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..