2014 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 4. The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Corey Miller supplying the analysis.

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

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

Note: this game will NOT be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network.

Links of interest:

Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

SoCon weekly release

Bulldogs “break big”

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Ayers on the SoCon teleconference and at his media luncheon

This is the eighth time in the last nine years the game between The Citadel and Wofford is being televised over the air (SportSouth, SCETV, etc.) or streamed on ESPN3.com. For the third year in the row, the game is on ESPN3.com, and for the third year in the row Darren Goldwater will be handling play-by-play.

Last year, Goldwater worked this game with Paul Maguire. This time, his analyst is former South Carolina linebacker Corey Miller.

Over the past ten seasons (counting this one), The Citadel has only won three times when appearing on television/ESPN3.com, though the Bulldogs did beat Samford last year in an ESPN3 game. The Citadel has to improve its winning percentage in “TV games”, if for no other reason than because the football program is going to appear on television/ESPN3.com more often going forward.

I mentioned in my review of the Gardner-Webb game that even though there were a lot of positives to be taken away from the contest, there is still a lot of room for improvement for The Citadel. I’ll mention just a few things that need to get better, or are cause for concern.

- Placekicking was, by and large, a success story last week. All three field goal attempts were converted, and they were critical to the eventual victory.

The Citadel’s Eric Goins is 5-5 on field goal attempts for the season, which is outstanding. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs are only 4-7 converting PATs (and missed one against Gardner-Webb).

One of the oldest clichés in gridiron lore is that missing a short kick or PAT will “come back to haunt ‘em”. There is a lot of truth to that, though.

Admittedly, I’ll take those three-point FGs over single-point PATs every time. It’s just that in football, teams have to be greedy. They need all the points.

The Citadel has been a little lucky with a couple of deflections, too, although maybe not as lucky as Wofford was in this matchup two years ago (Domonic Jones is probably still wondering how that ball traveled so far).

- It finally happened last week. The Citadel forced a turnover, the first of the season for the defense (a fumble recovery by Joe Crochet after a Carson Smith sack).

However, the Bulldogs still lost the turnover battle to Gardner-Webb 2-1 (yes, the weird de facto onside kick in the first half counts as a lost fumble). The defense has to make those game-changing plays.

I know that’s a tough thing to say just after The Citadel’s D sets a school record for sacks, but turnovers matter. The Bulldogs need to force a lot more of them.

The Citadel only had one pass breakup (and no interceptions) on 35 Gardner-Webb passing attempts. Even given the Bulldogs’ style of secondary coverage (a “don’t give up the big play” strategy), that’s too low a number.

- Despite rushing for 323 yards against Gardner-Webb, The Citadel had a lot of rushing attempts that went for short yardage, and that can be a problem when trying to stay “on schedule”.

The Bulldogs rushed 58 times. On 34 of those occasions, The Citadel gained three or fewer yards. That’s 58.6% of the time, and strikes me as being a little problematic.

Of course, a couple of those short-yardage plays went for touchdowns. Jake Stenson can’t gain more than three yards on a three-yard TD run. That isn’t the issue.

However, 16 of the 26 first-down running plays The Citadel had against Gardner-Webb resulted in gains of three yards or less. That put more pressure on subsequent second (and third) downs.

It didn’t hurt The Citadel much last Saturday, largely because of the success the Bulldogs had on first-down passing plays. Against other defenses, though, The Citadel has to be a little better when it runs the ball on first down.

Last year against Wofford, the Bulldogs rushed the ball 15 times on first down. The Citadel gained three yards or less on ten of those plays, a big reason the Bulldogs were 3-15 on third-down conversion attempts.

For the entire game, The Citadel gained three or fewer yards on 23 of 38 rushing attempts (60.5%; that statistic does not include sacks). The Bulldogs threw the ball 22 times, often in obvious passing situations. In related news, The Citadel did not score an offensive touchdown.

Oddly, while I’ve just written a few paragraphs discussing how The Citadel needs to improve its rushing attack, I suspect the passing game may be the key element again this week…

Wofford is 2-2 entering SoCon play, but trying to figure out if it’s a good 2-2 or a bad 2-2 or even a mediocre 2-2 is not easy. It’s possible that even Wofford fans aren’t entirely sure what to make of their squad this year.

On the SoCon media teleconference, Mike Ayers said that his team could play like “superstar[s]” or like the participants for “some of those Pop Warner teams that play at halftime”.

The Terriers opened the season with a 38-19 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but only trailed 24-19 in that game with ten minutes to play. Now, the Yellow Jackets are erratic (and also currently undefeated), but the Terriers should get some credit for holding Georgia Tech to 226 yards rushing.

Wofford outrushed the Jackets and also had the edge in time of possession. Georgia Tech averaged 17.6 yards per pass attempt, however.

All in all, it was a very decent effort by Wofford against an FBS squad.

After taking a week off, Wofford hosted D-2 North Greenville, winning 42-27. This was a rather weird contest that featured two lightning delays. To cap things off, with less than two minutes to play the lights went out in Gibbs Stadium (while a punt was in midair), and everybody decided to just go home. If you include delays, by that point the game had lasted for five hours.

The Terriers piled up the rushing yards (377 on 53 attempts), but were actually outgained on the (very long) night by the Crusaders, thanks to 370 North Greenville passing yards.

Wofford then lost 43-36 at Gardner-Webb. The Terriers were leading 28-14 late in the second quarter, but gave up a TD with seven seconds remaining in the half, and were outscored 23-8 after the break.

Gardner-Webb allowed the Terriers to rush for 322 yards, exactly one yard less than The Citadel managed against the Runnin’ Bulldogs. However, Wofford only ran the ball 47 times against G-W, while The Citadel rushed 58 times.

While Gardner-Webb picked up a relatively modest 232 yards passing against Wofford, G-W was only sacked twice. That was a far cry from the ten sacks it would give up in Charleston a week later.

The passing yardage total also doesn’t account for multiple defensive pass interference calls against Wofford during the game (the Terriers finished with 91 yards in penalties). Gardner-Webb had three passing touchdowns in the game, including the winning score with 2:04 to play.

Last week, Wofford defeated UVA-Wise (a provisional Division II school) 49-15 in Spartanburg. The Terriers dominated early, let the Highland Cavaliers drift back into the game (it was 28-15 midway through the third quarter), then closed out the contest on a 21-0 run.

After the first possession of the second half, Wofford adjusted its pass defense. The Terriers eschewed their traditional man-to-man coverage for more zone, a move necessitated by UVA-Wise’s success throwing the ball.

It worked, as Wofford held UVA-Wise to 35 yards passing on its final four possessions after making the switch, with two interceptions.

Mike Ayers:

We’re not really good at playing man-to-man right now, not with the way things are being called. We just can’t do it. If we defend six times, we’ll probably get four pass-interference calls. You can’t do it that way. It keeps moving the sticks and affords them the opportunity to keep doing it.

You look at the game and it was a carbon copy of Gardner-Webb (43-36 loss in the previous game). It’s going to be that way against anyone that has the ability to throw the football and has a big guy that we don’t match up with very well. We’re not going to play a whole lot of man-to-man from now on. I promise you that.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that The Citadel’s passing attack could be a key factor in this game. I think I’ve illustrated in the last few paragraphs why that is the case.

The Bulldogs simply have to take advantage of what appears to be a weakness in the Terriers’ defense. That is particularly true because other than pass defense, I think Wofford may actually be in good shape for its SoCon campaign.

Wofford’s offense is led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Evan Jacks, the latest in a long line of solid signal-callers for the Terriers. He will provide a major challenge for The Citadel’s defense.

Jacks has rushed 45 times for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging 8.6 yards per pass attempt and is completing just under 60% of his throws, with three TD passes and three interceptions.

Against North Greenville, Jacks threw an 85-yard touchdown pass. He had a 45-yard TD run versus Gardner-Webb.

Jacks is a third-generation college football player, as his father played for Connecticut and his grandfather was a QB at Penn.

The Terriers appear to have found their latest star fullback in the person of sophomore Lorenzo Long, who was lightly recruited out of Pensacola, Florida. It may be that prep running backs in Pensacola are given short shrift because they can’t measure up to the most celebrated high school running back to ever come out of Pensacola — Emmitt Smith.

Long has 318 yards on 51 carries, with six touchdowns. He had 151 yards rushing against Gardner-Webb, and 138 yards versus North Greenville. Long has three runs of 40+ yards this season, and has also returned kickoffs.

Wofford halfback Ray Smith had a 92-yard touchdown run against Georgia Tech, which was (rather amazingly, at least to me) the longest run against the Yellow Jackets in that program’s entire history. Smith’s future children and grandchildren will hear about that gallop many times.

The other starting halfback for the Terriers, Will Gay, rushed for 81 yards in last year’s game against the Bulldogs (on only nine carries) and also caught a TD pass. Gay is Wofford’s primary punt returner as well.

The strength of the Terriers’ offensive line is probably on the right side. Redshirt junior T.J. Chamberlin, a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection, is the right guard. Sophomore Anton Wahrby (a second-team preseason pick) is the right tackle.

Wahrby is a native of Sweden who was a foreign exchange student at Lexington High School. He presumably was one of the larger exchange students in Palmetto State history, as the 6’4″ Wahrby currently tips the scales at 290 lbs.

Will Irwin was on the receiving end of that 85-yard pass from Jacks against North Greenville, He also had a nine-yard TD run in that game on an end-around. Last season, Irwin had a 30-yard touchdown catch against The Citadel.

Wade Francis backs up Irwin at wide receiver. Francis had six receptions (including a TD) against Gardner-Webb.

The defense for the Terriers suffered a blow when starting linebacker Travis Thomas (a fifth-year senior) tore his Achilles’ tendon in the game against Gardner-Webb. He has been replaced by redshirt freshman Daryl Vining.

On the SoCon teleconference, Mike Houston said Wofford defensive end Tarek Odom was probably the best defensive lineman The Citadel will have faced (outside of Florida State’s DL group) this season. He was “all over the field” against Georgia Tech, and is explosive “with a great motor”.

Odom was a first-team All-SoCon choice after last season, and was a preseason all-league pick this year. He is joined on the line by nosetackle E.J. Speller, a tough 290 lb. junior who also drew praise from Houston.

Inside linebacker Kevin Thomas leads the Terriers in tackles through four games. He was second on the team in tackles last season, a year in which he also had 8.5 tackles for loss.

Both of Wofford’s starting cornerbacks were preseason second-team All-SoCon selections. Bernard Williams started all eleven games for the Terriers last season, forcing three fumbles and leading Wofford defenders in passes broken up.

Chris Armfield also started all eleven contests in 2013, and led the league in interceptions with three. Armfield intercepted a pass against UVA-Wise and returned it 60 yards, setting up a touchdown.

Backup cornerback Brion Anderson has two interceptions this season.

Free safety Jaleel Green has started all four games this season for Wofford, and has an interception return for a TD to his credit (versus UVA-Wise). The strong safety position has been a bit of a revolving door, with three different Terriers having started in that role.

Redshirt freshman David Marvin had a very impressive debut against Georgia Tech, converting both of his field goal attempts (one a 51-yarder) and punting four times for an average of 43.5 yards per kick. He also handled kickoff duties for the Terriers.

Unfortunately, Marvin suffered a sprained knee during the game, which led to Wofford having to scramble for a replacement (or three).

In his stead, reserve defensive back Michael Sarafianos handled extra points, while Brian Sanders punted (and continued to hold on placekicks). Also appearing for the Terriers: backup soccer goalkeeper Ben Bruggeworth, who performed the kickoff duties. When he kicked off for Wofford against North Greenville, it was the first time Bruggeworth had appeared in a high school or college football game.

Marvin is back as the team’s placekicker (resuming those duties last week), with Sanders remaining the first-team punter and Bruggeworth the kickoff specialist. Michael Comer is the Terriers’ veteran long snapper.

Odds and ends:

- Wofford doesn’t have a band, so it usually brings in a “guest band”. This week, for the first time, Gibbs Stadium will be graced by the presence of the band from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a/k/a the “Orange Pride“.

The Orange Pride Marching Band is greatly renowned, and always resplendent in the O-W school colors of maroon and orange. It will easily be the smartest group of high school students to ever provide musical entertainment at Wofford.

- At halftime, Wofford will recognize its 2014 Hall of Fame honorees.

- It will be “Family Weekend” at Wofford.

- Scheduling info: Wofford will play games at Clemson and at Idaho in 2015. I have no idea what Wofford is getting out of the Idaho game, to be honest.

In 2016, the Terriers have a game at Mississippi.

- Per at least one site that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a two-point favorite on Saturday, which just goes to show how much attention is paid to FCS games by oddsmakers (and bettors in general). That is to say, almost none.

The over/under is 51.5, incidentally.

- Spike The Bulldog is 4-1 in the Capital One Challenge. This week, he is battling Cy The Cardinal, the mascot for Iowa State.

Vote for Spike!

This is a game that a lot of us upperclassmen and guys who were here last year have been waiting for. I think there is a little bit of a revenge factor.

I’m going to return to this quote. First, let’s talk about the importance of the game against Wofford on Saturday.

It’s important because The Citadel needs to win more games, establish momentum, and successfully compete in the Southern Conference. It’s not important because of what happened in 1916 or 1959 or 1987 or 1998 (and I say that as someone with a great respect for history).

Aaron Miller and Rah Muhammad shouldn’t care about any kind of losing streak. Whatever happened when John Zernhelt or Ellis Johnson or Don Powers were at The Citadel doesn’t matter. This year matters.

I know that a lot of our alums want to see us beat Wofford. Heck, I do too. I want us to beat Wofford every year. I want us to win all of our games every year.

By paying too much attention to the recent past, though, there is a risk of playing against history rather than facing the here-and-now. If prior events are overly emphasized, a team can be psyched out rather than psyched up.

Wofford is a solid, well-coached squad. It isn’t perfect, as the defensive problems I’ve outlined above suggest, but it’s fully capable of beating any team in the league. I don’t want the Bulldogs to play last year’s Wofford team, or 2004’s Wofford team, or any of the teams in between.

I want the Bulldogs to play the 2014 edition of the Terriers. I also want the Bulldogs to win.

It’s important not to get too wound up about things like a streak or some kind of “revenge factor”.

Oh, that quote above? That’s not from any of The Citadel’s players. It’s a comment made by Wofford linebacker Drake Michaelson before the Terriers’ game against Gardner-Webb.

Michaelson was talking about Wofford playing Gardner-Webb this year after losing the game to G-W last season. The Terriers may have been waiting for another shot at the Runnin’ Bulldogs, but in the end Gardner-Webb won again.

Ultimately, players should be highly motivated to play each and every game. It’s not that long a season, after all.

I plan on being in Spartanburg on Saturday, and I hope a lot of fellow blue-clad fans also make the trip. From a scheduling perspective, one thing the SoCon has done which I appreciate is stagger The Citadel’s annual games against Furman and Wofford, so that there is one game in the Upstate each season, instead of two in one season and no games in the next.

This year, that game is at Wofford. It should be a very nice day. It would be a really nice day if the Bulldogs could pull off a victory.

Game review, 2014: Gardner-Webb

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Shelby Star

Video from WCSC-TV, including interview with Mike Houston

Box score

It’s good to win, especially when the month of September is coming to a close and you haven’t won yet. The victory over Gardner-Webb was cathartic for both the team and its fans.

The Citadel did a lot of things right on Saturday night, but the Bulldogs weren’t perfect. I’m going to discuss a few things that could stand improvement when I preview the Wofford game later in the week.

Having said that, there were a lot of positives in this game, on the field and off. What follows are a few observations (and the usual assortment of motley pictures).

- I wrote this at the beginning of my preview of the Gardner-Webb game:

The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

The Citadel turned things around in the passing game by changing its approach at the beginning of the contest, throwing the ball on the first two plays from scrimmage. Gardner-Webb was caught flat-footed by the Bulldogs’ Air Raid attack, and before all the cadets had filed into the stands, The Citadel had its first lead of the season.

The Bulldogs averaged 12.4 yards per pass attempt, which will usually get it done. Aaron Miller’s second throw of the day went to Rudder Brown, who caught the ball and then crisscrossed the field for a 47-yard gain. That almost doubled the previous long reception of the season (24 yards).

Ten of The Citadel’s fifteen pass attempts came on first down. Indeed, the Bulldogs threw the ball 28% of the time on first down versus Gardner-Webb, twice as often as the first three games (14%). Breaking tendencies, anyone?

- Aaron Miller completed eight passes during the game, while his counterpart for Gardner-Webb, Lucas Beatty, completed 29. Despite that discrepancy, each quarterback completed passes to six different receivers.

I could describe that as an oddity, but it’s not. The Citadel may not throw the ball a lot, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs lack capable pass-catchers. There is considerable depth in that department.

- Through three games, opponents had converted 33% of their 3rd-and-long attempts against The Citadel’s defense, which was obviously too high a percentage. The Bulldogs did a much better job on Saturday, as Gardner-Webb only picked up one first down on seven 3rd-and-long situations.

G-W was 0-6 attempting a pass on 3rd-and-long (with three of those plays resulting in sacks by The Citadel). Gardner-Webb’s only successful 3rd-and-long conversion was a run by quarterback Lucas Beatty after he broke containment.

- It isn’t often a fan can be generally satisfied with his team’s pass defense when the opposing quarterback is 29-35 through the air, averages eight yards per attempt, and is not intercepted. That was the case on Saturday, however. Of course, recording ten sacks (and the accompanying 70 yards of lost yardage for G-W) does make a difference, especially when four of those sacks come on third down. Recovering a fumble on one of those sacks helps, too.

- There was one coaching decision during the game I questioned, although not for long. During the second quarter, Gardner-Webb began a possession at The Citadel’s 35-yard line after a fumble recovery-and-return (the fumble was bogus, but whatever).

After starting the drive with an incomplete pass, Beatty was sacked by the law firm of Thomas & Jeter on second down. That left G-W with a 3rd-and-18 situation.

On third down, a completed pass returned the ball to the original line of scrimmage. However, G-W was called for holding on the play.

Mike Houston then had the option of accepting the penalty, and setting up 3rd-and-28 from the Gardner-Webb 47; or declining the penalty and taking the result of the play, which would leave G-W with 4th-and-10 from The Citadel’s 35. He chose to decline the penalty.

I would have been inclined to take the penalty, myself. It was obvious Gardner-Webb would go for it on 4th down in that situation (Carroll McCray certainly wasn’t going to have his placekicker attempt a 52-yard field goal).

It would have been tough to decline the penalty, and then have Gardner-Webb pick up the first down. Ten yards wasn’t that unmanageable, either.

At least, that’s what I thought, and then on 4th down Tevin Floyd raced through the G-W offensive line and sacked the quarterback in 0.7 seconds. I immediately shouted, “Good decision, coach!”

Score one for Mike Houston.

- The 1960 throwbacks were a hit with the crowd. Very sharp. If you want to buy one, check out the auction.

I’ve been critical of The Citadel’s constant uniform tinkering in the past, but the helmet tweaking for Military Appreciation Day was excellent. You can see the uniforms up close in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery.

- I also appreciated the small (and not so small) touches for Military Appreciation Day, including the red-white-blue end zone motif. I thought that on the whole, the school did a very nice job on that front.

- Hey, the band played more than twice during the game! It was noticed, too.

There are still a few things to get worked out. Twice during the second quarter, the videoboard went into sound-explosion mode just as the band started to play, so a little more coordination is still needed.

I gather the band will need time to expand its repertoire, so it may be next year before the ideal is reached, but that’s okay. Baby steps.

They did play the theme from “Hawaii 5-0″, although I’m not sure everyone heard it. The acoustics at Johnson Hagood Stadium are a bit of an issue.

- I thought the freshmen were in good form on Saturday. Some (not all) of the upperclassmen weren’t quite as spirited.

One thing all the cadets (and other supporters) did like was the placekicking contest following the third quarter. There is nothing quite as enjoyable as watching a fellow member of the corps attempt a 35-yard field goal in his shined leathers.

I would advocate more cadet-oriented contests. There should be at least three such events during the game.

- In my opinion, the cheerleading squad makes a difference, and was badly missed during its hiatus. Also making a difference: the omnipresent Spike The Bulldog, surely the hardest-working anthropomorphic mascot in college athletics.

- Attendance was low, officially announced as 8,573. I think that was an accurate total.

There were a lot of factors at play: South Carolina played a home game at the same time, Clemson was on TV at the same time, the weather was threatening, Gardner-Webb didn’t bring many fans, and the home team was 0-3. That said, it was the smallest crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium I could recall since the Thursday night game against Benedict in 2004.

Improving home football attendance is just one of the many tasks for new AD Jim Senter, but it’s an important one. Longtime fans can remember when attendance at The Citadel’s home games was significantly higher.

In the game program on Saturday was a blurb with the headline “On This Day in Citadel Football History”, which noted that on September 27, 1980, The Citadel defeated UT-Chattanooga 29-13 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Attendance for that game was 18,345 — almost 10,000 more than showed up at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game exactly 34 years later.

Below are some pictures I took before and during the game. Some of them are actually in focus.

2014 football: what teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Is this relatively unimportant? Yes. Are we still in the month of July, and football season for The Citadel doesn’t start until August 30, and that day can’t get here soon enough, so any discussion about football right now is good discussion? Yes.

I posted about this topic last year too, for the record.

Anyway, here we go:

August 30: Coastal Carolina comes to Johnson Hagood Stadium for the first meeting ever between the two programs. It’s the season opener for both teams, so the Chanticleers obviously won’t play anyone before squaring off against the Bulldogs.

Coastal Carolina’s last game in 2013 was a 48-14 loss at North Dakota State in the FCS playoffs.

September 6: The Citadel travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State. It will be Youth and Band Day at Doak Campbell Stadium, and also the first home game for the Seminoles since winning the BCS title game in January.

FSU warms up for its matchup against the Bulldogs by playing Oklahoma State in JerrahWorld on August 30, and then Jimbo Fisher’s crew get a much-needed week off following the game against The Citadel before hosting a second consecutive Palmetto State squad, Clemson.

September 13: No game, as this is The Citadel’s “bye week”.

September 20: Ah, it’s the Larry Leckonby Bowl, as The Citadel travels up the road to play Charleston Southern, a much-criticized scheduling decision by the former AD. This will be the fourth consecutive home game for the Buccaneers, though they don’t actually play on the Saturday before this game. That’s because CSU’s game against Campbell will take place on Thursday, September 11.

September 27: The Citadel’s first three home games in 2014 all feature opponents that have never faced the Bulldogs on the gridiron. The second of these encounters comes against another band of Bulldogs, the “Runnin’ Bulldogs” of Gardner-Webb. On September 20, G-W will host Wofford.

October 4: Speaking of Wofford, The Citadel will travel to Spartanburg on October 4. It will be the first home game of the season for the Terriers against a D-1 opponent. Wofford tangles with UVA-Wise the week before facing The Citadel.

October 11: The Citadel plays Charlotte, which has back-to-back road games against Bulldogs, as the 49ers play Gardner-Webb before making the trip to Charleston.

October 18: Chattanooga has a very tough stretch in this part of its schedule. The week before matching up with The Citadel in Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Mocs will make the journey to Knoxville to play Tennessee.

October 25: The Citadel travels to Cullowhee to play Western Carolina. It’s Homecoming Week for the Catamounts, which play at Mercer before hosting the Bulldogs.

November 1: Another road trip for The Citadel (and another week as a Homecoming opponent), as the Bulldogs play a conference game against Mercer for the first time. The Bears are at Chattanooga the week before this game.

November 8: VMI is the Paladins’ opponent on November 1, so Furman will play military school opponents in consecutive weeks — both on the road. Furman will play The Citadel in Charleston this year, just as it did last season, due to the turnover in the conference (which resulted in some scheduling adjustments).

November 15:  Samford hosts Western Carolina the week prior to its game against The Citadel. The following week, SU plays at Auburn.

November 22: The Citadel finishes its regular season campaign with a game in Lexington, Virginia, versus VMI. The coveted Silver Shako will be on the line.

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

Since Georgia Southern has left the league, there are now only two triple option teams in the SoCon. Only once will a league team face The Citadel and Wofford in consecutive weeks. Furman will play the Bulldogs before facing the Terriers.

Some people think it is important to be the first triple option team on an opponent’s schedule. That is the case for The Citadel when it meets Chattanooga, Mercer, and Furman, but not for its games against the other four league opponents.

Wofford itself will play a triple-option squad before its game against The Citadel, as the Terriers play Georgia Tech on August 30.

VMI actually faces two triple option teams before it plays The Citadel. The Keydets travel to Annapolis for a game against Navy on October 11, and will play Wofford in Spartanburg on October 25.

C’mon, football. Get here…

Riley Report: a brief (and late) preseason preview

Yes, this is late. I was waiting on some information that as of yet isn’t available, so I can’t work on part of the statistical breakdown I had intended to make.

Anyway, what follows is a curtailed preview.

Links of interest:

Schedule

“Quick Facts” from the school website

Season preview from The Post and Courier

SoCon preview, Baseball America

SoCon preview, College Baseball Daily

SoCon preseason polls (The Citadel is picked second in both)

SoCon preseason all-conference teams

Fred Jordan discusses the team’s preparations for the season (video)

Note: all statistics are for Southern Conference games only unless otherwise indicated.

This chart features the 2013 offensive statistics in league play for The Citadel’s returning players:

Player AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
H. Armstrong 120 36 0 13 15 0.383 0.449 0.467 0.916
Mason Davis 140 30 3 7 17 0.336 0.377 0.464 0.841
Calvin Orth 124 26 7 4 25 0.331 0.366 0.565 0.931
Bo Thompson 105 27 9 33 13 0.314 0.493 0.610 1.103
Tyler Griffin 58 14 4 10 20 0.310 0.423 0.552 0.975
D. DeKerlegand 111 22 2 15 23 0.297 0.410 0.441 0.851
J. Stokes 121 20 3 9 18 0.289 0.333 0.413 0.746
Bailey Rush 55 8 2 5 16 0.273 0.328 0.473 0.801
Bret Hines 42 4 0 4 8 0.214 0.300 0.262 0.562
Jason Smith 21 2 0 1 7 0.048 0.087 0.048 0.135
Connor Walsh 3 0 0 0 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
Totals 900 189 30 101 163 0.309 0.389 0.471 0.860

Now, compare that to the totals in conference action for the returning players from this time last year:

AB R HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS
Totals 705 94 7 78 142 0.234 0.318 0.333 0.652

You can see why there is a lot of hope for the Bulldogs’ offense this season. Every one of last year’s regulars returns except for catcher Joe Jackson (though he is a big exception, to be sure), and most of those returnees had good-to-excellent campaigns in 2013. The outlook is a lot rosier than it was prior to the 2013 season.

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Assorted stats from this year’s returning players: as a group they were hit by pitches 25 times in SoCon play. Their walk rate (11.2%) per at bat was a tick higher than in 2012 (11.1%), with almost a third of that total courtesy of Bo Thompson, who walked in 31.4% of his at bats.

Thompson was also hit by pitches six times in the league regular season, second on the team to Drew DeKerlegand (seven).

Hughston Armstong had seven of the team’s 23 sacrifice bunts in SoCon action. Nine of the eleven Bulldogs to get at bats in conference play had at least one sacrifice fly (the team had 12 in 30 league games).

The Citadel’s 2013 returnees stole 30 bases last year in conference play (out of 42 attempts). Armstrong, DeKerlegand, and Mason Davis combined for 28 of those steals, with Bret Hines swiping the other two.

That percentage of successful steals (71.4%) isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, and doesn’t include the seven times Bulldogs on the current roster were picked off in SoCon action.

However, what isn’t taken into account with those numbers is the potential for advancing on errors, balks, etc. Defensive execution in college baseball is not at the same level as it is in the professional ranks, and that goes a long way to explaining the emphasis by many teams on the running game and “smallball”.

Is it overdone on occasion? Yes. However, I never got the sense that was the case for The Citadel last year (other than a Bo Thompson bunt attempt early in the season that made me cringe).

That said, the Bulldogs can do better. In 2012, The Citadel stole bases at a 77.8% clip (42 for 54) while only having five baserunners picked off in league play.

SoCon-only statistics for the Bulldogs’ returning pitchers:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
Brett Tompkins 1 0 3 1 0 0 0 0.00 15.00 6.00
Ross White 9 0 8 10 4 2 0 2.25 6.75 1.13
James Reeves 13 3 32 27 11 9 1 2.53 7.59 1.69
Logan Cribb 10 8 50.1 50 30 21 9 3.75 8.23 1.97
Skylar Hunter 16 0 20 17 10 10 2 4.50 10.35 4.50
Zach Sherrill 23 0 19 16 13 10 0 4.74 7.11 3.32
David Rivera 18 0 19.2 22 11 11 1 5.03 7.32 2.29
Austin Mason 10 9 33 59 43 34 2 9.27 6.00 2.45
Austin Livingston 2 0 1.2 3 2 2 0 10.80 5.40 5.40
Kevin Connell 10 0 10.1 24 17 15 1 13.06 4.35 2.61
Totals 114 20 197 229 141 114 16 5.21 7.58 2.51

Last year’s corresponding totals:

G GS IP H R ER HR ERA K/9 BB/9
Totals 91 29 226 259 144 123 14 4.91 5.38 3.83

During last year’s preview, I wrote:

The walk rates [in 2012] were obviously too high, and must be lowered. They were not completely unmanageable…but typical Bulldog pitching staffs do not walk people at that rate. Teams that contend for league titles do not walk people at that rate.

I am particularly concerned with the strikeout totals, however. Having a 5.38 K/9 rate as a team is problematic. Pitchers need those strikeouts.

Well, they got those strikeouts, all right. Look at those improved K and BB rates for the 2013 campaign .

In conference play, Bulldog pitchers struck out almost 2 1/2 more batters per nine innings than they did in 2012, and at the same time lowered their walk rates by about 1 1/3 BB per nine IP (remember, this doesn’t count Austin Pritcher’s numbers, and he was only the league’s Pitcher of the Year).

Based on that comparison, you would have to say the Britt Reames Experience is having a very positive effect.

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There are some things to be cautious about, however. The Bulldogs do have to replace Pritcher in the weekend rotation. Last year, returnees had started 29 of the previous year’s 30 league games.

Also, pitching success can vary from year to year, even among returning hurlers. The good news is that the Bulldogs have a lot of options.

The obvious statistic of concern is the team ERA, which actually increased in league play by 0.3 of a run per nine innings. What is interesting about that is the hit rate per nine innings showed almost no variance from 2012 to 2013.

Homers were up, though. On the other hand, nine of the sixteen home runs hit off Bulldog pitching in conference play were allowed by Logan Cribb, and he still fashioned a fine 3.75 ERA.

The increased ERA can be partly attributed to a few bad outings by Bulldog pitchers,and the conference run environment was also an issue. Updated park factors for the league are not available yet, but there was a significant increase in runs (and corresponding league ERA) in 2013.

There were 2068 runs scored in SoCon play in 2013, after 1843 runs were scored in conference action in 2012. The league ERA jumped from 4.69 to 5.42.

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One other thing: no, that’s not a typo, Zach Sherrill really did pitch in 23 of 30 conference games in 2013. He appeared in 48 games overall, shattering the school record for pitching appearances and leading the entire nation in regular-season games on the hill.

At one point during the season, Sherrill pitched in 11 consecutive games. He was very effective (which is why he kept getting the call from the bullpen), but part of me hopes the Bulldogs don’t have to lean on him so often this year.

The Citadel’s DER (defensive efficiency rating) in SoCon play last season was 68.9%, right around where it had been in 2012 (68.8%). The Bulldogs’ DER the last two seasons is much improved from 2011 (63.2%).

While The Citadel committed many more errors in league action in 2013 (57) than in 2012 (39), in terms of actually getting to balls and recording outs, the results were about the same. This indicates that a number of the “extra” errors were overthrows and other types of mistakes, which allowed opponents to advance further on the basepaths.

Double play totals declined from 25 to 14. That may be related to ground ball/fly ball rates from Bulldog pitchers, however.

The league DER in 2013 was only 66.1%, which was down considerably from 2012 (68.4%). I’m not quite sure what to make of that, other than it certainly contributed to the higher run totals across the conference.

Opponents were 29 for 42 on stolen base attempts against the Bulldogs in SoCon games. Ten opposing baserunners were picked off.

The conference as a whole averaged 52 attempted steals per team in league games, with a success rate of 74.3%. Those numbers are inflated slightly by Wofford, which attempted 101 steals in its 30 SoCon contests (and was successful 78 times).

Only Western Carolina allowed fewer stolen bases in conference play than The Citadel, with the Catamounts having a very impressive 51% defensive caught stealing rate (21 for 41).

This is a season that Bulldog fans have been waiting for since…well, since last season ended. The Citadel should be very good on the diamond in 2014. The squad has considerable talent and a lot of experience.

I really like the non-conference schedule this year. Plenty of quality opponents are on the slate, both at home and on the road.

As a result, the Bulldogs may struggle at times in the early part of the season, but they should be well prepared once league play rolls around.

A few things to watch:

1) The weekend rotation, especially the Sunday starter

2) Possible platoon situations at first base/third base/DH

3) The pitcher-catcher dynamic (particularly with regards to baserunners)

4) New contributors, including some who have been around the program (Ryan Kilgallen, for example), and others making their collegiate debuts (such as Austin Mapes)

5) Whether or not Bo Thompson can hit a ball on the fly into the Lockwood Boulevard parking lot

I’m tired of winter. I’m ready for spring.

Spring on the diamond in 2014 could be a lot of fun.

SoCon football geography: where are the prime recruiting areas for the league?

On Thursday, Benn Stancil of the analytics website Mode published an article called “Where Football Players Call Home“. It includes an interactive map that shows the hometowns of every Division I (FBS and FCS) football player, using ESPN as its information resource. The map further breaks down the findings by conference, team, and position.

You could spend hours looking at the various combinations offered up by the map. I’m not saying it would be healthy, but you could do that…

Some of the results are predictable. While big population centers like Los Angeles and Houston are responsible for the most players in terms of volume, the southeast produces the most on a per capita basis.

Then there is the reach of a program, in terms of how wide a recruiting area it has. Stancil came up with a measure of a school’s geographic diversity, describing it as follows:

 I calculated a rough measure of geographic diversity, based on how many states are represented on each team and how many players come from each state. For example, a team with 50 players from one state would have the lowest diversity score, while a state with one player from each of the 50 states would have the highest.

It probably doesn’t come as a shock that the “least diverse” schools from a geographic perspective are located in large, talent-rich states. The 22 least diverse football programs are all from California, Florida, and Texas. They have no need to expand their recruiting areas, so they don’t.

It is also not surprising that the list of most geographically diverse schools includes all of the Ivy League institutions and a couple of the service academies.  Notre Dame and Holy Cross are also near the top in this category. So are two D.C. schools, Georgetown and Howard.

The Mode map accounts for 907 Southern Conference football players on league rosters in 2013, with another 18 from “unknown or unmapped locations”.

Fulton and Gwinnett counties each had 35 SoCon players, part of the talent overload in metro Atlanta. Cobb County had 23 and DeKalb 15.

Other areas of interest to SoCon recruiters: the Charlotte area (including Mecklenburg County, home to 31 league players); Hillsborough County, FL (with 14 players, the most from a county outside the league’s geographic base); Wake County, NC (19); Guilford County, NC (14); Jefferson County, AL (20); Hamilton County, TN (16); and Spartanburg County, SC (17).

Odds and ends from perusing the map of the 2013 SoCon:

- Hennepin County, Minnesota, had four SoCon players. Three of them were at Wofford.

- Mobile County, Alabama, had nine players in the league. Eight of them were Bulldogs — four from Samford, and four from The Citadel.

- Even though it isn’t in the league’s geographic footprint, I think it’s surprising that only five of last season’s SoCon players hailed from Texas. Also, there were only three players from Mississippi, two from Louisiana, one from Oklahoma (The Citadel’s Nick Jeffreys), and none from Arkansas.

- In order, from most geographic diversity to least in 2013:

Wofford
Elon
The Citadel
Furman
Samford
Appalachian State
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Georgia Southern

- As for the new members, Mercer would have slotted in between Chattanooga and Georgia Southern. It will be interesting to see if that program continues to recruit mostly close to home in future years.

VMI would have been between Samford and Appalachian State. In what may illustrate one of the issues the Keydets have had in trying to be competitive on the gridiron, VMI had the least geographically diverse squad in the Big South last season.

While the state of Virginia has a lot of talented football players, the dilemma for VMI is that A) many other instate schools are recruiting those players, and B) being a military college significantly reduces the number of potential recruits.

The school needs to extend the geographic reach of its recruiting efforts if it wants to establish football relevancy in the Southern Conference. That may be difficult, given certain restrictions.

All in all, I thought this was a neat tool. It may also help to demonstrate which areas will be swarmed with recruiters in the weeks leading up to Signing Day…

McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

- The Citadel’s record: 4-14, 0-3 SoCon
– SoCon rank in offensive efficiency (through three games): 3rd
– SoCon rank in defensive efficiency (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in free throw shooting (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in 3-point shooting percentage (through three games) 1st

Yes, the offensive statistics through three league games aren’t bad at all. The Citadel has shot the ball well in its last three games, and fared well on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs also committed fewer turnovers in those three games (though still too many).

However, The Citadel still managed to lose all three of those games, blowing double-digit second-half leads in two of them. For a team that desperately needs a win (or two, or three, or four), it was rather dispiriting.

In those two losses (at home against Chattanooga and on the road versus Wofford), the Bulldogs basically let one player on each team dominate them inside and on the boards. Both UTC’s Z. Mason and Wofford’s Lee Skinner had what amounted to career nights against The Citadel, combining for 17 offensive rebounds and 19 made 2-point field goals (on 31 attempts).

Because of that, the Bulldogs are currently last in league play in defensive rebounding percentage. The Citadel is also last in the SoCon in forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have given their opponents so many “extra” chances to score that even solid perimeter defending hasn’t been enough.

In the “bad luck” category: The Citadel has done a good job keeping its SoCon opponents off the foul line (ranking 4th in the league in that category). However, those opponents are shooting 77.1% from the charity stripe, the highest percentage against any team in the league.

In the “not bad luck” category: The Bulldogs picked a bad time to go into a free throw shooting slump. No team has shot worse from the foul line than the Bulldogs in league action.

This comes after The Citadel did a fine job shooting free throws during the non-conference slate. However, the Bulldogs have not gone to the foul line enough all season as it is.

The Citadel is shooting slightly less than one free throw attempt for every field goal try (33%). The national average for FTA/FGA is 41%.

Of course, three games don’t reflect the entirety of the season, and the Bulldogs struggled mightily out of conference. The Citadel has as many losses to non-D1s as it does victories over D-1s, having lost to West Alabama and beaten Presbyterian.

For the season, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in offensive turnover rate, FTA/FGA, two-point field goal percentage, steals rate (offense), defensive rebounding percentage, steals rate (defense), and defensive turnover rate. Thanks to all those issues, the Bulldogs also rank in the bottom 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

In the Kenpom ratings, The Citadel is currently ranked 339th out of 351 Division I teams.

On the plus side, The Citadel has done a good job beyond the arc, both on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs’ tendency to throw the ball away on a semi-regular basis has been a problem for the past three seasons, as has the defensive issues. I will say that the defending has improved this season, at least on opponents’ initial shots. However, the inability to control the defensive glass has crushed The Citadel.

On his postgame radio show after the loss to Wofford, Chuck Driesell said of his team that “we’re getting close”.

With all due respect to Driesell, I don’t think he can say that. Not right now, anyway.

The goal for this season can’t be to have a record like last year (8-22) or the year before (6-24). This isn’t about trying to eke out a couple of victories or break a losing streak.

Getting close, in the context of this season, is putting together consecutive wins, and building on that — winning four out of six, seven out of ten, etc. Falling short in SoCon games isn’t getting the program to where it needs to be.

Because make no mistake, the Southern Conference is not good this year. It wasn’t very good last year either, but in 2013-14 the league has been dreadful.

There is no reason The Citadel can’t win a bunch of SoCon games, and the next couple of weeks will present the Bulldogs multiple opportunities to bounce back from their bad start in conference play.

On Thursday, The Citadel travels to Greensboro to face the Spartans. UNCG isn’t that bad, relative to the rest of the league, but this is a chance for the Bulldogs to win a road game.

UNCG actually has a turnover rate that is worse than The Citadel’s. Now, the Bulldogs haven’t proven capable of forcing many TOs all season, but this will be one game in which they have a shot at improving on that statistical category. If they can do so, they can win the game.

On Saturday, The Citadel hosts Furman, and then plays Appalachian State at McAlister Field House the following Thursday. I think the Bulldogs should win both contests. Not “can win”, but “should win”. Furman isn’t any better than The Citadel, and Appalachian State has arguably been worse so far this season.

In other words, the Bulldogs ought to win at least two of their next three games. If they don’t, it will be a disappointment.

After the loss to Elon, the sixth straight for the Bulldogs, Chuck Driesell had this to say:

You look at the stats and you think we could have won this game. But we were playing a good team on their home court. We kept our composure, but a couple of breaks didn’t go our way. But more guys are stepping up; everybody’s starting to come around.

I hope so. There would be nothing better than some positive news from the hardwood. Good basketball makes for a shorter winter.

Otherwise, Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow at McAlister Field House once again.

The “unofficial” 2014 SoCon football schedule

Last week the Southern Conference accidentally “leaked” the provisional 2014 composite league football schedule. It has since been removed from the conference website, but here is a .pdf of the document as it (briefly) appeared online:

2014 provisional SoCon football schedule

There are a few things on the provisional schedule that have already been changed. For example, Chattanooga will no longer be hosting Georgia State on September 6. Instead, the Mocs will open their 2014 season at Central Michigan on Thursday, August 28 and will play their home opener against Jacksonville State (apparently on September 6, essentially replacing the Georgia State game).

Not included on the provisional schedule, but announced earlier this year, is a 9/20 meeting between the Paladins and South Carolina State, to be played in Orangeburg. That will be a rematch of the first-round 2013 playoff game won by Furman, of course.

There is also a little confusion about Furman’s opponent on 10/25. Some reports suggest the Paladins will play Chattanooga on that date, but this schedule lists Samford as Furman’s homecoming opponent.

Other “holes” in the provisional schedule include the following:

- The opponent for VMI on 10/18 (a non-league matchup) is unknown. Edit 1/7/14: VMI will play Gardner-Webb on that date, in Lexington.

- Wofford will presumably add at least one more game to its schedule (if not two). As of right now, the Terriers only have four listed home games (including a non-conference game vs. Jacksonville). I’m guessing that Wofford will play another OOC matchup in Spartanburg on either 9/20 or 9/27.

- Western Carolina also will be adding another game or two to its slate. From what I understand, Brevard will almost certainly be an early-season home opponent for the Catamounts.

- Samford has reportedly bought its way out of its game at Southeastern Louisiana, which had been tentatively scheduled for 9/13. SU may want to play a home game on that date instead.

While there are still additions and changes to be made to various schedules, I suspect that the actual league games are more or less official (though the uncertainty about Furman’s home opponent on 10/25 does give one pause). Each team will play seven conference games in both 2014 and 2015, as the league waits for East Tennessee State to restart its football program.

Ultimately, this is just throwing out a little football news to talk about in the middle of December. Nothing wrong with that.

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