2015 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel at Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 24. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Chuck Hussion providing play-by-play and Sam Wyche supplying the analysis. Bob Mihalic will be the sideline reporter.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

– Preview of The Citadel-Furman from The Post and Courier

– Preview of The Citadel-Furman from The Greenville News

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 10/20 press conference (with comments from Dominique Allen and Joe Crochet)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Dee Delaney was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Samford

For the second week in a row, The Citadel’s football team performed well and was rewarded with a win. This time it came on the road, against Samford.

The game went almost exactly how The Citadel would have wanted. The Bulldogs controlled the ball (35:15 time of possession) and averaged 6.2 yards per play on offense (including 5.9 yards per rush).

Dominique Allen ran the triple option with aplomb, rushing for 166 yards. Isiaha Smith scored three touchdowns. The offense committed no turnovers.

Conversely, the defense forced four turnovers, one of which was returned for a backbreaking touchdown just before the end of the first half, and limited Samford to 2.6 yards per carry.

SU did throw for 414 yards, but 113 of those came in the game’s final nine minutes, with The Citadel ahead by three touchdowns. Only two of Samford’s last ten completions resulted in a gain of more than nine yards (and neither was a “huge” play, as they were gains of 12 and 16 yards, respectively).

The Bulldogs were only called for two penalties (one enforced, for five yards). Will Vanvick had a punt downed on the 1-yard line, and later had another go out of bounds on the Samford 2-yard line.

It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, though. Both Samford possessions that came after those outstanding punts by Vanvick resulted in touchdown drives, the second of which featured an 83-yard TD pass by SU.

After that play, Samford recovered an onside kick, and appeared to have some momentum. It took exactly one play for The Citadel’s defense to pop SU’s balloon, however, with Dee Delaney forcing a fumble that was recovered by Joe Crochet.

That play finished off a (mostly) great day at the office for Delaney, who was the league’s defensive player of the week. It was also Crochet’s second fumble recovery of the year; somewhat surprisingly, he is the only player in the Southern Conference to have more than one recovered fumble this season.

Okay, time to talk about Furman…

Bruce Fowler is in his fifth season as the Paladins’ head football coach. He has a record of 23-31 (16-17 in the SoCon), with an FCS playoff appearance two seasons ago.

Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman. He is a member of the Dick Sheridan coaching tree, like every other Furman head coach since Sheridan left Greenville after the 1985 season.

Furman was 3-8 last year, which was a tough way to follow up a league co-championship. The Paladins suffered through a string of injuries in 2014 that would have tested the patience of Job, but whether or not the school administration would be similarly patient if Furman struggles again this season is open to debate.

It is worth noting that there is a new director of athletics at the school, Mike Buddie (who was in the mix for the job at The Citadel before the military college hired Jim Senter).

I don’t know anything about the inner workings of Furman, but I was reminded of the school’s modern-day expectations when I read that former head coach Jimmy Satterfield had been inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame; he was honored two weeks ago. Satterfield was 66-29-3 in eight years at the helm, with a national title to his credit.

Satterfield’s record in his last two seasons at Furman was a combined 11-10-1. He was fired.

Bobby Lamb is the head coach at Mercer, the opponent for The Citadel next week. He was Fowler’s predecessor at Furman, where he also played. Lamb’s record at Furman was 67-40 (one league title).

Lamb’s record in his last two seasons at Furman was a combined 11-11. He was fired.

I could be wrong, but this might be an important year for Bruce Fowler. We shall see.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for all games, unless otherwise indicated.

As I mentioned last week, that isn’t ideal for comparative purposes, but Furman and The Citadel have combined to play only five league games. Since 2015 total statistics at this point are almost certainly more germane to this season than the 2014 numbers, I’m going to use this year’s stats.

Furman is 3-3 on the season, with wins over VMI (24-21), South Carolina State (17-3), and UCF (16-15). The Paladins have lost to Chattanooga (31-3), Virginia Tech (42-3), and Coastal Carolina (38-35). The games against the Chanticleers, Keydets, and Orangeburg’s Bulldogs were contested in Greenville.

The Citadel is 4-2, with victories over Davidson (69-0), Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), and Samford (44-25). The Bulldogs have lost to Charleston Southern (33-20) and Georgia Southern (48-13). The matchups against the Eagles and Birmingham’s Bulldogs were road games for The Citadel.

In six games, Furman’s offense has thrown the ball 190 times, and has had fourteen other would-be pass plays result in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Paladins have rushed 199 times, so the run/pass mix for FU is very close to 50-50.

Passing yardage accounts for 57.4% of Furman’s total offense (I took out the sack yardage when computing that statistic). The Paladins average 5.12 yards per pass attempt (again, with sack yardage taken into account).

Among SoCon teams, Furman is last in both scoring offense (16.3 ppg) and total offense, and is also last in the league in yards per play (4.5). The Citadel is third in scoring defense (21.1 ppg) and total defense and is allowing 5.4 yards per play.

Furman is fifth in passing offense, averaging 193.2 yards per game. The Paladins are last among SoCon teams in offensive pass efficiency, with three touchdown tosses and six interceptions.

The Citadel was leading the conference in pass defense and pass defense efficiency prior to the Samford game, but now ranks third in the league in the first of those categories. However, the Bulldogs still lead all SoCon squads in defensive pass efficiency (12th nationally), allowing 6.2 yards per attempt (the league low).

The Citadel has intercepted eleven passes while allowing just one touchdown throw (which came last week against Samford). That is the top ratio in FCS; only Jacksonville and Southern Utah have intercepted more passes (13) than the Bulldogs.

Furman quarterbacks have been sacked fourteen times, tied for the second-most among conference squads. As noted above, the sack yardage against the Paladins has been significant; for example, VMI has been sacked seven more times than Furman, but the Paladins have lost more yardage from sacks (110) than the Keydets (108).

The Citadel’s defense has recorded twelve sacks, third-best in the league. Mitchell Jeter has 5.5 of those sacks for the Bulldogs.

Furman has completed 55.3% of its passes, second-lowest among SoCon teams. The Paladins are averaging 31.7 pass attempts per contest, fourth-most in the conference.

Not counting sack yardage, Furman is averaging 3.9 yards per carry. The sack statistic really makes a difference in this case, because the Paladins’ average per rush is technically 3.1 yards per attempt. FU has eight rushing touchdowns, fewest in the league.

The Citadel is sixth in rushing defense, and is allowing 4.8 yards per rush (tied for the league worst in that category). Samford was not able to consistently run the ball against the Cadets last Saturday, but I don’t expect that to dissuade the Paladins from trying to control the game on the ground.

Furman is only converting 34.8% of its third-down attempts, the lowest percentage in the SoCon. The Citadel is third in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (38.4%), though the Bulldogs did allow Samford to convert 9 of 17 third-down attempts last week.

The Paladins have a red zone TD rate of 66.7%, fourth-best among SoCon squads; seven of the eight TDs Furman has scored in the red zone were via the rush. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (52.9%) ranks third in the conference.

When going for it on fourth down this season, Furman is 4 for 7. Opponents of The Citadel have tried fourteen fourth-down attempts, converting nine times (Samford was 1 for 2 last week).

Furman is fourth in the league in both scoring and total defense, allowing 25.0 points and 373.3 yards per game. FU is allowing 5.4 yards per play.

The Paladins are third in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 4.3 yards per rush attempt. Furman opponents have scored eleven rushing touchdowns in six games.

The Citadel is tied for first in scoring offense (35.5 ppg), third in total offense (averaging 6.3 yards per play) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs currently rank second nationally, trailing only Cal Poly). The Bulldogs are averaging 5.8 yards per rush attempt, best in the conference.

The Bulldogs are last in the SoCon in passing yardage per game. However, The Citadel continues to average a league-best 10.7 yards per pass attempt, and is third in offensive pass efficiency among conference squads.

Furman is fifth in pass defense among SoCon outfits, but third in defensive pass efficiency, with seven interceptions against five TD passes allowed. The Paladins’ D has only six sacks so far this season, tied for the league low.

At 52.6%, The Citadel leads the conference (and is seventh nationally) in offensive third down conversion rate. Furman is second in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, with an excellent 36.0% rate.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 74.1%, third-best in the league. All twenty of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns from red zone possessions have come via the rush.

Furman’s red zone defensive TD rate is 60.9%, which ranks fourth among conference teams.

The Bulldogs are 3 for 8 on fourth down this year after going 1-1 last week. The Paladins’ defense has faced thirteen fourth-down conversion attempts, and has prevented a first down on eight of those occasions.

The Citadel is +4 in turnover margin (gained sixteen, lost twelve), tied for the top spot in the league in that category. Furman is -1 in that category (gained nine, lost ten).

On field goal attempts, the Bulldogs are 4 for 6, while the Paladins have made five of six tries. Neither team has missed a PAT so far this season.

The Citadel leads the conference in net punting yardage (38.7). Furman ranks fourth (34.8). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are second in the league, while the Paladins are sixth.

Furman is last in the SoCon in kickoff return average (18.2 yards). The Citadel is fourth (22.6).

As far as time of possession is concerned, the Bulldogs rank fifth in that statistic (30:50) among league teams. FU is one spot ahead of them in fourth (31:44).

The Paladins are averaging 67.2 plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.12 plays-per-minute rate. The Bulldogs are averaging slightly more plays per game (67.7) at a slightly faster pace (2.19 plays-per-minute).

Furman has been called for more penalties this year than any other SoCon team (6.7 per game). However, The Citadel’s opponents have been flagged for only 4.8 penalties per contest, third-fewest in the conference.

Now that I’ve posted all those numbers and made the respective comparisons, it’s fair to ask how relevant they are.

It’s a question that doesn’t have a good answer. It’s quite possible they aren’t particularly meaningful at all — at least, where the Paladins are concerned.

Is Furman the team that beat an FBS squad and dropped a hard-fought game to FCS #1 Coastal Carolina by just 3 points? Or are the Paladins the team that struggled at home with VMI and lost badly to Chattanooga?

The raw statistics would indicate the latter scenario is closer to the truth, but there is a reason they’re called “raw” statistics. I think a closer examination of the numbers might suggest that Furman is actually a good team, potentially a very good team.

For example, if you disregard the Paladins’ game against Virginia Tech, Furman is only allowing 3.7 yards per rush. That would be the best mark in the SoCon.

Furman went toe-to-toe with Coastal Carolina, outgaining the Chanticleers through the air and matching CCU on the ground. How did Furman lose? Well, the Paladins gave up a 100-yard kickoff return in that game, and were also foiled by two turnovers.

Before running into a buzzsaw at Chattanooga, Furman had won three straight games, including a 16-15 victory over UCF. I know that the Knights are one of the worst FBS teams in the country, but hey — it’s still a road win over an FBS team. The Paladins held UCF to 3.7 yards per play; the Knights finished with only 98 yards passing (and were intercepted three times by Furman).

I’m inclined to think Furman is better than its statistics show. The only thing that makes me question that judgment is the VMI game, where the Paladins’ defense was solid, but the offense struggled. Frankly, I am a bit puzzled by Furman’s offensive numbers in that contest.

Furman quarterback Reese Hannon (6’1″, 209 lbs.) is a three-year captain who has started 27 games for the Paladins. Hannon was injured in the Paladins’ opening game last season and missed the rest of the 2014 campaign.

Hannon is third among active SoCon players in passing yardage (incidentally, there are three Paladins in the conference’s top 10 in that category). This season, the Greer native (who Mike Houston compared to Andrew Luck in playing style) is completing 55.7% of his pass attempts, averaging 5.99 per attempt, with three touchdowns against six interceptions.

While his 2014 season opener resulted in a season-ending injury, Hannon’s first game in 2015 was considerably more positive, despite Furman eventually losing to Coastal Carolina. Hannon threw for a school-record 365 yards (on 41 attempts), including two TD passes. He also added 35 rushing yards, finishing with 400 yards of total offense — which was also a single-game school record.

Furman tends to run a lot of two-back offensive sets. Mike Houston commented during his radio show that the Paladins “run downhill”, with a lot of play-action.

Triston Luke (5’9″, 187 lbs.) is a freshman from Tennessee who took the last train from Clarksville to the Furman campus. He leads the Paladins in rushing attempts and yards. He scored two touchdowns against South Carolina State.

The starting fullback, Ernie Cain, is a 6’0″, 220 lb. redshirt senior who leads the team in rushing touchdowns with five. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

Furman’s projected offensive line starters average 6’3″, 280 lbs. They have combined to make 111 career starts.

Right guard Joe Turner (6’3″, 270 lbs.) has started 40 games for the Paladins, and was selected first-team All-SoCon by the league coaches last season. He is a fifth-year senior from Roswell, Georgia.

Eric Thoni, a 6’1″, 260 lb. center, returned to the squad (and the starting lineup) after missing last season; he was dismissed from the team during the summer of 2014. Thoni has made 27 career starts.

In general, the Paladins’ offensive line has been more stable this season than it was last year. Four of the five projected starters on Saturday have started every game for Furman this year.

Furman has multiple quality pass-catchers. Jordan Snellings (6’2″, 195 lbs.) is a fifth-year senior who has had a fine career in Greenville. Snellings had eight receptions for 102 yards and a TD in last year’s matchup at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

This season, Andrej Suttles (5’10”, 185 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with 23. He is averaging 14.2 yards per catch, with two touchdowns.

Logan McCarter (6’1″, 182 lbs.) is a big-play threat who averaged 21.5 yards per reception last season. He has 16 catches this year, with a long of 57 yards versus VMI.

Duncan Fletcher came to Furman as a quarterback, and started two games in 2013. Fletcher is now a 6’4″, 231 lb. tight end with 43 career receptions.

He will be a tough cover for The Citadel. Longtime observers of the military college’s football program are well aware that Paladin tight ends have often enjoyed success against the Bulldogs in recent years.

Furman has a new defensive coordinator this season. Kyle Gillenwater was on James Madison’s staff for 15 years, including five seasons as that school’s DC. He joins a staff that has a lot of familiarity with defending the triple option.

Jordan Hawkins (6’1″, 295 lbs.) is a junior defensive tackle who has already started 26 games in his career. Fellow DT Jaylan Reid is a 5’11”, 274 lb. redshirt freshman who is starting in front of veteran lineman John Mackey (who has 27 career starts).

Defensive end Brian Ross (6’5″, 235 lbs.) blocked a punt versus VMI and returned it for a touchdown, a critical play in that contest. The DE on the other side of the line, T.J. Warren (6’2″, 222 lbs.), was a linebacker before being moved to the d-line this spring.

Tackling machine Cory Magwood (6’2″, 232 lbs.) leads the Paladins in stops, with 63. He had 18 tackles last season against The Citadel, and is the active career leader in tackles in the SoCon.

Carl Rider (6’2″, 225 lbs.) redshirted last season due to injury. The middle linebacker was a first-team all-league pick in 2013. He seems to be back at full strength this season. Rider (who Mike Houston called a “lunch-pail kind of guy, blue-collar player, real tough”) had 19 tackles against South Carolina State.

Last year, the Paladins went through more safeties than Spinal Tap did drummers. In 2015, things have been better for Furman on that front.

Trey Robinson (6’1″, 212 lbs.) has started every game and has 4 interceptions and 49 tackles. Byron Johnson (6’2″, 231 lbs.) has started the last five contests at strong safety, while Richard Hayes III has started four games at free safety (having missed one game due to injury).

At cornerback, Reggie Thomas (6’0″, 186 lbs.) has the most career starts of any Furman player, with 41. He has two forced fumbles for the Paladins this season.

Redshirt junior Jamarri Milliken (5’11”, 190 lbs.) will return to the starting lineup on Saturday. He missed the first half of the Chattanooga game after being sidelined by a targeting penalty incurred against VMI.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth is five for six on field goal attempts for Furman. His best effort was a school-record 55-yarder that gave Furman a fourth-quarter lead against UCF that the Paladins did not relinquish.

Hollingsworth is only a sophomore, but he has already made three 50+ yard field goals in his career. With that strong a leg, it should come as no surprise that Hollingsworth also handles kickoffs (8 of his 23 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks).

He also serves as Furman’s punter; this season, he is averaging 37.7 yards per boot. Last season, Hollingsworth had a punt blocked by Samford.

Andrej Suttles is the Paladins’ regular punt returner, a duty he also held last year. Logan McCarter is the primary kickoff returner for Furman; last year he had a 63-yard kickoff return against The Citadel.

Long snapper Danny LaMontagne had been the Paladins’ regular snapper for 33 straight games before he broke his ankle at South Carolina last season. He has snapped in all five games for Furman this year.

Luke Cuneo is a redshirt freshman from Ashland, Massachusetts, who serves as the Paladins’ holder on placekicks. Cuneo is probably one of the smaller players to see playing time in Division I, as he is 5’6″, 168 lbs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast is promising. As of this writing (Thursday night), the National Weather Service was projecting sunny skies in Greenville on Saturday, with a high of 71 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an eight-point favorite over Furman. The over/under is 45.5.

Of course, Samford was an eight-point favorite over The Citadel last week. Sometimes sharpies aren’t too sharp when it comes to FCS games.

– Furman has 27 players from Georgia on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: North Carolina (17), Florida (14), South Carolina (14), Tennessee (12), Alabama (4), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (2), and one each from New Jersey, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and New York.

– As mentioned above, Reese Hannon broke the single-game total offense record for a Furman player against Coastal Carolina.

The record Hannon broke had been set just last season, by his current backup, P.J. Blazejowski, who had 382 yards of total offense in Furman’s OT loss to The Citadel. Curiously, the top six single-game marks for individual total offense in Furman history all occurred in losses.

In case you were wondering, The Citadel’s single-game individual total offense record (486 yards) was set in 2007 by Duran Lawson, in a 54-51 overtime victory over…Furman.

– This Saturday will be Homecoming at Furman. Attendance for the last five Homecoming games at Paladin Stadium:

2010 — 10,394 (vs. Chattanooga)
2011 — 11,716 (vs. Wofford)
2012 — 11,191 (vs. Georgia Southern)
2013 — 9,217 (vs. Samford)
2014 — 8,047 (vs. Samford)

While Homecoming attendance at Furman may have been disappointing in the past two years, there is a good chance it will rebound this Saturday; for one thing, a sizable contingent of visiting supporters should be on hand. That group will include most of the freshmen members of The Citadel’s Corps of Cadets, making the trip to Greenville via a fleet of buses.

It has been many years since a significant part of the corps made a road trip for a football game. As an alumnus, I’m very pleased at this development. I would like for it to happen on a near-annual basis.

– Furman’s game notes for this week includes a reference to “Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito”, which I believe wins some version of SID bingo. Well done.

– On the other hand, the FU release also includes this blurb:

Furman has already avenged a pair of losses from a year ago, defeating both VMI (24-21) and South Carolina State (17-3) after dropping games to the Keydets and Bulldogs in 2014. A win over The Citadel on Saturday would improve the Paladins to 3-0 in revenge matchups.

I’ve got to ask: how are “revenge matchups” being defined? After all, Furman has lost two games this season to teams which also defeated the Paladins last year (Coastal Carolina and Chattanooga).

Is it only a revenge matchup if Furman wins?

– Furman was off last week. In the past four years, the Paladins are 2-2 coming off bye weeks, with one of the wins a 24-17 victory over The Citadel in 2013. This is the first time Furman has played a home game after a bye week since 2011, when the Paladins defeated Presbyterian 66-21.

– Former Bengals and Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche will be the ESPN3 analyst on Saturday. It is unlikely that he will say anything about Cleveland during the broadcast. You never know, though.

While this is a key game for the Bulldogs, it is an equally important game for Furman.

In fact, this game is a great opportunity for the Paladins. With a victory, Furman will be in a position similar to the one The Citadel is in right now — right in the middle of the conference race, and with legitimate playoff aspirations.

The Paladins have already played Chattanooga and VMI. Their remaining league schedule includes three teams The Citadel has beaten (Samford, Western Carolina, and Wofford).

If Furman were to defeat The Citadel, that school’s supporters could logically conclude that the Paladins are capable of beating those same three squads. Take care of business against that trio and Mercer, and Furman is 8-3 and preparing for postseason play. Even at 7-4, the Paladins would have a shot at a playoff berth, given their strong non-conference schedule.

I suspect this will be a very physical contest on both sides of the ball. Furman’s offense will try very hard to establish the run.

There have been times in the recent past (the 2012 game, for instance) when the Paladins got away from running the football. I don’t expect the Furman coaching staff to make the same mistake this time.

That said, I have a lot of confidence in the Bulldogs. They have played very good football over the past two weeks, and I see no reason for that to change on Saturday.

I think this will be a hard-fought game between two good teams. I’m looking forward to it; the atmosphere should be great.

Go Dogs!

2013 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 28. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

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

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

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Furman game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

TV promotional spot for the game

Article on Ben Dupree in The Post and Courier

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

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

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

Quick thoughts on the game against Old Dominion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll know for sure on Saturday.

2012 Football, Week 11: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel at Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 17.  The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Doug Chapman supplying the analysis. It can also be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Furman game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show (following the game against VMI), Part 1 and Part 2

Kevin Higgins’ 11/11 press conference quotes

Bruce Fowler’s SoCon teleconference for 11/12

According to legend, the game between The Citadel and Furman had been each school’s regular-season finale for as long as the sun had heated the earth.

One dismal day, however, an evil wizard arrived. Certain seers from the Upstate claimed he had come from the land of Denison, but no one was sure. The wizard cast a terrible spell that moved the game to a non-November month. This horrible event happened two long decades ago.

Finally, after an incantation from the Magician of Monsey, the spell was broken. The game was shifted to its rightful place on the calendar. Surely, it will stay there forevermore.

— Excerpt from The Golden Book of Tall Football Tales, 2012 edition

The Citadel and Furman will close their respective 2012 campaigns on the gridiron this Saturday. There are people who believe the game should always be the season finale, and more than a few of them think that it always was until the last twenty years.

They are wrong about that, of course. I’ve pointed this out before, but it seems to be a very hard thing for some fans to grasp.

It’s not just fans, though. Furman’s sports information department has a blurb in its game notes that is titled “Back Where It Belongs” and includes this comment:

This year arch-rivals Furman and The Citadel will meet for the first time in the regular season finale since 1992, when The Citadel passed on a SoCon scheduling option for year-end traditional rival games. The option was put in place by the SoCon, which at the time was adjusting future schedules to accommodate the addition of Georgia Southern to the league.

I am less than impressed with this attempt by Furman’s SID to suggest that the series was usually played at season’s end until The Citadel ruined everything. The paragraph in Furman’s release is more than a little obnoxious. At any rate, the facts are simple:

— The Citadel and Furman have played 91 times; the two schools have faced each other every season since 1919 with the exception of three years during World War II.

— The game has been the regular-season finale for both schools 19 times.

That’s it. Those nineteen games were the sixteen games played between 1977 and 1992, and a three-year stretch in the mid-1960s (1965-67).

The matchup has actually been played more often in October (51 times) than in November (37 times). Three times it has been played in September, including the last two seasons.

Do I think playing this game in September is too early? Yes. However, I don’t think it needs to end the season, either. There isn’t a long tradition of it doing so.

Besides, these days it can’t end the season — not every year, anyway.

The Citadel is not going to host any game on the last weekend of the regular season (regardless of the opponent) as long as the current school academic calendar is in effect. The corps of cadets goes on Thanksgiving break on the Friday before the holiday. That wasn’t always the case, but it is now, and I suspect it will be for the foreseeable future.

There won’t be any regular-season home games scheduled without the presence of the corps of cadets. Next year’s pre-Thanksgiving weekend game is at Clemson; the week before, the last weekend the corps will be on campus, The Citadel is hosting VMI.

That doesn’t mean the game can’t be the season-ender when it is played at Furman, and maybe a good way to set up the series would be to have the matchup as the last game of the season in Greenville, and a midseason clash in Charleston.

That would be similar to the Notre Dame-Southern California series, which is traditionally played at midseason in South Bend and late in the year in Los Angeles.

I never liked having the game played at the end of the year because it was generally ignored by the state media in favor of the Clemson-South Carolina contest, which was played on the same day.

However, with the Clemson-South Carolina series moving to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, there is less chance of the game between The Citadel and Furman being lost in the shuffle, so I don’t have an issue with the game ending the season when it is hosted by the Paladins.

There is one other thing I would like to see adjusted, in terms of Furman and scheduling. Right now The Citadel plays Furman and Wofford at home in odd-numbered years and on the road in even-numbered years. I think that ideally the Bulldogs would make just one trip to the Upstate every year, and play one of those two schools at home each season.

Of course, all of those potential moves are subject to the whims of the SoCon office, which is just as likely to schedule Furman-The Citadel on September 14 next year as it is October 19.

Furman is 3-7, 2-5 in the SoCon. The Paladins have not had a lot of luck in close games, leading Kevin Higgins to state in his Monday press conference that “they are the best FCS team in the country with their record.”

There is a snakebit quality to Furman’s losses. The Paladins opened with a 24-21 loss at Samford when the Birmingham Bulldogs converted a last-minute field goal. Furman lost the next week at home to Coastal Carolina in triple overtime, 47-45.

Wofford beat Furman 20-17, with the winning points coming on a long TD pass in the third quarter. Last week, Appalachian State slipped past the Paladins 33-28, with the difference being two second-half Mountaineer field goals.

Furman hasn’t been very lucky. Truthfully, though, it hasn’t been all that good either.

The Paladins are next-to-last in scoring offense in the SoCon, and seventh in the league in scoring defense. That’s not a combination that generally leads to winning seasons.

Furman is balanced on offense , perhaps more so than any SoCon team other than Chattanooga, but it is not a particularly efficient passing team (seventh in the league) and does not pick up a lot of first downs (also seventh). FU is last in the conference in third down conversion rate and red zone offense.

The Paladins are next-to-last in the league in defensive pass efficiency, allowing more passing yards than any team in the conference. How much that really matters against The Citadel is open to question. Furman’s games against the other triple option teams in the league may provide an answer.

Against Wofford, Furman did a good job containing the Terriers’ run game (303 rushing yards, 364 total yards) but allowed that aforementioned touchdown pass (52 yards).

That solid effort came on the road. At home against Georgia Southern, Furman gave up only 275 rushing yards, but got burned through the air on a couple of occasions, including a 75-yard TD strike.

Furman is the league’s best team when it comes to returning kickoffs, but is last in the conference in punt return average. FU is next-to-last in net punting (though well ahead of last-place Elon in that department).

The Paladins are -5 for the year in turnover margin, the worst mark in the SoCon.

Perhaps the statistic that best defines why Furman is 3-7 is fourth quarter scoring. The Paladins have been outscored 91-26 in that period. Furman’s opponents have a slight advantage in the third quarter as well, offsetting the Paladins 110-64 edge in the second quarter.

I haven’t seen any of Furman’s games, but it makes me wonder if the Paladins have issues with line play as the game progresses. It suggests a lack of depth. I could be completely misreading that, of course.

Furman’s best player is running back Jerodis Williams, who was impressive in last year’s game against The Citadel and will be a major problem for the Bulldogs’ D this year as well. Williams is tough, hard to tackle, and has good speed too.

He is the reason Furman leads the SoCon in kickoff return average, as he has taken two kicks back for touchdowns this year (each for 100 yards). One of those TD returns came last week against Appalachian State. Williams’ understudy at running back, Hank McCloud, is also a talented player.

Reese Hannon is a true freshman from Greer who has started most of the season for the Paladins. He has completed 61.6% of his passes this season, with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is not a running threat in the Paladins’ offense.

Kevin Higgins mentioned Furman had “excellent speed” at the wide receiver position, but the Paladins will miss their leading receiver, Will King, who is out for the season due to injury. Furman does have an outstanding tight end, Colin Anderson, and that position has traditionally posed a problem for The Citadel in this series.

Furman’s best offensive lineman is left tackle Dakota Dozier, not to be confused with backup quarterback Dakota Derrick.

The Paladins have some fine players on the defensive side of the ball. Sophomore linebacker Gary Wilkins leads the team in tackles. Other players of note include defensive end Josh Lynn, safety Nathan Wade, linebacker Mitch McGrath, and backup lineman Ricky Lang (who has five sacks).

Backup safety Marcus McMorris has two return TDs this season, including a 95-yard fumble return that was the key play in the Paladins’ victory over Elon.

Placekicker Ray Early is 8 for 14 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 48 yards. He has also done the majority of the punting for the Paladins this year.

I don’t think The Citadel has much of a chance at a playoff berth even if the Bulldogs are fortunate enough to win in Greenville on Saturday. However, just in case the Mayans were right, I’ve made a checklist of sorts. It features games that would affect the Bulldogs’ (admittedly remote) chances of postseason play.

Obviously The Citadel must finish 7-4. The other “must” game, from the Bulldogs’ perspective, is Samford-Kentucky. The Wildcats have to win that game. I wouldn’t bet on it.

Here are the remaining games to watch. The teams Bulldog fans want to win are listed first:

VMI over Liberty
New Hampshire over Towson
Lafayette over Lehigh
Old Dominion over James Madison
William & Mary over Richmond
Delaware over Villanova
Cal Poly over Northern Arizona
South Dakota over South Dakota State
UC Davis over Sacramento State
Charleston Southern over Coastal Carolina

I’m listing the CSU-CCU game even though it technically won’t affect the number of at-large bids available (don’t ask why, that would take three paragraphs) because a win by the Buccaneers would result in CSU finishing 6-5 (a really good achievement after going 0-11 last year).

That would result in The Citadel having a non-conference victory over a team with a winning record. Those aren’t always easy to come by. For example, of the six CAA teams battling for a playoff bid, only Villanova has beaten a team out of conference with more wins than losses. The Wildcats actually have two such victories (over Fordham and Penn).

It should be a nice day for a game in Greenville on Saturday. The preliminary forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 60 degrees, perfectly acceptable late-season football weather.

I don’t have any idea how the Bulldogs will play on Saturday, not that I ever really do. The Citadel has accomplished its major goal, a winning season. A playoff bid is a longshot. Finishing with a winning record in the SoCon (something Derek Douglas mentioned in the Monday presser) is something to shoot for, but not exactly a huge prize either.

Playing Furman means something, and I’m not trying to soft-pedal that (despite what the first part of this post may suggest). However, I’m not completely sure how much it means to the players. It may be a big deal to them; I don’t know.

I’m sure the game would be World War III if some of the alums on both sides had anything to say about it, but they aren’t the ones putting on the pads.

My guess is that the game will be spirited and intense on both sides, and close. It’s the last game of the year between two proud teams. There won’t be a lack of effort.

I’m looking forward to one more Saturday of gridiron action. One more round, you might say.


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