2012 Football, Week 10: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel at VMI, to be played at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 10.  The game 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. Live video of the game will be available for a fee from the Big South Network.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

VMI game notes

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches Poll

The Kevin Higgins Show (following the game against Elon), Part 1 and Part 2

Kevin Higgins’ 11/5 press conference quotes

Catching up with…Sadath Jean-Pierre

Sparky Woods at VMI’s Quarterback Club luncheon (with a guest appearance by VMI hoops coach Duggar Baucom)

Map of VMI campus

Saturday is going to be a busy day when it comes to athletic contests between The Citadel and VMI. Most of this post will focus on the football game, of course, but around the time the fourth quarter begins in Virginia, the Bulldog hoopsters will take on the Keydet cagers in McAlister Field House as part of the All-Military Classic.

That’s not all, though. Actually, most of the Dog vs. Roo action will occur on VMI’s campus, much of it prior to the football game.

At 10 am, there will be simultaneous competitions, both at the recently renamed Saunders Fields, a/k/a the North Post complex. On one field, there will be a women’s rugby game. On another, a men’s lacrosse match. Later in the day, following the football game, there will be a men’s rugby game at the North Post.

Admission to those matches is free, with donations going to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Anyone who is heading to VMI for the football game ought to check out these contests as well, particularly the lacrosse match, which should be a spirited affair. An additional way to support the teams and the SOWF: buying t-shirts and hats.

Another benefit to watching the Bulldogs’ lacrosse team is getting to see their snazzy uniforms in person, as they know how to wear camo. This includes the helmets.

I wrote extensively about VMI’s gridiron struggles last year. This season for the Keydets has been more of the same, and I’m not inclined to repeat what I wrote before. Some quick observations:

– VMI is 2-7, 1-4 in the Big South. The two victories have come against Chowan and Presbyterian. Both of those wins came at Foster Stadium; on the road, the Keydets are 0-5. Average score of those five losses: 35-8. VMI will be more than happy to host The Citadel this Saturday.

– Through nine games this season, VMI has only had 20 offensive plays that resulted in a gain of 20+ yards. By way of comparison, The Citadel has had 38 such plays. The Keydets have only had one rushing play of more than 20 yards all year.

Of those 20 “big plays” for VMI, only six have gone for 30 or more yards, the same number of 30-yard+ plays The Citadel had in its victory over Appalachian State.

– VMI is 0-7 when trailing at halftime, despite the fact that the Keydets have only suffered two early blowouts (against Coastal Carolina and Stony Brook). VMI has hung around in most of its losses, generally trailing by about ten points at the break.

The reason the Keydets haven’t been able to mount a few successful comebacks is simple: VMI can’t score (10.6 ppg).

– Sparky Woods spoke at VMI’s Quarterback Club luncheon about the Keydets’ most recent game, the 45-7 loss at Stony Brook (you can see that at one of the above links). He also discussed the matchup during the Big South teleconference, but Woods was speaking to a different audience in Lexington and his comments reflected that.

He seemed to emphasize the transient nature of Stony Brook’s roster when talking to the QC, saying something to the effect that VMI did not face many players actually recruited out of high school by the Seawolves, but rather a squad made up largely of transfers, including a former Iowa running back and refugees from Hofstra’s now-disbanded program.

I don’t think Woods was being defensive; rather, he appeared to be matter-of-factly explaining the way of the world to his audience. Stony Brook’s football program is leaving the Big South after this season, and because of that it may have been easier for Woods to outline the differences between the two squads.

– Since Stony Brook is leaving the Big South, I have a suggestion for the VMI administration: go ahead and take advantage of the extra non-conference game created by the Seawolves’ departure by scheduling an easy win.

VMI desperately needs to get that “no winning seasons since 1981” monkey off its back. The simplest way to do that is to schedule as many sure-thing victories as possible.

If the Big South is going to be a six-member league in football for a while, that means the Keydets will play five conference games each season. I’m assuming VMI needs to schedule a “guarantee” game each year. The remaining five contests, though, ought to include The Citadel and four teams the Keydets should expect to beat.

I realize VMI has long-cherished rivalries with Richmond and William & Mary (although the Tribe is not on the schedule this season), but I think it is more important long-term for Keydet football to develop some momentum, and to do that VMI needs to win some games. Right now, VMI is not going to pick up victories against those two schools (the Spiders won this year’s meeting in Lexington 47-6, the tenth straight win for UR in the series since VMI joined the Big South).

I think VMI should try to get four out-of-conference “gimmes” on the slate. Win those, pick off a couple of Big South opponents (more than manageable), and suddenly the Keydets wind up with a winning season.

– VMI has a new defensive coordinator this year, Jeff Farrington. He is a 1982 graduate of The Citadel, and is thus part of a semi-tradition of sort: grads from one of the military colleges coaching at the other (like Bobby Ross and Cal McCombs).

– This will be the second time VMI has faced a triple option team this season. The Keydets played Navy earlier in the year, losing 41-3. VMI trailed by just ten points (13-3) at halftime of that game, partly because Navy shot itself in the foot on multiple occasions, but also because the Keydet D played fairly well in the first half.

Considering that fifteen of the twenty-two players on VMI’s defensive two-deep are freshmen, sophomores, or redshirt sophomores, that wasn’t a bad effort. Nosetackle Charlie Jones and left end Shawn Chapman are the only seniors on VMI’s depth chart for defense.

VMI lined up against Navy in a five-man front, just as it did against The Citadel last season. For an extensive and excellent explanation of how the Keydets defended the triple option, and what Navy did to combat what they were doing, I highly recommend The Birddog’s post about the game, complete with video analysis:

VMI spent the game in a 5-man front, which meant that we saw a lot of zone dives and zone options. The coaches like to run the zone dive against odd fronts– or any front where the defense has someone lined up directly across from the center– because it’s an easy read for the fullback. The fullback reads the DT and runs to the opposite side of the center that the DT plays.

Navy actually didn’t run a lot of “true” triple option plays in that game, because of how VMI was playing defense.

– VMI has had the same starting eleven on defense in all but one game this season. One of those starters, free safety Adam Morgan, saw action against The Citadel last season as a quarterback, backing up Eric Kordenbrock.

Morgan was the Big South defensive player of the week on October 8 after intercepting two passes against Presbyterian. He is the only Keydet to receive league player of the week honors this season.

– At Kevin Higgins’ weekly press conference, the two Bulldog football players who spoke to the media were defensive lineman Bay Amrhein and offensive guard Jim Knowles. I was reminded again that there is a significant element of educational/life experience in intercollegiate athletics when Knowles (a native of Florida) said the trip to VMI would be the first time he had ever been that far north.

– Higgins noted that the Keydets lead the Big South in pass attempts. What he was polite enough not to say was that while VMI does lead that league in pass attempts, it is only fourth in the Big South in completed passes.

VMI is last in the Big South in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, and red zone offense. It is next-to-last in offensive pass efficiency, first downs made, turnover margin, and penalties committed.

Kevin Higgins singled out Keydet wide receiver James Rogers as someone to watch. Rogers is actually listed as a backup on the two-deep, but leads the team with 32 receptions, including an 80-yard TD grab against Gardner-Webb.

– The Keydets are not strong in special teams play. VMI is last in the Big South in kickoff return average and net punting, and next-to-last in kickoff coverage. The Keydets have only converted four of nine field goal attempts. What VMI is fairly good at is returning punts.

Fans who attended last year’s game at Johnson Hagood Stadium between these two teams will remember that VMI’s punt unit was — well, it was terrible, to be honest. The Citadel blocked three punts in that game.

This year VMI has tightened things up, only allowing one blocked punt all season.

– Conference opponents have committed more penalties against VMI than any other Big South team, which suggests that sloppy play can be viral. The Bulldogs have to be careful on that front after committing a higher-than-normal number of penalties against Elon.

Should The Citadel win this game on Saturday? Yes. Is it a lock? Absolutely not.

I can recall a few VMI teams a lot worse than this year’s edition giving The Citadel a hard time. I remember 1986 and 1989 all too well (especially 1986, the game that sealed Tom Moore’s fate as head coach of the Bulldogs).

That’s the nature of a true rivalry. People remember plays that happened decades ago, like Brian Ruff’s stop to clinch the 1975 game, or the back-to-back TD runs by Gene Brown in 1988.

I won’t be surprised at all if Triple O’Higgins struggles in the first half against VMI’s defense, which is probably better than its statistics suggest. The Bulldogs need to remain patient on both sides of the ball. The Citadel also must take advantage of its solid edge in the kicking game.

This is a big game, not just because the coveted Silver Shako is on the line, but because a victory would clinch a winning season for The Citadel. If the Bulldogs finish with at least six wins, they will have accomplished their primary goal.

I think it’s going to be tougher than expected on Saturday for the Bulldogs. VMI will be ready to play. A win over The Citadel will make the Keydets’ season.

It will be a challenge. The Citadel must meet that challenge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: