2011 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 8.  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.

This is a combination review of the Chattanooga game and preview of the Wofford contest.  I hope to get back to separate review/preview posts following this week; we’ll see.  I’m still recovering from recent travels and a few other things, and I’m not sure I’m still up to speed after being out of the college football loop for the better part of a week (which is a scary thing, believe me).

That’s a long-winded way of saying this particular post may be all over the place. Apologies in advance.  Now, where to begin?

The Citadel 28, Chattanooga 27.

I didn’t expect to find out the final score of the game until Sunday, but I had a chance early Saturday evening to go online.  I checked the score.  It was halftime, and the Mocs were up 24-0.  Ugh.

After that, I was thinking that I could wait to find out the final score for another few hours, or a few days for that matter.  When I got another opportunity about an hour later to go online again, though, I checked the score out anyway.  Hey, I’m a glutton for punishment.  However, it was now 27-14.  Better.  Then the screen automatically refreshed.  27-21.

Chad Billingslea, reportedly a nice guy, had just very nicely blocked a punt, and Rod Harland had run it in for a touchdown (or as French-Canadian announcers would have called it, a touché; Danny Reed should try to make that part of his repertoire).  At this point all of Canada became transfixed by the dramatic events taking place in Chattanooga, as The Citadel completed the comeback via its Triple O’Higgins attack.

Well, really, it was just me who was transfixed, and I had to follow the last few minutes of the game on twitter, which wasn’t exactly optimal, but I’ll take the result.

It is still hard to believe The Citadel rallied from a 27-point deficit on the road and beat a ranked team.  It is, to be sure, one for the record books.  There seemed to be some uncertainty about whether it was the largest comeback ever, as most reports listed the game as the biggest comeback victory for the Bulldogs since a 1973 game against (naturally) Chattanooga.  However, I did a little research, and I’m fairly confident it is the new standard-bearer in the category of “biggest comebacks” for The Citadel.

Prior to Saturday, The Citadel had rallied twice from 20-point deficits to win games in its history.  One of those games was the aforementioned 1973 contest against Chattanooga; the Bulldogs were trailing 20-0 before scoring just before the end of the first half.  Led by Gene Dotson (making his first career start) and Andrew Johnson, however, The Citadel scored 28 unanswered points and beat UTC 28-20.

That game was played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, as was another 20-point comeback victory that took place 33 years later, in 2007.  The Citadel trailed Furman 27-7 midway through the second quarter before rallying to win in overtime, 54-51. Duran Lawson and Tory Cooper carried the day for the Bulldogs.

Overtime wasn’t yet a part of college football in 1989.  That year, The Citadel trailed Western Carolina 22-0 before rallying to tie the game, 22-22 (which would be the final score).  Incidentally, that game was played in Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, thanks to Hurricane Hugo.  The 22-point comeback was the largest deficit overcome to avoid a loss before Saturday.

I decided to check scores prior to 1973 and see if there were any possibilities for previous comebacks of an equal or greater magnitude.  This wasn’t as hard as it sounds, because there really weren’t many games in which both teams scored a lot of points.  Usually, when one team scored a lot of points, it was a blowout.  The Citadel did not play in a game in which both teams scored at least 20 points until 1951, a 27-21 loss to VMI at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

The Bulldogs’ first win in a “20-20” game came in 1958, when The Citadel upset Memphis State, 28-26.  There was no big comeback in that one, though the Bulldogs did score late to pull out the victory.  Jerry Nettles and Paul Maguire (he of the “fancy broken field running”) were key players in the win.  I don’t know if any of the current Bulldogs were as emotional on Saturday as was one of the 1958 players after the Memphis victory:

One Bulldog was so taken up with drama of the moment that he just collapsed at midfield and cried as teammates stumbled over his prostrate form.

There was also a 22-21 victory over Arkansas State in 1960 (Eddie Teague went for two and the win at the end of the game, and got it), a 27-22 win over George Washington in 1963, and a series of high-scoring affairs during the Red Parker era, but none of them involved large comeback wins for The Citadel.  The Citadel, featuring Tony Passander at quarterback, never trailed in a 40-28 win over Maine in 1969, although an account of the game states the Bulldogs lost seven fumbles.

In 1971 the Bulldogs “bombed” Bucknell 42-28, but The Citadel didn’t need any late-game heroics, thanks to three first-half TD passes by John Rosa.  I wonder whatever happened to him.  In 1972, though, The Citadel rallied from 11 points down to beat the Bison 38-35 (after blowing a 17-point lead of its own).

I checked out the other Red Parker high-scoring specials (1968: 28-21 over Davidson and 24-21 over William&Mary; 1969:  34-28 over Davidson; 1971:  44-37 over Boston University, 25-24 over VMI, 52-35 over UTC, 35-33 over Furman; 1972:  28-21 over Appalachian State), and none of them featured a big comeback for The Citadel.

I could have missed something, but I think that I looked at every possible game. Saturday’s game against Chattanooga stands alone at the top for comebacks.

Okay, that’s the historical perspective.  History, though, will mean little to nothing when Eric Breitenstein and the Wofford Terriers come to town this weekend.  What does the victory over Chattanooga mean for the team going forward?

I didn’t see the game, obviously, or even get to listen to the live radio broadcast, so I’m somewhat limited in making observations.  I did watch the highlights from The Kevin Higgins Show on Bulldog Insider, which helped a little.  That, reading the various game recaps, and a check of the statistics all lead to the following comments:

— I really appreciated Higgins stating during his show that (I’m paraphrasing) there are only eleven games, and you have to be ready to play in each and every one of them.  Coming out flat is just not acceptable.

— The Citadel still has not scored in the first quarter this season, which is obviously a problem.  The Bulldogs have found themselves in an uphill battle in all four games as a result.

— Kevin Higgins is trying to reverse a couple of trends.  Before Saturday, under Higgins The Citadel was 2-21 versus ranked opponents and 7-20 in the month of October.  He killed two birds with one stone on Saturday.  He’s going to get a chance to do the same thing against Wofford and Appalachian State.

— The Bulldogs lead all of FCS in fewest penalties per game, and least penalty yardage per game.  However, The Citadel’s opponents aren’t committing many penalties either.  While the Bulldogs commit on average only three penalties per game, their opponents are only averaging four per contest.  The penalty yardage difference is similar (24.5 ypg for The Citadel, 37.2 for its opponents).

— The Citadel is only 1 for 7 on 4th-down conversions this season, including a failed fourth down try on Saturday (that ended up being a lost fumble).  Converting on fourth downs is an occasional necessity for a triple option offense.

Wofford is 9 for 11 on 4th-down conversions this season.

— Opponents have been in the “red zone” fourteen times this season against the Bulldogs D.  Those fourteen trips have resulted in three touchdowns, two PATs, and eight field goals.  Three times opponents failed to score.

The Citadel offensively has been in the red zone eleven times, three fewer than its opponents, and like its opponents has failed to score on three occasions.  However, five of its eight scores have been touchdowns.  As a result, The Citadel has scored 44 “red zone” points.  Opponents have scored…44 red zone points.

— In the second half (and OT), the Bulldogs’ defense has allowed a total of 18 points in four games (with only one touchdown).

— The defense has forced seven turnovers in four games, three interceptions and four fumbles.  Davis Boyle has collected four of them (two INTs and two fumble recoveries).

— The Citadel has to stop fumbling.  Six more mishandles occurred on Saturday, with three resulting in turnovers.  The Bulldogs are now on pace to fumble 39 times this season, which would more than likely give The Citadel the unwanted distinction of leading FCS in that category two seasons in a row.

It is easy to see how the fumbles affected field position by just looking at the drive charts.  UTC had five scoring drives, with three of them (including two of its three TDs) coming after lost Bulldog fumbles.  The two touchdown drives started on the UTC 42-yard line and The Citadel 7-yard line.

One of the two field goals came early in the third quarter, with Chattanooga starting out with a first-and-goal on the Bulldogs’ nine-yard line.  The defense being able to hold the Mocs to a FG was critical.

— The only real negative for the defense on Saturday were two long pass plays, one for a 60-yard TD and another that set up a field goal.  That’s two long pass plays for TDs in two weeks, after Elon scored on a 41-yarder the week before.

The Citadel can’t afford to have Wofford hit one or two deep passes, which is a Terrier trademark.  Wofford only has 17 pass completions this season, but four have been for touchdowns, including a 66-yarder against Clemson (the average WC completion has gone for 23.4 yards).

— Cass Couey had a very good day punting, allowing no return yardage and downing two punts inside the 20, including one downed at the three-yard line.

— B.J. Coleman had thrown 88 passes against The Citadel at Finley Stadium over two games without being sacked before he was finally brought down by Rod Harland. Coleman threw two more passes and was then sacked again.

— White jerseys, white pants.  Appropriate.

— This game will feature two outstanding defensive lines.  Wofford’s DL includes Ameet Pall, the preseason SoCon defensive player of the year.  He is a native of Montreal who really should have gone to McGill, but perhaps he prefers South Carolina winters.  Hard to blame him.

His friends on the d-line aren’t too bad themselves.  Ask Appalachian State quarterback DeAndre Presley, who injured his shoulder against Wofford.  It could be that having what now amounts to a two-quarterback system may not be such a bad thing for The Citadel.

Pall is going to be a key figure in this game.  Will the Bulldogs option off him?  Will they be able to do so?

— Wofford is 0-1 when it wins the coin toss, 3-0 when it doesn’t.  Obviously that is an important statistic.

— This game, as stated at the top of the post, is not televised.  It’s the first time in six years the game between Wofford and The Citadel has not been on TV.

— Last year Wofford beat The Citadel 35-0.  Not only did the Bulldogs fail to score, they didn’t have a snap inside the Terriers’ 20-yard line.  The defense played well for the most part, but Wofford took advantage of great field position for the entire game (the average drive for the Terriers started at its own 44-yard line).

I am hopeful that the game against Chattanooga will propel the Bulldogs to a successful season.  That doesn’t necessarily mean there is going to be a victory for The Citadel this Saturday, however.  In looking over Wofford’s season statistics, game recaps, and other various accounts, it’s clear that this is a particularly strong Terriers squad.

Wofford has a system, and traditionally runs it well, and this year’s edition seems even more adept at running it than the norm.  The worst thing that happened to Wofford against Appalachian State was probably a ten-minute drive that resulted in no points.  If that’s the biggest negative, then there were a lot of positives.

The Citadel can’t even count on complacency, but that’s the Bulldogs’ own fault (in a good way).  Bottom line:  it will take more than great halftime speeches to win this game.

Having said that, I’m looking forward to Saturday’s game and the rest of the season. Maybe, though, it would be better not to spot the rest of our opponents a four-touchdown lead…

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