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
Big Sky
Missouri Valley

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
Northern Arizona
Eastern Washington
The Citadel
North Dakota
Central Arkansas
Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Illinois
New Hampshire

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.


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!

Game review, 2015: Mercer

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Isiaha Smith, Cam Jackson, Tyler Renew, and Tevin Floyd

Video from WCIV-TV (starting at the 8:00 mark)

Post-game video interview with Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb

Game video highlights

Box score

The Citadel didn’t play its best game of the season on Saturday afternoon, not by a long shot. However, the end result was still a victory, and that’s what mattered.

Mike Houston, in his post-game press conference:

The big key is finding a way to win when you don’t play your best.

The Bulldogs lost two fumbles, botched a field goal attempt (and were generally unimpressive on special teams), committed a couple of ill-timed penalties, and had trouble moving the ball on offense for the first 20 minutes of the game. The game could easily have been lost, particularly because Mercer was playing solid, mistake-free football (no turnovers, only three minor penalties).

However, The Citadel played well on defense throughout the game (aside from the Bears’ final drive), and the offense eventually righted itself.

Random thoughts and observations:

– The Citadel has clinched a winning season. That matters a lot to longtime followers of the military college.

– For the first time since joining the Southern Conference in 1936, The Citadel has won its first five league contests.

Only once in program history has the Bulldogs won six conference games. That was in 1992, the last time The Citadel won the SoCon. On five other occasions, the Bulldogs have won five league matchups — in 1959, 1961, 1988, 1991, and 2012.

– October was good for The Citadel, which went 4-0 during the month. I decided to check the records to see how often the Bulldogs had gone undefeated in October while playing at least four games.

It turns out to have happened seven other times:

  • 1909: Sam Costen’s tough-minded squad didn’t begin play until October, but came out of the gates strong, going 4-0-1 during the month. Two of the wins came against College of Charleston; the tie came against Georgia (0-0). The Bulldogs also beat Porter 99-0, which is still the largest margin of victory in school history.
  • 1928: This was another team that didn’t start its season until October. Carl Prause’s men won their first four games that season by a combined score of 111-8, defeating Stetson, Newberry, Davidson, and Erskine.
  • 1959: For the only time in school history, a team won five games in October. Four of those victories by Eddie Teague’s crew were in SoCon play, the first time The Citadel won four league contests in October. The second time? That happened this past Saturday.
  • 1960: This edition of the Bulldogs went 4-0-1 in October; the tie came against Florida State, an often-referenced 0-0 battle.
  • 1961: Yes, The Citadel had a three-season stretch in which October was a very enjoyable month. This team won the league, of course; three of those SoCon victories came in the tenth month of the year.
  • 1984: Tom Moore’s best team averaged almost 27 points per game in four October victories, three of which were conference affairs. The fourth win came against Davidson, a popular opponent in this month; the 1928, 1959, and 1960 teams also beat the Wildcats in October (the ’61 squad was a little impatient, defeating Davidson on September 30 that season).
  • 1988: Four of seven consecutive wins during Charlie Taaffe’s second season in charge occurred in October, including three conference victories. The week after October that year wasn’t too bad, either; on November 5, The Citadel beat top-ranked Marshall 20-3 in one of Johnson Hagood Stadium’s most memorable games.

– Of course, Mike Houston had an astute observation about what month matters most:

Fans and alumni — they remember teams that play well in November.

– The biggest play of the game, almost without question, was Isiaha Smith’s 83-yard run right up the middle near the end of the first half. It gave the Bulldogs a lead they would never relinquish, and it came after a half in which The Citadel had mostly been on the back foot. It was a brutal play for Mercer, which had done just about everything right up until that moment.

Smith’s burst was the sixth-long rushing play in school history. In what I consider a statistical oddity, only once has a pass play by The Citadel resulted in a longer gain.

That came in 1983, when current football radio analyst Lee Glaze threw an 84-yard TD pass to John Murphy. Glaze was starting quarterback Robert Hill’s backup at the time; the future All-SoCon wide receiver came into the game briefly after a minor injury to Hill, and almost immediately threw the pass that still stands today as The Citadel’s longest completion.

It should come as no shock to anyone reading this that the Glaze-to-Murphy toss came against Davidson, and in October.

– The Citadel just missed on being ranked last week in the FCS Coaches’ poll. The Bulldogs will almost certainly be in this week’s poll, however.

Eight ranked teams lost on Saturday, including #17 Montana, #18 Montana State, #22 Dartmouth, and #23 Indiana State. At least two of those teams will probably drop out of the rankings, with The Citadel moving into the Top 25.

– For the first time this season in conference play, The Citadel did not improve its rushing yards/play numbers. The Bulldogs averaged 6.0 yards per rush against Mercer, slightly lower than the 6.2 yards per rush The Citadel had versus Furman.

Six yards per carry is still good enough.

– Occasionally you will hear some rumbling noises from the West Stands when there is a heavy dose of the fullback dive. That happened at times on Saturday, particularly in the first half.

It reminded me of the game earlier this season against Western Carolina. In that game, The Citadel gave the ball to the fullback on seven straight plays in the third quarter.

In the first half versus Mercer, Tyler Renew had a stretch in which he carried the ball on seven consecutive plays. Later in the half, Renew rushed on five straight downs.

That may seem like overkill. There is a method to the madness, however — and it is hard to argue about the effectiveness of the strategy when Isiaha Smith is racing 80 yards down the field for the go-ahead touchdown.

– While I didn’t question the usage of the B-Backs, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about Mike Houston’s decision in the second quarter to punt on 4th-and-1 from the Mercer 40-yard line.

The Citadel trailed 10-0, and I thought the percentage play was to go for it. It also seemed out of character, both for the head coach and the offense in general.

I can only surmise that Houston just wasn’t confident in the offense to that point in the game, and settled for changing field position.

Mercer did move the ball on the ensuing possession, gaining 52 yards of total offense before punting. The Citadel then marched 80 yards down the field and scored a touchdown to get back into the game.

– For the first time this season, The Citadel won a game but did not “cover”. No one paying attention was surprised.

– Mitchell Jeter now has 30 tackles for loss in his career. He also had a sack on Saturday, giving him 7 for the season.

– I was disappointed in the attendance. It was a beautiful afternoon, The Citadel had won three straight games, both Clemson and South Carolina were playing road games…and there were only 10,006 people in the stands at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

The crowd next week will be larger, if only because it will be Homecoming. I’m at a bit of a loss to explain what happened on Saturday, though.

Next week, The Citadel plays VMI, with the coveted Silver Shako on the line.

The following week, the Bulldogs travel to Chattanooga to face the Mocs, with the Southern Conference title at stake. The winner also receives an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

The week after that, The Citadel journeys to Columbia to do battle with South Carolina. This is the 25th-anniversary season of “38-35”.

What does all that mean? It means the next three weeks are going to be really intense, and just a little crazy, and maybe — just maybe — a whole lot of fun, too.

I can’t wait.

The pictures, as usual, range from mediocre to bad. The first one is a reminder that a Jedi Knight is the closest equivalent to a graduate of The Citadel in the entire galaxy.




2015 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Mercer, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 31. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play.

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 Mercer-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Bobby Lamb on the SoCon teleconference

– Bobby Lamb discusses Mercer’s loss to VMI and game against The Citadel on a Macon radio show

Mike Houston’s 10/27 press conference (with comments from Vinny Miller and Malik Diggs)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Promotional spot for Mercer-The Citadel

Mike Houston is the guide for a tour of facilities upgrades at Seignious Hall

– Joe Crochet, not wasting any time

Fans of The Citadel are very excited and enthusiastic right now, understandably (and justifably) so. The Bulldogs have played very well in recent weeks, recording decisive victories over three consecutive SoCon opponents, with two of those wins coming on the road.

Now, The Citadel returns to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a pair of conference home games before playing its league finale at Chattanooga. More than a few fans are already anticipating the matchup with the Mocs.

In a way, it’s hard to blame them. However, if you are already looking past Mercer (and/or VMI), I have a message for you: slow your roll.

The Bulldogs have a tough assignment on Saturday. If they aren’t at or near their best against Mercer, a loss is a distinct possibility.

Mercer has been snakebit in league play this season. The Bears are 0-3, but look at those losses:

– Mercer trailed Wofford by 10 points with just three and a half minutes to play, but rallied to tie the game and send it to OT. The Bears actually had a chance to win in regulation, but were stopped after having a 1st-and-goal on the Wofford 6-yard line in the final minute.

MU scored first in the extra session, but missed the extra point. The Terriers scored a matching TD, made the PAT and won the game 34-33.

Mercer outgained Wofford, ran 31 more plays, had a 31-18 advantage in first downs, forged a six-minute edge in time of possession, committed fewer penalties, blocked a field goal and an extra point, won the turnover battle 2-1…and still lost.

– The Bears led Western Carolina 21-3 in Cullowhee midway through the second quarter, but WCU would win the game 24-21 after scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns (the second a 4th-and-goal conversion that came with just 42 seconds to play).

Again, Mercer outgained its league opponent, this time on the road. The Bears ran more plays, had more first downs, held the ball for almost nine minutes longer than the Catamounts, only committed one penalty, and did not give up a turnover. It wasn’t enough.

– The loss to VMI was different. The Keydets built an early 21-point lead and would eventually pile up 567 yards of total offense (including 391 through the air). Mercer won the turnover battle 4-1, but otherwise were generally outplayed over the course of the game.

Mercer still had a chance to tie the game late, however, as the Bears drove inside the VMI 25-yard line, only to be stopped on downs with 90 seconds remaining in the contest.

The defining statistic from that game? VMI’s otherworldly third-down conversion rate. The Keydets converted 17 of 19 third-down attempts, including their first 12.

The run of 12 straight third-down conversions by VMI included eight passes and a QB scramble; six of those plays were 3rd-and-7 or longer. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must have been for Mercer.

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

I debated just using SoCon games this week when making comparisons, but as Mercer has only played three league contests, I elected to go with the all-games model. I’ll occasionally note some SoCon-only numbers, however.

One reason for doing so is Mercer’s non-conference schedule, which includes three blowout victories over less-than-stellar competition.

Mercer has two wins over teams yet to win a game this season, Austin Peay (a road victory) and East Tennessee State. The Bears won those contests by a combined score of 80-7.

MU also defeated Stetson 57-14, a game played in Macon. The Hatters play in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, the same conference in which Davidson is a member.

The Bears’ other non-league game was a 29-22 loss at Tennessee Tech, which plays in the Ohio Valley Conference and currently has a 2-6 record (including a 34-14 loss to Wofford).

Meanwhile, The Citadel is 5-2, with victories over Davidson (69-0), Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), Samford (44-25), and Furman (38-17). The Bulldogs have lost to Charleston Southern (33-20) and Georgia Southern (48-13). The games against the Eagles, Paladins, and Birmingham Bulldogs were all on the road.

In seven games, Mercer’s offense has thrown the ball 208 times; four would-be pass plays resulted in sacks, a very low percentage. Not counting those sacks, the Bears have rushed 310 times, so MU has run the ball on 59.8% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 50.7% of Mercer’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). The Bears average 7.8 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). Incidentally, that average does not appreciably change when only league games are taken into consideration.

Among SoCon teams, Mercer is third in scoring offense (33.4 ppg) and second in total offense (6.3 yards per play). The Citadel is third in scoring defense (20.9 ppg) and total defense, allowing 5.4 yards per play.

Mercer’s scoring average declines to 25.0 ppg in conference matchups.

The Bears are third in passing offense, averaging 240.4 yards per game (227.7 yards per game in three SoCon contests). MU is first among SoCon teams in offensive pass efficiency, with twelve touchdown tosses and no interceptions.

Let me repeat that: no interceptions. Mercer hasn’t thrown an interception all season. 208 pass attempts, no picks. That is impressive regardless of the level of competition, and a credit to Bears quarterback John Russ, who has thrown 195 of those passes.

The Citadel is second in the conference in pass defense, but first in pass defense efficiency. The Bulldogs are allowing 6.2 yards per pass attempt, best in the league, and have intercepted 13 passes (tops in the conference, and tied for third nationally in FCS).

Last week, The Citadel allowed two touchdown passes to Furman, increasing the total number of TD throws against the Bulldogs’ D this season to three. The 13/3 interception/TD ratio is tied for the best such mark in FCS (with Southern Utah).

The interception-free Mercer attack against the ball-hawking Bulldogs’ D…I guess that would be an unstoppable force versus an immovable object kind of thing.

As I noted in the first paragraph in this section, Mercer quarterbacks have only been sacked four times all season. The Citadel’s defense has recorded 16 sacks, second-best in the league (Chattanooga has 22 sacks). On an individual level, Mitchell Jeter has six of those sacks for the Bulldogs, second-most in the SoCon.

Mercer has completed 60.6% of its passes, fourth-best among league teams; the Bears’ completion percentage in SoCon games is just under 58%. MU is averaging 29.7 pass attempts per contest, fifth-most in the conference. The Citadel’s defense is allowing an opponents’ completion percentage of 60.2%, fourth-best in the conference.

MU is fourth in the SoCon in rushing offense, averaging 5.0 yards per carry (though in games against league teams that number drops to 4.2).

The Citadel is fifth in rushing defense, and is allowing 4.7 yards per rush (next-to-last in the league in that category). However, when only conference games are taken into account, the Bulldogs are second in rushing defense (and only allow 3.5 yards per rush).

Mercer is converting 46% of its third-down attempts, third-best in the SoCon. The Citadel is second in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (38.4%).

The Bears have a red zone TD rate of 80% (24-30), which is tops in the conference; 16 of the 24 touchdowns Mercer has scored in the red zone came via the rush. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (55%) ranks second in the conference.

When going for it on fourth down this season, Mercer is 12 for 20 (60%). Opponents of The Citadel have tried fifteen fourth-down attempts, converting ten times (Furman converted its only fourth-down try against the Bulldogs last week).

Mercer is second among league teams in both scoring and total defense, allowing 19.4 points and 353.4 yards per game. The Bears are allowing 5.3 yards per play. However, that number rises to 6.4 yards per play in games versus conference squads.

MU is first in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 3.7 yards per rush attempt (35th nationally). Mercer opponents have scored twelve rushing touchdowns in seven games.

There is a vast discrepancy in Mercer’s rush defense statistics when the Bears’ three league contests are isolated, though. In those three contests, MU is allowing 5.8 yards per rush.

The Citadel is first in scoring offense (35.9 ppg), third in total offense (averaging 6.4 yards per play) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs rank second nationally, behind only Cal Poly of the Big Sky Conference). The Citadel is averaging 5.8 yards per rush attempt, best in the conference.

The Bulldogs are last in the SoCon in passing yardage per game, but average a league-best 10.6 yards per pass attempt, and are third in offensive pass efficiency among conference squads. The Citadel has five TD passes and two interceptions.

Mercer is sixth in pass defense among SoCon outfits, fourth in defensive pass efficiency, with seven interceptions against seven touchdown passes allowed (three of those picks came last week versus VMI). The Bears’ D has fourteen sacks in seven games.

At 53.3%, The Citadel leads the conference in offensive third down conversion rate, and is third nationally (trailing James Madison and Kennesaw State). MU is last in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, with a terrible 51.9% rate (third-worst in all of FCS).

That percentage is even worse in league matchups (65.9%), which is what happens when you allow 17 out of 19 possible third-down conversions in one game.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 71.9%, third-best in the league. The Bulldogs have 23 touchdowns from red zone possessions this season, and all of them have come via the rush.

Mercer’s red zone defensive TD rate is 68.2%, which ranks next-to-last among conference teams.

The Bulldogs did not have a fourth-down conversion attempt last week, so they remain 3 for 8 on fourth down tries this year. The Bears’ defense has faced seven fourth-down conversion attempts, and has prevented a first down on five of those occasions.

The Citadel is +5 in turnover margin (gained eighteen, lost thirteen), second in the league in that category to Mercer; the Bears are +6 (gained eleven, lost five).

Mercer is tied for seventh nationally in fewest turnovers.

On field goal attempts, the Bulldogs are 5 for 7, with Eric Goins converting a 22-yarder to close out the first half against Furman last week. MU has made seven of twelve tries. The Bears have struggled a bit on PATs, missing four of them (27-31). The Citadel has yet to miss an extra point this season.

The Citadel is third in the conference in net punting yardage (37.7), while Mercer ranks fourth (38.7). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are second in the league, while the Bears are third.

Mercer is second in the SoCon in kickoff return average (24.2 yards). The Citadel is fifth (22.6). The Bulldogs did not return a kickoff last week; all four of Furman’s kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

The Bulldogs rank fifth in time of possession (31:01) among league teams. The Bears are third in that category (31:52).

MU is averaging 74.5 plays from scrimmage per game, with a very fast 2.34 plays-per-minute rate. The Bulldogs are averaging 68 plays per game, with a 2.19 plays-per-minute rate.

Mercer has been called for fewer penalties this year than any other SoCon team (3.7 per game). In fact, the Bears lead the nation in that category.

MU is likely to continue to lead the nation in fewest penalties after Saturday, given the aversion of league officials to penalize Bulldog opponents. Only 4.6 penalties per game have been called against The Citadel’s opponents this year (second-fewest in the conference), a multi-year trend.

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

Mercer quarterback John Russ (6’0″, 202 lbs.) has completed 61.5% of his passes, averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, with twelve TD passes and no interceptions. He ranks second in the SoCon in individual pass efficiency.

Russ is responsible for 27 plays this season of 20 yards of more, 25 through the air and two on the ground. While he prefers to throw the ball, he is not afraid to run, as The Citadel found out in last season’s game against the Bears.

In that matchup, Russ rushed for 96 yards on 14 carries, including a 31-yard run. He also threw a 65-yard TD pass against the Bulldogs.

Alex Lakes (5’11”, 216 lbs.) rushed for 1,107 yards last season, which led the SoCon. However, he is currently the backup running back in Mercer’s “pistol” offense.

Lakes is still averaging over 10 carries per game, but Tee Mitchell (5’10”, 194 lbs.) is starting for the Bears. Mitchell is second in the league in rushing, averaging 95.4 yards per game.

It should be noted that Lakes suffered a punctured lung against Tennessee Tech, and missed the Bears’ game versus Wofford. That injury has surely affected his performance to this point in the season.

Mercer’s most feared big-play threat is sophomore wideout Chandler Curtis (5’11”, 201 lbs.), a first-team All-SoCon selection last season as a freshman. Curtis was an impact returner in 2014, with three punt return touchdowns and a kickoff return for a score.

Curtis hurt his ankle in Mercer’s season opener, and just returned to action last week against VMI. He had 7 catches for 109 yards and a TD in that game.

In his absence, Avery Ward (6’2″, 178 lbs.) is leading the team in receptions (28, twice as many as any other receiver). He also has four TD catches this season. Ward caught a touchdown pass against The Citadel in last year’s game.

John Russ throws a lot to the tight end, with players at that position catching 31 passes so far in 2014. Starting TE Robert Brown (6’1″, 229 lbs.) has 13 receptions, including a 51-yard catch versus Stetson and a 50-yarder against East Tennessee State.

Mercer’s projected starters along the offensive line average 6’2″, 284 lbs. Kirby Southard (6’0″, 273 lbs.) has started every game at center for Mercer since the beginning of the 2013 season.

Right tackle Bret Niederreither (6’2″, 280 lbs.) began his collegiate career at Temple. In last year’s game against The Citadel, Niederreither started at defensive tackle. This season, he has started all of Mercer’s games on the offensive line.

Mercer normally lines up on defense in what is listed as a 3-3-5 setup. Of course, the Bears may line up differently against The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Middle linebacker Lee Bennett (6’0″, 223 lbs.) leads the Bears in tackles, with 39. He had 14 tackles last week against VMI.

Tripp Patterson (6″0, 224 lbs.) is second on the team in tackles, despite making his first start last week. The transfer from Air Force has also had a 14-tackle game (versus Wofford).

Macon native Tyler Ward (6’1″, 236 lbs.) starts at the weakside linebacker position, and is Mercer’s all-time leader in tackles.

“Bandit” linebacker Tosin Aguebor (6’3″, 238 lbs.) leads the team in sacks (4) and tackles for loss (7.5). Aguebor started every game for Mercer in 2013, but missed all of 2014 with an injury.

Another linebacker, Kyle Trammell (6’0″, 227 lbs.) blocked two kicks against Wofford, before leaving that game with a knee injury. He hasn’t played since, though Bobby Lamb said on a local Macon radio show this week he was hopeful Trammell would be back on the field against The Citadel.

Nosetackle Austin Barrett (6’2″, 314 lbs.), a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection, had two sacks last week. Defensive end Tunde Ayinla (6’0″, 254 lbs.) has been a starter for three years.

Free safety Zach Jackson (6’0″, 203 lbs.) is a transfer from TCU. He had 10 tackles versus The Citadel last season. He was injured in last week’s game against VMI, but is expected to play this Saturday.

Cornerback Alex Avant (5’8″, 176 lbs.) was a preseason second-team all-league pick.

Placekicker Jagger Lieb is 6 for 11 on field goal attempts, with a long of 43. Last season, he made a 48-yarder against The Citadel.

Lieb is 24-27 on PAT attempts. His holder, Rob East, has had that role since 2013 (and has also done some punting for the Bears).

Punter Matt Shiel is a native of Australia who is a transfer from Auburn. Australian punters are all the rage right now in college football.

Shiel, like most of his compatriots, is a former Australian Rules Football and rugby player. He is averaging 43.6 yards per punt, with a long of 73 (last week versus VMI). Eight of his twenty-two punts have been downed inside the 20; he also has three touchbacks.

John Abernathy has been Mercer’s long snapper for the past three seasons.

While Stephen Houzah, Jimmie Robinson, and Jeff Bowens are listed as the returners on the Bears’ two-deep, you can bet Bulldog coaches are watching to see if Chandler Curtis returns to that role this week.

Curtis “scared us to death” in last year’s game, according to Mike Houston on his radio show. I can certainly understand that.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1936. It has never started 5-0 in league play.

– The weather forecast is great. As of Thursday night, the National Weather Service was projecting a nice, sunny day in Charleston on Saturday, with a high of 74 degrees and winds out of the east at 8 miles per hour.

The Bulldogs have won three straight, are 4-0 in the SoCon and on pace to play for a league championship. For the first time this season, weather won’t be an issue for a home game at The Citadel.

I hope all of that results in a big crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

– Massey Ratings update: The Citadel is rated 111th in Division I, 16th among FCS teams. Chattanooga is the highest-rated SoCon team (12th in FCS).

One major caveat to those ratings is that Harvard is rated first among FCS teams. I know the Crimson is riding a long winning streak, but I don’t believe Harvard is close to being the best team in FCS.

Mercer is rated 91st among FCS teams, one spot ahead of South Carolina State.

Other FCS ratings in Massey of note include Western Carolina (23rd), Samford (41st), Furman (45th), Wofford (47th), VMI (74th), Davidson (121st), ETSU (124th), and Mississippi Valley State (125th, and last).

South Carolina is rated 61st among all D1 squads; Georgia Southern is 64th. (Clemson is 2nd.)

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an twenty-point favorite over Mercer. The over/under is 55.

I cringed when I saw that. Heck, I hated to even type it.

It also struck me as a bogus line. Mercer has played ten games since joining the SoCon. It is 1-9 in those games, but only twice has lost by more than 7 points. Both of those games came last year, when the Bears lost 35-21 to Western Carolina and 34-6 at Wofford (in the 2014 season finale).

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is an eight-point favorite over Western Carolina; Samford is favored by eight points over Furman; and Wofford is a seven-point favorite at VMI.

The WCU-UTC game will probably be the one of most interest to Bulldog fans. At least, it should be.

– East Tennessee State is in its first year of restarting a football program that will begin playing a SoCon schedule next year. The Buccaneers are 0-7 (including that loss to Mercer I referenced earlier), but have a chance to finally pick up a win this week. ETSU is a seven-point favorite at home against Warner, an NAIA Division II school located in Lake Wales, Florida.

– Of the 22 starting positions on The Citadel’s offensive and defensive units, the same player has started every game for 20 of them. That continuity is important, and beneficial.

– Mercer has 76 players from Georgia on its roster, by far the most from any state. Other states represented: Florida (13), Tennessee (6), Alabama (4), North Carolina (2), and one each from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and South Carolina (Destin Guillen, a freshman defensive lineman from Berea High School in Greenville).

Of course, the Bears also have an Australian, the aforementioned Matt Shiel.

– The Bulldogs haven’t beaten Mercer in Charleston since 1929. Of course, this will be only the second game between the two schools in Charleston since 1929.

– The Citadel has victories over Mercer in four different cities: Charleston, Macon, Savannah, and Augusta.

– This week, the Bulldogs will again sport the “blazer” look. Perhaps the light blue and white will return for Homecoming. It would be nice. I’m not expecting it, though.

What worries me about this game is that it could be a repeat of last year’s matchup, when The Citadel let Mercer back into the game in the second half and was very fortunate to come away with a two-point victory.

I’m basing that concern in part on some occasional second-half struggles this year. The way the Bulldogs played against Furman in the third quarter was a good example of that, and something The Citadel can’t afford to let happen again this week.

Mercer has a lot of big-play possibilities among its offensive players, and may be getting some of them back at the right time (notably Chandler Curtis).

I’m confident in the Bulldogs. It’s just that I think Mercer is much closer to “turning the corner” than its league record suggests. One of these weeks, Mercer is going to find itself on the right side of a SoCon scoreline.

I hope it isn’t this week, though. The Citadel has its own corner to turn.

Game review, 2015: Furman

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Greenville News

Sidebar story, The Greenville News

“Notes” column, The Greenville News

School release

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

Video from WCIV-TV

Video from WSPA-TV

Column from STATS FCS Football, with a mention of The Citadel as “looking more like a team capable of winning the Southern Conference title”

Box score

Random thoughts and observations from a pleasant afternoon in the Upstate of South Carolina:

– The Citadel is 4-0 in the SoCon. I realize that there are a host of long-term implications to consider, including the potential of a league title shot, but I wanted to make one immediate point.

The Bulldogs have now clinched a winning conference record — and for me, that means something. The fact The Citadel has clinched that winning record in the SoCon before Halloween is a really nice bonus.

– An interesting (and enjoyable) statistical trend…

SoCon opponent — Rush yards per play
Western Carolina — 4.9
Wofford — 5.1
Samford — 5.9
Furman — 6.2

– There were some major league hits and collisions in that game. The training staffs for Furman and The Citadel got plenty of exercise on Saturday.

Special mention in this area probably should go to Furman safety Richard Hayes III, who seemed to be in the middle of a lot of the action, taking and giving. Hayes tied for the Paladins’ team lead in tackles, with ten.

The Citadel was led in tackles by Kailik Williams, who is beginning to make a name for himself on the Bulldogs’ D.

– Mike Houston, in one of his post-game interviews:

We saw probably four or five different defensive schemes today from Furman; they were throwing everything at us…and what that ended up doing, it gave us the opportunity for a lot of big plays…a lot of those big plays were [when] we caught them in things. That goes back to Coach [Brent] Thompson and Dominique [Allen] being on the same page.

I’m certainly not an expert on formations and/or tactics, but it seemed to me the Bulldogs ran the toss play a lot more than in prior games.

I think that happened because Furman was being very aggressive in trying to stop the inside running game, and the Paladins’ strategy included blitzing a safety (or linebacker) on a regular basis. By tossing the ball outside, the Bulldogs got a numbers advantage whenever the blitzing defender was caught in the middle of the field.

– I loved everything about Brandon Eakins’ 35-yard touchdown run on an end-around. The timing of the call was fantastic (immediately after a false start penalty set the Bulldogs back from 3rd-and-short to 3rd-and-5ish). The play was well-designed and perfectly executed.

I even got a decent picture of the play just as Dominique Allen was pitching the football to Eakins.

– The critical play of the game, though, was arguably Allen’s pass to Reggie Williams on 3rd-and-7 from the Bulldogs’ 49-yard line. Furman had scored 10 points on its first two possessions of the second half, and had also controlled the ball during almost the entire third quarter (after The Citadel had rung up an 8-minute, 42-second advantage in time of possession in the first half).

It was somewhat surprising Williams could be so open on a passing down, but that can be credited to the play call itself, the execution of the play, and the fact that in the triple option offense, even 3rd-and-7 is not necessarily an automatic passing situation. Indeed, on another 3rd-and-7 situation earlier in the game, The Citadel had picked up a first down on a handoff to Isiaha Smith.

– Driving home after the game, I listened to part of Furman’s post-game radio show. At one point, Sam Wyche was interviewed. He had been the analyst for the ESPN3.com production of the contest.

Wyche commented that The Citadel’s “two guys in the middle” had dominated along the defensive line and caused Furman’s offense a lot of problems. He was presumably referring to Mitchell Jeter and Jonathan King, and his observation is a reminder that stats don’t always tell the whole story, especially those of the defensive variety.

Jeter and King combined for “just” four tackles on Saturday (including a shared sack for Jeter), but their influence on the game was undeniable.

– Speaking of Wyche: before the game, Furman prefaced a video PSA by Wyche on good sportsmanship by showing a clip of his famous/infamous “You don’t live in Cleveland” speech. I’m not sure it gets much better than that.

– This is meaningless, but Saturday’s game marked the third straight time Furman had donned white jerseys against The Citadel. Two of those games were played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, of course.

When the Bulldogs had last traveled to Greenville, in 2012, Furman wore purple jerseys.

– Definitely not meaningless: the freshmen members of the Corps of Cadets who made the trip up (in eight buses) to cheer on the Bulldogs. Their presence was felt, to say the least.

I said this in my game preview, but I wouldn’t mind at all if corps trips to select road contests became a near-annual occurrence. There is an opportunity every year for at least one “instate” away game, with The Citadel now alternating road matchups every season between Furman and Wofford.

I realize timing is a factor, as it is unlikely such trips could (or would) be undertaken prior to mid-October.

– Next up for the Bulldogs is Mercer. It will be a big game, because when you start winning, every game becomes a big game.

I hope a large crowd is on hand this Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, because this team deserves as much support as it can get.

Here are a few photos from Saturday. While most of the time I take terrible pictures, I was semi-pleased with a couple of these. One was the above-referenced shot taken during Brandon Eakins’ TD run. I also got a reasonably good picture of Isiaha Smith’s 32-yard run in the first quarter.

Curiously, both the Eakins touchdown and Smith’s burst came immediately following false start penalties.

Anyway, the pics:






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