2017 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Samford

If you look in the trophy case on the right side [at the entrance to Mark Clark Hall], you will see the game ball that I gave to the corps of cadets because of the overtime at their end of the field. It was so loud that the Samford offense couldn’t communicate, forced them to jump offsides…that helped contribute to the missed field goal. Every time I walk into Mark Clark Hall I look at that ball and think about that game.

Brent Thompson, on last year’s contest between The Citadel and Samford

The Citadel at Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium in Homewood, Alabama, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on September 30, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. Curt Bloom will handle play-by-play, while Chad Pilcher supplies the analysis. Hattie Breece will report from the sidelines.

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450 AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470 AM/100.7 FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9 FM/660 AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240 AM/105.9 FM

Links of interest:

The Citadel is ready for action after its bye week

Assessing the SoCon after four weeks

Another look at the league through September 28

The Citadel keeps on winning

Ja’Lon Williams likes pizza (as he should)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #11, down one spot from last week; Samford is ranked #23)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #8, up two spots from last week; Samford is ranked #25)

Brent Thompson speaks to the Orangeburg Touchdown Club

Brent Thompson’s 9/26 press conference, including comments from Dominique Allen and Ja’Lon Williams (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 9/27 radio show (video)

– The Bulldog Breakdown [9/21] (video)

Chris Hatcher briefly discusses both Samford’s loss to and the upcoming game versus The Citadel (video)

Chris Hatcher speaks after SU’s 9/25 practice (video)

Highlights from Samford’s game versus Western Carolina (video)

– Southern Pigskin “SoCon Podcast” (audio)

I’m just back from a trip overseas, so this will be one of the more abbreviated (and perhaps eccentric) previews I’ve written in a while. Sorry about that. I’m not sorry about travelling, though.

Last Saturday, I watched from a good seat at Stadio Olimpico as Roma defeated Udinese 3-1. The atmosphere was incredible; it seemed like half the fans in the Curva Sud section had a giant team flag (note: I wasn’t nearly crazy enough to sit in that part of the arena).

Singing, chanting, yelling, stomping, dancing, flag-waving…you name it, the Roma fans did it.

The last time I was at a sporting event in which the crowd intensity even remotely compared to what I witnessed in Rome — well, that was when Samford played The Citadel last season.

As always, I have to establish ground rules when writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. The reason for that is simple: I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

I’ll call Samford “SU”, the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, or the “Baptist Tigers”.

For those unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers, a quick little history lesson:

The Howard College [later to be renamed Samford] team was known originally as the “Baptist Tigers.” However, rival Auburn also had “Tigers” as a nickname. Howard’s teams went by “Baptist Bears” until Dec. 14, 1916, when the student body voted two-to-one for the “Crimson Bulldog” over the “Baptist Bears.” Students decided that a bulldog could eat more Birmingham-Southern Panther meat than a bear could.

I am still trying to figure out why the students thought bears wouldn’t eat as much meat as bulldogs, but maybe the bulldogs of a century ago were particularly carnivorous.

Last year’s game was a bit of a curiosity from a stats perspective. The day after the game, I wrote that it was surprising the contest had gone to overtime, considering how The Citadel had dominated several offensive categories (including time of possession).

When I took a closer look at the statistical profile this summer, however, I realized that the opposite was true. Samford probably should have won the game.

SU had the edge in four out of the Five Factors:

  • Field position (an edge of eight yards of starting field position, 32 to 24)
  • Efficiency (50.0% to 47.8%, meaning a higher percentage of Samford’s offensive plays were successful)
  • Explosiveness (1.108 to 1.101, meaning Samford’s successful plays tended to be more explosive)
  • Finishing Drives (5.4 to 4.0, as Samford averaged more points per possession inside the 40-yard line)

Neither team committed a turnover, so the fifth factor was a draw.

Of course, two of the four factors were close. In those two categories (Efficiency and Explosiveness), The Citadel had a “hidden edge” in the sense that it simply ran many more plays than SU.

That edge in plays meant that despite SU having a higher “explosive play” average, the Cadets had more offensive plays of 20+ yards (six to three). The yards per play numbers were close (6.3 to 5.8, favoring The Citadel).

All of that said, the bottom line is The Citadel was down 10 points with less than six minutes to play. It didn’t look good for the home team, especially while running an offense that allegedly isn’t designed to come back from double-digit deficits.

Tell that to Cam Jackson and company, though.

At his press conference earlier this week, Brent Thompson mentioned two things he remembered about the game against Samford last year. One was Cam Jackson’s fourth-quarter run.

The other was Thompson’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-one from his own 43, which backfired when the Bulldogs did not pick up the first down, leading to a short-field TD (and ten-point lead) for SU. Thompson said at the presser that if he had to do it over again, he probably would have punted.

While it may have been a mistake, I usually don’t mind that type of aggressive move. I would much prefer that than, say, deciding to punt inside the opponents’ 40-yard line on fourth-and-one.

Keeping the ball is particularly important when playing a team like Samford. That was borne out in the 2015 contest at Seibert Stadium. The Citadel won the game handily (44-25), but still allowed SU touchdown drives of 98 and 99 yards. Both of those drives came after punts, and the two possessions combined took only 4:17 off the clock.

Key statistics for The Citadel through three games (victories over Newberry, Presbyterian, and East Tennessee State):

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 36.7 15.3
Rushing yardage 1140 212
Average per rush 5.4 3.2
Average per game 380 70.7
TDs rushing 10 3
Passing yardage 288 499
Comp-Att-Int 14-28-2 45-82-5
Average per pass 10.3 6.1
TDs passing 5 3
Total offense 1428 711
Total plays 240 149
Yards per play 5.9 4.8
Kick returns-yards 3-67 11-221
Punt returns-yards 5-44 1-1
Fumbles/lost 6-1 2-1
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 3.3/37 2.0/18.3
Net punt average 40.38 36.31
Time of possession/game 37:35 22:25
3rd down conversions 30/49 8/30
3rd down conversion rate 61% 27%
Sacks by-yards 6-38 0-0
Field goals-attempts 2-3 1-1
Red Zone touchdown rate (11-14) 79% (3-5) 60%
  • The Citadel currently leads FCS in rushing yards per game and offensive third down conversion rate
  • On defense, the Bulldogs are 12th nationally in third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is second in the country in time of possession, behind only North Dakota State
  • The Bulldogs are 17th nationally in scoring offense, and 14th in scoring defense
  • The 40.38 net punting yards averaged by The Citadel is currently 13th-best in FCS
  • The Citadel is fourth nationally in fewest penalties per game, but only third in the SoCon (VMI is 2nd in FCS; Furman is 3rd)

Samford is 2-2, with wins over Kennesaw State and West Alabama, and losses to Georgia and Western Carolina. Stats through four games for SU:

Samford Opponents
Points per game 31.2 36.0
Rushing yardage 305 925
Average per rush 2.8 4.7
Average per game 76.2 231.2
TDs rushing 1 11
Passing yardage 1314 1203
Comp-Att-Int 111-173-2 76-124-4
Average per pass 7.6 9.7
TDs passing 13 8
Total offense 1619 2128
Total plays 283 320
Yards per play 5.7 6.7
Kick returns-yards 16-393 12-272
Punt returns-yards 11-77 10-110
Fumbles-lost 8-2 5-3
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.4/39 6.0/58
Net punt average 36.6 36.5
Time of possession/game 26:55 33:05
3rd down conversions 26/62 28/66
3rd down conversion rate 42% 42%
Sacks by-yards 9-43 6-41
Field goals-attempts 2-3 2-4
Red Zone touchdown rate (9-15) 60% (11-14) 79%
  • Samford is 6th nationally in passing yardage per game
  • SU is also 19th in FCS in kickoff return yardage (per attempt)
  • As far as third down conversion rates are concerned, Samford is 34th in the country on offense, and 85th on defense
  • Samford is 13th-best nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • SU is 33rd in scoring offense, and 98th (out of 122 teams) in scoring defense

Chris Hatcher said the following during his press conference earlier this week:

Offensively, we’ve got to do a better job of controlling that football a little bit more consistently for the entire game, and that will be the key to our success this week.

Here is a quick look at the last four years of The Citadel-Samford series from a time of possession/rushing point of view (it should be noted Hatcher has only been the head coach at SU for two of those seasons):

  • 2013: The Citadel controlled the ball for 35:42 and outrushed Samford 338-65
  • 2014: The Citadel controlled the ball for 37:42 and outrushed Samford 359-132
  • 2015: The Citadel controlled the ball for 35:15 and outrushed Samford 424-82
  • 2016: The Citadel controlled the ball for 38:17 and outrushed Samford 463-93

The Citadel won three of those games (losing the 2014 contest by a 20-17 score).

Under the direction of longtime defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, Samford has generally employed a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option attack. From 2010 to 2012, the Bulldogs had a difficult time moving the football against SU, with terrible third-down conversion rates (15% for that combined three-year period).

However, in recent years The Citadel has improved in that category against Samford:

  • 2013: 8 for 17, 47.1%
  • 2014: 7 for 19, 36.8%
  • 2015: 6 for 14, 42.9%
  • 2016: 11 for 21, 52.3%

The victory by Samford over Kennesaw State will probably turn out to be a good one for SU. The Owls have won two straight since SU’s 28-23 win on the opening Thursday of Week 1.

I watched part of the game, which was interrupted by a tornado warning (and subsequent lightning delays). It seemed to me that Chris Hatcher was trying to establish a rushing attack, so much so that SU actually had more runs than passing attempts (33 to 26, counting sacks as passing attempts).

Even taking sacks out of the equation, though, Samford finished with only 81 rushing yards on those 33 attempts (2.45 yards per carry).

I don’t know if the fact KSU is a triple option team had an impact on SU’s offensive play-calling. I do know that in the next three games, Samford went back to its pass-happy ways.

  • Against West Alabama, Samford had 48 pass plays (sacks included) and 30 rushing plays
  • Against Georgia, Samford had 38 pass plays (sacks included) and 20 rushing plays
  • Against Western Carolina, Samford had 67 (!) pass plays and 21 rushing plays

In that WCU game, Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 205 lbs.) threw for a school-record 516 yards and four TDs. The native of Kimberly, Alabama was the SoCon offensive player of the year last season.

Hodges, a redshirt junior, began his career as a starter after Samford’s 2015 loss to The Citadel, and hasn’t looked back. In last year’s game between the two teams, he was 35 for 46 passing, for 280 yards and two TDs.

While not inclined to run, Hodges is far from a statue. He had a 57-yard TD run right up the middle against the Bulldogs last year on a called QB draw, and showed an ability to move (and escape) in the pocket.

So far this season, Hodges is averaging 7.6 yards per pass attempt, with 13 TDs against just two interceptions.

Kelvin McKnight (5’9″, 188 lbs.) already had 37 receptions this season. The junior from Bradenton, Florida is averaging 13.4 yards per catch. A preseason first-team all-league selection, McKnight had nine receptions against The Citadel last season, for 118 yards.

McKnight is also Samford’s primary punt returner, and he can be dangerous in that role as well. He averaged 8.7 yards per punt return last season. At his press conference, Brent Thompson noted that McKnight is not afraid to pick up a bouncing ball while on the run.

Another wideout, sophomore Chris Shelling (5’8″, 170 lbs.), had 12 receptions for 245 receiving yards last week. Shelling only had seven receptions all of last season (five of those were against Furman).

Average size of Samford’s projected starting offensive line: 6’5″, 291 lbs. The largest of that group is the center, 6’5″, 325 lb. Nate Lee, a sophomore from Valdosta, Georgia.

Samford had three defensive players named to the preseason first-team all-conference squad — Ahmad Gooden, Shaheed Salmon, and Omari Williams. They happen to be three of SU’s top four tacklers to this point in the 2016 campaign.

Ahmad Gooden (6’1″, 240 lbs.) is a defensive end who had 15 tackles in last season’s game versus The Citadel. This year, the redshirt junior from Talladega has 3.5 sacks after only four games.

Weakside linebacker Shaheed Salmon (6’2″, 232 lbs.) currently leads the Baptist Tigers in tackles, with 41. Salmon, a senior from Tampa, did not play against The Citadel last season due to injury. It is the only contest he has missed in his entire career.

Last year, Deion Pierre (6’3″, 230 lbs.) tied his career high for tackles versus The Citadel, making 11 stops. The senior is second on the team in tackles after four games this season.

Omari Williams (6’1″, 200 lbs.), a local product from Birmingham, was named first-team all-SoCon by the coaches and the media after last season, a year in which the cornerback led the league in passes defended with 19 (including four interceptions). Williams returned an interception for a touchdown against West Alabama.

Darius Harvey (5’11”, 185 lbs.) is the other starting cornerback for Samford. Harvey also had a pick-6 versus West Alabama, a game in which the junior from Tallahassee added a 93-yard kickoff return TD.

Samford’s punter, Austin Barnard (6’4″, 210 lbs.) was a second-team preseason all-league choice. The senior also handles kickoffs for SU.

The placekicker for Samford is redshirt freshman Jordan Weaver (6’2″, 195 lbs.), who is 2 for 3 on field goal attempts in 2016, with a long of 32 yards. His miss, a 37-yard effort against Georgia, was blocked.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Homewood, Alabama, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with an expected high of 81 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 1-point favorite over Samford. The over/under is 60.5. That line has moved about 2 points, as SU opened as the favorite.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 13.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State; Mercer is a 25.5-point favorite over VMI; and Chattanooga is an 8.5-point favorite over Western Carolina.

There is no line for the Presbyterian-Wofford game. If there were, I’m guessing it would be around 30 points or so (in favor of the Terriers).

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is an 8-point favorite at Louisville; South Carolina is an 8-point underdog at Texas A&M; South Carolina State is a 14-point home underdog against North Carolina A&T; Coastal Carolina is a 4.5-point underdog at ULM; and Charleston Southern is a 42-point favorite versus Mississippi Valley State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 30th in FCS, actually improving four spots by not playing. The previous two weeks saw the Bulldogs fall a combined 16 spots despite two victories.

Samford is ranked 38th in FCS, dropping seven positions from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 155th, while Samford is 166th.

Massey projects a final score of Samford 31, The Citadel 29. The Cadets are given a 48% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 18th (up one spot), Chattanooga is 32nd (up five places), Charleston Southern is 40th, Furman is 43rd (up 18 spots), Wester Carolina is 47th (also gaining 18 spots), Mercer is 59th (down 10 places), South Carolina State is 84th, Prebyterian is 99th, and VMI is 106th (down six places).

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Western Illinois (jumping into the top five after dismantling Coastal Carolina), South Dakota State, and Jacksonville State.

– Since 1916, The Citadel has a 6-5 record for games played on September 30. The most notable of those victories was probably the 1989 game against South Carolina State, which was played at Williams-Brice Stadium in the wake of Hurricane Hugo.

The Citadel won that game 31-20. Charleston’s Bulldogs have actually defeated Orangeburg’s Bulldogs twice on September 30, having also done so in 2000, by a 45-16 score.

The last time The Citadel played on September 30, in 2006, the Bulldogs defeated Chattanooga 24-21. However, The Citadel has not won a road game on 9/30 since a 42-14 victory at Maine in 1967.

– Changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the Samford game: Grant Drakeford is now listed as a potential starter at A-back, and there are also three new additions to the defensive depth chart — A.J. Stokes, Israel Battle, and Willie Eubanks III.

– Samford has won eight straight home games.

– Among Samford’s notable graduates are actor Tony Hale (who has won two Emmy awards for his work in the HBO comedy Veep), actress Gail Patrick (best known as the trailblazing producer of the Perry Mason TV show), and longtime college football coach Bobby Bowden.

– The roster for Samford (per its game notes) includes 41 players from the State of Georgia, more than from Alabama (37). Other states represented on its roster: Florida (18 players), Tennessee (11), Mississippi (4), North Carolina (3), and one each from Maryland, Arkansas, Texas, and California.

There are no players from South Carolina on the Samford squad, not even from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a legendary hotbed of gridiron supremacy.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

– Not football-related, but worth mentioning: Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier had a good feature this week on Bulldog hoopster Leandro Allende, a native of Puerto Rico. Allende is understandably concerned about the devastation of the island caused by Hurricane Maria:

For Allende, the plight of his fellow Puerto Ricans hit home when he saw an acquaintance on the news.

“I have a friend who does not live in a very nice place,” he said. “I saw him on a kayak going through the flooded streets. That broke my heart when I saw that.”

I suspect the game on Saturday will be high-scoring. Samford will try to take advantage of The Citadel’s secondary, while on the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will attack an SU defense that gave up 290 yards rushing (5.1 yards per carry) last week against Western Carolina.

The key defensively for The Citadel will be to pressure Samford QB Devlin Hodges; as last year’s game proved, that will not be an easy task. The offense has to maintain its edge in time of possession to take the heat off the defense, and the Bulldogs also have to make their drives count and score touchdowns. Avoiding turnovers is paramount.

Last season, Tyler Renew wrecked Samford’s D from the B-back position. I wonder if the move to play Brandon Berry against ETSU was designed (at least in part) to get him ready for Samford, with the coaching staff perhaps thinking that more of a “bruiser” would be needed at the position this week. That may be something to watch.

We’ll be watching anyway, of course. The first three games are in the books, and the bye week has been completed. It’s time for the business end of the 2017 season to begin.

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