Wofford, for the sixty-first time

Well, after last week’s difficult loss, the Bulldogs get to travel to Spartanburg to take on the latest edition of Wofford football.  The Citadel has lost nine straight times to Wofford, which is not particularly surprising, since Wofford has been quite good for most of the past decade with one coach (Mike Ayers, who has been there for 21 years), while The Citadel has mostly struggled over the same time period with four different head coaches. 

It wasn’t always that way.  In fact, it usually hasn’t been that way.  The Citadel has a commanding 40-19-1 lead in the alltime series.  Many of the games have been played in Charleston, although Saturday’s game will be the fifteenth played in Spartanburg (The Citadel has won eight of the previous fourteen).  There have also been a fair amount of neutral site contests, including eight games played in Orangeburg (most of those occurred during the 1950s, with the games serving as sideshows for the Orangeburg County Fair).

One of the more notable games between Wofford and The Citadel occurred in 1987.  That was Charlie Taaffe’s first season as coach of the Bulldogs, and Wofford would be his first opponent.  The matchup was scheduled for Saturday, September 5th, but heavy rains in the days leading up to the game flooded the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium and resulted in the game being postponed until Sunday afternoon.  This made for a rather odd atmosphere (I don’t know of any other football game The Citadel has ever played on Sunday).  The conditions were still rather soggy, although the sun came out, and you had people in their Sunday best, along with people who looked like they had just rolled out of bed.  The Corps of Cadets marched over to the stadium wearing their duty uniforms, which was probably unprecedented. 

The Bulldogs won the toss and elected to receive.  On first down following the kickoff, Roger Witherspoon went up the middle for seven yards.  On the next play, Tom Frooman took the ball on a misdirection play and went to his left.  67 yards later, he was in the end zone, having not been touched.  The Citadel went on to win the game, 38-0, an auspicious debut for Taaffe’s wishbone offense.  Having an offense geared almost exclusively to the run was a complete 180-degree turn for the program, given that Taaffe’s predecessor as coach, Tom Moore, ran a pure passing attack (two years before, Kip Allen had thrown for 428 yards against Wofford, which is still the school record).  Bulldog fans learned to enjoy the finer points of the triple option, mainly (well, solely — let’s be honest here) because Taaffe’s teams were generally successful. 

Taaffe’s final victory as coach of The Citadel, in 1995, also came against Wofford.  He exited (less than auspiciously) as the winningest football coach in school history.

This year’s game features another team that runs the option, only this time it’s Wofford and its “wingbone” attack.  The Terriers lead the nation in rushing, averaging over 354 yards per game.  Wofford doesn’t pass much (which explains why the Terriers have only allowed two sacks all year), but because of the rushing dominance it still ranks second nationally in total offense.  The attack has produced points, too — Wofford is averaging 38 per game.  The Terriers usually don’t turn the ball over, although last week they coughed it up five times against Appalachian State.  Despite that debacle, Wofford still has a +10 turnover differential, which leads the conference and is fourth-best nationally.

Brief Digression:  in Appalachian State’s 70-24 beatdown of the Terriers last Friday night, near the end of the game Appy had the ball inside the Wofford 20.  The TV announcers, Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard, were talking about how the coaches were great friends, they sat together with their wives at coaches’ conventions, etc.  Instead of just taking a knee, though, the Mountaineers kept running the ball (albeit with their backup QB), and scored their 10th touchdown of the night.  Wischusen and Huard were a bit nonplussed by that.  Just imagine what App State would have done if the coaches hadn’t been such good friends…

Wofford’s defense is fourth in the nation in sacks, led by defensive end Mitch Clark, who has six in eight games.  Last week Appalachian State rolled up 620 yards of total offense (ouch) on the Terriers.  The Wofford D isn’t nearly that bad, obviously, but teams have had some success passing the ball against it.  Presbyterian had 351 yards passing, Georgia Southern 303, and then last week’s game featured 382 yards passing for Appy. 

Wofford’s net punting statistics are excellent (so are The Citadel’s).  Wofford has made seven of nine field goals this season, with a long of 43 yards (let’s not talk about The Citadel and field goals, at least not this week).

The site of Saturday’s game, Gibbs Stadium, is a very nice 13,000-seat stadium that was built in the mid-1990s.  Also built around that time was the Richardson Athletic Building, home base for Wofford athletics.  The building is named for Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers and a Wofford alum (and benefactor, as you might imagine).  The Panthers hold their summer training camp there.

This game will be on SportSouth.  Watching The Citadel play games on TV is still a little bit of a novelty.  Watching The Citadel win games on TV is an even bigger novelty, alas.  The announcers will be Tom Werme and Sam Wyche.  Wyche will undoubtably be in a good mood, since he was just elected to Greenville County Council.

The Summerall Guards are performing at the game, which seems only fitting, since there are 61 members of the Summerall Guards, and this is the sixty-first game between Wofford and The Citadel.

The Citadel could win this game.  After last week’s loss, though, I don’t know what kind of mindset the team will have as it travels up to Spartanburg.  I also don’t know how Wofford will react to giving up 70 points in its biggest game of the season.

We’ll find out at 3 pm on Saturday.

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