Game review, 2015: Mercer

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Isiaha Smith, Cam Jackson, Tyler Renew, and Tevin Floyd

Video from WCIV-TV (starting at the 8:00 mark)

Post-game video interview with Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb

Game video highlights

Box score

The Citadel didn’t play its best game of the season on Saturday afternoon, not by a long shot. However, the end result was still a victory, and that’s what mattered.

Mike Houston, in his post-game press conference:

The big key is finding a way to win when you don’t play your best.

The Bulldogs lost two fumbles, botched a field goal attempt (and were generally unimpressive on special teams), committed a couple of ill-timed penalties, and had trouble moving the ball on offense for the first 20 minutes of the game. The game could easily have been lost, particularly because Mercer was playing solid, mistake-free football (no turnovers, only three minor penalties).

However, The Citadel played well on defense throughout the game (aside from the Bears’ final drive), and the offense eventually righted itself.

Random thoughts and observations:

– The Citadel has clinched a winning season. That matters a lot to longtime followers of the military college.

– For the first time since joining the Southern Conference in 1936, The Citadel has won its first five league contests.

Only once in program history has the Bulldogs won six conference games. That was in 1992, the last time The Citadel won the SoCon. On five other occasions, the Bulldogs have won five league matchups — in 1959, 1961, 1988, 1991, and 2012.

– October was good for The Citadel, which went 4-0 during the month. I decided to check the records to see how often the Bulldogs had gone undefeated in October while playing at least four games.

It turns out to have happened seven other times:

  • 1909: Sam Costen’s tough-minded squad didn’t begin play until October, but came out of the gates strong, going 4-0-1 during the month. Two of the wins came against College of Charleston; the tie came against Georgia (0-0). The Bulldogs also beat Porter 99-0, which is still the largest margin of victory in school history.
  • 1928: This was another team that didn’t start its season until October. Carl Prause’s men won their first four games that season by a combined score of 111-8, defeating Stetson, Newberry, Davidson, and Erskine.
  • 1959: For the only time in school history, a team won five games in October. Four of those victories by Eddie Teague’s crew were in SoCon play, the first time The Citadel won four league contests in October. The second time? That happened this past Saturday.
  • 1960: This edition of the Bulldogs went 4-0-1 in October; the tie came against Florida State, an often-referenced 0-0 battle.
  • 1961: Yes, The Citadel had a three-season stretch in which October was a very enjoyable month. This team won the league, of course; three of those SoCon victories came in the tenth month of the year.
  • 1984: Tom Moore’s best team averaged almost 27 points per game in four October victories, three of which were conference affairs. The fourth win came against Davidson, a popular opponent in this month; the 1928, 1959, and 1960 teams also beat the Wildcats in October (the ’61 squad was a little impatient, defeating Davidson on September 30 that season).
  • 1988: Four of seven consecutive wins during Charlie Taaffe’s second season in charge occurred in October, including three conference victories. The week after October that year wasn’t too bad, either; on November 5, The Citadel beat top-ranked Marshall 20-3 in one of Johnson Hagood Stadium’s most memorable games.

– Of course, Mike Houston had an astute observation about what month matters most:

Fans and alumni — they remember teams that play well in November.

– The biggest play of the game, almost without question, was Isiaha Smith’s 83-yard run right up the middle near the end of the first half. It gave the Bulldogs a lead they would never relinquish, and it came after a half in which The Citadel had mostly been on the back foot. It was a brutal play for Mercer, which had done just about everything right up until that moment.

Smith’s burst was the sixth-long rushing play in school history. In what I consider a statistical oddity, only once has a pass play by The Citadel resulted in a longer gain.

That came in 1983, when current football radio analyst Lee Glaze threw an 84-yard TD pass to John Murphy. Glaze was starting quarterback Robert Hill’s backup at the time; the future All-SoCon wide receiver came into the game briefly after a minor injury to Hill, and almost immediately threw the pass that still stands today as The Citadel’s longest completion.

It should come as no shock to anyone reading this that the Glaze-to-Murphy toss came against Davidson, and in October.

– The Citadel just missed on being ranked last week in the FCS Coaches’ poll. The Bulldogs will almost certainly be in this week’s poll, however.

Eight ranked teams lost on Saturday, including #17 Montana, #18 Montana State, #22 Dartmouth, and #23 Indiana State. At least two of those teams will probably drop out of the rankings, with The Citadel moving into the Top 25.

– For the first time this season in conference play, The Citadel did not improve its rushing yards/play numbers. The Bulldogs averaged 6.0 yards per rush against Mercer, slightly lower than the 6.2 yards per rush The Citadel had versus Furman.

Six yards per carry is still good enough.

– Occasionally you will hear some rumbling noises from the West Stands when there is a heavy dose of the fullback dive. That happened at times on Saturday, particularly in the first half.

It reminded me of the game earlier this season against Western Carolina. In that game, The Citadel gave the ball to the fullback on seven straight plays in the third quarter.

In the first half versus Mercer, Tyler Renew had a stretch in which he carried the ball on seven consecutive plays. Later in the half, Renew rushed on five straight downs.

That may seem like overkill. There is a method to the madness, however — and it is hard to argue about the effectiveness of the strategy when Isiaha Smith is racing 80 yards down the field for the go-ahead touchdown.

– While I didn’t question the usage of the B-Backs, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about Mike Houston’s decision in the second quarter to punt on 4th-and-1 from the Mercer 40-yard line.

The Citadel trailed 10-0, and I thought the percentage play was to go for it. It also seemed out of character, both for the head coach and the offense in general.

I can only surmise that Houston just wasn’t confident in the offense to that point in the game, and settled for changing field position.

Mercer did move the ball on the ensuing possession, gaining 52 yards of total offense before punting. The Citadel then marched 80 yards down the field and scored a touchdown to get back into the game.

– For the first time this season, The Citadel won a game but did not “cover”. No one paying attention was surprised.

– Mitchell Jeter now has 30 tackles for loss in his career. He also had a sack on Saturday, giving him 7 for the season.

– I was disappointed in the attendance. It was a beautiful afternoon, The Citadel had won three straight games, both Clemson and South Carolina were playing road games…and there were only 10,006 people in the stands at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

The crowd next week will be larger, if only because it will be Homecoming. I’m at a bit of a loss to explain what happened on Saturday, though.

Next week, The Citadel plays VMI, with the coveted Silver Shako on the line.

The following week, the Bulldogs travel to Chattanooga to face the Mocs, with the Southern Conference title at stake. The winner also receives an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

The week after that, The Citadel journeys to Columbia to do battle with South Carolina. This is the 25th-anniversary season of “38-35”.

What does all that mean? It means the next three weeks are going to be really intense, and just a little crazy, and maybe — just maybe — a whole lot of fun, too.

I can’t wait.

The pictures, as usual, range from mediocre to bad. The first one is a reminder that a Jedi Knight is the closest equivalent to a graduate of The Citadel in the entire galaxy.

aaa

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: