Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

It has been a disappointing season for The Citadel, but it is likely that it has been an even more disappointing campaign for Georgia Southern.  The Eagles, like the Bulldogs, are 4-6, and losing seasons are definitely not the norm in Statesboro.

It will be only the third losing season for the Eagles since Erk Russell restarted the football program in 1982.  In 1996 Frank Ellwood went 4-7 in his only season in charge; Ellwood was a transitional coach following the firing of Tim Stowers.  In 2006, Brian VanGorder blew into town and left after one year, leaving with a 3-8 record.  He was replaced by the current coach, Chris Hatcher.

Hatcher had been very successful at Division II Valdosta State (winning a national title in 2004) but has not managed to lift GSU to its accustomed heights, with season records of 7-4, 6-5, and this year’s 4-6 to date.  When Ellwood completed his one season as head man in Statesboro, he was replaced by Paul Johnson, who proceeded to win 37 games and a national title over his first three years in command.  (Johnson won another I-AA crown in his fourth season, as well.)

Hatcher’s 17 wins pale in comparison, even when given the benefit of the doubt for having to pick up the pieces left by the hurricane that was VanGorder.  Stowers won 26 games in his first three seasons as the head coach; Mike Sewak won 27 in his first three years.  Even Erk Russell, starting from scratch in 1982, won 21 games over his first three seasons.  Small wonder there is some question about Hatcher’s job security.

After all, this is a school that has considered a move to FBS.  Struggling in the SoCon is not a good recipe for making a move up the football ladder.

The Eagles are 3-4 in the SoCon, having lost last week at home to Furman 30-22.  The Paladins jumped out to a 24-0 lead in that game and held on for the victory.  It was the third straight loss for GSU; the other two losses were a 52-16 beatdown at Appalachian State and a 31-10 loss at Samford.

GSU fans aren’t used to losing games by 30+ points, but it’s happened three times this season:  once to North Carolina (no shame in that), the aforementioned game against ASU and a 44-6 wipeout at South Dakota State earlier this season.  The Jackrabbits are ranked #21 in the FCS, but that is no consolation to Eagle fans.

Like The Citadel, Georgia Southern has allowed 28 points or more in 6 games this year.  In league play, the Eagles have struggled on pass defense, allowed 7.9 yards per pass attempt, worst in the conference, and 12 touchdowns, tied for worst with…The Citadel.

GSU’s rush defense is statistically better, although part of that is due to teams rushing fewer times against the Eagles than any other squad in the league.  The Eagles have done a good job forcing turnovers, which is why GSU is +2 in turnover margin (because the GSU offense has given the ball away quite a bit itself).

Georgia Southern likes to blitz, which can lead to big plays both ways.  Samford, nobody’s idea of a big-play team, had touchdown passes of 69 and 57 yards in its victory over the Eagles.   The Citadel will have opportunities to get its receivers in one-on-one situations.

The receiver the Bulldogs would most like to see in a one-on-one matchup, of course, is Andre Roberts.  It’s his last game for the Bulldogs; maybe he’ll have a chance to cap a memorable career in grand style.

On offense the Eagles are near the bottom in most categories in conference play, ranking seventh (out of nine teams) in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, pass efficiency, and third-down conversions.  Georgia Southern has, however, been efficient in the red zone.  The Eagles are also first in the league in time of possession.

The biggest problem GSU has had, statistically, is allowing sacks — 30 in league play, the most allowed by a conference team.  The Citadel needs to continue the trend of opponents putting GSU quarterbacks on the ground if the Bulldogs plan on winning this game.

Georgia Southern has committed more penalties than all but one team in league play.  However, The Citadel has had fewer penalties called against its opponents than any other school in the conference.  Something’s gotta give…

Lee Chapple started the first nine games at quarterback for the Eagles, but last week was replaced as the starter by Kyle Collins.  Chapple will probably start against The Citadel.  He has thrown 7 touchdowns this season, but has been intercepted 14 times.  GSU running back Adam Urbano is only averaging 63.3 yards per game on the ground in league play, but he’s a definite receiving threat, having caught 45 passes this season, which leads the Eagles.

This game will not be Homecoming at Paulson Stadium — that was last week, against Furman.  However, there will probably still be a good crowd urging GSU (including 16 Eagle seniors) on to victory.  The Citadel has historically not fared well in Statesboro, with only one victory (in 2003) in ten trips to Paulson.

However, perhaps Saturday will be different.  After all, it will be November 21, and strange and wondrous things have been known to happen on that date, most notably on November 21, 1978.

That day, The Citadel trailed Furman 18-0, but scored 35 unanswered points to defeat the Paladins 35-18.  The coach of the Bulldogs that day was Art Baker, and it was the first (and only) time Baker ever won a game in The Citadel-Furman series.  He had been 0-8 until then, losing games as head coach of both Furman and The Citadel.

He would also lose the next season, in his final game as a head coach in the series, but on November 21 he was golden.  Maybe that’s a good sign for the Bulldogs on Saturday against GSU.

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