Review: Elon

Elon 27, The Citadel 16.

Good news: there were signs of life from the offense, and an absence of navy pants.

Bad news:  it was still a loss, and there is still no “The” on the jerseys, regardless of color

Obviously the offensive unit performed much better on Saturday than in its previous four games; the 16 points were in fact the most scored by The Citadel in league play all season.  There were no turnovers (!) and Ben Dupree was able to execute the offense well enough so that the Bulldogs actually got in a position to pitch the ball on multiple occasions.  The Citadel only punted once.

Dupree played the entire game, made some good reads and showed an ability to improvise.  The star-crossed Ricky Anderson probably had his best game as a Bulldog.  Terrell Dallas demonstrated a couple of times what we already knew, namely that he’s almost an ideal fullback for the triple option offense.

You will excuse me, however, if I point out some things on offense that weren’t so great (besides the loss):

— The Bulldogs did not turn the ball over, but did fumble three times and had several other instances of a less-than-clean center-QB exchange, which generally resulted in lost-yardage or no-yardage plays.  This area of execution did get better, but there is still quite a bit of improvement that needs to be made.

— Dupree didn’t make every read correctly, which showed in some plays that were “stuffed”, both on the inside and on the outside.

— The Bulldogs entered the “red zone” five times on Saturday, but only scored 16 points.  Elon’s red zone success vs. that of The Citadel was the difference in the game (more on that later).

— Luke Caldwell’s 26-yard pass reception in the third quarter (on a 4th-and-8 play that set up The Citadel’s first touchdown) was the only play the Bulldogs offense had that gained more than eighteen yards.  The Citadel now has only nine plays of 20+ yards in its last seven contests.

— When evaluating the offense’s play, another thing to take into consideration is that Elon is not the greatest of defensive teams.  The Phoenix are next-to-last in the Southern Conference in total defense and rushing defense, and third-from-last in scoring defense and pass defense.  Elon lacks a truly disruptive playmaker on the defensive line like Georgia Southern’s Brent Russell or Wofford’s Ameet Pall — and the Phoenix’s best lineman, Brandon Ward, did not play against The Citadel after being arrested on an assault charge earlier in the week.

All that said, it was an encouraging performance by the offense.  I admit I was worried that the Homecoming crowd would be subjected to some brutal moments of ineptitude, but for the most part those were avoided.  I wish this was the kind of game we had been getting from the offensive unit in early October rather than early November, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Unfortunately, after two straight weeks of solid play while getting no help from the offense, the Bulldog defense didn’t quite get it done on Saturday.  The Citadel seemed to have caught a break when Phoenix starting quarterback Scott Riddle got injured at Chattanooga, but Elon backup QB Thomas Wilson made no big mistakes and methodically led his team down the field, particularly in the second half.

What the Bulldog D couldn’t do, ultimately, was get off the field, especially in the second half.  Elon scored touchdowns on all three of its second-half drives (not counting a one-play drive that was a kneeldown to end the game).  The Phoenix consistently converted on third down (9-13 for the game) and did not commit a turnover.  Indeed, the two offenses had similar numbers; besides the lack of turnovers, there were very few big plays (Elon had two 20+ yard plays to The Citadel’s one).

The difference was how the two teams did in the red zone.  Elon moved inside The Citadel’s 20-yard line on four occasions, and scored touchdowns all four times.  That has proven to be the defense’s biggest problem this season, as the Bulldogs are last in the SoCon in red zone defense, having allowed 29 touchdowns in 41 red-zone possessions.

The Citadel got some stops in the second quarter, but other than that Elon efficiently picked up chain-moving yardage on almost every play (The Citadel only had four tackles for loss in the game), converted on third down when necessary and scored when it got its opportunities.  The few times Elon faced third-and-long, it managed to pick up the first down via the pass (including critical 19- and 14-yard third down completions late in the third quarter after The Citadel had retaken the lead).

While there were no offensive big plays, The Citadel did get an 87-yard kickoff return from Keith Gamble to set up its second TD.  Earlier in the game, the Bulldogs also converted a fourth down via a fake field goal that probably would have resulted in a touchdown if it had been a little more smoothly executed.  Alas, that first down led to a shorter field goal attempt that was blocked.

Okay, time to talk about the uniforms…

Link

I was afraid of a potential red jersey/navy pants combo, but thankfully that did not come to pass.  As for the actual jersey and helmet:

— As mentioned earlier, no “THE”; that would have been too difficult, I guess

— I liked the “Big Red” crescent/tree logo on the shoulders; very distinctive

— The color itself wasn’t overly obnoxious (in other words, it wasn’t an “electric” red)

— I don’t like the “side panels”, which are a Nike staple, and they look even worse with this combo

— The numerals were hard to read, which is also true of the navy jerseys

— I think the navy stripes on the helmet should have been red

— The helmet logo should have featured original artwork; as it is, it’s just a redo of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ mark

I didn’t have a problem with breaking out the red jerseys for this game.  The original Big Red, of course, arrived on campus in March; its disappearance and rediscovery is an interesting tale.  Wearing red jerseys for the Homecoming following that development seemed reasonably appropriate (and a good way to push merchandise).

I’m not sure I would want to see them again, however.  I certainly don’t want the football team wearing red jerseys to become a yearly event.  I think doing that would make it much less special, and also detract from the school’s traditional colors for its sports teams.

Of course, it could be argued that the parade of different football uniform color combinations this season has already devalued the tradition of wearing light blue and white. In ten games, the Bulldogs have worn six different jersey/pant color combos, including four different looks for the six home games.

In fact, I think the fact The Citadel did not have a standard uniform combination this season made the red jerseys seem a little less unusual.  Let’s face it, if the Bulldogs had lined up wearing silver or black, nobody would have been all that shocked, so the red jersey wasn’t that much of a departure.

Now The Citadel gets a bye week.  As bye weeks go, this one can’t be more pointless. Ten straight games, then a bye week, then a road game at Samford to finish the season.  I realize this is mostly due to the odd number of teams in the Southern Conference (nine), but it still seems dumb.

I feel a little better about the team after Saturday’s game, but the Bulldogs are still 2-8, with a seven-game losing streak, and winless in the SoCon.  It’s a transition year, to be sure, but I would like to start transitioning to victories.

Later in the week (I hope) I’m going to write about Kevin Higgins’ tenure at The Citadel and the status of the program as a whole.

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