2015 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 19. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Matt Stewart providing play-by-play and Wayne Gandy supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Preview of The Citadel-Georgia Southern from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Georgia Southern

SoCon weekly release

Sun Belt weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Willie Fritz on the Sun Belt teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/15 press conference (includes comments from Dondray Copeland and Jorian Jordan)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

When I was thinking about what to write for this week’s preview, what first came to mind wasn’t as much the upcoming contest, but rather Georgia Southern’s move from the SoCon to the Sun Belt and the long-term ramifications for that program and school.

That’s because, from a programmatic perspective, the matchup with the Eagles is arguably the most meaningless game The Citadel has played since the Bulldogs made a trip to face Wyoming in 2002.

I’ll explain what I mean by that later. First, a look at Georgia Southern. I’ve written about the school’s history before, but I think it’s worth revisiting.

Georgia Southern was founded in 1907, and classes began the following year. It was originally known as the First District Agricultural & Mechanical School, but despite an initial focus on agriculture, the school would become a teacher’s college for the majority of its history.

There had been a football team at Georgia Southern as far back as 1924 (at that time the institution was called the Georgia Normal School), but the sport was dropped during World War II. By the early 1980s, the school had increased in size (it would be granted university status in 1990), and there was a groundswell of local and institutional support for reinstating football.

To re-start the program, the school hired longtime Georgia assistant coach Erk Russell, who was already a legend in the Peach State. He was, to say the least, a great hire.

Russell took the football program from club status to I-AA, fashioning an eight-year record of 83-22-1, with three national titles.  Beyond the win-loss record, the coach’s impact and influence on the school was immense.

Ludicrously, Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He is actually ineligible under current rules.

The shadow of Russell at Georgia Southern did have negative repercussions, inasmuch as he was an impossible act to follow. The redoubtable Paul Johnson was the only one of the head coaches who succeeded him to really measure up to Russell in the eyes of the fan base.

Tangent: speaking of Johnson and other former Georgia Southern head coaches, the most fascinating matchup this week in college football is the one between PJ’s Georgia Tech squad and Notre Dame, which employs Statesboro persona non grata Brian VanGorder as its defensive coordinator. The two men aren’t exactly fast friends, and that’s being polite.

The essential issue that coaches following Erk Russell faced — how do you top what he did? — could also apply, in a general sense, to Georgia Southern and the move to FBS. After a while, some supporters got restless. They had already sampled the pot of gold at the end of the FCS rainbow, and now they wanted to know if the gold at the end of the FBS rainbow was shinier, regardless of the consequences.

It took a while, but eventually the fan base started moving in the “we want FBS” direction. Those not so sure about the idea were eventually brushed aside. A new director of athletics with an “FBS or bust” attitude and mission, Tom Kleinlein, pushed things along. Eventually, Georgia Southern made the move to the Sun Belt.

Now, Georgia Southern is an FBS school. Its first season in the Sun Belt was full of success, as it won the league with an 8-0 conference record. I’m not sure the Sun Belt was anticipating that, or if its administrators were really excited about having the league won by a program that had gone 4-4 in the SoCon the year before.

Despite winning an FBS conference, though, Georgia Southern didn’t get to go to a bowl game, because it was still in transitional status. That didn’t sit well with fans.

Kleinlein asked for a waiver (which was denied by the NCAA). In asking for the waiver, I suspect he went against the wishes of the league office:

Without the waiver, Georgia Southern’s only other option to become bowl eligible this year was to hope fewer than 76 teams reached six wins…

…Last month, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told USA TODAY Sports that even if Georgia Southern became bowl eligible through that route, they would be placed at the bottom of the league’s pecking order out of deference to the longstanding FBS members. Currently, the Sun Belt has four bowl eligible teams for three contracted spots.

Kleinlein is now arguing, however, that Georgia Southern (9-3) should be treated differently because it won the conference championship outright.

“If we were just a bowl eligible team, I get that argument,” he said. “But we’re conference champions, and that is what puts us ahead of everybody else. I didn’t make the argument to the NCAA when we won six games, I didn’t make it when we won seven or eight. I waited until we got at least a share of the conference title before I submitted my deal.”

Benson didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Of course Benson didn’t return Dan Wolken’s telephone call. He was probably on the horn with Kleinlein, asking him to at least wait another year before burning every bridge in the league his school had just joined.

Now, about that “meaningless game” comment I made at the beginning of this missive. Mike Houston was asked about playing Georgia Southern at his weekly press conference:

The Citadel will be the first SoCon team to visit GSU since the Eagles left the SoCon, but don’t expect Georgia Southern to appear regularly on Bulldog schedules — not when games at ACC or SEC foes can bring much more money. This game was scheduled before Houston and athletic director Jim Senter were hired.

“If I’m the ones making the decisions, no,” Houston said when asked if he’d schedule games like this one in the future. “You are playing an FBS program that has more resources and scholarships than we have. And if you are playing those kinds of games, there needs to be financial restitution that matches that … It’s not ideal, especially if you are playing two FBS teams in one year.”

In other words, if Georgia Southern wants to schedule The Citadel again, the military college is going to demand a lot more cash. $175,000 isn’t going to be nearly enough; The Citadel is going to want more than twice that amount of money. Maybe more than three times that amount of money.

In a way, it illustrates a problem Georgia Southern now has as an FBS member when it comes to scheduling home games. Schools that pay FCS schools big bucks for a “guarantee game” can afford to make those payments, because they have large stadiums and huge budgets. That isn’t the case for the folks in Statesboro.

Georgia Southern may have expanded Paulson Stadium, but 25,000 seats is a far cry from the likes of the facilities at Florida State, or South Carolina, or even North Carolina (opponents of The Citadel last year, this year, and next year).

That also affects Georgia Southern’s ability to get home-and-home games (or two-for-one deals) with non-conference FBS foes, especially from major conferences. So far, GS hasn’t scheduled such a series with a P5 school.

Of course, if the Big 10 gets its way, the days of Power 5 conference schools scheduling FCS programs may be coming to an end. Even if that happened, though, it probably still wouldn’t be worth it for schools like The Citadel to play Group of 5 conference schools for less money.

The potential chain reaction that could occur if the entire P5 decided not to schedule FCS programs would likely be complicated (and a subject for another post). I think it is probable that The Citadel would simply not play any FBS schools, with the gridiron landscape possibly changing to such a degree that no FCS schools would.

All that said, the game on Saturday isn’t as unimportant to The Citadel as the 2002 game against Wyoming. For one thing, the program will make at least a little money. That Wyoming game, well

The game against Division I-A Wyoming, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, has been on the Bulldogs’ schedule for years. [Ellis] Johnson talked to Wyoming coach Vic Koenning a year ago about getting out of the game…

…After chartering a flight to Laramie and spending a night there, The Citadel will just about break even on the trip, [Les] Robinson said.”Thank goodness for LSU [another FBS game The Citadel played during the 2002 season],” Robinson said. After securing the LSU game, Robinson offered to negotiate a settlement with Wyoming.”They didn’t want to negotiate,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t offer them $100,000 or anything like that. We couldn’t make it worth their while.”As it is, the Bulldogs will play 12 games without a week off this season. Johnson said his players might not even put on pads this week in practice in an effort to stay fresh.

Also, the Bulldogs will have their fair share of fans at this game. It’s not the worst place in the world to play a game for recruiting purposes, either (Exhibit A being The Citadel’s starting quarterback, Dominique Allen, who grew up about an hour’s drive from Statesboro).

However, ultimately this matchup is unlikely to define the season for The Citadel in any way. It’s a game the Bulldogs would like to win, but it’s not a conference game, a home game, an in-state game, or a game against a high-profile opponent. It provides a limited benefit to the program from a financial standpoint.

To be honest, I’ve always been a bit dubious about Georgia Southern venturing into the land of FBS, though not for reasons of on-field competitiveness. I don’t think any veteran observer of college football was shocked the Eagles dominated the Sun Belt last year. Mildly surprised, maybe, but not shocked.

However, this is a school that, even as it has grown, still has issues to overcome when it comes to big-money athletics. Its alumni base, while growing, is still much smaller than most FBS schools; the market demo is younger than many other areas (so there is less disposable income floating around); and the surrounding region doesn’t have a huge corporate base.

Also, Georgia Southern has to compete with numerous major-conference FBS programs within a 300-mile radius, including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida, Florida State, and Auburn.

Hey, I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. I just happen to think there is a good chance in about ten years, there might be more than a few Georgia Southern fans wondering what the administration was thinking when it decided to chase that other rainbow.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Georgia Southern in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Georgia Southern, I included eleven of the Eagles’ twelve games. After some consideration, I decided to remove the statistics from Georgia Southern’s 83-9 victory over Savannah State.

Thus, the statistics below are for the rest of the games the Eagles played last season, which came against the following opponents: North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, South Alabama, Appalachian State, New Mexico State, Idaho, Georgia State, Troy, Texas State, Navy, and ULM.

 

Georgia Southern The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 7.8 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 6.81 5.35
Offense yards per play 7.00 5.56
Offense points per game 35.09 24.86
Penalties per game 4.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 47.1 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 62.5 60.0
Offense Red Zone TD% 69.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 6.9 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.41 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 5.62 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 24.72 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 40.5 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 40.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 68.6 60.0
Time of possession 32:53 32:40

Who will start at quarterback for Georgia Southern on Saturday?

As glad as [Georgia Southern head coach Willie] Fritz is to have Ellison back, he’s staying close to the vest when discussing how big of a role Ellison will play this weekend. With a full week of film study and practice still in front of the Eagles, Fritz wasn’t yet ready to say whether Ellison or [Favian] Upshaw take the first snap against The Citadel.

“Those guys are going to be trading reps all week and they’re both going to be playing Saturday,” Fritz said. “We don’t know if we’ll go by quarter, by series, or every two series. As the week goes on, we’ll get that plan in place.”

Ellison was suspended because of an academic issue dating back to the fall semester of last season. Ellison failed to accrue enough credits to satisfy the NCAA standard and was initially handed a four-game suspension.

By taking on additional classes over the spring and summer semesters – and by earning solid grades in those classes – Ellison was able to get his suspension reduced.

“It was a learning experience for me,” Ellison said. “School has to come first. I kind of overlooked that last year.
“Now I’m just glad to play for my school and to be able to go out there on Saturday.”

Ellison is hoping that this run-in with The Citadel is as successful as the last.

In 2013, Ellison was the star of the game as the Eagles pulled out a 28-21 win. Ellison passed for 138 yards, ran for 135 more and scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:59 to play.

Regardless of who starts at QB, Willie Fritz’s offense will look the same. It isn’t the triple option offense of Paul Johnson or Jeff Monken, but it is conceptually not dissimilar.

I’ll let The Birddog, triple option maven and proprietor of the superior Navy athletics blog of the same name, explain how it works:

Run primarily out of pistol formations, Georgia Southern uses more zone blocking as opposed to the inside veer that is the foundation of past GSU offenses. For the quarterback, it’s not too much of a change; he still progresses through his reads like he did before. Zone blocking is different for the offensive line, but it still favors quicker linemen that can get to linebackers quickly. That’s what GSU’s line was already built for under Monken. Besides, it’s not like they had never used zone blocking before. It’s just a different focus. The zone read is hardly a concept unique to Georgia Southern. Everyone runs it at least a little bit. What’s unique about Georgia Southern is more how committed they are to it. They are very much an option offense as opposed to an offense that dabbles in the option once in a while.

You can read a lot more about Georgia Southern’s offense in that post. In fact, you should. Education is the surest way to get ahead in life.

In its eleven games last season against FBS competition, Georgia Southern threw the ball 20.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 22.5% of the Eagles’ total offense.

Contrast that with Georgia Southern’s 2013 season (again omitting a game against Savannah State). That season, the Eagles threw the ball 14.0% of the time, and passing yardage accounted for 21.5% of Georgia Southern’s total offense.

So, despite a new coach and a different “style” of offense, there really wasn’t a big fundamental change in approach.

– Note: 2014 statistical references to follow are for all 12 games Georgia Southern played.

Kevin Ellison rushed for 1108 yards last season, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He completed 55.5% of his passes, with five touchdowns against three interceptions, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.

Fabian Upshaw completed 70.4% of his throws (19-27), averaging 10.6 yards per attempt, with two TDs and one pick. Upshaw rushed for 385 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per carry.

While both Ellison and Upshaw are capable of making things happen, the biggest playmaker on the Eagles offense is running back Matt Breida, who rushed for 1485 yards last season and 17 TDs. He averaged 8.7 yards per rush attempt, leading the nation in that category.

During his press conference, Mike Houston stated that Breida also led the nation in “explosive plays”, i.e. plays of over 50 yards from scrimmage. He had seven last season.

Breida had his first “explosive play” of this season last week,  a 70-yard TD run against Western Michigan. He finished that game with 176 yards rushing (on only 11 carries) and four touchdowns.

He is joined in the backfield by fellow running back L.A. Ramsby, who rushed for 691 yards and 12 TDs last season. “L.A.” stands for “Little Al”. His father is Big Al.

Wide receiver B.J. Johnson led the Eagles in receptions last season with 23, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. Three of those receptions were for touchdowns.

Houston referred to Georgia Southern as being “huge up front”, and he wasn’t kidding. The Eagles’ starting offensive linemen average 6’4″, 305 lbs.

Left guard Darien Foreman, the lone returning starter on the offensive line, was a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt pick. Right guard Roscoe Byrd is a transfer from UAB.

Georgia Southern runs a 4-3 base defense. Of course, teams often change things up when facing The Citadel’s triple option.

Last year against Navy, the Eagles started out defensively by running a 4-4 look with the safety taking the pitch, then adjusted as the game went on. If you want to see how that functioned, I again refer you to The Birddog (who also breaks down how Navy handled Georgia Southern’s offense in this post): Link

The Eagles have a great deal of size along the defensive line, including the imposing Jay Ellison (no relation to Kevin Ellison), a 6’1″, 310 lb. nose tackle. The Citadel’s offensive line will have its hands full with Ellison, a second-team preseason Sun Belt selection.

Darrius Sapp, listed as Jay Ellison’s backup on this week’s two-deep, started both of Georgia Southern’s first two games at defensive tackle. Sapp weighs 330 lbs.

Starting defensive end Lennie Richardson is 27 years old. Richardson began his collegiate career at Troy before transferring to Georgia Southern. After a year in Statesboro, Richardson enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent 3 1/2 years as a tank gunner before returning to GSU.

Linebackers Deshawntee Gallon and Antwione Williams both have fifteen tackles so far this season for the Eagles. Williams has already graduated from Georgia Southern (the same is true for Lennie Richardson).

Free safety Matt Dobson returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season. Dobson was a second-team preseason all-conference choice.

Placekicker Younghoe Koo is an athlete, as this “trick kick” demonstrates. However, he’s coming off a one-week suspension after a DUI arrest. Alex Hanks handled placekicking duties last week for the Eagles and is listed ahead of Koo on this week’s depth chart.

Georgia Southern punter Matt Flynn is in his first year as the starter. Koo is listed as his backup this week, though the depth chart describes this as an “OR” situation.

Long snapper Jake Banta is another refugee from the currently shuttered UAB program.

Derek Keaton and Montay Crockett were the primary kick returners for Georgia Southern last season, and are back this year. Keaton also returns punts.

Odds and ends:

– Georgia Southern’s “dress roster” includes 90 players from thirteen states. There are 68 natives of Georgia, 11 Floridians, five residents of South Carolina, three Texans, and one player each from Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Jersey, California, and Nevada.

– For the second straight week, The Citadel will play in a contest designated “Military Appreciation” Day (or Night). The game ball will be brought in by the Golden Knights Army Parachute Team. Georgia Southern players will have a Department of Defense decal on the back of their helmets.

An early contender for the title of most-asked question by fans in the stands on Saturday: “Hey, what does DoD mean?”

The Citadel last played Georgia Southern in Statesboro in 2013. It was Military Appreciation Day at Paulson Stadium for that game as well.

– The ESPN3 analyst for this game, Wayne Gandy, was a consensus All-American offensive tackle at Auburn in the early 1990s. Gandy had a 15-year NFL career with four different teams, starting 205 games.

– The sideline reporter for the Georgia Southern radio network is Danny Reed, who Bulldog fans remember from his three years as the “Voice of the Bulldogs”. Reed will become the play-by-play voice this season for the Eagles’ men’s basketball and baseball teams, and will take over gamecalling duties for football in 2016.

I think Reed will become the second person to work as the play-by-play voice for both The Citadel and Georgia Southern. Longtime Charleston radio man Ted Byrne also called games for both schools (and worked College of Charleston games at one point, too).

– Lainie Fritz, sports anchor/reporter for WCBD-TV in Charleston, is the daughter of Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz.

– Per the SoCon weekly release, The Citadel has the top two active sack leaders in the conference. Mitchell Jeter has 13.5, most among current SoCon players, while Mark Thomas is second with 11.5 career sacks.

– Mike Houston is undefeated against schools from the state of Georgia in his head coaching career. He is 2-0, with wins over Fort Valley State and Mercer.

– As of this writing, the National Weather Service forecast for Saturday in Statesboro: high of 87 degrees and sunny, with a low that night of 67. Weather should not be a factor during the game.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Georgia Southern is a 25 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel this week. The over/under is 56.

I think Saturday’s game will be competitive, assuming The Citadel doesn’t go into turnover mode on offense. The Bulldogs may have trouble stopping Georgia Southern’s high-powered attack, but I believe The Citadel can control the ball enough on offense to limit the total number of possessions and frustrate the Eagles.

Earlier in this post, I wrote that this game isn’t that important for The Citadel in the grand scheme of things. However, I fully expect the Bulldog players to give it everything they’ve got — and why not?

If you’re going to play the game, you might as well try to win.

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