2014 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 8. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 11/4 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

DeVonta Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

The Citadel looks to finish strong

Furman is still seeking an offensive identity

As a reminder that basketball season is right around the corner, my preview of the Bulldogs’ upcoming campaign:

Getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014-15 hoops season

Revisiting last Saturday’s victory over Mercer:

– I’ll take that first-half performance by The Citadel’s offense every week, preferably for both halves. Five possessions, four touchdowns. They were good, long drives (of 71, 70, 82, and 53 yards).

All four of those scoring drives featured nothing but running plays. The other first-half possession, which resulted in the Bulldogs’ first punt, was short-circuited by a sack on The Citadel’s first would-be pass attempt of the game. That drive also featured the Bulldogs’ only penalty of the entire half (a false start).

– Then there was the second half. In the words of Mike Houston at the SoCon media teleconference:

We always seem to find a way to make it interesting.

Houston added that on the bright side, prevailing in close games helps the players’ mental toughness going forward. I’m not sure the same can be said for the fan base.

The six possessions of the second half resulted in two punts, a missed field goal, a failed fourth down conversion attempt, a lost fumble, and the final drive of the game, when three first downs (including a big 22-yard run by Aaron Miller on 3rd-and-4) clinched the victory for The Citadel.

The Bulldogs were their worst enemy during the latter half. Besides the fumble and the inability to convert on 4th-and-3 from the Mercer 35 (which was about the only time all day Mercer successfully defended on the outside), there were the by now all-too-familiar rash of penalties — six of them.

Now, one of those six penalties was a bit dubious, as I thought the unsportsmanlike conduct infraction called on Mitchell Jeter was weak. It kept Mercer’s final scoring drive alive, too.

However, the Bulldogs also had two false start penalties in the second half. One of them came prior to the opening play from scrimmage for The Citadel’s offense in the third quarter. The other forced the Bulldogs into a 3rd-and-7 that one play later became the aforementioned 4th-and-3 which The Citadel was unable to convert.

There was also an offensive holding penalty (which came right before the fumble — amazing how that works out), a facemask on defense (just a bad break), and a flag thrown on a kick return.

The Bulldogs have to stop committing those penalties.

– The Citadel’s defense did a fine job bottling up Alex Lakes, who came into the game as the SoCon’s leading rusher, at 102 yards per game. He is still the league’s top ground gainer (Aaron Miller is currently second in that category), but on Saturday, the Bulldogs’ D held him to 58 yards on 22 carries, with a long of 11 yards.

Mercer quarterback John Russ had more success running the ball, gaining 96 yards on 14 carries (and that includes lost yardage from two sacks). His 31-yard scamper in the first quarter set up the Bears’ first touchdown.

While I thought The Citadel’s defense for the most part was solid, those rushing yards by Russ are a reminder that the Bulldogs still have issues at times dealing with a QB who can pass or run.

This week, The Citadel will again face a dual-threat quarterback…

– Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb might want a do-over on the Bears’ two-point try. It wound up being a receiver pass to the quarterback, a tricky play that was expertly broken up by The Citadel’s DeVonta Delaney.

In that situation, I thought Mercer would have been better off with either Russ or Lakes trying to make a play, as is usually the case for the Bears. They are the primary ballhandlers for Mercer; a potential game-deciding play probably needs to go through one of them.

– After Aaron Miller picked up a first down on 3rd-and-4 with two minutes remaining (and Miller staying inbounds on the play), Mercer was down to one timeout and thus was not able to prevent the Bulldogs from running out the clock. I was a little surprised The Citadel ran two more “regular” plays (both Miller runs).

Maybe those runs were the Bulldogs’ version of “victory formation”, but I was worried about the chance of a fumble. In that situation, there was no need for The Citadel to risk a Mercer player becoming the college version of Herm Edwards.

Furman is 2-7 overall, 1-3 in the SoCon (with its league record matching The Citadel’s). The Paladins opened the season with a 13-3 home victory over Gardner-Webb, but it proved costly.

After passing for 221 yards, Furman quarterback Reese Hannon broke his left ankle in the third quarter. Just like that, the Paladins had lost their starting QB for the season.

The next week, Furman won its conference opener at Mercer, 25-20. The key play in the game was an interception return for a touchdown by Paladins defensive end Gary Wilkins.

Since defeating the Bears, Furman has lost seven consecutive games, its longest losing streak since 1972, a year in which FU lost its last seven games of the season.

Furman only scored seven points in each of the two games following the Mercer game, a 10-7 loss in Clinton to Presbyterian (the Blue Hose’s first victory over the Paladins since 1979) and a 17-7 defeat to South Carolina State (a team Furman had beaten in the first round of the FCS playoffs last season).

Western Carolina then defeated the Paladins in Greenville, 35-17, the first victory for the Catamounts at Furman in twenty years. WCU converted three Paladin turnovers into 21 points.

The following week saw Furman play arguably one of its better games of the season, eventually losing at home to Coastal Carolina 37-31 in double overtime. Furman had a chance to win the game in the first OT, but a wide receiver pass attempt went awry.

After a bye, the Paladins traveled to Columbia and played respectably in a 41-10 loss to the Gamecocks. Running back Hank McCloud rushed for 106 yards in the contest, including a 60-yard TD run.

The games of the last two weeks, however, could not be described as “respectable” by any fan of the Paladins.

Furman was shut out by Samford, 45-0, a result made worse by the fact it was the Paladins’ Homecoming game. After only one offensive play from scrimmage, Samford led Furman 14-0. It was that kind of day for the Paladins.

It was the worst conference loss for Furman since losing to Davidson 77-14 in 1969, and the first shutout loss to a SoCon opponent since The Citadel blanked Furman in Greenville 24-0 in 1974 (Andrew Johnson rushed for 149 yards in that contest, one of eight 100-yard efforts for Johnson that season).

Last week, the Paladins lost 31-15 at VMI, breaking a 21-game winning streak against the Keydets. VMI took a 24-0 lead in the third quarter and coasted to victory.

Furman only managed 82 yards rushing (on 20 attempts) against VMI. That may have been a more startling statistic than the final score, given that the Keydets had allowed an average of 349.5 rushing yards to their four previous league opponents.

Injuries have been a major theme of Furman’s season. Bruce Fowler didn’t want to go into full-alibi mode at the SoCon media teleconference when asked about it by The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell:

We’ve had a bunch of them, but I don’t like to harp on that. That’s part of [football]. We’ve got some young players who are getting some experience. They’ve been in several games now, some of them, and they’re getting better…

Fowler also mentioned that some of the positions on the roster had been disproportionately affected by injuries.

Exhibit A for that would be at safety. Apparently, being a safety at Furman is the equivalent of being the drummer for Spinal Tap.

Five different Paladins have started at free safety or strong safety in 2014; a sixth (Adekunle Olusanya) is listed as the starter at strong safety for this week’s game against The Citadel. Injuries suffered by Furman safeties include a sprained ankle (three different players), a concussion, a fractured arm (two different guys), a hamstring problem, and mononucleosis. That’s just the safeties, mind you.

Carl Rider, an all-conference pick last season at middle linebacker, tore his labrum. Offensive tackle Charles Emert, who had started 36 games for the Paladins, will miss this week’s contest after suffering a concussion.

There was also Hannon’s injury, of course, along with several others. Even Hank McCloud, who is second among active SoCon players in number of rushes (471), missed a game after dislocating his elbow in a car accident during the summer.

Furman has also been without the services this season of the Robinson brothers, Gary (who had 133 receiving yards versus The Citadel last year) and Terry (who scored two touchdowns against the Bulldogs as a “wildcat” QB). Both suffered injuries last season and have been unable to play this year.

Long snapper Danny LaMontagne fractured his ankle against South Carolina. He had been the regular for 31 games; his backup would normally have been Rider.

That led to this:

…the Paladins turned to the student body [after the South Carolina game] and found senior Andrew Smith.

Smith, who had not worn football pads since playing snapper at Brentwood (Tennessee) Academy in high school, did a solid job [against Samford] but decided not to return this week.

“He’s just got a lot going on as a senior,” said Fowler. “He’s working really hard in school and has some job stuff he’s doing.”

Furman is now using sophomore placekicker Hunter Townes as its long snapper, and offensive lineman Matthew Schmidt as its “short snapper”.

The Paladins have also had some off-field issues, dismissing impact defensive back Jairus Hollman and starting center Eric Thoni during the summer. Then just last week, Furman announced the dismissals of Shawn Boone (a fifth-year player, and a regular in the defensive end rotation) and reserve offensive lineman Aaron Black.

Time for some statistical team/conference comparisons. This week, these will mostly be for SoCon games only.

Furman and The Citadel have each played four league contests. Both have played Mercer and Western Carolina. The Bulldogs have also faced Chattanooga and Wofford, while the Paladins have played VMI and Samford.

If you’ve managed to get this far in my preview, you won’t be surprised to learn that Furman is last in the league in scoring offense (14.2 points per game). The Paladins are next-to-last in total offense and rushing offense.

The Paladins are actually second in passing offense, but in terms of passing efficiency, FU is next-to-last.

The Citadel’s defense is middle-of-the-pack in scoring defense (26.5 points allowed per contest) despite being next-to-last in total defense. The Bulldogs are also firmly in the middle of the standings in pass defense, but are next-to-last in defensive pass efficiency.

As for rushing defense…well, The Citadel is last in that category, trailing even VMI (thanks in part to the Keydets’ wonderful day against the Paladins last week).

One reason both teams don’t fare well in their respective pass efficiency categories: Furman has been intercepted eight times, tied for most in conference play, while The Citadel only has three interceptions (though all three have come in the last two weeks).

Furman’s offense has been in the red zone ten times in four league games. Only twice on those ten occasions have the Paladins scored touchdowns, by far the worst percentage in the SoCon. Counting all games, both league and non-conference, Furman’s red zone offensive TD rate is only 27.2%, so that inability to get into the end zone in league play is not a fluke.

The Citadel’s red zone defense has allowed seven TDs in fifteen attempts (46.7%).

The Paladins are last in the SoCon in third-down conversion rate (32.2%). That may be good news for the Bulldogs, owners of the league’s second-worst third-down defensive conversion rate (48.9%).

Of course, The Citadel’s third-down stats on D may be good news for Furman. Your mileage may vary.

Furman is next-to-last in scoring defense (32.8 points per game), though it is fifth in total defense and fourth in rushing defense. The Paladins are next-to-last in pass defense and last in defensive pass efficiency, though that may not matter much against The Citadel.

If it does matter, that would presumably be good for the Bulldogs.

The Citadel leads the league in rushing offense (and is second nationally), but is only fourth in total offense and sixth in scoring offense (17.5 points per game).

The Bulldogs are second in the league in third-down conversion rate (49.1%), while Furman is last in defensive third-down conversion rate (51.9%). That will be something to watch on Saturday.

As for red zone offense, The Citadel’s TD rate in SoCon play is only 58.3%. Its red zone TD rate in all games is considerably higher (73.5%), so sample size may be an issue when evaluating the conference numbers.

The Paladins have allowed touchdowns thirteen out of seventeen times a SoCon opponent has been in the red zone (76.4%). That number drops slightly (66.7%) when all games are taken into account.

Furman is third in the league in kickoff return average, while The Citadel is fourth in the SoCon (though only seventh when non-conference games are included).

One thing the Bulldogs did very well in Macon was prevent long returns. The Citadel’s kickoff coverage unit was outstanding against Mercer.

Among league teams, Furman is more or less average at returning punts. The Bulldogs rank last in the league in that category.

In conference games, Furman is -3 in turnover margin, while The Citadel is +2. Overall, the Paladins are -6 and the Bulldogs are -1.

The Citadel has held the ball slightly longer than its opponents in SoCon action (30:26); that number rises to 31:30 for all games. Furman is last in the league in time of possession (28:46), but has had the ball longer when all contests are included (30:20).

In conference games, The Citadel has committed nine fewer penalties than Furman, but overall the Paladins have been whistled for eight fewer infractions than the Bulldogs.

The Citadel continues to trail all league teams in the number of penalties called against their opponents. Fans of the Bulldogs are not surprised.

For the season, Furman’s offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 48.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for 57.1% of the Paladins’ total offense.

P.J. Blazejowski (6’0″, 182 lbs.), a freshman from St. Augustine, Florida, was probably a redshirt candidate at the beginning of the season, but once Reese Hannon was injured he became the backup quarterback for the Paladins. He has now started the last four games for Furman.

Blazejowski is completing 52.1% of his passes, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt, with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He is also Furman’s second-leading rusher, averaging 4.5 yards per carry (a number that includes sacks).

Hank McCloud is another Floridian; the redshirt senior is from Tampa. McCloud rushed for 1,092 yards last season, averaging 78 yards per game. He just about hit his average last season against The Citadel, when he ran for 77 yards.

In the 2012 game against the Bulldogs, McCloud rushed for 92 yards on only 12 carries (splitting carries with Jerodis Williams). He has been an excellent player for Furman over his career.

That 2012 contest reminded me of something I noticed from last week’s game against VMI. In both games, Furman got behind and abandoned the run game early. I thought it was a mistake to do so against The Citadel two years ago, and I have to wonder if that was true last Saturday as well.

Furman only rushed the ball 20 times against VMI (and one of those was a sack). Again, VMI entered that contest having allowed 349.5 yards per game on the ground in conference play.

The Paladins’ offensive line has been in a state of flux. Only veteran right guard Joe Turner (6’3″, 275 lbs.) has started every game. Left guard Tank Phillips (6’2″, 307 lbs.) has 24 career starts, so he also has considerable experience.

The loss of Charles Emert to a concussion was a blow for Furman, as he was versatile enough to play anywhere on the line.

Average height/weight of the projected starters on the o-line: 6’3″, 291 lbs. The heaviest of the group is 317 lb. right tackle Terrell Bush, a true freshman from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Last year, Duncan Fletcher was a quarterback for the Paladins. He was 3-3 passing for 61 yards against The Citadel, as he relieved an injured Reese Hannon in that contest. He would eventually start two games at QB.

This season, Fletcher (6’4″, 222 lbs.) is Furman’s starting tight end. He has a 28-yard touchdown reception against VMI (one of two TD catches for him this year), and leads the Paladins in receptions with 33.

Starting flanker Andrej Suttles (5’10”, 182 lbs.) has 30 receptions. Suttles caught 50 passes last season, including four against The Citadel (for 58 yards). He is also Furman’s primary punt returner, and had a 42-yard return against Western Carolina.

Jordan Snellings, the split end, is a taller receiver (6’2″, 190 lbs.), something that occasionally has been a problem for Bulldog defenders. He has 32 receptions this year, and is averaging 13.3 yards per catch. Snellings had 112 yards receiving against Western Carolina, and 111 versus Mercer.

Furman operates out of a base 4-3 defense. That may fluctuate a bit on Saturday, depending on how the Paladins line up against The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Despite all the injuries throughout the team, Furman has had a stable front seven for most of the season.

The defensive line is anchored by Gary Wilkins (6’3″, 240 lbs.), an outstanding defensive end who was the SoCon defensive player of the month for September. The fifth-year senior has made 38 career starts (he was formerly a linebacker).

Wilkins was a preseason all-conference selection, and leads the Paladins in tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6).

There is plenty of experience on the line with Wilkins. Defensive end Ira McCune and defensive tackle John Mackey have combined to make 46 career starts, including every game this season. The other starting defensive tackle is 6’1″, 290 lb. Jordan Hawkins, a sophomore who has already started 18 games for the Paladins.

Middle linebacker T.J. Warren had three tackles for loss (including a sack) against The Citadel last season. Fellow linebacker Cory Magwood leads Furman in tackles with 93; no other Paladin has more than 53.

Marcus McMorris, a redshirt senior from Newberry, had an 89-yard interception return against Samford for a TD last season. This year, he has two interceptions, the only Paladin with multiple picks.

Jamarri Milliken and Reggie Thomas have started every game at the two cornerback positions for Furman. Thomas, at 6’0″, is the taller of the two players.

Nick Miller, a 5’9″, 167 lb. sophomore from Kennesaw, Georgia, is listed as this week’s starting free safety on Furman’s two-deep. Miller is also listed as the backup at both cornerback spots and at nickelback.

As mentioned earlier, Adekunle Olusanya is slated to start at strong safety. He is a redshirt freshman from Tampa.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth is the punter and regular placekicker for the Paladins. He is eight for fifteen on field goal attempts. While erratic, he does have a strong leg, having made a 51-yarder against Western Carolina and a 50-yarder versus Mercer (one of four field goals he made in that game).

Hollingsworth, a freshman from Greenwood, is averaging 39.9 yards per punt, with fifteen of his fifty kicks landing inside the 20-yard line. He had a punt blocked against Samford that was returned for a touchdown.

Nick Miller is one of Furman’s two kick returners. The other is Logan McCarter, a reserve wide receiver who appears to be something of a big-play threat; the redshirt freshman only has three receptions this season, but they went for 27, 36, and 34 yards (with the 36-yarder a TD catch against South Carolina State).

While discussing Furman’s injury troubles above, I referenced the personnel issues the Paladins have had when it comes to longsnapping. It is possible that could be a factor this Saturday.

The Citadel may be more inclined to put pressure on the punter (or placekicker). It is also conceivable that Furman will be more likely in certain situations to go for it on fourth down rather than punt or attempt a field goal.

Odds and ends:

– Furman has 17 players on its team from South Carolina. As is fairly typical, there are more Paladins from Georgia (32) than any other state.

Three other states have double-digit representation on the Furman football roster: Florida (15), North Carolina (12), and Tennessee (10).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 9-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 41.

Keep in mind that The Citadel has only covered the spread twice this season, against Gardner-Webb and…Florida State.

– Members of The Citadel’s basketball team will sign autographs and distribute schedule cards and posters at Johnson Hagood Stadium the hour prior to kickoff.

Also: “the team will also be handing out the 2014 adidas Citadel Homecoming t-shirts.”

– It was announced during Tuesday’s press conference that the 1990 College World Series team will be recognized at halftime on Saturday. (My thanks to WCSC-TV sportscaster Andy Pruitt for mentioning that on Twitter.)

– The honorary captain for the game will be Bill Sansom, Class of 1964.

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Wilma T. Wildcat, the mascot for Arizona.

Vote for Spike!

– This is Homecoming weekend at The Citadel. As always, there is a lot going on.

Watch out for extra traffic and parking issues on Friday, as Joe Riley is apparently making a special announcement of some sort on the parade ground at 1:00 pm ET. The longtime Charleston mayor is a member of the Class of 1964, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its graduation.

There are other major reunion events taking place. Rumor has it that at least one of them, that of the Class of 1989, will be particularly over-the-top (even by the standards of The Citadel).

This is not one of Furman’s better teams, to say the least, but it is a dangerous squad nonetheless, one more than capable of disappointing the home crowd on Saturday.

Last year the Paladins held The Citadel to just 132 yards rushing, and many of the players who were on the field for Furman in that game are back. While the offense has had major problems, the Paladins’ defense has mostly held up this season.

In addition, The Citadel is facing yet another dual-threat QB operating out of a spread offense. Furman has talent at the skill positions and some experience on its offensive line. It will not be an easy matchup for the Bulldogs’ D.

That said, Saturday’s game is an opportunity for The Citadel. This is a winnable game.

If the Bulldogs play like they did in the first half last week against Mercer, The Citadel will likely win. If they repeat the inconsistent and mistake-prone play of the second half of that game, however, they will almost certainly lose.

I would highly recommend the Bulldogs repeat that first-half performance.

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