Game Review, 2016: Chattanooga

The Citadel 22, Chattanooga 14.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

Game story, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Game analysis, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Brent Thompson, Dominique Allen, Cam Jackson, Dee Delaney, and Jonathan King

Video from WCIV-TV

Video from WCBD-TV

Postgame comments from Russ Huesman

Postgame comments from Mocs players Cedric Nettles, Nakevion Leslie, Keionta Davis, C.J. Board, and Alejandro Bennifield

Game story, Southern Pigskin

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Brent Thompson, crowdsurfer

Game highlights

I want to start by pointing out something that is obvious, but yet may go overlooked. With its victory on Saturday, The Citadel clinched a winning season. That matters.

The Bulldogs had a winning season last year too, of course. The last time The Citadel had consecutive winning seasons on the gridiron? 1991-1992.

The Citadel actually had three straight winning campaigns from 1990 to 1992, but the latter two years were the last time the Bulldogs had put together back-to-back over-.500 seasons until yesterday’s achievement.

It has been a long time coming.

From the post-game notes package:

Brent Thompson is the 1st head coach in The Citadel history to begin his career 6-0 and has tied Harry O’Brien for the most wins by a first-year coach in program history

Harry O’Brien’s six-win season came exactly 100 years ago, in 1916. That was arguably the most impressive season on the gridiron by the Bulldogs in the thirty years prior to World War II, as The Citadel finished 6-1-1, including season-closing victories over Clemson (a game played in Orangeburg and won by the Bulldogs 3-0) and South Carolina (a 20-2 shellacking in Columbia).

The stylish O’Brien was a Swarthmore graduate who also coached basketball and baseball at The Citadel. O’Brien later coached hoops at Drexel, too.

Saturday’s contest was a very well-played football game between two good teams. The Citadel won the game, and deservedly so, but there was very little that separated the Bulldogs from the Mocs.

The key to the game, in my opinion, was The Citadel’s offense converting its first ten third-down conversion attempts of the game. It was an amazing run which seemed to violate the rules of probability, and that’s before taking into consideration the fact that Chattanooga had entered the game leading the nation in defensive third-down conversion rate (22%).

It led to The Citadel’s enormous time of possession advantage (39:31 – 20:29), which resulted in Chattanooga’s high-powered offense being kept off the field for extended periods of time. That kept the Bulldogs’ defense fresh, and probably affected UTC’s rhythm on offense as well. The Mocs only ran 47 offensive plays from scrimmage, while the Bulldogs had 81 — a huge differential.

UTC had the edge in yards gained per play, 6.3 to 4.3, a statistic that is a bit deceiving. Not counting C.J. Board’s 75-yard TD reception (though obviously it very much counted in the game), Chattanooga’s average yards per play drops to 4.6.

In the second half, the Mocs ran 27 plays and gained a total of 74 yards, an average of just 2.7 yards per play.

On the first play from scrimmage for The Citadel’s offense, Dominique Allen rushed for a 15-yard gain. The Citadel would run 80 more offensive plays after that, but none of them would result in a gain as long as Allen’s run — a near-remarkable oddity.

In a way, that note serves to highlight an outstanding effort by UTC’s defense in not allowing any big plays. However, it also accentuates the Bulldogs’ success in converting on third down. They had to regularly convert on third down in the game to have a chance to score, much less win.

One reason the Bulldogs were so successful on third down in the first half was they were able to get outside and turn the corner. Basically, the conversions came in two categories: 3rd-and-short plays were mostly keepers by Allen, while third-and-long efforts were pitches to an A-back (usually Cam Jackson). Here are The Citadel’s third-down conversions in the first half:

  • 3rd-and-6, Cam Jackson carries for 13 yards
  • 3rd-and-6, Cam Jackson carries for 13 yards (yes, the same distance/result, and in the same drive)
  • 3rd-and-8, Cam Jackson carries for 9 yards
  • 3rd-and-2, Isiaha Smith carries for 3 yards
  • 3rd-and-4, Cam Jackson carries for 7 yards
  • 3rd-and-3, Dominique Allen carries for 3 yards
  • 3rd-and-3, Dominique Allen carries for 11 yards
  • 3rd-and-3, Rod Johnson carries for 8 yards
  • 3rd-and-3, Dominique Allen carries for 5 yards
  • 3rd-and-6, Dominique Allen carries for 7 yards

In the second half, the Mocs clearly made an adjustment, and thus the pitch to the outside was not as successful for the Bulldogs. However, The Citadel appeared to throw in a couple of new wrinkles in the fourth quarter, which resulted in key first downs picked up on outside runs by Reggie Williams and Tyler Renew.

So, to sum up: The Citadel won despite completing just one pass (for seven yards), not having a single offensive play from scrimmage result in more than a 15-yard gain, and without forcing a turnover.

It wasn’t a fluke victory, though — far from it. Heck, The Citadel even survived the almost customary hosing by the SoCon officials, who in the third quarter managed to twice deny the Bulldogs a clear first down inside the UTC 10-yard line. (It’s one thing to spot a ball poorly, but to do it on consecutive plays takes a considerable amount of talent.)

I thought the fan support was excellent. It wasn’t quite the overflow crowd that some were expecting, but it was substantial enough, and a lot of the folks in the stands were really into the game.

There were a few who weren’t, but that’s always true. Why they have to leave their seats every 15 minutes, only to return 10 minutes later, I have no idea…

After the game, I was asked by a couple of people how big a win this was for The Citadel. Where does it rank on the all-time list?

My answer, basically: “It depends on the next four games.”

The victory over Chattanooga won’t have a lot of meaning, historical or otherwise, if the Bulldogs don’t continue to win games. Beating UTC won’t matter nearly as much if the team loses two or three conference games down the stretch.

I mentioned this in my preview of the Chattanooga game, but it’s worth repeating: in 1992, Marshall and The Citadel played at Johnson Hagood Stadium in a top-10 matchup between SoCon teams undefeated in league play. Marshall won the game…but The Citadel wound up winning the conference title.

The win on Saturday afternoon was one step, a big one, but nevertheless just one step. As Cam Jackson pointed out in last week’s press conference, “Every conference game is just as important as the next.”

The next conference game is at Wofford. It’s just as important.

This week’s pictures are…well, they’re pictures.

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