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

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

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

Anyway, without further ado:

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

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

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

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

- Lowcountry Jazz Festival (North Charleston Coliseum)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other events on September 27:

- Folly Beach Pier Tournament

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

- MOJA Arts Festival

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

- Taste of Charleston

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

October 11 — The Citadel vs. Charlotte, 2 pm

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

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

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

Horning in on the October 11 action:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also of note:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

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

November 8 — The Citadel vs. Furman, 2 pm

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

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

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

Other events:

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

- Lowcountry Hoedown (Charleston Visitors Center)

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

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

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

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

November 15 — The Citadel vs. Samford, 1 pm

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

Remaining in the Charleston metropolitan area:

- Fly Fishing School (West Ashley)

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

- Plantation Days (Middleton Place)

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

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

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

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

Just win, baby.

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

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

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

Anyway, here we go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

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

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

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

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

C’mon, football. Get here…

SoCon Hall of Fame: yet another league failure

A follow-up post: SoCon Hall of Fame Revisited — From Bad to Worse

On Thursday, the Southern Conference announced its latest inductees into its Hall of Fame. As has been the case every year since the SoCon created its Hall of Fame, no one representing The Citadel was selected.

This is the 78th year that The Citadel has been a member of the conference. There are at least a dozen candidates associated with the school who could be honored by the league. Instead, nada, zero, zilch.

Am I biased? Yes. However, the exclusion of every Bulldog athlete or coach from the SoCon’s Hall of Fame is ridiculous.

It is also an embarrassment for the conference. Not only has The Citadel been ignored, but VMI has as well. When VMI returns to the league after the conclusion of this academic year, the SoCon will have two schools with a combined 157 years of membership and no Hall of Fame honorees.

On the other hand, Fayetteville State does have an inductee.

Yes, you read that right. Fayetteville State, despite never being a member of the Southern Conference (or Division I, for that matter), has a representative in the league’s Hall of Fame, but The Citadel and VMI do not. How is this possible?

It’s possible because among the inductees is former officiating supervisor Jim Burch, a graduate of Fayetteville State.

The SoCon won’t see fit to enshrine any alums or coaches from the two military colleges that have been a part of the league for decades. However, the league has actually honored not one, but two basketball officiating supervisors.

It’s rather incredible, really, since this is the Southern Conference we’re talking about. The league has not been known over the years for excellence in basketball officiating (and I’m being kind here).

The SoCon has bent over backwards to honor players and coaches from its distant past. Now, I respect history, probably more than a lot of people. However, this has led to a problem.

After the 2013-14 campaign, there will be ten schools in the conference, and they will have combined for 377 years of league membership. Total number of athletes from those schools the conference has inducted into its Hall of Fame: Seven.

Five of those honorees are women, and two are men (both from Furman: Frank Selvy and Clint Dempsey).

Meanwhile, the conference has honored athletes/coaches from thirteen other schools that left or will no longer be in the league after 2013-14, schools that have combined for 346 years of league membership. Total Hall of Famers: Twenty-four.

Many of those honorees competed in the league decades ago. This is why over one-fourth of the SoCon Hall of Famers were deceased when they were elected.

Robert Neyland is a legendary figure in college football. However, I don’t think he is remembered for his SoCon coaching career as much as he is as the standard-bearer for the early days of the SEC. Indeed, most of his bio on his “Hall of Fame” page on the SoCon’s website revolves around the time following his days in the Southern Conference.

It’s not just Neyland. Everett Case, Wallace Wade — these are big names, sure, but I’m not sure why the conference was so desperate to induct them so early in the proceedings. None of them were alive (Neyland and Case died in the 1960s), and there were other candidates who might have enjoyed a day in the sun. I can think of at least one coach who will now never get that opportunity.

This year, the SoCon added Eddie Cameron to the list of honored coaches associated with schools that haven’t been in the SoCon for more than six decades.

There are no male athletes from the 1970s and 1980s in the SoCon’s Hall of Fame (three women from the mid-to-late 1980s have been honored). Apparently the men who played in the conference during that era were all really lousy at sports. The period of bad masculine athletic prowess in the league lasted from 1966 to 1992.

- Number of football players honored by the league who competed after 1955: Two

- Number of baseball players honored by the league who competed after 1950: Zero

- Number of men’s basketball players honored by the league who competed after 1965: Zero

- Number of women’s track and field athletes honored by the league who competed after 1987: Four

The conference would presumably like to have a few “ambassador” types, which is what a lot of Halls of Fame are all about. However, if the SoCon doesn’t induct living people (non-track division) who actually identify with the league, and who are associated with it, that’s not going to happen.

The SoCon has a lot of issues. Just to name one, the continued failure of the conference to get a decent TV deal is an enormous problem. However, the mismanagement of its Hall of Fame is different from other league quandaries in that it is entirely a self-inflicted wound.

It may not be easy to get a television package (though it can’t be that hard, either, based on what other conferences have been able to do). However, I cannot understand how the powers-that-be at the SoCon, including commissioner John Iamarino, could so badly screw up the league’s Hall of Fame.

They have, though…and there are alums from at least one small military college who will remind SoCon administrators of that fact on a regular basis.

You can count on it.

Update, February 10 —  SoCon Hall of Fame revisited: from bad to worse

SoCon football geography: where are the prime recruiting areas for the league?

On Thursday, Benn Stancil of the analytics website Mode published an article called “Where Football Players Call Home“. It includes an interactive map that shows the hometowns of every Division I (FBS and FCS) football player, using ESPN as its information resource. The map further breaks down the findings by conference, team, and position.

You could spend hours looking at the various combinations offered up by the map. I’m not saying it would be healthy, but you could do that…

Some of the results are predictable. While big population centers like Los Angeles and Houston are responsible for the most players in terms of volume, the southeast produces the most on a per capita basis.

Then there is the reach of a program, in terms of how wide a recruiting area it has. Stancil came up with a measure of a school’s geographic diversity, describing it as follows:

 I calculated a rough measure of geographic diversity, based on how many states are represented on each team and how many players come from each state. For example, a team with 50 players from one state would have the lowest diversity score, while a state with one player from each of the 50 states would have the highest.

It probably doesn’t come as a shock that the “least diverse” schools from a geographic perspective are located in large, talent-rich states. The 22 least diverse football programs are all from California, Florida, and Texas. They have no need to expand their recruiting areas, so they don’t.

It is also not surprising that the list of most geographically diverse schools includes all of the Ivy League institutions and a couple of the service academies.  Notre Dame and Holy Cross are also near the top in this category. So are two D.C. schools, Georgetown and Howard.

The Mode map accounts for 907 Southern Conference football players on league rosters in 2013, with another 18 from “unknown or unmapped locations”.

Fulton and Gwinnett counties each had 35 SoCon players, part of the talent overload in metro Atlanta. Cobb County had 23 and DeKalb 15.

Other areas of interest to SoCon recruiters: the Charlotte area (including Mecklenburg County, home to 31 league players); Hillsborough County, FL (with 14 players, the most from a county outside the league’s geographic base); Wake County, NC (19); Guilford County, NC (14); Jefferson County, AL (20); Hamilton County, TN (16); and Spartanburg County, SC (17).

Odds and ends from perusing the map of the 2013 SoCon:

- Hennepin County, Minnesota, had four SoCon players. Three of them were at Wofford.

- Mobile County, Alabama, had nine players in the league. Eight of them were Bulldogs — four from Samford, and four from The Citadel.

- Even though it isn’t in the league’s geographic footprint, I think it’s surprising that only five of last season’s SoCon players hailed from Texas. Also, there were only three players from Mississippi, two from Louisiana, one from Oklahoma (The Citadel’s Nick Jeffreys), and none from Arkansas.

- In order, from most geographic diversity to least in 2013:

Wofford
Elon
The Citadel
Furman
Samford
Appalachian State
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Georgia Southern

- As for the new members, Mercer would have slotted in between Chattanooga and Georgia Southern. It will be interesting to see if that program continues to recruit mostly close to home in future years.

VMI would have been between Samford and Appalachian State. In what may illustrate one of the issues the Keydets have had in trying to be competitive on the gridiron, VMI had the least geographically diverse squad in the Big South last season.

While the state of Virginia has a lot of talented football players, the dilemma for VMI is that A) many other instate schools are recruiting those players, and B) being a military college significantly reduces the number of potential recruits.

The school needs to extend the geographic reach of its recruiting efforts if it wants to establish football relevancy in the Southern Conference. That may be difficult, given certain restrictions.

All in all, I thought this was a neat tool. It may also help to demonstrate which areas will be swarmed with recruiters in the weeks leading up to Signing Day…

McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

- The Citadel’s record: 4-14, 0-3 SoCon
– SoCon rank in offensive efficiency (through three games): 3rd
– SoCon rank in defensive efficiency (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in free throw shooting (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in 3-point shooting percentage (through three games) 1st

Yes, the offensive statistics through three league games aren’t bad at all. The Citadel has shot the ball well in its last three games, and fared well on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs also committed fewer turnovers in those three games (though still too many).

However, The Citadel still managed to lose all three of those games, blowing double-digit second-half leads in two of them. For a team that desperately needs a win (or two, or three, or four), it was rather dispiriting.

In those two losses (at home against Chattanooga and on the road versus Wofford), the Bulldogs basically let one player on each team dominate them inside and on the boards. Both UTC’s Z. Mason and Wofford’s Lee Skinner had what amounted to career nights against The Citadel, combining for 17 offensive rebounds and 19 made 2-point field goals (on 31 attempts).

Because of that, the Bulldogs are currently last in league play in defensive rebounding percentage. The Citadel is also last in the SoCon in forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have given their opponents so many “extra” chances to score that even solid perimeter defending hasn’t been enough.

In the “bad luck” category: The Citadel has done a good job keeping its SoCon opponents off the foul line (ranking 4th in the league in that category). However, those opponents are shooting 77.1% from the charity stripe, the highest percentage against any team in the league.

In the “not bad luck” category: The Bulldogs picked a bad time to go into a free throw shooting slump. No team has shot worse from the foul line than the Bulldogs in league action.

This comes after The Citadel did a fine job shooting free throws during the non-conference slate. However, the Bulldogs have not gone to the foul line enough all season as it is.

The Citadel is shooting slightly less than one free throw attempt for every field goal try (33%). The national average for FTA/FGA is 41%.

Of course, three games don’t reflect the entirety of the season, and the Bulldogs struggled mightily out of conference. The Citadel has as many losses to non-D1s as it does victories over D-1s, having lost to West Alabama and beaten Presbyterian.

For the season, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in offensive turnover rate, FTA/FGA, two-point field goal percentage, steals rate (offense), defensive rebounding percentage, steals rate (defense), and defensive turnover rate. Thanks to all those issues, the Bulldogs also rank in the bottom 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

In the Kenpom ratings, The Citadel is currently ranked 339th out of 351 Division I teams.

On the plus side, The Citadel has done a good job beyond the arc, both on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs’ tendency to throw the ball away on a semi-regular basis has been a problem for the past three seasons, as has the defensive issues. I will say that the defending has improved this season, at least on opponents’ initial shots. However, the inability to control the defensive glass has crushed The Citadel.

On his postgame radio show after the loss to Wofford, Chuck Driesell said of his team that “we’re getting close”.

With all due respect to Driesell, I don’t think he can say that. Not right now, anyway.

The goal for this season can’t be to have a record like last year (8-22) or the year before (6-24). This isn’t about trying to eke out a couple of victories or break a losing streak.

Getting close, in the context of this season, is putting together consecutive wins, and building on that — winning four out of six, seven out of ten, etc. Falling short in SoCon games isn’t getting the program to where it needs to be.

Because make no mistake, the Southern Conference is not good this year. It wasn’t very good last year either, but in 2013-14 the league has been dreadful.

There is no reason The Citadel can’t win a bunch of SoCon games, and the next couple of weeks will present the Bulldogs multiple opportunities to bounce back from their bad start in conference play.

On Thursday, The Citadel travels to Greensboro to face the Spartans. UNCG isn’t that bad, relative to the rest of the league, but this is a chance for the Bulldogs to win a road game.

UNCG actually has a turnover rate that is worse than The Citadel’s. Now, the Bulldogs haven’t proven capable of forcing many TOs all season, but this will be one game in which they have a shot at improving on that statistical category. If they can do so, they can win the game.

On Saturday, The Citadel hosts Furman, and then plays Appalachian State at McAlister Field House the following Thursday. I think the Bulldogs should win both contests. Not “can win”, but “should win”. Furman isn’t any better than The Citadel, and Appalachian State has arguably been worse so far this season.

In other words, the Bulldogs ought to win at least two of their next three games. If they don’t, it will be a disappointment.

After the loss to Elon, the sixth straight for the Bulldogs, Chuck Driesell had this to say:

You look at the stats and you think we could have won this game. But we were playing a good team on their home court. We kept our composure, but a couple of breaks didn’t go our way. But more guys are stepping up; everybody’s starting to come around.

I hope so. There would be nothing better than some positive news from the hardwood. Good basketball makes for a shorter winter.

Otherwise, Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow at McAlister Field House once again.

A brief review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season

Edit: less than 24 hours after I posted this, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach of The Citadel to take an assistant coaching position at Wake Forest. Obviously that makes part of the review a bit dated, but I’m leaving the post unchanged from when it went up. 

In my preview of The Citadel’s 2013 football campaign, I wrote the following:

…this could be a season of what-ifs rather than the big-win campaign that is the hope for Bulldog supporters. As always when it comes to the gridiron, the margin for error at The Citadel is small. To illustrate this, think of the task the team faces this year from what might be called the most negative point of view:

- The Citadel will play four opponents that are either FBS or transitioning to FBS (and thus will have more scholarship players). Three of those games will be on the road.

- The Citadel will play two other opponents that defeated the Bulldogs last season by a combined score of 66-17. Both of those teams return most of their key players.

- One opponent hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs during Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of The Citadel, while another has beaten The Citadel four times in the last five meetings.

- Of the remaining four opponents, last season The Citadel trailed one of them midway through the third quarter; was in a one-point game late in the third quarter to another; barely held off a late rally from a third; and was tied at halftime with the fourth.

I guess I could say I told you so, except I really can’t. I thought the Bulldogs would be a little better than they were, despite the seemingly difficult schedule. I was hoping that The Citadel would contend for the league title and/or a playoff berth.

That didn’t happen. It didn’t come close to happening, either.

The Bulldogs’ disappointing season was all the more frustrating by the way the season played out in the Southern Conference. The league wasn’t nearly as good as expected.

Appalachian State proved to be eminently beatable, and Georgia Southern was certainly no well-oiled machine. Wofford finished 5-6.

It was all there for The Citadel, ready for the taking…and the Bulldogs finished with a losing record.

Entering 2013 there were concerns about the defense, particularly the D’s ability to stop the run. How did the defense fare?

Comparing 2012 and 2013 (league contests only, per game average):

2012 points allowed: 26.75
2013 points allowed: 23.25

2012 total yards allowed: 395
2013 total yards allowed: 362.38

2012 rush yards allowed: 237.13
2013 rush yards allowed: 178.75

2012 pass yards allowed: 157.88
2013 pass yards allowed: 183.63

These numbers show some improvement from 2012 to 2013, which might surprise a few people. On a per-play basis, the defense improved from 5.75 yards per play (2012) to 5.47 (2013), though the yards allowed per pass attempt increased (from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.2 in 2013).

The Citadel forced twelve turnovers in league play this season, similar to 2012 (eleven). The Bulldogs recovered five fumbles in 2013, which matched 2012’s total.

The defense was credited with 28 passes defensed in eight conference games in 2013. Exactly 25% of those (seven) resulted in interceptions. That is slightly above the national average for defensed passes; basically, the Bulldogs intercepted one more pass in league play than would have been expected. That isn’t insignificant, especially if you think of the “extra” pick as, say, Mitchell Jeter’s grab in the Appalachian State game.

In all, The Citadel had breakups/interceptions on 13.7% of opponents’ passes in 2013 SoCon action. That was a slight improvement on 2012 (12.4%).

Ideally, the Bulldogs would have a higher percentage of passes defensed than 13.7%, though to be honest I suspect the benchmark for excellence in this area varies depending on defensive concepts. For example, Tulane tied for the national lead in FBS this past season in passes defended, with 84 in 12 games. The Green Wave had a breakup/pick rate of 20.7%.

However, Michigan State’s defense was arguably the most highly regarded in the entire country this year, and the Spartans’ PD rate was 14.4%. That didn’t stop MSU’s Darqueze Dennard from winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.

- Incidentally, Dennard was a “two-star” recruit from Dry Branch, Georgia.

The comparative per-game statistics in league play for The Citadel’s offense aren’t as positive.

2012 points: 29.75
2013 points: 24.25

2012 total yards: 382.5
2013 total yards: 350.25

2012 rush yards: 299.5
2013 rush yards: 256.63

2012 pass yards: 83.0
2013 pass yards: 93.63

The Bulldogs averaged just over six yards per play in 2012, but that number fell to 5.4 y/p in 2013. Rushing yards per play declined from 5.8 to 5.1.

While The Citadel’s passing yardage increased by over ten yards per SoCon game, that was due to an increased number of attempts (more than three per contest). The Bulldogs’ yards per pass attempt actually declined, from 7.2 (2012) to 6.4 (2013).

The Citadel threw the ball on 18.3% of its 2012 plays. That percentage increased to 22.6% in 2013.

It won’t surprise anyone reading this that in terms of total offense, The Citadel’s numbers were worse at the start of the conference season than at the end. The Bulldogs struggled out of the gate, averaging 314 yards per contest in their first three SoCon games, but by the end of the campaign seemed to have mostly put things together (404 yards per contest in the three final conference matchups).

The spring practice/preseason concentration on diversifying the offense backfired. It’s as simple as that.

The Citadel’s offense suffered a dropoff in “red zone” efficiency in 2013. When The Bulldogs advanced inside the opponents’ 20-yard line in 2012, they scored a touchdown 69% of the time. This past season, The Citadel scored TDs on only 60% of its trips inside the 20.

(Note: red zone numbers are for all games, not just Southern Conference matchups. All the other statistics I’ve mentioned above are for league games only.)

I think if the offense had performed at its 2012 levels in 2013, the Bulldogs would have finished no worse than 6-6 and probably should have been 7-5 (and maybe even 8-4). However, instead of finishing 5-3 in SoCon play (as it did in 2012), The Citadel was 4-4. That doesn’t even account for the embarrassing loss to Charleston Southern in the season opener.

The game against the Buccaneers probably didn’t help the Bulldogs’ confidence for the start of the league campaign, and so after five games The Citadel was 1-4 and the hopes and aspirations for 2013 were just about kaput. Breaking down the remaining seven games, the Bulldogs essentially performed up to preseason expectations (2-2 against App/GSU/UTC/Sam, wins over Elon and VMI, a loss to Clemson).

It was that early-season boondoggle that did in the Bulldogs. Furman played very well over the second half of 2013, but wasn’t nearly as good when the season began. The Citadel should have won that game, particularly given the Paladins’ QB issues at the time.

Against Wofford, the Bulldogs didn’t score an offensive touchdown. We all know what happened against Charleston Southern.

When Phil Kornblut asked Kevin Higgins to describe the season (prior to the game against Clemson), the coach was candid:

It was disappointing, for sure. We had much higher expectations than that. We played a lot of close football games throughout the season, [but] that’s not an excuse. We were hoping to finish a couple of those games off, but didn’t…the one positive was our guys kept fighting [and] never gave up.

Higgins is expected to still be the coach next season, and I’m okay with that. However, there are some Bulldog supporters who think a change should have been made, and I don’t think it’s ridiculous to feel that way.

There is a lot of frustration in the fan base with the struggles of the football program over the last two decades, and Kevin Higgins has now been the coach for nine seasons. He took over a program that could be reasonably described as unstable. That should be kept in mind when evaluating his time at the school. However, some aspects of his record are, well, not so good:

- He has only had a winning record twice in nine campaigns
– He has not defeated Wofford in nine seasons
– His record against Furman is 3-6
– His two losses to Charleston Southern rank among the worst in school history

That said, there are some things Higgins can’t control.

It’s not his fault the band isn’t allowed to play more often. Higgins isn’t responsible for the maddening videoboard/loudspeaker/music choices. He’s not the reason The Citadel’s video streaming setup never seems to work. He didn’t make the ludicrous (and potentially damaging) decision to play a road game at Charleston Southern next year.

I mention those things (among other issues) only because sometimes the team’s performance gets lumped in with all the other stuff that people complain about when it comes to the football program and the department of athletics in general. There is a fair amount of unease among The Citadel’s faithful fans, but a lot of it is not related to actual gridiron activity.

I am not certain what Higgins’ contract status is; there seems to be some confusion on that subject. Normally I am not a fan of retaining a coach who has just one remaining year on his contract, but I am willing to make an exception in this case (and again, I’m not sure he’s got only one year left anyway).

One reason I am amenable to giving Higgins a little more rope is that next year will be transitory in many respects, particularly with regards to the Southern Conference itself. I’m more than a little curious to see how things “play out” with the change in league membership.

Another factor is something Higgins mentioned to Phil Kornblut. This year’s team really did keep fighting. It certainly didn’t quit. I’ve said this before, but that is to the players’ credit, and it’s also a positive when discussing the coaching staff. Higgins didn’t “lose” the team in circumstances which were possibly conducive to doing just that. That’s a mark in his favor.

Next year’s slate is going to be a difficult one. It will probably be tougher than this year’s was supposed to be.

I’ll be ready for spring football, though. I may be already…

The “unofficial” 2014 SoCon football schedule

Last week the Southern Conference accidentally “leaked” the provisional 2014 composite league football schedule. It has since been removed from the conference website, but here is a .pdf of the document as it (briefly) appeared online:

2014 provisional SoCon football schedule

There are a few things on the provisional schedule that have already been changed. For example, Chattanooga will no longer be hosting Georgia State on September 6. Instead, the Mocs will open their 2014 season at Central Michigan on Thursday, August 28 and will play their home opener against Jacksonville State (apparently on September 6, essentially replacing the Georgia State game).

Not included on the provisional schedule, but announced earlier this year, is a 9/20 meeting between the Paladins and South Carolina State, to be played in Orangeburg. That will be a rematch of the first-round 2013 playoff game won by Furman, of course.

There is also a little confusion about Furman’s opponent on 10/25. Some reports suggest the Paladins will play Chattanooga on that date, but this schedule lists Samford as Furman’s homecoming opponent.

Other “holes” in the provisional schedule include the following:

- The opponent for VMI on 10/18 (a non-league matchup) is unknown. Edit 1/7/14: VMI will play Gardner-Webb on that date, in Lexington.

- Wofford will presumably add at least one more game to its schedule (if not two). As of right now, the Terriers only have four listed home games (including a non-conference game vs. Jacksonville). I’m guessing that Wofford will play another OOC matchup in Spartanburg on either 9/20 or 9/27.

- Western Carolina also will be adding another game or two to its slate. From what I understand, Brevard will almost certainly be an early-season home opponent for the Catamounts.

- Samford has reportedly bought its way out of its game at Southeastern Louisiana, which had been tentatively scheduled for 9/13. SU may want to play a home game on that date instead.

While there are still additions and changes to be made to various schedules, I suspect that the actual league games are more or less official (though the uncertainty about Furman’s home opponent on 10/25 does give one pause). Each team will play seven conference games in both 2014 and 2015, as the league waits for East Tennessee State to restart its football program.

Ultimately, this is just throwing out a little football news to talk about in the middle of December. Nothing wrong with that.

2013 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Elon

The Citadel at Elon, to be played in Elon, North Carolina, at Rhodes Stadium, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 9. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Elon game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jason Swepson on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Sunday Lifts” — The Citadel Strength and Conditioning

Vinny Miller had a good game against Samford

Elon video highlights against Chattanooga

Elon video highlights against Appalachian State

No major changes for Elon during its bye week

Elon football wasn’t supposed to struggle like this. Under Pete Lembo, the Phoenix enjoyed a solid five-year run, contending for the Southern Conference title several times. While Elon never could quite finish first, the school did make an appearance in the FCS playoffs in 2009.

It wasn’t all seashells and balloons for Lembo, possibly the only SoCon coach to have had one of his own players attempt to fight him on the sidelines during a game. However, Lembo parlayed his fine work at Elon into a gig at Ball State, where he has continued to win games (fashioning a 24-11 record in Muncie through Wednesday’s action).

His successor, Jason Swepson, hasn’t been so lucky. Swepson is now 10-21 in his career as the Elon head man.

Maybe, though, it’s less about Swepson and more about the program. In the five seasons prior to Lembo’s arrival, Elon’s cumulative record on the gridiron was 14-42.

It could be that with the way the football program is currently constituted, Elon cannot win consistently at the D-1 level. That isn’t what its upwardly mobile administration wants to hear, of course.

“This is going to be a sixty-minute football game….probably go into overtime.” — Elon head coach Jason Swepson, referring to his squad’s upcoming game against The Citadel.

Playing a sixty-minute game has been a problem for the Phoenix, at least in terms of offense. In six of Elon’s eight games against D-1 opposition, it has failed to score a touchdown in the second half.

Elon was shut out by Georgia Tech, 70-0, a game which featured a running clock. The Phoenix managed a third-quarter TD versus North Carolina A&T but lost, 23-10.

After scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State, no Phoenix player since then has entered the end zone in the second half. That’s a four-game stretch which includes an OT loss to Western Carolina, breaking a 33-game Catamount losing streak versus Division I opponents.

The WCU setback dropped Elon to 2-7 on the season. After being off last week, the Phoenix is finishing the 2013 season with home matchups versus The Citadel and Georgia Southern before travelling to Birmingham to face Samford.

Of the 122 schools listed in the FCS statistical database, Elon is 89th in scoring offense — and also 89th in scoring defense.

The run/pass ratio for the Phoenix from last year to this season is essentially unchanged. In 2012, 53% of Elon’s plays from scrimmage were passes; this year, 52%.

Elon’s yards per rush has increased from 2.58 (in 2012) to 3.90 (this season), a step forward. However, its yards per pass has declined from 7.99 to 6.22. Thus, its yards per play has been reduced from 5.4 to 5.1.

The Phoenix’s offense has not been particularly good in the red zone, averaging 4.65 points per trip. In the SoCon, only Furman and The Citadel have fared worse inside the 20. (The Bulldogs are last in the league in red zone points efficiency, at just 4.55 points per trip.)

Elon is next-to-last in the league in offensive third down conversion rate, at just 33.6%.

The Phoenix ranks next-to-last in the SoCon in total defense, ahead of only Western Carolina. It is dead last in the league in pass defense (though its defensive pass efficiency ranking is more respectable).

Elon is seventh in the league in rushing defense. In general, the Phoenix D has struggled to get off the field. While its defensive third down conversion rate is middle-of-the-pack, Elon has allowed more first downs than every league team save WCU.

Elon has been okay when it comes to turnover margin (+1 for the season).

Also, for whatever reason, opponents are more likely to commit penalties when playing Elon than most other teams. This reminds me a little bit of last year’s VMI team.

That worries me because the game in Lexington was the one time last season The Citadel committed an unusual number of infractions. The lack of discipline almost cost the Bulldogs the contest.

Elon quarterback Mike Quinn is a junior in his first year as the starter. He has completed 64% of his passes, with 14 TDs and only 5 interceptions. Quinn is currently on a streak of 207 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, which is a single-season SoCon record.

He is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, though, which actually isn’t much higher than what The Citadel’s passers have averaged (5.9).

The Phoenix has three running backs who each have between 300 and 400 yards rushing. Tracy Coppedge has the best yards per carry average of the trio, but he also has lost four fumbles.

Rasaun Rorie has been Elon’s leading receiver. He has 51 catches, with four of those going for touchdowns. Kierre Brown, a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick, has 38 receptions out of the slot. Tight end Doug Warrick has three TD catches.

Elon’s offensive line averages about 6’4″, 282 lbs. None of the five starters weighs 300+ lbs. Center Clay Johnson was a preseason second-team all-conference selection.

The Phoenix will be seeing a triple option team for the third time this season, having already faced Georgia Tech and Wofford. During the SoCon teleconference, Jason Swepson said Elon would use two different defensive fronts against The Citadel.

He also mentioned that Elon is “banged up on defense.” On Saturday, the Phoenix will be without the services of defensive end Jordan Jones and defensive back Akeem Langham.

Jones, suffering from a high ankle sprain, has 34 career starts, including the first eight games of 2013. Langham has started five games this season, four at cornerback and one at strong safety. His football career may be in jeopardy after sustaining two concussions in a four-week span (and at least his third while in college).

Middle linebacker Jonathan Spain is probably Elon’s best defensive player. A preseason first-team All-SoCon selection, Spain is the second-leading tackler for the Phoenix.

Fellow linebacker Alexander Dawson leads the team in stops, with 61. Free safety Chandler Wrightenberry has been credited with 47 tackles.

John Silas hasn’t started a game yet for Elon, but the backup linebacker has 48 tackles. Also of note: Elon has had three different players start at nosetackle this season.

Elon’s placekicker is freshman John Gallagher. He is 7-16 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 48.

Gallagher also kicks off for the Phoenix; 19 of his 41 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. The Phoenix leads the SoCon in kickoff coverage.

David Petroni was the SoCon special teams player of the week in Elon’s loss to Appalachian State, and may have had an even better game in the Phoenix’s win over Furman.

In that contest, FU’s average starting field position was its own 19-yard line, and Petroni’s performance was a big part of the reason why the Paladins faced a “long field” much of the afternoon. For the season, he has placed 28 punts inside the 20-yard line (out of 53 kicks).

Kierre Brown is Elon’s primary kick returner, while cornerback David Wood has been the first choice for returning punts.

Odds and ends:

- Prior to last year’s victory over Elon, The Citadel had lost three straight Homecoming games. After beating Samford on Saturday, the program is on a two-game Homecoming winning streak, which is definitely preferable.

- That win over the Phoenix broke a four-game slide in the series, which The Citadel currently leads 7-5. After Saturday’s game, it may be a long time before the schools meet again on the gridiron, with Elon moving to the CAA after this school year.

- Speaking of the CAA, Elon released its 2014 league schedule this week. It appears the school was given a break in terms of travel for next season. However, 2015 is likely to be a different story, with the Phoenix probably making trips to New Hampshire, Maine, Stony Brook, and (in non-conference play) Boston College.

Logan Airport could be Elon football’s home-away-from-home in 2015.

- Elon is averaging 8,430 fans per home game. Against Chattanooga in the most recent contest at Rhodes Stadium, the attendance was 6,547.

Last year, Elon only drew 6,158 for a game versus Furman, leading to Jason Swepson’s immortal comment that “it felt like a coffin out there.” It will be interesting to see if the atmosphere on Saturday is equally as funereal.

- I’ve written about Elon’s move to the CAA before, as part of a discussion about the overall restructuring of the Southern Conference. Maybe this move will work out for the school, but things could get difficult in a hurry for Elon.

That would be especially true if the CAA goes through even more membership changes. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least three schools currently competing in football in the CAA leave the conference in the next two years.

- Darien Robinson caught eight passes last week, most of them of the shovel-pass variety. As per The Citadel’s game notes, that’s the most receptions for a Bulldog since Kevin Higgins switched to the triple option in 2010.

Robinson entered the game with 17 career receptions.

- One of Robinson’s catches on Saturday came from a pass thrown by Jake Stenson. With that completed pass, Stenson now has a passer efficiency rating of 234.40.

- Ryan Bednar, injured in the game against Samford, is listed on the two-deep and is expected to play.

Saturday will be the final conference game of the year for The Citadel, and while the season has not lived up to expectations, the Bulldogs will have a chance to even their SoCon record at 4-4. Finishing .500 in the league wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

It is also a chance to win a game at a place where The Citadel has struggled in recent years, having not won at Rhodes Stadium since 2006. In 2011, the Bulldogs lost in overtime, but the 2009 game was a debacle. (Among other things, Elon had 29 first downs to The Citadel’s 5.)

Elon has had two weeks to prepare for the triple option, but has also had two weeks to think about its loss to Western Carolina. That might not be ideal.

I really enjoyed what I saw from the Bulldogs against Samford — not just the win, but the resolve. Now the team needs to continue that push on the road.

That’s not always easy, but I like The Citadel’s chances on Saturday.

2013 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

The Citadel vs. Appalachian State, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 5. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Appalachian State game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Scott Satterfield on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Unigate and the Unigate Update

An all-star game called the “Medal of Honor Bowl” will be played at Johnson Hagood Stadium in January 2014

Jake Stenson is having a nice season

My brief review of the Furman game, with less-than-stellar pictures, some thoughts on Unigate, and an examination of first-half playcalling

At the beginning of the season, this next group of games (Appalachian State, at Georgia Southern, at Chattanooga, Samford) was believed to be the stretch that would determine whether or not The Citadel was a legitimate contender for a playoff berth and/or a Southern Conference championship. Obviously things have changed.

Barring a complete turnaround, this is going to be a very disappointing season for the Bulldogs. Historically disappointing, even. There may have been a year with higher expectations that went south in a hurry, but I honestly don’t remember one.

What makes it particularly irksome, I think, is the wasted opportunity. This is clearly the weakest the SoCon has been in many years. There have been past teams at The Citadel with promise that had to go toe-to-toe with excellent conference opponents on a weekly basis, and had a record which suffered as a result. That isn’t the case this year.

I am hard-pressed to find any positives from the loss to Furman. I don’t think the Paladins are very good this season, which makes The Citadel’s struggles on both sides of the ball even more frustrating.

Offensively, the Bulldogs could not move the ball on a young and thin Furman defense. Meanwhile, The Citadel’s D allowed several big plays through the air and continued a recent tradition of not getting consistent pressure on the quarterback or forcing any turnovers.

Each team had the ball four times in the “red zone”. Furman scored three touchdowns and a field goal when it got close to the goal line. The Citadel only managed one TD and one field goal when it moved the ball inside the 20.

That has been part of the story of this season. The CItadel’s opponents have an 80% TD rate in the red zone. The Citadel’s offensive TD rate is only 57%.

I referenced the first-half playcalling in my prior post. I still don’t really understand it.

Darien Robinson wound up with 14 carries for 63 yards, not a great deal of yardage, but not exactly a sign that he was “bottled up” either. A lot of the postgame discussion, though, centered around Furman having “nine men in the box”, which forced The Citadel into trying other options.

I am not so sure. It seems to me the coaching staff planned on calling for first-down throws (among other things) before determining whether or not the Paladins could stop the ground attack. If they did, one wonders why they didn’t use the better passer of the two Bulldog QBs, Aaron Miller, to execute that strategy.

I’m not saying they should have started Miller, however. I’m saying I think focusing on the run game from the start of the contest was the way to go. That’s what the triple option is all about.

For whatever reason, Furman never seemed to bite hard on any play-action. It could be because the Paladins could easily read it, or it could be that Furman’s defense just didn’t respect The Citadel’s passing threat. Maybe both. I don’t know.

When I look at Appalachian State’s football profile, including statistics, I see a team that has some things in common with The Citadel.

The Citadel is 0-3 at Johnson Hagood Stadium this year, the first time the Bulldogs have lost their first three home games in a season since 1965, when The Citadel started off 0-5 at home before winning its season finale against Furman. (Two of those opening three losses in 1965 were to South Carolina and West Virginia, though.)

Appalachian State is 0-2 in Boone this year, and has lost five of its last eight games at home. One of those five losses was The Citadel’s 52-28 whipping of the Mountaineers last season, a game in which the Bulldogs amassed 618 yards of total offense.

The last time App started a season 1-3 was ten years ago, in 2003, but it closed strong that year and finished 7-4.

There is considerable angst in Mountaineer country. It’s understandable. This is a program making a leap of faith, and a tough start in its initial transition season has fans nervous.

Gone is the longtime coach. Gone after this season is the known quantity that is life in the FCS. Suddenly, the yearly string of (often easy) victories has gone as well.

However, it is a bit early to write off Appalachian State, which has lost to three teams with a combined record of 11-1. Noteworthy as well: the Mountaineers haven’t lost to an FCS team with a losing record since 2004.

I won’t pretend to have an insider’s perspective on what went down with Jerry Moore. I only know what I’ve read, and some of those accounts have been conflicting.

It reminds me vaguely of the last days at South Carolina of Frank McGuire, a legendary coach who hung on for a little too long. He was then pushed out of his job in a manner that made more than a few people uncomfortable.

Scott Satterfield was the natural choice to take over. He was a quarterback for App in the mid-1990s, and a coach with the program for many years after that, all on the offensive side of the ledger (including six years as the QB coach and last season as the offensive coordinator).

The question, of course, is if Satterfield has what it takes to successfully lead Appalachian State into FBS play as a first-time head coach. The one thing I can say is his first four games in a transition year were never going to answer that question — actually, this season as a whole won’t answer it.

Appalachian State’s last visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 2011, also came on Parents’ Day. In that game, Jamal Londry-Jackson made his first career start for the Mountaineers at quarterback, and for quite a while it appeared he would never throw an incomplete pass.

He completed his first 15 throws in that contest as App State raced out to a 49-14 lead, before The Citadel made a game of it with a late flurry of TDs (the final was 49-42). The Mountaineers scored on seven of their first eight possessions that day.

Londry-Jackson was the preseason SoCon player of the year, but he has split time at quarterback this season with Kameron Bryant. Londry-Jackson is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Whether he will return to the form that made him an all-conference performer is hard to say, though I wouldn’t bet against it.

Bryant is also returning from a knee injury, one he suffered last season against Coastal Carolina. Statistically, Bryant has been more effective so far this year than Londry-Jackson, as he has thrown five touchdown passes while only being picked off once (Londry-Jackson has two TDs and two INTs) while rushing for 56 yards on 15 carries (Londry-Jackson has only 15 yards on the same number of rushes). Bryant also has 150 more passing yards in three fewer pass attempts.

The Mountaineers have a plethora of quality wideouts, including sophomore Sean Price, an All-American candidate when he plays. Price missed the first two games of the season due to off-field issues, but he has had 99 (Elon) and 98 (Charleston Southern) yards receiving in App’s last two games. Price is an elite wide receiver and a very tough matchup for any team. There is little doubt Appalachian State will throw several deep balls his way against The Citadel, especially after seeing what Furman was able to do last week.

It only seems like Tony Washington and Andrew Peacock have been catching passes for the Mountaineers for 10 years. Both are now seniors. Washington is a big-play threat who also doubles as App’s kick returner (he had a 51-yard kick return against the Bulldogs last season). Peacock is a fine possession receiver who can also throw the ball if you’re not paying attention (he tossed two TD passes last season). These guys are good.

The Mountaineers may not look to throw to their tight end this week, as there is uncertainty at the position. Two different players have started at tight end for App in the last two games, and they are both injured.

At running back, Appalachian State features Marcus Cox, who has been the SoCon freshman of the week for the past two weeks. Against Charleston Southern, he ran effectively (87 yards) and caught passes out of the backfield (4 for 91 yards). The previous week, Cox rushed for 159 yards — and had 149 yards more receiving. Amazingly, Cox was the first player in App’s football history to have 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.

Last season, Appalachian State used a mix-and-match approach to its offensive line, but so far this season the same group of five players has started every game for the Mountaineers. App’s two offensive tackles are both 6’6″; one of them, right tackle Will Corbin, is the only starting lineman who weighs more than 300 lbs. (he checks in at 311 lbs.). Incidentally, Appalachian State is only averaging 4.0 yards per rush so far this season.

Satterfield brought in a defensive coordinator who is new to the Mountaineers, but not to the SoCon. Nate Woody was the DC at Wofford for 13 years before making the move to Boone. He has changed App’s scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 (though Kevin Higgins referred to it on his coaches’ show as a 5-2).

Ronald Blair is the starter at one of the defensive end spots on App’s two-deep, but the school’s game notes list him as “doubtful” due to a combination of injury and discipline problems. Blair is the Mountaineers’ most experienced defensive lineman. The other end, Deuce Robinson, is a tall (6’5″), active player.

Another lineman to watch is reserve Olawale Dada, a redshirt freshman who was born in Nigeria but moved with his family to the U.S. at age 2. Dada had 12 tackles last week and may be something of a late bloomer, having only started playing football as a sophomore in high school.

App’s starting inside linebackers, John Law and Karl Anderson, currently rank 1-2 in the SoCon in tackles made. Anderson is a fifth-year senior, while Law took a medical redshirt last year during what would have been his freshman campaign. He somehow suffered a serious ankle injury while getting off the team bus at Chattanooga. You’ve got to watch your step when you’re in the Scenic City.

Of the eight defensive backs on the two-deep for the Mountaineers, six are freshmen or sophomores. The lone senior is cornerback Rodger Walker, who missed time last season while coping with a blood disorder.

As mentioned earlier, Tony Washington is the primary kick returner for Appalachian State. He also returns punts for the Mountaineers, and is effective in both roles.

Sam Martin, App’s longtime punter, now does that job for the Detroit Lions. His replacement is a true freshman walkon, Bentlee Critcher.

The Mountaineers suffered a blocked punt against Montana, and had another partially blocked by North Carolina A&T.

Drew Stewart, the placekicker for parts of both 2011 and 2012, is back in the role for 2013. He is 4 for 6 in field goal attempts through four games this season.

Also worth mentioning:

- There were only nine possessions for each team in the Charleston Southern-Appalachian State game, mainly due to a couple of extraordinary drives by the Buccaneers. CSU’s second drive lasted 17 plays and over nine minutes. Its next-to-last drive lasted 16 plays and 8:50.

Only one of App’s nine drives took more than 2:30 off the clock. As a result, Charleston Southern dominated time of possession, holding the ball on offense for over 42 minutes.

The Mountaineers really struggled defensively on third down. Charleston Southern was 10 for 18 on third-down conversions, including three picked up thanks to App State penalties. Four times the Buccaneers went for it on fourth down after not converting on third down; CSU was 4-4 in that situation.

- While The Citadel has not fared well offensively or defensively in red zone situations, Appalachian State has been good on defense inside the 20 (52% TD rate), but not so much on offense (a TD rate of 56%).

I have no idea how things will play out on Saturday. App’s offense is not a good matchup for The Citadel’s defense, but that was true last year as well and the Bulldogs acquitted themselves nicely in Boone. The defense was helped a lot by the offense’s ability to make big plays, particularly on third down. Just to refresh your memory (and mine):

Four times against Appalachian State, the Bulldogs were faced with a third down needing six yards or more to move the chains. In fact, all four of those conversion attempts were 3rd-and-8 or longer. The Citadel’s average gain on the four plays? 36.25 yards, with two of them resulting in touchdowns…

That’s not really something you can count on every game. However, the defensive performance that day could be.

The Mountaineers had nine full possessions in [the first three quarters] and were limited to 239 yards of total offense. Five of the nine App drives ended in punts, one in an interception, and another on a lost fumble. Six of those non-scoring drives were over in five or fewer plays, so the defense played its role in The Citadel’s huge edge in time of possession (the Bulldogs had the ball for over 38 minutes in the contest).

The defense did an excellent job preventing [Jamal Londry-Jackson] from making big plays (his longest pass completion of the day was only 15 yards).

The Citadel put a lot of pressure on the quarterback that day and doing so again this year is an absolute must if the Bulldogs have any hope of containing the Mountaineers’ attack. App won’t make the mistake of not throwing deep this year.

Saturday is Parents’ Day at The Citadel, part of a big weekend at the military college. I’m not sure how many people will be in attendance inside Johnson Hagood Stadium when the game begins. I’m confident the tailgating tents will be overflowing, however.

Appalachian State is 1-3, but it’s not really the kind of 1-3 that makes you think the Mountaineers are about to go into the tank. It’s more a 1-3 along the lines of “haven’t quite put things together yet, but probably will”. If App State puts things together on Saturday, it could be a long day for The Citadel.

However, there is talent on the Bulldog roster too, and the poor season to date doesn’t change that. An outstanding performance like the one in Boone last season is well within The Citadel’s capabilities.

Like everyone sitting on the home side this Saturday, I hope to see it.

2013 Football, Game 5: 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 28. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

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

Also, as pointed out in a comment below, it’s possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Furman game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

TV promotional spot for the game

Article on Ben Dupree in The Post and Courier

Furman’s Jordan Snellings will be “back in full force” for the game against The Citadel

The Paladins will have a home-and-home series with South Carolina State in 2014-15

Furman has a new secondary logo, because its primary logo “reflects a country club mentality”

Quick thoughts on the game against Old Dominion:

– Brandon McCladdie had 14 tackles in the game, twice as many as any other Bulldog. I hope he spent some extra time in the whirlpool this week.

– The Citadel had eleven possessions; on those drives, the Bulldogs scored eight touchdowns and kicked a field goal. ODU matched both the TDs and FG in twelve possessions (not counting its final drive of the second half as a possession).

– Thanks in part to ODU’s onside kicks and its fumbled kickoff, the time of possession in the second half varied wildly from the third quarter to the fourth. The Citadel only had the football for 4:18 of the third quarter, but held the pigskin for 12:36 of the final period.

– There was considerable discussion in the press about Bobby Wilder calling for three onside kicks during the game, but to be honest both coaches may have been better off trying onside kicks after every score. We’re talking about a game in which over five points were scored per possession. An extreme rate like that has to be considered when evaluating the risk/reward of an onside kick.

– Ultimately, I’m not sure how much The Citadel can take from the Old Dominion game, either offensively or defensively. During the SoCon teleconference, Kevin Higgins referred to the game as an “anomaly” when asked a question by Chattanooga sportswriter John Frierson, and I think anomaly is a fair adjective to use in describing the events in Norfolk.

Higgins pointed out that ODU rarely sees the option, as opposed to SoCon programs like Furman, which has faced it three times each season for several years. Based on the game against the Bulldogs, and two recent playoff matchups with Georgia Southern, it seems apparent that ODU still has no real idea of how to properly defend the triple option.

Conversely, it’s hard to worry too much about the defense’s struggles against the Monarchs, because ODU’s offense has gone into overdrive against a lot of teams. New Hampshire was good enough to make the FCS playoffs last season; the Wildcats allowed 730 yards passing to Taylor Heinicke and company.

I guess what I’m saying is not to read too much into the fact that The Citadel averaged 8.3 yards per play on offense against ODU, and allowed 7.2 yards per play on defense.

– I suppose the special teams kick return unit has some things it can work on this week, though.

– Oh, one last thing: going for two was the right call. I think almost every Bulldog fan agreed with Higgins’ decision, too. It’s rare to see such near-unanimity for that situation.

The coach made an excellent observation about the decision when discussing it with Danny Reed during his coaches’ show. Higgins noted that it wasn’t an absolute end-of-game call, as there was 1:39 remaining in the contest after Jake Stenson’s TD catch drew the Bulldogs within one point. ODU was presumably going to get the ball back with a chance to win, but the pressure (and approach) would have been very different if the Monarchs were trailing, rather than tied.

This will be the third time in four years Furman and The Citadel will meet in September. This is way too early for some people (okay, maybe most people), but as I’ve noted before, the series has been moved around on the calendar throughout the years.

It has been played in October more than any other month. I hope the SoCon considers setting up the matchup for an October meeting every year going forward.

Speaking of conference scheduling, I noticed in Furman’s game notes that the Paladins will play at Mercer in the second week of next season. That will be a league game (probably Mercer’s first). The league actually hasn’t officially released its 2014 schedule yet (that is expected to happen in October).

There is going to be some home-away shifting because of the transition from App/GSU/Elon to Mercer/VMI (and later, ETSU). One thing I would like to see from The Citadel’s perspective is for the league to “split” Furman and Wofford in terms of home and away. Right now, The Citadel plays both upstate schools at home in odd-numbered years and on the road in even-numbered years.

I think it would be more beneficial to play one game in the upstate every year, and one in Charleston. In other words, in years Furman comes to Charleston, The Citadel would travel to Wofford (and vice versa). Upstate alumni could then count on one “home” game for themselves every season.

Furman fired Bobby Lamb after the 2010 season, a campaign in which the Paladins went 5-6. The school had missed the FCS playoffs in four consecutive seasons, and so a change was deemed necessary.

However, at the time it was fair to ask if Furman had actually made a change at all after it hired Bruce Fowler to replace Lamb. Fowler was yet another member of the Dick Sheridan coaching tree. While a school might do worse than grabbing a branch from that particular member of the forest, it could have been argued that Furman needed a different approach.

This is Fowler’s third season in Greenville as the head coach; he will arrive in Charleston on Saturday with a record of 10-15, including a 3-8 mark during last season’s campaign. The Paladins are 1-2 so far this season, suffering losses to Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb (each by 7 points). Furman’s victory came in its home opener two weeks ago against Presbyterian, a 21-20 final.

Losing to Gardner-Webb and CCU had to be disappointing for Paladin fans, particularly the setback in Boiling Springs. However, G-W later followed up its win over Furman with victories over Richmond and Wofford, so the Runnin’ Bulldogs may be better than expected.

The victory over PC, a program that hasn’t beaten Furman since 1979, did not inspire much confidence from the Paladin faithful either. It took a second-half comeback and a last-minute blocked field goal to keep Furman’s 15-game winning streak against the Blue Hose alive. The announced attendance for that game was only 6,500.

While the early results for Fowler haven’t been that great, it may be that Furman’s administration is willing to be patient during what could be described as a transitional period. The school has almost completed a major facilities upgrade for the football program. From Furman’s game notes:

This fall Furman will open the new Pearce-Horton Football Complex, a 44,000 square-foot, four-story facility that will serve as the new operational home for Furman football and include locker room, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, sports medicine center, and “Heritage Hall.” The new building will also feature a club level and new press box…

…Furman’s Paladin Stadium sports a new playing surface this year following the installing of Shaw Sports Turf’s “PowerBlade Bolt” system, which replaces the original natural grass field that debuted with the opening of Paladin Stadium in 1981.

Furman wasn’t expected to compete for the league title this season, ranking fifth (not counting Georgia Southern or Appalachian State*) in both the SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (though one sportswriter gave FU a first-place vote).

*Last season, I was critical of a reference in Furman’s game notes, so I want to give the school’s sports information department credit for its approach to the league standings. Not only are those schools listed at the bottom of the league standings column put out by the school, but Furman also doesn’t credit App or GSU with any league wins or losses. The SoCon’s weekly release does list those schools with conference wins and losses (which it shouldn’t, in my opinion).

Reese Hannon, who started at quarterback for Furman in last season’s game against The Citadel, missed the opener at Gardner-Webb with a strained oblique. Dillon Woodruff became the first true freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener for the Paladins since 1956. Unfortunately, Woodruff broke his shoulder during the game and was lost for the season.

Hannon returned for the game against Coastal Carolina and is expected to start against the Bulldogs. In last year’s matchup between the two teams, Hannon did a solid job of leading the Paladin offense until he got hurt. Furman’s offense was never quite as effective after he left the contest.

At running back, Furman no longer has the services of the always-impressive Jerodis Williams, but it does return Hank McCloud, an excellent option in his own right who rushed for 100+ yards against Coastal Carolina and Presbyterian.

Last year, I thought the Paladins made a mistake by abandoning the run too early against The Citadel, not giving either of its quality running backs a carry in the entire fourth quarter. I don’t expect Furman to forget about McCloud in this game, particularly because the Paladins have not been very efficient in the passing game thus far (5.4 yards per attempt, 3 interceptions in 67 throws, and only a 51% completion percentage).

Furman’s offensive line is led by left tackle Dakota Dozier, the best player on the Paladins’ roster. Dozier, a four-year starter, is probably the league’s top offensive lineman and was named to several preseason All-American lists. According to his bio on the school website, the 6’5″, 303 lb. Dozier also plays the cello.

There is experience along the Paladin o-line at every position except right tackle, where two players have split the starts this year. Another thing worth noting (well, I think it’s worth noting) is that Dozier is also listed on Furman’s two-deep as the backup at left guard and right guard. I don’t know whether or not that says something about Furman’s depth.

At wide receiver, Jordan Snellings (who made the SoCon’s all-freshman team last season) is Furman’s big-play threat; he led the Paladins in touchdown receptions last year. Snellings has only played in one game so far in 2013 due to an ankle problem, but is supposed to back to full strength for this week’s game.

Gary Robinson, Furman’s starting flanker, caught a 70-yard touchdown pass in the Gardner-Webb game and added a 23-yard TD reception versus Coastal Carolina. His brother Terry Robinson is the Paladins’ backup QB; both brothers scored touchdowns against G-W.

The Citadel has historically struggled to contain Furman’s tight end, regardless of who was playing the position for the Paladins. My personal opinion is that your average farm animal could line up at tight end for Furman and catch 4 passes for 60 yards against the Bulldogs. This year, the starter is redshirt senior Cameron Mason, who began his college career at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Furman’s defense has been hit by a rash of injuries, particularly along the line. This week’s two-deep lists a “true” freshman starting at DT and redshirt freshmen backing up all four of the DL spots. In all, the Paladins have a redshirt or true freshman listed as the backup for all but one defensive position (middle linebacker).

The most recent injury among the starters was suffered by defensive end Shawn Boone, who tore his ACL in the week leading up to the game against Presbyterian. As a result, Furman has moved one of its starting DTs to end. The other defensive end spot is manned by preseason all-SoCon pick Gary Wilkins, formerly a linebacker. Wilkins is one of the Paladin defenders with significant experience; another is strong safety Greg Worthy, who will make his 30th career start in Saturday’s game.

Furman’s leading tackler is linebacker Cory Magwood, a sophomore who had 18 tackles against Gardner-Webb. Magwood suffered an ankle injury against PC but is slated to start against The Citadel. Fellow linebacker Carl Rider, also a sophomore, leads the Paladins in tackles for loss.

One of the things to watch will be how well the younger Paladin defensive players adapt to defending the option. Furman’s coaching staff has a lot of experience defending the offense, and the Paladins have generally fared well against it. Whether the coaches can get a large number of relatively inexperienced players up to speed on defending the option is open to question.

That’s why having the week off before playing The Citadel was a huge break for the Paladins. The bye came at a really good time for Furman.

Furman’s punter and placekicker is senior Ray Early, who made the preseason coaches’ All-SoCon team at both positions. Early converted a 52-yard field goal against The Citadel last season.

So far this year, Early is 0-3 on FG attempts.  However, his punting has been exemplary, averaging 46.4 yards per kick (42.8 net), with six of his eleven punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Eight of his thirteen kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Hank McCloud and Gary Robinson are Furman’s kick returners. Starting nickel back Jairus Holloman returns punts for the Paladins. Holloman blocked the potential game-winning field goal to preserve Furman’s victory over Presbyterian.

Odds and ends:

- The Citadel is a ten-point favorite against Furman, according to various sources in Las Vegas. That strikes me as an absurdly large spread.

- On Saturday, The Citadel will wear a special “throwback” jersey/helmet combination. The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game.

This will be the second consecutive time the Bulldogs have worn an alternate jersey for a game in Johnson Hagood Stadium against Furman. In 2011, The Citadel wore its “Big Red” jerseys.

- The halftime show will feature The Citadel Pipe Band and the Charleston Police Department Pipe and Drums.

In my opinion, the key to Saturday’s contest will be if Furman’s mostly young defense can force more than its fair share of three-and-outs and/or six-and-outs against The Citadel’s offense. The longer the Bulldogs’ offense stays on the field, the more likely The Citadel will win the game.

One of the most interesting takeaways from the Bulldogs’ game against Old Dominion was the platooning of the offensive line, with the second unit getting a lot of snaps. I could see The Citadel doing that again versus a very thin Paladin defensive line, hoping for a repeat of last year’s game, when the Bulldogs scored 21 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters.

Defensively, The Citadel must put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and force more turnovers. Sure, that’s obvious, but it’s obvious for a reason.

The Bulldogs were never able to sack ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke, and the only turnover given up by the Monarchs came on a botched kickoff return. The defense has to do better than that against Furman.

I think it’s likely that Furman is better than its reputation. Neither of the Paladins’ losses is that bad. Furman gets one of its key difference-makers on offense back this week, has several impact defenders, and has had two weeks to get healthy and prepare for this game.

The Citadel should be more confident as a team than it was two weeks ago, but it has a tough task ahead of it. I believe this matchup is essentially a toss-up.

We’ll know for sure on Saturday.

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