College football on a Saturday, as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

This week, The Citadel’s football team travels to Macon, Georgia, for a matchup with Mercer.

For a brief period of time, I lived in Georgia. With all due respect to the great Ray Charles, my memories of the state invariably involve an overflowing Flint River… 

The Citadel plays another ranked team on Saturday, this time on the road

Colby Kintner is the SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week

– The Citadel’s game notes

– The Citadel’s Monday press conference

Brent Thompson’s radio show (with video breakdown)

Mercer’s game notes

Mercer’s press conference

– Mercer head football coach Drew Cronic’s radio show

– SoCon weekly release

– SoCon statistics

– Streaming: ESPN3, with Pete Yanity on play-by-play and Jared Singleton handling analysis

[ Edit: an alert reader has pointed out that the game is listed by Mercer, the SoCon, and ESPN’s own website as streaming on ESPN3, as opposed to ESPN+. 

If you’re confused (and you should be), this explainer might be of assistance:  Link ]

– Radio: Luke Mauro and Lee Glaze call the game online and also on three radio stations statewide: WQNT (102.1-FM/1450-AM) in Charleston, WQXL (100.7-FM/1470-AM) in Columbia, and WDXY (105.9-FM/1240-AM) in Sumter.

Live stats

Weather forecast: per the National Weather Service, it should be sunny on Saturday afternoon in Macon, with the high temperature approaching 87°. 

The Citadel is 3-5 all-time in games played on September 17; four of those eight matchups were shutouts (two for the Bulldogs, two for the opposition).

The most recent game played by the program on that date was a 31-24 victory at Gardner-Webb in 2016, a contest in which the Bulldogs only completed one pass. There will have to be a few more receptions by The Citadel’s pass-catchers this week if the Bulldogs are to come home from Macon with a win.

Computer ratings:

SP+ ranks Mercer 37th in FCS, while The Citadel is 82nd. Projected score: Mercer 33.3, The Citadel 16.1.

Massey ranks Mercer 31st in FCS, with The Citadel 52nd. Projected score: Mercer 31, The Citadel 21, with the Bulldogs given a 27% chance of pulling the upset.

Congrove ranks Mercer 22nd, and The Citadel 79th. Congrove doesn’t project a score, but favors Mercer by 14.78 points (with a 3-point bump for home field).

Laz Index ranks Mercer 17th in the subdivision, with The Citadel 59th. There is no score projection here either, but the Bears have a 10.07-point edge in Laz’s power rating.

DCI ranks Mercer 27th, and The Citadel 74th. Projected score: Mercer 37.14, The Citadel 19.88.

FCS Rankings:

FCS Coaches’ Poll: Mercer 20th, The Citadel unranked [no votes]

Stats Perform FCS Top 25: Mercer 20th, The Citadel unranked but receiving votes [would be 32nd]

FCS Nation Top 25: Mercer 14th, The Citadel 24th

I’m including the FCS Nation Top 25 on the roundup this week, not as much because The Citadel is ranked in that particular poll, but by virtue of Mercer using it as part of its ticket sales push:

As kickoff approaches on Saturday night at Five Star Stadium, #20/#23 Mercer will be coming off a bye week while the Bears’ opponent, The Citadel, got the attention of everyone in the Southern Conference upsetting the defending SoCon champion and #8 ETSU, 20-17, on a walk-off field goal. As a result, the Bulldogs moved into the Top 25 in the FCS Nation Radio rankings…

In addition to the Bears playing their first SoCon game of the 2022 season on Saturday at 6 p.m., an outstanding lineup of performers is set to hit the stage in Toby Town for the Ford Concert Series. For those who have not nabbed their ticket for the game, here is one more opportunity.

…A 24-hour flash sale will be held from 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 13 until 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 14. One ticket purchased for $10.01 will grant admission into the Mitchell Tenpenny pregame concert as well as the Mercer vs. The Citadel football game.

(I believe that release by Mercer came out just before this week’s FCS Coaches’ Poll was released. The Bears are 20th in that poll, not 23rd as stated in the quoted section.)

Other games involving SoCon teams:

– Wofford at Virginia Tech (11 am ET kickoff; Terriers have yet to score this season)
– Cornell at VMI (an important game for the SoCon; we’re all fans of the Keydets this week)
– Presbyterian at Western Carolina (Catamounts should win handily; PC only beat VUL by eight points last week)
– North Alabama at Chattanooga (another non-conference contest of note; the league could use a Mocs victory)
– Samford at Tennessee Tech (road games can be tricky, but SU is the better team)
– Furman at East Tennessee State (the week’s other league matchup)

A few other FCS games worth mentioning:

– Holy Cross at Yale (Ivy League starts play this week)
– Colgate at Penn
– Gardner-Webb at Elon (Runnin’ Bulldogs gave Coastal Carolina all it wanted last week)
– Incarnate Word at Prairie View A&M
– North Dakota at Northern Arizona
– Sacramento State at Northern Iowa 
– Delaware at Rhode Island
– North Dakota State at Arizona (yes, NDSU is favored)
– Montana State at Oregon State (Beavers are good but still only 13½-point favorites)
– Tennessee State at Middle Tennessee State (Hmm…)
– Missouri State at Arkansas (Bobby Petrino Bowl)
– Stony Brook at Massachusetts (Stony Brook is favored in a couple of places)

Stats of note through The Citadel’s first two games of the season:

Average (2 gms) Opponents The Citadel
Field Position 38.50 24.26
Success Rate 47.7% 39.8%
Big plays (20+ yards) 3.5/gm 2.5/gm
Finishing drives (average points) 3.25 4.29
Turnovers 1.0/gm 1.5/gm
Expected turnovers 0.47/gm 1.08/gm
Possessions 9.0/gm 9.5/gm
Points per possession 2.56 1.58
Offensive Plays 55.5/gm 61.5/gm
Yards/rush (sacks taken out) 6.31 4.08
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 6.81 6.33
Yards/play 6.52 4.41
3rd down conversions 38.1% 33.3%
4th down conversions 75.0% 75.0%
Red Zone TD% 40.0% 60.0%
Net punting 27.33 32.13
Starting FP after KO 27.43 23.60
Time of possession 24:05/gm 35:55/gm
TOP/offensive play 26.04 35.04
Penalties/P-yds 9.0/82.5 yds 10.5/77.0 yds
1st down passing 64.7%, 8.72 yds/pa 60.0%, 7.20 yds/pa
3rd and long passing 40.0%, 5.10 yds/pa 33.3%, 1.25 yds/pa
4th down passing 100.0%, 11.00 yds/pa 66.7%, 12.67 yds/pa
Passing on “passing downs” 50.0%, 7.41 yds/pa 50.0%, 5.56 yds/pa
1st down yards/play 6.73 5.23
3rd down average yards to go 8.71 7.22
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 3.0/gm 1.0/gm

– ‘Finishing drives’ is a category for all drives that feature a first down inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. It is a natural (and sometimes more illuminating) extension of the ‘Red Zone’ concept. The Citadel’s defense has done a good job in its own territory so far, with more “bending” than “breaking”.

– This week, I am adding the numbers for “passing downs”, which are defined as follows: 2nd-and-8+ yards, 3rd-and-5+ yards, and 4th-and-5+ yards.

– The Citadel has a negative field position differential of over 14 yards, which is a problem. The Bulldogs are at almost -4 yards on kickoff differential, but the net punting has (somehow) been in the military college’s favor, at +4.8. That is due mainly to no opposing punt return yards for Bulldog opponents, combined with Dominick Poole’s 50-yard scamper versus ETSU.

The real culprit when it comes to The Citadel’s field position woes? Arguably, that would be the six 3-and-out+ drives the Bulldogs’ offense has had through two games (31.5% of all possessions). Conversely, opposing offenses have only had two such drives (11.1%).

It is crucial that The Citadel’s offense begins converting 3rd down attempts at a higher rate. A few more big plays wouldn’t hurt, either.

– The Bulldogs also need to fix their early-season penalty problems (although opponents have been flagged at a high rate as well).

Participation report:

The Citadel had 43 players compete on the field against East Tennessee State last Saturday. Two of them were “true” freshmen — offensive lineman Sawyer Whitman, who made his first career start, and holder Jack McCall (somewhat curiously listed as a long snapper on the online roster). Whitman and McCall also saw action versus Campbell.

Both are South Carolina natives. Whitman went to Gaffney High School, while McCall is a product of Hammond School (located in Columbia).

As we all know, there are certain college football media members who frequently advocate for the elimination of FBS vs. FCS games. This same group tends to also cheerlead for anything that gets the sport closer to the Superleague.

In the past, however, there haven’t really been many high-profile FBS coaches or administrators who have gone on record emphatically defending those contests, with the notable exception of Jimbo Fisher.

That has changed recently. First, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart had this to say prior to his team’s game against Samford last week:

“High schools are our feeder programs, just like we are for the NFL. And if you’re going to have good high school programs, you got to have kids getting opportunities to play at all levels. Because there’s a lot more kids playing at a non-Power 5 level than at the Power 5 level. So if you’re a supplier of talent and the growth of the game comes from your youth sports and your high school sports, you’re going to diminish that as these programs fade away.”

There was a similar article in The Athletic on Smart’s comments that also mentioned some of the other benefits of the cross-subdivision games, including the frequently-overlooked fact that an FCS matchup is often a chance to attend a game at a lower cost, which can be very important to families (and is an outcome that many college administrators want, as it broadens the fan base).

This week, the Lexington Herald-Leader posted a story on Kentucky’s upcoming game against Youngstown State, with quotes from Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart and head football coach Mark Stoops.


“It’s important to support FCS football because I want people participating in college football. I think sometimes we forget about thinking about the end game, making sure everybody is still playing. If there’s opportunities that go away and there’s not kids that want to play the game of football, the game of football suffers. We’ve got to make sure we do things that ensure the game of football and people want to play the game. Keeping FCS football alive is very, very important to that end. We like playing one of those games. That’s important to us.”

Stoops was also supportive, stating that FCS teams “compete and depend on these games as well. I like supporting them in that area.”

It appears the SEC schools will continue playing FCS opponents (with the exception of South Carolina playing The Citadel, of course). That will remain the case even after that conference inevitably moves to a 9-game league slate, which I anticipate happening once Texas and Oklahoma start playing an SEC schedule. This is good news.

Mercer’s online roster includes 80 players from Georgia. Other states represented: Florida (6 players), North Carolina (6), South Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Tennessee (3), Pennsylvania (2), and one each from California, Nebraska, New York, and Ohio. Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Emil Hovde is a native of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Fourteen of the Bears began their college careers at other four-year institutions (eight of them enrolled at Mercer this summer). The schools represented on that list: Alabama A&M, Coastal Carolina (3 players), East Carolina, Gardner-Webb, Georgia, Georgia State, Jacksonville State, James Madison, Lenoir-Rhyne, Morehouse, South Alabama, and South Carolina. 

Mercer is 1-1 so far this season; this game will mark its SoCon opener. The Bears previously defeated Morehead State, 63-13, and lost at Auburn, 42-16

MU was off last week, so the Bears have had two weeks to prepare for Saturday’s contest.

Mercer will go on the road next week to face Gardner-Webb, its final non-conference regular-season game in 2022. Future non-conference opponents for the Bears include Mississippi, Morehead State, and Yale (all in 2023, the latter two matchups at home) and a 2024 contest at Alabama.

A few Mercer players to watch:

– Senior quarterback Fred Payton (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is in his second year as MU’s starting signal-caller after beginning his college career at Coastal Carolina. In 12 games at Mercer, Payton has completed 58.1% of his passes, averaging 8.49 yards per attempt (not counting sacks against), with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

– Right tackle John Thomas (6’3″, 300 lbs.) was a preseason first-team All-SoCon pick. The junior is one of three returning starters for the Bears on the o-line; the new faces up front are the left guard and right guard (a sophomore and redshirt freshman, respectively).

Mercer’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’2″, 276 lbs.

– MU had ten different players run the football against Morehead State, which was not particularly unusual; the Bears had eight players carry the pigskin versus The Citadel last fall.

Austin Douglas (6’0″, 208 lbs.), a transfer from James Madison, has led Mercer in rushing in both of its games this season. Against Morehead State, he rushed for 140 yards.

– Wide receiver Ty James (6’2″, 200 lbs.) was named the FCS national offensive player of the week (for the games of Week 0) after a scintillating performance versus Morehead State. James, who spent one year at UGA before moving south to Macon, had five receptions for 192 yards and 3 TDs in that contest. 

Another wideout, Devron Harper (5’9″, 168 lbs.), had two TD catches against Auburn.

Tight end Drake Starks (6’3″, 240 lbs.) had a 75-yard touchdown reception on the first play from scrimmage in the spring 2021 game between Mercer and The Citadel.

– Seven MU players who started last November’s game against The Citadel return this year, including first-team all-SoCon safety Lance Wise (5’9″, 195 lbs.). Wise led Mercer in tackles in both games versus the Bulldogs in 2021, and also returned a fumble for a TD in the 2019 contest (a game eventually won by The Citadel).

– Linebacker Isaac Dowling (5’10, 225 lbs.) was a preseason second-team all-conference selection. He had nine tackles against the Bulldogs last fall.

– Another preseason second-team all-league choice on the Bears’ defense is Solomon Zubairu (6’1″, 255 lbs.). The weird thing about that is Zubairu was actually a first-team All-SoCon pick by both the coaches and media after the fall 2021 campaign, during which he had five sacks. I’m not sure what he did wrong during the offseason.

– Punter Trey Turk (6’2″, 195 lbs.) was also a preseason second-team all-SoCon selection, based mostly on making the league’s all-freshman team last year, but possibly in part because “Trey Turk” is a cool name for a punter. 

It is hard to get a sense of how good Mercer is this season based on its first two games, which were against a non-scholarship D1 squad and an SEC team. However, the Bears have a lot of returning production from last season, a campaign in which MU won 7 games (6 in the SoCon) and probably merited an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.

One of those wins came against The Citadel, a 34-7 result in Johnson Hagood Stadium. In that contest, Mercer ran on 71.9% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, averaging 6.3 yards per carry (one of which was a 72-TD run by Tayshaun Shipp, one of only five rushing attempts he had all season). 

Defensively, Mercer forced three turnovers and held the Bulldogs to 4.0 yards per play. The Citadel did not score after the first quarter.

It also doesn’t hurt the Bears that they have had an extra week to prepare for the triple option.

Another week, another ranked opponent. That is life in the SoCon, where there are no gimmies.

The challenge for the Bulldogs is to maintain their excellent play last week in Charleston (particularly on defense), but to do it in a road setting. 

While a difficult task, it isn’t an impossible one. Many of the players on this year’s squad know the feeling of beating a good team on the road, because that’s just what The Citadel did in the final game of 2021 when the Bulldogs won at Chattanooga. 

It might come as a little bit of a surprise to some that The Citadel has actually won three consecutive league games, dating back to last season. Two of them have been against programs in the upper echelon of the conference.

This isn’t a “little engine that could” situation. The Bulldogs should play with confidence and a fair amount of aggression. It would also help to get off to a good start.

I’m looking forward to Saturday.

A pleasant surprise on a Saturday afternoon

What a nice day in Charleston (even if it was hot).

Game story in The Post and Courier

AP game story

WCSC-TV report (video)

Colby Kintner’s immediate postgame reaction (from a tweet by WCIV-TV’s Scott Eisberg)

Box score

I won’t be able to immediately review too many contests this season, but I figured this game was worth a post…

East Tennessee State The Citadel
Field Position 37.8 23.3
Success Rate 50.98% 44.93%
Big plays (20+ yards) 4 3
Finishing drives (average points) 2.0 5.0
Turnovers 1 0
Expected turnovers 0.22 0.22
Possessions 9 10
Points per possession 1.89 2.00
Offensive Plays 51 70
Yards/rush (sacks taken out) 7.46 4.10
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 6.28 6.83
Yards/play 6.88 4.57
3rd down conversions 2 of 8 5 of 14
4th down conversions 0 of 1 1 of 1
Red Zone TD% 25.00% 66.67%
Net punting 21.8 32.6
Time of possession 20:44 39:16
TOP/offensive play 24.88 sec/play 33.18 sec/play
Penalties 8 for 80 yards 12 for 71 yards
1st down passing 7-9, 121 yards 2-4, 17 yards
3rd and long passing 1-5, 9 yards 0-1
4th down passing 0-1 0-0
1st down yards/play 8.21 5.32
3rd down average yards to go 9.33 7.15
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 2 1

Random thoughts on the action:

  • Sometimes, someone will offer the opinion that The Citadel runs the B-back up the middle too often. Then, Logan Billings breaks two 30+ yard runs on the game’s final drive, and someone has an epiphany.
  • B-backs carried the ball on 55% of the Bulldogs’ rushes against ETSU, while QB Peyton Derrick rushed on 29% of the ground attempts. That left just eight carries for the A-backs; Nkem Njoku’s sole rush was his 5-yard touchdown.
  • One of the issues with getting the A-backs more involved is clearly the new perimeter blocking rules. That was noticeable on a couple of plays during the game, particularly one where Cooper Wallace looked to have an potential open field with a blocker and just one defender in front of him, but the blocker couldn’t cut the ETSU player’s legs, and the end result was a tackle for loss. I think in past years that play normally would have gone for about 20 yards.
  • The Citadel generally did a good job of getting into manageable third-down situations; in the table above, you can see the average yards-to-go on third down was 7.15 yards, but if you take out a 3rd-and-30 early in the fourth quarter, the average was 5.25 yards (including three 3rd-and-1 plays).
  • Billings’ two late runs were two of the only three offensive plays for the Bulldogs that gained 20+ yards. (The other was a 31-yard run by Jay Graves-Billips on the game’s opening drive.)
  • Another potential play of 20+ yards, Ben Brockington’s would-be reception, was wiped away by a holding penalty. I’m guessing Brockington will have another opportunity or two this season to make an impact in the passing game; I look forward to seeing #97 rumble down the field.
  • ETSU’s offense had four plays of 20+ yards, three of them runs/receptions by the impressive Jacob Saylors. He more than justified his preseason SoCon offensive player of the year selection.
  • That said, the Bulldogs had a very good day on defense. The early goal line stand, the key interception by Destin Mack, holding ETSU to a field goal in the 4th quarter when the Bucs had a first down on The Citadel’s 13-yard line…lots of excellent work all the way around.
  • ETSU had five possessions (out of nine) in which the Bucs had a first down inside the Bulldogs’ 40-yard line. Points on those drives: 0, 7, 0, 0, 3.
  • Conversely, The Citadel’s offense had the ball four times inside ETSU’s 40. Points on those drives: 3, 7, 7, 3. That was arguably the difference in the game.
  • Thanks to Dominick Poole’s 50-yard punt return (which set up the first TD), The Citadel actually had the edge in net punting. However, that is clearly an area in which the Bulldogs need to improve (and don’t forget about the multiple formation penalties).
  • Melvin Ravenel took out two ETSU players on that punt return.
  • The Citadel held the ball for almost two-thirds of game time (39:16), including five possessions of more than four minutes in duration. That limited the number of total possessions for each team (East Tennessee State had nine drives in the game, with just three in the first half).
  • I mentioned this on Twitter, but I’ll state it here as well. There is no good reason that a game not on national television, one in which the two teams involved combined for just 36 pass attempts (and only 121 total plays, a fairly low total), should take 3 hours and 16 minutes to complete. That was partly due to game administration by the officials, but the ridiculous number of TV breaks were also a factor.

Off the field (mostly):

  • I enjoyed the contest in which a cadet had to play “Deal or No Deal”. He correctly chose to deal, but made the classic mistake of choosing the ‘B’ bag — for Band Company, he said — and wound up with an ear of corn. (He should have chosen the ‘A’ bag for Alpha Company.)
  • I’m not going to write a angry 1500-word screed about the uniforms, because we won, etc., but The Citadel should wear light blue jerseys with white pants at home. Always. (Also, the dark blue pants/light blue tops combination is aesthetically displeasing.)
  • The scoreboard operator(s) appeared to have an issue with the statistical totals for much of the third quarter, but it eventually got fixed.
  • I didn’t see any problems with the cadets’ move to the other side of the West stands.
  • Suggestion: someone in the department of athletics should make a courtesy call to the City of Charleston, requesting that the numerous and large potholes in the B and C parking lots be filled in before Parents’ Weekend.
  • The crowd was reasonably lively. It helped that the team got off to a good start.

Next week: at Mercer. That will not be easy.

I might have another post later in the week. Or I might not. It’s going to be one of those weeks.

Football’s 2022 debut in Charleston — a/k/a The Citadel’s home opener

That’s right, sports fans. The Citadel will begin its home campaign on Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, as East Tennessee State comes to town. Will the Bulldogs improve after a less-than-stellar showing in Buies Creek last week?

The offense needs to generate big plays and lots of points. The defense must force turnovers and get off the field on third down. The corps has to be loud and enthusiastic. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I don’t really have much to say about this game, as you can probably tell. ETSU is the defending SoCon champion, is projected to be quite good again this season (currently ranked 8th and 9th in two of the major FCS polls), defeated The Citadel 48-21 last year in Johnson City, and pulverized Mars Hill 44-7 last week.

I’ll just riff on a variety of topics, some not directly related to pigskin activity but of potential interest.

Did you know The Citadel will soon have a presence on Times Square in New York City? At least, that appears to be the plan, based on a sole source justification recently posted on the school’s procurement website:

The school intends to allocate $39,950.00 to provide “impression-based marketing for The Citadel with the ability to adjust the messaging weekly. This [digital] billboard will provide 4,495,055 impressions per day to over 1,500,000 daily visitors to Times Square.”

The campaign will last for three months and feature a “fifteen second airtime package looping a minimum of four times per hour, airing 20 hours per day, from 6am to 2am…The 1500 Broadway Spectacular [the name of the billboard] is located in Times Square, New York City and has a 56′ wide x 29′ high, two-sided HD LED screen for a total 1,624 square feet of viewing space.”

You can see a photo of the billboard at this link, or you could make the trip to NYC and see it in person. Consider it an added bonus tourist attraction, to go along with the Statue of Liberty and Hamilton.

One thing you probably won’t see in the foreseeable future is The Citadel Independent Sports Network. The longtime message board that focused on Bulldog athletics went offline earlier this week after a two-decade run on the internet.

Per a highly placed source, the operator of the site finally decided to pull the plug earlier this summer (because of prepaid maintenance fees, the board remained online for a couple more months).

That bane of message boards past and present, relentless negativity, was the reason for its demise.

There are many Bulldog fans out there, more than one might expect for a small school with sports programs that traditionally have enjoyed relatively modest success. It can be a pleasure to discuss sports in a message board format with supporters like those — intelligent, committed, and deeply loyal fans who avidly follow varsity athletics.

However, in recent years the site operator grew frustrated with the fact that sports discussion had often given way to almost nonstop complaining about coaches. That particular brand of antagonism had also driven away many of the longtime posters.

I have never run a message board, and I never will. Doing so requires time, money, a great deal of patience, some technical ability, and the responsibility of maintaining what is essentially a public-facing entity, one for which you do not completely control the content.

I would have shut it down too.

East Tennessee State has three non-conference games this season — Mars Hill last week, Robert Morris on September 24, and at Mississippi State on November 19 (the traditional SEC-SoCon Showdown Saturday).

Future non-conference opponents for ETSU include at Liberty (in 2023 and 2025), at Appalachian State (2024), North Dakota State (at home in 2024 and on the road in 2026), UVA Wise (2024 and 2027), and at North Carolina (2026).

The Citadel’s volleyball team defeated Clemson last Saturday (September 4). That was part of a 2-1 weekend which led to the Bulldogs garnering SoCon honors for both Defensive Player of the Week (Jaelynn Elgert) and Setter of the Week (Belle Hogan).

This was the Bulldogs’ first win in volleyball over Clemson (the two teams had met once before, in 2004). Furthermore, it was the program’s first victory over an ACC school — or any Power 5 conference opponent, for that matter.

It was also, from what I can tell, the first win for the Bulldogs over the Tigers in a team sport since 1999, when the baseball team defeated Clemson 18-15. That game was also The Citadel’s biggest comeback on the diamond in school history, as the Bulldogs had trailed 15-4 before scoring 14 unanswered runs.

  • Last win over Clemson in basketball: 1979 (58-56, at McAlister Field House)
  • Last win over Clemson in tennis: 1961
  • Last win over Clemson in football: 1931 (6-0 in Florence, a result that led directly to the formation of IPTAY, and thus probably the most influential college football game in Palmetto State history)

It should be noted that Clemson and The Citadel haven’t met all that regularly in any sport, at least not in the last few decades.

Last week, I wrote about The Citadel’s retention (and attrition) for its signing classes. As a follow-up, here is a breakdown of the last seven signing classes for the Bulldogs by state (136 players; there was also one signee from outside the country):

  • South Carolina – 51
  • Georgia – 33
  • Florida – 15
  • North Carolina – 11
  • Texas – 6
  • Virginia – 5
  • Alabama – 3
  • Ohio – 3
  • Tennessee – 3
  • New York – 2
  • Pennsylvania – 2
  • Louisiana – 1
  • Oregon – 1

In the Massey Ratings, East Tennessee State is ranked 30th in FCS, while The Citadel is 77th. ETSU is projected to win 28-21, with the Bulldogs given a 34% chance of pulling the upset.

When the line for the game is released later this week, I would anticipate the spread being more than 7 points, despite The Citadel playing at home. I’m basing that in part on the quick movement for the Campbell game soon after its opening line was set, a 6½-point jump in less than three hours.

[Edit: ETSU is favored by 16 points, with the over/under at 51½.]

Those that attend Saturday’s contest will notice one significant change in the stands:

One of the most noticeable changes will be the relocation of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets (SCCC) to the North end of the stadium in Sections K,L,M.

For anyone unfamiliar with the setup at Johnson Hagood Stadium, in past years the corps usually was ensconced in the West stands (the home side), on the end near the Altman Center. This season, the student section will be on the home side next to the scoreboard.

This was done in order to make room for a VIP seating area. I don’t have a problem with the move, but it will be different.

Weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston: showers and possibly a thunderstorm (uh-oh), with a high of 84°. Chance of precipitation: 80%.

Let’s hope the actual weather is a little better than that, and let’s also hope the concessions for the home opener are better organized than was the case at East Carolina last Saturday:

…there were several issues with concession lines, product availability, and other fan experience items when a record crowd of 51,711 showed up for [East Carolina’s] 21-20 loss to NC State in the season opener this past Saturday.

Despite temperatures in the mid-80s, fans online said there were multiple sections that ran out of bottled water well before the end of the game. Lines to get food or beverage items took 45 minutes or more in some cases, and the options were limited when fans finally got to the front.

Combined with the way that game ended, Saturday was a tough day to be a Pirate, whether you were Mike Houston or the executive associate athletics director for internal operations.

ECU wasn’t the only school that had some off-field gameday snafus; for example, Arkansas had fans waiting in the turnstiles to enter the stadium well past kickoff.

On Wednesday, The Citadel posted an advertisement for the position of Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance.

The potential importance of this position was arguably highlighted in the past couple of weeks by the travails of Florida A&M. Partly because of significant compliance problems, FAMU had more than two dozen players with unresolved eligibility issues; at one point, its opening game against North Carolina was in doubt.

The Citadel’s game notes

The Citadel’s Monday press conference

Brent Thompson’s radio show (with video breakdown!)

– East Tennessee State’s game notes [when available]

ETSU’s press conference

SoCon weekly release

– Streaming: ESPN+, with Pete Yanity on play-by-play and Jared Singleton handling analysis

– Radio: Luke Mauro and Lee Glaze call the game online and also on three radio stations statewide: WQNT (102.1-FM/1450-AM) in Charleston, WQXL (100.7-FM/1470-AM) in Columbia, and WDXY (105.9-FM/1240-AM) in Sumter.

Live Stats

ETSU should bring an excellent squad to town. Quarterback Tyler Riddell and running back Jacob Saylors are two of the seven Buccaneers named to the preseason first-team All-SoCon squad, with Saylors the conference’s preseason Player of the Year.

The unknowns for East Tennessee State mainly revolve around a new head coach (George Quarles, recently the offensive coordinator at Furman), as Randy Sanders retired after last season. However, ETSU has already had one game to help get over any transition-related hiccups.

Of note, Quarles was asked about the new blocking rules that were seemingly enacted by the NCAA in an effort to eradicate the triple option:

There weren’t many times [against Campbell] where I saw [The Citadel] trying to cut out on the perimeter. I think it has a pretty big effect on that style of offense. I watched a little bit of Navy [on] Saturday – they run the same thing. I watched a little bit of Army. Those guys, it’s just different for them when you can’t throw at people’s legs on the perimeter, I think it changes that style of offense just a little bit. Now, it still comes down to how well you block them inside and those sorts of things, but your perimeter runs are a little bit different now since you can’t cut…[defenders on the outside] are probably a little bit more comfortable that, hey, nobody’s coming to take out my legs out from under me…

Brent Thompson also referenced the rule changes during his coach’s show on Wednesday night while discussing Peyton Derrick’s QB play, observing that “…we’ve had a lot of new formations [put] in. The new blocking rules, the new blocking-below-the-waist rule, or the lack of cut blocking rules, has forced us to change our offense just a little bit. It’s forced us to do some things a little bit differently, and it’s going to create a little bit more motions and shifts and probably a little more misdirection in the offense than has been in it before…”

Later, Thompson said that he had watched the Army-Coastal Carolina game, and that Army had done “very little perimeter running. That’s where it really hurts you, the perimeter running. [The new rules] put such tight constraints on that…all these teams that have ‘traditional’ offenses, very few of them have as much extensive cut blocking as we have had, so it has definitely hurt us. We have had to rethink and reimagine our offense. I spent a lot of the spring and the summertime watching a lot of different teams and trying to figure out where it was going to impact us the most…that’s where we spent a lot of our time, trying to reformulate our offense…”

Thompson also stated that The Citadel needed to “do a little bit more in the play-action pass game” in response to the new rules.

I linked to it above, but I wanted to reference Brent Thompson’s radio show again. Starting around the 42-minute mark, he does a “coach’s clips”-style video breakdown for the game that lasts more than 15 minutes, including plays from 2021’s contest (The Citadel’s offense vs. ETSU’s defense) and last week’s ETSU game vs. Mars Hill (the Bucs’ offense vs. Mars Hill’s D).

It is very interesting, especially for all the football geeks out there (and you know who you are). I highly recommend it. This is one of the better segments I’ve seen on a coach’s show — any coach’s show.

The coach’s show takes place on Wednesday nights, something to remember going forward, especially if you’re like me and you thought it was held on Thursdays…

I hope there is a decent crowd for this game, especially given that it is The Citadel’s sole home matchup until October 8. In addition, the Bulldogs only play once at Johnson Hagood Stadium between Saturday’s contest and October 29, another aspect of one of the odder home schedules for The Citadel that I can remember.

It is also desirable that the team makes a marked improvement from Week 1. If it doesn’t, Saturday will be a long day for the Bulldogs (even if there are no lightning delays).

We shall see. I’ll be there, regardless.

Quick thoughts on The Citadel’s first football game of 2022

Well, my first quick thought is that I was glad when the game ended…

Stats of interest:

The Citadel Campbell
Field Position 25.33 39.22
Success Rate 32.08% 45.00%
Big plays (20+ yards) 2 3*
Finishing drives (average points) 3.33 4.14
Turnovers 3 1
Expected turnovers 1.94 0.72
Possessions 9 9
Points per possession 1.1 3.2
Offensive Plays 53 60
Yards/rush (sacks taken out) 4.04 5.53
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 5.33 7.41
Yards/play 4.19 6.22
3rd down conversions 4 of 13 6 of 13
4th down conversions 2 of 3 3 of 3
Red Zone TD% 50.00% 50.00%
Net punting 31.3 28.5
Time of possession 32:34 27:26
TOP/offensive play 36.87 sec 27.43 sec
Penalties 9 for 83 yards 9 for 85 yards
1st down passing 1-1, 19 yards, TD** 4-8, 36 yards, 1 sack against
3rd and long passing 1-2, 5 yards, 1 INT, 1 sack against 3-5, 42 yards, TD
4th down passing 1-1, 11 yards 2-2, 38 yards
1st down yards/play 5.11 5.32
3rd down average yards to go 7.31 8.31
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 1 4

*Not included: a 21-yard run for a would-be TD partly negated by a downfield holding penalty; the net gain on the play for the Camels was 11 yards
** An additional first down completion for 10 yards in the 2nd quarter for The Citadel was wiped out by a holding penalty

I believe the time of possession listed in the above table is correct. An error in the official scorebook originally credited The Citadel with over 14 minutes of possession time in the 2nd quarter.

[Edit: this has now been officially corrected.]

A few observations:

  • The Citadel gained 2 or fewer yards on 42.1% of its first down plays.
  • In the 3rd quarter, The Citadel ran 14 offensive plays. Only one of them would statistically be considered “successful”. The shuffling of the o-line after starting center Mike Bartilucci was injured might have been a factor.
  • Sawyer Whitman, a freshman OL from Gaffney, made his first career appearance for the Bulldogs.
  • Almost half (26) of The Citadel’s 53 offensive plays came on the Bulldogs’ first two drives. The Citadel only scored 3 points on those possessions.
  • The Citadel’s nine possessions ended as follows: TD (1), FG (1), punt (3), interception (2), lost fumble (1), and turnover on downs (1).
  • On seven of its nine possessions, Campbell had a first down inside the Bulldogs’ 40-yard line. Considering that two of those drives began inside the 40, and a third one started right at The Citadel’s 40, the Bulldogs’ defense did a good job mostly keeping the Camels out of the end zone after Campbell’s first two possessions.
  • Campbell’s nine possessions ended as follows: TD (3), FG (3), punt (2), end of half (1). (The Camels’ one turnover came on special teams.)
  • The scorebook participation list (which is not official) lists 48 Bulldogs as having played in Thursday night’s game. I tend to think the actual number was 46, but I can’t be sure.
  • Campbell’s participation list included 62 players.
  • The Bulldogs have to do better than average 31 net punting yards, although if one-third of all punts are muffed by the opponents, that would be an acceptable trade-off.
  • James Platte is the first Bulldog to appear in a game this season who doesn’t have a biographical writeup on the school website.
  • It appears that Ben Brockington (now #97) and John Hewlett (#73) have traded jersey numbers.
  • As of September 5, Alex Ramsey, the graduate transfer from VMI, is no longer listed on The Citadel’s online roster.
  • The Citadel committed far too many penalties (9 for 83 yards). The false starts and holds can be (and were) drive-killers, but the personal foul/unnecessary roughness/unsportsmanlike conduct infractions simply made me shake my head. Those are completely unacceptable.
  • During his Monday afternoon press conference, Brent Thompson confirmed that starting strong safety Wilson Hendricks III is out for the season. That will be a tough blow for the defense. Hendricks, a sophomore from Travelers Rest, led the team in tackles last season (and had seven stops against Campbell).

The Citadel must be a lot better on Saturday in its home opener against East Tennessee State. In their first game, the Buccaneers did exactly what a good team would be expected to do against an overmatched opponent, blasting Mars Hill 44-7.

I might have more to say later in the week.