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.

2013 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 2. The game will streamed on ESPN3.com, with play-by-play from Darren Goldwater and analysis by Paul Maguire.

It can also be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

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

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Samford game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Pat Sullivan on the SoCon media teleconference

The Dogs are “down, but not out”

Jeff Hartsell’s three points about the Chattanooga game

Game story from the Chattanooga contest

Non-football link: my preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel’s basketball team

Hey, it’s Homecoming! Things you ought to know:

Ye olde Homecoming press release, with schedule of events

The Citadel’s freshman and sophomore wrestlers compete in The Citadel Open, beginning at 9 am on Saturday

The rifle and volleyball squads are both on the road on Saturday

Soccer’s season ended on Wednesday

Oh, and there is also a football game…

First, let me be honest here: I didn’t really follow the Chattanooga game as it was going on last week. This is the time of year when I usually take a break from my regular autumn routine, which is normally A) work and B) obsessing over sports.

Taking a respite from the fall sports season can be helpful, at least for me. As it happens [mondo nerd alert], I saw Mussel-Fishers at Berneval in person instead of watching/listening to The Citadel lose a game it led almost the whole way. I feel good about that decision.

Because I am still catching up with last week’s action in the sports world (including The Citadel’s trip to Finley Stadium), and because of other factors beyond my control, this preview may be a bit more random than usual. I apologize in advance for that.

The rest of the season is going to be tough in terms of game previews, not as much because the Bulldogs are struggling, but because I’m going to be short of time. We live in a busy world.

I have no idea how I’m going to write the VMI game preview; I might just write a one-sentence post: “The Dogs better not lose to VMI.” (It’s not like anything else needs to be said for that game.)

Anyway, below are a few comments on Saturday’s opponent, followed by some friendly advice to alums heading down to Charleston for Homecoming.

Note: “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel, while “Birmingham Bulldogs”, “SU”, or “Baptist Tigers” will have to do for Samford.

Samford is quite formidable this year. The Birmingham Bulldogs appear to be the best team in the SoCon and would be a major challenge for The Citadel even if the Cadets were having a good season.

Last year, I wrote of Samford:

This is a team with a lot of talented players. The question, I suppose, is whether Samford has enough depth across the board to be a contender for the league title.

Samford finished 7-4 last season, not quite good enough to win the SoCon, but still a very solid campaign. SU could not get past Georgia Southern or Appalachian State last year, and also lost a tough defensive battle at Chattanooga.

In 2013, Samford still has a lot of talented players, but it has made the jump to the top of the conference. SU has already taken care of business against App and GSU, and last week won at Wofford. Only UTC seems to stand in the way of a league title for the folks from Birmingham.

Offensively, Samford has been excellent. Taking Georgia Southern and Appalachian State out of the equation (because the NCAA doesn’t count those two schools in its FCS database), the Birmingham Bulldogs lead the SoCon in total offense, passing offense, and scoring offense, and are in the top 30 nationally in all three of those categories.

Samford’s numbers are skewed slightly by its pace of play, though this season SU is only averaging 67.1 plays per game, down slightly from 71.4 in 2012 and 75.6 in 2011. However, Samford has been much more efficient this year, averaging 6.6 yards per play, a significant increase from the 4.9 yards per play it averaged in 2012.

By contrast, The Citadel is averaging 63.8 plays per game on offense, and 5.7 yards per play. Last week, Wofford ran 82 plays against Samford (with 69 rushing attempts), but only averaged 4.1 yards per play.

Oddly, Samford has had issues in the second quarter this season, being outscored 71-42 in that frame. In the other three periods, Samford has a decisive edge in points.

The Citadel has lost two straight to Samford, and that streak could easily be three; the Bulldogs’ 13-12 win in 2010 was achieved thanks mostly to special teams and inspired D inside the red zone. Samford’s defense has had all the answers for The Citadel’s triple option attack in the three years Kevin Higgins has employed the offense.

In three games against Samford’s “Bear” defensive front, The Citadel has mustered a combined total of 34 points. In those three games, the Bulldogs faced third down on 39 occasions. The Citadel only converted six of them for first downs.

Samford’s D has basically forced The Citadel to beat it by going outside or over the top, and the Bulldogs have been unable to do so with any consistency in any of those games.

In terms of yards per play, Samford defensively has not been quite as good this season (5.3 this year, after holding opponents to 4.8 y/p in 2012). One thing that will probably help Samford’s defense is that The Citadel will be the third triple option team the Birmingham Bulldogs have faced in their last four contests.

Andy Summerlin is Samford’s starting quarterback, and is enjoying his sixth (and presumably final) season of college eligibility. Yes, I said sixth.

Summerlin is 25 years old. He started his career at Memphis, although even his stint there was delayed by a semester:

He’s seven years out of high school, and is listed as a sixth-year senior after being granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA because of injuries. He delayed college enrollment by a semester because of a high school injury.

Though he’s been at three different schools…

To tell the truth, I’m okay with Summerlin still getting a chance to play, but then I tend to lean to the “when in doubt, give the athlete a break” side of the ledger on these matters. It does seem a bit unfair, though, that Summerlin is good to go while The Citadel’s All-American wrestler, Khishignyam Undrakhbayar (better known as “Ugi”), is out of NCAA options after just one year as a competitor. Such are the vagaries of the NCAA.

At any rate, he’s having a fine season, completing passes at a 63.8% clip for an average of over 285 yards per game, with 17 TDs (to eight different receivers) against 7 interceptions. Summerlin has made his share of big plays this year, completing 15 passes for 30+ yards.

Summerlin is joined in the backfield by the outstanding Fabian Truss, one of the elite backs in the SoCon. Truss is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season (the same as he did last year), and he is also a threat to catch the ball, with 27 receptions, good for 9.7 yards per catch.

Truss is also a great kick returner. He already has two 100-yard TD returns this season. Truss currently leads the nation in all-purpose yardage.

The top receiver for Samford is Kelsey Pope, who has 36 receptions this year, averaging a shade over 15 yards per catch. Against Georgia Southern, Pope had receptions of 58 and 83 yards (the latter for a TD).

Samford’s offensive line is big, averaging 6’3″, 288 lbs. Left guard Kasey Morrison, a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection, has started 30 games in his career.

On defense, expect Samford to stack the middle of the line and deny the give to the B-back. Two key players to watch along the d-line in this respect are DT Jeremy Towns (like Summerlin, a sixth-year player) and noseguard Jeremy Mathis, another experienced lineman (18 starts). Both Towns and Mathis are listed at 290+ lbs.

Middle linebacker Justin Shade is a tackling machine, and he’ll put you down before or after you get to the line of scrimmage. Shade has 90 tackles so far this season; he made 19 stops against Southeastern Louisiana and 15 versus Wofford. Shade has 12.5 tackles for loss, including seven sacks.

His father, Sam Shade, is Samford’s DBs coach. If you have a good memory, you may recall the elder Shade starring at Alabama before playing eight years in the NFL.

One of Sam Shade’s pupils, Jaquiski Tartt, is Samford’s best defensive player, and one of the best defenders in the league (if not the best). So far this season he only has one interception, but Bulldog fans will remember his pick-6 against The Citadel in last year’s contest.

Samford has a solid punter in Greg Peranich, now in his third year of handling the punting duties. Peranich is averaging 43.1 yards per punt, with 16 of those landing inside the 20. Seven of his punts have gone for 50+ yards.

The placekicker for the Birmingham Bulldogs is redshirt freshman Warren Handrahan, who is 11-13 on field goal tries with a long of 48. He has only missed one PAT.

Handrahan chose to wear a bow tie for his personal team picture, however, which automatically makes him a suspicious character.

So you’re an alum about to travel to Charleston for Homecoming weekend. Maybe you’re a season-ticket holder, maybe you go to a game or two each season, or maybe you haven’t seen a game since Johnson Hagood Stadium was renovated.

You probably know that The Citadel’s football team was supposed to be good this year, but instead has a record of 2-6, and is looking at a 3-9 or 4-8 type of season. Perhaps you would like to ask some questions about this, or some other things that are related to athletics.

I’m here to help!

First, however, there is one thing you should not do. It’s hard not to do, because it’s kind of traditional, but don’t do it…

Don’t complain about or blame the corps of cadets for any shortcomings.

Is the corps perfect? No. Was it perfect when you were in school? No, it wasn’t.

There will always be a bum (or two or three) in the crowd — and as a group, they may not show a great deal of enthusiasm about the gridiron festivities. Expect this.

Also expect, though, to find almost all of the cadets to be polite, respectful, smart, and driven. Today’s corps of cadets isn’t as good as it was in your day — it is better.

When you see problems within the corps, keep in mind that those problems are usually symptoms of a larger issue with the school itself. It’s not necessarily a reflection on the student body.

I think I’m lucky in that I am around campus just enough to get a general idea of things, but not enough to become disillusioned. You can get very cynical about The Citadel in a hurry if you’re there too long, as anyone who was ever a senior at the military college can attest.

If you’re not around at all, though, then it’s possible to assume the worst.

This isn’t to say the cadets should be completely immune from criticism; it’s just that some other things need to be fixed first before worrying too much about the corps. Let Leo Mercado worry about the corps.

It also doesn’t do the school any good when it is trying to recruit the best and the brightest, and at the same time some of its alums are whining about the current crop of students. That’s just counter-productive.

The bottom line: don’t go bananas about any slacker cadets. There have always been slackers. Maybe the notion of being a slacker cadet cuts a little close to the bone…

If you’re still with me following that harangue, here are some topics that are worth discussing. I’m assuming that the average alum reading this is the biggest of big shots, someone who knows all the major players at the school in the department of athletics and within the administration in general, and who can get a personal one-on-one with any school official at any time.

Here are some questions you might consider asking:

- With last week’s loss to Chattanooga, the Bulldogs are guaranteed to finish with a non-winning record. The Citadel has not had consecutive winning seasons in football since the 1990-92 campaigns.

That stretch of futility, now at 21 years and counting, is the longest such period in the history of the school, going back to the first football season (1905).

Your question(s): is it acceptable for The Citadel to not have any stretch of consistent success on the gridiron? What are the school’s goals on that front?

- You may have noticed that The Citadel isn’t doing a lot of winning in almost any sport as of late. Even the baseball team has had losing seasons in two of the last three years (though that program appears to have rebounded). The basketball team has averaged eight wins per season over the last three years, and has a winning percentage of 26% in SoCon play during that time.

There are several varsity sports (including tennis and golf) that have been particularly non-competitive in recent years.

Your question: given that the school seems to be doing very well overall, why hasn’t that institutional success crossed over into varsity athletics?

- The Citadel’s new (as of this year) long-term strategic plan is called the LEAD Plan 2018, which I wrote about in January. I would urge anyone with an interest in The Citadel to read the plan itself.

Included in the LEAD plan are goals such as increasing membership in the Brigadier Foundation by 25%, funding full scholarships in all sports, and endowing athletic scholarship funds by an additional $5 million.

Your question: is significant progress being made towards accomplishing any of those (or other) goals?

- There is soon going to be a changing of the guard, at least of the canine variety. General and Boo IX are retiring, and will be officially replaced as the school mascots on November 15 by the relentlessly cute G2 and BX.

Donations for care and upkeep of the dogs are always appreciated. The Citadel does not provide any funding for the dogs, which strikes more than a few people as ridiculous, given the popularity of the mascots.

To be fair, I can understand why the school doesn’t allocate funds for the mascot program. What puzzles me is why the powers that be don’t publicize the need for donations more often. I’m sure it’s just an oversight.

It was suggested to me a while back that at least one administrator is afraid that people will contribute to the mascots in lieu of something else. I choose not to believe that; if it were really true, then I would happily wait in line to dump that administrator into a vat of hydrochloric acid.

Your question (if you have some spare cash): would the school be interested in starting an endowment for the mascot program?

- While you were travelling to Charleston on your private jet, you noticed while perusing your favorite college football TV listings page that all six Big South teams will either be on TV and/or ESPN3.com this Saturday. Two of those games will be on regional nets or affiliates.

Meanwhile, Samford-The Citadel will be on ESPN3.com, an online platform. This is the second ESPN3.com appearance for The Citadel this season; the football team will probably get a PPV-only TV appearance at Clemson, but other than that the Bulldogs will not appear on television in 2013.

You probably remember the days when The Citadel appeared on regional TV once or twice per season. You may wonder why the SoCon can’t do a better job of getting its teams exposure, especially when you see what similarly-sized (or even smaller) conferences are able to do in that respect.

Your question: what can The Citadel do to increase its television exposure?

The last few questions should only be asked after you enter the stadium to watch the game.

- Why don’t we have any cheerleaders?

Note: this is a trick question. No matter what answer you get to that question, it will be wrong. There is no correct answer, as The Citadel obviously should have cheerleaders.

- How come the band only plays a few times during the game?

- Is there any reason why the loudspeaker system should play the (truly horrific) pop song “Come on Eileen” instead of having the band play during that time period?

- If the band isn’t going to play, could the school make more money by renting it out for weddings and bar mitzvahs during the game?

- Is it true that prior to the Furman game, the freshmen lined up in the ‘Block C’ formation and started to chant “C-I-T-A-D-E-L”, only to be drowned out by the loudspeaker system as it played a selection from ’80s glam-rock band Poison?

- Is it possible the atmosphere at the stadium is so dominated by the ad-intensive videoboard and the ridiculously loud (and ill-used) loudspeaker system that fewer fans go to the games as a result?

- Is there anyone in the department of athletics brave enough to inform adidas that the name of the school is “The Citadel”?

Okay, I think that’s enough…for now.

Last week, The Citadel started well and Samford started poorly. The Citadel led by 10 points at halftime; meanwhile, Samford’s first offensive possession resulted in a pick-6 for Wofford, one of four turnovers SU had in that game. Ultimately, though, one group of Bulldogs could not hang on for a victory, while the other overcame an early shock to win a critical road game.

The effort in Chattanooga was very good. The team has obviously not quit, which is a credit to the players (and the coaches). Still, effort in itself is not enough, and everyone knows it.

I don’t know how the team will play on Saturday. Samford is a very difficult matchup. I cringe just thinking about the Birmingham Bulldogs’ big-play capabilities, particularly through the air (as The Citadel has been susceptible to those types of passes).

I’ll be there on Saturday, meeting a few old friends and settling in to watch some pigskin. I’m hoping for the best. I’m not counting on it.

2013 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played in Statesboro, Georgia, at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 12. 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 and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

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

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Georgia Southern game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jeff Monken on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Scouting Report” from The Post and Courier

A good article about a Bulldog football player (Terrance Martin), even more so because it actually doesn’t mention that he plays football

A profile of Justin Oxendine

My brief review of the Appalachian State game

A few more thoughts on the game against the Mountaineers:

- Time of possession doesn’t always tell the story. In the first quarter, The Citadel held the ball for almost 11 1/2 minutes but was outscored 7-0. In the third quarter, Appalachian State had possession for 10 1/2 minutes — and was outscored by the Bulldogs in that period, 7-0.

- Of The Citadel’s four scoring drives in regulation, three took less than 2:40 off the clock.

- The Citadel threw ten passes during the game. Four different players tossed the pigskin for the Bulldogs, resulting in an unusual passes-to-passer ratio.

- The Bulldogs actually threw more passes in the first half (5) than did Appalachian State (4).

- Each team had eleven possessions during regulation; four in the first half, and seven in the second half. Part of the reason the Mountaineers only attempted four passes in the first half had to do with the lack of possessions.

Appalachian State elected to run out the clock with a minute remaining in the first half (somewhat unexpectedly, at least to me). Thus, the Mountaineers only had three drives in which they attempted to score.

Given that Appalachian State did score 14 points in those three possessions, I’m not sure App head coach Scott Satterfield can be faulted for his offensive game plan, odd though it may have appeared to outside observers. The Mountaineers’ approach also surprised Kevin Higgins.

- Having said that, I was puzzled Sean Price wasn’t targeted more by the team from Boone. I believe it may speak to a lack of confidence in quarterback/line play, or perhaps a desire to avoid a time of possession differential like Appalachian State faced in its previous game against Charleston Southern.

- Satterfield made two calls which I thought were good decisions, but got burned both times.

Trailing 7-0, The Citadel picked up seven yards on a 3rd-and-9 play, setting up fourth-and-two on the App 44. However, a five-yard penalty on the Bulldogs gave Satterfield the option of moving The Citadel back and forcing a long third down play.

Satterfield took the penalty (rightly so, I think), but then Ben Dupree proceeded to complete a pass to Matt Thompson for seventeen yards and a first down. The Citadel went on to tie the game on that possession.

Then, on Appalachian State’s drive to open the third quarter, the Mountaineers were faced with 4th-and-1 on The Citadel’s 40-yard line. The drive had already lasted for twelve plays. Satterfield elected to go for it.

In my opinion, that was the right move, but Mitchell Jeter and several of his friends stuffed backup running back Ricky Fergerson for no gain. Two plays later, Ben Dupree scored on a 53-yard run, juking his way past several App defenders (but not needing to evade the Mountaineer who got run over by Jake Stenson).

- Four times this century, The Citadel has won a contest it was tied or trailing by making a field goal inside the last 90 seconds of the game/OT. Thomas Warren has been the kicker of record on two of those occasions. The first of his game-winners, of course, came last year against Georgia Southern.

When the Bulldogs met the Eagles last year, the historical record was not in the home team’s favor. Not only had The Citadel failed to beat a ranked opponent since 1997, the Bulldogs had not won a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium against a SoCon opponent since switching to the triple option offense.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

This year, Georgia Southern is ranked in The Sports Network’s poll, but not in the more or less “official” poll for the FCS, the coaches’ poll that is administered by the Southern Conference. That’s because, of course, GSU is ineligible for the FCS playoffs due to its transition to FBS. Next year, the Eagles will begin play in the Sun Belt.

This won’t be the last meeting between the two programs, however. The Citadel will travel to Statesboro in 2015 in what will be a non-conference matchup, with the visiting Bulldogs receiving $175,000 for their presence at Paulson Stadium.

The Citadel is also scheduled to face South Carolina that season. In effect GSU will serve as a replacement for East Tennessee State (which won’t begin SoCon play until 2016), only it won’t be a league game and The Citadel will add some much-needed cash to the military college’s coffers.

The fact that Georgia Southern was declared ineligible for the Southern Conference title this season clearly bothered some people in the GSU community. One of them was head coach Jeff Monken. In July, he had this to say:

We do get to play the eight Southern Conference teams. We have yet to go 8-0 in the Southern Conference. That’s been one of our goals. It would be hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champions if we go 8-0 in the league.

He continued the theme in an “open letter” to his fan base in August:

This senior class has the goal of winning another Southern Conference championship, whether anyone else will recognize it or not. To go 8-0 in the SoCon would make a statement about this football team and this program…

The “whether anyone else will recognize it or not” part of that statement got some play, as did the “hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champs” line from the month before. By September 14, however, the argument was moot.

That was the day the Eagles played their league opener, which turned out to be a 30-20 loss to Wofford in Spartanburg. Just like that, all the talk about running the SoCon table was over.

Perhaps more people should have seen it coming. From that July article:

…the Eagles were dogged by injuries during spring practice, so much so that the traditional Blue-White spring game was turned into an ordinary scrimmage. Senior slotback Robert Brown was forced to give up football because of injuries, and linebacker Patrick Flowe will miss the season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.

“We had 28 guys in red jerseys,” lamented Monken, referring to the red jerseys Eagles players when they are being held out of practice for medical reasons.

The injury situation has been a major story in Statesboro. Monken discussed it during this week’s SoCon media teleconference:

We are flat struggling right now with injuries…we’ve got twenty scholarship players, not including the redshirt guys…[that were] out for the game [against Samford]…we’ve got a lot of guys starting and a lot of guys playing significant snaps who’ve never played or don’t play a lot…hopefully we’re going to get some of those guys healthy [for the game against The Citadel].

Monken specifically mentioned the running back position as a trouble spot. GSU lost Robert Brown before the season started. Dominique Swope, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2012, suffered a torn labrum and is now done for the year. Two other Eagle running backs are also apparently out for the season due to injury.

The running back situation has led to Jerick McKinnon playing in a wide variety of positions, as Monken has tried to get his best athletes on the field. McKinnon has at times shifted from quarterback (his regular position since midway through last season) to slotback, wide receiver, B-back, kick returner, ticket taker…anywhere and everywhere.

McKinnon rushed for 1817 yards last season for the Eagles. Georgia Southern had 63 offensive plays in 2012 that went for 25+ yards; McKinnon was responsible for 30 of them (17 rushing, 13 passing). In a playoff game against Central Arkansas, he rushed for 316 yards.

This year, McKinnon has struggled as a passer. In three SoCon games, he is 1-9 for 16 yards (with one interception). Against Chattanooga, the Eagles only attempted two passes, completing neither.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Ellison has been the quarterback when McKinnon has moved to other positions, getting the start at QB when the Eagles played Wofford. Ellison is completing almost 63% of his passes for the season, averaging 12.1 yards per attempt. He can run the ball a little bit, too (6.2 yards per carry).

Ellison was 7-7 throwing the ball against Samford, for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He was 6-14 versus Wofford (68 yards, with a pick) and only attempted one pass against UTC.

William Banks, a redshirt senior, started at B-back in the Samford game and rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. Banks, McKinnon (181 yards), and Ellison got the bulk of the work in that contest, as the other GSU players carried the ball a total of six times for nine yards.

GSU had to replace both of its starting wideouts from last season. The o-line, however, features three of last year’s starters, although tackle Garrett Frye has been flipped from LT to RT (and then back to LT) this season due to injuries elsewhere.

Georgia Southern has fumbled fifteen times this season, but somehow has only lost three of them. “Fumble luck” has worked both ways, as the Eagles have only recovered one of six fumbles by their opponents.

Georgia Southern’s defensive statistics may not look that bad on the surface. The Eagles lead the SoCon (counting all games, non-league included) in defensive pass efficiency, passing yards allowed, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, and are second in the league in passes intercepted and first downs allowed.

There is an ominous number that pops up when you look at just SoCon games, however. GSU’s defense is giving up an increasing number of yards per play with each contest.

Against Wofford, Georgia Southern’s D gave up 5.5 yards per play. In the Chattanooga game, 6.36. Samford averaged 9.17 yards per play (on 71 snaps). Yikes.

Last season, Georgia Southern only allowed more than 5.7 yards per play in one league game; in half of GSU’s SoCon matchups, it allowed less than 5 yards per play (including 4.69 y/p against The Citadel).

Yards per play is a good way to determine a team’s effectiveness on both offense and defense; that’s particularly the case in the Southern Conference, which has a wide variety of offensive styles that result in significant differences in the number of plays each team runs during a game.

The Eagles held Samford to only 4.16 yards per play in 2012. That was a game in which the Samford offense ran 85 plays. The Birmingham Bulldogs more than doubled their average gain in last week’s victory over GSU.

The Eagles got burned through the air in that game (Andy Summerlin threw 3 TD passes of 58+ yards for Samford) and were also victimized on the ground (Fabian Truss had 14 carries for 125 yards). Against Chattanooga, GSU allowed 7.2 rushing yards per carry (Jacob Huesman rushed for 148 yards).

I think it’s clear that Georgia Southern misses Brent Russell on the d-line. It also had to replace both of last year’s starting safeties (though last season’s nickel back, Deion Stanley, has moved to strong safety and has three interceptions).

GSU’s defense also suffered a blow with the loss of linebacker Patrick Flowe to injury in spring practice. Flowe was an impact performer for the Eagles last season as a true freshman.

In general, there are a lot of good players starting for Georgia Southern’s defense. There just may not be a whole lot behind them this season, mostly due to injuries, but also possibly because GSU has one eye on next season and its move to FBS. Some redshirts that normally might have been “torn up” are more likely to stay intact, at least for this year’s campaign.

Georgia Southern has used two punters this season. Sophomore Ryan Nowicki is listed as the starter this week. GSU’s placekicker, freshman Younghoe Koo, kicked a game-winning field goal late in the Eagles’ victory over Chattanooga and won SoCon special teams player of the week honors as a result.

Punt returner Brandan Thomas had a 42-yard return earlier this season. As mentioned above, Jerick McKinnon will occasionally return kickoffs (he has three returns so far in 2013). The Eagles have had four different kickers on their kickoff team this year (with Alex Hanks getting the majority of the work); they have combined for 11 touchbacks in 39 kickoffs.

Odds and ends:

- Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Georgia Southern. Between the first and second quarters, there will be a swearing-in ceremony at Paulson Stadium for 35 new Army recruits. There will be various patches and decals worn by GSU players and coaches (Jeff Monken will wear four patches himself).

- GSU defensive end Lennie Richardson is an Army veteran who served as a tank gunner.

- Sources suggest that Georgia Southern is a 16-point favorite over The Citadel (the over/under is 63.5).

- When Georgia Southern’s offense and The Citadel’s defense is on the field, each team will feature a starter who was born in Haiti — cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre for the Bulldogs, and center Manrey Saint-Amour for the Eagles.

- Apparently, there is a movie being made about legendary Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell. One of the grave injustices of college football is that Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. That’s because he is ineligible. Seriously.

I’ve written about this before, but keeping Russell (and Howard Schnellenberger, or Bobby Ross for that matter) out of the Hall of Fame lessens the importance of the entity itself.

- Last week’s commissioned report by James Madison on whether or not it should move to the FBS reminded me that Georgia Southern did something similar four years ago. At that time, though, the powers-that-be at GSU seemed less than enthused about making the transition.

I wrote extensively (probably too extensively) about the report when it was released, in part because the raw data was very interesting. I didn’t think moving to FBS was in GSU’s best interests then, and to be honest I don’t think it is now, either. Having said that, I wish the school (and its loyal fans) the best of luck.

I think there is a good chance that some of the pressure of the Bulldogs’ season has been eased by the win over Appalachian State. I hope that leads to an even better performance in Statesboro. Georgia Southern is still a good team, one capable of making big plays at any time, but The Citadel has a chance to repeat last season’s dramatic victory.

To do so, the defense needs to force more turnovers. It is not an accident that two of the key plays against the Mountaineers were turnovers — a fumble that changed the tenor of the contest, and the interception in OT. If GSU puts the ball on the ground this Saturday, there needs to be a Bulldog nearby ready to pounce on it.

Offensively, I think it’s important to stay the course. Run, run, then run some more. Avoiding 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long is critical.

This is just a hunch of mine, but I think it’s time for The Citadel’s punt return unit to produce a game-changing block or return.

It should be a nice afternoon in south Georgia. It would be much nicer, though, with another Bulldogs victory.

Game review, 2013: Appalachian State

Links of interest:

Game story in The Post and Courier

Game story in the Watauga Democrat

Game story in the Winston-Salem Journal

School release

Box score

WCIV-TV report (video)

Postgame video: Kevin Higgins, Ben Dupree, Thomas Warren

Kevin Higgins’ locker room speech (don’t miss the end of this clip)

Ben Dupree called it a “relief” to get the win, which I think sums it up. The Bulldogs badly needed that victory.

It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch, but good enough. It was a spirited effort on a warm afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium, before a largely appreciative Parents’ Day crowd.

I’ll write more about this game when I preview the Georgia Southern contest later in the week. Just a few quick thoughts:

- It was hot. Hot, hot, hot.

It was hot enough it that occurred to me The Citadel might be better off wearing white jerseys for the game (thus forcing Appalachian State to wear black jerseys). However, I am sure the SoCon officials would not have allowed that, as they clearly enjoy harassing The Citadel about uniform choices.

- Marcus Cox was very impressive for the Mountaineers. He is a very effective runner, and maybe even a better pass-catcher out of the backfield. I won’t mind him playing in the Sun Belt next season instead of the SoCon.

- Both teams weren’t afraid to deliver some big hits throughout the game. Appalachian State’s Tony Washington should get credit for hanging on to the football (for a thirty-yard completion) after getting popped by Brandon McCladdie. Another Bulldog getting his money’s worth was Jake Stenson, who had a major league block on Dupree’s 53-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

- On which play was the ball highest in the air at its uppermost point — Mitchell Jeter’s critical interception in overtime, or Thomas Warren’s game-winning field goal? I think my vote would go to the interception.

- Saturday’s contest marked the first time The Citadel had ever ended an overtime game by converting a game-winning field goal. The program’s only other OT triumph decided by a field goal came at Chattanooga on November 3, 2001. In that game, the kick was made in the first overtime session; the Bulldogs then intercepted a pass while on defense to clinch the win, basically the reverse of what happened against Appalachian State.

The Citadel’s other OT victories all ended with touchdown runs. The two previous OT wins for the Bulldogs at Johnson Hagood Stadium (Western Carolina in 2006 and the crazy Furman game in 2007) were both finished off by Tory Cooper TD runs.

Below are some of the pictures I took on Saturday. There are a lot of them this week. Most of them are mediocre at best, although there are a few that are actually decent (I took those by accident).

Included are a selection of photos from the Parents’ Day festivities. I had never actually been in one of the “new” barracks until Saturday. I took a few pictures of the interior of the first battalion, historically where the most elite of The Citadel’s cadets reside during the school year.

I also had the chance to talk to a few cadets from Alpha Company, traditionally the most outstanding of the companies within the corps of cadets. As usual, all of them were pleasant and intelligent, and patient enough to put up with an ancient alumnus like me.

There are a few photos of the parade, and a few other odds and ends. Most of the pictures, though, are of the game itself. I tried to annotate as many of them as possible, so as to give proper context.

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

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

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

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Appalachian State game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Scott Satterfield on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Unigate and the Unigate Update

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

Jake Stenson is having a nice season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also worth mentioning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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