The Citadel 78, VMI 75: a few quick thoughts

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

Video from WCSC-TV, including Duggar Baucom’s postgame thoughts, along with those of Derrick Henry and P.J. Boutte

Video from WCIV-TV

Box score

Very random observations:

– The Citadel had 77 possessions in the game, below its average of 82 per contest. This didn’t have as much to do with actual pace (the game was more than frenetic enough from the Bulldogs’ perspective), but instead was a result of VMI gathering 21 offensive rebounds. The Keydets kept many possessions alive with their work on the boards.

VMI had an offensive rebound rate of 44.7%. The Citadel was very fortunate to win on Saturday while allowing such a rate, especially given that the Bulldogs did not shoot well either (36.2%, including only making 9 of 38 three-point attempts).

– The reason The Citadel came back and won? Turnovers. The Bulldogs forced 20 of them while only committing 11 of their own. That is a significant differential. A lot of VMI’s turnovers were of the “live ball” variety, too, which increased the chances of The Citadel converting those miscues into points. The Bulldogs had a 17-7 edge in points off turnovers.

– Considering VMI’s dominance on the offensive glass, it is borderline amazing that The Citadel had a 19-18 edge in second-chance points. The Keydets missed a lot of opportunities to convert second-chance points, particularly in the first half.

– One thing about the Bulldogs, they may occasionally struggle shooting from beyond the arc, but they’re still going to fire away from outside. Ten different players attempted at least one three-pointer on Saturday.

– I thought the atmosphere at McAlister Field House was really good on Saturday. There wasn’t a large contingent of cadets in attendance, but those there made their presence felt. I noticed a sizable number of football players cheering on their hardwood compatriots, and the baseball team also made an appearance.

The pep band was in very good form. I also thought that, in general (and unlike games at Johnson Hagood Stadium), the band worked well with the in-house DJ. His music selection was solid.

I’m not sure, but I think near the end of the game he played a snippet of “Magic” by Pilot, which would be a case of going deep into the playbook…

– I also enjoyed the halftime activities. First, the “Blitz Kids” were honored with a new banner hanging in the rafters. Seven representatives from that era of Bulldog basketball were at the game. I’ve heard my fair share of stories about those teams.

Then, a local Catholic school had two teams of nine-year-olds (I believe that was the age group) play a quick four-minute fullcourt game. This proved to be a highly entertaining affair. Both squads featured strong defensive play. Good job, Saints.

– I missed the game that was played afterwards between the hoops alumni and the corps of cadets. It appears the participants were inspired by Duggar Baucom and the “Embrace the Pace” movement, given the final score of the contest was 91-74.

– Whenever someone refers to “SoCon Saturday” in basketball, it is often a less-than-flattering comment about officiating. The league has traditionally struggled to provide quality officials for weekend games, due in large part to having to compete with major conferences on Saturdays (when there are many more games played than on weekdays).

This particular Saturday wasn’t so bad for The Citadel and VMI, though. The officiating wasn’t perfect (as Duggar Baucom pointed out to the men in stripes on more than one occasion), but it was acceptable.

I feel compelled to note that after ripping the league’s officials from time to time (with considerable justification, in my opinion).

Incidentally, it helped to have guys officiating who had actually called plenty of high-level games this season. One of the officials for yesterday’s game was working his 27th D-1 game of the season. While that is a far cry from the national leader in that category (as of January 30, David Hall had worked an incredible 63 D-1 games in 2015-16), it is a sign that an official is good enough to get regular work at that level.

There have been times when The Citadel has played a league game on a Saturday in late January in which the three officials assigned to the contest have not worked 27 D-1 games, combined. That matters.

Another one of the officials from Saturday’s matchup had only worked 14 D-1 games, but I noticed that in addition to calling NCAA contests he was also an NBA D-League official. The other arbiter on hand at McAlister Field House had only refereed 10 D-1 games, but at least he was in double digits.

I took a few pictures. They aren’t very good. One thing I need to do is concentrate less on action photos (which I’m really bad at taking anyway) and instead focus on things that someone watching on ESPN3 might not be able to see. I’ll try to remember that next time.

A few final thoughts on The Citadel’s 2015 football season

It was a great year for The Citadel’s football program. It was also a long year.

That was my main takeaway from the Bulldogs’ loss last Saturday, which looked a lot like a physically and/or mentally tired team hitting the proverbial wall. It wasn’t just the turnovers, but the procedure penalties, that seemed to indicate the team (at least on the offensive side of the ball) may have run out of gas.

It is easy to understand, especially when you think back to the previous eight weeks. The first of those eight games was a home game versus Wofford, a matchup the Bulldogs had probably targeted since the officiating debacle in Spartanburg last season. Of the next seven games, five were on the road. Three of those road matchups were conference games (almost by definition tough contests), and the other two were against an SEC team (South Carolina) and a first-round FCS playoff game (Coastal Carolina).

The two home games during that stretch weren’t gimmes, either. The contest against Mercer came down to a two-point conversion attempt.

Meanwhile, while the score may not reflect it, the battle for the coveted Silver Shako was a hard-hitting affair. You may recall Dominique Allen didn’t finish that game, and he wasn’t the only Bulldog to suffer a few bruises that day.

It was a very taxing two-month run of football. I got worn out just watching the team play; I can’t imagine what the players (and coaches) had to go through.

While it was a disappointing way for the season to end, that will soon be forgotten (if it hasn’t been forgotten already). Instead, the 2015 football season will have plenty of pleasant memories.

This season, The Citadel:

  • beat its two traditional rivals (Furman and VMI), both by 21 points
  • defeated Wofford to break an annoying streak against the Terriers (though only a couple of SoCon officials thought the Bulldogs didn’t beat Wofford the year before)
  • won a share of the Southern Conference title (the first league crown in football, shared or otherwise, since 1992, and only the third in school history)
  • won a road playoff game
  • won at South Carolina, a victory that will always be remembered (and savored) by multiple generations of Bulldog fans
  • won 9 games, second-most in school annals

Not bad, not bad at all…

Where does the 2015 team rank when compared to other Bulldog teams of the past? This is a topic of interest in some quarters.

One thing I don’t want to do is compare “modern” teams to those squads that played before The Citadel joined the Southern Conference. While it’s fun to look back on the exploits of the 1916 and 1926 teams (or that undefeated 1906 squad), I’m not really sure how to evaluate them.

However, I do want to note that Harry O’Brien’s 1916 team was 6-1-1, including back-to-back wins over Clemson and South Carolina to close out the season. You can bet The Citadel’s alumni were happy after that campaign.

The Evening Post, after the win over South Carolina that year:

Supporters of the military college eleven have a right to glory in the 1916 team’s record…the Bulldogs have earned the right to the state football crown, and to a place among the best teams in the South Atlantic states. Surely The Citadel could ask for no more glorious season than one which included in its list of vanquished elevens Clemson and Carolina.

That 1916 team did go about things a little differently than Mike Houston’s charges:

The Citadel has justly won renown in state football for its forward passing

I’ll give that squad the nod as the best Bulldog team of the pre-SoCon era.

As for the 2015 team, I think it’s fair to say that only one Bulldog team of the past has a clearly superior résumé; that would be the 1992 squad.

That leaves the following teams (all of which won 7+ games) in the mix for 2nd place:

  • 1937
  • 1959
  • 1960
  • 1961
  • 1969
  • 1971
  • 1980
  • 1981
  • 1984
  • 1988
  • 1990
  • 1991
  • 2007
  • 2012

I narrowed it down to 1960, 1961, and 2015, though there is something to be said for 1959 (8-2), not to mention the very entertaining 1971 (8-3) and 1988 (8-4) teams.

1960: won the Tangerine Bowl; 2nd in the SoCon; 8-2-1 overall, including the often-referenced 0-0 game versus Florida State

1961: won the SoCon; 7-3 overall, including wins over both Furman and VMI (the latter a road victory to clinch the league title)

2015: shared the SoCon title; 9-4 overall, including wins over both Furman and VMI; also beat South Carolina; one postseason victory

Hmm…

A few days ago, when I was asked where I would rank the 2015 team, I answered “4th, with an argument for 3rd”. The more I think about it, though, I tend to believe the correct answer is “possibly 2nd”.

Reasonable minds can disagree. It’s a fun thing to talk about, particularly during the winter months.

I’ve mentioned it before, but this year’s senior class was 8-0 in “celebration” games (Parents’ Day/Homecoming). As far as I know, in the modern history of Parents’ Day/Homecoming events, it is the first time a group of seniors can make that claim.

Best of luck to those seniors in their future endeavors, and thanks to them and the other players (and the coaches) for a great year.

Can’t wait ’til the 2016 season.

2015 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina

The Citadel at Coastal Carolina, to be played in Conway, South Carolina, at Brooks Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 28. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Drew Fellios providing play-by-play and Tom O’Brien supplying the analysis.

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 prior to each home football game. 

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:

– “Back to playoff business” for The Citadel

– Game notes from The Citadel and Coastal Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Joe Moglia on the Big South teleconference

Mike Houston’s 11/24 press conference (with comments from Mitchell Jeter, Tyler Renew, and Joe Crochet)

Notes on The Citadel-Coastal Carolina from the Myrtle Beach Sun-News

“Bulldogs’ offense is rolling in Mike Houston’s second year at helm”, from the Myrtle Beach Sun-News

Tyler Renew is the SoCon offensive player of the week

– Things haven’t always been easy for Renew

SoCon media awards

SoCon coaches’ awards

FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS preview of The Citadel-Coastal Carolina

– Ticket website

This is a preview I really didn’t expect to be writing when the season began, to be honest. However, I’m happy to stop eating turkey and dressing for a few minutes in order to scribble a few paragraphs about a previously unscheduled football game.

One big key to this game for The Citadel is for its players and coaches to be emotionally and mentally prepared to play. It probably won’t be easy to come down from the high that was winning at South Carolina, but the Bulldogs will have no chance against Coastal Carolina if their collective mentality is still focused on last Saturday.

One thing is for sure: Coastal Carolina won’t be too impressed by what happened in Columbia last week. If you had any doubts about that, let Chanticleers junior linebacker Alex Scearce put them to rest:

I know they definitely have some confidence after beating big, bad South Carolina, but you watch the game and South Carolina had a few good drives, but it didn’t seem like some of them wanted to be there. It looked like The Citadel wanted it more than they did, so that’s definitely the reason they came out on top. I think they’re going to be real confident when they come in here thinking they can whup up on us physically, but I think this year we’ve been able to handle it OK between the tackles, especially towards the end of the season. So I think it’s going to be a challenging game for them as well.

He doesn’t think the Gamecocks tried very hard, and figures that’s the only reason The Citadel won. Okay then.

In my preview for last year’s regular season game between the two schools, I wrote the following:

Coastal Carolina may not have hired Joe Moglia because it has the FBS in its sights. However, that is the perception in certain circles.

[In this article] Moglia was reported to have said that CCU had only achieved 75% of his vision. Not everyone is sure what the remaining 25% of his vision would be.

Less than 12 months later, Coastal Carolina accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt and move to the FBS.

Because of that, this will be the last time CCU participates in the FCS playoffs. The two seasons to follow (2016 and 2017) will be “transitional” campaigns, with the Chanticleers ineligible for postseason play. Coastal Carolina will begin playing Sun Belt teams on a regular basis in 2017.

This is the second meeting between Coastal Carolina and The Citadel. It will likely also be the two schools’ last matchup on the gridiron for the foreseeable future. That is due to a situation very similar to the one The Citadel now has with Georgia Southern, which I described earlier this season in my preview of the GSU game:

…if Georgia Southern wants to schedule The Citadel again, the military college is going to demand a lot more cash. $175,000 isn’t going to be nearly enough; The Citadel is going to want more than twice that amount of money. Maybe more than three times that amount of money.

In a way, it illustrates a problem Georgia Southern now has as an FBS member when it comes to scheduling home games. Schools that pay FCS schools big bucks for a “guarantee game” can afford to make those payments, because they have large stadiums and huge budgets. That isn’t the case for the folks in Statesboro.

Georgia Southern may have expanded Paulson Stadium, but 25,000 seats is a far cry from the likes of the facilities at Florida State, or South Carolina, or even North Carolina (opponents of The Citadel last year, this year, and next year).

Mike Houston explained his position on the issue in the press conference that preceded the game against Georgia Southern:

You are playing an FBS program that has more resources and scholarships than we have. And if you are playing those kinds of games, there needs to be financial restitution that matches that.

Jim Senter appears to be on the same page as his head football coach. The Citadel isn’t going to play anyone for less than a significant guarantee, something schools with smaller fan bases and/or stadia will not be able to provide.

Coastal Carolina has plans to expand Brooks Stadium to 20,000 seats, smaller than Paulson Stadium.

As for Joe Moglia, it will be interesting to see what he does after the season is over. Moglia is 66 years old; he will be 67 by the time the 2016 season starts.

If he intends to pursue a more high-profile coaching job, it may be now or never. Moglia has been mentioned in various quarters as a potential candidate at Syracuse, though most of those reports originated from a speculative column by Sports Illustrated‘s Pete Thamel (followed up by a Thayer Evans tweet).

Another school that might give Moglia a look is Rutgers, a possibility first broached by college football reporter Bruce Feldman. To me, that one makes sense, though there are a couple of problems with Moglia getting the Rutgers job: A) it isn’t technically open yet; B) there is no more dysfunctional department of athletics in all of major-college sports.

The sections that follow include statistics for the full season for both Coastal Carolina and The Citadel. Each school has played 11 games.

Coastal Carolina is 9-2, with home wins over Western Illinois (34-27), Bryant (31-17), Alabama A&M (55-0), Presbyterian (24-17), Gardner-Webb (46-0), and Kennesaw State (45-13); the Chanticleers have road victories over Furman (38-35), South Carolina State (41-14), and Monmouth (23-20). CCU has lost at Charleston Southern (35-27) and at Liberty (24-21).

The Citadel is 8-3, with home wins over Davidson (69-0), Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), Mercer (21-19), and VMI (35-14); the Bulldogs have won on the road at Samford (44-25), Furman (38-17), and South Carolina (23-22). The Citadel’s three losses came at Georgia Southern (48-13), versus Charleston Southern (33-20), and at Chattanooga (31-23).

Coastal Carolina’s offense has thrown the ball 337 times, with 14 other would-be pass play attempts resulting in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Chanticleers have rushed 401 times; thus, CCU has passed the ball (or attempted to pass) on 46.7% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 55.3% of Coastal Carolina’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). CCU averages 7.69 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). That yards per attempt number is comparable to Chattanooga among SoCon teams.

Coastal Carolina averages 34.8 points and 443.8 yards per game, with an average of 6.5 yards per play. CCU would have led the SoCon in two of those three categories (Samford averaged 479.7 yards of total offense per game).

Defensively, The Citadel has allowed 21.0 points and 350.5 yards per game, allowing 5.4 yards per play.

CCU is averaging 5.1 yards per rush, gaining 192.2 yards per game on the ground. The Bulldogs have allowed 156.5 yards per contest (4.4 yards per play).

The Chanticleers have completed passes at a 65.9% clip, with 19 TDs against just 5 interceptions. CCU’s pass efficiency rating ranks 13th in all of FCS.

The Citadel is 24th nationally in defensive pass efficiency, having allowed 7 pass TDs while intercepting 17 errant tosses. The Bulldogs’ opponents have a completion percentage for the season of 58.8%.

Coastal Carolina has converted 42.8% of its third-down attempts, which ranks 33rd nationally. The Citadel has allowed opponents to pick up 36.2% of third down tries (42nd in FCS).

The FCS leader in defensive pass efficiency and defensive third-down conversion rate, by the way, is still South Carolina State, as has been the case for the past month.

CCU has gone for it on fourth down fifteen times, picking up a first down on nine of those attempts. On defense, The Citadel has given up fourteen conversions in twenty-two opponent tries.

Coastal Carolina’s defense is allowing 18.2 points per game (which would lead the SoCon). CCU has given up 403.6 yards per game, with an average of 5.7 yards allowed per play. Both of those statistics would be in the middle of the pack in the SoCon.

The Citadel is averaging 32.1 points and 423.3 yards per game, gaining 6.2 yards per play.

CCU is allowing 4.2 yards per rush (168.4 yards per game). The Chanticleers have allowed 12 TDs through the air while intercepting 6 passes, and rank in the bottom half of FCS in terms of defensive pass efficiency.

The Citadel’s offense averages 344.7 yards per game (2nd nationally), gaining 5.8 yards per carry. The Bulldogs obviously don’t throw the football that often, though they have generally been effective when they have (33rd nationally in offensive pass efficiency, with 5 TD passes against 4 interceptions).

The Citadel remains second nationally in rushing offense, behind Cal Poly.

The Bulldogs have an offensive third-down conversion rate of 49.3%, which is 6th-best in FCS. Coastal Carolina has allowed third down conversions at a 38.7% rate.

The Citadel is 6 for 16 in fourth-down tries, one of the poorer rates in the country, while CCU opponents are only 9-24 converting fourth-down attempts (24th nationally). Sharp-eyed readers may notice that The Citadel converts fourth downs at the exact same rate as CCU opponents (37.5%).

Coastal Carolina’s offense has a 60.8% Red Zone TD rate. The Bulldogs have a defensive Red Zone TD rate of 51.4%. Of the Chanticleers’ 31 Red Zone TDs, 21 have been via the rush.

CCU opponents have a Red Zone TD rate of 70.0%. The Citadel’s offense has a Red Zone TD rate of 60.9%. Of the 28 touchdowns the Bulldogs have scored on Red Zone possessions, 26 have been rushing TDs.

The Citadel is +6 in turnover margin (gained 25, lost 19). Coastal Carolina’s turnover margin is +2 (gained 13, lost 11).

Coastal Carolina is 16 for 21 on field goal attempts (33-33 on PATs). The Citadel is 12 for 14 on FG tries (39-40 PATs).

The Citadel has a net punting average of 36.1; CCU’s is 36.3.

The Bulldogs have 28 touchbacks on 67 kickoffs, while the Chanticleers have 7 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs (though the net average favors CCU).

Coastal Carolina has 2 kickoff return TDs this season and led the Big South in return yardage. The Citadel has averaged slightly more yards per return than the Chanticleers, but has not returned any kicks for a score.

CCU has averaged an excellent 11.7 yards per punt return. The Citadel ranked last in the SoCon in that statistic.

Coastal Carolina has averaged only 27:42 in time of possession per game. The Bulldogs have controlled the clock more, with a per-game TOP average of 31:25.

The Chanticleers are averaging 68.4 offensive plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.47 plays-per-minute rate, which is not in Samford territory but is still a fairly fast pace. The Citadel is averaging 68.2 plays per game, but with a plays-per-minute rate of 2.17.

Coastal Carolina is averaging 5.8 penalties per game (54.1 penalty yards per contest). Opponents of the Chanticleers are called for slightly more penalties (6.1 per contest, 56.5 penalty yards/game).

The Citadel has been called for 6 penalties per game (50.7 penalty yards per contest). As fans of the Bulldogs know, opponents of The Citadel have largely been penalty-free, particularly in SoCon play. For the season, Bulldog opponents have been flagged 4.7 times per contest (just 36.4 penalty yards per game).

During his press conference on Tuesday, Mike Houston was asked to compare Coastal Carolina’s offense to those of other teams the Bulldogs have faced. He referenced Western Carolina, a team with a balanced (but potentially explosive) offense under the direction of a talented, experienced dual-threat QB.

Alex Ross (6’1″, 205 lbs.) is a native of Alpharetta, Georgia, who has started 40 games for the Chanticleers at quarterback. This season, Ross is completing 66.7% of his passes (8.2 yards per attempt), with 18 TD throws against just 5 interceptions.

Ross has been the all-conference QB in the Big South for three consecutive seasons. In the game last year at Johnson Hagood Stadium, he was 24-32 for 263 yards and a TD. He also rushed for 58 yards in that contest, an example of his mobility.

De’Angelo Henderson (5’8″, 205 lbs.) was named the Big South offensive player of the year earlier this week. The resident of Summerville has rushed for 1,245 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

Henderson rushed for 88 yards and a TD versus The Citadel last season. He can also catch the ball, as he is the Chanticleers’ second-leading receiver.

Coastal Carolina’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 300 lbs. Right guard Sam Ekwonike (6’2″, 350 lbs.) is the biggest member of the group; he is a first-team all-league performer, as is left tackle Voghens Larrieux (6’5″, 290 lbs.).

Right tackle Chase Tidwell (6’5″, 275 lbs.) is a second-team All-Big South pick. Tidwell started his collegiate career as a baseball player at Charleston Southern; he had never been on the field during a high school or college football game until the Chanticleers’ season opener this year at Furman.

Bruce Mapp (6’0″, 210 lbs.) is a first-team all-conference selection who leads CCU in receptions (47) and TD catches (6). He had a big game last year against the Bulldogs, catching 10 passes for 108 yards and a TD.

Wideout Chris Jones (5’11”, 170 lbs.) and slot receiver Tyrell Blanks (5’11”, 165 lbs.) have combined for seven touchdown receptions.

Coastal Carolina generally operates a 4-2-5 defense, but as always, formations can change when teams defend the triple option.

Defensive tackle Jabari Bothwell (5’11”, 290 lbs.) played last year for Coastal Carolina after transferring from Western Michigan. This season, Bothwell made first-team All-Big South.

He has 8.5 tackles for loss among his 64 stops in 2015. Against Kennesaw State (which runs the triple option), Bothwell had 1.5 sacks, 8 tackles (including 2.5 for loss), and blocked a field goal.

Both of CCU’s starting defensive ends were second-team all-league picks. Roderick Holder (6’1″, 235 lbs.) has 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, while Calvin Hollenhorst (6’3″, 235 lbs.) made the conference’s second-team unit for the third consecutive season despite missing three games with an injury.

The aforementioned Alex Scearce (6’3″, 220 lbs.) also made second-team All-Big South. Scearce leads the Chanticleers in tackles with 70.

Coastal Carolina has injury issues in the secondary. Ray Lewis III (5’9″, 195 lbs.) is listed as a projected starter at cornerback on the two-deep; it would be the first career start for the son of former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

CCU should have no concerns at the other corner spot, however, as Kamron Summers (5’11”, 185 lbs.) has started 30 consecutive games for the Chanticleers. Summers leads the team in pass breakups, with six.

Placekicker Ryan Granger (5’11”, 175 lbs.) was named All-Big South after making 15 of 19 field goals this season, with a long of 47. Granger, who has not missed a PAT this year (33-33), scored a TD on a fake field goal against Presbyterian.

Masamitsu Ishibashi (5’10”, 170 lbs.) is CCU’s kickoff specialist. He has 7 touchbacks on 69 kickoffs.

Evan Rabon (6’0″, 150 lbs.) is averaging 36.5 yards per punt. Thirteen of his thirty-one boots have landed inside the 20. None of his punts have resulted in a touchback.

The holder for Coastal Carolina is Tyler Keane (5’9″, 185 lbs.). Keane has occasionally run two-point plays from his position. The long snapper is freshman Connor Kubala (6’1″, 225 lbs.).

Kickoff returner Devin Brown (5’8″, 170 lbs.) is a dangerous weapon for the Chanticleers. Brown, who was named the Big South’s special teams player of the year, has returned two kickoffs for TDs this season. The junior has five such returns in his career.

Chris Jones is an excellent punt returner, averaging 11.5 yards per return (with a long of 64).

Odds and ends:

– There are 39 players from South Carolina on the Chanticleers’ roster. Other states represented: Florida (15), Georgia (14), North Carolina (8), Maryland (7), New Jersey (6), Pennsylvania (5), Virginia (4), Connecticut (3), California (3), Massachusetts (2), and one each from Texas, New York, Alabama, Mississippi, Illinois, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Vermont. There is also one player from Washington, DC, and another from Rome, Italy (reserve tight end Lorenzo D’Angelo).

– Of the eighteen players on the Chanticleers’ roster who began their careers at junior colleges or other four-year schools, seven are listed as starters on this week’s two-deep.

– Coastal Carolina installed artificial turf at Brooks Stadium prior to the beginning of this season. The color of the surface is teal.

– CCU last played at Liberty on a Thursday night, so the Chanticleers have had two extra days to prepare for this week’s game. Of course, that is mitigated to an extent by Coastal Carolina not knowing its opponent until Sunday.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Coastal Carolina is a 1-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 57 (which, coincidentally, was also the over/under for the Bulldogs’ game against South Carolina).

Other lines for FCS playoff games: Chattanooga is a 9.5-point favorite over Fordham; Western Illinois is a 17.5-point favorite at Dayton; South Dakota State is a 3-point favorite at Montana; Southern Utah is a 1-point favorite at Sam Houston State; William & Mary is a 22-point favorite over Duquesne; New Hampshire is an 11-point favorite over Colgate; and Northern Iowa is a 19.5-point favorite over Eastern Illinois.

– Among FCS teams, The Citadel is 8th in this week’s Massey Ratings. Other FCS ratings of note: Charleston Southern, 9th; Chattanooga, 15th; Coastal Carolina, 20th; Fordham, 21st.

The top 5 in the Massey Ratings are (in order) Illinois State, North Dakota State, Jacksonville State, Dartmouth, and South Dakota State. Western Carolina is 24th; the Catamounts are ranked higher than one of the at-large teams (Eastern Illinois, which is 25th).

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Conway, according to the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high around 72 degrees.

– Last season, Coastal Carolina hosted a playoff game against Richmond. Attendance for that matchup was 5,601. The game was played on the second Saturday after Thanksgiving.

In 2013, CCU hosted Bethune-Cookman at Brooks Stadium on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and drew 3,007.

I’m guessing there will be more people in the stands this Saturday. The Citadel sold out its ticket allotment of 1,500 by noon on Tuesday.

As of this writing (Thursday night), there were still tickets available from Coastal Carolina: Link

– It appears that many Bulldog fans will be parking in lot “YY”: parking map

That lot is about a half-mile from the stadium, but shuttles will be available.

I’m a bit worried by the current Bulldogs’ lack of postseason experience (particularly when compared to Coastal Carolina), but that concern is largely alleviated by the wealth of successful playoff experience shared by The Citadel’s coaching staff. Still, it’s going to be a little different for the players. Once kickoff rolls around, though, I suspect it won’t matter all that much.

I believe the Bulldogs will be able to move the ball on CCU’s defense. It will be important to finish off long drives with touchdowns, though. That means avoiding fumbles and costly penalties, and making it happen in the red zone.

Dual-threat QBs have given the Bulldogs problems in the past (including last season against the Chanticleers). This year, the defense has done a better job limiting explosive plays, and a really good job forcing turnovers.

However, The Citadel’s D has only come up with one turnover in the past two games. To win this game, Bulldog defenders need to return to their ball-hawking ways.

I’m a little nervous about special teams this week. Devin Brown is a dynamic kickoff returner, and punt return specialist Chris Jones is no slouch either.

The Citadel managed to survive the South Carolina game without giving up a big return, but it was touch-and-go at times. That has to improve against CCU.

I think a large contingent of Bulldog supporters will be in Conway this Saturday. They’re probably going to witness a good, tight ballgame.

I hope the fans clad in light blue go home happy.

2015 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. South Carolina

The Citadel at South Carolina, to be played in Columbia, South Carolina, at Williams-Brice Stadium, with kickoff at 12:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 21. The game will be televised on the SEC Network [alternate feed], with play-by-play from Taylor Zarzour, analysis by Charles Arbuckle, and reporting from Paul Finebaum.

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 prior to each home football game. 

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:

– The Citadel confident in its playoff résumé

– 25 years later, The Citadel’s upset of South Carolina still resonates

– Game notes from The Citadel and South Carolina

SoCon weekly release

SEC weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Shawn Elliott discusses The Citadel (video)

– Gamecocks have reason to be wary of The Citadel

– South Carolina defensive coordinator Jon Hoke discusses The Citadel’s triple option (video)

Mike Houston’s 11/17 press conference (with comments from Mitchell Jeter and Tyler Renew)

The Mike Houston Show (video from his radio show)

– Preview of The Citadel-Chattanooga from The State (video)

– Everette Sands coaches against his alma mater on Saturday (with video)

– Triple option challenges South Carolina’s defense

– Quinlan Washington and Eric Goins added to “watch lists”

FCS Coaches’ Poll

Besides being televised on an alternate feed of SEC Network (611-1 on DirecTV, and available on most cable/satellite systems), the game between The Citadel and South Carolina will also be the site of the “SEC Nation” pregame show. The on-air crew will include Joe Tessitore, Marcus Spears, Tim Tebow, and Paul Finebaum.

In addition to his duties on the pregame show, Finebaum will also be the SEC Network’s sideline reporter for the football game that follows. It will be the first time Finebaum has assumed that role:

“I thought it’d be fun, a non-traditional approach. I imagine it’ll mostly be chatter about next week [when the Gamecocks host No. 1-ranked Clemson].”

Essentially, then, he won’t be paying attention to the game on the field. I find that extremely disappointing, both from Finebaum and ESPN.

The last time The Citadel played South Carolina, in 2011, I wrote about a great gridiron victory by the Bulldogs over the Gamecocks. I didn’t write about the 1990 game, though. Instead, I focused on the 1950 clash, which was played at Johnson Hagood Stadium and may have been an even bigger upset.

 

Instead of doing a copy/paste job, I’ll just link that year’s preview post. The first half of the post is a story on that 1950 contest, won by The Citadel 19-7: Link

Okay, let’s talk about the FCS playoffs…

First, the basics. Twenty-four teams will make the playoffs; ten will get automatic bids, fourteen will be at-large selections.

Sixteen of those teams play in the first round. The eight teams that advance from that group play eight “seeded” teams in the second round (in other words, those seeded teams get byes; they also will be the automatic host teams for the second round unless something strange happens).

From there, teams advance to the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. The title game will be played January 9, 2016, in Frisco, Texas.

Three conferences do not get automatic bids. The Ivy League doesn’t participate in postseason football action, while the SWAC and MEAC champs will play in the new Celebration Bowl instead.

However, one caveat: SWAC and MEAC teams can receive at-large bids. A team could finish 2nd in the MEAC, for example, and go to the FCS playoffs, while the champion of that league plays in the Celebration Bowl.

This year, that could be an issue, at least in the MEAC. I’ll get to that later.

Here are the leagues that get automatic bids, and the teams that have clinched bids so far:

Patriot League – Colgate
Ohio Valley – Jacksonville State
Pioneer League – Dayton
Southern – Chattanooga
Southland – McNeese State
Big South – Charleston Southern
Colonial
Big Sky
Missouri Valley
Northeast

The Northeast Conference title will be decided in a winner-take-all game between St. Francis (PA) and Duquesne. No other school in that league will get a bid.

The other three leagues that haven’t had auto-bids decided yet will have multiple teams in the field.

Here are the teams that are “locks”. No matter what happens Saturday, these teams will have their names called on Selection Sunday:

Colgate, Fordham, Jacksonville State, Dayton, Chattanooga, McNeese State, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, William & Mary, James Madison, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Illinois State, Portland State

The winner of St. Francis-Duquesne also gets in, obviously, so that’s fifteen teams in the field. There will be nine more that make it. Here, in roughly the order I think they would be in if the season ended today, are the contenders for those nine spots. I believe there are sixteen teams that still have a shot:

Southern Utah
Sam Houston State
Northern Iowa
Richmond
Montana
Northern Arizona
Eastern Washington
The Citadel
North Dakota
Central Arkansas
Villanova
Towson
Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Illinois
New Hampshire
Bethune-Cookman

Four of these teams (Southern Utah, Montana, Northern Arizona, and Richmond) could grab auto-bids. The latter three have to win and hope other results go their way; Southern Utah just has to win its game to be the outright Big Sky champion.

Now, I’m going to list the games Bulldog fans should be following on Saturday, including times (ET), lines, and TV/streaming options, with teams to pull for (if you root for The Citadel) mentioned in bold.

The matchups are (very) roughly in order of importance, but don’t make too much of that. There aren’t any absolute must-wins (or losses) on the board as far as The Citadel is concerned, and you could also make an argument in two of these matchups that it would be better if the other team won the game.

  • Villanova-James Madison, noon, MadiZONE streaming video (on JMU’s website); James Madison favored by 6 points
  • William & Mary-Richmond, noon, CSN-MidAtlantic/SNY; William & Mary favored by 4 points
  • North Dakota-Cal Poly, 9:05pm, Big Sky Digital Network; Cal Poly favored by 7 points
  • Florida A&M vs. Bethune-Cookman (in Orlando), 2:30pm, ESPN Classic; Bethune-Cookman favored by 19 points
  • Montana-Montana State, 2:10pm, Root-Southwest/Rocky Mountain/Northwest; Montana favored by 7 points
  • Southern Illinois-Northern Iowa, 5:00 pm, ESPN3; Northern Iowa favored by 11 points
  • Northern Arizona-Southern Utah, 5:00pm, Big Sky Digital Network; Southern Utah favored by 10 points
  • Portland State-Eastern Washington, 5:05pm, Big Sky Digital Network; Portland State favored by 5 points
  • Rhode Island-Towson, 2:00pm, Towson All-Access (on TU’s website); Towson favored by 20 points
  • Maine-New Hampshire, 1:00pm, pay-per-streaming (on UNH’s website); New Hampshire favored by 10 points
  • Eastern Kentucky-Eastern Illinois, 2:00pm, ESPN3; Eastern Illinois favored by 4 points
  • Sam Houston State-Central Arkansas, 7:00pm, ESPN3; Sam Houston State favored by 4 points

Quick notes on some of these games:

– A loss almost certainly knocks out every non-bolded team on this list, with the possible exception of Richmond. The Spiders would be 7-4 with a loss, against a respectable schedule, and also have a road win over James Madison.

Richmond’s issue is that it would have finished the season on a three-game losing streak, and would be competing with New Hampshire and/or Towson to be the 3rd CAA team in the field (having lost to New Hampshire, and having not played Towson).

– I believe the winner of Sam Houston State-Central Arkansas gets in, and the loser is left out. Part of me would root for Central Arkansas in this game, because UCA has a lopsided loss to Samford on its résumé, so The Citadel would compare favorably if that is taken into consideration.

However, my fear is that both SHSU and Central Arkansas could get in if UCA wins this game, despite Sam Houston State only having 6 D1 wins in that scenario. The problem is that the Bobcats are a “name” in FCS, and are currently ranked 12th.

I think it might be better for The Citadel if Sam Houston State won this game, essentially punching its ticket, and the Southland gets its standard two teams in the playoffs — rather than risking three Southland postseason entrants.

You could argue it either way.

– The loser of Eastern Kentucky-Eastern Illinois is out. The winner may get in, but it wouldn’t be a lock. The Citadel has a better case than either of them anyway, in my opinion.

– North Dakota has a victory over an FBS team. Admittedly, that FBS team is Wyoming, which probably wouldn’t finish in the top 3 of the Big Sky this season, but any FBS win will look good to the selection committee. I could see UND making a late move up and grabbing a bid, especially if it can win on the road at Cal Poly.

– Right now, I think The Citadel would be in with a couple of spots to spare. However, the Bulldogs could be “jumped” by a few teams. I am worried about the logjam in the Big Sky (a league that has historically fared well when bids are handed out) and the CAA (with a couple of last-gasp pushes by Towson and New Hampshire).

– Bethune-Cookman is the wild card in all of this, and may be the team that concerns me the most. The Wildcats are playing 1-9 Florida A&M on Saturday, and a win would move B-C to 9-2 on the season, with 8 Division I victories.

Bethune-Cookman is unlikely to get the MEAC’s bid to the Celebration Bowl even if North Carolina A&T loses this week, because of the tiebreaker setup in that conference. However, if B-C ties for the league title (or even if it finishes second), it would not be completely surprising to see B-C’s name on the bracket on Sunday.

I don’t think it would be deserving, as the Wildcats’ schedule strength is not good at all, but I’m not on the committee.

There is also the issue with the MEAC electing not to send its champion to the playoffs any longer, and instead having it represent the conference in a bowl game. Some members of the selection committee might consider that decision an abdication of participation by the MEAC in the FCS playoffs, regardless of its non-champion teams being eligible.

Let’s assume The Citadel makes the playoffs. Where would the Bulldogs play? Could they host?

Generally, the NCAA prefers to break things down regionally when it comes to placing teams in the FCS playoffs. It’s not unlike the college baseball tournament in that respect.

The Citadel would not get a seed, even with a victory over South Carolina on Saturday. Possible first-round opponents include Coastal Carolina, William & Mary, James Madison, and Richmond. I don’t think the Bulldogs would play Charleston Southern in the first round (if CSU didn’t get a bye), but I could see the bracketing leading to a potential second-round matchup with the Buccaneers (in fact, that might be likely).

Incidentally, Coastal Carolina’s hopes at getting a bye were all but dashed with its loss on Thursday night to Liberty. That could increase the possibility of a Coastal Carolina-The Citadel first-round game, with the winner playing Charleston Southern.

The home/road situation for the first round is usually determined by which school made the highest bid to host. From the first link in the “Links of Interest” section:

Meanwhile, The Citadel has put in its bid to host a first-round game on Nov. 28, submitting a bid higher than the $30,000 minimum, according to a school source. And Citadel athletic director Jim Senter is working the phones.

Excellent.

Also excellent: this effort by the Media Relations staff. Very well done.

I think The Citadel has a very reasonable chance of getting an at-large bid. The numbers largely break in the Bulldogs’ favor.

As long as there aren’t a lot of weird results on Saturday (or some political maneuvering in the committee room), The Citadel should be a part of the selection show (which airs on Sunday at 11:00 am ET on ESPNU).

Of course, The Citadel could make all of this analysis moot by winning on Saturday. That would be fine with me.

Normally, in this part of the preview I would compare the opposing team’s season statistics to those of The Citadel. However, since South Carolina is an FBS squad that plays in the SEC, that comparison struck me as largely irrelevant.

I’ll just note a few things that caught my attention while going over South Carolina’s numbers. The Gamecocks’ advanced statistical profile looks very much like a team with a 3-7 record.

– South Carolina does have some talented players on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Skai Moore (6’2″, 218 lbs.) leads the team in tackles (and tackles for loss). Moore is arguably the main reason North Carolina is not undefeated (well, maybe he shares that honor with Marquise Williams).

– On his radio show, Mike Houston mentioned that 12 different Gamecocks would rotate along the defensive line, including Gerald Dixon Jr. (6’3″, 327 lbs.), a massive nosetackle. Houston also noted the fine play of free safety Isaiah Johnson (6’0″, 209 lbs.), who is second on the team in tackles. Johnson will probably be an important player for the Gamecocks when defending the triple option.

– The defense has not been very good against the run, ranking 105th in rushing defense, allowing 5.04 yards per carry (110th nationally). The Gamecocks have been better at home in that category, however, allowing 3.86 yards per rush in Williams-Brice Stadium.

– On 3rd down and between 7 and 9 yards to go, South Carolina ranks next-to-last in rushing yards allowed. Opponents have run the ball nine times against the Gamecocks in that situation, gaining 81 yards. Obviously, that’s not much of a sample size.

– If The Citadel can keep the game close, perhaps this chart will come into play. It includes some situational statistics regarding South Carolina’s defense against the run:

 

Situation G Att Yards Avg. TD
SC winning By 15+ Pts 1 2 -7 -3.5 0
SC winning By 8-14 Pts 2 5 12 2.4 0
SC winning By 1-7 Pts 6 66 304 4.61 5
Tied 8 95 498 5.24 5
SC losing By 1-7 Pts 10 119 705 5.92 4
SC losing By 8-14 Pts 6 79 326 4.13 3
SC losing By 15+ Pts 4 35 185 5.29 2

– South Carolina has not been good at finishing drives, averaging 4.1 points per possession inside the opponents’ 40-yard line. That ranks 110th out of 127 FBS teams.

– Starting quarterback Perry Orth (6’1″, 203 lbs.) has an older brother, Calvin, who played baseball at The Citadel from 2011-14.

– Average size of the projected starting offensive line for the Gamecocks: 6’5″, 296 lbs.

That projected group of starters includes 6’8″, 295 lb. Blake Camper, a freshman expected to start at right tackle in place of Mason Zandil, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week.

Left tackle Brandon Shell (6’6″, 328 lbs.) is an NFL prospect. He has made 46 starts along the line during his college career.

– I would imagine South Carolina’s offensive strategy in this game will be fairly simple. The Gamecocks will undoubtedly run Brandon Wilds (6’2″, 220 lbs.) and David Williams (6’1″, 222 lbs.) behind that huge offensive line, grinding out first downs and trying to control the clock. When not doing that, South Carolina will probably get the ball in the very talented Pharoh Cooper’s hands at every opportunity.

At least, that’s what I would do. Cooper (5’11”, 207 lbs.) is really good. He has 51 catches for 700 yards this season, and is also averaging 6.1 yards per carry in limited rush opportunities.

South Carolina has an excellent placekicker/punter combo in Elliott Fry (6’0″, 164 lbs.) and Sean Kelly (5’10”, 189 lbs.).

Fry is 16-23 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 52. He is a Type 1 diabetic who has managed to carve out a fine career at South Carolina.

Kelly (who is also the holder for placekicks) is averaging 43.3 yards per punt. Of his 47 boots, 21 have landed inside the 20-yard line, against only 3 touchbacks. He has had 12 punts of 50+ yards this season.

The Gamecocks have dangerous return men. Pharoh Cooper is the primary punt returner, while freshman Rashad Fenton (5’10”, 180 lbs.) ran a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown against LSU.

Odds and ends:

– South Carolina isn’t really excited about mentioning the 1990 game, if its game notes are anything to go by:

The teams met every year from 1907 until 1937, and 11 more times from 1940 to 1954, but got together just twice in the ‘60s and three times in the ‘80s. This is the second matchup between the two schools since the turn of the century. The Gamecocks posted a 41-20 win on Nov. 19, 2011 in the last encounter.

Let’s just gloss over the 1990s, shall we?

– Those South Carolina game notes also mention this factoid: in nine games against FCS opponents since 2006, the Gamecocks are 9-0, with an average score of 38-13.

– There are 40 players from South Carolina on the Gamecocks’ roster. Other states represented: Georgia (27), Florida (18), North Carolina (7), Alabama (5), Virginia (3), Maryland (2), California (2), and one each from Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, South Carolina is a 20-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 57.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is an 8-point underdog at Wofford; Western Carolina is a 14-point favorite at VMI; Samford is a 3-point favorite at Mercer; and Chattanooga is a 30.5-point underdog at Florida State.

East Tennessee State is a 1.5-point home underdog against Kentucky Wesleyan on Saturday.

– Per the S&P+ ratings, South Carolina has a win probability of 93.1% on Saturday. Only five teams have a higher win probability this week: Middle Tennessee State (over North Texas), West Virginia (over Kansas), Florida State (over Chattanooga), Clemson (over Wake Forest), and Alabama (which has a 99.9% win probability over Charleston Southern).

– Among FCS teams, The Citadel is 19th in this week’s Massey Ratings. The ratings for other league teams: Chattanooga, 13th; Western Carolina, 23rd; Samford, 45th; Wofford, 49th; Furman, 54th; Mercer, 55th; VMI, 81st.

North Dakota State now sits atop the Massey FCS Ratings, followed by Illinois State, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, and Dartmouth. East Tennessee State is 123rd, just ahead of Mississippi Valley State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Columbia, according to the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high around 58 degrees, a northeast wind around 7 mph, and a 20% chance of rain after 1 pm.

– Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Williams-Brice Stadium.

– South Carolina is beefing up security for the game. Keep that in mind while deciding when to leave the tailgating areas and enter the stadium.

– The Citadel will wear white jerseys and hideous gray pants on Saturday.

The Citadel could win on Saturday. It wouldn’t blow anybody’s mind, at least not anybody who was paying attention.

That said, South Carolina, even with its struggles this season, is still an SEC team. It has huge resource advantages, and a lot of talented players.

In addition, the “look ahead” factor for this game is probably slight, despite Clemson coming to town next week. South Carolina wants to win a game — any game. It isn’t like the Gamecocks have 6 to 8 wins already and are cruising to a bowl game.

I think The Citadel will move the ball (at least occasionally) against South Carolina’s defense. I am concerned about the Bulldogs’ D, though.

Regardless, I’m looking forward to this one. For one thing, it’s a home game for me.

It is also a great opportunity for the team. Don’t be afraid to make a little history, guys.

Go Dogs!

Game review, 2015: Chattanooga

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Game story, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Dominique Allen, and Tevin Floyd

Video from WCIV-TV

School release

Box score

Oh, well.

Dominique Allen said after the game that the Bulldogs “came out flat in the first half,” which was an accurate assessment. You can’t fall behind 21-0 on the road and expect to beat a good team, and that is what happened on Saturday.

The Citadel didn’t give up, though, and that last-gasp touchdown won’t hurt when at-large bids are handed out next weekend. It may seem like a stretch, but I would rather the playoff committee evaluate the Bulldogs with a 31-23 loss to Chattanooga rather than a 31-17 score.

Offensively, The Citadel moved the ball most of the afternoon. Averaging 5.2 yards per rush against a defense as good as UTC’s is solid. Failing in two red-zone opportunities in the first half was a problem, though. A big problem.

I think the Bulldogs’ defense has to be a little disappointed with its play. Jacob Huesman is an outstanding player, but he broke a few tackles that he really should not have. The Citadel did not record a sack, and only had one pass breakup.

The first play from scrimmage was a buzzkill, to say the least.

I had no issues with the playcalling or decision-making, though I did wonder about punting on 4th-and-2 from midfield with 11:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, down 24-14. Mike Houston was asked about that after the game, and his explanation made sense (basically, he considered it, but thought it was a little too early to take the risk).

However, Chattanooga did score on its ensuing possession. I tend to think the move in that situation might have been to go for it, but you could argue it either way. I’m not the coach, and everyone should be grateful for that.

I didn’t like that the Bulldogs had to burn a timeout before the punt, though.

Random thoughts:

– Chattanooga apparently doesn’t think one slightly rah-rah P.A. announcer is enough. At certain times of the game, another announcer would suddenly shout out something like “Let’s MAKE SOME NOISE CHATTANOOGA”. It was a little bizarre.

– The overbearing nature of the sound system (including music choices) at Finley Stadium was actually worse than what Bulldog fans have to suffer through at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Also, there were multiple occasions where the music didn’t stop before the Bulldogs lined up on offense; I think at least one warning should have been issued by the referee for that.

– I also had trouble reading the scoreboard, due to the sun (more on that yellow star when I get to the pictures).

– Chattanooga does allow its band to play occasionally, which was nice.

– Finley Stadium has a pretty good setup. I got in and out of the lot where I had parked easily, which was convenient (especially when making a long drive home, mostly at night). The tailgating scene was quite respectable. I bet the pavilion is a godsend during inclement weather.

– Plenty of Bulldog fans were in attendance. I wasn’t surprised, but I was happy to see it. The coaches and players deserved that kind of traveling support.

– The presence of around 250-300 freshmen cadets was greatly appreciated. Kudos to Jim Senter, Geno Paluso, and everyone else responsible for making that happen.

The cadets made quite a bit of noise, too. I was also glad to see that the cheerleaders made the trip.

Playoffs? Don’t talk about—playoffs?! You kidding me? Playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game! Another game!

That was Jim Mora’s famous rant in 2001. The Bulldogs have a much better chance of making the postseason than Mora’s Colts did that year, but I do hope The Citadel can win another game — namely, the one in Columbia this Saturday.

Later in the week, I’ll preview that game. The team analysis may not be too lengthy, but my post will include a breakdown of The Citadel’s playoff chances if it finishes the season with seven wins. Of course, if the Bulldogs defeat the Gamecocks, they certainly won’t have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Below are the usual assortment of pictures. These are really, really bad, thanks to things being a little too sunny in Chattanooga. You’ve been warned.

The game photos are in sequential order, though I had to scrap a bunch because they were even worse than the ones included in this set. I’ve annotated a few of them.

 

2015 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at Finley Stadium Davenport Field, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 14. The game will not be televised. The contest will be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network, with the feed using UTC announcers (Jim Reynolds, Todd Agnew, Will Poindexter).

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 prior to each home football game. 

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-Chattanooga from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Russ Huesman on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 11/10 press conference (with comments from Dominique Allen , Eric Goins, and Quinlan Washington)

The Mike Houston Show (video from his radio show)

– UTC Media Conference (video)

Inside Chattanooga Football (video)

– Preview of The Citadel-Chattanooga from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

– Story from the Chattanooga Times Free Press on UTC preparing for the triple option

Eric Goins is the SoCon student-athlete of the week; Goins has had a very good year

– Story on Quinlan Washington in The Post and Courier; Washington is the reigning SoCon defensive player of the week

– STATS article on the game (with some additional SoCon notes)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

There has been a lot of discussion in the media about how the Big XII has “backloaded” its schedule so that its best teams don’t meet until November. What hasn’t received nearly as much attention is the fact that the Southern Conference has done the same thing.

You have to give SoCon commissioner John Iamarino credit. He arranged the league schedule so that the top two teams would meet for the conference’s automatic bid at the end of their respective SoCon slates.

The Citadel already has clinched no worse than a share of the SoCon title, and is 6-0 in the league. This week, the goal is to win the conference outright, claim the league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, and become the first team in school history to finish unbeaten in SoCon competition.

I think that angle (the chance to go undefeated in the conference) has actually been underplayed a bit. After all, there have only been three other seasons in which The Citadel lost just one game in Socon play (1959, 1961, and 1992).

Only once has The Citadel finished undefeated in conference action. The year was 1929, and the conference was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Carl Prause’s squad finished 4-0-1 in the SIAA, tying Furman (0-0) and beating Oglethorpe, Presbyterian, Mercer, and Wofford.

That 4-0-1 mark was not good enough to win the league in 1929, however. The SIAA champ that year, with a conference record of 7-0, was…Chattanooga.

As always, nomenclature has to be established when discussing Chattanooga. The paragraph that follows is a slightly reworked version of what I’ve written about before regarding the school’s branding issues.

Chattanooga has a webpage on its varsity athletics website devoted to the one question that never fails to cause confusion: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill.

In the not-so-distant past, “Moc” was short for “Moccasin”, and referred to a snake, or a shoe, or an American Indian (two of them — Chief Chattamoc and, later, Chief Moccanooga). Now, it’s a bird named Scrappy.

Also in the mix, just to add to the fun: the “Power C” and the “Cowcatcher logo”.

In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for league contests only, unless otherwise indicated. Both Chattanooga and The Citadel have played six conference games, against the same opponents (naturally).

What is striking about the Mocs’ SoCon contests is how much more dominant they have been in their two home games. UTC beat Furman 31-3 and Western Carolina 41-13, both at Finley Stadium.

On the road, Chattanooga has victories over Samford (31-21), VMI (33-27), and Wofford (20-17). The Mocs lost last week at Mercer (17-14).

The Citadel has only played two of its six conference matchups on the road, but played very well in both of those contests, winning 44-25 at Samford and 38-17 at Furman. At Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Bulldogs have wins over Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), Mercer (21-19), and VMI (35-14).

In six league games, Chattanooga’s offense has thrown the ball 131 times, with six other would-be pass play attempts resulting in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Mocs have rushed 284 times, so UTC has passed the ball (or attempted to pass) on 32.5% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 38.5% of Chattanooga’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). UTC averages 7.1 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). For comparison, that is a full yard more per pass attempt than VMI.

In conference play, Chattanooga is fourth in scoring offense (28.3 ppg), third in total offense, and averages 6.0 yards per play, second-best in the league. On the other side of the ball, The Citadel is first in scoring defense (16.2 ppg), second in total defense, and first in yards per play allowed (4.5).

UTC is third in rushing offense and second in rushing yards per play (5.2). The Mocs are fourth in offensive pass efficiency, with three touchdowns against six interceptions.

The Citadel is first in rushing defense and rush yards allowed per play (3.2). The Bulldogs also lead the league in defensive pass efficiency, allowing five touchdown tosses but intercepting eleven passes in conference action.

Nationally, The Citadel is fourth in defensive pass efficiency, with 5 TDs allowed through the air more than counterbalanced by 17 interceptions (all games). Only Southern Utah (4 TDs/17 picks) has a better defensive TD/INT ratio.

The Mocs are third in the SoCon in offensive third-down conversion rate (45.1%). The Bulldogs lead the conference in defensive third-down conversion rate (30.6%).

The FCS leader in defensive pass efficiency and defensive third-down conversion rate, by the way, is South Carolina State.

UTC has gone for it on fourth down on eleven occasions in league play, picking up a first down seven times. On defense, The Citadel has given up eight conversions in thirteen opponent tries.

Chattanooga is second in the league in scoring defense (16.3 ppg, just behind The Citadel). UTC is first in total defense and second in yards per play allowed (4.7). No other league team is particularly close to the Bulldogs and Mocs in defensive yards allowed per play (both Wofford and Western Carolina allow 5.5 yards per play).

The Citadel is first in scoring offense (34.2 ppg), second in total offense, and first in yards per play (6.2).

Chattanooga is second in rushing defense and rush yards allowed per play (3.4). The Mocs are third in defensive pass efficiency, intercepting six passes in league play while allowing six TD throws.

As for The Citadel’s offense, it ranks first in rushing offense, averaging 5.6 yards per rush (also a league best). The Bulldogs lead the league in offensive pass efficiency, though they don’t throw it that often (the VMI game aside).

The Citadel remains second nationally in rushing offense, behind Cal Poly. The team that really stands out in this category, though, is Lamar, which is fifth in rushing yards per game but first in rush yards per play, with an amazing 7.0 yards per carry.

Despite that, the Cardinals are only 4-5, in part because of a leaky defense. Against Central Arkansas, Lamar averaged 9.2 yards per rush — and lost, 35-17.

The Bulldogs are second in the conference in offensive third-down conversion rate (48.2%). Western Carolina took over the league lead in this category after going 10-16 on third down tries against Furman last week.

UTC is third in the SoCon in defensive third-down conversion rate (40.0%).

The Citadel is 2 for 5 in fourth-down tries, while Chattanooga opponents are 6-10 in converting fourth-down attempts against the Mocs.

I put the red zone numbers this week into a separate section because the two teams’ statistics inside the 20-yard line are almost identical, both on offense and defense.

Chattanooga and The Citadel are both 22-27 overall converting red zone possessions into points. The Mocs have scored 15 touchdowns; the Bulldogs, 16.

Both defenses have allowed a 50% Red Zone TD rate. The Mocs have given up 7 TDs in 14 opponent Red Zone opportunities; the Bulldogs, 10 in 20.

The Citadel is +8 in turnover margin (gained 17, lost 9), second in the league. Mercer is +9 after winning the turnover battle against UTC last week 4-1.

Despite the tough day in Macon, the Mocs are +2 for the season in turnover margin, fourth-best in the conference. Chattanooga has gained ten turnovers while losing eight.

On FG attempts, the Bulldogs are 8-10 in the league (23-24 on PATs). Eric Goins was 5 for 5 in FG tries last week, and is now 10-12 overall for the season (long of 45), with no missed PATs.

Chattanooga is 10-11 kicking FGs in conference play (20-20 PATs). Henrique Ribeiro is 12-15 for the overall 2015 campaign (and like Goins, has a long for the year of 45). Ribeiro is 31-31 for the year on extra point attempts.

The Citadel ranks fifth in the conference in net punting yardage (35.0), while UTC is third (36.4). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are fourth in the league (with a conference-leading 16 touchbacks), while the Mocs are seventh (and a SoCon-low 4 touchbacks).

UTC is last in the SoCon in kickoff return average. The Citadel is first; as I pointed out last week, though, the Bulldogs have only returned seven kickoffs in league contests (for that matter, Chattanooga’s 13 returned kickoffs in league play is tied for second-fewest).

The Mocs top the conference in time of possession, averaging 33:44 per contest. The Citadel is fourth in that category (32:17).

Chattanooga is averaging 70.2 offensive plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.08 plays-per-minute rate. The Bulldogs are averaging 70.5 offensive plays per game, with a 2.18 plays-per-minute rate (a pace that has remained consistent over the past few games).

The Citadel and Chattanooga are the two most penalized teams in the conference. The Bulldogs have committed the most penalties, while the Mocs have been assessed the most penalty yardage.

UTC will likely catch a break on the penalty yardage front this week, however, as opponents of The Citadel have been docked fewer penalty yards than the opponents for any other school in conference play, an ongoing tradition.

Note: statistics in the following sections are for all games.

Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is completing 66.8% of his throws, averaging 7.33 yards per attempt, with seven TDs against eight interceptions. He throws on average just over 22 passes per game.

Last year against The Citadel, Huesman was 11-17 for 163 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 66-yard TD throw to C.J. Board. The coach’s son also had a 15-yard TD run in that game, a reminder that Jacob Huesman is a fine runner (5.3 yards per carry, 8 rush TDs this season).

Running back Derrick Craine (5’10”, 205 lbs.) currently leads the SoCon in rushing yards per game. Craine, described by Mike Houston as the “hardest-running running back” the Bulldogs will have faced this season, rushed for 135 yards against The Citadel in last year’s matchup.

Chattanooga’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 297 lbs. The same five players have started all season, but four of them changed positions on the line two weeks ago. Only the center, Jacob Revis (6’3″, 295 lbs.) stayed at the same spot.

Left guard Corey Levin (6’5″, 305 lbs.) was the Jacobs Blocking Award winner in the Southern Conference last season. Right tackle Josh Cardiello (6’3″, 290 lbs.) is a transfer from Georgia.

UTC’s leading receivers are the aforementioned C.J. Board (6’2″, 180 lbs.) and Xavier Borishade (5’10”, 175 lbs.), who also had a big catch against The Citadel last season. Another starting wideout, James Stovall (6’3″, 205 lbs.), has started the last six games for the Mocs and has 21 receptions.

Defensive end Keionta Davis (6’4″, 260 lbs.) is a native of Chattanooga who leads the SoCon in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (11.5). He will be a handful for the Bulldogs.

Davis is joined on the d-line by preseason all-league selection Josh Freeman, a 6’0″, 285 lb. defensive tackle who has started 46 games during his career, more than any other current Chattanooga player.

A.J. Hampton (6’1″, 240 lbs.) is a linebacker who leads the Mocs in tackles, with 65. Fellow ‘backer Nakevion Leslie (5’11”, 220 lbs.) is second on the team in tackles, with 11.5 of those stops for loss. Leslie had ten tackles against The Citadel last year.

Safety Cedric Nettles (6’0″, 220 lbs.) was a first-team All-SoCon pick last year by the league’s coaches and a second-team selection by the media. The other starting safety, Lucas Webb (6’1, 195 lbs.), was Nettles’ mirror in the honors department, as he was a first-team all-league selection last year by the media and a second-team pick by the coaches.

Webb had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown against Furman earlier this season. Another starting Moc defensive back, Sema’je Kendall, also has a pick-6 this year, returning one 28 yards for a score versus VMI.

Dee Virgin (5’10”, 205 lbs.) in his third season as a starter at cornerback. He also returns kickoffs for the Mocs.

I’ve already mentioned Henrique Ribeiro, the preseason all-SoCon placekicker for Chattanooga. Ribeiro kicked a game-winning field goal to beat Wofford, and made four FGs against VMI, a key factor in UTC’s victory over the Keydets. He did miss a 36-yarder against Mercer.

Ribeiro (6’0″, 220 lbs.) is also the Mocs’ starting punter. He is averaging 43.3 yards per boot, with 7 of his 17 punts landing inside the 20-yard line (as opposed to 3 touchbacks).

C.J. Board and Xavier Borishade are Chattanooga’s punt returners, with Board the primary option.

Jacob Huesman holds for placekicks. Sophomore Emory Norred (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is in his second year as the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– Chattanooga has 48 players from Tennessee on its roster. Other states represented: Georgia (29), Alabama (14), Florida (2), and one each from Virginia and New York.

I believe that is the smallest number of states represented on a roster of any team in the Southern Conference.

– During the SoCon media teleconference, a sportswriter for STATS asked Russ Huesman a question that referenced one of the Mocs’ prior opponents, “Wooferd”.

– At Russ Huesman’s weekly presser, a reporter asked Huesman this question: “For the loser of Saturday’s game, is the season over?”

Huesman answered, “I have no idea.” I thought it was rather polite of the coach to be so non-committal, given the somewhat over-the-top nature of the question.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga is a 5.5-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 48.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 3.5-point favorite over Mercer; Wofford is a 2-point favorite over Samford; and Western Carolina is a 36-point underdog at Texas A&M.

VMI is off this week. East Tennessee State, incidentally, is a 29-point underdog at Gardner-Webb.

– Among FCS teams, The Citadel is 13th in this week’s Massey Ratings. The ratings for other league teams: Chattanooga, 17th; Western Carolina, 24th; Wofford, 41st; Furman, 49th; Samford, 51st; Mercer, 65th; and VMI, 81st.

Harvard continues to top the Massey FCS Ratings, followed by Jacksonville State, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Dartmouth. East Tennessee State is 124th, just ahead of last-place Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

– Weather forecast for Saturday in Chattanooga, according to the National Weather Service: sunny with a high of 56 degrees, winds out of the north at 5 miles per hour.

– Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Finley Stadium.

– I mentioned this was a possibility in my preview of the VMI game, but with the victory over the Keydets, The Citadel’s senior class finished with an 8-0 record in “celebration games” (Parents’ Day/Homecoming). As far as I can tell, they are the first senior class to do so since at least 1953.

– Against VMI, the Bulldogs won the coin toss and elected to defer. It was the fourth time this season The Citadel had won the coin toss. Each time, the Bulldogs have deferred the option to kick/receive until the second half.

Only once this season in a game involving The Citadel has a team won the coin toss and elected to receive (Mercer). On every other occasion, the option has been deferred.

Personally, I think deferring the option is usually the right call. It gives a team the chance to score to end the first half, and then put more points on the board in the second half before the other team gets the ball (and prevents the opponent from having that opportunity).

The decision to defer has been used to great effect by Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. He has won a few games over the years.

– The Citadel will wear white jerseys and white pants in Chattanooga.

– Attendance for the previous four games at Finley Stadium this season: 15,812 (when Chattanooga’s opponent was Jacksonville State); 9,491 (Mars Hill); 7,630 (Furman); 11,495 (Western Carolina).

I would guess there will be a good crowd on hand for Saturday’s game, helped by a sizable influx of fans wearing light blue. Also sure to make their presence felt: several busloads of freshmen cadets, and apparently a significant number of upperclassmen as well.

I remember last year’s game between the two teams, a 34-14 Chattanooga victory that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate. That was arguably The Citadel’s most disappointing performance of 2014. Actually, it isn’t arguable — it was without question the most disappointing game of the season.

Have the Bulldogs really improved so much that they can reverse a decisive home loss just one year later?

There is no doubt they are significantly better. The record reflects that, and so does the play of the team. The defense (in particular) has made major strides.

UTC has played better at home this year, though (at least in its two league games at Finley), and also has the experience of a recent game with some similarities.

Last season, Western Carolina and Chattanooga were both undefeated and 4-0 when the two teams met in a game that would all but decide the SoCon’s automatic bid to the playoffs. The game was in Cullowhee, but it didn’t matter. UTC blasted the Catamounts, 51-0.

One difference this season is the Mocs are more up against it than they were last year. The loss to Mercer reduced Chattanooga’s margin for error when it comes to postseason play. How will UTC respond?

All that said, I have a lot of faith in the Bulldogs, as should anyone who follows the team. The coaches and players have earned that confidence.

Saturday afternoon can’t get here fast enough.

2015 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 7. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

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 prior to each home football game. 

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 VMI-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Scott Wachenheim on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 11/3 press conference (with comments from Sam Frye and Mitchell Jeter)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Promotional spot for VMI-The Citadel

FCS Coaches’ Poll

Eric Goins one of 32 kickers recognized by the Fred Mitchell Award

Dee Delaney and Mitchell Jeter both make a CFPA Watch List

VMI’s video preview of the game

Scott Wachenheim is in his first year at the helm of VMI football; it is the first head coaching job for the 53-year-old native of Woodland Hills, California. Wachenheim replaced Sparky Woods, who was let go after seven seasons in Lexington.

Wachenheim was an offensive lineman at Air Force who later served as an assistant coach under Ken Hatfield at Rice for twelve years (Hatfield had also been Wachenheim’s head coach when he played at Air Force). In the last five years of his tenure at Rice, Wachenheim was the Owls’ offensive coordinator; prior to that, he had been the offensive line coach.

After the Ken Hatfield era at Rice ended, Wachenheim spent three years at Liberty, then moved to the NFL for one season as the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins. He had been an assistant at Virginia for five years before getting the VMI gig.

At his introductory press conference, Wachenheim was asked if, and how, VMI could win:

I think you win because you’re at VMI. I think that’s why you win…because of what our young men work at on post and in barracks. I think you can take those lessons that have been proven over many, many years to produce some of America’s best leaders and some of the toughest men and use that to help you build a championship football team.

That’s fine and all, but VMI players have always worked hard on post and in the barracks, and it hasn’t translated into a winning season since 1981. Until the administration at the school makes it a priority to have a more successful football program, that is likely to continue.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for league contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Both VMI and The Citadel have played five conference games. The Keydets are 1-4 in the SoCon. They have lost to Furman (24-21), Samford (49-13), Chattanooga (33-27), and Wofford (41-20). VMI’s lone win in the league came at Mercer (28-21).

Of those games, the Samford, Chattanooga, and Wofford matchups were played in Lexington.

The Citadel is 5-0 in the league, having defeated Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), and Mercer (21-19) at home, while beating Samford (44-25) and Furman (38-17) on the road.

In five league games, VMI’s offense has thrown the ball 201 times, with nineteen other would-be pass play attempts resulting in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Keydets have rushed 135 times, so VMI has passed the ball (or attempted to pass) on just under 62% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 74.1% of VMI’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). The Keydets average 6.1 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). VMI’s average yards per pass attempt rises to 7.1 when sacks are not considered.

Among SoCon teams, VMI is seventh in scoring offense (21.8 ppg). The Keydets are fifth in total offense, but last in yards per play (5.1).

The Citadel is second in scoring defense (16.6 ppg) and total defense, allowing 4.8 yards per play. Chattanooga leads the conference in both categories.

The Keydets are second in passing offense, averaging 287 yards per game. VMI is sixth among SoCon teams in offensive pass efficiency, with seven touchdown passes against eleven interceptions.

The Citadel is sixth in the conference in pass defense, but second in pass defense efficiency. The Bulldogs are allowing 6.5 yards per pass attempt, third in the league, and have intercepted 7 passes in conference play (while giving up four TD tosses).

Last week, The Citadel did not intercept a pass against Mercer (which still has not thrown a pick all season). The Bulldogs now have a 13/4 interception/TD ratio, second-best in the FCS (behind Southern Utah, which has 14 interceptions and has only allowed 3 touchdown passes).

While VMI quarterback Al Cobb has been sacked nineteen times in conference play, The Citadel’s defense has recorded 17 sacks, tied with Chattanooga for the most in SoCon games. Mitchell Jeter picked up another sack against Mercer and now has 5.5 in league contests, more than any other player.

VMI has completed 60.8% of its passes, fourth-best among league teams. The Keydets average 40.2 pass attempts per contest, second-most in the conference (Samford is averaging a borderline incredible 47.6 passing attempts in SoCon play).

The Citadel’s defense is allowing an opponents’ completion percentage of 59.5%, third-lowest in the conference.

VMI is last in the SoCon in rushing offense, averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Not counting sacks, the Keydets average 27 rushing attempts per league contest.

In conference games, The Citadel is second in rushing defense, and is allowing 3.4 yards per rush (also placing second in that category).

VMI is converting 42.9% of its third-down attempts, fourth-best in the SoCon. The Citadel is second in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (35.2%).

The last two games for VMI have featured the highs and lows of third-down conversion attempts. Against Mercer, the Keydets converted 17 of 19 third-down tries, including 12 straight to begin the game (and six of those were 3rd-and-7 or longer).

Last week versus Wofford, however, VMI was only 1 for 12 converting third-down attempts.

The Keydets have a red zone TD rate of 57.9% (11-19). Of the Keydets’ eleven red zone touchdowns, six came via the rush. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (50%, 8-16) is tied for first in the conference with Wofford (10-20).

When going for it on fourth down this season, VMI is 6 for 12 (50%). Opponents of The Citadel have tried ten fourth-down attempts in league action, converting six times.

VMI is last among league teams in total defense, allowing 33.6 points per game. The Keydets are fifth in the league in total defense, allowing 5.6 yards per play.

The Keydets are fifth in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 4.9 yards per rush attempt (next-to-last in the league). VMI opponents have scored fourteen rushing touchdowns in five games.

The Citadel is first in scoring offense (34.0 ppg), second in total offense (averaging 6.2 yards per play, tops in the SoCon) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs rank second nationally, behind only Cal Poly). The Citadel is averaging 5.6 yards per rush attempt, best in the conference.

Tangent: speaking of Cal Poly, the Mustangs had four different players rush for over 100 yards last week – but still lost by 17 points to Southern Utah, 54-37. Cal Poly lost five fumbles, three of which were returned for touchdowns by the opportunistic Thunderbird defensive unit.

You don’t see a box score like that every day.

The Bulldogs are next-to-last in the SoCon in passing yardage per game (ahead of Wofford), but average a league-best 11.1 yards per pass attempt, and are first in offensive pass efficiency among conference squads. The Citadel’s offense has two TD passes and one interception in league play.

VMI is fifth in pass defense among SoCon outfits, sixth in defensive pass efficiency, with one interception against five touchdown passes allowed. The Keydets’ D has four sacks in five games.

At 52.9%, The Citadel leads the conference in offensive third down conversion rate; overall, the Bulldogs are third nationally (behind James Madison and Kennesaw State). VMI is sixth in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, at 46.2%.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 72.7%, second-best in the league. All 16 of the Bulldogs’ red zone touchdowns in SoCon play have been of the rushing variety.

VMI’s red zone defensive TD rate is 71.4%, which ranks next-to-last among conference teams.

The Bulldogs are 2 for 4 on fourth-down conversion attempts in league games. The Keydets’ defense has stopped SoCon opponents on fourth down on 4 of 8 occasions.

The Citadel is +5 in turnover margin (gained eleven, lost six), tied for second in the league in that category. The Keydets have the SoCon’s worst mark at -9 (gained five, lost fourteen).

For the season, VMI is -16 in turnover margin, worse than any other FCS team except Idaho State. Only one team (Mississippi Valley State) has committed more turnovers than the Keydets.

Of the fourteen turnovers VMI has given up in SoCon play, ten of them have occurred in the second half — eight interceptions, two fumbles. Both of the second-half fumbles came last week against Wofford; one of them happened after a Terrier punt hit a Keydet blocker on the foot, and was then recovered by Wofford.

VMI has committed at least one second-half turnover in all five of its conference games. In only one of those games (against Chattanooga, interestingly enough) did the Keydets commit fewer than two turnovers in the second half.

On FG attempts, the Bulldogs are 3 for 5 in the league (21-21 on PATs). The Keydets are 4 for 5 kicking field goals, and are 13-14 on extra point attempts.

The Citadel is fifth in the conference in net punting yardage (35.9), while VMI ranks seventh (31.2). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are third in the league, while the Keydets are second.

VMI is next-to-last in the SoCon in kickoff return average, though the Keydets opened last week’s game against Wofford with a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD. The Citadel is first in this category, though it should be noted that the Bulldogs have only returned six kickoffs in league contests.

The Bulldogs rank fourth in time of possession (32:16) among league teams. The Keydets are sixth (26:43).

VMI is averaging 71 plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.66 plays-per-minute rate, which is a rapid pace. The Bulldogs are averaging 70.4 plays per game, with a 2.18 plays-per-minute rate.

In league play, VMI has been called for 3.6 penalties per game, second-fewest in the SoCon (behind Mercer); the Keydets are third nationally in this category. In addition, VMI has been the beneficiary of more penalty yardage assessed against its opponents than any other league team.

The Citadel has been called for the third-most penalties among SoCon teams. Of course, Bulldog opponents have been called for fewer penalties than opponents of any other conference school, which is becoming a tradition.

Note: statistics in the following sections are for all games.

Al Cobb (6’3″, 190 lbs.) is VMI’s outstanding second-year quarterback. Cobb is from Pulaski, Tennessee (one of ten Tennesseans on the Keydets’ roster).

So far this season, Cobb is completing 60.8% of his passes, averaging 7.02 yards per attempt, with 14 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He is averaging almost 40 pass attempts per game.

Cobb is not afraid to throw the ball downfield. He is averaging 11.5 yards per completion, with 23 passes going for 25+ yards. Cobb also had a 29-yard reception versus Samford.

While that catch showed some versatility, Cobb much prefers to throw the ball to targets like Aaron Sanders.

Sanders (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is a junior who led the Keydets in receptions last season with 58, for 901 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had a big game against The Citadel in last year’s matchup, with 7 receptions for 165 yards and a score.

This season, Sanders already has 72 receptions, which leads the SoCon. That includes a monster outing in VMI’s victory over Mercer, in which he caught a school-record 16 passes for 218 yards.

Of those 218 yards, 146 came after the catch. That will be something to watch on Saturday, not just for Sanders but for the other Keydet pass-catchers. The Citadel’s defenders have to do a good job tackling “in space” to avoid giving up big plays.

VMI flanker Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) has 44 receptions, second on the team. The junior from Richmond caught a touchdown pass against The Citadel last season.

Tight end Sam Patterson (6’5″, 215 lbs.) is a big-play threat who has five touchdown receptions this season. Patterson was limited by injury last year, but he had eight TD catches in 2013.

Derrick Ziglar (5’9″, 230 lbs.) is a fifth-year senior who leads the Keydets in rushing. Ziglar, who averages 4.4 yards per carry and has seven rushing TDs, can also catch passes out of the backfield (nine receptions).

VMI has had some injury issues in the backfield, opening up an opportunity for freshman Quan Myers (5’9″, 175 lbs.).

Average size of the projected starters on the Keydets’ offensive line: 6’4″, 298 lbs. Left tackle Andrew Lewis (6’5″, 260 lbs.) was injured against Wofford last week, but the converted tight end is still listed as a starter on the two-deep.

VMI lines up in a 3-4 defense when not facing the triple option. The Keydets often featured five-man fronts during the latter years of Sparky Woods’ time on post.

It will be interesting to see how Scott Wachenheim and his defensive coordinator, Tom Clark, approach things from a schematic standpoint. Clark was a defensive coach (and former coordinator) at William & Mary prior to taking the position at VMI. Of course, Wachenheim has plenty of experience with the option from an offensive perspective, dating back to his days as a player at Air Force and as a coach at Rice.

Joe Nelson (6’3″, 265 lbs.) is an excellent defensive lineman in his third year as a starter. He had ten tackles against The Citadel in last year’s game.

In the previous two seasons, Nelson was a nosetackle, but he is starting at defensive end this year.

The Keydets’ two inside linebackers are both tackling machines. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3, 220 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, with 89. The sophomore from Pennsylvania has started every game this season, as has redshirt junior Ryan Francis (6’1″, 200 lbs.). Francis has 85 tackles, including seven tackles for loss.

Outside linebacker Tony Richardson (6’3″, 215 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with 8.5. Free safety Greg Sanders (no relation to Aaron Sanders) is a 5’10”, 170 lb. sophomore who is third on the team in tackles, with 69.

Caleb Furlow (6’2″, 195 lbs.) has started every game at cornerback for the Keydets after missing last season due to injury. In 2013, Furlow made 12 starts at strong safety.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is a third-year starter at placekicker for VMI. He is 9-11 on FG attempts this season, with a long of 40 yards. Christopher has a strong leg, having made two 52-yard field goals during his career. He is 21-24 on PATs this year.

Hayden Alford (6’3″, 200 lbs.) is VMI’s punter, averaging 39.5 yards per punt, with six of his forty kicks downed inside the 20-yard-line. He has had one punt blocked this season.

Alford is also VMI’s backup quarterback, and the Keydets are not afraid to take advantage of that; Mike Houston called VMI’s special teams “very aggressive” on his radio show.

That aggression includes opening the second half against Wofford with an onside kick, which was ruled to have been recovered by Wofford, though that decision was controversial.

The Citadel will have to be on its guard on Saturday; players must be mindful of the possibilities for fake punts and other special teams “tricks”.

Dane Forlines in VMI’s primary punt returner, and has also returned the most kickoffs for VMI (16). Greg Sanders is second in that category, with eight kickoff returns. One of those eight was a 99-yard kick return TD on the opening play of the game against Wofford.

Sanders was the first Keydet to return a kickoff return for a touchdown since Tim Maypray (now a VMI assistant coach) did it against The Citadel in 2007. Maypray’s return against the Bulldogs that season was also 99 yards.

Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 225 lbs.), who is VMI’s starting fullback, also snaps on punts and holds on placekicks. The snapper for placekicks is junior Walker Hays (6’1″, 265 lbs.).

Odds and ends:

– As always, there will be a lot going on at Homecoming. Here is a schedule listing some of the events: Link

– The Citadel Regimental Band will perform at halftime.

– The Bulldogs will be trying to win their sixth league game of the season on Saturday. Only once before, in 1992, has The Citadel won six SoCon football contests in a year.

– The weather forecast: as of Wednesday night, the National Weather Service was projecting a mostly sunny day in Charleston on Saturday, with a high of 80 degrees.

It is Homecoming. The Bulldogs are on a four-game winning streak, are 5-0 in the SoCon, and play for the league title next week. The weather looks good.

There is no reason not to be at this game — and it is possible that many other people share that opinion. On his radio show Wednesday night, Mike Houston mentioned that he was told by a school official that the West Stands were “sold out” for Saturday.

Massey Ratings update: The Citadel is rated 112th in Division I, 17th among FCS teams. Chattanooga is the highest-rated SoCon team (9th in FCS).

Harvard is still rated first among FCS teams, which I consider to be an example of how playing a restricted schedule can skew a rating. The Ivy League as a whole has played a grand total of four non-conference games this season against opponents outside of the NEC and Patriot League (Rhode Island twice, Maine, and Villanova).

VMI is rated 80th among FCS teams, one spot ahead of Mercer. Other league squads: Western Carolina (30th), Furman (41st), Wofford (44th), Samford (52nd).

South Carolina is rated 67th among all D1 squads; Georgia Southern is 66th. Clemson is still 2nd.

There are 24 FBS teams currently trailing The Citadel in the ratings.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 23-point favorite over VMI. The over/under is 62.

That strikes me as a fairly ludicrous line, given that only Samford has beaten VMI by a larger margin, and The Citadel has only defeated two teams by more points all season (Davidson and Wofford).

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 16-point favorite at Mercer; Western Carolina is favored by 8 points versus Furman; and Samford is expected to crush Clark Atlanta, as the Birmingham Bulldogs are 50-point favorites against the Division II school.

The matchup between Furman and Western Carolina is essentially the league’s third-place game and does carry some potential playoff ramifications, though that may be a longshot for either team.

Wofford is off on Saturday. The Terriers will host Furman next week.

– East Tennessee State finally got a win this season, beating Warner 42-9. The Buccaneers are now 1-7. ETSU travels to Moon Township, Pennsylvania on Saturday, to play Robert Morris. The Colonials are 24.5-point favorites in that game.

– Of the 22 starting positions on The Citadel’s offensive and defensive units, the same player has started every game for 18 of them.

That number was 20 until last week, when Vinny Miller and Alex Glover missed the Mercer game with injuries. Both are listed as starters on this week’s two-deep, however.

– VMI has 56 players from Virginia on its roster. Other states represented: Tennessee (10), Pennsylvania (6), Maryland (5), North Carolina (4), Georgia (4), West Virginia (2), New York (2), and one each from Florida, Michigan, Alabama, and South Carolina (starting right tackle Iyan Roseborough, who went to Fairfield Central High School). There is also one Keydet from Washington, DC.

– Two weeks ago, VMI won at Mercer, breaking a 30-game road losing streak. Last week was a home game for the Keydets.

VMI has not won two straight road games since 1979. The Keydets will have a chance to do so on Saturday.

– VMI last defeated The Citadel in 2002, a matchup played in Charlotte. It is a game generally remembered for being contested in miserable weather, and with horrific field conditions.

– In 2003, VMI finished 6-6, its last non-losing season. The Keydets were coached at the time by Cal McCombs, a graduate of The Citadel. Since that year, VMI’s overall record is 25-107.

– Individual leaders for The Citadel (SoCon games only): Dee Delaney has three interceptions in five league contests, one more than any other player, and is far and away the conference leader in passes defensed. Besides leading the league in sacks, Mitchell Jeter also tops the SoCon in tackles for loss.

Joe Crochet remains the only conference player to have recovered more than one fumble in league play (he has two). Eric Goins has the most converted PATs without a miss (21).

Dominique Allen leads the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency and is tied for first in points scored (48). DeAndre Schoultz is apparently the only league punt returner with enough returns (14 in conference games) to qualify for the conference leaderboard.

While none of them are leading the league, there are four Bulldogs in the top 10 of rushing (conference play only): Dominique Allen, Cam Jackson, Vinny Miller, and Tyler Renew. To highlight the number of quality runners The Citadel has on the roster, two other Bulldogs (Isiaha Smith and Evan McField) appear in the top 10 in overall rushing among league players (joined on that list by Allen and Miller).

– In the links section at the top of this post, I noted that Eric Goins has been recognized for the Fred Mitchell Award. As it happens, Mitchell (a longtime sportswriter) is leaving the Chicago Tribune next month after a 41-year career with that newspaper.

– This week, the Bulldogs will wear light blue jerseys and white pants for Homecoming. Hey, our actual school colors! Miracles do happen.

– This year’s senior class finished 4-0 in Parents’ Day games, with victories over Western Carolina, Appalachian State, Charlotte, and Wofford.

If The Citadel wins on Saturday, the seniors will also complete a perfect 4-0 set of wins on Homecoming. In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have prevailed at Homecoming against Elon, Samford, and Furman.

Somewhat surprisingly, in the modern history of Parents’ Day/Homecoming games (since 1953), The Citadel has never had a four-year stretch in which it won all eight “celebration weekend” contests.

VMI always comes ready to play against The Citadel, and this year will be no different. The Keydets are led by a talented quarterback capable of ringing up yards and points in a hurry (that includes last year’s matchup, when Al Cobb threw for 396 yards against the Bulldogs).

Most of VMI’s games this season have been competitive, and the Keydets are probably unfortunate to only have one league victory. VMI’s win at Mercer and its near-miss against Chattanooga are two good examples of what the Keydets can do on a good day.

Even on some not-so-good days, VMI has done things that make you think. Against Richmond, a top-10 FCS team, the Keydets rushed for 202 yards. That’s not something you necessarily expect.

During his Tuesday press conference, Mike Houston made the observation that the players took the rivalry very seriously, and that for them the VMI game is “as big, or maybe even bigger” than the game against Furman. He noted the game was very important for the players, and that he had sensed this last year as well.

That was good to hear.

This is the first of three big games for The Citadel. It is the only one of the three, however, in which the coveted Silver Shako is at stake.

The greatest trophy in all of sports has resided in Charleston for quite some time now. It needs to stay in the Holy City for at least another year.

Go Dogs!

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