Game review, 2013: Furman

I’m sure there is going to be plenty said and written over the next few days after this game. I don’t think many people thought the Bulldogs would be in a position of just playing out the string before the month of September was even over, but that’s basically how things stand.

The goals of a possible league title and/or playoff berth are essentially unreachable. A winning season (always appreciated by Bulldog fans) is probably not realistic either, particularly given the standard of play over the first month of the campaign.

I’ll write more about this game and some of the short-term and long-term issues with the football program later in the week. I first want to learn more about a couple of items, one of which is not directly related to the on-field miseries.

That would be Unigate. According to Jeff Hartsell:

The Bulldogs wore throwback jerseys with a big block “C” on the front during pre-game warmups, but had to change to their standard uniforms for the game. Citadel officials said the SoCon had approved the throwback uniforms, but word apparently did reach the game officials. They ruled that the numbers on the front of the throwback jerseys were too small.

If Southern Conference officials refused to let The Citadel wear uniforms approved by the Southern Conference office, that would probably be the most Southern Conference thing of all time. I would expect a telephone call from John Rosa to John Iamarino first thing Monday morning (if not sooner), with the commissioner doing a lot of apologizing.

If, however, the uniforms were not cleared by the league prior to Saturday’s game, that would probably not reflect well on certain officials at the military college.

I will say that I have my doubts that there was really a problem with the uniforms, given that I don’t think they were stylistically unique — adidas has made similar jerseys for Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Central Michigan. My initial instinct (which could be very wrong) is that the game officials were a bit too officious.

We’ll find out, hopefully sooner rather than later. It’s not completely unimportant. After all, the school website has been running an auction for “game-worn” throwback jerseys. Right now, they actually don’t have any throwback jerseys that have been worn during a game.

(I do wonder how jerseys with retired numbers on them can be game-worn, but that’s another issue.)

I’ll go ahead and write about one thing I noticed during the game. The first-down plays for The Citadel’s offense in the first half were as follows:

– Pass
– Robinson rush
– Pass
– Dupree rush
– Sack on would-be pass attempt
– Dupree rush
– Martin rush
– Dupree rush
– Stenson rush
– Robinson rush

That’s right. During the first half, on first down The Citadel ran more pass plays (or attempted pass plays) than handoffs to the running back who rushed for 227 yards against Old Dominion last week.

There was talk after the game about Furman putting nine players in the box. It seems to me, though, that the gameplan was already in place to throw the ball on first down.

Also, the Paladins may have stacked the line, but Robinson’s 1st-down carry in the first quarter was one of three consecutive carries for him, which wound up netting the Bulldogs a first down. Nine guys or not, he moved the chains.

That sequence was followed by another first-down pass attempt that fell incomplete and put The Citadel “behind schedule” again.

Incidentally, Robinson’s other rush on that first-down list came with 18 seconds to play in the first half. The Citadel then called timeout (a very curious maneuver), ran another play, then went to the locker room.

As usual, I took pictures. As usual, the best of them are only mediocre.

2013 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 28. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen 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.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Also, as pointed out in a comment below, it’s possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Furman game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

TV promotional spot for the game

Article on Ben Dupree in The Post and Courier

Furman’s Jordan Snellings will be “back in full force” for the game against The Citadel

The Paladins will have a home-and-home series with South Carolina State in 2014-15

Furman has a new secondary logo, because its primary logo “reflects a country club mentality”

Quick thoughts on the game against Old Dominion:

— Brandon McCladdie had 14 tackles in the game, twice as many as any other Bulldog. I hope he spent some extra time in the whirlpool this week.

— The Citadel had eleven possessions; on those drives, the Bulldogs scored eight touchdowns and kicked a field goal. ODU matched both the TDs and FG in twelve possessions (not counting its final drive of the second half as a possession).

— Thanks in part to ODU’s onside kicks and its fumbled kickoff, the time of possession in the second half varied wildly from the third quarter to the fourth. The Citadel only had the football for 4:18 of the third quarter, but held the pigskin for 12:36 of the final period.

— There was considerable discussion in the press about Bobby Wilder calling for three onside kicks during the game, but to be honest both coaches may have been better off trying onside kicks after every score. We’re talking about a game in which over five points were scored per possession. An extreme rate like that has to be considered when evaluating the risk/reward of an onside kick.

— Ultimately, I’m not sure how much The Citadel can take from the Old Dominion game, either offensively or defensively. During the SoCon teleconference, Kevin Higgins referred to the game as an “anomaly” when asked a question by Chattanooga sportswriter John Frierson, and I think anomaly is a fair adjective to use in describing the events in Norfolk.

Higgins pointed out that ODU rarely sees the option, as opposed to SoCon programs like Furman, which has faced it three times each season for several years. Based on the game against the Bulldogs, and two recent playoff matchups with Georgia Southern, it seems apparent that ODU still has no real idea of how to properly defend the triple option.

Conversely, it’s hard to worry too much about the defense’s struggles against the Monarchs, because ODU’s offense has gone into overdrive against a lot of teams. New Hampshire was good enough to make the FCS playoffs last season; the Wildcats allowed 730 yards passing to Taylor Heinicke and company.

I guess what I’m saying is not to read too much into the fact that The Citadel averaged 8.3 yards per play on offense against ODU, and allowed 7.2 yards per play on defense.

— I suppose the special teams kick return unit has some things it can work on this week, though.

— Oh, one last thing: going for two was the right call. I think almost every Bulldog fan agreed with Higgins’ decision, too. It’s rare to see such near-unanimity for that situation.

The coach made an excellent observation about the decision when discussing it with Danny Reed during his coaches’ show. Higgins noted that it wasn’t an absolute end-of-game call, as there was 1:39 remaining in the contest after Jake Stenson’s TD catch drew the Bulldogs within one point. ODU was presumably going to get the ball back with a chance to win, but the pressure (and approach) would have been very different if the Monarchs were trailing, rather than tied.

This will be the third time in four years Furman and The Citadel will meet in September. This is way too early for some people (okay, maybe most people), but as I’ve noted before, the series has been moved around on the calendar throughout the years.

It has been played in October more than any other month. I hope the SoCon considers setting up the matchup for an October meeting every year going forward.

Speaking of conference scheduling, I noticed in Furman’s game notes that the Paladins will play at Mercer in the second week of next season. That will be a league game (probably Mercer’s first). The league actually hasn’t officially released its 2014 schedule yet (that is expected to happen in October).

There is going to be some home-away shifting because of the transition from App/GSU/Elon to Mercer/VMI (and later, ETSU). One thing I would like to see from The Citadel’s perspective is for the league to “split” Furman and Wofford in terms of home and away. Right now, The Citadel plays both upstate schools at home in odd-numbered years and on the road in even-numbered years.

I think it would be more beneficial to play one game in the upstate every year, and one in Charleston. In other words, in years Furman comes to Charleston, The Citadel would travel to Wofford (and vice versa). Upstate alumni could then count on one “home” game for themselves every season.

Furman fired Bobby Lamb after the 2010 season, a campaign in which the Paladins went 5-6. The school had missed the FCS playoffs in four consecutive seasons, and so a change was deemed necessary.

However, at the time it was fair to ask if Furman had actually made a change at all after it hired Bruce Fowler to replace Lamb. Fowler was yet another member of the Dick Sheridan coaching tree. While a school might do worse than grabbing a branch from that particular member of the forest, it could have been argued that Furman needed a different approach.

This is Fowler’s third season in Greenville as the head coach; he will arrive in Charleston on Saturday with a record of 10-15, including a 3-8 mark during last season’s campaign. The Paladins are 1-2 so far this season, suffering losses to Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb (each by 7 points). Furman’s victory came in its home opener two weeks ago against Presbyterian, a 21-20 final.

Losing to Gardner-Webb and CCU had to be disappointing for Paladin fans, particularly the setback in Boiling Springs. However, G-W later followed up its win over Furman with victories over Richmond and Wofford, so the Runnin’ Bulldogs may be better than expected.

The victory over PC, a program that hasn’t beaten Furman since 1979, did not inspire much confidence from the Paladin faithful either. It took a second-half comeback and a last-minute blocked field goal to keep Furman’s 15-game winning streak against the Blue Hose alive. The announced attendance for that game was only 6,500.

While the early results for Fowler haven’t been that great, it may be that Furman’s administration is willing to be patient during what could be described as a transitional period. The school has almost completed a major facilities upgrade for the football program. From Furman’s game notes:

This fall Furman will open the new Pearce-Horton Football Complex, a 44,000 square-foot, four-story facility that will serve as the new operational home for Furman football and include locker room, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, sports medicine center, and “Heritage Hall.” The new building will also feature a club level and new press box…

…Furman’s Paladin Stadium sports a new playing surface this year following the installing of Shaw Sports Turf’s “PowerBlade Bolt” system, which replaces the original natural grass field that debuted with the opening of Paladin Stadium in 1981.

Furman wasn’t expected to compete for the league title this season, ranking fifth (not counting Georgia Southern or Appalachian State*) in both the SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (though one sportswriter gave FU a first-place vote).

*Last season, I was critical of a reference in Furman’s game notes, so I want to give the school’s sports information department credit for its approach to the league standings. Not only are those schools listed at the bottom of the league standings column put out by the school, but Furman also doesn’t credit App or GSU with any league wins or losses. The SoCon’s weekly release does list those schools with conference wins and losses (which it shouldn’t, in my opinion).

Reese Hannon, who started at quarterback for Furman in last season’s game against The Citadel, missed the opener at Gardner-Webb with a strained oblique. Dillon Woodruff became the first true freshman to start at quarterback in a season opener for the Paladins since 1956. Unfortunately, Woodruff broke his shoulder during the game and was lost for the season.

Hannon returned for the game against Coastal Carolina and is expected to start against the Bulldogs. In last year’s matchup between the two teams, Hannon did a solid job of leading the Paladin offense until he got hurt. Furman’s offense was never quite as effective after he left the contest.

At running back, Furman no longer has the services of the always-impressive Jerodis Williams, but it does return Hank McCloud, an excellent option in his own right who rushed for 100+ yards against Coastal Carolina and Presbyterian.

Last year, I thought the Paladins made a mistake by abandoning the run too early against The Citadel, not giving either of its quality running backs a carry in the entire fourth quarter. I don’t expect Furman to forget about McCloud in this game, particularly because the Paladins have not been very efficient in the passing game thus far (5.4 yards per attempt, 3 interceptions in 67 throws, and only a 51% completion percentage).

Furman’s offensive line is led by left tackle Dakota Dozier, the best player on the Paladins’ roster. Dozier, a four-year starter, is probably the league’s top offensive lineman and was named to several preseason All-American lists. According to his bio on the school website, the 6’5″, 303 lb. Dozier also plays the cello.

There is experience along the Paladin o-line at every position except right tackle, where two players have split the starts this year. Another thing worth noting (well, I think it’s worth noting) is that Dozier is also listed on Furman’s two-deep as the backup at left guard and right guard. I don’t know whether or not that says something about Furman’s depth.

At wide receiver, Jordan Snellings (who made the SoCon’s all-freshman team last season) is Furman’s big-play threat; he led the Paladins in touchdown receptions last year. Snellings has only played in one game so far in 2013 due to an ankle problem, but is supposed to back to full strength for this week’s game.

Gary Robinson, Furman’s starting flanker, caught a 70-yard touchdown pass in the Gardner-Webb game and added a 23-yard TD reception versus Coastal Carolina. His brother Terry Robinson is the Paladins’ backup QB; both brothers scored touchdowns against G-W.

The Citadel has historically struggled to contain Furman’s tight end, regardless of who was playing the position for the Paladins. My personal opinion is that your average farm animal could line up at tight end for Furman and catch 4 passes for 60 yards against the Bulldogs. This year, the starter is redshirt senior Cameron Mason, who began his college career at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Furman’s defense has been hit by a rash of injuries, particularly along the line. This week’s two-deep lists a “true” freshman starting at DT and redshirt freshmen backing up all four of the DL spots. In all, the Paladins have a redshirt or true freshman listed as the backup for all but one defensive position (middle linebacker).

The most recent injury among the starters was suffered by defensive end Shawn Boone, who tore his ACL in the week leading up to the game against Presbyterian. As a result, Furman has moved one of its starting DTs to end. The other defensive end spot is manned by preseason all-SoCon pick Gary Wilkins, formerly a linebacker. Wilkins is one of the Paladin defenders with significant experience; another is strong safety Greg Worthy, who will make his 30th career start in Saturday’s game.

Furman’s leading tackler is linebacker Cory Magwood, a sophomore who had 18 tackles against Gardner-Webb. Magwood suffered an ankle injury against PC but is slated to start against The Citadel. Fellow linebacker Carl Rider, also a sophomore, leads the Paladins in tackles for loss.

One of the things to watch will be how well the younger Paladin defensive players adapt to defending the option. Furman’s coaching staff has a lot of experience defending the offense, and the Paladins have generally fared well against it. Whether the coaches can get a large number of relatively inexperienced players up to speed on defending the option is open to question.

That’s why having the week off before playing The Citadel was a huge break for the Paladins. The bye came at a really good time for Furman.

Furman’s punter and placekicker is senior Ray Early, who made the preseason coaches’ All-SoCon team at both positions. Early converted a 52-yard field goal against The Citadel last season.

So far this year, Early is 0-3 on FG attempts.  However, his punting has been exemplary, averaging 46.4 yards per kick (42.8 net), with six of his eleven punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Eight of his thirteen kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Hank McCloud and Gary Robinson are Furman’s kick returners. Starting nickel back Jairus Holloman returns punts for the Paladins. Holloman blocked the potential game-winning field goal to preserve Furman’s victory over Presbyterian.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel is a ten-point favorite against Furman, according to various sources in Las Vegas. That strikes me as an absurdly large spread.

– On Saturday, The Citadel will wear a special “throwback” jersey/helmet combination. The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game.

This will be the second consecutive time the Bulldogs have worn an alternate jersey for a game in Johnson Hagood Stadium against Furman. In 2011, The Citadel wore its “Big Red” jerseys.

– The halftime show will feature The Citadel Pipe Band and the Charleston Police Department Pipe and Drums.

In my opinion, the key to Saturday’s contest will be if Furman’s mostly young defense can force more than its fair share of three-and-outs and/or six-and-outs against The Citadel’s offense. The longer the Bulldogs’ offense stays on the field, the more likely The Citadel will win the game.

One of the most interesting takeaways from the Bulldogs’ game against Old Dominion was the platooning of the offensive line, with the second unit getting a lot of snaps. I could see The Citadel doing that again versus a very thin Paladin defensive line, hoping for a repeat of last year’s game, when the Bulldogs scored 21 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters.

Defensively, The Citadel must put consistent pressure on the quarterback, and force more turnovers. Sure, that’s obvious, but it’s obvious for a reason.

The Bulldogs were never able to sack ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke, and the only turnover given up by the Monarchs came on a botched kickoff return. The defense has to do better than that against Furman.

I think it’s likely that Furman is better than its reputation. Neither of the Paladins’ losses is that bad. Furman gets one of its key difference-makers on offense back this week, has several impact defenders, and has had two weeks to get healthy and prepare for this game.

The Citadel should be more confident as a team than it was two weeks ago, but it has a tough task ahead of it. I believe this matchup is essentially a toss-up.

We’ll know for sure on Saturday.

College Football TV Listings 2013, Week 5

This is a list of every game played during week 5 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 2013, Week 5

Additional notes:

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

– This season, I am also including digital network feeds provided by various conferences when they are free of charge. For some of these feeds, the audio will be a simulcast of the home team’s radio broadcast. There are also online platforms that have their own announcers (a la ESPN3.com).

For now, the digital networks I am including in the listings are those for the Mountain WestBig SkyOVCNECBig South, and Patriot League.

– The local affiliates for the SEC Network “national” game of the week (South Alabama-Tennessee) can be found here:  Link

– The local affiliates for the ACC Network “national” game of the week (East Carolina-North Carolina) can be found here:  Link

– I’ve listed the regional nets carrying  the SEC Network “regional” games (Arkansas State-Missouri and UAB-Vanderbilt) in notes on the document.

– I’ve listed the regional nets carrying the ACC Network “regional” game of the week (Virginia-Pittsburgh) in a note on the document.

– Also listed in notes on the document are the regional nets carrying Maine-Richmond, Houston-UTSA, and San Diego State-New Mexico State.

– Channel information for Root Sports’ coverage of UNLV-New Mexico can be found here: Link

– There are notes on the document for several other contests.

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

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

– USA Today Coaches Poll (FBS):  Link

– FCS Coaches’ Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s incredibly comprehensive and completely indispensable site College Sports on TV, which simply cannot be overpraised. 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 collectors (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

John Feinstein’s misguided column about FBS-FCS matchups

Normally, I don’t post on this blog about specific articles, but I felt compelled to write something after reading John Feinstein’s recent column in The Washington Post.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the column heading:

College football: FBS vs. FCS games need to be limited

Feinstein then lists the scores of four one-sided games played last Saturday:  Florida A&M-Ohio State, Florida International-Louisville, Idaho State-Washington, and Savannah State-Miami (FL). Immediately it is apparent that there is a conflict between his theme and the column heading — namely that one of these matchups is not an FBS-FCS affair (FIU-Louisville). That doesn’t stop Feinstein:

Games like this have to stop. They have to stop because they are unfair — first and foremost — to the overmatched players who are publicly humiliated and beaten up playing against opponents who are much bigger, much stronger and much faster at every position. Florida A&M and Florida International combined for 100 yards of offense on Saturday against teams that totaled 148 points.

This is competition?

Later, he writes:

Some routs occur because reasonably good programs are having down seasons: Maryland-West Virginia is clearly a game worth playing even if it wasn’t worth seeing Saturday….Even Baylor’s 70-7 embarrassment of Louisiana-Monroe wasn’t a game that should not have been played. Monroe was coming off a big win (for it) over Wake Forest and got down quickly, and the game got way out of hand.

So it’s okay that ULM lost 70-7 to Baylor, but FIU’s 72-0 loss to Louisville led to its players being “publicly humiliated”. Got it. Never mind that ULM is in an FBS league (the Sun Belt) that FIU just left in a move “up” the ladder.

An unaware reader wouldn’t have known that FIU was actually an FBS squad until three-quarters of the way through the article:

Of course, Florida International is an FBS school. Schools like Old Dominion, Georgia Southern and Charlotte have all made the decision to transition into the FBS. Massachusetts, which won what was then the Division I-AA national title in 1998 and played in the championship game in 2006, is in its second season as an FBS team. The Minutemen are 1-15 so far and, to meet FBS stadium requirements, moved their home games 91 miles from campus to Gillette Stadium. On Saturday, an announced crowd of a little more than 16,000 watched U-Mass. lose 24-7 to Vanderbilt in the 68,000-seat stadium.

Clearly, there need to be stricter limits on who is allowed to move into the FBS….

…How’s it working out at U-Mass. so far? Old Dominion, also a very good FCS program, opened its season by giving up 99 points to East Carolina and Maryland.

Feinstein makes a decent point about a school possibly overreaching (UMass playing in Gillette), but ruins it with comparisons to ODU and Charlotte. The comment about Charlotte, in particular, is off the mark. The 49ers are only transitioning to FBS in the sense that the school needed a couple of years to get its brand-new program up to the necessary scholarship levels.

Old Dominion was a “very good FCS program”, to be sure, but one that only re-started its program four years ago. It has little history as an FCS school.

Also, I’m not sure giving up 99 points to ECU and Maryland says much about ODU’s future prospects in FBS. For one thing, the Monarchs only lost to ECU by 14 points.

ODU did lose to Maryland by 37 points.  Two weeks later, that same Maryland squad beat West Virginia by…37 points. For some reason, though, Feinstein thought that Maryland-WVU was “clearly a game worth playing”.

Feinstein also proposed this idea:

The question then becomes how do you tell North Dakota State or other quality FCS programs they can schedule FBS teams but tell Savannah State, Florida A&M and Eastern Kentucky they cannot schedule them…

…Pass a rule that allows any FCS school that qualifies for the 20-team NCAA tournament to schedule one future game against an FBS school. Each time you make the tournament, you get the right to schedule another game…

If you aren’t good enough to make the FCS tournament, you aren’t good enough to schedule an FBS school…

What’s more, any FBS school that schedules an FCS team is automatically ineligible for that season’s four-team national championship playoff…

There will still be plenty of FBS schools that will play FCS schools…

This is so bad, I hardly know where to start…

I guess I’ll begin by correcting an error in the column. This year, the FCS tournament will include 24 teams, not 20.

Feinstein’s idea that only FCS playoff participants should be allowed to schedule FBS schools falls apart for numerous reasons. Just to mention some of them:

– The 24-team playoff field includes automatic qualifiers from leagues with schools that don’t offer the full 63-scholarship allotment. One of those conferences, the Pioneer League, consists of institutions that don’t offer any scholarships at all.

So in that scenario, Northern Iowa (which did not make the FCS playoffs last year) can’t schedule an FBS opponent unless it returns to the postseason; UNI is a member of the very competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference. However, a school like Drake could schedule the likes of Iowa or Iowa State if it won the Pioneer League.

I am using the Iowa schools as examples because this season, Northern Iowa played an FBS school, Iowa State — and defeated the Cyclones in Ames, 28-20. As it happens, UNI played Drake the following week, and won that game 45-14.

– Another problem with this suggestion is it eliminates the SWAC schools from being able to schedule FBS teams, because that conference doesn’t participate in the FCS playoffs. (Neither does the Ivy League.)

– Feinstein believes there “will still be plenty of FBS schools” that would schedule FCS squads even if doing so made those FBS schools ineligible for the postseason playoff. I suspect otherwise.

He names a number of FBS schools, mostly well-regarded academic institutions like Vanderbilt and Duke. I don’t think there is a chance that any of the BCS member schools would schedule an FCS team in that situation; I seriously doubt their conferences would permit it.

Imagine if Vanderbilt won the SEC but couldn’t compete in the national playoffs because it had played Tennessee State during the season. Do you think Mike Slive would allow even that slim possibility to happen?

Feinstein mentioned certain schools that aren’t considered by most people to be serious contenders for their respective league titles, now or in the future. Notice a couple of similar schools that he doesn’t mention, though — Stanford and Northwestern. Ten years ago, Stanford would have been in that same sentence with Vandy and Duke.

I don’t think most of the non-BCS schools would schedule FCS schools under those circumstances, either. Maybe a few would, but not many.

– He does add that exceptions can be made for traditional matchups, mentioning Villanova-Temple. This would obviously lead to issues with fairness, and also what constitutes a “traditional” game. Besides, what is really different from that and (for example) Clemson or South Carolina annually playing an FCS school from the Palmetto State? Not much.

There may be a legitimate case to be made that the number of FBS-FCS matchups in college football should be reduced. I don’t really believe that, to be honest, but I’m willing to acknowledge a decent argument.

John Feinstein’s column is not such an argument.

2013 Football, Week 4: The Citadel vs. Old Dominion

The Citadel at Old Dominion, to be played in Norfolk, Virginia, on the grounds of Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 21. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen 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. The contest will also be televised in the Hampton Roads (VA) metropolitan area by Cox Communications, with play-by-play from Doug Ripley and analysis by John Bunting.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, is the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network; audio of the game is also available at Bulldog Insider.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Old Dominion game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference: The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins

The Kevin Higgins Show

Video of ODU head coach Bobby Wilder’s Monday press conference (with a transcript)

ODU improves, now prepares for The Citadel

Kevin Higgins says that ODU is ahead of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in its FBS transition

Catching up with…Brandon McCladdie

Strength and Conditioning video, featuring the football travel squad

A few thoughts on the game against Western Carolina:

– Each team had eight possessions in the game (not counting The Citadel’s touchdown off of a fumbled punt as a possession). With so few drives, it becomes even more important to cash in on opportunities.

You can argue about the play call that led to the Bulldogs’ only turnover of the game. I understand the notion that the play was open for a TD before the untimely deflection.

I think the decision to pass was probably a mistake, though, not as much because of the result but for the fact that 14 of The Citadel’s previous 16 plays (all rushes) had resulted in a gain of at least  five yards. There was no reason at that point in the game to believe the Catamounts were going to hold the Bulldogs to less than eight yards over the next three plays (assuming The Citadel would have gone for it on 4th down if necessary).

Then there was the sequence at the end of the first half. The Citadel probably missed a chance at either a TD or an easier field goal attempt by not calling a timeout once inside the Catamounts’ 40-yard line. I can understand the reasoning (why give the other team momentum when you’re up 21-0), but the field position definitely was in the Bulldogs’ favor. The Citadel had all three timeouts available, but elected not to use any of them until only four seconds remained in the half.

– A bunch of the “true” freshmen came to play. Devan Robbins. Tyler Renew. Tevin Floyd. Also mixing it up are guys like Jorian Jordan, Nick Jeffreys, Ryan Bednar, Rudder Brown, and DeAndre Schoultz.

All of them can and will help the Bulldogs all season long. That’s an especially good thing at The Citadel, which has historically struggled with depth. So far, so good for this year’s crop of freshmen.

– Not committing any penalties in a league road game is very impressive.

– Carl Robinson had nine more tackles in the WCU game. He is now tied for the SoCon lead in tackles for the season, with 39. James Riley led the Bulldogs in tackles against the Catamounts, with eleven.

Old Dominion was founded in 1930. It was originally an extension of the College of William & Mary, set up in Norfolk as a two-year school. The following year, Virginia Tech began offering classes at what came to be known as “The Division” (a nickname/setup that is vaguely reminiscent of “The Arsenal”).

The school would eventually become a four-year institution (first awarding bachelor’s degrees in 1956), was spun into an independent entity in 1962, and attained university status in 1969.

Incidentally, Old Dominion College was chosen as the new name of the independent school in 1962 over (among others) College of the Atlantic and Thomas Jefferson College.

The school played football from 1930 to 1941, competing as the “Braves” (the Monarchs nickname came about in 1961). As a two-year college, the Norfolk Division compiled a record of 62-19-4 in twelve seasons. One of the nineteen losses came against Miami (FL); the Hurricanes apparently thought they were scheduled to play William & Mary, and wound up competing against the Braves instead (the final was 6-2).

The football program was dropped when a rule was passed that precluded freshmen from playing. However, Foreman Field (built in 1936) remained, and served as the host of the Oyster Bowl for many years. Foreman Field was the site where The Citadel’s Gene Brown rushed for 286 yards in a 1988 game against VMI (on only 13 carries); it also was the setting for a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert in 1974.

The Citadel played four times in the Oyster Bowl at Foreman Field, all matchups with VMI, winning three of those contests.

By the time the 21st century rolled around, it occurred to a few people that it might be neat for ODU to have a football team again, particularly since it was now a four-year school with almost 20,000 undergraduate students, and located in an area noted for having a lot of talented football players. In other words, it was a natural.

Bobby Wilder, then an assistant at Maine, was hired to revive the program, and in 2009 the Monarchs returned to the gridiron. Wilder has orchestrated a very successful startup.

ODU is 39-12 during his tenure, including an 11-2 record last year. The success of the team on the field, as well as the support off of it (home games at 20,068-seat Foreman Field are regularly sold out), certainly helped the school gain admission to Conference USA, where it will begin play next year as a full-fledged member of that league.

The school’s decision process for moving to FBS took about 6 1/2 weeks, which is borderline insane. Actually, forget borderline — it’s just insane. A good read on that time period can be found here: Link

There are many things to digest from that article. I’ll just mention two of them:

– Halfway through that 6 1/2 week period, ODU called fifteen of its biggest donors to gauge their interest in FBS football. The result of those calls: $3 million raised in less than two weeks.

– During that time, Old Dominion representatives talked to CUSA honchos, of course, and also had discussions with league officials from the MAC, Atlantic 10, ACC, and Big East — but never spoke to anyone from the Sun Belt.

From The Post and Courier:

ODU’s quick rise is due to three main factors: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a 6-1, 205-pound junior from Atlanta; a rabid fan base that has sold out all 30 of its home games to date at 20,068-seat Ballard Stadium, and bought more than 14,000 season tickets for this season; and the fertile recruiting area around its home base in Norfolk, Va.

“It’s amazing to see what they’ve done,” [Kevin] Higgins said. “You look at teams like Georgia State that have struggled making that adjustment. People don’t realize how fervent a football area Virginia Beach is. They put a team there, and now everyone is coming out to see them.

“They picked the right guy in Bobby Wilder, a guy from a solid program in Maine. And he hit right away on this guy Taylor Heinicke.”

Did he ever, coach. Did he ever.

Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award as the top player in FCS last season, passing for 5,076 yards and 44 touchdowns last season.

Heinicke threw 7 TD passes against Campbell, but that wasn’t even his best game. Nor was his 6-TD performance in the playoffs against Coastal Carolina.

No, Heinicke’s most absurd day came against New Hampshire, a come-from-behind 64-61 victory in which he threw for 730 (!) yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 61 yards in that game (he’s versatile enough to have rushed for 11 TDs last season).

He’s really, really good, and The Citadel’s D has its work cut out. Last week against Howard, Heinicke threw for 406 yards in a little over two quarters of action. That 406-yard effort didn’t even crack his personal best top 5.

Against East Carolina (a 52-38 loss), Heinicke was 38-51 for 338 yards, completing passes to seven different receivers. He struggled the following week versus Maryland, with only 166 passing yards and three interceptions.

In terms of style and scheme, Higgins said ODU’s spread attack most resembles that of App State, among teams The Citadel has played in recent years.

“They are going to spread it out, and there will be a lot of bubble screens on the outside, trying to get matchups there,” he said. “And as good a thrower as the quarterback is, he is deceptively fast.”

Heinicke likes to spread the wealth, as the ECU game would attest, and he has a lot of options. Antonio Vaughan only caught one pass against Howard, but it was for 76 yards and a TD. Vaughan had three 100-yard receiving days last season.

Redshirt freshman Zach Pascal caught nine passes against Howard. Another wideout, Larry Pinkard, has 18 receptions in three games. Starting tailback Colby Goodwin can also catch the ball (11 receptions this year).

ODU has a lot of experience along the offensive line, with four returning starters who all weigh at least 300 lbs. Left guard David Born is 6’8″, 328 lbs. Right tackle D.J. Morrell is 6’6″, 330 lbs. Yes, they’re big.

The Monarchs scored 49 points in the first half against Howard, and 76 for the game. Among the things that might make a Bulldog fan shudder:

– ODU scored on its first 11 possessions. Nine of those scores were touchdowns.

– Nine of those eleven scoring drives were of less than two minutes’ duration.

Defensively, ODU has struggled. Part of that probably has to do with trying to replace six starters from last year’s team. How will that impact The Citadel as it runs the triple option?

Well, Old Dominion had major problems with Georgia Southern’s triple option attack in the FCS playoffs, allowing 1200 yards of total offense in two games against the Eagles. This year, the Monarchs have a new defensive coordinator, Rich Nagy. Also of note is that backup quarterback David Washington ran the triple option during ODU’s spring practice.

Strong safety Fellonte Misher is Old Dominion’s leading tackler, with eighteen through three games. Linebacker John Darr, a 232-lb. redshirt senior, is the second-leading tackler on the squad and had nine stops against Howard.

Starting middle linebacker Richie Staton is a true freshman, one of ten such freshmen on ODU’s two-deep.

Putting aside the triple option issue and focusing purely on this year’s ODU defense, it’s not the numbers from the ECU or Maryland games that would really concern a Monarchs fan. Let’s face it, plenty of teams wouldn’t be able to cover Maryland wide receiver Stefan Diggs.

The Howard game, though…hmm. Lost in the shuffle of ODU’s 76-19 obliteration of the Bison:

– Howard ran 85 plays on offense, including a staggering 51 in the first half, for 331 total yards. That’s in one half.

– The Bison had four drives of 60+ yards in the first half, and another that went for 49.

What did Howard in? Turnovers, five of them (Old Dominion had none). The Bison also were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the eight in the first half after a 74-yard drive. Thanks to two first-half turnovers and that stoppage on downs, ODU only allowed 10 points in the half. Five different Monarchs accounted for those five turnovers, by the way.

Old Dominion’s special teams include a fine placekicker, Jarod Brown, who has not missed a FG or PAT so far this season. Jake Walsh is ODU’s punter; in keeping with recent college football trends, he’s a native of Australia.

To recap, ODU scored on its first 11 possessions, while last week The Citadel only had 8 possessions the entire game. It is in the Bulldogs’ interest to keep that possession total down for both teams. Holding on to the football, both in terms of offensive time of possession and turnover avoidance, is critical against the Monarchs.

There were 211 snaps in the Howard-Old Dominion game, according to Bobby Wilder. The Citadel needs to make sure that number is substantially lower.

Field position is something else to watch. ODU had a 76-yard kickoff return against the Bison, just one reason its average starting field position against Howard was the Monarchs’ 40-yard line. The Citadel’s special teams units must be at their best in Norfolk, or they will be punished.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday night’s game at Foreman Field has been designated a “blackout” for the home fans (the Howard game was a “whiteout”). It’s important to be color-coordinated for sporting events these days.

I’ve never quite bought into having a blackout for a night game, to be honest. I remember South Carolina having a blackout against Florida when Rex Grossman was the Gators’ quarterback. Asked about it after the game, Grossman said that it felt like no one was in the stands.

– The Citadel is getting a $250,000 guarantee for this game. Originally, the Bulldogs were supposed to play East Carolina this season, but ODU and ECU wanted to play each other, and a deal was worked out.

– ODU is a 17.5-to-18 point favorite over The Citadel, per various Las Vegas sources.

It could be argued that this is the least important game on The Citadel’s entire 2013 schedule (aside from that check for $250,000). That doesn’t mean it is meaningless.

A win would obviously go a long way to erasing the memory of a difficult start to the season, though it wouldn’t affect the SoCon race. It would be a nice chip if the Bulldogs made a late-season playoff push, to be sure.

What I want from this game (besides no injuries) is for the team to regain more of its confidence. The offense needs to continue to get back to where it was at the close of last season while incorporating some of the talented newcomers who have arrived on the scene.

The defense will get a stern test from ODU. It needs to be able to take some positives from the game, regardless of the final score. Playing ODU will at the very least be a good way to prepare for Appalachian State.

I’m not expecting a victory, though I’m not counting out the Bulldogs either.

I never do that.

College Football TV Listings 2013, Week 4

This is a list of every game played during week 4 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 2013, Week 4

Additional notes:

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

– This season, I am also including digital network feeds provided by various conferences when they are free of charge. For some of these feeds, the audio will be a simulcast of the home team’s radio broadcast. There are also online platforms that have their own announcers (a la ESPN3.com).

For now, the digital networks I am including in the listings are those for the Mountain WestBig SkyOVCNECBig South, and Patriot League.

– The local affiliates for the SEC Network “national” game of the week (North Texas-Georgia) can be found here:  Link

– The local affiliates for the ACC Network “national” game of the week (Pittsburgh-Duke) can be found here:  Link

– I’ve listed the regional nets carrying  the SEC Network “regional” game of the week (Troy-Mississippi State) in a note on the document.

– I’ve listed the regional nets carrying the ACC Network “regional” game of the week (Tulane-Syracuse) in a note on the document.

– Also listed in notes on the document are the regional nets carrying Stony Brook-Villanova, Houston-Rice, Texas State-Texas Tech, and Rhode Island-William & Mary.

– There are notes on the document for several other contests.

– ABC/ESPN2/ESPN3 coverage maps for the 3:30 pm ET and 8:00 pm ET games: Link

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

– USA Today Coaches Poll (FBS):  Link

– FCS Coaches’ Poll:  Link

A lot of the information I used in putting this together came courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s incredibly comprehensive and completely indispensable site College Sports on TV, which simply cannot be overpraised. 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 collectors (and in some cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am also assisted on occasion by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

2013 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:30 pm pm ET on Saturday, September 14. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen 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.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, is the flagship station for the network; audio of the game is also available at Bulldog Insider.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference: The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins

SoCon media teleconference: Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins says the Bulldogs are going back to basics on offense

The Post and Courier “Scouting Report”

Profile of Derek Douglas on the “Off the Collar” blog

Donnell Boucher works with the first battalion non-corps squad freshmen

I don’t have a lot to add about the Wofford game that hasn’t already been said or written. Just a few observations…

– Third down conversions: Wofford 9 for 18, The Citadel 3 for 15. That summed up the game about as well as anything else.

– Carl Robinson had an outstanding game, including 16 tackles. Robinson has 30 tackles through two games, which leads the SoCon.

– Brandon McCladdie led the Bulldogs in all-purpose yards. When a defensive back who doesn’t return kicks leads the team in all-purpose yards, it’s generally not a good thing.

– I thought the defense played fairly well with the exception of allowing some big pass plays. Of course, not allowing big pass plays is a key component in good defense.

– Preseason fears about punting have largely been alleviated, thanks to the solid work by Eric Goins over two games.

Kevin Higgins, during his Monday press conference:

It’s apparent that our execution is not where it needs to be. We’re going to simplify as much as we can, maybe get back to the basics more like we did last year.

We want to make sure we are majoring in a couple of things, and do those things real well to give us a chance to be successful.

As Jeff Hartsell pointed out later, “the ‘back to basics’ theme is never a good sign.” Which is true…most of the time. I remember a notable exception.

Prior to The Citadel’s 1991 season, Charlie Taaffe decided to switch from his successful wishbone offense to the veer. Why?

The reason we’re diversifying our offense is simply because most of the teams in the Southern Conference have seen the wishbone so much now they’re getting better at defensing it. We’ve got to do some different things or they’ll be all over us. Plus, it’ll  give us a chance to throw the ball more and be more exciting to watch.

Taaffe added to this as the season drew closer:

I feel like we’ve taken our program to a level [note: this was Taaffe’s fifth season at The Citadel]. To get to the next level, we have to be more dimensional. We ran the ball 86% of the time last year. We need more balance in our offense. We need to force defenses to defend more things.

The Citadel started the 1991 season 1-1, not playing particularly well in its opener against Presbyterian and then losing to Wofford. At that point, Taaffe did something that must have been very hard for him to do.

He junked the veer and went back to the wishbone.

That decision saved the season. After losing 33-26 to Chattanooga in a game in which the offense came to life, The Citadel won four of its next five games, and six of its last eight. The victories included wins over Army (a first on the gridiron for the Bulldogs) and Furman (breaking a nine-game slide in that series).

The quotes from this article, which followed The Citadel’s 38-13 victory over Western Carolina that season, are illuminating. The offensive switch-back even had a positive impact on the defense.

In winning their final three games last year, the Bulldogs averaged almost 36 points per contest. If “back to basics” means a return to that type of offensive productivity, then it’s the right thing to do.

Western Carolina is playing what is, in my opinion, Division I’s most absurd schedule in 2013. The Catamounts have already played FBS foes Middle Tennessee State and Virginia Tech; later in the season, WCU travels to Auburn. That’s three FBS opponents to go along with two FBS-transitional teams (Georgia Southern and Appalachian State). Western Carolina will be the road team in all five contests.

This is a program that has lost 12 straight games overall, and 22 straight in the SoCon. Western Carolina’s victory over The Citadel on September 3, 2010, was its last win over a D-1 team.

I know it’s a cash grab, but it’s really unfair to the players and coaches in that situation to have to play three FBS opponents. It can’t be easy for second-year coach Mark Speir.

Having said that, if WCU is going to climb out of its gridiron hole, Speir strikes me as the man to lead the way. I think he was a very good hire (and I’m far from alone in that assessment). This season’s schedule may set him back a year, though. We’ll see.

It is hard to get any kind of read on this year’s edition of the Catamounts, since they’ve only played FBS competition thus far. Actually, going back to last season (when WCU finished with a bye and Alabama, respectively), Western Carolina hasn’t played an FCS school since November 3, 2012.

That was a game against Chattanooga, and the Catamounts led the Mocs after three quarters. The week before the UTC contest, Western Carolina gave Appalachian State a good game (losing 38-27).

The Catamounts also led The Citadel in the third quarter at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, and were tied with the Bulldogs entering the fourth quarter before The Citadel pulled away. That matchup, you may recall, featured a game-turning special-teams play by Vinny Miller.

One of the stars for Western Carolina in that game at JHS was quarterback Troy Mitchell, who rushed for 117 yards and two TDs in the loss. Mitchell did not play in the Catamounts’ game at Virginia Tech, but is expected to start against The Citadel.

Also missing against the Hokies was running back Darius Ramsey, who has not played yet this season for WCU. Ramsey rushed for 118 yards against The Citadel in last year’s game.

Garry Lewis, a freshman, is listed as the starting running back in WCU’s one-back set. The Catamounts may start the game against the Bulldogs with four wideouts.

Western Carolina has some experience along the offensive line, but is also starting a true freshman at right guard, Tanner Poindexter. The caption besides Poindexter’s name on the two-deep in the WCU game notes reads as follows:

Played center in 2012 Shrine Bowl after all-conference at guard … Sports a very interesting hair style – “a mullet”

As usual, the Catamounts’ media relations deparment provide all the necessary information about its team.

Western Carolina has a new defensive coordinator, one who should be very familiar with the Bulldogs’ triple option attack. Last year, Shawn Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Charleston Southern; prior to that, he was at Georgia Southern.

WCU would normally be a 4-3 base D, but that is likely to be adjusted against the Bulldogs.

Quinn will not have the services of Rock Williams this year, much to the relief of Ben Dupree and company. In last year’s game, Williams had 24 tackles, the highest total recorded in the league by a player all season.

As for this year’s players, Bryson Jordan is a freshman who will start at outside linebacker for WCU. He is the son of former Brave (and Falcon) Brian Jordan.

Another freshman, Trey Morgan, is one of the Catamounts’ starting cornerbacks and is highly regarded. He was praised by ESPN3 analyst (and former UNC coach) John Bunting as “a real steal” during the game against Virginia Tech. WCU’s defensive backfield is a team strength, one that also includes preseason second-team SoCon pick Ace Clark.

Western Carolina likes to play a lot of d-linemen, generally a good strategy. There are some interesting backgrounds among the players along the line, including backup nosetackle Helva Matungulu, a native of Kenya who had never played football before arriving in Cullowhee. He is a converted rugby player.

The Catamounts return both their placekicker and punter from last year.

Western Carolina starts four “true” freshmen on its two-deep and played 20 freshmen (including seven true freshmen) in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State. This is a young team.

I don’t know what to expect from the Bulldogs on Saturday. It’s put up or shut up time, I suppose.

One thing that worries me is this has become a big game for Western Carolina. After The Citadel, WCU plays Mars Hill, and then starts a three-game road swing: Samford, Chattanooga, and Auburn. In other words, the Catamounts could really use a win against the Bulldogs, and probably have increased confidence that they have an opportunity, given The Citadel’s struggles.

Oddsmakers list The Citadel as a four-point favorite, a small spread considering WCU’s difficulties in recent years against Division I competition. It is understandable, however, when taking into account what The Citadel has done so far this season.

I am not worried about what Las Vegas thinks, though. My concern is with the mindset of the team. I hope there are still good vibes emanating from those wearing the blue and white.

To bring home a victory from Cullowhee, positive thoughts are a necessity. So are hard hits and tough runs.

I think there is still some bite to these Bulldogs. Saturday is the time to show it.