gashed for an average of 273 yards per game.

Those games coincided with injuries to linebackers Carl Robinson and Rah Muhammad, both of whom begin this season healthy. The emergence of sophomore linebacker James Riley also should help.

“We’re going to be more fundamental in what we do,” [Kevin] Higgins said, “and just make it a huge emphasis.”

The Citadel also allowed a considerable number of rushing yards in the two games that preceded the five-game stretch referenced by Jeff Hartsell. Beginning with the second half of the game against Wofford, the Bulldogs seemed to turn the corner on stopping the run, though they showed a bit of frailty in the season finale against Furman.

The depletion of the linebacking corps due to injury was almost certainly the reason The Citadel struggled to stop the run. That’s why the loss of Carson Smith for the season is doubly frustrating.

If the Bulldogs can make strides in their run-stuffing, that should also help in red zone defense situations. Last season, The Citadel allowed a TD rate of 70.2% in the red zone, slightly higher than the TD rate for the Bulldog offense inside the 20 (69.4%).

The other emphasis on defense is in creating turnovers. If stopping the run can force opponents to the air against The Citadel in less-than-optimal situations, perhaps the Bulldogs can finally have a year in which they intercept a lot of passes.

The Citadel had five interceptions in SoCon play in 2012, which almost matched the total number of picks for the Bulldogs in the previous two league campaigns combined (6). Despite that, The Citadel finished tied for next-to-last in overall interceptions among Southern Conference teams.

The simplest way for the Bulldogs to intercept more passes is to successfully defend a higher percentage of throws. In 2012, The Citadel was credited with 24 passes defended in SoCon games. The five picks that resulted from those passes defended meant the Bulldogs had an interception rate of 20.8% on passes defended, right at the national average (21.9%).

The Bulldogs either broke up or intercepted a pass on 12.4% of its opponents’ throws in league action. For comparison, the FBS leader in passes defended per game, Ohio State, broke up/intercepted 19.2% of its opponents’ passes.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s conference opponents had a similar interception per pass defended rate (21.4%) against the Bulldogs.

One thing I hope Kevin Higgins did during the off-season was evaluate the clock management at the end of games. Twice last year (against Western Carolina and VMI), The Citadel’s offense ran multiple plays at the end of a game when a series of kneeldowns would have ended the contest.

By repeatedly running the ball (including a pitch play in the WCU contest), the Bulldogs risked being on the wrong end of a “Miracle at the Meadowlands” situation. For the 2013 season, I would like for there to be a de facto “time management coach” who can assist Higgins in this aspect of the game.

I remember that Bill Parcells did this when he was the head coach of the New York Giants. He had an assistant, Ray Handley, specifically tasked to help with end-of-half/game clock strategy. Handley later replaced Parcells as head coach of the Giants, proving conclusively that understanding clock management does not guarantee someone will be successful as a head coach.

For anyone interested (or still reading)…for this season, I think the blog posts will work something like this:

I’ll usually post a game preview on Thursday night/Friday morning, then an occasional game review on Sunday or Monday. Not every week will include a game review. Most of them will be relatively short anyway; I’ll probably include gameday pictures with those posts, and then go into more depth about the just-played contest as part of my preview of the following game.

I’ll still be posting an FBS/FCS TV schedule on either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Anything else I post will depend in large part on my personal schedule, which will be somewhat challenging at times. There are at least three weeks during the season that will be problematic. I’ll figure out something, though.

I’m ready for some football.

Game Review, 2012: Furman

The Citadel 42, Furman 20.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Greenville News

The Citadel’s release

Furman’s release

Postgame interview of Kevin Higgins (video)

WCSC-TV story (with video)

WCIV-TV story (with video)

Boxscore

Well, that was an enjoyable afternoon in the Upstate…

The Citadel spotted Furman a touchdown, came roaring back with some big (and entertaining) plays, hung in there while the contest was still in doubt, took a risk and was richly rewarded for it, and then finished the game in style.

A fake punt was the key play in the game. Furman’s offense had held the ball for the first seven minutes of the third quarter, settling for a field goal after a couple of outstanding plays by Mitchell Jeter (including a 13-yard sack).

The Bulldogs’ D needed to stay off the field for a while, which is why Kevin Higgins elected to roll the dice on 4th-and-5 from The Citadel’s 30-yard-line. Cass Couey has executed fake punts before, though not in a while, but he did his part very well, and eighteen yards later the Bulldogs were near midfield with a fresh set of downs.

Eight plays after Couey’s mad dash, Dalton Trevino took a pitch and raced around the left corner and into the end zone, taking out an official in the process (who was fortunate not to get hurt). Trevino’s TD run was particularly well blocked on the outside.

That made the score 28-20. On the Paladins’ next possession, The Citadel forced a three-and-out. After Furman punted, the Bulldogs scored on an 85-yard drive that featured two outstanding plays by Ben Dupree. The first was a 23-yard pass completion to Terrance Martin on 3rd-and-18. Both the throw and catch were of high quality.

While some observers were mildly surprised by the precise, powerful throw Dupree made to Martin, the 28-yard TD toss he made to Domonic Jones three plays later was exactly the kind of improvisational maneuver that Bulldog fans have come to expect from the Pennsylvania native, only with a twist at the end. He was going to throw, then he was going to run, then he was going to run the other way, then he suddenly pulled up and lobbed the ball into the waiting arms of Jones for an easy touchdown.

That was a fun play. At least, it was fun if you were rooting for The Citadel. For Furman, it was more of the same, as the Paladins struggled in the fourth quarter all season. VanDyke Jones completed the day with his third touchdown of the game on The Citadel’s next series.

Odds and ends:

– Jerodis Williams and Hank McCloud combined to rush for 195 yards on 30 carries. The Bulldogs had trouble all day stopping the run. On the other hand, Furman’s passing game was ineffective, particularly after starting quarterback Reese Hannon left the game with an injury.

That made the Paladins’ occasional deviation from its rushing attack all the more puzzling. Furman had a couple of promising first-half drives that were short-circuited by pass plays gone bad.

I realize that you have to mix things up once in a while, but in my opinion the Paladins should have continued to feed the ball to Williams and McCloud until the Bulldogs actually stopped them. Instead, Furman seemed determined to add to Chris Billingslea’s personal highlights collection.

I also thought Furman gave up on its running game way too early. Neither Williams nor McCloud had a rushing attempt in the fourth quarter; all twelve of the Paladins’ plays in the last period (counting a play wiped out by penalty) were passing attempts or sacks by The Citadel on would-be pass plays.

– While The Citadel has had its own issues with home attendance, the Bulldogs enjoyed a lot more support this year than did the Paladins. Furman averaged just over 9,000 fans per game this season, with Saturday’s finale drawing a crowd of 8,127. A significant number of those in attendance were wearing blue and white, and they made themselves heard all afternoon.

– Furman is building a new football complex. As part of that effort, the current press box is being demolished.

The lower two levels of the complex will be devoted to the football program. The plans include rooms that will accommodate all eight position groups (only four rooms are available now, forcing some groups to meet in locker rooms), and an office for each coach. The training room will be expanded and modernized…

…The complex’s top level will serve as home to working press and feature a spacious television broadcast booth, home and visiting radio booths, coaches boxes, and twin photo decks, as well as public address and ultra-modern video production room…

…[The building is] essential…in terms of Furman’s efforts to be competitive in Division I and the Southern Conference. In recent years, every other conference member has upgraded its athletic facilities.

The facility is scheduled for completion in late 2013.

– The last three times the game between Furman and The Citadel has ended the regular season, the Bulldogs have won, which could be a annoying fact for some members of Furman’s sports information department. As I outlined in my preview, the matchup cannot be the final game of any season in which The Citadel is the home team. As it happens, the Bulldogs will close their 2013 regular-season campaign at Clemson (which, by the way, is the opponent Furman has ended its season against the most times).

I would not put a lot of money on Furman vs. The Citadel being the season finale in 2014, either, but we’ll see what happens.

There was some hope that the Bulldogs could garner an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. That didn’t happen.

Looking over the bracket, I don’t have an issue with The Citadel not making the field. I would have been disappointed if the Bulldogs were left out at the expense of a team like Lehigh (the Mountain Hawks fashioned a 10-1 record against a tissue-soft schedule), but the teams that did get selected all brought something to the table.

The last two at-large teams in the field were South Dakota State and Stony Brook. The latter school is one of two Big South entrants into the field, which does raise a question, since the Big South is not a strong league (and there are only seven teams in it).

However, I understand why the selection committee took the Seawolves. Stony Brook played two FBS schools this season, and won one of those games, beating Army. Admittedly, the Bulldogs of the Hudson are not a good team, but SBU won the game by twenty points.

Stony Brook also played very credibly in a loss at Syracuse (28-17). I suspect that the Seawolves are a very good team that had one bad afternoon (at Liberty).

I thought the only curious decision the committee made was taking New Hampshire (and giving it a bye) instead of Towson. I think that was probably a mistake, but it doesn’t really affect The Citadel, since the CAA was going to get at least three teams into the field one way or another.

Next year, the playoff field will increase from 20 to 24 teams. I am not sure the Bulldogs would have landed in a 24-team bracket this season. It would have been very close.

I’m sure the players are mildly disappointed at not making the playoffs, but they shouldn’t be. This was a successful season for The Citadel, and having it end with a 22-point victory over Furman in Greenville seems more than appropriate.

Next year appears to hold a lot of promise on the gridiron for The Citadel, but there will be plenty of time to discuss that. Too much time for a lot of people, I’m sure.

For those players who have completed their football careers at The Citadel, many thanks for providing a lot of good memories, especially this season, even if it were at times a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

One more round wound up having a good taste to it.

As usual, I’ll close with a few photos. I had a tough afternoon taking pictures, thanks mostly to a rather insistent beam of sunlight that kept coming over the press box and into my line of sight. The quality of these shots is even worse than normal, which is really saying something…

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