Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Samford

I’ll just begin this post with some assorted trivia about Samford:

  • Samford was called Howard College until 1965.  At that time, the school became a university, but in an effort to avoid being mistaken for Howard University (of Washington, DC) the name was changed to Samford.
  • Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961, one of only two such transactions involving a law school, and the only one in which the law school moved across state lines.
  • Samford played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, defeating Birmingham-Southern 9-0 on November 19, 1927.  Samford also played in the first night game at Legion Field (in 1928), losing 12-7 to Spring Hill.
  • Samford’s football program wasn’t afraid to travel in the 1920s.  The Bulldogs (formerly the Baptist Tigers) played Duquesne in Pittsburgh (at Forbes Field), North Dakota in Grand Forks, and Havana National University (in Cuba).  Samford also played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico in 1954 and 1963.
  • Bobby Bowden is Samford’s most famous football alum, and he also coached at the school, compiling a record of 31-6 over four seasons.  His son Terry is the winningest coach at Samford, with a record of 45-23-1, including FCS playoff appearances in 1991 and 1992.  Samford advanced to the semifinals in ’91.
  • Terry Bowden had been the head coach at Salem College before getting the Samford job, and his quarterback at Salem transferred to Samford to join him.  That quarterback?  Jimbo Fisher, who would throw 34 touchdown passes in his one season at Samford as a player. 
  • Fisher remained at the school as an assistant coach until Terry Bowden was hired at Auburn following the 1992 season.  He is now, of course, the “Head Coach In Waiting” at Florida State.

This will be the third meeting between the Birmingham Bulldogs and the shako-wearing Bulldogs.  The first matchup, in 1989, was the first game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium after Hurricane Hugo blew through Charleston; I wrote about that event when I previewed last year’s game.

That meeting last season in Birmingham did not go well for The Citadel.  Samford essentially mauled the visitors, 28-10, dominating the line of scrimmage.  Samford netted 232 yards rushing.  The Citadel?  2.  Yikes.

It was a nightmarish game all the way around, and it wasn’t even Halloween.  Samford’s first touchdown drive was helped along by three major penalties from The Citadel’s defense.  Chris Evans scored that TD and one other to go along with 174 yards rushing.  Samford had more than a 2-to-1 edge in first-half time of possession. 

Samford stuck to the ground for the most part, but occasionally threw the ball, as Dustin Taliaferro was 13-19 for 117 yards and a TD. 

The starting quarterback for The Citadel in that game was Cam Turner.  Bart Blanchard also played.  Neither of those two QBs will be taking snaps on Saturday (although Turner will continue to hold on placekicks), as Miguel Starks gets the nod again following his auspicious debut as a starter against Furman.

He will face a Samford defense that is big, physical, and which ranks among the national leaders in FCS in several defensive categories.  The Birmingham Bulldogs are fourth nationally in total defense (241.6 yards per game), sixth in rushing defense (81.6 ypg), and tenth in scoring defense (allowing less than 15 points per contest).  Junior linebacker Bryce Smith (who forced a fumble in last year’s game against The Citadel) is an outstanding player who must be accounted for at all times.

Samford has allowed only four plays of 30 yards or more in seven games and has only given up seven points in the fourth quarter all season.

On offense, Samford likes to establish the run, taking advantage of a huge offensive line.  Four of the five starters weigh more than 300 pounds, with right guard Thomas Gray checking in at 6’4”, 332.  The only non-300 lb. lineman among the starters is a “true” freshman, 6’4”, 275 lb. George Allers.  I’m guessing he’s going to get even bigger.

Much of the offense goes through running back Evans, who is averaging over 92 yards per game on the ground and also leads the team in receptions, with 26.  Evans was held to 47 yards rushing (on 14 carries) in Samford’s last game, against Furman (Samford was off last week).  In that game Samford fell behind early and had to rely on its passing attack in an effort to get back into the contest.

Taliaferro has thrown four touchdown passes this season, and has also thrown five interceptions.  Samford is averaging 5.4 yards per pass, and only 3.4 yards per rush, both numbers somewhat low (and surprisingly so, in the case of the rushing average).  Samford is generally not a big-play team (only five plays of more than 31 yards so far this season), and thus needs to sustain long drives, but Pat Sullivan’s Bulldogs are only converting 35% of their third-down opportunities.

Samford’s special teams appear to be better this season.  Freshman placekicker Cameron Yaw is 8-11 on FG attempts (one of the misses was blocked by Furman at the end of the game to preserve a two-point Paladin victory).

It will be interesting to see how Miguel Starks plays after his excellent performance last week.  Samford will present a different (and more difficult) challenge than did Furman.  A key will be avoiding turnovers, particularly on The Citadel’s half of the field.  Samford is not very dynamic on offense and is probably less likely to drive down the length of the field than Furman, so not giving the folks from Birmingham good field position is important. 

Punting, in this game, may not be such a bad thing.  It’s better than fumbling.

Even in last year’s loss, Andre Roberts managed to shine as usual, catching 8 passes for 100 yards and a TD.  I think Saturday’s game will be another opportunity for #5 to demonstrate (yet again) just how special a player he is. 

On defense, the Bulldogs must stop Evans from running all over them like he did last season.  Jordan Gilmore had 13 tackles in that game, one for loss.  More tackles for loss, to put Samford in second-and-long and third-and-long situations, would be helpful (of course, you could say that every week). 

Last year The Citadel sacked Taliaferro just one time and only had two official “hurries”.  The defense created no turnovers and was only credited with one pass breakup.  That was mostly due to Samford not being in a position where it had to throw the ball, just another reason why stopping the run is a must.

This is not likely to be a high-scoring game.  I don’t know which Bulldog team is going to show up, the one that played Appalachian State and Furman, or the one that stumbled against Elon and Western Carolina. 

The game is at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and the weather is supposed to be nice (mostly sunny, high of 82).  Attendance for the Furman game was a little better than I expected, honestly…not as good as a Parents’ Day game could be, but not too bad all things considered.  That bodes well for attendance this Saturday. 

Those in the stands to watch the battle of the Bulldogs are probably going to see a very competitive game.  I think The Citadel can win this game, but I’m worried about Samford having two weeks to prepare and possibly coming out with a revised offensive game plan.  On Halloween, you always have to worry about tricks, even while you’re dreaming of the treats.  We’ll see what Pat Sullivan and company have in store for The Citadel on Saturday.

College Football TV Listings (2009), Week 9

This list actually includes every game involving an FBS or FCS school, whether a game is televised or not.  For the TV games, I also list the broadcast announcers and sideline reporters.  There are always a few games (often local telecasts) where gathering information on game announcers and sideline reporters can be difficult.  I usually get all the information on the announcing teams by the time the weekend rolls around, however.

As I’ve done in previous weeks, I’m using Google Documents in an effort to make the listings more accessible.

College Football TV Listings, Week 9

Additional notes:

ABC/ESPN 3:30 pm ET and 8:00 pm ET coverage maps:  Link

  • ERT-SEC (SEC Network) coverage of Mississippi-Auburn can be seen on CSN-California, MSG, FSN-Detroit, CSN-Washington+, ESPN GamePlan, and local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • Raycom affiliates for North Carolina State-Florida State are listed here:  Link
  • ERT-BE (Big East Network) coverage of Rutgers-Connecticut can be seen on SNY, MASN, CST, Altitude, Bright House, ESPN GamePlan, and local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • ERT-MAC (MAC regional syndication) coverage of Akron-Northern Illinois can be seen on ESPN GamePlan and local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • ERT-WAC (WAC regional syndication) coverage of Lousiana Tech-Idaho can be seen on MASN, Altitude 2, ESPN GamePlan and local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • Southland TV coverage of Northwestern State-Sam Houston State can be seen on local affiliates listed here:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s great website (College Sports on TV) and the folks over at the 506.com; there are links to both sites to the right of this page, in the “TSA  Checkpoints” section.

Bulldogs show some bite, and just in time

The Citadel 38, Furman 28.  Out of the ashes…

The Bulldogs had managed to put together two of the worst performances by the football team in quite some time, so expectations were low heading into the battle with Furman.  With Bart Blanchard hobbled by a toe injury, all the quarterback snaps were taken by redshirt freshman Miguel Starks.  He proved more than ready for the challenge, much to the chagrin of a Paladin defense that never really figured out a way to stop him (other than forcing fumbles — more on that later).

Also up to the challenge this week were offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini and head coach Kevin Higgins, who deserve some praise after drawing criticism for the playcalling in some previous games (particularly the Western Carolina contest).  With Starks in the game, the run/pass ratio changed markedly.  Going into the Furman game, here were the relevant numbers for the season:

  • Rush attempts — 184 (677 yards)
  • Pass attempts — 181 (1020 yards)

There was balance, to be sure, but not a lot of success, as the Bulldogs were averaging just 3.68 yards per carry and only 5.64 yards per pass attempt.  Then came the Furman game:

  • Rush attempts — 49 (296 yards)
  • Pass attempts — 19 (183 yards)

The Bulldogs averaged 6.04 yards per rush against the Paladins and 9.63 yards per pass attempt.  You can win a lot of games averaging six yards per carry and nine yards for every pass thrown.

Starks was the headliner, but Van Dyke Jones appears to be the solution at running back, based on this game as well as the Appalachian State contest.  He looked very good teaming up with Starks on the various read-option plays.  He picks up tough yards, and he’s got the potential to break long runs (as the Mountaineers’ defense can attest).

The offensive line had its best game of the year, by far.  There was some discussion about fundamentals and correcting mistakes and such, but ultimately it seemed to me that the linemen much preferred the aggressive, run-oriented approach the Bulldogs had on Saturday to the usual pass-to-set-up-run attack.  It’s a cliché, but I think the guys liked the “hit ’em in the mouth” strategy.  I know a lot of older alumni appreciated it.

It wasn’t just a run-run-pass scenario, either.  Nine of Starks’ nineteen pass attempts came on first down (he threw on first down a little over 25% of the time, enough to keep the Paladins honest).  On third and long, The Citadel actually ran the ball five out of seven times.  The Bulldogs were totally committed to the run on third and short/medium, rushing on all five of those occasions.  Conversely, on four second-and-short plays The Citadel threw twice.  It was a nice mix.

Starks threw six passes in each of the first three quarters (one pass in the third quarter was wiped out by a penalty).  In the fourth, with the Bulldogs protecting a double-digit lead, he would throw only three times (a flag erasing one attempt).  The drive that put the game away featured no passes, with Starks scoring the clinching TD on a 23-yard run.

The other noticeable thing about the passing game was that Starks threw exclusively short and intermediate passes in the first half, but started to go deep in the third quarter.  On consecutive pass attempts in that quarter, he threw a slant pass for 20 yards, followed by a 28-yard TD toss on a post route (both to Scott Harward), a 38-yard post would-be TD to Andre Roberts wiped out by a holding penalty, a 35-yard pass to Roberts (sensational catch by Andre), and an incomplete post pass to Alex Sellars (which would have resulted in a 45-yard TD if the connection had been made).

Starks’ touch on his passes was generally good, and his receivers helped him on the few occasions where he was off target.  There were two legitimately outstanding catches, one by Kevin Hardy (arguably the best reception Hardy has made for the Bulldogs to date) and Roberts’ scintillating effort in the third quarter, which got the Bulldogs out of a field position hole (moving the ball from the 12 to the 47).  Only one pass all day was dropped.

Of course, it’s easier to call plays when your team leads the entire game, as was the case on Saturday for The Citadel.  After a very impressive opening drive for a TD, the Bulldogs took advantage of an unintentional onside kick (the wind becoming a temporary 12th man) to grab a 14-0 lead before Furman could run a play on offense.

This would ultimately lead to a rather unusual situation, as despite scoring 28 points in the game Furman’s offense never had the ball with less than a 10-point deficit facing it.  In other words, at no point in the game were the Paladins within one drive of tying the game or taking the lead.  Furman would get within 3 points at 24-21 early in the third quarter, but The Citadel scored a TD on its next drive, stretching the lead back to 10, and the Paladins could draw no closer.

Furman’s failures were mostly on defense, but Paladins QB Jordan Sorrells will surely want to forget the two interceptions he threw, both in the end zone, and both with Furman trailing 31-21.

The first of the two was particularly bad, as on first-and-ten at the Bulldog 26 he threw the ball late over the deep middle of the field and into the wind, while rolling out in the opposite direction, and with three defenders in the vicinity.  Calling that pass “ill-advised” doesn’t really do it justice.  I thought he played fairly well other than that, though.  It’s hard to lead a comeback when you trail the entire game by double digits.

It wasn’t all great for The Citadel, though.  The defense continued to struggle with preventing long drives.  Furman converted six out of eleven third down attempts, and was 3-for-3 on 4th down tries.  The Paladins did not punt until the third quarter.  Truthfully, the defense has not had a solid game all season, and I am including the Princeton game in that analysis, despite the Bulldogs allowing just seven points, because the Tigers moved the ball fairly well for a significant portion of that game (and also because Princeton is just not a very good team this year).

Looking back, an argument could be made that the defense’s most satisfactory performance came in the season opener against North Carolina.

Against the Paladins, the Bulldogs only had one sack, although Furman is not a team prone to giving up sacks.  What the defense did do well was create some critical turnovers; in previous games those two end-zone picks weren’t happening.

It was a good thing the defense did get those turnovers and make those stops, as Starks lost two fumbles in the second half (after fumbling twice earlier without punishment).  On that issue, I was struck by some comments made by Higgins in The Post and Courier:

On the fumbles, Higgins said, “We knew the first time he stepped on campus that was going to be a challenge. We watched him as a freshman on the scout team and said, that will be a challenge. But until you actually get under fire, it takes a while to understand that.

This sounds a little like the Tiki Barber situation with the New York Giants, when he was alternating between big runs and big fumbles (sometimes on the same play).  Maybe the Bulldog staff should get Tom Coughlin on the phone…

The Citadel is going to have to live with some fumbling, it appears.  Other teams are going to make a concerted effort to try to strip Starks of the ball, which may lead to more fumbling, but which may also lead to bigger plays by Starks as players go for the ball rather than the tackle.  Starks isn’t going to go down just by being hit; he has to be wrapped up, and if other teams don’t realize this now they will realize it soon enough.

I think that with Starks at QB, Bulldog fans are going to have more than the usual number of “no no yes yes!” and “yes yes oh no” moments, at least in the near future.

As disappointing as the Bulldogs’ lost weekends at Elon and Cullowhee were — and those were VERY disappointing results —  it’s good to see the team (and coaches) get up off the canvas and come out fighting.  To do so against Furman makes it even better.  Now it’s time to focus on Samford, which shouldn’t be too difficult, given last year’s mauling.  It’s about time to re-buckle those chinstraps.

Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Furman

If you looked at the overall statistics for last year’s Bulldogs-Paladins game, you might think it had been a competitive game.  It wasn’t.  Furman led at one point by 28 points and scored on every one of its possessions in the first three quarters.

Furman alternated between delayed handoffs and intermediate pass routes, picking up first downs with ease (the Paladins had 22 first downs, only four of which came after a third-down conversion).  It was a lot like the Elon game two weeks ago, only The Citadel actually scored on its first two possessions against Furman (both field goals).

Allowing Furman those kinds of long scoring drives can’t happen on Saturday if the Bulldogs expect to win, but The Citadel’s defense has struggled to get off the field all season, allowing a third-down conversion rate of 51% and failing to create negative plays (only six sacks, and not enough turnovers).  The Bulldogs have only 24 tackles for loss so far this year; opponents have 43.

The Citadel desperately needs to get Andre Roberts more involved, and in a position to make big plays.  After all, he is the Bulldogs’ best player.  He did catch 9 passes against Western Carolina (for 78 yards and a TD), but in three conference games Roberts has only 16 catches for 138 total yards and that one TD.

Roberts lit it up against Presbyterian (12 catches, 184 yards, four touchdowns), but I can guarantee you Furman isn’t going to defend him like the Blue Hose did.  Just the opposite, probably.  The Paladins are well aware of how dangerous he can be; in three career games against Furman, Roberts has 28 receptions for 342 yards.

To have a chance of winning on Saturday, The Citadel needs more of the same from Roberts.  Whether the offense is capable of giving him that opportunity is open to question.

Furman’s defense, like The Citadel’s, has struggled on third downs; like the Bulldogs, the Paladins are allowing a 51% conversion rate.  Both defenses are allowing an average of right around 400 total yards per game.  Furman only has five sacks all season (but on offense, the Paladins have allowed just four).

It would seem that The Citadel might be able to move the ball on the Paladins, given those numbers.  However, with uncertainty at quarterback, a lack of a consistent ground game, and the absence of a secondary receiving threat, the Bulldogs may not be able to take advantage of that opportunity.  It’s hard to imagine the team that could only put up 10 points against Western Carolina doing much damage offensively against Furman (which defeated the Catamounts in Cullowhee 33-14).

The revolving door at running back has undoubtably resulted in some of the problems the Bulldogs have had running the ball, but the o-line hasn’t held up its end of the bargain either.  The failure of the offensive line to control the line of scrimmage in most of the games played thus far is arguably the most disappointing part of the team’s play to date.

One of the things that will be interesting to follow over the next three weeks is the attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The last two weeks have not exactly been helpful in terms of generating interest in the team.

Going back to last season, attendance for the Parents’ Day game against Elon was 12,582.  That was very disappointing for a Parents’ Day weekend crowd, even with the weather not being ideal.

Looking at various factors that could affect attendance on Saturday, there is a 30% chance of rain in Charleston by gametime.  Also, Clemson plays on TV at 3:30 pm ET (at Miami), and South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt (also on TV) at night.  Other than that, though, the college football slate on TV is not particularly compelling (and neither of those games is a must-see).

The last time the Bulldogs hosted Furman, it was also Parents’ Day, and 16,272 people showed up to watch one of the wilder games (if not the wildest) in the history of the series.  However, that was a winning Bulldog team playing on a day featuring good weather.

So, which direction will Saturday’s game take, attendance-wise?  I could make a pretty good guess.  What’s more, it’s the first of three consecutive football weekends at Johnson Hagood, and if the Bulldogs don’t make a good account of themselves against the Paladins, that is likely to be reflected in how many people show up to watch the Samford and Wofford games (with the latter being Homecoming).

I’ve written before about attendance, but the biggest factor when it comes to getting people to enter the stadium (as opposed to either not making the trip or just tailgating, which is another subject entirely) is winning.  The Citadel isn’t winning games right now, and attendance is likely to suffer as a result.

Bart Blanchard may or may not play against Furman, and Miguel Starks is not 100% healthy either.  Starks is likely to see much, if not all, of the playing time at quarterback, but if both Blanchard and Starks are unable to play, The Citadel’s quarterback will be 5’11”, 185 lb. Tommy Edwards, a freshman walkon from Los Angeles.

Edwards went to Ulysses S. Grant High School (hey, at least he didn’t go to William T. Sherman High School).  Notable alums of Grant High include Tom Selleck, Mickey Dolenz, Mitch Gaylord, Gilbert “Agent Zero” Arenas, three members of the pop/rock group Toto, TV theme kingpin Mike Post, and the late Rod Beck.  Apparently there haven’t been any notable football players to have come from Grant High, though, so Edwards has a chance to break new ground in that respect.

No offense to Edwards, but I really hope he’s not a featured player on Saturday.

The Citadel can beat Furman on Saturday, although the last two weeks haven’t inspired confidence in that possibility coming to pass.  The Paladins are a good team, but not without flaws.  The Citadel’s game against Appalachian State showed what the team is capable of doing on a given day, and after two lost weekends in North Carolina, playing at home will surely be beneficial to the Bulldogs.

It’s going to be a big test for the coaching staff.  Kevin Higgins and company have something to prove, too.

The team has to be ready to play from the opening kickoff.  I feel kind of dumb just writing that, but then again, I felt kind of dumb watching the Elon game.  If the Bulldogs’ energy isn’t there from the very start, it’s going to be a very long day for The Citadel.

The playcalling has to get better.  If Blanchard and Starks both play, the coaches can’t telegraph whether the play is a run or pass just by virtue of who is taking the snap from center.  Starks, in particular, has to throw the ball down the field, and he’s got to look for Roberts.

The coaches must find a way for the defense to stop the Paladins on third down (after making sure there is a third down in the first place).  Turnovers, tackles for loss, etc. are musts, not just for the yardage/field position, but to pump up the entire team, along with the crowd.

Of course, an unexpected win by the Bulldogs would really pump up the crowd…

Following up a debacle with a disaster

The Citadel lost to Western Carolina last Saturday, a horrific, potentially season-tanking loss if there ever was one.  I was trying to think of the last time the Bulldogs played a game like that, and then realized it had happened just last season…only The Citadel actually managed to win that contest.

Last year for Homecoming the Bulldogs entertained a UT-Chattanooga squad with a 1-9 record and a lame-duck coach.  The Mocs seemed a good bet to mail it in, but The Citadel was unable to hold onto a 14-0 lead and with less than two minutes remaining trailed UTC 21-17.  That’s when Andre Roberts returned a punt 43 yards for a touchdown to win the game.

In Saturday’s contest, Western Carolina lined up to punt with less than two minutes to play.  Roberts was ready for another potential game-winning return, but alas, the canny Catamount punter avoided punting to Roberts by kicking the ball off one of his own players, an upback trying to block for him.

Sure, that meant The Citadel got possession of the ball at the WCU 34-yard-line, but the way things were going the Bulldogs might have had a better chance of scoring a TD on special teams than on offense.  As it happened, The Citadel managed to drive to the Catamount 15 but no further.

Losing to teams you are supposed to beat is a problem, not least because for The Citadel, there aren’t too many of those types of teams on the schedule, especially in conference play.  The Bulldogs have to be ready to play 60 minutes of solid football against any opponent, because The Citadel doesn’t have the talent level to just cruise past an overmatched team.

As a former coach of The Citadel once said, “”We can lose to anybody.”  Of course, he said that after one of his (and the school’s) greatest victories, in any sport, and it was a reference to playing “loose” and without fear.  Sometimes I wonder if in games like on Saturday, or UT-Chattanooga last season, or Charleston Southern in 2006, the team plays not to lose instead of playing to win.

So in the last two weeks, The Citadel has played two of its worst games in the Kevin Higgins era.  Higgins was unable to attend Monday’s press luncheon, as he was attending the funeral for Bulldog DB Rod Harland’s father.  He was replaced for the day by defensive coordinator Isaac Collins and offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini.

I read Jeff Hartsell’s notes from the luncheon and listened to parts of it made available on The Citadel Sports Network.  Both Collins and Cecchini tried to explain why the Bulldogs were struggling, and each made some good points.  I have to take issue with one comment made by Collins, though:

I think Elon was unfortunate, we fell behind early. But as I tell people, for a long time, that game was 23-0. So it wasn’t out of hand until later on in the fourth quarter.

Well, the game wasn’t really 23-0 “for a long time”.  Elon kicked a field goal (after a drive that lasted more than eight minutes) to take a 23-0 lead in the second quarter.

After The Citadel went three-and-out (again), the Phoenix drove down the field again, taking almost six minutes off the clock, and eventually kicked another field goal near the end of the half.  Elon led 26-0 at intermission.  The Phoenix then scored on its opening drive of the third quarter.  In terms of game time, Elon led 23-0 for about eight minutes.

Collins probably just got the score wrong when he was talking, which is understandable, but the real issue is that it doesn’t matter if it was 23-0 or 29-0 when the Bulldogs finally forced a punt.  It’s way, way too late at that point; the game is (and was) essentially over.  I realize he was trying to look at positives for his defense, but to me there were no positives in the Elon game.  None.

There weren’t any positives against Western Carolina, either.

Up next is Furman, on a Parents’ Day Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  I’ll write about that game in another post.

College Football TV Listings, Week 8

This list actually includes every game involving an FBS or FCS school, whether a game is televised or not.  For the TV games, I also list the broadcast announcers and sideline reporters.  There are always a few games where gathering information on game announcers can be difficult.  I usually get all the information on the announcing teams by the time the weekend rolls around, however.

As I’ve done in previous weeks, I’m using Google Documents in an effort to make the listings more accessible.

College Football TV Listings, Week 8

Additional notes:

ABC/ESPN 3:30 pm ET and 8:00 pm ET coverage maps:  Link

  • ERT-SEC (SEC Network) coverage of Arkansas-Mississippi can be seen on CSN-California, MSG, FSN-Detroit+, Comcast Network, ESPN GamePlan, and local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • Raycom affiliates for Georgia Tech-Virginia are listed here:  Link
  • ERT-BE (Big East Network) coverage of South Florida-Pittsburgh can be seen on SNY, MASN, CST, Altitude, ESPN GamePlan, and local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • ERT-WAC (WAC regional syndication) coverage of Louisiana Tech-Utah State can be seen on ESPN GamePlan and local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • Southland TV coverage of Southeastern Louisiana-McNeese State can be seen on local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • Idaho-Nevada will be televised on ESPN GamePlan and the Go Vandals Network, with local affiliates listed here:  Link
  • UCLA-Arizona will be televised on FCS-Pacific, FSN-Northwest, FSN-Arizona, and PrimeTicket.
  • ULM-Kentucky will be part of the ESPN GamePlan package and will be televised on FSN-Florida, FSN-Wisconsin, FSN-Southwest, FSN-Rocky Mountain, and Sun Sports.
  • Maryland-Duke is the lone “ESPN360 only” game this week.

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s great website (College Sports on TV) and the folks over at the 506.com; there are links to both sites to the right of this page, in the “TSA  Checkpoints” section.

Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

Like a lot of other college football fans, I’ve been following the current situation with Bobby Bowden and Florida State with some interest, wondering how it will end.  At this point, it does not look like it will end well, because it’s obvious that A) Bowden clearly does not want to retire, and B) FSU higher-ups desperately want him to do so. 

Bowden is Florida State football, at least as we know it today.  How do you cast off a legend?  It’s not easy.  It’s something Western Carolina had to do 20 years ago, though, under circumstances much more tragic.

Bob Waters was a star quarterback at Presbyterian in the late 1950s who wound up playing for five years for the San Francisco 49ers.  He started several games at quarterback in 1961 in Red Hickey’s then-novel “shotgun” offense. 

After three years as a college assistant coach (at PC and Stanford), Waters would become the head coach at Western Carolina in 1969.  In 20 seasons in Cullowhee, he would not only become the Catamounts’ winningest coach, he would win more games than all his predecessors did combined.  Waters is the only coach in the history of the program to finish his career at the school with a winning record.

Western Carolina would make the Division II playoffs in 1974, a prelude to joining the Southern Conference (and Division I) in 1976.  Waters was a key part of the move up the NCAA ladder, as he by this time was also director of athletics at WCU.  In 1983 Waters and the Catamounts would win 11 games and go all the way to the I-AA championship game (played at Johnson Hagood Stadium!), losing in the final to Southern Illinois. 

Then in 1985, Waters was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  He would lead the Catamounts to a 4-6-1 record that year; the following season WCU would go 6-5.  

In April of 1987 he would be profiled in Sports Illustrated.  The piece noted that Waters was one of three players from the 1965 49ers squad to suffer from ALS, a coincidence (or perhaps not a coincidence) that drew considerable scrutiny. 

In 1987, the Catamounts would slip to 4-7, and then in 1988 WCU would lose its last five games and finish 2-9, the worst season of Waters’ career.  It would also be the last season of his career.

During spring practice in 1989, Waters was “reassigned” by Western Carolina administrators, a decision made more difficult because Waters had wanted one more year.  He didn’t get it.  Waters died in late May of that year.

That had to have been a very trying time for the WCU administration, which was faced with trying to decide how best to ease the best coach it ever had out of the position he had held for so long.  Waters had made WCU football a success, but it appeared that success was drifting away as Waters’ body continued to fail him.  He wouldn’t quit, so he was removed.

Then the folks at WCU made a mistake, bringing in an “outsider”, Dale Strahm, to coach the team.  Strahm was in Cullowhee for one year, and then decided to get out of town following a 3-7-1 season.  Four coaches have followed, none establishing any pattern of success. 

Steve Hodgin, who had been an assistant at the school for seven years prior to becoming head coach, did have a respectable run, with three straight winning seasons in the mid-1990s, but after a 1-7 SoCon record in 1996, he was done.  Bill Bleil was actually 7-4 in his fifth season in Cullowhee, but was then fired after a series of off-the-field problems. Kent Briggs spent six seasons at WCU; he would finish his career at the school with 15 consecutive conference losses.

The current coach of the Catamounts is Dennis Wagner.  WCU was 3-9 in his first season; this year, the Catamounts are 0-5 entering Saturday afternoon’s contest.

Western Carolina is 79-135 since the reassignment of Bob Waters.  Replacing a legend is not easy.

It’s also not easy to win while dealing with budget restraints, a historic problem at Western Carolina.  WCU’s budget for athletics is the league’s smallest (just under $8.5 million in FY2008).  Western Carolina has fewer athletic donors than any school in the league save UT-Chattanooga (The Citadel has more than seven times as many boosters as does WCU). 

The school is situated in a population area that is one of the league’s smallest (Elon, by comparison, has a population base surrounding it three times as large), which perhaps partly explains the less-than-stellar home attendance (less than 7,000 per game last season).  Western Carolina also does not have a large local corporate presence from which to solicit donations, and the general population is not particularly affluent (average household income:  just over $34,000).    

It’s a tough sell.

Tangent:  Appalachian State and Western Carolina are rivals, or at least are supposed to be rivals.  The two schools have met on the gridiron 73 times, which means they’ve met almost every year WCU has had a football program.  App State leads the series, 54-18-1.  It has to be tough when your biggest game of the year is against a team that has beaten you 75% of the time.  The Mountaineers have won 22 of the last 24 meetings.

Western Carolina’s cumulative statistics in the current campaign are not pretty, which is not surprising for an 0-5 team.  Opponents are outscoring the Catamounts 30 to 8; have more than twice as many first downs; have intercepted WCU passers seven times (with the Catamounts yet to pick off a pass on defense); and are averaging almost twice as many yards of total offense.

In five games, Western has a total of 3 first-half points.  WCU has scored 4 touchdowns in those five games.

In short, this is a game The Citadel should win.  Of course, that was the feeling before the 43-7 embarassment at Elon.  Now, will doubt creep in?  Kevin Higgins has to convince his team it isn’t as bad as last week’s game and prepare them to fight a desperate team which needs a victory just as badly (if not more so) as do the Bulldogs.  Other potential x-factors:  Whitmire Stadium’s playing surface is artificial turf, and the game is WCU’s Homecoming. 

The Citadel has defeated Western Carolina five times in a row, and historically has had more success against the Catamounts than any other Southern Conference school (19-13-1).  I am hopeful that both of those trends will continue on Saturday.  However, if they don’t, The Citadel may be in for a very long season.