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.

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