2012 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

The Citadel at Appalachian State, to be played at Kidd Brewer Stadium, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on Saturday, September 15.  The game will not be televised. The contest can be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker.  Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Appalachian State as part of a subscription service.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Appalachian State game notes

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches Poll

The Sports Network FCS poll

I included the two main FCS polls this week in my list of links because, hey, The Citadel is ranked in both of them! The Bulldogs are #21 in the TSN poll and #23 in the coaches’ poll, the first time The Citadel has appeared in a poll in four years.

That’s what happens when you win a big game. Now, though, it’s time to move on. As Kevin Higgins would say, the 24-hour period of celebrating is over. The Bulldogs now face their next challenge, and quite a challenge it is.

Appalachian State has won 17 of its last 18 meetings against The Citadel. That includes an eight-game winning streak against the Bulldogs. The average score of those 18 games (including The Citadel’s 24-21 victory in 2003) is Appalachian State 38, The Citadel 18. The Mountaineers have scored 40 or more points in nine of those contests.

When the Bulldogs last played in Boone, in 2010, the offense was still finding its way in the first year of Triple O’Higgins. The result was an ugly setback in which the Bulldogs:

– did not complete a pass
– allowed two TD passes of 60+ yards
– had not one, but two bad snaps on punts
– were abysmal returning kickoffs

It’s amazing the final score was only 39-10. It helped that The Citadel blocked two PATs and also forced two turnovers (one on an interception by Brandon McCladdie).

The Mountaineers last lost to The Citadel in Boone in 1992. The Bulldogs pitched a 25-0 shutout at Kidd Brewer Stadium that year, just one of many impressive victories in a championship season.

It will be Military Appreciation Day at Kidd Brewer Stadium on Saturday, the second of three consecutive games for The Citadel in which that will be the case.

Appalachian State lost its opening game in sauna-like conditions at East Carolina, 35-13, but rebounded by beating Montana 35-27 in a rare regular-season intersectional clash of top 10 FCS squads.

I watched part of the App-ECU game on TV before leaving for The Citadel’s game against Charleston Southern. I thought the Mountaineers held their own against the Pirates. Appalachian State led early and was still in the game midway through the third quarter, trailing 14-13, before East Carolina gradually wore the Mountaineers down and took control of the contest.

Appalachian State actually finished with more yards of total offense than ECU, but gave that advantage back with penalties (11 for 100 yards). The Mountaineers also allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a score. App State’s D had trouble getting off the field, as East Carolina was 9 for 16 on third down conversion attempts, a big reason the Pirates had a significant edge in time of possession.

A crowd of 30,856 (described by App State’s game notes package as “raucous”) was in attendance for the game against Montana, and the home team delivered with a victory. Though it was a back-and-forth affair, the Mountaineers never trailed after taking a 14-7 lead in the first quarter.

For Appalachian State, the Montana game was in some respects a reverse of the ECU contest, not just because it was a win, but in the statistical profile. Montana outgained the Mountaineers, but was set back by turnovers (App State intercepted three passes and forced a fumble on a kickoff return). One week after its opponent held the ball for 33:18, Appalachian had a time of possession of 33:10.

Allow me a brief historical digression in honor of the fact that Saturday’s game marks the 50th anniversary of the first game played in what is now called Kidd Brewer Stadium…

When it first opened in 1962, Appalachian State’s football stadium wasn’t called Kidd Brewer Stadium, but Conrad Stadium, in honor of an R.J. Reynolds executive who had held trustee positions at both App State and Wake Forest. It was renamed in honor of Kidd Brewer (a former head coach at App in the 1930s) in 1988, when he was 80 years old (Brewer died in 1991).

Brewer had quite a resume — in athletics, in politics, and in business. In 1963, he went to prison for a while, and then ran for governor when he got out. Brewer later made a fortune in real estate (he was the developer of the Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh and owned a lot of land in that area). He is described by several references as having been ‘colorful’. When he got out of jail, he was asked what he planned on doing next. He reportedly answered that he was going to “peddle influence”.

Appalachian State wants to move up to the FBS ranks and compete for bowl bids rather than playoff berths. That, you know. Did you know, however, that the Mountaineers have played in nine bowl games in their history? App State’s coach for the first two of those bowls was Kidd Brewer himself.

Neither of those bowls, by the way, had an official name, and are thus recorded as “Unnamed” bowls, though at least one source suggests the first of these was referred to as the “Doll and Toy Charity Game”. Appalachian State’s opponent for the second bowl game was Moravian College; I would have called this game the “Cookie Bowl”.

The Mountaineers would eventually play in bowls that were actually named/sponsored, including the Burley Bowl on four occasions. Appalachian State also played in the Pythian Bowl and the Elks Bowl.

Sometimes I am wrong. Okay, maybe more than sometimes.  My preview of last year’s App State game was one of those times:

In the SoCon media teleconference, Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore described his quarterback, DeAndre Presley, as “very questionable” for the game this Saturday…However, there is a chance he could play.

Not everyone remembers this, but Presley was questionable for the game against The Citadel last year, too.  He started and threw five touchdown passes in three quarters of action.

I’m guessing Presley plays this Saturday, too.

Presley didn’t play. Instead, Jamal Jackson made his first career start at quarterback for the Mountaineers and promptly completed his first fifteen pass attempts. Jackson wound up throwing three TD passes as App State scored touchdowns on all but one of its first eight possessions.

Jackson remained as the starting QB for the Mountaineers after that game (why not?) and continued to perform well. He has thrown for at least 200 yards in each of his starts for App State and is a true dual-threat QB (he has nine rushing TDs in nine career starts). Through two games this year he has completed 65.3% of his passes. Jackson’s father Greg was a defensive back in the NFL for 12 years, and his uncle Bob Whitfield was an NFL offensive tackle for 15 seasons.

Appalachian State running back Steven Miller rushed for over 100 yards against The Citadel last season and will probably get the bulk of the carries for the Mountaineers this Saturday, particularly as fellow RB Rod Chisholm is doubtful for the game due to injury. Other than Miller and Chisholm, App has very little experience at the position, not that experience is a prerequisite for a running back.

The Mountaineers moved some guys around on their offensive line and are also breaking in two new starters, but the o-line has been solid thus far in the 2012 campaign. Appalachian State had a fortuitous streak of stability on the offensive line in the three seasons prior to last year, but its luck in that department ran out in 2011.

You would never have known that by looking at App’s numbers versus The Citadel last year, though. The Mountaineers rolled up 552 yards of total offense at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the most allowed by the Bulldogs all season.

Sean Price caught eight passes for 103 yards last week against Montana, but he may serve the back end of a two-game suspension against The Citadel. As I write this, I am unsure whether he will in fact play. I tend to think he will not, but it is possible that he suits up against the Bulldogs and sits out App State’s game versus Chattanooga.

Nevertheless, the Mountaineers will still have plenty of options at wideout, including Tony Washington (over 100 yards receiving against ECU) and Andrew Peacock (who is averaging 13.4 yards per reception through two games). Washington caught a 28-yard touchdown pass against The Citadel last season. Malachi Jones, a freshman who at the very least has a cool name, is also a pass-catching threat.

Appalachian State’s defense last year versus the SoCon’s three triple-option teams:

– at Wofford; allowed 407 yards of total offense, 24 first downs, 5.5 yards per rush
– Georgia Southern; allowed 201 yards of total offense, 11 first downs, 2.6 yards per rush
– at The Citadel; allowed 361 yards of total offense, 15 first downs, 5.9 yards per rush

In 2010:

– The Citadel; allowed 197 yards of total offense, 10 first downs, 3.7 yards per rush
– at Georgia Southern; allowed 301 yards of total offense, 18 first downs, 3.5 yards per rush
– Wofford; 275 yards of total offense, 17 first downs, 3.6 yards per rush

The one thing that jumps out of those numbers is that Appalachian State has fared much better against these teams at home than on the road, which isn’t really that surprising, since most teams play better at home. Still, a total offense differential in home/away splits of over 130 yards on average is noteworthy.

Kevin Higgins singled out Appalachian State’s linebacking corps during his Q-and-A session at the weekly SoCon teleconference, calling it the strength of the Mountaineers defense. He mentioned the significant experience of LBs Jeremy Kimbrough and Brandon Grier, and also discussed two veteran defensive backs, Troy Sanders and Demetrius McCray.

Kimbrough was a first team All-SoCon selection in 2011 by the coaches. He had eleven tackles against The Citadel last year.  Grier entered the 2012 season as the active SoCon leader in tackles, with 171. He and Kimbrough have combined to make 27 tackles over the first two games of this season.

McCray intercepted two passes last week against Montana and had five picks last season. Sanders, who has started 27 consecutive games, had 10 tackles and an interception versus East Carolina.

Appalachian State is going to have to combine all that experience with some unproven talent, however. Four freshmen defensive linemen are on the two-deep. There are also three freshmen listed on the depth chart at linebacker.

Then there is the secondary, which could be a problem area for the Mountaineers going forward, if not in this game. Due to injuries and another suspension, Appalachian State is likely to start a true freshman at the cornerback spot opposite McCray. All of the backup positions in the defensive backfield are manned by freshmen as well.

The two best punters in the league will be in Boone on Saturday, as App’s Sam Martin was a second-team All-SoCon choice last season. Against The Citadel last year, however, Martin had a punt blocked and returned for a TD by Domonic Jones, one of two punts the Mountaineers had blocked in 2011.

Martin is also Appalachian State’s kickoff specialist. Seven of his nine kickoffs so far this year have been touchbacks. The placekicker for the Mountaineers is Drew Stewart, who became the regular field goal kicker midway through last season. He kicked six field goals against Western Carolina.

The Mountaineers lost DB/returner Doug Middleton for the season in the ECU game, a tough break on two fronts. In general, Appalachian State needs to substantially improve its special teams play. You may recall that The Citadel ranked #1 in Phil Steele’s FCS special teams ratings. App State finished #98, the lowest among all SoCon schools.

In last season’s meeting, The Citadel scored 42 points, the most points given up by App State in a SoCon game since September 22, 2007, when Wofford beat the Mountaineers 42-31. The blocked punt for a TD helped, but the Bulldogs also had three scoring drives of eight or more plays, including the last two drives of the game.

That performance, combined with the results from the first two games of this season, should give The Citadel confidence that it can move the ball on offense on Saturday. The Bulldogs have only turned the ball over once in the last six quarters, a positive trend that needs to continue if The Citadel has hopes of pulling the upset.

The Bulldogs were only 3 for 14 on third-down conversions against Georgia Southern. That won’t be good enough against Appalachian State.

The Bulldogs’ defense will face a much different challenge this week than it has so far this season. App State’s offense is multi-dimensional and has a tendency to turn games into track meets. The Citadel won’t fare well in that type of contest. The Bulldogs have to slow the Mountaineers down, which is much easier said than done. The Citadel must also maintain an edge over Appalachian State in special teams play.

This matchup, at least in Boone, has been an easy victory for Appalachian State in recent years. I will be disappointed if that is true on Saturday. Winning the game may be a tall order for The Citadel, but it should be a competitive game, and I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the Bulldogs came away with a victory.

After all, I saw last week’s game.