2015 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 7. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre 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. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

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 VMI-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Scott Wachenheim on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 11/3 press conference (with comments from Sam Frye and Mitchell Jeter)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Promotional spot for VMI-The Citadel

FCS Coaches’ Poll

Eric Goins one of 32 kickers recognized by the Fred Mitchell Award

Dee Delaney and Mitchell Jeter both make a CFPA Watch List

VMI’s video preview of the game

Scott Wachenheim is in his first year at the helm of VMI football; it is the first head coaching job for the 53-year-old native of Woodland Hills, California. Wachenheim replaced Sparky Woods, who was let go after seven seasons in Lexington.

Wachenheim was an offensive lineman at Air Force who later served as an assistant coach under Ken Hatfield at Rice for twelve years (Hatfield had also been Wachenheim’s head coach when he played at Air Force). In the last five years of his tenure at Rice, Wachenheim was the Owls’ offensive coordinator; prior to that, he had been the offensive line coach.

After the Ken Hatfield era at Rice ended, Wachenheim spent three years at Liberty, then moved to the NFL for one season as the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins. He had been an assistant at Virginia for five years before getting the VMI gig.

At his introductory press conference, Wachenheim was asked if, and how, VMI could win:

I think you win because you’re at VMI. I think that’s why you win…because of what our young men work at on post and in barracks. I think you can take those lessons that have been proven over many, many years to produce some of America’s best leaders and some of the toughest men and use that to help you build a championship football team.

That’s fine and all, but VMI players have always worked hard on post and in the barracks, and it hasn’t translated into a winning season since 1981. Until the administration at the school makes it a priority to have a more successful football program, that is likely to continue.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for league contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Both VMI and The Citadel have played five conference games. The Keydets are 1-4 in the SoCon. They have lost to Furman (24-21), Samford (49-13), Chattanooga (33-27), and Wofford (41-20). VMI’s lone win in the league came at Mercer (28-21).

Of those games, the Samford, Chattanooga, and Wofford matchups were played in Lexington.

The Citadel is 5-0 in the league, having defeated Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), and Mercer (21-19) at home, while beating Samford (44-25) and Furman (38-17) on the road.

In five league games, VMI’s offense has thrown the ball 201 times, with nineteen other would-be pass play attempts resulting in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Keydets have rushed 135 times, so VMI has passed the ball (or attempted to pass) on just under 62% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 74.1% of VMI’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). The Keydets average 6.1 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). VMI’s average yards per pass attempt rises to 7.1 when sacks are not considered.

Among SoCon teams, VMI is seventh in scoring offense (21.8 ppg). The Keydets are fifth in total offense, but last in yards per play (5.1).

The Citadel is second in scoring defense (16.6 ppg) and total defense, allowing 4.8 yards per play. Chattanooga leads the conference in both categories.

The Keydets are second in passing offense, averaging 287 yards per game. VMI is sixth among SoCon teams in offensive pass efficiency, with seven touchdown passes against eleven interceptions.

The Citadel is sixth in the conference in pass defense, but second in pass defense efficiency. The Bulldogs are allowing 6.5 yards per pass attempt, third in the league, and have intercepted 7 passes in conference play (while giving up four TD tosses).

Last week, The Citadel did not intercept a pass against Mercer (which still has not thrown a pick all season). The Bulldogs now have a 13/4 interception/TD ratio, second-best in the FCS (behind Southern Utah, which has 14 interceptions and has only allowed 3 touchdown passes).

While VMI quarterback Al Cobb has been sacked nineteen times in conference play, The Citadel’s defense has recorded 17 sacks, tied with Chattanooga for the most in SoCon games. Mitchell Jeter picked up another sack against Mercer and now has 5.5 in league contests, more than any other player.

VMI has completed 60.8% of its passes, fourth-best among league teams. The Keydets average 40.2 pass attempts per contest, second-most in the conference (Samford is averaging a borderline incredible 47.6 passing attempts in SoCon play).

The Citadel’s defense is allowing an opponents’ completion percentage of 59.5%, third-lowest in the conference.

VMI is last in the SoCon in rushing offense, averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Not counting sacks, the Keydets average 27 rushing attempts per league contest.

In conference games, The Citadel is second in rushing defense, and is allowing 3.4 yards per rush (also placing second in that category).

VMI is converting 42.9% of its third-down attempts, fourth-best in the SoCon. The Citadel is second in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (35.2%).

The last two games for VMI have featured the highs and lows of third-down conversion attempts. Against Mercer, the Keydets converted 17 of 19 third-down tries, including 12 straight to begin the game (and six of those were 3rd-and-7 or longer).

Last week versus Wofford, however, VMI was only 1 for 12 converting third-down attempts.

The Keydets have a red zone TD rate of 57.9% (11-19). Of the Keydets’ eleven red zone touchdowns, six came via the rush. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (50%, 8-16) is tied for first in the conference with Wofford (10-20).

When going for it on fourth down this season, VMI is 6 for 12 (50%). Opponents of The Citadel have tried ten fourth-down attempts in league action, converting six times.

VMI is last among league teams in total defense, allowing 33.6 points per game. The Keydets are fifth in the league in total defense, allowing 5.6 yards per play.

The Keydets are fifth in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 4.9 yards per rush attempt (next-to-last in the league). VMI opponents have scored fourteen rushing touchdowns in five games.

The Citadel is first in scoring offense (34.0 ppg), second in total offense (averaging 6.2 yards per play, tops in the SoCon) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs rank second nationally, behind only Cal Poly). The Citadel is averaging 5.6 yards per rush attempt, best in the conference.

Tangent: speaking of Cal Poly, the Mustangs had four different players rush for over 100 yards last week – but still lost by 17 points to Southern Utah, 54-37. Cal Poly lost five fumbles, three of which were returned for touchdowns by the opportunistic Thunderbird defensive unit.

You don’t see a box score like that every day.

The Bulldogs are next-to-last in the SoCon in passing yardage per game (ahead of Wofford), but average a league-best 11.1 yards per pass attempt, and are first in offensive pass efficiency among conference squads. The Citadel’s offense has two TD passes and one interception in league play.

VMI is fifth in pass defense among SoCon outfits, sixth in defensive pass efficiency, with one interception against five touchdown passes allowed. The Keydets’ D has four sacks in five games.

At 52.9%, The Citadel leads the conference in offensive third down conversion rate; overall, the Bulldogs are third nationally (behind James Madison and Kennesaw State). VMI is sixth in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, at 46.2%.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 72.7%, second-best in the league. All 16 of the Bulldogs’ red zone touchdowns in SoCon play have been of the rushing variety.

VMI’s red zone defensive TD rate is 71.4%, which ranks next-to-last among conference teams.

The Bulldogs are 2 for 4 on fourth-down conversion attempts in league games. The Keydets’ defense has stopped SoCon opponents on fourth down on 4 of 8 occasions.

The Citadel is +5 in turnover margin (gained eleven, lost six), tied for second in the league in that category. The Keydets have the SoCon’s worst mark at -9 (gained five, lost fourteen).

For the season, VMI is -16 in turnover margin, worse than any other FCS team except Idaho State. Only one team (Mississippi Valley State) has committed more turnovers than the Keydets.

Of the fourteen turnovers VMI has given up in SoCon play, ten of them have occurred in the second half — eight interceptions, two fumbles. Both of the second-half fumbles came last week against Wofford; one of them happened after a Terrier punt hit a Keydet blocker on the foot, and was then recovered by Wofford.

VMI has committed at least one second-half turnover in all five of its conference games. In only one of those games (against Chattanooga, interestingly enough) did the Keydets commit fewer than two turnovers in the second half.

On FG attempts, the Bulldogs are 3 for 5 in the league (21-21 on PATs). The Keydets are 4 for 5 kicking field goals, and are 13-14 on extra point attempts.

The Citadel is fifth in the conference in net punting yardage (35.9), while VMI ranks seventh (31.2). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are third in the league, while the Keydets are second.

VMI is next-to-last in the SoCon in kickoff return average, though the Keydets opened last week’s game against Wofford with a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD. The Citadel is first in this category, though it should be noted that the Bulldogs have only returned six kickoffs in league contests.

The Bulldogs rank fourth in time of possession (32:16) among league teams. The Keydets are sixth (26:43).

VMI is averaging 71 plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.66 plays-per-minute rate, which is a rapid pace. The Bulldogs are averaging 70.4 plays per game, with a 2.18 plays-per-minute rate.

In league play, VMI has been called for 3.6 penalties per game, second-fewest in the SoCon (behind Mercer); the Keydets are third nationally in this category. In addition, VMI has been the beneficiary of more penalty yardage assessed against its opponents than any other league team.

The Citadel has been called for the third-most penalties among SoCon teams. Of course, Bulldog opponents have been called for fewer penalties than opponents of any other conference school, which is becoming a tradition.

Note: statistics in the following sections are for all games.

Al Cobb (6’3″, 190 lbs.) is VMI’s outstanding second-year quarterback. Cobb is from Pulaski, Tennessee (one of ten Tennesseans on the Keydets’ roster).

So far this season, Cobb is completing 60.8% of his passes, averaging 7.02 yards per attempt, with 14 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He is averaging almost 40 pass attempts per game.

Cobb is not afraid to throw the ball downfield. He is averaging 11.5 yards per completion, with 23 passes going for 25+ yards. Cobb also had a 29-yard reception versus Samford.

While that catch showed some versatility, Cobb much prefers to throw the ball to targets like Aaron Sanders.

Sanders (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is a junior who led the Keydets in receptions last season with 58, for 901 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had a big game against The Citadel in last year’s matchup, with 7 receptions for 165 yards and a score.

This season, Sanders already has 72 receptions, which leads the SoCon. That includes a monster outing in VMI’s victory over Mercer, in which he caught a school-record 16 passes for 218 yards.

Of those 218 yards, 146 came after the catch. That will be something to watch on Saturday, not just for Sanders but for the other Keydet pass-catchers. The Citadel’s defenders have to do a good job tackling “in space” to avoid giving up big plays.

VMI flanker Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) has 44 receptions, second on the team. The junior from Richmond caught a touchdown pass against The Citadel last season.

Tight end Sam Patterson (6’5″, 215 lbs.) is a big-play threat who has five touchdown receptions this season. Patterson was limited by injury last year, but he had eight TD catches in 2013.

Derrick Ziglar (5’9″, 230 lbs.) is a fifth-year senior who leads the Keydets in rushing. Ziglar, who averages 4.4 yards per carry and has seven rushing TDs, can also catch passes out of the backfield (nine receptions).

VMI has had some injury issues in the backfield, opening up an opportunity for freshman Quan Myers (5’9″, 175 lbs.).

Average size of the projected starters on the Keydets’ offensive line: 6’4″, 298 lbs. Left tackle Andrew Lewis (6’5″, 260 lbs.) was injured against Wofford last week, but the converted tight end is still listed as a starter on the two-deep.

VMI lines up in a 3-4 defense when not facing the triple option. The Keydets often featured five-man fronts during the latter years of Sparky Woods’ time on post.

It will be interesting to see how Scott Wachenheim and his defensive coordinator, Tom Clark, approach things from a schematic standpoint. Clark was a defensive coach (and former coordinator) at William & Mary prior to taking the position at VMI. Of course, Wachenheim has plenty of experience with the option from an offensive perspective, dating back to his days as a player at Air Force and as a coach at Rice.

Joe Nelson (6’3″, 265 lbs.) is an excellent defensive lineman in his third year as a starter. He had ten tackles against The Citadel in last year’s game.

In the previous two seasons, Nelson was a nosetackle, but he is starting at defensive end this year.

The Keydets’ two inside linebackers are both tackling machines. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3, 220 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, with 89. The sophomore from Pennsylvania has started every game this season, as has redshirt junior Ryan Francis (6’1″, 200 lbs.). Francis has 85 tackles, including seven tackles for loss.

Outside linebacker Tony Richardson (6’3″, 215 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with 8.5. Free safety Greg Sanders (no relation to Aaron Sanders) is a 5’10”, 170 lb. sophomore who is third on the team in tackles, with 69.

Caleb Furlow (6’2″, 195 lbs.) has started every game at cornerback for the Keydets after missing last season due to injury. In 2013, Furlow made 12 starts at strong safety.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is a third-year starter at placekicker for VMI. He is 9-11 on FG attempts this season, with a long of 40 yards. Christopher has a strong leg, having made two 52-yard field goals during his career. He is 21-24 on PATs this year.

Hayden Alford (6’3″, 200 lbs.) is VMI’s punter, averaging 39.5 yards per punt, with six of his forty kicks downed inside the 20-yard-line. He has had one punt blocked this season.

Alford is also VMI’s backup quarterback, and the Keydets are not afraid to take advantage of that; Mike Houston called VMI’s special teams “very aggressive” on his radio show.

That aggression includes opening the second half against Wofford with an onside kick, which was ruled to have been recovered by Wofford, though that decision was controversial.

The Citadel will have to be on its guard on Saturday; players must be mindful of the possibilities for fake punts and other special teams “tricks”.

Dane Forlines in VMI’s primary punt returner, and has also returned the most kickoffs for VMI (16). Greg Sanders is second in that category, with eight kickoff returns. One of those eight was a 99-yard kick return TD on the opening play of the game against Wofford.

Sanders was the first Keydet to return a kickoff return for a touchdown since Tim Maypray (now a VMI assistant coach) did it against The Citadel in 2007. Maypray’s return against the Bulldogs that season was also 99 yards.

Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 225 lbs.), who is VMI’s starting fullback, also snaps on punts and holds on placekicks. The snapper for placekicks is junior Walker Hays (6’1″, 265 lbs.).

Odds and ends:

– As always, there will be a lot going on at Homecoming. Here is a schedule listing some of the events: Link

– The Citadel Regimental Band will perform at halftime.

– The Bulldogs will be trying to win their sixth league game of the season on Saturday. Only once before, in 1992, has The Citadel won six SoCon football contests in a year.

– The weather forecast: as of Wednesday night, the National Weather Service was projecting a mostly sunny day in Charleston on Saturday, with a high of 80 degrees.

It is Homecoming. The Bulldogs are on a four-game winning streak, are 5-0 in the SoCon, and play for the league title next week. The weather looks good.

There is no reason not to be at this game — and it is possible that many other people share that opinion. On his radio show Wednesday night, Mike Houston mentioned that he was told by a school official that the West Stands were “sold out” for Saturday.

Massey Ratings update: The Citadel is rated 112th in Division I, 17th among FCS teams. Chattanooga is the highest-rated SoCon team (9th in FCS).

Harvard is still rated first among FCS teams, which I consider to be an example of how playing a restricted schedule can skew a rating. The Ivy League as a whole has played a grand total of four non-conference games this season against opponents outside of the NEC and Patriot League (Rhode Island twice, Maine, and Villanova).

VMI is rated 80th among FCS teams, one spot ahead of Mercer. Other league squads: Western Carolina (30th), Furman (41st), Wofford (44th), Samford (52nd).

South Carolina is rated 67th among all D1 squads; Georgia Southern is 66th. Clemson is still 2nd.

There are 24 FBS teams currently trailing The Citadel in the ratings.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 23-point favorite over VMI. The over/under is 62.

That strikes me as a fairly ludicrous line, given that only Samford has beaten VMI by a larger margin, and The Citadel has only defeated two teams by more points all season (Davidson and Wofford).

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 16-point favorite at Mercer; Western Carolina is favored by 8 points versus Furman; and Samford is expected to crush Clark Atlanta, as the Birmingham Bulldogs are 50-point favorites against the Division II school.

The matchup between Furman and Western Carolina is essentially the league’s third-place game and does carry some potential playoff ramifications, though that may be a longshot for either team.

Wofford is off on Saturday. The Terriers will host Furman next week.

– East Tennessee State finally got a win this season, beating Warner 42-9. The Buccaneers are now 1-7. ETSU travels to Moon Township, Pennsylvania on Saturday, to play Robert Morris. The Colonials are 24.5-point favorites in that game.

– Of the 22 starting positions on The Citadel’s offensive and defensive units, the same player has started every game for 18 of them.

That number was 20 until last week, when Vinny Miller and Alex Glover missed the Mercer game with injuries. Both are listed as starters on this week’s two-deep, however.

– VMI has 56 players from Virginia on its roster. Other states represented: Tennessee (10), Pennsylvania (6), Maryland (5), North Carolina (4), Georgia (4), West Virginia (2), New York (2), and one each from Florida, Michigan, Alabama, and South Carolina (starting right tackle Iyan Roseborough, who went to Fairfield Central High School). There is also one Keydet from Washington, DC.

– Two weeks ago, VMI won at Mercer, breaking a 30-game road losing streak. Last week was a home game for the Keydets.

VMI has not won two straight road games since 1979. The Keydets will have a chance to do so on Saturday.

– VMI last defeated The Citadel in 2002, a matchup played in Charlotte. It is a game generally remembered for being contested in miserable weather, and with horrific field conditions.

– In 2003, VMI finished 6-6, its last non-losing season. The Keydets were coached at the time by Cal McCombs, a graduate of The Citadel. Since that year, VMI’s overall record is 25-107.

– Individual leaders for The Citadel (SoCon games only): Dee Delaney has three interceptions in five league contests, one more than any other player, and is far and away the conference leader in passes defensed. Besides leading the league in sacks, Mitchell Jeter also tops the SoCon in tackles for loss.

Joe Crochet remains the only conference player to have recovered more than one fumble in league play (he has two). Eric Goins has the most converted PATs without a miss (21).

Dominique Allen leads the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency and is tied for first in points scored (48). DeAndre Schoultz is apparently the only league punt returner with enough returns (14 in conference games) to qualify for the conference leaderboard.

While none of them are leading the league, there are four Bulldogs in the top 10 of rushing (conference play only): Dominique Allen, Cam Jackson, Vinny Miller, and Tyler Renew. To highlight the number of quality runners The Citadel has on the roster, two other Bulldogs (Isiaha Smith and Evan McField) appear in the top 10 in overall rushing among league players (joined on that list by Allen and Miller).

– In the links section at the top of this post, I noted that Eric Goins has been recognized for the Fred Mitchell Award. As it happens, Mitchell (a longtime sportswriter) is leaving the Chicago Tribune next month after a 41-year career with that newspaper.

– This week, the Bulldogs will wear light blue jerseys and white pants for Homecoming. Hey, our actual school colors! Miracles do happen.

– This year’s senior class finished 4-0 in Parents’ Day games, with victories over Western Carolina, Appalachian State, Charlotte, and Wofford.

If The Citadel wins on Saturday, the seniors will also complete a perfect 4-0 set of wins on Homecoming. In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have prevailed at Homecoming against Elon, Samford, and Furman.

Somewhat surprisingly, in the modern history of Parents’ Day/Homecoming games (since 1953), The Citadel has never had a four-year stretch in which it won all eight “celebration weekend” contests.

VMI always comes ready to play against The Citadel, and this year will be no different. The Keydets are led by a talented quarterback capable of ringing up yards and points in a hurry (that includes last year’s matchup, when Al Cobb threw for 396 yards against the Bulldogs).

Most of VMI’s games this season have been competitive, and the Keydets are probably unfortunate to only have one league victory. VMI’s win at Mercer and its near-miss against Chattanooga are two good examples of what the Keydets can do on a good day.

Even on some not-so-good days, VMI has done things that make you think. Against Richmond, a top-10 FCS team, the Keydets rushed for 202 yards. That’s not something you necessarily expect.

During his Tuesday press conference, Mike Houston made the observation that the players took the rivalry very seriously, and that for them the VMI game is “as big, or maybe even bigger” than the game against Furman. He noted the game was very important for the players, and that he had sensed this last year as well.

That was good to hear.

This is the first of three big games for The Citadel. It is the only one of the three, however, in which the coveted Silver Shako is at stake.

The greatest trophy in all of sports has resided in Charleston for quite some time now. It needs to stay in the Holy City for at least another year.

Go Dogs!

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