2016 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Mercer

In a swift, clean game of football of football this morning, The Citadel eleven defeated that of Mercer University by a score of ten to zero. On account of the unusual time of the game, 11 a.m., the attendance was not very large, but the crowd made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers.

A very noticeable feature was the presence of a great number of ladies, who formed fully one-fourth of the spectators.

The game was an excellent exhibition of the possibilities of the new rules. While the cadets attempted a few straight bucks, the gains were, in almost every instance, made on end runs, quarterback passes, and fake or quarterback kicks.

Mercer’s gains were made mostly on a long end pass, and the old style half-around-end. The game was also characterized by frequent punting. McCathran and Hammond divided the honors. The cadets were very successful in recovering punts and fumbles…

…The Citadel back-field has shown to no greater advantage this year than in the game today. The team ran interference for them like a machine, and time after time, a blue and white jersey went around the ends for long gains.

The Evening Post, November 10, 1906

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 7:00 pm ET on Thursday, September 1.

The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net South, Fox Sports Net Midwest+, and Fox Sports Net West. It will be streamed on ESPN3 and Fox Sports Go, with play-by-play from Darren Goldwater, analysis by Ray Goff, and reporting from Lindsay Rowley. 

The contest 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.

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

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

A few of my recent posts revolving around football, including the upcoming season for The Citadel:

  • I broke down last season’s conference statistics, including (but not limited to) 4th-down decisions, run/pass tendencies, and…the coin toss
  • Updated to reference the 2015 numbers, I produced my latest of many posts on attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium
  • I took a look at scheduling, in terms of which teams The Citadel’s opponents will play before (and after) facing The Citadel
  • With the past as a guide, I wrote about the difficulty the Bulldogs have had over the years in sustaining success

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

Brent Thompson’s “career crisis”

STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish second)

College Sports Madness preview (The Citadel is picked to finish second in the SoCon)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish second in both polls)

Southern Pigskin preseason poll (The Citadel is picked to finish second)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer [link when available]

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches poll (The Citadel opens the season ranked #15)

Brent Thompson interview with Southern Pigskin (video)

Brent Thompson at The Citadel’s Media Day (video)

Brent Thompson talks to Phil Kornblut on SportsTalk, as do Cam Jackson and Joe Crochet (audio)

Brent Thompson’s 8/30 press conference (video)

The Bulldogs’ depth will be tested early

Mercer continues preparations for The Citadel

Bobby Lamb’s 8/29 press conference (video via Periscope)

Mercer student paper’s sports editor previews the Bears’ season (and picks Mercer to beat The Citadel 34-28)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

It’s time for football, everybody!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

Since this is only Mercer’s third season in the Southern Conference, I think it’s still worthwhile to briefly outline the institution’s history, including that of its football program.

The school now known as Mercer University was founded in 1833 (as a preparatory school for boys) and was originally located in Penfield, Georgia, a small town between Atlanta and Augusta. The campus relocated to Macon in 1871.

The university is named for Jesse Mercer, a Baptist leader who was the first chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees. The college was originally established by Baptists, but no longer has an affiliation with the denomination.

MU has about 4,500 undergraduate students and almost 4,000 graduate/professional students. Mercer has over 76,000 alumni.

In January of 1892, Mercer played its first-ever football game, losing 50-0 to Georgia in Athens. The contest provided the origin story for how the team came to be known as the “Bears”.

The choice of the bear as Mercer’s mascot is said to have been prompted by a University of Georgia football player. In that first football game between the two schools, one of the Georgia players saw a Mercer player burst through the line of scrimmage and exclaimed, “Whence cometh that bear?”

A school publicist (or perhaps an enterprising newspaper reporter) almost certainly invented that quote, which was undoubtedly inspired by Epicurus. There is no telling what Mercer’s mascot would be if that individual had instead been philosophically aligned with Zeno of Citium.

Mercer decided to play an easier opponent for its second game, and thus tangled with the Savannah Catholic Library Association. The Bears still lost, 20-2.

Then someone in Macon got the bright idea to schedule Georgia Tech, which had not yet played a football game. Mercer won, 12-6.

Mercer was once coached by George Stallings, who helmed both the football and baseball teams. He was a little better at coaching baseball; Stallings would later become known as “The Miracle Man” for leading the Boston Braves to the 1914 World Championship.

Cy Young served as Mercer’s baseball coach from 1903-05.

Mercer disbanded its football team following the 1941 campaign, and didn’t field a gridiron squad again until 2013. This is the fourth year for the program since the re-boot.

Incidentally, that 1892 victory over Georgia Tech was the only time the Bears ever beat the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech won 15 of the other 16 meetings (one ended in a tie).

Mercer’s next opponent following its game against The Citadel? Georgia Tech.

The next few sections include statistics for 2015 SoCon contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Before making some statistical comparisons, a quick review of each team’s 2015 SoCon season:

Mercer opened last year’s conference campaign with a 34-33 OT loss to Wofford in Macon. The Bears trailed by 10 points with just three and a half minutes to play, but had a chance to win the game in regulation before settling for a short field goal and OT. In the extra session, Mercer scored a touchdown but missed the PAT, opening the door for the Terriers.

The Bears then lost a tough road game to Western Carolina, 24-21. MU led 21-3 in the second quarter, but the Catamounts scored two fourth-quarter TDs for a comeback victory.

The next SoCon contest was at home, versus VMI. The Keydets prevailed, 28-21, after controlling much of the game (VMI at one point led by 21 points).

Mercer then lost a tough game to The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 21-19, missing a potential tying two-point conversion attempt. It was the second consecutive season that situation presented itself to Mercer, and the second consecutive time the Bears were unable to forge a tie. My review of that game is here: Link

The Bears’ first league win of 2015 was an upset, a 17-14 home victory over eventual league co-champ Chattanooga. MU held off a late comeback attempt by the Mocs, intercepting a pass deep in its own territory while maintaining a three-point lead, and then sealing the win by running out the clock with a pair of first downs.

That was Mercer’s ninth game of the season; the following week, the Bears went to Greenville and beat Furman in OT, 27-20. The Paladins scored late to tie the game at 20, but had to attempt a longer-than-usual PAT due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Furman missed the kick, the game went to overtime, and Mercer wound up winning the contest four plays later.

Mercer returned to Macon for its season finale and was beaten by Samford, 47-21. MU actually led in the third quarter but gave up multiple big plays down the stretch; Samford scored 28 points in the fourth quarter.

The Citadel opened its SoCon campaign in 2015 with a solid home win over Western Carolina, 28-10. The Bulldogs’ next league game was also at home, against Wofford, and The Citadel handled the Terriers 39-12.

Following that victory, The Citadel won consecutive road games in impressive fashion, versus Samford and Furman (by 44-25 and 38-17 scores, respectively). The Bulldogs then edged Mercer 21-19, and retained the coveted Silver Shako with a hard-fought 35-14 win over VMI.

Both of those games were at home. The Citadel lost its final conference game of the season, 31-23 at Chattanooga, though the Bulldogs still won a share of the Southern Conference title.

In league play, Mercer’s offense averaged 22.7 points per game. The Bears averaged 5.2 yards per play, including 4.4 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per pass attempt.

Mercer threw the football 185 times, averaging 26.4 tosses per conference game. MU passed or was sacked attempting to pass on just over 40% of its offensive plays from scrimmage (Mercer was sacked eight times in seven SoCon matchups).

Slightly less than half (48.1%) of MU’s offensive total yardage came via the air. Mercer scored twenty touchdowns in conference play, eleven rushing and nine passing. The Bears were intercepted three times (one each in the last three conference games of the season) and fumbled ten times in league contests, losing four of those fumbles.

Defensively, The Citadel allowed 18.3 ppg in SoCon action. The Bulldogs allowed 5.1 yards per play, including 3.7 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt. As I noted in my statistical review of The Citadel’s 2015 league campaign, that yards per rush stat was an improvement over the corresponding 2014 numbers by almost exactly two yards.

The Bulldogs sacked opposing quarterbacks twenty times in league play, and intercepted thirteen passes (breaking up twenty other throws). SoCon opponents averaged 30.3 pass attempts per game versus The Citadel (with those tosses accounting for 46.1% of all offensive plays run from scrimmage against the Bulldogs).

The Citadel’s defense recovered seven fumbles in conference action.

Mercer had exactly 100 third-down attempts in SoCon play, converting on 39 of them. The Bears went for it on fourth down on fifteen occasions in conference action, successfully making the line to gain nine times (60%).

MU was in the Red Zone 22 times in seven league contests, scoring sixteen touchdowns in that situation (for a RZ TD rate of 72.7%).

Mercer’s time of possession per game in conference play was 31:28. The Bears averaged only 2.7 penalties per SoCon game, resulting in an average of just 20.7 penalty yards accepted against Mercer in those contests.

The Citadel’s defense held league opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 33.7%. Against the Bulldogs, SoCon opposition was 8 for 13 on fourth-down tries (61.5%).

In Red Zone situations versus conference teams, the Bulldogs allowed a TD rate of 52.2% in 2015.

As far as penalties are concerned, the SoCon traditionally is loathe to call infractions against The Citadel’s opponents, and that is reflected in last year’s numbers. While the Bulldogs were called for 42 penalties in seven conference games (6.0 per contest), the opposition was only flagged 29 times (4.1 per game).

MU allowed 26.9 points per game to league opponents. Conference teams averaged 6.4 yards per play against the Bears, including 5.6 yards per rush and 7.8 yards per pass attempt.

Mercer’s defense faced 183 pass attempts in SoCon play, just two fewer pass attempts than the Bears tried on offense. MU had eleven sacks in conference action; in a mirror image of Mercer’s offense, 40.4% of opposition plays were pass attempts (or sacks while attempting to pass).

The Bears allowed 3,087 yards of total offense in seven league games, with 46.1% of that total being passing yardage. Mercer allowed 24 touchdowns in SoCon play, 18 on the ground.

MU intercepted seven passes in conference matchups, and forced thirteen fumbles (while recovering nine opponent fumbles).

Offensively, The Citadel rung up 32.6 points per game in league action. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 5.6 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt. While there were a limited number of passes in The Citadel’s triple option offense, that’s still a very impressive statistic.

League opponents intercepted two Bulldog passes and broke up four others, out of a total of 63 pass attempts in conference action.

The Citadel lost eight fumbles in seven SoCon games. In an illustration of the nature of variance in fumble statistics, the Bulldogs lost twelve fumbles in their other six matchups, losing at least one fumble in every non-league contest except one — the game against South Carolina.

Holding onto the football will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel this season.

Mercer’s defense allowed a third-down conversion rate of 54.5% against league teams. On fourth down, opponents of the Bears were six for twelve.

SoCon opposition entered the Red Zone against Mercer 27 times in conference play. MU allowed 18 touchdowns in that situation (66.7%).

The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate on offense was exactly 50% in SoCon games. On fourth down, the Cadets were 3 for 8 (37.5%).

In 2015, The Citadel’s time of possession in SoCon play was 32:13. The Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of just 56.3% in 2015 against conference opposition, an area in which The Citadel needs to improve in 2016.

For individual statistics, all games (SoCon and non-conference) are included.

Before I get to John Russ and company, let me quickly review the four non-conference games Mercer played last season.

Mercer was 3-1 in those four games. The Bears lost at Tennessee Tech by a 29-22 score, but won by a lopsided margin in the other three contests — 28-7 at Austin Peay, 57-14 versus Stetson, and 52-0 against East Tennessee State.

Obviously, ETSU will be a league opponent for both Mercer and The Citadel this season, but last year that wasn’t the case.

The Bears could have named their score against both Stetson and East Tennessee State, to be honest. In the game against Tennessee Tech, Mercer trailed early before making a comeback, only to be foiled by a late Golden Eagles touchdown. MU only scored two TDs in five red zone trips, which was probably the difference between winning and losing the game.

I’m going to mention one other thing about Mercer’s non-conference games. I came across a statistical oddity that had me rechecking numbers two or three times to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. Check out the net rushing totals for Mercer and its opponents in these four contests:

  • Mercer 261, Austin Peay 56
  • Mercer 256, Stetson 43
  • Mercer 261, Tennessee Tech 56 (yes, exactly the same totals as in the Austin Peay game)
  • Mercer 261, East Tennessee State 68

Mercer had 261 net rushing yards in all three of its non-conference matchups with opponents from the state of Tennessee. I don’t know what the odds are on that happening, other than they are very long indeed.

(In its one league game against a team from the Volunteer State, Mercer finished with 173 net rushing yards versus Chattanooga.)

Mercer returns 22 starters (including offense/defense/specialists), tied with East Tennessee State for the most returnees in the league. As a comparison, The Citadel returns 15 starters, second-fewest in the conference (Western Carolina has 14 starters coming back).

The Bears are led by quarterback John Russ (6’0″, 201 lbs.), a senior from Buford, Georgia. He has started all 35 games for Mercer since the program’s resumption in 2013.

Last season, Russ completed 58.2% of his passes, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt, with 18 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He did not throw an INT until the ninth game of the campaign.

Russ (a self-described “simple guy”) also rushed for 382 yards and 7 TDs, while usually operating out of a “pistol” formation. Last year against The Citadel, the QB was 13 for 25 through the air for 130 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked four times by the Bulldogs.

Junior running back Alex Lakes (5’11”, 222 lbs.) rushed for 1,107 yards in 2014, which led the SoCon. Last year, he struggled through an injury-marred season (that included a punctured lung). Lakes rushed for 51 yards and a TD versus The Citadel in the 2015 matchup.

Chandler Curtis (5’11”, 202 lbs.), a junior, was a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2014 as a freshman. Curtis returned four kicks (three punts and a kickoff) for touchdowns that year.

Curtis hurt his ankle in last year’s season opener, and never got on track afterwards. He also suffered an injury during Mercer’s game against The Citadel, after making three early catches. As a result, he only appeared in three games for the Bears in 2015.

When healthy (and he says he is ready to go this year), Curtis is a threat to go the distance any time he has the ball in his hands. Besides his kick-returning exploits, Curtis had four catches of 40+ yards in 2014.

Avery Ward (6’2″, 178 lbs.) led the Bears in receptions last season, with 40, averaging just over 12 yards per catch.  Six of his grabs went for TDs. Ward caught a 65-yard touchdown pass against The Citadel in the 2014 game between the two teams. He had three receptions for 37 yards in last year’s contest.

Sophomore Jimmie Robinson (5’8″, 179 lbs.) was a high school track star who appeared in all eleven games for Mercer last season as a wideout and kick returner. Robinson may not start, but should see plenty of action for the Bears as a stretch-the-field kind of player.

Mercer tight ends are a factor in the passing game. Robert Brown (a 6’2″, 225 lb. senior) and Sam Walker (a 6’4″, 232 lb. redshirt sophomore) combined for 42 receptions last year, including four against The Citadel (with Brown’s lone reception resulting in a touchdown). Walker was a preseason second-team all-league selection.

MU frequently uses two tight ends in its offense, sometimes employing one of them in an “H-back” role.

Mercer’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’2″, 287 lbs.

Kirby Southard (6’0″, 271 lbs.) has started every game at center for Mercer since the beginning of the 2013 season. John Russ is the only other Mercer player who has started all 35 games for the Bears over the last three years.

Right tackle Bret Niederreither (6’3″, 296 lbs.) began his collegiate career at Temple. In 2014, Niederreither started against The Citadel, but at defensive tackle. In 2015, he started eleven games for the Bears along the offensive line. In 2016, he is a preseason all-SoCon pick.

Mercer lines up on defense in what is nominally listed as a 3-4 setup (I’ve also seen it described as a 3-3-5). Of course, the formation may change against a triple option attack.

Tripp Patterson (6’1″, 213 lbs.) is a senior linebacker who led Mercer in tackles last season (with 70), despite making only six starts. The transfer from Air Force had eleven stops versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game.

Middle linebacker Lee Bennett (6’0″, 223 lbs.) finished second on the team in tackles last season, with 67. The junior had eight tackles against The Citadel last season.

Defensive end Isaiah Buehler, a 6’3″, 258 lb. redshirt sophomore, had two tackles for loss (seven total) against The Citadel last year. Buehler was a preseason second team all-conference choice.

“Bandit” linebacker Tosin Aguebor (6’3″, 238 lbs.) was also a preseason second-team all-league selection. The senior played all eleven games for Mercer last year, after missing the entire 2014 campaign due to injury.

Macon native Tyler Ward (6’1″, 228 lbs.) had 13 tackles against The Citadel in 2014. Ward, one of Mercer’s captains, should see action as part of the linebacker rotation.

Nosetackle Austin Barrett (6’2″, 311 lbs.) had a career-high eight tackles versus the Bulldogs last year. Barrett seems to enjoy playing against military colleges, the junior having registered two sacks last season against VMI.

Free safety Zach Jackson (6’0″, 203 lbs.), a transfer from TCU, had 10 tackles versus The Citadel in 2014. The redshirt senior was injured and did not play against the Bulldogs last season.

Mercer will have to replace its punter, holder, and long snapper this season. The new punter will have big shoes to fill, as Matt Shiel was very effective for the Bears last year.

Last season, placekicker Jagger Lieb (5’9″, 194 lbs.) was 11 for 18 on field goal attempts, with a long of 43. In 2014, he made a 48-yarder against The Citadel.

The junior may face competition for the starting job from sophomore Cole Fisher (6’1, 192 lbs.), who converted the only field goal attempt he tried last season. One thing that Mercer needs to fix is its PAT issues, having missed four of them last year (including a critical one versus Wofford).

Chandler Curtis and Jimmie Robinson are expected to handle most of the return duties for the Bears. As mentioned above, Chandler could be particularly dangerous. That was certainly the case in 2014.

There was some indication that this season, The Citadel might open up the aerial attack (or at least throw the football more than nine times per game in league play). With Jordan Black getting his first start at quarterback on Thursday, however, I suspect that the Bulldogs won’t be throwing the ball all over the field in Macon.

Whether or not they would have anyway is subject to question. While it’s one thing to talk about passing more often, I’m not sure Brent Thompson is all that desperate to have a more balanced offensive approach. A quote from a recent Jeff Hartsell article on the coach was illuminating:

[Bucknell] went 4-7 in 2009 before head coach Tim Landis left for an assistant’s job at San Jose State. Thompson was left looking for a job, and unhappy with what had happened to his offense.

“We were getting into some shotgun stuff, trying to take what we did under center and put it in the shotgun,” he said. “It’s something a lot of teams do — Wofford does it well. But it was deteriorating our physicality, eroding our techniques and I was probably trying to placate too many people, trying to be sexy and more dimensional.

“So I said, if I have it to do over again, we’re going to establish blocking fundamentals, get good at something and go from there.”

Sometimes it takes a game or two for the triple option to start running smoothly. That is reflected, to a certain extent, in the records of the Lenoir-Rhyne teams that featured Brent Thompson as the offensive coordinator, and the 2014 season at The Citadel.

  • 2010: After crushing Chowan 59-10 in its opener, Lenoir-Rhyne lost its second game of that season 20-17 to Concord (a quality D2 program in West Virginia)
  • 2011: Lenoir-Rhyne opened the season with a 26-6 road victory over Concord
  • 2012: In its opener, Lenoir-Rhyne lost 24-21 at Concord
  • 2013: Lenoir-Rhyne lost 18-10 at home to Concord in the season’s first game; L-R would then reel off 13 consecutive wins
  • 2014: The Citadel lost 31-16 at home to Coastal Carolina to begin the season

Last year, the Bulldogs enjoyed an easy 69-0 home victory over Davidson, arguably the perfect lead-in to the conference campaign. This year, The Citadel won’t have that luxury, opening with a league game (and on the road).

One advantage Mercer will have is being able to prepare for a triple-option team over a longer period of time, rather than having to adapt for one week during the season. As Bobby Lamb noted:

“Any time you play [The Citadel] in the middle of the year, you’ve basically got three practice days to get out there and try to defend it, which is very difficult,” Lamb, now in his 13th year as a collegiate head coach, continued. “One of the hardest things to do is to implement it with your scout team and try to emulate what they are doing. Our scout team has had more time to work on it and I think that is going to help us with our familiarity.”

During his weekly press conference, Lamb also said that the SoCon office had called the school about potentially playing a conference game to open the season, and that when Mercer found out the opponent would be the Bulldogs, “we jumped all over it”. One further benefit for the Bears is that they will get to play two triple option teams back-to-back (The Citadel and Georgia Tech), and could concentrate even more on that style of offense in preseason camp.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Thursday night in Macon, per the National Weather Service:  a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms; partly cloudy, with a low around 72 degrees (the projected high temperature for Thursday is 95 degrees).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 7-point favorite over Mercer. Earlier in the summer, that line was 8 1/2, but apparently some money has come in on Mercer. I suspect it wouldn’t take a lot of cash to swing an FCS line by a point and a half, but I could be wrong about that.

As a reminder, Mercer has played fourteen games since joining the SoCon. The Bears have only lost by more than 7 points in three of those games — twice in 2014, and in last year’s season finale versus Samford. Both of The Citadel’s games against Mercer in the last two years have been decided by two points.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 35-point favorite over Shorter; Samford is a 28-point favorite over Mars Hill; Wofford is a 10-point favorite at Tennessee Tech (despite the Terriers losing projected starting quarterback Evan Jacks to a season-ending injury); Western Carolina is a 17-point underdog at East Carolina; East Tennessee State is a 26-point underdog at Kennesaw State; VMI is a 30-point underdog at Akron; and Furman is a 43-point underdog at Michigan State.

Gardner-Webb, a non-conference opponent for The Citadel later in the season, is a 7-point underdog at Elon.

– Massey Ratings: As the season begins, The Citadel is ranked 12th among FCS teams. Mercer is ranked 49th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 77% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 28-17.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (8th), Western Carolina (24th), Samford (27th), Wofford (40th), Furman (51st), VMI (61st), Gardner-Webb (81st), East Tennessee State (120th).

– Per the SoCon weekly release, home teams were 13-15 in SoCon games last season. Of those 28 games, 13 were decided by one possession.

– This is the second year in a row that The Citadel has played in the first conference game of the season. In 2015, the Bulldogs hosted Western Carolina in Week 2.

– According to its media guide, Mercer has 71 players from Georgia on its roster, by far the most from any state. Only seven other states are represented: Florida (10), Tennessee (8), Alabama (5), North Carolina (2), and one each from Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

The representative from the Palmetto State is Destin Guillen, a 6’5″, 294 lb. redshirt freshman from Berea High School in Greenville. He is listed as a backup defensive end on the two-deep.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– The depth chart released by The Citadel for Thursday night’s game includes eight “true” freshmen and two redshirt freshmen, including two projected starters on offense: redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Black, and true freshman guard Drew McEntyre. Both are Georgia natives.

Most of the newcomers are on the offensive side of the ball, as the defense has considerably more experience.

– The Citadel has victories over Mercer in four different cities: Charleston, Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. The Bulldogs are 2-0 in Macon, with a 12-7 victory in 1926 and a 28-26 triumph in 2014.

– The key play in last year’s game between the two teams was Isiaha Smith’s 83-yard TD run late in the first half. Per The Citadel’s game notes, that was the longest run from scrimmage for a Bulldog since 2004.

– One more tidbit from the game notes: The Citadel is one of only two programs to rank in the top three in FCS in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game in each of the past two seasons. In my opinion, that is a reflection of both the offensive system and the general excellence of the offensive line over those two years.

– Earlier in the post, I noted that Mercer’s opponent next week is Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will be the first FBS team that the Bears have played since re-starting football.

Georgia Tech is the only team Mercer will play this season that the Bears did not play last year. Essentially, the Yellow Jackets replace Stetson on MU’s schedule.

– Next season, Mercer will play two FBS opponents — Auburn and Alabama.

MU will also travel to Tuscaloosa in 2021 for another game against the Crimson Tide. Other FBS opponents on future schedules for the Bears include Memphis (2018) and Vanderbilt (2020).

Mercer also has scheduled a four-game home-and-home series against Yale, with those games to take place in 2018, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

At the beginning of this post, I quoted a game story from the first meeting between Mercer and The Citadel on the gridiron, a 1906 contest won by the Bulldogs. The subheading for the article noted that the game featured an “absence of fumbling”.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s ten points in that contest came on two touchdowns, as such scores were worth five points in those days.

It was “Gala Week” in Charleston, a festival created after the 1886 earthquake to celebrate the city’s recovery from that disaster (and also to juice up the local retail scene). Apparently that is why the game had to be played in Hampton Park at 11 a.m., and it may also explain the paltry attendance. Only an estimated 200 spectators witnessed The Citadel’s victory.

I expect quite a few more fans will be at the 2016 edition of the matchup on Thursday night. It should be a fine atmosphere for a game, and I would not be surprised if significant numbers of blue-clad supporters manage to escape their weekly duties long enough to make the trip to Macon.

Mercer’s team (and fan base) is confident that the Bears can break through this season in a big way, after two years of mostly near-misses. MU has improved depth on both sides of the ball, and more than its fair share of experience.

Bobby Lamb’s charges believe they can win. Of course, the same is true for the players who will line up for The Citadel.

The Bulldogs were a major success story last year, and brought great joy to loyal fans who had waited many years for such a season. Memories were created that will last forever, but memories don’t block and tackle.

Can they do it again? Will the team be able to maintain that forward push under a new head coach, with an untested quarterback, and on the road against an opponent that could be ready to take the next step?

Those are the questions. What are the answers?

We’ll find out at least some of them on Thursday night.

One Response

  1. Great football analysis, enjoyed the read and stat.comparisons, very objective and detailed.

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