Review: Samford

The Citadel 13, Samford 12.

Victory!

It wasn’t a dominating performance, to say the least, but a win is a win, especially after losing seven straight games.  Almost all the numbers favored Samford except the ones on the scoreboard that actually count.

That’s why I wouldn’t put this game down as a triumph for The Citadel’s triple option offense.  In truth, Samford’s defense did a good job handling the option attack, much as it had in games against Georgia Southern and Wofford.  The Citadel was held to 119 yards rushing, and just 203 total yards.

Samford outgained The Citadel by more than two to one, had almost twice as many first downs, and did not turn the ball over.  Neither team fared well on third down (The Citadel converted just one of eleven third-down opportunities).

The Citadel won the game thanks to winning the special teams battle (courtesy of a blocked punt by Milford Scott, who you knew was going to get one eventually), and by outstanding red zone defense.  Going into the game, The Citadel’s opponents were scoring touchdowns 71% of the time when in the red zone, but in this game Samford did not get a TD, as The Citadel’s defense held the Birmingham Bulldogs to just three field goals on four trips inside the 20.

Even with the great defense and Scott’s big play, The Citadel still trailed late in the game when Kevin Higgins called for some “trickeration”.  The circle of the season was completed when Luke Caldwell, who served as quarterback for the spring game before moving back to receiver, threw a pass to Rickey Anderson for 55 yards.  Both players deserved that moment.

One play later, Ben Dupree was in the end zone, and after some anxious moments late, the Cadets had their much-needed win.

This was the last game of a trying season, one with very little to cheer about, and that makes it all the more impressive that the team was focused and motivated on Saturday.  Now, I’m on record as stating that the team should always be ready to play — after all, there are only eleven games in a season — but it would be understandable if the concentration level had not been particularly high for an end-of-season road game against a largely faceless opponent, following a bye week, and leading to the Thanksgiving break.

Instead, the defense held on and did not break, despite allowing Samford to march down the field on multiple occasions, and forced the home side to settle for those field goals.  The offense struggled, but did not give the game away, and grabbed the win when presented with the chance.

To the surprise of almost nobody, Larry Leckonby confirmed on Monday that Kevin Higgins would be back.  I am fine with this, having outlined my reasons in a prior post.

“I don’t think I would say I was satisfied (with the season),” said Leckonby, who was hired in June 2008, after The Citadel had agreed to a five-year extension for Higgins. “I had hoped the outcome would have been a little better in terms of wins and losses, and some of our performances were marred by multiple turnovers.

“I would not say I was satisfied, but I think we did improve from start to finish with the triple option, and that we’ve got a base to build on for next year.”

Leckonby’s statement that he thought the team “did improve from start to finish with the triple option” is debatable.  The lack of turnovers in the final two games (just one in those two contests) was the biggest improvement in the offense.  However, the point production and total yardage really was not much different than from the Bulldogs’ first two league games.  Of course, after the nightmarish game against Georgia Southern, anything would be an improvement.

That isn’t to say that the second season of Triple O’Higgins won’t be a smashing success.  It’s just that there aren’t any obvious markers from this year that would lead one to conclude that a breakthrough is coming.

I hope it happens, of course.  For Higgins’ sake, it needs to happen, because next year it will be now or never.  It won’t be easy, either.

The non-league slate is tougher, with Jacksonville and VMI coming to Johnson Hagood Stadium and the Bulldogs making the trip up I-26 to face the Gamecocks. There are no Chowans in that group (and I suspect that Jacksonville will be much better than some fans of The Citadel might anticipate).  The SoCon will be tough, like it always is.

Of course, it’s never easy at The Citadel.  That’s why it is important to be patient. Patience is a virtue.

Winning is a better virtue.

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