2019 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Elon

The Citadel vs. Elon, to be played on McKinnon Field at Rhodes Stadium in Elon, North Carolina, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on September 7, 2019. 

The game will be streamed on FloSports. Taylor Durham will handle play-by-play, while Matt Krause 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. 

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

– News from Camp Bulldog

– Game notes from The Citadel and Elon

– SoCon weekly release

CAA weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Elon’s website

– Phoenix seeks fixes up front

Elon head coach Tony Trisciani on the CAA teleconference

The Dogs:  Episode 2

Well, here we go again. Another year brings us yet another hurricane that will have an impact on the Bulldogs’ preparation for a football game.

Obviously, the potential issues associated with Hurricane Dorian are about a lot more than football. In this limited context, though, it has to be very frustrating for the coaches and players to have to go through this scenario once more.

At least Brent Thompson and company know what to expect from the team’s home away from home, Look Up Lodge, a/k/a The Citadel’s branch campus in the Upstate. By now, everyone should know the routine.

This week’s game is being streamed on FloSports, which is the official streaming provider of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

If you want to watch the game on FloSports, you will have to fork out $12.50 to do so. That is the cost of a monthly fee (you can’t get a per-game deal). Oh, and it automatically renews for another month if you don’t cancel.

That strikes me as a good excuse to make the trip to Elon on Saturday.

I realize not everyone can do that. The Citadel has fans all over the country (and all over the world, for that matter). For those who can’t make it to the game, I recommend listening to Luke Mauro and Ted Byrne call the action on the radio.

It is definitely the right option — and, after all, it is also free.

The agreement the CAA has with FloSports is for four years. I think it might be best if The Citadel tried to avoid scheduling road games against CAA opposition over that four-year period, just because of this contract.

The SoCon’s deal with ESPN+ is better (and cheaper).

In 1889 several Alamance County mill owners and farmers gave or sold parcels of land for the site of a new educational institution named Elon to take the place of the nearby Graham College.

Originally, there was a two-year higher education institution in the town of Graham, North Carolina, and various leaders of that school wanted to establish a four-year college. The North Carolina legislature granted a charter for the school, which was founded by followers of what is now called the United Church of Christ.

The decision was made to build the new school near a local freight depot called Mill Point. Then the founders had to figure out what to name their new college.

If they could have found a major donor, they would gladly have named it after him (or her). That didn’t happen, so eventually they settled on Elon, which means “oak tree” in Hebrew (there were a lot of oak trees in the immediate area).

Sadly, the founders did not get to use their first choice of a school name — Bon Air.

Tangent: imagine if the school actually wound up being named Bon Air. Then, over a century later, the ludicrous action movie “Con Air” would have almost certainly given the institution tons of accidental free publicity. The school’s College of Arts and Sciences could have taken full advantage of this, hosting symposiums on topics like “Was Nicolas Cage’s accent the very worst in motion picture history, or just in the top five?” and “Trisha versus LeAnn, or Live versus Liiiiiieve”.

By the mid-1930s, Elon was in serious trouble, having briefly lost its accreditation and suffering from a serious financial crisis, thanks in part to the Great Depression. In 1931, there were only 87 students, and that didn’t change much over the next several years.

During World War II, however, 672 Army Air Corps pilots trained on campus, and their enrollment helped the school survive. After the war, veterans and the G.I. Bill led to a further increase in students.

Today, Elon has over 6,000 undergraduates, and its ten graduate programs include about 800 more students.

Elon has had only six school presidents in the last hundred years. The current holder of that office is a familiar name to folks at The Citadel, as Connie Ledoux Book was previously the provost at the military college before taking the top job at Elon.

Book had previously spent 16 years at Elon as a faculty member and administrator, so she was no stranger to the school.

Elon’s varsity athletic teams used to be called the “Fightin’ Christians”, but in 2000 the institution dropped that in favor of “Phoenix”, which is a reference to the college’s rebuilding after a devastating fire in 1923.

Thus, Elon no longer features great logos like this one:

There was also a Fightin’ Christians mascot, as can be seen in the photos here: Link

Elon was a member of the Southern Conference from 2003 to 2014. While 36 different schools have left the league over the years (some more than once), Elon may have left on the worst terms with the conference than any of them.

This statement was part of an official release from then-SoCon commissioner John Iamarino:

“In recent years, it became increasingly evident that Elon’s negative view of the diversity in the Southern Conference was not shared by the majority of the membership.”

A lot of the anger seemed to be directed at the president of Elon at the time, Leo Lambert, who was reported to have opposed the re-admission into the league of East Tennessee State and VMI. Lambert later denied that he had not wanted VMI back in the SoCon (he more or less remained mum on ETSU), but it is clear there was significant conflict between the school and the rest of the conference.

Lambert and Iamarino are both now retired. Elon is presumably happy in the CAA, and the SoCon is motoring along just as it has since 1921. I think everyone has moved on.

Elon has made the FCS playoffs in each of the last two seasons. The Phoenix were not dominant in either year, to be sure, but qualified for post-season play anyway. Both times, there were somewhat unusual circumstances at play.

In 2017, Elon lost its opening game to Toledo, 47-13. The Phoenix then won eight straight games by a combined margin of 31 points, meaning that late in the season Elon was 8-1 despite being outscored by its opponents.

The Phoenix began the victory streak by edging Furman 34-31, then won seven more games by scores of 19-17, 36-33, 6-0, 25-17, 35-34, 19-14, and 33-30 (that last contest in 2OT).

A team has to be good to keep winning games in such a fashion. Eventually, however, things will begin to swing in the other direction, and Elon lost its last three games of the season, including a one-point playoff defeat to none other than Furman.

The 2018 season began with a loss to South Florida, but then Elon began winning games again, including victories over Furman (a 45-7 mauling), Charleston Southern, New Hampshire, and an extremely impressive road win over James Madison.

The Phoenix were 4-1, ranked 5th in the AFCA FCS poll, and looking like a cinch playoff team and a probable seed. Then…well, let’s look at some charts.

Statistics of note for Elon’s offense in 2018 against FCS opponents, broken down into three distinct phases of its season:

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush Yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd Down conv 3rd Down att RZ TD conv RZ TD att
@Fur 58 7.72 41 6.76 17 10.06 0 0 6 11 2 2
@CSU 77 5.79 50 4.47 27 7.74 1 0 6 14 4 5
UNH 79 5.71 48 4.02 31 8.32 1 0 7 18 2 5
@JMU 72 6.92 39 5.56 33 8.52 0 0 1 15 2 4
Totals 286 178 108 2 0 20 58 10 16
Average 71.5 6.44 44.5 5.11 27 8.51 34.5% 62.5%

 

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd down conv 3rd down att RZ TD conv
RZ TD att
@Del. 70 4.13 37 3.49 33 4.85 0 0 5 18 1 3
Rich. 69 6.64 55 4.96 14 13.21 1 0 8 16 2 4
URI 55 6.44 47 6.78 8 4.38 0 0 3 10 1 2
Towson 59 4.03 37 6.19 22 0.41 1 0 4 14 1 2
Totals 253 176 77 2 0 20 58 5 11
Average 5.29 44 5.40 5.05 34.5% 45.5%

 

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd down conv 3rd down att RZ TD conv
RZ TD att
@Maine 88 4.91 36 4.67 52 5.08 2 1 7 19 1 4
@Woff. 60 4.33 28 1.82 32 6.53 1 1 8 13 1 2
Totals 148 74.00 84.00 3 2 15 32 2 6
Avg. 4.67 37 2.96 42 5.63 46.9% 33.3%

 

Davis Cheek started at quarterback for Elon in all 12 games in 2017. He also started in last year’s victories over Furman, Charleston Southern, New Hampshire, and James Madison. With Cheek calling the signals, the Phoenix offense had outstanding numbers in terms of yards per play, yards per pass attempt, and Red Zone TD rate.

Then, disaster. Cheek tore his ACL early in Elon’s game against Delaware and was lost for the season.

Jalen Greene took over as QB. Greene was a capable runner, but not much of a passer. That is reflected in the statistics for the next four games, including the loss to Delaware and a 41-10 setback against Towson in which Greene was sacked three times while completing only five passes.

However, Elon was able to win the other two games during this stretch, including a crucial 24-21 Homecoming victory over Rhode Island. After the win over the Rams, Elon was 6-2 and had moved back up to #5 in the rankings.

The loss to Towson dropped the Phoenix to #12.

Greene started the regular-season finale at Maine, but in the second quarter of that game he was replaced by Daniel Thompson — who had been Elon’s starting QB in 2015 and 2016. Thompson threw 43 passes against the Black Bears in a comeback that fell just short (27-26).

Elon was 6-4, and certainly not the same team it had been with Cheek at QB, but the Phoenix made the playoffs anyway, thanks mostly to its outstanding early-season wins.

Against Wofford in the first round of the playoffs, Thompson got the start, but Elon never really got going (and also didn’t have the ball that much, as the Terriers had over a 14-minute time of possession advantage). Wofford won, 19-7.

Elon’s success in 2017 and 2018 came under the tutelage of Curt Cignetti, who had arrived after a very good run at D-2 Indiana of Pennsylvania. Cignetti, a former assistant at Alabama under Nick Saban, is now the head coach at James Madison, taking that job after Mike Houston was named head coach at East Carolina.

The new boss of the Phoenix is Tony Trisciani, who had been Cignetti’s defensive coordinator. Trisciani’s career has included being on the same staff with Chip Kelly (when Kelly was an assistant coach at New Hampshire) and two different tours of duty at Elon, with the first of those a one-year stint (in 2006) as special teams coordinator.

After five years at Villanova, where he was both the recruiting coordinator and (later) the defensive coordinator, Trisciani was hired by Cignetti as his DC. Now, two years later, Trisciani is a college head coach for the first time.

Elon began this season ranked #21 in the AFCA FCS poll, but is now unranked for the first time since September 2017 after losing at North Carolina A&T, 24-21. The Aggies won the game with a last-second, 52-yard field goal.

All three of the Phoenix’s touchdowns came on long drives of at least ten plays. The possessions were all around five minutes in game length.

Davis Cheek was back at quarterback for Elon, and he was 16 for 27 passing, with one TD. However, he was also sacked five times.

The Phoenix struggled to run the ball, averaging 2.1 yards per rush (not including sacks). Elon’s longest run from scrimmage was just 12 yards.

Defensively, the Phoenix were respectable, although North Carolina A&T quarterback Kylil Carter was only sacked once (he had 27 pass attempts), and the Aggies scored touchdowns all three times they advanced into the Red Zone.

Just a few of Elon’s offensive players to watch:

Davis Cheek (6’3″, 210 lbs.): As mentioned above, Cheek has been very successful during his career at Elon. Before his injury last season, he had completed 65.8% of his passes, averaging 8.48 yards per attempt (sacks not counted), with four touchdowns against two interceptions. A native of Matthews, North Carolina, Cheek is a redshirt junior.

Jaylan Thomas (5’9″, 195 lbs.): Thomas is a sophomore running back from Carrolton, Georgia. Last season, he was named the CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year (despite missing three games due to injury) after rushing for 761 yards and four TDs, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

Thomas had an 86-yard touchdown run against Rhode Island, a key play in that contest. He wasn’t asked to catch the ball much, but he did have seven receptions.

Matt Foster (6’4″, 250 lbs.): A senior from Williamsville, New York, Foster has been Elon’s starting tight end since midway through the 2016 campaign. Last year, he caught 17 passes, averaging 8.8 yards per reception. In 2017, though, Foster averaged 12.7 yards per catch (19 receptions).

Kortez Weeks (6’0″, 173 lbs.): Weeks caught 36 passes last season, averaging 13.4 yards per reception. The junior from Mt. Ulla, North Carolina was a third-team all-CAA selection in 2017, when he had 60 receptions.

Cole Taylor (6’4″, 215 lbs.): Yet another tall target for the Phoenix, Taylor caught 31 passes in 2018. He averaged 16.9 yards per catch. Taylor is a senior from Marietta, Georgia.

Matt Kowalewski (6’4″, 285 lbs.): The senior right guard from Charlotte has started 27 games for Elon during his career, tied for the most (with Foster) of any offensive player for the Phoenix. Kowalewski is one of two returning starters from last season’s offensive line.

The projected starters for Elon’s o-line average 6’4″, 296 lbs.

Defensive players to watch for the Phoenix include (but are by no means limited to):

Marcus Willoughby (6’3″, 253 lbs.): A defensive end from Durham, Willoughby was a third-team all-CAA choice last year after compiling 58 tackles, including 2 1/2 sacks. The senior was the league’s defensive player of the week after a performance against New Hampshire that included 4 1/2 tackles for loss (two sacks).

Tristen Cox (6’3″, 324 lbs.): The mammoth nosetackle has 24 career starts. Cox recovered three fumbles last season, leading the team. The junior from Piqua, Ohio had seven tackles (including a sack) against Furman.

Greg Liggs, Jr. (5’11”, 198 lbs.): Last season, Elon’s free safety was a second-team all-CAA pick after making 65 tackles (second-most on the team) and intercepting four passes; he broke up nine others.

A senior from Greensboro, Liggs has started 25 games for the Phoenix.

Daniel Reid-Bennett (6’1″, 193 lbs.): Reid-Bennett has appeared in all but one game during his career at Elon, with 22 starts. The senior cornerback from Lexington, North Carolina had 55 tackles (42 solo stops) in 2018.

Jalen Greene (6’2″, 195 lbs.): As discussed above, Greene started four games at quarterback for the Phoenix last season, but has now moved to the other side of the ball. The junior from Durham is not listed as a starter on the two-deep, but as one of the team’s fastest players, I would not be surprised to see him in action on Saturday.

Elon’s kicking specialists from last season both return. Placekicker Skyler Davis (5’8″, 151 lbs.) was 17 of 22 on field goal tries, only missing once (in 15 attempts) from inside 40 yards. He did not miss a PAT.

Davis, a sophomore, went to the same high school (Allatoona, in Acworth, Georgia) as Bulldogs quarterback Brandon Rainey and wide receiver Raleigh Webb.

Hunter Stephenson (6’5″, 220 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Wake Forest, North Carolina, is in his third season as Elon’s punter. Eighteen of his 54 punts last year were downed inside the 20; he only had one touchback all season.

Elon’s primary kick returner is Shamari Wingard (6’0″, 174 lbs.), a sophomore from Charlotte who also handled kick return duties last year.

Another Charlotte sophomore, Bryson Daughtry (6’0″, 184 lbs.) is listed on the depth chart as the lead punt returner. Of note, Elon only returned nine punts all of last season, for a total of 29 yards; its average of 3.22 yards per punt return was sixth-lowest in FCS.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday at Elon, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 87 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Elon (as of Wednesday evening) is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 51 1/2.

When the line opened on Tuesday, Elon was a 5 1/2 point favorite, so the spread moved two points in the Phoenix’s direction in a 24-hour period.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  VMI is a 16 1/2 point favorite over Mars Hill; Chattanooga is a 6 1/2 point underdog at Jacksonville State; East Tennessee State is a 40-point favorite over Shorter; Furman is a 7-point underdog at Vols-vanquisher Georgia State; and Western Carolina is a 42 1/2 point underdog at North Carolina State.

Presumably because the game wasn’t scheduled until Monday, the Mercer-Presbyterian game has no line. Wofford and Samford are both off this week (and play each other next week).

– Also of note: Towson is a 21 1/2 point favorite over North Carolina Central; Charleston Southern is a 40 1/2 point underdog at South Carolina; and Georgia Tech is a 6 1/2 point favorite over South Florida.

Coming off its big win over Wofford, South Carolina State is a 32-point favorite over Lane College.

The biggest favorite in the FCS ranks is Abilene Christian, a 51 1/2 point favorite over Arizona Christian (an NAIA school). In matchups between FCS teams, the largest spread is 44 1/2, with Illinois State favored over Morehead State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 61st in FCS (down 11 places from last week), while Elon is 41st.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 30% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Elon 28, The Citadel 21 (kind of a familiar scoreline, isn’t it?).

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, South Dakota State, Princeton, and UC Davis.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: James Madison (6th), Towson (18th), Kennesaw State (21st), North Carolina A&T (29th), Furman (39th), Jacksonville State (46th), Wofford (49th, down 25 spots), Mercer (50th), Chattanooga (51st), South Carolina State (62nd, up 30 places and the biggest riser in the sub-division), East Tennessee State (68th), Samford (69th, down 27 spots with the largest drop this week in FCS), Western Carolina (91st), Charleston Southern (95th), VMI (102nd), Davidson (114th), Presbyterian (122nd), and Merrimack (126th and last).

– Elon’s notable alumni include broadcaster Wes Durham, actor Grant Gustin, and basketball coach Frank Haith.

– Elon’s roster includes 44 players from North Carolina. Other states represented:  Virginia (14 players), Georgia (8), Ohio (7), New Jersey (7), Florida (3), Connecticut (3), Pennsylvania (3), Maryland (3), Massachusetts (2), South Carolina (2), and one each from Kentucky, Indiana, California, Alabama, Louisiana, and New York.

No member of Elon’s team is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This failure to recruit players who have worn the fabled maroon and orange will hover over the football program like a malignant cloud, probably for decades. Why the current or former coaching staff has not attempted to bring in stars from the celebrated gridiron powerhouse is a great mystery, unless the school is simply not interested in being competitive in football in the long term.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep only has two changes from the one from last week. Clay Harris is listed as one of the kick returners, and Jay Girdner makes an appearance on the depth chart at strong safety.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 2-3 for games played on September 7. The two victories both came over Presbyterian.

  • In 1985, the Bulldogs edged the Blue Hose 14-7 before 18,000 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Despite controlling the clock and having the edge in total offense, The Citadel didn’t take the lead until the fourth quarter, when Kip Allen threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Williams. Allen also connected with Clay Morphis for a TD. Tommy French’s interception with 17 seconds to play sealed the win. Also worth noting: Greg Davis attempted a 59-yard field goal at the end of the first half; it hit the crossbar but did not go over.
  • In 1991, The Citadel beat PC 33-10 on a soggy evening before 17,660 spectators. Employing a split-back veer (a brief experiment during the Charlie Taaffe era, never to be repeated), the Bulldogs accumulated 444 yards of total offense. Jack Douglas rushed for 106 yards and threw a 76-yard TD pass to Willie Jones, while Cedric Sims added 115 yards rushing. Lester Smith intercepted a pass (returning it 66 yards) and also forced a fumble.

This is a key game for both teams, as neither wants to start the season 0-2. The major unknown, in my opinion, is how the Bulldogs will react to their unplanned relocation from campus. The fact that The Citadel was scheduled to play a road game probably alleviates some of the negatives associated with the break in routine. At least, I would like to think so.

Elon has been a very good team over the previous two years with its full complement of players, and Davis Cheek and Jaylan Adams are both back in action for the Phoenix. The loss to North Carolina A&T wasn’t a shock (the Aggies have been an outstanding program in recent years), but it may still have come as a bit of a surprise (Elon was a 3 1/2 point favorite).

Defensively, the Bulldogs need to take advantage of Elon’s relative inexperience on the offensive line (three new starters) and put pressure on Cheek. The Citadel cannot afford to give Cheek time to find open receivers, especially considering his receiving corps is a veteran group with good size.

On offense, The Citadel will have to first figure out how the Phoenix will defend the triple option. Then, the Bulldogs will have to execute properly, avoiding turnovers and other costly mistakes (like penalties). The Citadel also needs more big plays on offense this week.

It should be a good game. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m ready for Saturday. So is everyone else, I suspect…

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