2017 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played at Finley Stadium/Davenport Field, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 21, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Chris Goforth will handle play-by-play, while B.J. Coleman supplies the analysis. 

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 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

Bulldogs aren’t giving up on the playoffs just yet

– Game notes from The Citadel and Chattanooga

Preview from The Citadel’s website

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is in the “receiving votes” category, and would be ranked #31 if the poll went that far)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is in the “receiving votes” category, and would be ranked #31 if the poll went that far)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/17 press conference, including comments from Rod Johnson and Quinlan Washington (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/18 radio show (video)

Tom Arth wants Chattanooga to “be the aggressors” on Saturday

Rushing defense key for Mocs against The Citadel

– A trying season for UTC’s seniors

– Chattanooga searching for its first home win (video from WDEF-TV)

– Chattanooga media luncheon with head coach Tom Arth, quarterback Cole Copeland, and defensive back C.J. Fritz (videos)

– Inside Chattanooga Football (video)

Highlights of Chattanooga’s win over VMI (video)

The Citadel hits the road again after two disappointing home losses, looking to break a three-game losing streak. If the Bulldogs have even a remote chance of making a third straight trip to the FCS playoffs, they almost certainly have to win their next four games. That starts on Saturday in the River City against Chattanooga.

The Mocs are having an even more difficult time on the gridiron, as they are currently 1-6 for the 2017 campaign. UTC’s only victory came against the other military school in the Southern Conference, VMI.

New coach Tom Arth has had a tough debut season to date in the SoCon, perhaps more so than was expected. Among other issues, Chattanooga is now featuring its third starting quarterback of the season, a true freshman who was originally going to be redshirted.

Every year, it is mandatory to explain the history related to Chattanooga and its mascot/nickname. I’ve written frequently about the school’s identity and branding issues over the years.

Chattanooga has a webpage on its varsity sports website devoted to the one big question that has dominated discussion at the school for decades: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill…

Named after legendary football coach A.C. “Scrappy” Moore, Scrappy, the Chattanooga mascot, is a fixture for the Mocs.  A re-design in 2008 puts Scrappy in the image of the State Bird of Tennessee, a Mockingbird.  The mockingbird is known as a fierce protector of its nest and environment. It is sometimes seen swooping down on a dog, cat or predator that may be venturing too close to the bird’s protected territory.   Once described by “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon as “a sledge-hammer wielding mockingbird with a heart of Blue & Gold,” Scrappy symbolizes that competitive passion.

Faced with politically sensitive issues and in need of a stronger core identity to help establish a strong brand as Chattanooga’s Team, the athletics department embarked on a comprehensive identity program in 1996. A new direction for the athletics identity was determined, moving away from the politically incorrect Native American Indian imagery.

The “Power C” and “Cowcatcher logo” are also branding symbols of note at Chattanooga. The subject even came to the attention of The New York Times back in 2009.

The official name of the school, meanwhile, is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

Why does Finley Stadium/Davenport Field have artificial turf? Well, because the facility was relentlessly mocked on ESPN’s SportsCenter program about 13 years ago.

A recent article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press explains:

James Madison and Montana met for the [2004 FCS] title at Finley, but that showdown was upstaged by the stadium’s new sod coming up in chunks throughout the game that was televised nationally on ESPN2.

“That’s probably the worst field I’ve ever played on in my life, grade school through college,” then-James Madison quarterback and current UTC offensive coordinator Justin Rascati said afterward. “I was really surprised how bad it was for this type of game.”

[Former Finley Stadium executive director Merrill] Eckstein explained that the field was resodded after UTC’s 2004 season because the NCAA repeatedly griped about how brown it looked.

“We would paint it green, but by the end of the first quarter, the green was all over the uniforms of the players,” Eckstein said. “Somebody had to sign on the sod deal, and I’m the genius who did that.”

[Gordon] Davenport, the current chairman of the Stadium Corp., vividly remembers the morning after the 2004 FCS title game and watching ESPN’s “SportsCenter” at home.

“They were using the visuals of the field as their entire story,” Davenport said. “I’m sitting there looking at Davenport Field. I wasn’t involved with the stadium at that point, but I jumped right in for the fundraising for the first version of the artificial turf and have ratcheted up my involvement ever since.”

Finley Stadium/Davenport Field hosted the FCS title game from 1997 through the 2009 season. Thus, both Chattanooga and The Citadel have hosted the I-AA/FCS championship, as Johnson Hagood Stadium was the site of the final in 1983 and 1984.

Here is a trivia question: which school has Chattanooga faced on the gridiron more than any other opponent?

The answer, which might be surprising for some, is The Citadel. On Saturday, the Mocs and Bulldogs will meet for the 51st time.

It is Chattanooga’s longest football series in terms of games played, despite the fact that this is the school’s 110th year of fielding a football team. Conversely, The Citadel has played five different opponents 51 or more times.

I don’t think fans of either program would consider this matchup a classic (or even modern) rivalry. The two schools are not close in terms of geography, nor are they similar in enrollment size or mission.

Nevertheless, the game preview on UTC’s website suggests the ‘rivalry’ is a “hot one”, one that has been “turning into one of the more heated rivalries in the league over the last few meetings.”

As mentioned above, Chattanooga is 1-6 so far this season.

  • In the FCS Kickoff game, played in Montgomery, Alabama, Jacksonville State defeated the Mocs 27-13
  • UTC then lost (somewhat predictably) at LSU, 45-10
  • In its first home game of the season, Chattanooga didn’t score until late in the third quarter, and dropped a 21-7 decision to UT Martin
  • The Mocs picked up their first win of the season at woebegone VMI, routing the Keydets 63-7
  • Chattanooga then got rolled at home by Western Carolina, 45-7
  • The following week wasn’t much better, as UTC lost its Homecoming game to Furman, 41-17
  • Last Saturday in Macon, Mercer beat the Mocs 30-10

One thing that is noticeable when perusing those games: Chattanooga has yet to play a close game this season.

Former UTC head coach Russ Huesman left his alma mater after the 2016 season to take the job at Richmond. In a bit of a surprise, Chattanooga reached down into the Division III coaching ranks to pick his successor.

Tom Arth is only 36 years old, but he has already had an interesting (and largely successful) run in the game of football. A star quarterback at John Carroll University, Arth spent three seasons (2003-2005) as a backup for the Indianapolis Colts, where he befriended Peyton Manning.

Arth never took the field for the Colts in a regular season game (to be fair, backups to Manning back then never played), but he did suit up for various NFL Europe and Arena League teams. Arth is surely the first coach in Southern Conference history to have played for the Scottish Claymores and the Hamburg Sea Devils.

He returned to his alma mater as an assistant in 2010. Arth became head coach of the Blue Streaks in 2013, and in four seasons compiled a 40-8 record. Last season, John Carroll went 12-2, including a monumental win over D-3 heavy Mt. Union.

Arth is a native of Cleveland. He played his high school ball at perennial power St. Ignatius.

Another critical piece of information: according to Wikipedia, he was the lowest-rated player in the ESPN NFL 2K5 video game.

Stats of note for UTC through seven games:

Chattanooga Opponents
Points per game 18.1 30.9
Rushing yardage 398 1144
Average per rush 2.01 3.96
Average per game 56.9 163.4
TDs rushing 6 11
Passing yardage 1431 1286
Comp-Att-Int 143-246-11 88-135-5
Average per pass 5.8 9.3
TDs passing 9 13
Total offense 1829 2430
Total plays 444 427
Yards per play 4.1 5.7
Kick returns-yards 34-591 23-435
Punt returns-yards 10-88 9-152
Fumbles/lost 7/5 3/1
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 6.9/55.7 6.7/64.0
Net punt average 39.9 36.6
Time of possession/game 29:43 30:17
3rd down conversions 32/98 36/88
3rd down conversion rate 32.6% 40.9%
Sacks by-yards 8-57 24-198
Field goals-attempts 5-6 5-12
Red Zone touchdown rate 11-19 (57.9%) 15-23 (65.2%)
  • Chattanooga is 119th (out of 123 FCS teams) in rushing offense; UTC’s 2.01 yards per attempt is fourth-worst nationally
  • The Mocs are 74th in rushing defense
  • UTC is 83rd in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate, and 86th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • Chattanooga’s defense has only one fumble recovery, the lowest total in FCS
  • Partly because of that, UTC’s turnover margin is 114th nationally
  • Chattanooga completes a lot of short passes, which is why the Mocs are 109th in yards per pass completion
  • That, plus UTC’s 11 interceptions, has led to an offensive pass efficiency rating that is 91st in FCS
  • The Mocs are 115th in defensive pass efficiency
  • Chattanooga is 100th nationally in scoring offense and 86th in scoring defense

I took a quick look at some of last year’s stats for the Mocs (the full 13-game season). A few eye-opening differences from 2016 to 2017:

  • UTC’s offense scored 34.2 points per game in 2016; in 2017, 18.1
  • Chattanooga averaged 5.1 yards per rush last year; so far this season, 2.01
  • UTC quarterbacks only threw 7 interceptions in 342 pass attempts last season; they have already thrown 11 picks (in 246 attempts) this year
  • The Mocs’ defense is allowing 9.3 yards per pass attempt this season; in 2016, that number was 6.2
  • Chattanooga’s offense is averaging a full 2 yards less per play this year (6.1 to 4.1) while the defense is allowing 1.1 more yards per play (5.7 to 4.6)

Key stats for The Citadel through six games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 25.7 20.8
Rushing yardage 1761 640
Average per rush 4.9 3.4
Average per game 293.5 106.7
TDs rushing 16 10
Passing yardage 652 1152
Comp-Att-Int 38-88-3 89-148-7
Average per pass 7.4 7.8
TDs passing 5 7
Total offense 2413 1792
Total plays 450 338
Yards per play 5.4 5.3
Kick returns-yards 12-226 14-289
Punt returns-yards 11-83 5-16
Fumbles/lost 14/5 6/4
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.5/37.2 3.2/31.0
Net punt average 37.5 38.1
Time of possession/game 34:32 25:28
3rd down conversions 43/94 24/66
3rd down conversion rate 45.7% 36.4%
Sacks by-yards 10-55 4-27
Field goals-attempts 2-4 2-4
Red Zone touchdown rate 17-26 (65.4%) 11-15 (73.3%)
  • The Citadel is 17th in offensive third down conversion rate and 51st in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs have been called for the 12th-fewest penalties per game in FCS
  • The Citadel is 5th nationally in rushing; the Bulldogs are 26th in FCS in yards per rush
  • In terms of pass efficiency, The Citadel is 74th on offense, and 72nd on defense; both of those numbers took a hit last week
  • The Citadel is 60th in the country in scoring offense and 31st in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 4th nationally in time of possession
  • The Citadel is 37th in FCS in turnover margin

At his weekly press conference, Brent Thompson described Chattanooga’s offense as being “a little more pass-oriented” and “more pro-style” this season under Tom Arth’s direction.

UTC’s offense has been affected by a revolving door at quarterback. Last year’s starter, Alejandro Bennifield (6’3″, 220 lbs.), was suspended for the first four games of the season for academic reasons. He returned to the field against Western Carolina, only to suffer a concussion after one of the more brutal hits on a QB you will ever see.

He has yet to return for the Mocs, and may not, although Arth said this week that Bennifield was improving. That is good to hear.

Nick Tiano (6’5″, 240 lbs.), a transfer from Mississippi State, started the season at quarterback, but he was also injured against the Catamounts, hurting his shoulder.

The starter for the last two games has been Cole Copeland (6’4″, 200 lbs.), a true freshman from Cleveland, Tennessee. Copeland was going to redshirt this year, but he is running the show now (and presumably will for the foreseeable future, as long as he stays healthy).

Copeland’s stats versus Furman: 30 for 42 passing for 317 yards and two touchdowns, which is fairly impressive for a debut. He did throw four interceptions, however, and was sacked three times.

Last week against Mercer, Copeland was 22 for 39 for 206 yards, suffering one interception and three sacks. The Mocs only rushed the ball 42 times combined in those two games (and that includes six sacks), so it is fairly clear that despite Copeland’s inexperience, UTC’s coaches are willing to put the offense in his hands.

Darrell Bridges (6’1″, 200 lbs.), a senior from Chattanooga, leads the Mocs in rushing, although he is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Bridges had 88 yards (on only 15 carries) and UTC’s lone touchdown versus LSU. He also scored last week against Mercer.

Bingo Morton (6’2″, 215 lbs.), though not listed as a starter on the two-deep, is Chattanooga’s leading receiver so far this season, with 23 receptions (three for TDs). Two of those touchdowns came against VMI; Morton, tipped as a potential breakout candidate in the preseason by at least one publication, also had a 59-yard TD catch versus UT Martin.

Chattanooga’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 300 lbs.

Starting center Josh Cardiello (6’3″, 305 lbs.) began his collegiate career at Georgia. The senior was a preseason first-team All-SoCon pick this year after being a second-team all-league selection at the end of last season.

Left tackle Malcolm White (6’6″, 305 lbs.), was a preseason second-team all-league selection. The sophomore from Johnson City, Tennessee made the All-Freshman team for the SoCon last year.

Despite missing last week’s game, middle linebacker Tavon Lawson (6’1″, 225 lbs.) still leads the Mocs in tackles, with 50. The native of Talladega also has 5 1/2 tackles for loss.

Noseguard Derek Mahaffey (6’2″, 205 lbs.) had nine tackles last week against Mercer, which strikes me as a lot of tackles for someone at that position. He had eight tackles the week before versus Furman.

Also worth mentioning: Mahaffey wears #5 on his jersey. How many interior linemen wear #5?

Defensive end Taylor Reynolds (6’3″, 275 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon choice.

Lucas Webb (6’1″, 205 lbs.) already has two interceptions and a fumble recovery, not surprising given that he is already a three-time first-team all-SoCon performer. Webb had eight tackles against The Citadel in last year’s game between the two teams. He has 47 career starts.

Cornerback C.J. Fritz (5’11”, 175 lbs.) had six tackles versus The Citadel last season. Fritz has started every game for the Mocs over the last two seasons.

Placekicker Victor Ulmo (5’8″, 180 lbs.) is 5 for 6 on field goal attempts, including a 44-yarder last week versus Mercer. His one miss was from 47 yards. Ulmo also handles kickoffs for the Mocs.

Colin Brewer (6’1″, 205 lbs.), UTC’s punter, made the All-Freshman team last season. Brewer also serves as the holder on placekicks. Both Ulmo and Brewer are from Chattanooga.

The primary punt returner for the Mocs is freshman Brandon Dowdell (5’10”, 195 lbs.), a native of Cordele, Georgia. He is averaging 10.1 yards per return, which is outstanding. The Bulldogs must be very careful when (if?) punting to him on Saturday.

Running back Richardre Bagley (5’9″, 180 lbs.) has returned most opponents’ kickoffs for Chattanooga this season.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Chattanooga, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 75 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 3.5-point favorite over Chattanooga. The over/under is 47.5.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 3.5-point favorite over Mercer; Western Carolina is a 27.5-point favorite at VMI; and Wofford is a 2.5-point favorite over Samford. East Tennessee State is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State: Clemson, South Carolina, and Presbyterian are all off this week. South Carolina State is a 17-point favorite at Delaware State; Coastal Carolina is a 23.5-point underdog at Appalachian State; and Charleston Southern (hungry for a victory) is a 30-point favorite over Savannah State.

Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 44th in FCS, a drop of 3 spots from last week.

Chattanooga is ranked 70th in FCS, falling nine places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 193rd, while Mercer is 252nd.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 24, Chattanooga 20. The Bulldogs are given a 63% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 11th (up two spots), Samford is 22nd (up one position), Furman is 27th (down two places), Western Carolina is 29th (up two spots), Mercer is 34th (also up two spots), Charleston Southern is 35th, East Tennessee State is 72nd (down eight places), Presbyterian is 78th, South Carolina State is 85th, and VMI is 112th.

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota, Western Illinois, and Eastern Washington.

– Since 1911, The Citadel has a 5-6-1 record for games played on October 21. The last time the Bulldogs played on October 21, they defeated Western Carolina in overtime, 30-27.

The Citadel has played Chattanooga twice on this particular date, splitting the two matchups. The Bulldogs’ 12-0 win over the Mocs in 1972 is the only time the program has won on the road on October 21.

– The Citadel’s two-deep for the Chattanooga game is the same as that for the Wofford contest, the second consecutive week there has not been a change on the depth chart.

– Changes on the UTC two-deep: Darrell Bridges is listed as the starter at running back, ahead of Richardre Bagley, who was in that spot for the Mercer game. Cole Strange was not listed as a starter at left guard on last week’s depth chart, but actually started the game anyway and is the presumed starter against The Citadel. As noted earlier in this post, linebacker Tavon Lawson did not play against the Bears due to injury, but is back in the starting lineup this week.

– Among Chattanooga’s notable graduates are actor Dennis “Mr. Belding” Haskins, retired general Burwell Bell, and chemist Irvine Grote.

– For the second straight week, The Citadel will be involved in a “Military Appreciation Day” game. As part of the festivities, Mocs coach Tom Arth will wear camouflage pants.

– The roster for Chattanooga (per its game notes) includes 52 players from the State of Tennessee. Other states represented on the roster: Georgia (26 players), Alabama (14), Florida (8), and one each from Ohio, Arkansas, Kentucky, Colorado, and California.

There are no Palmetto State residents on the Chattanooga roster. That means, of course, that not even one UTC player is from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, internationally recognized for its superiority on the gridiron. This mind-boggling recruiting oversight almost certainly explains the sudden downturn in the Mocs’ pigskin fortunes.

– 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.

The Citadel has not won at Chattanooga since 2011. That was a memorable game, as the Bulldogs came back from a 27-0 deficit in the third quarter and won 28-27.

I think Saturday’s contest presents the Cadets with a reasonable opportunity to pick up another victory at Finley Stadium, but it won’t be easy. While UTC is struggling this season, the Mocs still have a lot of talented players, many of whom are used to winning.

If that sounds a lot like the makeup of The Citadel’s roster, well, that is because there are a lot of similarities. Both teams know what it is like to win. Both teams need to win.

I expect this game to be hard-fought and close. However, if the Bulldogs can put together four solid,well-played quarters of football, they should return to Charleston with a victory.

Here is hoping they do just that.

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