2011 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10.  The game will be televised on WYMA (Asheville, NC), and will be available on ESPN3.com.  There will also be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a game against traditional rival Furman.  It’s only the third time the two schools have ever met in a league opener, but it’s the second consecutive season that has been the case.

I’m not going to rehash the history of the series in terms of the time of year the game has been held; anyone interested can read what I wrote on the subject for last year’s game preview.  Regardless of whether you think the game should be a midseason clash (my preference) or played at the end of the year (a not-insignificant number of fans from both schools), I think everyone can agree that September 10 is too early for this game to be played.

Jeff Hartsell has reported that, per the SoCon office, next year’s meeting will come at the end of the 2012 season, on November 17.  (The conference does not make league schedules beyond one year in advance.)

I’m okay with that, as long as the Clemson-South Carolina game continues to be played the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as is now the case.  I just don’t want The Citadel and Furman to play on the same day as the matchup between the Tigers and Gamecocks.

Furman was 5-6 last season, its first losing campaign since 1998.  Bobby Lamb resigned after nine years in charge and over a quarter-century at the school as a player or coach.  The Paladins had missed the FCS playoffs for four consecutive seasons, which did not go over well among some supporters.  It was time for Furman to make a change.

The question, though, is did Furman really make a change?

The new coach is Bruce Fowler.  Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman who played for Dick Sheridan.  Lamb was a 1986 graduate of FU who had played for Sheridan. Fowler spent 18 years at Furman as an assistant coach.  Lamb had been an assistant coach at Furman for 16 seasons.

One difference is that Fowler wasn’t a complete Furman lifer like Lamb had been.  For the past nine years, he had been an assistant at Vanderbilt, where he was defensive coordinator for Bobby Johnson (and Robbie Caldwell in 2010).  Of course, Johnson had been the head coach at Furman before taking the Vandy job, and before that he had been an assistant under Dick Sheridan.

You may have noticed a pattern here.  Dick Sheridan left Furman after the 1985 season to take over at N.C. State, but his presence is still felt in the program.  All four of the men who have held the head coaching position since Sheridan left (including Fowler) were players and/or assistants under him.

If you were going to have your football program maintain what is in effect a 25-year tie to a former coach, you could do much worse than Sheridan, who did nothing but win throughout his coaching career (even as a 28-year-old rookie head coach at an Orangeburg high school).  It’s a type of continuity that may be worth preserving.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that Furman risks going to the well once too often.  Fowler isn’t exactly a carbon copy of Lamb, though — for one thing, he’s 52 years old, 13 years older than Lamb was when Lamb got the job.  Also, he’s primarily a defensive coach (though he was the receivers coach at FU for seven seasons).  Lamb was mostly an offensive coach (and a former quarterback) during his time with the Paladins.

Usually when a school is in a position to make a coaching change after a run of disappointing seasons, it brings in somebody to shake things up.  That’s certainly not what Furman has done.  Besides Fowler, three of the assistant coaches played for Sheridan; another has been a Paladins assistant for 13 years.

Before I move on to the Paladins of 2011, I should note that Art Baker, who preceded Sheridan as head coach at Furman (eventually leaving to take the job at The Citadel), hired Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, and Bobby Johnson as assistant coaches, all of whom would later ascend to the top job at FU.  Baker had a significant impact on Furman’s coaching tree.

Furman lost 30-23 at Coastal Carolina in its opener.  The Paladins never led the contest.  The game had been tied at 16 and 23 before the Chanticleers scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Coastal Carolina gained 231 yards rushing and 195 yards passing against the Furman defense, but perhaps more interesting was that the Chanticleers had 59 rushing attempts for the game.  CCU ran 81 offensive plays from scrimmage for the game, while the Paladins had just 58.

As Bruce Fowler noted in the SoCon teleconference, Furman had trouble getting its defense off the field.  Coastal was 7-16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts and made its only 4th-down try, a major reason the Paladins trailed by over 12 minutes in time of possession.  That continued a trend from last season, when Furman finished last in the SoCon in time of possession.

The Paladins do have two impact players on defense, middle linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed, both of whom are on the Buck Buchanan Watch List.  Another linebacker, Chris Wiley, had fourteen tackles against Coastal Carolina.  Furman defensive end Josh Lynn is tall (6’5″) and rangy, and may be a key factor in how the Bulldogs’ triple action attack fares on Saturday.  Against Coastal, he had five tackles and a sack.

Furman’s starting quarterback against Coastal Carolina was Chris Forcier, of the Forcier Family of Quarterbacks.  I think it’s fair to say that the Forciers are, as a group, somewhat controversial.  I guess it’s a question of style.  When Chris Forcier decided to transfer from UCLA to Furman, the family issued a press release that wound up being posted on Deadspin.

His brother Tate is a former Michigan quarterback who has now transferred to San Jose State (after originally announcing he was going to Miami).  His oldest brother, Jason, also played quarterback at Michigan before transferring to Stanford.  The brothers also transferred to different high schools at various times.

Against the Chants, Forcier was solid, completing two-thirds of his passes while averaging over seven yards per attempt.  A classic “dual threat” quarterback, Forcier also rushed for 50 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter, apparently suffering from cramps.  Without him, the Furman offense sputtered, not scoring in the fourth quarter.

Assuming he is healthy (and there is no reason to believe otherwise), stopping Forcier will be a difficult task for The Citadel’s defense.

If dealing with Forcier wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs must also contend with Jerodis Williams, who rushed for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns against Coastal (including a 68-yard score).  Williams was the Southern Conference offensive player of the week, and also picked up FCS National Back of the Week honors from something called the “College Football Performance Awards“.

Furman had five different receivers catch passes against the Chanticleers (including Williams).  Tyler Maples had five receptions for 65 yards.  Colin Anderson had four catches, and presumably will have a career day against The Citadel, as has often been the case for Furman tight ends.

Along the offensive line, Furman has experienced and well-regarded tackles (one of whom, Ryan Lee, is moving from guard to tackle) and a veteran center, Daniel Spisak (who is Matt Millen’s nephew).  The guards include a first-year starter who came to Furman as a walk-on, and a sophomore who started three times last season before a season-ending foot injury.

Furman placekicker Ray Early was 11-12 on field goal attempts last season, including a long of 52 yards, and only missed one extra point all year (40-41).  Against Coastal Carolina, however, Early’s first field goal attempt of the season was blocked, and he then missed the PAT after the Paladins’ first touchdown.

After that, Early did not attempt a placekick in the game (although he did kick off), giving way to Furman punter Chas Short.  That may be something to watch on Saturday.

Short, incidentally, had a fine year for Furman in 2010.  The Paladins finished in the top 10 nationally in net punting.

With Furman having allowed a bunch of rushing yards to Coastal Carolina, and having lost the time of possession battle so decisively, there may be some hope among Bulldog fans that the Paladins’ defensive issues could play into The Citadel’s hands on Saturday.  As Jeff Hartsell wrote in The Post and Courier:

…on defense, the Paladins’ 4-3 look was blitzed for 237 rushing yards, including 105 yards and two TDs by CCU quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Jamie Childers. That might bode well for the Bulldogs’ option attack, as QB Ben Dupree went for 141 yards and two scores in a 31-9 win over Jacksonville. Higgins said Dupree was 23 for 23 on his option reads, and The Citadel rushed for 439 yards, the most since 1994.

That does seem promising from The Citadel’s perspective.  I would make this observation, though:

The Bulldogs ran the ball well on Furman last year, dominated time of possession, and lost 31-14.  The Citadel gained 294 net yards rushing on 60 attempts, held the ball for over 36 minutes — and did not score until the fourth quarter.

Actually, The Citadel’s 359 total yards against Furman in 2010 was the most yardage gained by the Bulldogs in any Southern Conference game for the entire season.  The problem?  Three turnovers, a missed field goal, and a failed fourth-down try inside the Furman 25.  Another issue was that The Citadel started very slowly on offense, gaining only 64 total yards on its first five possessions.

Conversely, Furman got out of the blocks fast on offense in each half, scoring touchdowns on its initial drive in both the first and third quarters.  Of the Paladins’ other three scores against The Citadel, two came on drives starting in Bulldog territory after an interception and a failed onside kick.

Kevin Higgins has said in the past that sometimes it takes a triple option team a possession or two to figure out how the defense is playing.  That makes sense.  You could see it in last week’s game against Jacksonville, as the game was well into the second quarter until Triple O’Higgins got fully warmed up.

Against a SoCon opponent, though, it needs to warm up faster.  The Bulldogs can’t go an entire quarter with no offensive production, especially as running the offense generally means there are fewer possessions in the game.  Also, while obvious, The Citadel must control its fumbling problems, which cropped up against Jacksonville (albeit with only one coming on an exchange) and stay “on schedule”.

The other thing that can’t happen Saturday if The Citadel has any chance of winning is for the defense to concede relatively easy touchdown drives right out of the dressing room.  Last season, Furman’s TD drives in each half were for a total of 123 yards and featured only two third-down plays.

What the defense really needs is to force some turnovers.  Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs forced no turnovers and also did not record a sack.

The Bulldogs must also contain Forcier, who is capable of making big plays with his arm or his feet, and prevent Williams from breaking long runs, such as the one he had against Coastal Carolina.  (Also, the defense must watch the tight end.  He’ll be catching the ball over the middle for 15 yards before you know it.  Two or three times.)

I thought Ben Dupree played well against Jacksonville.  What he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that he has the ability to make big plays.  While the triple option is mostly about moving the chains, it’s important to have a breakaway aspect to the offense, and Dupree can provide that with his running ability.  He is still a work in progress as a passer.  If he continues to improve that part of his game, he will be a very dangerous weapon indeed.

Terrell Dallas’ injury against the Dolphins was not serious, thankfully, but it appears he may not play on Saturday.  That will be a loss, but Darien Robinson showed he is quite capable of handling the fullback position.

I thought the defense really came to play against Jacksonville.  Now it faces another challenge.  It won’t have the size and depth advantage against Furman that it had against the Dolphins.

Odds and ends:

– Check out the game notes to see all the different helmet logos The Citadel has had over the years (page 5).  There have been no fewer than 25 different designs since 1952 (and I think it’s likely there have been a few more that went unrecorded).

Those artist renderings/photos in the game notes came from the Helmet Archive, a good site if you want to peruse helmet histories of other teams as well.

– Has anyone else noticed that there are a lot of entities giving out “player of the week” awards these days?  It’s hard to figure out which ones to take seriously.  I can’t decide if the plethora of “recognition sites” is a boon or a curse for athletic media relations departments.

– The Summerall Guards are performing at halftime, but not at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Guards will be in Death Valley for the Wofford-Clemson game (it is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson).  It strikes me as a little odd that they would perform at another stadium on the same day as a home football game, but no big deal.

I’m looking forward to the game.  I am hopeful that the success of the home opener, along with Saturday’s opponent, results in a nice crowd at JHS.  As for the on-field action, I’m not quite sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw against Jacksonville.  I would like to be pleasantly surprised again.

Game Review, 2011: Jacksonville

The Citadel 31, Jacksonville 9.

I would have gladly taken a one-point victory (admittedly, that is almost always the case for me), so Saturday’s result was altogether a pleasant one, particularly if you don’t think about the first quarter too much (a stanza that Walt Nadzak referred to in the radio postgame show as “horrendous by any standard”.

First, some recaps from the press:

Jeff Hartsell’s article in The Post and Courier

Hartsell’s notes from the game

Florida Times-Union article (looks to just be the AP story)

The Citadel’s release

The Post and Courier‘s “photo gallery” of the game

That last link is worthwhile if only to check out The Citadel’s new football uniforms, which in my opinion are a vast improvement over those of recent years.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team break out another set of unis for the game next week against Furman, so we’ll just see how things develop on the uniform front as the season progresses.

Last night’s football uniforms were more along the lines of a “back to basics” look, with no school name on the front (thus avoiding the whole “Citadel” vs. “The Citadel” issue) and no player names on the back of the jerseys (which was a mild surprise). Also absent: ‘TV numbers’ on the shoulder pads.

The infamous ‘side panels’ championed by Nike have been ditched, thankfully.  The weird striping on the pants remains, but it isn’t nearly as hideous without the aforementioned side panels on the jerseys.  The front of the jersey includes small logos for the SoCon and Nike, as well as a “C” on a navy-bordered neckline, which looks respectable.

The most noticeable uniform change was the new helmet logo.  Having a new helmet logo almost every year is one of The Citadel’s oldest traditions, dating back to 1861, when cadets firing on the Star of the West had to stop their assault midway through the action in order to change to a new cap badge.

The 2011 logo is a block “C”, with “navy digital camo” styling.  This picture of Brandon McCladdie in the above-linked photo gallery is a good look at it.  I’m on record as liking the block C as a helmet logo, although I prefer it to be white, but I can get used to the camo.  The only problem is that the chinstraps tend to make it harder to see at times, but I’m not sure there is much that can be done about that.

All in all, I was pleased with the uniforms, and I’m a tough grader.  Good job.

Before I get to the game itself, I want to note that the corps of cadets seemed to be mostly, if not completely, present and accounted for on Saturday night.  I have been concerned at times over the last couple of years that a significant percentage of cadets were not in the stands.  I realize that there are a lot of “duty” cadets, but still. However, on Saturday the cadet section seemed to be appropriately filled.  The corps did make its presence felt at times, and in general the noise level was good. Improvement is possible and necessary, though it was only the first game, so I’ll give the corps a solid “B”.

First, a negative. From Jeff Hartsell’s “notes” column:

[Terrell] Dallas, a senior who led the Bulldogs with 665 rushing yards last year, injured a knee on The Citadel’s first play from scrimmage. Coach Kevin Higgins said it appeared that Dallas injured his medial collateral ligament, but that more tests will be conducted [Sunday].

Losing Dallas for an extended period of time would be a tough break for the Bulldogs (and for Dallas, obviously).  We’ll have to wait and see.

I’ll examine some of the statistical information from the JU contest and try to determine what it means going forward in my preview of the Furman game later in the week.  Just some quick observations:

– Cass Couey had a solid game punting.  His first punt, in particular, was outstanding.  In general, the special teams were very hit or miss.  The Bulldogs had one missed field goal and one very poor coverage job on a kickoff (where Ryan Sellers made up for his missed FG with a touchdown-saving tackle).  Then there was the fumbled punt inside the 5 (that JU converted into a TD) and a near-disaster on another muffed punt (and what a game-changer that could have been; on the next play, Ben Dupree scored on a 58-yard TD run).

The Citadel appeared to tip two of Jacksonville’s punts and was credited with a block on a third, although from my vantage point I wasn’t sure that Domonic Jones really blocked the punt as much as it was simply lined right at him (with a “wormburner” trajectory).

– This was arguably the first game since the debut of Triple O’Higgins in which the offensive execution was good enough that all the options were readily available, so to speak.  Of the five Bulldog fumbles (two lost), only one was on an exchange.  There weren’t so many negative plays this time around, so The Citadel wasn’t constantly in third-and-forever mode and could keep things “on schedule”.

As the game progressed, the Bulldogs were able to key off JU’s defenders, eventually adjusting to what the Dolphins were doing, so after Dupree had burned JU on two long scoring plays, he was then able to pitch out when Jacksonville moved to stop him.  The relative effectiveness of the offense also allowed for things like the end-around play to Kevin Hardy.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on offensive line play, but even from the stands some things are easy to figure out, like the fact that Mike Sellers has tremendous potential.  How often is a team’s center considered an offensive weapon?

– I won’t go into great length about the defense, but it was very good for the entire game, as the numbers indicate.  The defensive line as a group was excellent, with Derek Douglas the standout, but the ‘backers and backs were on their game as well. Jacksonville had no big pass plays, and its running game was completely shut down. The only real negative was the lack of forced turnovers (just one).

– The Bulldogs only committed two penalties, continuing a trend from last season.  At The Citadel, the law is respected.

Part of the lack of forced turnovers for the Bulldog D can be credited to JU quarterback Josh McGregor (21-33, 208 passing yards, no interceptions), who I thought was impressive in defeat.  His team suffered from a lack of size and (to a lesser extent) speed, and also from an absence of depth.  Scanning the sidelines, I noticed that Jacksonville had dressed no more than 55 players (and that may be a generous estimate).  If you want to know the difference between scholarship and non-scholarship football, that is it in a nutshell right there.

It’s not going to be easy for Kerwin Bell to get his team to rebound from its loss on Saturday night.  JU had put a lot of eggs into a “playoffs-or-bust” basket, and if those eggs aren’t already broken, most of them are cracked.  To even draw playoff consideration, the Dolphins will have to win their remaining ten games, including Sunday’s game at Western Illinois, a 2010 playoff participant.  9-2 with a Pioneer League title (which would also include an OOC victory over Charleston Southern) would not be good enough.  10-1, quite honestly, probably wouldn’t be good enough unless A) Western Illinois has a good season, and/or B)  The Citadel has a good season.

I certainly hope option B comes to pass.  Will The Citadel have a good season? We’re about to find out.  Over the next seven weeks, the Bulldogs will play six games, all against Southern Conference competition, three at home (including next Saturday) and three on the road.

I’ll conclude this post with some pictures I took at the game.  Traditional reminder:  I’m a bad photographer with a below-average camera.  If you want to see good pictures, be sure to check out that Post and Courier gallery.  I do try to take pictures of offensive and defensive formations, because some people are interested in that (especially the triple option stuff).  I also threw in a couple of special teams photos and a shot of something called “Cosmic Dogs”, which is a new vendor under the stands.  It is, naturally, out of focus.

On to Furman…

2011 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Jacksonville

The Citadel vs. Jacksonville, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 3.  The game will not be televised, although it will be webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

It’s that time of year! College football has arrived and not a moment too soon.  I’m tired of reading about the Summer of Ponzi and all the other scandals that have beset the sport in the off-season, and while I enjoy discussing realignment as much as anybody, the Texas A&M two-step with the SEC is starting to get old.  I’m ready to see some activity on the playing field.

This is an important season for The Citadel’s football program.  I wrote about the program’s status last November; nothing has happened since then to make me think that the 2011 campaign will be anything other than a defining one for Kevin Higgins and his coaching staff.  I’m far from the only person who thinks that success of some sort this season is paramount.   The intensity in the crowd at the recent open scrimmage was palpable.

One thing is certain:  if there ever were a year for the football team to “sneak up” on people, this is the one.  Southern Conference media members picked The Citadel to finish last.  Only one player (Tolu Akindele) made either the preseason all-conference first or second teams.  The SoCon coaches’ vote had The Citadel in next-to-last place, ahead of only Western Carolina; that’s the same verdict rendered by The Sports Network.

Last season, the Bulldogs played three non-conference games before beginning league play.  This year, though, The Citadel will play six of its first seven games against SoCon opposition.  The Bulldogs will have a good idea of where they stand before the fall harvest.

The only non-league game in that group of seven contests is the first one, and it is far from the “gimme game” that the home opener has been in recent years.  Instead of scheduling a glorified scrimmage against the likes of Webber International or Chowan, The Citadel is playing Jacksonville, which went 10-1 last season and shared the Pioneer League title (with Dayton).  The Dolphins, favored to win the PL again, will be a formidable challenge.

Jacksonville University is not to be confused with Jacksonville State University, which is located in Alabama and has a football team coached by Jack Crowe, the man who was on the wrong side of one of The Citadel’s more notable gridiron triumphs. Jacksonville University is located in Jacksonville, Florida, and its football team is coached by Kerwin Bell.  (More on him later.)

Jacksonville began in 1934 as a junior college named “William J. Porter University” after its founder; in 1958 it became a four-year school after merging with the Jacksonville School of Music.  As of today it’s a private, liberal-arts university with roughly 3,500 undergraduate students (60% of whom are women).

JU’s “Timeline” feature on its website includes a lot of concerts in the 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps an indication of the importance of the music school in relation to the rest of the university at that time.  Performers who made their way to Swisher Gym included Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Duke Ellington, John Denver, and Billy Joel; K.C. and the Sunshine Band recorded a live album there.

Jacksonville awarded honorary doctorates to Bob Hope and Jack Benny on the same day in 1972.  Another same-day honorary doctorate duo for JU:  Charlton Heston and Ann Landers (who received hers less than a year after writing that Jacksonville U. was one of “the four top colleges in the nation”).

It’s also worth noting that Jacksonville University has the second-largest NROTC program in the country.

Jacksonville has twenty-one varsity sports.  Its nickname, the Dolphins, came to be in 1947 following a student contest (the original contest winner was “Green Dolphins”; another possibility had been the “Juggernauts”).  The official school mascot is an actual dolphin — 58-year-old Nellie, a Marineland mainstay.

The most famous of all JU athletes is, without a doubt, basketball Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.  Second place on the school’s famous athlete list is probably occupied by Donnie Hammond.  (Like I said, there is no doubt about #1.)

Gilmore played two seasons at Jacksonville (he started his career at Gardner-Webb, then a junior college) and averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game, which I think can be best described as “awesome”.  In his junior season, he led the Dolphins to the NCAA title game.

Yes, you read that right.  Jacksonville played in the Final Four in 1970, just twelve years after becoming a four-year school.  We’re not talking Division II, either.  The high-scoring Dolphins beat Western Kentucky, Iowa, and No. 1 Kentucky to win the Mideast Regional.  Jacksonville averaged over 106 points per game in those three contests.

- Tangent #1:  What a weird Final Four that was.  There was nothing strange about UCLA being there (and the Bruins would beat Jacksonville in the final, 80-69), but the other three teams were Jacksonville, St. Bonaventure, and New Mexico State.  The Dolphins and the Bonnies were at the time the two smallest schools to ever make it that far, and they played each other in the semifinals.  Alas, it was a mismatch, as St. Bonaventure star Bob Lanier had injured his knee in the regional final and could not play in the Final Four.  Thus, the spectators at Cole Field House were denied the opportunity to watch two future Hall of Fame centers face each other.

After that season, Dolphins coach Joe Williams left JU and took the job at Furman.

- Tangent #2:  Artis Gilmore and his wife have been married for 39 years.  Her name is Enola Gay.  I thought that was worth mentioning.

Okay, it’s time to talk about JU football…

Jacksonville started its football program in 1998, winning its first-ever game 19-14 over Davidson.  The school’s media guide also lists Davidson as being the first ranked team (at No. 3!) the Dolphins ever played, in a 2001 contest won 45-3 by JU, but I have to seriously question that.  What poll would this have been?  Maybe it was a poll only including Southern Conference schools that don’t play scholarship football.

JU plays its home games at Milne Field, a 5,000-seat facility built specifically for the football program, which averaged 3,761 fans per game last season.  The Dolphins have won nine straight home games, but the real eye-popping numbers are from their road games — not necessarily the results on the field, but the travel involved. Jacksonville has six road games this year.  JU will bus to The Citadel for Saturday’s game.  Later in the year the Dolphins will also take the bus to Campbell, assuming the bus driver can find his way to Buies Creek.

However, the Dolphins will make four road trips by air, flying to the University of San Diego, Drake (which is in Iowa), Marist (New York), and Western Illinois (travelling to WIU on the day of the game).  That is a total of 5,575 miles in the air.

Having multiple long airplane flights is a consequence of playing in the Pioneer League, a non-scholarship FCS conference with ten members.  Jacksonville is the southernmost school in the league, which has three members in the southeast (JU, Davidson, Campbell), five in or around the midwest (Drake, Valparaiso, Dayton, Butler, Morehead State), one west coast entry (USD) and one northeastern school (Marist).

One reason for having such a far-flung league is that all of those schools choose to play football at the non-scholarship level while maintaining a NCAA Division I athletics program.  Since 1993, institutions have had to play football at the same level as their other sports, which affected schools like Dayton (a D-3 power in football during the 1980s) in particular.  There aren’t a lot of D-1 schools that offer non-scholarship football but provide schollies in other sports (which distinguishes these institutions from those in the Ivy League, for example).

Jacksonville is not likely to become a scholarship football program in the near future. That possibility was suggested to the president of the university, who responded:

[It] costs too much for us to do it right now. For us to move into scholarship football because of the rules for gender equity, we would not only have to be able to fund the scholarship program year in and year out, we would also have to fund a similar amount for women’s athletics.

And we simply can’t afford it right now. If we had some major donors that came forward and helped us, then something like that could be possible. It’s simply economics. We need a stadium, our stadium is quaint. We would need a stadium where the fan base would generate revenue.

The revenue we get right now is diminutive. With a stadium, you could start getting money back into the program. There are some positives to it, but it’s simply too expensive right now.

In 2013, two new football programs will join the Pioneer League — Stetson and Mercer.  That should help alleviate Jacksonville’s travel burden to a certain extent.

Kerwin Bell played his high school ball in the small town of Mayo, Florida, where he was known as “The Throwin’ Mayoan”.  Arriving at the University of Florida as a walk-on, in one year he managed to climb the ladder from eighth-string to starter.  In 1984, Bell and the Gators would win the SEC title, winning eight straight games to close out the season.  The SEC title was short-lived, however, as the conference rescinded it the following year due to UF being on probation.  In 1985 Florida would go 9-1-1 for a second straight season, and again was not awarded the league crown (and again could not go to a bowl game) because of NCAA violations.

Two years later Bell began his pro career, which featured multiple stops in the CFL (including a stint in the Canadian outpost of Sacramento), a tour of duty with the Orlando Thunder of the Arena Football League, and a two-year stay with the Indianapolis Colts.  Bell got into one game with the Colts, mopping up in a 1996 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.  In that game, he threw five passes, completing all five for 75 yards and a touchdown (to Marvin Harrison).  Bell finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.  Contained within his Wikipedia entry is this astute observation:

[Kerwin Bell] has the highest career passer rating of any quarterback in NFL history, higher than current and future Hall of Fame members Joe Namath, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

Bell’s coaching career actually started in 1990.  While recovering from an ACL injury he worked for one year as a graduate assistant coach for Steve Spurrier, who had taken over the Florida program.  His next coaching job came with the Toronto Argonauts in 2000, where he served as offensive coordinator (while still playing quarterback).

He then spent six years as head coach of a new football program at Trinity High School in Ocala, Florida.   He has been the head coach at JU for the last four seasons (with the upcoming campaign being his fifth).  Bell is 29-17 overall at Jacksonville, with records of 3-8, 9-4, 7-4, and 10-1. In two of the last three campaigns JU has won outright or shared the Pioneer League title, with the 2008 season documented by a “JUDolphins.com best seller”.

It seems reasonable to speculate about whether Bell is striving to follow a career path similar to that of Jim Harbaugh, who started his head coaching career at a Pioneer League school (San Diego) before moving up to Stanford, and who now is in charge of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.  Bell said last season that he is not “the kind of guy who needs to be on TV“, but if he continues his successful run at JU, he is likely going to get an opportunity to take a higher-profile job.

Bell’s staff at Jacksonville includes three assistant coaches who played in the NFL. Ernie Logan spent nine seasons in the league as a defensive lineman.  Not surprisingly, he is the Dolphins’ DL coach.

Ernie Mills was a wide receiver who also spent nine years in the NFL, mostly with Pittsburgh.  He caught eight TD passes in 1995, a year in which the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl.

Jerry Crafts (aka “The Condo”) appeared in two Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills, one of five NFL teams for which he played, along with three CFL teams, four AFL outfits, two WLAF franchises, and (inevitably) one XFL team (the Los Angeles Xtreme).  He also made an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio program.

Like Bell, Mills also played his college ball at Florida, with their careers in Gainesville overlapping slightly, along with that of Dolphins defensive coordinator Jerry Odom, the only coach the JU athletics website lists as being on Twitter.  He doesn’t appear to take full advantage of the service.

Staff meetings at JU must get confusing at times, what with two coaches named “Ernie”, two named “Jerry”, another named “Kerry” (running backs coach Kerry Webb), and a head coach called “Kerwin”.

The Dolphins have 100 players listed on their active roster.  All but six of them are from Florida.  A couple of notable names on the list who may or may not see action against The Citadel are freshman quarterback Kade Bell, son of the head coach, and freshman WR/TE Andrew Robustelli.  If Robustelli’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because his grandfather was a Hall of Fame defensive end for the New York Giants in the 1950s.

Jacksonville runs a pro-style offense, and while the Dolphins like to pass, the offense is reasonably balanced.  Last season JU rushed 387 times while throwing 348 passes.  I would still describe it as a “pass-first” setup, mainly because I’m guessing a lot of the rushing attempts came at the end of blowouts.

Ah yes, blowouts.  The Dolphins had a lot of those in 2010, with an 86-7 demolition of poor Valparaiso being the biggest (check out that 38-point second quarter).  JU also pummeled Webber International (41-0), Marist (56-14), Davidson (42-15), and Morehead State (61-17).

As you can see, JU likes to put up crooked numbers.  The Dolphins lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 42.2 points per game, just one of several gaudy team offensive statistics.  Jacksonville averaged 486 yards of total offense per game (7.3 yards per play).  JU also averaged an outstanding 9.3 yards per pass attempt, with 35 of its 217 completed throws going for touchdowns (against only seven interceptions).

Leading that offense this year, as he has for the previous three, is 6’2″, 210-lb. senior quarterback Josh McGregor, who has more career passing yards than any returning QB in the nation (8,186).  He has thrown 87 touchdown passes in his 35-game run as the JU signal-caller.  McGregor threw for 300 yards or more seven times last season and is on the Payton Watch List.  A highlight package featuring some of McGregor’s 2010 exploits has been uploaded to YouTube.

His top target is senior wideout Josh Philpart, who has 29 career touchdown receptions.  Philpart averaged 16.7 yards per catch last year.  Another receiver, Larry Thompson, was only a half-step behind Philpart in most statistical categories, other than TDs.  Jacksonville likes to spread things around, as six different players caught at least 18 passes last season (including two running backs).

Incidentally, Philpart did not have a reception in the game last season against Appalachian State.  I’m guessing that the Dolphins will try to get him involved in the game early against The Citadel in order to avoid having him become a non-factor.

Jacksonville’s all-time rushing leader, Rudell Small, has graduated, but the Dolphins have a more than adequate replacement in J.J. Laster, who rushed for 830 yards last season in backup duty (8.5 yards per carry).  Laster rushed for 177 yards in the game against Marist.

JU lost both its starting left tackle and left guard off the offensive line.  Last year’s right tackle, Chad Cypher, is moving to left tackle to protect McGregor’s “blind side”; at 6’6″, 310 lbs., Cypher at least looks the part.  He has drawn some pre-season accolades.

Kevin Higgins briefly discussed Jacksonville’s offense with Jeff Hartsell after a weeknight practice:

They have a multiple offense, a little bit like we were the first couple of years. They will spread you out, the QB is a really smart player who can check at the line of scrimmage. They try to create space on the field, and the QB is experienced and one of the tops in I-AA. And the line is very experienced as well.

As for the Dolphins’ defense, Higgins stated he had no idea how Jacksonville would line up against The Citadel, as JU didn’t face an option team last season (the Dolphins normally feature a 4-3 scheme).

Jacksonville’s defensive line is relatively experienced.  It is also small.  Nose tackle Mike Mayoral weighs 210 pounds.  Defensive end Rolando Fines is a little bigger (245 lbs.) and is expected to lead the group.

As far as JU’s linebacking corps is concerned, Kerwin Bell is quoted in JU’s media guide as saying that “we’re sort of iffy there.”  Layne McCombs is a senior who would be Jacksonville’s top defensive player, except he has a knee problem (torn ACL from last season).  Whether he plays or not is apparently open to question.  The Dolphins are probably going to play some of their younger players in this unit and hope for the best.

Jacksonville is in better shape in the defensive secondary, with three starters returning and a decent amount of depth.  One concern for JU is that none of its DBs are particularly tall.

Jacksonville had an excellent punt return squad last season, averaging a sizzling 11.1 yards per return in 2010, but its top return man graduated.  Its kick return numbers were mediocre at best.  JU did a fairly good job holding down its opponents’ return yardage.

The Dolphins will have a new punter and a new placekicker this season, which could be problematic in a season opener.

The Citadel’s total offense numbers in the eight Southern Conference games in 2010 were as follows:  359, 304, 263, 197, 160, 143, 300, 203.  Those are listed in order of the games as they were played — in other words, the 359 total yards of offense came in the Bulldogs’ first league game (against Furman).  The offense continued to put up fewer yards of offense each week until “breaking through” with 300 yards against a less-than-stellar Elon defense, and then regressed back to 203 yards against a solid Samford D in the season’s final game (which The Citadel managed to win anyway).

On the bright side, the offense only committed one turnover in the final two games (combined), which was obviously a vast improvement from, say, the Georgia Southern debacle (nine turnovers).  The Citadel turned the ball over 32 times in all, which included 23 lost fumbles.  The Bulldogs actually had 44 total fumbles in eleven games, and also had an inordinate number of ball-possession miscues that did not quite result in fumbles but had the effect of ending a play before it really got started.

The lack of yardage can be directly tied to The Citadel’s ball-control woes.  Those issues must be fixed if the Bulldogs are to have a respectable 2011 campaign.  The offense’s ineptitude also had a negative impact on the defense, which had to defend a short field too many times.  Kevin Higgins admitted as much during his radio interview with Phil Kornblut on August 25 (Kornblut also talked to Tolu Akindele and Terrell Dallas).  The head coach didn’t mince words:

We really played, I think, much better defense than people give us credit for, and the reason is because our offense was so bad, the defense was on the field so much, that there was a lot of pressure on them…it was the first year with the option, the ball was on the ground…I remember going home at this time last year and going, ooh.

Fans going home after watching the Bulldogs offense struggle didn’t all say “ooh”…more like “ugh” (or perhaps something unprintable).

There is optimism among those following the team that the second year in the offense will result in significant improvement.  I sure wouldn’t mind winning four more games this season than last, like the Bulldogs did in 1987-88 running Charlie Taaffe‘s wishbone (going from 4-7 to 8-4).

There are also whispers about a special “edge” the Bulldogs now possess.  This edge is reportedly known in certain circles as The Candeto Factor.  It’s all hush-hush.

Sophomore Ben Dupree will be the starter at quarterback (and a team captain as well, which I thought was interesting), after beginning last season as the starter, moving to second string, then third string, making a cameo appearance as a running back, and then returning to the starting lineup as the quarterback for the final two games of the season.  If making the right reads, Dupree, who has shown signs of being an elusive runner, could be a big-play threat.  He is a bit on the small side and needs to improve his passing.

Dupree will be backed up by Matt Thompson and freshman Aaron Miller, who looked good (at least to me) in the Bulldogs’ last open scrimmage.  There is depth at running back, with at least four different players hoping to make an impact, including the Lazarus of the backfield, Rickey Anderson.  Terrell Dallas is the fullback, and he’s a good one.  Against Jacksonville’s smallish defensive line, he may be called upon to do some power running.  His understudy is Darien Robinson, who isn’t afraid to move a pile either.

Mike Sellers, thrown into the line of fire as the starting center as a freshman, is bigger and better.  That should be the case for the offensive line in general (including the imposing Neal Strange), although injured guard Jameson Bryant will not play in the opener.  Keith Carter moves from defense to offense to add athleticism to the o-line.  (I keep wanting to call him Kenny Carter.  Getting old is tough.)

While most triple option offenses don’t throw the ball too often, this isn’t any ordinary triple option offense — it’s the Triple O’Higgins!  Higgins told Kornblut that the ideal number of passes in the TO’H is 10-12 per game.

Several of those pass attempts will undoubtedly be thrown in the general direction of Domonic Jones, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver last season.  At 6’5″, he could prove to be a tough matchup for the short Jacksonville defensive backs.  Actually, he should prove to be a tough matchup for almost any defensive secondary he faces.  One of The Citadel’s other receivers, Luke Caldwell, may be the best passer on the team, if the Samford game last season and the recent scrimmage are any indication.

As mentioned above, the Bulldog D was solid in 2010 for the most part.  I think the only time I was really disappointed in the unit’s play was against Elon.  The defense had trouble getting off the field in that game, and also fared poorly in the “red zone”. Stopping opponents from scoring when inside the 20 should be a point of emphasis this year, as that is an area in which the Bulldogs need to do better (allowing a 64% TD rate last season).

Against Jacksonville, which converted on third down 49% of the time in 2010, it will be even more important to prevent long drives and turn the ball back over to the offense. To do that, The Citadel needs to improve incrementally in defensive statistical categories such as average per pass attempt (7.6 last year) and average per rush (4.3).

The Bulldogs also need to grab more than their fair share of turnovers.  The Citadel finished last in the Southern Conference in interceptions in 2010.  The squad needs to grab a few more and also force more fumbles.

To paraphrase Akindele in his interview with Phil Kornblut, the Bulldogs D needs its playmakers to make more big plays.  Akindele himself is one of those playmakers, having led the team in tackles last season.

He’s joined by a solid group of linemen and linebackers, including Derek Douglas, Chris Billingslea, and Rod Harland, who judging from the recent scrimmage has been ready to lace ‘em up again since last season ended.  He was bringing the heat, as the kids say.  (They do say that, right?)

The defense as a whole has a lot of depth (a priority for the coaches), particularly on the line, but also in the secondary, making it easier to absorb the loss of Cortez Allen, now of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Bulldogs seem to be in solid shape at cornerback, which is a good thing, as Jacksonville’s group of talented receivers will provide a stern test.

Cass Couey returns for the third straight year as the Bulldogs’ dependable punter. The Citadel in general was okay in most phases of the return game.  Keith Gamble, besides starting at cornerback, is a threat to go the distance as a kick returner (he had an 87-yarder against Elon last year).  He averaged 25 yards per return in 2010.

Ryan Sellers will be the starting placekicker for The Citadel this season.  The kickoff specialist shared PK duties last year, making five of nine, including a 47-yarder against Chattanooga, the season long for a Bulldog kicker by eight yards.  As you would expect of a kicker, he wears a kicker’s number — #99.

The matchup between the Bulldogs and the Dolphins will be a big one for both teams, even though it is only the first game of the season.  In the long run, it may actually mean more to Jacksonville than it does to The Citadel, though.

JU missed out on a bid to the FCS playoffs by a narrow margin last season.  While the Dolphins were 10-1, the schedule strength just wasn’t there to justify Jacksonville receiving a berth in the postseason.  Jacksonville only played two scholarship programs, one of which (Old Dominion) had only re-started its football program the year before.  The other, of course, was Appalachian State, which throttled the Dolphins (not that there was any shame in that).

In fact, Jacksonville has only defeated three scholarship programs in its history — Old Dominion last season, Coastal Carolina (in the Chanticleers’ first season of football in 2003), and Savannah State (in 2008).  In 2011, the Dolphins will have three opportunities to beat scholarship programs, as JU will open the season against The Citadel, Western Illinois, and Charleston Southern (with the CSU game played at Milne Field).

To make its case for an at-large bid (the Pioneer League is not an automatic qualifying conference), Jacksonville needs to win at least two (if not all three) of those games.  Beating up Valparaiso and Marist isn’t going to be enough.  Moreover, if JU cannot beat a team picked to finish last in the SoCon, its case for a bid may completely dissolve.

For The Citadel, getting off to a good start this season is critically important.  The Bulldogs badly need to gain confidence in their offensive system and establish some momentum prior to a run of six consecutive Southern Conference games.  It’s also a home game, and the team must show its supporters that there is reason to believe in the upcoming campaign.

Fans gave the team some leeway last season as the new offense was installed.  It was understood that there would be trying times on occasion in 2010, although some of those times were more trying than anyone would have liked.  Now there has been a year for the coaches and players to get comfortable with the system.  There won’t be any more metaphorical mulligans handed out.

The Citadel has only had one winning season since 1997.  The game against Jacksonville could go a long way in determining whether that trend will continue, or if the Bulldogs can begin to dream of success — for this season, and for future seasons as well.

I’m looking forward to late Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Review: Elon

Elon 27, The Citadel 16.

Good news: there were signs of life from the offense, and an absence of navy pants.

Bad news:  it was still a loss, and there is still no “The” on the jerseys, regardless of color

Obviously the offensive unit performed much better on Saturday than in its previous four games; the 16 points were in fact the most scored by The Citadel in league play all season.  There were no turnovers (!) and Ben Dupree was able to execute the offense well enough so that the Bulldogs actually got in a position to pitch the ball on multiple occasions.  The Citadel only punted once.

Dupree played the entire game, made some good reads and showed an ability to improvise.  The star-crossed Ricky Anderson probably had his best game as a Bulldog.  Terrell Dallas demonstrated a couple of times what we already knew, namely that he’s almost an ideal fullback for the triple option offense.

You will excuse me, however, if I point out some things on offense that weren’t so great (besides the loss):

– The Bulldogs did not turn the ball over, but did fumble three times and had several other instances of a less-than-clean center-QB exchange, which generally resulted in lost-yardage or no-yardage plays.  This area of execution did get better, but there is still quite a bit of improvement that needs to be made.

– Dupree didn’t make every read correctly, which showed in some plays that were “stuffed”, both on the inside and on the outside.

– The Bulldogs entered the “red zone” five times on Saturday, but only scored 16 points.  Elon’s red zone success vs. that of The Citadel was the difference in the game (more on that later).

– Luke Caldwell’s 26-yard pass reception in the third quarter (on a 4th-and-8 play that set up The Citadel’s first touchdown) was the only play the Bulldogs offense had that gained more than eighteen yards.  The Citadel now has only nine plays of 20+ yards in its last seven contests.

– When evaluating the offense’s play, another thing to take into consideration is that Elon is not the greatest of defensive teams.  The Phoenix are next-to-last in the Southern Conference in total defense and rushing defense, and third-from-last in scoring defense and pass defense.  Elon lacks a truly disruptive playmaker on the defensive line like Georgia Southern’s Brent Russell or Wofford’s Ameet Pall — and the Phoenix’s best lineman, Brandon Ward, did not play against The Citadel after being arrested on an assault charge earlier in the week.

All that said, it was an encouraging performance by the offense.  I admit I was worried that the Homecoming crowd would be subjected to some brutal moments of ineptitude, but for the most part those were avoided.  I wish this was the kind of game we had been getting from the offensive unit in early October rather than early November, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Unfortunately, after two straight weeks of solid play while getting no help from the offense, the Bulldog defense didn’t quite get it done on Saturday.  The Citadel seemed to have caught a break when Phoenix starting quarterback Scott Riddle got injured at Chattanooga, but Elon backup QB Thomas Wilson made no big mistakes and methodically led his team down the field, particularly in the second half.

What the Bulldog D couldn’t do, ultimately, was get off the field, especially in the second half.  Elon scored touchdowns on all three of its second-half drives (not counting a one-play drive that was a kneeldown to end the game).  The Phoenix consistently converted on third down (9-13 for the game) and did not commit a turnover.  Indeed, the two offenses had similar numbers; besides the lack of turnovers, there were very few big plays (Elon had two 20+ yard plays to The Citadel’s one).

The difference was how the two teams did in the red zone.  Elon moved inside The Citadel’s 20-yard line on four occasions, and scored touchdowns all four times.  That has proven to be the defense’s biggest problem this season, as the Bulldogs are last in the SoCon in red zone defense, having allowed 29 touchdowns in 41 red-zone possessions.

The Citadel got some stops in the second quarter, but other than that Elon efficiently picked up chain-moving yardage on almost every play (The Citadel only had four tackles for loss in the game), converted on third down when necessary and scored when it got its opportunities.  The few times Elon faced third-and-long, it managed to pick up the first down via the pass (including critical 19- and 14-yard third down completions late in the third quarter after The Citadel had retaken the lead).

While there were no offensive big plays, The Citadel did get an 87-yard kickoff return from Keith Gamble to set up its second TD.  Earlier in the game, the Bulldogs also converted a fourth down via a fake field goal that probably would have resulted in a touchdown if it had been a little more smoothly executed.  Alas, that first down led to a shorter field goal attempt that was blocked.

Okay, time to talk about the uniforms…

Link

I was afraid of a potential red jersey/navy pants combo, but thankfully that did not come to pass.  As for the actual jersey and helmet:

– As mentioned earlier, no “THE”; that would have been too difficult, I guess

– I liked the “Big Red” crescent/tree logo on the shoulders; very distinctive

– The color itself wasn’t overly obnoxious (in other words, it wasn’t an “electric” red)

– I don’t like the “side panels”, which are a Nike staple, and they look even worse with this combo

– The numerals were hard to read, which is also true of the navy jerseys

– I think the navy stripes on the helmet should have been red

– The helmet logo should have featured original artwork; as it is, it’s just a redo of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ mark

I didn’t have a problem with breaking out the red jerseys for this game.  The original Big Red, of course, arrived on campus in March; its disappearance and rediscovery is an interesting tale.  Wearing red jerseys for the Homecoming following that development seemed reasonably appropriate (and a good way to push merchandise).

I’m not sure I would want to see them again, however.  I certainly don’t want the football team wearing red jerseys to become a yearly event.  I think doing that would make it much less special, and also detract from the school’s traditional colors for its sports teams.

Of course, it could be argued that the parade of different football uniform color combinations this season has already devalued the tradition of wearing light blue and white. In ten games, the Bulldogs have worn six different jersey/pant color combos, including four different looks for the six home games.

In fact, I think the fact The Citadel did not have a standard uniform combination this season made the red jerseys seem a little less unusual.  Let’s face it, if the Bulldogs had lined up wearing silver or black, nobody would have been all that shocked, so the red jersey wasn’t that much of a departure.

Now The Citadel gets a bye week.  As bye weeks go, this one can’t be more pointless. Ten straight games, then a bye week, then a road game at Samford to finish the season.  I realize this is mostly due to the odd number of teams in the Southern Conference (nine), but it still seems dumb.

I feel a little better about the team after Saturday’s game, but the Bulldogs are still 2-8, with a seven-game losing streak, and winless in the SoCon.  It’s a transition year, to be sure, but I would like to start transitioning to victories.

Later in the week (I hope) I’m going to write about Kevin Higgins’ tenure at The Citadel and the status of the program as a whole.

Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

This week’s edition of the game preview is a bit of a ramble.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad…

In last season’s preview of the Western Carolina game, I wrote (among other things) about how WCU has some built-in problems when it comes to competing successfully in football in the Southern Conference.  At the time, the Catamounts were 0-5.  It was a game The Citadel was supposed to win.

The Bulldogs lost, 14-10.

That’s the lesson to be learned when it comes to The Citadel competing in the SoCon.  The Bulldogs may face a team that is struggling and/or lacks (as a program) certain resources.  However, The Citadel will never be in a position to just show up and win while playing its “C” game.  The military school doesn’t have the capacity to do that, and never will, because of its own restrictions (note that I said restrictions, not disadvantages).

At its best as a program, The Citadel could beat any league team — and could lose to any league team.  That’s just the way it is.  In terms of physical talent, no other conference squad will ever be overmatched by the Bulldogs.

This season, Western Carolina is 1-3, including a 24-point home loss to Tusculum, a Division II school.  On Saturday, on the road at Johnson Hagood Stadium, Catamounts coach Dennis Wagner will give a true freshman quarterback his first career start.  It is a game The Citadel is supposed to win…

Western Carolina opened its season by losing 48-7 to North Carolina State, which no one could get too upset about.  Then, however, the Catamounts were embarrassed by Tusculum 54-30 (in a game that ended with 2:39 still on the clock after a lightning strike).  Plenty of Catamount fans were upset about that.

WCU followed that up with a somewhat surprising 28-14 win over Gardner-Webb, which had just upset Akron.  Last week’s 27-21 loss to UT-Chattanooga was also a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, as the game wasn’t supposed to be that close.

I decided to discount the NC State game when looking at WCU’s statistical record. Western Carolina actually scored first in that game before allowed 48 unanswered points.  Still, that was against a currently undefeated BCS school.

Against Tusculum (as mentioned above, a Division II school, and one that only won three games last season), the Catamounts gave up fumble return touchdowns of 90 and 60 yards and were also victimized by a blocked punt that resulted in a TD one play later.  Ouch.  Just before halftime, the score was 27-0.  It was just a complete debacle.

Also noteworthy:  Tusculum only had 42 net yards rushing, but threw for 410 yards without being intercepted.  The stats for this game were very different from the other WCU games in several respects — the Catamounts finished with more first downs and more time of possession, for example.

That game looks like a situation where things started terribly, and the Catamounts were simply incapable of reversing the momentum.  That may be an indication of how fragile WCU’s program is, but I think Western Carolina’s 9-40 record since 2006 is enough of an indicator.

Then came the promising performances against Gardner-Webb and UTC.

Against G-W, Western Carolina only picked up 7 first downs on offense (to the Bulldogs’ 24) and was on the short end of time of possession by almost 16 minutes. So how did the Catamounts prevail?  By taking advantage of six turnovers, that’s how. WCU intercepted five passes, returning one for a score, and also returned a fumble for a TD.  Torrez Jones had four of the five picks (although not the pick-6).

WCU’s other two scores in the game were on a 78-yard pass reception and a 60-yard run, so big plays ruled the day.  Gardner-Webb couldn’t overcome all of them, even at home.

The UT-Chattanooga game was a similar story.  The Mocs had 24 first downs to WCU’s 12 (with the Catamounts not picking up a single first down by rushing).  In this game Western Carolina committed four turnovers, all by Brandon Pechloff, the freshman who will be starting against The Citadel on Saturday (three interceptions, one fumble).

However, WCU forced four turnovers of its own, including three fumbles, one of which it returned for a TD.  WCU also scored on a trick play.  After a UTC punt gave the Catamounts great field position, WCU scored on its first play following the change in possession on a wide receiver pass.

To sum up, the Catamounts are not the type of team that sustains long scoring drives. The Catamounts have had to count on big plays, both offensively and defensively, to stay in games.    I could see The Citadel rolling up a huge edge in time of possession in this game, but it won’t mean much if the Bulldogs turn the ball over.

The big play motif is probably a key factor behind WCU coach Dennis Wagner’s decision to start Pechloff, a 6’7″ left-hander, at quarterback.  The starter for the UTC game, Zac Brindise, left that game after completing 10 of 14 passes, but for only 34 yards.  That wouldn’t be good enough for any team, and certainly not one like WCU. Pechloff may have thrown three interceptions, but his yards-per-attempt rate of 6.04 was a lot better than Brindise’s 2.43 YPA.

It’s hard to blame Wagner for taking a shot with the young QB.  It’s up to the Bulldog defense to take advantage of his inexperience and collect a few turnovers of its own.

Tangent:  Chattanooga beat writer John Frierson noted in a Tweet that “WCU coach Dennis Wagner might be the only college head coach who wears shorts on game day. I bet others wish they did.”


I don’t recall ever seeing a college head coach wear shorts during a game.  In a way it’s amazing that no one else has (or that I can’t think of anyone else, anyway). Saturday is supposed to be clear with a high of 77 degrees, so I’m guessing Wagner breaks out the long pants against The Citadel.

Frierson also noted in another tweet that Pechloff “looked good once he settled down a bit”, so this probably won’t be a case of the Bulldogs going up against an overly anxious quarterback.  Pechloff could be a find for WCU, too; he led his high school team in Illinois to the 5A championship as a senior after not starting his junior year (which according to him is the reason bigger schools did not offer him a scholarship).

Like every other high school prospect, Pechloff had a Youtube video.  You can see it here.

I would say that The Citadel needs to pressure Pechloff, but you could say that every week about every quarterback the Bulldogs defense faces.  I think another thing to do, though, is to give him different looks and force him to make reads under duress.

I also wouldn’t bet against Brindise making an appearance for WCU against the Bulldogs.

I wrote about things the Bulldogs did well/need to improve in my review of the Furman game, so I’m not going to rehash that here.  I’ll make a couple of quick points, though:

– With the triple option, there is a significant element of “take what the defense gives you” to the offense.  Terrell Dallas’ stat lines against Presbyterian and Furman the last two weeks are a good example of that.  However, I think there is still a place in the triple option to feature certain players in some situations.  The Citadel has to get the ball to its best playmakers.

It may not be that easy to free up a fullback like Dallas, but I would like to see more opportunities for Jones.  That would be Van Dyke Jones and Domonic Jones, or any other Jones on The Citadel’s campus who can be a gamebreaker.  Terrance Martin did struggle with the science of going in motion against Furman, but regardless he is another player capable of making big plays.  I hope he gets more chances to change the game.

– It’s about time for Milford Scott to block another punt.  He also has to lead all levels of football in the head-over-heels flipperama move, which is a little scary.  The special teams in general (jinx alert) have looked better this year so far, although the placekicking remains a concern.

Let’s wrap this up with a couple of sort-of-but-not-really related observations:

– One “new” tradition at Johnson Hagood Stadium that I like is the corps singing the “Olé Olé Olé” song, a la European/South American soccer matches.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the corps to emulate more soccer traditions (well, maybe not the hooliganism, racism, and setting off of flares).

There is something very natural about a crowd singing/chanting without prompting or assistance from a loud, obnoxious sound system/video board.  It just felt right to me when the corps did its chant.  The best sounds to be heard at the game were that, and the band.

If the corps could throw in some large soccer-style banners, too, that would be cool. (The “Star Wars” one [actually two] that the Toronto fans did killed me.)

– The “get fired up” shorts featuring defensive players that are repeatedly aired on the video board…well, it gets old fast, especially when the same short gets played three or four times in a row between plays.  Maybe those should be more judiciously employed.

I’m ready for Saturday.

Review: Presbyterian

The Citadel 26, Presbyterian 14.  It was a good win.  Of course, any win is a good win.

I was worried about this one, even though PC has now lost 17 in a row, because I wasn’t sure the Bulldog offense was capable of scoring a lot of points against any FCS/FBS competition, and I remembered how the Blue Hose had gashed The Citadel’s defense last season.  In last season’s game, Presbyterian had 190 yards passing and 204 yards rushing.  

On Saturday night, though, the Bulldogs held PC’s offense to 212 total yards.  The Blue Hose attempted 26 passes, but only managed 90 yards through the air, and suffered three interceptions. Of those 26 throws, 11 were completed, but 8 of the 11 went for a combined 32 yards.  (PC had a drive in the second quarter that went like this:  pass completion for -1 yard, pass completion for 1 yard, pass completion for no gain, punt.)

Trandon Dendy had another good game against The Citadel, again going over the 100-yard mark, with 103 yards on 15 carries, including a 43-yard TD run in the first quarter.  I was a bit surprised he didn’t carry the ball more often.  Sometimes I think teams try to have an “ideal” run/pass balance when they would be better off concentrating on what is actually effective. 

The play that seemed to jump-start the Bulldog defense was an ill-advised post pass by the Blue Hose that was intercepted by Demetrius Jackson (the first of two picks for Jackson).  Prior to that play, Dendy had run the ball four consecutive times, picking up a first down and then six more yards on first-and-ten.  The Citadel would eventually convert the interception into the go-ahead touchdown. 

The Bulldogs would hold Presbyterian to 73 total yards on the Blue Hose’s next eight possessions.  Other than Dendy’s first-quarter TD run and a six-play, 76-yard drive late in the game, when The Citadel’s D seemed to lose focus, PC was unable to move the ball.  A Cass Couey punt inside the five set the stage for the game’s final points, a quarterback sack in the end zone for a safety (that should have been ruled a fumble/TD, not that it mattered).

Speaking of Couey, he has arguably been The Citadel’s most effective player over the first three games of the season.  He’s been very solid.

The Bulldog offense looked better against PC than it did against Chowan, which was good to see, although there is still plenty of room for improvement.  There were six fumbles (two lost), eight penalties (one which cost the Bulldogs a touchdown), dropped passes (including an easy would-be TD), and missed blocks (particularly on the perimeter). 

Odds and ends:

– There were some good play calls in this game.  Unfortunately, two of the best ones didn’t work out.  A perfectly-timed post pass for a TD was called back by an illegal formation penalty. The Bulldogs showed good composure to overcome that disappointment and score on the drive anyway (Van Dyke Jones getting the TD he should have had three plays earlier).

Another fine call was the slotback option pass by Ben Dupree, a cinch TD that was dropped.  Those have to be caught, obviously.  Dupree looked comfortable in the slotback position and could be quite a weapon for The Citadel.  I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bulldogs try that play once per game.

– I also liked the fact The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-5 on the PC 37 on its opening drive.  Matt Thompson made the right read, gave the ball to Terrell Dallas, and 37 yards later the fullback was in the end zone.  Very nice.

–  Warning:  Xs-and-Os discussion to follow.  There is no guarantee I actually know what I’m talking about in the next two paragraphs.

Presbyterian had some interesting alignments along its defensive front.  In particular, the Blue Hose had a setup where the DL lined up directly opposite the center, left guard, and tackles, but left the space opposite the right guard empty, with no obvious (at least to me) coverage from the linebackers.

PC appeared to be keying on the quarterback, and it looked to me like the DBs were “cheating” like crazy throughout much of the game.  As a result, some of the option plays that went to the slotbacks didn’t go so well.  On the other hand, if the guy assigned to the fullback whiffed, there was no safety net.  Hence, Terrell Dallas’ 80-yard TD run where he wasn’t touched.

– I sometimes worry I’m a little negative when I write these reviews (or previews), so let me give a shout-out to the radio team for calling a fine game.  I thought Walt Nadzak had one of his better efforts in the analyst’s chair, and Darren Goldwater deserves a lot of credit for correctly identifying players, a very difficult task because of the conditions and the uniforms.

– Ah yes, the uniforms…

Putting aside for the moment that navy blue is supposed to be an accent color, not the pre-dominant one, in The Citadel’s uniforms, it appears in this photo that The Citadel had at least four different shades of blue (including the helmet) in its uniform on Saturday.  Maybe that’s just the lighting in the photo.  I would like to think so, but I suspect otherwise. 

One unaccounted-for consequence of wearing navy jerseys with medium (not light) blue numerals is that it made it harder to ID players, particularly at night, following a storm, and with cannon fire smoke hanging in the air.  I’m guessing nobody in the press box was crazy about the uniforms — at least, nobody whose job involves trying to figure out which players are in the game/making tackles/carrying the ball/etc.

As usual, the uniform fails to include the full (and correct) name of the school in the lettering on the front of the jersey.  I have no idea why it’s so difficult to do this.  Maybe it’s a Nike thing.

— 

All in all, a good night for The Citadel’s football team.  The team completes its non-conference slate with a 2-1 record, which is what was expected, but not guaranteed. 

I’ll conclude this by saying that I like the idea of playing Presbyterian on a regular basis; maybe not every season, but more often than not.  PC fits the bill of what The Citadel needs in a non-conference home opener better than just about any other alternative, particularly with the way the schedule will shake out over the next few years (including the revival of the series with VMI).

On to Furman.

Review: Arizona

Well, it was about what I expected.

Arizona is probably a better-than-average Pac-10 team, possibly a contender in that league (although Oregon has to be the favorite).  The Wildcats did what top-25 FBS teams are supposed to do when playing an outmanned FCS squad.

I don’t believe in moral victories, but I do believe in looking at the positive side of things when it’s warranted.  Some points in The Citadel’s favor:

1.  It wasn’t a complete debacle.  I was worried that even if The Citadel were not completely overmatched, the nascent offensive system would turn the ball over repeatedly and give Arizona a bunch of easy points.  Other than a couple of mini-stretches late in the first half and early in the second, however, that didn’t happen.  52-6 may not look that great, but it’s a lot better than 82-6.

2.  Apparently the Bulldogs came out of the game relatively unscathed.  Kevin Higgins mentioned Alex Carr and Tolu Akindele had been banged up in his press conference, but he didn’t rule any player out for the game against Presbyterian.

Two players Higgins didn’t mention but who I wondered about (in terms of injuries) were Johnathan Glaspie and Tyler Starnes, both of whom took big hits during the game.  Glaspie actually re-entered the game after taking a shot earlier in the contest.  (Judging from his expression as he walked off the field, I wasn’t sure he knew if he was in Tucson or still playing for Spring Valley High School.)  Starnes got somersaulted on a carry near the end of the game; it’s a wonder he didn’t suffer a serious leg injury.

– Edit:  According to Jeff Hartsell, Higgins did mention Starnes in his Monday presser.

3.  The defensive line was solid.  The Bulldogs appear to have found a potential star in Derek Douglas, who was singled out for praise by Higgins, and deservedly so.  He wasn’t the only lineman to make a play or two in the game, though.  I particularly liked the lick Erik Clanton laid on one unsuspecting Wildcat running back.  Of course, it helps when nobody blocks you…

4.  Sam Martin did a nice job running the offense when he entered the game.  I went back and noted who was in the game for Arizona on defense when Martin began his first drive.  The Wildcats had nine of their eleven defensive starters in the game, plus two other players who were in their regular rotation on the line.  In other words, he wasn’t playing against walk-ons when he led The Citadel to its first score.

5.  Although he didn’t throw the ball real well and didn’t have much luck moving the team, Matt Thompson never seemed to panic and maintained his poise.

6.  I agree with Higgins that the tackling was better against Arizona.  However, I think it still needs improvement.

7.  Terrell Dallas showed flashes of what he’s capable of accomplishing in this offense, which is a lot.

8.  The Citadel got an encouraging performance from its special teams units.  Cass Couey had an excellent game.  I bet he enjoyed punting in the desert air.  Sam Keeler made both of his field goal attempts; I hope that will improve his confidence.  The coverage teams did a nice job, and freshman Terrance Martin established himself as The Citadel’s primary kick returner.

9.  The Bulldogs only committed two penalties for a total of nine yards, my favorite statistic from the game.  More of that, please.

Obviously, there were negatives unrelated to the competition that need to be addressed.  Some of those for the offense would be the center-QB exchange, the pitch techniques, and the dropped passes (hopefully an anomaly).  The defense must continue to concentrate on tackling, and the back seven must show more dynamism.

There are more observations to make about what will (or should) happen going forward, of course.  I’ll try to mention those in my preview of the Presbyterian game.

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