2012 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 29.  The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and 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, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Chattanooga game notes

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches Poll

The Sports Network FCS Poll

UTC coach Russ Huesman’s weekly press conference

The Kevin Higgins Show, Part 1 and Part 2

Okay, I had to post this too. It doesn’t have anything to do with the game on Saturday, but who cares. From Chattanooga’s athletics website [Link]:

Bath Fitter, a proud sponsor of the Chattanooga Mocs, has officially launched the “Bath Fitter Ugliest Bathtub Contest” which will run during the entire Chattanooga Mocs Football season. Bath Fitter is seeking out Mocs fans that claim to have the UGLIEST BATHTUB in Chattanooga! The winner of the contest will receive a FREE brand new bathtub or shower and installation courtesy of Bath Fitter.

Entering is easy. Simply take a picture of your ugly bathtub or shower [etc.]…

Last year’s game between The Citadel was one for the books, although it isn’t a story that the Mocs will want to read again. The Bulldogs pulled off the biggest comeback in school history, spotting Chattanooga 27 points before scoring 28 unanswered points of their own and holding on for a 28-27 victory.

That game was just one of a surprising number of close contests to have been played in this series over the years. In fact, in the last twenty-five games between Chattanooga and The Citadel, seventeen of them have been decided by a touchdown or less; eleven of those seventeen have been decided by three or fewer points.

Seven of those seventeen contests have been played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with The Citadel winning four of them. Of those, probably the most memorable (and important) was the 1988 game, won by the Bulldogs 23-17. UTC pushed for a last-gasp TD to win the game, and had first-and-goal on the three-yard-line, but The Citadel made a big defensive stand to preserve the victory. It was the third of seven straight victories for the Bulldogs that season.

Note: if you read the linked game story, writer James Beck seems to imply that The Citadel got more than a little help from the officials at the end of the contest. I am not sure what game he was watching that day. For example, the clip on Jay Jackson was rather obvious.

As for the final play, no one in the press box (and few in the stands) could really see it because it happened in the far corner of the end zone, on the side opposite the Touchdown Cannon Crew. 

Yes, I’m being a touch defensive — but the first six paragraphs in Beck’s article were devoted to an angle that wasn’t really true. What is perplexing is that later in the same story he quoted the UTC receiver on the final play: “‘I had the ball until I hit the ground and then it popped loose,’ Philpot admitted.” Well, there you go.

Gene Brown, in the middle of his memorable one-year run as the Bulldogs’ quarterback, got hurt in the UTC game and missed the next two contests. Tommy Burriss started those two games, and led The Citadel to victories over Boston University and East Tennessee State. Both of those schools later dropped football.

Tommy Burriss, program killer.

Odds and ends, some relevant, some not-so-much:

– During his press conference, UTC coach Russ Huesman seemed to be under the impression that The Citadel was a private school. He made a reference suggesting as much when asked why the Bulldogs had “jumped up” to compete in the league this season. According to Huesman, The Citadel has “spread [itself] out” geographically to recruit better players, something that “places like that, smaller private schools, [have to do].”

The Citadel has never been a private school, but some folks might be surprised to know that until 1969, the University of Chattanooga was a private school. At that time, it merged with the University of Tennessee system.

– UTC lost three games last year by the exact same score, 28-27. All came in league play, and all three came against the three SoCon schools that run the triple option. That is an amazing coincidence.

The Citadel had never been involved in a contest that ended with a 28-27 score in its history before last season’s game.

– Kevin Higgins has mentioned that he likes to have a bye week occur after playing an FBS squad, a luxury the Bulldogs don’t have this year. During his seven-plus seasons as head coach of The Citadel, the Bulldogs have played the week immediately following a game against an FBS opponent on four occasions. The Citadel is 2-2 in such games, all at home.

The two losses were the triple-OT loss to Furman in 2005 (after playing Mississippi) and the horrific loss to CSU in 2006 (which following a game against Texas A&M). The Bulldogs beat Presbyterian 26-14 in 2010 (following a long trip to the desert to face Arizona) and edged Chattanooga 24-21 in 2006 (after playing Pittsburgh the week before).

– Of UTC’s six losses last season, five were by a total of twelve points. The Citadel lost seven games last year; four of them were by a total of seventeen points.

– The Citadel was the least-penalized team in all of FCS last season, both in terms of number of penalties and yardage. Chattanooga was fourth nationally in both categories, so there should be a lot of disciplined players on the field this Saturday.

– Looking through UTC’s game notes, I noticed that Jack Douglas holds the record for most rushing attempts by an opponent against the Mocs, rushing 38 times in the 1991 game (for 155 yards). Douglas’ 38 carries are the second-most by a Bulldog in a game, only bettered by Andrew Johnson’s 47 carries against William & Mary in 1974 (Johnson rushed for 241 yards against the Tribe).

The Bulldogs had 83 rushing attempts as a team in that 1991 contest, a 33-26 loss at Chattanooga, the most by an opponent against UTC, and also the most attempts The Citadel has ever had in a contest.

That was the first game for The Citadel after ditching an ill-fated experiment with the “split back veer”. From the Chattanooga game onward, the Bulldogs ran the wishbone for the rest of Charlie Taaffe’s tenure as head coach of The Citadel.

– Another Bulldog, Nehemiah Broughton, holds the distinction of having made the longest TD run from scrimmage by an opponent against the Mocs, a 92-yarder in 2004 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Citadel won that game 44-24. It was the third-longest run in The Citadel’s history, only eclipsed by Bob Carson’s 95-yard TD versus Boston University in 1971 and Travis Jervey’s 96-yard touchdown against VMI in 1994.

Jervey will be inducted into The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend.

– Halftime adjustments and speeches, ahoy: The Citadel has outscored its opponents 52-7 in the third quarter this season.

– In the 1988 game against Chattanooga I mentioned earlier, the Mocs’ head coach was Buddy Nix. He is now the general manager of the Buffalo Bills.

– There has been some talk about beer being sold in the concessions stands at Finley Stadium during Chattanooga home football games, but no decision will be made on that until UTC hires a new chancellor and director of athletics. Chattanooga averaged 10,436 fans per game last season at Finley.

Chattanooga basically ran a “pro-style” offense last season, which took advantage of the talents of starting quarterback B.J. Coleman. Without Coleman, and with two quarterbacks who can both run and pass, the Mocs looked to transition into a spread attack this season.

There have been a few speed bumps along the way, none bigger than the drama of three weeks ago, when Terrell “Silk” Robinson quit the team on September 4, then changed his mind and rejoined the squad two days later.

Robinson was the 2011 co-freshman of the year in the SoCon for his efforts replacing Coleman after the latter was injured midway through the season. Robinson started three games at quarterback for the Mocs last year, and also started this year’s season opener against South Florida. However, he was replaced during that game by Jacob Huesman, who has started at QB for the last three games.

Jacob Huesman is, of course, the son of the head coach, and so this isn’t your average quarterback controversy. Of course, not everyone is willing to admit it is a controversy at all.

Regardless of which one takes the majority of the snaps on Saturday, expect Robinson to be on the field in some capacity on most offensive downs. Russ Huesman had this to say about how the offense was going to be structured against The Citadel:

The bottom line is that Terrell and Jacob better get touches. This is the last week I’m going to say that. They are our two best players when the ball is in their hands. They have to touch the ball.

In his press conference, Huesman mentioned Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and the KSU offense as a model for what he would like to see from the Mocs. Against Oklahoma last Saturday, Klein threw 21 passes and had 17 rushing attempts. That is presumably the kind of output Huesman would like to see from the quarterback position, with (I’m guessing) some additional “touches” for Robinson as a receiver.

That certainly didn’t happen last week against Appalachian State. In that game, the two QBs combined to throw the ball 35 times, with only 14 rushing attempts (and four of those were sacks). It did not help that 12 of UTC’s 27 plays on first down were “spike plays” — plays that gained zero yards, or lost yards, and thus no better than just spiking the football.

Hey, I’m providing trendy, cutting-edge terminology in these previews.

Chattanooga’s offensive line has some experience, with 80 career starts among the five projected starters on Saturday, but left tackle Brandon Morgan is questionable for the game against The Citadel with a shoulder injury, and his backup is recovering from a knee problem. Starting left guard Synjen Herren is the least experienced of the starting group, as he is a redshirt freshman. Right tackle Adam Miller has started 36 games in his career and was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection.

Marlon Anthony, who caught six passes against the Bulldogs last season, is UTC’s leading returning receiver, but he has been slowed by an ankle injury (he started his first game of the season against App State). The Mocs’ top passing target is actually tight end Faysal Shafaat, a 6’5″, 240-lb. native of Orlando who leads UTC in both receptions (16) and receiving yardage (177) after four games. He will be a difficult matchup for The Citadel, as will Anthony (who is also 6’5″).

Three different running backs have started for the Mocs this season.Between them, they are averaging 3.6 yards per carry. The most experienced of the three, senior J.J. Jackson, is a dependable receiver out of the backfield, with seven receptions this year (12.7 yards per catch).

By the way, the longest play from scrimmage by a UTC player so far this season was a 62-yard run by Jacob Huesman against Jacksonville State. That came on the first play of his first career start.

“Typically throughout the years, Russ and this defense have played the option as good, if not better than everybody else in our league,” The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said during Tuesday’s Southern Conference media teleconference.

Huesman didn’t necessarily agree with that assessment, but he did say he felt “about as good as you can feel going into an option game.”

UTC defense — 2011

The Citadel: 265 yards rushing, 4.6 ypc
Georgia Southern: 326 yards rushing, 6.2 ypc
Wofford: 358 yards rushing, 5.6 ypc

UTC defense — 2010

The Citadel: 238 yards rushing, 4.2 ypc
Georgia Southern: 255 yards rushing, 5.2 ypc
Wofford: 295 yards rushing, 4.5 ypc

The 2011 numbers for the three teams against Chattanooga are very close to what they averaged per game on the ground that season. The Mocs won two of the six games listed above, beating both The Citadel and Georgia Southern in 2010.

One curiosity in the schedule is that in each of the last three years (including this one), Chattanooga has played the three triple option teams in the same order — The Citadel first, followed by Georgia Southern and then Wofford. This year is different in that the Mocs have a bye week after playing the Bulldogs. In the previous two seasons, UTC played The Citadel and Georgia Southern in back-to-back weeks.

UTC does have a number of outstanding defensive players, and will definitely be a challenge for Triple O’Higgins. One major difference between last year’s team and this season’s squad is the presence of two big (and I mean big) newcomers in the middle of the defensive line. Derrick Lott is a 6’4″, 303-lb. transfer from Georgia, while his backup Chris Mayes is a 6’3″, 295-lb. transfer from the Naval Academy. Both will see time, and both will be more than a handful for the Bulldogs’ o-line.

They join proven performers like Buchanan Watch list member Wes Dothard, the Mocs’ outstanding middle linebacker; defensive ends Josh Williams (an all-conference performer) and Davis Tull (who already has four sacks this season); and excellent defensive backs D.J. Key (strong safety) and Kadeem Wise (cornerback).

Nick Pollard is the regular placekicker and punter for the Mocs this season, after just handling FGs and PATs last year (and handling them fairly well). On kickoffs and long field goals, UTC will usually trot out freshman Henrique Ribiero. In this case, it appears “long field goals” means more than 40 yards. Ribiero is a native of Brazil who made a 57-yard field goal in high school.

The Mocs employ the “rugby style” of punting, which they went to late last season after some punt protection problems (notably the punt blocked by Chris Billingslea for a Rod Harland TD in The Citadel’s victory over UTC).  It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs’ punt return team adjusts to this particular punting technique.

Chaz Moore is a solid kickoff returner who the Bulldogs must contain. The Citadel allowed a long kickoff return in the App State game, something that got overshadowed by the fact that the Bulldogs had so many kickoffs in that game. Both of The Citadel’s kickoff return units must improve on Saturday.

I think Saturday’s game is going to be a tight affair. Chattanooga almost has to win the game if it has any hopes of making a playoff push, while The Citadel needs to regain any momentum lost following the NC State game.

Points may be at a premium, which wouldn’t be the best omen for the home team. Kevin Higgins is now 2-36 when one of his Bulldog teams fails to score more than 20 points in a game. UTC is also a decent road team (6-6 in its last twelve SoCon road contests).

I’m not trying to be pessimistic. I’m just worried about facing a somewhat desperate but talented team, one that remembers all too well the game it let get away last season.

There are positive developments to consider as well, though. Derek Douglas should see more snaps on Saturday, which can only help the defense, particularly the defensive line. Speaking of the d-line, Mark Thomas has played like a potential star, a very nice bonus this year.

After just four games, The Citadel is only 40 yards away from surpassing its aerial yardage total from all of last season. Think about that.

Saturday’s game will feature halftime ceremonies honoring the newest members of The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame. I already noted that one of them is Travis Jervey. The others are former baseball pitchers Jim Scott and Brian Wiley, 800-meter runner Mike Cason, and former basketball coach and AD Les Robinson.

I hope a good crowd shows up for this game. There is a chance for thunderstorms in the Charleston area on Saturday night, which could be a problem in terms of walk-up attendance (that was certainly the case for the GSU game). Still, I would like to think that with the way the Bulldogs have performed so far this season, there is an uptick of support, and a corresponding increase in the number of people in the stands. We shall see.

Can’t wait for Saturday.