2013 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 2. The game will streamed on ESPN3.com, with play-by-play from Darren Goldwater and analysis by Paul Maguire.

It can also 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. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Samford game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Pat Sullivan on the SoCon media teleconference

The Dogs are “down, but not out”

Jeff Hartsell’s three points about the Chattanooga game

Game story from the Chattanooga contest

Non-football link: my preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel’s basketball team

Hey, it’s Homecoming! Things you ought to know:

Ye olde Homecoming press release, with schedule of events

The Citadel’s freshman and sophomore wrestlers compete in The Citadel Open, beginning at 9 am on Saturday

The rifle and volleyball squads are both on the road on Saturday

Soccer’s season ended on Wednesday

Oh, and there is also a football game…

First, let me be honest here: I didn’t really follow the Chattanooga game as it was going on last week. This is the time of year when I usually take a break from my regular autumn routine, which is normally A) work and B) obsessing over sports.

Taking a respite from the fall sports season can be helpful, at least for me. As it happens [mondo nerd alert], I saw Mussel-Fishers at Berneval in person instead of watching/listening to The Citadel lose a game it led almost the whole way. I feel good about that decision.

Because I am still catching up with last week’s action in the sports world (including The Citadel’s trip to Finley Stadium), and because of other factors beyond my control, this preview may be a bit more random than usual. I apologize in advance for that.

The rest of the season is going to be tough in terms of game previews, not as much because the Bulldogs are struggling, but because I’m going to be short of time. We live in a busy world.

I have no idea how I’m going to write the VMI game preview; I might just write a one-sentence post: “The Dogs better not lose to VMI.” (It’s not like anything else needs to be said for that game.)

Anyway, below are a few comments on Saturday’s opponent, followed by some friendly advice to alums heading down to Charleston for Homecoming.

Note: “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel, while “Birmingham Bulldogs”, “SU”, or “Baptist Tigers” will have to do for Samford.

Samford is quite formidable this year. The Birmingham Bulldogs appear to be the best team in the SoCon and would be a major challenge for The Citadel even if the Cadets were having a good season.

Last year, I wrote of Samford:

This is a team with a lot of talented players. The question, I suppose, is whether Samford has enough depth across the board to be a contender for the league title.

Samford finished 7-4 last season, not quite good enough to win the SoCon, but still a very solid campaign. SU could not get past Georgia Southern or Appalachian State last year, and also lost a tough defensive battle at Chattanooga.

In 2013, Samford still has a lot of talented players, but it has made the jump to the top of the conference. SU has already taken care of business against App and GSU, and last week won at Wofford. Only UTC seems to stand in the way of a league title for the folks from Birmingham.

Offensively, Samford has been excellent. Taking Georgia Southern and Appalachian State out of the equation (because the NCAA doesn’t count those two schools in its FCS database), the Birmingham Bulldogs lead the SoCon in total offense, passing offense, and scoring offense, and are in the top 30 nationally in all three of those categories.

Samford’s numbers are skewed slightly by its pace of play, though this season SU is only averaging 67.1 plays per game, down slightly from 71.4 in 2012 and 75.6 in 2011. However, Samford has been much more efficient this year, averaging 6.6 yards per play, a significant increase from the 4.9 yards per play it averaged in 2012.

By contrast, The Citadel is averaging 63.8 plays per game on offense, and 5.7 yards per play. Last week, Wofford ran 82 plays against Samford (with 69 rushing attempts), but only averaged 4.1 yards per play.

Oddly, Samford has had issues in the second quarter this season, being outscored 71-42 in that frame. In the other three periods, Samford has a decisive edge in points.

The Citadel has lost two straight to Samford, and that streak could easily be three; the Bulldogs’ 13-12 win in 2010 was achieved thanks mostly to special teams and inspired D inside the red zone. Samford’s defense has had all the answers for The Citadel’s triple option attack in the three years Kevin Higgins has employed the offense.

In three games against Samford’s “Bear” defensive front, The Citadel has mustered a combined total of 34 points. In those three games, the Bulldogs faced third down on 39 occasions. The Citadel only converted six of them for first downs.

Samford’s D has basically forced The Citadel to beat it by going outside or over the top, and the Bulldogs have been unable to do so with any consistency in any of those games.

In terms of yards per play, Samford defensively has not been quite as good this season (5.3 this year, after holding opponents to 4.8 y/p in 2012). One thing that will probably help Samford’s defense is that The Citadel will be the third triple option team the Birmingham Bulldogs have faced in their last four contests.

Andy Summerlin is Samford’s starting quarterback, and is enjoying his sixth (and presumably final) season of college eligibility. Yes, I said sixth.

Summerlin is 25 years old. He started his career at Memphis, although even his stint there was delayed by a semester:

He’s seven years out of high school, and is listed as a sixth-year senior after being granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA because of injuries. He delayed college enrollment by a semester because of a high school injury.

Though he’s been at three different schools…

To tell the truth, I’m okay with Summerlin still getting a chance to play, but then I tend to lean to the “when in doubt, give the athlete a break” side of the ledger on these matters. It does seem a bit unfair, though, that Summerlin is good to go while The Citadel’s All-American wrestler, Khishignyam Undrakhbayar (better known as “Ugi”), is out of NCAA options after just one year as a competitor. Such are the vagaries of the NCAA.

At any rate, he’s having a fine season, completing passes at a 63.8% clip for an average of over 285 yards per game, with 17 TDs (to eight different receivers) against 7 interceptions. Summerlin has made his share of big plays this year, completing 15 passes for 30+ yards.

Summerlin is joined in the backfield by the outstanding Fabian Truss, one of the elite backs in the SoCon. Truss is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season (the same as he did last year), and he is also a threat to catch the ball, with 27 receptions, good for 9.7 yards per catch.

Truss is also a great kick returner. He already has two 100-yard TD returns this season. Truss currently leads the nation in all-purpose yardage.

The top receiver for Samford is Kelsey Pope, who has 36 receptions this year, averaging a shade over 15 yards per catch. Against Georgia Southern, Pope had receptions of 58 and 83 yards (the latter for a TD).

Samford’s offensive line is big, averaging 6’3″, 288 lbs. Left guard Kasey Morrison, a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection, has started 30 games in his career.

On defense, expect Samford to stack the middle of the line and deny the give to the B-back. Two key players to watch along the d-line in this respect are DT Jeremy Towns (like Summerlin, a sixth-year player) and noseguard Jeremy Mathis, another experienced lineman (18 starts). Both Towns and Mathis are listed at 290+ lbs.

Middle linebacker Justin Shade is a tackling machine, and he’ll put you down before or after you get to the line of scrimmage. Shade has 90 tackles so far this season; he made 19 stops against Southeastern Louisiana and 15 versus Wofford. Shade has 12.5 tackles for loss, including seven sacks.

His father, Sam Shade, is Samford’s DBs coach. If you have a good memory, you may recall the elder Shade starring at Alabama before playing eight years in the NFL.

One of Sam Shade’s pupils, Jaquiski Tartt, is Samford’s best defensive player, and one of the best defenders in the league (if not the best). So far this season he only has one interception, but Bulldog fans will remember his pick-6 against The Citadel in last year’s contest.

Samford has a solid punter in Greg Peranich, now in his third year of handling the punting duties. Peranich is averaging 43.1 yards per punt, with 16 of those landing inside the 20. Seven of his punts have gone for 50+ yards.

The placekicker for the Birmingham Bulldogs is redshirt freshman Warren Handrahan, who is 11-13 on field goal tries with a long of 48. He has only missed one PAT.

Handrahan chose to wear a bow tie for his personal team picture, however, which automatically makes him a suspicious character.

So you’re an alum about to travel to Charleston for Homecoming weekend. Maybe you’re a season-ticket holder, maybe you go to a game or two each season, or maybe you haven’t seen a game since Johnson Hagood Stadium was renovated.

You probably know that The Citadel’s football team was supposed to be good this year, but instead has a record of 2-6, and is looking at a 3-9 or 4-8 type of season. Perhaps you would like to ask some questions about this, or some other things that are related to athletics.

I’m here to help!

First, however, there is one thing you should not do. It’s hard not to do, because it’s kind of traditional, but don’t do it…

Don’t complain about or blame the corps of cadets for any shortcomings.

Is the corps perfect? No. Was it perfect when you were in school? No, it wasn’t.

There will always be a bum (or two or three) in the crowd — and as a group, they may not show a great deal of enthusiasm about the gridiron festivities. Expect this.

Also expect, though, to find almost all of the cadets to be polite, respectful, smart, and driven. Today’s corps of cadets isn’t as good as it was in your day — it is better.

When you see problems within the corps, keep in mind that those problems are usually symptoms of a larger issue with the school itself. It’s not necessarily a reflection on the student body.

I think I’m lucky in that I am around campus just enough to get a general idea of things, but not enough to become disillusioned. You can get very cynical about The Citadel in a hurry if you’re there too long, as anyone who was ever a senior at the military college can attest.

If you’re not around at all, though, then it’s possible to assume the worst.

This isn’t to say the cadets should be completely immune from criticism; it’s just that some other things need to be fixed first before worrying too much about the corps. Let Leo Mercado worry about the corps.

It also doesn’t do the school any good when it is trying to recruit the best and the brightest, and at the same time some of its alums are whining about the current crop of students. That’s just counter-productive.

The bottom line: don’t go bananas about any slacker cadets. There have always been slackers. Maybe the notion of being a slacker cadet cuts a little close to the bone…

If you’re still with me following that harangue, here are some topics that are worth discussing. I’m assuming that the average alum reading this is the biggest of big shots, someone who knows all the major players at the school in the department of athletics and within the administration in general, and who can get a personal one-on-one with any school official at any time.

Here are some questions you might consider asking:

– With last week’s loss to Chattanooga, the Bulldogs are guaranteed to finish with a non-winning record. The Citadel has not had consecutive winning seasons in football since the 1990-92 campaigns.

That stretch of futility, now at 21 years and counting, is the longest such period in the history of the school, going back to the first football season (1905).

Your question(s): is it acceptable for The Citadel to not have any stretch of consistent success on the gridiron? What are the school’s goals on that front?

– You may have noticed that The Citadel isn’t doing a lot of winning in almost any sport as of late. Even the baseball team has had losing seasons in two of the last three years (though that program appears to have rebounded). The basketball team has averaged eight wins per season over the last three years, and has a winning percentage of 26% in SoCon play during that time.

There are several varsity sports (including tennis and golf) that have been particularly non-competitive in recent years.

Your question: given that the school seems to be doing very well overall, why hasn’t that institutional success crossed over into varsity athletics?

– The Citadel’s new (as of this year) long-term strategic plan is called the LEAD Plan 2018, which I wrote about in January. I would urge anyone with an interest in The Citadel to read the plan itself.

Included in the LEAD plan are goals such as increasing membership in the Brigadier Foundation by 25%, funding full scholarships in all sports, and endowing athletic scholarship funds by an additional $5 million.

Your question: is significant progress being made towards accomplishing any of those (or other) goals?

– There is soon going to be a changing of the guard, at least of the canine variety. General and Boo IX are retiring, and will be officially replaced as the school mascots on November 15 by the relentlessly cute G2 and BX.

Donations for care and upkeep of the dogs are always appreciated. The Citadel does not provide any funding for the dogs, which strikes more than a few people as ridiculous, given the popularity of the mascots.

To be fair, I can understand why the school doesn’t allocate funds for the mascot program. What puzzles me is why the powers that be don’t publicize the need for donations more often. I’m sure it’s just an oversight.

It was suggested to me a while back that at least one administrator is afraid that people will contribute to the mascots in lieu of something else. I choose not to believe that; if it were really true, then I would happily wait in line to dump that administrator into a vat of hydrochloric acid.

Your question (if you have some spare cash): would the school be interested in starting an endowment for the mascot program?

– While you were travelling to Charleston on your private jet, you noticed while perusing your favorite college football TV listings page that all six Big South teams will either be on TV and/or ESPN3.com this Saturday. Two of those games will be on regional nets or affiliates.

Meanwhile, Samford-The Citadel will be on ESPN3.com, an online platform. This is the second ESPN3.com appearance for The Citadel this season; the football team will probably get a PPV-only TV appearance at Clemson, but other than that the Bulldogs will not appear on television in 2013.

You probably remember the days when The Citadel appeared on regional TV once or twice per season. You may wonder why the SoCon can’t do a better job of getting its teams exposure, especially when you see what similarly-sized (or even smaller) conferences are able to do in that respect.

Your question: what can The Citadel do to increase its television exposure?

The last few questions should only be asked after you enter the stadium to watch the game.

– Why don’t we have any cheerleaders?

Note: this is a trick question. No matter what answer you get to that question, it will be wrong. There is no correct answer, as The Citadel obviously should have cheerleaders.

– How come the band only plays a few times during the game?

– Is there any reason why the loudspeaker system should play the (truly horrific) pop song “Come on Eileen” instead of having the band play during that time period?

– If the band isn’t going to play, could the school make more money by renting it out for weddings and bar mitzvahs during the game?

– Is it true that prior to the Furman game, the freshmen lined up in the ‘Block C’ formation and started to chant “C-I-T-A-D-E-L”, only to be drowned out by the loudspeaker system as it played a selection from ’80s glam-rock band Poison?

– Is it possible the atmosphere at the stadium is so dominated by the ad-intensive videoboard and the ridiculously loud (and ill-used) loudspeaker system that fewer fans go to the games as a result?

– Is there anyone in the department of athletics brave enough to inform adidas that the name of the school is “The Citadel”?

Okay, I think that’s enough…for now.

Last week, The Citadel started well and Samford started poorly. The Citadel led by 10 points at halftime; meanwhile, Samford’s first offensive possession resulted in a pick-6 for Wofford, one of four turnovers SU had in that game. Ultimately, though, one group of Bulldogs could not hang on for a victory, while the other overcame an early shock to win a critical road game.

The effort in Chattanooga was very good. The team has obviously not quit, which is a credit to the players (and the coaches). Still, effort in itself is not enough, and everyone knows it.

I don’t know how the team will play on Saturday. Samford is a very difficult matchup. I cringe just thinking about the Birmingham Bulldogs’ big-play capabilities, particularly through the air (as The Citadel has been susceptible to those types of passes).

I’ll be there on Saturday, meeting a few old friends and settling in to watch some pigskin. I’m hoping for the best. I’m not counting on it.

College Football TV Listings 2013, Week 10

This is a list of every game played during week 10 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 10

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 (Mississippi State-South Carolina) can be found here:  Link

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

– The local affiliates for the AAC Network game of the week (Temple-Rutgers) can be found here: Link

– The local affiliates for ESPN Regional’s coverage of Northern Illinois-Massachusetts can be found here: Link

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

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

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

– Also listed in notes on the document are the regional nets carrying Middle Tennessee State-UAB.

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

– ABC/ESPN2 coverage maps for the noon 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 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 8: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at Finley Stadium Davenport Field, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 26. 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, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Chattanooga game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Russ Huesman on the SoCon media teleconference

Devin Bice says it isn’t time to give up on the season

Jeff Hartsell “crunches the numbers”

Chattanooga’s red zone defense is better than superficial numbers suggest

Non-football link: my preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel’s basketball team

There are two schools of thought about how The Citadel should approach the rest of the season, in terms of on-field activity. One is that, with no real chance at the playoffs or a winning campaign, a youth movement should be accelerated.

The coaches, in that scenario, would give lots of playing time to reserves and experiment with some aspects of the offense and/or defense (like moving Ben Dupree to slotback, etc.).

Devin Bice has other ideas, however:

If we look at the rest of the season like it’s spring practice, or whatever people are saying, we will go downhill. If we keep our heads up and work hard, we can still have a winning season and still actually do something this season.

For a lot of us, this is our last time playing football, so we want to do the best we can do.

I can see both sides of the argument, to be honest. Ultimately, though, I want what is best for the program in the long term. If that means playing a lot of younger guys to prepare them for next season, so be it.

In the italicized blurb that leads off all of my football previews you may have noticed that I referred to Chattanooga’s football facility as “Finley Stadium Davenport Field”. That’s actually the official name, though it is almost universally called “Finley Stadium”.

It seems only fitting that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga would have such a double-barreled naming setup for one of its sports facilities, given its recent history of confusing nomenclature, from its school name to its sports nickname to its mascot.

Chattanooga? UTC? UT-Chattanooga? Tennessee-Chattanooga? University of Tennessee at Chattanooga? Moccasins? Mocs? Is the mascot a bird, a shoe, or a train?

From the school’s game notes:

On first reference, it is acceptable to refer to us as the “University of Tennessee at Chattanooga”. After that, we prefer to be called “Chattanooga” or “UTC.” Our nickname is “Mocs.”

I guess you can’t call it U.S. Grant University anymore…

When it comes to describing Chattanooga’s defense, there are no issues. It’s good. Very good.

The Mocs lead the SoCon in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense. Chattanooga is fourth nationally* in both total and scoring defense.

UTC has a lot of good defensive players, but as Kevin Higgins pointed out this week during the SoCon media teleconference, one key is that the Mocs have a truly outstanding player at each “level” on defense. For the defensive line,  Davis Tull. Among the linebackers, Wes Dothard. In the secondary, safety D.J. Key and cornerback Kadeem Wise.

Tull was the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year in the SoCon and has 6.5 sacks so far this season. Dothard was a first-team all-SoCon pick in both 2011 and 2012 and currently leads the Mocs with 50 tackles.

In last year’s game between Chattanooga and The Citadel, Wise had eight tackles and an interception, resulting in player of the week honors from the conference. Key led the Mocs that day with twelve tackles.

Chattanooga’s red zone defense numbers look bad on the surface. Opponents are 17 for 17 in terms of scoring when in the red zone. However, only eight of those seventeen red zone trips have resulted in touchdowns for opposing teams.

That defensive red zone TD% would rank in the top 20 of FBS, and probably would be at least as good among FCS squads (there is no readily available data to confirm that). In contrast, The Citadel’s defense has allowed touchdowns on 23 of 29 red-zone possessions (the worst percentage in the SoCon).

*Quick tangent: I didn’t realize until reading the SoCon’s weekly release that Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are not listed among FCS programs in the NCAA’s statistics summary. That makes sense, though.

Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman made a decision after last season to emphasize running the football in 2013. Early returns have been largely positive.

The Mocs are twelfth in FCS in rushing offense, fourth in the SoCon (behind the three triple option teams). UTC is third in the league in yards per carry and second in third-down conversion percentage.

The bottom line for an offense is scoring points, and UTC is third in the SoCon in scoring offense, averaging just over 31 points per game. Last season, the Mocs averaged 25.5 points per contest. Chattanooga’s yards per play has increased from 5.1 in 2012 to 5.7 this year.

A key factor to the improved running game has been the emergence of Keon Williams.The 6’0″, 225 lb. junior running back is averaging 98.1 yards per game (second in the SoCon), with five 100-yard rushing efforts this season. He’s the bellwether for UTC; in the two games he did not rush for 100 yards (against UT-Martin and Georgia Southern), the Mocs lost.

After a bit of drama last season, Jacob Huesman (son of the head coach) is now firmly established as Chattanooga’s quarterback. He is having a fine season, completing over 67% of his passes with eleven TDs and four interceptions.

He is also a threat on the ground, averaging 79 yards rushing per contest. Huesman had 148 yards rushing against Georgia Southern.

Huesman’s competitor for the starting QB spot last year, Terrell “Silk” Robinson, is playing receiver while also listed on UTC’s depth chart as the backup QB. In 2012, Robinson caught 40 passes, including five touchdowns. Against The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, he rushed for a touchdown and also threw a TD pass.

Robinson has not had as big an impact so far this season, with eighteen receptions in six games (eight of his catches came against Western Carolina). UTC has two players with nineteen receptions, and tight end Faysal Shafaat has seventeen. Shafaat and backup wideout Marquis Green have combined to catch seven TD passes.

Starting cornerback Chaz Moore is also UTC’s primary kick returner, and he is currently sixth in the FCS with a return average of over 30 yards. Moore had an 81-yard KO return versus Western Carolina. Tommy Hudson is the Mocs’ punt returner and is averaging an impressive 9.5 yards per return.

Nick Pollard handles the placekicking and punting duties for Chattanooga. He is 3 for 4 on field goal attempts (with a long of 35), and is averaging 40.6 yards per punt. Nine of his twenty-five punts have landed inside the 20-yard line.

UTC’s kickoff coverage unit is slightly below average.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel’s players did a variety of things during the bye week. Some left campus for the first time since August, according to Kevin Higgins (we’ll excuse the coach for forgetting about the Bulldogs’ three road games).

During the SoCon teleconference, Higgins also mentioned that the coaches were focused on “changing tendencies” and trying to get the team to “execute better” on both sides of the ball, including making sure players “finish blocks” and tackle by “wrapping up”.

– Jeff Hartsell focused on a few statistics in a column that I linked earlier. Just to follow up on his comments about the offense’s struggles converting third downs, last year The Citadel averaged 5.2 third-and-long plays per game (third-and-long being defined as third and five or more yards to go for a first down).

This year, the Bulldogs are averaging 8.9 third-and-long plays per contest. That’s a significant difference.

– If Chattanooga wins on Saturday, it will be its 500th all-time football victory. UTC’s most common opponent over the years has been The Citadel, oddly enough. The schools have met on the gridiron 46 times.

The Citadel has faced six opponents more than 46 times: Davidson, Furman, Presbyterian, South Carolina, VMI, and Wofford.

– Per at least one source, Chattanooga is a 14-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 51.5, which is basically what you would get if you averaged total scoring per game for each team.

Russ Huesman says that The Citadel is “the best 2-5 team in the country, bar none.”

I would much rather be the worst 7-0 team in the country…

To me, there are two questions that stand out about this game:

1) How motivated will The Citadel be? Will the team come off its bye week ready to make a statement over the second half of the season, or will we see a repeat of the general malaise that has defined the campaign so far?

There are still several games that the Bulldogs are capable of winning. I’m counting the one coming up on Saturday as one of them. Does the team have that type of mindset?

2) Just how good is Chattanooga?

The Mocs are 5-2, losing to UT-Martin and Georgia Southern. Both the Skyhawks and Eagles are good teams, with a combined eight wins between them.

UTC’s five wins have come versus teams with a combined record against Division 1 opponents of 4-31. Furman is responsible for three of those wins. The other D1 win in the group is Elon’s victory over…Furman.

Put it this way: the best win any of Chattanooga’s opponents has all season is Furman’s win over The Citadel.

That doesn’t mean the Mocs aren’t good. It does explain why a 5-2 SoCon team isn’t ranked, and why the jury is still out on this Chattanooga team.

After this game, we’ll probably have a good idea how the season will wind down. An indifferent performance will not go over well with the fan base, particularly with Homecoming looming.

Plenty of alums will be arriving in Charleston in a week’s time, and a lot of them will be asking why a potential playoff team hasn’t been winning. Some of those conversations might be rather direct.

If the team plays well in Chattanooga on Saturday, it will help keep things relatively calm. It won’t stop the questions, but the questions will be more politely phrased.

Here’s hoping for civility…

College Football TV Listings 2013, Week 9

This is a list of every game played during week 9 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 9

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 (Vanderbilt-Texas A&M) can be found here:  Link

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

– The local affiliates for the AAC Network game of the week (Connecticut-UCF) can be found here: Link

– The local affiliates for ESPN Regional’s coverage of Ball State-Akron can be found here: MAC football website

– The local affiliates for the Southland Network game of the week (Stephen F. Austin-Central Arkansas) can be found here: Link

– I’ve listed the regional nets carrying  the SEC Network “regional” games of the week (Idaho-Mississippi and Florida Atlantic-Auburn) in notes on the document.

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

– Also listed in notes on the document are the regional nets carrying Oklahoma State-Iowa State and Towson-Richmond.

– 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

– 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 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.

McAlister Musings: It’s time for The Citadel’s 2013-14 hoops season, ready or not

Note: this season, I am again participating in a cross-blog/forum exercise known as “Scanning the SoCon”. As part of this, there will be a preview for each league school. I am writing the preview for The Citadel, which you can read below (it is being posted on Mocs Mania! as well). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

– The Citadel’s 2012-13 record: 8-22, 5-13 in the SoCon (next-to-last)
– Chuck Driesell’s record at The Citadel (three seasons): 24-68, 14-40 in the SoCon
– Biggest positive from the 2012-13 campaign: The Citadel swept Furman!
– Possibly related development: Furman hired a new basketball coach
– Negatives from 2012-13: Horrific defense, and an offensive turnover rate that was almost as bad

After a 6-24 season in 2011-12, there was a belief that The Citadel would substantially improve on the hardwood last year. That didn’t happen.

While there was a modest two-game upswing in both The Citadel’s overall and league records, that was largely due to a slightly softer out-of-conference schedule and a down year in hoops for the Southern Conference as a whole. Make no mistake, last season was a significant disappointment for the Bulldogs.

Note: the statistics in this section do not include the two games The Citadel played last season against non-D1 opponents.

The Bulldogs had enormous defensive problems. Per KenPom, The Citadel ranked 346th in adjusted defensive efficiency last year, ahead of only one other Division I team, Grambling State (which had a historically awful season).

The numbers on defense were bad across the board. The Bulldogs could not control the defensive glass (bottom 25 nationally), had no shotblocking presence (bottom 25 nationally), and weren’t particularly good at forcing turnovers as a team, all of which led to an opponents’ eFG of 55% (bottom 10 nationally).

Teams shot well against The Citadel from inside (53.6%) or outside (38.2%). Most of the damage, though, was done in the paint.

Not surprisingly, when the Bulldogs defended fairly well, they were much more likely to win. The Citadel’s three best defensive performances against D-1 teams all resulted in victories. The Bulldogs only won once when they finished a game with well below-average defensive numbers (a ludicrous comeback victory at Furman).

The Citadel’s offensive numbers weren’t good, either, almost entirely because of an alarming tendency to throw the ball away. The cadets committed 436 turnovers last year in their 28 games against D-1 competition, averaging 15.6 per game, a particularly high number given the number of possessions involved (less than 65 per contest).

Almost one out of every four Bulldog possessions ended in a turnover. Only thirteen teams in the entire country had a worse turnover rate.

It wasn’t just about the amount of turnovers, either. The types of turnovers committed hurt the Bulldogs too. The Citadel was victimized by steals at a rate higher than all but three other teams in Division I. That clearly had an impact on the defensive end, as teams were often able to convert those steals into easy transition baskets.

The Citadel will now begin a new season without its best player over the past two years, Mike Groselle. Someone (or multiple someones) will have to replace his offensive productivity (including an eFG of 57.4% while taking almost 28% of the team’s shots).

The other senior on last year’s squad was graduate student Stephen Elmore. In spot duty (13.7 minutes per game), Elmore provided a little muscle and some defensive rebounding.

The Bulldogs suffered a very tough blow with the loss of junior forward P.J. Horgan, a solid presence in the frontcourt whose basketball career has officially ended because of back problems. Horgan would have been a sure-fire starter if he had been healthy.

There is also a possibility that The Citadel will be without the services of 6’7″ forward C.J. Bray, who missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury. Bray now has nerve damage in his arm.

If Bray is unable to recover, the Bulldogs would be essentially bereft of experienced frontcourt players. For a team that already struggled to defend the post, it could be a recipe for complete disaster.

That is what can happen when a program struggles with attrition issues. There are no seniors on the Bulldogs’ roster this year (not counting Dylen Setzekorn, an academic senior who from a varsity athletics standpoint is a redshirt sophomore). Every recruit signed by Ed Conroy as part of his last recruiting class at The Citadel is gone.

Also no longer at The Citadel are two of the four post players signed by Chuck Driesell in his first class — and of the two who stayed, one is no longer on the roster (Horgan) and the other is injured (Bray). Driesell did not sign a PF/C type for his second class.

Lawrence Miller (who had just completed his sophomore campaign) and Janeil Jenkins (a freshman last year) also left school after the 2012-13 season. Both of them were guards. While they won’t be missed as much as the frontcourt players, their absence will certainly not help. The Citadel only has eleven players on its roster this season (and that includes Bray).

As a result of those personnel losses, this year’s freshmen will be expected to contribute right away. I think it’s tough to ask true freshmen (particularly at The Citadel) to take on such a significant load, especially those who will have to match up against older, bigger players close to the basket. Driesell has no choice, however.

Let’s take a look at the players who will actually suit up for the Bulldogs this season…

Marshall Harris III returns as the starting point guard for the Bulldogs. Harris did a fine job distributing the basketball last season (a top 60 assist rate nationally) but committed too many turnovers, particularly for a pass-first PG (Harris had more assists than field goal attempts last season).

If he can cut down on the turnovers and elevate his shooting percentage (a woeful 29.9% last year), Harris could be a major plus for the Bulldogs. That possibility isn’t out of the question, as his totals improved markedly from his freshman to sophomore seasons.

Harris averaged an assist every 7.8 minutes and a turnover every 9.2 minutes in 2011-12; in 2012-13, he picked up an assist every 5.8 minutes while committing a TO every 11.9 minutes. He also managed to get to the foul line on a regular basis, one of the few Bulldogs to do so.

Raemond Robinson missed the first eleven games of his freshman season while recovering from a broken foot. That may have set him back a bit last year, but he still had his moments.

If The Citadel is going to outperform its projections this season, it will need surprising performances from several players, and Robinson is as good a breakout candidate as any. In limited action, he shot 43% from beyond the arc. The former Goose Creek High football/basketball star is a solid passer and is also capable of picking up a few steals here and there.

Like most of the Bulldogs, he needs to lower his turnover rate. I would also like to see a bit more boardwork from Robinson (and The Citadel’s guards in general, as the backcourt players did not get their fair share of rebounds last year).

Ashton Moore leads all returning Bulldogs in career points, with 394. Last season, he started exactly half of The Citadel’s 30 games, and played just over half of the minutes available. Moore and Mike Groselle were the only rotation regulars to post respectable turnover rates.

Moore is more of a scorer than a shooter, and to be successful this season he needs to get to the foul line a lot more often than he did last year. Some observers believe that Moore would be at his best providing an offensive spark in a sixth-man role, a la Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson or Jason Terry.

One somewhat curious factoid about Moore: he had fewer fouls per forty minutes than all but five players in the country last season. He only picked up three fouls in a game once. That happened at Furman, and it was arguably Moore’s best game of the season.

Quinton Marshall was a late signee for Chuck Driesell last year. The native of Raleigh showed off his athleticism at times during his freshman season. He’s not afraid to dunk.

Marshall is a big guard with the ability to score inside. If he can develop a specialty, perhaps becoming a defensive stopper, Marshall could see more playing time (he appeared in 23 contests last season, averaging 11 minutes per game).

Dylen Setzekorn redshirted during the 2011-12 season, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy. In his freshman year at The Citadel, Setzekorn took 40 hours of classes over two semesters.

Forty hours as a knob is…a lot. Last year, Setzekorn took 46 hours — and also played in 28 games for the Bulldogs, averaging 10 minutes per contest.

He’s a slender 6’7″ jump shooter who will light it up in a hurry if someone don’t get a hand in his face (11 points in 13 minutes against Furman, 13 in 18 minutes versus Wofford). He’s not an ideal one-on-one defender, but Setzekorn can help the Bulldogs in certain matchups, particularly if he can take advantage of his height and collect a few more rebounds.

Warren Sledge is one of four freshmen on the Bulldogs’ roster. A 6’3″ guard, his bio on the school website states he was “known for his solid defensive presence” in high school. If true, he could break into the rotation sooner rather than later.

One thing Sledge has going for him is that he is a native of Keller, Texas. The Citadel has had a lot of luck with players from the Lone Star state in recent years. Among the Texans to have played for the Bulldogs: Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Mike Groselle.

Matt Van Scyoc occasionally struggled last season, like a lot of freshmen. He would sometimes take bad shots. He had three games in which he committed 5+ turnovers.

When the dust cleared, though, Van Scyoc had put together an excellent first year, and was named to the SoCon’s all-freshman team. He had an eFG of 53.7%, helped by shooting 37% from three-point land. The 6’6″ swingman wasn’t afraid to hit the boards, blocked a shot every now and then, and had just a bit of an edge to his game.

This year, Van Scyoc should be the main man for the Bulldogs. The better he is, the better off the team will be.

Van Scyoc needs to shoot more free throws, avoid high-turnover games, and grab a few more offensive rebounds. There is a good chance he can, and will, do all those things and possibly more.

In the middle of last season, Van Scyoc was asked during an interview why he chose to attend The Citadel. His answer:

I really wanted to go someplace where I could make a difference. The Citadel is one of the few schools that has never been to the NCAA tournament. Winning hasn’t happened a lot here, and to be able to help them do that, that would be big for me.

I like that quote. I like it a lot.

– At this point, the status of C.J. Bray for this season is uncertain. It would be a big lift for the Bulldogs if he is able to contribute.

Two years ago, Bray started 18 games for The Citadel and was particularly effective on the defensive glass. He also showed flashes of a nice inside-outside game. Bray is athletic enough to have been offered a football scholarship by Arkansas.

– The Citadel’s basketball team traveled to Canada in August and played three exhibition games against Canadian universities. Perhaps the most intriguing performer in those three contests for the Bulldogs was freshman forward Brian White.

White is only 6’6″, 180 lbs., but early returns suggest he plays “bigger” than his size. As Van Scyoc noted, White “doesn’t look the part but he can get it in there and mix it up”.

– Another freshman post player who will get a chance to show his stuff is 6’8″ Dutchman Tom Koopman. I don’t know anything about him, but Chuck Driesell says Koopman “enjoys playing defense”, so he has that going for him, which is nice. Total consciousness for Koopman is sure to follow.

Nate Bowser is a 6’9″, 210 lb. forward/center from Fort Worth. I am not sure if the original plan was to redshirt him (or Koopman) for this season, but the loss of Horgan probably ended any chance of that happening.

Like Sledge, Bowser is from Texas, so there is decent karma potential for The Citadel. Also, “Nate Bowser” is a great name for a menacing power forward. To become truly menacing, however, he probably needs to gain some weight.

The Citadel’s non-conference schedule includes road games against BCS opponents Nebraska, Tennessee, and Wake Forest, along with two in-season tournaments. The Bulldogs will again compete in the All-Military Classic, a non-exempt tournament featuring The Citadel, VMI, Army, and Air Force. This year, VMI is hosting that event.

Towson is hosting the “mainland” portion of the Battle 4 Atlantis. That tournament struggled to find D-1 opponents to play in the side event, which means the Bulldogs will play a neutral-site game against West Alabama, a Division II team.

Other teams of note that The Citadel will play out of conference: Navy and Radford (both on the road), and College of Charleston, Presbyterian, and Gardner-Webb (with those three schools coming to McAlister Field House).

West Alabama is one of four non-D1 squads that The Citadel has on its schedule, which is at least two non-D1s too many. It should be noted, however, that the military college is far from alone in filling out its home slate with such teams.

SoCon schools are playing a total of 32 non-D1 opponents in 2013-14, averaging just under three per school. Last season there were only 18 such matchups in the league (not including the CofC).

Clearly, the increase in non-D1 scheduling is partly about trying to fill out a home schedule as a low-major, with the reduction of the SoCon’s league schedule to 16 games probably a factor. I do wonder, though, if the conference is trying to “game” the RPI to a certain extent.

The Citadel was picked to finish last in the Southern Conference by both the league’s coaches and media members. It is hard to argue with that collective assessment.

The Bulldogs lost their top scorer and rebounder from a team that finished next-to-last in the league last season. There is a possibility that the Bulldogs’ 4 and 5 spots will be manned almost exclusively by freshmen.

In addition, the defensive woes for last season weren’t just a blip, but a pattern. The Citadel has been very poor on defense throughout Chuck Driesell’s tenure at the school, ranking 314th, 294th, and 346th nationally in defensive efficiency (per KenPom) in those three seasons.

Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs: the team’s turnover rate recedes to the national average. Matt Van Scyoc becomes an elite SoCon player, and at least two of his teammates become major offensive forces as well. The freshmen prove to be tougher-than-expected interior defenders, and The Citadel’s defensive eFG declines dramatically, falling to 48%.

A raucous crowd at McAlister Field House cheers on the cadets to victory after victory. Whenever Tom Koopman scores, the Bulldogs’ radio play-by-play man Danny Reed yells, “Koop with the hoop!” as love-struck CofC co-eds throw tulips in the air to show their appreciation for the Dutch sensation.

Worst-case scenario for the Bulldogs: the team remains unable to stop opponents from scoring at will. C.J. Bray is unable to play. The Citadel struggles in and out of conference play, and its win total from last season is cut in half, from eight to four.

I think it’s fair to say that The Citadel’s fan base is skeptical that the best-case scenario outlined above will come to pass. That is completely understandable.

However, games aren’t played on paper. The Bulldogs have an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong.

Let’s see what happens.

College Football TV Listings 2013, Week 8

This is a list of every game played during week 8 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 8

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 (Florida-Missouri) can be found here:  Link

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

– The local affiliates for the AAC Network game of the week (SMU-Memphis) can be found here: Link

– The local affiliates for the Southland Network game of the week (Nicholls State-Stephen F. Austin) can be found here: Link

– I’ve listed the regional nets carrying the ACC Network “regional” games (Duke-Virginia and Old Dominion-Pittsburgh) in notes on the document.

– Also listed in notes on the document are the regional networks carrying Southern Mississippi-East Carolina and Villanova-New Hampshire.

– 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.

2013 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played in Statesboro, Georgia, at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 12. 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 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. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Georgia Southern game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jeff Monken on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Scouting Report” from The Post and Courier

A good article about a Bulldog football player (Terrance Martin), even more so because it actually doesn’t mention that he plays football

A profile of Justin Oxendine

My brief review of the Appalachian State game

A few more thoughts on the game against the Mountaineers:

– Time of possession doesn’t always tell the story. In the first quarter, The Citadel held the ball for almost 11 1/2 minutes but was outscored 7-0. In the third quarter, Appalachian State had possession for 10 1/2 minutes — and was outscored by the Bulldogs in that period, 7-0.

– Of The Citadel’s four scoring drives in regulation, three took less than 2:40 off the clock.

– The Citadel threw ten passes during the game. Four different players tossed the pigskin for the Bulldogs, resulting in an unusual passes-to-passer ratio.

– The Bulldogs actually threw more passes in the first half (5) than did Appalachian State (4).

– Each team had eleven possessions during regulation; four in the first half, and seven in the second half. Part of the reason the Mountaineers only attempted four passes in the first half had to do with the lack of possessions.

Appalachian State elected to run out the clock with a minute remaining in the first half (somewhat unexpectedly, at least to me). Thus, the Mountaineers only had three drives in which they attempted to score.

Given that Appalachian State did score 14 points in those three possessions, I’m not sure App head coach Scott Satterfield can be faulted for his offensive game plan, odd though it may have appeared to outside observers. The Mountaineers’ approach also surprised Kevin Higgins.

– Having said that, I was puzzled Sean Price wasn’t targeted more by the team from Boone. I believe it may speak to a lack of confidence in quarterback/line play, or perhaps a desire to avoid a time of possession differential like Appalachian State faced in its previous game against Charleston Southern.

– Satterfield made two calls which I thought were good decisions, but got burned both times.

Trailing 7-0, The Citadel picked up seven yards on a 3rd-and-9 play, setting up fourth-and-two on the App 44. However, a five-yard penalty on the Bulldogs gave Satterfield the option of moving The Citadel back and forcing a long third down play.

Satterfield took the penalty (rightly so, I think), but then Ben Dupree proceeded to complete a pass to Matt Thompson for seventeen yards and a first down. The Citadel went on to tie the game on that possession.

Then, on Appalachian State’s drive to open the third quarter, the Mountaineers were faced with 4th-and-1 on The Citadel’s 40-yard line. The drive had already lasted for twelve plays. Satterfield elected to go for it.

In my opinion, that was the right move, but Mitchell Jeter and several of his friends stuffed backup running back Ricky Fergerson for no gain. Two plays later, Ben Dupree scored on a 53-yard run, juking his way past several App defenders (but not needing to evade the Mountaineer who got run over by Jake Stenson).

– Four times this century, The Citadel has won a contest it was tied or trailing by making a field goal inside the last 90 seconds of the game/OT. Thomas Warren has been the kicker of record on two of those occasions. The first of his game-winners, of course, came last year against Georgia Southern.

When the Bulldogs met the Eagles last year, the historical record was not in the home team’s favor. Not only had The Citadel failed to beat a ranked opponent since 1997, the Bulldogs had not won a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium against a SoCon opponent since switching to the triple option offense.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

This year, Georgia Southern is ranked in The Sports Network’s poll, but not in the more or less “official” poll for the FCS, the coaches’ poll that is administered by the Southern Conference. That’s because, of course, GSU is ineligible for the FCS playoffs due to its transition to FBS. Next year, the Eagles will begin play in the Sun Belt.

This won’t be the last meeting between the two programs, however. The Citadel will travel to Statesboro in 2015 in what will be a non-conference matchup, with the visiting Bulldogs receiving $175,000 for their presence at Paulson Stadium.

The Citadel is also scheduled to face South Carolina that season. In effect GSU will serve as a replacement for East Tennessee State (which won’t begin SoCon play until 2016), only it won’t be a league game and The Citadel will add some much-needed cash to the military college’s coffers.

The fact that Georgia Southern was declared ineligible for the Southern Conference title this season clearly bothered some people in the GSU community. One of them was head coach Jeff Monken. In July, he had this to say:

We do get to play the eight Southern Conference teams. We have yet to go 8-0 in the Southern Conference. That’s been one of our goals. It would be hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champions if we go 8-0 in the league.

He continued the theme in an “open letter” to his fan base in August:

This senior class has the goal of winning another Southern Conference championship, whether anyone else will recognize it or not. To go 8-0 in the SoCon would make a statement about this football team and this program…

The “whether anyone else will recognize it or not” part of that statement got some play, as did the “hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champs” line from the month before. By September 14, however, the argument was moot.

That was the day the Eagles played their league opener, which turned out to be a 30-20 loss to Wofford in Spartanburg. Just like that, all the talk about running the SoCon table was over.

Perhaps more people should have seen it coming. From that July article:

…the Eagles were dogged by injuries during spring practice, so much so that the traditional Blue-White spring game was turned into an ordinary scrimmage. Senior slotback Robert Brown was forced to give up football because of injuries, and linebacker Patrick Flowe will miss the season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.

“We had 28 guys in red jerseys,” lamented Monken, referring to the red jerseys Eagles players when they are being held out of practice for medical reasons.

The injury situation has been a major story in Statesboro. Monken discussed it during this week’s SoCon media teleconference:

We are flat struggling right now with injuries…we’ve got twenty scholarship players, not including the redshirt guys…[that were] out for the game [against Samford]…we’ve got a lot of guys starting and a lot of guys playing significant snaps who’ve never played or don’t play a lot…hopefully we’re going to get some of those guys healthy [for the game against The Citadel].

Monken specifically mentioned the running back position as a trouble spot. GSU lost Robert Brown before the season started. Dominique Swope, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2012, suffered a torn labrum and is now done for the year. Two other Eagle running backs are also apparently out for the season due to injury.

The running back situation has led to Jerick McKinnon playing in a wide variety of positions, as Monken has tried to get his best athletes on the field. McKinnon has at times shifted from quarterback (his regular position since midway through last season) to slotback, wide receiver, B-back, kick returner, ticket taker…anywhere and everywhere.

McKinnon rushed for 1817 yards last season for the Eagles. Georgia Southern had 63 offensive plays in 2012 that went for 25+ yards; McKinnon was responsible for 30 of them (17 rushing, 13 passing). In a playoff game against Central Arkansas, he rushed for 316 yards.

This year, McKinnon has struggled as a passer. In three SoCon games, he is 1-9 for 16 yards (with one interception). Against Chattanooga, the Eagles only attempted two passes, completing neither.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Ellison has been the quarterback when McKinnon has moved to other positions, getting the start at QB when the Eagles played Wofford. Ellison is completing almost 63% of his passes for the season, averaging 12.1 yards per attempt. He can run the ball a little bit, too (6.2 yards per carry).

Ellison was 7-7 throwing the ball against Samford, for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He was 6-14 versus Wofford (68 yards, with a pick) and only attempted one pass against UTC.

William Banks, a redshirt senior, started at B-back in the Samford game and rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. Banks, McKinnon (181 yards), and Ellison got the bulk of the work in that contest, as the other GSU players carried the ball a total of six times for nine yards.

GSU had to replace both of its starting wideouts from last season. The o-line, however, features three of last year’s starters, although tackle Garrett Frye has been flipped from LT to RT (and then back to LT) this season due to injuries elsewhere.

Georgia Southern has fumbled fifteen times this season, but somehow has only lost three of them. “Fumble luck” has worked both ways, as the Eagles have only recovered one of six fumbles by their opponents.

Georgia Southern’s defensive statistics may not look that bad on the surface. The Eagles lead the SoCon (counting all games, non-league included) in defensive pass efficiency, passing yards allowed, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, and are second in the league in passes intercepted and first downs allowed.

There is an ominous number that pops up when you look at just SoCon games, however. GSU’s defense is giving up an increasing number of yards per play with each contest.

Against Wofford, Georgia Southern’s D gave up 5.5 yards per play. In the Chattanooga game, 6.36. Samford averaged 9.17 yards per play (on 71 snaps). Yikes.

Last season, Georgia Southern only allowed more than 5.7 yards per play in one league game; in half of GSU’s SoCon matchups, it allowed less than 5 yards per play (including 4.69 y/p against The Citadel).

Yards per play is a good way to determine a team’s effectiveness on both offense and defense; that’s particularly the case in the Southern Conference, which has a wide variety of offensive styles that result in significant differences in the number of plays each team runs during a game.

The Eagles held Samford to only 4.16 yards per play in 2012. That was a game in which the Samford offense ran 85 plays. The Birmingham Bulldogs more than doubled their average gain in last week’s victory over GSU.

The Eagles got burned through the air in that game (Andy Summerlin threw 3 TD passes of 58+ yards for Samford) and were also victimized on the ground (Fabian Truss had 14 carries for 125 yards). Against Chattanooga, GSU allowed 7.2 rushing yards per carry (Jacob Huesman rushed for 148 yards).

I think it’s clear that Georgia Southern misses Brent Russell on the d-line. It also had to replace both of last year’s starting safeties (though last season’s nickel back, Deion Stanley, has moved to strong safety and has three interceptions).

GSU’s defense also suffered a blow with the loss of linebacker Patrick Flowe to injury in spring practice. Flowe was an impact performer for the Eagles last season as a true freshman.

In general, there are a lot of good players starting for Georgia Southern’s defense. There just may not be a whole lot behind them this season, mostly due to injuries, but also possibly because GSU has one eye on next season and its move to FBS. Some redshirts that normally might have been “torn up” are more likely to stay intact, at least for this year’s campaign.

Georgia Southern has used two punters this season. Sophomore Ryan Nowicki is listed as the starter this week. GSU’s placekicker, freshman Younghoe Koo, kicked a game-winning field goal late in the Eagles’ victory over Chattanooga and won SoCon special teams player of the week honors as a result.

Punt returner Brandan Thomas had a 42-yard return earlier this season. As mentioned above, Jerick McKinnon will occasionally return kickoffs (he has three returns so far in 2013). The Eagles have had four different kickers on their kickoff team this year (with Alex Hanks getting the majority of the work); they have combined for 11 touchbacks in 39 kickoffs.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Georgia Southern. Between the first and second quarters, there will be a swearing-in ceremony at Paulson Stadium for 35 new Army recruits. There will be various patches and decals worn by GSU players and coaches (Jeff Monken will wear four patches himself).

– GSU defensive end Lennie Richardson is an Army veteran who served as a tank gunner.

– Sources suggest that Georgia Southern is a 16-point favorite over The Citadel (the over/under is 63.5).

– When Georgia Southern’s offense and The Citadel’s defense is on the field, each team will feature a starter who was born in Haiti — cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre for the Bulldogs, and center Manrey Saint-Amour for the Eagles.

– Apparently, there is a movie being made about legendary Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell. One of the grave injustices of college football is that Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. That’s because he is ineligible. Seriously.

I’ve written about this before, but keeping Russell (and Howard Schnellenberger, or Bobby Ross for that matter) out of the Hall of Fame lessens the importance of the entity itself.

– Last week’s commissioned report by James Madison on whether or not it should move to the FBS reminded me that Georgia Southern did something similar four years ago. At that time, though, the powers-that-be at GSU seemed less than enthused about making the transition.

I wrote extensively (probably too extensively) about the report when it was released, in part because the raw data was very interesting. I didn’t think moving to FBS was in GSU’s best interests then, and to be honest I don’t think it is now, either. Having said that, I wish the school (and its loyal fans) the best of luck.

I think there is a good chance that some of the pressure of the Bulldogs’ season has been eased by the win over Appalachian State. I hope that leads to an even better performance in Statesboro. Georgia Southern is still a good team, one capable of making big plays at any time, but The Citadel has a chance to repeat last season’s dramatic victory.

To do so, the defense needs to force more turnovers. It is not an accident that two of the key plays against the Mountaineers were turnovers — a fumble that changed the tenor of the contest, and the interception in OT. If GSU puts the ball on the ground this Saturday, there needs to be a Bulldog nearby ready to pounce on it.

Offensively, I think it’s important to stay the course. Run, run, then run some more. Avoiding 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long is critical.

This is just a hunch of mine, but I think it’s time for The Citadel’s punt return unit to produce a game-changing block or return.

It should be a nice afternoon in south Georgia. It would be much nicer, though, with another Bulldogs victory.