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…

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