Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: close games

Here are links to other posts I’ve written this month as the 2021 fall campaign approaches:

I’ve often stated that marginal improvement in various statistical categories can make an outsized difference in a team’s success, and lead to winning more games. For example, in my post about havoc rates, I wrote:

…one play — a forced fumble, a big tackle for loss, an interception — could well be the difference between a win or a loss. After all, just think about how many close games The Citadel has played in the conference in recent years.

This is certainly true, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually researched just how many close games the Bulldogs have played over the past few seasons. It was time to change that oversight.

Thus, I created a spreadsheet (of course). This one includes all Southern Conference games played between 2011 and the 2021 spring campaign for every league team which played during the period. That is ten seasons of data.

I am defining close games by the more-or-less standard definition, matchups decided by eight or fewer points — in other words, one-score games. That obviously includes all overtime contests.

Close games in the SoCon, 2011-S2021

The chart includes three teams no longer in the conference (Appalachian State, Elon, and Georgia Southern) and all of the current league members, including two teams (ETSU and VMI) that rejoined the conference since the 2011 season.

As mentioned, only conference games are listed. I’ve also noted the total number of league games played each year.

Since 2011, 44.81% of all SoCon contests have been close games. The rate has been quite consistent over the years; the highest percentage of close games during that time was last season (55.17%), while the lowest was in 2014 (32.14%). If you combine those two campaigns, the average comes out to 43.86%, right near the mean — and the other years are all between 41%-50%.

A few random observations:

  • Not counting Appalachian State or Georgia Southern (both of which left the SoCon after the 2013 season), the team with the best record in one-score games has been Wofford, while the unluckiest team in that respect has been VMI. 
  • In its five seasons since rejoining the conference, East Tennessee State has played by far the highest percentage of close games (68.42%).
  • Conversely, Western Carolina has the lowest rate of close games (26.32%).

The Citadel has played 78 league games since 2011. In 39 of those contests — exactly half — the Bulldogs have been involved in a one-score game. 

In all SoCon matchups over the period, The Citadel has a record of 41-37, so the Bulldogs have a slightly better record in games that are not close (22-17) than in games that are (19-20).

What does it all mean? Does it mean anything at all?

Generally speaking, over time a team’s record in one-score games should be right around .500, and that is the case for The Citadel. When it comes to close contests, the program has not been a statistical outlier from a historical perspective (which might comes as a surprise in some quarters). 

One takeaway, then, might be that instead of hoping small advancements will lead to a better record in close games, the actual intended results should be for fewer close games, with the difference being several more decisive victories.

Regardless, odds are that at least three of the Bulldogs’ league matchups this season will go right down to the wire. As always, critical plays have to be made in those key moments.

The fans have to be ready, too…

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: taking advantage of 4th down

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, this time I’m focusing on how to increase offensive productivity with a fully realized 4th down “go for it” philosophy. That isn’t a radical or new concept, but I just wanted to discuss the advantages a team can accrue on other downs when it has a high 4th down go rate.

First, links to other posts I’ve recently written in the leadup to the 2021 fall campaign:

As usual, I’ll start with the statistical spreadsheet for The Citadel’s spring 2021 season, which I’ll be referencing at times throughout:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

Of note for this discussion, one of the tabs on that spreadsheet lists all decisions made on 4th down by The Citadel (and its opponents) in conference action; another catalogs short-yardage plays and results, including those on 4th down; and there is also a tab dedicated to down-and-distance plays by the Bulldogs and their opponents, broken down by run and pass.

Let’s start with the down-and-distance numbers. The Citadel in spring 2021, on offensive plays from scrimmage:

  • Rushed 85.6% of the time (all plays)
  • Rushed 87.1% of the time on 1st down
  • Rushed 88.0% of the time on 2nd-and-short (3 yards or less)
  • Rushed 94.0% of the time on 2nd-and-medium (4 to 6 yards)
  • Rushed 96.3% of the time on 3rd-and-short (2 yards or less)
  • Rushed 89.2% of the time on 3rd-and-medium (3 or 4 yards)

Those aren’t surprising percentages, of course. That is the nature of the triple option offense. On standard downs, The Citadel is going to run the football. It will run the football a lot on passing downs, too.

(“Standard” in this case means downs that aren’t considered expected passing downs in a regular offensive system.)

One thing that can be said about the Bulldogs under Brent Thompson is that the playcalling, from a run-pass perspective, has been consistent. Eerily consistent.

For example, take a gander at the numbers in conference games from his first season as head coach (2016) and the most recent campaign (spring 2021):

  • 2016: 494 rushing plays, 83 passing plays
  • 2021: 492 rushing plays, 83 passing plays

It doesn’t get much closer than that.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the results from those passing plays were not exactly the same. The adjusted yards per pass attempt for those seasons:

  • 2016: 7.41
  • 2021: 2.98

That is not a typo. When sacks allowed are included in the passing numbers (as they should be), The Citadel averaged fewer than three yards per pass play last spring. 

The Bulldogs were sacked on 17.07% of their pass plays, by far the highest rate suffered by any offense in the SoCon (Mercer was second at 10.45%; Furman 3rd at 8.81%). Samford threw 226 more passes than The Citadel, but its quarterbacks were only sacked three more times.

The Citadel’s sack rate allowed was 16.55% when including its four games in the fall. Among all 97 FCS schools that played at least once in the fall and/or spring, that was the third-worst percentage overall, with Cal Poly and Kennesaw State the only other two teams with worse rates. Kennesaw State is also a triple option outfit, while Cal Poly was transitioning out of a triple option offense into a spread offense under new coach Beau Baldwin.

Triple option teams do tend to be on the wrong end of this statistic, for a bunch of obvious reasons. In the FBS, Navy had the worst sack rate allowed (15.65%), while Army was 10th-worst (10.59%). On the other hand, Air Force (3.17%) had one of the lowest rates in the country.

The average sack rate for FCS teams (F20/S21) was 6.77%. The average in the SoCon this spring was 7.39%, a figure reduced to 6.88% if The Citadel’s totals aren’t included.

One major reason for the Bulldogs’ high sack rate on offense was that a significant percentage of The Citadel’s pass plays occurred in the 4th quarter, with the Bulldogs trailing. In the final period, The Citadel was 10 for 27 through the air, with one interception and nine sacks allowed.

A team that doesn’t throw the football very often was largely ineffective in the passing game when the opponent knew a pass was probably coming. This is not a shock to informed observers. It is also not a shock to uniformed observers.

The real issue, it seems to me, is that such a large percentage of the Bulldogs’ aerial attack came on obvious passing downs, instead of on standard downs.

The Citadel attempted 32 pass plays on 1st down or 2nd-and-short. Those are generally not passing downs, and so the element of surprise would normally be quite beneficial for the Bulldogs.

All but seven of those pass plays, however, came while A) trailing in the 4th quarter — often by multiple scores — or B) down 10+ points in one of the other three quarters. There was nothing unexpected about most of those plays.

For the record, here are the seven pass plays for The Citadel on 1st down/2nd-and-short in true “standard down” situations:

  • Against Mercer, down 7-0 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at TC 45 (result: incomplete)
  • Against Western Carolina, down 7-6 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at WCU 39 (result: incomplete)
  • Against ETSU, tied 7-7 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at ETSU 49 (result: 44-yard gain to set up TD)
  • Against ETSU, down 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, first-and-10 pass at TC 25 (result: 7-yard gain)
  • Against ETSU, down 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, first-and-15 pass at TC 31 (result: interception)
  • Against Furman, first play from scrimmage, first-and-10 pass at TC 25 (result: incompletion)
  • Against Furman, ahead 13-7 in the 2nd quarter, first-and-10 pass at Furman 40 (result: incompletion)

To be honest, the Bulldogs were not overly efficient on those occasions, either. Completing 2 of 7 passes for 51 yards (with a pick) is nothing to write home about. On a positive note, 7.29 yards per attempt isn’t half-bad, although it clearly needs to be a lot better for such plays.

The larger point is that The Citadel needs to be a bigger threat in the passing game, regardless of its status as a triple option offense. It needs to do so in order to keep defenses honest (which will also help the rushing attack), and to increase its number of explosive plays. 

I believe that the best way to do that, besides improvement in execution, is by throwing the ball more on standard downs. I don’t mean that the Bulldogs should be throwing 15 more passes per game or anything like that, though.

I think The Citadel should take advantage of its pugnaciousness on 4th down when calling plays on other downs, particularly first and second down. Basically, once the Bulldogs are past a certain point on the field (probably their own 30), the assumption should be that they are going to go for it on any 4th down play of 4 yards to go or less.

Instead of having three downs to make 10 yards, and almost always trying to grind out three runs to get there, a pass play on first down, or second-and-short (or medium), should be employed a little more often. If it doesn’t work, there are still three other downs available to move the chains. 

That should be the mindset.

Now, I freely admit that I am not a coach. I do not claim to have an advanced knowledge of the game (although I am a former championship football player¹). There are certainly a lot of things I don’t know about the program, especially related to personnel. I’m merely a dude with a computer; a less witty Statler.

It is just my unenlightened opinion that throwing the football on select first-and-second down plays a few more times per game (maybe once every other possession, or twice every three possessions) could open things up. The Citadel really needs more of those long gainers on offense, too; 22 plays of 20+ yards in eight contests is not enough.

Only three of those big plays came via the pass. Incidentally, all three of them came on first-and-10.

I’ve actually written about this concept before, but I believe that with the gradual increase in scoring in recent years, creating big plays is even more crucial to sustained offensive success. In the current game environment, a pure “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense has its limitations (and The Citadel is playing all 11 of its regular-season games this season on artificial turf, so there won’t be a lot of dust to kick up).

Having said all that, it must be duly noted that long, time-consuming drives should and will remain the Bulldogs’ bread-and-butter. As ESPN college football writer Bill Connelly has stated:

The key to explosiveness is efficiency. The key to making big plays is being able to stay on the field long enough to make one.

Negotiate the ball down the field. Pump it in there. Just keep matriculating the ball down the field. Yes, sir.

There are less than 50 days until the season starts. We’re getting closer.

 

¹City of Orangeburg (SC) Parks and Recreation Department — Pee Wee Division

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: 4th down decision-making

When it comes to gridiron discussion, one of my favorite topics is 4th down decision-making. This is an area of the game in which I think it is still possible to gain a competitive advantage, simply by being slightly ahead of the curve from a tactical perspective.

First, a quick list of the posts preceding this one so far in July:

As always, I begin with the statistical spreadsheet for The Citadel’s spring 2021 campaign:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

One of the tabs on that spreadsheet goes into 4th down decision-making at a somewhat granular level, both for The Citadel and its opponents; another lists the success rates for short yardage plays on 3rd and 4th downs.

Did the Bulldogs go for it on 4th down more often than other SoCon schools? You better believe it:

Team (offense)4th down conv4th down att4D%4D att/gm
The Citadel193259.4%4.00
Furman91850.0%2.57
VMI101566.7%2.14
Western Carolina41330.8%2.17
Samford61250.0%1.71
Chattanooga41136.4%2.75
Mercer51145.5%1.38
ETSU2922.2%1.50
Wofford6966.7%1.80
Total6513050.0%2.22

It should be pointed out that The Citadel also faced more 4th down situations than any other SoCon team. However, the difference on a per-game basis wasn’t enormous. The Bulldogs averaged exactly nine 4th down situations per contest, which led the league, but Samford (8.86) and Furman (8.71) weren’t far behind, and the two schools with the fewest per game, Chattanooga and Wofford, each averaged seven.

Now, The Citadel did have fewer possessions per contest than other teams, and that has to be taken into account. The Bulldogs averaged 10.88 possessions per game, and so on most drives were faced with at least one 4th down call to make. 

The Citadel was very aggressive in those situations, going for a first down 44.44% of the time, the highest percentage in the conference, and considerably higher than every other squad except Chattanooga. Here is a table illustrating that:

Team (offense)4th down attPunts4D FGA4D total plays4D go rate
The Citadel323467244.44%
Chattanooga111252839.29%
Furman183766129.51%
VMI1526115228.85%
Wofford92063525.71%
Western Carolina133445125.49%
ETSU92894619.57%
Samford1233176219.35%
Mercer114676417.19%
Total1302707147127.60%

Incidentally, “4D FGA” refers to the number of field goal attempts on fourth down. Most field goal attempts take place on 4th down, of course, but not all do (end-of-half clock situations, for example). Thus, field goal attempts that took place on other downs (which happened six times in league play) are not listed on the chart. 

As expected, I did not find any punts in league games that occurred on a down other than 4th. Those halcyon days of yore, when “quick kicks” were a regular feature of the game, are gone forever.

It can occasionally be disorienting to read complete play-by-play newspaper stories from contests played decades ago, when teams frequently punted on 3rd down. They were not averse to punting on first and/or second down, either.

Indeed, The Citadel’s 12-7 Homecoming victory over Clemson in 1928, one of the more famous upsets in school history, included several first down punts by both teams. The Citadel’s second touchdown was scored directly off a botched punt snap by Clemson on first down. The Bulldogs’ first score was set up by a blocked punt that came on third down.

The Citadel blocked a third down punt for a TD in its 19-7 victory over South Carolina in 1950 as well, so maybe that strategy should make a comeback after all, at least among certain power conference teams…

I noted in a couple of previous posts that trying to compare FCS statistics for F20/S21 is largely pointless, and also a difficult task at any rate. However, while I can’t determine 4th-down situational stats for every team in the subdivision that played, a perusal of readily available information allows me to say with a reasonable amount of confidence that The Citadel’s “go rate” would have ranked third overall in FCS for the spring campaign.

The two teams ahead of the Bulldogs in this respect were Davidson (54.17%) and Eastern Illinois (47.69%). EIU, which like The Citadel is located in a town called Charleston, is a program with at least a short history of going for it a lot on 4th down; the Panthers led the nation in 4th down tries in 2019, going 28 for 52.

Alas, in spring 2021 they were not nearly as successful, only converting 10 of 31 4th down attempts en route to a record of 1-5.

Davidson finished the spring season 4-3, but that included an FCS playoff appearance, as the Wildcats won the automatic bid out of the non-scholarship Pioneer League. Davidson was 15 for 26 on 4th down attempts, to go along with six 4th down field goal tries and just 16 punts — the only team in all of D-1 to have attempted more 4th down conversions that punts/FGA combined.

I also ran the numbers for FBS, with one caveat. I could not find a way to remove field goal attempts that were not 4th-down plays from the list, and I was not about to go through 551 game summaries. Sorry, but I do have my limits.

Therefore, the FBS numbers that follow are possibly off by a percentage point — probably no more than that, though (and in most cases less), and for some teams they will be completely accurate. Any change would be a slight increase in the go rate.

Last year’s leading riverboat gambler in the bowl subdivision, to the surprise of no one, was Lane Kiffin, with Mississippi going for it 33 times (with only a combined 37 punts/FGA). That adds up to a go rate of 47.14%, easily tops in FBS.

Kiffin is a naturally aggressive tactician and play caller; the fact that the Rebels were truly terrible on defense also factored into the equation. Expect more of the same this season, as Kiffin is still Kiffin and Mississippi’s D might not be much better.

Army was second (39.08%), which is not exactly a shock. Jeff Monken is now well known for his willingness to go for it on 4th down.

Some of the other teams near the top of the list suffered through tough seasons, which might have impacted their number of attempts. However, there were also very successful squads with high go rates — including BYU, Kent State (albeit in just four games), Buffalo, and Liberty.

At the other end of the spectrum was Maryland (127th and last), which in five games only attempted one 4th-down conversion (leading to a more-no-than-go rate of 2.78%). The Terrapins did make that conversion try, though, and thus finished with a 100% success rate on 4th down.

Some coaches leaned heavily on excellent field goal kickers, and that clearly affected their 4th down decision-making. Oklahoma had a go rate of just 12.99% (6th-lowest in FBS), in part because the Sooners attempted 28 field goals in 11 games (making 22 of them). Only Pittsburgh attempted more field goals per game.

Then there were a few teams that didn’t go for it too often on 4th down because there was basically no need to do so; teams in the bottom 25% of the category included Notre Dame, Ohio State, Clemson, and Alabama.

Here is a list of select FBS teams and their 4th down “go rate”:

  • BYU, 34.92% (6th nationally)
  • Kent State, 34.78% (7th)
  • UCLA, 34.69% (8th)
  • Buffalo, 34.21% (10th)
  • Liberty, 32.35% (14th)
  • Navy, 32.26% (15th)
  • Northwestern, 31.33% (22nd)
  • Air Force, 30.56% (29th)
  • South Carolina, 28.40% (34th)
  • Coastal Carolina, 26.15% (48th)
  • North Carolina, 26.03% (49th)
  • East Carolina, 22.22% (72nd)
  • Kentucky, 20.24% (85th)
  • Georgia Southern, 17.89% (97th)
  • North Carolina State, 14.29% (113th)

Along these lines, I also took a quick look at punts per game. Kansas led the nation with 7.67 punts per contest, which sums up the Jayhawks’ football fortunes as well as just about anything. Massachusetts was second, as natural an outcome as could be imagined.

The teams with the fewest punts per game: Kent State (only 2.25 per contest), BYU, Liberty, Florida, and Alabama. Yep.

I’m very appreciative of Brent Thompson’s aggressiveness when it comes to going for it on 4th down, particularly in short-yardage situations. The Bulldogs faced 22 plays of 4th down and 3 yards or less in spring 2021, and went for it 21 times. 

There were actually three other short-yardage plays on 4th down that aren’t included among those 22, because of subsequent penalties; Thompson either went for it on those plays or would have, if given the chance. That means his intended go rate on 4th-and-short was 96%. That is the way it should be, especially given the core tenets of the offense.

I know there are a few fans who believe The Citadel was a little too aggressive on 4th down. I respectfully but firmly disagree, however. In order to be successful, the Bulldogs have to maximize their opportunities. One of the best ways to do that is use all the downs which are available. 

I do think that The Citadel could be even more productive when it comes to taking advantage of the program’s 4th down mindset, though. That will be the subject of my next post.

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: Big Plays

That’s right, talkin’ Big Plays today. We’re living large and we’re in charge.

For anyone just arriving to this website (welcome!), here is a quick list of the posts that have preceded this one over the past couple of weeks:

I suppose I should explain what a Big Play is for the purposes of this post. While there are a lot of different statistical methods to group long-gaining plays from scrimmage, I’m defining them here as I have for several years now: any scrimmage play, running or passing, that gains 20 yards or more. Note that this does not include defensive/special teams returns.

Also, even if there is a turnover at the end of the play in question, if the net gain (prior to the possession change) is at least 20 yards, that still counts. You could make a decent argument that it shouldn’t, but I’ve elected to include such plays in the totals for the sake of consistency. (For the record, I only found two such events in the entirety of the SoCon spring slate.)

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

The Bulldogs had a negative overall margin as far as big plays are concerned (22 for, 40 against). That was the largest per-game deficiency in the league (-2.25 per contest). 

Here is the breakdown of offensive big plays in conference action (spring games only):

  • Samford: 48 (7 games)
  • Mercer: 39 (8 games)
  • VMI: 33 (7 games)
  • Furman: 30 (7 games)
  • Chattanooga: 24 (4 games)
  • The Citadel: 22 (8 games)
  • East Tennessee State: 21 (6 games)
  • Wofford: 19 (5 games)
  • Western Carolina: 19 (6 games)

Samford had the most plays from scrimmage of 20+ yards, while Chattanooga averaged six big plays per game, which was the second-best rate in the conference. The Citadel’s rate of 2.75 big plays per contest ranked last.

How do those numbers compare nationally? Well, as I mentioned in my previous post, trying to compare FCS stats for F20/S21 is largely a waste of time, for a host of obvious reasons, and even if you wanted to do so, compiling all of those statistics would be very difficult, if not impossible. (I can attest that assembling these types of stats for just the SoCon teams isn’t easy.)

On the other hand, FBS statistics are more manageable when it comes to organizing such numbers. Here is a sampling from that subdivision, in which 127 teams participated in 2020. On a per-game basis, the top 5 in big plays (20+ yards or more) were UCF (8.30 per contest), Ohio State, North Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi.

No one reading this who follows college football is shocked at all by that list. Other teams that fared well in this area included BYU, Clemson, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

The bottom five: Massachusetts (last in FBS at 2.0 per game, with the Minutemen only playing four contests in all), Western Kentucky, FIU, Kansas, and Syracuse. Again, nobody is surprised.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s 2.75 big plays per game exactly matched the average for Army, which had 33 in 12 games. The Black Knights ranked 121st overall in FBS.

Another, arguably more substantive way to look at this is on a per-play basis, rather than per-game. In terms of big plays per offensive snap (lower is better, of course):

  • Chattanooga: 10.50 snaps per big play
  • Samford: 11.40
  • Mercer: 14.13
  • Furman: 16.30
  • VMI: 16.55
  • Wofford: 17.05
  • Western Carolina: 17.53
  • East Tennessee State: 18.71
  • The Citadel: 26.09

Let’s compare those numbers to FBS programs.

The list of top schools is similar to that of the per-game grouping. This time, Ohio State led all squads, with a rate of just 9.50 snaps per big play. BYU was second (9.63).

A somewhat surprising team in this category is Maryland, which finished fifth (10.00). The Terrapins only played five games, but there is no doubt that when Mike Locksley’s offense is rolling, it can produce a lot of long gainers.

The bottom five on a per-play basis matched the bottom five on a per-game rate, except that Wisconsin (!) replaced Syracuse, with the Badgers only recording a 20+ yard play every 26.05 snaps from scrimmage. That was still better than Western Kentucky, which finished last (29.15).

The Hilltoppers decided to do something about it, though. WKU brought in Houston Baptist’s starting quarterback as a transfer, along with his top three receiving targets.

Houston Baptist was one of the FCS teams that played a few games in the fall, but did not compete in the spring. HBU faced three FBS squads, and while losing all three of those games, the Huskies put up 31, 33, and 38 points. In one of those games, against Texas Tech, star quarterback Bailey Zappe had 560 yards of total offense.

Now, Zappe and several of his friends are taking their talents to Bowling Green, Kentucky. It’s a brave new world.

One of the things that I wondered about as I looked over these numbers: does the triple option offense tend to inhibit big play production? By and large, the FBS triple option teams did not fare well in this category. I’ve included them in this list of “other teams of interest” in the big plays per-snap statistic, along with all teams facing SoCon opposition this fall, plus a random team or two:

  • Florida: 9.66 big plays per snap (3rd in FBS)
  • North Carolina: 9.76 (4th)
  • Alabama: 10.37 (8th)
  • Oklahoma: 10.85 (12th)
  • Clemson: 11.12 (14th)
  • North Carolina State: 11.75 (19th)
  • Coastal Carolina: 12.58 (29th)
  • Kent State: 13.04 (36th)
  • South Carolina: 15.09 (64th)
  • Georgia Southern: 15.96 (73rd)
  • East Carolina: 16.38 (79th)
  • Navy: 17.34 (93rd)
  • Air Force: 17.76 (98th)
  • Kentucky: 17.87 (100th)
  • Vanderbilt: 23.22 (120th)
  • Army: 25.50 (122nd)

Of course, one reason why triple option teams don’t have as many longer plays from scrimmage is because they are primarily (and sometimes almost exclusively) running teams, and the majority of 20+ yard plays are via the air — for example, last season in FBS, 68.2% of such plays were passes.

That percentage was almost reversed in the triple option universe. Last year, Georgia Southern, Navy, Army, and Air Force combined for 140 plays of 20+ yards, with 61.4% of them coming on the ground. There was room for outliers — Navy had almost as many big passing plays (17) as it did rushing (18) — but when you run the ball 83.1% of the time (the combined percentage for the four-team tandem), that is the end result.

What it means, though, is that those triple option teams still had a higher percentage of pass attempts result in big plays than their rushes. This wasn’t true for The Citadel, which actually had fewer snaps per rushing big plays (25.89) than pass plays (27.33). Intuitively, that needs to change this fall for the Bulldogs’ offense to be more successful.

You might have noticed that I referenced both rushing and passing big plays in those last few paragraphs. I did break down big plays in SoCon action by run and pass; while I’m not going to list them out separately in this post, they can be found on this handy-dandy spreadsheet:

Big Plays, SoCon spring 2021

Not only does it list big plays by run and pass, it is color-coded! And not completely impossible to understand!

Okay, now to talk about defending big plays.

Big plays allowed in SoCon action, spring 2021:

  • Chattanooga: 7 (4 games)
  • East Tennessee State: 17 (6 games)
  • Western Carolina: 23 (6 games)
  • Wofford: 28 (5 games)
  • VMI: 29 (7 games)
  • Furman: 31 (7 games)
  • The Citadel: 40 (8 games)
  • Mercer: 40 (8 games)
  • Samford: 40 (7 games)

Chattanooga was by some distance the best league team at preventing big plays, albeit in a smaller sample size. Samford allowed 5.71 per game, the most on average, with Wofford just behind at 5.60 per contest.

Air Force allowed the fewest big plays in FBS on a per-game basis, at 1.67 (the Falcons played six contests in 2020). Marshall, Iowa, Louisiana-Lafayette, and BYU rounded out the top five; influential backers of the Thundering Herd were so impressed that head coach Doc Holliday was fired.

The worst team in FBS in this category was LSU, which gave up 79 such plays in 10 games (7.90 average). Did the Tigers do any better when considering big plays allowed on a per-play basis? Uh, no. LSU was last by that metric as well, as it allowed a big play every 8.58 snaps.

In term of pass defense specifically, the Tigers allowed the most plays of 20 yards or more…and the most of 30 yards or more…and the most of 40 yards or more…and the most of 50 yards or more. LSU was also one of seven FBS schools to give up a pass play of more than 90 yards.

Former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s three-year contract was guaranteed, and he had two years remaining on his deal at $2.3 million per annum when he was fired last December. LSU had to pony up $4 million in severance pay by January 31, 2021. What a country.

Here is that list of FBS teams from earlier, this time ranked on defending big plays on a per-snap basis (to avoid confusion, just remember that for defenses, a larger number is better when it comes to this statistic):

  • Air Force: 36.00 snaps per big play allowed (1st in FBS)
  • Coastal Carolina: 18.33 (20th)
  • Alabama: 17.48 (26th)
  • Kentucky: 17.36 (28th)
  • Clemson: 16.98 (34th)
  • Florida: 15.98 (50th)
  • Navy: 15.71 (56th)
  • North Carolina: 15.64 (58th)
  • North Carolina State: 15.15 (62nd)
  • Army: 15.02 (66th)
  • Georgia Southern: 14.79 (68th)
  • Oklahoma: 14.57 (70th)
  • South Carolina: 12.74 (95th)
  • East Carolina: 12.71 (96th)
  • Kent State: 12.43 (104th)
  • Vanderbilt: 10.22 (123rd)

The spring 2021 SoCon list of big plays allowed, per snap:

  • Chattanooga, 36.14
  • East Tennessee State, 23.59
  • Western Carolina, 22.00
  • VMI, 16.93
  • Samford, 14.30
  • Furman, 14.19
  • Mercer, 13.83
  • Wofford, 11.68
  • The Citadel, 11.65

Clearly, the Bulldogs have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to both producing and preventing big plays. I went back and looked at the numbers for the 2016 season, just to compare:

  • 2016 offense — 26 big plays (15 runs, 11 passes), 22.19 snaps per big play
  • 2016 defense — 28 big plays allowed (9 runs, 19 passes), 16.46 snaps per big play

I think it is interesting that the 2016 championship team did not actually have an exceptionally large number of offensive big plays. It must be pointed out, though, that its big plays were often BIG.

Eight of the 26 long gainers in 2016 were over 50 yards in length, including three that were 70+. In contrast, the Bulldogs had just two plays from scrimmage this spring that went for 50 yards or more.

Defensively, 16 snaps per big play allowed would seem like a respectable target to try to reach for the Bulldogs this fall. That would be about 1½ fewer such plays per game. In the spring, The Citadel had all kinds of defensive problems on the opening possession; eliminating most of those issues would be a very good start (pun intended).

More statistical reviews and thoughts to come, as the season creeps even closer…

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: Havoc Rate

This is the first in an occasional preseason series (at least, I hope it is occasional) in which I take a closer look at a few of The Citadel’s spring football 2021 statistics.

What improvements can the Bulldogs make? What are their most significant deficiencies from a statistical perspective? What are their strengths? How do they compare to other SoCon teams in various categories?

I’ll also highlight various FBS teams as points of comparison, in part because for some of these statistics, FCS numbers are very hard to come by. Besides, let’s face it — the F20/S21 season for FCS on a national level was a slow-motion trainwreck anyway.

In a previous post, I introduced the spreadsheet from which I’ll be working. Here it is again:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

What is havoc rate? Well, it is a statistic that was essentially created by Bill Connelly (now of ESPN) in 2015. In recent years, it has gained a lot of credence, particularly in the coaching community, as this 2019 article about Georgia football suggests:

On the first day of spring practice, Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he wanted to improve the team’s havoc rate. The term has been tossed around for months now by players and coaches in Athens…

Havoc rate comes from the total number of tackles for loss, passes defensed (interceptions and breakups) and forced fumbles divided by the total number of plays.

“We feel that we should have 20 percent of the plays, two of every 10 should be a ball disruption, a turnover, a PBU, a tackle for a loss, so we’re charting that,” Smart said this spring…

…Smart said Georgia studied the top 10 teams in havoc rate….“We’re trying to do some of the things they do and we’re trying to put guys in position to do that,” Smart said…

…Safety J.R. Reed said the first of two preseason scrimmages produced the most forced turnovers in the last two years.

That came after a spring in which a player a day was asked to stand up and give a definition of havoc in the defensive team meeting room.

“Everybody in that room, from the highest SAT/ACT to the lowest has got to stand up and give us what havoc rate is,” Smart said. “If they understand what it is, they know we’re trying to cause it.”

Basically, this stat is about how often a defense creates disruptive and/or negative plays. The national average for havoc rate tends to be around 16%, while the top teams in the category will exceed 20%.

In eight league games this spring, The Citadel had a defensive havoc rate of 14.38%. How did that compare in the SoCon? I’m glad you asked. Here is each conference team’s rate (league games only):

  • East Tennessee State: 17.21%
  • Chattanooga: 16.60%
  • Furman: 15.91%
  • VMI: 15.89%
  • Mercer: 15.01%
  • Samford: 14.86%
  • The Citadel: 14.38%
  • Wofford: 11.93%
  • Western Carolina: 8.89%

Keep in mind the disparity in games played this spring. Chattanooga only played four contests, while Wofford suited up for five. Western Carolina and ETSU played six; Furman, VMI, and Samford played seven; and The Citadel and Mercer each completed the full slate of conference matchups, with eight.

UTC’s defensive havoc rate would have been 19.67% if you took out the results from its game versus Mercer, when the Mocs fielded what amounted to a “B” team. On the other hand, that number would have been for just three games anyway; we’re talking about a lot of statistical variance in this instance.

Last season, Pittsburgh led all FBS teams in defensive havoc rate at 22.75%, just ahead of Clemson. Other squads with rates greater than 20%: Utah, San Diego State, Notre Dame, and TCU. Colorado and Oklahoma just missed hitting that mark.

One thing I’ll try to do in this series is list (when applicable) the category statistics for other teams of interest in FBS, with a particular focus on those which will be facing SoCon opposition this fall. Each league team will play one FBS foe in 2021.

I’ve already mentioned Oklahoma, the FBS opponent for Western Carolina this year (good luck, Kerwin Bell). The Sooners had a defensive havoc rate of 19.78%, which was 8th-best in FBS. Others of note:

  • Army, 18.76%, 19th nationally (9-3 last season, with two wins over SoCon squads)
  • Alabama, 18.59%, 20th (SoCon opponent in 2021: Mercer)
  • North Carolina State, 17.71%, 32nd (SoCon opponent in 2021: Furman)
  • Coastal Carolina, 17.53%, 36th (SoCon opponent in 2021: The Citadel)
  • Kent State, 17.24%, 43rd (SoCon opponent in 2021: VMI)
  • Florida, 15.58%, 71st (SoCon opponent in 2021: Samford)
  • North Carolina, 15.08%, 79th (SoCon opponent in 2021: Wofford)
  • Kentucky, 13.35%, 102nd (SoCon opponent in 2021: Chattanooga)
  • Navy, 12.89%, 108th (3-7 last season)
  • Vanderbilt, 11.44%, 118th (SoCon opponent in 2021: ETSU)
  • South Carolina, 10.90%, 125th (2-8 last season)
  • Air Force, 9.44%, 126th (3-3 last season)
  • Akron, 7.95%, 127th and last (1-5 last season)

From The Citadel’s perspective, I think a reasonable goal in 2021 would be to increase its defensive havoc rate to at least 16%. That might not sound like a major step forward from 14.38%, but if the Bulldogs were to have a DHR of 16%, it would be an increase of almost exactly one more disruptive/negative play per game.

That one play — a forced fumble, a big tackle for loss, an interception — could well be the difference between a win or a loss. After all, just think about how many close games The Citadel has played in the conference in recent years.

One specific area of potential improvement for The Citadel in this regard could be sack rate. The Bulldogs had a defensive sack rate of 4.17%, which if applied to FBS statistics would have ranked in the bottom 15% nationally (with the same percentage as that of Michigan).

It is also possible to calculate Havoc Rate Against (as I call it), or how disrupted offenses are by negative plays. I don’t have FBS numbers for this (finding forced fumble and TFL stats for offenses can be difficult), but I did put together a chart for SoCon spring play, similar to the one for the defenses. Here is the HRA breakdown for league games in 2021 (remember, the lower the percentage in this category, the better):

  • VMI: 11.17%
  • The Citadel: 11.67%
  • Chattanooga: 14.29%
  • Western Carolina: 14.71%
  • Wofford: 15.12%
  • Samford 15.54%
  • Mercer: 15.79%
  • ETSU: 16.28%
  • Furman: 16.36%

While the Bulldogs are second in this grouping, I tend to believe that 11.67% is not necessarily an outstanding outcome, given the nature of the triple option attack.

For example, a tackle for loss should be an unusual outcome for a play in The Citadel’s offense. However, the Bulldogs suffered a larger-than-expected number of tackles for loss in spring 2021, almost entirely due to an abysmal sack percentage against (17.07%).

This can be attributed in large part to the fact that most of The Citadel’s pass plays occurred when the Bulldogs were trailing (64.3% of the sacks came in the 4th quarter).

Another team that had issues with negative plays on offense was Furman. If not for a completely dominant performance in its opener versus Western Carolina, FU’s havoc rate against would have been even higher; if you take out the Paladins’ numbers against WCU, their HRA jumps to 18.84%.

Of course, that game still counted. Removing it from the remaining six games Furman played tends to unfairly skew things in the opposite direction.

Conversely, 11.17% is surely a very impressive result for VMI’s pass-happy offense. 

Incidentally, the league average for havoc rate (which obviously applies both defensively and offensively) was 14.42%. The median was slightly above 15% on both sides of the ball.

In my next post, I’ll discuss another statistical category, one that can dovetail with havoc rate.

Sometimes they are referred to as long gainers, but here at The Sports Arsenal, we call them BIG PLAYS.

You’ve been warned…

Football attendance at The Citadel: the annual review (for 2020, spring 2021…whatever, both)

Obviously, this is not going to be a “traditional” attendance post, given what last year (and earlier this year) was like. However, for the sake of completeness, we march on.

The updated spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2020

One of the things that crossed my mind reviewing the attendance figures for F20/S21: was there a typo involved?

The listed attendance for the game versus ETSU was 2642, a little less than the other games. There was probably a reason for not having the maximum attendance allowed; at any rate, not a big deal. The other four games, though, had attendance as follows:

  • Eastern Kentucky: 3081
  • Chattanooga: 3108
  • Samford: 3081
  • Furman: 3081

One of those is not like the others…

The Citadel’s average attendance of 2,999 was “good” enough for a 23rd-place finish among all FCS programs that competed in F20/S21 (per the NCAA). Among SoCon schools, the Bulldogs were second overall.

1 – Mercer (3,234) – 5 home games
2 – The Citadel (2,999) – 5 home games
3 – East Tennessee State (2,240) – 3 home games
4 – Furman (2,066) – 3 home games
5 – Chattanooga (1,572) – 2 home games
6 – VMI (1,417) – 3 home games
7 – Samford (1,203) – 3 home games
8 – Western Carolina (1,128) – 2 home games
9 – Wofford (1,115) – 3 home games

One word of caution about those numbers: I know this will come as a shock, but the NCAA is not infallible.

For example, Charleston Southern is credited with an average home attendance of 750, based on one game (the Buccaneers actually played two home contests this spring, drawing an announced 750 fans for one of them and 1,000 for the other). The NCAA’s statistics site also lists Buccaneer Field as having a capacity of 500. Hmm.

The NCAA also catalogued Bryant as having an average attendance of 47, which was such a bizarre figure I went back and looked at Bryant’s boxscores. In fact, Rhode Island’s Bulldogs averaged 238 fans per home game (two contests). Admittedly, the March 28 home finale against Duquesne was played before only 75 hardy supporters, but that matchup occurred during a heavy rain — and the Dukes probably weren’t a big draw anyway.

Comparing the F20/S21 numbers to previous years is pointless, so I’ll just copy/paste the nine-year “first two games” section from prior seasons, to set up the next section:

  • 2011 [4-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012 [7-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2014 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2015 [9-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,356; final two home games, average attendance of 12,465 (including Homecoming)
  • 2016 [10-2 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,299; final two home games, average attendance of 13,996 (including Homecoming)
  • 2017 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,718; final two home games, average attendance of 9,496 (including Homecoming)
  • 2018 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,559; final two home games, average attendance of 9,511 (including Homecoming and a rescheduled game)
  • 2019 [6-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,817; final two home games, average attendance of 9,141 (including Homecoming)

Based on recent history, and the general population gradually moving into the “new normal” of the post-pandemic era, what would we expect attendance to be like at Johnson Hagood Stadium this fall?

No home game times have been set as yet. There will be six contests at JHS:

  • September 11: Charleston Southern (Military Appreciation Day)
  • September 18: North Greenville
  • October 2: VMI (Parents’ Weekend)
  • October 23: Western Carolina
  • October 30: Mercer (Hall of Fame Weekend)
  • November 13: Wofford (Homecoming)

The original schedule had just five games, but The Citadel’s trip to Orangeburg to play South Carolina State was pushed back to a future year, as Buddy Pough’s Bulldogs got a “money game” at New Mexico State this fall that understandably took priority. That ultimately led to a sixth home game, with North Greenville as the new opponent for The Citadel.

While the home opener is listed as Military Appreciation Day, arguably a more important point in terms of potential attendance is that September 10-12 is the “replacement weekend” for the classes that were unable to hold their Homecoming reunions last year. A lot of people could be in town for that game.

I’m very curious to see what college football game attendance will be like throughout the country this season. I suspect that, at least initially, there will be big crowds at the P5 level (Clemson, South Carolina, etc.). Fans will be excited to go to sporting events for the first time in well over a year.

However, one other thing that happened during the pandemic: a lot of folks watched their teams play all their games on TV. I’m guessing many of them really enjoyed that experience. It could be that after the first game or two of this season, there will be people who decide staying at home is considerably more convenient, and that actually attending the games is not worth the expense (and the time commitment).

I don’t think that mindset will have a significant effect on schools like The Citadel. It is more likely to have an impact on programs trying to sell tickets to fans in the upper decks of large stadiums.

It is a potential trend worth watching, however.

I’m ready to return to Johnson Hagood Stadium. I’m sure many other fans are as well.

Getting closer…

The Citadel’s 2021 spring football season: a statistical review

Well, it is July, which is the last full month without any college football this year. That means gridiron activity is right around the corner.

After the last year and a half, a semi-normal fall college football season will be a wonder to behold. Of course, COVID-19 is still out there and remains an issue. The arrival of what I’ll call “NIL Fever” is also likely to be something worth watching in terms of producing unforeseen developments across the NCAA landscape.

As for this blog, there will be adjustments. After about a decade of weekly game previews, I’ve decided to change things up a bit. Part of the reason for that is due to time constraints. However, I also felt like things were starting to get a little stale in terms of what I wrote and how I wrote it.

I’ll probably be making shorter posts throughout the college football season. There won’t be a weekly game preview per se. I might also post about the college sports scene as a whole from time to time. It will be a variety pack of a blog, perhaps with more total posts than before, just not as individually lengthy. At least, that is my hope.

Also, WordPress threw me a curveball and I am now stuck with editing software that I do not like. There is still a chance I switch to another media format in the near future.

The main purpose of this specific post is to introduce a spreadsheet that incorporates statistics from the 2021 spring football season. You can access the spreadsheet at this link:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

Almost anything anyone ever wanted to know from a statistical perspective about the Bulldogs’ 2021 spring gridiron campaign is included in that spreadsheet. Also included are many, many things no one ever wanted to know…

There are seven tabs. A quick overview of each:

General Info: This is exactly what it sounds like. It includes (for each of The Citadel’s SoCon contests) time of game, officiating assignments, attendance, and weather at kickoff. It also has the ever-fascinating coin toss data.

VMI did not include the weather conditions in its game summary, thus the “not recorded” entries for that game in those categories. I considered just listing the weather as “miserable”, based on historical precedent, but decided to let it go.

Readers will notice the Bulldogs were very good at winning the coin toss. The Citadel did not always defer, which is my preferred maneuver when it comes to the choice, but some thought does appear to have been put into the decision on a game-by-game basis. I’m good with that.

Run-Pass by down: The Citadel’s run-pass breakdown for the league games is listed by down and distance (there is an explanation of the categories at the bottom of the sheet). I’ve also listed the breakdown for the opponents, to show what the Bulldogs’ defense faced.

In a column on the far right, there is an average for each category based on run percentage — for example, on 3rd-and-long the Bulldogs ran 70.15% of the time, while their opponents rushed the football on 28.07% of 3rd-and-long plays.

I plan on making a post in a couple of weeks that will discuss some aspects of The Citadel’s run-pass ratio in further detail; it will be more along the lines of game theory/philosophy.

Offensive statistics: I would like to think that every significant and semi-significant category has been included. A few notes:

  • I consider sacks (and sack yardage) to be part of a team’s passing statistics, and calculate rushing/passing numbers accordingly. That is why you will see categories like “adjusted rush yards” and “adjusted yards/pass attempt”. The numbers are not the same as what appears in the official game summaries, but I believe them to be a more accurate reflection of how the games were played. This also means that pass plays include both actual attempts and sacks.
  • I also have some less-than-standard categories on the sheet, including average yards gained on first down and yards to go on 3rd down. I think those are important numbers when evaluating a team’s success moving the football.
  • This year I have added a special group of categories related to 4th quarter passing. I wanted to examine the difference for The Citadel’s offense in passing when in “desperation” mode, versus passing on regular (non-passing) downs earlier in the game.

Defensive statistics: These are the same exact categories as are listed for offense. I’ll mention here that some of those categories include trendy stats like “havoc rate” and “fumble luck”.

There are also categories for big plays allowed (my definition of a “big play” is 20+ yards, running or passing) and QB hurries (although I think that particular statistic is unevenly applied throughout the conference).

Red Zone numbers, 3rd- and 4th-down conversion rates, passes defensed — it is all there.

Fourth-down decisions: Ah, one of my personal favorite talking points. All fourth-down decisions in the eight games are listed, both for The Citadel and its opponents.

This tab includes some (really lame) color coding, and an alphabetical system that will probably annoy a few people. In my defense, I have never figured out a cleaner method for denoting a fourth-down decision.

Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page to get an explanation for both the zones and the A-B-C-etc. descriptions. This year, I’ve recorded the decisions by quarter as well as by zone.

Short-yardage conversion rate: This is something I haven’t catalogued before. I’ve broken down the numbers for The Citadel (and its opponents) for 3rd- and 4th-down plays of four yards or less. I have also noted the times on 4th down when the Bulldogs or their opponents did not go for it in a short-yardage situation.

Yes, your initial reading was correct: Brent Thompson went for it on 4th-and-1 every single time last spring. He went for it on 4th-and-2 every single time last spring. On 4th-and-3, he went for it every time but once.

One reason that is notable is because The Citadel had a lot of 4th-and-short plays last season. Regardless of where the Bulldogs were on the field, though, they were going for it.

Miscellaneous: This is basically a bunch of other stats that aren’t necessarily offense/defense specific. Time of possession, points per quarter, penalty yardage, net punting/kickoffs, things like that.

Some other statistics mentioned in this tab: average starting field position, three-and-out rate, scoring rate, and seconds per offensive play.

A quick observation: when putting together the spreadsheet, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall accuracy of the game summaries for the 2021 spring season. I was afraid there might be a lot of input errors given how stressed the staffs for each school must have been at the time, but those mistakes turned out to be minimal. I joked earlier about VMI not including weather information, but that was definitely an exception to the rule.

Sure, there were blips. A punt entered as a kickoff here, an absence of tackle-for-loss yardage data there. Still, nothing major, and all fixable. Credit must be given to the athletic media relations folks throughout the Southern Conference.

I tried to make the spreadsheet easily understandable, but I realize some of the categories are not intuitive. If anyone has any questions (or corrections!), feel free to ask me here or on Twitter @SandlapperSpike. I am probably more likely to see questions/feedback faster on Twitter, to be honest. Comments are welcome as well.

We’re getting closer to football season. Just not close enough.

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!

2021 Spring Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on March 27, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Dave Weinstein will handle play-by-play, while Jason Kempf 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 preview in The Post and Courier

Darique Hampton gets his shot

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Samford’s website

– The Chris Hatcher Show

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

– “Live Stats” online platform

In this section, I establish the traditional ground rules for writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”. The SoCon did not require Samford to change its nickname in order to gain entry into the league, a ridiculous oversight.

Regardless, for the purposes of this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. The reason: I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

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

I’m going to mostly copy/paste something I previously wrote about Samford’s history in the next couple of sections. (If you had the week I’ve had, you would be looking for shortcuts, too.)

For those of you reading this who are somehow unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers/Bears, here is a quick review (the site I took this blurb from is currently offline):

The Howard College [later to be renamed Samford] team was known originally as the “Baptist Tigers”. However, rival Auburn also had “Tigers” as a nickname. Howard’s teams went by “Baptist Bears” until Dec. 14, 1916, when the student body voted two-to-one for the “Crimson Bulldog” over the “Baptist Bears”. Students decided that a bulldog could eat more Birmingham-Southern Panther meat than a bear could.

I really don’t understand why the students thought bears wouldn’t eat as much meat as bulldogs. Were Alabama’s bears back then strict vegetarians? Could it be that bears from all regions were not as physically imposing then as they are now? That would put a different slant on Paul “Bear” Bryant’s nickname, wouldn’t it?

We’ll never know. The mysteries of early-20th century university life remain largely unsolved.

Birmingham-Southern, by the way, is a Division III school (which was very briefly in NCAA Division I about 15 years ago) and a former rival of Samford. The two schools played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, on November 19, 1927. Samford (then Howard) won, 9-0.

While Legion Field was obviously close to home, in those days the Samford football program liked to travel. During the 1920s, SU played Duquesne in Pittsburgh (at Forbes Field) and North Dakota (in Grand Forks). There were even out-of-country junkets to Cuba (playing the Havana National University). Later, Samford played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico (in 1954 and 1963).

For you legal nerds out there: Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961. That doesn’t happen very often; in fact, in terms of moving a law school across state lines, I’m not sure it has ever happened anywhere else.

I am aware of only two other law schools that shifted to different universities (both in-state) — the University of Puget Sound School of Law, which is now part of Seattle University; and the law school at the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, which is now affiliated with Quinnipiac University.

I’m sure Quinnipiac polled the surrounding area for its opinion before acquiring the law school.

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and Samford above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools playing (Furman is off this week):

Participation report:

The Citadel had 41 players see action in the game versus East Tennessee State, an increase of six from the previous week. The Buccaneers had 46 participants.

Breaking down the Bulldogs’ numbers a little further: nine players had rushes/receptions, while 18 players recorded tackles.

Samford used 58 players last week against VMI (with 47 Keydets seeing the field).

Updated career points scored by Bulldogs on the active spring roster:

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for its matchup with Samford, by class:

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt freshmen: 8
  • Sophomores: 3
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 11
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 1
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 1

There were a few alterations to the depth chart from last week, though for the most part it remained unchanged.

Here is a breakdown of Samford’s projected depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 11
  • Sophomores: 14
  • Juniors: 9
  • Seniors: 7
  • Graduate students: 9

SU does not identify players by redshirt status, so these numbers reflect eligibility more so than age or high school entry class. The graduate student classification includes mostly players who have played at Samford, graduated from that school, and retained at least one year of eligibility; the exception on the two-deep in this respect is defensive lineman Seth Simmer, a graduate transfer from Dartmouth.

It is perhaps a touch inconsistent to list graduate students and seniors separately without also listing redshirt status for other classes, but that is a very small point.

Samford does supplement its roster with transfers from other four-year schools (there are also two players who are products of junior colleges). The four-year schools represented on the Birmingham Bulldogs’ squad via transfer include Army, Ball State, Dartmouth, Jacksonville State, Kent State, Morehead State, North Carolina State, Sioux Falls, Southern Mississippi, South Florida, TCU, Texas Tech, and Vanderbilt.

SU is 2-3 so far this spring (the Crimson Bulldogs did not compete in the fall). The running theme for Samford has been taking a lead, then trying to hang on for the victory. It has not been entirely successful in doing that:

  • Samford jumped out to a 14-0 lead at ETSU and led 17-14 entering the 4th quarter, but the Bucs scored 10 points in the final period and won 24-17.
  • SU was ahead 41-27 after three quarters against Western Carolina, and then added two more touchdowns for a 55-27 victory.
  • The Birmingham Bulldogs led Furman 24-7 after the 1st quarter, and were still ahead 37-23 early in the 4th, but the Paladins tied the game on a 73-yard TD pass with 2:59 to play and eventually won 44-37 in OT.
  • Samford turned the tables on Wofford, coming back from an early 10-point deficit to outlast the Terriers 37-31.
  • Last week, Samford led VMI 30-17 with less than six minutes to play, but allowed two late TDs and lost in overtime, 38-37.

Not-so-random stat: Samford is the only team to return a punt for a touchdown in league play so far in 2021. Montrell Washington (who also starts at wide receiver for the Baptist Bears) took a punt 55 yards to the house against Furman.

SU also ranks second in the league in average kickoff return yardage.

(All statistics below are sack-adjusted and are for spring games only.)

Offensively, Samford is passing on 56.2% of its plays from scrimmage, averaging 7.31 yards per attempt, with 9 TDs against 6 interceptions. That yards per attempt is second-best in the SoCon (Chattanooga leads in the category). The Citadel’s defense is allowing 8.10 yards per attempt, worst in the league.

SU is averaging 4.79 yards per rush, third-best in the conference (trailing Wofford and Western Carolina). The Bulldogs’ defense is allowing 4.60 yards per rush, sixth-best in the SoCon.

Defensively, the Baptist Tigers allow 6.41 yards per pass attempt, which ranks fourth-best in the league. It should be noted that the three teams in front of Samford in that category have all played The Citadel, which offensively has the worst yards/pass attempt in the conference (3.46).

SU’s defense allows 4.83 yards per rush, third-worst in the SoCon (ahead of Mercer and Western Carolina). The Citadel’s offense is fifth in the league in yards per rush (4.29).

The Citadel has run the football on 81.7% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Samford’s offensive third down conversion rate is 39.0%, sixth-best in the SoCon. The Citadel’s defensive third down conversion rate is 33.3%, second-best in the league (Furman leads in that category).

SU is third in the conference in defensive third down conversion rate (34.1%), while The Citadel’s offensive is converting third downs at a 46.3% clip (second-best in the league).

The Citadel is the league’s most-penalized team, and its opponents are penalized more than any other league team’s opponents — which is to say that officials like throwing yellow flags around when the Bulldogs are on the field.

Samford, conversely, is a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of its own penalties, and draws fewer opponents’ flags than any other SoCon squad.

The Citadel leads the league in time of possession (no surprise), while SU is actually not last in time of possession (big surprise). The Crimson Bulldogs are seventh.

SU is second in the SoCon in turnover margin (+2), while The Citadel is tied for last (-3).

Samford has an offensive Red Zone TD rate of 50.0%, tied for the worst in the league. The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone TD rate is 70.0%, tied for sixth in the conference.

The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone TD rate is 78.6%, third-best in the SoCon. SU’s defensive Red Zone TD rate of 65.0% ranks fifth in the league.

In general, when it comes to the Red Zone, Samford has settled for too many field goal attempts this season — but so have its opponents.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, and a high of 80°.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Samford (as of March 24) is a 10½-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 61½.

Other SoCon lines this week (as of March 24): VMI is a 4-point favorite at Wofford (over/under of 44½); Chattanooga is a 7½-point favorite over Mercer (over/under of 44½); and East Tennessee State is a 14½-point favorite over Western Carolina (over/under of 44).

A few more games of note in FCS: San Diego is a 17½-point favorite at Presbyterian; Davidson is a 7½-point favorite over Morehead State; Charleston Southern is a 3-point favorite at Monmouth; James Madison is a 17½-point favorite at William and Mary; Drake is a 15½-point favorite at Stetson; North Dakota State is a 21½-point favorite at South Dakota; Richmond is an 11-point favorite over Elon; Northern Iowa is a 4-point favorite at Western Illinois; and Jacksonville State is a 10-point favorite over Austin Peay (with that game one of seven FCS contests being played on Sunday).

– Samford’s notable alumni include actor Tony Hale (of Veep and Arrested Development fame), opera singer Elizabeth Futral, and longtime college football coach Bobby Bowden.

Two quotes from Bobby Bowden:

On his defense and its tendency to hit quarterbacks late: “We just hit until the echo [of the whistle] instead of the whistle.”

On why he didn’t suspend placekicker Sebastian Janikowski from the national title game (in the Sugar Bowl) when it was discovered that Janikowski had stayed out all night in New Orleans: “Well, he’s from Poland and he falls under the ‘International Rules’.”

– The Citadel is 7-6 in the all-time series against Samford. The Cadets have won three of the last four games played in Charleston.

– The Crimson Bulldogs’ 111-man roster includes 32 players from Alabama. Other states represented: Georgia (31 players), Florida (12), Tennessee (11), Mississippi (6), North Carolina (3), Arkansas (2), Indiana (2), Louisiana (2), Ohio (2), South Carolina (2), Texas (2), and one each from California, Missouri, New York, and Virginia.

SU’s punter, Bradley Porcellato, is from Melbourne, Australia.

– The two Palmetto State products on the Baptist Tigers’ squad are freshman placekicker Henry Bishop (who went to Spartanburg High School) and graduate transfer defensive lineman Connor Koch, a TCU alumnus who played high school football for Woodberry Forest in Virginia. Koch’s hometown is listed as Charleston, S.C.

Alas, no Samford player can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s fabled football fortress, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The failure of the Baptist Bears to recruit anyone who has worn the famed maroon and orange is a symbol of SU’s impending dissolution as a gridiron concern. The future of pigskin does not look bright in Birmingham, or in its surrounding suburbs.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on March 27. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 22-1 (5-0 in the SoCon). On March 21, The Citadel won its second straight game against LeMoyne, 5-2. Brad Stowell got the win, while Gettys Glaze picked up the save. The decisive blow came in the sixth inning, when Jason Rychlick hit his first career home run, a two-run shot. Rychlick had been inserted into the game as a defensive replacement; he had earlier that week spent time in the infirmary, suffering from the flu.

The Citadel then hosted Furman for a three-game series at College Park. On Saturday, March 24, the Bulldogs swept a doubleheader from the Paladins, 3-1 and 3-0. Both were complete-game victories on the hill, pitched by Ken Britt and Richard Shirer respectively. Shirer allowed just two hits en route to his shutout. The first game featured a two-hit, two-RBI effort from Chris Coker, including a bases-loaded double.

With the two wins, the Bulldogs established a new school record for consecutive victories.

The next day, The Citadel completed the series sweep with a 3-2 win. Billy Baker garnered the decision with 7 1/3 strong innings, striking out 10. Glaze finished the game to earn the save. Anthony Jenkins homered, and Tony Skole scored on a double by Rychlick. The other Bulldog run was scored by Dan McDonnell after a wild pitch.

On March 26, The Citadel defeated Kent State 13-3 for its 26th straight victory. It would prove to be the last win in the streak. The game was tied in the bottom of the seventh, when the Bulldogs erupted for eight runs, highlighted by a Jenkins grand slam. Stowell was the winning pitcher. Chris Lemonis started at DH and went 1 for 3, picking up one of his two hits that season.

The next day, the Bulldogs lost to Kent State, 2-1, ending the longest winning streak (26 games) in school history.

The Citadel was 5-1 during the week ending March 27. The overall record stood at 27-2 (8-0 SoCon).

I don’t really have much else to say. The Citadel has been snakebit this season, but it has at times earned those wounds.

This week presents yet another challenge, with the strong possibility of a new starting quarterback. Darique Hampton looked solid in his appearance against ETSU, which should make fans of the Bulldogs feel a little better about things.

The Citadel must make Samford earn its points. The defense cannot allow the soul-crushing big plays that have come all too often this season.

On the other hand, the offense needs a few long gainers of its own. I know I constantly focus on the Bulldogs’ lack of big plays on offense, but that is because the topic is important. The Citadel is not consistently putting the ball in the end zone on its longer drives, which makes getting yards in bunches even more necessary.

I’m ready for a victory. We all are.

2021 Spring Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on March 20, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Dave Weinstein will handle play-by-play, while Jason Kempf 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:

– Bulldogs looking for good news

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on ETSU’s website

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders’ 3/15 press conference

Stump Mitchell: From too small to play college football to NFL assistant

ETSU’s Holmes not taking The Citadel lightly

– Fast start is key for the Buccaneers

Saturday’s game gives ETSU “exciting chance to snap [its] road skid”

– “Live Stats” online platform

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and East Tennessee State above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools playing (Wofford is off this week):

The Citadel’s volleyball team beat ETSU for the first time ever!

Could this be foreshadowing for the football game on Saturday? We can only hope.

In other non-gridiron news, Hayden Brown is returning to the hardwood for the Bulldogs.

Participation report:

The Citadel had 35 players see action in the game versus Western Carolina. The Catamounts had 56 participants.

Breaking down the Bulldogs’ numbers a little further: just five players had rushes/receptions, while only 12 players recorded tackles.

ETSU used 47 players last week against Furman.

Updated career points scored by Bulldogs on the active spring roster:

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for its matchup with ETSU, by class.

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt freshmen: 9
  • Sophomores: 3
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 10
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 1
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

There were several changes to the two-deep from last week. This week’s depth chart accounts for a couple of absences that were previously known. I was glad to see a two-deep that appears to be more accurate.

Here is a breakdown of East Tennessee State’s projected depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 8
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 14
  • Sophomores: 6
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 7
  • Redshirt juniors: 3
  • Seniors: 3
  • Redshirt seniors: 2
  • Graduate students: 1

East Tennessee State is 1-1 in the spring after not playing in the fall. The Bucs defeated Samford, 24-17, in their opener. Last week, they lost 17-13 to Furman. Both games were played in Johnson City, but they weren’t back-to-back affairs. The game versus Samford was followed by two open weeks, with one of those a scheduled bye and the other resulting from the Bucs’ contest against Wofford being canceled.

(All statistics below are sack-adjusted.)

ETSU has passed (or attempted to pass) on 56.3% of its offensive plays. The Bucs are averaging 4.5 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt (1 pass TD, 1 interception).

The Bucs have an offensive third down conversion rate of 37.9%. East Tennessee State is 0-2 on 4th down attempts, with one of those tries in a desperation situation against Furman, and the other just outside the red zone against Samford (on a 4th-and-5). Another would-be fourth down attempt was converted via penalty (in a situation where the Bucs eschewed a long field goal attempt).

ETSU has nine offensive plays of 20+ yards from scrimmage in its first two games, three runs and six passes. Its longest rush has been 22 yards, while the longest pass play was 59 yards.

Defensively, East Tennessee State is allowing 5.0 yards per rush and 3.6 yards per pass attempt (with 8 sacks and 3 interceptions on 86 opponent passing plays, giving up just one passing touchdown).

ETSU has a defensive third down conversion rate of 35.5%. Opponents are 2-3 on 4th down tries, with Samford converting two 4th-and-1 plays (both via rush), while Furman failed to score on a 4th-and-goal from the Bucs’ 1-yard line (also a running play).

Through two games, the Buccaneers have allowed opponents to convert just 2 of 15 third down attempts in the second half. Samford only scored 3 second-half points versus ETSU.

However, Furman put all 17 points of its points on the board in the third quarter, scoring TDs in its first two possessions in that quarter. On those two drives, the Paladins only faced one third down.

ETSU has allowed six plays of 20+ yards, two runs (long of 35 yards) and four passes (with a long of 27 yards).

East Tennessee State’s net punting average is an excellent 42.6 yards. ETSU has made all five of its PATs and all three of its field goal attempts (with a long of 38 yards).

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders on the Buccaneers playing their first road game of the spring:

It’s our first road game so this is a new experience for the 40-45 guys that are on the buses headed to Charleston. This will be a different experience as well. The one thing right now with COVID is that you don’t have to deal with quite as much of the noise or hostility like you would in a normal season.

Another takeaway from Sanders’ press conference: he was not particularly pleased with the officiating in last week’s game versus Furman. This was in part detailed in an article written prior to his Monday presser:

One penalty in particular seemed to draw Sanders’ ire. ETSU quarterback Tyler Riddell threw a pass away to avoid the rush and was called for intentional grounding. The ball flew high over the head of his “intended” receiver and out of bounds.

“I’ve never seen an intentional grounding penalty go right over the top of two receivers,” Sanders said. “But I’ve learned something. I’d never won a game in February and I’ve done that. Now I’ve seen an intentional grounding penalty go right over the top of two receivers. The official said they had no chance to catch it and I’m like ‘Well, no kidding. There’s a reason he’s throwing it away.'”

Sanders stated that the league office had yet to respond to some questions he had about a few of those calls by the men in stripes.

Ah, SoCon officiating. Some things, unfortunately, never change.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, and a high of 54°. It could be a bit windy on the peninsula as well.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, East Tennessee State (as of March 16) in an 8½-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 39½.

Other SoCon lines this week (as of March 16): Furman is a 5½-point favorite over Chattanooga (over/under of 36½); Samford is a 5½-point favorite over VMI (over/under of 63½); and Mercer is an 8-point favorite over Western Carolina (over/under of 51).

A few more games of note in FCS: Davidson is a 5-point favorite over Presbyterian; Kennesaw State is a 19-point favorite over Dixie State; North Dakota State is a 3½-point favorite over North Dakota; Lafayette is an 8-point favorite at Bucknell; William and Mary is a 1½-point favorite over Elon; Sam Houston State is a 28½-point favorite at Lamar; and Jacksonville State is an 8½-point favorite over Southeast Missouri State (one of seven FCS contests being played on Sunday).

– East Tennessee State’s notable alumni include singer/bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, actor/director Timothy Busfield, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales.

As I have written several times before, Bales has had one of the world’s best jobs over the years, as he has enjoyed the privilege of listening to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis.

– The Citadel is 12-16 in the all-time series against ETSU. The Bulldogs have won three of the last four gridiron meetings between the two schools.

– East Tennessee State’s roster includes 40 players from Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (25 players), Florida (8), North Carolina (6), Ohio (5), South Carolina (3), Virginia (3), Alabama (2), and one each from California, Kentucky, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

– The three Palmetto State products on ETSU’s squad are freshman defensive back Tylik Edwards (Rock Hill High School); redshirt sophomore running back D.J. Twitty (Chapman High School); and freshman linebacker Colby Smith (who started his college career at Erskine and is listed on the Bucs’ roster as being from Rock Hill, but who played high school football in Charlotte).

Alas, no Buccaneer can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s supreme expression of pigskin greatness, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. East Tennessee State’s abysmal failure to recruit any players who have worn the famed orange and white will forever limit the program’s ability to compete for national titles. Donnie Abraham has thrown up his hands in frustration.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on March 20. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 16-1 (3-0 in the SoCon). On March 14, the Bulldogs outlasted Mt. Olive 9-7. The Citadel scored six runs in the second inning, thanks in large part to three errors by the Trojans’ catcher. Base hits by Dan McDonnell and Phillip Tobin keyed the rally. The winner pitcher was Steve Basch, with Hank Kraft picking up a save by inducing a double play in the ninth to end the game.

The next day, the Bulldogs beat Belmont Abbey 7-3. Tony Skole had two hits and an RBI, while Anthony Jenkins added a double and two runs driven in. Gettys Glaze had three hits (including two doubles) in the contest. Bart Mays was the winner in relief, after Robbie Kirven had started the game for The Citadel.

In an article in The News and Courier that accompanied the box score, head coach Chal Port stated that he wasn’t worried about his players feeling burdened by the long winning streak. “This team is just playing for the fun of it. They’re not playing for streaks or rankings. We’re just swinging hard in case we hit it.”

Port also told the writer, a relative newcomer to the Bulldogs beat named Jeff Hartsell, that “our hat size is still the same.”

The Citadel next played a SoCon series against Appalachian State that was shortened to two games after a rainout. The Bulldogs swept a doubleheader from the Mountaineers.

In the first game, a six-run eighth inning (which was actually an extra inning, as the two games were scheduled for seven innings) paved the way for a 10-5 victory. Kraft picked up the win with 2 1/3 innings of relief work. Jenkins had three hits, including a double and a homer, and drove in three runs. Chris Coker, Mike Branham, and Mike Black each had two RBI.

The Bulldogs scored five runs in the second inning of the second game, and held on for a 5-2 win. Richard Shirer garnered the victory, with Glaze recording the save. The Citadel’s run-scorers were McDonnell, Coker, Tobin, Jason Rychlick, and Larry Hutto.

The following day, The Citadel defeated Howard 14-4. Basch got the win, with Hal Hayden and Kevin McGarvey also seeing action on the hill. The Bulldogs had four doubles (Skole, Jenkins, Branham, McDonnell) and five stolen bases (Skole, Jenkins, Branham, Coker, Hutto). Eight different Cadets crossed the plate safely at least once.

There were more fireworks against LeMoyne the next afternoon, and The Citadel needed all the runs it could muster to prevail, 16-11. Billy Baker managed to get through 7 difficult innings on the mound for the win; he also homered and doubled.

Eight different Bulldogs had multi-hit games; Jenkins joined Baker in the home run/double combo department, while Coker had a double, a triple, and a stolen base. Branham and Black also doubled for The Citadel, with Glaze adding a triple to the box score. McDonnell stole three bases and joined Coker in the three-runs-scored club.

The Citadel was 6-0 during the week ending March 20, with a winning streak of 21 games. The overall record stood at 22-1 (5-0 SoCon).

I decided to wait until the end of this post to write about last week’s game. It was a very disappointing performance, one of the worst losses in league play the Bulldogs have had in some time (regardless of time of year).

The defense held Western Carolina out of the end zone in the second half, but the damage had already been done. First, The Citadel allowed yet another quick score by an opponent (this one took three plays instead of one, but that didn’t make anybody feel better).

Then there was the long TD run the Bulldogs gave up at the end of the half. That was both deflating and (as it turned out) decisive.

The Catamounts had averaged only 3.83 yards per rush in their previous three games. Against The Citadel, however, WCU rushed for 7.45 yards per carry.

Offensively, the Bulldogs managed to move the ball without scoring. The mishaps included a red zone failure inside the 10, a missed field goal, and a lost fumble after a 52-yard drive.

The Citadel had nine full possessions during the game. Four of those drives totaled 50 plays — but resulted in zero points. That is not going to get it done.

Part of the problem was the absence of big plays on offense, a recurring issue. The Bulldogs only had two plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more, both rushes by Jaylan Adams — one for 21 yards, and the other his 20-yard TD in the third quarter.

Brent Thompson:

We brought a lot of this on ourselves. We’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves. Things happen for a reason, and we’ll keep pressing through this.

One of the obvious problems can be seen in the participation chart. I think it is fair to say that a Division I football team should really be fielding more than 35 players in a competitive game. That is where The Citadel is right now, though, and the squad just has to persevere.

At least there isn’t any whining about it. That would be even more unacceptable than losing.

The Bulldogs will continue to show up (COVID-19 notwithstanding). They will learn from adversity, and they will get even tougher, and they will improve.

Ultimately, though, they’re playing to win, which is what makes all the effort worthwhile. Let’s hope things begin to move in a more worthwhile direction on Saturday.