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

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

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

Anyway, here we go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

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

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

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

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

C’mon, football. Get here…

Game Review, 2013: Charleston Southern

Well, that was ugly…

I’ll write about the game (and a few ancillary elements) as part of my preview of the matchup with Wofford. That was always going to be the plan anyway. After the ridiculousness of Saturday night, though, a few days to think things over may not be such a bad thing.

I took some pictures of the pregame scene and some of the game itself. As usual, the “action shots” aren’t the best. I decided to post them anyway. I know some folks like to look at formations, etc.

I’ll close this brief post on a somewhat positive note:

On The Citadel Foundation’s website, there is now a specific fund for The Citadel’s mascot program. As I’ve said before, the re-institution of the mascot program is arguably the best thing the school has done over the past decade or so.

I’m going to keep a link to the site on the right side of my blog for at least a little while, which isn’t something I would normally do. I’m going to make a one-time exception for this (no, I wasn’t asked). As the site says:

The cost of maintaining and transporting the Bulldog Mascots is funded solely through generous donations. The Citadel does not provide any funding for these wonderful ambassadors.

I am honestly surprised the school does not fund this program. Maybe some of the powers that be are unaware of the value it provides; I don’t know. I’m just glad there is now a donating option for supporters.

Here are the aforementioned photos. Apologies in advance for the occasionally hilarious quality, but everyone knows I’m not much of a photographer. I had an even more difficult time than usual on Saturday for some reason.

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

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

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

From last week: my preview of the upcoming season

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

Other links of note:

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

- SoCon weekly release and Kevin Higgins’ SoCon media teleconference

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Hometown articles on Ben Dupree and Sadath Jean-Pierre

- Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

Let’s talk about Charleston Southern…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Execution in the first half

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

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

- Penalties, or a lack thereof

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

- Punting

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

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

- Third down conversions

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

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

- Forced turnovers

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

- Defensive playmakers

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

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

- Freshmen

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

- Attendance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s play football.

Next year’s football schedule: Who will The Citadel’s opponents play before they play the Bulldogs?

This is just a quick post on something I was looking at this past week. One thing that a triple option team sometimes has going for it is that its opponent doesn’t have time to prepare adequately for the offense, because it is so different from the “typical” offense. Of course, these days I’m not sure there really is a typical offense.

There is also something to be said about the quality of the opponent’s immediate prior opposition and how it affects its preparation, regardless of offensive or defensive setup.

The Citadel has announced its 2013 football schedule. Just for the record, here are the Bulldogs’ opponents’ opponents the week before they play The Citadel:

August 31: Charleston Southern — well, it’s the season opener

September 7: Wofford — the Terriers will travel to Florida State Baylor the week before playing The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Advantage, Bulldogs.

Edit (2/25/13): Instead of Tallahassee, Wofford will head to Waco on 8/31, thanks to a late change in the Seminoles’ schedule.

Incidentally, Wofford’s game the next week is at home against Georgia Southern. That’s quite a stretch to begin the season.

September 14: at Western Carolina — the Catamounts are tentatively scheduled to play Virginia Tech in Blacksburg prior to facing The Citadel. Yikes. That’s after an opening game at Middle Tennessee State. Later in the year, WCU plays Auburn. Yes, three FBS programs in one season. Great for the financial bottom line, not so hot for trying to build a program.

September 21: at Old Dominion — the Monarchs host Howard on September 14. That follows consecutive games against FBS opposition (East Carolina and Maryland) for ODU, which is making the transition to FBS itself.

September 28: Furman — the Paladins are off the week of September 21. Rats.

October 5: Appalachian State – Edit (2/25/13): App State will host Charleston Southern on September 28. The Citadel will be the first of the SoCon’s three triple option teams that the Mountaineers will encounter during the 2013 season.

October 12: at Georgia Southern — the Eagles are at Samford the week before tangling with the Bulldogs in Statesboro. Will this be the last time The Citadel plays at GSU?

October 19: off week

October 26: at Chattanooga — the Mocs travel to Elon prior to facing The Citadel.

November 2: Samford — Pat Sullivan’s crew plays two straight games in South Carolina, traveling to Wofford before making an appearance at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

November 9: at Elon — November 2 will be an off week for the Phoenix. The matchup against The Citadel will also be Elon’s homecoming game.

November 16: VMI — the Keydets, like Samford, will venture to the Palmetto State in consecutive weeks, as they will journey to Presbyterian on November 9 to take on the Blue Hose.

November 23: Clemson – Edit (2/25/13): The Tigers will have two extra days off before playing The Citadel, as they will host Georgia Tech in an ESPN Thursday night game on November 14.

Clemson apparently tried to get out of the game against the Bulldogs. The Tigers have two FCS opponents in 2013 (The Citadel and South Carolina State) primarily as a result of the ACC waffling on having an eight- or nine-game league slate.

Just for comparison, last season’s opponents’ prior opponents:

Charleston Southern — season opener

Georgia Southern — the Eagles hosted Jacksonville

at Appalachian State — the Mountaineers hosted Montana

at North Carolina State — the Pack hosted South Alabama

Chattanooga — the Mocs hosted Appalachian State

at Samford — the Birmingham Bulldogs traveled to Georgia Southern

Western Carolina — the Catamounts hosted Georgia Southern

at Wofford — the Terriers traveled to Appalachian State

Elon — the Phoenix hosted Furman

at VMI — the Keydets traveled to Stony Brook

at Furman — the Paladins traveled to Appalachian State

Does it mean anything? Probably not. It won’t be in The Citadel’s favor that both Furman and Elon have a week off before playing the Bulldogs, but that’s the breaks. Another negative: Clemson will face fellow triple option team Georgia Tech immediately before playing The Citadel.

All this is, really, is something to pass the time while we wait for August 31 to roll around…

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

Previous editions of McAlister Musings, in reverse chronological order:

Possession is nine-tenths of a win

SoCon voting issues, preseason ratings, and corps attendance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game review, 2012: Charleston Southern

The Citadel 49, Charleston Southern 14.

Links of interest:

Game story in The Post and Courier

Postgame notes in The Post and Courier

The Post and Courier‘s video review of the game

The Citadel’s release

Video of the postgame press conference

Charleston Southern’s release

First, an exercise in perspective…what if the second half of last night’s game had actually been the first half, and vice versa?

In the second half against Charleston Southern, the Bulldogs rushed 34 times for 255 yards. They completed both of their pass attempts. The Citadel scored five touchdowns (by four different players) in the half and did not fumble. The Bulldogs committed one penalty, for five yards.

Defensively, the Bulldogs held Charleston Southern to 113 total yards in the second half. It forced three turnovers (two fumbles and an interception). CSU did not score in the half.

In the first half, The Citadel scored twice and moved the ball with relative ease (the Bulldogs did not punt during the entire game), but the offense fumbled six times (two lost). In addition, an ill-timed penalty cost The Citadel three points.

The defense played fairly well in the first half, but allowed a long touchdown drive after the first lost fumble, and appeared to have some communication issues in the secondary.

If The Citadel had raced out to a 35-0 halftime lead, and then settled for a 49-14 victory after some sloppy second-half play, I think the fan reaction would have been almost uniformly positive. There would have been some admonitions about letting up, and maintaining focus, but the general opinion of the fan base for the game would have probably been “solid effort”.

That’s not what happened, of course, and as a result the Bulldogs played last night to mixed reviews. On the one hand, a win is a win, especially if you root for The Citadel, and the second-half effort was an encouraging response to a disappointing first-half performance.

However, that doesn’t excuse a first half that gave supporters flashbacks to two years ago, when just trying to run the offense was a major challenge. At various points in the half, I was more annoyed with the team than I had been during the Georgia Southern game in 2010, when the Bulldogs fumbled nine times in one of the all-time Johnson Hagood Stadium debacles.

Of course, it really wasn’t the same as that GSU game. For one thing, the Bulldogs did run the triple option effectively, at least in terms of yardage and possessions. Oh, those fumbles, though…and that penalty…and that long CSU drive against the defense, during which the Buccaneers converted a 3rd-and-7 from their own 5-yard-line, then added a 29-yard pass play and a 25-yard run, and capped it off with a 15-yard TD pass that came when one of the Bulldogs appeared to blow a coverage assignment.

Frustrating. Still, it was a victory, and in truth The Citadel was in control of the game throughout, with the exception of that brief window when the Bulldogs trailed 14-7. After the second of Rickey Anderson’s three touchdowns tied the game just before the half, however, it was simply a question of whether The Citadel would fumble six more times in the second half, or win the game going away. Thankfully, all the fumbling after the break came from the Buccaneers.

“The good thing is, we executed the option real well,” coach Kevin Higgins said. “The fumbles were not as much on exchanges as they were down field, the ones that hurt us. That’s a matter of protecting the ball and being smart.

“Our guys know they didn’t play as well as they could have, and that they have work to do next week. That’s probably good with a team like Georgia Southern coming in.”

Ah yes, Georgia Southern. I earlier mentioned the 2010 game with all the turnovers. That was the last time the Eagles journeyed to Johnson Hagood Stadium.

In a way, next week is part of an unintentional round-robin. Georgia Southern’s opponent on Saturday was Jacksonville, and the Dolphins will play at Charleston Southern next week while the Eagles tangle with The Citadel.

Last year, JU played at The Citadel in the home opener and played creditably, losing 31-9 to the Bulldogs. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their starting quarterback and several other key players graduated after last season. Georgia Southern crushed JU 58-0, with 41 of those points coming in the first half. GSU had 557 total yards, all rushing (the Eagles were 0-8 passing).

Georgia Southern was ready for the season to begin. The Citadel needed a half to work out some kinks. The Bulldogs won’t be getting any mulligans next Saturday against the Eagles. More on that game later in the week.

I took a few photos last night, though not as many as I would have liked. Not unlike the Bulldogs, the first game of the season was a struggle for me at times, too.

The first picture is a shot of the parking lot that replaced the old gym that used to be across the street from the stadium.

 

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.

Overflow crowd at Johnson Hagood for the season opener? Not likely

Just a quick post while I hide from the heat and humidity…football can’t get here fast enough, and that includes football weather.

Someone on the TCISN board recently expressed hope that attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium might be excellent for the season’s first two games, against Charleston Southern and Georgia Southern. Putting aside GSU for the time being, I was less than certain about the prospects for a big turnout when The Citadel hosts CSU in the season opener.

It’s a 6:00 pm start, and won’t be played at the same time as a Clemson or South Carolina home game (though the Tigers will be on TV at around the same time). That is good news in terms of the competition on Saturday night. On the other hand, I remember that when the Bulldogs and Buccaneers first started playing, it was anticipated there would be large crowds for a game against two Lowcountry schools. That didn’t happen.

In fact, attendance for the five games between the two teams (played between 2002-2007) was somewhat disappointing. The numbers do not lie.

2002: Played in November, on a Thursday night. Attendance: 12,412. Verdict: not bad, really, given the month/day. Average attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium that season: 15,582.

2003: A 3:30 pm start time on August 30, in Charleston. Yeesh. A crowd of 15,219 brought their sunscreen, though. Average home attendance that year: 16,759.

2004: Game postponed due to a hurricane threat, but ultimately was not rescheduled.

2005: A night game, but only 10,316 showed up. Average JHS attendance in ’05: 11,674.

2006: The only time when attendance for the CSU game exceeded average attendance for the season, with 15,121 in the stadium for the game, as opposed to season average attendance of 14,599.

2007: Another early start (2pm) resulted in a sluggish crowd of 12,885. Season average: 13,757.

- Average attendance for the five games against Charleston Southern: 13,191.

- Average attendance for games played at Johnson Hagood Stadium in those seasons (2002-07, excepting 2004): 14,489.

Note: one small caveat to those figures: When I went through the statistics, I concluded there was probably an error in the 2002 attendance totals, likely for that season’s game against Delaware. Nevertheless, I don’t think it affects the overall analysis.

So there you have it. The average crowd for a CSU game was actually only 91% the size of an average crowd for games at JHS over those seasons (and that is including the CSU attendance numbers in the overall totals; the difference is even greater if you take the CSU figures out of the average). It is thus hard for me to believe there will be a significant “bump” in attendance for this year’s contest, particularly given the fact the Buccaneers are coming off an 0-11 season.

It would be nice to see a big crowd for the opener. It’s likely going to be up to Bulldog fans to make it happen, though.

Waiting on college football season…hurry up already!

This is a post featuring meaningless gridiron musings, and it’s not even June yet.

I saw this chart on Phil Steele’s site a couple of days ago. It’s an interesting look at the percentage of lettermen returning for each FBS team, although perhaps not really indicative of how a team may do this season. For example, I suspect that Southern California, next-to-last in the category, is still going to be really good.

North Carolina State, which will play The Citadel in late September, is also near the bottom of the list, with a lettermen return rate of 59.6%. That got me thinking, what’s The Citadel’s return rate? It turns out to be not much higher (62.9%).

I compiled a similar list of The Citadel’s opponents this year in a chart. Well, not all the opponents, for the simple reason that I couldn’t find readily available numbers. I found practically no information about Charleston Southern’s returnees, to name just one school, although I would imagine that since the Buccaneers were 0-11 last season there are going to be some changes.

I have return/loss statistics for eight of the eleven schools playing the Bulldogs. As I get more information for the others, I’ll add those numbers to the chart.

Anyway, this is what I came up with for eight opponents, plus The Citadel (excuse the less-than-stellar presentation):

Team     2011 L’men     Lost         Returning   % Returning

Appy           55                22                 33       60.0%

GSU             80                24                 56       70.0%

NCSU          52                 21                 31       59.6%

Wofford      64                 17                 44       68.8%

WCU           63                 21                42       66.7%

UTC            65                 20                 45       69.2%

Furman        62                 17                 45       72.6%

VMI          54                   19                    35       64.8%

The Citadel  62                 23                 39       62.9%

Among returning offensive and defensive starters, Chattanooga returns 16 of 22 (8 offensive/8 defensive); Georgia Southern, 15 of 22 (8/7); Appalachian State, 14 of 22 (5/9); North Carolina State, 14 of 22 (7/7); Western Carolina, 14 of 22 (8/6); VMI, 11 of 22 (5/6); and Furman, 14 of 22 (6/8).

Some links, if you’re interested or bored or both:

Appalachian State 2012 Preseason Prospectus

Georgia Southern 2012 Quick Facts

A report from Charleston Southern’s spring game

Wofford 2012 Quick Facts

Chattanooga 2012 Spring Notes

Furman 2012 Quick Facts

VMI 2012 Quick FactsNewspaper report on VMI spring footballschool report on final spring scrimmage

Western Carolina 2012 Quick Facts and A report from Western Carolina’s spring game

Samford 2012 Prospectus

A report from Elon’s spring game

North Carolina State 2012 Spring Prospectus

Phil Steele’s team page for The Citadel

Jeff Hartsell’s writeup of The Citadel’s spring game (over two months ago, sure, but in case you missed it)

Less than 100 days to go…

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.

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