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.

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