2015 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel at Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium in Homewood, Alabama, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 17. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Mike Grace providing play-by-play and Chad Pilcher supplying the analysis. Caroline Saunders will report from the sidelines.

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. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

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

Links of interest:

– Preview of The Citadel-Spurrier (oops, I mean Samford)  from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Chris Hatcher on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 10/13 press conference (with comments from Dominique Allen, Tevin Floyd, and Dondray Copeland)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Chris Hatcher post-practice interview on 10/12 (he begins his summation with “We had a good day, very businesslike…”)

Chris Hatcher post-practice interview on 10/13 (he begins his summation with “We had a good day, I tell ya, very businesslike…”)

– Chris Hatcher post-practice interview on 10/14 (“We need to develop us a physical swagger about ourselves…”)

– Chris Hatcher post-practice interview on 10/15 (“We didn’t have a whole lot of pep about us…”)

– Tevin Floyd named SoCon Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Wofford

Dominique Allen is “growing into his job”

– The Citadel’s defense to be tested by the “Hatch Attack”

– Game highlights against Wofford

Like every fan of The Citadel, I was pleased with the Bulldogs’ performance against Wofford. The only negative was that I didn’t get to watch the game in person.

I have some regrets about that (a weather-related decision), but given the events in and around Columbia during the previous week, I was a little gun-shy when it came to the roads (and the rain). As it happens, unrelated events later in the day made me feel a little better about staying home.

On the bright side, I did get to watch the game on ESPN3. While I enjoyed the action on TV (Roku is my friend), it wasn’t the same as being there. I really missed the gameday experience.

It reminded me that when it comes to improving attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, attracting first-timers to the game is extremely important. We need to get more people hooked on the fun that is a football game at The Citadel.

Some quick observations about the victory over the Terriers:

– Wofford actually had a time of possession edge of almost six minutes. At the end of the first half, in fact, the Terriers had held the ball more than twice as long as The Citadel, despite the Bulldogs’ 21-6 lead.

That is why The Citadel’s first drive of the second half was important. Sixteen plays, eighty yards, 6:36 off the clock, and a TD to cap it off.

The Bulldogs were 3 for 3 on third down conversion attempts on that drive, including twice moving the chains on 3rd-and-5. The other third down conversion came inside Wofford’s 10-yard line.

Oh, and the drive began on the 20 after the Bulldogs fumbled the kickoff, but recovered. That could have been a game-changer in the worst way. Malik Diggs should get his fair share of credit for recovering the fumble and making a big save.

– The Citadel averaged 5.11 yards per rush, and 12.5 yards per pass attempt (seven completions in ten attempts). The Bulldogs committed no turnovers.

Those are the kinds of numbers that win lots of games.

– The defense held Wofford to 2.43 yards per rush (Lorenzo Long: 9 carries, 21 yards). The Citadel also forced two turnovers. The Terriers were only 2 for 13 converting third downs.

I thought the Bulldogs played “fast” on defense, especially early in the contest. It set a tone.

– The Citadel looked fresh and extremely well-prepared. The coaches did a fine job during the bye week.

The offensive playcalling was excellent. There were “special” plays designed for Cam Jackson, but they were within the flow of the offense. Tyler Renew was used in a way that took advantage of his strengths as a runner.

Dominique Allen was outstanding, and made certain play calls look really good, none more so than the 2nd-and-2 pass on the Wofford 24-yard line in the third quarter. Brandon Eakins was open, but he wasn’t that open. Allen had to clear the safety with the throw, and he did so, hitting Eakins in stride for the touchdown.

– The Bulldogs won the battle of special teams with room to spare.

Watching the game on ESPN3 also gave me an opportunity to confirm that SoCon officiating leaves a lot to be desired — and yes, I know I’m criticizing the officiating in a game The Citadel won 39-12. It doesn’t matter.

The targeting penalty on Quinlan Washington was a joke, and I don’t care if some ivory tower panel later rubber-stamped the ruling. As Mike Houston said later when asked if he thought it was targeting: “I don’t think anybody does.”

Basically, Washington was thrown out of the game for making a good play. The official didn’t like that Washington hit the Wofford quarterback so hard, and decided to eject him. It was as simple as that.

That call was followed by another officiating bungle on the very next play. Wofford fumbled on the 2-point conversion attempt, and the ball was picked up by a Bulldog player who began running down the field for a 2-point defensive score, only for the play to be blown dead.

The Terriers’ last offensive snap of the game resulted in a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by The Citadel’s Dondray Copeland that was eventually nullified, a play that featured a plethora of flags and a meeting between the referee and several Wofford players. Why, I have no idea.

Luckily, the Bulldogs dominated the game. Imagine if it had been close, though, and the officiating had affected the game’s result. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it — that’s what happened in last year’s matchup.

I don’t enjoy harping on the officials. I know it’s perceived in some quarters as whining. However, it’s the elephant in the SoCon’s little room, and it can’t be ignored.

Other SoCon fan bases complain about the officials, too. Many of those complaints are valid. Heck, The Citadel’s supporters were angry with the officiating after a 27-point victory.

The players and coaches who give it their all each and every week in the league deserve better.

As always when writing about The Citadel and Samford, I have to define some terms (as this is a Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs matchup).

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel, while “Birmingham Bulldogs”, “SU”, or “Baptist Tigers”* will serve as references to Samford.

*From a historical review of Samford football:

The Howard College [later to be renamed Samford] team was known originally as the “Baptist Tigers.” However, rival Auburn also had “Tigers” as a nickname. Howard’s teams went by “Baptist Bears” until Dec. 14, 1916, when the student body voted two-to-one for the “Crimson Bulldog” over the “Baptist Bears.” Students decided that a bulldog could eat more Birmingham-Southern Panther meat than a bear could.

Picking a mascot for its gastronomical qualities seems like a reasonable thing to do, though I think the students were selling the typical appetite of bears a little short.

Chris Hatcher was a well-regarded Division II coach, who in seven years at Valdosta State (his alma mater) won 76 games and the 2004 national title. That’s when Georgia Southern hired him and gave him two objectives: win, and don’t be like Brian VanGorder.

Hatcher successfully avoided the VanGorder comparison, but couldn’t quite get over the hump in the wins category. In three seasons in Statesboro, he was 18-15, which wasn’t good enough for that program.

He was let go after a win over The Citadel at Paulson Stadium to close out the 2009 season. Following a 13-6 victory, Hatcher worked his coach’s TV show, then was fired immediately afterwards.

Hatcher didn’t stay out of work long, as Murray State hired him to revitalize a program that had gone 13-43 in the previous five seasons. He would coach at the Kentucky school for five years, compiling a record of 27-30.

His worst season at Murray State was his last one, as the Racers finished 3-9 in 2014. It came as a bit of a surprise when Samford then hired him to take over for the retiring Pat Sullivan.

However, Sullivan was a fan of the hire:

“He has experienced winning on and off the field, he’s won a national championship, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Sullivan said. “And, more than anything, he’s a good man.”

Prior to his arrival at Samford, Hatcher ran an offensive system he called the “Hatch Attack”:

“We want to be a fast-paced offense,” he said. “It will be an exciting brand of football.”

In his five years at Murray State, Hatcher’s offense topped Division I-FCS in several categories. Last season, the Racers ranked second in the nation in passing offense averaging 327.2 yards per game and 15th nationally in total offense at 468.3 yards per game.

In his prior job as coach at Valdosta (Ga.) State [note: the article skipped over his three years at Georgia Southern], Hatcher led the Blazers to the 2004 Division II national championship and tutored quarterback Dusty Bonner to two Harlon Hill Trophies — the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Hatcher said his offensive philosophy is to get the ball into the hands of playmakers and to also run the ball effectively.

“You have to be able to run the ball when you want to,” he said, “and you have to then be able to stop the run.

“We want to get the ball in space to people who know how to move, and to do it quickly,” Hatcher added.

Hatch’s offense at Samford this season looks a lot like the one Pat Sullivan ran last year, though. That isn’t by accident.

Samford may have a new head coach, but the offensive coordinator (Travis Trickett) was a holdover from the old staff. Actually, the new staff is the old staff; Hatcher retained most of Sullivan’s assistants, including Trickett and defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio.

With a talented, veteran team returning, Hatcher didn’t change a lot of on-field concepts. As the coach said during the SoCon media teleconference, he “left the schemes pretty much the same on offense and defense”.

The transition wasn’t seamless (“it wasn’t all peaches and cream,” said Hatcher), but ultimately Samford has many of the same players from last season playing for most of the same coaches from last season, and employing a similar style on both sides of the ball.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for all games (unless otherwise indicated). This isn’t ideal for comparative purposes, but as each team has only played two league games, and 2015 statistics at this point are surely more valid than the 2014 totals, I’m using these numbers.

Samford has played five games, three at home (against Central Arkansas, Florida A&M, and Chattanooga) and two on the road (Louisville and VMI). SU is 3-2 overall, beating Central Arkansas, Florida A&M, and VMI.

The Citadel is 3-2 as well, having played Davidson, Western Carolina, Charleston Southern, and Wofford (all at home), along with Georgia Southern (in Statesboro).

In its five games, Samford’s offense has thrown the ball 190 times and run the ball 190 times. It really isn’t a true 50-50 run/pass mix, though, because ten of those rushing plays are sacks.

Passing yardage accounts for 65.8% of SU’s total offense. During his radio show, Mike Houston mentioned that about one-third of Samford’s pass plays are screens.

Among SoCon teams, Samford leads in scoring offense (35.2 ppg, 18th nationally in FCS) and is second in total offense, and is also second in the league in yards per play (6.1). The Citadel is tied for second in total defense and is allowing 5.2 yards per play. The Bulldogs are second in scoring defense (20.6 ppg).

SU leads the league in passing offense, averaging 304.2 yards per game (good for 12th in all of FCS, and the only SoCon team to average more than 300 yards per game through the air). Samford is also first in the conference in passing efficiency, with ten touchdowns and six interceptions. Nationally, Samford ranks 23rd in offensive pass efficiency among FCS teams, one spot ahead of…The Citadel.

The Citadel leads the conference in pass defense and pass defense efficiency (3rd nationally), allowing only 5.37 yards per pass attempt. Opponents are completing passes at a 54.5% rate against the Cadets, also the low for league teams.

SU quarterbacks have been sacked ten times, third-most among conference squads. The Citadel’s defense has recorded seven sacks (fifth in the SoCon) and nine interceptions (second).

The Birmingham Bulldogs have averaged 38 pass attempts per game. VMI (41.2) is the only SoCon squad to have averaged more.

Samford is averaging 8.01 yards per pass attempt, which is second in the SoCon to The Citadel, which is averaging 10.67 yards per attempt (obviously with a lot fewer throws).

The Baptist Tigers are sixth in rushing offense (4.2 yards per carry), averaging 158.4 yards per game. Samford has ten rushing touchdowns.

The Citadel is next-to-last in rushing defense, and is allowing a league-worst 5.1 yards per rush. Incidentally, that was also the case when these two teams met last season, only at that time the Bulldogs were giving up 6.2 yards per rush (league games only).

Samford is third-best in offensive third down conversion rate (47.9%). The Citadel is second in defensive third down conversion rate (34.8%).

SU has a red zone TD rate of 58.5%, sixth-best among SoCon squads in the league. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (57.1%) ranks third in the conference.

Samford has attempted the fewest fourth-down conversion attempts among SoCon teams (going 1 for 4). Opponents of The Citadel have tried twelve fourth-down attempts, converting eight times.

Samford is fifth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 25.2 points per game. SU is next-to-last in total defense (5.4 yards allowed per play) and sixth in rushing defense (4.4).

The Citadel is third in total offense (averaging 6.4 yards per play) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs currently rank third nationally, trailing Cal Poly and Kennesaw State). The Bulldogs are next-to-last in passing yardage per game; as mentioned above, however, The Citadel is averaging a league-best 10.7 yards per pass attempt.

Samford is currently next-to-last in pass defense, but that is misleading. SU is second in the SoCon in pass efficiency defense, and leads the conference in interceptions with ten. Samford has 13 sacks, second among league teams behind Chattanooga.

At 54.7%, The Citadel leads the conference (and is fifth nationally) in offensive third down conversion rate. Samford is fourth in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, at 38.9%.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 69.6%, third-best in the league. Samford’s red zone defensive TD rate is 44.4%, which ranks second among conference teams (trailing only Chattanooga’s 33.3%).

The Cadets are 2 for 7 on fourth down so far this season. Samford’s defense has faced eleven fourth-down conversion attempts, and has prevented a first down on seven of those occasions, an excellent rate.

Samford is +4 in turnover margin (gained fourteen, lost ten), tied for the top spot in the league in that category. The Citadel is exactly even in turnover margin (gained twelve, lost twelve).

The Citadel has only attempted four field goals so far this season, making three of them. Samford has tried eight FGs, converting five.

Samford is last among conference teams in net punting (averaging 31.9 yards net per punt), while The Citadel is second (38.4). Samford and The Citadel rank 1-2 among SoCon squads in kickoff coverage.

While the military college is fifth-best in kickoff returns, Samford has the best kickoff return average in the conference (26.7 yards per return, including a 100-yard touchdown return by Karel Hamilton against Chattanooga).

SU is last in the league in time of possession (26:59). The Citadel is fifth in that statistic (29:57).

The Birmingham Bulldogs are averaging 76 offensive plays from scrimmage per game, second-most in the SoCon (only Mercer’s offense averages more). When combined with the TOP numbers, that comes out to about 2.81 plays per minute. It’s very much a hurry-up offense.

From Samford’s game notes:

In its first five games, Samford has had 13 scoring drives that have lasted less than two minutes, and seven that have lasted less than a minute. The times of those drives were: 0:20, 0:38, 0:39, 0:40, 0:45, 0:47, 0:47, 1:08, 1:24, 1:25, 1:45, 1:51 and 1:58.

The Citadel’s offense averages 65.8 plays per contest, with a 2.19 plays-per-minute rate.

One interesting tidbit: Samford is far and away the top team in the SoCon when it comes to opponents’ penalties and penalty yardage. Opponents are averaging committing eight penalties per game against Samford, giving up 87.8 yards per contest in penalty yardage.

The Citadel’s opponents have only been flagged for 5.2 penalties per game (40.0 yards), second-fewest in the league. Bulldog fans are not surprised by that.

This is Samford quarterback Michael Eubank’s second year in the program after transferring from Arizona State, where he played for three years (redshirting his freshman campaign).  The native of California is completing 70.5% of his pass attempts (an improvement over last season’s 63.3%), averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, with ten touchdowns against four interceptions.

According to Mike Houston, Eubank (6’5″, 250 lbs.) has a quicker, cleaner throwing motion this season. Houston theorized during his weekly press conference that Eubank’s improvement in that area could be attributed to instruction from Chris Hatcher.

Denzel Williams (5’10”, 215 lbs.) was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection. Though he leads the team in rushing attempts and yards, he actually hasn’t started a game this season; instead, sophomore K’rondis Larry (5’6″, 150 lbs.) has started every game and has almost as many carries as Williams. Both Williams and Larry are averaging at least 5 yards per rush, and both are capable receivers out of the backfield.

In looking over some numbers from last season, I noticed that Williams has added almost 25 lbs. to his frame this year.

Speaking of weight, Samford has a large offensive line. The starters average 6’3″, 297 lbs.

Right tackle Gunnar Bromelow was a first team all-league pick by the league’s coaches last year. Left guard Hayden Naumann started eleven games last season for UAB before transferring to Samford; he lines up next to left tackle Wesley Carter, himself a former UAB player who transferred to Samford two years ago.

Karel Hamilton is only a junior, but he is second among all SoCon players in career receptions, yardage, and touchdown catches. This year he is averaging six receptions per contest (11.3 yards per catch). Last season, Hamilton (6’1″, 210 lbs.) was an all-league selection by both the coaches and media members after putting up a 55-877-6 line in eleven games.

He is one of several talented pass-catchers that line up for Samford. Emmanuel Obajimi, a part-time starter last season, has three touchdown receptions so far this year.

Freshman Kelvin McKnight (5’8″, 185 lbs.) caught a 66-yard TD against Central Arkansas in his first collegiate game, and has also carried the ball a few times for the Birmingham Bulldogs. He had a 37-yard touchdown run against Chattanooga.

Tight end Tony Philpot had 4 catches for 72 yards and a TD last year against The Citadel. He has six receptions so far this season.

Under defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, Samford has generally featured a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option attack, and has been successful doing so more often than not.

From 2010-12, The Citadel was only 6 for 39 on third-down conversion attempts against Samford (15.3%). That has changed slightly in the last two meetings, as in 2013-14 the Bulldogs were 15-36 converting third downs, a considerably more respectable 41.7%.

The Citadel has really struggled in the passing game against Samford in the last two seasons, however, with a combined total of just 115 passing yards (averaging a putrid 4.1 yards per pass attempt).

Samford’s strength on defense starts with defensive tackle Michael Pierce, a redshirt senior and probably the favorite for the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He was big enough last year at 309 lbs., but he is now listed at 6’0″, 340 lbs.

Pierce, who has 6.5 tackles for loss this season (already more than he had all of last year), began his college career at Tulane. He is the older brother of Myles Pierce, a sophomore linebacker at The Citadel.

Michael Pierce had two sacks last week against VMI, and also added a two-yard touchdown run after lining up as a fullback on offense.

Middle linebacker Justin Cooper was a preseason all-league selection. He had 17 tackles last season against The Citadel, and leads Samford in tackles this season.

Free safety Jamerson Blount, a second team All-SoCon pick last year by the league’s coaches and by its media members, is second on the team in tackles. Cooper and Blount both have intercepted two passes this season.

James Bradberry is in his fourth year as a starting cornerback at Samford. Bradberry has intercepted exactly two passes in each of his first three seasons for SU; he has none so far this year.

Anthony Pistelli is Samford’s placekicker, and also handles kickoffs. So far this season, Pistelli is 5 for 7 on field goal attempts, with a long of 37. Both of his misses have come from outside 40 yards.

Punter Austin Barnard is averaging 42.3 yards per boot, but as mentioned, Samford is last in the league in net punting. Barnard, who also holds for placekicks, began his college career at Miami (FL).

Karel Hamilton had that 100-yard kickoff return for a TD against UTC referenced earlier, but it was one of only two kicks he has returned this year. K’rondis Larry is the primary kick returner for Samford.

Kelvin McKnight and Gavin Sinclair (a fellow wide receiver) are the main punt returners for SU.

Per Phil Steele’s preseason rankings, Alec Hulmes is the SoCon’s top long snapper. Hulmes ranked 9th among all FCS long snappers, according to Steele.

Hulmes, a senior from Garner, North Carolina, was also a preseason All-SoCon second team choice on the offensive line. I am not sure how, as he has no career starts on the line (or, I suppose, at any position).

I assume there is a story behind that…

Odds and ends:

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Samford is an eight-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 56.

– Seibert Stadium is named for Finley Page Seibert, Jr., who donated money for the completion of the facility in 1961 (adding stands on the west side). At the time, Bobby Bowden was the school’s head coach.

– Samford has 36 players from Alabama on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: Georgia (31), Florida (24), Tennessee (9), North Carolina (4), California (3), Kentucky (3), Mississippi (3), Texas (2), and one each from Oregon, Arkansas, and Alaska.

– The Citadel has five Alabama natives on its squad: Cam Jackson, James Riley, Tyus Carter, Myles Pierce, and Tyler Jackson.

– Samford has 15 transfers from other four-year universities on its roster, including 13 from FBS schools. Seven of them are in the Birmingham Bulldogs’ starting lineup.

– Saturday’s contest will be Samford’s first home game since September 19, a 31-21 loss to Chattanooga.

– I quoted this in the links section, but during one of his post-practice interviews Chris Hatcher made a reference to what he called “physical swagger”. I don’t remember hearing that expression before, but I kind of like it.

– The Citadel is apparently wearing yet another uniform color combination, this time what the equipment staff calls “summer leave” (white jerseys and those ugly, non-standard gray pants).

This game has an element of the unknown to it. Neither team has really played a similar opponent.

While The Citadel has excellent pass defense statistics, it is only fair to note that the Bulldogs have only played one team this season (Western Carolina) that had anything resembling a regular passing attack. (No, I’m not counting Davidson.)

On the other hand, Samford hasn’t faced a team quite as committed to the run as The Citadel.

The Citadel has to get pressure on Michael Eubank, or it will be a long day at the office for the defense. I think the secondary has been legitimately excellent for the Bulldogs this season, regardless of the opposition’s passing ability, but any coverage will eventually break down if the quarterback has all day to throw the football.

Being able to consistently tackle in space will also be important for The Citadel in this contest.

I wouldn’t be surprised if The Citadel’s offensive game plan resembles the one from last week. That includes the judicious use of the forward pass, particularly on short-yardage plays.

Tyler Renew had a good game against Samford last year (102 rushing yards), so he may get a chance to repeat his fine effort versus Wofford.  Another player to watch: Vinny Miller, who two years ago rushed for 95 yards against SU.

The Bulldogs were solid on special teams against Wofford, and that must continue against Samford. There may be an opportunity for The Citadel on that front, as the special teams outfit that arguably shined the most against the Terriers (the punt return squad) is matched up against what is on paper SU’s weakest special teams unit.

Over the past few years, this matchup has usually been close. I don’t expect that to change on Saturday.

One Response

  1. Absolutely spot on once again about the SoCon officiating.

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