2013 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

The Citadel vs. Appalachian State, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 5. 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. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Appalachian State game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Scott Satterfield on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Unigate and the Unigate Update

An all-star game called the “Medal of Honor Bowl” will be played at Johnson Hagood Stadium in January 2014

Jake Stenson is having a nice season

My brief review of the Furman game, with less-than-stellar pictures, some thoughts on Unigate, and an examination of first-half playcalling

At the beginning of the season, this next group of games (Appalachian State, at Georgia Southern, at Chattanooga, Samford) was believed to be the stretch that would determine whether or not The Citadel was a legitimate contender for a playoff berth and/or a Southern Conference championship. Obviously things have changed.

Barring a complete turnaround, this is going to be a very disappointing season for the Bulldogs. Historically disappointing, even. There may have been a year with higher expectations that went south in a hurry, but I honestly don’t remember one.

What makes it particularly irksome, I think, is the wasted opportunity. This is clearly the weakest the SoCon has been in many years. There have been past teams at The Citadel with promise that had to go toe-to-toe with excellent conference opponents on a weekly basis, and had a record which suffered as a result. That isn’t the case this year.

I am hard-pressed to find any positives from the loss to Furman. I don’t think the Paladins are very good this season, which makes The Citadel’s struggles on both sides of the ball even more frustrating.

Offensively, the Bulldogs could not move the ball on a young and thin Furman defense. Meanwhile, The Citadel’s D allowed several big plays through the air and continued a recent tradition of not getting consistent pressure on the quarterback or forcing any turnovers.

Each team had the ball four times in the “red zone”. Furman scored three touchdowns and a field goal when it got close to the goal line. The Citadel only managed one TD and one field goal when it moved the ball inside the 20.

That has been part of the story of this season. The CItadel’s opponents have an 80% TD rate in the red zone. The Citadel’s offensive TD rate is only 57%.

I referenced the first-half playcalling in my prior post. I still don’t really understand it.

Darien Robinson wound up with 14 carries for 63 yards, not a great deal of yardage, but not exactly a sign that he was “bottled up” either. A lot of the postgame discussion, though, centered around Furman having “nine men in the box”, which forced The Citadel into trying other options.

I am not so sure. It seems to me the coaching staff planned on calling for first-down throws (among other things) before determining whether or not the Paladins could stop the ground attack. If they did, one wonders why they didn’t use the better passer of the two Bulldog QBs, Aaron Miller, to execute that strategy.

I’m not saying they should have started Miller, however. I’m saying I think focusing on the run game from the start of the contest was the way to go. That’s what the triple option is all about.

For whatever reason, Furman never seemed to bite hard on any play-action. It could be because the Paladins could easily read it, or it could be that Furman’s defense just didn’t respect The Citadel’s passing threat. Maybe both. I don’t know.

When I look at Appalachian State’s football profile, including statistics, I see a team that has some things in common with The Citadel.

The Citadel is 0-3 at Johnson Hagood Stadium this year, the first time the Bulldogs have lost their first three home games in a season since 1965, when The Citadel started off 0-5 at home before winning its season finale against Furman. (Two of those opening three losses in 1965 were to South Carolina and West Virginia, though.)

Appalachian State is 0-2 in Boone this year, and has lost five of its last eight games at home. One of those five losses was The Citadel’s 52-28 whipping of the Mountaineers last season, a game in which the Bulldogs amassed 618 yards of total offense.

The last time App started a season 1-3 was ten years ago, in 2003, but it closed strong that year and finished 7-4.

There is considerable angst in Mountaineer country. It’s understandable. This is a program making a leap of faith, and a tough start in its initial transition season has fans nervous.

Gone is the longtime coach. Gone after this season is the known quantity that is life in the FCS. Suddenly, the yearly string of (often easy) victories has gone as well.

However, it is a bit early to write off Appalachian State, which has lost to three teams with a combined record of 11-1. Noteworthy as well: the Mountaineers haven’t lost to an FCS team with a losing record since 2004.

I won’t pretend to have an insider’s perspective on what went down with Jerry Moore. I only know what I’ve read, and some of those accounts have been conflicting.

It reminds me vaguely of the last days at South Carolina of Frank McGuire, a legendary coach who hung on for a little too long. He was then pushed out of his job in a manner that made more than a few people uncomfortable.

Scott Satterfield was the natural choice to take over. He was a quarterback for App in the mid-1990s, and a coach with the program for many years after that, all on the offensive side of the ledger (including six years as the QB coach and last season as the offensive coordinator).

The question, of course, is if Satterfield has what it takes to successfully lead Appalachian State into FBS play as a first-time head coach. The one thing I can say is his first four games in a transition year were never going to answer that question — actually, this season as a whole won’t answer it.

Appalachian State’s last visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 2011, also came on Parents’ Day. In that game, Jamal Londry-Jackson made his first career start for the Mountaineers at quarterback, and for quite a while it appeared he would never throw an incomplete pass.

He completed his first 15 throws in that contest as App State raced out to a 49-14 lead, before The Citadel made a game of it with a late flurry of TDs (the final was 49-42). The Mountaineers scored on seven of their first eight possessions that day.

Londry-Jackson was the preseason SoCon player of the year, but he has split time at quarterback this season with Kameron Bryant. Londry-Jackson is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Whether he will return to the form that made him an all-conference performer is hard to say, though I wouldn’t bet against it.

Bryant is also returning from a knee injury, one he suffered last season against Coastal Carolina. Statistically, Bryant has been more effective so far this year than Londry-Jackson, as he has thrown five touchdown passes while only being picked off once (Londry-Jackson has two TDs and two INTs) while rushing for 56 yards on 15 carries (Londry-Jackson has only 15 yards on the same number of rushes). Bryant also has 150 more passing yards in three fewer pass attempts.

The Mountaineers have a plethora of quality wideouts, including sophomore Sean Price, an All-American candidate when he plays. Price missed the first two games of the season due to off-field issues, but he has had 99 (Elon) and 98 (Charleston Southern) yards receiving in App’s last two games. Price is an elite wide receiver and a very tough matchup for any team. There is little doubt Appalachian State will throw several deep balls his way against The Citadel, especially after seeing what Furman was able to do last week.

It only seems like Tony Washington and Andrew Peacock have been catching passes for the Mountaineers for 10 years. Both are now seniors. Washington is a big-play threat who also doubles as App’s kick returner (he had a 51-yard kick return against the Bulldogs last season). Peacock is a fine possession receiver who can also throw the ball if you’re not paying attention (he tossed two TD passes last season). These guys are good.

The Mountaineers may not look to throw to their tight end this week, as there is uncertainty at the position. Two different players have started at tight end for App in the last two games, and they are both injured.

At running back, Appalachian State features Marcus Cox, who has been the SoCon freshman of the week for the past two weeks. Against Charleston Southern, he ran effectively (87 yards) and caught passes out of the backfield (4 for 91 yards). The previous week, Cox rushed for 159 yards — and had 149 yards more receiving. Amazingly, Cox was the first player in App’s football history to have 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.

Last season, Appalachian State used a mix-and-match approach to its offensive line, but so far this season the same group of five players has started every game for the Mountaineers. App’s two offensive tackles are both 6’6″; one of them, right tackle Will Corbin, is the only starting lineman who weighs more than 300 lbs. (he checks in at 311 lbs.). Incidentally, Appalachian State is only averaging 4.0 yards per rush so far this season.

Satterfield brought in a defensive coordinator who is new to the Mountaineers, but not to the SoCon. Nate Woody was the DC at Wofford for 13 years before making the move to Boone. He has changed App’s scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 (though Kevin Higgins referred to it on his coaches’ show as a 5-2).

Ronald Blair is the starter at one of the defensive end spots on App’s two-deep, but the school’s game notes list him as “doubtful” due to a combination of injury and discipline problems. Blair is the Mountaineers’ most experienced defensive lineman. The other end, Deuce Robinson, is a tall (6’5″), active player.

Another lineman to watch is reserve Olawale Dada, a redshirt freshman who was born in Nigeria but moved with his family to the U.S. at age 2. Dada had 12 tackles last week and may be something of a late bloomer, having only started playing football as a sophomore in high school.

App’s starting inside linebackers, John Law and Karl Anderson, currently rank 1-2 in the SoCon in tackles made. Anderson is a fifth-year senior, while Law took a medical redshirt last year during what would have been his freshman campaign. He somehow suffered a serious ankle injury while getting off the team bus at Chattanooga. You’ve got to watch your step when you’re in the Scenic City.

Of the eight defensive backs on the two-deep for the Mountaineers, six are freshmen or sophomores. The lone senior is cornerback Rodger Walker, who missed time last season while coping with a blood disorder.

As mentioned earlier, Tony Washington is the primary kick returner for Appalachian State. He also returns punts for the Mountaineers, and is effective in both roles.

Sam Martin, App’s longtime punter, now does that job for the Detroit Lions. His replacement is a true freshman walkon, Bentlee Critcher.

The Mountaineers suffered a blocked punt against Montana, and had another partially blocked by North Carolina A&T.

Drew Stewart, the placekicker for parts of both 2011 and 2012, is back in the role for 2013. He is 4 for 6 in field goal attempts through four games this season.

Also worth mentioning:

– There were only nine possessions for each team in the Charleston Southern-Appalachian State game, mainly due to a couple of extraordinary drives by the Buccaneers. CSU’s second drive lasted 17 plays and over nine minutes. Its next-to-last drive lasted 16 plays and 8:50.

Only one of App’s nine drives took more than 2:30 off the clock. As a result, Charleston Southern dominated time of possession, holding the ball on offense for over 42 minutes.

The Mountaineers really struggled defensively on third down. Charleston Southern was 10 for 18 on third-down conversions, including three picked up thanks to App State penalties. Four times the Buccaneers went for it on fourth down after not converting on third down; CSU was 4-4 in that situation.

– While The Citadel has not fared well offensively or defensively in red zone situations, Appalachian State has been good on defense inside the 20 (52% TD rate), but not so much on offense (a TD rate of 56%).

I have no idea how things will play out on Saturday. App’s offense is not a good matchup for The Citadel’s defense, but that was true last year as well and the Bulldogs acquitted themselves nicely in Boone. The defense was helped a lot by the offense’s ability to make big plays, particularly on third down. Just to refresh your memory (and mine):

Four times against Appalachian State, the Bulldogs were faced with a third down needing six yards or more to move the chains. In fact, all four of those conversion attempts were 3rd-and-8 or longer. The Citadel’s average gain on the four plays? 36.25 yards, with two of them resulting in touchdowns…

That’s not really something you can count on every game. However, the defensive performance that day could be.

The Mountaineers had nine full possessions in [the first three quarters] and were limited to 239 yards of total offense. Five of the nine App drives ended in punts, one in an interception, and another on a lost fumble. Six of those non-scoring drives were over in five or fewer plays, so the defense played its role in The Citadel’s huge edge in time of possession (the Bulldogs had the ball for over 38 minutes in the contest).

The defense did an excellent job preventing [Jamal Londry-Jackson] from making big plays (his longest pass completion of the day was only 15 yards).

The Citadel put a lot of pressure on the quarterback that day and doing so again this year is an absolute must if the Bulldogs have any hope of containing the Mountaineers’ attack. App won’t make the mistake of not throwing deep this year.

Saturday is Parents’ Day at The Citadel, part of a big weekend at the military college. I’m not sure how many people will be in attendance inside Johnson Hagood Stadium when the game begins. I’m confident the tailgating tents will be overflowing, however.

Appalachian State is 1-3, but it’s not really the kind of 1-3 that makes you think the Mountaineers are about to go into the tank. It’s more a 1-3 along the lines of “haven’t quite put things together yet, but probably will”. If App State puts things together on Saturday, it could be a long day for The Citadel.

However, there is talent on the Bulldog roster too, and the poor season to date doesn’t change that. An outstanding performance like the one in Boone last season is well within The Citadel’s capabilities.

Like everyone sitting on the home side this Saturday, I hope to see it.

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