Game Review, 2019: Elon

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, Burlington Times-News

– WCSC-TV game report (video)

– School release

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

Key stats:

The Citadel Elon
Field Position* 39.82 (+13.38) 26.44 (-13.38)
Success Rate (per play)* 39.66% 53.45%
Big plays (20+ yards) 2 7
Finishing drives (average points) 7.0 7.0
Turnovers* 0 0
Expected turnovers 0.94 0.00
Possessions* 11 9
Points per possession* 2.55 3.89
Offensive Plays* 58 58
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 3.33 7.0
Yards/pass att* (incl. sacks) 6.89 10.27
Yards/play* 3.88 8.24
3rd down conversions* 5 of 14 5 of 10
4th down conversions* 2 of 3 1 of 1
Red Zone TD% 4 of 4 (100% 3 of 3 (100%)
Net punting 44.3 9.0
Time of possession 31:45 28:15
TOP/offensive play 32.29 sec 26.08 sec
Penalties 6 for 45 9 for 79
1st down passing* 1/2, 3 yards 7/11, 141 yards, TD
3rd and long passing 1/3, 27 yards, TD** 1/2, 6 yards
4th down passing* 0/1 1/1, 6 yards
1st down yards/play* 3.29 7.93
3rd down average yards to go* 7.14 5.00
Defensive 3-and-outs+* 2 4

*final drive for Elon in each half and last play of game for TC not included
**also sacked twice

Observations based on the above statistics:

– For the second week in a row, an opponent averaged over eight yards per play. That happened three times last season (against Chattanooga, Towson, and Alabama).

– Through two games, opponents have 13 big plays against the Bulldogs’ defense. Meanwhile, The Citadel’s offense has only three big plays of its own.

– In both games, The Citadel’s offense has had four three-and-outs (or worse). That means in 40% of the Bulldogs’ possessions, they have not picked up a first down.

– The Citadel’s 35.2% third down conversion rate on offense against Elon was lower than in all but three of the Bulldogs’ games last year (Wofford, Alabama, Charleston Southern).

– The Bulldogs are averaging 2.45 points per possession after two games. In eight SoCon contests last year, The Citadel averaged 3.18 points per possession.

It should be noted that in its first two games in 2018 (Wofford and Chattanooga), the Bulldogs averaged just 2.0 points per possession.

– This is the second week in a row an opponent has had a 50% or better success rate on third down against the Bulldogs’ defense (not counting the two third downs in end-of-half possessions). Last year, The Citadel had a defensive third down conversion rate of 35.2% (all games).

– Elon had a Success rate of 53.45%. Last year, only one team had a Success Rate against The Citadel’s defense that exceeded 50%: Alabama (66.67%).

– The Citadel did not force a turnover on Saturday, something that only happened twice in 2018 (against Furman and East Tennessee State).

– The Bulldogs have converted five 4th-down attempts (in six tries). Only three FCS teams have converted more so far this year: Tennessee Tech (7), Davidson (6), and Kennesaw State (6).

– The Citadel’s 3.33 yards per rush (taking out sacks) was the lowest for a game since last year’s season opener versus Wofford. The Bulldogs’ 3.88 yards per play was the lowest since that same contest against the Terriers.

– A positive: the Bulldogs have scored TDs in seven of their eight trips inside the Red Zone so far this season.

– A major positive: yes, Elon’s net yards punting was 9.0, which is what happens when two of four punts are blocked. Both punt blocks were by Sean-Thomas Faulkner, who also drew a rare fighting penalty from Elon on one of the two punts that he didn’t block.

Random thoughts:

– From the game story in The Post and Courier, Brent Thompson said (among other things):

“We’ve got to figure things out a little bit more on the defensive side, and get ahead of the game on offense. We haven’t been able to get a lead on these guys in the last two games.”

The Citadel would have had a much better chance of getting a lead on Elon if a fumble recovery by the Bulldogs on the Phoenix’s second possession had stood. It didn’t, because the officials ruled that the play never happened.

The reason for that ruling? An “inadvertent whistle”.

I didn’t hear the whistle, and no one around me heard it either. It did not affect the action, as in fact the play was run as if nothing happened (possibly because nothing did happen).

This is the kind of thing that sours fans on officials. At best, it was a demonstration of complete incompetence that dramatically benefited the home team, a member of the same conference that provided the men in stripes.

(Admittedly, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised if the officials had been from the SoCon.)

– The onside kick was exquisitely timed and wonderfully executed, from Jacob Godek’s inch-perfect kick to Ryland Ayers’ recovery on the run.

– The Bulldogs were a little slow to run plays on their final (full) drive, in my opinion. It wasn’t terrible and it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, but I think The Citadel should have gone into more of hurry-up mode at about the three-minute mark.

– Announced attendance: 5,071. There was a decent contingent of Bulldog fans at the game, though not quite as many as I was expecting. The weather was warm and the sun was bright and powerful.

– Forty-eight Bulldogs played in the contest, one fewer than last week.

– Elon has a nice gameday setup, but some of the staffers working parking didn’t seem very sure of where people were allowed to park. That seemed sub-optimal.

– The new uniforms are growing on me, and I kind of liked them already. There is one issue with wearing all white, though:

I wasn’t overly disappointed after last week’s game, but Saturday’s contest was more frustrating. The Bulldogs really struggled on both sides of the ball, with the offense not really getting into gear until the fourth quarter, and the defense never establishing itself at all.

The special teams were fantastic, and it seemed a shame to “waste” that advantage in a game that The Citadel didn’t win.

There are positives — for one thing, the Bulldogs yet again showed resilience after falling behind. However, that isn’t enough to turn defeats into victories.

Hopefully, the Bulldogs will begin winning games like this when SoCon play begins. There are still two games to go before that stretch of play begins, though.

Next week: the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech, in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets beat South Florida 14-10 on Saturday to win their first game of the campaign.

I’ll post about that game later this week.

This week’s pictures are below. I started having battery issues with my cellphone at halftime, so there are just a few third-quarter shots and none from the final period.

Don’t worry, though — the ones I did take are still lousy.

 

 

 

2019 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Elon

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

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

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

– News from Camp Bulldog

– Game notes from The Citadel and Elon

– SoCon weekly release

CAA weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Elon’s website

– Phoenix seeks fixes up front

Elon head coach Tony Trisciani on the CAA teleconference

The Dogs:  Episode 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

The loss to Towson dropped the Phoenix to #12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football TV Listings 2019, Week 2

This is a list of every game played during week 2 of the 2019 college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school. All games are listed, televised or not.

For the streamed/televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline reporters (where applicable). I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2019, Week 2

Additional notes:

– I include streaming information for games on CBS Digital, ESPN.com, ESPN3, Fox.com, Fox Sports Go, NBC Live Extra, Pac-12 Digital, Facebook, Stadium, and FloSports.

– I also list digital network feeds provided by various conferences. For some of these feeds, the audio will be a simulcast of the home team’s radio broadcast. Other online platforms have their own announcers.

For now, the digital networks I am including in the listings are those for the Big Sky (Pluto TV), NEC (Front Row), WCCCUSAMountain West, and Patriot League. Some of the feeds for those conferences are provided by the Stadium platform.

Occasionally individual schools (almost always at the FCS level) provide video feeds. When that is the case, I list those as well.

– As I did last season, this year I am including pay-per-view telecasts and streams. These matchups are sometimes listed as “PPV” telecasts or (in the case of feeds from individual schools) “All-Access” streams, though an occasional stream with that description is actually free.

– I also note which games are on ESPN College Extra (those matchups tend to be released later in the week).

– BTN “gamefinder”:  Link

– AP Poll (FBS):  Link

– AFCA Coaches’ Poll (FCS):  Link

A lot of the information I use in putting this together comes courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s comprehensive and indispensable site College Sports on TV, a necessity for any fan of college football and/or basketball. Another site on the “must-bookmark” list is lsufootball.net, particularly for devotees of the central time zone.

I must also mention the relentless information gatherers (and in a few cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am occasionally assisted as well by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

Game Review, 2019: Towson

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

WCSC-TV game report (video)

School release

Game highlights (video)

Box score

Let’s look at some of the key stats:

The Citadel Towson
Field Position 21.78 (-15.2) 36.90 (+15.2)
Success Rate 54.05% 49.12%
Big plays (20+ yards) 1 6
Finishing drives** 4.00 5.25
Turnovers 3 1
Expected turnovers 1.72 2.10
Possessions 9 10
Points per possession** 2.33 3.11
Offensive Plays* 74 57
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 4.70 7.63
Yards/pass attempt (incl. sacks) 6.00 8.47
Yards/play* 4.77 8.19
3rd down conversions 11 of 17 (64.71%) 7 of 11 (63.64%)
4th down conversions 3 of 3 0 of 0
Red Zone TD% 3 for 4 (75%) 2 for 4 (50%)
Net punting 49.9 (2) 35.5 (2)
Time of possession 38:11:00 21:49:00
TOP/offensive play 30.96 seconds 22.19 seconds
Penalties 4 for 27 4 for 30
1st down passing 0/1, interception 10/13, 169 yards, 1 sack
3rd and long passing 1/1, 9 yards, TD 3/7, 34 yards
4th down passing 0/0 0/0
1st down yards/play 5.93 8.51
3rd down average yards to go 4.76 8.45
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 1 4

*kneeldowns not included in totals
**final drive for TU not included

I didn’t include the final drive for Towson in the ‘points per possession’ or ‘finishing drives’ categories because at that point in the game, Towson wasn’t trying to score, but rather keep the ball.

Some observations, based on the statistics above:

– Towson was not a particularly effective team on third down last season (38.86%). However, the Tigers were 7 for 11 on Saturday, including a stretch of four straight conversions during an 18-play drive that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth, taking up over seven minutes of game time.

Without that possession, The Citadel’s time-of-possession edge would have been even more lopsided. The Bulldogs’ inability to get off the field on that drive led to a TU field goal.

– The Citadel’s average yards to go on third down was excellent. If you take out the 3rd-and-23 play in the first quarter (that was the end result of the TD-negating chop block penalty), the average drops to 3.62. The Bulldogs had four 3rd-and-1 situations, and five 3rd-and-2 plays.

– The lack of big plays on offense for the Bulldogs was noticeable. Brent Thompson referenced it after the game, according to the game story in The Post and Courier. The Citadel needs to break more long gainers, as grinding out every drive for a score is not realistic (even in this offense).

A few of those big plays have to come via the pass.

– As far as the ‘expected turnovers’ go, The Citadel’s number is probably artificially low, because of the lack of passing. I’m just using the standard formula, but truthfully, I think the “real” expected turnovers for the Bulldogs was 2.50, not 1.72.

– Towson’s expected turnover total is based on the Bulldogs’ five pass breakups, which on average would have led to one interception — but while there were a couple of close calls, I can’t honestly say that The Citadel should have definitely had a pick.

– I suspect Thompson is going to be disappointed with the Bulldogs’ points per possession. The coach would undoubtedly prefer it be about a point higher, on average. (Well, he would really like it to be about 5 points higher on average, of course.)

– The field position edge for Towson was strictly a result of the turnovers.

Other thoughts, mostly random:

– There were not many penalties in the game — at least, called penalties. Towson got away with several false start infractions, as the officiating crew (yes, from the Southern Conference) were apparently unable to see a 6’4″, 360 lb. tackle move early. I guess he was easy to miss out there, being so little.

– It might have been a very different game if Chris Beverly had not forced a fumble near the goal line, with Towson poised to take a 24-7 lead. That was a big defensive play, and a badly needed one.

The Bulldogs probably needed one more play like that in order to win the contest.

– The sequence at the end of the first half was confusing. I went back and watched it on the ESPN+ video, and while the officials/timekeeper didn’t necessarily cover themselves in glory, I think Rob Ambrose might have second-guessed himself with his time management.

I did appreciate the timeout he called when The Citadel had the ball, just before the Bulldogs scored their second touchdown. That was intelligent, as it saved about 40 seconds for Towson’s offense.

However, I believe TU made two mistakes on the ensuing drive, one small, one large:

  • With two timeouts left, the Tigers probably should have called timeout after their first completion of the drive. It would have saved them about three seconds. Admittedly, this situation was messy, thanks to the clock having to be corrected — and that wasn’t the big mistake, anyway.
  • Towson apparently didn’t realize the clock was going to re-start after the first down pickup on the second completion. The receiver clearly didn’t go out of bounds before being tackled, though, and the Tigers lost eight seconds before calling timeout.

It is perhaps harder to argue that a second should be put back on the clock when there is a timeout sticking out of your back pocket.

– I liked the Bulldogs’ uniforms. The slightly elongated numerals were interesting, and I’m a fan of the Block C helmet logo.

It is true that, without an outline, the ‘C’ on the helmet and the jersey numerals could be hard to read in bright sunlight, and also in some of the longer-range TV shots. Still, the overall concept looked good.

– Forty-eight Bulldogs played in the contest. Five of them were “true” freshmen, including one starter — safety Andy Davis.

– The weather obviously put a damper on the attendance (announced at 8,008). On the other hand, it was almost as large a crowd as The Citadel had at Johnson Hagood Stadium for last season’s home opener (8,076), and larger than the home opener in 2017 (7,467).

– I thought the team ran out of the Altman Center and through the Block C a little too quickly. The timing with the smoke release was off. I guess the Bulldogs were really ready to play — either that, or perhaps there was an issue with trying to start the game on time.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I am disappointed in the loss, but not overly upset. It was ultimately a missed opportunity for The Citadel to pick up an impressive non-conference victory, but the season is still young.

One way to look at it: the Bulldogs were in the game and had a chance to win despite a turnover margin of -2, a penalty that wiped out a touchdown, not getting nearly enough pressure on the opposing quarterback, and only producing one big play on offense.

There were positives to be taken from the game, and there are certainly things that need improvement. Considering it was the opening week of the season, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

It does make the upcoming game at Elon all the more important, though. That will be a tough game, too, but The Citadel needs to win one of these difficult non-conference matchups.

As usual, I took pictures. As usual, most of them are lousy. There is a lack of focus in some of them (others actually look decent, clearly an accident). The intermittent rain/drizzle didn’t help, not that it would have mattered.

 

2019 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Towson

The Citadel vs. Towson, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on August 31, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

Notes from The Post and Courier

Willie Eubanks is the modern-day E.F. Hutton for The Citadel’s football team

– Game notes from The Citadel and Towson

SoCon weekly release

CAA weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Towson’s website

Preview from Towson’s campus newspaper, The Towerlight

– Bulldogs’ defense must do a better job against Towson QB

Brent Thompson’s opening-week press conference (8/26)

The Dogs:  Episode 1 — Camp

Football-related stuff I’ve written this summer:

– Success on 4th down brings national renown

– Ruminating about ratings: preseason numbers for The Citadel, SoCon, FCS, and more

– “Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2018 football season

– Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

– Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Although The Citadel doesn’t open until October 1, many cadets have already signified their intention to compete for places on the eleven, and manager [Frank] Eason will not lack for candidates. The soldier laddies are very enthusiastic about football, which was strictly prohibited until last session, when the Board of Visitors relented and allowed the classes to play one another.

It will be the initial season for the Citadel boys on the gridiron, and it is superfluous to add, the best wishes of many score young ladies are with the soldier laddies in their ambition to defeat other football teams.

The Evening Post, August 29, 1905

This season, The Citadel will only have radio affiliates in Charleston, Columbia, and Sumter. It will be the first time in many years that the network will not have a presence in the Upstate.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to see how that compared to other SoCon teams. As it turns out, The Citadel still has one of the larger affiliate networks in the league.

  • Western Carolina: Asheville, Sylva, Franklin, on-campus
  • Furman: Greenville, on-campus
  • UTC: Chattanooga
  • ETSU: Johnson City (“tri-cities”)
  • Mercer: Macon
  • Wofford: online only
  • VMI: online only (from what I can tell)
  • Samford: none

All of the schools (except Samford, obviously) simulcast online. VMI has had an affiliate network in the recent past, but it is not mentioned in the school’s 2019 media guide, leading me to believe it no longer exists.

Western Carolina appears to be the only school besides The Citadel to have radio affiliates in multiple markets.

Ted Byrne will serve as analyst for the football games this season. Byrne, of course, has been a radio voice in the Lowcountry for a long time, and had stints as the “Voice of the Bulldogs” (in the early 1990s) and as play-by-play man for College of Charleston hoops. He also spent several years in the radio booth at Georgia Southern.

In recent years, Byrne has co-hosted The Citadel’s tailgate show. He worked as an analyst for Bulldogs football in 2006 as well.

Byrne’s first association with The Citadel dates back to 1982, when he called baseball games at College Park. He filled in for the original “Voice of the Bulldogs”, George Norwig, for a 1984 football game against Georgia Tech, and was a sideline reporter in the mid-1980s.

Thus, he has been an on-again, off-again radio presence at school athletic events for 37 years. The only other person I can remember with a similar stretch was Norwig, who was in the booth for the Bulldogs from 1948 to 1985. Of course, Norwig’s run was mostly continuous.

(My thanks to Charleston media expert Joe Wright for the information about Byrne’s early days in the Lowcountry radio scene.)

The Citadel’s director of athletics, Mike Cappacio, sat down with Lowcountry personality Quintin Washington last month for a 15-minute interview. You can view it on YouTube.

They discussed football, baseball, basketball, and the endowment, among other things. To be honest, I wasn’t pleased at all with one of Capaccio’s comments about hoops, but I’ll put that aside for the time being. For this post, I’ll stick to his football-related observations.

– “We need to work with our schedule to be more realistic, I will say….we don’t need to be playing two ranked teams, or three ranked teams, and then an ACC team, and then go into our conference, because our conference is a monster…so, not that we [want] an easy schedule, but we need a little break…”

I understand what he is saying here, but four years ago nobody knew how good Towson and Elon were going to (potentially) be. There is an element of the unknown when it comes to college football scheduling.

Besides, going out of its way to schedule the Little Sisters of the Poor is not really how The Citadel has ever operated. After all, the military college has fought an uphill battle for over 80 years as a member of the Southern Conference. At various points in the football program’s history, Clemson, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, East Carolina, and Marshall have all been league opponents (just to name a few).

The Bulldogs didn’t back down from those challenges then, and they shouldn’t now. It isn’t part of the school’s ethos.

– “We want to play close to home…three to five hours [away] at the maximum…We don’t need to be taking a trip to Towson…Our philosophy is changing, and we want to play close [to home].

I think this outlook is mostly about budgeting. Capaccio also referenced the ability of fans to travel to away games, which is a legitimate consideration.

Let me present another point of view, however. In 2009, I made the trip to New Jersey to watch The Citadel play Princeton. As I wrote then (and still believe now):

One thing that needs to happen, though, is that every few years the school needs to play a game in the northeast. The contingent of alums and other supporters that came to cheer on The Citadel at Princeton was truly impressive. Those folks deserve to see more games, and I hope that administrators at The Citadel keep that in mind.

It also doesn’t hurt to promote the school in other parts of the country. After the game I took the train back to New York, and sat next to an intelligent young Princeton student who was very proud of her school. She wanted to make sure I liked the campus (which I did). She was blissfully unaware a football game had been played that day, which didn’t really surprise me that much. She also had never heard of The Citadel, which did surprise me a bit.

Of course, there are people in South Carolina who have never heard of Princeton (and there are almost certainly people in New Jersey who have never heard of Princeton, as well as people in the Palmetto State unfamiliar with The Citadel).  I also realize that one person doesn’t make a survey.  Still, it’s a reminder that it doesn’t hurt to get the school’s name out there.

That was true then, and it is still true. Also, it really isn’t that much different, logistically, to travel from The Citadel to either Towson or Samford — and the football team makes the road trip to Birmingham every other year (including this season).

– Capaccio mentioned future opponents would include Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Campbell, and Presbyterian. All of those were publicly known except perhaps for Presbyterian. He did not mention other scheduled matchups that have been reported in various places — Clemson, Mississippi, and Appalachian State.

– He also named South Carolina State as a good potential opponent for The Citadel, and in that I concur. Cappacio also mentioned wanting to continue the series with Charleston Southern. I am fine with that as well, as long as those games are always played at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Otherwise, no way.

– Capaccio likes the idea of playing Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and similar (Group of Five) teams in the region, because he says A) the money isn’t much different from playing an ACC/SEC school, and B) The Citadel can be more competitive against those types of schools.

Here are the guarantees The Citadel will be receiving from FBS schools over the next few years:

  • 2019: Georgia Tech — $400,000
  • 2020: Clemson — $300,000
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina — $315,000
  • 2023: Georgia Southern — $320,000
  • 2024: Clemson — $300,000
  • 2025: Mississippi — $500,000

I believe the package for the games against Clemson also includes tickets for The Citadel to sell, which is not insignificant.

I guess a case could be made that from a net revenue perspective, playing Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina is almost as beneficial as playing the P5 schools. However, there is quite a difference between $315,000 and $500,000.

As far as being competitive is concerned, I would suggest that the Bulldogs have been quite competitive at times against certain SEC schools in recent years (one in particular).

Also, the difference in what I might call “national awareness” between P5 and G5 teams is substantial — and that carries over into recruiting, branding, recognition, etc.

When it comes to scheduling, The Citadel’s goal should be to have a non-conference slate that best positions it for a possible bid to the FCS playoffs. That means playing an all-D1 schedule, but not necessarily loading up on multiple FBS opponents per year. There has to be a balance.

I don’t think there is anything structurally wrong with this year’s schedule. It is difficult, but everyone knows that. If the Bulldogs have a successful season, they will likely make the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t. That is how it should be.

– With regards to the East stands, “it’s all about fundraising right now”. Capaccio noted that The Citadel Real Estate Foundation is involved. He also said the school had put together “a detailed plan” to begin a $2 million fundraising campaign “to get that project off the ground”.

– The new artificial turf is supposed to be installed at Johnson Hagood Stadium in late November. I hope the installation is delayed by about a month.

– “I’ve empowered a lot of our senior staff to take different roles so I can get out and raise money…if you’re going to make a difference here, it’s going to come through fundraising.”

I wish Capaccio all the best in that endeavor.

Towson was 7-5 last season. After a 6-1 start (which included a 44-27 home victory over The Citadel), the Tigers lost four of their last five games, including a playoff loss to Duquesne.

Three of the losses were probably understandable. Towson lost a shootout at Delaware, a tough game versus Maine (a team that specialized in winning tough games), and a home contest to James Madison (which was simply a better team).

However, the home loss to Duquesne in the first round of the FCS playoffs was harder to explain. The favored Tigers lost 31-10.

One possible factor: it rained heavily during that game, and Towson’s offense struggled mightily in the wet weather. Star quarterback Tom Flacco was 10-33 passing for 127 yards, and was sacked four times.

As far as the end-of-season decline in Towson’s fortunes was concerned, head coach Rob Ambrose thinks he knows what happened.

“Last year, we set the finish line too short, and it was obvious,” Ambrose said. “They wanted to win, they wanted to get respect, they wanted to beat national competition, and we did. But we got to the playoffs and were like ‘All right, we did it.’ No, that was just the beginning.”
Ambrose says his team can no longer be so easily satisfied — it has to strive to be among the best FCS programs in the country.
“From my perspective, the big-picture goal is not to make the playoffs,” Ambrose said. “The big picture goal is to make the playoffs every year, … which is where James Madison has been. It’s where Delaware has been historically.”

He reiterated that during Monday’s CAA conference call.

It seemed like we were inadvertently pleased with crossing the finish line, one that shouldn’t have even existed. So we’ve kind of moved that finish line back a little bit. Understand that the grind is a little bit longer. We go about it with a workmanlike attitude, that we have a lot of work to do, that we want to be explosive in how we do it, we want to be composed, and we want to have fun. And these guys have…held up to that bargain pretty well.

When asked about the Bulldogs’ offense and defense, Ambrose stated:

We’re going in with a little bit of unknown, especially versus their defense, and a natural schematic challenge on how well we can be disciplined to defend the triple option.

He was also questioned about playing The Citadel in Charleston:

We’re talking more about how to prepare for the weather…football fields are football fields, fans are fans. We’re going to play as hard as we can play until they tell us we can’t play anymore.

I broke down Towson’s 2018 season from a statistical perspective in various key categories, separating the seven FCS wins from the four FCS losses.

First, the victories:

Offense Plays Yds/Play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Morgan St 67 5.98 35 5.03 32 7.03 3 7
at Villanova 90 5.87 49 4.76 41 7.20 4 5
The Citadel 64 9.50 41 8.15 23 11.91 2 6
Stony Brook 68 6.46 35 3.43 33 9.67 4 6
Wm@Mary 68 6.71 38 7.03 30 6.30 4 6
at Albany 81 6.94 40 6.28 41 7.59 5 8
at Elon 83 5.86 34 5.85 49 5.86 5 6
7 games 521 272 249 27 44
6.68 5.81 7.63 61.36%

 

Defense Plays Yds/play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Morgan St 61 2.74 35 2.23 26 3.42 0 1
at Villanova 60 8.17 23 5.08 37 10.08 4 4
The Citadel 87 4.64 71 4.80 16 3.94 1 2
Stony Brook 64 5.38 30 3.83 34 6.74 2 2
Wm&Mary 73 3.19 33 3.18 40 3.20 1 3
at Albany 57 8.18 23 5.78 34 9.79 2 2
at Elon 59 4.03 37 6.19 22 0.36 1 2
7 games 461 252 209 11 16
5.08 4.43 5.85 68.75%

Towson ran the ball 52.21% of the time in its seven wins. The Tigers averaged slightly over 74 plays per game in those contests.

Win or lose, Towson was not particularly good at converting on third down. In its victories, TU only succeeded at a 37.5% clip (which was actually a lower percentage than in the Tigers’ four FCS losses).

Now, the same statistics in those losses to Delaware, Maine, James Madison, and Duquesne.

Offense Plays Yds/Play Rush attempts Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Delaware 83 5.43 40 5.65 43 5.23 3 7
Maine 77 4.77 35 4.86 42 4.69 2 5
JMU 84 6.13 30 5.57 54 6.44 1 3
Duquesne 80 4.46 43 5.81 37 2.89 0 4
4 games 324 148 176 6 19
5.22 5.49 4.98 31.58%

Defense Plays Yds/play Rush attempts Rush yds/att Pass plays Pass yds/att RZ TD conv RZ TD attempts
at Delaware 63 5.40 31 1.13 32 9.53 5 6
Maine 61 6.69 27 7.11 34 6.35 3 3
JMU 69 8.35 45 9.27 24 6.63 4 6
Duquesne 70 6.09 49 6.00 21 6.29 2 3
4 games 263 152 111 14 18
6.66 6.17 7.32 77.78%

Towson’s offense really struggled in the red zone in its four losses, with a poor 31.58% TD rate. The difference in red zone success in the Tigers’ wins and losses was dramatic.

Not on these charts, but definitely worth mentioning, is Towson’s defensive third down conversion rate. In TU’s victories, opponents only made third down conversions 33.33% of the time. In these four losses, however, that rate jumped up to 46.67%. Towson’s D was less effective in the red zone, too.

TU ran the ball 45.68% of the time in those defeats.

Usually, turnovers are a big factor in a team’s wins and losses, but that wasn’t the case for Towson in 2018. Against FCS teams, TU had a turnover margin of zero (13 giveaways, 13 takeaways). The Tigers were +1 in their seven wins and -1 in the four losses.

Towson didn’t really have a lot of turnovers in its games, offensively or defensively.

Last season, Towson was picked to finish 10th in the 12-team CAA. The Tigers wound up with a 5-3 conference record, good for a tie for 3rd in the league.

This year, TU is the preseason #2 pick in the conference, behind James Madison. Clearly, there are high expectations for the program in 2019.

Towson’s offense is led by New Jersey native Tom Flacco (6’1”, 205 lbs.), a redshirt senior who spent time at both Western Michigan and Rutgers before finding his way to TU.

Last year, Flacco (the younger brother of former Ravens and current Broncos QB Joe Flacco) had an outstanding campaign, completing 61.3% of his passes, with 28 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He averaged 7.4 yards per pass attempt, not accounting for sacks (Towson quarterbacks were sacked 35 times in 12 games).

In last season’s game against The Citadel, Flacco completed 15 of 22 passes for 253 yards and 2 TDs. He was intercepted once. However, he hurt the Bulldogs even more with his running ability, as he finished with 15 rushes for 185 yards (including a 78-yard run).

Saturday’s game will not be the first time Flacco has suited up for Towson in the Charleston metropolitan area. Flacco played baseball for Towson this past spring, serving as the Tigers’ right fielder.

In a late-season series at Patriots Point against College of Charleston, he was 3 for 9 in three games, with a stolen base, two runs scored and an error. Towson lost all three contests to the Cougars.

Versatile all-purpose back Shane Simpson (5’11”, 190 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Easton, Pennsylvania, is Towson’s first option out of the backfield. He rushed for 64 yards and a score versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game, and also caught three passes.

Simpson was the CAA’s Special Teams Player of The Year, and made several All-American teams as a kick returner. He had a 96-yard kickoff return for a TD versus Stony Brook.

Towson has a deep corps of receivers, and the top two targets from last year both return.

Redshirt senior Shane Leatherbury (5’11”, 190 lbs.) had 67 receptions for the season, with 7 of those going for touchdowns. Leatherbury, who hails from Salisbury, Maryland, previously attended Seton Hill College and Wor-Wic Community College. He was a first-team all-CAA pick in 2018.

Jabari Allen (6’4”, 205 lbs.), a junior from Spotsylvania, Virginia, had 53 catches in 2018, including 8 TDs. Allen, who became more of a factor as the season progressed, can be a very difficult matchup for opposing defensive backs.

Several other wideouts are potential gamebreakers, ranging from the small (5’7″, 160 lb. sophomore speedster D’Ago Hunter) to the large (6’3″, 205 lb. freshman Daniel Thompson IV).

TU’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4”, 317 lbs. The o-line will not be as experienced this season, as the Tigers lost three starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad – the center, right guard, and right tackle.

Towson thus brought in a lot of offensive linemen in the offseason. That group includes several transfers and, interestingly, two players from Europe.

Roman Wahrheit (6’6”, 335 lbs., from Germany) and Vaino Paakkonen (6’5”, 325 lbs., from Finland) are both big, and though they are a sophomore and freshman respectively, they are definitely not teenagers. According to one website that I perused which focuses on overseas football players, Paakkonen is at least 22 years old.

I should also mention that Paakkonen’s previous football team (in Finland) was the Porvoo Butchers.

While the European players could wind up being mainstays for the program down the road, I’m not sure how much Towson is going to get out of either one of them right away as they acclimate to a new level of football (and a new country). That is particularly the case for Paakkonen, who was late getting to campus because of a visa problem.

One newcomer who is expected to start on Saturday, though, is a player who may be reasonably familiar with his surroundings.

Demarcus Gilmore (6’4”, 360 lbs.) should line up at right tackle for the Tigers. Gilmore went to Newberry High School, and played in the Shrine Bowl. He has spent the last two years at Pasadena City College in California.

One other note on the offense: last year’s offensive coordinator was Rob Ambrose’s brother Jared, who is now the OC at Delaware. Rob Ambrose is assuming the offensive coordinator duties this season.

There was also a coordinator change on defense for Towson, as last year’s DC, Lyndon “No, not that one” Johnson now oversees special teams for the Tigers. The new defensive coordinator is Eric Daniels, who was at Briar Cliff College (IA) last year. Daniels was once the linebackers coach at SMU when June Jones was at the helm of that program.

Defensively, Towson used a 4-3 front last season, but (like The Citadel) it is moving to a 3-4.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the personnel the Tigers will be featuring on defense. I believe that is at least partly (if not mostly) by design.

Robert Heyward (6’0″, 235 lbs.), a redshirt senior inside linebacker from Savannah, was a preseason first-team all-CAA selection. Heyward, who had 10 tackles against The Citadel last year, was singled out for praise by Brent Thompson during the coach’s press conference on Monday.

Redshirt senior Ricky DeBerry (6’2″, 245 lbs.), who started at defensive end last year, has (apparently) moved to linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. DeBerry, a native of Richmond who began his collegiate career at Oklahoma, was an active defender versus the Bulldogs, with 9 tackles.

Jesus Gibbs (6’4″, 275 lbs.) was expected to be an impact transfer for the Tigers on the defensive line, but the redshirt freshman (who spent the 2018 fall semester at South Carolina) reportedly has been struggling with an injury and may not play on Saturday. If he does play, he could be a difference-maker. As a high school senior, he was rated the 10th-best recruit in the state of Virginia by ESPN.

It seems likely that Bryce Carter (6’1″, 265 lbs.) will start, probably on the d-line, but possibly at outside linebacker. Carter is a redshirt junior from Steelton, Pennsylvania, who started all 12 games for Towson last season, leading the team with 6 1/2 sacks.

Another player of similar size who could see plenty of time at either DE or linebacker is Marcus Bowman (6’1″, 255 lbs.), a junior college transfer. Bowman was the #29-ranked player in Maryland as a high school senior.

This is speculation, but I would not be overly surprised if Towson employed a “big body” at nosetackle against The Citadel. Two candidates to fill that role are redshirt junior Tommy Danagogo (6’3″, 305 lbs.) and 6’2″, 285 lb. Tibo Debaille, who is from Belgium. Neither played much last season, to be sure.

Troy Vincent Jr. (5’11”, 205 lbs.), who played his first two years of college football for North Carolina State, can play linebacker or defensive back. Vincent’s father, Troy Vincent Sr., was an outstanding NFL cornerback who is now an executive with that league.

Robert Topps III (6’3″, 200 lbs.), a transfer from Kansas, can play both cornerback and safety, and probably will.

According to media reports out of New Jersey, Towson will eventually have the services of former Michigan defensive lineman Ron Johnson, who was originally going to transfer to Rutgers for this season. However, Johnson will instead transfer to Towson (where he will be immediately eligible). It seems unlikely the 6’4″, 267 lb. four-star recruit could play for TU on Saturday, but you never know.

Aidan O’Neill (6’1″, 195 lbs.), a senior from New Paltz, New York, will be Towson’s regular placekicker for a fourth consecutive season. O’Neill was 22 for 29 on field goal attempts last season en route to first-team All-CAA honors. He was 42 of 43 on PATs.

O’Neill has made 53 field goals during his career, with a long of 55 yards.

Towson will have a new punter this season, Marshall transfer Shane McDonough (6’1″, 210 lbs.). McDonough will also serve as the team’s kickoff specialist.

If you’re counting, that is now three guys named Shane who start for the Tigers. Alan Ladd would be so proud.

Odds and ends:

– Per the 1905 newspaper article referenced above, cadets apparently didn’t have to report to The Citadel that year until October 1. The first football game in that very first season was played on October 14.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny with a high of 86 degrees, and a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms. Yikes.

I am a little bit worried about the chance for a lightning delay or two. The presence of Hurricane Dorian in the Atlantic is also of concern.

Per one source that deals in such matters, Towson-The Citadel is (as of Wednesday evening) a pick’em, with an over/under of 65 1/2.

When that line opened on August 6, the Tigers were only a 1 1/2 point favorite, but evidently much of the money wagered on the game for the next two weeks was on Towson, because at one point the spread moved to 4 1/2. However, it has suddenly (and substantially) moved in the other direction over the past two days.

By the time you read this, it may have moved another couple of points one way or the other.

Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 20-point favorite over Charleston Southern, while Wofford is a 21-point favorite at South Carolina State.

Mercer is a 3-point favorite at Western Carolina; Samford is a 19 1/2 point favorite at Tennessee Tech; East Tennessee State is a 32 1/2 point underdog at Appalachian State; VMI is a 39-point underdog at Marshall; and Chattanooga is an 8-point favorite versus Eastern Illinois.

Samford is trying to rebound from a 45-22 drubbing last Saturday at the hands of Youngstown State in the FCS Kickoff Classic. None of the other league teams has played yet in 2019, obviously.

– Also of note: Elon is a 3 1/2 point favorite at North Carolina A&T, and Georgia Tech is a 36-point underdog at Clemson on Thursday night.

The biggest favorites in the FCS ranks are Kennesaw State (51 points over Point University) and North Dakota State (48 points over Butler). Incidentally, the game between NDSU and Butler is being played at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Furman will play Point University in its regular-season finale.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 50th in FCS, while Towson is 26th. For some reason, Samford’s loss last week cost the Bulldogs four spots in the rankings.

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 39% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Towson 34, The Citadel 30.

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

Other rankings this week of varied interest:  James Madison 7th, Youngstown State 10th (up four spots), Villanova 13th (up 19 places), Kennesaw State 21st, Colgate 22nd (down 11 notches), Wofford 24th, Elon 32nd, Furman 36th (down 8 places), Samford 42nd (down 18 spots after its loss), North Carolina A&T 52nd, Mercer 53rd, Chattanooga 54th, East Tennessee State 61st, Western Carolina 79th, Charleston Southern 88th, South Carolina State 92nd, VMI 94th, Davidson 114th, Presbyterian 122nd, and D-1 “transitional” school Merrimack 126th and last.

– Towson’s notable alumni include actor Charles S. Dutton, television host Mike Rowe, and sports radio broadcaster Joe Miller.

– As was mentioned in the preview for last year’s matchup, varsity teams at Towson were generally known as the Golden Knights until the early 1960s, when the tiger began to become the preferred mascot among students and alumni. A leading proponent in favor of switching to “Tigers” was John Schuerholz, the Hall of Fame baseball executive who guided both the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves to World Series titles. Schuerholz, who graduated from Towson in 1962, is also a long-time benefactor to the school. Towson’s baseball stadium is named for him (and his father).

– Towson’s roster in its media guide includes 35 players from Maryland. Other states represented:  Pennsylvania (14 players), New Jersey (11), Virginia (8), New York (7), Delaware (4), North Carolina (3), California (3), Florida (2), and one each from Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and South Carolina. (The one product of the Palmetto State is, as previously mentioned, offensive lineman Demarcus Gilmore of Newberry.)

There are four Tigers who hail from outside the United States, representing Canada, Germany, Belgium, and Finland.

No member of Towson’s team is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The absence of players who have worn the famed maroon and orange will undoubtedly come back to haunt Rob Ambrose. It is hard to imagine a school with designs on national honors failing to recruit anyone from one of the great pigskin powers of our time — or any other time, for that matter.

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

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

– This week’s two-deep includes seven Bulldogs who started all 11 games last season, five on offense and two on defense.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 0-2 for games played on August 31. The Bulldogs have only played five games in the month of August in their gridiron history, with two of those contests resulting in victories:

  • August 30, 2003: The Citadel walloped Charleston Southern, 64-10, before 15,219 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Ern Mills had 194 yards rushing (including a 90-yard scamper) and two touchdowns. The Bulldogs’ defense added two TDs of its own (Anthony Roberts’ pick-six was followed up by Julian West’s fumble return) and also picked up a safety.
  • August 30, 2008: There were 11,247 patrons were on hand to see the homestanding Bulldogs hammer Webber International, 54-7. Bart Blanchard was 12-14 passing with 2 TDs. Both touchdowns went to Andre Roberts, one for 78 yards. Roberts added a 64-yard punt return TD. The Bulldogs led 38-0 at halftime.

I think this is going to be a close game. It may be high scoring, although sometimes these early-season contests can throw a curveball when it comes to predicting how offenses will fare against defenses.

The Citadel has to control the football. It would also help if the Bulldogs could break some long gainers. In last season’s matchup, The Citadel had 87 offensive plays from scrimmage, but just four of them went for 20 yards or more. Towson had eight such plays while only snapping the ball 64 times.

Special teams play is often a key factor in season openers, and The Citadel has had some coaching turnover in that area. The Bulldogs had very good special teams units last season, and that needs to continue in 2019.

I hope Johnson Hagood Stadium is packed, though the weather could be a hindrance in that regard. The tailgating scene should be excellent anyway, as it usually is.

Is there anything more to say? No, there is not.

It’s time for football season. I’m ready, you’re ready, the players are ready, the coaches are ready, General and Boo are ready, everybody is ready.

Go Dogs!

College Football TV Listings 2019, Week 1

This is a list of every game played during week 1 of the 2019 college football season involving at least one FBS or FCS school. All games are listed, televised or not.

For the streamed/televised games (only live broadcasts are listed), I include the announcers and sideline reporters (where applicable). I put all of it on a Google Documents spreadsheet that can be accessed at the following link:

College Football TV Listings 2019, Week 1

Additional notes:

– I include streaming information for games on CBS Digital, ESPN.com, ESPN3, Fox Sports Go, NBC Live Extra, Pac-12 Digital, Facebook, and FloSports.

– I also list digital network feeds provided by various conferences. For some of these feeds, the audio will be a simulcast of the home team’s radio broadcast. Other online platforms have their own announcers.

For now, the digital networks I am including in the listings are those for the Big Sky (Pluto TV), NEC (Front Row), WCCCUSAMountain West, and Patriot League. Some of the feeds for those conferences are provided by the Stadium platform.

Occasionally individual schools (almost always at the FCS level) provide video feeds. When that is the case, I list those as well.

– As I did last season, this year I am including pay-per-view telecasts and streams. These matchups are sometimes listed as “PPV” telecasts or (in the case of feeds from individual schools) “All-Access” streams, though an occasional stream with that description is actually free.

– I also note which games are on ESPN College Extra.

– BTN “gamefinder”:  Link

– AP Poll (FBS):  Link

– AFCA Coaches’ Poll (FCS):  Link

A lot of the information I use in putting this together comes courtesy of Matt Sarzyniak’s comprehensive and indispensable site College Sports on TV, a necessity for any fan of college football and/or basketball. Another site on the “must-bookmark” list is lsufootball.net, particularly for devotees of the central time zone.

I must also mention the relentless information gatherers (and in a few cases sports-TV savants) at the506.com. I am occasionally assisted as well by helpful athletic media relations officials at various schools and conferences.

Success on 4th down brings national renown

Last year, I wrote this before the season began:

I believe fourth down is underutilized in college football. Too many times, a team punts when going for it is the proper call.

It goes deeper than that, though. The best way to approach most offensive possessions, especially those that begin less than 70 yards from the end zone, is to assume that the offense is already in “four-down territory”.

Doing so means a team can be more creative with offensive playcalling. For a team like The Citadel, that can really open up the playbook.

In general, I was more than satisfied with Brent Thompson’s approach on fourth down in 2018. In eleven games, The Citadel went for it on 4th down 38 times, which was third-most in all of FCS. The Bulldogs were successful 23 times, for a better-than-average 60.5% (the mean for FCS teams last year was 47.2%). Among teams in the sub-division, only Southern Utah converted more often on 4th down than The Citadel.

Those were statistics that I covered earlier, in one of my many (way too many) statistically-oriented posts. What I would like to do with this particular post, though, is to illustrate the “power” of 4th down by taking a long look at one of the more amazing seasons in recent years from the perspective of fourth down conversions. I’m talking about last year’s Army team.

A quick summary of the Black Knights’ campaign: an 11-2 record, with one of the two defeats an overtime loss at Oklahoma. The victories included a sweep of Navy and Air Force and four other wins over bowl teams, the last of those a 70-14 destruction of Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl.

The schedule also had some soft spots (two FCS teams, a brand-new-to-FBS Liberty squad, and 1-11 San Jose State), but it was nevertheless a very impressive campaign, and one that featured a fourth-down philosophy based on analytical research:

The analytics come in mostly on fourth-down decisions. Army is among dozens of Division I football schools that subscribe to Championship Analytics, which provides weekly customized statistical breakdowns for each team based on opponent, with recommendations on when to kick, go on fourth down, go for 2 and more.

“I’m not a math guy,” [said Army head football coach Jeff Monken]. “I’m not an analytical thinker. I’m a PE major and proud of it.”

But when presented with the statistics that showed Army should be more aggressive on fourth down, Monken quickly embraced a by-the-numbers approach.

“It made way too much sense to me to argue with,” he said, adding. “I think it really fits what we do.”

Before discussing Army’s 4th-down decision-making and success rate, it is well worth mentioning the Black Knights’ 3rd-down statistics last season, which were outstanding on both sides of the ball. 

On offense, Army was 112 for 196 (57.14%) on 3rd down in 2018, best in all of D-1. It helped that the Cadets only needed on average 5.4 yards to go on third down, which ranked first in FBS. 

Defensively, Army held opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 26.56%, fourth-best in FBS. Third-down success was based on what happened on the first two downs, as Army’s opponents averaged 8.4 yards to go on third down — and yes, that was the highest yards-to-go average for any defense in the sub-division.

Thus, the Black Knights’ enormous time of possession advantage (holding the ball for 38:33 per game, by far tops in D-1) wasn’t strictly because of its ball-control offense. The defense also contributed by forcing 4th downs and getting off the field.

There is a reason why Mack Brown, the new-old coach at North Carolina, hired Army defensive coordinator Jay Bateman to become the new DC for the Tar Heels.

Now, that is what Army did on third down. However, the Black Knights weren’t automatically lining up in punt formation if they failed to convert on 3rd down. Far from it.

Army failed to gain a first down (or touchdown) on 84 of its 196 3rd-down attempts last season. So what did it do on the next play? Here is the breakdown:

  • 3 times: There was no next play, because Army turned the ball over on 3rd down (two interceptions and a lost fumble)
  • 12 times: Army tried a field goal (making 8 of them)
  • 33 times: Army punted
  • 36 times: Army went for it on 4th down

Yes, the Black Knights had more 4th-down attempts than punts. How unusual was that? Well, Army was the only FBS team to go for it more often than punt (two FCS squads, Davidson and Kennesaw State, also did this).

Georgia Tech came close (35 punts, 34 fourth-down attempts), and so did Florida Atlantic (+2) and Air Force (+4). On the FCS side of the ledger, The Citadel’s +14 (52 punts, 38 fourth-down attempts) ranked 8th overall in this particular “Punts vs. 4th down attempts” category, one that frankly I just made up because I thought it was interesting.

Florida Atlantic actually led FBS in 4th-down conversion attempts, with 44 (the Owls were successful 24 times). FAU was 5-7 last season, which raises the possibility that part of the reason Lane Kiffin went for it on 4th down so often was because his team was trailing at the time.

However, Florida Atlantic also led FBS in 4th-down conversion attempts in 2017 (39, tied with Northwestern). The Owls won 11 games that season, so being aggressive on 4th down appears to be a consistent strategy for Kiffin. The teams that are most likely to go for it on 4th down are generally option outfits, so in that respect FAU has been a bit of an outlier over the last two seasons.

Not surprisingly, Georgia Tech led the ACC in terms of being most aggressive on 4th down (Boston College was second). The SEC team most likely to go for it on 4th down last year was South Carolina, which was a return to form of sorts for the Gamecocks (which led the conference in this area in 2011, 2013, and 2014, albeit under a different coaching staff).

Teams that were more likely to punt (or attempt a field goal) than go for it included Fresno State, LSU, Utah State, Texas A&M (Jimbo Fisher has historically been very conservative in his decision-making), Central Michigan, and Maryland. Another team that did not go for it on fourth down as often as might have been anticipated: Georgia Southern.

The most incredible thing about Army and 4th down last year wasn’t the amount of attempts, though. It was the number of successful conversions. The Black Knights were 31 for 36 on 4th down, an astonishing 86% success rate that topped all of FBS. 

Nobody else in the country came close to combining such a high volume of attempts with that type of success. For example, Texas converted 80% of its 4th-down tries, second-best nationally by percentage, but only attempted 15 of them all season.

If you add those 31 successful 4th down plays to Army’s already impressive 3rd-down numbers, you get a 3rd-4th down “combination conversion” rate of 73%, which is A) a stat I may have just created, and B) simply ridiculous. 

One reason Army was so good on 4th down is that it often did not have far to go for a first down. Of the Black Knights’ 36 attempts, 28 of them were 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2 plays. Army was 25 for 28 in those down-and-distance situations.

The yards-to-go statistic on third down (5.4) I mentioned earlier in this post had a lot to do with that. Army set up a lot of short 4th-down plays by what it did on 3rd down.

What the Black Knights didn’t do quite as successfully, though, was get well ahead of the chains on first down (only 5.3 yards per play on 1st down, 101st in FBS). This was your classic “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense, except that Army played most of its games on artificial turf. Big plays were not a regular staple of the attack.

Below is a chart of all 81 of Army’s 4th-down decisions from last season.

  • # = 4th down situations
  • P = punts
  • FGC = made field goals
  • FGX = missed field goals
  • C = successful 4th-down conversion attempts
  • X = failed 4th-down conversion attempts

Army 2018          #          P        FGC        FGX         C         X
    4th and
1 25 2 0 0 21 2
2 5 0 0 0 4 1
3 9 5 2 0 2 0
4 5 4 0 0 1 0
5 4 1 0 2 1 0
6 4 2 2 0 0 0
7 5 3 1 0 0 1
8 3 1 1 0 1 0
9 6 4 0 1 0 1
10 2 2 0 0 0 0
11 2 2 0 0 0 0
12 4 3 1 0 0 0
13 1 0 0 0 1 0
14+ 6 4 1 1 0 0
Total 81 33 8 4 31 5

As you can see, Army only punted on 4th-and-1 twice last year. The circumstances that led to those punts were quite similar:

– Against Air Force, Army faced a 4th-and-1 on its own 41-yard line. The Black Knights led 14-0 at the time, and it was early in the third quarter.

– Against Navy, Army faced a 4th-and-1 on its own 12-yard line. The Black Knights led 10-0 at the time, and it was early in the fourth quarter.

In both games Army was up two scores, playing a rival, and there were a limited amount of possessions in each contest (due to the nature of the offenses). Thus, on both occasions, Jeff Monken elected to punt. This certainly made sense, particularly in the Navy game, when Army was backed up to its own 12. 

As it happened, Navy actually scored a touchdown on its ensuing series, so that decision to punt didn’t really work out for the Black Knights.

Incidentally, in both situations, Army faced a 3rd-and-6, gained five yards to set up a 4th-and-1, and then punted.

Army went for it all five times it had a 4th-and-2, making four of them. The one failure came against the Midshipmen, when a rush attempt at the Navy 43-yard line only resulted in a one-yard gain.

There was more variety on 4th-and-3. Five of the nine times Army faced that down-and-distance situation, it punted. The Black Knights also attempted two field goals (going 2-for-2), and went for it twice (succeeding both times).

Army led by at least a touchdown all five times it punted on 4th-and-3. The Black Knights also led by at least 7 points all four times it punted on 4th-and-4, and led by a TD the one time it punted on 4th-and-5.

The line of scrimmage for the four times Army went for it on 4th-and-3, 4th-and-4, or 4th-and-5:  its own 32, the opposition 47, the opposition 28, and the opposition 26. The Black Knights averaged 22.25 yards on those four plays (with one TD). 

That 4th-down play on its own 32 came in the season opener at Duke. Trailing 31-14 in the fourth quarter, Army gained 13 yards on 4th-and-3. This could be considered more of a “desperation” decision, as opposed to most of the other down-and-distance calls Monken made during the campaign.

I also decided to see how many yards Army gained on its successful 4th-and-1 and 4th-and-2 plays, just to see how many “explosive” plays the Black Knights garnered. There were not a lot (although the 52-yard gain against Air Force came in handy, as the Cadets scored on the next play):

  • 4th-and-1, opp 35: 1 yard
  • 4th-and-1, own 34: 3 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 21: 4 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 8: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 34: 7 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 49: 1 yard
  • 4th-and-1, opp 15: 7 yards
  • 4th-and-2, opp 46: 7 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 46: 14 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 10: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 32: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-2, opp 2: 2 yards (TD)
  • 4th-and-2, opp 9: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 42: 52 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 49: 1 yard
  • 4th-and-2, opp 32: 7 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 34: 14 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 25: 5 yards
  • 4th-and-1, own 17: 3 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 27: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 2: 2 yards (TD)
  • 4th-and-1, opp 31: 1 yard
  • 4th-and-1, own 44: 5 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 14: 2 yards
  • 4th-and-1, opp 35: 3 yards

That 4th-and-1 play from its own 17-yard line came at Buffalo, with 1:05 remaining in the first half and Army leading 21-7.

What Monken and Army did last season may start to become a trend. This statistic was published following last year’s regular season (but prior to the bowl games):

Teams are going for it on fourth down an average of 1.683 times per game during the 2018 season, which is by far the highest rate over the last 10 years. Overall, it’s a 22.8 percent increase from the 2009 season when teams went for it on fourth down 1.371 times per game.

Of course, that average doesn’t apply evenly to teams. Army went for it on fourth down 2.769 times per game, which is obviously higher than average — but even higher when considering the percentage of fourth downs faced, because of the way the Black Knights limited possessions. Army went for it 44.4% of the time on fourth down.

This interactive chart includes similar numbers for all of the FBS teams. It’s a very interesting (and well-constructed) graphic.

(Of note, there is a small error in its stats for Army; I believe that is because a field goal attempted on 3rd down at the end of the first half against Liberty was counted as a 4th down situation.)

That graphic accompanies this solid article focusing on Washington State’s 4th-down tendencies under Mike Leach.

The Citadel went for it on fourth down 36.9% of the time on fourth down last season. That was the second-highest rate in the SoCon, behind only VMI (39.5%).

Davidson went for it 55.6% of the time, by a wide margin the highest percentage in D-1. Kennesaw State ranked 2nd in FCS (43.6%), while VMI was 6th, The Citadel 8th, and Samford 11th.

In case you were wondering (because I was), Davidson averaged just two punts per game, fewest in FCS. The Wildcats only attempted four field goals all season, tied for second-fewest (with Jacksonville) in the sub-division. Only Presbyterian (three) attempted fewer field goals in D-1.

Towson’s 25.3% rate ranked 23rd. The Tigers did not really punt that often, but they attempted 29 field goals, tied for second-most in FCS (only Arkansas-Pine Bluff tried more).

Charleston Southern (14.0%) was 100th in go-for-it rate. The Buccaneers had only 14 fourth-down conversion attempts in 2018.

Another 2019 opponent for the Bulldogs, Elon, had a go-for-it rate of 18.9%, which was 68th nationally, and slightly below the FCS average (20.6%).

What follows is a table of all the teams in the Southern Conference. This statistic includes all games, including non-conference contests:

Team 4th down go for it rate
VMI 39.5%
The Citadel 36.9%
Samford 32.5%
Wofford 22.9%
Western Carolina 19.5%
Chattanooga 18.6%
Furman 17.8%
East Tennessee State 16.0%
Mercer 12.7%

There is clearly a difference in approach among the league teams. For example, Mercer (112th nationally) only attempted 10 fourth-down conversions all season. Part of that may have had to do with the Bears’ outstanding punt unit, as Mercer led FCS in net punting in 2018.

In the interest of equal time, it should be pointed out that generally conservative decision-making can be successful, too.

As mentioned earlier, Georgia Southern took this path last season (12.4% “go for it” rate), and proceeded to win 10 games in a bounce-back season. Excellence in other facets of the game justified a more punt-driven philosophy. Just to highlight two areas of superiority:  GSU placekicker Tyler Bass was 19 for 21 on field goal attempts, and the Eagles only committed five turnovers all year (with no interceptions).

Two of the three lowest rates in the “go for it” category in FCS were James Madison (7.1%, lowest in the sub-division) and North Dakota State (8.5%). It didn’t seem to be a problem. Teams that frequently dominate games usually don’t have to take many risks.

Maine would never have been described as dominant last season. That said, the Black Bears won 10 games anyway, despite a 4th down “go for it” rate of just 13.6%, leading FCS in total punts (96, by far the most in FCS). The flagship school of the Pine Tree State parlayed an outstanding run defense (best in the nation) and gritty situational football into the undisputed CAA title.

It isn’t easy to win a road playoff game with double-digit totals in both punts and penalties (11 each), but that is exactly what Maine did last year at Weber State. The Black Bears did not attempt a fourth down conversion in that contest (and were only 3 for 15 on third down conversion attempts). However, Weber State was held to -1 yard rushing (a total that includes sacks).

Basically, there are a lot of ways to win a football game.

I’ll wrap this up with a re-post of my recommended fourth down decision chart for The Citadel. This is unchanged from last season.

4th-down decision chart

Assorted explanations and observations:

– There are six colors represented on the chart. Three of them are self-explanatory — green (go for it), yellow (field goal attempt), and red (punt).

– Another color, light green, indicates an area where the coach has to decide whether to go for it or attempt a field goal. This is dependent on game conditions, ability of the kicker, etc. Obviously, a chart like this should vary at least slightly for each game.

– The field goal parameters are based on a field goal unit with average accuracy and a realistic distance capability limit of 52 yards. Last year was obviously much better from a field goal kicking perspective for The Citadel, but I decided not to further adjust for accuracy due to sample size issues.

– There are two other color areas on the chart to discuss. One (which is light blue) is called “General’s Choice” and named after (of course) General.

This is a section in which the Bulldogs’ statistics from their most recent seasons tend to suggest that punting is probably the percentage play. The sample size is limited, however, and some available statistics suggest that going for it may be a reasonable decision.

– There is also a gray section that I named “Boo Territory”, after the reportedly more hyper and aggressive of the school’s two mascots.

Most of the time, punting is the play in this section. There are a surprising number of analytical sources which would advocate going for it in this area, though.

The Citadel’s historic statistical profile (“historic” meaning the last few years under Mike Houston/Brent Thompson) doesn’t truly justify that level of aggression, however. That is why the section isn’t green (or even light blue).

On the other hand, going for it in Boo Territory could be a game-changer — and faking a punt in this area could also be a consideration.

The season is here! The season is here!

We’re all grateful for that, so much so that we won’t even mind our team punting in opposition territory on fourth and short.

(Okay, maybe not that grateful.)