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.

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