2012 Football, Week 11: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel at Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 17.  The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Doug Chapman supplying the analysis. It can also be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Furman game notes

SoCon weekly release

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

Kevin Higgins’ 11/11 press conference quotes

Bruce Fowler’s SoCon teleconference for 11/12

According to legend, the game between The Citadel and Furman had been each school’s regular-season finale for as long as the sun had heated the earth.

One dismal day, however, an evil wizard arrived. Certain seers from the Upstate claimed he had come from the land of Denison, but no one was sure. The wizard cast a terrible spell that moved the game to a non-November month. This horrible event happened two long decades ago.

Finally, after an incantation from the Magician of Monsey, the spell was broken. The game was shifted to its rightful place on the calendar. Surely, it will stay there forevermore.

– Excerpt from The Golden Book of Tall Football Tales, 2012 edition

The Citadel and Furman will close their respective 2012 campaigns on the gridiron this Saturday. There are people who believe the game should always be the season finale, and more than a few of them think that it always was until the last twenty years.

They are wrong about that, of course. I’ve pointed this out before, but it seems to be a very hard thing for some fans to grasp.

It’s not just fans, though. Furman’s sports information department has a blurb in its game notes that is titled “Back Where It Belongs” and includes this comment:

This year arch-rivals Furman and The Citadel will meet for the first time in the regular season finale since 1992, when The Citadel passed on a SoCon scheduling option for year-end traditional rival games. The option was put in place by the SoCon, which at the time was adjusting future schedules to accommodate the addition of Georgia Southern to the league.

I am less than impressed with this attempt by Furman’s SID to suggest that the series was usually played at season’s end until The Citadel ruined everything. The paragraph in Furman’s release is more than a little obnoxious. At any rate, the facts are simple:

– The Citadel and Furman have played 91 times; the two schools have faced each other every season since 1919 with the exception of three years during World War II.

– The game has been the regular-season finale for both schools 19 times.

That’s it. Those nineteen games were the sixteen games played between 1977 and 1992, and a three-year stretch in the mid-1960s (1965-67).

The matchup has actually been played more often in October (51 times) than in November (37 times). Three times it has been played in September, including the last two seasons.

Do I think playing this game in September is too early? Yes. However, I don’t think it needs to end the season, either. There isn’t a long tradition of it doing so.

Besides, these days it can’t end the season — not every year, anyway.

The Citadel is not going to host any game on the last weekend of the regular season (regardless of the opponent) as long as the current school academic calendar is in effect. The corps of cadets goes on Thanksgiving break on the Friday before the holiday. That wasn’t always the case, but it is now, and I suspect it will be for the foreseeable future.

There won’t be any regular-season home games scheduled without the presence of the corps of cadets. Next year’s pre-Thanksgiving weekend game is at Clemson; the week before, the last weekend the corps will be on campus, The Citadel is hosting VMI.

That doesn’t mean the game can’t be the season-ender when it is played at Furman, and maybe a good way to set up the series would be to have the matchup as the last game of the season in Greenville, and a midseason clash in Charleston.

That would be similar to the Notre Dame-Southern California series, which is traditionally played at midseason in South Bend and late in the year in Los Angeles.

I never liked having the game played at the end of the year because it was generally ignored by the state media in favor of the Clemson-South Carolina contest, which was played on the same day.

However, with the Clemson-South Carolina series moving to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, there is less chance of the game between The Citadel and Furman being lost in the shuffle, so I don’t have an issue with the game ending the season when it is hosted by the Paladins.

There is one other thing I would like to see adjusted, in terms of Furman and scheduling. Right now The Citadel plays Furman and Wofford at home in odd-numbered years and on the road in even-numbered years. I think that ideally the Bulldogs would make just one trip to the Upstate every year, and play one of those two schools at home each season.

Of course, all of those potential moves are subject to the whims of the SoCon office, which is just as likely to schedule Furman-The Citadel on September 14 next year as it is October 19.

Furman is 3-7, 2-5 in the SoCon. The Paladins have not had a lot of luck in close games, leading Kevin Higgins to state in his Monday press conference that “they are the best FCS team in the country with their record.”

There is a snakebit quality to Furman’s losses. The Paladins opened with a 24-21 loss at Samford when the Birmingham Bulldogs converted a last-minute field goal. Furman lost the next week at home to Coastal Carolina in triple overtime, 47-45.

Wofford beat Furman 20-17, with the winning points coming on a long TD pass in the third quarter. Last week, Appalachian State slipped past the Paladins 33-28, with the difference being two second-half Mountaineer field goals.

Furman hasn’t been very lucky. Truthfully, though, it hasn’t been all that good either.

The Paladins are next-to-last in scoring offense in the SoCon, and seventh in the league in scoring defense. That’s not a combination that generally leads to winning seasons.

Furman is balanced on offense , perhaps more so than any SoCon team other than Chattanooga, but it is not a particularly efficient passing team (seventh in the league) and does not pick up a lot of first downs (also seventh). FU is last in the conference in third down conversion rate and red zone offense.

The Paladins are next-to-last in the league in defensive pass efficiency, allowing more passing yards than any team in the conference. How much that really matters against The Citadel is open to question. Furman’s games against the other triple option teams in the league may provide an answer.

Against Wofford, Furman did a good job containing the Terriers’ run game (303 rushing yards, 364 total yards) but allowed that aforementioned touchdown pass (52 yards).

That solid effort came on the road. At home against Georgia Southern, Furman gave up only 275 rushing yards, but got burned through the air on a couple of occasions, including a 75-yard TD strike.

Furman is the league’s best team when it comes to returning kickoffs, but is last in the conference in punt return average. FU is next-to-last in net punting (though well ahead of last-place Elon in that department).

The Paladins are -5 for the year in turnover margin, the worst mark in the SoCon.

Perhaps the statistic that best defines why Furman is 3-7 is fourth quarter scoring. The Paladins have been outscored 91-26 in that period. Furman’s opponents have a slight advantage in the third quarter as well, offsetting the Paladins 110-64 edge in the second quarter.

I haven’t seen any of Furman’s games, but it makes me wonder if the Paladins have issues with line play as the game progresses. It suggests a lack of depth. I could be completely misreading that, of course.

Furman’s best player is running back Jerodis Williams, who was impressive in last year’s game against The Citadel and will be a major problem for the Bulldogs’ D this year as well. Williams is tough, hard to tackle, and has good speed too.

He is the reason Furman leads the SoCon in kickoff return average, as he has taken two kicks back for touchdowns this year (each for 100 yards). One of those TD returns came last week against Appalachian State. Williams’ understudy at running back, Hank McCloud, is also a talented player.

Reese Hannon is a true freshman from Greer who has started most of the season for the Paladins. He has completed 61.6% of his passes this season, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is not a running threat in the Paladins’ offense.

Kevin Higgins mentioned Furman had “excellent speed” at the wide receiver position, but the Paladins will miss their leading receiver, Will King, who is out for the season due to injury. Furman does have an outstanding tight end, Colin Anderson, and that position has traditionally posed a problem for The Citadel in this series.

Furman’s best offensive lineman is left tackle Dakota Dozier, not to be confused with backup quarterback Dakota Derrick.

The Paladins have some fine players on the defensive side of the ball. Sophomore linebacker Gary Wilkins leads the team in tackles. Other players of note include defensive end Josh Lynn, safety Nathan Wade, linebacker Mitch McGrath, and backup lineman Ricky Lang (who has five sacks).

Backup safety Marcus McMorris has two return TDs this season, including a 95-yard fumble return that was the key play in the Paladins’ victory over Elon.

Placekicker Ray Early is 8 for 14 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 48 yards. He has also done the majority of the punting for the Paladins this year.

I don’t think The Citadel has much of a chance at a playoff berth even if the Bulldogs are fortunate enough to win in Greenville on Saturday. However, just in case the Mayans were right, I’ve made a checklist of sorts. It features games that would affect the Bulldogs’ (admittedly remote) chances of postseason play.

Obviously The Citadel must finish 7-4. The other “must” game, from the Bulldogs’ perspective, is Samford-Kentucky. The Wildcats have to win that game. I wouldn’t bet on it.

Here are the remaining games to watch. The teams Bulldog fans want to win are listed first:

VMI over Liberty
New Hampshire over Towson
Lafayette over Lehigh
Old Dominion over James Madison
William & Mary over Richmond
Delaware over Villanova
Cal Poly over Northern Arizona
South Dakota over South Dakota State
UC Davis over Sacramento State
Charleston Southern over Coastal Carolina

I’m listing the CSU-CCU game even though it technically won’t affect the number of at-large bids available (don’t ask why, that would take three paragraphs) because a win by the Buccaneers would result in CSU finishing 6-5 (a really good achievement after going 0-11 last year).

That would result in The Citadel having a non-conference victory over a team with a winning record. Those aren’t always easy to come by. For example, of the six CAA teams battling for a playoff bid, only Villanova has beaten a team out of conference with more wins than losses. The Wildcats actually have two such victories (over Fordham and Penn).

It should be a nice day for a game in Greenville on Saturday. The preliminary forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 60 degrees, perfectly acceptable late-season football weather.

I don’t have any idea how the Bulldogs will play on Saturday, not that I ever really do. The Citadel has accomplished its major goal, a winning season. A playoff bid is a longshot. Finishing with a winning record in the SoCon (something Derek Douglas mentioned in the Monday presser) is something to shoot for, but not exactly a huge prize either.

Playing Furman means something, and I’m not trying to soft-pedal that (despite what the first part of this post may suggest). However, I’m not completely sure how much it means to the players. It may be a big deal to them; I don’t know.

I’m sure the game would be World War III if some of the alums on both sides had anything to say about it, but they aren’t the ones putting on the pads.

My guess is that the game will be spirited and intense on both sides, and close. It’s the last game of the year between two proud teams. There won’t be a lack of effort.

I’m looking forward to one more Saturday of gridiron action. One more round, you might say.

2011 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10.  The game will be televised on WYMA (Asheville, NC), and will be available on ESPN3.com.  There will also be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a game against traditional rival Furman.  It’s only the third time the two schools have ever met in a league opener, but it’s the second consecutive season that has been the case.

I’m not going to rehash the history of the series in terms of the time of year the game has been held; anyone interested can read what I wrote on the subject for last year’s game preview.  Regardless of whether you think the game should be a midseason clash (my preference) or played at the end of the year (a not-insignificant number of fans from both schools), I think everyone can agree that September 10 is too early for this game to be played.

Jeff Hartsell has reported that, per the SoCon office, next year’s meeting will come at the end of the 2012 season, on November 17.  (The conference does not make league schedules beyond one year in advance.)

I’m okay with that, as long as the Clemson-South Carolina game continues to be played the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as is now the case.  I just don’t want The Citadel and Furman to play on the same day as the matchup between the Tigers and Gamecocks.

Furman was 5-6 last season, its first losing campaign since 1998.  Bobby Lamb resigned after nine years in charge and over a quarter-century at the school as a player or coach.  The Paladins had missed the FCS playoffs for four consecutive seasons, which did not go over well among some supporters.  It was time for Furman to make a change.

The question, though, is did Furman really make a change?

The new coach is Bruce Fowler.  Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman who played for Dick Sheridan.  Lamb was a 1986 graduate of FU who had played for Sheridan. Fowler spent 18 years at Furman as an assistant coach.  Lamb had been an assistant coach at Furman for 16 seasons.

One difference is that Fowler wasn’t a complete Furman lifer like Lamb had been.  For the past nine years, he had been an assistant at Vanderbilt, where he was defensive coordinator for Bobby Johnson (and Robbie Caldwell in 2010).  Of course, Johnson had been the head coach at Furman before taking the Vandy job, and before that he had been an assistant under Dick Sheridan.

You may have noticed a pattern here.  Dick Sheridan left Furman after the 1985 season to take over at N.C. State, but his presence is still felt in the program.  All four of the men who have held the head coaching position since Sheridan left (including Fowler) were players and/or assistants under him.

If you were going to have your football program maintain what is in effect a 25-year tie to a former coach, you could do much worse than Sheridan, who did nothing but win throughout his coaching career (even as a 28-year-old rookie head coach at an Orangeburg high school).  It’s a type of continuity that may be worth preserving.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that Furman risks going to the well once too often.  Fowler isn’t exactly a carbon copy of Lamb, though — for one thing, he’s 52 years old, 13 years older than Lamb was when Lamb got the job.  Also, he’s primarily a defensive coach (though he was the receivers coach at FU for seven seasons).  Lamb was mostly an offensive coach (and a former quarterback) during his time with the Paladins.

Usually when a school is in a position to make a coaching change after a run of disappointing seasons, it brings in somebody to shake things up.  That’s certainly not what Furman has done.  Besides Fowler, three of the assistant coaches played for Sheridan; another has been a Paladins assistant for 13 years.

Before I move on to the Paladins of 2011, I should note that Art Baker, who preceded Sheridan as head coach at Furman (eventually leaving to take the job at The Citadel), hired Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, and Bobby Johnson as assistant coaches, all of whom would later ascend to the top job at FU.  Baker had a significant impact on Furman’s coaching tree.

Furman lost 30-23 at Coastal Carolina in its opener.  The Paladins never led the contest.  The game had been tied at 16 and 23 before the Chanticleers scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Coastal Carolina gained 231 yards rushing and 195 yards passing against the Furman defense, but perhaps more interesting was that the Chanticleers had 59 rushing attempts for the game.  CCU ran 81 offensive plays from scrimmage for the game, while the Paladins had just 58.

As Bruce Fowler noted in the SoCon teleconference, Furman had trouble getting its defense off the field.  Coastal was 7-16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts and made its only 4th-down try, a major reason the Paladins trailed by over 12 minutes in time of possession.  That continued a trend from last season, when Furman finished last in the SoCon in time of possession.

The Paladins do have two impact players on defense, middle linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed, both of whom are on the Buck Buchanan Watch List.  Another linebacker, Chris Wiley, had fourteen tackles against Coastal Carolina.  Furman defensive end Josh Lynn is tall (6’5″) and rangy, and may be a key factor in how the Bulldogs’ triple action attack fares on Saturday.  Against Coastal, he had five tackles and a sack.

Furman’s starting quarterback against Coastal Carolina was Chris Forcier, of the Forcier Family of Quarterbacks.  I think it’s fair to say that the Forciers are, as a group, somewhat controversial.  I guess it’s a question of style.  When Chris Forcier decided to transfer from UCLA to Furman, the family issued a press release that wound up being posted on Deadspin.

His brother Tate is a former Michigan quarterback who has now transferred to San Jose State (after originally announcing he was going to Miami).  His oldest brother, Jason, also played quarterback at Michigan before transferring to Stanford.  The brothers also transferred to different high schools at various times.

Against the Chants, Forcier was solid, completing two-thirds of his passes while averaging over seven yards per attempt.  A classic “dual threat” quarterback, Forcier also rushed for 50 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter, apparently suffering from cramps.  Without him, the Furman offense sputtered, not scoring in the fourth quarter.

Assuming he is healthy (and there is no reason to believe otherwise), stopping Forcier will be a difficult task for The Citadel’s defense.

If dealing with Forcier wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs must also contend with Jerodis Williams, who rushed for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns against Coastal (including a 68-yard score).  Williams was the Southern Conference offensive player of the week, and also picked up FCS National Back of the Week honors from something called the “College Football Performance Awards“.

Furman had five different receivers catch passes against the Chanticleers (including Williams).  Tyler Maples had five receptions for 65 yards.  Colin Anderson had four catches, and presumably will have a career day against The Citadel, as has often been the case for Furman tight ends.

Along the offensive line, Furman has experienced and well-regarded tackles (one of whom, Ryan Lee, is moving from guard to tackle) and a veteran center, Daniel Spisak (who is Matt Millen’s nephew).  The guards include a first-year starter who came to Furman as a walk-on, and a sophomore who started three times last season before a season-ending foot injury.

Furman placekicker Ray Early was 11-12 on field goal attempts last season, including a long of 52 yards, and only missed one extra point all year (40-41).  Against Coastal Carolina, however, Early’s first field goal attempt of the season was blocked, and he then missed the PAT after the Paladins’ first touchdown.

After that, Early did not attempt a placekick in the game (although he did kick off), giving way to Furman punter Chas Short.  That may be something to watch on Saturday.

Short, incidentally, had a fine year for Furman in 2010.  The Paladins finished in the top 10 nationally in net punting.

With Furman having allowed a bunch of rushing yards to Coastal Carolina, and having lost the time of possession battle so decisively, there may be some hope among Bulldog fans that the Paladins’ defensive issues could play into The Citadel’s hands on Saturday.  As Jeff Hartsell wrote in The Post and Courier:

…on defense, the Paladins’ 4-3 look was blitzed for 237 rushing yards, including 105 yards and two TDs by CCU quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Jamie Childers. That might bode well for the Bulldogs’ option attack, as QB Ben Dupree went for 141 yards and two scores in a 31-9 win over Jacksonville. Higgins said Dupree was 23 for 23 on his option reads, and The Citadel rushed for 439 yards, the most since 1994.

That does seem promising from The Citadel’s perspective.  I would make this observation, though:

The Bulldogs ran the ball well on Furman last year, dominated time of possession, and lost 31-14.  The Citadel gained 294 net yards rushing on 60 attempts, held the ball for over 36 minutes — and did not score until the fourth quarter.

Actually, The Citadel’s 359 total yards against Furman in 2010 was the most yardage gained by the Bulldogs in any Southern Conference game for the entire season.  The problem?  Three turnovers, a missed field goal, and a failed fourth-down try inside the Furman 25.  Another issue was that The Citadel started very slowly on offense, gaining only 64 total yards on its first five possessions.

Conversely, Furman got out of the blocks fast on offense in each half, scoring touchdowns on its initial drive in both the first and third quarters.  Of the Paladins’ other three scores against The Citadel, two came on drives starting in Bulldog territory after an interception and a failed onside kick.

Kevin Higgins has said in the past that sometimes it takes a triple option team a possession or two to figure out how the defense is playing.  That makes sense.  You could see it in last week’s game against Jacksonville, as the game was well into the second quarter until Triple O’Higgins got fully warmed up.

Against a SoCon opponent, though, it needs to warm up faster.  The Bulldogs can’t go an entire quarter with no offensive production, especially as running the offense generally means there are fewer possessions in the game.  Also, while obvious, The Citadel must control its fumbling problems, which cropped up against Jacksonville (albeit with only one coming on an exchange) and stay “on schedule”.

The other thing that can’t happen Saturday if The Citadel has any chance of winning is for the defense to concede relatively easy touchdown drives right out of the dressing room.  Last season, Furman’s TD drives in each half were for a total of 123 yards and featured only two third-down plays.

What the defense really needs is to force some turnovers.  Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs forced no turnovers and also did not record a sack.

The Bulldogs must also contain Forcier, who is capable of making big plays with his arm or his feet, and prevent Williams from breaking long runs, such as the one he had against Coastal Carolina.  (Also, the defense must watch the tight end.  He’ll be catching the ball over the middle for 15 yards before you know it.  Two or three times.)

I thought Ben Dupree played well against Jacksonville.  What he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that he has the ability to make big plays.  While the triple option is mostly about moving the chains, it’s important to have a breakaway aspect to the offense, and Dupree can provide that with his running ability.  He is still a work in progress as a passer.  If he continues to improve that part of his game, he will be a very dangerous weapon indeed.

Terrell Dallas’ injury against the Dolphins was not serious, thankfully, but it appears he may not play on Saturday.  That will be a loss, but Darien Robinson showed he is quite capable of handling the fullback position.

I thought the defense really came to play against Jacksonville.  Now it faces another challenge.  It won’t have the size and depth advantage against Furman that it had against the Dolphins.

Odds and ends:

– Check out the game notes to see all the different helmet logos The Citadel has had over the years (page 5).  There have been no fewer than 25 different designs since 1952 (and I think it’s likely there have been a few more that went unrecorded).

Those artist renderings/photos in the game notes came from the Helmet Archive, a good site if you want to peruse helmet histories of other teams as well.

– Has anyone else noticed that there are a lot of entities giving out “player of the week” awards these days?  It’s hard to figure out which ones to take seriously.  I can’t decide if the plethora of “recognition sites” is a boon or a curse for athletic media relations departments.

– The Summerall Guards are performing at halftime, but not at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Guards will be in Death Valley for the Wofford-Clemson game (it is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson).  It strikes me as a little odd that they would perform at another stadium on the same day as a home football game, but no big deal.

I’m looking forward to the game.  I am hopeful that the success of the home opener, along with Saturday’s opponent, results in a nice crowd at JHS.  As for the on-field action, I’m not quite sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw against Jacksonville.  I would like to be pleasantly surprised again.

Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Furman

Now that all the non-conference games have been played, it’s time for Southern Conference action to begin.  The Citadel will begin the SoCon slate by going on the road to face its traditional league opening game opponent…Furman.

Uh, Furman?  As the first conference game of the season?  In September?  When has that ever happened?

It’s happened once before.  In 1976, the Bulldogs and Paladins met on September 25 (same date as this year) in Greenville (same locale as this year) to play the league opener for both schools (same situation as this year).  The Citadel edged Furman that day, 17-16 (hey, that can be the same too, as far as I’m concerned).

The other 88 gridiron meetings between the Palmetto State schools took place in October or November.  Occasionally you will hear someone (often a Paladin supporter, but sometimes a Bulldog fan) gripe about how the game should be played at the end of the season, “like it used to be,” and blame somebody (The Citadel’s former AD, Walt Nadzak, usually plays the bogeyman) for the end of “the tradition” that was the season finale.

I want to delve into this a little, because the notion that Furman and The Citadel used to always play at the end of the season is wrong, and so is the idea that there is an implied tradition with regards to end-of-season meetings for either school.

The Citadel and Furman have met 89 times.  On 19 of those occasions, the game was the last game of the (regular) season for both schools.

The Citadel and Furman met in the season finale in 1965, 1966, and 1967, and then for sixteen straight years, from 1977 through 1992.

Prior to that 16-year stretch, though, the game was generally a midseason clash, much like Clemson-South Carolina was for many years (“Big Thursday”).  The opponent that has been Furman’s season-ending opponent most often is actually Clemson, and the Paladins also have had numerous seasons end with games against Wofford and UT-Chattanooga (which replaced The Citadel in the last-game rotation for a decade).  Furman has finished campaigns with opponents as diverse as Georgia and Maryville; as recently as the 1970s, the Paladins ended seasons against Louisville and Wake Forest.

Tangent #1:  While researching Furman’s football history, I enjoyed looking through the school’s excellent media guide, which includes some cool photos.  My personal favorite is the picture of the 1927 squad, known as the “30-Mule Team”, which went 10-1 and appears to have been sponsored by Target.

The Citadel has finished its season with Furman more than any other school, but has ended its season with South Carolina almost as many times (17), and has concluded numerous campaigns with Davidson, Wofford, and VMI.  The full list of final opponents for the Bulldogs is long and includes both Florida State (during the Lee Corso era) and Florida (during the Tim Tebow era), along with Clemson, Vanderbilt, North Carolina State, Sewanee, and the Parris Island Marines, just to name a few.

Tangent #2:  The Citadel actually has finished with Furman in twenty different seasons. In 1942 the two schools played on November 2.  That would wind up being the last game of the year for The Citadel in a shortened season, as every available upperclassman was called up to serve in World War II.  The Paladins played two more games that year.  Furman also had its fair share of students who went to serve their country; neither school would field a football team again until 1946.

The argument over whether the two schools should meet at the end of the season can be looked at in two ways:  1) How important is it to play a “rival” at the end of the season, and 2) how much tradition does The Citadel-Furman have as a year-end rivalry game?  My answers would be 1) it’s of limited importance, and 2) not a whole lot.

There are great end-of-season rivalries, of course — Army-Navy, Michigan-Ohio State, Harvard-Yale.  However, there are also great midseason rivalries, like Oklahoma-Texas, or Alabama-Tennessee.  Then you have Southern Cal-Notre Dame, which is a midseason game in South Bend but is played near the end of the year in Los Angeles.

What those end-of-season games have in common, for the most part, is that they have been the final game for each school for decades.  That’s not something that can be said for The Citadel-Furman, a game that has been played more often in October (51 times) than in November (37).

Part of this, of course, is how each individual fan views the series.  For me, I have always thought of it as a midseason contest.  When the game is played in Greenville, I picture a mid-October fall day with the leaves just beginning to change color.  When it’s in Charleston, I think of gorgeous October afternoons, crisp and clear as the late-summer low country heat finally dissipates.

Okay, so maybe the weather isn’t always so nice.  Just work with me…

I also think it’s not a bad thing that it is played at a different time of year than Clemson-South Carolina.  I always felt the matchup was given short shrift from the state’s media entities when it was played on the same day.  Having it at midseason gives it a time and place of its own in the state, and some additional publicity.

I can understand why some Furman fans want the game to be the season finale. Back in that stretch during the 1980s when it was the final game of the year, Furman was at its zenith as a football program.  Alums remember those days fondly and want to revisit them in every way possible.  Homecomings on the Greenville campus usually feature men wearing Members Only jackets and women with shoulder pads bigger than those of the football players, many of them gyrating to the sound of their favorite band, Winger.  Big hair is everywhere.

The scene is very different at The Citadel, of course, as it is renowned as a forward-thinking institution, and its alums have led the way into the 21st century.

Since this is a blog that tends to focus on The Citadel, I’ll now return to the 21st century.  Let’s take a brief look at the game to be played on Saturday…

Adam Mims is good.  He already holds the Furman career record for receptions (157), and he added to that mark in a major way against a very good South Carolina defense on Saturday.  Mims had 10 catches for 202 (!) yards, which included a 72-yard TD reception.  Just for fun, he also had two rushes for 26 yards.  In his previous two games against the Bulldogs, Mims has totaled 15 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

Furman was trailing 31-19 with less than six minutes to play against the Gamecocks, but had the momentum and was driving for another score before an ill-fated pass resulted in a pick-six that iced the game.  It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if the Paladins had scored to get within a touchdown.  I would not have bet against a 3-and-out for the Gamecock offense, and Furman then having the chance to drive down the field for a game-winning TD.

That it didn’t happen doesn’t take away from Furman’s solid performance.  The Paladins scored as many points against South Carolina as the Gamecocks’ first two opponents combined, and those opponents were Southern Mississippi and Georgia.

The bad news for the Paladins is that its two-quarterback rotation was reduced to one, as Chris Forcier (the “running” QB) suffered an injury against the Gamecocks and is out for the season.  That leaves the reigns entirely to Cody Worley, the “passing” quarterback.

This will be a blow for Furman (Forcier was averaging over 15 yards per rush, including an 85-yard TD against Colgate), but Worley seems more than capable of shouldering the load.  I’m not sure how much more of a passer Worley really is as compared to Forcier, and at any rate I would expect him to do his fair share of running too.

Furman rushed for 377 yards against Colgate, which is probably a better approximation of what to expect from the Paladins’ running attack than its numbers versus the Gamecocks.  Tersoo Uhaa rushed for 126 yards on 16 carries.  With that kind of success on the ground, the Paladins only attempted 18 passes, completing eleven — interestingly, to seven different receivers.

Furman had two tight ends each catch one pass in that game, which is about four catches less than that position seems to historically have against The Citadel on a per-game basis.  Speaking of history, starting tight end Colin Anderson is a direct descendant of the man who commanded Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War.

On defense, Furman appears improved from last season, although obviously it’s hard to tell after just two games, with one of those against an FBS opponent.  The Paladins may be susceptible to the pass, but that isn’t likely to be a problem for them against the Bulldogs.  However, I do expect The Citadel to go to the air a few more times than would normally be the case.

The key man in the defensive unit is safety Max Lerner, who spends most of his time somewhere other than where the opposition wants him to be.  He’s a very good player.  How Furman chooses to employ him against The Citadel’s triple option attack will be something to watch on Saturday.

Furman has dangerous return men.  Mims handles the punt return duties, and the kickoff returners include Mike Brown, who had a 76-yard kickoff return for a TD against The Citadel in that nutty 2007 game.

Saturday’s game is going to be a “white out” for Paladin fans.  I’ve always been a little leery about the effectiveness of these types of things (with occasional exceptions).  I think it’s because I remember the time a few years ago when South Carolina had a “black out” for a night game against Florida.  The Gator QB was Rex Grossman.  After the game, an easy Florida win, someone asked Grossman about it, and he said something like “you couldn’t see any of the fans, it was like nobody was there.”

The Citadel is going to have a “red out” for Homecoming.  I’m on record (from my preview of the Presbyterian game) as being a touch dubious about that one too, especially given the opponent, but it’s all in the name of merchandising.

I don’t pretend to be an insider when it comes to The Citadel, so I certainly won’t try to suggest I know the inner workings in Paladin Land, but I have to wonder how big a year this is for Bobby Lamb.  Furman fans are getting antsy about a playoff drought, and about being an also-ran for the SoCon crown in recent years.  Losing three of four to The Citadel would not help the cause.

For The Citadel to emerge victorious in this game, it must win the battle of clichés.  By that I mean it has to win the turnover battle and control the clock and field position. The time of possession is something that I think the Bulldogs can have some success in managing, but only if the defense can prevent the Paladins from those long, 70+-yard drives that Furman has specialized in over the years.  You’ve seen the script:  the throw down the middle to an open tight end…the delayed handoff on 2nd and 7 that goes for nine yards…the quarterback keeper for six yards…etc.

The Bulldogs also need to avoid penalties.  The Citadel committed only two infractions against Arizona, but regressed against Presbyterian.  Penalties on offense are particularly costly in the triple option, as they throw the team “off schedule”.

I don’t think The Citadel’s squad has many advantages in this game.  One possible advantage is that the pressure should be on Furman, which has greater expectations this season and which excited its fan base with its excellent effort against South Carolina.  With that considered, a good start for the Bulldogs would be particularly welcome.

Regardless of how you feel about what time of year these two schools should play their annual football game, I think everyone agrees that September 25 is too early.  For that, we can all join together to blame the SoCon league office.  However, I’m sure all the fans and players will be ready to go at 2 pm this Saturday anyway.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 713 other followers