Comparing FCS non-conference football schedules

Yes, it’s early February, and the return of football is still many months away (well, if you don’t count recruiting and spring practice). All the more reason to post about it, I suppose.

This is going to be a relatively short post about scheduling tendencies, but first allow me a brief digression on a completely different football topic…

There was a recent article in The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, SC) about the fabled “man in the brown suit”. This is a football tale that not every fan of The Citadel knows about, mainly because A) it happened in 1937, and B) it happened in Orangeburg.

It’s an amusing story, one with similarities to the much better known situation that occurred in the 1954 Cotton Bowl, when Tommy Lewis was “too full of Alabama”. I might argue that the goings-on at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds in 1937 were a bit more comic in nature, however.

At any rate, it’s a reminder of long-ago days gone by. I suspect younger alums might be surprised to know that The Citadel has played 34 football games in Orangeburg over the years, from a 1916 victory over Clemson to a 1959 win versus Wofford. The Bulldogs also faced Furman and South Carolina in The Garden City.

I am not completely sure, but I think all of those games took place at the fairgrounds, and the corps of cadets was in attendance for most (if not all) of them.

– Okay, back to scheduling.

I got the idea for this post after reading a story about Delaware and Delaware State agreeing to resume their series in 2016. The paragraph that jumped out to me:

The game helps to lock in Delaware’s non-conference scheduling pattern for more than the past decade. Home games against FCS opponents, and road games versus FBS squads. Delaware has not traveled for a regular season, non-conference FCS game since going to The Citadel in September 2002.

I was really surprised when I read that. Could it really be true that in the regular season, Delaware hasn’t played an out-of-conference road game against an FCS foe for twelve years?

Actually, it isn’t true. The internet strikes again!

However, it’s not like the Blue Hens were making a habit of playing such games. Between 2003 and 2014, Delaware played exactly one (1) non-conference FCS regular-season road game. In 2008, UD traveled to Greenville and tangled with Furman. That’s it.

I decided to look at the schedules for a select group of institutions over that same twelve-year period to see if UD’s non-league schedule was unusual, or if it was actually not out of place. I concentrated on east coast FCS schools that typically had conference schedules of eight games from 2003-14, which would give them roughly the same number of OOC scheduling opportunities as Delaware.

There are some caveats. Some of the schools on the list occasionally played seven-game league slates. For example, the SoCon did so in five of the twelve years. CAA schools played a nine-game conference schedule in 2003.

Also, not all schools played a uniform number of regular-season games. When FCS schools had a chance to play 12-game seasons, they generally did — but not all of them always did. There are also a couple of 10-game seasons in the mix.

With that in mind, here is a table listing 16 FCS schools and their schedules in three categories: number of regular-season games played against out-of-conference opponents on the road; number of FBS opponents; and number of non-D1 opponents.

2003-2014 schedules FCS – road non-con. FBS non-D1
The Citadel 7 16 4
Delaware 1 8 10
Furman 12 12 2
WCU 7 18 9
Wm. & Mary 11 12 2
UNH 8 11 0
JMU 7 10 3
Villanova 13 11 0
Richmond 10 11 0
Chattanooga 12 15 4
Delaware St. 16 5 8
SC State 12 12 10
Hampton 16 2 7
Elon 14 7 6
Wofford 7 12 9
Maine 11 12 3

Okay, now for the “exceptions and oddities” section…

– Determining whether or not a school was an FCS or FBS opponent could sometimes be tricky. For this table, I am listing Old Dominion’s 2013 team as an FCS squad. If you think ODU should be classified as FBS for that season (which was the first year of the Monarchs’ transition to FBS), then subtract one from The Citadel’s “FCS road non-conference” category and add it to the “FBS” column.

On the other hand, Hampton’s 2014 meeting with ODU went down as a contest against an FBS team.

Meanwhile, I counted Charlotte as an FCS road opponent for James Madison (that game was also played in 2014). Chattanooga played at Western Kentucky in 2006, while the Hilltoppers were still in FCS, so the game is listed in the FCS group for the Mocs.

– Occasionally a school would be a non-conference opponent in one season, then later become a league foe. For example, The Citadel played at VMI three times while the Keydets were a member of the Big South — but in 2014, the game in Lexington was a SoCon game.

That was the case for several other schools as well, including Maine (which played at Albany twice during this period in OOC matchups) and South Carolina State (which played at Savannah State before the Tigers joined the MEAC).

– While the category says “FCS road non-conference”, there are actually a few neutral-site games mixed in as well. All of them are HBCU “classics”. Hampton played four such contests during the twelve-year period, while South Carolina State and Delaware State played one each.

– Speaking of Delaware State, in 2003 the Hornets played an OOC game at Florida A&M. Yes, they did.

That’s because at the time FAMU was making a quixotic attempt to join Division I-A. In 2003, the MEAC schools played only seven league games (though several of them played the Rattlers as “non-conference” game).

– Villanova played 13 FCS road non-conference opponents from 2003-2014. Seven of those games were fairly easy trips for the Wildcats, as they were matchups with Penn at Franklin Field.

– Of the sixteen schools that were profiled, Western Carolina played the most FBS teams during the time period (18), but The Citadel played the most power-conference squads (all 16 of the Bulldogs’ FBS opponents were from the five major conferences). The Citadel also had the widest variety of FBS opponents, playing 14 different schools from all five power leagues from 2003-2014.

– The ten games Delaware played versus non-D1 schools were all against the same opponent — West Chester.

What does it all mean? Probably not much, to be honest.

However, the question “Is Delaware’s non-league schedule that much different from other FCS schools?” can be answered. It certainly is.

For one thing, the Blue Hens had a rather “contained” scheduling policy all the way around. Besides the regular matchups with West Chester, Delaware played only three different FBS opponents, as six of the eight games against the higher division were meetings with Navy.

Every other school on the list played at least seven regular-season non-conference road games from 2003-2014. Also, only Wofford and South Carolina State played as many non-D1 games; two of the sixteen institutions (fellow CAA football travelers Villanova and Richmond) didn’t play any.

When I first looked at UD’s past schedules, I was a bit puzzled by the one regular-season non-league road game that Delaware did play, that 2008 matchup with Furman. There was no “return” game, as the Paladins did not travel to Newark for a rematch.

As was explained to me by the partisans at the UFFP, however, that’s because Furman bought out the return game when it got a chance to play Missouri instead (for a considerable amount of money, obviously).

The result of that move by Furman? Well, it opened up a spot on Delaware’s schedule that was eventually filled by…Delaware State.

So, I guess I’ve come full circle with this post.

McAlister Musings: the SoCon slate has begun in earnest

Previously:

My preview of the season

Well, the season is underway

December on the hardwood

Links of interest:

Bulldogs faring well from the foul line

Quinton Marshall likes to read

The Citadel takes its time on offense

When last we checked in with the Bulldog hoopsters, they were 4-4, with one Division I victory. Since then, The Citadel has completed its non-conference schedule and is slightly more than one-third of the way through the SoCon campaign.

The Bulldogs are 8-10 overall, 3-4 in the league. The Citadel currently has one more victory in 2014-15 than it had all of last season (when the Bulldogs didn’t win their seventh game until March 7).

The Citadel also has one more SoCon win this year than it had in all of 2013-14.

The most impressive of the Bulldogs’ eight victories this season was last Thursday’s win over Wofford at McAlister Field House. That triumph was, without much question, the best result Chuck Driesell has had since becoming head coach of The Citadel. It featured a bravura second-half effort from Ashton Moore (21 of his 29 points came in the second stanza).

Wofford is (even after that loss) ranked in the top 60 of the RPI. There is a good chance the Terriers will finish the season in the RPI top 100.

The Citadel’s last win over a team that finished the season in the RPI top 100 was a 72-65 victory at College of Charleston on January 9, 2010. The Bulldogs have not won a game over a final-ranking top 100 squad at McAlister Field House since pulling off three such victories during the 2001-02 season (those wins were against Davidson, College of Charleston, and East Tennessee State).

The Bulldogs’ four victories since their win over Navy include a 51-47 non-conference win over Bethune-Cookman (a game that was not, perhaps, the most entertaining of affairs) and the above-mentioned upset of Wofford.

The Citadel also beat a struggling Samford squad 77-67 by going on a 11-1 run to close out the game. The Bulldogs’ win at UNC-Greensboro (85-83, in overtime) was most notable for breaking The Citadel’s horrendous 22-game road losing streak.

The six losses the Bulldogs have suffered in the last month can roughly be placed into two different categories: “somewhat understandable” and “rather disappointing”.

There won’t be many complaints about road losses to Michigan State and Virginia Tech; indeed, the Bulldogs gave the Hokies all they wanted, falling by just three points. The loss to Western Carolina was a competitive effort away from home.

Losing by 23 points at Mercer wasn’t good, but was mitigated by the news that several members of the team were ill. That can happen sometimes during the course of a long season.

The other two losses by the Bulldogs, however, were all-around poor performances.

In the conference opener versus Chattanooga, things didn’t go well for The Citadel from the opening tip. The Bulldogs never led and eventually lost by 19 points; afterwards, Driesell said the team had “laid an egg“. Marshall Harris did not play, but that wasn’t enough to explain a less-than-inspiring effort in a contest that was not only the league opener, but a home game.

The most recent defeat also came at home, versus Furman. That game can be summed up by this statistic: the Paladins had almost as many offensive rebounds (14) as The Citadel had defensive boards (16).

Note: statistics in this section do not include games vs. non-D1 opponents

Allowing opponents to dominate the offensive glass has been a problem for the Bulldogs all season. Teams playing The Citadel have rebounded their own missed shots at a rate of 37.0%, which puts the Bulldogs in the bottom 20 nationally in that category. It is the primary (but not sole) reason that The Citadel (per Kenpom) is currently the second-worst defensive team in the entire country (ahead of only 2-15 Mississippi Valley State).

The Bulldogs are not good at forcing turnovers, which has also hurt their defensive statistics, as has the fact opponents are shooting free throws at a 73.4% clip (which is simply bad luck). Yes, if you watch a game involving The Citadel, you will probably see both teams have a good night from the foul line, as the Bulldogs themselves are in the top 30 nationally at the charity stripe (74.3%).

Very few teams shoot as well as The Citadel, which is third nationally in three-point field goal percentage (42.2%, behind only Iona and UC-Davis). The Bulldogs have several players who can make the long-distance shot, with freshman Jake Wright probably the team’s best pure shooter (though it must be noted that Marshall Harris is 15-29 from beyond the arc this season).

That is why the turnover bug is so frustrating. Not only does the defense fail to force turnovers at a high enough rate, but the Bulldogs then turn around and throw the ball away much too often on offense. In SoCon play, The Citadel has the highest offensive turnover rate and the lowest defensive turnover rate.

Inevitably, opponents of The Citadel wind up with a significant advantage in terms of shot attempts, due to the turnover differential and the problems the Bulldogs have had on the defensive boards.

It is somewhat curious that The Citadel is actually a solid offensive rebounding team in its own right (in league games, the Bulldogs are third in the conference in offensive rebounding rate). You might think that would translate to the other side of the court, but it has not.

The Citadel is still an above-average offensive squad, despite the turnovers. Imagine how efficient the Bulldogs would be offensively if they could just eliminate some of their turnovers (and reducing live-ball mistakes would also help on defense).

Quick observation: I have been pleased to see an increased presence from the corps of cadets at recent home games. It makes a big difference (as demonstrated by the Wofford game). I think the new commandant deserves some plaudits in that area (as do the cadets themselves).

Next up for the Bulldogs: a stretch of three conference road games, with trips to ETSU, VMI, and Chattanooga. The game against the Mocs will signal the start of the second half of the SoCon campaign.

 

McAlister Musings: December on the hardwood

Previously:

My preview of the season

Well, the season is underway

Links of interest:

The Citadel loses to Florida State, 66-55

Bulldogs defeat Warren Wilson College, 84-55

The Citadel loses 59-55 to College of Charleston

Bulldogs outlast Navy, 67-60 (also, comments from Chuck Driesell and Jake Wright)

Marshall Harris and his experiences on a basketball mission trip

After four games this season, The Citadel was 2-2. After eight games, the Bulldogs are 4-4. The most recent of those contests was The Citadel’s first victory of the season over a Division I team, an entertaining 67-60 win over Navy.

– The Citadel’s 66-55 loss to Florida State was a 53-possession affair, which worked to the Bulldogs’ advantage. What didn’t work to the cadets’ advantage was FSU shooting 60.5% from the field. The Seminoles were also 14-20 from the foul line (the Bulldogs only attempted six free throws).

Florida State was missing two of its regular starters, but got a wondrous offensive performance from freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored 26 points on only nine field goal attempts (he was 5-5 from beyond the arc, and also 5-5 from the charity stripe). The Bulldogs did not help themselves by committing thirteen turnovers (a 24.5% TO rate).

From the AP story linked above:

Driesell didn’t mince words when asked what was the biggest thing his team took from a midweek ACC game. “First and foremost it gives our school a lot of money,” Driesell said. “That’s probably the No. 1 reason I’m down here, is for the check.”

Okay…

– The next game for The Citadel was its final non-D1 game of the season, an 84-45 pummeling of Warren Wilson College. Five different Bulldogs finished in double figures, led by Ashton Moore’s 15 points.

Of the three games against non-Division I competition, it was The Citadel’s most complete effort.

– The Citadel actually led College of Charleston 55-54 with 48 seconds to play, but the Cougars scored the final five points of the contest. It was reminiscent of the season opener against VMI in the sense that The Citadel had a chance to win, and actually was in the lead with less than a minute to go, but couldn’t make the plays late to pull out a victory.

The Bulldogs committed 17 turnovers, which was the key factor in the loss. Otherwise,a lot of things went well — The Citadel had an outstanding shooting night from three-point land, made most of its free throws (though a late-game miss was critical), worked hard on the offensive glass, and controlled the pace.

The Citadel was 9-16 from beyond the arc, which was great. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs made the same number of shots from inside the three-point line, finishing 9-30 in their two-point attempts (which looks even worse when compared to CofC making 19 of 35 shots in and around the paint).

– The victory over Navy was much-needed. The Midshipmen are struggling right now (partly due to a run of injuries), but the Bulldogs had to beat a D-1 team to gain some confidence heading into conference play.

The game featured twelve lead changes. Neither team led by more than two possessions until The Citadel put the contest away at the line in the dying seconds.

It was a rugged matchup, as the officials “let them play”. The physical nature of the game appeared to occasionally test the patience of a few of the Bulldogs. On the other hand, C.J. Bray seemed to enjoy mixing a little football into his hoops.

Jake Wright was the offensive star for the Bulldogs. He attempted ten shots from the field, all three-pointers, and made six of them, finishing with 21 points. The only other player for The Citadel to ever score as many points in a game against Navy was Ed Conroy, who also scored 21 in a 1989 victory.

Both were home games, though (trivia!) not in the same building. While Wright displayed a fine shooting touch at McAlister Field House last Saturday, Conroy’s performance was in…Deas Hall.

Next up for the Bulldogs:

– SoCon play begins this Thursday at McAlister Field House, as Chattanooga comes to town. After the league opener, however, the Bulldogs won’t play another conference game until January 3 (at Western Carolina).

The Mocs are 4-5, with two D-1 wins, one of which came against Coastal Carolina. Chattanooga is looking for its first road victory of the season. UTC was picked to finish second in the SoCon this season by the league’s coaches and by its media cohort as well.

– After the game versus Chattanooga, The Citadel will play two road games against major conference schools in three days (December 20 and 22). The Bulldogs travel to Blacksburg to square off with Virginia Tech (now helmed by Buzz Williams), and follow that up with a visit to the Breslin Center and a matchup with a solid Michigan State squad, well-coached as always by Tom Izzo.

– The Citadel’s final game of 2014 will take place at McAlister Field House on December 30, as the Bulldogs host Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats are currently 3-6, with a victory over Jacksonville in their most recent contest. Bethune-Cookman will play two straight road games against SoCon teams, as B-C faces Mercer on December 19.

It’s probable that if you are not living in or around the Lowcountry, you may not have seen/heard some recent comments by Charleston Southern head coach Barclay Radebaugh. He is unhappy that CSU is not playing College of Charleston or The Citadel in basketball this season (and also didn’t play either school last year).

This got a little play on local television, with some carryover on Twitter. I think it’s fair to sum up the positions of the various parties like this:

  • Local media: wants the games to be played; not particularly concerned about the issues involved
  • Charleston Southern: desperately wants the games to be played
  • College of Charleston: not interested
  • The Citadel: also not interested

I wish one of the local reporters had asked Radebaugh if he would be amenable to playing at CofC and at The Citadel exclusively, or a 2-for-1 setup, or for CSU to move its home games against those schools to the North Charleston Coliseum.

Charleston Southern currently plays its home games at a gym that seats only 881 people. I would suggest that coaches and administrators at CofC/The Citadel are simply no longer willing to play there.

The fact is that these matchups are only beneficial to Charleston Southern. The other two schools get little to nothing out of playing CSU.

Longtime observers of the Lowcountry sports scene may remember that Charleston Southern and The Citadel did not play for a six-year period between 1986 and 1992, the direct result of a conflict over playing/administering games at CSU (then Baptist College). This isn’t a new issue.

I don’t blame Radebaugh for speaking out. He has a good team, and he wants part of the publicity that tends to accrue to Charleston’s two schools.

It’s just that CSU is not, as he stated in his presser, “inner-city rivals” of CofC/The Citadel. It isn’t a true rival for either of those institutions, and it’s certainly not in the inner city. It’s a relatively young school located in North Charleston.

Radebaugh also mentioned that games between CSU and the other two schools were “highly attended”.

I went back and looked at attendance figures for certain games over the past few years at McAlister Field House, North Charleston Coliseum, and TD Arena (for consistency, I’m referring to CofC’s basketball facility by that name). This is just a cross-section; it’s not meant to be definitive. Still, I think it is illuminating:

  • 11/20/08 at North Charleston Coliseum: CofC-CSU. Attendance: 2835
  • 11/25/08 at North Charleston Coliseum: The Citadel-CSU. Attendance: 2085
  • 1/10/09 at McAlister Field House: Davidson-The Citadel. Attendance: 5336
  • 1/12/09 at McAlister Field House: Chattanooga-The Citadel. Attendance: 1326
  • 1/24/09 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 5107
  • 2/12/09 at McAlister Field House: App State-The Citadel. Attendance: 2178
  • 2/14/09 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 5168
  • 2/26/09 at McAlister Field House: Furman-The Citadel. Attendance: 4219
  • 2/28/09 at McAlister Field House: Wofford-The Citadel. Attendance: 4485
  • 11/13/09 at McAlister Field House: Kenyon-The Citadel. Attendance: 1031
  • 11/17/09 at McAlister Field House: CSU-The Citadel. Attendance: 1268
  • 12/5/09 at TD Arena: Davidson-CofC. Attendance: 3062
  • 12/16/09 at TD Arena: CSU-CofC. Attendance: 3067
  • 1/9/10 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 5370
  • 1/21/10 at TD Arena: Furman-CofC. Attendance: 3248
  • 2/8/10 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 5154
  • 12/2/10 at TD Arena: Davidson-CofC. Attendance: 4361
  • 12/2/10 at McAlister Field House: Ga. Southern-The Citadel. Attendance: 2058
  • 12/4/10 at TD Arena: Georgia Southern-CofC. Attendance: 2417
  • 12/15/10 at North Charleston Coliseum: CofC-CSU. Attendance: 2722
  • 1/13/11 at McAlister Field House: Chattanooga-The Citadel. Attendance: 1653
  • 1/15/11 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 5162
  • 1/22/11 at McAlister Field House: WCU-The Citadel. Attendance: 2143
  • 1/20/11 at McAlister Field House: App State-The Citadel. Attendance: 1519
  • 2/3/11 at McAlister Field House: Furman-The Citadel. Attendance: 2289
  • 2/3/11 at TD Arena: Wofford-CofC. Attendance: 5038
  • 2/5/11 at McAlister Field House: Wofford-The Citadel. Attendance: 2206
  • 2/5/11 at TD Arena: Furman-CofC. Attendance: 5081
  • 2/17/11 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 4131
  • 11/21/11 at McAlister Field House: Fla. Christian-The Citadel. Attendance: 807
  • 12/1/11 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 5101
  • 12/3/11 at TD Arena: Chattanooga-CofC. Attendance: 4358
  • 12/6/11 at McAlister Field House: C. Carolina-The Citadel. Attendance: 1409
  • 12/12/11 at TD Arena: CSU-CofC. Attendance: 3765
  • 12/14/11 at McAlister Field House: CSU-The Citadel. Attendance: 1129
  • 1/26/12 at TD Arena: Furman-CofC. Attendance: 4011
  • 1/28/12 at McAlister Field House: Furman-The Citadel. Attendance: 1602
  • 1/28/12 at TD Arena: Wofford-CofC. Attendance: 4151
  • 2/11/12 at TD Arena: Davidson-CofC. Attendance: 5112
  • 2/25/12 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 4166
  • 1/5/13 at TD Arena: Furman-CofC. Attendance: 3885
  • 1/14/13 at McAlister Field House: CofC-The Citadel. Attendance: 2742
  • 1/24/13 at TD Arena: The Citadel-CofC. Attendance: 4118
  • 2/16/13 at McAlister Field House: Davidson-The Citadel. Attendance: 2015
  • 2/28/13 at McAlister Field House: Furman-The Citadel. Attendance: 2046

There are a couple of conclusions to draw from this list:

1) The Citadel can put plenty of people in the seats if the team is reasonably competitive. All too often in recent years, that hasn’t been the case. You can bet that Jim Senter is calculating the difference in potential ticket sales.

2) Regardless of how good/bad the teams are in a given year, Charleston Southern just isn’t a big draw for either The Citadel or College of Charleston.

As anyone reading this post probably knows, The Citadel plays multiple home contests against non-D1 teams (and no, I don’t really like those games). The school has to have a certain number of home games each season, and often non-D1s are the only teams The Citadel can play without a return game being required.

It doesn’t do The Citadel any good to play a home-and-home against Charleston Southern if attendance at McAlister Field House isn’t going to be much (if at all) better than a game versus a non-D1. I’m sure the same is true for CofC (if anything, the issue is probably an even bigger one for that program).

Odds and ends:

– I attended the contest against Navy, and enjoyed the game and the surrounding atmosphere. There were about 250 cadets in attendance, and they made a difference. The commandant deserves credit for his assistance in that area.

I’m not sure how many cadets will be able to attend the UTC contest, due to exams beginning the next day.

– The game featured a hard-working DJ, which was fine (playing The Village People’s “In the Navy” was a nice touch).

I did wonder about the absence of the pep band. There may have been a conflict. The band can get stretched at this time of year, to be sure.

– The Citadel is currently last in Division I in adjusted tempo, and in a related development is also last in average length of offensive possessions (22.6 seconds).

I favor that style of play, as I think it is the best fit for the players on the roster. I’m hoping it can also negatively affect other teams, making them rush their own possessions or in some other way get out of sorts.

However, to be fully effective the Bulldogs must improve their defensive numbers, which are poor across the board. There are some things that can’t really be controlled (like opponents shooting 76.5% from the foul line), but there are others that must be fixed. Just to name one issue, The Citadel has allowed too many offensive rebounds, which is one reason teams have a high shooting percentage against the Bulldogs from inside the arc.

The Bulldogs are doing a better job of forcing turnovers so far this season, which is good. However, their own turnover rate has also risen. That has to change.

The Citadel also has a tendency to have pronounced scoring droughts. The offense has to be more consistent if the Bulldogs are going to have success in the Southern Conference.

Here are a few pictures from the game versus Navy. As usual, they aren’t very good…

 

Kirk Herbstreit: the worst thing going on in college football?

Last Saturday, there was a segment on ESPN’s popular College GameDay show centered around FBS-FCS matchups. You can watch it here:

Link

With the exception of Lee Corso, the ESPN crew was highly critical of FBS-FCS games, particularly those occurring late in the season (an SEC specialty).

The segment began with Chris Fowler listing a series of recent SEC opponents from the FCS. Fowler then noted:

Of course, a year ago this week Georgia Southern went to the swamp and did stun Georgia, giving license to all the SEC coaches to talk up the virtues, the worthiness, of today’s opponents.

Fowler delivered this line with a great deal of sarcasm, concentrating so much on his delivery that he forgot Georgia Southern actually beat Florida last year, not Georgia.

ESPN then showed snippets of various SEC coaches discussing their opponents for this week. The clips were clearly selected to make it seem that the coaches were overhyping their FCS foes.

If you were really paying attention, though, there wasn’t that much sandbagging going on. Mark Richt was probably a little over-the-top in extolling Charleston Southern’s “fever” to win, but there was nothing fraudulent about Gus Malzahn saying Samford was a “good I-AA team” (it is), or Nick Saban stating that Western Carolina was “a much improved team” (certainly true), or Will Muschamp noting that Eastern Kentucky was a playoff team in “I-AA, or whatever we’re calling that now” (he was right, as EKU made the FCS playoffs).

Also, Muschamp lost to an FCS school last year. Why wouldn’t he be concerned with a matchup against another team from that division?

Heck, he had been fired earlier in the week. Why would he have bothered overselling the game anyway?

Arguably, though, the most misleading clips were those of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, as he discussed South Alabama, the Gamecocks’ opponent last Saturday. There was no mention by anyone on the set that South Alabama wasn’t actually an FCS school at all (the Jaguars are members of the Sun Belt).

Considering South Carolina’s struggles of late (particularly on defense), Spurrier had good reason to be respectful of his upcoming opponent.

“We’re not trying to belittle [the FCS],” said Fowler, after spending the previous two minutes belittling the FCS. He then criticized the SEC for playing these games. “It’s not good for the sport.”

After a short interlude with Corso, Kirk Herbstreit looked right at the camera and said:

This is the worst thing that goes on in college football.

Yes. He said that. The worst thing that goes on in the sport. FCS vs. FBS matchups. Not any of the myriad off-field issues, not the safety concerns on the field, none of that.

“No due respect to the FCS and what they’re doing,” Herbstreit continued (with an unintentional but perhaps more accurate slip of the tongue), “…there should be a penalty [from the college football playoff committee]…when you play games like this. We need to eliminate these games when it comes to the non-conference [schedules]. They’re not good for the FCS schools, they’re not good for the SEC schools, or any other schools that play ‘em. It’s just bad for the game. We have no games this weekend!”

“I hate it!” me-tooed Desmond Howard, who added that when he was in school, his alma mater (Michigan) didn’t play FCS schools. Of course, that changed after Howard left Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines rather famously played an FCS school in 2007.

Lee Corso then pointed out that the games are a financial boon to the FCS schools. Herbstreit’s response: “We’ve got enough money now…if it’s about the money, give ‘em the money, just don’t schedule [these games].” Corso began cackling at the notion.

Let’s go through some of these comments:

– “There should be a penalty…when you play games like this.”

A team that schedules quality FBS non-conference opponents is probably going to be looked upon more favorably by the playoff committee than one that plays lesser competition. I’m not even sure that’s an issue.

Exactly how many FBS schools are going to be competing for one of those playoff spots in a given year, however? There are 65 FBS schools in the power five conferences (including Notre Dame in that group). How many of them are going to be serious contenders for one of four spots? What about the other 63 schools that compete at the FBS level? (Well, we probably know the answer to that last question.)

– “They’re not good for the FCS schools.”

This statement made me wonder if Herbstreit has ever talked to someone associated with an FCS school.

Besides the money aspect mentioned by Corso, FCS players almost always love playing these games. They like to measure themselves against top-level competition. They enjoy playing in large stadiums, in a “big time” atmosphere, often on television.

Fans of smaller schools usually like these games too, especially if they aren’t too far away. They are often used for alumni networking and fundraising.

Sometimes, there is an element of tradition associated with these contests. You don’t think alums from Furman or The Citadel enjoy occasional matchups with South Carolina or Clemson? I can assure you that they do.

– “We have no games this weekend!”

Well, I looked at the schedule. I saw plenty of games.

There may not have been a matchup between two ranked SEC teams, but keep in mind that various ESPN networks featured several prominent SEC battles early in the season, while other conferences were in the midst of their non-league schedules. It’s a trade-off.

The truth of the matter is there were a lot of quality games played last weekend. Maybe you had to look a little deeper into the world of college football to find them, but is that such a bad thing?

Also, remember Week 5 of this season? That Saturday, College GameDay wound up at the Missouri-South Carolina game, due to a perceived lack of quality matchups (both the Gamecocks and Tigers already had a loss at the time, with Mizzou having just lost at home to Indiana).

Was that slate of games so poor because of a bunch of FBS-FCS matchups? No. There were only two such games in that week: Army-Yale (a game won in double overtime by the Elis), and Eastern Illinois-Ohio (the Bobcats won 34-19).

Sometimes, the schedule for a given week just isn’t going to be that alluring. That has little to do with FBS-FCS games (which were only around 7% of the complete FBS schedule for the regular season anyway).

Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir watched Herbstreit and company before WCU played Alabama later that day, and he wasn’t happy.

Now, I think Speir was a little heavyhanded in his criticism of Herbstreit. The “silver spoon” reference was not necessary.

However, I fully understand Speir’s frustration, and he had every right to call out the former Ohio State quarterback for his remarks (particularly the “worst thing that goes on in college football” line uttered by Herbstreit, which was simply ludicrous).

I thought it was good of Speir to speak out, and to let people know that he was personally offended by the comments that were made. Too often the point of view from the FCS side of the aisle goes unheard.

After all, Speir has been a coach on the FCS level for most of his career, including a long stint as an assistant at Appalachian State. He was in Michigan Stadium that fateful day when the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines.

In my opinion, the FCS-FBS matchups are largely good for college football, because college football is about a lot more than the schools in the power five conferences. This is something that appears to be hard for some people to understand.

The concept of what is best for the greater good of college football — well, it seems to be lost in certain quarters. I’ve said this before, but I honestly get the impression some members of the national college football media cabal think there should only be thirty or forty schools that play football, and that the rest should just give up the sport.

I’m not the only person who gets that vibe, judging from these comments by Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman:

Huesman was watching “Gameday” from his hotel room in Greenville, S.C., before the Mocs’ game against Furman, but he said he will not watch the show again.

“Herbstreit has bothered me for a few years now,” Huesman said. “Nothing to him matters except big-time college football. And then Desmond Howard jumped in, too, and that’s when I had had enough. I’ll never watch that show again.

“I thought it was absolutely ridiculous for them to put on a rant like that during the course of a show about college football. I thought it was disrespectful. He just alienated people.

It should be pointed out that the backdrop for Saturday’s ESPN discussion was an FCS game (Yale-Harvard), and that College GameDay visited the fine folks at North Dakota State earlier this season (for the second consecutive year). There are people at the network who clearly appreciate the FCS, along with other divisions of college football. I’m glad for that.

I just wish there were more of them, and that they were on camera.

McAlister Musings: Well, the season is underway

Previously: My preview of the season

Links of interest:

Chuck Driesell inks four players in the early signing period

The Citadel loses to VMI, 66-65

Bulldogs defeated by Air Force, 68-55

The Citadel wins its home opener over Toccoa Falls, 71-58

Bulldogs pull away in second half and beat Bob Jones University, 81-50

Four games are in the books, and the Bulldogs are 2-2. The Citadel’s two victories came at home against non-D1 competition, while its two losses were in neutral-site games versus D-1 squads.

– Against VMI, the Bulldogs controlled the pace. The result was a 60-possession contest, the fewest possessions in a game involving VMI since Duggar Baucom took over in Lexington as head coach.

The Citadel won that battle, but couldn’t win the contest. The Bulldogs led by 11 points with 4:41 remaining in the first half, but started the second half so poorly that VMI had a seven-point lead with ten minutes to play.

After a nice comeback, The Citadel played the last 2:02 like a team that didn’t know how to win, with two turnovers sandwiched around a VMI possession that featured four offensive rebounds by the Keydets. The three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining that won the game for VMI seemed inevitable.

Of 58 VMI field goal attempts, 29 (exactly half) were from beyond the arc. Conversely, The Citadel only attempted four three-point shots. That shooting philosophy was reflected in the free throw totals for the two teams (only four for the Keydets; twenty-two for the Bulldogs).

The Citadel did a lot of things right against VMI, but didn’t rebound well enough and couldn’t close the deal when the opportunity was there. Also, for the umpteenth time in the last season-plus, the Bulldogs gave up a halftime buzzer-beater (admittedly, on something of a circus shot by the Keydets’ Q.J. Peterson, but still).

– While the Bulldogs probably should have won the game against VMI, the next day’s matchup against Air Force was a different story. The Falcons were in control throughout most of the contest, leading by as many as 16 points midway through the second half.

The Citadel did keep the tempo in its (apparent) comfort zone, as the game against AFA was a 57-possession contest. The Bulldogs also won the turnover battle (18-11).

However, Air Force shot 56% from the floor, 45% from three-land, and outrebounded The Citadel 34-22. That included a less-than-stellar performance on the defensive glass by the Bulldogs, only corralling 9 rebounds from 21 missed AFA shots (the Falcons actually missed 22 total shots, but one resulted in a “dead ball” free throw rebound).

Also on the negative stat report: The Citadel was only 9-19 from the foul line against Air Force. That didn’t help.

– Individual numbers are basically meaningless after just two games (as are comparing team numbers). I did think it was interesting that through Sunday’s games, Ashton Moore ranked second in the nation in percentage of shots taken by a player for his team while that player is on the court.

Moore took 33 shots in the first two games of the season. His totals from the second two games don’t count towards that statistic (because they were versus non-D1 opponents), but for what it’s worth, he kept firing, with 37 combined shots in those two contests.

– I’m not going to get into much detail about the games against Toccoa Falls and Bob Jones University. Neither was exactly what Chuck Driesell or the fan base wanted, other than two victories.

I attended the Toccoa Falls matchup. The Citadel raced out to a 16-0 lead, and then proceeded to be outscored 58-55 over the last 34 minutes of the game.

That wasn’t what I thought I was going to see, given the recent history of the Eagles’ basketball program, which included a 141-39 loss to Western Carolina less than two years ago. Last season, Toccoa Falls lost to Georgia Southern by 54 points.

Driesell said during his postgame radio interview that Toccoa Falls was “much improved”, but he was still disappointed in his team’s play (as well he should have been). The Bulldogs were too sloppy on both ends of the floor and did not shoot particularly well, either (43%).

Toccoa Falls plays Presbyterian on November 25. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles are competitive in that game as well (last year, PC only beat Toccoa Falls by ten points).

The Citadel outscored Bob Jones University 40-16 in the second half, which was fine. It was the first half that was a bit disquieting, as the Bruins only trailed 41-34 at the break. In its previous game, BJU had lost 107-41 to USC-Upstate (the Spartans led by 32 at halftime in that contest).

The Bulldogs again did not shoot well from outside (6-19 from beyond the arc). The Citadel turned the ball over on more than 20% of its possessions, very poor when considering the competition.

Did The Citadel give up yet another buzzer-beating halftime shot to BJU? Yes, it did — this time on a layup, after a Bulldog turnover with six seconds remaining in the half. Unbelievable.

Next up for The Citadel is a game in Tallahassee against Florida State on Tuesday. The Seminoles lost on Sunday to Massachusetts to fall to 1-3 on the season; FSU has dropped three straight contests, having also lost to Northeastern and Providence after opening the season with a victory over Manhattan.

On Saturday, November 29, the Bulldogs are back at McAlister Field House to play Warren Wilson College, a school that Toccoa Falls defeated 66-62 last week.

The following Tuesday, The Citadel plays at College of Charleston. The Cougars are currently 2-3 and have a game at West Virginia before the matchup with the Bulldogs.

Navy comes to town on December 6 for a Saturday afternoon game that should be a lot of fun. The Midshipmen are currently 0-4, but will play four more games before making an appearance in McAlister Field House.

Odds and ends:

– The new video scoreboard is fantastic.

– There were about 250-300 cadets in attendance (I may be slightly underestimating the total) for the game against Toccoa Falls. They were fed at McAlister Field House (the mess hall being closed on Wednesday night).

For future games, I would like to see the cadets seated behind the scorer’s table as opposed to in the rafters.

– For first-time buyers, season tickets can be purchased for $75. Another promotion: at Saturday’s game, fans received a free t-shirt that will get them admitted to all Saturday home games for free.

I like both ideas. This strikes me as a good season in which to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t, in terms of promotion.

– The halftime entertainment for the Toccoa Falls game was a stepshow performance by students from Lower Richland High School. The crowd (particularly the cadets) thoroughly enjoyed it.

– I assume the pep band will make its debut for the Navy game. Its absence for the home opener was noticeable.

I took a few pictures. If you thought my football photos were bad, wait until you get a look at some of these turkeys…

Gobble Gobble!

 

 

 

 

2014 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 15. The game will not be televised, but will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Pete Yanity providing play-by-play and Will Merritt supplying the analysis.

Note: the contest will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston’s 11/18 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Sparky Woods on the SoCon media teleconference

WCSC-TV interviews Mike Houston about The Citadel-VMI

The Citadel’s football team has a “ticked off, mad as fire attitude”

It’s too bad Aaron Miller can’t play another season for the Bulldogs

Does Sparky Woods need to win on Saturday to keep his job?

The former Clemson radio tandem of Pete Yanity and Will Merritt will be handling play-by-play and analysis for ESPN3.com’s streaming coverage of the game. Yanity and Merritt have worked two other ESPN3.com productions involving SoCon teams this season, earlier calling Samford-Furman and Wofford-Chattanooga.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay about VMI’s football history and its re-entry into the Southern Conference for the premier Navy football blog, The Birddog (the Midshipmen were playing the Keydets that week). In lieu of me detailing the program’s recent history on the gridiron, as I tend to do in this space, you can read that piece here: Link

One thing I wrote about VMI for The Birddog last month that did not come to fruition:

Every coach VMI has had since 1953 has suffered through at least one winless or 1-win campaign, with the exception of current head coach Sparky Woods…Woods has yet to suffer through a winless or 1-loss season, but he has had four 2-win campaigns. This year, there is a chance VMI’s victory over Davidson in its home opener may be the only win the Keydets enjoy all season.

Of course, VMI defeated Furman three weeks ago, giving the Keydets their second victory of the 2014 campaign. Sparky Woods remains the only VMI coach of the past 60 years to never have a winless or one-win season while in charge of the Keydets.

VMI opened its season at Bucknell, losing 42-38 in a game the Keydets never led (but tied on four separate occasions). Bucknell’s winning score came on a punt return TD.

Al Cobb’s debut at quarterback for the Keydets was a good one, as the redshirt freshman threw for 308 yards and four touchdown passes. Running back Deon Watts ran for 97 yards.

Incidentally, Bucknell has gone on to have a fine season, as the Bison are 8-2 and have an outside shot at an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.

In its second game, VMI was whipped 48-7 by Bowling Green. The Falcons became the second team in as many weeks to return a punt for a touchdown against the Keydets, and added a blocked-punt TD for good measure.

Bowling Green would go on to upset Indiana the following week and would eventually win the MAC West division title, clinching a berth in that league’s championship game.

VMI played its home opener against a much easier opponent, Davidson, and crushed the Wildcats 52-24. The Keydets finished with 597 yards of total offense.

Aaron Sanders had ten receptions for 215 yards, and Jabari Turner had three TD runs. VMI also picked up a punt-block TD of its own, courtesy of Chris Copeland.

Of some concern for the Keydets, however, was Davidson rolling up 531 yards of offense. The two teams combined for 1,128 yards of total offense; both teams had over 200 rushing yards.

The next week, VMI made the long trip to Birmingham to face Samford. The Keydets suffered through a nightmarish first half, allowing a touchdown on the second play of the game and committing four turnovers. Samford led 49-0 at the break, going on to win 63-21.

A different kind of frustration would come for VMI in its next game, a tough 27-24 home loss to Mercer. A potential game-winning drive in the last two minutes of the game was ended by a Mercer interception. Cobb was 30-44 for 324 yards, but threw two costly picks.

In its next two games, VMI was manhandled 55-7 at Chattanooga and 51-14 at Navy. Against the Mocs, the Keydets only put up 165 yards of total offense.

VMI recovered a fumble for a touchdown against the Midshipmen, but allowed Navy to run for 352 yards on 49 carries (7.2 yards per attempt). I suspect The Citadel’s coaches have watched a lot of video from that particular game.

The Keydets returned home and suffered a double-overtime loss to Gardner-Webb, 47-41. That game featured the largest attendance for a game at Foster Stadium (6,624) since VMI hosted The Citadel two years ago (when 7,863 fans, a fair number clad in blue, were on hand for The Military Classic of the South).

Cobb was 34-53 passing for 351 yards and six touchdowns, each to a different receiver, as VMI made a stirring comeback after being down 18 points in the fourth quarter. It just wasn’t quite enough for the victory.

Wofford then thumped the Keydets 38-3 in a game played in Spartanburg. VMI was outrushed by the Terriers 374-58.

Back at Foster Stadium the following Saturday, VMI would get its first SoCon victory of the season, beating Furman 31-15 in a game not really as close as the score might indicate. The Keydets had lost 21 straight games to the Paladins, but raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead and then forced three Furman turnovers in the second half.

The Keydets had a 14-minute edge in time of possession, helped by converting 12 of 19 third-down attempts. Greg Sanders intercepted a pass for VMI, the third consecutive game he had done so.

After a bye, VMI lost last week at Western Carolina, 42-27. The game featured 1,111 yards of total offense, including 640 by the Catamounts. WCU had over 300 yards rushing and passing, which isn’t something you see every day.

The next three sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for SoCon games only (unless otherwise indicated). Both VMI and The Citadel have played six league contests, obviously against the same teams.

The Keydets’ offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 57.5% of the time, the highest percentage in the conference. Passing yardage accounts for 67.7% of VMI’s total offense, also the league high by percentage.

VMI is last in total offense (4.9 yards per play), scoring offense (18.8 points per game), and rushing offense (3.5 yards per carry). The Citadel is next-to-last in total defense, with a league-worst 6.9 yards allowed per play.

The Bulldogs are also next-to-last in rushing defense, but are actually middle-of-the-pack in scoring D (allowing 21.5 points per game in league action).

VMI is fourth in passing offense, but next-to-last in offensive pass efficiency, with the latter ranking being affected by the Keydets’ league-worst ten interceptions. VMI is averaging 35.3 pass attempts per game in SoCon play, the most in the conference.

The Citadel is sixth in pass defense, but dead last in defensive pass efficiency, allowing 9.1 yards per attempt. The Bulldogs’ D is tied for the league low in interceptions, with three.

When both conference and non-conference games are counted, the Keydets are 28th nationally in passing offense (out of 121 FCS teams), while the Bulldogs are 83rd in passing yardage allowed.

VMI is fourth in offensive third down conversion rate, at 43.5%, while The Citadel is third in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (42.3%). VMI has only attempted five 4th-down plays in conference action, the fewest in the league.

The Keydets have an offensive red zone touchdown rate of 78.6%, the best mark in the conference, though VMI has been in the red zone fewer times than any other team in SoCon play. The Citadel has a defensive red zone TD rate of 50% (11-22), which is third-best in the league.

VMI is last in the league in scoring defense (allowing 40.0 points per game), total defense, and rushing defense (giving up 6.2 yards per carry). The Citadel is fifth in scoring offense (21.5 points per contest) and third in total offense. The Bulldogs lead the league in rushing offense (5.2 yards per attempt).

Including all games, VMI is next-to-last in FCS football in rushing defense (ahead of only winless Nicholls State), while The Citadel is second nationally in rushing offense (trailing only Cal Poly of the Big Sky).

The Citadel is next-to-last in passing offense and sixth in offensive pass efficiency (having only thrown one interception in league play). VMI is fifth in passing defense but next-to-last in defensive pass efficiency.

The Bulldogs are second in the conference in offensive third down conversion rate (46.9%), while VMI is sixth in defensive third down conversion rate, at 48.8%. The Citadel is tied for the most fourth-down attempts in the conference, with 18.

VMI has allowed 19 touchdowns in 23 trips by its opponents inside the 20-yard line (82.6%), the worst defensive red zone TD rate in the league. The Citadel has an offensive red zone touchdown rate of 66.7%, fourth-best in the SoCon.

The Citadel is +1 in turnover margin in conference play, while VMI is -7 (worst in the conference). VMI has actually forced more defensive turnovers than the Bulldogs (11-8), but the Keydets have 18 offensive turnovers, by far the most in SoCon action.

VMI is sixth in the league in time of possession (28:53), while The Citadel is second (32:28).

The Citadel has run 455 offensive plays in its six SoCon games (75.8 per contest), while VMI’s offense has run 388 plays from the line of scrimmage (64.7 per game). In terms of pace, The Citadel runs its plays faster (2.34 snaps per minute) than does VMI (2.23).

The Bulldogs have committed the second-fewest penalties in the league, while VMI is tied for fifth in that category. However, the Keydets’ opponents have committed more penalties than any other team’s opponents. The Citadel is next-to-last in having flags thrown on its behalf, a season-long issue with officiating that has been a constant source of frustration for its fans.

Al Cobb (6’3″, 190 lbs.) is a native of Pulaski, Tennessee who redshirted last season for the Keydets. In his first season as VMI’s quarterback, he is completing 61.3% of his passes, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, with eighteen touchdowns and ten interceptions.

Cobb has completed eight passes this season of more than 35 yards, including two 44-yard completions in his most recent game against Western Carolina.

VMI lists three tailbacks on its two-deep; all three have started at least one game this season for the Keydets. Deon Watts (5’11”, 197 lbs.) is VMI’s leading rusher, with 450 yards (and the senior has also caught 34 passes out of the backfield). Fellow tailback Jabari Turner has seven rushing touchdowns to lead the team.

Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is Cobb’s top receiving target, with 51 catches (including a 60-yarder against Davidson). The sophomore hauled in three passes for the Keydets in last season’s game versus The Citadel.

Redshirt senior Doug Burton leads VMI in receiving touchdowns, with four. VMI uses a three-receiver, one-back offense with a tight end, though starting TE Andrew Lewis only has five receptions all season.

Average size of the projected starters on VMI’s offensive line: 6’4″, 294 lbs. Redshirt freshman center Patrick Doucette and redshirt senior right tackle Andy Marcotte have started every game this season for the Keydets.

Marcotte, at 6’8″, 325 lbs., is the biggest VMI player on the roster, and was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. He set a team record in the weight room with a 635-lb. squat.

VMI operates out of a 3-4 defense when not facing the triple option. When it does, in recent years the Keydets have featured a five-man front.

Nosetackle Joe Nelson (6’3″, 265 lbs.) is one of three Keydets on defense to start every game. The redshirt sophomore has five tackles for loss, including two sacks, and also blocked a PAT against Mercer.

The Keydets’ four starting linebackers rank 1-4 in the team in tackles. Miller Williams, a 6’1″, 220 lb. senior, leads the way with 66 tackles.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Francis (6’1″, 200 lbs.) has three sacks, most on the squad. He is also tied for the lead in tackles for loss, with 6.5.

Francis shares that team lead in tackles for loss with 6’1″, 241 lb. redshirt senior Logan Staib, who has been a mainstay for VMI over the past four seasons. Staib has saved some of his best football for games against The Citadel, having made 14 tackles against the Bulldogs in both 2011 and 2013.

From his position as one of the Keydets’ starting cornerbacks, redshirt sophomore Damien Jones (6’1″, 190 lbs.) has two interceptions and leads the team in passes defensed, with ten. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against Navy.

The other starting cornerback, James Fruehan (5’10”, 187 lbs.) is a senior who has appeared in 44 games for VMI over the course of his career. He is sixth on the team in tackles.

Strong safety Alijah Robinson, a 6’0″, 185 lb. sophomore, is fifth on the squad in tackles. His backup, Greg Sanders, leads the Keydets in interceptions with three.

VMI placekicker Dillon Christopher, a sophomore from Newport News, Virginia, is 7 for 13 on field goal tries this season, with a long of 49 against Mercer. He kicked a 45-yarder against Western Carolina.

Christopher is 32-33 on PAT attempts. He is also the Keydets’ kickoff specialist, with 18 touchbacks in 53 kickoffs.

Punter Hayden Alford is averaging 37.0 yards per punt, with a long of 69. He has had 17 of his 53 punts downed inside the 20.

VMI has allowed three punt return TDs this season and ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in punt return defense, allowing an average of almost 14 yards per return.

The Keydets’ primary punt returner is wideout Dana Forlines, who is averaging 3.9 yards per return. Taylor Stout and Greg Sanders have returned almost all kickoffs for VMI; each has a kick return average of 19.2 yards.

Odds and ends:

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Cocky, the overexposed mascot for South Carolina. It’s a quarterfinal playoff matchup in the Challenge.

Vote for Spike!

– Tickets go on sale this Saturday for the Medal of Honor Bowl, the all-star game being held at Johnson Hagood Stadium on January 10, 2015: Link

– As pointed out in The Citadel’s game notes, The Citadel is 4-0 when it gains more than 500 yards of total offense. When it doesn’t, the Bulldogs are 0-7.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 12-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 63.

– VMI has two players on its team from South Carolina. Not surprisingly, most of the Keydets are from Virginia (53). Other states represented on the VMI roster: Tennessee (10), Pennsylvania (7), Georgia and North Carolina (4 each), Alabama (3), Maryland (2), and one each from Texas, California, Ohio, West Virginia, and Washington, DC.

I’ve said this before, but if you are a graduate of The Citadel, a trip to VMI should be on your personal “bucket list”. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the two military schools.

Every alum should travel to Virginia at least once to see the campus, watch a parade, and check out the gameday experience:

The VMI Corps of Cadets marches from barracks onto the field as The Regimental Band plays “Shenandoah”. The Corps welcomes the team onto the field, as “Little John,” a ceremonial cannon, joins the cheers with a thundering boom. The Rats come out of the stands with every Keydet score, and do a pushup for every point on the VMI side of the scoreboard. The familiar strain of “The Spirit” plays to stir the hearts of the Keydet faithful.

Completed in 1962 at a cost of approximately $250,000 through funds allocated by the General Assembly of Virginia and the VMI Alumni Association, the stadium contains 54 rows, is 173 feet high (not including the press box) and has a seating capacity of 10,000. Fiberglass seats were installed in 1974 and refurbished in 1985.

A new Brute Bermuda grass playing surface was initially installed during the summer of 1998, and the crown on the field was elevated to improve drainage.

I was there two years ago to watch The Citadel (barely) clinch a winning season. I won’t be able to make it this Saturday, alas.

I anticipate Saturday’s game will be fairly high-scoring (and judging from the over/under, so does the gambling community). In VMI, you have a passing team that can’t stop the run. The Citadel, meanwhile, is a running team that has struggled against the pass.

Al Cobb is averaging over 35 pass attempts in SoCon play, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t throw at least 40 passes against the Bulldogs. The best way for The Citadel to prevent that is for its offense to control the game on the ground and completely dominate time of possession.

In his press conference on Tuesday, Mike Houston mentioned that the Bulldogs have not had “great, consistent starting field position” this season. That affects the offense’s ability to regularly mount scoring drives, because there is that much further for it to go.

The game last week versus Samford was a good example of this. One of The Citadel’s drives lasted for 17 plays but produced no points; it was one of two possessions for the Bulldogs that lasted for more than five minutes but did not lead to a score.

Special teams can make a difference in that aspect of the game, but so can the defense. One thing the Bulldogs’ D has not done this season is consistently force turnovers. As I mentioned earlier, The Citadel has only forced eight turnovers in six league games.

If the Bulldogs are to retain the coveted Silver Shako on Saturday, forcing multiple turnovers is almost a must for the defense. To do that, The Citadel likely has to get more pressure on the quarterback.

VMI has come close to winning this matchup in recent years, leading at halftime last season and falling just short of a comeback victory the last time the Bulldogs made an appearance at Foster Stadium. The Keydets’ record is not particularly meaningful when The Citadel is the opponent (the reverse is also true).

Several of VMI’s games this season should give fans of the Bulldogs pause, particularly its convincing victory over Furman. The Keydets’ competitive losses to Mercer, Western Carolina, Gardner-Webb, and Bucknell are also noteworthy.

There are several positives to take from this season for The Citadel. It has been an instructive (and often entertaining) year, as a new head coach has begun to put his stamp on the program.

The biggest positive of all would be to keep the greatest trophy in all of sports in Charleston, where it belongs.

Game review, 2014: Samford

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Birmingham News

Box score

I don’t really have a lot to say about this game, to be honest. Just a few observations:

– In my opinion, it was a well-played game. There were no turnovers, and an absence of really dumb plays. It was a little lower-scoring than I would have expected.

Ultimately, The Citadel needed to make one more play to win the game. It didn’t make that play, though.

– This was arguably the best performance of the season by The Citadel’s defense. It was helped by the offense maintaining possession throughout the game, even when a drive didn’t result in a score (the Bulldogs were 7-19 converting third downs and had a time of possession edge of over 15 minutes).

Samford was 4-13 on third down. Six of the SU’s eleven possessions resulted in short drives (6 or fewer plays, 21 or fewer yards).

– While The Citadel’s offense controlled possession for major portions of the game, it didn’t make that ball control count enough. The Bulldogs had four different drives of seven or more plays that ended with no points being scored (including one that lasted 17 plays).

– I have a great deal of sympathy for Vinny Miller, who is apparently the official whipping boy for SoCon officials. I seriously believe a number change is in order, so the men in stripes aren’t so quick to throw their flags in his direction.

Imagine the pregame conversation Mike Houston could have with a certain SoCon referee:

Ref: “Coach, where’s #16?”

Houston: “Uh, he’s not playing. We’ve got, uh, another guy playing slotback today, #32.”

Ref: “Oh, okay, that’s good. Just between you and me, I thought #16 was acting like a jackass.”

Houston: “Yes, I know. You told the entire Homecoming crowd that during the Furman game.”

– Speaking of Houston, I have a suggestion. The Citadel’s head coach is intense and emotional, which plays very well with the Bulldogs’ fan base (and rightly so).

However, he probably needs a “cool down” period immediately following a game. I think the postgame radio interview can wait a few minutes.

This would have the added benefit of making it easier for fans to hear the coach’s thoughts. They need time to get back to their cars/tailgates after the alma mater is played.

– It was cold. Cold Cold Cold.

Cold.

That partly explained the less-than-sellout conditions at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The attendance could have been worse, however, what with Clemson and South Carolina both in action at the same time.

Samford brought very few fans, though that was perfectly understandable. Birmingham to Charleston is not a short trip.

Now it’s time to get ready for the final game of the season. The coveted Silver Shako is at stake.

The team better be ready. VMI will be, especially in Lexington.

The pictures are…well, they’re in color.

I didn’t have time to annotate them this week, though they are in sequential order. If you want to look for a specific play, it shouldn’t be too hard to find (assuming I took a picture of the play in question). The statistical play-by-play would be a good guide to use.

As usual, I took some pregame shots as well.

 

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