Game Review, 2017: East Tennessee State

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, Johnson City Press

– “Notes” section, Johnson City Press

– AP game story

Game story, Tri-Cities Sports

Game story, Bristol Herald Courier

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WJHL-TV

– School release

– Photo gallery from the school

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

– Replay of the ESPN3 streaming of the game

I don’t think it was surprising that East Tennessee State was much more competitive against The Citadel on Saturday than the Bucs were in the 2016 matchup. In its third year since restarting its football program, ETSU is improving, has better (and more) players, and also now has the benefit of playing in a new stadium.

That said, the Bulldogs should not have been trailing 14-7 at halftime, not after running 18 more plays from scrimmage and outgaining the Buccaneers 221-81, with a 13-5 advantage in first downs. However, The Citadel did a lot of things to hand East Tennessee State a lead, including a botched punt, a blocked field goal attempt, two bad penalties, and an interception.

The Bulldogs also appeared to be victimized by the clock operator at the end of the half, who let two precious seconds elapse after a completion, preventing a potential field goal.

The second half numbers were somewhat similar to those in the first half, with The Citadel outgaining ETSU 214-127, picking up 13 more first downs (the Bucs had eight in the second half), and continuing to possess the ball for a significantly longer period of time. In the second stanza, however, those superior numbers resulted in points, with the Bulldogs scoring on four consecutive possessions.

Let’s take a look at some more statistics:

The Citadel ETSU
Starting field position TC 32 ET 32
Efficiency 45.00% (36/80) 36.20% (21/58)
Explosiveness 1.116 1.121
Finishing drives 4.4/poss 4.8/poss
Turnover margin -1 1
Yards per play on 1st down 6.00 4.38
Avg. yards to gain on 3rd down 6.3 8.1
Passing down success rate 50.0% (10/20) 35.0% (7/20)
Time of possession 37:00 23:00
Off. plays from scrimmage 83 54
Yards per play 5.6 3.9
Yards per play (rush) 4.99 3.11
Yards per play (pass attempt) 9.5 4.2
Off. 3rd down conversion rate 52.9% (9-17) 16.7% (2-12)
Off. plays of 20+ yards 5 4
Penalties 5 for 60 yards 2 for 10 yards

It is perhaps a bit easier to see how this game wound up being close when these stats are taken into consideration, as opposed to the raw yardage numbers.

First, let me make a few technical explanations:

  • I didn’t count The Citadel’s last possession in the “finishing drives” category, because the Bulldogs were attempting to run out the clock, rather than score
  • The last play of the game, a 23-yard loss where Dominique Allen was just trying to stay on his feet for seven seconds, is not counted in the yards per play or yards per rush categories on the chart
  • I also adjusted ETSU’s rushing and passing stats to reflect that 30 “rushing yards” lost by the Bucs came on four Bulldog sacks; that is why if you look at the box score, you’ll notice a difference between those numbers and the ones on the chart
  • The offensive plays from scrimmage and the plays counted in the “efficiency” category are a bit skewed due to several penalties, particularly a couple of third-down infractions; also, as mentioned earlier I discounted the final Bulldog drive
  • The botched punt in the first quarter is considered a turnover (fumble lost) rather than a turnover on downs

– ETSU had a tiny advantage in “explosiveness”, but remember that is an average. The Citadel had many more successful plays from scrimmage (36-21). If you added up the total amount of explosive “points” in that category, the Bulldogs came close to doubling up the Buccaneers.

– Those penalties in the first half really hurt the Bulldogs, while ETSU was solid on that front. Both of the Buccaneers’ infractions came in punting situations.

– As I noted in my game preview, East Tennessee State did a good job in last season’s matchup of putting its offense in a position to succeed on third down.

That didn’t happen on Saturday, though, as ETSU’s offense faced third-and-long throughout the game. Eight of the Bucs’ twelve third down conversion attempts were 3rd-and-9 or longer.

– In “passing downs”, The Citadel ran a successful play 10 out of 20 times, an excellent percentage. Nine of those plays were running plays (naturally). The exception was the 28-yard TD pass from Dominique Allen to Raleigh Webb.

Carl Torbush (taken from multiple game accounts) on The Citadel’s offense:

They do a good job of mixing things up. They ran a belly dive which they hadn’t shown yet and they ran some traps up the gut which is a little bit different than what they normally do.
 
They’re one of those teams just like Georgia Tech is. I mean, they’ll get you here and if you take care of that then they’ll try something else till they find something that works. And they found a few things that worked. Their unbalanced line got us into a little bit of trouble, got us out of position several times on the pitch and we got us out of wack feathering the quarterback a couple of times.
Bucs QB Austin Herink (who I thought played well):
I have to get rid of the ball quicker, a lot of that’s on me and I’ll address that. The Citadel has a terrific defense with a great secondary and tough pass rush.
 
…With their offense, you aren’t on the field much because they control the time of possession. To get on the field and get into rhythm is difficult. When we do that we are a really dynamic offense. I think we did that in the third and fourth quarter.
Brent Thompson on the late-game pass from Allen to Josh LeBlanc (a 3rd-and-3 play):
My guys in the booth convinced me that play-action was the right call. And it was, because they are expecting run there. Dom made a great throw, and it was really a turning point in the game.

Thompson on breaking in a new B-back:

We’ve been sitting on Brandon [Berry] for a couple of weeks, and just decided to burn his redshirt if it was going to help us a win a game. He’s a big, bruising back and we’ll continue to work to get him going.

The Citadel is now 3-0 after three games for a second consecutive season. The last time the program started 3-0 in consecutive years?

It has never happened before.

The Bulldogs were undefeated after three games in two previous two-year stretches: 1908-1909 and 1956-1957. However, all four of those seasons featured a tie in the first three games of the season — in other words, The Citadel started each of those years 2-0-1.

This is only the tenth time The Citadel has started 3-0. The other years it has happened:

  • 1906 (when the Bulldogs were undefeated and shared the national title, according to the TSA Matrix Ratings System)
  • 1921
  • 1928 (started the year 4-0; the fifth game ended in a tie)
  • 1942 (started the year 4-0)
  • 1969
  • 1989 (started the year 4-0; the fifth game ended in a tie)
  • 1992 (started the year 6-0)
  • 2012
  • 2016 (started the year 10-0)

(I really need to write about that 1906 squad some time. Of course, The Citadel also won the 1871 national title, which I’ve written about before.)

Odds and ends:

– Brandon Berry was one of 46 players to see action against East Tennessee State. I believe he was the only Bulldog to make his debut in Johnson City.

– Dominique Allen’s TD pass to Raleigh Webb was a beautiful throw, possibly Allen’s best as a Bulldogs quarterback. His next pass, though, the 44-yarder to Josh LeBlanc, may have been even better.

– Myles Pierce, despite fighting what looked like cramps, was all over the field on defense. He was credited with five tackles (two for loss), a sack, a pass breakup, and three QB hurries. He should get some consideration for Defensive Player of the Week in the SoCon.

– Ja’Lon Williams made the big stop on fourth down to extinguish ETSU’s final drive, continuing his strong play so far this season.

– The ESPN3 stream was at least two minutes behind the radio feed, which was aggravating (at least to me).

– ETSU’s new playing surface appeared to cause some problems for Bulldog runners, who slipped making cuts on multiple occasions.

The pellets in the field also managed to turn The Citadel’s white uniforms to a dull gray shade over the course of the afternoon.

– Attendance for the game: 7,544. It took three hours and two minutes to play, thirty-six minutes longer than the matchup last week against Presbyterian.

– Speaking of PC, the Blue Hose defeated Campbell 28-16 on Saturday. Newberry also won its first game of the season, beating Virginia University of Lynchburg 55-7.

– It was a tough day for the SoCon. Three of the schools faced FBS opponents, so it was not surprising to see Samford and Furman struggle. Mercer, however, held its own against Auburn, thanks in part to five AU turnovers.

However, Chattanooga and VMI are both now 0-3 after losing on Saturday (to UT Martin and Robert Morris, respectively). The Mocs will get starting quarterback Alejandro Bennifield back after this week’s game, which just happens to be at VMI.

As for the Keydets, getting shut out by Robert Morris may have been almost as bad as losing at home to Catawba the previous week.

Western Carolina, on the other hand, appears to more closely resemble the 2015 Catamounts (which went 7-4) than last year’s 2-9 disaster. WCU matched its 2016 win total with a nice win at Gardner-Webb.

– Next Saturday, Wofford (which had a bye this week) hosts Gardner-Webb. As noted, Chattanooga travels to Lexington, Virginia, to play VMI. East Tennessee State stays in Johnson City and faces Mercer, while Western Carolina hosts Samford.

Furman is at Colgate. The Paladins may be the hardest team to read in the league to this point in the season, narrowly losing at Wofford, then losing at home to Elon, then predictably losing at North Carolina State.

Elon possibly made that loss a touch more palatable for the FU faithful by beating Charleston Southern 19-17 on Saturday.

As for The Citadel, the Bulldogs how have a bye before playing at Samford on September 30. I think it’s a good break from The Citadel’s perspective after a couple of trying weeks.

I’ll be taking a bit of a break too. Because of that, my preview of that Samford game probably won’t be posted until Friday afternoon — and it may be shorter than usual. That is probably a good thing, though.

However, an even better thing is being 3-0.

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