2018 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 10, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

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. 

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA FCS Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 11/6 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 11/7 radio show (video)

The Bulldog Breakdown 11/7

Noah Dawkins is a finalist for the Blanchard-Rogers Trophy

– “The Heat” – Western Carolina game

Samford meets with the media

This week is Homecoming at The Citadel. As always, there will be plenty of events on campus, and a lot of visitors on hand.

On Saturday, the barracks open at 8:30 am (and then close ninety minutes later). The Summerall Guards will perform at 8:50 am.

The review parade is at 11:00 am.

I have to establish very important and utterly sacred ground rules when writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”. Obviously, the SoCon should have forced Samford to come up with a new nickname when the suburban Birmingham school joined the league, but that canine has now left the kennel.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. After all, I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog. So there.

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

For those unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers, a short history lesson that I’ve referenced before:

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.

As a rule, bears are a lot bigger than bulldogs, and also generally give the impression of being hungry a lot. I’m not sure why the students voted the way they did, but 1916 was a long time ago.

However, 1916 wasn’t so long ago for The Citadel’s oldest living former regimental commander, Marion “Joe” Smoak. After all, that was the year he was born.

The pageantry and celebrations during The Citadel Homecoming 2018 will include a meeting between the oldest living Regimental Commander of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, who is 102, and the youngest, who is 21. Ambassador Marion “Joe” Smoak, will make his way from Washington D.C. to visit campus during what would be his 80th reunion since graduating. Just before the Homecoming Review Parade, Smoak and Cadet Col. Sarah Zorn will meet to shake hands before the Corps.

 

After graduating from The Citadel with an English degree, and then from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Smoak served in the U.S. Army as an officer, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1961. During those years, he was a Judge Advocate Officer in both the Pacific and European theaters during World War II. That was followed by tours with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions during which Smoak accumulated 58 jumps earning master parachutist status…From 1969-1974, he was Chief of Protocol for President Richard Nixon, retiring from the Department of State in 1974 with the grade of Ambassador.

You may recall the recent profile of Helen McCoy, the 101-year-old fan of Bulldog football whose preferred beverage of choice at games is rum and Coke. Well, according to his family, Smoak enjoys a daily martini.

Hey, maybe they know something…

The Citadel has had some success in blocking punts this year, including two last week versus Western Carolina. The second of the two blocked punts against the Catamounts was returned for a TD by redshirt freshman Dante Smith, the first time the Bulldogs had scored on a punt block since 2012. Credit for the block on that play went to Bradley Carter, a scout team ace from Blythewood.

Sean-Thomas Faulkner has blocked two punts this season (including the first against WCU last Saturday), and the redshirt freshman has been close to getting a hand on several others. He appears to be a natural at the art of blocking kicks, a point reinforced during Brent Thompson’s radio show when the coach remarked that Faulkner “blocked about a dozen” punts while on the scout team last season.

A kick-blocking savant is a great weapon for a team to have, and The Citadel really hasn’t had such an individual since Domonic Jones terrorized SoCon punters and placekickers several years ago. Before Jones, there was the indefatigable Milford Scott, the bane of many an up-back’s existence.

Actually, the Bulldogs have a little bit of a tradition when it comes to blocking kicks. That dates at least as far back as 1950, when Sam Rubino famously blocked two punts in a game against South Carolina, both of which were returned for touchdowns in The Citadel’s staggering 19-7 upset of the Gamecocks.

Samford was the consensus preseason favorite to win the SoCon, and can still do so, but the Birmingham Bulldogs have not exactly had the season their fans envisioned.

After an essentially useless 66-9 season-opening victory over Shorter, Samford lost its next four contests, a stunning September swoon:

  • Florida State scored two late touchdowns to escape with a 36-26 win over SU. It was a game Samford probably should have won, but the Crimson Bulldogs lost the turnover battle 5 to 1, giving the Seminoles the chance to avoid one of the worst losses in FSU history.
  • The following week, Samford began SoCon play by losing at home to Mercer, 30-24. The Bears led 17-7 at halftime and dominated time of possession in the first three quarters of the game. Samford gave up a 73-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter that proved to be too much to overcome.
  • The following week at Chattanooga, SU fell behind 17-0 and eventually lost, 27-20. Devlin Hodges threw 62 passes in the game, completing 44 of them — but also got picked off three times. Samford managed to drive the ball to the UTC 15-yard line late in the game, but was unable to score a tying touchdown.
  • Samford then lost at Kennesaw State, 24-10. In this game, SU actually had the same number of rushing attempts as it did passes (including sacks). Against a triple option opponent, Samford didn’t fare too badly against the run (KSU averaged 4.0 yards per rush) and only lost the TOP battle by five minutes, but trailed the Owls 21-3 after KSU’s first possession of the second half and never got back into the contest.

Since the loss to Kennesaw State, though, Samford has rebounded to win its next four games. The first two triumphs were massive offensive explosions (66-28 over Western Carolina and 70-22 over VMI). Samford had a total of 1,509 yards of combined total offense in those two games.

SU maintained the positive momentum derived from those two blowouts, and that resulted in solid victories over Furman (38-25) and Wofford (35-20). In both contests, SU lost the time of possession battle by a wide margin, but it didn’t matter.

The game against the Paladins was played in Greenville, and was followed by a bye. Last week’s win over the Terriers came at home — and on SU’s Homecoming. Thus, the Homewood Homebodies will play in Homecoming games on back-to-back Saturdays.

The math is fairly simple for Samford at this point. Win its last two games against The Citadel and East Tennessee State, and SU will claim the SoCon’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Lose either one of them, and the Baptist Tigers will be home for the holidays.

Samford’s rank in conference play (SoCon games only) in select categories:

  • 1st in scoring offense (42.7 points per game)
  • 1st in total offense, and 1st in yards per play
  • 1st in passing efficiency offense
  • 1st in passing offense, but somewhat surprisingly only 4th in yards per pass attempt (The Citadel is 3rd)
  • 6th in rushing offense, 5th in yards per play
  • 4th in scoring defense (25.3 points per game)
  • 6th in total defense, 4th in yards allowed per play
  • 5th in rushing defense, but a solid 2nd in rush yards allowed per play

[Running is] not what [Chris Hatcher] wants to do. Just like me — I don’t want to throw the football, right? He doesn’t want to run the football. Let’s face it, let’s do what we do, and let’s make it better…

Brent Thompson, during a discussion of offensive philosophy on his radio show (which also included thoughts on Mike Leach’s concept of what really constitutes “balance” in an offense)

Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 210 lbs.) has completed 71.3% of his passes this season, with 30 TD tosses against 15 interceptions, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (not taking sacks into account). The senior from Kimberly, Alabama has made news this season with both his passing statistics and his success as a duck caller.

Hodges is obviously really good. The best (and perhaps only) way for The Citadel to stop him is to keep him on the sidelines. One other note about Hodges: he has punted the ball 10 times this season.

Samford alternates two running backs, DeMarcus Ware (5’9″, 186 lbs.) and Roland Adams (5’10”, 203 lbs.). Ware, a freshman from Mississippi, has six rushing touchdowns and leads the squad in rushing yards, while Adams (a senior from Florence, Alabama) is averaging 6.0 yards per carry and has scored three times. As you might expect, both are capable receivers out of the backfield.

Wide receiver Kelvin McKnight (5’8″, 186 lbs.) caught nine passes for 118 yards in his previous visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium. The senior from Bradenton, Florida has 76 receptions so far this season, with eight touchdowns, and is well on his way to repeating as a first-team All-SoCon performer. He is averaging an almost absurd 15.2 yards per catch.

McKnight also serves as SU’s punt returner.

It is hard to highlight every Samford pass-catching target, since 20 different Crimson Bulldogs have caught passes this year, but Chris Shelling (5’8″, 165 lbs.) is definitely worth mentioning. Shelling has nine TD catches, and is second on the team in receptions, with 48. He has found the end zone against every SoCon opponent this season except for (somewhat surprisingly) Western Carolina.

Samford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’6″, 299 lbs. Left tackle Nick Nixon (6’6″, 275 lbs.), a junior from Hendersonville, Tennessee, was a preseason first-team all-league pick.

Incidentally, four of SU’s o-line starters are 6’6″, and the other is 6’7″. The tallest of the group is actually the center, Brendan Loftus (6’7″, 322 lbs.), who began his collegiate career at the University of Miami.

I don’t remember seeing many 6’7″ centers, at least on the gridiron. Hoops, sure…

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

However, in recent years The Citadel got better in that category against SU:

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

Last year was a setback. The Citadel was only 3 for 13 converting third downs (23.1%). That conversion rate has to dramatically increase on Saturday if the Bulldogs want to win.

Defensive end Ahmad Gooden (6’2″, 245 lbs.), the preseason defensive player of the year in the SoCon, has 15 tackles for loss thus far in 2018 (including 5 1/2 sacks). Against Furman, he returned a fumble 58 yards for a touchdown, a huge play in that game.

In his last two games versus The Citadel, Gooden has 27 total tackles. He is a senior from Talledega.

Although not listed as a starter, freshman defensive end Nelson Jordan (6’1″, 252 lbs.) is second on the team in sacks, with three. He also has three additional tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries.

Middle linebacker Aaron Harris (6’0″, 218 lbs.) is far and away Samford’s leader in tackles this season, with 71. The senior transferred from Southern Mississippi after his freshman year.

William Bryant (6’1″, 194 lbs.) is a junior strong safety who ranks third on the team in tackles. He also leads the team in passes defensed.

Samford placekicker Mitchell Fineran (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is 10 for 13 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 46. The freshman has made all 42 of his PATs, and also handles kickoffs (with a touchback rate of 17.5%).

Bradley Porcellato (6’0″, 170 lbs.) is the SU punter. Like a lot of D-1 punters these days, Porcellato is a native of Australia — specifically, Melbourne. He is a product of Prokick Australia, a school for kickers down under that has sent many punters to U.S. colleges and universities.

While listed on the two-deep and on the game notes roster, Porcellato is not on the team’s online roster, which seems odd.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  partly sunny, with a high of 66 degrees. That sounds like great Homecoming weather to me.

– The Citadel is 6-5 all-time against Samford, including a 4-2 record at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The last meeting between the teams in Charleston was certainly a memorable one.

– Useless trivia alert:  the two sets of Bulldogs both have long consecutive program scoring streaks. Samford has scored in its last 199 games, the longest streak in the SoCon. The second-longest streak belongs to The Citadel, at 93 games.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Samford is a 13-point favorite versus The Citadel (as of Thursday night). The over/under is 60.

When the line was first posted on Tuesday evening, Samford was an 11 1/2 point favorite.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Chattanooga is a 6-point favorite over Mercer; Furman is an 11 1/2 point favorite at VMI; Wofford is a 14 1/2 point favorite at Western Carolina.

ETSU is off this week.

– Also of note: Towson is an 1 1/2 point favorite at Elon, while Charleston Southern is a 9 1/2 point favorite over Gardner-Webb. Alabama, next week’s opponent for The Citadel, is a 24-point favorite against another set of Bulldogs, those representing Mississippi State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 60th in FCS, up five spots from last week. Samford is 23rd (also moving up five places).

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 23% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Samford 33, The Citadel 24.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey: Colgate (7th), James Madison (11th), Kennesaw State (12th), Elon (14th), Towson (18th), Wofford (24th), Furman (32nd), East Tennessee State (35th), Chattanooga (40th), North Carolina A&T (46th), Youngstown State (50th), San Diego (53rd), Mercer (55th), Northern Arizona (59th), Richmond (61st), Holy Cross (64th), Sacred Heart (69th), Western Carolina (78th), North Alabama (85th), South Carolina State (87th), Gardner-Webb (90th), Charleston Southern (91st), Campbell (92nd), VMI (93rd), Dayton (100th), Lehigh (107th), Presbyterian (120th), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, Princeton, UC Davis, South Dakota State, and Dartmouth.

I think that top 5 exposes a flaw in the Massey Ratings, to be honest. Because Ivy League schools as a group play a non-conference schedule with limited connectivity to the rest of Division I, the top teams in the conference tend to be placed higher in the ratings/rankings than they should be.

Princeton is a good team, but it is hard to imagine the Tigers are really on the same level with the elite FCS squads. There is certainly no evidence suggesting that to be the case.

Biggest movers in FCS this week: Lamar moved up 17 spots to 45th after winning at Central Arkansas, 38-24. Conversely, UCA is now 44th, a fall of 17 places, after losing to the Cardinals.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Michigan, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Kentucky, UCF, and Florida. Some other notables:  Missouri is 11th (?!), Ohio State 13th, Mississippi State 14th, South Carolina 17th, Penn State 18th, Auburn 20th, Fresno State 22nd, North Carolina State 24th, Boston College 29th, Texas 30th, Army 34th, Duke 36th, Pittsburgh 38th, Arizona State 42nd, Tennessee 45th, Virginia 46th, Georgia Tech 50th, Appalachian State 52nd, Maryland 56th, Florida State 61st, Wake Forest 64th, North Texas 71st, Toledo 72nd, South Florida 73rd, Minnesota 82nd, Georgia Southern 84th, Air Force 89th, North Carolina 97th, Louisville 100th, Coastal Carolina 101st, Navy 105th, Liberty 109th, Charlotte 111th, Old Dominion 118th, Connecticut 126th, UTEP 129th, and Rice 130th and last (after the Owls lost to the Miners last week).

Biggest movers in FBS this week:  Missouri moved up 15 spots after beating Florida 38-17 in Gainesville. Meanwhile, Minnesota fired its defensive coordinator after a 55-31 home loss to Illinois. The Golden Gophers dropped 20 places in the rankings after that debacle.

– Among Samford’s notable alumni: actress Mary Anderson (Maybelle in Gone With The Wind), opera singer Elizabeth Futral, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Harold E. Martin.

– Samford’s roster includes 47 players from Georgia and 41 from Alabama. Other states represented on its squad:  Florida (16 players), Tennessee (8), Mississippi (4), North Carolina (2), and one each from Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, and Indiana.

As noted earlier, starting punter Bradley Porcellato is from Australia.

There are no South Carolinians on the squad, which means no players from celebrated gridiron super-machine Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School are on SU’s roster. The absence of any alumni from the famed maroon and orange is stupefying; one can only ascertain that there is a possibility Samford may be dropping the sport in the near future, and thus is not interested in superior footballing talent going forward.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep changes:  as was announced by Brent Thompson earlier this week, Brandon Rainey is now the starting quarterback. Clay Harris is the new starter at B-back. Nkem Njoku has been named a starter at one of the A-back spots.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-7-2 for games played on November 10, although the Bulldogs have won the last five contests played on that date. The Citadel is 6-2 at home on November 10 (either at Johnson Hagood Stadium or Hampton Park), 4-1 in SoCon play. A brief review of a few of the contests, as we travel back in time:

  • 1906:  At Hampton Park, The Citadel shut out Mercer, 10-0. The game started at 11:00 a.m., so as not to interfere with other activities surrounding “Gala Week”, a festival that celebrated Charleston’s recovery from the devastating 1886 earthquake. Apparently there was a lot of partying associated with the festival, as only 200 hardy souls were awake enough at that hour to attend the football game. Starting quarterback and team captain James Hammond was the outstanding performer for the Bulldogs. The Citadel scored two touchdowns (which were worth five points back then), with Ted Russell and Albert Able finding the end zone for the blue and white.
  • 1973:  Before a crowd of 12,600 on a chilly Homecoming afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Furman 26-21. Andrew Johnson and Gene Dotson both scored two touchdowns for the Bulldogs, with Johnson rushing for 172 yards while Dotson chipped in with 131. The Citadel (which only had one completed pass) trailed 21-20 in the fourth quarter before Johnson’s second TD of the day gave the Bulldogs the lead for good. A sack by Greg Erickson snuffed out the Paladins’ last scoring opportunity. Other defensive stalwarts for The Citadel that day included Jim Roberts, Tom Leitner, Kemble Farr, Brian Ruff, and Tony Cicoria.
  • 1990:  After a Wofford halfback stated to a reporter that the Terriers had a better offensive attack than The Citadel — indeed, that Wofford had “the best wishbone offense in the country” — The Citadel’s defense held the Terriers to 30 yards rushing in a 48-14 Bulldogs victory before a crowd of 14,121 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. In a game played in blustery conditions, The Citadel rushed for 394 yards, with fourteen different Bulldogs carrying the ball at least once. Ray Wimbush and Jack Douglas both ran for 2 TDs; other Bulldogs to score included Willie Jones, Erick Little, and Howard Barnard (two field goals). Dwayne Smalls recovered one fumble and forced another, while Geren Williams dominated the line of scrimmage from his noseguard position.
  • 2007:  Andre Roberts caught eight passes for 180 yards and a touchdown, while Bart Blanchard threw for 370 yards and three TDs, as The Citadel rallied to beat Elon 42-31 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Tory Cooper scored three rushing touchdowns, while Taylor Cornett and Tim Higgins each had a TD reception. Andrew Rowell had an interception for the Bulldogs and also blocked a field goal. Attendance: 10,261.

– Samford has an all-time record of 7-4-1 in games played on November 10.

– As many fans of the Bulldogs know, the 1906 squad mentioned above won the national championship, as it finished that campaign undefeated and untied (and also unscored upon). Two other programs, Yale and Princeton, also claim a share of the title for that season, with various selectors opting for one of the three schools. Princeton, for example, was the retroactive pick of the Helms Foundation, while The Citadel was the choice of the TSA Matrix Ratings System.

For some reason, the 1906 title hasn’t been as widely publicized as The Citadel’s 1871 national title (though to be fair, that championship has flown under the radar at times as well). One possible reason for the difference in recognition between the two seasons is that the 1871 title is undisputed.

I’m hoping there will be a sizable crowd at the game on Saturday — not just in the tailgating areas (that is a given), but in the stands. It should be a nice day to watch a good gridiron contest.

I am a little irked that some members of the national press are already assuming Samford will win on Saturday:

Yes, I know which team is favored. I also know which team is playing at home, which team is playing before a lot of passionate alumni, and which team played its best half of football this season just last week.

All of that counts for something. As for how much it counts…I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

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