2019 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, The Military Classic of The South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 5, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on four television stations in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton provides 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

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– What does Raleigh Webb have in common with Cris Carter?

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

“Gameday Central” on VMI’s website

– Bobby Ross has multiple perspectives on The Citadel-VMI

Radio interview with VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/2)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (9/30)

The Dogs:  Episode 6

Willie Eubanks is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Month

The Citadel’s soccer team shuts out VMI 2-0

TV stations carrying the football game:

  • WCBD-TV (Charleston)
  • WYCW-TV (Greenville/Spartanburg)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WWCW (Roanoke)

It is possible that in one or two cases, the game will be carried on a digital sub-channel of one of the above-mentioned stations, rather than the main channel itself. Be sure to check your local listings if you plan on watching the game on one of those stations.

This is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel. As always, there will be a lot happening on campus, including the seniors receiving their class rings.

The key Saturday morning activities preceding the football game:

  • 8:30 am – 10:15 am: Open Barracks
  • 8:45 am: Kelly Cup
  • 9:15 am: The Citadel Rifle Legion Performance
  • 9:30 am: Regimental Band Concert
  • 10:15 am: Freshmen Promotion Ceremonies
  • 11:00 am: Parade

Just to add to the crowd, VMI is bringing about 500 Keydets to the game. The stadium will be packed.

It doesn’t hurt that both Clemson and South Carolina are off this week. That has led to a lot of weddings being scheduled for Saturday, but let’s face it — who wants to go to a wedding? Going to a football game is much more fun.

I’m sure the tailgating areas will be stuffed with fans as well. It should be a great scene.

I’ll briefly discuss the Samford game.

That was a tough loss. I’m not sure anything else needs to be said about it, but I’ll type a few more words anyway.

– I was disappointed in the targeting call against Sean-Thomas Faulkner. I think it was erroneously made by the replay official, who must have felt the need to insert himself into the game.

It reminded me, in a vague way, of a call made against The Citadel five years ago, when Carson Smith was ejected early in a home game against Chattanooga for trying to force a fumble. One of the on-field officials decided Smith was trying to punch someone, and tossed him.

Smith would normally have been suspended for the next game, too, but was reinstated after an appeal, as even the SoCon acknowledged the stupidity of the call.

Faulkner won’t get that chance, as there is no appeal process for targeting. He won’t be able to play the first half of this game. That will be a problem for the Bulldogs, one they will have to overcome.

– Brent Thompson made a lot of tough decisions against Samford. Some worked, some didn’t. That’s the nature of the game, especially one that winds up a four-overtime affair.

I actually questioned only two of them, and neither was that simple:

I thought he should have gone for a field goal attempt on The Citadel’s second drive of the game, but (as he noted afterwards) that call worked out, because the defense got a three-and-out and the Bulldogs scored on the ensuing possession.

After The Citadel scored in the first overtime, Thompson elected to kick the PAT rather than go for two and end the game right there. During his coach’s show, he was asked about that scenario, and said he had considered it, but that “the book” said taking the PAT was the proper play, and he essentially agreed with that (as he felt the Bulldogs were still moving the ball fairly well).

There wasn’t a right or wrong answer to the question, to be sure.

Thompson’s adherence to “analytics” has been one of the more fascinating subplots to the season. As someone who is naturally interested in the subject, it has been great to follow. The coach is clearly of an aggressive mindset when it comes to decision-making, and the mathematical approach has seemed to embolden him.

While not every call will work out, maintaining that philosophy will, in the long run, be extremely beneficial.

A very quick look at the national statistical rankings in FCS:

  • The Citadel now has a healthy lead in time of possession, ranking first nationally (at 38:00) and with more than a two-minute edge over second-ranked Yale. VMI ranks 110th out of 124 teams.
  • The Bulldogs are 34th in offensive 3rd down conversion rate; VMI is 55th. Wofford is 16th, while Furman is 20th.
  • As far as defensive 3rd down conversion rate is concerned, The Citadel is 82nd nationally. VMI is a solid 38th and leads the Socon in that category. Somewhat surprisingly, Charleston Southern is 19th.
  • The Citadel has attempted 14 fourth-down conversion attempts this season, tied for 8th-most in FCS. The Bulldogs are tied for 4th in successful conversions (10). VMI is 6 for 12 on 4th down, with the 12 attempts in a tie for 20th-most.
  • The Bulldogs are 66th in pass efficiency defense. The Keydets are 91st.

Tangent: 50 years ago…

October 18, 1969…

The Citadel rolled to a 28-2 victory at VMI. Tony Passander threw three TD passes, all to Mike Davitt, and Bob Duncan rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown. Jim Leber converted four PATs. The Bulldogs picked up 29 first downs and 498 yards of total offense. 

The statistics in the table below are from VMI’s last three games — at East Tennessee State (a 31-24 win in overtime), home against Robert Morris (a 31-21 loss), and home versus Wofford (a 51-36 setback). The Keydets’ first two contests were against Marshall and Mars Hill (and are thus not included because neither was against an FCS team).

Also not in these numbers are the overtime stats for the ETSU game, for reasons of consistency.

Opponents VMI
Rushing Attempts 127 94
Average Per Rush 6.43 5.29
Rushing Touchdowns 8 6
Pass plays 60 163
Average Per Attempt 9.57 5.02
Average Per Completion 17.35 9.62
Passing Touchdowns 5 4
Total offensive plays 187 257
Yards per play 7.43 5.12
Fumbles: Number-Lost 2-2 4-2
Penalties: Number-Yards 19-167 13-112
Net Yards Per Punt (median) 34.7 31.9
Kickoff touchbacks 4 8
Possession Time (average) 31:08 28:52
Seconds per play 29.97 20.22
Third-Down Conversions 15 of 40 (37.5%) 24 of 56 (42.9%)
Fourth-Down Conversions 2 of 4 4 of 10
Red Zone TDs-Opps 7 of 13 8 of 13
Sacks By: Number-Yards 10-57 2-16

Other thoughts on the statistics above, and the three games in general:

– Both East Tennessee State and Wofford averaged 7.1 yards per rush against VMI (taking sacks out of the equation). The Terriers, to no one’s surprise, simply kept running, as 62 of Wofford’s 70 offensive plays from scrimmage were rushes.

The Buccaneers, on the other hand, kept trying to pass for some reason; including overtime, ETSU threw 39 passes, and completed only 18 of them. This determined effort to throw the football against VMI probably cost East Tennessee State the game.

– Robert Morris is not a good team, but VMI managed to lose to the Colonials anyway, which had to be very frustrating for its fan base. Among the problems the Keydets had in that game: a botched PAT and a missed short field goal (apparently neither the fault of the placekicker); an exchange of fumbles on consecutive plays that wound up costing VMI 52 yards in field position; and a pass defense that gave up several big plays (Robert Morris averaged 12.1 yards per pass attempt).

VMI itself only had two offensive plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more against Robert Morris, which strikes me as a surprisingly low total. The Keydets had just three such plays versus East Tennessee State, but had ten last week against Wofford — four on the ground and six through the air.

While the Keydets may operate a bit of a “dink and dunk” offense, VMI has the capability of producing a lot of explosive plays.

– Wofford had two punt returns of 39 and 21 yards. The first of those returns set up a touchdown.

VMI has not been very good on special teams in recent years, and this season does not appear to be much different in that respect. However, the Keydets did block a punt against Robert Morris, the first blocked punt for VMI in five years, when the Keydets blocked one against…The Citadel.

– Against ETSU, VMI executed a neat trick play, a throw back to quarterback Reece Udinski that went for 30 yards. Don’t be surprised to see even more trickery by VMI on Saturday. The Keydets always seem to have a few gadget plays in reserve, ready to spring upon the Bulldogs.

– VMI had a turnover margin of +2 in these three games. For the season, the Keydets have a turnover margin of +7, which ranks 9th-best in FCS. That number was helped considerably by a +4 day against Mars Hill.

The Citadel currently stands at -2, which is tied for 75th nationally.

– The three opponents combined for a Red Zone TD rate of 53.8%. That reminds me of one of the things that has bedeviled The Citadel against the Keydets in the last few seasons.

In the last four games of the series, The Citadel’s offense has entered the red zone 20 times versus VMI. However, the Bulldogs have only scored six touchdowns in those possessions.

That is a rate of just 30%. If The Citadel’s offense doesn’t improve in this area on Saturday, the Bulldogs are probably not going to win.

– Both of VMI’s Southern Conference games have been delayed by lightning. Let us hope that particular streak ends at two.

Tangent: 25 years ago…

November 12, 1994

Travis Jervey ran for a 96-yard TD on The Citadel’s first play from scrimmage as the Bulldogs hammered VMI, 58-14, in Norfolk, Virginia. The Citadel rushed for 506 yards and six touchdowns, including 224 yards and two TDs from Jervey. Terrence Rivers had three touchdown runs, and Bryan Morgan added a 41-yard TD burst. C.J. Haynes threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Chauncey Chappelle. The Bulldogs’ other touchdown came on a 73-yard interception return by Anquan Gist.

VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim on The Citadel’s offense:

“They maintain the ball as well as any team I’ve ever watched. But they also have big-strike [passing] capability.

“That offense…what it forces defenses to do is play man coverage. So they get a lot of one-on-one matchups and they’ve got good receivers that can take advantage of it.”

In a radio interview, Wachenheim also stated that Brent Thompson is “the most patient play-caller I have seen in a long, long time.”

VMI’s “Air Raid” offense is piloted by outstanding junior quarterback Reece Udinski, a 6’4″, 224 lb. native of North Wales, Pennsylvania. For the season, Udinski is completing 59.9% of his passes, averaging 6.11 yards per attempt (sacks not included), with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

That’s right, no picks. Udinski will set a new SoCon record if neither of his first two passes on Saturday are intercepted, as he is just one shy of matching former Elon quarterback Scott Riddle’s record of 218 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. However, Riddle still has a substantial lead in most fights started.

Udinski had some big games last year, including three 400-yard passing efforts. Bulldog fans may recall one of them in particular, as he threw for 447 yards and 5 TDs against The Citadel last season (with 49 completions, the most in a league game in 2018).

VMI tends to throw short passes, but can go downfield on occasion. Udinski is a patient QB who is not afraid to make a simple throw.

He has had help this year from the running game, which wasn’t really the case last season.

Redshirt junior running back Alex Ramsey (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is a big back who is averaging a healthy 5.9 yards per carry. Ramsey had 153 yards rushing against Robert Morris, and then followed that up with a 207-yard performance versus Wofford (with 3 TDs). He can also catch the ball (24 receptions so far this year; 8 catches last season versus the Bulldogs).

Ramsey is one of five Keydets with more than 20 catches. Wideout Javeon Lara (6’2″, 188 lbs.), the lone Texan on the VMI roster, has four TD receptions, including the game-winner against ETSU. Lara was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.

Another wide receiver, Leroy Thomas (5’11”, 180 lbs.), leads the team in catches with 27. The freshman from Roanoke had 10 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown last week versus Wofford.

Jakob Herres (6’4″, 211 lbs.), like Lara and Thomas, is averaging over 11 yards per reception. The sophomore from Easton, Pennsylvania had six receptions for 117 yards and a TD last year against The Citadel.

Rohan Martin (5’10”, 181 lbs.) has 25 catches. The senior from Stafford, Virginia is also the primary punt returner for the Keydets.

VMI’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 289 lbs. Sophomore left tackle Marshall Gill (6’4″, 270 lbs.) has been a starter for every game of his career at VMI at that position.

VMI has had a consistent lineup on defense, with ten Keydets starting every game.

Strong safety A.J. Smith (6’2″, 204 lbs.), a junior from Virginia Beach, leads the team in tackles, with 32. Smith also has two interceptions and a forced fumble. He had ten tackles against The Citadel last season.

Redshirt junior linebacker Elliott Brewster (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is tied for second on the team in stops. Brewster is not listed as a starter on the two-deep this week, which I find curious. However, he will surely see a lot of action, especially given his performance against the Bulldogs last season (a team-high 15 tackles).

Cornerback Kaleb Tucker (6’1″, 177 lbs.), a native of Hampton, Virginia, has 31 tackles this year. The senior also has two interceptions, a sack, and a fumble recovery.

Ethan Caselberry (6’4″, 201 lbs.) started ten games at free safety last season for the Keydets. This year, the sophomore from Sparkman, Alabama is starting at outside linebacker. Wherever he plays, he tends to make tackles (including nine last year as a true freshman against The Citadel).

Caselberry’s backup on the depth chart is freshman Aljareek Malry (6’0″, 173 lbs.). Despite not being a starter, the Maryland resident has played enough this year to rank 5th in tackles. Malry also blocked a punt against Robert Morris.

Grant Clemons (6’2″, 199 lbs.) is the Keydets’ placekicker. Clemons is 5 for 11 this season on field goal attempts, with a long of 37 yards. The senior is perfect on PATs (16-16). He also handles kickoffs.

Fellow senior Reed King (5’9″, 168 lbs.) is VMI’s punter (and also holds on placements). King is averaging 43.0 yards per boot, with a long of 60 yards. Seven of his 27 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Tangent: 5 years ago…

November 22, 2014

Six different Bulldogs scored touchdowns as The Citadel won at VMI, 45-25. Aaron Miller rushed for a one-yard TD and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Alex Glover. Other Bulldogs to score: Tyler Renew, Reggie Williams, Isiaha Smith (134 rushing yards), and Jake Stenson (120 rushing yards). Eric Goins converted all six PATs and added a 30-yard field goal. 

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 20% chance of showers, with a high of 79 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 69 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Wednesday evening), The Citadel is a 17-point favorite over VMI, with an over/under of 66. That line has not changed since it opened.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 4-point favorite at Samford; Western Carolina is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Gardner-Webb; Wofford is a 2-point favorite at East Tennessee State; and Chattanooga is a 1 1/2 point favorite at Mercer.

– Also of note: Elon is a 7-point underdog at New Hampshire, and Charleston Southern is an 11 1/2 point favorite over Savannah State. Towson is off this week.

Georgia Tech is a 10 1/2 point underdog at home versus North Carolina.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 26, with Harvard the favorite over Howard in the first meeting in football ever between those two institutions.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 39th in FCS, while VMI is 94th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 87% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 45, VMI 28.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, James Madison, Montana, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Northern Iowa is 10th, Towson 12th, Delaware 16th, Kennesaw State 21st, Idaho 27th, Furman 31st, North Carolina A&T 33rd, Elon 34th, Samford 38th, San Diego 45th, William & Mary 49th, Wofford 55th, Colgate 62nd, Chattanooga 67th, South Carolina State 74th, Campbell 77th, East Tennessee State 82nd, Mercer 85th, Charleston Southern 91st, Davidson 95th, Lehigh 99th, Gardner-Webb 103rd, Western Carolina 104th, Robert Morris 115th, Butler 122nd, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– VMI’s notable alumni include actor Fred Willard, civil rights activist (and Anglican martyr) Jonathan Daniels, and rugby star Dan Lyle.

– Next season, VMI will play non-conference games against Robert Morris, Virginia, and Princeton. Other future non-league opponents for the Keydets include Davidson, Cornell, Kent State, Wake Forest (in 2022), Bucknell, North Carolina State (2023), Louisville (2024), and Virginia Tech (2026).

– VMI’s roster includes 65 players from Virginia. Other states represented:  North Carolina (6 players), Alabama (5), Pennsylvania (4), Maryland (4), Tennessee (2), South Carolina (2), and one each from California, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

That means 68.4% of VMI’s squad hails from the state of Virginia. While the Old Dominion is certainly not bereft of football talent, the lack of geographic diversity on the team has probably not helped VMI in its recent struggles on the gridiron.

VMI’s class breakdown (per its game notes):

  • Freshmen: 52 (39 “true” freshmen, 13 redshirt freshmen)
  • Sophomores: 14 (five are redshirts)
  • Juniors: 22 (13 are redshirts)
  • Seniors: 8 (two are redshirts)

The two Keydets from the Palmetto State are redshirt freshman defensive back Tim Smith (who attended Nation Ford High School in Rock Hill), and freshman wide receiver Kyser Samuel (from Gray Collegiate Academy in Columbia).

That means there are no VMI players from legendary pigskin power Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. While it is well-known to anyone with a basic awareness of the sport, it bears repeating that VMI cannot hope to return to the summit of the SoCon (or even view its apex in the distance) as long as the football program continues to ignore the amazing abilities of those who have worn the famed maroon and orange.

– 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 for The Citadel is quite similar to last week’s edition. Emeka Nwanze and Logan Billings are both listed as potential starters at B-back (along with the incumbent, Clay Harris).

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-4-1 for games played on October 5, with the tie being the only time the Bulldogs have played VMI on that date (14-14 in 1985). Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1929: The Citadel shut out Oglethorpe, 18-0. The Stormy Petrels had defeated Georgia the week before, but were no match for the Bulldogs. Before 3,000 spectators at the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, Edwin McIntosh, Lindsey Hobbs, and Howard “Red” Whittington all scored touchdowns, with Whittington’s one-yard run set up by a spectacular 50-yard scamper by Julius “Runt” Gray.
  • 1935: Before a home crowd of 2,000 fans, The Citadel dominated Erskine, 18-0 (yes, same score as in 1929). Claude McCredie scored twice for the Bulldogs, with Ed Hall adding a third TD. John Miller and Croswell Croft led the defensive effort; the The News and Courier sub-headline read, “The Seceders lose more than they gain and are worn to frazzle by winners”.
  • 1957: On the road at Davidson, The Citadel ran out as 21-7 victors. Barry Thomas scored two touchdowns for the Cadets. The first TD of the day came on a halfback pass from Billy Hughes to Joe Chefalo. All three PATs were successfully converted by Connie Tuza. There was a near riot at the end of the game, as some Davidson freshmen attempted to steal The Citadel’s “touchdown cannon”. They did not succeed.
  • 1968: The Citadel won at Furman, 31-12. Tony Passander threw three touchdown passes, all to Gene Hightower, and Jay Goolsby rushed for a fourth TD. Jim Gahagan kicked four extra points and added a 41-yard field goal to the tally. The Bulldogs lost four fumbles in the contest, but prevailed anyway.
  • 1991: With 13,811 fans in attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel ran past Western Carolina, 38-13. Jack Douglas rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns, while Erick Little and Cedric Sims each added TDs for the Bulldogs. Rob Avriett kicked a 37-yard field goal and converted all five of his PAT attempts. On defense, Rob Briggs and Detric Cummings both intercepted passes.
  • 2013: In overtime, Thomas Warren’s 35-yard field goal propelled the Bulldogs to a 31-28 victory over Appalachian State. Ben Dupree (136 yards rushing) and Darien Robinson (109 yards) each scored two touchdowns for The Citadel. The winning points in OT came after an interception by Mitchell Jeter stopped the Mountaineers on their drive in the extra session. Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: 13,601.

I am worried about this game. Of course, I am always worried, but for Saturday I have a specific concern — namely, how the team will recover from the physical and mental toil of last week.

That will not be easy, and then the squad has to get ready for a very frisky VMI team that is ready to win this matchup. The Bulldogs have to do that while navigating all the distractions associated with Parents’ Weekend (and there are many).

The Keydets may be more confident about this game than they have been in several years. They ought to be. For one thing, VMI easily could have (and maybe should have) won last year’s contest. More to the point, this year’s team looks improved, with a more diverse offense, and a legitimate star at quarterback.

They aren’t bringing 500 members of their corps down to Charleston just to be sociable. They have expectations.

That said, The Citadel has expectations too. The Bulldogs are still a good team. They can still have an outstanding season. All of their primary goals are still on the table.

Plus, this game matters. This game is important.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake. It is, without debate, the greatest trophy in all of sports.

The Bulldogs must do everything in their power to retain it, and keep it in Charleston, where it rightfully belongs.

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