Game review, 2015: Charleston Southern

Links of interest:

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Half-season ticket packages on sale

This review is running a bit later than normal, due to a technical problem I had with WordPress. Admittedly, operator error accounts for a lot of it, but oh well.

As a result, this is going to be a relatively short post. I decided to just include a couple of recent links and move on to the game, and then I’ll give my thoughts on the post-game dustup as well. After that, I’ll explain about the pictures…

I was most surprised (and disappointed) by the Bulldogs’ play on the offensive line. The Citadel only averaged 4.3 yards rushing per play in the contest, and if you take out Vinny Miller’s 61-yard run in the first quarter, that number drops to 2.9 yards per carry.

That is clearly not good enough, especially for a triple option offense. The Bulldogs didn’t seem to get the push up front that they did against Western Carolina.

Defensively, it was an old story. The Citadel didn’t get nearly enough consistent pressure on the quarterback on passing downs, and paid for it.

I wrote in my game preview that the defense had to get off the field on third down, and that didn’t happen. Charleston Southern had 13 third down attempts of medium-to-long distance; it converted six of those, an unacceptable percentage. That led to CSU having a six-minute edge in time of possession.

The Citadel was also called for too many penalties (8 for 80 yards), though I think the Bulldogs got the short end of the stick on several officiating decisions. Those calls didn’t affect the outcome of Saturday’s game, of course. They were just frustrating.

There were positives. The Bulldogs’ special teams units were solid. Eric Goins, in particular, had a good game. The Citadel also did a nice job returning kickoffs.

The defense intercepted two more passes, one of which went for a TD. I think the defensive secondary play from the Bulldogs so far this season has significantly improved from last year.

I have an opinion or two on a few other topics:

– I don’t think The Citadel needs to throw the ball more. I understand the argument that maybe the Bulldogs should throw a little more, and that could be true, but ultimately that isn’t what this offense is about.

The Bulldogs’ offensive struggles on Saturday weren’t because they didn’t pass enough. They struggled because of a lack of success on first down — and no, more first down passes wouldn’t have solved that problem.

– Dominique Allen is still in “young starter” mode. It’s going to take him time. He needs to get that time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

– Cam Jackson needs the ball in his hands more often. I don’t think there is any question about that.

Whether more toss sweeps are run, or a couple of specific pass plays per game are called with Jackson as the target, or something else, he needs the ball more. The coaches obviously know this. I suspect we’ll see him touch the ball almost twice as many times against Wofford as he did against Charleston Southern.

– I get the sense (and I could be completely wrong about this) The Citadel needs to vary the snap count a little more than it has been.

I know some people were upset at the CSU hijinks at midfield during the alma mater. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know about that aspect of The Citadel’s post-game activities. They wouldn’t be the first team not to understand what was going on.

Now, was Jamey Chadwell’s line about “…it’s like a home game for us” an insult directed towards The Citadel’s players and coaches? It would be hard to interpret it in any other way. Of course, it was just one of several things he had to say after the game.

I tweeted afterwards that if Chadwell had wanted to say something to ensure The Citadel never played Charleston Southern again, he couldn’t have done a better job. A few days later, I still feel that way.

However, I am now less certain that Chadwell really cares whether or not The Citadel plays Charleston Southern going forward. I think he may care a lot more about Jamey Chadwell, which is not unreasonable. He has to market himself.

Chadwell is a good coach with a big mouth, which is not an unprecedented combination, and ultimately of no real consequence. What I found more interesting is that on Monday morning, another Chadwell “smack talk” comment made its way to Twitter, but not via the coach’s account or that of any media member. No, it was tweeted out by the school.

Not CSU’s department of athletics, mind you, but the official school account. That was very telling.

I’ve written before that when it comes to football scheduling, The Citadel has to act in its best interests. If that doesn’t work out to the benefit of Charleston Southern, that’s too bad — but it’s not The Citadel’s fault, either.

It’s possible Charleston Southern’s administration doesn’t understand that. Maybe. I think it’s more likely the folks running CSU understand it all too well, and have decided to employ a “bullying through the media” approach in an effort to get what they want.

We saw this last year, with CSU hoops coach Barclay Radebaugh’s public complaints about basketball scheduling, which were also aimed at College of Charleston. That tactic worked so well that neither The Citadel nor CofC will be playing the Buccaneers in roundball this season, either.

The same thing is probably going to happen with regards to football.

In fact, I have a suggestion for the administration at The Citadel. If the people running Charleston Southern are going to have this kind of attitude when it comes to varsity athletics, then I see no need for any of The Citadel’s teams to compete against CSU. Our students deserve better.

The pictures this week are not good. They rarely are, but this time I had some additional problems. I have been unable to order them properly, for which I apologize. They also are not annotated, though I may be able to go back later and add some descriptive comments for some of them.



2015 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 26. The game will not be televised.

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

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Preview of Charleston Southern-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Jamey Chadwell on the Big South teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/22 press conference (with comments from James Riley and Eric Goins)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

The preview in The Post and Courier largely focused on the future of the series between The Citadel and Charleston Southern.

It is a topic that is vaguely reminiscent of last year’s kerfuffle over basketball scheduling between the two schools (along with the College of Charleston). It’s not quite the same thing, though there are obvious parallels.

Like the hoops situation, local media has seized on this issue, with carryover on Twitter. And like the hoops situation, the issue has been largely misrepresented.

There are two entities that appear to desperately want The Citadel and Charleston Southern to be an annual “rivalry” game. One is Charleston Southern. The other is the Lowcountry media.

Watching Mike Houston’s weekly press conference, I shook my head at some of the questions he was asked. I have to say I am disappointed in certain members of the press corps, who should know better. Houston did a fine job handling quite a bit of nonsense.

First, WCIV-TV’s Scott Eisberg tried to draw a reaction from Houston over the t-shirt Jamey Chadwell wore at the postgame presser after last year’s game, but the coach wouldn’t bite (“I’m not going to get into all that”).

Gene Sapakoff, sports columnist for The Post and Courier, then asked a reasonable question about recruiting, but followed that up with a “please write my column for me” query/comment about alumni interest in the matchup.

Houston correctly observed that alumni care about every game. (On his radio show the next day, Houston reinforced this point by telling a story about an alum who informed the coach in the offseason that the Bulldogs really needed to beat Western Carolina this year.)

Later, Eisberg tried another angle, one that got quickly batted away by Houston:

– Eisberg: “Not a more to lose game, but a lot of people would expect The Citadel to win this game being the bigger school and everything like that…”

– Houston: “I may be wrong, but I think their enrollment is bigger than ours [it is]. I’m pretty sure [about that], so as far as ‘bigger school’, I don’t exactly [know what you mean], because I think they are actually the larger institution.”

– Eisberg: “…[indecipherable noises] budget and stadium, and I mean…tradition of the program and stuff like that.”

– Houston: “Well, they are an FCS program that offers the same number of scholarships that we do. They do a good job coaching and recruiting…”

A couple of minutes after that, Houston concluded his portion of the press conference. James Riley then strode to the podium and (after an initial series of questions from Jeff Hartsell) got this incredible query from Sapakoff:

Jay – James, like coach was saying, um, he kinda implied that they are sort of like an equal, I mean, do you see them as kind of an equal competitor, or something beneath you as far as a smaller school?

Let’s review. In one rambling question, Sapakoff:

  • Asked a player if he flatly disagreed with a statement the player’s coach had just made about an opponent
  • Tried to get a bulletin board comment (when there had been no suggestion that the player had a particular animus against the opponent, or any opponent for that matter)
  • Made an erroneous statement while asking the question
  • Made an erroneous statement while asking the question, after another reporter had already been corrected for making an erroneous statement on the same topic less than five minutes before

Riley, to his credit, didn’t even blink, giving as respectful and polite an answer (“Uh, no, I never take an opponent lightly, no matter who we are playing…”) as could be expected under the circumstances.

Sapakoff then asked Riley to compare Charleston Southern to other SoCon schools, “particularly Furman and Wofford”. Why, I have no idea. Riley, a bit puzzled (and no wonder), noted that they ran different schemes.

The columnist then tried to bait the senior linebacker for a third time with another question about losing to Charleston Southern, and again Sapakoff did not get the answer he seemed to want.

Really, the SoCon should give a special Player of the Week Award to James Riley for handling that absurd (if not contemptible) line of questioning with considerable grace.

The media has a job to do, which is understood by all parties involved. Goading players and coaches in the hopes one of them may make an inflammatory comment is not supposed to be part of that job. It was, collectively, an embarrassing performance by the fourth estate.

Given all that, it seems the perspective of The Citadel when it comes to playing Charleston Southern isn’t likely to get equal time.

So, I’ll explain some of the issues in this post. I’ve discussed a few of these things before, but I’ll go over them again just for the sake of completeness.

Charleston Southern wants to play The Citadel on an annual basis, possibly for ease of scheduling, partly for recruiting, but mostly to escape being the Lowcountry’s “red-headed stepchild” (a comment Jamey Chadwell made prior to last year’s contest).

All of that is understandable. It is also understandable if Charleston Southern will only play The Citadel in a home-and-home series going forward.

If it is not in the best interests of CSU to play The Citadel only at Johnson Hagood Stadium, then Charleston Southern shouldn’t do so. That’s a perfectly reasonable stance to take.

However, The Citadel has to do what is best for The Citadel. Playing a home-and-home series against Charleston Southern is not what is best for The Citadel.

It is nice that CSU is finally making improvements to its football facility. It should have happened many years ago.

However, The Citadel’s future scheduling is too restrictive to have an annual home-and-home series with Charleston Southern, even if CSU finally has an acceptable stadium.

That is the real problem. Naturally, it hasn’t received enough attention, or has been discounted as a factor — when, in fact, it is a key issue.

FCS schools will play an 11-game regular season schedule every year until 2019 (when FCS teams can schedule 12 games, as was the option in 2013 and 2014). After 2019, there won’t be another 12-game schedule opportunity for FCS programs until 2024.

Beginning next season, the number of SoCon games on the slate will increase from seven to eight, as East Tennessee State begins league play. That leaves three non-conference games per season for The Citadel. One of those three contests will almost certainly always be a “money game” against FBS opposition (unless those games come to an end, but that’s another issue and at least several years down the road anyway).

In 2016, the Bulldogs play at North Carolina. In 2017, The Citadel will play at South Carolina (the second game in three years against the Gamecocks).

This leaves two games on The Citadel’s schedule each year. One of them has to be a “designated home game” — in other words, a game in which the opposing school does not get a return game at its place. That’s to ensure there are at least five home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium every season.

The other game is what I call a “flex game”. It could be a non-conference home-and-home with another FCS school, or a matchup with another FBS program. While the latter possibility may not be as likely, there are scenarios in which The Citadel would take a second FBS game (especially if it were against Army or Navy).

Charleston Southern could play The Citadel every year in the “designated home game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. However, it would not be in the best interests of The Citadel to hamstring its future scheduling by eliminating the “flex game” to play an annual home-and-home series versus CSU.

The Citadel needs the flexibility of that spot on its schedule to pursue opportunities that could be of significant benefit to the school and its football program, whether a “bonus” money game, a matchup with a service academy, or perhaps a home-and-home with a team outside the region.

It is generally more expensive to play a home-and-home against an FCS school in another part of the country, but there are significant ancillary benefits to doing so. They include exposing the school to a wider audience, and reconnecting with certain parts of The Citadel’s widely-spread alumni base.

That is something I distinctly remember about attending The Citadel’s game at Princeton. It was an excellent public/alumni relations event for the military college. I also remember the surprisingly large contingent of Bulldog supporters who showed up for that contest.

I’ll go further, actually, and say something a lot of people aren’t going to like. The Citadel derives little benefit from playing Charleston Southern, even when the game is played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

(There are supporters of The Citadel who would say that “little benefit” in the previous sentence could be changed to “no benefit”, and a few who would argue that the series is a net negative for The Citadel. I won’t go quite that far, but it is a point of view that is not without merit.)

If the Bulldogs win the game, it’s because they are “supposed to win”. After all, The Citadel is the “bigger school”, according to our friends in the press corps.

If they lose, it is billed as the triumph of a plucky “smaller school” over a big, hulking, undoubtedly super-evil monster of a football factory. The empire has been defeated! All the ewoks can dance!

In addition, this is not a series The Citadel’s alumni base cares about, by and large.

Yes, I know that Charleston Southern’s football program is not what it was 15 years ago, or even five years ago. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that.

When it comes to generating interest among supporters of The Citadel, though, that doesn’t really matter much, and there isn’t a whole lot CSU can do about it.

When my father graduated from The Citadel, Charleston Southern didn’t exist. When I graduated from The Citadel, it wasn’t called Charleston Southern (and did not have a football team). I think that for many of The Citadel’s alums, there is little familiarity with Charleston Southern’s football program, and next to no enthusiasm about the schools playing each other.

The Citadel has two primary rivals in football, Furman and VMI. Furman and The Citadel have been playing each other for over 100 years, and competing in the same league continuously for more than eight decades. The gridiron series with VMI is almost as long and is between two schools with a good deal in common.

Charleston Southern and The Citadel have little in common. One is a private school affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and has existed for just over 50 years; the other is a public military college that will soon celebrate its quartoseptcentennial.

Then there is the fact that The Citadel has never received a major attendance bump when Charleston Southern comes to town, which might come as a surprise to some people.

In seven games between the two schools at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the average attendance has been 13,202. The average game attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium in those years when the schools played? 14,153.

The games versus CSU actually lowered the average attendance numbers for The Citadel for five of the seven seasons in which they were played, including the most recent meeting in 2013.

That is perhaps less of a shock when Charleston Southern’s home attendance numbers are taken into consideration. CSU’s average home attendance through two games this season (caveat: both games were Thursday night affairs) is 3,576.

Last year CSU drew just over 4,000 for its Homecoming game against Presbyterian, the largest attendance it had for any game in 2014 aside from the one against The Citadel, when the announced attendance was 7,954 (but the actual attendance, in my opinion, was closer to 5,500).

That isn’t to say Charleston Southern has no fans. They do, and a few of them really don’t like it when you explain why playing a home-and-home doesn’t work for The Citadel. One of them told me via Twitter that the real reason The Citadel didn’t want to play had to do with an “elitist attitude & inflated self perception. You’re not what u used to be.”

His comment was ‘favorited’ by several CSU players, including starting wide receiver Colton Korn. I don’t know if the players are agreeing with the notion that current Bulldog players have an elitist attitude and aren’t as good as those from teams of the past, if they are just saying that about Bulldog supporters, or both. With Twitter, nuance can be difficult.

Okay, let’s talk about the game on Saturday…

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Charleston Southern in select statistical categories for the 2014 season.

Incidentally, this will probably be the last post in which I use 2014 as a reference in this section; for the rest of the season, I’ll likely use up-to-date 2015 statistics, because at least by then we’ll have enough games to make those numbers at least somewhat relevant.

As usual, The Citadel’s stats in the table below are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Charleston Southern, I included ten of the Buccaneers’ twelve games. I decided not to include statistics from CSU’s victory over Point, or its loss to Georgia. Those two games weren’t really indicative of how Charleston Southern played over the course of the 2014 campaign.

Thus, the statistics below for CSU are for ten games against the following opponents: Newberry, Campbell, The Citadel, Charlotte, Vanderbilt, Presbyterian, Coastal Carolina, Monmouth, Gardner-Webb, and Liberty.

(Note: I couldn’t come up with defensive red zone TD% numbers for Charleston Southern in 2014. If I eventually find them, I’ll include them in the table.)


Charleston Southern The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 7.6 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 4.87 5.35
Offense yards per play 5.83 5.56
Offense points per game 27.10 24.86
Penalties per game 7.0 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 42.2 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 43.8 60.0
Offense Red Zone TD% 50.0 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 7.4 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.10 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 5.50 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 20.0 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 31.1 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 50.0 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD%  — 60.0
Time of possession 34:24 32:40


I think that defensive 3rd-down conversion rate really stands out. CSU finished 19th in the category in FCS last year (counting all games).

Just as a point of comparison, Clemson led FBS last season in defensive third down conversion rate, at 27.4%. A rate of 31.1% would have been good enough to finish eighth nationally in that division.

Note: statistics below referencing Charleston Southern’s 2014 season are for all twelve games of that campaign.

Last season, Charleston Southern threw the ball 33.8% of the time in its spread option attack. Passing yardage accounted for 43.2% of the Buccaneers’ total offense.

Through three games this year, CSU’s passing yardage accounts for 33.1% of its total offense; the Bucs are throwing the ball on 31.1% of their offensive plays from scrimmage.

Charleston Southern has a lot of experience on offense, and that includes the quarterback position.

Austin Brown transferred from UAB two seasons ago; he started last year’s game against The Citadel and the first two games of this season. Last week, sophomore Kyle Copeland replaced an injured Brown and led the Buccaneers to a 47-7 victory over East Tennessee State.

There is a good chance both will play on Saturday. Brown is completing 46.4% of his passes, averaging 3.25 yards per attempt (the Bucs’ game against Troy hurt him in the yards/attempt category). He has one TD toss and no interceptions.

Copeland is completing a higher percentage of his throws (55.9%), averaging 8.56 yards per attempt, with 3 TDs and no picks. He has also rushed for 115 yards in three games.

However, the primary threat on the ground for Charleston Southern so far this season is running back Darius Hammond. He had 161 yards rushing against Troy (on 23 carries). Hammond is also the Bucs’ punt returner, and he took one back 74 yards for a TD last year versus The Citadel.

The other starting running back, Ben Robinson, had 127 rushing yards and 2 TDs in CSU’s opener against North Greenville. Robinson did not play last week versus ETSU, but is listed as a starter on the current two-deep.

Charleston Southern’s starting offensive line averages 6’2″, 287 lbs. It is a veteran group for the most part.

Left tackle Erik Austell was a preseason All-Big South selection. The right tackle, Benny Timmons, leads all active CSU players in career starts, with 29.

Tight end Nathan Prater is 6’8″, and caught three touchdown passes last season. Prater is from Ninety Six, South Carolina.

He could wear #96 for his hometown, or #68 for his height. Instead, he wears #81. Clearly a missed opportunity.

Prater and starting wide receivers Kevin Glears and Nathan Perera all have something in common besides being pass-catchers for the Buccaneers — they’re all sixth-year players. Perera was an all-Big South pick in 2011 before suffering knee and shoulder injuries.

Another starting wideout, Colton Korn, specializes in moving the chains, with 21 of his 27 receptions last season resulting in a first down. His brother, Willy Korn, is the wide receivers coach at Charleston Southern (and was at one time a well-known high school recruit who had a star-crossed career at Clemson).

Larry Jones III was the Big South Freshman of the Year in 2012 but missed all of last season with a knee injury. Jones has six receptions this season, second on the team to Perera (who has eight catches).

Charleston Southern usually plays a 3-4 defense. Against The Citadel, however, the Buccaneers will probably feature at least two, and probably three fronts. That was the case in both the 2013 and 2014 meetings.

Most of CSU’s experience on defense is concentrated in the secondary and in the linebacking corps.

Weakside linebacker Aaron Brown was an all-Big South choice last season after making 81 tackles. Not surprisingly, he leads the team in tackles this year, with 13 (including three for loss). Brown scored a touchdown against North Greenville in the opener, a 53-yard play that was technically a fumble return after NGU bungled a punt.

Fifth-year senior Zach Johnson is the “spur” linebacker, and no longer will be confused with former teammate (and fellow linebacker) Zac Johnston.

The Bucs have experienced cornerbacks, though preseason all-Big South pick Troy McGowens did not play in the team’s first two games. He did return against ETSU and recorded two sacks. True freshman Shadarius Hopkins has started all three games in McGowens’ stead and is listed as the starter this week as well.

The other cornerback is Malcolm Jackson, a team captain who had four interceptions last season. He is tied for second on the squad in tackles through three games this year.

Another Jackson in the CSU defensive backfield is Corbin Jackson. The free safety has 14 career starts.

Strong safety D.J. Curl has played in 24 games for Charleston Southern. His backup, Larenzo Mathis, returned an interception 87 yards for a TD against ETSU. Last year, Mathis had a blocked punt/TD return against Vanderbilt.

Caleb Batchelor was a regular in the Bucs’ d-line rotation last season. This year, he’s the starting nosetackle. Anthony Ellis, a native of Florida, has started all three games this season at defensive end after playing sparingly as a freshman.

Truett Burns is in his third year as Charleston Southern’s starting punter. He usually employs a “rugby” style of punting, and last season dropped 16 of his 54 punts inside the 20-yard line.

This year, he is averaging 35.2 yards per punt, with 5 of his 13 punts landing inside the 20.

Summerville resident Bryan Jordan is CSU’s placekicker. He is 0-2 on field goal attempts so far this season after serving primarily as a kickoff specialist last year, and also missed an extra point last week. His backup, David Kennedy, was 11-18 last season attempting field goals (including two successful kicks against The Citadel).

Jamey Chadwell expressed some concern about that aspect of the Bucs’ kicking game during the Big South media teleconference.

Long snapper Joseph Smith is from Easley. As I noted last year, Smith began his collegiate career at Delta State, where his coach was Jamey Chadwell. When the coach took the Charleston Southern job, Smith moved back to South Carolina to continue his football career with Chadwell.

As mentioned earlier, Darius Hammond is Charleston Southern’s punt returner. Hammond also returns kickoffs, as does Shadarius Hopkins.

I haven’t written anything about the Georgia Southern game to this point. Usually when I don’t have a “game review” post (which is what generally happens when I don’t attend the contest in question), I discuss the previous game early in the following preview.

I didn’t do that this week because I wanted to jump right into the issues surrounding the Charleston Southern game/series. Also, I don’t really have a lot to say about the matchup with Georgia Southern.

It was a fairly simple contest to analyze. The Citadel made several mistakes early in the game it could not afford to make, and paid for them in full, which tends to happen when facing an FBS squad. Once that ball gets rolling downhill, it’s not going to stop.

I was disappointed in the performance, but I’m also not too worried about it. My only concern is that the players don’t lose any of the confidence they gained in the first two games of the season. I trust the coaching staff to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Odds and ends:

– On Friday, The Citadel will enshrine the newest class in its athletic Hall of Fame. Baseball players Mike Pendleton and Randy Corn will be inducted, as will swimmer Milton Williams and honorary member Dr. John “Turkey” Moore.

They will be joined by Dr. Stephanie McNeill, a track and field star who will be the first woman enshrined in the Hall. Congratulations to all the honorees.

– Charleston Southern has 36 players on its roster from South Carolina, 19 from Georgia, 16 from Florida, two from North Carolina, and one each from Virginia, Texas, and California.

– This will be the second consecutive season that Charleston Southern has played a Thursday night home game in the week before it plays The Citadel.

– The front page of CSU’s game notes mentions that The Citadel and Charleston will not play next season. Just to make sure anyone reading didn’t miss that factoid, it was noted twice on the front page.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Charleston Southern this week. The over/under is 51.

That line really surprised me, to be honest. I would have guessed something like CSU -3, not that I’m a gambling expert or anything.

– Another game at Johnson Hagood Stadium, another somewhat ominous weather forecast. As of this writing, the National Weather Services is projecting a 50% chance of rain in Charleston on Saturday during the day, and 30% at night.

– Speaking of gray, the Bulldogs will be wearing all-gray uniforms for this game. I’m not excited about that, but it was inevitable.

Fans are supposed to wear light blue.

I think the game on Saturday will be competitive and close.

One thing that might be worth watching is time of possession. Both of these teams want to control the ball. Last year, Charleston Southern won that battle.

This year, The Citadel’s defense has to get off the field on third down. Conversely, the Bulldogs’ offense must sustain drives, particularly early in the game (last year on third down, The Citadel was only 4-14).

The Citadel must also avoid the turnover bug that cropped up against Georgia Southern (and to a certain extent in the Western Carolina game as well). That’s even more important in a game in which each team will probably have no more than 12 possessions (the Bulldogs had 10 in last season’s contest).

I don’t have to even discuss the special teams issues The Citadel had in last year’s matchup. That part of the game has to dramatically improve.

I hope the Bulldogs are ready to play on Saturday, rain or shine. Looks like rain, alas.

I’ll be there anyway.


2015 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 19. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on, with Matt Stewart providing play-by-play and Wayne Gandy supplying the analysis.

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

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines.

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

Links of interest:

Preview of The Citadel-Georgia Southern from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Georgia Southern

SoCon weekly release

Sun Belt weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Willie Fritz on the Sun Belt teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/15 press conference (includes comments from Dondray Copeland and Jorian Jordan)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

When I was thinking about what to write for this week’s preview, what first came to mind wasn’t as much the upcoming contest, but rather Georgia Southern’s move from the SoCon to the Sun Belt and the long-term ramifications for that program and school.

That’s because, from a programmatic perspective, the matchup with the Eagles is arguably the most meaningless game The Citadel has played since the Bulldogs made a trip to face Wyoming in 2002.

I’ll explain what I mean by that later. First, a look at Georgia Southern. I’ve written about the school’s history before, but I think it’s worth revisiting.

Georgia Southern was founded in 1907, and classes began the following year. It was originally known as the First District Agricultural & Mechanical School, but despite an initial focus on agriculture, the school would become a teacher’s college for the majority of its history.

There had been a football team at Georgia Southern as far back as 1924 (at that time the institution was called the Georgia Normal School), but the sport was dropped during World War II. By the early 1980s, the school had increased in size (it would be granted university status in 1990), and there was a groundswell of local and institutional support for reinstating football.

To re-start the program, the school hired longtime Georgia assistant coach Erk Russell, who was already a legend in the Peach State. He was, to say the least, a great hire.

Russell took the football program from club status to I-AA, fashioning an eight-year record of 83-22-1, with three national titles.  Beyond the win-loss record, the coach’s impact and influence on the school was immense.

Ludicrously, Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He is actually ineligible under current rules.

The shadow of Russell at Georgia Southern did have negative repercussions, inasmuch as he was an impossible act to follow. The redoubtable Paul Johnson was the only one of the head coaches who succeeded him to really measure up to Russell in the eyes of the fan base.

Tangent: speaking of Johnson and other former Georgia Southern head coaches, the most fascinating matchup this week in college football is the one between PJ’s Georgia Tech squad and Notre Dame, which employs Statesboro persona non grata Brian VanGorder as its defensive coordinator. The two men aren’t exactly fast friends, and that’s being polite.

The essential issue that coaches following Erk Russell faced — how do you top what he did? — could also apply, in a general sense, to Georgia Southern and the move to FBS. After a while, some supporters got restless. They had already sampled the pot of gold at the end of the FCS rainbow, and now they wanted to know if the gold at the end of the FBS rainbow was shinier, regardless of the consequences.

It took a while, but eventually the fan base started moving in the “we want FBS” direction. Those not so sure about the idea were eventually brushed aside. A new director of athletics with an “FBS or bust” attitude and mission, Tom Kleinlein, pushed things along. Eventually, Georgia Southern made the move to the Sun Belt.

Now, Georgia Southern is an FBS school. Its first season in the Sun Belt was full of success, as it won the league with an 8-0 conference record. I’m not sure the Sun Belt was anticipating that, or if its administrators were really excited about having the league won by a program that had gone 4-4 in the SoCon the year before.

Despite winning an FBS conference, though, Georgia Southern didn’t get to go to a bowl game, because it was still in transitional status. That didn’t sit well with fans.

Kleinlein asked for a waiver (which was denied by the NCAA). In asking for the waiver, I suspect he went against the wishes of the league office:

Without the waiver, Georgia Southern’s only other option to become bowl eligible this year was to hope fewer than 76 teams reached six wins…

…Last month, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told USA TODAY Sports that even if Georgia Southern became bowl eligible through that route, they would be placed at the bottom of the league’s pecking order out of deference to the longstanding FBS members. Currently, the Sun Belt has four bowl eligible teams for three contracted spots.

Kleinlein is now arguing, however, that Georgia Southern (9-3) should be treated differently because it won the conference championship outright.

“If we were just a bowl eligible team, I get that argument,” he said. “But we’re conference champions, and that is what puts us ahead of everybody else. I didn’t make the argument to the NCAA when we won six games, I didn’t make it when we won seven or eight. I waited until we got at least a share of the conference title before I submitted my deal.”

Benson didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Of course Benson didn’t return Dan Wolken’s telephone call. He was probably on the horn with Kleinlein, asking him to at least wait another year before burning every bridge in the league his school had just joined.

Now, about that “meaningless game” comment I made at the beginning of this missive. Mike Houston was asked about playing Georgia Southern at his weekly press conference:

The Citadel will be the first SoCon team to visit GSU since the Eagles left the SoCon, but don’t expect Georgia Southern to appear regularly on Bulldog schedules — not when games at ACC or SEC foes can bring much more money. This game was scheduled before Houston and athletic director Jim Senter were hired.

“If I’m the ones making the decisions, no,” Houston said when asked if he’d schedule games like this one in the future. “You are playing an FBS program that has more resources and scholarships than we have. And if you are playing those kinds of games, there needs to be financial restitution that matches that … It’s not ideal, especially if you are playing two FBS teams in one year.”

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

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

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

That also affects Georgia Southern’s ability to get home-and-home games (or two-for-one deals) with non-conference FBS foes, especially from major conferences. So far, GS hasn’t scheduled such a series with a P5 school.

Of course, if the Big 10 gets its way, the days of Power 5 conference schools scheduling FCS programs may be coming to an end. Even if that happened, though, it probably still wouldn’t be worth it for schools like The Citadel to play Group of 5 conference schools for less money.

The potential chain reaction that could occur if the entire P5 decided not to schedule FCS programs would likely be complicated (and a subject for another post). I think it is probable that The Citadel would simply not play any FBS schools, with the gridiron landscape possibly changing to such a degree that no FCS schools would.

All that said, the game on Saturday isn’t as unimportant to The Citadel as the 2002 game against Wyoming. For one thing, the program will make at least a little money. That Wyoming game, well

The game against Division I-A Wyoming, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, has been on the Bulldogs’ schedule for years. [Ellis] Johnson talked to Wyoming coach Vic Koenning a year ago about getting out of the game…

…After chartering a flight to Laramie and spending a night there, The Citadel will just about break even on the trip, [Les] Robinson said.”Thank goodness for LSU [another FBS game The Citadel played during the 2002 season],” Robinson said. After securing the LSU game, Robinson offered to negotiate a settlement with Wyoming.”They didn’t want to negotiate,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t offer them $100,000 or anything like that. We couldn’t make it worth their while.”As it is, the Bulldogs will play 12 games without a week off this season. Johnson said his players might not even put on pads this week in practice in an effort to stay fresh.

Also, the Bulldogs will have their fair share of fans at this game. It’s not the worst place in the world to play a game for recruiting purposes, either (Exhibit A being The Citadel’s starting quarterback, Dominique Allen, who grew up about an hour’s drive from Statesboro).

However, ultimately this matchup is unlikely to define the season for The Citadel in any way. It’s a game the Bulldogs would like to win, but it’s not a conference game, a home game, an in-state game, or a game against a high-profile opponent. It provides a limited benefit to the program from a financial standpoint.

To be honest, I’ve always been a bit dubious about Georgia Southern venturing into the land of FBS, though not for reasons of on-field competitiveness. I don’t think any veteran observer of college football was shocked the Eagles dominated the Sun Belt last year. Mildly surprised, maybe, but not shocked.

However, this is a school that, even as it has grown, still has issues to overcome when it comes to big-money athletics. Its alumni base, while growing, is still much smaller than most FBS schools; the market demo is younger than many other areas (so there is less disposable income floating around); and the surrounding region doesn’t have a huge corporate base.

Also, Georgia Southern has to compete with numerous major-conference FBS programs within a 300-mile radius, including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida, Florida State, and Auburn.

Hey, I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. I just happen to think there is a good chance in about ten years, there might be more than a few Georgia Southern fans wondering what the administration was thinking when it decided to chase that other rainbow.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Georgia Southern in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Georgia Southern, I included eleven of the Eagles’ twelve games. After some consideration, I decided to remove the statistics from Georgia Southern’s 83-9 victory over Savannah State.

Thus, the statistics below are for the rest of the games the Eagles played last season, which came against the following opponents: North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, South Alabama, Appalachian State, New Mexico State, Idaho, Georgia State, Troy, Texas State, Navy, and ULM.


Georgia Southern The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 7.8 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 6.81 5.35
Offense yards per play 7.00 5.56
Offense points per game 35.09 24.86
Penalties per game 4.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 47.1 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 62.5 60.0
Offense Red Zone TD% 69.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 6.9 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.41 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 5.62 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 24.72 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 40.5 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 40.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 68.6 60.0
Time of possession 32:53 32:40

Who will start at quarterback for Georgia Southern on Saturday?

As glad as [Georgia Southern head coach Willie] Fritz is to have Ellison back, he’s staying close to the vest when discussing how big of a role Ellison will play this weekend. With a full week of film study and practice still in front of the Eagles, Fritz wasn’t yet ready to say whether Ellison or [Favian] Upshaw take the first snap against The Citadel.

“Those guys are going to be trading reps all week and they’re both going to be playing Saturday,” Fritz said. “We don’t know if we’ll go by quarter, by series, or every two series. As the week goes on, we’ll get that plan in place.”

Ellison was suspended because of an academic issue dating back to the fall semester of last season. Ellison failed to accrue enough credits to satisfy the NCAA standard and was initially handed a four-game suspension.

By taking on additional classes over the spring and summer semesters – and by earning solid grades in those classes – Ellison was able to get his suspension reduced.

“It was a learning experience for me,” Ellison said. “School has to come first. I kind of overlooked that last year.
“Now I’m just glad to play for my school and to be able to go out there on Saturday.”

Ellison is hoping that this run-in with The Citadel is as successful as the last.

In 2013, Ellison was the star of the game as the Eagles pulled out a 28-21 win. Ellison passed for 138 yards, ran for 135 more and scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:59 to play.

Regardless of who starts at QB, Willie Fritz’s offense will look the same. It isn’t the triple option offense of Paul Johnson or Jeff Monken, but it is conceptually not dissimilar.

I’ll let The Birddog, triple option maven and proprietor of the superior Navy athletics blog of the same name, explain how it works:

Run primarily out of pistol formations, Georgia Southern uses more zone blocking as opposed to the inside veer that is the foundation of past GSU offenses. For the quarterback, it’s not too much of a change; he still progresses through his reads like he did before. Zone blocking is different for the offensive line, but it still favors quicker linemen that can get to linebackers quickly. That’s what GSU’s line was already built for under Monken. Besides, it’s not like they had never used zone blocking before. It’s just a different focus. The zone read is hardly a concept unique to Georgia Southern. Everyone runs it at least a little bit. What’s unique about Georgia Southern is more how committed they are to it. They are very much an option offense as opposed to an offense that dabbles in the option once in a while.

You can read a lot more about Georgia Southern’s offense in that post. In fact, you should. Education is the surest way to get ahead in life.

In its eleven games last season against FBS competition, Georgia Southern threw the ball 20.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 22.5% of the Eagles’ total offense.

Contrast that with Georgia Southern’s 2013 season (again omitting a game against Savannah State). That season, the Eagles threw the ball 14.0% of the time, and passing yardage accounted for 21.5% of Georgia Southern’s total offense.

So, despite a new coach and a different “style” of offense, there really wasn’t a big fundamental change in approach.

– Note: 2014 statistical references to follow are for all 12 games Georgia Southern played.

Kevin Ellison rushed for 1108 yards last season, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He completed 55.5% of his passes, with five touchdowns against three interceptions, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.

Fabian Upshaw completed 70.4% of his throws (19-27), averaging 10.6 yards per attempt, with two TDs and one pick. Upshaw rushed for 385 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per carry.

While both Ellison and Upshaw are capable of making things happen, the biggest playmaker on the Eagles offense is running back Matt Breida, who rushed for 1485 yards last season and 17 TDs. He averaged 8.7 yards per rush attempt, leading the nation in that category.

During his press conference, Mike Houston stated that Breida also led the nation in “explosive plays”, i.e. plays of over 50 yards from scrimmage. He had seven last season.

Breida had his first “explosive play” of this season last week,  a 70-yard TD run against Western Michigan. He finished that game with 176 yards rushing (on only 11 carries) and four touchdowns.

He is joined in the backfield by fellow running back L.A. Ramsby, who rushed for 691 yards and 12 TDs last season. “L.A.” stands for “Little Al”. His father is Big Al.

Wide receiver B.J. Johnson led the Eagles in receptions last season with 23, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. Three of those receptions were for touchdowns.

Houston referred to Georgia Southern as being “huge up front”, and he wasn’t kidding. The Eagles’ starting offensive linemen average 6’4″, 305 lbs.

Left guard Darien Foreman, the lone returning starter on the offensive line, was a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt pick. Right guard Roscoe Byrd is a transfer from UAB.

Georgia Southern runs a 4-3 base defense. Of course, teams often change things up when facing The Citadel’s triple option.

Last year against Navy, the Eagles started out defensively by running a 4-4 look with the safety taking the pitch, then adjusted as the game went on. If you want to see how that functioned, I again refer you to The Birddog (who also breaks down how Navy handled Georgia Southern’s offense in this post): Link

The Eagles have a great deal of size along the defensive line, including the imposing Jay Ellison (no relation to Kevin Ellison), a 6’1″, 310 lb. nose tackle. The Citadel’s offensive line will have its hands full with Ellison, a second-team preseason Sun Belt selection.

Darrius Sapp, listed as Jay Ellison’s backup on this week’s two-deep, started both of Georgia Southern’s first two games at defensive tackle. Sapp weighs 330 lbs.

Starting defensive end Lennie Richardson is 27 years old. Richardson began his collegiate career at Troy before transferring to Georgia Southern. After a year in Statesboro, Richardson enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent 3 1/2 years as a tank gunner before returning to GSU.

Linebackers Deshawntee Gallon and Antwione Williams both have fifteen tackles so far this season for the Eagles. Williams has already graduated from Georgia Southern (the same is true for Lennie Richardson).

Free safety Matt Dobson returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season. Dobson was a second-team preseason all-conference choice.

Placekicker Younghoe Koo is an athlete, as this “trick kick” demonstrates. However, he’s coming off a one-week suspension after a DUI arrest. Alex Hanks handled placekicking duties last week for the Eagles and is listed ahead of Koo on this week’s depth chart.

Georgia Southern punter Matt Flynn is in his first year as the starter. Koo is listed as his backup this week, though the depth chart describes this as an “OR” situation.

Long snapper Jake Banta is another refugee from the currently shuttered UAB program.

Derek Keaton and Montay Crockett were the primary kick returners for Georgia Southern last season, and are back this year. Keaton also returns punts.

Odds and ends:

– Georgia Southern’s “dress roster” includes 90 players from thirteen states. There are 68 natives of Georgia, 11 Floridians, five residents of South Carolina, three Texans, and one player each from Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Jersey, California, and Nevada.

– For the second straight week, The Citadel will play in a contest designated “Military Appreciation” Day (or Night). The game ball will be brought in by the Golden Knights Army Parachute Team. Georgia Southern players will have a Department of Defense decal on the back of their helmets.

An early contender for the title of most-asked question by fans in the stands on Saturday: “Hey, what does DoD mean?”

The Citadel last played Georgia Southern in Statesboro in 2013. It was Military Appreciation Day at Paulson Stadium for that game as well.

– The ESPN3 analyst for this game, Wayne Gandy, was a consensus All-American offensive tackle at Auburn in the early 1990s. Gandy had a 15-year NFL career with four different teams, starting 205 games.

– The sideline reporter for the Georgia Southern radio network is Danny Reed, who Bulldog fans remember from his three years as the “Voice of the Bulldogs”. Reed will become the play-by-play voice this season for the Eagles’ men’s basketball and baseball teams, and will take over gamecalling duties for football in 2016.

I think Reed will become the second person to work as the play-by-play voice for both The Citadel and Georgia Southern. Longtime Charleston radio man Ted Byrne also called games for both schools (and worked College of Charleston games at one point, too).

– Lainie Fritz, sports anchor/reporter for WCBD-TV in Charleston, is the daughter of Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz.

– Per the SoCon weekly release, The Citadel has the top two active sack leaders in the conference. Mitchell Jeter has 13.5, most among current SoCon players, while Mark Thomas is second with 11.5 career sacks.

– Mike Houston is undefeated against schools from the state of Georgia in his head coaching career. He is 2-0, with wins over Fort Valley State and Mercer.

– As of this writing, the National Weather Service forecast for Saturday in Statesboro: high of 87 degrees and sunny, with a low that night of 67. Weather should not be a factor during the game.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Georgia Southern is a 25 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel this week. The over/under is 56.

I think Saturday’s game will be competitive, assuming The Citadel doesn’t go into turnover mode on offense. The Bulldogs may have trouble stopping Georgia Southern’s high-powered attack, but I believe The Citadel can control the ball enough on offense to limit the total number of possessions and frustrate the Eagles.

Earlier in this post, I wrote that this game isn’t that important for The Citadel in the grand scheme of things. However, I fully expect the Bulldog players to give it everything they’ve got — and why not?

If you’re going to play the game, you might as well try to win.

Game review, 2015: Western Carolina

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Mitchell Jeter, Dominique Allen, and Rudder Brown

Video from WCIV-TV

Box score

The Citadel 28, Western Carolina 10.

Random thoughts and observations:

– Another day of threatening weather led to another night of disappointing attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The crowd of 8,048 was into the game (and the corps of cadets had another strong performance), but Jim Senter has to hope for sunny skies when Charleston Southern comes to town in two weeks.

– The Citadel averaged 5.9 yards per play, including 4.9 yards per rush and 17.5 yards per pass attempt (on six throws). Western Carolina averaged 4.9 yards per play, including 5.1 yards per rush and a relatively anemic 4.7 yards per pass attempt (with Troy Mitchell throwing the ball 40 times).

In last season’s matchup, the Catamounts averaged 9.2 yards per rush and 10.0 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina had ten plays from scrimmage that went for 20+ yards in that 2014 contest; on Saturday night, WCU had only three.

– At one point early in the second half, Bulldog B-backs carried the football seven straight times, including all six plays on the second series of the third quarter. There was just a bit of murmuring in the stands, but the runs up the middle had a purpose.

Of the 32 offensive snaps for The Citadel following those “seven plays of stubbornness”, the Bulldogs averaged 6.7 yards per play, including ten first downs and three touchdowns.

– It’s possible that offensive coordinator Brent Thompson may have regretted the second-and-1 pass play the Bulldogs tried near the end of the first half, the only play call I questioned on Saturday. Dominique Allen’s throw was poor, and was intercepted.

It was the third time in two games The Citadel had thrown the ball on 2nd-and-short (and the second time on Saturday). Just as a reminder, in conference play last season the Bulldogs only threw the ball in that situation four times (in seven league matchups).

– Later in the contest, Allen more than made up for his bad throw in the first half. He threw a gorgeous seam pass to Rudder Brown early in the fourth quarter that set up The Citadel’s third touchdown.

On the play, Brown essentially stiff-armed a defender for almost 25 yards. That’s a pretty fair stiff-arm.

– In general, the victory over Western Carolina reminded me of the win last season against Gardner-Webb. That was another game in which the Bulldogs were trailing midway through the third quarter, but wound up winning going away, partly because the other team’s defense was worn out with 20 minutes still to play.

Two differences: this year, it happened earlier in the season, and Western Carolina was a better opponent.

– While The Citadel was the better team on Saturday night and fully earned the victory, it didn’t hurt to catch a break or two. The biggest break of all was on the muffed pitch play that resulted in a recovered fumble-TD by Jorian Jordan.

If Western Carolina had fallen on the ball, would the resulting change of momentum (and immediate loss of seven points) have changed the game’s outcome? I don’t think so…but I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.

– Many of the fans were pleased to hear the band’s rendition of the “Hawaii 5-0” theme, complete with the obligatory surfboard.

The band needed to play a little more during the game, in my opinion. It was a tough night for the sound system operators, who received a deserved warning from the referee for playing music as Western Carolina lined up on offense. Even worse, someone slipped “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners into the music rotation. Awful.

– The game program’s recap of the victory over Davidson included a reference to the 69 points scored against the Wildcats being “the 3rd highest point total in program history”.

It is actually the fifth-highest point total in program history, but it appears that the 1909 victory over Porter (99 points scored by The Citadel) and the 1913 win against Furman (75 points) are both being disregarded.

This is wrong. Those Marion Square teams should be recognized. They are part of the fabric that makes up football at The Citadel. Plus, 75 points against Furman! That will always count, thank you very much.

– The program also includes an article on the golf team, and how it is honoring an alumnus who was killed in action.

– As mentioned earlier, the corps of cadets brought plenty of energy to the stadium. I thought the ACU look was fine, though I wouldn’t want to see it become a regular option.

I know a few of the sophomores were disappointed not to get overnights, but hey — it’s The Citadel, that’s part of the deal. (And 25 years from now, you’ll be the one telling cadets about how that’s part of the deal.)

– He didn’t have a particularly good night, but I’m glad that The Citadel has seen the last of WCU quarterback Troy Mitchell. I just automatically assumed that whenever the Catamounts faced a 3rd-and-long, Mitchell would lead the Bulldogs’ defense on a merry chase that would result in a 20-yard run or a 40-yard pass.

Mitchell has been a fine player, and worthy opponent, for four years.

– Last week’s game lasted exactly three hours. This week: three hours and four minutes. The man in the red cap controls all time and space.

– The Citadel still leads FCS in rushing offense, well ahead of Kennesaw State (!), which is in second. (Kennesaw State also runs the triple option.)

Last year’s leader in rushing offense, Cal Poly, is currently sixth. I think that is very impressive, considering the Mustangs’ two games have been at Montana (a win) and at Arizona State (a loss, but Cal Poly gave the Sun Devils all they wanted).

Next week: Georgia Southern, in Statesboro. That should be interesting. I’ll have a post previewing that game later in the week.

Below are some photos, including shots of the pregame scene and the on-field action (most of which are annotated). They aren’t necessarily good photos. Then again, when are they?

2015 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 12. The game will not be televised.

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

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Preview of Western Carolina-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

Pregame “notes” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mark Speir on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/9 press conference (includes comments from Tevin Floyd, Dominique Allen, and Mariel Cooper)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Game story for Mars Hill-Western Carolina from the Asheville Citizen-Times 

– Tevin Floyd was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after making eight tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown against Davidson. You may recall that as a freshman in 2013, Floyd recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 28-21 victory over Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

From my preview of last season’s game:

…the Catamounts currently sport a 5-2 record that includes three SoCon victories, including two straight.

That 3-0 SoCon record is a very big deal for WCU, given that the Catamounts entered this season having only won four league games since 2006. Western Carolina had lost 29 of its last 30 conference matchups prior to 2014.

WCU hasn’t been 3-0 in the league since 1994. If the Catamounts win on Saturday, they will match their best-ever league start.

It has taken time, but Mark Speir appears to have things moving in the right direction in Cullowhee. A competitive WCU program is good for the league, in my opinion.

Western Carolina won that game against The Citadel, 29-15, and moved to 6-2 for the 2014 season. The Catamounts then hit a major roadblock, getting drilled 51-0 by Chattanooga.

WCU lost at Samford the week after that, and later lost to Alabama, but picked up a home victory over VMI in between those losses. Western Carolina finished with a 7-5 record.

The Catamounts finished the 2014 season with the program’s first winning year on the gridiron since 2005; its most wins in a campaign since 2001; and its best record in league play since 1992. It was a largely gratifying season for the Western Carolina faithful, and probably something of a relief as well.

Now the question for Mark Speir is this: what can you do for an encore?

It could be argued that one of the tougher things to do in college sports is to put together two straight good years after enduring many, many bad seasons. That is what Western Carolina is attempting to do in 2015.

More than a few people have newly-found confidence in the Catamounts. WCU was picked to finish third in the SoCon in the coach’s preseason poll; the league’s media voters thought even more of Western Carolina, ranking it second in the conference.

It’s not altogether surprising that folks like the Catamounts’ chances. The SoCon release notes that 23 players listed as starters returned from last year’s squad, including all eleven on the offensive side of the ball.

However, there are still some doubters when it comes to Western Carolina, and that’s perfectly understandable.  Like I mentioned earlier, repeating success after a long period of failure isn’t easy.

Just ask The Citadel about the 2013 season.

In 2012, the Bulldogs were 7-4, finishing off the campaign with three straight victories and a winning league record. It was the first winning season for The Citadel in five years and only the second winning year since 1997. The five SoCon triumphs were the most since 1992.

Hopes were high the following year. The Citadel returned many of its top players, and fans were ready for a great season.

Instead, the Bulldogs only won five games. It turned out not to be the start of something big; rather, it was the end of an era.

There are no guarantees.

Statistical comparisons, 2014 SoCon games only (seven contests):

– The Citadel averaged 75.4 plays per game; Western Carolina averaged 66.1 plays per game.

– The Bulldogs’ time of possession per game: 32:40. The Catamounts averaged 29:57 per game.

WCU actually held the ball longer than its opponents in five of seven games. UTC had an almost 2-to-1 edge in time of possession against Western Carolina, skewing that particular statistic to a certain degree. The other league team that out-possessed the Catamounts: The Citadel.

– The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.6 yards per play; that includes 5.4 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina’s defense gave up 5.9 yards per play in league action, including 5.3 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass attempt.

– Western Carolina’s offense averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 4.8 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per pass attempt. The Citadel’s defense allowed just over 7 yards per play, including 5.7 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt.

– The Catamounts were sacked five times in league action in 2014, while the Bulldogs’ D had eight sacks in seven SoCon contests.

– The Citadel’s 3rd-down conversion rate was 46.3%, while Western Carolina’s defense allowed opponents to convert 3rd downs 50% of the time.

Conversely, WCU’s offense converted 3rd downs at a 45.2% clip, while the Bulldogs’ defense allowed SoCon opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 41.5%.

– On 4th down, The Citadel’s offense converted 12 of 20 4th-down attempt (60%), while the Catamounts’ D held opponents to a 40% 4th-down conversion rate (4-10).

Western Carolina’s offense was 7-10 on 4th down in league play (70%). The Bulldogs allowed a 4th-down conversion rate of 52.9% on defense.

– In the Red Zone, The Citadel’s offensive TD rate was 67% (18-27). WCU’s defense had a red zone TD allowed rate of only 41.7% (10-24).

The Catamounts’s offense scored touchdowns on 13 of 17 red zone possessions (76.5%), while the Bulldogs allowed TDs 15 of 25 times opponents moved inside the 20 (60%).

Western Carolina’s defense close to the goal line in league play was impressive last season, and a not-insignificant factor in the team’s win-loss record.

As its league campaign progressed, WCU started allowing more and more yards on defense. After a fine effort against Wofford (273 total yards allowed), the rest of the season for the Catamounts’ D went like this: 400 yards given up versus Mercer, 443 allowed to The Citadel, 512 to Chattanooga, 461 to Samford, and 471 to VMI.

In those last three games, WCU opponents scored 112 points.

Western Carolina threw the ball 39.7% of the time in league play. Passing yardage accounted for 52.7% of the Catamounts’ total offense in SoCon action.

Troy Mitchell is Western Carolina’s alltime leader in total offense, a mark he set last week. A fair amount of that yardage has come against The Citadel:

– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2012: 117 rushing yards, 67 passing yards (2 rushing TDs)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2013: 106 rushing yards, 136 passing yards (1 passing TD)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2014: 131 rushing yards, 292 passing yards (1 passing TD)

There aren’t many quarterbacks who have rushed for over 100 yards three different times against the Bulldogs. The native of Texas will have a chance to go 4-for-4 on Saturday.

Mitchell isn’t the only Catamount who has had success running the football against the Bulldogs. Halfback Darius Ramsey had two 100+ yard performance versus The Citadel as a freshman and a sophomore. Last season, Ramsey settled for 72 yards (and a TD) on nine carries. His backup, Detrez Newsome, ran for 123 yards and two TDs on only eleven rushing attempts.

The starters on Western Carolina’s offensive line average 6’2″, 288 lbs. There is a lot of experience on the o-line, though left tackle Zach Weeks is a redshirt freshman.

Spearman Robinson is a preseason all-conference wideout selection. Robinson is big (6’4″, 215 lbs.) and has good speed. He had eleven touchdown receptions last year.

His first TD catch of this season came on the first play from scrimmage against Mars Hill last week. Detrez Newsome threw a halfback pass to Robinson that went for 75 yards.

Karnorris Benson is also a talented receiver. He is a redshirt senior who caught 12 touchdown passes two seasons ago.

Western Carolina will miss Terryon Robinson, who had a huge game against The Citadel last year (10 catches, 183 yards). He reportedly broke his wrist just before the season started.

WCU will throw the ball to its tight ends as well. 6’4″, 240 lb. Tyler Sexton caught three touchdown passes last season; the sophomore had five receptions last week against Mars Hill.

The Catamounts usually feature four down linemen on defense (as part of a base 4-3), but as always, that might be adjusted against The Citadel’s triple option attack. During his radio show, Mike Houston mentioned “split fronts” as a look the Bulldogs’ offense might see on Saturday.

Though he did not play in the opener (injury precaution) and is not listed as the starter on Western Carolina’s depth chart, expect defensive tackle Helva Matungulu (6’5″, 290 lbs.) to get a lot of playing time on Saturday.

Matungula is originally from Kenya, and played Rugby 7s before arriving in Cullowhee. Mike Houston specifically referenced Matungula (“he’s an outstanding player”) during the SoCon teleconference.

DT Ezavian Dunn (6’2″, 300 lbs.) started seven games as a freshman.

Defensive ends John McBeth and Caleb Hawkins have combined to start 57 games. Hawkins, in particular, will be a very tough matchup for The Citadel’s offensive line.

Linebacker Daniel Riddle had 74 tackles last season, third-most on the squad. Another ‘backer, Tyson Dickson, missed half of the 2014 season with injury, but did play against The Citadel — and made 16 tackles in that contest.

Sertonuse Harris is a LB/DB combo type who was a second-team All-SoCon pick by the coaches last year. Cornerback Trey Morgan was a preseason all-league choice. He had six interceptions last year.

Western Carolina’s depth chart lists two possible starters at placekicker, Logan Howard and Blake Metcalf. Last week, Howard converted the PATs while Metcalf was the kickoff specialist.

According to the team’s website, Logan Howard has “a black belt in martial arts and is a three-time world champion kick boxer.”

WCU has a new starting punter this season, redshirt freshman Ian Berryman. Kickoff returns are handled by Detrez Newsome and Karnorris Benson, while C.J. Goodman is the Catamounts’ punt returner.

Chandler Addertion is in his third season as Western Carolina’s long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The ESPN3 production will feature Kevin Fitzgerald as the play-by-play announcer and Sadath Jean-Pierre as the analyst. Fans of the Bulldogs know former defensive back Jean-Pierre, a 2013 graduate of The Citadel.

Fitzgerald is a recent graduate of Syracuse who has called games in a variety of sports, including radio play-by-play for the women’s basketball team at the University of Vermont. This summer, he was the voice of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

– WCU did not play a game in SoCon action last season that was decided by fewer than 12 points. However, the Catamounts were 4-1 in league games decided by two touchdowns.

Western Carolina lost two non-conference games by five points last year. The Catamounts lost 36-31 in the season opener at South Florida (a game the Catamounts led at halftime), and 19-14 at Presbyterian.

The Blue Hose had two pick-6 TDs in the latter contest, the second coming with less than two minutes remaining in the game. WCU’s offense was victimized by five turnovers, including four interceptions thrown by three different quarterbacks (Troy Mitchell got hurt midway through the third quarter).

– The Catamounts’ roster features 53 players from the state of North Carolina, by far the most from any state (as would be expected).  There are 25 natives of Georgia on the team, and 7 South Carolina residents.

I was a little surprised that there are as many Catamounts from Kenya as there are from Tennessee (one each).

The aforementioned Helva Matungulu is from Nairobi. The one native of the Volunteer State, freshman defensive back Mikey White, went to Science Hill High School in Johnson City; that’s the same school sharing a stadium this season with East Tennessee State.

– Western Carolina’s opponent last week, Mars Hill, travels to Chattanooga this Saturday to take on the Mocs. That game starts at 1:00 pm ET. Later in the afternoon, there may be some comparing of scores in the tailgating areas — or there may just be more eating and drinking.

Mars Hill, of course, is the alma mater of Mike Houston. On the CBS online college football schedule, the school is listed as “MARS”.

– WCU had a good home crowd last week, with an announced attendance of 12,348. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sizable number of those fans make it down to Charleston on Saturday.

– Western Carolina-The Citadel is the first SoCon league game of the season, and the only one on this week’s schedule. In fact, there is only one conference matchup per week for the next four weeks.

There won’t be a full slate of conference games until October 10, when all eight SoCon teams compete in league action.

Mark Speir pointed out during the SoCon teleconference that after Saturday night, Western Carolina won’t be playing another league game for almost a month. The same is true for The Citadel.

– Per the WCU game notes, this is the earliest league road opener for the Catamounts since playing The Citadel in Week 2 in 1998.

– Western Carolina’s release also listed the three times in recent history that a matchup between the two schools has been moved or postponed: 1989 (thanks to Hurricane Hugo, with the game played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia); 1999 (Hurricane Floyd); and 2001 (9/11).

– In a now-annual tradition, I want to officially criticize Western Carolina for blowing a chance at having a truly fantastic school nickname back in 1933, when “Catamounts” was chosen. The runner-up choice was “Mountain Boomers”.

Mountain Boomers! How can you not pick Mountain Boomers as your nickname when you have the opportunity? C’mon.

– Western Carolina was The Citadel’s opponent the last time the South Carolina Corps of Cadets was not in attendance for a home game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That happened on November 20, 2004 (a 17-0 victory for the Bulldogs), while the corps was on Thanksgiving break.

After the game, a meeting of The Citadel’s Board of Visitors was held. Action was taken:

The Board of Visitors passed a resolution that The Corps be present and in uniform at all Citadel home football games in the future. The resolution passed unanimously.

That is why The Citadel now always concludes the regular season on the road.

– Saturday’s game is Military Appreciation Night. At halftime, the Parris Island Marine Band will perform. It always puts on a good show.

– This game has been designated as a “white-out”. Fans are supposed to wear white; the Bulldogs are expected to wear white jerseys and white pants with their white helmets. I’m unsure if the corps of cadets will wear their standard summer leave uniforms, or if they will be wearing “dress whites” (which I believe would be unprecedented).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over Western Carolina on Saturday. The over/under is 55.

– Unfortunately, the long-range weather forecast is not promising. Showers and thunderstorms on Saturday are “likely”, according to the National Weather Service. There is a 50% chance of rain on Saturday night.

I expect this game to be close. It could go either way, though to be honest I am a bit pessimistic about the Bulldogs’ chances. Which, to be fair, is my default outlook…

Last season, Western Carolina had seven rushes of 20+ yards against the Bulldogs. There were also three pass plays of 20+ yards.

Most of WCU’s cast of characters from that game are back, most notably Troy Mitchell. The Citadel has not had much luck in recent years defending dual-threat QBs, and that certainly includes Mitchell.

He isn’t perfect, though. In three games against the Bulldogs, Mitchell has thrown four interceptions. It’s also true that The Citadel has won two of the three games in question.

While the Bulldogs did what they had to do against Davidson, I was a little concerned that The Citadel’s defense only registered one sack (plus one hurry) against nineteen pass attempts. On the other hand, having a passes defensed rate of 42% tends to alleviate that issue.

Comparing how Western Carolina did last week against Mars Hill versus how The Citadel performed against Davidson is pointless. Neither SoCon team was challenged, though Mars Hill is probably better than Davidson.

WCU more or less took most of the second quarter off against the Lions, while the Bulldogs never let up versus the Wildcats. That’s of no real consequence, though.

I think it’s going to be a high scoring game. I feel reasonably confident about that, so a 13-9 final is inevitable.

At any rate, I’ll be there on Saturday. Can’t wait.

Go Dogs!

Game review, 2015: Davidson

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike HoustonDominique Allen, Isiaha Smith, James Riley, and Tevin Floyd

Box score

The season opener went about as well as could have been expected, at least on the field. Random thoughts and observations:

– The announced attendance of 8,665 seemed accurate. The two storms that passed over Johnson Hagood Stadium in the 90 minutes preceding the game certainly had a negative impact on attendance in general and walkup sales in particular.

We may have to wait another week to see if the initiatives aimed at improving attendance have had a significant effect.

– The Citadel averaged 8.1 yards per play, including 7.8 yards per rush and 13.4 yards per pass attempt. The yards per pass completion was also 13.4, as Dominique Allen completed all five of his pass attempts (including a TD toss to Jorian Jordan).

– I really liked the pass play call on 2nd-and-1 from the Davidson 26 (during The Citadel’s second offensive series). That was a good tendency-breaker, as the Bulldogs only attempted four passes in 2nd-and-short situations all of last season.

The play itself was well conceived and executed. Dominique Allen waited patiently for Isiaha Smith to make his move, and for Jorian Jordan to run his route (which cleared out space on the right side of the field). Smith had all kinds of room to maneuver after catching the ball.

– Obviously, the defense had a good night as well. Besides pitching a shutout, the Bulldogs held Davidson to 2.2 yards per play. That included a meager 1.6 yards per rush and 3.1 yards per pass attempt.

The Citadel intercepted more passes on Saturday night (four, including a pick-6 by Tevin Floyd) than it did all of last season (three). The four interceptions led all of FCS after Week 1.

– After a sack by Mitchell Jeter in the second quarter, the PA played “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” (the Dan Tyminski/Soggy Bottom Boys version). Major, major props to the individual responsible for that musical cue.

– After one game, The Citadel leads FCS in rushing offense (with almost 100 more yards than second-place Southeastern Louisiana). Interestingly, the FCS national leader in passing offense after the first week of the season is…VMI.

– Eric Goins had touchbacks on seven of his nine kickoffs. That is outstanding. I think it’s fair to say the crowd was very appreciative of his efforts, too.

– The Citadel only had five penalties, though a couple were ill-timed (one led to the Bulldogs’ only punt). As Mike Houston pointed out in his post-game press conference, however, only two of the penalties were committed by the first team offense or defense.

Davidson was only called for four penalties.

– Rod Johnson’s “fumble” probably wasn’t a fumble (there is actually a good angle of that play in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery linked above; see picture #3). The Citadel won 69-0, though, so we’ll let the official off the hook this week.

I was glad to see Johnson score a touchdown later in the game after being denied one on the earlier call.

– By now if you read anything I write, you know I’m not a fan of The Citadel’s “uniform program”. I’ll gladly make an exception for last night’s togs, though. The Bulldogs looked good.

– Fans will have to get used to longer games now that all home contests are on ESPN3. Saturday night’s game took exactly three hours to play.

– The team’s performance was matched by its fellow members of the corps of cadets. I thought the corps was really good on Saturday night. The overnights for the sophomores, juniors, and seniors were deserved (and I say this as an old fogey).

I expect nothing less than the same next week. I hope the corps brings it again when Western Carolina comes to town.

– The “featured Bulldog” in Saturday’s game program was accounting major Tevin Floyd. The “fall feature” that focuses on other Bulldog athletes also profiled a football player: Caroline Cashion.

– On a personal note, I can now say that I’ve seen in person both of The Citadel’s highest-scoring games against Davidson: last night, and the 56-21 victory in 1974. The latter contest was the second game I ever attended at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Those are also the two games that bookend the Bulldogs’ current nine-game winning streak against the Wildcats.

– While it’s fun to watch The Citadel score ten touchdowns in a game, next week’s SoCon opener against Western Carolina will be a far different test. More on that in my preview later this week.

For now, here are a few pictures. These are the best I had, which should tell you something about the ones that I’m not posting. I’m a bad photographer with a mediocre camera, and the weather didn’t help matters either…

2015 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Davidson

…But one day, when across the Field of Fame the goal seemed dim,
The wise old coach, Experience, came up and spoke to him.
“Oh Boy,” he said, “the main point now before you win your bout
Is keep on bucking Failure till you’ve worn the piker out!”

“And, kid, cut out this fancy stuff — go in there, low and hard;
Just keep your eye upon the ball and plug on, yard by yard,
And more than all, when you are thrown or tumbled with a crack,
Don’t sit there whining — hustle up and keep on coming back;

“Keep coming back with all you’ve got, without an alibi,
If Competition trips you up or lands upon your eye,
Until at last above the din you hear this sentence spilled:
‘We might as well let this bird through before we all get killed.’

“You’ll find the road is long and rough, with soft spots far apart,
Where only those can make the grade who have the Uphill Heart.
And when they stop you with a thud or halt you with a crack,
Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.

“Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,
Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.”

– from “Alumnus Football”, by Grantland Rice

The Citadel vs. Davidson, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 5. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on, with Kevin O’Rourke providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Orangeburg: WORG 100.3FM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

From three weeks ago: my de facto preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel, which is something of a statistical review of last year. Math is involved.

Other topics related to The Citadel’s football program that I’ve written about over the past few months:

– A post in which I somehow wrote about both FCS non-conference football schedules and “The Man in the Brown Suit”
– A brief overview of the SoCon’s 2015 football signees
My take on the school’s recent football uniform history (written before the latest “unveiling”)
– The “Gridiron Countdown” series of posts, including analysis of attendance issues, among other things

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

– Game-week depth chart report from The Post and Courier

STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last)

– College Sports Madness SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish sixth)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish next-to-last in both polls)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Davidson

SoCon weekly release

Pioneer League weekly release

Pioneer League preseason poll

FCS Coaches poll

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/1 press conference (includes comments from Sam Frye and Tevin Floyd)

Paul Nichols previews the game on his coach’s show

Davidson College was founded in 1837, and established on land purchased from William Lee Davidson II . The school is named for his father, a Revolutionary War general who was killed in battle in 1781.

The college was originally established as a Presbyterian institution and is still affiliated with that church, though mandatory chapel was discontinued more than four decades ago. Davidson is located just north of Charlotte, with a 665-acre main campus. Most of Davidson’s 2,000 students live on that campus.

The college has an endowment of around $650 million. The school motto is Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas, which is a Latin phrase that translates as “Let Learning Be Cherished Where a Basketball Goal Has Arisen”.

Davidson played its first football game against outside opposition in 1898, losing its opener 11-0 to North Carolina but following that up with an 6-0 victory over South Carolina. The next year, five games were played; that 1899 campaign also featured a loss to UNC and a win over the Gamecocks. Indeed, Davidson’s first four seasons of football all included victories over South Carolina, three by shutout.

That is, if 1898 was actually Davidson’s first season of football. The most recent online edition (2013) of the school’s football media guide includes two games allegedly played in 1897, and the Davidson “Quick Facts” sheet also lists 1897 as being the first year in program history.

However, the college’s website references the 1897 “season” as simply consisting of matchups against area club teams. The two would-be 1897 opponents mentioned in the media guide are the same two schools that Davidson officially played in 1898 — North Carolina and South Carolina. Neither of those schools includes an 1897 game versus Davidson in their media guides.

Meanwhile, the College Football Data Warehouse lists four opponents for Davidson in 1896. It also identifies the Wildcats’ first opponent in 1897 as North Carolina State, not North Carolina (and lists a different score than the school media guide). Just to make things more interesting, NC State does list Davidson as one of its 1897 opponents.

All in all, I’m a bit undecided on the “When was Davidson’s first season?” question.

The Wildcats (a moniker acquired in 1917) continued to play regional opponents throughout the early part of the 20th century, including The Citadel. The first gridiron matchup between the two schools, in 1909, ended in a 0-0 stalemate.

In 1936, Davidson joined the Southern Conference, the same year The Citadel and Furman became members. The initial league campaign was a promising one for the Wildcats, as they finished 5-4 overall with a 4-3 record in the SoCon. However, that would be the last time Davidson finished with a winning record in conference play until 1954.

Davidson found something of a gridiron savior in the mid-1960s, with the arrival of Homer Smith as head coach. Smith, one of the more respected coaches of his generation, gradually built a title contender, thanks in part to instituting a two-platoon system that featured many more scholarship players. Everything came together in 1969.

That season, Davidson went 7-4, with a 5-1 record in the Southern Conference, sharing the league title and grabbing a berth in the Tangerine Bowl. It was the only time Davidson ever got even a piece of the conference crown. Incidentally, the Wildcats’ solitary SoCon loss in 1969 was a 34-28 setback at The Citadel.

Smith had a reputation as an offensive mastermind, and that is reflected in some of Davidson’s 1969 games. The Wildcats put 77 on the board against Furman, and 59 more versus VMI.

Entering the league finale against East Carolina, Davidson needed a win to clinch a tie for the conference title. ECU led 27-0 with less than a minute remaining in the first half, but Davidson scored six unanswered touchdowns and won, 42-27.

Things went south for the football program in a hurry, though, after that 1969 season.

It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Prior to the 1969 season, Homer Smith told reporters that football was unwanted at Davidson by “most of the faculty and staff…at least 80%. These people are working, some feverishly, to do away with subsidized college football.”

Smith also claimed the same was the case for Davidson basketball (!), but that Lefty Driesell’s teams had been successful enough to essentially pay for themselves.

(The column linked above mentions that Furman had also moved at that time to reduce its football budget. Furman eventually reversed course. Davidson did not.)

By February of 1970, Homer Smith was no longer Davidson’s football coach. Smith left (eventually taking the job at Pacific) after Davidson’s board of trustees slashed the football budget by almost half.

Over the next three seasons, Davidson won a total of six football games. Then as the 1973 season wound down, the administration at Davidson went one step further, in the process winning that year’s “Worst Communicators” award by acclimation. While the team was on the road at Air Force, a press conference was called. I’ll let John Kilgo (at that time writing for The Robesonian) describe what happened:

Davidson decided to de-emphasize football. There would be no more football scholarships. They would be distributed on a basis of “need” only.

The press was brought in and told what the decision was — but no one bothered to pick up the phone and relay the word to [head coach Dave Fagg] or Athletic Director Tom Scott. Fagg, who was aware the action might be taken, was notified officially by a newsman who called to question him.

When Fagg and his team got back to [campus on] Sunday, Davidson president Sam Spencer was out of town. He had still not bothered to inform his athletic director or head football coach that the football picture had been completely changed.

If you’re thinking that the Davidson administration couldn’t have possibly been more obtuse, you’re wrong:

The Spencer Administration did not accept [head coach Dave Fagg’s] advice about scheduling. The coach wanted to play other schools that award scholarships on a need basis. This would have taken Davidson out of the Southern Conference football picture.

Dr. Spencer obviously disagreed.

He feels Davidson can play what he calls “the less ambitious schools” in the Southern Conference. Dr. Spencer was not available for comment, but when asked to identify some of these colleges, a Davidson spokesman replied: “That’s a good question. I could not name the so-called less ambitious schools in the Southern Conference.”

Kilgo theorized that Spencer was referring to Furman, The Citadel, VMI, and Appalachian State. However, he pointed out that Davidson had struggled against those schools even with scholarship players — and that it was “not clear how [Davidson hoped] to compete against them [with] no players on football grants.”

In 1974 Davidson won two games, beating Hampden-Sydney and Defiance College (both Division III programs). A victory over D-3 Kenyon was the Wildcats’ only triumph in 1975.

In those two years, Davidson played a total of six Southern Conference games, two each against VMI, The Citadel, and Appalachian State. The Wildcats lost all six contests by an average score of 48-6.

By 1976, Davidson was ready to make a move. At least, that was the idea.

Davidson College announced Tuesday [June 22, 1976] it is dropping out of the Southern Conference, where it has been a member for 40 years, to seek “national-level” basketball competition…

…[Davidson officials] consider as a possibility joining a new conference being discussed by six Southern schools. They include East Carolina, South Carolina, the University of Richmond, William and Mary, and Virginia Military Institute.

That potential league didn’t happen. Davidson leaving the SoCon in 1977 didn’t happen either:

Davidson College announced the school will not leave the Southern Conference in July [of 1977] as previously announced.

“Being in the Southern Conference gives our minor sports a chance to compete in postseason play,” said athletic director Thom Cartmill. “There is an automatic NCAA tournament bid, and it makes scheduling easier.”

In other words, Davidson didn’t wind up in a new conference. The school thus had to decide whether to compete as an independent in basketball (and presumably most, if not all, of its other sports) or remain in the SoCon. It chose the safer route.

By this time basketball was the only varsity sport for which Davidson was offering athletic grants-in-aid. It seems rather clear that by then, Davidson had caught the “big time hoops” bug for good, and that sport has been the school’s primary (if not sole) focus for the past forty years when it comes to decision-making on the athletics front.

It is obvious (at least to me) that the most influential person in the history of Davidson athletics is Charles G. “Lefty” Driesell. Davidson had never won the Southern Conference title in hoops before Driesell’s arrival in 1960; by the time he left after the 1969 season, basketball was part of the college’s ethos.

I think it is fair to suggest that if it weren’t for Lefty Driesell, Davidson would no longer have a Division I athletics program. It is likely the school would have dropped down to Division III during the early 1970s if not for the success of his basketball teams.

Davidson did not technically compete for the SoCon title from 1974 to 1982, playing only one or two league schools (usually Furman and/or The Citadel) in most of those seasons. By 1983, though, the rest of the SoCon was ready for Davidson’s football program to participate in the league, or else the college would need to find a new conference to call home.

Since it didn’t have a lot of options at the time, Davidson agreed to play a league slate in football (a minimum of five games at first, later apparently increased to six). The immediate problem was that the Wildcats and the other conference schools already had their schedules set for the next several years, so a compromise was reached. What a compromise it was.

Davidson wound up playing in “designated league games” against the likes of Lafayette (twice), Penn (twice), James Madison (three times), and Bucknell (three times).

If you think that was bizarre, it gets better. Davidson’s games in 1985 against Bucknell, Penn, and James Madison all counted in the standings. The Wildcats’ games against Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel all counted in the standings that year too — but only for Davidson.

Western Carolina, Furman, and The Citadel were not credited with a league victory after each defeated Davidson, because the other league members that didn’t get to play the Wildcats were not about to let those schools get an edge in the standings by picking up what was assumed to be an easy win (and in fact, those three schools outscored Davidson that season by a combined total of 102-7).

Things didn’t get much better for the Wildcats in 1986. The squad went 0-9 overall, including a number of blowouts (63-14 versus Marshall; 63-6 against Appalachian State; 59-0 versus Furman).

In a four-year stretch between 1985 and 1988, Davidson won a combined total of two games (both against Wofford).

In the latter two of those four difficult seasons, the Wildcats were no longer playing in the Southern Conference.

A request by Davidson for an exemption from playing league football was rebuffed by the rest of the conference membership. The school’s administration had earlier elected to place its football program in the newly formed Colonial League (later renamed the Patriot League).

The decision basically put the rest of Davidson’s varsity sports in limbo, though the college actually remained in the Southern Conference for all sports except football and women’s hoops (which was dropped by Davidson in 1986) through the 1987-1988 school year.

Davidson competed as an independent in men’s basketball for two seasons, then joined the Big South for two years. The school would eventually return to the SoCon in all sports but football, starting in 1992-1993.

Of course, Davidson left the league again last year, this time for the Atlantic 10. However, from this point on in its varsity sports history I’m going to focus on Davidson’s football program.

Two years in the Colonial League were enough for Davidson, which went 0-7 in league play in those two seasons. The school’s board of trustees voted to move the program to Division III, though that stance would soon become moot; a 1991 NCAA bylaw change mandated that Division I schools would have to conduct all sports at the D-1 level (a decision occasionally referred to as the “Dayton Rule”).

The program proceeded to compete as a I-AA independent for the next decade, generally playing D-3 schools during that time. The change in schedule led to more wins; Davidson went 5-3 in 1990, won five more games in 1992, and added six victories in 1993 and 1996.

Head coach Tim Landis won eight games in both 1998 and 1999, but then departed after seven seasons. He was replaced by Joe Susan, a former Princeton assistant coach.

The new boss led the Wildcats to a perfect 10-0 season, the most wins in school history. He then immediately left Davidson to become an assistant coach at Rutgers.

Susan is now the head coach of Bucknell. The coach he replaced at Bucknell was the same coach he had replaced at Davidson — Tim Landis.

Davidson joined the Pioneer Football League for the 2001 season, and its football program has remained in that conference ever since. The Pioneer League is a football-only conference for schools that compete at the Division I level but don’t offer athletic scholarships in the sport.

For the past two years, the Pioneer League’s champion has received an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. There are eleven current conference members: Davidson, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Morehead State, Valparaiso, Butler, Dayton, Drake, Marist, and San Diego.

Mercer, of course, played in the league for one season before joining the SoCon last year.

Davidson’s win-loss record while a Pioneer League member has ranged from decent to really bad. The “really bad” includes the last few seasons.

The program has won only eighteen games in the last seven seasons, and has only one victory over the past two years. Unfortunately for Davidson, even that lone win carries a huge asterisk.

You can watch highlights of Davidson’s 56-0 victory over College of Faith (NC), assuming CoF’s uniforms don’t give you a headache. You can also read comments from an anonymous Davidson player on Reddit that were posted soon after the contest. Here are the first two:

I play for Davidson College, the team that played CoF last week. This was the most embarrassing [] ever…We had our starters out before the end of the first quarter and barely ran our offense because we felt bad for almost putting up 50 in the first half. If we had just kept playing I don’t see how we could’ve scored less than 150. They were so bad and it sucks as a player to have to try and justify any reason why we should’ve been playing them to other people. It was embarrassing as an athlete. But I suppose it’s a win, and we’re moving on to the rest of our schedule now.

Also they didn’t have athletic trainers… A bunch of their players got hurt and our trainers had to handle it for them.

The NCAA doesn’t think College of Faith is a legitimate school, and isn’t counting statistics for any future games played against it or any other schools the NCAA doesn’t deem “countable opponents”. In fact, College of Faith was specifically referenced when the NCAA made the ruling this past May.

Davidson had provisionally scheduled a game against College of Faith for this season, too, but in March the college replaced CoF on the schedule with Kentucky Wesleyan (which was another school that had played CoF last year).

(As an aside, East Tennessee State had also scheduled College of Faith for this year, but dropped CoF and replaced it with…Kentucky Wesleyan.)

When Davidson defeated College of Faith last season, it marked the first career victory as a head coach for Paul Nichols. It is also his only career victory as a head coach after two seasons at Davidson.

That is a far cry from his career as a player. Nichols was Davidson’s starting quarterback in 2000 when the Wildcats went undefeated.

Putting aside the College of Faith game for a moment, it does appear that Davidson made progress in 2014, at least when compared to its wretched 2013 campaign, a year in which Davidson lost every game it played by at least thirteen points.

Last season, Davidson lost one game in five overtimes (against Dayton), another by one point (at Campbell; the Wildcats led until the final minute), and a third by six points (versus Stetson).

There were also some blowout losses. VMI beat Davidson 52-24, while Princeton defeated the Wildcats 56-17.

A trip to Des Moines did not go well, as Drake manhandled Davidson 51-14. The Wildcats were also thrashed on their own Senior Day, 56-0, by Jacksonville. In those two games, Davidson was outscored in the first half by a combined 72-0.

It didn’t help Davidson’s cause when starting quarterback J.P. Douglas was suspended from the team in October following an on-campus altercation. Douglas was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. The charges were later dropped, but his gridiron career with the Wildcats was already over by that point.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Davidson in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Davidson, I decided to throw out the College of Faith game, so the statistics below are for the other 11 games the Wildcats played last season. Davidson’s opponents in those eleven games: Catawba, VMI, Morehead State, Princeton, Dayton, Drake, Campbell, Stetson, Jacksonville, Marist, and Valparaiso.


Davidson The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 5.6 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 3.55 5.35
Offense yards per play 4.64 5.56
Offense points per game 20.27 24.86
Penalties per game 5.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 33.9 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 58.6 60
Offense Red Zone TD% 62.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 9.2 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.98 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 6.66 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 43.36 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 50.3 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 61.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 70.3 60
Time of possession 29:35 32:40

The one common opponent for the two teams last season was VMI. Both games were played at Foster Stadium in Lexington, VA.

Davidson-VMI box score

The Citadel-VMI box score

Davidson describes its offensive package as “multiple”. Last season, the Wildcats threw the ball (or were sacked attempting to pass) 56.6% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 64.6% of Davidson’s total offense. [Note: those numbers do not include the game against College of Faith.]

Taylor Mitchell will start at quarterback for the Wildcats. He started the final four games of last season following J.P. Douglas’ arrest.

Mitchell, a 6’1″, 191 lb. sophomore from Buford, Georgia, was 81-161 passing last season, with two touchdown passes against eleven interceptions, averaging 4.78 yards per attempt.

Running back Jeffrey Keil rushed for 725 yards and eight touchdowns last season, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He was named the Pioneer League’s Offensive Freshman of the Year.

Another sophomore running back, Austin Wells, saw considerable time last season and also serves as the team’s primary kick returner.

Davidson’s best offensive player is probably senior wideout William Morris, a 6’1″, 179 lb. native of Dallas. Morris (a first-team all-Pioneer League selection in 2014) caught 98 passes last year for 1,224 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per reception.

Morris had 16 receptions for 208 yards against VMI last season. The Citadel’s defense will certainly have him on its radar.

Average size of Davidson’s presumptive starting offensive line (per its two-deep): 6’1″, 291 lbs. The five players combined to start 48 games for the Wildcats last season.

Both right tackle Josh Daryoush and right guard Matt Brantley started all 12 games for Davidson in 2014. Caleb Krause, the center, has started 31 games for the Wildcats during his career.

Last season, Davidson operated out of a 4-3 base defense (which I’ve also seen listed as a 4-2-5). The Wildcats could have a very different look on Saturday, of course, given the Bulldogs’ triple-option attack.

Defensive end Chris Woods, a senior from Burlington, North Carolina, received some preseason honors. He had 5.5 tackles for loss last season.

Woods only weighs 214 lbs., the lightest member of Davidson’s defensive line. Defensive tackles Grant Polofsky and Alex Behrend both started 11 games last year.

Linebacker Zach Popovec started nine games as a freshman. Fellow outside ‘backer Ricky Tkac is the leading returning tackler for the Wildcats.

Senior cornerback William Curran started seven games last season. The other three listed starters in the secondary combined to start just two games in 2014.

Sophomore placekicker Trevor Smith had a solid year for Davidson in 2014, making 9 of 13 field goals and 28 of 29 PATs. He made a 44-yarder against Dayton (sending that game into OT), his longest made field goal of the season.

John Cook shared punting duties in 2014. He averaged 36 yards per punt, with a long of 55.

None of his punts were blocked, while 3 of his 26 punts landed inside the 20 (with no touchbacks). Cook is also the backup quarterback for Davidson.

Long snapper Conrad Mueller is in his second year in that role for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats averaged 20.7 yards per kick return last season, slightly better than average nationally (and almost two yards per return better than The Citadel). Davidson’s kick coverage units were inconsistent from game-to-game; Princeton, in particular, dominated the special teams battle when the two teams played.

Davidson only returned one punt all season (for seven yards). I thought that was a typo at first, but it isn’t.

Odds and ends:

– Paul Nichols is only 34 years old, and the Davidson head coach also has a very young coaching staff. College graduating class years of his eleven assistants: 2005, 2008, 2012, 2011, 2007, 2001, 2012, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

– Dave Fagg was the head football coach at Davidson (his alma mater) for two separate stints, 1970-1973 and 1990-1992. He was also the head wrestling coach at The Citadel for one season, 1964-1965 (serving as an assistant football coach for the Bulldogs in 1964). There probably are not too many people who have been Division I head coaches in both football and wrestling, and at different schools.

– Davidson has 95 players on its roster (as of August 28), and they come from 24 different states. North Carolina is home to 21 of those players, while 15 are natives of Georgia. Other states with significant representation: Florida and Ohio (nine each), Texas (eight), and Maryland (five).

Nick Wheeler and Derek Jones, both sophomores for the Wildcats, were classmates at Eagle High School in Eagle, Idaho.

Junior linebacker Nate Casey (Tega Cay/Westminster Catawba Christian) and freshman offensive lineman Daniel Runck (Mt. Pleasant/Wando) are the only two South Carolina residents on the squad.

– Of those 95 players, there are 13 seniors, 19 juniors, 29 sophomores, and 34 freshmen. Last season, Davidson reportedly had 77 freshmen and sophomores on its roster.

– After playing The Citadel, Davidson will host Catawba next Saturday. The Wildcats then have a week off before beginning Pioneer League play on September 26, travelling to Kentucky to face Morehead State.

– Earlier in this post I quoted from a John Kilgo article, a stinging criticism of the actions of Davidson’s administration circa 1973. Kilgo has been an institution in the Charlotte sports community for more than 50 years.

He co-wrote Dean Smith’s as-told-to autobiography (the two were good friends) and hosted Smith’s TV show. Kilgo also enjoyed a noteworthy career as a radio commentator, and was a writer/publisher for a variety of newspapers.

In the mid-1960s, he was Davidson’s sports information director. For the past 15 years, he has been the play-by-play voice for Davidson men’s basketball.

– Per Davidson’s game notes, 34 members of the Wildcats’ 1965 squad will be in attendance on Saturday, dressed in red and seated behind the Davidson bench. According to Paul Nichols on his preview show, two assistant coaches from that year will be there as well: Dave Fagg and Dick Tomey.

After leaving Davidson following the 1966 season, Tomey would eventually have a long, successful career as a head coach at three schools: Hawai’i, Arizona (including the “Desert Swarm” years), and San Jose State.

– Famous people who attended Davidson but did not graduate include Woodrow Wilson, William Styron, and Stephen Curry.

If you’re wondering why I wrote the previous sentence in that manner, it’s because Davidson’s list of alumni athletes on Wikipedia includes Curry but notes in parenthesis that he “did not graduate”, singling him out despite the fact he is far from the only listed ex-player not to get his degree from the school. Apparently Curry’s lack of a college diploma is a cause of angst in certain quarters.

– Mike Houston has faced Davidson once as a head coach. In 2013, his Lenoir-Rhyne team defeated the Wildcats 34-18. In that game, Lenoir-Rhyne rushed for 419 yards; the Bears also scored a touchdown on a 98-yard kickoff return. Davidson’s William Morris, then a sophomore, had 119 yards receiving and a TD.

The contest was Paul Nichols’ second game in charge of the Wildcats, and his home debut.

– The Citadel leads the alltime series against Davidson 31-21-4 and has won the last eight matchups (and 14 of the last 15). The two teams’ last meeting was in 1985, a 31-0 victory for the Bulldogs.

Despite the fact the two programs haven’t met on the gridiron in 30 years, Davidson has played The Citadel more times than any other school except VMI (which has faced the Wildcats on 58 occasions).

– The Citadel’s fans are being encouraged to wear light blue to the game against Davidson (this request was also printed on the season tickets). Presumably the team will wear the traditional home uniform of light blue jerseys with white pants. At least, I hope so.

– Mike Houston’s radio show will air on Wednesday nights this season from 7-8 pm. It will originate from Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ in West Ashley. Mike Legg will host the show, which will be broadcast on WQNT (1450 AM) in Charleston.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 41.5 point favorite over Davidson on Saturday.

This game is not expected to be close, and I don’t really think it will be. However, I am less than comfortable with the premature enumeration of fowl.

Regardless, I’m not expecting an absolute shellacking. Davidson’s tendency to throw the football more often than not could pose problems for the Bulldogs; the program in recent years has not been noted for stellar pass D.

Offensively, The Citadel should move the ball without too much difficulty, though the Wildcats’ statistics against the run last season were not that bad. The key will be making sure all the skill position players are on the same page, which could be an issue with a new quarterback, and the fact that it is the opening game of the season.

The experience and ability of the Bulldogs’ offensive line should be a major advantage for The Citadel, however.

Assuming a victory, the final score probably won’t be the best way to evaluate the Bulldogs on Saturday. Consistency of execution on offense, playmaking on defense, success on special teams — those are the elements that will matter in the long run.

I’m looking forward to this game. I’ve been looking forward to it since last season ended.

Haven’t we all.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 758 other followers