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.

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