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.

McAlister Musings: SoCon voting issues, preseason ratings, and corps attendance

Before I get to the three specific topics I am discussing in this post, some links of interest:

My preview of The Citadel’s 2012-13 basketball season

Chuck Driesell talks Bulldog hoops with Danny Reed (video)

More hoops talk with Chuck Driesell and Danny Reed (video)

Jeff Hartsell was there to Meet the Bulldogs, and was impressed with two freshmen

Mike Groselle is one of the candidates for the Senior CLASS award

Groselle is ready for the season to start (video)

Preview from The Post and Courier

Quick note: In that first Chuck Driesell interview, the coach mentions having had a bunch of his father’s old game reels converted to DVD. I bet a significant number of people (mostly Maryland fans) wouldn’t mind paying for copies of those.

Recently the Southern Conference released its annual preseason polls, both from the media and the coaches. The Citadel received the fewest votes in either poll, but that’s not what I’m writing about. My concern has to do with the way the polls were conducted.

I don’t have a major issue with the media poll, although I would like to know how the conference came up with a total of 30 voters. There are twelve schools in the league, so how were the votes apportioned?

Obviously it’s only a preseason poll and thus not a big deal, but I do have serious reservations about a media vote that did matter, namely last season’s all-conference team selections. I’ll get to that later.

However, first I want to take a look at the coaches’ poll, because it is a puzzler. All twelve coaches voted, but coaches could not vote for their own team. They also could not vote for their own players in the voting for the preseason all-conference team. I’m more interested in the breakdown for the team polling, however.

Total number of points for the teams in the North division: 246

Total number of points for the teams in the South division: 241

That makes no sense; both divisions should add up to the same number of points. Each division should have 246 points allocated to its six teams in some fashion. That is the case for the North, but the South somehow got shortchanged five points.

Because Davidson received all eleven possible first-place votes (Bob McKillop not being allowed to vote for his own team), the Wildcats should have received the maximum number of possible points, 66. Instead, Davidson got 65 points, so one of those five “missing” points belongs to Jake Cohen and company.

Conversely, the fewest possible number of points a team could get in this particular voting setup is 16. That would happen if a team were the last choice in a division by all the other coaches. The Citadel was the preseason last-place selection in the South division, and got, uh, 15 points.

The Citadel actually got fewer points in the SoCon preseason coaches’ poll than was technically possible. If that isn’t bulletin board material, I don’t know what is.

It’s only a preseason poll, though, so why should anyone care? I’ll tell you why. It is just part of a pattern of questionable polling/selection practices administered by the conference. Exhibit A in that respect is last season’s All-SoCon teams.

Last season there were four obvious choices for first-team honors in the Southern Conference: Jake Cohen, De’Mon Brooks, Mike Groselle, and Eric Ferguson. They were, by any legitimate measure, the league’s top four players. Cohen, Brooks, and Ferguson did make the first team, but Groselle was relegated to the second team in favor of Wofford’s Brad Loesing and UNCG’s Trevis Simpson.

Am I biased? Yes. However, check out this statistical comparison:

Player A Player B
Points 501 550
PPG 16.7 18.3
eFG% 59.1 44.5
Rebounds 288 127
Rb/g 9.6 4.2
Assists 54 22
A/g 1.8 0.7
Steals 43 23
S/g 1.4 0.8
Blocks 19 6
Turnovers 65 67

Player A is Mike Groselle. Player B is Trevis Simpson.

I’m not trying to knock Simpson, who is a good player, and one of the league’s better performers last season. I think you could make a decent case for him over Loesing, actually. I just find it hard to imagine how someone could vote for both of those players over Groselle.

Groselle was the league’s leading rebounder and finished second in scoring to Simpson, who took 151 more shots over the course of the season (which is reflected in his eFG%). I know that UNCG won the North division, and I suppose Simpson could get extra credit for that, but if the Spartans had been in the South they wouldn’t have finished in the top half of that division. They did lose 19 games last season, after all (The Citadel lost 24).

I can’t tell you how close the voting was, because the league didn’t provide voting totals for its all-conference teams, at least not publicly; it also didn’t release how many people voted for them. This stands in stark contrast to a conference like the ACC, which publishes that information.

I don’t really understand why the league releases point totals for the preseason polls (which are meaningless) but not for its all-conference teams (which are not meaningless). Maybe it is afraid someone will compare the number of voters to the point totals and discover a discrepancy. I don’t know.

I haven’t even discussed the qualifications of the voters. I can’t, since I don’t know who they are. I don’t know if they are actual media members or merely affiliated with one of the schools. I also don’t know if the voters are evenly distributed by region.

It would be nice to know these things.

If you have a statistical bent when it comes to college hoops, then you probably know who Ken Pomeroy is, and you may know who Dan Hanner is. Both are affiliated with Basketball Prospectus, although Pomeroy has his own site, which is very popular with the tempo-free stats crowd (Hanner writes for RealGM.com).

Anyway, both have released their preseason ratings. It is no surprise that The Citadel is not rated highly.  The Bulldogs are 297th out of 347 Division I teams in Pomeroy’s preseason ratings, and 292nd out of 345 in Hanner’s rankings (Hanner does not rank Northern Kentucky and New Orleans, which are transitioning to D-1).

The Citadel is the lowest-rated SoCon team in Pomeroy’s ratings, but is ahead of two league schools in Hanner’s rankings. Samford and Appalachian State are below the Bulldogs in the latter system.

While Hanner’s rankings are part of the just-published 2012-13 College Basketball Prospectus guide, The Citadel is still predicted to finish last in the league in the SoCon section of the annual. The writer for the SoCon section is Joey Berlin, a freelance writer from Kansas City.

In discussing last year’s Bulldogs, Berlin wrote that “Despite the school’s name, the only impenetrable fortress at Citadel games was the opposing team’s basket.”

Pomeroy rates the SoCon 20th overall among conferences, and the new-look CAA 16th. I’m not sure that will provide much comfort to the College of Charleston’s administration as that school prepares to change leagues (assuming it does eventually do so).

Another ratings system was recently released by David Hess, who is affiliated with TeamRankings.com. In Hess’ ratings, The Citadel is 314th out of 347 teams. The Bulldogs are projected to have a record of 9-18 (5-13 SoCon), with a 0.2% chance of winning 20 games and a 0.1% chance of finishing with the best record in the league.

When I looked at his list of The Citadel’s toughest and easiest games, I was mildly surprised to see that the Bulldogs’ toughest game (at least prior to the start of the season) is projected to be the game at St. Bonaventure, as opposed to the games against Georgia Tech, Clemson, or Davidson.

During the 2011-12 campaign, The Citadel averaged 1,840 fans per game over a 14-game home season. For conference games, the number was 1,813. When the Bulldogs played on the road in the Southern Conference, the average opposition attendance was 2,546.

The Citadel only outdrew two other league teams for SoCon home games, Elon and Samford. The Citadel’s numbers were very similar to those of Furman and Wofford.

That’s not a big surprise, as the Bulldogs went 6-24. However, The Citadel obviously needs to improve on that average. For one thing, I believe increased attendance can occasionally affect the results on the court, not only in terms of inspiring the team or intimidating the opponents, but in influencing SoCon officials (especially for weekend games). The Bulldogs need all the help they can get.

There is a built-in group of potential basketball attendees, though, who could really boost the totals and exponentially increase the support/intimidation factor. That would be the corps of cadets.

I have been at McAlister Field House on more than one occasion when a rowdy group of cadets managed to discombobulate the opposition. It doesn’t take a lot of them to have an impact, either.

(Incidentally, from personal experience during my cadet years, I can attest that natives of New York and New Jersey seem to be particularly good at annoying opponents.)

There are those in the corps who come to every game to support the team. Quite a few of them are athletes themselves, including members of the football and baseball teams. Then there is the pep band, which is traditionally outstanding.

The pep band and the “regulars” are great fans, and deserve credit for providing most of the atmosphere McAlister Field House has on game days.

I just wish that the basketball team got support in the same manner that the football team does for home games. Of course, attendance by the corps at football games is mandatory — which leads me to make a couple of suggestions.

I don’t know what The Citadel can do about league games played on Saturdays. I’m not about to advocate that members of the corps should be required to go to Saturday night basketball games (although of course they do attend football games on Saturday).

For Saturday games, I think it is important to make it really worthwhile for cadets to show up. Perhaps free overnights can be considered. At the very least, provide free food. That usually works.

Also, there are cadets who are stuck on campus over the weekend, serving tours or confinements. I would like to see those cadets in the stands cheering on their team, instead of walking on the quad while toting a rifle.

For weeknight contests, I advocate a rotation. The Citadel plays five league home games this season on weeknights. The “hardcore” plan would feature mandatory attendance at three of those five games (hey, it’s only a couple of hours). The “okay, we won’t bother you more than once” plan would have cadets attending at least one game.

For the one-game only plan, each battalion would attend one game. For example, on January 10th, the legendary 1st Battalion would go watch the Bulldogs battle Chattanooga. For the CofC game, 2nd Battalion would get the call. You get the idea.

I would set up the “hardcore” plan like this:

January 10 (Thursday) — Chattanooga — 3rd and 4th Battalions

January 14 (Monday) — College of Charleston — the entire Corps of Cadets

January 31 (Thursday) — Wofford — 1st and 5th Battalions

February 14 (Thursday) — Georgia Southern — 2nd Battalion

February 28 (Thursday) — Furman — the entire Corps of Cadets

Of course, any cadet who wanted to go to a game could go, even if his battalion wasn’t scheduled to attend. I think regulars would get to sit in specific sections for these games.

This setup would be worth at least two wins for The Citadel, in my opinion. I also believe it might increase attendance among the “non-cadet” crowd.

One other suggestion: I think it’s important to indoctrinate the freshmen cadets as quickly as possible. I understand that most of the freshmen were in attendance for “Meet the Bulldogs”, which was an excellent move. I would also make the November 14th contest against Montreat (a Wednesday night game) an “all knobs attend” affair.

I know I’m asking a lot here of the cadets. However, I think it’s important to help out the hoopsters, and jazz things up a bit. I also believe that the basketball program has a great deal of potential if The Citadel could ever turn the corner. The current average attendance is only about 30% of the capacity of McAlister Field House. Even doubling that (in terms of paying customers) would really do wonders for the bottom line.

The season is about to start. Saturday’s game on the hardwood against VMI will be here before you know it.

2012 College Football TV Listings, Week 11

This is a list of every game played during week 11 of the college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school.  All games are listed, televised or not.  For the televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline reporters (where applicable).  I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2012, Week 11

Additional notes:

– I include ESPN3.com games; they are denoted as “ESPN3″.

– The SEC Network has a “split national” telecast this week, with two games. Local affiliates for both the ULL-Florida and Missouri-Tennessee games can be found here: Link

– Local affiliates for the ACC Network game of the week (Georgia Tech-North Carolina) can be found here: Link

– I’ve listed the regional nets carrying the ACC Network “regional” game of the week (Wake Forest-North Carolina State) in a comment on the document.

– The local affiliates for the Southland Network game of the week (Sam Houston State-Northwestern State) can be found here: Link

– I’ve listed the regional network affiliates for the Big East Network game of the week (Cincinnati-Temple) in a comment on the document. A listing of local affiliates can be found here: Link

– Also listed on the document in a comment are the regional nets carrying the following games: Kansas-Texas Tech, William & Mary-Old Dominion, Baylor-Oklahoma, and Southern Mississippi-SMU.

– There are comments in the document with additional information for several other games.

– ABC/ESPN2 coverage maps for the noon ET and 3:30 pm ET games: Link

– BTN (formerly Big Ten Network) “gamefinder”:  Link

– BCS Standings (FBS):  Link

– FCS Coaches’ Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s alarmingly comprehensive and completely indispensable website College Sports on TV, which cannot be lauded enough. It’s a must-bookmark for any fan of college sports, to say the least. Also to be credited, as always, are the indefatigable information gatherers (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the 506.com.  I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

Game Review, 2012: Elon

The Citadel 38, Elon 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Game story, Burlington Times-News

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

The Citadel’s release

Kevin Higgins’ postgame news conference (with Darien Robinson)

Postgame locker room speech

WCSC-TV story on the game (with video highlights)

Box score

The weather was great, the atmosphere was festive, the tailgating was ridiculous, and the Bulldogs won on Homecoming. All in all, it was a very good day to be back at The Citadel.

Was I worried when Elon crawled back from a 25-point deficit to get within a touchdown? Sure. I definitely didn’t want to be in the stands to witness the biggest blown lead in The Citadel’s football history.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, thanks to a 14-play drive that didn’t end until Darien Robinson crashed into the end zone with 2:33 remaining, essentially icing the game. Afterwards, Robinson described Kevin Higgins’ pep talk to the offense before the drive:

Coach got his message across in no uncertain terms. He let us know, we had to establish ourselves on that drive.

Heh…”in no uncertain terms.” Robinson certainly took the message to heart, carrying the ball nine times during the possession (which lasted over six minutes and featured nothing but running plays). He gained 54 of his 178 yards for the day on those nine rushes. Of the final ten plays on the drive, eight were runs by Robinson.

The offensive line came to play at the end, too, especially Mike Sellers, who was taking names on a consistent basis.

I was struck by how physical the game was, from both sides. It took its toll on some of the participants. Elon appeared to get the worst of things, most notably when Phoenix running back Karl Bostick was hurt on a rather brutal play in which he got bent over backwards while being tackled.

Bostick’s injury was to his ankle and may have been season-ending, according to Elon coach Jason Swepson. I was afraid that might be the case when it happened.

I think Elon’s players deserve some credit for not quitting after falling behind 31-6 early in the third quarter, especially after the way the first half ended. That had to have been as crushing a way to go into a locker room for the break as one could imagine.

Swepson made a mistake managing the clock at the end of the half, and the Bulldogs took full advantage. Kevin Higgins could have let the half end, and no one would have criticized him, but he elected to run a play and see what would happen. He made an intelligent call, the quarterback draw, and was rewarded. Three plays later, The Citadel would pull off a “Hail Mary”.

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen The Citadel connect on a Hail Mary in person. At least, I don’t recall another one. I do remember, however, seeing the Bulldogs score a touchdown on the final play of the first half at Johnson Hagood Stadium on one other occasion.

That would have been November 28, 1992. With seven seconds remaining in the first half, The Citadel led North Carolina A&T 13-0 in the first round of the I-AA playoffs. The Aggies had the ball and were inside the Bulldogs’ 30-yard-line, but Tracey Gamble sacked the A&T quarterback, who fumbled. Todd Lair picked up the loose pigskin and rumbled 65 yards for a TD.

As it happens, the 1992 team was honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. Perhaps there was a little magic left over from that ’92 squad…

I linked above to The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery of the game, but just in case anyone missed it, here is a nice shot of Matt Thompson making the reception on the Hail Mary: Link

Having the presence of mind to turn and leap into the end zone may have been more impressive than the catch itself — and the catch was great.

The crowd at Johnson Hagood was announced as 14,853. There was no official total to be had for the number of tailgaters, of course. I really don’t know how many people were tailgating who never entered the stadium. If I said at least 3,000, would that be an outrageous guess? Or would it be a conservative estimate?

Oh, and the flyover was outstanding.

Complaints dept.:

– The Citadel let Elon back into the game by unaccountably bogging down on offense in the second half. After scoring a TD on its opening drive of the stanza, the Bulldogs’ next four drives went like this: lost fumble, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out. A better team may have made The Citadel pay for losing its offensive momentum.

– The defense played well in the first half, but was also a bit lucky. Thomas Wilson failed to connect with Bostick on what would have been a TD pass on the Phoenix’s first possession. Later in the half, the Bulldogs blew a coverage, but Wilson overthrew Aaron Mellette, missing out on a long TD pass.

– The Hail Mary disguised the fact that the rest of the Bulldogs’ passing game was suboptimal on Saturday. Aside from that one play, The Citadel was 1-9 passing for 15 yards.

– I thought the Bulldogs’ timing on pitches seemed a little off at times on Saturday. The Citadel lost a fumble on an errant pitch. Another semi-wayward toss was gathered in by Terrance Martin, who turned it into a rather nimble six-yard run.

Employees of the Week dept:

– Darien Robinson

– Mike Sellers

– Brandon McCladdie, for his outstanding coverage of Aaron Mellette, who had caught at least two touchdown passes in his previous six games. Mellette had no TDs on Saturday and had no truly big plays.

Best play I haven’t mentioned yet: Douglas German made a memorable special teams tackle on The Citadel’s final kickoff. I’m not sure what adjective to use to describe it. I think I’ll go with “sudden”.

Now the Bulldogs are just one win away from clinching a winning season, which was the baseline goal entering the 2012 campaign. The first chance to get win #6 comes next Saturday at VMI, as The Citadel looks to retain the coveted Silver Shako.

There is still a possibility the Bulldogs could sneak into the FCS playoffs with two more victories, although the other SoCon results from this weekend probably reduced the chances of that happening. At any rate, this is VMI week. There is no reason to concentrate on anything else.

Below are photos from Saturday. I seem to be getting worse every week taking pictures. Most of the game action shots are from the first half, as I didn’t have much luck with the camera after halftime.

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.