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…

2012 Football, Week 8: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel at Wofford, to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 27.  The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Paul Maguire supplying the analysis. It can also be heard on radio via the twelve 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. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Wofford game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show (following the game against Western Carolina), Part 1 and Part 2

Kevin Higgins’ 10/22 press conference quotes

Mike Ayers on this week’s SoCon teleconference

Parking map for Gibbs Stadium

Catching up with…all-SoCon punter and fisherman Cass Couey

Catch up with Darien Robinson, too

This is the sixth time in the last seven years the game between The Citadel and Wofford will be on TV and/or ESPN3.com. It has been on SportSouth, it has been on SCETV, and now it’s on ESPN3, the second time the Bulldogs have been on that streaming service this season.

Paul Maguire was the analyst when The Citadel played NC State, and he will be again on Saturday. During the NCSU game he claimed in jest that his partner in the booth, Mike Gleason, was the offspring of Jackie Gleason. Perhaps this week he will try to suggest that Darren Goldwater is the son of Barry Goldwater. We can only hope.

While I can’t find the records (which is driving me crazy), I believe that The Citadel has only won one televised game during the Kevin Higgins era. It would be nice to turn that around this weekend.

Kevin Higgins has had no answers for Wofford. In the seven games the Bulldogs have played the Terriers since he became head coach of The Citadel, Wofford has won by an average score of 34-14, never failing to put at least 28 points on the board. It doesn’t matter if the Terriers have been good or bad (the 2009 team was 3-8 but still beat The Citadel by 26).

Last year, I wrote about what I felt was a possible lack of defensive aggression for The Citadel when it plays Wofford. In last season’s matchup, Wofford did not commit a turnover, and also was not penalized. That’s a rare combination. Of course, Wofford almost never gets penalized against The Citadel.

In the last four meetings between the two teams, the Terriers have committed a total of five penalties, for thirty yards (and one of the penalties was an intentional delay-of-game to set up a punt).

While I think the Bulldog D needs to be more aggressive, I am not sure it can afford to be. As everyone knows, The Citadel is starting to run out of linebackers, with Yemi Oyegunle the latest to be lost for the season. Oyegunle has a torn groin muscle, which does not sound particularly pleasant.

Getting the injury-ravaged defense ready for Wofford is going to be a tall order, even with an extra week to prepare. I am not overly confident on that front, especially after watching Western Carolina’s offense go up and the down the field against the Bulldogs two weeks ago.

One positive I came up with after crunching some numbers: The Citadel has generally not let a loss to Wofford ruin the rest of the season. The Bulldogs are only 2-5 during Higgins’ tenure after losing to the Terriers, but the overall record post-Wofford in that seven-year time frame is a respectable 13-13.

Wofford leads the league (and the nation) in rushing offense, at 408.3 yards per game. The Terriers also lead the SoCon in total offense, scoring offense, punt return average, field goal percentage (a perfect 8-8), offensive third-down conversion percentage, turnover margin, and both “red zone” offense and defense scoring percentage.

Wofford is second in the conference in offensive pass efficiency, penalties, and offensive sacks allowed (no surprise that the three league triple option teams are 1-2-3 in the last category).

All of that is very impressive, and goes a long way to explaining the Terriers’ 6-1 record. The only caveat is Wofford’s early-season schedule did not feature particularly strong opposition. Wofford has played Gardner-Webb, Lincoln (a Division II school located in Pennsylvania), Western Carolina, Elon, Furman, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State (in that order).

The Terriers rushed for 402 yards against Gardner-Webb and actually increased their rushing yardage totals for each of the next two weeks. That isn’t easy to do when you start off with a 400-yard effort. Wofford rushed for 449 yards against Lincoln and a staggering 590 yards versus Western Carolina.

The following week, Elon “held” the Terriers to 500 yards rushing. Running back Eric Breitenstein had a 321-yard rushing day for the Terriers in that game. Rushing totals for Wofford in its last three games: 303 (against Furman), 221 (Georgia Southern, a game the Terriers lost 17-9), and 393 (Appalachian State).

Nobody has stopped Breitenstein yet this season. He only carried the ball five times against Lincoln because there was no need to use him, but he has rushed for at least 150 yards in four of Wofford’s other six games, and ran for over 100 yards in the other two contests.

While Breitenstein has been a constant, Wofford is going to be challenged over the remainder of the season to maintain its offensive efficiency, due to the loss of some key players due to injury. Left tackle Calvin Cantrell will miss his second straight game on Saturday due to a concussion, while slotback Donovan Johnson and backup quarterback Michael Weimer (who has played quite a bit for the Terriers) are also not expected to see the field.

Jared Singleton, Wofford’s center, is hurt but listed on the two-deep and will probably play. Left guard Tymeco Gregory also got banged up in the game against Appalachian State, but is expected to start.

The injury list for Wofford extends to its defense, as linebacker Kevin Thomas (who has started three games for the Terriers and is third on the team in tackles) will not play against The Citadel. Another linebacker, Phillip LeGrande (who has started all seven games), also may not play against the Bulldogs. Defensive end Zach Bobb started Wofford’s first five games of the season, but injured his knee against Furman and is out for the season.

Wofford placekicker Christian Reed missed the game against Appalachian State with a quad injury but is listed as the starter on the two-deep for this week’s contest. Punter Kasey Redfern replaced him against the Mountaineers and made his only FG try (29 yards).

There is a touch of uncertainty with Wofford’s injury list. For example, while Todd Shanesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal tweeted that Weimer would be out for the game against the Bulldogs, he is still listed on the depth chart. Just keep that in mind.

If Weimer doesn’t go, that doesn’t mean starting quarterback Brian Kass will play the whole game, according to Mike Ayers. Third-string QB James Lawson will likely get some snaps on Saturday.

Incidentally, Wofford has had eighteen different players carry the ball this season. Twelve of them have at least one rush for more than twenty yards.

Among other Terriers of note: offensive right tackle Jake Miles (a preseason all-SoCon selection), outside linebacker Alvin Scioneaux (also a preseason first team pick), and inside linebacker Mike Niam, a force when healthy (he has suffered multiple knee injuries while at Wofford).

Fellow inside linebacker Mike McCrimon leads the Terriers in tackles. Defensive end Tarek Odom’s 40-yard fumble return for a TD sealed the Terriers’ win over Appalachian State. E.J. Speller is a 290-lb. redshirt freshman nosetackle who is having a fine season; he will be a key factor on Saturday.

Wofford’s defense held each of its first four opponents under 100 yards rushing. Last week, the Terriers held the Mountaineers to 106 yards rushing (363 total yards).

Odds and ends:

– Wofford’s sideline reporter for its radio broadcasts is Van Hipp, Jr. If that name sounds familiar to Low Country residents, it’s because he ran for Congress about two decades ago. Hipp wound up in a primary runoff for the seat in the 1st Congressional District, but lost to a political newcomer named Mark Sanford.

– Saturday’s game will be Wofford’s Homecoming, which means The Citadel will play in two consecutive Homecoming games, Wofford’s and its own.

– Wofford is undefeated this season when it loses the coin toss (4-0).

The 1959 game between The Citadel and Wofford was the last game in the series to be played in Orangeburg, at the County Fairgrounds. The game was played on “Big Friday” and only drew 8,000 spectators, a disappointing showing that probably led to the end of neutral-site contests between the two schools. The Citadel won 40-8; six different Bulldogs scored touchdowns in the game.

Wofford would not play The Citadel again until 1967, possibly because of a disagreement between the two coaches, Eddie Teague of The Citadel and Wofford’s Conley Snidow. Snidow accused Teague of running up the score, a charge the Bulldogs coach vehemently denied.

Not only did Snidow complain about a late touchdown scored by The Citadel (even though the TD came after Wofford had fumbled the ball on its own five-yard-line), he belittled the Bulldogs’ victory, saying it came against one of his lesser squads. There may have been some previous bad blood between the two men, as The Citadel had already announced it was suspending the series.

The 1967 contest was the only time The Citadel played Wofford between 1959 and 1975.

By the way, the main photo accompanying the game story features “Broadway Billy” Hughes, and the first paragraph of the article itself describes teammate Billy Whaley as “The Citadel’s vice president in charge of touchdowns”. Ah, those were the days.

For anyone wondering, Paul Maguire did play in the game. He did not score, but caught three passes for forty yards and punted three times, averaging 43 yards per kick.

I’ll be honest. I don’t have a good feeling about the upcoming game, not from The Citadel’s perspective. While Wofford is struggling with injuries of its own, the Terriers have more than their fair share of proven depth. They have options.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are painfully thin at linebacker, a problem exacerbated by (in my opinion) less than optimal play by the defensive line in recent weeks. If The Citadel is going to have any chance of winning Saturday’s matchup, the d-line has to make big plays. That hasn’t really happened in the last month or so.

Anyone who saw the game against Western Carolina has to cringe at the thought of the Bulldogs’ D versus an experienced (if beat up) offensive line and a steady quarterback like Brian Kass, with Eric Breitenstein ready to break loose at any point (he has 12 runs of 20+ yards already this season).

Am I pessimistic? Well, yes.

However, the team has to take a more positive approach. Wofford isn’t invincible, and the Bulldogs don’t need to play a perfect game to win on Saturday. They just have to play very, very well.

I’ll be in Spartanburg on Saturday. I may have my doubts, but I’ll be there. The Bulldogs were good enough to beat Georgia Southern and thrash Appalachian State in Boone. The potential is still there.

Now let’s make something of it.

2012 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

Ah, football. So glad to see you again, old friend. The offseason was long and hard. The lack of a winter confused us. We’ve had to wade through conference realignment conspiracy theories again, with some of those rumors involving our own conference.

Yes, football is back, and just in time.

The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 1.  The game will not be televised, although it will be webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the twelve 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. After the game, there will be a fireworks show, which probably guarantees that a series of thunderstorms will begin to pass through Charleston during the second half.

Some links of note:

The Citadel game notes    The Citadel depth chart   SoCon weekly release

Oh, and just for fun, a few things I wrote in the spring and summer:

Why I don’t expect an overflow crowd at Saturday’s game

A brief look at returning lettermen for The Citadel and its opponents

An analysis of attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium over the past five decades

My ridiculously long-winded manifesto on why The Citadel needs to add more varsity sports

Watching The Post and Courier‘s video preview for The Citadel’s upcoming season, I was interested to hear Jeff Hartsell state that head coach Kevin Higgins was not under any particular pressure in terms of wins and losses for this year. According to Hartsell, The Citadel administration is “all-in” on Higgins, who is now in his eighth season at the military college.

I’m not surprised school officials would take that position in public (it is, after all, the correct thing to do). I was a little curious to hear Hartsell say so without equivocation, which tells me the public position is also the private one. Higgins has one year remaining on his contract after this season, to be sure, and The Citadel is not known for terminating coaches in that situation.

Not that I’m advocating a “win this year or else” strategy with regards to Higgins; far from it. I think it’s good to have a veteran coach running things. As long as he still has the energy for the job (and that certainly appears to be the case), I like the idea of having a coach who has been at the school long  enough to know what to do and what not to do. He knows how to approach things that are unique to The Citadel, whether it be recruiting or corps squad/rest of corps relations (this tweet is evidence of the latter).

In other words, he’s made all the big mistakes he’s going to make. Now, though, I would like to see him win a few more games, which would go along nicely with his cutting-edge practice field attire.

I think it’s important to be realistic about a football program that has had just one winning season since 1997. The definition of a successful campaign this year, then, is to finish with more wins than losses. As Hartsell also said in the video preview, that’s what fans should be expecting (in terms of a breakthrough).

It won’t be easy. The schedule is not as conducive to a winning year as one would like. There are only five home games, and in addition to that the slate is front-loaded. It is not out of the question The Citadel could be 1-4 after its first five games. In fact, the football cognoscenti of the SoCon would predict exactly that. The Bulldogs were picked to finish next-to-last in the league by both the media writers and the coaches.

Therefore, a key to the season is improving upon that 1-4 expectation. That is quite possible, in my view. The Bulldogs more than held their own last season against the three league opponents they will play in that five-game stretch. The Citadel lost by seven points to Appalachian State at home, narrowly missed out on a road upset of Georgia Southern, and stunned Chattanooga (in Chattanooga!) after spotting the Mocs a 27-point lead.

The Citadel won’t be favored to be as competitive against North Carolina State, though nothing is impossible (and taking no chances, Tom O’Brien is already preparing his team for the triple option). The Bulldogs are a solid favorite against Charleston Southern. (I get a little nervous whenever I write that The Citadel is a “solid favorite” over any team.)

The Citadel total offense (in yards) vs. SoCon opponents, 2010: 359, 304, 263, 197, 160, 143, 300, 203

The Citadel total offense (in yards) vs. SoCon opponents, 2011: 301, 267, 268, 238, 361, 447, 264, 259

Triple O’Higgins was clearly better last season, yet there is plenty of room for improvement. The Citadel averaged 300.6 yards of total offense in eight league games. That number rises to 318.8 counting the non-conference contests, which was the worst total in the SoCon.

Of course, the numbers that matter are points, but total offense is generally a good indicator of points scored, and The Citadel’s 23.5 points per game finished next-to-last in the SoCon, ahead of only hapless Western Carolina.

Most of The Citadel’s total offense came in rushing, which will surprise nobody. The Bulldogs only averaged 32.2 yards passing per contest, which ranked last in the entire country. In a way, that makes The Citadel’s rushing totals all the more impressive, given every opponent could focus exclusively on the run — and I do mean exclusively.

I remember driving through a torrential thunderstorm on I-26 and listening to Danny Reed call the Bulldogs’ game against Elon. “10 men in the box for Elon,” he said about one early second-quarter play. Later on, he exclaimed, “Now the Phoenix have 11 men in the box!” As the game wound down to its conclusion, I was half-expecting him to say that Elon was putting 12 men in the box.

The lack of a passing threat was a key reason why the Bulldogs, despite finishing third in the SoCon (and the nation) in rushing, wound up finishing last in the league in total first downs.

For this season, The Citadel needs to at least make its opponents nervous about the possibility of a forward pass. To do so, a new formation has been added to the playbook:

A new feature of The Citadel offense this year will be a heavier reliance on the shotgun, a formation which will allow both returning quarterbacks to improve their accuracy and make the Bulldogs more of a productive passing team.

Kevin Higgins is not going to tell anybody what numbers he is looking for in the passing game, which is understandable, because he really isn’t looking for a specific amount of receiving yards. He just wants to make opponents honor the pass, which will in turn help the Bulldogs’ rushing attack.

While there may be no “magic number”, I believe some parameters for success can be estimated. 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 last season), 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). Last season, 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. Last season the Bulldogs threw seven interceptions in only 75 passing attempts, which is very poor. Interestingly, Wofford tossed seven picks in 108 attempts, which isn’t much better — but the Terriers also threw eight touchdown passes. The Citadel only had one TD pass, and that was a halfback option pass by Rickey Anderson.

While the Bulldogs need to improve in the passing game, the team needs to be careful not to lose its identity as a run-first, run-second, run-as-much-as-possible offense. The Citadel needs to stick to the basics. This isn’t about “balance”. Nothing is more overrated than balance in an offense. It’s not how you score points, it’s how many points you score. Case in point: since 1990, there have been ten games in which The Citadel has had seven or fewer passing yards. The record for the Bulldogs in those ten games? 6-4.

Regardless of formation variance, I think the offense will be better this season. The Citadel has a generally solid cast of returnees, including a plethora of slotbacks, two quality B-backs, and two quarterbacks. The largely experienced offensive line is led by the offense’s best player, center Mike Sellers.

There is some concern about the wide receiver position, but to me the biggest question marks are the two tackle positions and the rotating quarterbacks. The Citadel recently made a significant move at the tackle position, inserting Cullen Brown at starting right tackle. Alex Glover will now start at tight end.

Regarding the QBs, I am not a huge believer in the notion that you must have a #1 guy at the position, at least at the college level. However, I do wonder about the timing of the offense when you combine two quarterbacks with two different B-backs. Everyone remembers the problems the Bulldogs had two years ago with the center-QB exchange and the QB/back “mesh” operation. No one at The Citadel wants to see anything resembling a repeat of those days.

I am a little worried about the defense, particularly when it comes to that four-game stretch following the opener: Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, North Carolina State, and Chattanooga. The unit must be ready to compete at a high level for those games, but lacks starting experience in key areas. The front-loaded schedule could really hurt the Bulldogs.

Four of the five leading tacklers from last season are gone, although that in itself doesn’t bother me too much. It’s the amount of experience those four players had that is the real issue (last year’s three starting linebackers played in a combined 126 career games).

Then there is the loss of Derek Douglas for at least the first part of the season due to a knee injury. Many observers felt Douglas was the team’s best all-around player last season, a force on the d-line and an all-conference selection. He had 11 tackles for loss; only one other returning SoCon player had more (Wes Dothard of UTC). Douglas can’t return fast enough for the Bulldogs.

There is more talent coming back, however, including lineman Chris Billingslea, a true playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. Billingslea’s big-play capability (he always seems to be around the football) is something The Citadel needs from more of its defensive players; while solid, last season’s defense didn’t force quite enough negative plays, particularly turnovers (eighteen in eleven games).

There are a number of candidates to feature alongside Billingslea (and Douglas, when he returns) on the defensive line. I think the Bulldogs are in reasonably good shape with this group. The Citadel just needs two or three of them to assert themselves as major contributors, and quickly. It appears that at least two freshmen will get an opportunity to make an impact.

While the linebacking corps will feature three new starters, all three played last season and showed promise, including flashes of that big-play ability the Bulldogs need. However, there has been talk that they aren’t as athletic as the previous starters. Personally, I’m not overly concerned with their athleticism, as long as they can make game-changing plays that benefit The Citadel. Depth could be an issue, however, as there are fewer obvious options for this group than there are for the defensive line.

The secondary needs to improve on its interception totals (only six all last season). The lack of picks has been an ongoing problem. The Citadel was last in the league in passes intercepted in 2010 and next-to-last in 2011. Another issue that has occasionally bedeviled The Citadel is the “killer pass” from the opposition —  not just long TD throws, but third-down conversion pickups that have allowed drives to continue.

The Citadel allowed opponents to complete 65.3% of their passes last season, the highest percentage allowed in the Higgins era. Opponents have completed at least 60% of their passes against the Bulldogs in each of the last four years, a far cry from the 52.7% completion rate allowed in 2007, The Citadel’s last winning campaign.

The Bulldogs were next-to-last in the league in defensive pass efficiency last season. To win more games, The Citadel has to do better than that in 2012.

Phil Steele recently released his FCS Special Teams rankings for the 2011 season. The Citadel, primarily thanks to its success in punting and returning (or rather, blocking) punts, finished first in the nation in his ratings. Only one other Southern Conference team finished in the top 30 (Georgia Southern was thirteenth).

The star performer for The Citadel’s special teams last season was punter Cass Couey, who was superb, leading the SoCon in punting average (43.0 yds) and net punting (38.2 yds). He’s also capable of tucking the ball under his arm and running for a first down if the opposition isn’t paying attention.

The Citadel also had a big edge when the other team punted, thanks to nine blocked punts. However, one of the NCAA’s rules changes for 2012 will force the Bulldogs to adjust at least part of their kick-blocking strategy:

There will…be a new rule prohibiting players from leaping over blockers in an attempt to block a punt. Receiving-team players trying to jump over a shield-blocking scheme has become popular for teams in punt formation. Receiving-team players try to defeat this scheme by rushing into the backfield to block a punt. In some cases, these players are contacted and end up flipping in the air and landing on their head or shoulders.

This change could be called the Domonic Jones Rule, as the rangy 6’5″ wide receiver blocked or deflected five punts last season by doing exactly what is described above. While the new rule may not favor The Citadel, in all honesty I think it’s a good change. Too many times I have watched a player land on his head or neck after leaping into a pair of shield blockers.

Kevin Higgins was on the committee that recommended the new rules changes, and he and his fellow panelists were busy. The kicking game drew special attention, and the Jones Rule wasn’t the only thing to be enacted:

[T]eams will kick off at the 35-yard line instead of the 30. Also, players on the kicking team can’t line up for the play behind the 30-yard line, which is intended to limit the running start kicking teams used to have during the play.

Also, touchbacks on free kicks will be moved to the 25-yard line instead of the 20 to encourage more touchbacks. Touchbacks on other plays (for example, punts that go into the end zone, or fumbles that go out of the end zone) will remain at the 20-yard line.

Those rule changes will affect The Citadel on kickoffs, an aspect of special teams the Bulldogs could improve upon. While the kickoff return unit was fine, The Citadel was seventh in the league in net kickoff coverage. A freshman is expected to be the Bulldogs’ kickoff specialist this fall. So far, reviews are good.

Reviews are also good for senior Thomas Warren, who becomes the starting placekicker this season. By all accounts, Warren has had an excellent preseason camp. Missed opportunities in the kicking game cost The Citadel a chance at winning both the Elon and Georgia Southern games last season, and as a result there is a lot of interest (if not angst) among fans about the placekicking unit. It should be pointed out, however, that it’s not all about the kicker. The holder, snapper, and blockers must all do their jobs too.

One thing The Citadel did very well last year was not commit penalties. In fact, the Bulldogs were the least-penalized team in the nation last season, both in terms of number (3.09 per game) and yardage (22.45 yds), which is to the credit of the players and the coaches. I like rooting for a team that doesn’t commit a lot of penalties.

Incidentally, another rules change for this season will particularly impact teams running the triple option:

Offensive players in the tackle box at the snap who are not in motion are allowed to block below the waist legally without restriction. All other players are restricted from blocking below the waist with a few exceptions (for example, straight-ahead blocks).

The Citadel’s opponent on Saturday, Charleston Southern, had a rough season last year. Actually, “rough” may be a nice way to put it, as the Buccaneers were 0-11. Charleston Southern started the season getting blitzed by two FBS opponents (Central Florida and Florida State) by a combined score of 124-10, and never really recovered.

The lowlight of the Bucs’ season was probably the 32-20 loss to Division III Wesley College, which came at CSU’s Homecoming. Charleston Southern lost close games to Jacksonville, VMI, Coastal Carolina, and Gardner-Webb, but also got bashed a few times, including a 30-point loss to Norfolk State and a 31-point defeat to Presbyterian in the season finale.

Non-FBS opponents averaged 35 points per game against the Bucs, and had success on the ground and in the air. CSU allowed 225 rushing yards per game, and 217 passing yards per contest.

Charleston Southern ranked last in the Big South in the following defensive categories: defensive pass efficiency, fumbles recovered, rushing defense, total defense, scoring defense, tackles for loss, sacks, and turnovers gained.

Offensively, CSU ranked last in the Big South in rushing offense and scoring offense. The Bucs were also the worst team in the league at returning kickoffs. On the bright side, Charleston Southern led the Big South in net punting and only lost seven fumbles.

It all added up to a winless season. CSU has now lost twelve straight and eighteen of its last nineteen games.

Charleston Southern has two quarterbacks battling for the starting spot; regardless of which player wins the job, he must improve upon last year’s pass completion percentage (45.7%). I mentioned earlier that CSU finished last in the Big South in rushing offense. In fact, the Bucs only averaged 2.6 yards per carry, and only two starters return on CSU’s offensive line. Charleston Southern quarterbacks were sacked 32 times last year.

The defense has a new coordinator, Shawn Quinn, who was Georgia Southern’s linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator last season. He has work to do. However, given his experience at GSU, he should have a very good idea of how to defend The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Charleston Southern is not completely bereft of experienced talent. Senior cornerback Charles James was selected as the preseason Big South Defensive Player of the Year. He must be an excellent player to receive that kind of accolade while playing for a team coming off an 0-11 campaign. James is a former walk-on who has ten career interceptions; he also made 66 tackles last season for the Bucs and is a fine punt returner as well, averaging just under ten yards per return last season (with one touchdown).

Junior wideout Nathan Perera caught 43 passes (four touchdowns) last season and joined James on the preseason All-Big South squad. Perera averaged over 16 yards per reception. However, he is questionable for the game against The Citadel due to injury.

The Buccaneers’ special teams were respectable in 2011, with the punting units in particular being very solid. However, CSU must replace its punter/placekicker this season.

Charleston Southern was picked to finish last in the Big South’s preseason poll. One of the eighteen voters did tip CSU to finish second, for reasons not immediately apparent.

This year’s Charleston Southern team is probably not as good as the Jacksonville squad that The Citadel faced in last year’s opener. However, the Bucs are likely better than 2010 opening-game opponent Chowan or the Presbyterian outfit the Bulldogs played in the 2009 home opener.

While CSU’s defense last year was porous, it will return seven starters, and that group doesn’t include UGA transfer Damian Dixon, who will likely start in the defensive backfield with Charles James. Add in to the mix a new defensive coordinator who is familiar with The Citadel’s offense, and the result is a unit that should be ready to compete against the Bulldogs.

On the other side of the ball, The Citadel has several players who will be starting for the first time, but the same is going to be true for CSU’s offense. It may be a good situation for the Bulldogs in that respect.

The Citadel should win this game. It probably won’t be a rout, but it ought to be decisive. Losing to the Buccaneers would be disastrous. The Bulldogs will struggle to salvage the rest of the 2012 campaign if they do not prevail on Saturday.

That is pressure. Then again, nobody goes to The Citadel to avoid pressure.

I can’t wait until Saturday.

2011 Football Game 6: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

The Citadel vs. Appalachian State, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 15.  The game will not be televised. There will be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.

This post will serve as a combo review of Wofford/preview of Appy.  I’m going to be having “combo posts” for at least two more weeks, if not longer.

Wofford 43, The Citadel 14.

I’m not sure there is a lot to say about this game that isn’t blindingly obvious, but I’ll try my best anyway.

– In his weekly press conference, Kevin Higgins noted that Wofford’s punt return TD “took the wind out of [the team's] sails”.  I would say it probably just solidified things in that department; the die was cast when the Terriers moved down the field with ease on the opening possession of the game and scored their first touchdown.

– The horrendous start probably put the kibosh on any cadet corps frivolity, as it’s hard to get wound up for a game when it takes on “no hoper” status that quickly.  I’ve seen some criticism of the corps for its lack of enthusiasm on Saturday, but to be honest I’m inclined to give the cadets a mulligan.

Plus, the issues with the atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium go a lot further than the corps.  The scene on Saturday was particularly jarring, as the tailgating crowd was huge, but when I turned around to survey things shortly before the game started, there just weren’t many people in the stands.  It did fill in a bit a few minutes later; I guess folks knew there was no reason to show up on time, since the Bulldogs don’t score in the first quarter anyway.

I guess a lot of people just wanted to stay in the parking lots and listen to the game on the radio, or perhaps watch/listen to the South Carolina game instead.

It’s a problem.  I’ve typed that before, and I suspect I’ll be typing it again.  Getting those people into the stands is going to be a tall order, at least until The Citadel starts winning on a consistent basis.

The game against Appalachian State will likely be a bit different, as it will be Parents’ Weekend.

– Wofford did not commit a turnover on Saturday and also did not commit a penalty, which was a story in itself, as the Terriers entered the game as the most-penalized team in the Southern Conference.  That was something of an anomaly, as Wofford is usually not a heavily-penalized outfit (much like The Citadel).

In the last four games against The Citadel, Wofford has committed a total of five penalties (for a combined 30 yards).  That includes a delay-of-game penalty the Terriers took on purpose in order to set up a short punt in the 2008 contest.  Only one of the penalties was for more than five yards (a holding penalty in that same 2008 game).

I am not a defensive coordinator, and never will be, and I’m not going to pretend to understand the intricacies involved in running a defense.  When I see a box score in which the opponent did not commit a turnover or a penalty, though, I wonder if the problem is at least partly a lack of aggression.

Wofford aggressively defended The Citadel’s option by having a man go “down hard to attack the fullback“.  The tactic led to bad reads and mistakes by the Bulldogs.  In other words, the Terriers forced the issue.

Mike Ayers was quoted after the game as saying that to “stop the triple option, [you] have to put teams in negative plays.”  Wofford did that.  The Citadel’s defense did not. That has been a theme for the Bulldogs D against Wofford for a number of years now, as the Terriers have scored at least 28 points against The Citadel in every game of the Kevin Higgins era.

– This is possibly the best team Wofford has ever had, which is one reason I wasn’t expecting The Citadel to win on Saturday.  However, I wasn’t expecting a walkover, either, and I was really disappointed by the outcome.  A lot of other alums/fans are just plain angry about the way the series with Wofford has gone in recent years, and you know what?   They have every right to be upset.  There is no excuse.

Something to think about:  there are only 11 seniors listed on Wofford’s entire roster. Eight of them are on the two-deep (The Citadel had nine seniors on the two-deep released for the game against Wofford).  Now, Wofford does not list redshirt juniors as seniors, but as juniors (including Eric Breitenstein), but the fact is that a lot of the Terriers will be back next season.

They probably won’t be as good in 2012.  The eight seniors on the two-deep include starting quarterback Mitch Allen and all three starting defensive linemen (one of whom, Ameet Pall, is Wofford’s best player).  The Terriers will continue to run their stuff on offense and defense, however, and will probably run it well.

– I felt badly for Cass Couey, who had an excellent game punting the ball, but whose efforts were almost completely wasted.  The punt that was returned for a TD was outstanding, with his coverage unit having plenty of time to get to the returner; they just didn’t get the job done.  Then he boomed a magnificent 66-yarder to the Wofford one-yard line — but the Terriers promptly went right down the field and scored.

– For Military Appreciation Day, the Bulldogs made yet another helmet change, although this one was more subtle and did not involve the logo, but rather the stripe. You can see the change in this photo of Ben Dupree:  Link

It’s a “digital camo” stripe, to match the “C” logo on the helmet.  My verdict:  an interesting idea that did not work.  It looked from some vantage points like a regular stripe decal that had been partially scraped off.

Before I get to Appalachian State, some SoCon stats…

– The Bulldogs are in last place in the league in a number of different offensive categories, including third-down conversion rate, fourth-down conversion rate, scoring, total offense, first downs, pass efficiency offense, and red zone offense (although the last one is a touch misleading; I would rate The Citadel’s red zone O ahead of Samford’s, based on TD/FG ratio).

I included pass efficiency and not passing offense in that list, because it’s not surprising The Citadel would be last in total passing, given the triple option.  Wofford is next-to-last in that category — but the Terriers are third in the league in pass efficiency.  When it does pass the ball, Wofford tends to make it count.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are solid statistically across the board, with the exception of defensive pass efficiency, which is a little puzzling.

The Citadel is also last in the league in both kickoff coverage and kickoff returns.  The Bulldogs really need to pick it up in those areas.  To me, the returners have seemed a little too tentative when moving upfield after receiving kicks.

In the SoCon media teleconference, Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore described his quarterback, DeAndre Presley, as “very questionable” for the game this Saturday after suffering an injury to his throwing shoulder against Wofford two weekends ago (Appy had a bye last week).  However, there is a chance he could play.

Not everyone remembers this, but Presley was questionable for the game against The Citadel last year, too.  He started and threw five touchdown passes in three quarters of action.

I’m guessing Presley plays this Saturday, too.

– In that teleconference, Moore was clearly annoyed by his team’s play this season, and seemed (at least to me) overly upset about the Mountaineers’ big loss to Virginia Tech in the season opener.  I realize that Appy as a program thinks it can be competitive against any team, even a traditional FBS power (and of course, the Hokies had lost the year before to James Madison, so it wasn’t exactly the impossible dream).  I was struck by how much the loss seemed to bother the veteran coach, though.

– Appalachian State starts two  freshmen on the offensive line (the center and left tackle), which may explain in part its sluggish offensive numbers (just two offensive touchdowns in its last two games).  On the other hand, there is still plenty of experienced talent on the offense, including Presley, the dangerous running back/returner Travaris Cadet, and the aptly named Brian Quick.

Fans of The Citadel may remember Quick catching a 74-yard TD pass late in the contest at Johnson Hagood two years ago, which tied a game the Mountaineers would eventually win in overtime.  That wasn’t unusual for Quick, who is the FCS active leader in reception yardage and yards per reception.

On defense, the Mountaineers are led by nosetackle Dan Wylie.  The regular starting defensive ends for Appy are “true” freshmen.  Appalachian State has a bevy of experienced linebackers and defensive backs, including Jeremy Kimbrough, who was suspended for the Wofford game after some hijinks in the Mountaineers’ win over Chattanooga.

Appalachian State’s front seven is big; the three starters on the d-line average 287 lbs. per man, and the linebackers are a solid 224 lbs. on average.

Last year, of course, the Bulldogs did not complete a pass against the Appy defense (0-6).

Placekicker/punter Sam Martin is usually reliable, although he had a tough afternoon against Wofford, missing all three of his field goal attempts (two of which were 33-yarders).

I don’t know what’s going to happen on Saturday.  I am expecting, however, a better performance from the Bulldogs than I saw against Wofford.  Not a better effort, as I don’t question last week’s effort.  I would also like to see The Citadel break its first-quarter offensive duck.  It’s time for Triple O’Higgins to get off to a quick start.

I’ll be in attendance on Saturday, along with a lot of proud parents, and a bunch of seniors with shiny new rings.  Good for them.  I must admit I treasure my diploma a bit more than my ring, but I understand the importance of that band of gold.

Speaking of diplomas…is The Citadel going to continue handing out sheepskin?  I certainly hope so.

Go Dogs!

2011 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 8.  The game will not be televised.  There will be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.

This is a combination review of the Chattanooga game and preview of the Wofford contest.  I hope to get back to separate review/preview posts following this week; we’ll see.  I’m still recovering from recent travels and a few other things, and I’m not sure I’m still up to speed after being out of the college football loop for the better part of a week (which is a scary thing, believe me).

That’s a long-winded way of saying this particular post may be all over the place. Apologies in advance.  Now, where to begin?

The Citadel 28, Chattanooga 27.

I didn’t expect to find out the final score of the game until Sunday, but I had a chance early Saturday evening to go online.  I checked the score.  It was halftime, and the Mocs were up 24-0.  Ugh.

After that, I was thinking that I could wait to find out the final score for another few hours, or a few days for that matter.  When I got another opportunity about an hour later to go online again, though, I checked the score out anyway.  Hey, I’m a glutton for punishment.  However, it was now 27-14.  Better.  Then the screen automatically refreshed.  27-21.

Chad Billingslea, reportedly a nice guy, had just very nicely blocked a punt, and Rod Harland had run it in for a touchdown (or as French-Canadian announcers would have called it, a touché; Danny Reed should try to make that part of his repertoire).  At this point all of Canada became transfixed by the dramatic events taking place in Chattanooga, as The Citadel completed the comeback via its Triple O’Higgins attack.

Well, really, it was just me who was transfixed, and I had to follow the last few minutes of the game on twitter, which wasn’t exactly optimal, but I’ll take the result.

It is still hard to believe The Citadel rallied from a 27-point deficit on the road and beat a ranked team.  It is, to be sure, one for the record books.  There seemed to be some uncertainty about whether it was the largest comeback ever, as most reports listed the game as the biggest comeback victory for the Bulldogs since a 1973 game against (naturally) Chattanooga.  However, I did a little research, and I’m fairly confident it is the new standard-bearer in the category of “biggest comebacks” for The Citadel.

Prior to Saturday, The Citadel had rallied twice from 20-point deficits to win games in its history.  One of those games was the aforementioned 1973 contest against Chattanooga; the Bulldogs were trailing 20-0 before scoring just before the end of the first half.  Led by Gene Dotson (making his first career start) and Andrew Johnson, however, The Citadel scored 28 unanswered points and beat UTC 28-20.

That game was played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, as was another 20-point comeback victory that took place 33 years later, in 2007.  The Citadel trailed Furman 27-7 midway through the second quarter before rallying to win in overtime, 54-51. Duran Lawson and Tory Cooper carried the day for the Bulldogs.

Overtime wasn’t yet a part of college football in 1989.  That year, The Citadel trailed Western Carolina 22-0 before rallying to tie the game, 22-22 (which would be the final score).  Incidentally, that game was played in Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, thanks to Hurricane Hugo.  The 22-point comeback was the largest deficit overcome to avoid a loss before Saturday.

I decided to check scores prior to 1973 and see if there were any possibilities for previous comebacks of an equal or greater magnitude.  This wasn’t as hard as it sounds, because there really weren’t many games in which both teams scored a lot of points.  Usually, when one team scored a lot of points, it was a blowout.  The Citadel did not play in a game in which both teams scored at least 20 points until 1951, a 27-21 loss to VMI at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

The Bulldogs’ first win in a “20-20″ game came in 1958, when The Citadel upset Memphis State, 28-26.  There was no big comeback in that one, though the Bulldogs did score late to pull out the victory.  Jerry Nettles and Paul Maguire (he of the “fancy broken field running”) were key players in the win.  I don’t know if any of the current Bulldogs were as emotional on Saturday as was one of the 1958 players after the Memphis victory:

One Bulldog was so taken up with drama of the moment that he just collapsed at midfield and cried as teammates stumbled over his prostrate form.

There was also a 22-21 victory over Arkansas State in 1960 (Eddie Teague went for two and the win at the end of the game, and got it), a 27-22 win over George Washington in 1963, and a series of high-scoring affairs during the Red Parker era, but none of them involved large comeback wins for The Citadel.  The Citadel, featuring Tony Passander at quarterback, never trailed in a 40-28 win over Maine in 1969, although an account of the game states the Bulldogs lost seven fumbles.

In 1971 the Bulldogs “bombed” Bucknell 42-28, but The Citadel didn’t need any late-game heroics, thanks to three first-half TD passes by John Rosa.  I wonder whatever happened to him.  In 1972, though, The Citadel rallied from 11 points down to beat the Bison 38-35 (after blowing a 17-point lead of its own).

I checked out the other Red Parker high-scoring specials (1968: 28-21 over Davidson and 24-21 over William&Mary; 1969:  34-28 over Davidson; 1971:  44-37 over Boston University, 25-24 over VMI, 52-35 over UTC, 35-33 over Furman; 1972:  28-21 over Appalachian State), and none of them featured a big comeback for The Citadel.

I could have missed something, but I think that I looked at every possible game. Saturday’s game against Chattanooga stands alone at the top for comebacks.

Okay, that’s the historical perspective.  History, though, will mean little to nothing when Eric Breitenstein and the Wofford Terriers come to town this weekend.  What does the victory over Chattanooga mean for the team going forward?

I didn’t see the game, obviously, or even get to listen to the live radio broadcast, so I’m somewhat limited in making observations.  I did watch the highlights from The Kevin Higgins Show on Bulldog Insider, which helped a little.  That, reading the various game recaps, and a check of the statistics all lead to the following comments:

– I really appreciated Higgins stating during his show that (I’m paraphrasing) there are only eleven games, and you have to be ready to play in each and every one of them.  Coming out flat is just not acceptable.

– The Citadel still has not scored in the first quarter this season, which is obviously a problem.  The Bulldogs have found themselves in an uphill battle in all four games as a result.

– Kevin Higgins is trying to reverse a couple of trends.  Before Saturday, under Higgins The Citadel was 2-21 versus ranked opponents and 7-20 in the month of October.  He killed two birds with one stone on Saturday.  He’s going to get a chance to do the same thing against Wofford and Appalachian State.

– The Bulldogs lead all of FCS in fewest penalties per game, and least penalty yardage per game.  However, The Citadel’s opponents aren’t committing many penalties either.  While the Bulldogs commit on average only three penalties per game, their opponents are only averaging four per contest.  The penalty yardage difference is similar (24.5 ypg for The Citadel, 37.2 for its opponents).

– The Citadel is only 1 for 7 on 4th-down conversions this season, including a failed fourth down try on Saturday (that ended up being a lost fumble).  Converting on fourth downs is an occasional necessity for a triple option offense.

Wofford is 9 for 11 on 4th-down conversions this season.

– Opponents have been in the “red zone” fourteen times this season against the Bulldogs D.  Those fourteen trips have resulted in three touchdowns, two PATs, and eight field goals.  Three times opponents failed to score.

The Citadel offensively has been in the red zone eleven times, three fewer than its opponents, and like its opponents has failed to score on three occasions.  However, five of its eight scores have been touchdowns.  As a result, The Citadel has scored 44 “red zone” points.  Opponents have scored…44 red zone points.

– In the second half (and OT), the Bulldogs’ defense has allowed a total of 18 points in four games (with only one touchdown).

– The defense has forced seven turnovers in four games, three interceptions and four fumbles.  Davis Boyle has collected four of them (two INTs and two fumble recoveries).

– The Citadel has to stop fumbling.  Six more mishandles occurred on Saturday, with three resulting in turnovers.  The Bulldogs are now on pace to fumble 39 times this season, which would more than likely give The Citadel the unwanted distinction of leading FCS in that category two seasons in a row.

It is easy to see how the fumbles affected field position by just looking at the drive charts.  UTC had five scoring drives, with three of them (including two of its three TDs) coming after lost Bulldog fumbles.  The two touchdown drives started on the UTC 42-yard line and The Citadel 7-yard line.

One of the two field goals came early in the third quarter, with Chattanooga starting out with a first-and-goal on the Bulldogs’ nine-yard line.  The defense being able to hold the Mocs to a FG was critical.

– The only real negative for the defense on Saturday were two long pass plays, one for a 60-yard TD and another that set up a field goal.  That’s two long pass plays for TDs in two weeks, after Elon scored on a 41-yarder the week before.

The Citadel can’t afford to have Wofford hit one or two deep passes, which is a Terrier trademark.  Wofford only has 17 pass completions this season, but four have been for touchdowns, including a 66-yarder against Clemson (the average WC completion has gone for 23.4 yards).

– Cass Couey had a very good day punting, allowing no return yardage and downing two punts inside the 20, including one downed at the three-yard line.

– B.J. Coleman had thrown 88 passes against The Citadel at Finley Stadium over two games without being sacked before he was finally brought down by Rod Harland. Coleman threw two more passes and was then sacked again.

– White jerseys, white pants.  Appropriate.

– This game will feature two outstanding defensive lines.  Wofford’s DL includes Ameet Pall, the preseason SoCon defensive player of the year.  He is a native of Montreal who really should have gone to McGill, but perhaps he prefers South Carolina winters.  Hard to blame him.

His friends on the d-line aren’t too bad themselves.  Ask Appalachian State quarterback DeAndre Presley, who injured his shoulder against Wofford.  It could be that having what now amounts to a two-quarterback system may not be such a bad thing for The Citadel.

Pall is going to be a key figure in this game.  Will the Bulldogs option off him?  Will they be able to do so?

– Wofford is 0-1 when it wins the coin toss, 3-0 when it doesn’t.  Obviously that is an important statistic.

– This game, as stated at the top of the post, is not televised.  It’s the first time in six years the game between Wofford and The Citadel has not been on TV.

– Last year Wofford beat The Citadel 35-0.  Not only did the Bulldogs fail to score, they didn’t have a snap inside the Terriers’ 20-yard line.  The defense played well for the most part, but Wofford took advantage of great field position for the entire game (the average drive for the Terriers started at its own 44-yard line).

I am hopeful that the game against Chattanooga will propel the Bulldogs to a successful season.  That doesn’t necessarily mean there is going to be a victory for The Citadel this Saturday, however.  In looking over Wofford’s season statistics, game recaps, and other various accounts, it’s clear that this is a particularly strong Terriers squad.

Wofford has a system, and traditionally runs it well, and this year’s edition seems even more adept at running it than the norm.  The worst thing that happened to Wofford against Appalachian State was probably a ten-minute drive that resulted in no points.  If that’s the biggest negative, then there were a lot of positives.

The Citadel can’t even count on complacency, but that’s the Bulldogs’ own fault (in a good way).  Bottom line:  it will take more than great halftime speeches to win this game.

Having said that, I’m looking forward to Saturday’s game and the rest of the season. Maybe, though, it would be better not to spot the rest of our opponents a four-touchdown lead…

Game Review, 2011: Jacksonville

The Citadel 31, Jacksonville 9.

I would have gladly taken a one-point victory (admittedly, that is almost always the case for me), so Saturday’s result was altogether a pleasant one, particularly if you don’t think about the first quarter too much (a stanza that Walt Nadzak referred to in the radio postgame show as “horrendous by any standard”.

First, some recaps from the press:

Jeff Hartsell’s article in The Post and Courier

Hartsell’s notes from the game

Florida Times-Union article (looks to just be the AP story)

The Citadel’s release

The Post and Courier‘s “photo gallery” of the game

That last link is worthwhile if only to check out The Citadel’s new football uniforms, which in my opinion are a vast improvement over those of recent years.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team break out another set of unis for the game next week against Furman, so we’ll just see how things develop on the uniform front as the season progresses.

Last night’s football uniforms were more along the lines of a “back to basics” look, with no school name on the front (thus avoiding the whole “Citadel” vs. “The Citadel” issue) and no player names on the back of the jerseys (which was a mild surprise). Also absent: ‘TV numbers’ on the shoulder pads.

The infamous ‘side panels’ championed by Nike have been ditched, thankfully.  The weird striping on the pants remains, but it isn’t nearly as hideous without the aforementioned side panels on the jerseys.  The front of the jersey includes small logos for the SoCon and Nike, as well as a “C” on a navy-bordered neckline, which looks respectable.

The most noticeable uniform change was the new helmet logo.  Having a new helmet logo almost every year is one of The Citadel’s oldest traditions, dating back to 1861, when cadets firing on the Star of the West had to stop their assault midway through the action in order to change to a new cap badge.

The 2011 logo is a block “C”, with “navy digital camo” styling.  This picture of Brandon McCladdie in the above-linked photo gallery is a good look at it.  I’m on record as liking the block C as a helmet logo, although I prefer it to be white, but I can get used to the camo.  The only problem is that the chinstraps tend to make it harder to see at times, but I’m not sure there is much that can be done about that.

All in all, I was pleased with the uniforms, and I’m a tough grader.  Good job.

Before I get to the game itself, I want to note that the corps of cadets seemed to be mostly, if not completely, present and accounted for on Saturday night.  I have been concerned at times over the last couple of years that a significant percentage of cadets were not in the stands.  I realize that there are a lot of “duty” cadets, but still. However, on Saturday the cadet section seemed to be appropriately filled.  The corps did make its presence felt at times, and in general the noise level was good. Improvement is possible and necessary, though it was only the first game, so I’ll give the corps a solid “B”.

First, a negative. From Jeff Hartsell’s “notes” column:

[Terrell] Dallas, a senior who led the Bulldogs with 665 rushing yards last year, injured a knee on The Citadel’s first play from scrimmage. Coach Kevin Higgins said it appeared that Dallas injured his medial collateral ligament, but that more tests will be conducted [Sunday].

Losing Dallas for an extended period of time would be a tough break for the Bulldogs (and for Dallas, obviously).  We’ll have to wait and see.

I’ll examine some of the statistical information from the JU contest and try to determine what it means going forward in my preview of the Furman game later in the week.  Just some quick observations:

– Cass Couey had a solid game punting.  His first punt, in particular, was outstanding.  In general, the special teams were very hit or miss.  The Bulldogs had one missed field goal and one very poor coverage job on a kickoff (where Ryan Sellers made up for his missed FG with a touchdown-saving tackle).  Then there was the fumbled punt inside the 5 (that JU converted into a TD) and a near-disaster on another muffed punt (and what a game-changer that could have been; on the next play, Ben Dupree scored on a 58-yard TD run).

The Citadel appeared to tip two of Jacksonville’s punts and was credited with a block on a third, although from my vantage point I wasn’t sure that Domonic Jones really blocked the punt as much as it was simply lined right at him (with a “wormburner” trajectory).

– This was arguably the first game since the debut of Triple O’Higgins in which the offensive execution was good enough that all the options were readily available, so to speak.  Of the five Bulldog fumbles (two lost), only one was on an exchange.  There weren’t so many negative plays this time around, so The Citadel wasn’t constantly in third-and-forever mode and could keep things “on schedule”.

As the game progressed, the Bulldogs were able to key off JU’s defenders, eventually adjusting to what the Dolphins were doing, so after Dupree had burned JU on two long scoring plays, he was then able to pitch out when Jacksonville moved to stop him.  The relative effectiveness of the offense also allowed for things like the end-around play to Kevin Hardy.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on offensive line play, but even from the stands some things are easy to figure out, like the fact that Mike Sellers has tremendous potential.  How often is a team’s center considered an offensive weapon?

– I won’t go into great length about the defense, but it was very good for the entire game, as the numbers indicate.  The defensive line as a group was excellent, with Derek Douglas the standout, but the ‘backers and backs were on their game as well. Jacksonville had no big pass plays, and its running game was completely shut down. The only real negative was the lack of forced turnovers (just one).

– The Bulldogs only committed two penalties, continuing a trend from last season.  At The Citadel, the law is respected.

Part of the lack of forced turnovers for the Bulldog D can be credited to JU quarterback Josh McGregor (21-33, 208 passing yards, no interceptions), who I thought was impressive in defeat.  His team suffered from a lack of size and (to a lesser extent) speed, and also from an absence of depth.  Scanning the sidelines, I noticed that Jacksonville had dressed no more than 55 players (and that may be a generous estimate).  If you want to know the difference between scholarship and non-scholarship football, that is it in a nutshell right there.

It’s not going to be easy for Kerwin Bell to get his team to rebound from its loss on Saturday night.  JU had put a lot of eggs into a “playoffs-or-bust” basket, and if those eggs aren’t already broken, most of them are cracked.  To even draw playoff consideration, the Dolphins will have to win their remaining ten games, including Sunday’s game at Western Illinois, a 2010 playoff participant.  9-2 with a Pioneer League title (which would also include an OOC victory over Charleston Southern) would not be good enough.  10-1, quite honestly, probably wouldn’t be good enough unless A) Western Illinois has a good season, and/or B)  The Citadel has a good season.

I certainly hope option B comes to pass.  Will The Citadel have a good season? We’re about to find out.  Over the next seven weeks, the Bulldogs will play six games, all against Southern Conference competition, three at home (including next Saturday) and three on the road.

I’ll conclude this post with some pictures I took at the game.  Traditional reminder:  I’m a bad photographer with a below-average camera.  If you want to see good pictures, be sure to check out that Post and Courier gallery.  I do try to take pictures of offensive and defensive formations, because some people are interested in that (especially the triple option stuff).  I also threw in a couple of special teams photos and a shot of something called “Cosmic Dogs”, which is a new vendor under the stands.  It is, naturally, out of focus.

On to Furman…

2011 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Jacksonville

The Citadel vs. Jacksonville, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 3.  The game will not be televised, although it will be webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

It’s that time of year! College football has arrived and not a moment too soon.  I’m tired of reading about the Summer of Ponzi and all the other scandals that have beset the sport in the off-season, and while I enjoy discussing realignment as much as anybody, the Texas A&M two-step with the SEC is starting to get old.  I’m ready to see some activity on the playing field.

This is an important season for The Citadel’s football program.  I wrote about the program’s status last November; nothing has happened since then to make me think that the 2011 campaign will be anything other than a defining one for Kevin Higgins and his coaching staff.  I’m far from the only person who thinks that success of some sort this season is paramount.   The intensity in the crowd at the recent open scrimmage was palpable.

One thing is certain:  if there ever were a year for the football team to “sneak up” on people, this is the one.  Southern Conference media members picked The Citadel to finish last.  Only one player (Tolu Akindele) made either the preseason all-conference first or second teams.  The SoCon coaches’ vote had The Citadel in next-to-last place, ahead of only Western Carolina; that’s the same verdict rendered by The Sports Network.

Last season, the Bulldogs played three non-conference games before beginning league play.  This year, though, The Citadel will play six of its first seven games against SoCon opposition.  The Bulldogs will have a good idea of where they stand before the fall harvest.

The only non-league game in that group of seven contests is the first one, and it is far from the “gimme game” that the home opener has been in recent years.  Instead of scheduling a glorified scrimmage against the likes of Webber International or Chowan, The Citadel is playing Jacksonville, which went 10-1 last season and shared the Pioneer League title (with Dayton).  The Dolphins, favored to win the PL again, will be a formidable challenge.

Jacksonville University is not to be confused with Jacksonville State University, which is located in Alabama and has a football team coached by Jack Crowe, the man who was on the wrong side of one of The Citadel’s more notable gridiron triumphs. Jacksonville University is located in Jacksonville, Florida, and its football team is coached by Kerwin Bell.  (More on him later.)

Jacksonville began in 1934 as a junior college named “William J. Porter University” after its founder; in 1958 it became a four-year school after merging with the Jacksonville School of Music.  As of today it’s a private, liberal-arts university with roughly 3,500 undergraduate students (60% of whom are women).

JU’s “Timeline” feature on its website includes a lot of concerts in the 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps an indication of the importance of the music school in relation to the rest of the university at that time.  Performers who made their way to Swisher Gym included Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Duke Ellington, John Denver, and Billy Joel; K.C. and the Sunshine Band recorded a live album there.

Jacksonville awarded honorary doctorates to Bob Hope and Jack Benny on the same day in 1972.  Another same-day honorary doctorate duo for JU:  Charlton Heston and Ann Landers (who received hers less than a year after writing that Jacksonville U. was one of “the four top colleges in the nation”).

It’s also worth noting that Jacksonville University has the second-largest NROTC program in the country.

Jacksonville has twenty-one varsity sports.  Its nickname, the Dolphins, came to be in 1947 following a student contest (the original contest winner was “Green Dolphins”; another possibility had been the “Juggernauts”).  The official school mascot is an actual dolphin — 58-year-old Nellie, a Marineland mainstay.

The most famous of all JU athletes is, without a doubt, basketball Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.  Second place on the school’s famous athlete list is probably occupied by Donnie Hammond.  (Like I said, there is no doubt about #1.)

Gilmore played two seasons at Jacksonville (he started his career at Gardner-Webb, then a junior college) and averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game, which I think can be best described as “awesome”.  In his junior season, he led the Dolphins to the NCAA title game.

Yes, you read that right.  Jacksonville played in the Final Four in 1970, just twelve years after becoming a four-year school.  We’re not talking Division II, either.  The high-scoring Dolphins beat Western Kentucky, Iowa, and No. 1 Kentucky to win the Mideast Regional.  Jacksonville averaged over 106 points per game in those three contests.

- Tangent #1:  What a weird Final Four that was.  There was nothing strange about UCLA being there (and the Bruins would beat Jacksonville in the final, 80-69), but the other three teams were Jacksonville, St. Bonaventure, and New Mexico State.  The Dolphins and the Bonnies were at the time the two smallest schools to ever make it that far, and they played each other in the semifinals.  Alas, it was a mismatch, as St. Bonaventure star Bob Lanier had injured his knee in the regional final and could not play in the Final Four.  Thus, the spectators at Cole Field House were denied the opportunity to watch two future Hall of Fame centers face each other.

After that season, Dolphins coach Joe Williams left JU and took the job at Furman.

- Tangent #2:  Artis Gilmore and his wife have been married for 39 years.  Her name is Enola Gay.  I thought that was worth mentioning.

Okay, it’s time to talk about JU football…

Jacksonville started its football program in 1998, winning its first-ever game 19-14 over Davidson.  The school’s media guide also lists Davidson as being the first ranked team (at No. 3!) the Dolphins ever played, in a 2001 contest won 45-3 by JU, but I have to seriously question that.  What poll would this have been?  Maybe it was a poll only including Southern Conference schools that don’t play scholarship football.

JU plays its home games at Milne Field, a 5,000-seat facility built specifically for the football program, which averaged 3,761 fans per game last season.  The Dolphins have won nine straight home games, but the real eye-popping numbers are from their road games — not necessarily the results on the field, but the travel involved. Jacksonville has six road games this year.  JU will bus to The Citadel for Saturday’s game.  Later in the year the Dolphins will also take the bus to Campbell, assuming the bus driver can find his way to Buies Creek.

However, the Dolphins will make four road trips by air, flying to the University of San Diego, Drake (which is in Iowa), Marist (New York), and Western Illinois (travelling to WIU on the day of the game).  That is a total of 5,575 miles in the air.

Having multiple long airplane flights is a consequence of playing in the Pioneer League, a non-scholarship FCS conference with ten members.  Jacksonville is the southernmost school in the league, which has three members in the southeast (JU, Davidson, Campbell), five in or around the midwest (Drake, Valparaiso, Dayton, Butler, Morehead State), one west coast entry (USD) and one northeastern school (Marist).

One reason for having such a far-flung league is that all of those schools choose to play football at the non-scholarship level while maintaining a NCAA Division I athletics program.  Since 1993, institutions have had to play football at the same level as their other sports, which affected schools like Dayton (a D-3 power in football during the 1980s) in particular.  There aren’t a lot of D-1 schools that offer non-scholarship football but provide schollies in other sports (which distinguishes these institutions from those in the Ivy League, for example).

Jacksonville is not likely to become a scholarship football program in the near future. That possibility was suggested to the president of the university, who responded:

[It] costs too much for us to do it right now. For us to move into scholarship football because of the rules for gender equity, we would not only have to be able to fund the scholarship program year in and year out, we would also have to fund a similar amount for women’s athletics.

And we simply can’t afford it right now. If we had some major donors that came forward and helped us, then something like that could be possible. It’s simply economics. We need a stadium, our stadium is quaint. We would need a stadium where the fan base would generate revenue.

The revenue we get right now is diminutive. With a stadium, you could start getting money back into the program. There are some positives to it, but it’s simply too expensive right now.

In 2013, two new football programs will join the Pioneer League — Stetson and Mercer.  That should help alleviate Jacksonville’s travel burden to a certain extent.

Kerwin Bell played his high school ball in the small town of Mayo, Florida, where he was known as “The Throwin’ Mayoan”.  Arriving at the University of Florida as a walk-on, in one year he managed to climb the ladder from eighth-string to starter.  In 1984, Bell and the Gators would win the SEC title, winning eight straight games to close out the season.  The SEC title was short-lived, however, as the conference rescinded it the following year due to UF being on probation.  In 1985 Florida would go 9-1-1 for a second straight season, and again was not awarded the league crown (and again could not go to a bowl game) because of NCAA violations.

Two years later Bell began his pro career, which featured multiple stops in the CFL (including a stint in the Canadian outpost of Sacramento), a tour of duty with the Orlando Thunder of the Arena Football League, and a two-year stay with the Indianapolis Colts.  Bell got into one game with the Colts, mopping up in a 1996 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.  In that game, he threw five passes, completing all five for 75 yards and a touchdown (to Marvin Harrison).  Bell finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.  Contained within his Wikipedia entry is this astute observation:

[Kerwin Bell] has the highest career passer rating of any quarterback in NFL history, higher than current and future Hall of Fame members Joe Namath, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

Bell’s coaching career actually started in 1990.  While recovering from an ACL injury he worked for one year as a graduate assistant coach for Steve Spurrier, who had taken over the Florida program.  His next coaching job came with the Toronto Argonauts in 2000, where he served as offensive coordinator (while still playing quarterback).

He then spent six years as head coach of a new football program at Trinity High School in Ocala, Florida.   He has been the head coach at JU for the last four seasons (with the upcoming campaign being his fifth).  Bell is 29-17 overall at Jacksonville, with records of 3-8, 9-4, 7-4, and 10-1. In two of the last three campaigns JU has won outright or shared the Pioneer League title, with the 2008 season documented by a “JUDolphins.com best seller”.

It seems reasonable to speculate about whether Bell is striving to follow a career path similar to that of Jim Harbaugh, who started his head coaching career at a Pioneer League school (San Diego) before moving up to Stanford, and who now is in charge of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.  Bell said last season that he is not “the kind of guy who needs to be on TV“, but if he continues his successful run at JU, he is likely going to get an opportunity to take a higher-profile job.

Bell’s staff at Jacksonville includes three assistant coaches who played in the NFL. Ernie Logan spent nine seasons in the league as a defensive lineman.  Not surprisingly, he is the Dolphins’ DL coach.

Ernie Mills was a wide receiver who also spent nine years in the NFL, mostly with Pittsburgh.  He caught eight TD passes in 1995, a year in which the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl.

Jerry Crafts (aka “The Condo”) appeared in two Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills, one of five NFL teams for which he played, along with three CFL teams, four AFL outfits, two WLAF franchises, and (inevitably) one XFL team (the Los Angeles Xtreme).  He also made an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio program.

Like Bell, Mills also played his college ball at Florida, with their careers in Gainesville overlapping slightly, along with that of Dolphins defensive coordinator Jerry Odom, the only coach the JU athletics website lists as being on Twitter.  He doesn’t appear to take full advantage of the service.

Staff meetings at JU must get confusing at times, what with two coaches named “Ernie”, two named “Jerry”, another named “Kerry” (running backs coach Kerry Webb), and a head coach called “Kerwin”.

The Dolphins have 100 players listed on their active roster.  All but six of them are from Florida.  A couple of notable names on the list who may or may not see action against The Citadel are freshman quarterback Kade Bell, son of the head coach, and freshman WR/TE Andrew Robustelli.  If Robustelli’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because his grandfather was a Hall of Fame defensive end for the New York Giants in the 1950s.

Jacksonville runs a pro-style offense, and while the Dolphins like to pass, the offense is reasonably balanced.  Last season JU rushed 387 times while throwing 348 passes.  I would still describe it as a “pass-first” setup, mainly because I’m guessing a lot of the rushing attempts came at the end of blowouts.

Ah yes, blowouts.  The Dolphins had a lot of those in 2010, with an 86-7 demolition of poor Valparaiso being the biggest (check out that 38-point second quarter).  JU also pummeled Webber International (41-0), Marist (56-14), Davidson (42-15), and Morehead State (61-17).

As you can see, JU likes to put up crooked numbers.  The Dolphins lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 42.2 points per game, just one of several gaudy team offensive statistics.  Jacksonville averaged 486 yards of total offense per game (7.3 yards per play).  JU also averaged an outstanding 9.3 yards per pass attempt, with 35 of its 217 completed throws going for touchdowns (against only seven interceptions).

Leading that offense this year, as he has for the previous three, is 6’2″, 210-lb. senior quarterback Josh McGregor, who has more career passing yards than any returning QB in the nation (8,186).  He has thrown 87 touchdown passes in his 35-game run as the JU signal-caller.  McGregor threw for 300 yards or more seven times last season and is on the Payton Watch List.  A highlight package featuring some of McGregor’s 2010 exploits has been uploaded to YouTube.

His top target is senior wideout Josh Philpart, who has 29 career touchdown receptions.  Philpart averaged 16.7 yards per catch last year.  Another receiver, Larry Thompson, was only a half-step behind Philpart in most statistical categories, other than TDs.  Jacksonville likes to spread things around, as six different players caught at least 18 passes last season (including two running backs).

Incidentally, Philpart did not have a reception in the game last season against Appalachian State.  I’m guessing that the Dolphins will try to get him involved in the game early against The Citadel in order to avoid having him become a non-factor.

Jacksonville’s all-time rushing leader, Rudell Small, has graduated, but the Dolphins have a more than adequate replacement in J.J. Laster, who rushed for 830 yards last season in backup duty (8.5 yards per carry).  Laster rushed for 177 yards in the game against Marist.

JU lost both its starting left tackle and left guard off the offensive line.  Last year’s right tackle, Chad Cypher, is moving to left tackle to protect McGregor’s “blind side”; at 6’6″, 310 lbs., Cypher at least looks the part.  He has drawn some pre-season accolades.

Kevin Higgins briefly discussed Jacksonville’s offense with Jeff Hartsell after a weeknight practice:

They have a multiple offense, a little bit like we were the first couple of years. They will spread you out, the QB is a really smart player who can check at the line of scrimmage. They try to create space on the field, and the QB is experienced and one of the tops in I-AA. And the line is very experienced as well.

As for the Dolphins’ defense, Higgins stated he had no idea how Jacksonville would line up against The Citadel, as JU didn’t face an option team last season (the Dolphins normally feature a 4-3 scheme).

Jacksonville’s defensive line is relatively experienced.  It is also small.  Nose tackle Mike Mayoral weighs 210 pounds.  Defensive end Rolando Fines is a little bigger (245 lbs.) and is expected to lead the group.

As far as JU’s linebacking corps is concerned, Kerwin Bell is quoted in JU’s media guide as saying that “we’re sort of iffy there.”  Layne McCombs is a senior who would be Jacksonville’s top defensive player, except he has a knee problem (torn ACL from last season).  Whether he plays or not is apparently open to question.  The Dolphins are probably going to play some of their younger players in this unit and hope for the best.

Jacksonville is in better shape in the defensive secondary, with three starters returning and a decent amount of depth.  One concern for JU is that none of its DBs are particularly tall.

Jacksonville had an excellent punt return squad last season, averaging a sizzling 11.1 yards per return in 2010, but its top return man graduated.  Its kick return numbers were mediocre at best.  JU did a fairly good job holding down its opponents’ return yardage.

The Dolphins will have a new punter and a new placekicker this season, which could be problematic in a season opener.

The Citadel’s total offense numbers in the eight Southern Conference games in 2010 were as follows:  359, 304, 263, 197, 160, 143, 300, 203.  Those are listed in order of the games as they were played — in other words, the 359 total yards of offense came in the Bulldogs’ first league game (against Furman).  The offense continued to put up fewer yards of offense each week until “breaking through” with 300 yards against a less-than-stellar Elon defense, and then regressed back to 203 yards against a solid Samford D in the season’s final game (which The Citadel managed to win anyway).

On the bright side, the offense only committed one turnover in the final two games (combined), which was obviously a vast improvement from, say, the Georgia Southern debacle (nine turnovers).  The Citadel turned the ball over 32 times in all, which included 23 lost fumbles.  The Bulldogs actually had 44 total fumbles in eleven games, and also had an inordinate number of ball-possession miscues that did not quite result in fumbles but had the effect of ending a play before it really got started.

The lack of yardage can be directly tied to The Citadel’s ball-control woes.  Those issues must be fixed if the Bulldogs are to have a respectable 2011 campaign.  The offense’s ineptitude also had a negative impact on the defense, which had to defend a short field too many times.  Kevin Higgins admitted as much during his radio interview with Phil Kornblut on August 25 (Kornblut also talked to Tolu Akindele and Terrell Dallas).  The head coach didn’t mince words:

We really played, I think, much better defense than people give us credit for, and the reason is because our offense was so bad, the defense was on the field so much, that there was a lot of pressure on them…it was the first year with the option, the ball was on the ground…I remember going home at this time last year and going, ooh.

Fans going home after watching the Bulldogs offense struggle didn’t all say “ooh”…more like “ugh” (or perhaps something unprintable).

There is optimism among those following the team that the second year in the offense will result in significant improvement.  I sure wouldn’t mind winning four more games this season than last, like the Bulldogs did in 1987-88 running Charlie Taaffe‘s wishbone (going from 4-7 to 8-4).

There are also whispers about a special “edge” the Bulldogs now possess.  This edge is reportedly known in certain circles as The Candeto Factor.  It’s all hush-hush.

Sophomore Ben Dupree will be the starter at quarterback (and a team captain as well, which I thought was interesting), after beginning last season as the starter, moving to second string, then third string, making a cameo appearance as a running back, and then returning to the starting lineup as the quarterback for the final two games of the season.  If making the right reads, Dupree, who has shown signs of being an elusive runner, could be a big-play threat.  He is a bit on the small side and needs to improve his passing.

Dupree will be backed up by Matt Thompson and freshman Aaron Miller, who looked good (at least to me) in the Bulldogs’ last open scrimmage.  There is depth at running back, with at least four different players hoping to make an impact, including the Lazarus of the backfield, Rickey Anderson.  Terrell Dallas is the fullback, and he’s a good one.  Against Jacksonville’s smallish defensive line, he may be called upon to do some power running.  His understudy is Darien Robinson, who isn’t afraid to move a pile either.

Mike Sellers, thrown into the line of fire as the starting center as a freshman, is bigger and better.  That should be the case for the offensive line in general (including the imposing Neal Strange), although injured guard Jameson Bryant will not play in the opener.  Keith Carter moves from defense to offense to add athleticism to the o-line.  (I keep wanting to call him Kenny Carter.  Getting old is tough.)

While most triple option offenses don’t throw the ball too often, this isn’t any ordinary triple option offense — it’s the Triple O’Higgins!  Higgins told Kornblut that the ideal number of passes in the TO’H is 10-12 per game.

Several of those pass attempts will undoubtedly be thrown in the general direction of Domonic Jones, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver last season.  At 6’5″, he could prove to be a tough matchup for the short Jacksonville defensive backs.  Actually, he should prove to be a tough matchup for almost any defensive secondary he faces.  One of The Citadel’s other receivers, Luke Caldwell, may be the best passer on the team, if the Samford game last season and the recent scrimmage are any indication.

As mentioned above, the Bulldog D was solid in 2010 for the most part.  I think the only time I was really disappointed in the unit’s play was against Elon.  The defense had trouble getting off the field in that game, and also fared poorly in the “red zone”. Stopping opponents from scoring when inside the 20 should be a point of emphasis this year, as that is an area in which the Bulldogs need to do better (allowing a 64% TD rate last season).

Against Jacksonville, which converted on third down 49% of the time in 2010, it will be even more important to prevent long drives and turn the ball back over to the offense. To do that, The Citadel needs to improve incrementally in defensive statistical categories such as average per pass attempt (7.6 last year) and average per rush (4.3).

The Bulldogs also need to grab more than their fair share of turnovers.  The Citadel finished last in the Southern Conference in interceptions in 2010.  The squad needs to grab a few more and also force more fumbles.

To paraphrase Akindele in his interview with Phil Kornblut, the Bulldogs D needs its playmakers to make more big plays.  Akindele himself is one of those playmakers, having led the team in tackles last season.

He’s joined by a solid group of linemen and linebackers, including Derek Douglas, Chris Billingslea, and Rod Harland, who judging from the recent scrimmage has been ready to lace ‘em up again since last season ended.  He was bringing the heat, as the kids say.  (They do say that, right?)

The defense as a whole has a lot of depth (a priority for the coaches), particularly on the line, but also in the secondary, making it easier to absorb the loss of Cortez Allen, now of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Bulldogs seem to be in solid shape at cornerback, which is a good thing, as Jacksonville’s group of talented receivers will provide a stern test.

Cass Couey returns for the third straight year as the Bulldogs’ dependable punter. The Citadel in general was okay in most phases of the return game.  Keith Gamble, besides starting at cornerback, is a threat to go the distance as a kick returner (he had an 87-yarder against Elon last year).  He averaged 25 yards per return in 2010.

Ryan Sellers will be the starting placekicker for The Citadel this season.  The kickoff specialist shared PK duties last year, making five of nine, including a 47-yarder against Chattanooga, the season long for a Bulldog kicker by eight yards.  As you would expect of a kicker, he wears a kicker’s number — #99.

The matchup between the Bulldogs and the Dolphins will be a big one for both teams, even though it is only the first game of the season.  In the long run, it may actually mean more to Jacksonville than it does to The Citadel, though.

JU missed out on a bid to the FCS playoffs by a narrow margin last season.  While the Dolphins were 10-1, the schedule strength just wasn’t there to justify Jacksonville receiving a berth in the postseason.  Jacksonville only played two scholarship programs, one of which (Old Dominion) had only re-started its football program the year before.  The other, of course, was Appalachian State, which throttled the Dolphins (not that there was any shame in that).

In fact, Jacksonville has only defeated three scholarship programs in its history — Old Dominion last season, Coastal Carolina (in the Chanticleers’ first season of football in 2003), and Savannah State (in 2008).  In 2011, the Dolphins will have three opportunities to beat scholarship programs, as JU will open the season against The Citadel, Western Illinois, and Charleston Southern (with the CSU game played at Milne Field).

To make its case for an at-large bid (the Pioneer League is not an automatic qualifying conference), Jacksonville needs to win at least two (if not all three) of those games.  Beating up Valparaiso and Marist isn’t going to be enough.  Moreover, if JU cannot beat a team picked to finish last in the SoCon, its case for a bid may completely dissolve.

For The Citadel, getting off to a good start this season is critically important.  The Bulldogs badly need to gain confidence in their offensive system and establish some momentum prior to a run of six consecutive Southern Conference games.  It’s also a home game, and the team must show its supporters that there is reason to believe in the upcoming campaign.

Fans gave the team some leeway last season as the new offense was installed.  It was understood that there would be trying times on occasion in 2010, although some of those times were more trying than anyone would have liked.  Now there has been a year for the coaches and players to get comfortable with the system.  There won’t be any more metaphorical mulligans handed out.

The Citadel has only had one winning season since 1997.  The game against Jacksonville could go a long way in determining whether that trend will continue, or if the Bulldogs can begin to dream of success — for this season, and for future seasons as well.

I’m looking forward to late Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Elon

Time/location:  2:00 pm ET, Johnson Hagood Stadium

Television:  None (maybe a good thing)

It’s Homecoming at The Citadel.  What can alums expect from the Bulldogs’ offense against Elon?

Well, let’s look at the trends in Southern Conference play.  The first game was against Furman.  The latest was against Wofford.  So, in order:

Furman — 359 total yards, 14 points

Western Carolina — 304 total yards, 13 points

Chattanooga — 263 total yards, 10 points

Appalachian State — 197 total yards, 10 points

Georgia Southern — 160 yards, 0 points

Wofford — 143 total yards, 0 points

Now, that’s what I call a trend…

The yards per play is very close to the same orderly negative statistical trend, but there was a minor uptick against GSU (masked by nine turnovers).  For the record, The Citadel’s yards per play in the SoCon, in order of games played:  4.6, 4.1, 4.0, 3.3, 3.4, 2.3

So, if things continue as they have in the league, The Citadel’s Homecoming will feature an offense that will accumulate less than 140 yards of total offense, average about 2 yards per play, and won’t score.

I don’t think it will be that bad, but it’s hard to find much to be encouraged about, at least offensively (the defense has played fairly well over the last month, certainly well enough for the Bulldogs to have won SoCon games if the offense had been competent).

Turnovers have been the headline problem, of course, but another issue is that the Bulldogs aren’t making big plays in the offense.  One reason The Citadel has scored only five touchdowns in six conference games is a lack of long-distance runs or passes.  The Bulldogs only have had eight plays of 20+ yards in those six contests; only two of those plays were longer than 30 yards — and one of those two plays was a 33-yard run by punter Cass Couey, obviously not a product of the option offense.

The Bulldogs have had nine drives of greater than 50 yards in league play.  Four of those nine came against Furman in the conference opener.  None came in the last two games.

Incidentally, of those nine 50+ yard drives, Matt Thompson was the quarterback for five of them, Sam Martin the QB for the other four.

I would like to think the Bulldogs will give a spirited performance for the Homecoming crowd.  That didn’t happen last season, when The Citadel lost 43-17 to Wofford in a very poor showing that greatly disappointed the alumni.

The year before, the Bulldogs narrowly averted a horrific loss at Homecoming to a terrible Chattanooga team.  The Mocs were in the process of mailing in their season under a lame-duck coach, but The Citadel needed last-minute heroics from Andre Roberts to escape with a 24-21 victory.

This year’s Homecoming game has been designated as a “Red Out”.  There are two reasons for this, in my opinion.

The official reason is to commemorate the return of “Big Red”.  The other (and this is just my opinion) is to take advantage of the largest crowd of the season and sell a bunch of “Big Red” merchandise.

That crowd size has to be the only reason the administration would have considered having a “Red Out” for a game in which the opponent is Elon, whose primary school color is…red.  At least, I hope that’s the only reason.  It still strikes me as not being a wise decision, and I know I’m not the only one.

The effort to promote Big Red apparently will also include red jerseys for the football team, if the rumors are true (and I’m sure they are).  There will also be a special Homecoming helmet design (see post #40 on this thread from TCISN), which is basically a remake of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ helmets.  Not bad, but not innovative or particularly interesting.

If The Citadel does indeed don red jerseys against Elon, that will mean the Bulldogs would not have worn the traditional home color combo of light blue jerseys/white pants for any home game this season.  I guess at this point our traditional colors are now alternate colors, and the alternate uniforms are the “main” uniforms.

Below I’ve listed the color combos for all nine games to date in 2010:

Chowan (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Arizona (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Presbyterian (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Furman (road):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Western Carolina (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Appalachian State (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Chattanooga (home):  dark blue jerseys, white pants

Georgia Southern (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Wofford (road):  white jerseys, dark blue pants

One thing I’m unfortunately fairly confident about:  if The Citadel does wear red jerseys on Saturday, the jerseys will have “CITADEL” on the front, and not “THE CITADEL”. That, of course, is true for all the other jerseys the Bulldogs have worn this year, regardless of color.  I assume it’s a cost-saving issue, as having the “THE” on the jersey would undoubtedly cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is one of my more cynical and less positive posts, and so the fact it’s also one of my shorter game previews is probably just as well.  That said, I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised on Saturday.  For one thing, it’s time for a little payback as far as Elon is concerned.  The Phoenix’s last visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium (in 2008) was a victory for the visitors, one basically handed to Elon by inept Southern Conference officiating.

Quarterback Scott Riddle may not start for Elon due to injury.  You may remember the last time Riddle started something against The Citadel; he ran away before finishing it, though.

Riddle can talk to Fred Jordan about shoulder injuries…

I’m not expecting a brawl on Saturday.  I do want to see some fight in the Bulldogs, though.

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.
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