Competing for a crowd: alternatives to the action at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2014

There are a lot of opinions on how The Citadel can attract bigger crowds to its home football games. I have shared more than a few of my own in the past.

However, the purpose of this post is simply to highlight some competition the school will face on each of its six home dates in 2014. It goes without saying that winning is a key factor in producing better attendance, but there is more to it than that.

Anyway, without further ado:

August 30 — The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina, 6 pm

South Carolina plays on Thursday night (August 28). Clemson plays at Georgia in an ESPN game that starts at 5:30 pm.

South Carolina State plays Benedict in Columbia at 5 pm, while Charleston Southern opens on Thursday.

Those are the nearest football options. Also taking place on August 30:

- Lowcountry Jazz Festival (North Charleston Coliseum)

Multiple jazz performers will be featured. Luckily for The Citadel, festival headliner Bobby Caldwell is performing on Thursday night. Since he will presumably be free on Saturday, perhaps Caldwell can team up with the regimental band at halftime for a unique rendition of “What You Won’t Do For Love“.

- Shrimp and Grits Chefs’ Competition (Charleston Visitor Center)

For $35 at the door, you can sample some of the cuisine. My suggestion: have some shrimp ‘n grits for lunch (or breakfast) instead, and then head out to the game.

September 27 — The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb, 6 pm

It’s a long time between the first and second games at home, isn’t it?

Clemson and South Carolina are both on home on this date, playing North Carolina and Missouri, respectively. Times have not been announced (which is the case for most of their games this season).

SCSU hosts Hampton at 6 pm, while CSU is at Charlotte.

Other events on September 27:

- Folly Beach Pier Tournament

The good news is that the tournament will be over by 2 pm, so you can get your fishin’ fix in and still make it to Johnson Hagood Stadium with time to spare.

- MOJA Arts Festival

It’s the 30th anniversary of this ten-day happening.

- Taste of Charleston

The main event takes place on Sunday at Boone Hall Plantation. Saturday night will feature catered food on Charleston Harbor. I’m sure you can find more edible fare in Johnson Hagood Stadium’s concessions area.

October 11 — The Citadel vs. Charlotte, 2 pm

This is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel. Rings ahoy!

South Carolina is off this weekend, while Clemson hosts Louisville.

Meanwhile, South Carolina State tangles with North Carolina Central in Orangeburg, and Charleston Southern is at Vanderbilt.

Horning in on the October 11 action:

- Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Music and Food Festival (Blackbaud Stadium)

This actually doesn’t look half-bad, though perhaps a bit expensive (admittedly, I’m kind of thrifty). The general type of music being featured isn’t really my cup of tea, but I’ve seen worse lineups.

If you must see Big Head Todd, Blues Traveler, and/or Bela Fleck, though, I’m sure they won’t get going until later in the evening, convenient enough when an afternoon football game is in the offing. Be sure to tell all your friends and neighbors the same thing.

October 18 — The Citadel vs. UT-Chattanooga, 1 pm

This game is being televised on the American Sports Network, which may or may not be available in your locale.

South Carolina hosts Furman, with that contest also kicking off at 1 pm. Clemson ventures north to face Boston College, a traditional banana peel of a game for the Tigers.

S.C. State is off this week. Charleston Southern is at home and plays Presbyterian at 3 pm.

Also of note:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

For $75, you can learn to fly fish, just like Brad Pitt.

November 8 — The Citadel vs. Furman, 2 pm

It’s Homecoming Weekend at The Citadel. All the cool people will be tailgating at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This year’s 25th-anniversary reunion features the Class of 1989.

Neither South Carolina nor Clemson play on this date. The Gamecocks are off for the week, while the Tigers play at Wake Forest on Thursday night.

South Carolina State is on the road, playing Florida A&M. CSU hosts Gardner-Webb, with that game starting at 11 am.

Other events:

- Charleston’s Veterans Day Parade starts downtown at 10 am. If nothing else, those going to the football game might want to make note of that. It should be over by around 11:15 am.

- Lowcountry Hoedown (Charleston Visitors Center)

This event runs from 7 pm to 11 pm and includes “Bourbon, Moonshine, BBQ, and Bluegrass”. Well then. Featured performers: Barefoot Movement (they don’t wear shoes, as you may have guessed) and Seven Handle Circus (an act that, oddly, appears to only include six musicians).

- YALLFest (American Theater ballroom, American Theater cinema, Charleston Music Hall)

YALLFest “is the largest and most renowned festival in the country specifically geared toward Young Adult and Middle Grade Literature, with over 5,000 international fans expected to attend.” A bunch of young adult author types will also be making appearances at this particular shindig.

The official YALLFest band: Tiger Beat. So, so predictable.

November 15 — The Citadel vs. Samford, 1 pm

Clemson, South Carolina, South Carolina State, and Charleston Southern are on the road this week. Their respective opponents: Georgia Tech, Florida, Morgan State, and Liberty.

Remaining in the Charleston metropolitan area:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

Yes, it’s back! It’s a monthly thing, and this is November’s scheduled date.

- Plantation Days (Middleton Place)

If you’re into sugarcane pressing, gourd making, and leather tanning (and who isn’t?), this is the event for you.

There you have it. That is a sampling of what the folks in the marketing department are up against as they promote The Citadel’s home football schedule this year.

At least the Scottish Games and Highland Gathering (September 20, Boone Hall Plantation) won’t conflict with any of The Citadel’s home games this season. That will come as a blessed relief for bagpiper groupies.

However, if crowds this year at Johnson Hagood Stadium are to become truly massive, the maxim of a former assistant football at The Citadel must come into play:

Just win, baby.

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.

 

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