2011 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10.  The game will be televised on WYMA (Asheville, NC), and will be available on ESPN3.com.  There will also be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a game against traditional rival Furman.  It’s only the third time the two schools have ever met in a league opener, but it’s the second consecutive season that has been the case.

I’m not going to rehash the history of the series in terms of the time of year the game has been held; anyone interested can read what I wrote on the subject for last year’s game preview.  Regardless of whether you think the game should be a midseason clash (my preference) or played at the end of the year (a not-insignificant number of fans from both schools), I think everyone can agree that September 10 is too early for this game to be played.

Jeff Hartsell has reported that, per the SoCon office, next year’s meeting will come at the end of the 2012 season, on November 17.  (The conference does not make league schedules beyond one year in advance.)

I’m okay with that, as long as the Clemson-South Carolina game continues to be played the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as is now the case.  I just don’t want The Citadel and Furman to play on the same day as the matchup between the Tigers and Gamecocks.

Furman was 5-6 last season, its first losing campaign since 1998.  Bobby Lamb resigned after nine years in charge and over a quarter-century at the school as a player or coach.  The Paladins had missed the FCS playoffs for four consecutive seasons, which did not go over well among some supporters.  It was time for Furman to make a change.

The question, though, is did Furman really make a change?

The new coach is Bruce Fowler.  Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman who played for Dick Sheridan.  Lamb was a 1986 graduate of FU who had played for Sheridan. Fowler spent 18 years at Furman as an assistant coach.  Lamb had been an assistant coach at Furman for 16 seasons.

One difference is that Fowler wasn’t a complete Furman lifer like Lamb had been.  For the past nine years, he had been an assistant at Vanderbilt, where he was defensive coordinator for Bobby Johnson (and Robbie Caldwell in 2010).  Of course, Johnson had been the head coach at Furman before taking the Vandy job, and before that he had been an assistant under Dick Sheridan.

You may have noticed a pattern here.  Dick Sheridan left Furman after the 1985 season to take over at N.C. State, but his presence is still felt in the program.  All four of the men who have held the head coaching position since Sheridan left (including Fowler) were players and/or assistants under him.

If you were going to have your football program maintain what is in effect a 25-year tie to a former coach, you could do much worse than Sheridan, who did nothing but win throughout his coaching career (even as a 28-year-old rookie head coach at an Orangeburg high school).  It’s a type of continuity that may be worth preserving.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that Furman risks going to the well once too often.  Fowler isn’t exactly a carbon copy of Lamb, though — for one thing, he’s 52 years old, 13 years older than Lamb was when Lamb got the job.  Also, he’s primarily a defensive coach (though he was the receivers coach at FU for seven seasons).  Lamb was mostly an offensive coach (and a former quarterback) during his time with the Paladins.

Usually when a school is in a position to make a coaching change after a run of disappointing seasons, it brings in somebody to shake things up.  That’s certainly not what Furman has done.  Besides Fowler, three of the assistant coaches played for Sheridan; another has been a Paladins assistant for 13 years.

Before I move on to the Paladins of 2011, I should note that Art Baker, who preceded Sheridan as head coach at Furman (eventually leaving to take the job at The Citadel), hired Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, and Bobby Johnson as assistant coaches, all of whom would later ascend to the top job at FU.  Baker had a significant impact on Furman’s coaching tree.

Furman lost 30-23 at Coastal Carolina in its opener.  The Paladins never led the contest.  The game had been tied at 16 and 23 before the Chanticleers scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Coastal Carolina gained 231 yards rushing and 195 yards passing against the Furman defense, but perhaps more interesting was that the Chanticleers had 59 rushing attempts for the game.  CCU ran 81 offensive plays from scrimmage for the game, while the Paladins had just 58.

As Bruce Fowler noted in the SoCon teleconference, Furman had trouble getting its defense off the field.  Coastal was 7-16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts and made its only 4th-down try, a major reason the Paladins trailed by over 12 minutes in time of possession.  That continued a trend from last season, when Furman finished last in the SoCon in time of possession.

The Paladins do have two impact players on defense, middle linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed, both of whom are on the Buck Buchanan Watch List.  Another linebacker, Chris Wiley, had fourteen tackles against Coastal Carolina.  Furman defensive end Josh Lynn is tall (6’5″) and rangy, and may be a key factor in how the Bulldogs’ triple action attack fares on Saturday.  Against Coastal, he had five tackles and a sack.

Furman’s starting quarterback against Coastal Carolina was Chris Forcier, of the Forcier Family of Quarterbacks.  I think it’s fair to say that the Forciers are, as a group, somewhat controversial.  I guess it’s a question of style.  When Chris Forcier decided to transfer from UCLA to Furman, the family issued a press release that wound up being posted on Deadspin.

His brother Tate is a former Michigan quarterback who has now transferred to San Jose State (after originally announcing he was going to Miami).  His oldest brother, Jason, also played quarterback at Michigan before transferring to Stanford.  The brothers also transferred to different high schools at various times.

Against the Chants, Forcier was solid, completing two-thirds of his passes while averaging over seven yards per attempt.  A classic “dual threat” quarterback, Forcier also rushed for 50 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter, apparently suffering from cramps.  Without him, the Furman offense sputtered, not scoring in the fourth quarter.

Assuming he is healthy (and there is no reason to believe otherwise), stopping Forcier will be a difficult task for The Citadel’s defense.

If dealing with Forcier wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs must also contend with Jerodis Williams, who rushed for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns against Coastal (including a 68-yard score).  Williams was the Southern Conference offensive player of the week, and also picked up FCS National Back of the Week honors from something called the “College Football Performance Awards“.

Furman had five different receivers catch passes against the Chanticleers (including Williams).  Tyler Maples had five receptions for 65 yards.  Colin Anderson had four catches, and presumably will have a career day against The Citadel, as has often been the case for Furman tight ends.

Along the offensive line, Furman has experienced and well-regarded tackles (one of whom, Ryan Lee, is moving from guard to tackle) and a veteran center, Daniel Spisak (who is Matt Millen’s nephew).  The guards include a first-year starter who came to Furman as a walk-on, and a sophomore who started three times last season before a season-ending foot injury.

Furman placekicker Ray Early was 11-12 on field goal attempts last season, including a long of 52 yards, and only missed one extra point all year (40-41).  Against Coastal Carolina, however, Early’s first field goal attempt of the season was blocked, and he then missed the PAT after the Paladins’ first touchdown.

After that, Early did not attempt a placekick in the game (although he did kick off), giving way to Furman punter Chas Short.  That may be something to watch on Saturday.

Short, incidentally, had a fine year for Furman in 2010.  The Paladins finished in the top 10 nationally in net punting.

With Furman having allowed a bunch of rushing yards to Coastal Carolina, and having lost the time of possession battle so decisively, there may be some hope among Bulldog fans that the Paladins’ defensive issues could play into The Citadel’s hands on Saturday.  As Jeff Hartsell wrote in The Post and Courier:

…on defense, the Paladins’ 4-3 look was blitzed for 237 rushing yards, including 105 yards and two TDs by CCU quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Jamie Childers. That might bode well for the Bulldogs’ option attack, as QB Ben Dupree went for 141 yards and two scores in a 31-9 win over Jacksonville. Higgins said Dupree was 23 for 23 on his option reads, and The Citadel rushed for 439 yards, the most since 1994.

That does seem promising from The Citadel’s perspective.  I would make this observation, though:

The Bulldogs ran the ball well on Furman last year, dominated time of possession, and lost 31-14.  The Citadel gained 294 net yards rushing on 60 attempts, held the ball for over 36 minutes — and did not score until the fourth quarter.

Actually, The Citadel’s 359 total yards against Furman in 2010 was the most yardage gained by the Bulldogs in any Southern Conference game for the entire season.  The problem?  Three turnovers, a missed field goal, and a failed fourth-down try inside the Furman 25.  Another issue was that The Citadel started very slowly on offense, gaining only 64 total yards on its first five possessions.

Conversely, Furman got out of the blocks fast on offense in each half, scoring touchdowns on its initial drive in both the first and third quarters.  Of the Paladins’ other three scores against The Citadel, two came on drives starting in Bulldog territory after an interception and a failed onside kick.

Kevin Higgins has said in the past that sometimes it takes a triple option team a possession or two to figure out how the defense is playing.  That makes sense.  You could see it in last week’s game against Jacksonville, as the game was well into the second quarter until Triple O’Higgins got fully warmed up.

Against a SoCon opponent, though, it needs to warm up faster.  The Bulldogs can’t go an entire quarter with no offensive production, especially as running the offense generally means there are fewer possessions in the game.  Also, while obvious, The Citadel must control its fumbling problems, which cropped up against Jacksonville (albeit with only one coming on an exchange) and stay “on schedule”.

The other thing that can’t happen Saturday if The Citadel has any chance of winning is for the defense to concede relatively easy touchdown drives right out of the dressing room.  Last season, Furman’s TD drives in each half were for a total of 123 yards and featured only two third-down plays.

What the defense really needs is to force some turnovers.  Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs forced no turnovers and also did not record a sack.

The Bulldogs must also contain Forcier, who is capable of making big plays with his arm or his feet, and prevent Williams from breaking long runs, such as the one he had against Coastal Carolina.  (Also, the defense must watch the tight end.  He’ll be catching the ball over the middle for 15 yards before you know it.  Two or three times.)

I thought Ben Dupree played well against Jacksonville.  What he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that he has the ability to make big plays.  While the triple option is mostly about moving the chains, it’s important to have a breakaway aspect to the offense, and Dupree can provide that with his running ability.  He is still a work in progress as a passer.  If he continues to improve that part of his game, he will be a very dangerous weapon indeed.

Terrell Dallas’ injury against the Dolphins was not serious, thankfully, but it appears he may not play on Saturday.  That will be a loss, but Darien Robinson showed he is quite capable of handling the fullback position.

I thought the defense really came to play against Jacksonville.  Now it faces another challenge.  It won’t have the size and depth advantage against Furman that it had against the Dolphins.

Odds and ends:

— Check out the game notes to see all the different helmet logos The Citadel has had over the years (page 5).  There have been no fewer than 25 different designs since 1952 (and I think it’s likely there have been a few more that went unrecorded).

Those artist renderings/photos in the game notes came from the Helmet Archive, a good site if you want to peruse helmet histories of other teams as well.

— Has anyone else noticed that there are a lot of entities giving out “player of the week” awards these days?  It’s hard to figure out which ones to take seriously.  I can’t decide if the plethora of “recognition sites” is a boon or a curse for athletic media relations departments.

— The Summerall Guards are performing at halftime, but not at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Guards will be in Death Valley for the Wofford-Clemson game (it is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson).  It strikes me as a little odd that they would perform at another stadium on the same day as a home football game, but no big deal.

I’m looking forward to the game.  I am hopeful that the success of the home opener, along with Saturday’s opponent, results in a nice crowd at JHS.  As for the on-field action, I’m not quite sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw against Jacksonville.  I would like to be pleasantly surprised again.

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