2021 Spring Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel at Wofford, to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on April 3, 2021. 

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton supplies the analysis.

The contest can be heard on radio via 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 Lee Glaze

Links of interest:

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

– SoCon weekly release (when available)

– Preview on The Citadel’s website (when available)

– Preview on Wofford’s website (when available)

“Live stats” online platform

This will not be my standard writeup, for a couple of reasons. First, the events of this week from a conference perspective made writing your typical game preview seem less than relevant.

The second reason is that WordPress has now forcibly converted this blog to its new editing system, and I have really struggled to get a handle on it. I might be done with WordPress. (And yes, I might be done with blogging for a while, too.)

For now, I am going to stick to writing what amounts to an essay on the state of SoCon football in 2021, beginning with Chattanooga waving goodbye to the spring football season.

After Chattanooga announced it was “opting out” of the rest of the spring football campaign, the SoCon released a very short statement:

The Southern Conference supports Chattanooga in its decision to discontinue its 2020-21 football season as it is left unable to field a sufficient number of players at several position groups to meet the conference’s COVID-19 guidelines. The Mocs’ remaining scheduled games will be recorded as no-contests.

Also a no-contest: any attempt by the SoCon to compel Chattanooga to complete its schedule. At least a couple of media sources have suggested that the Mocs never had any intention of actually completing the spring campaign; those pundits believe that UTC’s move was a fait accompli from the time the season started.

Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright was one of the leading voices in the “spring skeptics” camp, and he appears to have been supported in that viewpoint by his administration. The shutdown wasn’t cleanly executed, however; the bizarre decision to play almost no starters in UTC’s final game (against Mercer) appears to have been a bit impromptu.

As outlined by Gene Henley of the Chattanooga Times Free-Press:

On Monday, the combination of academic classload and concern for the unknown toll that could be inflicted on players’ bodies from potentially playing as many as 19 combined games this spring and fall, led “around 30” players — according to university sources to opt out of the remaining spring season...

Early in [Chattanooga’s game against Furman], the Mocs lost starting center Kyle Miskelley to a lower body injury. Miskelley had become the unofficial offensive line coach, since the Mocs didn’t have a coach at that position, and was beloved by his position mates as well as other teammates.

“That was the nail in the coffin,” Wright told the Times Free Press Monday.

Most of the veteran players attempted to opt out after that Furman game, with Wright again having to convince them to stay, albeit to handle scout-team work as it had been decided that younger players would play exclusively against Mercer last Saturday.

The SoCon drew some criticism for its eight-games-in-nine-weeks spring slate, in part because of the large number of games the schools would wind up playing in 2021 as a result (and also because it didn’t build any real schedule “buffers” in case of COVID issues). Nobody should be surprised that a lot of players weren’t overly excited about playing that many games in a calendar year.

The spring games have also arguably been a hindrance to long-term player development. Instead of the standard work done on the field (and in the weight room), coaches and players are having to prepare for weekly contests.

The reality is that the conference was split in terms of schools wanting to play in the spring, versus those that preferred waiting until fall 2021. Chattanooga was clearly in the latter camp.

The Mocs aren’t the only FCS school to have stopped playing this spring. So have Cal Poly, Illinois State, and Albany. There will almost certainly be more schools that do the same. The rumblings can even be heard in Fargo:

An ill-advised spring football season that until a few days ago looked like a farce from afar looks like a close-up farce now.

When they are debating the value of continuing the season in the heart of Bison country, you know something is up.

I am not sure why UTC just didn’t sit out the spring season entirely; perhaps there was pressure brought to bear by the conference, which presumably wanted all of its schools to move in the same direction. If that were in fact the case, it was a mistake (as was the effort to play a complete round-robin spring slate).

My only real criticism of Chattanooga is that it fielded what amounted to a ‘B’ team against Mercer, an act not really in the spirit of what could be called “competitive integrity” (although your mileage could definitely vary on that subject). It could potentially have an impact on the conference title race, which would be a nightmare for the SoCon.

There is a scenario in which the top of the league standings going into the final week of the season look like this:

  • VMI: 5-1 (scheduled to host The Citadel)
  • Mercer: 5-2 (scheduled to play at Samford)

In that situation, a loss by VMI and a Mercer victory would result in the league crown and auto-bid heading to Macon, with the difference in the records being Mercer’s win over Chattanooga (as the Keydets’ matchup with the Mocs has been declared a no-contest, per the SoCon).

Furman also has a possible route to the title, but its loss to UTC is problematic – especially because VMI and ETSU didn’t play Chattanooga (and a no-contest, while not as good as a win, is still better than a loss). I should note that the Paladins are a solid favorite (10 points) at Mercer this week.

There is also a possibility that East Tennessee State’s postponed game at Wofford could be very important in the league standings, as the Buccaneers are very much in the picture for the conference crown (and are a 1-point favorite at VMI on Saturday). The Terriers are supposed to play at Furman on the final weekend, while ETSU’s scheduled game against Chattanooga has been canceled. Would the league sideline the Paladins and have Wofford host ETSU instead if the latter matchup proves potentially consequential?

Now, if VMI beats East Tennessee State on Saturday, none of those would-be storylines will happen, as the Keydets would clinch the championship. That would undoubtedly be a relief to certain individuals within the league hierarchy.

VMI is one of the schools that wanted to play in the spring. From what I can gather, East Tennessee State, Furman, and Mercer were probably in that group as well, along with Wofford – although there might have been mixed feelings even in that cohort.

Furman’s coaching staff clearly believed the Paladins were capable of winning the league and having success in the FCS playoffs, which likely helped drive their position. VMI and Wofford also had promising teams — but their senior classes would only have the spring to compete for their respective institutions, as neither has a graduate school.

One other thing VMI and Wofford have in common is that it is relatively unusual for players to transfer into their football programs from other schools. That was surely also a factor in wanting to compete in the spring, although it turned out to be a double-edged sword – at least for Wofford.

The transfer portal can be a very difficult thing to navigate in the best of circumstances. When a school loses players to the portal but is not really in a position to receive other players in return (so to speak), it can be a real challenge.

Just this week, Wofford lost two of its top offensive players, who both elected to enter the portal. Each player had actually been listed on the two-deep for Saturday’s game against The Citadel (the game notes have since been changed to adjust the depth chart).

Of course, the Terriers already have had one game postponed this season (the aforementioned contest versus ETSU) because of a shortage of defensive linemen. In a newspaper article by Eric Boynton from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Wofford head coach Josh Conklin was outspoken about what he sees as a clear competitive disadvantage between schools that can bring in numerous transfers and those which cannot:

“The reality of our situation right now is it’s going to be a tightrope every game,” Conklin said. “It’s going to be can we put six guys at defensive line to play. It’s a compound issue at one position and here we sit. The thing you battle as a head coach is you grind those guys through it and they don’t have a year to recover. They’ve got to make decisions on, ‘Do I get my surgery now and miss these games that are coming up or do I wait until the end of the season, get my surgery and have to miss half the season in the fall?’

“These are the issues we’ve talked about in theory, but now we’re here and it’s reality. We have 63 scholarships, we don’t have 85 and that’s a huge difference. Those are the issues you have when you’re trying to play a season in the spring and then turn around and play one in the fall and you have some injuries.”

…The Terriers looked at the transfer portal but found nobody who was a fit for the program both on the field and academically.

“That’s the reality,” Conklin said. “It’s disappointing and frustrating, especially when you look at a Chattanooga who had 30-something transfers I think and some of those guys were graduate transfers. Kennesaw State has somewhere between five and six grad transfers. Those are the things at our level that will have to be addressed at some point in time or it’s going to be an unfair advantage.”

I’m sure the league office was less than thrilled that Conklin specifically called out a fellow conference member. It could also be argued that when it comes to the issue of player movement, Conklin is not the ideal spokesman, given his tendency in recent months to throw his hat in the ring for just about every open FBS defensive coordinator job.

Conklin’s complaint is a reflection of a longstanding issue within the SoCon. The league has historically been a hodgepodge of schools, often with little in common other than geography (and sometimes not even that). At times, the different missions and sizes of the institutions are at odds with one another.

In this case, the conflict is between a small, private college (Wofford) and a larger, public commuter university (Chattanooga). It is no surprise that they might differ on smaller or larger points when it comes to roster construction for a football team.

What has usually happened in the league is that schools which eventually get too “large” for the conference (West Virginia, East Carolina, Marshall) eventually leave for more like-minded conferences. Sometimes, smaller schools depart as well, though in those cases the reasons are more institution-specific (Washington and Lee de-emphasized athletics; Davidson’s administration decided scholarship football was a fascist enterprise).

The bottom line is this: as I have said before (and will happily say again), being a member of the Southern Conference means accepting the differences that exist in the league schools, getting on the bus, and going to the game.

Is it time for The Citadel to pull the plug on this spring season?

Brent Thompson firmly says no:

“…I still think it is worth it to play for a lot of reasons, and some of them may just be personal reasons.

“Some of them are, we’re getting better, we’re improving. We’re playing a lot of our younger guys anyway, so let’s give those guys an opportunity. We’re playing some guys who are walk-ons, who are on partial scholarship and they are fighting their butts off. At this point, I think we’re more playing for the fall, but I certainly do think it’s worth it.

…Thompson said young players develop faster in games than they would in a normal spring practice.

“You look at (fullback) Nathan Storch, he’s getting better every single day,” Thompson said. “He’s had some really good days and some tough days in there … The only way to do it is to go in there and get live reps.”

Thompson doesn’t seem likely to pull the plug. Remember, he’s the coach who refused to shorten the second half of last year’s game at No. 1 Clemson, despite trailing 49-0 at the half.

I agree with the coach. At this point, I don’t see any reason to end the season. The Citadel made a commitment to play the spring schedule, whatever the misgivings of the school’s administration and coaches might have been, and the Bulldogs should complete the slate. The only caveat would be if circumstances dictated that it is unsafe to do so.

So, barring something unforeseen, the Bulldogs will play Wofford this Saturday in Spartanburg. It should be clear and cool (about 60°).

The Terriers are a 7½-point favorite, with an over/under of 48.

I don’t have any significant observations to make about the game. I am hopeful that The Citadel’s offense will not turn the ball over every other possession (seven turnovers on 15 full drives versus Samford). Just cleaning up some of the mistakes should result in a much more competitive contest.

I can’t be in Spartanburg (the first time I’ve missed a game there involving The Citadel in many years), but I’ll be rooting hard for this group of players. They deserve all the support Bulldog fans can muster.

One other thing: this is probably the last blog post of this abbreviated spring season (regardless of sport). As I mentioned above, I’m having some technical problems with the platform. I also have some issues with time, to be quite honest.

I don’t know yet what I will do in the summer/fall. I might continue my traditional previews and statistical analysis posts, but if so, the formatting could change. Or it might remain the same. I have no idea.

I just hope that the world of sports has returned to something approaching normalcy by the time football season rolls around (again). That’s more important than any blog, anyway.

Go Dogs!

2 Responses

  1. Nice blog post, really mean it. Hope to see more in the fall.
    Keeper.

  2. Thompson should be fired! Houston got the players that gave Thompson early success. Nothing since. They should cancel the rest of the season. It is embarrassing for The Citadel.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: