Game Review, 2012: Western Carolina

The Citadel 45, Western Carolina 31.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Story (with video), WCSC-TV

Kevin Higgins’ postgame presser (video), with Brandon McCladdie and Darien Robinson

Box score

Phew.

At the end of this post are some photos I took before and during the game. I’m including quite a few shots of the corps marching on to the field, more than usual.

As for the game shots, I tried to take more “action” shots this time, to go along with my standard pre-snap photos. As I’ve said many times, I’m not a good photographer, and my camera is just as limited as I am. Thus, the pictures can be hit-or-miss, with a lot more misses than hits.

Now for some random observations from the game, in no particular order.

The key play of the game, without any question, came with a little over nine minutes remaining in the third quarter:

Austin Jordan kickoff 54 yards to the WCU11, Shaun Warren return 8 yards to the WCU19 (Vinny Miller).

That is how the play was described in the box score play-by-play account. To say the description does not do Vinny Miller justice is a massive understatement.

Miller did not merely tackle the kick returner. HE BLEW HIM UP. There are balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade that aren’t blown up as much. The only reason the WCU player did not fumble the football is because the ball was basically pressed to his body in the same way a suction cup can be attached to a flat surface. Such was the force of the hit.

At the time, the game was tied at 24, and the crowd was, shall we say, apprehensive. After Miller’s hit, the atmosphere in the stadium markedly changed. The fans got wound up, and so did the defense, which to that point in the game had not forced a Western Carolina punt.

The sequence following Miller’s tackle went like this: defense forces three-and-out (including a sack by Cam Mobley, the Bulldogs’ first of the game), offense gets great field position, offense scores in four plays (helped by a 15-yard Catamount penalty), defense forces another three-and-out, offense drives 84 yards in 11 plays and scores to give The Citadel a two-touchdown lead.

The tackle was a huge, momentum-swinging event. I am not one who puts much stock in big hits meaning a whole lot over the course of a game, but this was an exception. I don’t think anyone who was at the game would disagree with me (and Kevin Higgins referenced it during his postgame interview with the press).

Listed above in the links section is WCSC’s video story for the game. The play leading to Miller’s tackle starts at around the 1:10 mark. To be honest, I’m not sure the video gives viewers a true understanding of the hit’s magnitude. I guess you had to be there. I am glad that I was.

For the most part, the offensive play calling was excellent for The Citadel against Western Carolina. However, I have to take issue with one particular call. I don’t criticize play calling too much, because I know full well I’m no expert, but in this case I feel compelled to point out what I think was a mistake.

I’m now going to criticize a play call by the Bulldogs that resulted in a touchdown for The Citadel…

The situation was this: fourth quarter, The Citadel clinging to a 38-31 lead. Western Carolina had just scored and attempted an onside kick, only for it to be collected by Domonic Jones. With 4:39 remaining, the Bulldogs began the drive on the WCU 46.

The Citadel picked up two first downs. Then, with less than two minutes to play, the Bulldogs faced third-and-four on the WCU 19. Ben Dupree rushed for six yards and a first down at the WCU 13. With just one timeout remaining and less than ninety seconds left in regulation, it was over for Western Carolina. The Citadel could go into “victory formation” and run out the clock.

Instead, the Bulldogs ran another play, a toss to Van Dyke Jones, who ran 13 yards for a touchdown.

Why?

If you take a knee (or two), the game is over. Why risk another play and a potential turnover — especially a pitch? I didn’t understand that at all.

Even the result (a touchdown) doesn’t end the argument, because The Citadel gave the ball back to Western Carolina with 1:16 to play. WCU was down by two scores, but at least had the ball and a chance (however remote) for a miracle. If the Bulldogs had taken a knee, the Catamounts wouldn’t have had that opportunity.

What if Western Carolina had run the kickoff back for a TD, then recovered an onside kick? The Catamounts would have had about a minute (and a timeout) to tie the game. Sure, it would have been a longshot, but if you’re WCU that is better than no shot.

Another issue is that The Citadel’s defense had to go back onto the field. It wound up being for only five plays, but those are five plays the defense really did not need. Admittedly, one of them resulted in an emphatic sack by Chris Billingslea, the video of which he can use as an audition tape for the WWE.

I just think when you have a chance to run out the clock and end the game, you should do so.

I was really glad to see the Bulldogs wearing light blue jerseys and white pants on Saturday. I wouldn’t mind seeing the same combination for Homecoming. It’s a good look. It’s also the right look.

Full credit must be given to Western Carolina’s Rock Williams, an indefatigable tackler. He had 24 stops (17 solo) against The Citadel. Williams also stole the ball from Ben Dupree when the Bulldogs were driving for an apparent score, which was just a ridiculous play by the Catamount linebacker. WCU needs a few more guys like Williams in its lineup.

After the game, I was happy the Bulldogs won, but more relieved than anything. Losing to Western Carolina in that situation would have had a lot of negative consequences.

I don’t know if the team would have completely lost confidence if it had lost the game, but I think a significant percentage of the fan base would have. It was only a few weeks ago that The Citadel was riding high at 3-0, but if the Bulldogs had followed up less-than-competitive losses to Chattanooga and Samford with a home loss to a woeful Western Carolina squad on Parents’ Day — well, the knives might have come out.

By winning, the Bulldogs avoided losing three games in four seasons to WCU, a program that has now lost 48 of its last 51 SoCon contests. The Citadel also snapped a five-game losing skid in “celebration games” (Parents’ Day and Homecoming), a streak which certainly wasn’t helping longterm attendance issues.

All in all, the second half was (in my opinion) pivotal for the tenure of Kevin Higgins. I’m glad the Bulldogs overcame serious defensive issues and made enough plays to get the victory.

The bye week comes at a good time. The Citadel has two weeks to figure things out on defense; the Bulldogs definitely need that time. Injured players will have a chance to heal, and the team can mentally prepare for the four-game finish.

Before the season started, I thought a winning season would be considered a successful year. The Citadel is 4-3, not exactly in the way its fans may have envisioned it being 4-3, but regardless the Bulldogs are still in a decent position to accomplish that goal. It won’t be easy, but it can (and should) be done.

It’s time to take a breath before the stretch run.

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