Game review, 2014: Charlotte

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Charlotte Observer

WCSC-TV highlights; also, extended interviews with Mike Houston, Aaron Miller, Rah Muhammad, Cody Richardson, Dalton Trevino, and Cam Jackson

WCIV-TV highlights

Box score

When it was finally over, after Cody Richardson had preserved the victory for The Citadel by batting away Charlotte’s last-gasp pass, I didn’t immediately celebrate. I didn’t shout or jump for joy or high-five everyone around me.

I just sat back down, and put my head in my hands.

That game wore me out. I can’t imagine what it did to the players who played in the game, or the coaches who coached in it.

Someone asked me later how long my game review was going to be. My initial reaction was that the review would be two sentences. “We won. Thank God.”

A complete breakdown of the back and forth of this contest would be so long as to make Tolstoy throw up his hands in despair. I am certainly not going to try.

I do have a few thoughts on the game, though…

– The Citadel ran 100 plays from scrimmage on Saturday, a school record, although the two overtime periods are responsible for it being a record. The old regulation mark of 93 plays still stands, as the Bulldogs ran 92 plays from scrimmage against Charlotte before OT began (and then ran eight plays in overtime action).

Actually, The Citadel ran 102 plays from scrimmage, but two of them didn’t count because of penalties.

Of those 100 plays, twenty-five of them went for ten yards or more. Yes, one-fourth of The Citadel’s offensive plays resulted in a gain of at least ten yards.

That’s almost twice as many as the total number of plays the Bulldogs ran that went for no yardage, or lost yardage. The Citadel had thirteen of those — nine incomplete passes, two running plays for no gain, and two running plays that lost one and two yards, respectively.

The Bulldogs had twenty running plays of 10+ yards, and six other rushes that gained nine yards. That means exactly one-third of The Citadel’s 78 running plays wound up as gains of 9+ yards.

In a way, it makes you wonder why The Citadel threw as often as it did, but I’m not going to question any of Brent Thompson’s playcalling. Why should I? His offense finished with 36 first downs, 689 yards of total offense, an average gain of almost seven yards per play, and nine TDs.

That’s good enough for me. It’s good enough for anybody. I’m just glad it was (barely) good enough to win the game on Saturday.

– Attention, slick coaching move alert: this alert went off late in the fourth quarter, when a trick punt formation by The Citadel forced Charlotte to call its remaining timeout. That lost timeout for the 49ers was arguably crucial in helping the Bulldogs survive until overtime. Nicely done, Mike Houston.

– In my game preview, I referred to Charlotte wide receiver Austin Duke as “very good, and very dangerous.” He was all of that and more against the Bulldogs, despite dropping two potential TD passes during the game.

The 49ers’ season-long propensity for big plays continued unabated on Saturday. Six of Charlotte’s seven touchdowns were thirteen yards or longer; 83- and 71-yard TDs for Duke, a 13-yard reception for Trent Bostick, and touchdown runs by Duke (15 yards), Kalif Phillips (26 yards) and Maetron Thomas (25 yards to open the first overtime period).

In addition to those touchdowns, the 49ers had five other runs of 15+ yards and pass completions of 15, 21, and 28 yards.

– The one thing Charlotte struggled with at times on offense was finishing drives when it got close to the goal line. The 49ers only scored three touchdowns in seven red zone trips (conversely, The Citadel’s nine offensive trips inside the 20 all resulted in TDs).

Charlotte had trouble punching the ball into the end zone the closer it got to it. Duke scored from 15 yards out on the 49ers’ first possession, but UNCC’s third drive bogged down after having first-and-goal from the Bulldogs’ 8-yard line, and Charlotte settled for a field goal.

The 49ers subsequently scored from 13 yards out on a pass to Bostick, and Duke later had a 7-yard TD catch, but Charlotte wasted other opportunities deep in Bulldog territory. The Citadel stopped Charlotte on downs at the 10-yard line on a 4th-and-2 play in the third quarter (when the 49ers were in position to take their first lead of the game). Charlotte was held to another field goal later in the game after having 2nd-and-goal on the Bulldogs’ 4-yard line.

Of course, the 49ers’ other goal-to-go failure came in the second overtime period, with eight plays from inside the 11-yard line (including one that resulted in a Bulldog penalty which gave Charlotte a fresh set of downs at the 3-yard line).

The game’s final sequence may have illustrated the difference between the two teams. If it’s possible to say there was a decisive factor in a 63-56 2OT game, red zone offense and defense might have been it.

– Matt Johnson has been inconsistent at times for the 49ers this season (he entered the game against the Bulldogs with 7 TDs and 8 interceptions), but the Charlotte quarterback hardly put a foot wrong on Saturday. He threw an excellent deep ball and showed good accuracy on short- and mid-range passes.

His decision-making was also good, as he made very few mistakes, none of any real consequence. His most impressive move may have actually been an incomplete pass on the next-to-last play of the game, imaginatively throwing the ball away to avoid a sack by Mitchell Jeter.

– Speaking of people who had a good game, Aaron Miller was exceptional. His performance was essentially a “how-to” guide for playing quarterback in an option offense. He made excellent reads, put the ball exactly where it needed to be on pitches, and threw the ball well all day long.

Miller was at his best when running with the football. I particularly liked how he finished runs, regularly falling forward for extra yardage while maintaining good ball security. All in all, it was a tour-de-force for #12.

– I just wanted to note here that I thought the scattered booing for Kalif Phillips when he got hurt near the end of regulation was unwarranted. Booing an injured player is always wrong, of course.

I understand that some people thought he was faking an injury to stop the clock, but it wouldn’t have affected the game anyway, since the 49ers had picked up a first down on the previous play and the clock had stopped to move the chains. As it happened, any advantage Charlotte may have gained by saving time was lost when the 49ers didn’t immediately snap the ball after the clock was re-started.

Some of the crowd’s ire may have been a result of Charlotte having several players go down (mostly on defense) as the game progressed. Phillips got “blamed” for being the last 49er to leave the field, if you will.

Phillips may have just been worn out. It would be understandable, as he took a lot of hits while toting the ball 22 times. Phillips didn’t return for the overtime periods, though I don’t think his absence affected the game’s outcome. Charlotte’s failure to score in the second OT was (as mentioned above) another example of its game-long difficulties inside the 10-yard line.

– The attendance (10,467) was both unsurprising and disappointing. Jim Senter has work to do.

I thought the amount of people on campus for Parents’ Day was fairly typical. I didn’t think it was possible for that many individuals to be in the campus bookstore at the same time, though.

The number of people tailgating didn’t seem to me to be quite as high as normal, but I could be very wrong about that. I would be willing to listen to other opinions on the subject.

– I don’t know if the coaches were a little disappointed in the limited number of fans cheering on the team during the Dogwalk. I could understand if they were, but it’s a direct reflection of the morning parade ending just prior to the players arriving at the stadium. The timing just isn’t ideal for the big weekends (Parents’ Day, Homecoming).

This week’s photo gallery (seen below) features a smattering of Saturday’s non-football activity, including some shots inside Murray Barracks, the parade, etc. You know the drill by now — the photos are not going to win any Pulitzers, there is an element of randomness, the photographer is beyond hopeless, etc. This time, there are quite a few pictures. Quantity over quality, I guess.

Mike Houston greeted the media after the game by quietly exclaiming, “Holy Cow!”

You said it, coach.

 

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