2012 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Elon

The Citadel vs. Elon, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 3.  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

Elon game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show (10/30), Part 1 and Part 2

Comments from Kevin Higgins at his weekly press conference

Elon’s video highlights package from its game last week against Furman

Furman’s video highlights package from its game last week against Elon

Homecoming calendar of events

The Citadel really needs to win on Saturday against Elon. For one, it needs to break a few streaks:

— The Citadel has lost three straight Homecoming games

— The Citadel has lost four straight games to Elon (including Homecoming in 2010)

— The Citadel has lost four of its last five games

Of course, Elon has also lost four of its last five games, and is only 3-5 overall (1-4 in the SoCon). The Bulldogs will be a slight favorite to break the aforementioned streaks.

Elon’s most recent game was a 31-17 home loss to Furman. The biggest play in that game was a 95-yard fumble return for a TD by the Paladins when Elon was on the verge of tying the score. On the final drive of the game for the Phoenix, quarterback Thomas Wilson was sacked five times in a seven-play sequence. It is not often a team gets sacked five times on one drive.

Only 6,158 people attended the game — at least, that was the official count — leading Elon head coach Jason Swepson to say:

It felt like a coffin out there, and we didn’t help it. There was no one in the stands. We had to create our own energy, and we were flat.

I’m guessing Elon won’t be using “It felt like a coffin out there” as a tag line on next year’s season tickets brochure.

The Phoenix rank near the bottom of the Southern Conference in scoring defense (eighth of nine teams) and rush defense (seventh). Of course, The Citadel doesn’t rank highly in the league of either of those categories, either.

Elon allowed 342 yards rushing at Georgia Southern, similar to the 312 yards rushing the Eagles had versus The Citadel. However, the following week against Wofford, the Phoenix gave up 500 yards rushing (at home), with the Terriers’ Eric Breitenstein accounting for 321 of those yards.

That would seem to put a dent in the theory that it is easier for teams to defend the triple option after having recently faced another triple option squad.

Elon nosetackle Tony Thompson was a preseason second-team all-league selection. Lined up behind Thompson is MLB Jonathan Spann, who leads the team in tackles. The Bulldogs must neutralize both players on Saturday. Danny Reed is hoping that defensive tackle Olufemi Lamikanra doesn’t make many stops.

In his press conference on Monday, Kevin Higgins noted that Elon does “a lot defensively and they are all over the place…so there will be some opportunities for, hopefully, big plays, but at the same time they are going to kick you in the teeth a couple of times [because] they are very aggressive.”

Aaron Mellette is Elon’s best player, and he’ll be playing on Sundays next year. If the Bulldogs can keep him in check, they stand a good chance of holding down Elon’s entire passing game, as Mellette has accounted for 43% of the Phoenix’s receiving yardage this year.

Mellette is a 6’4″ wideout with very good speed. He has caught at least two touchdown passes in the Phoenix’s last six games, and has 13 or more receptions in three of Elon’s last four games, with no fewer than 154 yards receiving in any of those contests.

He has 15 catches this season of 20 yards or more. Mellette caught a 41-yard touchdown pass in last year’s game against The Citadel. The Bulldogs cannot afford to let him have a big game on Saturday.

The same goes for Elon quarterback Thomas Wilson, in his second full season as Elon’s starter. When Elon was The Citadel’s Homecoming opponent two years ago, Wilson made his first career start after longtime Phoenix QB/3B Scott “Chickenhawk” Riddle was unable to play after suffering an injury. Wilson did a fine job, leading Elon to a 27-16 victory.

Wilson has put up some big passing numbers this season, including 419 yards at Appalachian State (Mellette accounted for 237 of those yards), 412 yards versus Western Carolina, 322 yards against Wofford, and 302 yards at Georgia Southern. He is occasionally interception-prone (three picks against the Mountaineers), and the Bulldogs have to take advantage of any errant tosses.

Elon has thrown between 33 and 47 passes in each of its last five games. The Citadel’s secondary must be up to the challenge. It won’t be easy; not only does Elon throw the ball a lot, it is efficient in doing so (leading the league in that department).

The Phoenix are last in the SoCon in rushing offense, and by more than 40 yards per game. Elon is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. The Bulldog D needs to force that trend to continue, and ensure that the Phoenix offense remains one-dimensional.

Elon has a fine placekicker in Adam Shreiner, who is 12 for 15 on field goal attempts this season. Shreiner was a key factor in the Phoenix’s win over the Bulldogs last season, as he made four field goals in that contest.

The Phoenix are last in the SoCon in net punting. and next-to-last in kickoff coverage.

Odds and ends:

— Each week, Elon’s coaches select an outstanding offensive and defensive scout team player of the week. Those two players lead the rest of the team onto the field for each game, carrying the flags of the United States and the State of North Carolina. It’s an interesting idea, although it’s a shame that the Phoenix are forced to carry a mediocre banner like North Carolina’s state flag.

South Carolina definitely has a huge edge on its neighbor state when it comes to flags. It’s just another reason North Carolina is often referred to as “South Carolina’s hat”.

— The Citadel continues to lead the nation in fewest penalties committed per game (3.13) and fewest penalty yards per game (21).

— The first question posed to Kevin Higgins at Monday’s press conference concerned the team’s uniforms. Higgins confirmed that the team would wear light blue and white for Homecoming. This obviously meets with my full approval.

— The Citadel is averaging 13,255 fans per home contest. Homecoming will likely improve that statistic.

— The Regimental Band and Pipes will perform at halftime. I hope the band is allowed to play more during the game, too. That has been an issue this season.

— Also in action on Saturday will be members of The Citadel’s wrestling team, competing in The Citadel Open. If you’re wandering around campus Saturday morning and looking for something to do, check out McAlister Field House, where the competition is being held.

The Citadel has a very promising group of wrestlers, including two defending league champions, and was a close second to Chattanooga in the SoCon’s preseason poll. Rob Hjerling’s squad is definitely one to watch.

Elon may only be 1-4 in the SoCon, but it has been in almost every league game. The Phoenix lost 26-23 at Georgia Southern, 35-23 at Appalachian State, and lost the Furman game in large part due to the long fumble return I mentioned earlier (essentially a 14-point swing in a game that was decided by 14 points).

This is not going to be an easy game for The Citadel. In Wilson and (especially) Mellette, Elon has the players to really put on a show at the home team’s expense. The Citadel needs to close down the Phoenix run game (which seems doable), prevent Mellette from making big plays (a challenge), and regularly stop Elon on third down (a must).

Offensively, The Citadel should have some opportunities, and I expect Triple O’Higgins to have a good day. As always, The Bulldogs need to avoid committing turnovers. The Citadel must also stay in manageable second- and third-down situations, something that didn’t happen late in last week’s game against Wofford. The loss of Keith Carter to a torn Achilles’ tendon is yet another injury setback that the Bulldogs are going to have to overcome.

I am looking forward to Saturday. The atmosphere will be festive, and the tailgating scene should be tremendous, but all those alums better make sure they make their way into Johnson Hagood Stadium by kickoff in order to cheer on the Bulldogs.

I’ll be there.