Review: Chattanooga

Chattanooga 28, The Citadel 10.

Kevin Higgins quote #1:

“The coaches talked all week about challenging our players to come out and play with more intensity than the past week, and as we watched the game and evaluated everything, they did just that.”

Kevin Higgins quote #2:

“They got off to a 14-0 start, which put us in a hole.”

No, he didn’t say those two things one right after the other (although they are the first two quotes you see when you click on the press conference notes page on the school’s athletics website).  He might as well have, however.  It’s testimony to the fact that intensity only goes so far.  Besides, the other team is likely to bring some intensity of its own to the table.

It would have been nice if the Bulldogs had decided to “play with more intensity” against Western Carolina.  Perhaps if that had been the case, The Citadel would have beaten the Catamounts.  However, Chattanooga is a better team than WCU, and it showed on Saturday.  In its second year under Russ Huesman, UTC has already passed The Citadel as a football program, something that will surely frustrate Bulldog fans already antsy about Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of the Bulldogs.

I’m not one of those fans, but I’ll say this.  I don’t want to hear any more discussion about a Bulldog team being flat, or not being intense enough — whatever you want to call it — for a football game.  There are only eleven football games on the schedule. How hard can it be for the team to mentally prepare and focus for each and every one?

I realize that to a certain extent I’m still harping on the loss to the Catamounts while writing a review about the Chattanooga game, but I make no apologies.  It was an embarrassing loss, and deserves to be acknowledged as such, repeatedly if necessary.

Kevin Higgins can’t do anything about Southern Conference officiating, however.  For the second time in three years, a Parents’ Day game at Johnson Hagood Stadium featured less-than-stellar work from the men in stripes.  It wasn’t quite as bad as the Elon game two years ago (that was a very special episode of SoCon officiating ineptitude, although I don’t think Mayim Bialik was involved), but it was poor nonetheless.

Most of the trouble on Saturday had to do with spotting the ball.  I’m including in that category the missed call on UTC’s first touchdown, which was clearly a fumble that occurred before the ball crossed the goal line.  There were other issues (notably a mystery pass interference call that kept a drive alive for the Mocs), but mainly it was the spotting.

One of the neat things about Parents’ Day is that a larger number of folks than normal are seeing a football game at The Citadel for the first time.  I shudder to think what goes through the minds of people experiencing their first taste of SoCon officiating.

I know that over time things are supposed to even out, but somehow I’ve missed seeing a lot of the makeup calls…in all sports.  For example, if you peruse the league statistics for women’s soccer (through Sunday’s play), you will find that only two players have been red-carded in league matches so far this season.  Just two.

Yes, both from The Citadel.  I guess we have a bunch of Nigel de Jong wannabes on our squad.

(Of course, if they were really de Jong wannabes they wouldn’t have been sent off, as his special brand of violence seems immune from on-field censure.)

Tangent:  The women’s soccer team at The Citadel is 4-2 in the SoCon despite seeing red on occasion, and looks well-positioned to make the league tourney for the first time in school history.  That would be a tremendous accomplishment for Bob Winch and the program.  I’m hoping the team is a little greedy, though; a top-4 finish would give the Bulldogs a first-round home game at WLI Field.  At this point, it’s within reach.

I’m going to be traveling over the next couple of weeks.  I may have to make a post about that team when I get back, if I have time.

Okay, back to (American) football.

I want to emphasize the officiating didn’t cost The Citadel the game against Chattanooga.  No, the Bulldogs just weren’t good enough on Saturday.  The headline for Jeff Hartsell’s game story referred to “missed opportunities”.  I think that’s about right.

Small things hurt the Bulldogs.  A snap infraction on the Chattanooga 1-yard line.  An overthrown pass on a trick play that was going to go for a TD.  A receiver not quite strong enough to hold off a defender in the end zone, turning a potential TD into an interception.  Giving up first downs on third-and-six (or more) three times during the game’s decisive drive.  (UTC was 6-for-10 on third-down conversions.)

The Citadel was unable to create a big play on offense, other than punter Cass Couey’s 33-yard run for a first down (an outstanding call, perfectly executed).  UTC basically sat back on defense, counting on the young offense not being able to sustain a drive with a succession of positive plays.  It was a sound strategy, and it worked. Chattanooga’s D only broke down twice, on Couey’s run (which set up the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown) and on the receiver pass that could have been a a TD.

The Mocs rushed for 222 yards on 41 carries.  I was disappointed that the Bulldog defense allowed that many rush yards.  It wasn’t a terrible effort overall by the D, certainly not as frustrating as the week before, but it wasn’t anything special, either. On the fourth-quarter drive that iced the game, The Citadel needed a big play from someone on its defense.  It never got it (although the aforementioned PI call might have made a difference).

Incidentally, I suspect Chattanooga’s biggest problem in its quest for a playoff bid is going to be its special teams.  Against the upper-echelon teams in the league, I’m not sure UTC is dynamic enough to overcome some of the issues it has in that area. That said, Huesman clearly has his program moving forward.

I’m going to try to put a small preview of the Appalachian State game together over the next couple of days.  The next week or so will see a sharp drop in word count.  Of course, that may be a good thing…

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