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…

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