Game review, 2013: VMI

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

School release

Box score

WCSC-TV report (video)

Postgame comments from Kevin Higgins, Ben Dupree, and Sadath Jean-Pierre (YouTube video)

Kevin Higgins’ locker room speech (YouTube video)

Radio highlights

Also worth a link: Danny Reed’s pregame interview of Brian Ruff. I thought Ruff’s comments about Bobby Ross were particularly noteworthy, but the entire interview is quite interesting. I highly recommend it.

Well, the first half wasn’t exactly the finest Bulldog performance in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium. I couldn’t believe that VMI’s iron-deficient offense was consistently moving the ball on The Citadel’s D. Indeed, the Keydets did not punt in the entire half.

The offense wasn’t as bad, with the notable exception of the final series of the half. The playcalling on that drive was suspect at best.

However, adjustments were clearly made. Whether or not some of those adjustments were suggested with raised voices, the bottom line is that the Bulldogs played very well in the second half and took care of business, retaining the coveted Silver Shako in style.

The Citadel’s defense finished with seven sacks, some of which were quite impressive.

Derek Douglas pulling down VMI starting quarterback A.J. Augustine on a fourth-down play was memorable, though it wouldn’t have happened in the days of the tearaway jerseys. I can distinctly recall Stump Mitchell running for a long TD in a game against VMI, leaving multiple Keydet defenders in his wake, with several left holding a piece of Mitchell’s jersey…

Later in Saturday’s game, Douglas had another sack (this time of backup VMI quarterback Hayden Alford) in which he did not appear to actually put his hands on the QB; rather, he basically ran over him. From my vantage point in the stands, it was an explosive play, and also a very funny one.

VMI offensive lineman Emmanuel Cooper injured his knee late in the game, and then apparently started having heat-related issues. Best wishes to Cooper, and to his teammates, some of whom may have also struggled in the more-tropical-than-expected conditions.

From a fan’s perspective, the weather for the game was outstanding. The Citadel played six home games in 2013, and a jacket was not really necessary for any of them.

In a way, however, that makes the disappointing season attendance seem even worse. Saturday’s matchup with VMI was the least-attended contest at Johnson Hagood Stadium this year, though there wasn’t much difference in the attendance for any of the home games.

You can’t blame rain or cold for that, not this season.

I’m going to write about some of my thoughts on the attendance issues after the season, possibly in December. I want to think about it a little bit longer. There are a lot of “talking points”, if you will.

At that time, I’m also going to discuss in more detail the recent news that The Citadel is actually going to play a football game in Ladson next season, at Charleston Southern. I’ll be honest: I think it’s a terrible decision, one that provides no benefit to The Citadel at all.

After the football game, I wandered over to McAlister Field House to watch the hoopsters in person for the first time this season. The team played well against an overmatched opponent (North Greenville, a Division II school), winning 83-53.

The best thing about the Bulldogs’ play was the lack of turnovers. The Citadel’s turnover rate in the past two seasons has been horrendous, and a major reason why the program has struggled so much.

I am worried about the serious lack of depth in the squad (currently, only nine players are available).

At the end of my photo review of the football activities, I threw in a few photos of the basketball game. They won’t win any awards.

Coming up later in the week, I’ll preview the football team’s game against Clemson. Do the Tigers have a chance of winning their home finale? Maybe.

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.

Game Review, 2012: VMI

The Citadel 27, VMI 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Roanoke Times

Game story, The Post and Courier 

Note: both articles above written by Randy King of The Roanoke Times

The Citadel’s release

VMI’s release

Highlights from the game (video)

VMI postgame press conference with Sparky Woods and two players (video)

Box score

Uh, phew…

For the second week in a row, The Citadel built up a big lead only to see its opponent mount a furious comeback. For the second week in a row, the Bulldogs held on.

I don’t think anyone was truly surprised when Elon finally began scoring points in the second half of last week’s game. However, VMI should have been put away midway through the third quarter. The fact that the Keydets were one drive away from a miraculous victory is worrisome.

After Derek Douglas rumbled into the end zone with a fumble (following a sack by Mark Thomas), it was hard to imagine VMI doing much of anything in response. Not that anyone expected the Keydets to quit, but as it happens the Bulldogs helped VMI make its move.

Special teams were less than special. The Citadel should have had a sizable edge in this department, given the performances of the two teams’ kicking units during the season, but that wasn’t the case. The kickoff coverage for the Bulldogs was unacceptable, and there was also a blocked field goal attempt.

Sparky Woods said after the game that The Citadel “played better in the kicking game” than VMI, but I can’t say that I agree with him.

Then there were the penalties. I was concerned about the tendency of VMI’s opponents to commit more than their typical number of infractions, but the Bulldogs outdid themselves in a negative way, committing nine fouls for 89 yards. Seven of those penalties (and 79 of the 89 total yards) came in the second half and helped enable the Keydet comeback.

I wasn’t all that surprised VMI had some success defensively against The Citadel. I thought going into the game that the Keydet D was a bit underrated, and basically hamstrung by an ineffective offense.

However, the Bulldogs’ defense was disappointing, particularly in the second half. VMI does not have a big-play offense, but The Citadel allowed two huge pass plays (81 and 38 yards) to the Keydets that set up touchdowns.

The fumble return by Douglas was critical, and Sparky Woods has to be very tired of guys named Douglas making plays for The Citadel against his teams. However, don’t overlook Thomas Warren’s second made field goal, which pushed the margin to ten points with less than five minutes to play. The Bulldogs needed those three points.

That field goal came after The Citadel started on its own 49, a short field gifted to the Bulldogs by a “pop-up” kick that went awry. Woods said that it wasn’t really an onside kick attempt, but a placement-type kick that just wasn’t properly executed.

I questioned the play-calling (or simply the act of calling plays) at the end of the Western Carolina game. I’m going to do it again…

Aaron Miller picked up a first down for The Citadel with 2:42 remaining in the game. VMI was by then out of timeouts.

At that point, the Bulldogs could have lined up in “Victory Formation” and kneeled down three times. The clock would have run out, and The Citadel would have the victory.

However, three running plays were called instead, including two handoffs. I suppose the first down play (on which Miller kept for a four-yard loss) could be justified as ensuring the Bulldogs could run out the clock. It would have been close, though I think a run wasn’t necessary.

However, on second and third down it was clear that a kneeldown would do the trick. By that third down play, I was — well, I was upset, to be honest. I could just visualize a Joe Pisarcik-Herm Edwards situation that would be fondly remembered by Keydet fans for decades.

That didn’t happen, but it shouldn’t have been left to chance. It was the second time this season The Citadel had not properly managed the end of the game. If that keeps up, the Bulldogs will eventually get burned.

I’m not trying to be negative. After all, the Bulldogs clinched a winning season, which was the primary goal going into the 2012 campaign. The Citadel remains alive for a playoff berth, but realistically that isn’t going to happen. That’s okay, though. Beating Furman to finish 7-4 would be more than good enough for me.

It was nice to hear VMI’s band play on a regular basis during the game, as opposed to the game at Wofford (which has no band) and the games at Johnson Hagood Stadium (where the band is only occasionally allowed to play). However, someone needs to tell the band when to stop. For one thing, I think a VMI false start penalty in the second quarter could be largely attributed to the band playing as the Keydets were about to snap the ball.

I enjoyed the day in Lexington. The weather was great, and the gameday atmosphere was solid. Plenty of blue-clad supporters were on hand to cheer on the Bulldogs, coming close to filling the (admittedly small) visitors’ section of Foster Stadium.

The home side was mostly full too, a tribute to a very loyal VMI fan base. Some of those same fans traveled to Charleston for last year’s game between the two teams. They were part of arguably the most impressive (on a per capita basis, at least) group of visiting supporters, especially striking given VMI’s way-too-long stretch of gridiron futility.

Those fans deserve a winning season sooner than later, and I hope they get one. Of course, I don’t want it to come at The Citadel’s expense. I prefer that the coveted Silver Shako remain in Charleston, where it belongs.

Pictures…well, every week I write about what a lame-o photographer I am, but I may have set a new standard for ineptitude this week. What follows is the best of a sorry lot.

I took a lot of pictures of the campus and the Saturday parade. VMI is an interesting place. I firmly believe every graduate of The Citadel needs to visit VMI at least once, and vice versa.

Included are a few pictures from the lacrosse match that took place on Saturday, which raised $3,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Great job by those guys (not for the first time, either).

I also watched the women’s rugby game for a short time, which more than matched the football game for sheer brutality. There are a few pictures in the set from that contest, as well as the halftime Rugby 7s exhibition.

Besides the “action” shots at the football game, there are pictures of the marchover.

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.

Game Review, 2011: Jacksonville

The Citadel 31, Jacksonville 9.

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

First, some recaps from the press:

Jeff Hartsell’s article in The Post and Courier

Hartsell’s notes from the game

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

The Citadel’s release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to Furman…

Review: Arizona

Well, it was about what I expected.

Arizona is probably a better-than-average Pac-10 team, possibly a contender in that league (although Oregon has to be the favorite).  The Wildcats did what top-25 FBS teams are supposed to do when playing an outmanned FCS squad.

I don’t believe in moral victories, but I do believe in looking at the positive side of things when it’s warranted.  Some points in The Citadel’s favor:

1.  It wasn’t a complete debacle.  I was worried that even if The Citadel were not completely overmatched, the nascent offensive system would turn the ball over repeatedly and give Arizona a bunch of easy points.  Other than a couple of mini-stretches late in the first half and early in the second, however, that didn’t happen.  52-6 may not look that great, but it’s a lot better than 82-6.

2.  Apparently the Bulldogs came out of the game relatively unscathed.  Kevin Higgins mentioned Alex Carr and Tolu Akindele had been banged up in his press conference, but he didn’t rule any player out for the game against Presbyterian.

Two players Higgins didn’t mention but who I wondered about (in terms of injuries) were Johnathan Glaspie and Tyler Starnes, both of whom took big hits during the game.  Glaspie actually re-entered the game after taking a shot earlier in the contest.  (Judging from his expression as he walked off the field, I wasn’t sure he knew if he was in Tucson or still playing for Spring Valley High School.)  Starnes got somersaulted on a carry near the end of the game; it’s a wonder he didn’t suffer a serious leg injury.

– Edit:  According to Jeff Hartsell, Higgins did mention Starnes in his Monday presser.

3.  The defensive line was solid.  The Bulldogs appear to have found a potential star in Derek Douglas, who was singled out for praise by Higgins, and deservedly so.  He wasn’t the only lineman to make a play or two in the game, though.  I particularly liked the lick Erik Clanton laid on one unsuspecting Wildcat running back.  Of course, it helps when nobody blocks you…

4.  Sam Martin did a nice job running the offense when he entered the game.  I went back and noted who was in the game for Arizona on defense when Martin began his first drive.  The Wildcats had nine of their eleven defensive starters in the game, plus two other players who were in their regular rotation on the line.  In other words, he wasn’t playing against walk-ons when he led The Citadel to its first score.

5.  Although he didn’t throw the ball real well and didn’t have much luck moving the team, Matt Thompson never seemed to panic and maintained his poise.

6.  I agree with Higgins that the tackling was better against Arizona.  However, I think it still needs improvement.

7.  Terrell Dallas showed flashes of what he’s capable of accomplishing in this offense, which is a lot.

8.  The Citadel got an encouraging performance from its special teams units.  Cass Couey had an excellent game.  I bet he enjoyed punting in the desert air.  Sam Keeler made both of his field goal attempts; I hope that will improve his confidence.  The coverage teams did a nice job, and freshman Terrance Martin established himself as The Citadel’s primary kick returner.

9.  The Bulldogs only committed two penalties for a total of nine yards, my favorite statistic from the game.  More of that, please.

Obviously, there were negatives unrelated to the competition that need to be addressed.  Some of those for the offense would be the center-QB exchange, the pitch techniques, and the dropped passes (hopefully an anomaly).  The defense must continue to concentrate on tackling, and the back seven must show more dynamism.

There are more observations to make about what will (or should) happen going forward, of course.  I’ll try to mention those in my preview of the Presbyterian game.

Review: Chowan

It was hot.

That wasn’t surprising.  An early September day in Charleston is a good candidate to be hot.  I think the heat/humidity combo in Charleston at this time of year is actually worse than that of Columbia, and everyone knows how hot Columbia can get.  The game started promptly at 1 pm.  Thus, it was hot.

The heat probably was a factor in the announced attendance of 9,106.  That’s the lowest home attendance for a Bulldog home game since the 2004 game against Benedict (5,127).  I was there for that one too; that was a Thursday night “experiment” played during the period the home stands had been dismantled.

Also a factor, of course, was the anonymity of the opponent and the program’s lack of success in recent years.  I think that even if The Citadel had been playing a name opponent after coming off a winning season, though, the 1 pm start time might have turned off a lot of people.  The early afternoon start times are convenient for me, but in the main most fans (or potential fans) don’t want to be in the stands at that time during late summer.

As was pointed out to me, however, the Frosty accompanying the attendance announcement on the scoreboard filled up anyway.  Imagine if we had 15,000 or so in attendance; the cup would have overflowed.  What a waste of Frosty that would be.

As for the game itself, some quick points:

– Late in the second quarter, Chowan gave up 28 points in 1:18 of game time, which is not easy to do.  The score went from 21-0 to 49-0 while a good chunk of the crowd was underneath the stands, having left early for halftime.  I’ll say this for the Hawks, though — they didn’t quit.  It would have been easy to mail it in after such a demoralizing sequence of events, but Chowan scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter and played hard throughout the second half.

– The “triple option” offense, it seemed to me, was for the most part restricted to two options rather than three.  There weren’t a lot of plays that led to a pitch, or the chance of a pitch.  I thought the game plan was conservative, which was not inappropriate, but wasn’t all that effective either.  The blocking needs to be improved, particularly on the perimeter.

Here are some (distinctly unprofessional) pictures of the offense for anyone interested.  There is a shot of the offense in its basic formation; one with multiple wideouts; and a really bad “action” shot of the offense:

– I was a little disappointed in the defense, which allowed a number of long drives and big plays.  Twice Chowan got to the Bulldog 1-yard line in the first half and failed to score.  I guess you can credit The Citadel’s D for making the stops when it mattered, but in both cases it had more to do with Chowan shooting itself in the foot than superior defensive play.

The defense missed too many tackles, and the secondary blew some coverage assignments.  Part of the latter had to do with different personnel getting a chance to play, which is understandable.  There is no excuse for missing tackles, though.  The defensive line played well, although the second Chowan TD came on a play during which a lineman whiffed on an easy sack.

Here is a before/after shot sequence for fans of the D to enjoy, though.  Chowan is about to snap the ball on a 4th-quarter play where it has the ball on the Bulldog 12, second-and-7.  The second picture shows the aftermath of the play, thanks to Derek Douglas (Chowan would eventually miss a FG on the drive).

– I thought Matt Thompson had a good game, although I wouldn’t anoint him the permanent starter just yet.  I think Ben Dupree deserves to get some time, too, and I also think Sam Martin should continue to get some looks.  Thompson did show a good throwing arm.

It helped that he had Domonic Jones as a target.  Jones is 6’5″ and plays every inch of that.  He should be causing problems for SoCon defenses for several years to come.

– I noticed there were no names on the jerseys, which I thought was interesting.  The light blue jersey/navy pants combination still looks awful.

I’ll write about the Arizona game in my preview of that matchup, but suffice to say it’s going to be a major challenge for the Bulldogs.  I was impressed with the Wildcats when I watched them play on Friday night at Toledo.  Arizona has serious playmakers at quarterback, running back, and receiver, and a solid defense.  The one thing going for the Bulldogs is that the desert heat should not present any problems, after playing in the heat and humidity of midday Charleston.

The new “Kids Zone” debuted on Saturday.  This is a good idea and I was glad to see it. I even took a couple of pictures of the KZ (in one, a cadet is staring almost directly into the camera, clearly wondering to herself why someone would be taking pictures).

I took this picture (which includes the captains about to go onto the field for the coin toss) just to show how hot it was.  It was apparently too hot for General and Boo (note the absence of the doghouse, to say nothing of the dogs themselves).

Edit:  I just noticed that one of the dogs (probably General) is standing on top of a table near the top left of the picture, just outside a tent, being held on a leash by (I think) Mike Groshon.  So there was at least a cameo appearance by the live mascot.  You can also see the doghouse under the tent.  Looks like they were trying to keep him in the shade as much as possible, which strikes me as a very good idea.

I went to the Holliday Alumni Center to get my first in-person look at Big Red, the original.  It is actually a little smaller than I thought it would be, but it’s still arresting visually.  (For those unfamiliar with Big Red, its backstory.)

Here are a few more pictures to end this post.  These are just some shots of the field just prior and during the team’s entrance.  The last one includes some cannon fire in the background.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 702 other followers