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.

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