2014 Football, The Citadel: a statistical review of the past in an attempt to foresee the future

Links to a few things I’ve written about The Citadel’s football program since last season ended, if anyone hasn’t seen them yet:

Secret memo to Mike Houston

Corps Day, spring football, and some Beautiful Bulldogs

Prime SoCon football recruiting areas

Improving the gameday experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium

What teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Competing for a Crowd

Jeff Hartsell writes about “five questions” Mike Houston will have to answer as fall practice begins

Another season of gridiron activity is just around the corner, and it can’t get here soon enough. The expectations for The Citadel’s football team in 2014 may be relatively modest, but that doesn’t reduce anticipation among supporters of the Bulldogs.

I’ll link to various SoCon previews scattered across the internet when I write about the season opener against Coastal Carolina. For this post, I’m going to take a look back at certain elements of offensive and defensive play from a statistical perspective. I’ll largely be comparing last season’s team at The Citadel to Mike Houston’s 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne squad.

The idea is to get a sense, at least in general terms, of how the new coach and his staff will approach things on the field. Obviously, there is a difference between FCS and Division II, but that doesn’t mean some basic concepts and tendencies won’t carry over.

It may not be optimal as the basis for a preview, but I’ve got to hang my hat on something. I’m used to ill-fitting caps, anyway (I wear a size 7 3/4).

All of the statistics to follow (unless otherwise noted) are based on conference games only, both for The Citadel and Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bulldogs played eight games in 2013 against SoCon foes. As a reminder, those opponents were: Wofford, Western Carolina, Furman, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, UT-Chattanooga, Samford, and Elon.

Lenoir-Rhyne is a member of D-II’s South Atlantic Conference, and played seven league games versus the following schools: Wingate, Tusculum, Brevard, Newberry, Mars Hill, Carson-Newman, and Catawba.

As it happens, Lenoir-Rhyne played Carson-Newman twice last season, once in regular-season conference play and once in the D-II playoffs, winning both games (though the postseason contest was much closer). For the purposes of my review, however, I’m only including the league game between the two teams.

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball in that situation in 2013. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2013, and that will be followed by The Citadel’s run percentage for that situation in 2012 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 92.1% (77.1%) [85.5%]

Thus, Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball on first down 92.1% of the time, while The Citadel ran the ball in that situation 77.1% of the time in 2013 and 85.5% of the time in 2012.

The differential was a bit surprising, but keep in mind that game status was a factor. Lenoir-Rhyne went undefeated in SAC play in 2013 and led after three quarters in all seven contests, on several occasions by significant margins.

Meanwhile, The Citadel was 4-4 in SoCon play in 2013 and had to throw the ball more often than it wanted in some of those games as it tried to overcome a deficit. That doesn’t explain all the difference, but some of it.

As I wrote in my review of The Citadel’s 2013 campaign, the attempt to diversify the offense in spring practice/preseason simply backfired. The offense threw the ball on 22.6% of its plays. That percentage, for a run-first/second/third type of team, was too high.

Lenoir-Rhyne passed the ball on only 10.8% of its offensive plays in league contests.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories:

– 2nd-and-short: 90.0% (95.8%) [86.7%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 87.7% (87.8%) [93.6%]
– 2nd-and-long: 84.1% (75.0%) [80.9%]
– 3rd-and-short: 95.8% (85.7%) [100.0%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 93.1% (90.9%) [86.3%]
– 3rd-and-long: 71.1% (54.0%) [49.1%]

A further caveat to these numbers, in terms of playcalling, is that there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs.

Few teams can claim to have been as committed to the run as Lenoir-Rhyne was in 2013. Running the ball on 37 of 52 long-yardage third-down plays, as the Bears did in conference action in 2013, is very unusual in the modern game.

Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball in every 2nd-and-short situation it faced in its first six league games. In its final SAC contest, against Catawba, offensive coordinator Brent Thompson changed things up a bit, calling for three pass plays on 2nd-and-short. Those three plays resulted in an incomplete pass and two sacks.

Only once during the conference campaign did Lenoir-Rhyne attempt a pass on 3rd-and-short. It fell incomplete. I’m guessing that in 2014, Thompson will continue to call running plays most of the time in short yardage situations.

It should be noted that The Citadel did not fare any better the few times it attempted to pass on short-yardage plays. The Bulldogs attempted only four passes in 45 such situations in 2013 conference play.

The hope for throwing on 2nd-and-short or 3rd-and-short would be to surprise the defense and produce a long gainer. However, The Citadel was only 2-4 passing in short yardage, for a grand total of twelve yards. One of the incompletions was actually an interception in the Red Zone.

Lenoir-Rhyne averaged 6.09 yards per offensive play in SAC action, which included 5.81 yards per rush and 8.5 yards per pass attempt. Corresponding numbers for The Citadel: 5.41 yards per offensive play, 5.13 yards per rush, 6.4 yards per pass attempt.

The Bears averaged 73 plays per game and 12.1 possessions per contest (slightly more than The Citadel, which averaged 69.6 plays and exactly 12 possessions per game in SoCon play).

I wanted to mention the plays per game and number of possessions to correct a misconception, that of L-R running a “hurry up” offense. Lenoir-Rhyne ran a “no huddle” offense, but definitely not a hurry-up operation a la Oregon.

L-R had a time-of-possession edge of over seven minutes against its league opponents (33:38 – 26:22). That certainly was a benefit to the Bears’ defense (more on that unit later).

The primary benefit of the no-huddle look (at least from my perspective) was that it kept Lenoir-Rhyne opponents from freely substituting after each play. Each drive (for the most part) turned into an 11-vs.-11 battle, and clearly L-R thought that was to its advantage.

I do wonder if this particular strategy had its origins in depth issues, which could be more of a factor at the Division II level than in FCS. However, I get the impression that this coaching staff is not in the business of regularly rotating players, regardless of how many scholarship athletes are on hand.

I would expect starters to play most of the snaps this year at The Citadel, at least on offense. Among other things, it would be in keeping with Mike Houston’s stated desire to redshirt as many freshmen as possible.

Having said that, it is to the staff’s credit (and the players as well) that Lenoir-Rhyne advanced to the D-II national title game despite losing two quarterbacks to injury. Winning three playoff games with a third-string QB behind center was very impressive.

Also of interest: Brent Thompson called plays from upstairs in the coaches’ box during games at Lenoir-Rhyne, and is expected to do the same at The Citadel.

Next, a little game theory discussion, which I went into last year as well. I wanted to see how aggressive Kevin Higgins and Mike Houston were in fourth down situations.

Not included in these numbers: fourth down “desperation” or “garbage time” situations, and “accidental” fourth down tries. That means I’m not counting Eric Goins’ first down dash for The Citadel after he dropped a punt snap against Western Carolina. However, the excellent fake punt for a first down Goins ran against Samford does count.

Terms (as defined by Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

- On fourth down and two yards or less to go: Lenoir-Rhyne went for it five times in the Red Zone, successfully converting four times. On a sixth 4th-and-short situation inside the 20, the Bears kicked a field goal.

In the Front Zone, L-R went for it twice on 4th-and-short, making it both times. Lenoir-Rhyne punted on all three occasions it faced 4th-and-short in the Mid Zone (in each of those instances, L-R had the ball on its own side of the field).

In 2013, The Citadel went for it on two 4th-and-short situations in the Red Zone, converting once. The Bulldogs picked up a first down on four of five tries on 4th-and-short in the Front Zone.

Against UT-Chattanooga, The Citadel twice went for it on 4th-and-short in the Back Zone while attempting to hold a lead in the fourth quarter. Both times, the Bulldogs got the first down.

- On fourth down and three to five yards to go: Lenoir-Rhyne had one fourth-and-medium opportunity in the Red Zone in league play, against Brevard (a 41-0 blowout), and elected to kick a field goal in that situation. In the Front Zone, the Bears had six 4th-and-medium plays; twice L-R decided to go for it, and it went one for two picking up the first down. The other 4th-and-medium situations all resulted in field goal attempts.

Lenoir-Rhyne punted three times when faced with fourth-and-medium in the Mid Zone. Of those three situations, the opposing 49-yard line was the furthest the Bears had advanced the ball.

The Citadel had eight 4th-and-medium situations in 2013 SoCon play that took place in the Red, Front, or Mid Zones. Of four Red Zone opportunities, the Bulldogs tried three field goals and went for the first down once (failing to make it; that came on a fake field goal attempt). The Citadel was one for two in 4th-and-medium attempts in both the Front Zone and the Mid Zone.

- On fourth down and six or more yards to go: Lenoir-Rhyne attempted two field goals when faced with 4th-and-long in the Red Zone. In the Front Zone, L-R attempted three field goals. On one occasion, the Bears punted. That came against Brevard, on a fourth-and-14 from Brevard’s 39-yard line.

The Citadel faced 4th-and-long three times in the Red Zone, and attempted a field goal all three times. As mentioned above, the Bulldogs also attempted a conversion from the Back Zone on 4th-and-long, successfully executing a fake punt against Samford.

On two occasions last season, Mike Houston was faced with this scenario: his offense had the ball on the opponents’ 1-yard line, but there was only time for one more play before the end of the first half. Go for the touchdown, or kick a field goal?

This situation first happened against Tusculum, with Lenoir-Rhyne holding a 14-3 lead, five seconds remaining in the half, and facing third-and-goal from the 1. Houston elected to go for the TD — but the Bears got stopped, and didn’t get points or momentum.

A little over a month later, versus Carson-Newman (in the regular-season matchup), almost the exact same set of circumstances came to pass. Lenoir-Rhyne led 14-3 as halftime approached, and had the ball on the 1-yard line. In this case, six seconds remained in the half and it was 4th-and-goal for the Bears.

Did Houston decide to kick the field goal, mindful of the failure against Tusculum? No. He went for the TD again, and this time Lenoir-Rhyne punched it in for six points.

Lenoir-Rhyne punted three times last season in league play while in opposing territory. Those three instances: a punt from the Brevard 39-yard line on 4th-and-14 (mentioned earlier); a 4th-and-5 from the Brevard 49-yard line; and a 4th-and-19 from the Mars Hill 44-yard line.

The Citadel punted six times in SoCon action while on its opponents’ side of the 50. The Bulldogs did so twice against Furman (on 4th-and-9 from the Paladins’ 48-yard line, and on 4th-and-7 from Furman’s 42); once versus Appalachian State (a 4th-and-9 from the App 44-yard line); once against Georgia Southern (a 4th-and-6 from the GSU 45); once versus UT-Chattanooga (a 4th-and-6 from the UTC 43, with Aaron Miller originally lining up behind center and then punting the ball away); and once against Samford.

The only dubious “short field” punting situation was probably The Citadel’s punt in the Samford game, which came on 4th-and-12 from the SU 33-yard line. However, that occurred after a delay-of-game penalty; originally, it was 4th-and-7 on the Samford 28.

That happened with about five minutes remaining in the game and The Citadel holding a 28-20 lead. I think going for it would have been the correct decision in that situation, at least from the SU 28-yard line.

As it was, despite pinning Samford back on its own 9-yard line following the punt, The Citadel still allowed a TD drive. Fortunately for the Cadets, the potential tying two-point conversion attempt did not succeed.

Lenoir-Rhyne’s most-mentioned statistic from the 2013 season was its season rushing yardage. In fifteen games, the Bears rushed for a total of 5,563 yards, an all-divisions record. Even when considering they played fifteen games, that number is striking. Lenoir-Rhyne’s rushing yards per game led Division II as well.

However, when looking through L-R’s team totals, it is clear that a high-powered offense was far from the only reason Lenoir-Rhyne went 13-2. In fact, it may not have been the biggest reason.

Here is something that might surprise a few people: Lenoir-Rhyne did not lead the South Atlantic Conference in scoring offense in 2013. It also didn’t lead the SAC in total offense, or first downs made, or red zone scoring percentage, or red zone TD percentage, or even time of possession.

Last season, the SAC was a very offense-friendly league. Six of the eight teams averaged at least 27 points per game in conference play. Newberry allowed 22.1 points per game, and that was the second-best scoring defense in the SAC.

The best? That would be Lenoir-Rhyne, which allowed only 10.7 points per contest.

That is not a typo. L-R allowed fewer than half as many points as the league’s second-best defense.

Lenoir-Rhyne only allowed 4.25 yards per play last season. The Bears were particularly stingy against the run, only allowing 2.37 yards per rush. L-R gave up more than 2.7 yards rushing per play in only one of its seven league games (though it’s only fair to point out that sacks in college football count against rushing yardage totals).

L-R gave up 6.2 yards per pass attempt last year.

The Citadel’s defense improved its yards per play numbers in 2013, from 5.75 (2012) to 5.47 (2013). The Bulldogs allowed 4.39 yards per rush in 2013.

In terms of yards per pass attempt, The Citadel was actually a little better defensively in 2012 (6.5) than 2013 (7.2).

Note: the numbers that follow for passes defensed are slightly different from those I mentioned in last year’s season review. I have corrected a small statistical error from that post.

The Citadel defensed (broke up or intercepted) 26 passes in eight league games in 2013. Conference opponents threw the ball 204 times against the Bulldogs, so the PD rate was 12.7%. This was marginally better than 2012 (12.4%).

That’s not a particularly good percentage. Now, a fair-to-middling PD rate doesn’t necessarily mean a defense is mediocre; as I mentioned in my review, Michigan State’s defense was unquestionably superb, including its dynamic defensive secondary, and its PD rate was 14.4%.

If you aren’t breaking up or intercepting passes, you have to be doing something else. That something else sticks out in a major way when comparing The Citadel’s defense with Lenoir-Rhyne’s D in 2013.

I mentioned a few sentences ago that 204 passes were thrown against The Citadel’s defense in conference action. That is a similar number to what Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense faced. SAC opponents threw the ball 212 times against the Bears.

* Number of sacks by The Citadel’s defense, league play: 12

* Number of sacks by Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense, league play: 32

Lenoir-Rhyne had more sacks in its first two conference games (fourteen) than the Bulldogs had in eight SoCon contests.

Mike Houston likes to use the words “aggressive” and “attack”, and they appear to be good descriptors for his defensive philosophy. That is the key point I got out of reviewing Lenoir-Rhyne’s statistics, and also watching some of the action from the Bears’ playoff run.

Part of that aggression may have resulted in a few more penalties, though L-R did not commit that many infractions (6.1 per game in league play). Of course, The Citadel has led all of FCS in the “fewest penalties” category for three consecutive seasons, so six penalties per game for the home team might seem like a lot at Johnson Hagood Stadium this fall.

That way of playing worked out for Lenoir-Rhyne most of the time, obviously, but every now and then the Bears got burned. Mars Hill was only 3-8 last season, but stayed in its game against the Bears thanks to two long touchdown runs (77 and 81 yards) and a 34-yard TD pass.

In its playoff game versus North Alabama, L-R’s defense allowed touchdown passes of 71 and 48 yards. West Chester also scored on a long pass play (60 yards) to take the lead in its national semifinal against the Bears (only to see Lenoir-Rhyne score 30 unanswered points).

When an opposing team got into the Red Zone, Lenoir-Rhyne was very tough, allowing only a 46% TD rate (that number is for all games, not just conference play). At times, though, the Bears were susceptible to giving up a score before the other team actually moved the ball inside the 20.

Speaking of the Red Zone: The Citadel’s offense only scored touchdowns on 60% of its trips to that stretch of turf, a disappointing percentage (again, Red Zone numbers are for all games). Lenoir-Rhyne’s offense scored TDs 73% of the time when reaching the opposing 20-yard line.

The Citadel’s defense allowed touchdowns 67% of the time when the opponent moved inside the Red Zone.

A brief word on fumbles (these numbers are for all games):

- Lenoir-Rhyne put the ball on the ground 29 times in 15 games last season, losing 14. Defensively, the Bears forced 19 fumbles and recovered 10 of them.

- In twelve contests, The Citadel fumbled 24 times and lost 11 of them. On defense, the Bulldogs forced 17 fumbles, recovering 7 of them.

There isn’t really much to gather from that, other than in terms of being fumble-prone, the two offenses were very similar.

Just a couple of notes about Lenoir-Rhyne’s kicking game from last season:

- The Bears had a solid field goal kicker, which may have caused Mike Houston to go for field goals slightly more often than he otherwise would have, because he would have had a relatively high degree of confidence in his placekicker.

It’s possible Houston might be more aggressive in fourth-and-short and/or fourth-and-medium situations inside the 30-yard line this year, dependent on how much he wants to rely on the kicking game.

- In fifteen games, Lenoir-Rhyne only allowed 28 punt return yards, which was the fourth-lowest total in all of Division II. The Bears were 26th nationally in net punting, which suggests the coaching staff preferred allowing a minimum of return yardage at the expense of a certain amount of punt distance.

When it comes to getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014 football season, I hope this post has helped those who have read it in some small way.

Given the length of this missive, you might be under the impression that I am ready for football season to begin.

You would be correct.

A few quick thoughts on The Citadel’s search for a new head football coach

Maybe I should have waited to post my review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season. Less than 24 hours after I posted it, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach.

After all, timing is everything…

The difference between the opportunity at Wake Forest and the one two years ago was a matter of timing, Higgins said…

…Larry Leckonby last week offered Higgins an extension through the 2015 season, but that was not enough to sway him from taking the Wake Forest job.

“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Leckonby said of Higgins’ decision. “We talked last week about his future here, about a contract extension. We met (Monday morning) and I gave it one last try to see if we could keep him here. We wish him all the best and look for success out of Wake Forest in the ACC.”

To be honest, I think there is just a hint of Kabuki theater about the whole “offered an extension he didn’t accept” thing, but I could be wrong about that. It doesn’t really matter, though. The bottom line is that Kevin Higgins is leaving, and The Citadel has to find a suitable replacement.

Larry Leckonby had this to say:

My phones have been inundated with folks who are interested or have someone they think is interested in the job. I think it’s the flip side of the situation nine years ago. We’re going to have to turn folks away.

That sentiment was echoed in a tweet sent out by Scott Roussel, operator of FootballScoop.com:

So, so many guys reaching out about the Citadel job. Great location. No idea what direction they go; but plenty of quality interest.

It is undoubtedly true that the job at The Citadel is more attractive now than it was nine years ago, when Higgins accepted the position. That is to his credit.

However, any candidates out there interested in the job because of the “great location” better know that being head football coach at The Citadel isn’t a retirement gig. Lowering one’s golf handicap is not a primary or secondary goal.

When asked if he would hire a triple-option coach, Leckonby said that he would “make that determination in the next couple of days and go from there.”

I hope he decides not to limit candidates to those who would employ an option offense. I say that despite being someone who believes that running some form of the “triple option” is probably the way to go for a school like The Citadel.

However, I don’t want to see the pool of candidates substantially reduced by a restriction like that. There may be someone interested in the position who might have other ideas about on-field concepts that could work at The Citadel, and the school should listen.

Offensive philosophy is just one of many issues on the table for the job at the military college. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a consideration. It definitely should be.

However, if it turns out the best candidate happens to prefer running out of the I-formation or something, then The Citadel should hire him anyway.

Leckonby said he will use an “advisory committee” but will handle “most” of the task of hiring a new coach himself. He expects to present a group of finalists and a recommendation to school president Lt. Gen. John Rosa.

For some, the process of making the hire is perhaps almost as important as the hire itself. It is open to question whether or not Rosa will simply “rubber stamp” Larry Leckonby’s recommendation, or if the school president will be more involved in making the final decision. That is something to watch.

I’ll be a little curious to see if the advisory committee is a somewhat formal group, with a listed set of members, or if Leckonby will simply run things by some trusted friends/colleagues. It’s also possible that some members of the committee will be tasked with what Leckonby referred to Monday as “cultivating” candidates.

“The first three people I talked to today, all of whom I respect, said the same thing: Make sure you don’t move too fast,” Leckonby said. “Don’t rush forward to get a coach because of recruiting; make sure you get the right fit for The Citadel.

“So I don’t think we’ll set a time frame on it. But at the same time, you don’t want to lose a full recruiting year because of it.”

Fair enough. I agree that getting the right coach is more important than one recruiting year. That recruiting year is important, though.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. They will also be very important to the future of The Citadel’s football program, and for the department of athletics as a whole.

Leckonby said on Monday that he would handle most of the heavy lifting himself, “for better or worse”. It has to be for the better, Mr. Leckonby. It has to be for the better…

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…

2013 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. Clemson

The Citadel at Clemson, to be played in Clemson, South Carolina, at Memorial Stadium/Frank Howard Field, with kickoff at noon ET on Saturday, November 23. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with play-by-play from Jim Barbar, analysis by John Bunting, and reporting from the sidelines by Angela Mallen.

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. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Clemson game notes

SoCon weekly release

ACC weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

ACC teleconference (Dabo Swinney is the first coach on the line); here is the transcript

Dabo Swinney press conference — Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Brent Venables talks defense  — Part 1, Part 2

Clemson’s players are not believed to be aliens

Apparently really fast 6’5″, 200 lb. receivers are uncommon

It’s a big game for the Tigers, so despite injury Tajh Boyd will play

Gerald Dixon talks about Dabo Swinney

An in-depth review of Clemson’s game against Georgia Tech, play-by-play

Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Clemson, and the school (as usual) is going to put on quite a show. The festivities will feature a halftime performance by the Summerall Guards.

It will also be a “Purple Out”, with fans encouraged to wear purple for the game. From above, the stadium is going to look like a giant bruise.

One note on the “Purple Out”: students will be wearing purple t-shirts (and trying to stay warm). However, the original t-shirt design won’t be used:

All full-time Clemson students attending the game will receive a free Purple Out T-shirt, but it won’t include a Purple Heart symbol as originally planned. That design, chosen from more than 30 student submissions in a campuswide contest, didn’t meet licensing guidelines of the U.S. Army. Proceeds from sales of the redesigned shirt will still benefit campus ROTC units and the Student Veterans Association.

I’m not sure which team Clemson is playing next week, but Dabo Swinney was asked during his on-campus press conference if the Tigers had time to “peek ahead” to that game. Swinney was fairly emphatic:

We don’t have time to peek ahead…regardless of who we play…the objective is the win the football game…I can remember in 1992 I was a senior at Alabama and The Citadel beat Arkansas.

The reason I remember that is because [Alabama] played Arkansas the next week…it was chaos in Arkansas, and we went to Little Rock to play them…I will never forget that.

I didn’t even know who The Citadel was in 1992. Probably, literally the first time I had heard of The Citadel was because they beat Arkansas…

You better be ready each and every week…’cause if you’re not…you get beat. I don’t care who you play, what sport it is, what level it is, how much of a discrepancy it is, you get beat.

Incidentally, Swinney’s memory wasn’t perfect. Alabama actually played Arkansas two weeks after the Razorbacks lost to The Citadel. It was the first time Arkansas had returned to play a game in The Natural State after the dismissal of Jack Crowe, however.

Arkansas actually played at South Carolina the week after losing to the Bulldogs. Joe Kines led the Hogs to a 45-7 shellacking of the Gamecocks. (Dabo and his Crimson Tide beat Arkansas 38-11 the following Saturday.)

The Citadel has defeated Clemson on the gridiron in no fewer than five South Carolina towns. It’s possible no other opponent has lost to the Bulldogs at so many different locations.

The military college has wins over Clemson in Clemson (when the town was called “Calhoun”), Charleston (at the original Johnson Hagood Stadium), Anderson, Orangeburg, and Florence.

This Saturday, look for the Bulldogs to use a similar strategy to that employed in The Citadel’s 1931 victory over the Tigers in Florence:

The Citadel Bulldogs arose here today, whipped out a finely-timed, incisive and unanticipated running attack, to win their annual game with Clemson at the Pee Dee Fair, 6-0. In no previous game this season had the Cadets shown such power, speed, and brilliant elusiveness in advancing the ball…

A good, big bunch of men these Tigers were, too, but they were so much putty in the hands of a Citadel team that had a great day…

Local hero Edwin McIntosh scored the game-winning TD for the Bulldogs that afternoon. Another offensive star was “‘Leaping Larkin’ Jennings, the Columbia Comet”.

The defensive player most responsible for keeping the Tigers out of the end zone was “man-mountain, gargantuan” Delmar Rivers, also known as “Big Boy”.

Other tidbits about that game:

- The Citadel kicked off to start both halves.

- Despite that, Clemson only ran 46 offensive plays during the game, a statistic which would undoubtedly horrify Chad Morris. The lack of offensive snaps was partly due to the Tigers’ tendency to “quick kick” whenever possible. Clemson punted on third down six times, punted on second down three times, and punted on first down (?!) once.

- Clemson only picked up three first downs during the game (well, sure, with all that punting), not getting its initial first down until the fourth quarter.

- At one point during the contest, the Tigers threw incomplete passes on consecutive plays. By rule, that resulted in a five-yard penalty.

- The News and Courier reported that both team captains were redheads.

- Attendance: 4000.

***Brief subject change before going back to football***

Clemson last played a football game at The Citadel in 1953, which shouldn’t be a shock to anybody. What may come as a surprise, though, is that the Tiger baseball team has not played The Citadel in Charleston during this century either.

In fact, Clemson and The Citadel have not met on a Low Country diamond since 1990, when the teams were coached by Bill Wilhelm and Chal Port. That game was played at College Park.

Now, you wouldn’t necessarily expect the two schools to play each other every year, as they are basically at opposite ends of the state.  That’s not true for the University of South Carolina, of course, and thus the Gamecocks and Bulldogs naturally meet more often.

However, South Carolina doesn’t just play The Citadel once in a while; the two schools play each other home-and-home every year. Meanwhile, Clemson…doesn’t. The last regular-season meeting of any kind between the Tigers and Bulldogs came back in 2004, at Clemson.

I think this is something that needs to be addressed, particularly because Clemson isn’t averse to playing in Charleston. The Tigers played at College of Charleston in 2008, for example.

It is facing the Bulldogs on The Citadel’s home turf that seems to have become an issue for the Tigers in recent years.

Speaking of that home turf, Clemson has actually played at Riley Park. In 2012, South Carolina and Clemson met in a game that was relentlessly hyped by sports columnist Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier, who apparently believed the matchup was the most important development in the history of western civilization and would be attended by hundreds of thousands of dignitaries from around the globe.

Sapakoff was highly upset at the game’s actual attendance (5,851), and was unable to accept the fact that despite the nonstop promotion (much of it by himself), the game drew about the same number of people who would attend a typical game between The Citadel and South Carolina at Riley Park. Indeed, last year’s game in Charleston between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs, played on a Tuesday night with no hype whatsoever, had an attendance of 5,838.

That said, having a crowd of 5,000+ for a regular-season college baseball game is very impressive, and not surprisingly the folks who run the Charleston Riverdogs wouldn’t mind seeing the Gamecocks and Tigers get together again at Riley Park in the near future. In a newspaper article from two years ago, the year 2015 was suggested.

However, I don’t think that game should be played. Not in 2015, anyway.

That’s because I believe the next game Clemson plays at Riley Park needs to be against the local college team that calls the stadium home. The Tigers should play The Citadel there first.

I am aware of a few reasons why Clemson and The Citadel have not met in recent years. I don’t care. People can put aside their differences, if only for one night.

Imagine how many people might attend a game at Riley Park between Clemson and The Citadel if the local media promoted it as heavily as Clemson-South Carolina 2012. That’s part of what this is about, at least to me.

I want The Citadel to receive that kind of positive attention, instead of being ignored while various entities start panting heavily at the mere sight of schools from other parts of the state.

Bringing this back to football, but in a similar vein, I find it a bit tiresome that a writer for a local newspaper (Aaron Brenner, the Clemson beat writer for The Post and Courier) has written multiple times that a local team is a “tune-up” for an opponent. It is particularly annoying that he first characterized the game as such before the season even started.

Look, I’m a realist here, but it wouldn’t hurt to show a touch more respect for a school located in your paper’s immediate area. When I first broached the subject with Brenner, back in August, I was immediately informed that Clemson had beaten The Citadel 15 straight times, and mostly by significant margins. (Tell me something I don’t know.)

Of course, I’m guessing Clemson fans wouldn’t think the 1931 loss to The Citadel is going to have any impact on Saturday’s game, and they would be correct. However, I would suggest that those 15 losses he mentioned won’t have any impact either. Do you think the 1976 game matters to the players of 2013? What about 1954? Or 1986? No, no, and no.

The real issue, I think, is that he isn’t covering Clemson from the Charleston perspective. Rather, he’s writing about the Tigers for the Charleston newspaper. There is a difference.

That’s not really the fault of Brenner, to be fair. He is doing what his employer wants him to do. You may not think there is any fault to be found at all, and I can understand that point of view.

Generally during one of my previews I start discussing a team’s statistics in relation to a comparison with those of The Citadel, but it’s pointless to do that this week since Clemson is an FBS squad. Instead, I’m just going to mention some of Clemson’s numbers. A few of them are scary.

- Clemson is averaging 41.3 points per game, 11th best nationally. The Tigers actually have a higher scoring average on the road, “only” scoring 39.8 points per game at Memorial Stadium.

- CU is ninth nationally in total offense, passing offense, and turnover margin.

- Clemson isn’t quite as dominant in a few offensive categories, ranking 50th in the nation in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate and 43rd nationally in offensive red zone TD%.

- The Tigers have had seven plays from scrimmage this season of 60+ yards, tied for third-most in FBS.

- Of course, Clemson’s raw offensive numbers are skewed by the hurry-up-no-I-mean-really-hurry-up style of offensive coordinator Chad Morris. The Tigers are averaging 82.9 plays per game on offense, fifth-most nationally. In terms of yards per play, Clemson is 32nd in FBS with a 6.18 average (Baylor leads the nation, averaging a staggering 8.5 yards per play).

- Clemson’s defensive third down conversion rate of 30.25% is 6th-best nationally. This may be the statistic that best demonstrates the influence of second-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables. In his first year at Clemson, the Tigers were 24th in FBS in this category, a substantial improvement over the 2011 season (when they were 72nd).

- Clemson’s defensive numbers are affected by its offensive style, and look better in context than in raw totals. Tiger opponents are averaging 5.25 yards per play, 42nd nationally. Getting off the field by stopping teams on third down has helped Clemson in that department (The Tigers were slightly above 5.6 y/p in both 2012 and 2011).

- On defense, the Tigers are allowing a red zone TD rate of 62.5%, which is only 69th in FBS. Venables is probably disappointed with that particular statistic.

- Clemson’s punting and kick coverage/return statistics are, in general, indifferent.

As for Clemson’s players, it’s simple: the Tigers have playmakers all over the field, particularly on offense.

Tajh Boyd has been a wonderful quarterback for Clemson. He has occasionally been labeled as a “doesn’t play well in big games” type, but anyone who believes that did not see his magnificent bowl-game performance against LSU last year.

Sammy Watkins is ridiculously good. Dabo Swinney said during his press conference this week that he thinks Watkins is the best wide receiver in the country, and you could certainly make that argument. I have no idea how the Bulldogs are going to cover him, but then almost every other team in the country would have the same problem.

It says something about Clemson’s talent level that Watkins may not even be the most difficult matchup for The Citadel on Saturday. Another wideout, Martavis Bryant, could pose even more problems.

The Tigers’ running game is keyed by the excellent Rod McDowell (who overcame a clubfoot as a child). McDowell runs behind a starting offensive line that averages 6’4″, 298 lbs.

Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley has 17 tackles for loss, fourth nationally. Ten of those TFLs are sacks. The other three starters on the Tigers’ d-line weigh more on average than The Citadel’s offensive linemen.

The Tigers have intercepted at least one pass in 13 straight games, the longest such streak in the country. Eight different players have at least one pick.

Linebackers Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey are 1-2 on the team in tackles.

Saturday’s game is officially a sellout, and that crowd will include a fair number of fans wearing blue and white. There will be multiple tailgating events on site for Bulldog fans, who usually know how to have a good time.

I trust the same can be said for the players. The game against Clemson should be fun.

It will be very challenging, to be sure. However, there is no pressure on the Bulldogs, and I think that will be reflected in their play.

One game is left this season. I hope it’s a memorable one for The Citadel, and in a good way.

Game review, 2013: VMI

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

School release

Box score

WCSC-TV report (video)

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

Kevin Higgins’ locker room speech (YouTube video)

Radio highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Game review, 2013: Samford

Links of interest:

Game story in The Post and Courier

Three points on the game (from The Post and Courier)

School release

Box score

WCIV-TV report (video)

WCSC-TV report (video)

Postgame comments from Kevin Higgins and Ben Dupree (YouTube video)

Kevin Higgins’ locker room speech (YouTube video)

Radio highlights

I’ll write a little bit more about this game later in the week when I preview the game at Elon. Just a few quick thoughts:

- The Citadel did a lot of things right in this game, and it’s a good thing, because Samford was a solid opponent. Before the game began, I thought the Bulldogs would have to play very, very well to win. They did just that.

- The use of sweeps to get outside against Samford’s “bear” front was well conceived, as was the commitment to continue testing the middle throughout the game, which paid off. The fake punt was timely and perfectly executed.

- My only real quibble with the playcalling/game management on Saturday was the sequence that led to The Citadel punting from the Samford 33-yard line late in the game. You never want to put yourself in position to punt from inside the opposing 35.

- Given the opponent, that may have been the best defensive performance of the season.

- SoCon officials need remedial work in ball-spotting. That hurt both teams on Saturday.

- Samford’s football video game coordinator was not happy with no penalty flag being thrown on the two-point conversion attempt, as can be seen in the comments to the ESPN3.com video highlights review. Those grapes are mighty sour.

Also, he’s wrong. Sadath Jean-Pierre’s coverage on the play was legal and excellent. The throw wound up closer to the end rifleman for the Touchdown Cannon Crew than the receiver (who did not run a particularly good pattern, in my opinion).

- While the effectiveness of the team’s play has been questioned at times this season, the effort certainly has not been. There is no quit in this group.

I was very impressed with the Bulldogs’ collective resolve while trailing 17-0. They didn’t give up, they didn’t go through the motions, they kept trying. On Saturday, that paid off with a victory.

To be honest, as I watched the fourth quarter, I knew that win or lose I was already satisfied with the performance. I had seen what I wanted to see.

Winning the game was nice, though.

Let’s talk about off the field — specifically, the tailgating/homecoming scene. Three quick notes, and then a story…

- Tailgating can be educational. For example, I learned that in Chester, South Carolina, Bi-Lo’s is the default option for quality fried chicken. If you’re ever in Chester, keep that in mind.

- I didn’t meet the gentleman, but I understand a member of the Class of 1943 was in attendance on Saturday, for what would have been the 70th reunion year for his class. Kudos to him.

- There were many, many outstanding tailgates in evidence. However, the biggest bash I saw was definitely the one for the Class of 1968.

The spread for the ’68 party was so large, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out next week that Sus scrofa domesticus was being placed on the endangered species list.

- Okay, story time.

About ninety minutes or so before kickoff, I was with a few friends of mine in the tailgating area adjacent to the Altman Center. As the filling for fish tacos was being carefully prepared, we were discussing important matters of state, such as The Citadel’s urgent need for varsity lacrosse.

At that point, Nancy Mace walked into the area. As you may or may not know, Mace is the first woman to graduate from The Citadel as a member of the corps of cadets, and she is also campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Lindsey Graham. Both Mace and Graham are seeking the Republican nomination.

It wasn’t a surprise to see her at Johnson Hagood Stadium; after all, she’s an alum. She had attended at least one other game earlier in the season. On Saturday, she was with her campaign manager and (I think) one other person.

Mace was introducing herself to folks, chatting tailgaters up, doing the kinds of things associated with retail politics, when a small group of about ten people entered the same space. From among them appeared none other than…Lindsey Graham.

The scene was riveting. The tension in the air was thicker than a tortilla shell. Some people were noticeably uncomfortable.

(Others may have been amused.)

Graham began greeting the same people who had been talking to Mace, shaking hands, talking, hugging at least one person. At least one observer thought Graham purposely avoided acknowledging Mace for as long as possible, which made the whole situation even more fantastically awkward.

Eventually, however, the two did talk. A détente of sorts was reached. Pictures were taken. One of them leads off my photo review of Saturday.

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