Game Review, 2011: VMI

The Citadel 41, VMI 14. The coveted Silver Shako remains in Charleston.

Links of interest:

Game story from The Post and Courier

Jeff Hartsell’s postgame notes column

Photo gallery of VMI-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

Game writeup from VMI’s sports website

Game writeup from The Citadel’s sports website

I got to the stadium early on Saturday, and decided to walk around campus. That gave me the opportunity to see the new Ring Statue (I guess that’s what it is going to be called). The statue is a great addition to the parade ground, and I like where it is stationed. It is also a magnet for photographers of all types (including me).

The campus as a whole looked good, even on a gloomy, overcast morning. Conditions improved considerably as gametime approached, and by kickoff it was nice and sunny, classic fall “jacket weather”. The only negative was a rather insistent breeze, but it wasn’t too bad.

The Hall of Fame inductions resulted in some familiar faces showing up for the game, including former hoopsters like Gus Olalere and James Stevens, just to name two. Nate Ross, Renaissance Man, was also on hand. It wasn’t surprising to see a strong basketball contingent, what with Randy Nesbit being one of the HoF inductees.

Dallas McPherson and Tony Skole were also honored, so more than a few ex-baseball players (like Anthony Jenkins and Mike Montei) were at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Phil Florence was enshrined as well. I had forgotten just how good a career he had in track, to say nothing of his abilities as a wide receiver; I was reminded of that fact during his introduction to the crowd at the half.

Charlie Taaffe wasn’t there, as Central Florida had a game on Saturday. I’m not sure the Knights really needed their offensive coordinator, as UCF shut out hapless Memphis 41-0, but Taaffe was represented at halftime by his son Brian. Tom McQueeney, one of about 300 McQueeneys to attend The Citadel, was also inducted into the Hall.

Just before I entered the stadium, I saw an older gentleman come out of the front of JHS, slip past the turnstiles, and walk over to a small group of people. They appeared to be family members. He pointed them in the direction where they were apparently supposed to go, and off they went.

After a moment, he strolled through the side gate (mysteriously open) next to the Altman Center. He then stopped briefly to take out a visitors’ pass and put it around his neck, a needless gesture if there ever was one.

If I had been a little closer when I first saw him, I probably would have greeted him. After all, Bobby Ross was the head coach for the first football game I ever attended. It was a win, too. I watched him amiably talking to one of the security workers for a minute or so, on the edge of the field. Then memories came flooding into my brain, and I turned away.

I was disappointed in the attendance. It was a good day for football (eventually), Clemson and South Carolina were both playing road night games, and there weren’t any truly interesting football games on TV in the afternoon. Just 11,184 people decided to go to the game, though.

Bobby Ross, who had the honors at the coin toss, might have been able to relate to the attendance woes. In his first two years as head coach at The Citadel the average attendance for a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium was just 11,692, not much more than the crowd on Saturday. However, in his last three seasons with the Bulldogs, the average attendance jumped to 16,718.

As for the game itself, some random thoughts:

— At halftime, The Citadel led 21-7. That was the good news, and the best kind of good news, since it was the bottom line. However, I found it worrisome that the difference in the half boiled down to two blocked punts.

After the first couple of drives the Bulldogs did not accomplish much on offense, and the defense allowed a touchdown drive by VMI that consisted of two penalties and six consecutive runs by Keydet running back Chaz Jones, most of them right up the middle. Jones finished the day with 112 yards rushing on 16 carries.

— Sparky Woods is a good coach, but if he had to do it over again, I suspect he might have done a couple of things differently on Saturday. I think Woods tried too hard to keep his offense “balanced”, as VMI finished the day with 33 rush attempts and 26 pass plays. Those numbers don’t account for sacks, so it was really more like 30 designed rushing plays and 29 throws or would-be throws.

The problem was that VMI was reasonably effective on the ground but putrid in the air. Only 9 of those 26 pass attempts were completed, for a total of just 68 yards. From my vantage point, it seemed the primary problem with VMI’s passing game was that its receivers could not get open. Meanwhile, the Keydets were averaging a respectable 4.7 yards per rush, led by Jones, who I thought probably should have received more opportunities to carry the ball.

— The decision by Woods that I found most perplexing, though, came in the third quarter. With The Citadel leading 24-7, VMI faced a fourth-and-seven on its own 29. The Keydets prepared to punt, which for their fans was a cover-your-eyes situation, as two VMI punts had already been blocked in the game, and another possible block just missed.

VMI survived yet another close call on this particular punt. The net was only 23 yards, but considering the troubles with the VMI punting game, and the fact the Keydets were going against the wind, it wasn’t the most terrible of outcomes. However, there was a penalty on the play.

It wasn’t roughing the kicker, but running into the kicker. If the penalty were accepted, it would be fourth and two on the VMI 34. VMI could go for it (after all, the Keydets had nothing to lose, down 17, and Jones was picking up good yardage on running plays). The Keydets could also decline the penalty, with The Citadel taking over at its own 48.

Woods elected to take the penalty, and punt again. I have no idea why. The result was rather predictable, as John Synovec came through the line untouched and blocked the punt.

Tangent: after Synovec blocked the punt, I noticed a Bulldog player (probably Chris Billingslea, always in the middle of The Citadel’s punt-blocking exploits) grab a Keydet in an effort to prevent the VMI player from covering the football. It didn’t matter in the end, as the ball was not advanced, but I think The Citadel could have been called for a post-possession holding penalty in that situation. Then again, I might be wrong about that.

— VMI did a good job adjusting on defense after The Citadel’s first two offensive drives. To this non-expert, it seemed the Keydets D was doing a fair bit of stunting and blitzing, blowing up plays before The Citadel could get to the perimeter.

The Bulldogs finally started to get back on track midway through the third quarter, with the offensive adjustments including the toss sweep (a play Georgia Tech would run repeatedly later that night against Clemson) and some misdirection plays. The Citadel’s wide receivers also did a better job of blocking in the second half.

— It’s not every game in which a team has eleven different players with a rushing attempt, but that was the number of Bulldogs who carried the ball on Saturday. One of those eleven was punter Cass Couey, who picked up twelve yards and a first down on a fake punt, the second time in his career he has made such a play.

I’m honestly not sure whether or not that was planned, or if he felt the pressure on his right and decided to take off on his own. It was a heady play either way by Couey, who is making a strong case to be the all-SoCon punter.

— The Citadel wore what is arguably the most aesthetically displeasing of all its uniform sets, the light blue jersey/navy pants combo. The Bulldogs had lost six consecutive games in which they wore navy pants prior to the victory over VMI.

I’ll close out this post with some photos I took on Saturday. They include several shots of the new Ring Statue, some pictures of the Bulldogs warming up pregame (I saw no Schembechler-inspired activity on that front), static game shots, an actually semi-decent “action” photo of the first blocked punt, a few other “at the game” pictures, plus a photo of that which is most coveted. As always, please understand that the photographer isn’t very good and his camera isn’t much better.

On to Statesboro..

2011 Football Game 8: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, also known as “The Military Classic of the South”, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 29.  The game will not be televised. There will be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.  The two teams will battle for the coveted Silver Shako, universally regarded as the greatest trophy in all of sports.

I’ve actually written multiple posts on The Citadel’s football team this week. It’s the first time in a while I’ve done that. I reviewed the Western Carolina game, and also threw in my two cents on where the corps of cadets should be placed at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Now it’s time for the long-awaited resumption of the Cadets vs. Keydets clash. I’m looking forward to this matchup, in part because the Bulldogs have a good chance of winning, but perhaps more so because I think it’s a shame the rivalry had to take a break in the first place. Be forewarned; I’m going to spend most of this post writing about VMI.

The fact the matchup has not taken place since 2007 is a direct result of VMI leaving the Southern Conference following the 2002 football season, which affected the ability of both schools to schedule the game. VMI had been a member of the league since 1924, so we’re not talking about a TCU situation here. Why did the school move to the Big South?

From a Jeff Hartsell article in The Post and Courier:

When VMI left the SoCon after the 2002 season, school officials claimed scheduling flexibility as one reason for the move. The Keydets were locked into eight league games in the SoCon; at the time, the Big South played only four conference games (it’s up to six games and seven teams now, including Stony Brook, which is in New York).

But there’s no doubt football futility played a role in the decision. In the six seasons before their departure, the Keydets were 4-43 in the SoCon, including three 0-8 records and two 1-7 marks, for a winning percentage of .085.

Let’s dig into this a little deeper. First, an aside: you know VMI fans (not to mention the school administration) wince when they see a headline like that one (“Nine years after VMI retreated from SoCon, Bulldogs hold fast”). Ouch.

The Keydets had occasionally slogged through tough stretches in their history on the gridiron prior to their modern-day struggles. For example, from 1968-1971 VMI compiled a cumulative record of 3-39 (in the 1969 season, the average score of a VMI game was Opposition 41, Keydets 8). The first three of those seasons came under the tutelage of Vito Ragazzo. He was replaced in 1971 by Bob Thalman, who gradually rebuilt the program after first enduring a 1-10 campaign in 1971.

Thalman was still the coach in 1981, when the Keydets went 6-3-1. For those of you reading this who don’t know, that is the last time VMI had a winning season in football. That’s right. This year the Keydets (currently 1-6) will suffer their 30th consecutive non-winning campaign. VMI has had two .500 seasons in that span, going 6-6 in 2002 and 2003 under Cal McCombs, a graduate of The Citadel.

McCombs followed up those two years (the last season in the SoCon and the first in the Big South, respectively) by going 0-11 in 2004. After a 3-8 season in 2005, he was done as the VMI coach.

That 0-11 season in 2004 is one of two winless campaigns at the Institute since 1981. Ted Cain’s 1997 squad also went 0-11. Cain was the coach at VMI for two seasons, winning one solitary game (against Lenoir-Rhyne).

With the exception of current coach Sparky Woods, every coach at VMI since 1981 has suffered through at least one winless or one-win season. Thalman was 1-9 in his final season in charge (1984). Eddie Williamson had a 1-10 ledger in 1987. Jim Schuck (a former Army assistant who was hoped to be VMI’s version of his contemporary Charlie Taaffe) went 1-10 in his final season, 1993. His replacement, Bill Stewart (later to win a BCS bowl game at West Virginia) would field a 1-10 squad the following year.

After Cain’s two seasons (the final game of the 1998 campaign was coached by AD Donny White), McCombs would coach VMI for six years, with two 1-10 seasons to go along with that 0-11 finish in 2004. Jim Reid, who had previously been the head coach at Massachusetts and Richmond,  followed McCombs, posting records of 1-10 and 2-9 before leaving to go to the Miami Dolphins (shades of John Zernhelt). He is now the defensive coordinator at Virginia.

Speaking of Donny White, who coached that one game in 1998, he is still the director of athletics at VMI. In the Hartsell article, he had this to say about scheduling:

Fewer league games have helped VMI rekindle rivalries with teams in Virginia like Richmond and William & Mary, but it hasn’t done much for the bottom line. Overall, VMI has a 21-69 record since leaving the SoCon, the highwater mark a 6-6 record in 2003.

“To be fair, I haven’t done a good job of taking advantage of that flexibility,” White said. “With more flexibility, you try to schedule more appropriately for your team, so our non-conference record should have improved. But I haven’t done a good job with that.”

Well, he probably hasn’t. On the other hand, there is a reason he is still the AD at VMI despite the football team’s struggles. It seems clear that White, despite his comments, has been hamstrung a bit in his efforts to make the schedule easier.

The Big South, as mentioned in the article, now has seven teams, so that is six league games for VMI per season. In non-league play, VMI has played William & Mary every season since World War II save one (2009). The Keydets have not beaten the Tribe since 1985, and few of the contests in recent years have been close. Richmond has been an almost yearly opponent as well, but since joining the Big South VMI is 0-9 against the Spiders, allowing on average almost 40 points per contest.

Richmond and William & Mary are traditional rivals for the Keydets (they in fact are the two schools VMI has played most often in its history), but the fact is that right now both of them are on a tier well above VMI in terms of on-field competitiveness. Between playing both of them almost every year, along with a “money” game or two (VMI played both Virginia and Army last season), it makes it hard to schedule “gimme” victories for the squad.

This year VMI’s only game against an FBS team is Akron. I can’t imagine the Keydets got a large check for that one (though I have read that check may have been at least as big, if not bigger, than one for playing Army would have been).

In a way, it is easy to see what VMI’s administration was thinking when it elected to leave the SoCon. Richmond and William & Mary had already left the league. There were some schools still in the conference with which VMI could identify (like The Citadel and Furman), but there were other institutions with which VMI had no shared history, larger state schools that the Keydets seemingly were never going to be able to successfully compete against on the field. Georgia Southern entered the SoCon in 1993. The Eagles and Keydets met ten times. GSU won all ten games by an average score of 47-6.

By the late 1990s it seemed to be getting worse for VMI, which was losing badly every year to the likes of GSU, Appalachian State, and Chattanooga. I wouldn’t be surprised if a particular stretch in 1999 may have cast the die when it came to leaving the league. VMI was 1-10 that season, winless in the league. Starting in late September, this is how things went for the Institute: Furman leveled the Keydets 58-0. The following week, Georgia Southern traveled to Lexington and blasted VMI 62-0. The week after that, Wofford crushed the Keydets 55-10. Then Chattanooga shut out VMI 27-0.

After a non-league game against William & Mary, VMI would lose 40-2 to Western Carolina and 34-7 to App State. Even the near-miss that was the season finale (a 7-6 loss to The Citadel) wouldn’t have come close to easing the pain of that season, or perhaps the sense that VMI could no longer compete in the Southern Conference.

The problem, of course, is that recruiting to play in the Big South is not the same as recruiting for the SoCon, something the administration at VMI may not have fully realized. It may be that the VMI brass thought the school would continue recruiting the same type of athlete regardless of what league VMI called home, but that’s not the way it works.

In addition, several teams in the Big South have started to show major aspirations when it comes to football, and VMI is again faced with the problem of competing against schools with different standards (because they have different missions) and more resources. VMI is 2-7 against Coastal Carolina since joining the Big South, and 1-8 versus Liberty since joining the conference. It’s likely that competing against those schools will continue to be an uphill climb for the Keydets.

VMI is also winless against Stony Brook since the Seawolves joined the league for football. I’m guessing that most VMI alums don’t know anything about Stony Brook except that it beat their alma mater 42-14 last week.

I think the long losing streak has surely cost VMI victories in individual seasons, as there is no reservoir of winning built up in the program. What the folks in Lexington need to do, more than anything, is come up with a winning season to get the proverbial monkey off their back. As such, VMI should schedule accordingly. At least three “gimme” or “near gimme” games should be scheduled, preferably early in the season in order to build confidence.

Then, with hard work and a little luck, three victories in league play would give VMI that 6-5 record and end the skid. In other words, play Lock Haven and Chowan and schools like that on a regular basis in non-conference games.

The Citadel has suffered because of a long losing run of its own, only broken by the 7-4 season in 2007. When it comes to breaking a run of losing that has lasted for a generation and a half, VMI’s difficulties are exponentially greater.

I was at the 2002 contest referenced in Jeff Hartsell’s story. It was easily the most miserable I have been at a football game, and that had nothing to do with the outcome. That game was the first of two matchups between VMI and The Citadel played in Charlotte at ancient Memorial Stadium, an interesting idea for promoting the series that definitely did not work out.

The problem was that the weather was beyond awful that day, and the field at the stadium was simply not up to par, to put it mildly. The end result was that the two teams played in a sea of mud while the supporters who actually made it to the stadium were being absolutely pelted by near-freezing rain. It was just a mess.

I’ve still got my program from that game. It is, shall we say, weatherbeaten. For the record, the 2002 game was technically a VMI home game, so the program is actually “Keydet Gameday” with VMI defensive back DeAngello Plather on the cover. It’s probably not a collector’s item.

The weather was much better for the 1980 contest at Johnson Hagood Stadium, a tour de force by Stump Mitchell. I still remember a long touchdown run in which several different VMI players were left with pieces of his jersey (they wore tearaways back then) while Mitchell galloped down the sideline, shoulder pads rhythmically bouncing as he ran.

VMI and The Citadel will be meeting later in the season over the next few years. Next year’s game in Lexington is tentatively scheduled for November 10. The game in 2013 is slated to be played November 16.

VMI will also play Navy in 2012.

Sparky Woods is the coach at VMI. It’s his fourth season in Lexington. When he was hired I thought it was a quality move for VMI, and I still do. He’s a good coach. People sometimes forget that he did a nice job at Appalachian State, which is what led to him getting the South Carolina job.

He got the gig with the Gamecocks after Joe Morrison died. I remember when Woods was first formally introduced to a South Carolina crowd; it was at the 1989 basketball game between The Citadel and South Carolina, at Frank McGuire Arena. Gamecock officials literally rolled a red carpet (it may have been garnet) to center court and led him out for a quick wave-and-leave moment. The crowd stood and gave him a standing ovation.

Of course, that night the Bulldogs beat the Gamecocks on the hardwood for the first time since 1943. Perhaps it was an omen for his worst moment as the football coach at South Carolina, the 38-35 loss to The Citadel in 1990…

This is going to be yet another game in which neither The Citadel nor its opponent is known for committing penalties. The Bulldogs have the fewest penalties (and penalty yardage) in FCS football. VMI is tied for seventh in fewest penalty yards. Amazingly, the Keydets have played four teams in the top six in this category — The Citadel, Richmond, William & Mary, and Charleston Southern (CSU being the lone victory on VMI’s schedule to date).

VMI has struggled on offense all season. It ranks very low in the FCS in several offensive categories, including total offense (112th), pass efficiency (113th), and scoring offense (115th).

Starting quarterback Eric Kordenbreck has thrown four touchdown passes while being intercepted seven times. He has only completed 48% of his passes. His backup, Adam Morgan, has posted good numbers in limited duty. I wouldn’t be surprised if he played against The Citadel.

VMI is only averaging 3.4 yards per rushing attempt. Chaz Jones is a redshirt senior who has received the bulk of the carries for the Keydets. He has seven rushing touchdowns. Jones also has thirteen pass receptions.

Another redshirt senior, Tracy Hairston, is VMI’s primary receiving threat, leading the team in receptions. He is also the Keydets’ regular kick returner.

Defensively, the Keydets are allowing slightly over 30 points per game, although that is partly a result of the problems on offense (including a time of possession differential of over five minutes versus its opponents). The one area VMI is weakest on defense, pass efficiency, is not exactly a strength for The Citadel. VMI has only intercepted one pass all season, which doesn’t help its turnover margin (-8).

Opponents are averaging a shade over 175 yards per game on the ground against the Keydets. The goal of Triple O’Higgins for the game on Saturday should be to try to double that total, at the very least.

VMI’s two top defensive players are linebacker A.J. Gross and strong safety Byron Allen, both of whom were pre-season all-league picks in the Big South. Unfortunately for the Keydets, promising defensive back Demetrius Phillips left school earlier this week.

VMI’s numbers in the punt game are not good, a major issue for a team as offensively challenged as the Keydets. VMI is not winning the battle of field position in most of its games. The Keydets have had three punts blocked this season. I bet Domonic Jones is interested in that statistic.

Last week, I called the Western Carolina game a “must-win” game for the Bulldogs, and they won it. This Saturday’s game against VMI is also a “must-win”, and not just because it’s a rivalry game.

It’s a game The Citadel is expected to win. There really aren’t a whole lot of games like that on the Bulldogs’ schedule in any given year, and when there are, the team must take full advantage.

Having said that, I don’t think it’s going to be easy. VMI is not a good team, but it’s a team that is going to play hard throughout. It will match The Citadel in that respect in a way that few other squads do.

Also, a win over The Citadel would make VMI’s season. The Bulldogs in the past have struggled with some very poor VMI teams; it’s important that The Citadel does exactly what it did last week in Cullowhee, namely start strong and not let up. The longer VMI stays in the game, the more the Keydets will start to believe they can win it.

Bobby Ross will be at Johnson Hagood on Saturday, having the honors at the pregame coin toss. I think that’s really cool.

I’ll be in the stadium too. I want to see the coveted Silver Shako in person again, and I want to see The Citadel retain the precious trophy for another year. It’s important.

College Football TV Listings 2011, Week 9

This is a list of every game played during week 9 of the college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school.  All games are listed, televised or not.  For the televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline analysts/reporters (where applicable).  I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2011, Week 9

Additional notes:

— I include ESPN3.com games; they are denoted as “ESPN3”.

— I’ve listed the satellite affiliates for the SEC Network “national” game of the week (Arkansas-Vanderbilt) in a comment on the document.  There are numerous local affiliates, a listing of which can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the ACC Network “national” game of the week (Virginia Tech-Duke) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the Big East Network game of the week (Syracuse-Louisville) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the Southland TV game of the week (McNeese State-Stephen F. Austin) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the SoCon Network game of the week (Georgia Southern-Appalachian State) can be found here:  Link

— Affiliates for the Montana Television Network (televising Weber State-Montana) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the WAC Network game of the week (Nevada-New Mexico State) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the MAC Network game of the week (Central Michigan-Akron) can be found here:  Link

— The Texas-Kansas game will be carried by the Longhorn Network and the Jayhawk Sports Network; affiliates for the Jayhawk Sports Network can be found here:  Link

— Also listed on the document in comments are the regional nets carrying the following games:  Rice-Houston (Thursday night), Washington State-Oregon, SMU-Tulsa, Iowa State-Texas Tech, Arizona-Washington, Boston College-Maryland, and Mississippi State-Kentucky.

— There are comments in the document with additional information for several other games.

— ABC/ESPN2/GamePlan coverage maps for the 3:30 pm ET games (Illinois-Penn State, West Virginia-Rutgers, Baylor-Oklahoma State) and the ABC/GamePlan coverage maps for the 8:00 pm ET games (Clemson-Georgia Tech, Stanford-Southern California):  Link

— BTN (formerly Big Ten Network) “gamefinder”:  Link

— BCS Standings:  Link

— FCS Coaches Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s alarmingly comprehensive and completely indispensable website College Sports on TV, a must-bookmark for any fan of college sports.  Also to be credited, as always, are the indefatigable information gatherers (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the 506.com.  I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

Commentary on the Corps

Now entering the stadium, the South Carolina Corps of Cadets!

Ah, but on which side of Johnson Hagood Stadium will the corps wind up after entering the stadium? That is the question.  For the past few years, the answer has been the East stands at JHS, which bothers more than a few people who remember when the corps sat in the West stands (the “home” side of the stadium).

This has been the subject of considerable discussion — in the tailgating areas (from the fans who actually enter the stadium to watch the game, that is), on the online forum of choice, and even an occasional podcast.

I think the majority of those with an opinion want the corps to be moved back to the West stands, presumably in the area around sections A, B, C, and D. The theory is that it would improve the stadium’s atmosphere, and perhaps “wake up” an occasionally apathetic student section.

Since this is my little blog, I figured I would throw in my opinion on this as well, although on this subject my opinion differs from most. I think the corps should remain in the East stands.

There is the ideal, and then there is reality. The problem at Johnson Hagood Stadium, in terms of stadium atmosphere, is that the current reality is further from the ideal than it has been in recent history.

The natural tendency is to blame the corps of cadets, and that is understandable, since the corps is easily the most important part of the overall makeup of the JHS atmosphere.  It is what makes the stadium experience unique. However, assigning blame to the corps is simplistic at best.

Let’s look at the situation this way: what is different in 2011 than, say, 1992 or 1979 or 1961?

The biggest difference is the success of the team, of course.  I’m not talking specifically about the 2011 team, either — or the 2010 team, or the 2009 team.  I’m talking about the program over the last 15 years or so. The football program is currently in the worst cycle for on-field success over a sustained period of time since the early 1950s. That is the real problem.

At The Citadel, almost all of the students go to the games. That’s very unusual. A significant percentage of them (higher than at most schools, in my view, as I’ve written before) are not particularly interested in sports in general. They are at the game because they have to be.

Those cadets are expected to “perform” for three hours at every football game, of course, but the truth is that it’s easier to play the role of boisterous lunatic when you think you’re having an effect. For too long, that hasn’t been the case. Because of that, there is no reason to believe.

If a cadet is not naturally a sports fan and isn’t inclined to follow the team in the first place, he or she isn’t going to be able to relate to the notion of maintaining intensity regardless of the situation on the field.

This is what leads to stories about apathy, some of which are probably true and some of which may be exaggerated. The oft-proffered solution, of course, is to move the cadets back over the home side, next to the alums and other Bulldog fans, where those supporters can see for themselves that the corps is properly enthused about the game.

The fans in the middle section would interact with the corps, much as in years past, with good-natured ribbing going back and forth, possibly including chants from the corps directed at certain notables (most memorably a former assistant commandant).

I can understand that sentiment. Those are good memories.  There is just one problem: the people who sat in the middle section back then don’t sit there anymore.

Well, most of them don’t, anyway. If you really want to point a finger at something specifically wrong with JHS atmospherics that doesn’t involve the game itself, I wouldn’t recommend starting with the cadets. I might suggest you start with the situation in the three middle sections of the West stands, the blue-and-gray seats.

Whenever someone starts talking about how the corps can wake up the home side and vice versa, I want to ask them if the corps is going to be able to interact with the folks sitting in sections “I” and “J”, which are three sections over (I am assuming the corps would be returned to their original area). The cadets sure won’t be engaged with most of the fans in the middle sections, because they aren’t in their seats.

I’m not talking about all the fans in those areas, of course — there are some great fans who do sit there.  However, far too many fans with those seats stay in the club level, or perhaps remain in the tailgating lots (often for the entire game, it appears).

I guess it’s an unintended consequence of the PSL program. I’m not going to rip people for staying in the club area. I am disappointed in the tailgaters-for-life, but you know, they paid for those seats too. If they don’t want to use them, that is their right.

There is only one real way to ensure that those seats are filled at gametime. The team has to start winning. That’s always what it comes down to, isn’t it?

Sometimes I think alums are a little too quick to criticize the corps. I don’t think that the cadets should be immune from criticism (far from it), but I worry that we play the “old corps” card a little too often.

The current cadets I have had the pleasure to meet have been almost uniformly intelligent and personable, and full of the school spirit that we all want them to have. It’s just not that easy to express that spirit when the team is getting shelled, and you don’t really remember a time when that wasn’t a regular occurrence.

Should there be a little “tightening up” of the corps? Sure. That’s always true, I suppose. Maybe there should be a little more active supervision during games to keep a few of the slackers on their toes. There are always a few slackers, after all.

(It occasionally crosses my mind that back in the day, some crotchedly old alum might have thought I was a slacker. I wasn’t, though. I was just really awkward.)

The one thing I did wonder about when the corps was originally shifted to the East side was the sun, which depending on the time of day can be problematic for spectators in those stands. Listening to the “Grayline” program last week, I heard a tale of cadets falling asleep as a consequence of the sunfield.

Later in the show, however, Jeff Hartsell noted that cadet assistants in the press box had been known to fall asleep during games as well. I’m fairly certain that the sun is not an issue in the press box.

The Citadel plays VMI on Saturday. In perusing the VMI message boards recently, it was interesting to see that alums of that school weren’t happy with their cadet corps at football games, either.  The “apathy” word came up more than once. In other words, the “old corps” phenomenon is fairly universal, and that includes schools that don’t have an old corps or a new corps.

Brief digression from football to hoops:

I think it is true that in some eras the cadets were more “into” the games than in others. I suspect that those times dovetail almost exactly with teams that had extended runs of success.

I can understand the frustration of certain alums, though, particularly when it concerns basketball attendance, which has been poor for many years now (I’m referring specifically to cadet attendance here, although it’s been bad in general).

I know the cadets came out in force to watch the “Blitz Kids” in the late 1950s-early 1960s.  I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard all the stories. More than once. The reason people watched those games, though, was that the Blitz Kids were really good.

The Bulldogs had a surprisingly solid basketball team in 1988-89, too, and people came out to watch — and that was when the home games were being played at Deas Hall.

(Honestly, if it were financially and/or practically feasible, The Citadel should play at least one game each season at Deas Hall, just for the amusement factor alone.)

While the focus of this post is primarily on the corps and Johnson Hagood Stadium, I did want to briefly mention the hoops program, because I have always felt that attendance at basketball games was the real “elephant in the room”, all the more so because the potential for growth is so obvious.

Back to football…

In summation:  the bottom line is that when it comes to the energy one wants to see from the corps, or the fan base in general, it doesn’t matter where the corps sits (or stands). It’s about having a team that wins its fair share of games, or at least the possibility of having a team that wins its fair share of games.

If the program did turn things around, I think the majority of alums/fans would agree that having the corps on the East side would be the way to go in order to maximize the stadium experience. A full stand of home fans would get the chance to see the corps in action from across the way, and the cadets would have the chance to, uh, entertain the visiting team.

The question is whether it is worth establishing the East side as the standard section for the cadets at a time when the program is not at its best. I think it is, in part because I honestly don’t think moving the corps back to the West stands would have that great an impact.

Just my opinion.

Game Review, 2011: Western Carolina

The Citadel 35, Western Carolina 7.

The Bulldogs did exactly what they were supposed to do on Saturday. Facing an inferior opponent that was in a state approaching disarray, The Citadel started fast (!), took a commanding lead and never let Western Carolina into the game.  The game was a must-win, and the Bulldogs came through with a very solid performance.

Random thoughts:

— Kevin Hardy’s opening kickoff return, which went for 59 yards and set up the game’s first touchdown, was by far The Citadel’s best all season. Kickoff returns have been an area of concern for the Bulldogs; here is hoping Hardy’s effort will lead to more big plays in the return game.

— Six different Bulldogs rushed for at least 40 yards (Aaron Miller added 30). Eight different Bulldogs carried the ball, led by Darien Robinson’s 106 yards.

One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that while it was a “must-win” (at least from a fan perspective), a number of reserves saw significant time.  That had been the case on defense in the previous two games, but against WCU several offensive backups played a lot of snaps.

That may be one reason the offense had a bit of a lull midway through the contest, but with a three-touchdown lead that was basically unassailable, I didn’t have any problems with the coaching staff giving younger players an opportunity to get experience.

— The passing game is still a problem.  On Saturday, the Bulldogs completed 2 of 5 passes for just 12 yards, with an interception.  Speaking of the interception, I think the play call leading to it may have been a mistake.

The Citadel’s first drive of the third quarter was going rather well, with runs of 4, 6, 57, and 5 yards (the 57-yarder coming from Rickey Anderson).  On 2nd-and-5 from the WCU 25, though, Miller attempted a pass that was intercepted near the goal line.

A 21-0 lead early in the third quarter is not insurmountable (although Saturday’s game might have been the exception to the rule).  I would have liked to have seen the Bulldogs continue to run the ball against a defense which at that point seemed unable to stop the run, and grab a four-touchdown margin.  Instead, the pick ended the drive and kept Western Carolina at least nominally in the game.

Now, there are decent reasons to throw the ball in that situation (keeping the defense honest, letting Miller get comfortable making decisions when passing, etc.), but I favored a no-nonsense ground assault in that sequence.  Not a big deal, obviously, and I risk being the type of fan who complains when the team doesn’t throw it, then complains when it does.  Then again, as a fan, I have a constitutional right to be irrational.

— It would have been nice for the defense to get a shutout, but that will have to wait for another time and place.  Incidentally, The Citadel’s last road shutout in Southern Conference play came in 1992, against Appalachian State. We all know what else happened in 1992.

— I would be surprised if Western Carolina coach Dennis Wagner is back after this season; he may not last the rest of the campaign.  Included in the game story in the Asheville Citizen-Times were three paragraphs noting the lack of fans in the stadium after halftime, along with quotes from dissatisfied students.

That was coupled with an editorial (from the same writer who penned the game story) entitled “Cats Uninspiring in Homecoming Debacle”, which included the following commentary:

In 12 years of covering this program, I have never seen the Catamounts play so poorly at home as they did in a 35-7 loss to The Citadel — not even when D-II Tusculum chopped the Cats up like firewood last fall.

— The school’s release includes two video clips of post-game interviews with Kevin Higgins and Tolu Akindele.  If you want to see how a pro responds to a leading question that he has no interest in answering, check out the Higgins clip at around the 48-second mark. He doesn’t really care if WCU didn’t have an “edge”, and isn’t about to throw a fellow coach under the bus anyway.

— I believe the reporter in the video asking Higgins and Akindele those questions was Asheville Citizen-Times scribe Tyler Norris Goode, who wrote the above-linked game story and editorial.  If you had read the game story in The Post and Courier, you may have noticed that he also wrote that article.

Regular beat writer Jeff Hartsell didn’t write the game story because he wasn’t in Cullowhee, as The Post and Courier elected not to send a writer to the game, a decision apparently not made by the newspaper’s sports department.  It’s the first time I can recall the paper not sending a reporter to cover a Southern Conference game involving the local football team in…well, I can’t remember another time.

Obviously these are tough times for the newspaper business, so it’s not shocking the paper would cut an occasional corner.  This time it came at the expense of coverage for The Citadel’s football team, which should be a concern for any fan of the military college.

I’m hopeful it was just a one-time thing.  Presumably there will be no issues with coverage for the remaining four games on the schedule, which includes two home games and road games against nearby opponents Georgia Southern and South Carolina.  It’s a situation that bears watching, however.

Next up: VMI.  It’s time for the long-awaited return of the Military Classic of the South, as the two schools battle for the coveted Silver Shako.  I’m looking forward to this one.

2011 Football Game 7: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 22.  The game will not be televised. The game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.   Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Western Carolina as part of a subscription service.

This is a post that combines a review of the Appalachian State game with a preview of the Western Carolina contest. At least, that was going to be the plan…

As it happens, I did not attend the App State game, nor did I listen to it on the radio. Without going into specifics, Saturday was a difficult day for me.

In lieu of an extensive review of the 49-42 loss to the Mountaineers, I want to make a general point about access to athletics at The Citadel. It’s really amazing how far we’ve come in the information age, isn’t it?  I didn’t get to watch the game on Saturday, but I can see the highlights on my computer (via The Kevin Higgins Show).

I can go online and read about how the game went from a number of different sources, whether it is the established press (like Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier) or the releases from both participating schools (plus the SoCon).

I can pull up the game statistics on that same school website, and I can even get fan reaction from a message board.

Of course, in normal circumstances, if I had not been able to see the game in person I could have listened to Danny Reed call the game. The Citadel has always had a small radio network, but now you can follow the radio play-by-play online as well, and for home games you can watch a video feed (for a not-unreasonable fee).

The access to information is particularly welcome for a small school like The Citadel. It used to be hard to follow the program from anywhere outside of the Charleston metro area. Now people all over the world have the opportunity to get at least a taste of the action.

I know I don’t take it for granted.  I just wish all this had come about sooner.

Tangent:  I do have one request, if anyone knows somebody in the athletic media relations office. When The Citadel switched to a new provider for its website, some things got lost in the shuffle, including the statistics for previous years. For example, when I was trying to figure out how many penalties Wofford had committed against The Citadel in recent seasons, I wound up having to get the information from Wofford’s website.  

I know it’s not a big deal, but it would be nice if all of those compiled stats could be uploaded again. You never know when some dweeb will want to look up pitch counts from 2003.

Quick hitters from the game against the Mountaineers:

— The Bulldogs went with the all-navy look on Saturday.  It’s the fourth time The Citadel has sported that combo.  In those four games, the Bulldogs are 1-3, 0-3 in SoCon play.  The Citadel has allowed a total of 100 points in those three league defeats.

— The Citadel finally scored in the first quarter of a game. It did take a drive sustained by a fake punt to accomplish that, but the points still count.

Speaking of the fake punt, that was well-executed. I don’t remember seeing one quite like it before, with Cass Couey actually getting the snap and then making an underhand shovel to Kevin Hardy. Statistically, it was a running play. I think you could make an argument that it was a pass attempt.  I guess it comes down to the definition/interpretation of what constitutes a forward pass.

— By this point, if teams don’t know Luke Caldwell is looking to throw the ball on the end-around, they need to fire their video coordinators.

— Domonic Jones has four punt blocks this season, although I think the one against the Mountaineers was his first “stuff” job, as I seem to recall the previous three being tips rather than complete blocks. I could be wrong about that.

At any rate, he did a great job of not only blocking the punt, but recovering very quickly to get up and run it in for the TD.  I could not quite make out on the video the Bulldog (Chris Billinglea?) who essentially occupied the entire App State protection unit; whoever it was, well done.

I’m enjoying this new era of The Citadel blocking punts on a semi-regular basis.  Now the Bulldogs just need to force more punts.

The Citadel plays Western Carolina this Saturday, in Cullowhee.

Let’s be clear about this. It doesn’t matter that it’s a road game. It doesn’t matter that the team is still going through triple option growing pains. It doesn’t matter there is uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position. It doesn’t matter that the defense has lost its mojo over the last two games and needs to regain its confidence.

The game against Western Carolina isn’t about a learning experience, or moving forward, or anything like that. There is only one goal for the matchup with the Catamounts, and only one acceptable outcome.  The Citadel must win this game.

Since the final game of the 2005 season, Western Carolina has played 43 Southern Conference games. The Catamounts have lost 40 of them. Only three times has WCU tasted victory. One of those games came in 2008 against a Chattanooga squad that went 1-11.

The other two wins came in Western Carolina’s last two meetings against The Citadel.

It’s really worse than that in some respects. WCU’s program has been just awful over the last few years, but you would never know it by its games against the Bulldogs. Not only has The Citadel lost those two games (including last year’s dreadful 24-13 setback), but the Bulldogs could very easily have lost four of the last five contests against WCU. The Citadel needed overtime to beat the Catamounts in 2006, and survived in 2007 by just a six-point margin (37-31). As I wrote last year:

The Bulldogs may face a team that is struggling and/or lacks (as a program) certain resources.  However, The Citadel will never be in a position to just show up and win while playing its “C” game.  The military school doesn’t have the capacity to do that, and never will, because of its own restrictions (note that I said restrictions, not disadvantages).

At its best as a program, The Citadel could beat any league team — and could lose to any league team.  That’s just the way it is.  In terms of physical talent, no other conference squad will ever be overmatched by the Bulldogs.

Last season, the Bulldogs came out flat and lost to a struggling team that was giving a true freshman quarterback (Brandon Pechloff) his first career start. The year before, The Citadel lost to a WCU team that could barely get out of its own way.

That’s why it is paramount that the Bulldogs start strong on Saturday. Don’t allow a downtrodden team hope — and when I say downtrodden, it is not an exaggeration. When a coach feels compelled to write an open letter to fans after a 44-point home loss, you know there is a problem.

Western Carolina ranks last in the following SoCon statistical categories: scoring defense, rush defense (allowing 319 yards per game — ouch), pass defense efficiency, total defense (shocker), defensive interceptions, sacks against the offense, sacks by the defense, penalties, time of possession, opponents’ third-down conversion rate, and opponents’ first downs.

The Catamounts do lead the league, curiously, in drawing penalties by their opponents.  I guess blowouts can get a little sloppy. The Citadel needs to stay disciplined on Saturday and maintain its status as the league’s least-penalized team.

In all fairness to Western Carolina, a lot of defenses would have less-than-stellar numbers against the rush after playing Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern. On the other hand, Furman rolled up 268 rushing yards in a 47-point outburst against the Catamounts.  Elon scored 38 (in a 38-31 game in Cullowhee that was WCU’s best SoCon performance to date). Even in Western Carolina’s lone victory, Mars Hill scored 31 points.

Pechloff, a 6’7″ left-hander, is a good passer when he has time to throw the ball. The Bulldogs need to rush him effectively and often in this game, as besides being a sack target Pechloff is turnover-prone (including nine interceptions this season). That largely explains why the Catamounts are second in the league in passing yardage per game but next-to-last in offensive pass efficiency (ahead of only, you guessed it, The Citadel).

His main aerial target is Josh Cockrell, who had two TD catches against both Elon and Furman (he added a rushing TD against the Phoenix). Cockrell only caught one pass against The Citadel last season, but I still remember it. I have rarely been as frustrated by a 20-yard catch in my life, as an under-duress Pechloff floated a pass that just sat in the air for seemingly days before settling into the arms of Cockrell. It summed up the whole game.

Western Carolina is not a strong running team, ranking seventh in the league in rush offense.  The Catamounts average just 3.8 yards per carry.

In an effort to avoid yet another slow start, Kevin Higgins is considering an old Bo Schembechler move to get the team ready for battle. Schembechler, Fritz Crisler, Fielding Yost…it doesn’t matter which ex-Michigan coach had the idea. As long as it works, I’m fine with it.

I’m also okay with Higgins’ decision (as noted in the above link) to start Ben Dupree at quarterback, at least for one more game (though I understand the argument for making a switch). I think the coach’s reasons for sticking with Dupree are solid. Besides, if Aaron Miller winds up getting close to twice as many snaps (as he did against Appalachian State), it’s not that big a deal anyway.  Both of them will play. The one who is more effective at the controls of Triple O’Higgins will play more.

I won’t be in Cullowhee on Saturday, but I’ll be following the action. I want to hear the phrase “fire those cannons” early and often. This game needs to be an Al Davis (RIP) special. Just win, baby.

College Football TV Listings 2011, Week 8

This is a list of every game played during week 8 of the college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school.  All games are listed, televised or not.  For the televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline analysts/reporters (where applicable).  I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2011, Week 8

Additional notes:

— I include ESPN3.com games; they are denoted as “ESPN3”.

— I’ve listed the satellite affiliates for the SEC Network “national” game of the week (Arkansas-Mississippi) in a comment on the document.  There are numerous local affiliates, a listing of which can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the ACC Network “national” game of the week (Wake Forest-Duke) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the Big East Network game of the week (Cincinnati-South Florida) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the Southland TV game of the week (Central Arkansas-Lamar) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the SoCon Network game of the week (Chattanooga-Elon) can be found here:  Link

— Affiliates for the Montana Television Network (televising Montana-Northern Arizona, which is also being broadcast by Universityhouse) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the WAC Network game of the week (Fresno State-Nevada) can be found here:  Link

— The local affiliates for the MAC Network game of the week (Northern Illinois-Buffalo) can be found here:  Link

— Also listed on the document in comments are the regional nets carrying the following games:  Kansas State-Kansas, Oregon-Colorado, Tulsa-Rice, Boston College-Virginia Tech, and Oregon State-Washington State.

— There are comments in the document with additional information for several other games.

— ABC/ESPN2/GamePlan coverage maps for the 3:30 pm ET games (Nebraska-Minnesota, Maryland-Florida State, Texas A&M-Iowa State) and the ABC/GamePlan coverage maps for the 8:00 pm ET games (Texas Tech-Oklahoma, Washington-Stanford):  Link

— BTN (formerly Big Ten Network) “gamefinder”:  Link

— BCS Standings:  Link

— FCS Coaches Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s alarmingly comprehensive and completely indispensable website College Sports on TV, a must-bookmark for any fan of college sports.  Also to be credited, as always, are the indefatigable information gatherers (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the 506.com.  I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.