The Sports Arsenal

Game Review, 2017: Western Carolina

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes section, The Post and Courier: “Instant replay comes back to bite Bulldogs”

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

By the numbers, The Post and Courier

SoCon sticking with flawed instant replay “rollout”

School release

Box score

Game highlights (video)

Saturday was not a good day for The Citadel. Five offensive turnovers (admittedly, just four in most SoCon stadiums) doomed the Bulldogs, along with a couple of big plays given up by the defense.

Those turnovers cost The Citadel the contest; there is no doubt about that. I also don’t think you can put the lost opportunities in the game down to youth and inexperience, as that wasn’t really the case. It made the offensive follies (particularly those in the red zone) all the more disappointing.

The Citadel had a good day rushing the football, controlled the clock (almost a 15-minute edge in time of possession), and finished 8 of 16 on third down attempts.

In addition, the special teams unit blocked two WCU punts and forced the Catamounts to “self-block” a third; that, against a team that had come into the game 4th nationally in net punting.

All of that should have been more than enough to win the game. It wasn’t.

I have rarely felt more frustrated after a game than I was last Saturday. Much of that frustration was related to the Bulldogs’ on-field play.

However, the instant replay issue has to be discussed. It cannot simply be ignored, because it hurt The Citadel on Saturday. Also, the league’s position and general attitude towards this aspect of its game administration leaves a lot to be desired.

First, let me quote a couple of things I’ve written before, just to prove this isn’t after-the-fact complaining.

From October 2016, after it was announced the league would not have replay until at least 2018:

The SoCon probably needs to have instant replay sooner rather than later, if only to have the same standard officiating procedures as the rest of FCS, but no one should be under the impression that replay will be a panacea. At times, replay has simply added another layer of error to the proceedings.

Sure, you would like to think that with replay, Kailik Williams’ strip/recovery in the first quarter versus Wofford would have resulted in The Citadel gaining possession of the football, but we’ve all seen that kind of play occasionally upheld anyway because of a “down by contact” ruling (or because the whistle blew). Rudder Brown’s catch in the overtime period might have been tagged as “inconclusive”, and Jorian Jordan’s touchdown-that-wasn’t may have suffered the same fate, depending on the mood of the official in the booth.

Replay aside, what really needs to happen is that the league needs to significantly improve its on-field officiating. That is what the conference’s players, coaches, and fans deserve, rather than ludicrous decisions like (just to mention one example) this ridiculous call against Mercer earlier in the season in a game versus Tennessee Tech.

Then, the league decided it would have instant replay for the 2017 season, but that schools wouldn’t actually have to implement it until 2019. This led to only two schools (Mercer and The Citadel) having a system in place for this year. As I said last month:

Essentially, league games are being played under two different sets of rules this year, depending on whether or not a stadium has instant replay. I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating: the decision by the SoCon to let conference schools off the hook for setting up replay until (at least) 2019 was dubious at best.

As soon as the league established this haphazard approach to instant replay, it was inevitable that it would lead to inequities. The Citadel got burned on Saturday because it was one of the two schools that actually did what the league wanted (an outcome that was oh-so-predictable).

If the game had been played in Cullowhee, Cam Jackson’s TD would have counted. Instead, game momentum changed in a major way, and not in The Citadel’s favor.

I bolded a couple of sentences above because I think they are relevant to the decision made on Saturday. Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier was good enough to ask the league a few questions about the replay situation.

Let’s go through a few things from that article…

According to SoCon commissioner Iamarino, the league’s game report said play was stopped for two minutes and 14 seconds from the time the official announced the play was under review until the review was concluded. A review of the ESPN3 broadcast put the time of the replay review at 3:56.

So, according to the commissioner, the game report included something that was demonstrably false, namely the length of time of the review. That really inspires confidence, doesn’t it?

Iamarino did concede that the review was “a bit longer than most.” However, he insisted that “the main objective for having replay in the stadium is getting the call right. The replay official concluded he had indisputable evidence to overturn the call of a touchdown.”

If it had really been indisputable, why did it take so long for the replay official to make the call? There was no real answer for that. (It is also worth noting the official on the field who signaled touchdown was actually in perfect position to make the call, something you can’t always say while watching a SoCon game.)

Other close calls haven’t taken nearly as long to review, or apparently haven’t been reviewed at all. Some of those might have benefited the Bulldogs with a longer look, too (a muffed punt in the Mercer game comes to mind).

That inconsistent use of instant replay is a major problem for the league. Of course, the lack of replay at seven of the nine league stadiums is the bigger issue.

Iamarino said he hopes that “five or six” SoCon schools are replay-ready by next season.

“The vast majority of FCS conferences have gradually had their institutions implement replay,” he said. “The Missouri Valley, CAA, Big South, Patriot League are all examples of conferences that had a staggered adoption of replay. The Southland is the one FCS conference I can think of that has gone all in at once.

“So what we are doing is not unusual at all. I hope we’ll have five or six on board next year and by 2019 all will be compliant.”

Just because other leagues decided to have different sets of rules depending on locale doesn’t mean the Southern Conference should repeat their mistake.

Iamarino “hopes” the league will have “five or six” schools with instant replay next year. That isn’t good enough, in my opinion. It seems to me that based on his statement, there is even a possibility that when 2018 rolls around, Mercer and The Citadel will still be the only schools with instant replay.

Personally, I don’t think The Citadel should cut on its system again until the entire league has instant replay. I know that isn’t going to happen, though.

Instead, we’re going to continue to see games decided in part on whether or not the stadium has instant replay. We’ll probably continue to see games where an overzealous replay official puts his or her stamp on the game in a negative way, too.

A few other items from the game:

– Was it just me, or was the speaker system louder (and thus more painful on the ears) than usual? Maybe it was just me.

– I think playing a home contest after the Homecoming game tends to lead to less attendance for that final matchup at Johnson Hagood Stadium. I suspect a fair amount of people bag the last game of the home schedule in that situation.

Next year, that won’t be an issue (if it actually is an issue), because the Bulldogs’ home finale, which is against Samford, is the Homecoming game.

– I was a little surprised Western Carolina didn’t bring more fans. The Catamounts are having a nice season, and are a relatively entertaining squad to boot. Maybe the home loss to Furman last week led to fewer people making the trip to Charleston.

– I’ll probably mention this next year before the first home game, but on my personal list of things I would like to see more of at Johnson Hagood Stadium: flags.

Yes, we have plenty of flags already. Let’s have even more of them! “Big Red” spirit flags, the D-O-G-S flags, every kind of flag. On the field and in the stands. Big, obnoxious flags, if at all possible.

I must admit this idea was inspired by the Curva Sud when I watched Roma play Udinese in September. I think half of the fans in that section of the Stadio Olimpico were waving giant flags before the game. They waved them after each goal, too, and at the conclusion of the match.

On the other hand, Johnson Hagood Stadium is a tobacco-free facility, and in that respect is definitely superior to Stadio Olimpico…

I’ll have my preview of the Furman game late Thursday night. The last two previews of this season probably won’t be quite as long as my usual production, which won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

Here are this week’s pictures. They are not annotated, though they are in order (in terms of game action shots).