Game review, 2014: Gardner-Webb

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Shelby Star

Video from WCSC-TV, including interview with Mike Houston

Box score

It’s good to win, especially when the month of September is coming to a close and you haven’t won yet. The victory over Gardner-Webb was cathartic for both the team and its fans.

The Citadel did a lot of things right on Saturday night, but the Bulldogs weren’t perfect. I’m going to discuss a few things that could stand improvement when I preview the Wofford game later in the week.

Having said that, there were a lot of positives in this game, on the field and off. What follows are a few observations (and the usual assortment of motley pictures).

- I wrote this at the beginning of my preview of the Gardner-Webb game:

The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

The Citadel turned things around in the passing game by changing its approach at the beginning of the contest, throwing the ball on the first two plays from scrimmage. Gardner-Webb was caught flat-footed by the Bulldogs’ Air Raid attack, and before all the cadets had filed into the stands, The Citadel had its first lead of the season.

The Bulldogs averaged 12.4 yards per pass attempt, which will usually get it done. Aaron Miller’s second throw of the day went to Rudder Brown, who caught the ball and then crisscrossed the field for a 47-yard gain. That almost doubled the previous long reception of the season (24 yards).

Ten of The Citadel’s fifteen pass attempts came on first down. Indeed, the Bulldogs threw the ball 28% of the time on first down versus Gardner-Webb, twice as often as the first three games (14%). Breaking tendencies, anyone?

- Aaron Miller completed eight passes during the game, while his counterpart for Gardner-Webb, Lucas Beatty, completed 29. Despite that discrepancy, each quarterback completed passes to six different receivers.

I could describe that as an oddity, but it’s not. The Citadel may not throw the ball a lot, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs lack capable pass-catchers. There is considerable depth in that department.

- Through three games, opponents had converted 33% of their 3rd-and-long attempts against The Citadel’s defense, which was obviously too high a percentage. The Bulldogs did a much better job on Saturday, as Gardner-Webb only picked up one first down on seven 3rd-and-long situations.

G-W was 0-6 attempting a pass on 3rd-and-long (with three of those plays resulting in sacks by The Citadel). Gardner-Webb’s only successful 3rd-and-long conversion was a run by quarterback Lucas Beatty after he broke containment.

- It isn’t often a fan can be generally satisfied with his team’s pass defense when the opposing quarterback is 29-35 through the air, averages eight yards per attempt, and is not intercepted. That was the case on Saturday, however. Of course, recording ten sacks (and the accompanying 70 yards of lost yardage for G-W) does make a difference, especially when four of those sacks come on third down. Recovering a fumble on one of those sacks helps, too.

- There was one coaching decision during the game I questioned, although not for long. During the second quarter, Gardner-Webb began a possession at The Citadel’s 35-yard line after a fumble recovery-and-return (the fumble was bogus, but whatever).

After starting the drive with an incomplete pass, Beatty was sacked by the law firm of Thomas & Jeter on second down. That left G-W with a 3rd-and-18 situation.

On third down, a completed pass returned the ball to the original line of scrimmage. However, G-W was called for holding on the play.

Mike Houston then had the option of accepting the penalty, and setting up 3rd-and-28 from the Gardner-Webb 47; or declining the penalty and taking the result of the play, which would leave G-W with 4th-and-10 from The Citadel’s 35. He chose to decline the penalty.

I would have been inclined to take the penalty, myself. It was obvious Gardner-Webb would go for it on 4th down in that situation (Carroll McCray certainly wasn’t going to have his placekicker attempt a 52-yard field goal).

It would have been tough to decline the penalty, and then have Gardner-Webb pick up the first down. Ten yards wasn’t that unmanageable, either.

At least, that’s what I thought, and then on 4th down Tevin Floyd raced through the G-W offensive line and sacked the quarterback in 0.7 seconds. I immediately shouted, “Good decision, coach!”

Score one for Mike Houston.

- The 1960 throwbacks were a hit with the crowd. Very sharp. If you want to buy one, check out the auction.

I’ve been critical of The Citadel’s constant uniform tinkering in the past, but the helmet tweaking for Military Appreciation Day was excellent. You can see the uniforms up close in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery.

- I also appreciated the small (and not so small) touches for Military Appreciation Day, including the red-white-blue end zone motif. I thought that on the whole, the school did a very nice job on that front.

- Hey, the band played more than twice during the game! It was noticed, too.

There are still a few things to get worked out. Twice during the second quarter, the videoboard went into sound-explosion mode just as the band started to play, so a little more coordination is still needed.

I gather the band will need time to expand its repertoire, so it may be next year before the ideal is reached, but that’s okay. Baby steps.

They did play the theme from “Hawaii 5-0″, although I’m not sure everyone heard it. The acoustics at Johnson Hagood Stadium are a bit of an issue.

- I thought the freshmen were in good form on Saturday. Some (not all) of the upperclassmen weren’t quite as spirited.

One thing all the cadets (and other supporters) did like was the placekicking contest following the third quarter. There is nothing quite as enjoyable as watching a fellow member of the corps attempt a 35-yard field goal in his shined leathers.

I would advocate more cadet-oriented contests. There should be at least three such events during the game.

- In my opinion, the cheerleading squad makes a difference, and was badly missed during its hiatus. Also making a difference: the omnipresent Spike The Bulldog, surely the hardest-working anthropomorphic mascot in college athletics.

- Attendance was low, officially announced as 8,573. I think that was an accurate total.

There were a lot of factors at play: South Carolina played a home game at the same time, Clemson was on TV at the same time, the weather was threatening, Gardner-Webb didn’t bring many fans, and the home team was 0-3. That said, it was the smallest crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium I could recall since the Thursday night game against Benedict in 2004.

Improving home football attendance is just one of the many tasks for new AD Jim Senter, but it’s an important one. Longtime fans can remember when attendance at The Citadel’s home games was significantly higher.

In the game program on Saturday was a blurb with the headline “On This Day in Citadel Football History”, which noted that on September 27, 1980, The Citadel defeated UT-Chattanooga 29-13 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Attendance for that game was 18,345 — almost 10,000 more than showed up at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game exactly 34 years later.

Below are some pictures I took before and during the game. Some of them are actually in focus.

2014 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 27. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

- Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

- The Bulldogs must “stick to their guns”

- SoCon weekly release

- Big South weekly release

- Mike Houston 9/23 press conference

- Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

- Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray previews The Citadel

- American Sports Network affiliate list for two SoCon football games, worth a look for future interest (namely Chattanooga-The Citadel on 10/18)

Some statistics of note through three games:

- The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

- To succeed on third down, The Citadel has to be better on first and second down. The Bulldogs have faced 3rd-and-long (5 yards or more) no fewer than 26 times this season. That’s 60% of all third downs for The Citadel’s offense.

- Mike Houston was generally pleased with the defensive performance last week, and I can understand that. However (as I mentioned in my review), The Citadel did not force a turnover in that game or any other so far this season.

The defense needs to make more game-changing plays. The lack of turnovers and sacks (just three through three games) is a little troubling.

The Bulldogs’ secondary is guarding against big plays in the passing game, which I think is a good idea with this squad. That makes it all the more important for the front seven to pressure the quarterback, particularly on passing downs.

Opponents have had 21 3rd-and-long situations this year. They have successfully converted seven times. That’s too high (33.3%). Six of those seven conversions have come via the pass.

- This may surprise some people, given the number of times penalties have affected the Bulldogs this year, but The Citadel is tied for 12th nationally in the category of fewest penalties per game. The Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Gardner-Webb, is tied for 10th.

It’s not as much the number of penalties that have hurt The Citadel, it’s the timing of those infractions. The Bulldogs cannot afford drive-killing penalties. The margin of error for The Citadel is not nearly big enough to overcome those.

Speaking of penalties, while Mike Houston is restricted in what he can say about officiating, I’m not. The officials did not have a good game last week.

There were multiple bad calls, and most of them didn’t favor The Citadel. From a technical perspective, probably the most egregious error by an official was the pass interference call on Walker Smith, which appeared to have been made by the field judge. I have no idea what the official was thinking on that play.

The men in stripes were ACC/SoCon officials, so Houston is likely to see them again during the season, making it even more important that he not burn any bridges. I did like that in his press conference, Houston referred to the referee as “White Hat”.

“White Hat” was in charge for the 2012 Army-Navy game, while his compatriot with the interesting theory on pass interference worked last year’s Sugar Bowl. It makes one wonder if officials such as these who are assigned games outside the ACC don’t fully concentrate when calling FCS games.

Gardner-Webb started its institutional life as a high school, in 1905. By 1928 it had become a junior college; the school began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at UNC and NC State.

Gardner-Webb is closely affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 200-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. There are around 4,300 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Spangler Stadium, which is a 9,000-seat multi-purpose stadium. I mention that because The Citadel’s football team may be making a trip to Boiling Springs in the next few years, perhaps in 2016.

Head coach Carroll McCray is a Gardner-Webb alum with a lot of coaching connections familiar to Bulldog fans. He was an assistant under Sparky Woods at both Appalachian State and South Carolina, spent seven seasons as the offensive line coach at Samford, then took over the Austin Peay football program as its head coach for four years (2003-06).

McCray then served as Bobby Lamb’s offensive line coach at both Furman and Mercer, before replacing Jamey Chadwell as North Greenville’s head coach in 2012. After one year there, his alma mater hired him as its head coach.

Gardner-Webb was 7-5 in McCray’s first season in charge, with victories over both Furman and Wofford (along with a puzzling 27-9 loss to VMI).

This season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are 2-2. G-W has lost road games at Wake Forest and Furman (the game in which Paladins starting quarterback Reese Hannon broke his ankle). At home, Gardner-Webb has defeated Virginia-Lynchburg and Wofford. The 43-36 victory over the Terriers came last week.

In his Tuesday press conference, Mike Houston described Gardner-Webb as a “60-40” team in terms of its pass-run ratio. That’s about right in terms of yardage (56% of G-W’s total yards have come via the air), but the actual play calls have been very close to 50-50 (taking sacks into account).

Gardner-Webb rushed for 126 yards versus Wofford, but struggled on the ground against Furman (69 rush yards) and Wake Forest (77).

It is interesting (or perhaps curious) that the G-W defense was excellent against the run against the Paladins and Demon Deacons, more or less matching the opposing D, but allowed 322 rush yards to Wofford. In Gardner-Webb’s world, either both teams run the ball, or neither team runs the ball.

Gardner-Webb is led by quarterback Lucas Beatty, a fifth-year senior from Charlotte who has started 32 games for the Runnin’ Bulldogs during his career. This season, Beatty is completing 59% of his passes, averaging just over six yards per attempt, with five touchdowns versus two interceptions.

Beatty’s backup is a freshman, Tyrell Maxwell, who has seen limited action thus far for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. However, he has already rushed for 173 yards, and scored touchdowns against Virginia-Lynchburg, Wake Forest, and Wofford. A native of Cordova, Maxwell attended Edisto High School and was selected to last year’s Shrine Bowl.

The star offensive performer for G-W is senior wideout Kenny Cook, an imposing (6’4”, 218 lb.) target who caught 76 passes last season for over 1,000 yards and nine TDs. Cook, a native of Cross Hill, missed the Wake Forest and Virginia-Lynchburg games with an injured hamstring.

He returned against Wofford last week, catching six passes (one of which went for a touchdown). Cook will be a very difficult matchup for the Bulldogs.

Cook’s presence also allows more freedom for Beatty’s other passing targets. They include tight end Seth Cranfill, a 6’4”, 246 lb. redshirt senior who has two TD catches this year, and Deonte Swinton, another tall wideout (6’2”) who is also a redshirt senior.

Swinton is one of seven different Runnin’ Bulldogs with five or more receptions, as Beatty likes to spread the wealth. He’s not afraid to throw to his running backs, either.

One of those backs, Juanne Blount, was a preseason All-Big South pick after rushing for 1,040 yards during the 2013 campaign. He is yet another redshirt senior.

That is a recurring theme with Gardner-Webb. This is a team with a lot of experienced, older players, particularly on offense. Six of the offensive starters listed on the two-deep are redshirt seniors.

Another Runnin’ Bulldog trait is size. It’s a very tall, rangy team. Four of the starting offensive linemen are 6’4” or 6’5”, as are Cranfill and Kenny Cook. Juanne Blount is the only offensive starter under 6’1”. In addition to their size, the word “athletic” is thrown around a lot describing the majority of Gardner-Webb players.

The offense has 15 plays from scrimmage this season of 20 or more yards, ten passing and five rushing.

Gardner-Webb has taken a few hits on defense, including the loss due to injury of “spur” linebacker Chad Geter, who was leading the team in tackles after two games. Another injured linebacker, two-time All-Big South selection Tanner Burch, has yet to play for the Runnin’ Bulldogs this season.

Then there is defensive Shaq Riddick, who finished fifth in the voting for last year’s Buck Buchanan Award. Riddick would have been a fifth-year senior at Gardner-Webb this season, but elected to transfer to West Virginia for his final year of eligibility.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs are hardly bereft of quality defenders, however. From The Citadel’s perspective, perhaps the key player for Gardner-Webb is noseguard O.J. Mau, a 6’2”, 308 lb. rock in the G-W defensive line. Mau was a first-team All-Big South pick last year and is expected to contend for national honors this season.

He is still developing, too, as Mau will not turn 20 years old until the day after Gardner-Webb plays The Citadel. He is from American Samoa, and played in the 2012 Oceania Bowl, helping lead his team to a 93-7 victory over Australia.

Defensive end Tyler Hough-Jenkins is yet another large (6’4”, 274 lb.) redshirt senior. The other d-line starter is junior Jebrai Regan, a converted linebacker.

Aaron Cook, who plays the “bandit” position in Gardner-Webb’s 3-4 base defense, currently leads the team in tackles with 25. Cook is a sophomore. True freshman Jeffrey Pegues will start at one of the inside linebacker positions.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs do have some linebacking experience in the person of senior Donald Buie (taking over Geter’s “spur” role) and junior Azziz Higgins. Another player who should see action is redshirt freshman Quinton Patterson, a transfer from North Carolina State.

The defensive secondary is led by cornerback Ivan Toomer, who doubles as a kick returner for Gardner-Webb. He leads the team in pass breakups with four, and also had an interception return for a touchdown against Virginia-Lynchburg.

Toomer is one of seven different Gardner-Webb players with an interception (one each). The Runnin’ Bulldogs also have a fumble recovery (by yet another defender). Gardner-Webb has a +5 turnover margin for the season, and has scored 20 points off turnovers while allowing no points off its own turnovers.

It should be noted that three of those interceptions came against an overmatched Virginia-Lynchburg team (as did four of G-W’s nine sacks). Virginia-Lynchburg had a net rushing total of -21 yards versus Gardner-Webb.

The placekicker for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, Paul Schumacher, is a freshman from West Palm Beach, FL. He is 4-8 on field goal attempts, with a long of 29 yards. Redshirt sophomore Dustin Holder has been the punter, though Gardner-Webb’s two-deep suggests that South Carolina transfer Andrew Komornik is an option for the game against The Citadel.

Toomer and wideout J.J. Hubbard will handle kickoff return duties, with Hubbard also serving as the punt returner for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Hubbard returned a kickoff for a touchdown last season against Charleston Southern.

A few miscellaneous numbers:

- Gardner-Webb has outscored its opponents in the third quarter 33-10. I guess Carroll McCray can give a good halftime speech.

- The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a red zone offensive TD rate of just 53% (8-15), but have excelled defensively in the red zone, with a TD rate of 45% (5-11).

- I’m not sure I believe this, but according to Gardner-Webb’s statistical summary, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have picked up 15 first downs via penalty, while the defense has not given up a single first down by penalty all season.

Odds and ends:

- Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at The Citadel. The halftime show should be a good one, with the Charleston Police Department Pipe and Drums on hand, to be followed by The Citadel Chorale (fresh from rave reviews in Boston) singing “God Bless America”.

Players will wear a helmet sticker bearing the number “440”, representing the number of cadets who have died serving their country.

Incidentally, last Saturday was Military Appreciation Day at Gardner-Webb.

- During the first quarter, fans can have their picture taken with the coveted Silver Shako. Don’t miss the chance to get a selfie with the greatest trophy in all of sports.

- Bags and purses will be subject to search this week as part of a new security policy at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This might cause a delay in entering the facility, so keep that in mind. This may be a response to an incident at the stadium during the Sertoma Classic in August, when a teenager brought a gun to the game, then threw it in one of the end zones as he was running from the police.

- Players will be wearing 1960 replica jerseys on Saturday, honoring the 1960 team that won eight games, including the Tangerine Bowl. The jerseys will be auctioned off to raise money for the department of athletics. Let’s hope these uniforms won’t be judged as illegal, unlike last season’s uniform debacle (“Unigate”).

The Citadel badly needs a victory. Do I think the Bulldogs can get one this week?

It’s possible, but to be honest I’m not very confident. My confidence doesn’t matter, though. It’s the team’s self-esteem that matters.

I hope the Bulldogs expect to win on Saturday. I hope even more that they actually win.

Game review, 2014: Charleston Southern

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

School release

Box score

Brief comments:

- While I wasn’t surprised the Bulldogs lost, I was disappointed in how they played. They weren’t disciplined or sharp enough on Saturday night.

Special teams play reared its ugly head again, allowing a punt return TD (and was very lucky on the field goal, as it was tipped). Defensively, The Citadel allowed too many long third down conversions, including three of nine yards or more.

On offense, the Bulldogs were just 4 of 14 on third downs, not good enough for a triple option team, and evidence of a lack of success on first and second downs. Of the fourteen 3rd-down plays, eight of them were 3rd-and-7 or longer.

There were too many penalties, including multiple drive-killers (though I thought the Bulldogs were hosed at least twice by the officials on that front). The Citadel also had two lost fumbles, both costly.

- Speaking of turnovers, through three games the Bulldog D has yet to force one. No interceptions, no recovered fumbles (and only one forced fumble).

In addition, The Citadel only has three quarterback sacks so far this season. The Bulldogs have been credited with five pass breakups in 91 opponent pass attempts (5.5%). The lack of sacks and pass breakups goes a long way to explaining why Bulldog opponents are completing 71.4% of their passes.

By contrast, The Citadel has only completed 24.2% of its passes (8-33). The Bulldogs aren’t going to complete an exceptionally high percentage of passes in the triple option, but they must be better than 24%. Much better.

- I thought Mike Houston made a mistake early in the game. On the opening drive, with 4th-and-1 on the CSU 46, he decided to punt.

That’s not the percentage play, especially for the triple option offense. He let the visiting crowd down early with that call.

I’ll delve into a few more numbers when I preview the Gardner-Webb game later in the week.

Now I’m going to talk about (well, write about) the game location and future scheduling, since this has been a topic of discussion. I suspect not everyone is going to be happy with what I’m going to say.

I will preface what follows by stating the obvious: I’m not an insider. There may be more to this subject than I know. I would be shocked if that weren’t the case.

So, massive caveats and all that…

First, here is my preview of the CSU game from last week, which has some background: Link

Apparently as part of the two-year contract, The Citadel will not pay Charleston Southern any money for playing at Johnson Hagood Stadium next year. That is not a good enough reason to have made the deal, from my vantage point.

Charleston Southern presumably wants to play The Citadel on an annual basis, and home-and-home. The announced crowd for the game on Saturday was 7,954.

I think the actual attendance was probably closer to 5,500, which is nothing to apologize about, but not really that close to the 12,000-13,000 for the previous games held at Johnson Hagood Stadium. For the attendance to have been close to 8,000 fans, that would have meant at least 3,300 people would have been lined up (or in their cars/trucks) around the fence enclosing the track.

Also, that’s assuming there were 4,700 seats available at Buccaneer Field in the first place. I suspect it was more like 4,262, based on previous information released by the school.

There weren’t 3,300 people milling about around that fence.

Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell emerged from the locker room Saturday night wearing a smile and a T-shirt with a message.

“Charleston, it’s Southern’s City,” read the shirt…

…”In this city and for what we are trying to make with this rivalry, it’s big on that end,” said Chadwell.

This message was also sent in a Thursday column by The Post and Courier‘s Gene Sapakoff that might as well have been ghost-written by the CSU administration. He concluded his column by implicitly wishing for a Buccaneer victory on Saturday night, but I want to highlight this statement instead:

This is a good game for the Lowcountry and there is no reason it shouldn’t continue on an annual basis well beyond a scheduled meeting next year at The Citadel. It makes financial sense for a pair of cash-strapped programs 16 miles apart.

I think it’s debatable whether or not the matchup is a “good game for the Lowcountry”. That suggests the Lowcountry awaits the matchup with tremendous anticipation. There is nothing the Lowcountry really awaits with tremendous anticipation, with the possible exception of local school board meetings.

(It also seems at odds with Sapakoff’s insistence in recent years that what the Lowcountry is really desperate for is another Clemson-South Carolina baseball game at Riley Park, but that’s another story.)

However, let’s assume it is a good game for the Lowcountry. If that were the case, and if it “makes financial sense for a pair of cash-strapped programs”, then why would anyone want to ever play it at the much smaller stadium?

I estimate between 2,000-2,500 fans of The Citadel were at the game on Saturday. It was an exceptionally good turnout considering the circumstances (including threatening weather). If the game had been held at Johnson Hagood Stadium, there probably would have been about 9,000-10,000 Bulldog supporters.

I gather folks at CSU would prefer a regular, or at least semi-regular, home-and-home series (and if I’m wrong about that, I apologize in advance for making an incorrect assumption).

They would want it for recruiting, and also to erase the stigma of being “the red-headed stepchild” on a local level (Jamey Chadwell made that comment during the Big South teleconference).

I understand that. I also understand that if The Citadel tells CSU it only will play future games at Johnson Hagood Stadium, CSU may not be interested, especially if a much larger guarantee is not part of the equation. If it’s not in the best interests of Charleston Southern to play The Citadel only at JHS, then Charleston Southern shouldn’t play The Citadel there.

My position is simple. I care about what is best for The Citadel.

There are at least two major problems with playing at CSU, in my opinion:

1) Charleston Southern’s facility is simply not of Division I caliber

It does not benefit The Citadel’s football program to play a non-conference road game at Buccaneer Field. It is not beneficial to The Citadel in recruiting. It is not beneficial to The Citadel’s fan base.

The Citadel may have made a short-term financial gain by playing at CSU on Saturday, but school administrators should be thinking about the long-term impact on the football program.

I also want to repeat something I said on Twitter, which is that quite honestly Jamey Chadwell and his players deserve better than what they have right now in North Charleston.

2) The Citadel’s future scheduling is too restrictive to have an annual home-and-home series with Charleston Southern

This is something that doesn’t always get mentioned, so I probably need to explain it in some detail.

Next year, FCS schools will revert back to an 11-game regular season schedule. That will be the case until 2019 (when FCS teams can schedule 12 games, as was the option in 2013 and 2014). After 2019, there won’t be another 12-game schedule opportunity for FCS programs until 2024.

In 2015, The Citadel will play seven SoCon games and four non-conference games: home against Charleston Southern (the second game of the current contract), home against Davidson, and road games versus Georgia Southern and South Carolina.

Beginning in 2016, the number of SoCon games on the slate will increase from seven to eight, as East Tennessee State begins league play. That leaves three non-conference games per season. One of those three will almost certainly always be a “money game” against FBS opposition (unless those games come to an end, which I tend to doubt, but that’s another issue).

In 2016, the Bulldogs are tentatively scheduled to play at North Carolina. In 2017, The Citadel will play at South Carolina.

This leaves two games on The Citadel’s schedule each year. One of them has to be a “designated home game” — in other words, a game in which the opposing school does not get a return game at its place. That’s to ensure there are at least five home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium every season.

The other game is what I will call a “flex game”. It could be a non-conference home-and-home with another FCS school, or a matchup with another FBS program. While the latter possibility may not be as likely, there are scenarios in which The Citadel would gladly take a second FBS game (especially if it were against Army or Navy).

Charleston Southern could play The Citadel every year in the “designated home game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. However, it would not be in the best interests of The Citadel to hamstring its future scheduling by eliminating the “flex game” to play an annual home-and-home series versus CSU.

The Citadel needs the flexibility of that game to pursue opportunities that could be of significant benefit to the school and its football program, whether a “bonus” money game, a matchup with a service academy, or perhaps a home-and-home with a team outside the region.

While it is more expensive to play a home-and-home against an FCS school in another part of the country, there are important ancillary benefits to occasionally doing so. They include exposing the school to a wider audience, and reconnecting with certain parts of The Citadel’s far-flung alumni base.

I remember attending The Citadel’s game at Princeton. It was an excellent public/alumni relations event for the military college (even with the Princeton band’s, uh, involvement). I also remember the large contingent of Bulldog supporters who showed up for that contest, probably more than attended the game at Buccaneer Field on Saturday night.

Because of those considerations, among other things, I don’t see a home-and-home with CSU going forward as practical or beneficial for The Citadel.

Again, if Charleston Southern won’t play The Citadel without a home-and-home, I get that. I wouldn’t blame CSU at all for taking that stance.

I realize scheduling can be problematic. That is why ADs get paid good money — to solve those problems, and to do so in a way that is good for students, coaches, fans, and long-term program/school interests.

I didn’t take quite as many photos on Saturday as I usually do. I had trouble getting a good angle for the “action” shots, and of course I’m not a very good photographer as it is. Nevertheless, here are some pictures, mostly of dubious quality.

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…

2013 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, the Military Classic of the South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 16. 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.

Note that 1:00 pm ET start time, an hour earlier than for the past two home games. Don’t be late!

Also: The Citadel’s basketball team will be playing North Greenville at McAlister Field House on Saturday, with tipoff scheduled for 7:05 pm ET. If you have your ticket from the football game, you can watch the basketball game for free.

The hoopsters won their first game of the season on Tuesday, beating Presbyterian 82-68 in the home opener. The team shot well against PC, and held off the Blue Hose down the stretch despite a fair amount of foul trouble.

I hope a lot of Bulldog fans make Saturday a personal football/basketball doubleheader.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

VMI game notes

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Sparky Woods on the Big South media teleconference (beginning at the 18:20 mark)

The Kevin Higgins Show

Advertisement for VMI-The Citadel (video)

Ben Dupree is the reigning SoCon offensive player of the week

Dupree once found out that wearing flip-flops can be problematic

Game story from The Post and Courier on The Citadel’s win over Elon

Game story from the Burlington Times-News on The Citadel’s win over Elon

This preview is going to be a little lighter on the usual historical/statistical minutiae (possibly a blessing in disguise), as I’m on the road much of this week.

Just a lot of “odds and ends” observations…

The game story from the Burlington (NC) newspaper included two quotes that I want to highlight:

Obviously, it’s a low point right now for Elon football

The above comment is from Elon head coach Jason Swepson. He is in his third season, but it may be his last if he keeps having to make pronouncements like that one. It’s not the way the school wanted to exit the SoCon before starting gridiron action in the CAA next season.

Yeah, since I’ve been on the team, it’s probably the lowest we’ve come as a Phoenix, or the Phoenixes, or whatever you want to call us

That was said by Elon’s starting quarterback, Mike Quinn. “Phoenix, or the Phoenixes, or whatever you want to call us” is so…expressive.

I missed this article that ran last week in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, but better late than never. Both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern currently have losing records against league teams, and I get the impression that doesn’t hurt the feelings of SoCon commissioner John Iamarino one bit.

VMI played its final Big South conference game last week against Gardner-Webb, and a funny thing happened. VMI won.

It wasn’t even close, as the Keydets prevailed 27-9. Gardner-Webb owns victories this season over Wofford and Furman, so yes, this was an upset.

How did it happen? Well, mostly it happened because A) VMI’s defense has been improving over the course of the season, and B) Gardner-Webb couldn’t get out of its own way.

Gardner-Webb opened the game by fumbling a snap into its own end zone, where VMI senior linebacker Weston Reber fell on the ball for a touchdown. G-W fumbled again on its next drive, setting up a Keydet field goal.

Those were two of Gardner-Webb’s five turnovers. The Runnin’ Bulldogs also committed thirteen penalties, and shanked a punt that went for just six yards. It just wasn’t G-W’s day.

Choice comments from Weston Reber:

“I just saw the ball on the ground,” said Reber, referring to G-W quarterback Lucas Beatty, who had lost the ball after having trouble fielding a low snap.

“I was on a lineman and I said, ‘I’m getting this damn ball, this thing is mine!’ It was a foot away and it kept rolling and kept rolling, and when it rolled over the [goal line] I just took off and dove on it.”

Reber laughed and jokingly added: “Hopefully, they will take away some demerits from me for the touchdown!”

I wouldn’t count on it…

Sparky Woods, discussing matters during his media teleconference:

We would like to defeat Citadel [sic] so we could continue this reign the Big South has over the Southern Conference.

He did mention that a year from now, he might feel differently about the conference dynamics, given VMI will be in the SoCon next season. Of course, it’s not a given that Woods will be in charge of the Keydets when the school returns to the league.

VMI’s victory over Gardner-Webb was only its second win of the season, and first over a Division I opponent. Woods is in his sixth season in Lexington, and has won only 15 games during that time.

A new AD, Dave Diles, has taken over at VMI, and Diles will have a decision to make about Woods’ future after the season.

VMI is last in the Big South in the following categories: scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, offensive third down conversion rate, scoring defense, pass defense, defensive third down conversion rate, kickoff return average, kickoff coverage average, and net punting.

Keydet opponents average 6.2 yards per play. VMI is allowing an average of 35.0 points per contest.

The Keydets can point to some positives. VMI leads the Big South in passing offense (though it is next-to-last in pass efficiency), and its red zone defense is actually quite respectable (allowing 4.6 points per opponent possession inside the 20).

The negative to that red zone defense statistic is that opponents have had 47 such possessions.

VMI also has a knack for inducing penalties. I’m not sure how that happens, but VMI leads the Big South in the category, and it’s the second year in a row VMI opponents have been prone to committing infractions when facing the Keydets.

Last year, by far The Citadel’s worst game of the season in terms of penalties came at VMI. Those mistakes almost cost the Bulldogs the victory. That is something to watch on Saturday.

Redshirt senior A.J. Augustine will start at quarterback for VMI against The Citadel, the third straight start for the native of St. Petersburg. It’s too bad he’s not a native of St. Augustine.

Augustine replaced Eric Kordenbrock, who had started most of VMI’s games at the position since midway through his freshman year. He is the alltime leader in passing yardage for the Keydets.

Kordenbrock suffered a serious concussion against Presbyterian, during a play that resulted in an ejection for a Blue Hose player. As a result, Kordenbrock’s college career is over.

Running back Derrick Ziglar rushed for 94 yards and a TD against Gardner-Webb. He had rushed for 100+ yards in the previous two games, becoming the first Keydet with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games in four years.

VMI’s top receiver is Sam Patterson, who is averaging 17 yards per catch. Patterson has seven touchdown receptions and has caught at least one TD pass in four of his last five games.

Earlier in the year, Patterson had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, the first VMI player to do that since 2005.

VMI’s starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 289 lbs. The biggest of the group is 6’8″, 325 lb. Andy Marcotte.

The starting center for the Keydets, Will Lucas, is a native of Hartsville. He was the only VMI player named to the Big South’s preseason all-conference team.

Another Keydet who turned up on a couple of preseason “watch lists” was tight end Mario Thompson. Unfortunately, three weeks ago Thompson suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Weston Reber, the player with the potentially demerit-erasing fumble recovery against Gardner-Webb, is VMI’s leading tackler. He has one more stop than free safety Alex James.

Outside linebackers Logan Staib and Chris Harper lead the team in tackles for loss and sacks, respectively. Cornerback James Fruehan has two interceptions; seven of his teammates have one each.

VMI’s defense will line up against The Citadel in a 3-4, or a “three down look”, or a five-man front…pick your terminology.

As mentioned earlier, the Keydets have shown some improvement on D in recent weeks and won’t lack confidence from last year’s game against the Bulldogs. In that contest, The Citadel did not score an offensive touchdown in the second half.

VMI placekicker Dillon Christopher was named the Big South special teams player of the week for his performance against Gardner-Webb, which included a 52-yard field goal. Earlier this season, Christopher made a 45-yarder, so he’s got a strong leg. He has been a bit inconsistent, though, and is 7-12 on field goal attempts for the season.

He is also the kickoff specialist for the Keydets. Christopher has six touchbacks in 38 kickoffs this year.

David Eberhardt is averaging 39.0 yards per punt for VMI. So far this season, only one of the Keydets’ 65 punts has been blocked, which is better than VMI’s recent history in that department.

Ripped from the pages of The Citadel’s game notes…

The Citadel is 0-5 against VMI on November 16. Saturday’s date? November 16. Uh-oh.

The Bulldogs did beat Clemson on November 16, 1918. Perhaps the department of athletics should have tried to flip the dates for the VMI and Clemson games this season.

Saturday is the “Hall of Fame Game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This year’s honorees: Chip Cannon, Lance Hansen, Jim McMillan, Dan McDonnell, Richard Moore, and Joe Turbeville. Congratulations to all.

Richard Moore may be the least-known of the six. He probably needs to get a little more attention. Moore (class of 1953) was the rifle coach at The Citadel from 1959-62. To quote the press release:

The Bulldogs were undefeated in shoulder-to-shoulder competition during those four seasons and regularly defeated teams from Army, Navy and Air Force.  The Bulldogs finished first in the Hearst National Rifle Match, which equated to national championships, in 1959, ’60 and ’61.

Arguably the most successful coach in Citadel history, Moore’s four teams captured Southern Conference and state championships each year and along the way, three shooters – Robert Metsker ’60, David Edgerly ’62 and Keels Dickson ’62 – all earned All-America citations, becoming the first Citadel program to showcase three All-Americans.

State, conference, and national championships. That works for me.

Moore’s tenure as the rifle coach ended when he was transferred for a tour of duty in Vietnam, which serves as a reminder that the game against VMI is also Military Appreciation Day.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my preview of the VMI game might be just one sentence: “The Dogs better not lose to VMI.”

I decided a few more sentences wouldn’t hurt, but the bottom line is that this is a must-not-lose game for The Citadel.

That was true last year, too, and the Bulldogs hung on for a victory in a game that was a little too close for comfort. The Citadel can’t afford to let VMI hang around on Saturday, as the Keydets may have a little more confidence this time around that they can pull off the upset.

In a season that has been more of a struggle for The Citadel than was anticipated, it is now even more critical that the coveted Silver Shako is retained.

Of course, it’s always important to keep the greatest trophy in all of sports in Charleston, where it belongs.

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

Previous editions of McAlister Musings, in reverse chronological order:

Possession is nine-tenths of a win

SoCon voting issues, preseason ratings, and corps attendance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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