2016 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on December 3, 2016. The game will only be available on television via ESPN College Extra

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Greg Mescall will provide play-by-play, while Stan Lewter 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. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and Wofford

SoCon weekly release

– The Citadel versus Wofford: a “scary” matchup

Attendance at FCS playoff games has been poor; The Citadel hopes to change that on Saturday

A discussion revolving around the “fourth option”

Brent Thompson had an interesting major in college

Feature on Isaiah Pinson, Jacobs Blocking Award winner in the Southern Conference

– It’s another dogfight

– Terriers get shot at redemption

– Wofford battles injury issues

– Wofford player says “we all know, and they [The Citadel] know, that we should have won that first one”

– Wofford’s safeties are key players on their defense

– Game story from Wofford’s victory over Charleston Southern

– Preview of the game from Yahoo! Sports

– Preview of the game from Southern Pigskin

Brent Thompson’s 11/29 press conference, including comments from Myles Pierce, Isaiah Pinson, and Tyler Renew (video)

Wofford media luncheon interviews with Mike Ayers, Brandon Goodson, and JoJo Tillery (video)

Wofford review of its win over Charleston Southern (video)

– FCS playoff bracket

A couple of other links:

My preview of The Citadel’s 10/22 game versus Wofford

My review of The Citadel’s 10/22 game versus Wofford

Hey, if you’re going to the football game on Saturday night, why not make it a multi-sport doubleheader?

The Citadel’s basketball team will be in action at McAlister Field House, with a noon tipoff for a game against USC-Upstate.

The game against the Spartans is part of the Holy City Hoops Classic (great name for an event). The Citadel defeated Colgate on Friday, and takes on Campbell at 4pm on Sunday.

So far this season the Bulldogs are 5-3, including a 4-0 record at home.

The football game on Saturday will be called on ESPN3 by Greg Mescall (play-by-play) and Stan Lewter (analysis).

As far as I can tell, this is the first time either one has ever called a football game involving a SoCon team.

Mescall is a graduate of Monmouth. In his broadcasting career, he has primarily been a commentator for water polo matches, both as a play-by-play announcer and an analyst (he appears to have spent a considerable amount of time on the west coast, as you might imagine).

This season, however, Mescall started working FBS/FCS college football games, two on play-by-play (both involving Georgia Southern, incidentally) and two as a sideline reporter for the NEC game of the week on ESPN3.

Lewter’s background is actually in basketball. He was an assistant for three years under Jim Valvano at North Carolina State, and later was the head coach at Livingstone.

After starting a broadcasting career as a basketball announcer, several years ago Lewter began to pick up occasional assignments as an analyst for college football games (shades of Nate Ross, a/k/a the “Renaissance Man”). Lewter has called four FBS/FCS games so far this season.

While the game is being streamed on ESPN3, the contest is now also slated to appear on ESPN College Extra.

For those TV viewers with DirecTV, the viewing guide indicates that Wofford-The Citadel will be broadcast in HD on Channel 788-1. For Time Warner Cable subscribers, the matchup is listed on channel 392. In both instances, a subscription to a “sports pack” may be required.

The buildup to this game has featured some loquacious Wofford players, none more voluble than starting free safety JoJo Tillery:

We’re looking for revenge. We all know, and even they know, that we should have won that first one, but mistakes happen.

Tillery wasn’t the only Terrier willing to do some talking. Outside linebacker Terrance Morris had this to say about playing The Citadel:

This is what we’ve been looking for, actually. We [had the] mindset that we let the first one get off the hook…

…now we get to play them all over again at their place and probably get a victory over there, give them a taste of how it felt when they got one over here [in Spartanburg].

Wofford depth chart differences from the first game against The Citadel (10/22), last week versus Charleston Southern, and this week against the Bulldogs:

On offense, there has been only one change. Lennox McAfee, a backup halfback and return man, broke his leg against the Buccaneers. His replacement at both spots is freshman Blake Morgan, who has good speed (and who, it should also be noted, had a 20-yard reception against The Citadel in the October matchup).

Defensively, most of the personnel changes have occurred at linebacker. Dylan Young and Datavious Wilson have been listed as starters for all three games. John Patterson started at inside linebacker versus The Citadel in October, and sustained a serious (and season-ending) neck injury.

Lincoln Stewart replaced him, only to be injured last week. Stewart had to be carted off the field; everyone was relieved to learn afterwards that he had movement in his extremities.

Mike Ayers stated that Stewart had suffered a pinched nerve, and apparently the senior from Florida is available this week, as he is listed as a starter on the two-deep. Stewart had seven tackles versus The Citadel in the regular-season matchup.

Terrance Morris did not start against The Citadel in October, but at the time Morris was completing a recovery from a knee injury that had cost him the entire 2015 season. He started against Charleston Southern and is slated to start on Saturday.

In the defensive secondary, the same four players have been listed as starters on all three of the two-deeps in question. Three of their backups are different on this week’s depth chart from the one that was published for the October game against the Bulldogs.

David Marvin has been listed as the starter at both placekicker and punter for the last two weeks, after Brian Sanders was the projected starter at punter against The Citadel in the regular-season meeting. Sanders is now listed as the backup placekicker, after Luke Carter had held that role through last week. (Sanders is also the holder for the Terriers.)

Statistics of note for Wofford:

Wofford Opp
Points per game 27.9 17.2
Total yards rushing 3395 950
Yards/rush 5.0 2.7
Rushing TDs 32 7
Total yards passing 854 2303
Comp-Att-Int 63-113-2 234-367-15
Average/pass att 7.6 6.3
Passing TDs 4 20
Total offense 4249 3253
Total plays 794 723
Average per play 5.4 4.5
Fumbles/lost 18-9 8-6
Penalties-pen yards 66-614 59-541
Pen yards/game 51.2 45.1
Net punt average 44.8 38.1
Time of poss/game 33:54 26:06
3rd-down conv 71/167 65/159
3rd-down conv % 42.5% 40.9%
Sacks by-yards 28-184 20-2
Red Zone TD% (30-47) 63.8% (24-35) 68.6%
  • Wofford leads the nation in net punting
  • The Terriers have only been intercepted twice all season, the fewest interceptions allowed in the country
  • That is a big reason why Wofford is 7th in fewest turnovers lost, with eleven; four of those came against The Citadel in the 10/22 matchup
  • The Terriers are 25th nationally in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate
  • Wofford is 4th nationally in time of possession and 5th in rushing offense (282.9 yards per game)
  • The Terriers are 4th in FCS in both rushing defense and total defense, and 7th in scoring defense
  • Despite those impressive numbers, Wofford is only 87th in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate

Wofford’s top-5 ranking in rushing defense is even more impressive when you realize that the Terriers are also 5th in yards allowed per rushing attempt. Wofford allowed 4.6 yards per rush against Charleston Southern, but that was actually a solid effort given the opponent, as the Buccaneers lead the nation in yards per rush (at 6.0).

The Citadel is 9th nationally in yards per rushing attempt (5.5), but was held to 3.7 yards per rush against the Terriers in October.

A few stats for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points per game 28.5 20.8
Total yards rushing 3943 1374
Yards/rush 5.5 4.0
Rushing TDs 32 13
Total yards passing 700 2001
Comp-Att-Int 42-104-3 167-288-8
Average/pass att 6.7 6.9
Passing TDs 5 13
Total offense 4643 3375
Total plays 825 630
Average per play 5.6 5.4
Fumbles/lost 21-10 15-8
Penalties-pen yards 55-572 48-461
Pen yards/game 52.0 41.9
Net punt average 36.9 36.9
Time of poss/game 34:42 25:17
3rd-down conv 88/179 40/131
3rd-down conv % 49.2% 30.6%
Sacks by-yards 28-185 2-11
Red Zone TD% (25-45) 55.6% (14-24) 58.3%

  • The Citadel leads the nation in rushing offense (358.3 yards per game)
  • The Bulldogs are 2nd nationally in time of possession (behind only San Diego; the Toreros pulled off the biggest upset of the first round last Saturday by winning at Cal Poly)
  • The Citadel is 7th in FCS in offensive third-down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs have only thrown three interceptions; as mentioned above, Wofford is tops nationally with only two picks tossed this season
  • The Citadel is 10th in total defense, 14th in scoring defense, 19th in pass defense, and 25th in rushing defense
  • This season, The Citadel has lost 13 turnovers, tied for 15th-fewest nationally (James Madison, helmed by former Bulldogs coach Mike Houston, has the fewest turnovers lost, with just nine in eleven games)
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in FCS in defensive third-down conversion rate

Wofford quarterback Brandon Goodson (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is completing 48.2% of his passes, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with three touchdown tosses against two interceptions.

Goodson was only averaging 1.7 yards per carry entering the October matchup between the Terriers and Bulldogs, but the junior from Dacula, Georgia has picked things up on the ground since then, and is now averaging a healthy 5.0 yards per rush.

In the first meeting between the two teams this season, Goodson was 4 for 7 passing for 44 yards and an interception (which was really a fumble, in my opinion, but the official scorer ruled that Kailik Williams’ “Pitch Six” was a pick). He added 48 rushing yards on eight attempts versus the Bulldogs.

Lorenzo Long (5’9″, 205 lbs.) is a tough, shifty running back from Pensacola who rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries against the Bulldogs in Spartanburg. Long was named first-team all-SoCon by both the coaches and media.

The senior has rushed for 1,290 yards this season (5.0 yards/carry), with 16 TDs, including two last Saturday. The second of those was an outstanding individual effort that demonstrated both his speed and power.

Will Gay (5’9″, 185 lbs.), a fifth-year senior, is averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season. He is also Wofford’s primary punt returner. He appeared to suffer a shoulder injury of some sort against Charleston Southern, but later re-entered the game.

I noted earlier that freshman Blake Morgan (5’9″, 185 lbs.) is now on the two-deep. Morgan has only 15 rushing attempts so far this year, but he has made the most of them — averaging 11.5 yards per carry.

Tight end Chandler Gouger (6’2″, 230 lbs.) leads Wofford in receptions, with thirteen. The junior from Chattanooga has caught 3 of Wofford’s 4 passing TDs this season, and is averaging 15.8 yards per catch.

Wofford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 296 lbs.

I wrote about this in my preview of the October game, but it’s worth mentioning again: left guard Dequan Miller didn’t start Wofford’s contest against East Tennessee State because he was busy taking the LSAT. Miller was a second-team all-league pick by the media.

The line is anchored by right tackle Anton Wahrby (6’5″, 300 lbs.). Wahrby was a first-team all-conference choice by both the coaches and media.

Starting center Roo Daniels (6’2″, 285 lbs.) was a second-team all-league selection by both the coaches and media.

The strength of Wofford’s defense is its line.

Miles Brown (6’1″, 310 lbs.) is more than capable of playing nosetackle (as he did last season), but the sophomore is just as good (if not better) at defensive end. The coaches named him to their all-league first team. He had 10 tackles against The Citadel in the October meeting.

True freshman Mikel Horton (6’0″, 315 lbs.), one of several Kentucky natives on Wofford’s two-deep, has proved to be a quick (and yet immovable) study at nosetackle. He made the all-freshman team; it is possible he should have made one of the all-league teams as well.

Junior Tyler Vaughn (6’1″, 270 lbs.) did make all-conference (first team media and coaches). He has 16.5 tackles for loss, including 8 sacks. Vaughn had 7 stops versus the Bulldogs in the regular-season matchup.

Datavious Wilson (6’1″, 230 lbs.), a freshman from Hartsville, is far and away Wofford’s team leader in tackles, with 78. Wilson was hugely impressive against The Citadel, ranging all over the field to make 15 tackles.

Wilson left the Charleston Southern game in the second half with what may have been a muscle injury. He did not return, but is still listed as a starter.

Because of its line, Wofford’s defense would be formidable with almost any combination of linebackers; however, tackling monsters like Wilson don’t grow on trees. If he were not able to play on Saturday, the Terriers would definitely miss his presence.

Fellow linebacker Dylan Young (6’1″, 235 lbs.) had an interesting afternoon against The Citadel in the first meeting, with one tackle, one interception, and one extended taunting display (that somehow went unnoticed by the SoCon officiating crew). Young is a senior from Collierville, Tennessee.

Both of Wofford’s safeties are solid. Strong safety Jaleel Green (6’2″, 215 lbs.) had a very good game against the Bulldogs. The senior from Jacksonville was a first-team all-SoCon pick by the media. He is second on the team in stops, with 56.

Free safety JoJo Tillery (6’2″, 205 lbs.), a talkative sophomore, is third on the squad in tackles, with 55.

Junior placekicker David Marvin (6’2″, 210 lbs.) was named the all-league placekicker and punter, to the surprise of nobody. He is a major reason why the Terriers lead all of FCS in net punting, and the junior from Charlotte is an even better placekicker.

Marvin is 15 for 19 on field goal attempts this season, including five from 50+ yards. He made a 54-yarder and a 57-yarder against Furman. Marvin’s four misses include a 62-yard attempt and a 49-yard effort (against The Citadel) that was blocked.

Sophomore long snapper Ross Hammond (6’1, 220 lbs.) is the son of South Carolina’s Secretary of State, Mark Hammond. The senior Hammond played college football at Newberry.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 62 degrees. Saturday night is projected to be mostly cloudy, with a low of 47 degrees.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 8th in FCS (down one from last week). Wofford is ranked 10th (up three spots).

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 55% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 20, Wofford 17.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (11th), Samford (22nd), Mercer (40th), Furman (48th), Gardner-Webb (51st), Western Carolina (67th), East Tennessee State (70th), VMI (71st).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, James Madison, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, Wofford.

– Massey’s predicted final scores for the other seven FCS playoff games:

  • Jacksonville State 21, Youngstown State 17
  • James Madison 42, New Hampshire 34
  • North Dakota 28, Richmond 24
  • North Dakota State 31, San Diego 10
  • Sam Houston State 41, Chattanooga 36
  • South Dakota State 28, Villanova 17
  • Eastern Washington 35, Central Arkansas 28

The game between Wofford and The Citadel is projected to be the closest and the lowest-scoring of the eight contests. All eight home teams are projected to win; home teams were 7-1 last week, with the aforementioned San Diego-Cal Poly game the only matchup in which the road team pulled off a victory.

– Non-conference opponent update: North Greenville is now 9-4 on the season and 2-0 in the D-2 playoffs after defeating Tuskegee on Saturday. The Crusaders are now in the quarterfinals, but face a tall order if they want to advance any further, as NGU must play North Alabama, a traditional D-2 power that already defeated North Greenville 52-21 earlier this season.

– Speaking of North Alabama, it is widely believed that the school’s varsity athletics programs will be moving to Division I by the fall of 2018. An announcement is expected next week. The Lions would join the Atlantic Sun; as part of a partnership agreement with the Big South, UNA would play football in the latter conference (the A-Sun doesn’t sponsor football) as the newest member of FCS.

– Wofford’s game notes depth chart includes 12 players from South Carolina. Other states represented on the Terriers’ two-deep: Kentucky (7), Georgia (5), Florida (5), Ohio (4), Tennessee (4), North Carolina (2), and one each from Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Maryland.

Offensive tackle Anton Wahrby is a native of Sweden who was an exchange student at Lexington (SC) High School.

– The Citadel’s game notes depth chart includes 17 players from South Carolina. Other states represented on the Bulldogs’ two-deep: Georgia (14), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), and one each from Oklahoma and Texas.

– Cam Jackson’s absence from The Citadel’s two-deep is the only change from the Bulldogs’ official depth chart for the game against North Carolina. Rod Johnson is listed as a starter at A-back, with Jonathan Dorogy as his backup.

It would be a setback of some significance for the Bulldogs if Jackson is unable to play on Saturday. He is arguably The Citadel’s most dynamic player. Jackson is third nationally in yards per rush, at 7.29 yards per carry.

– Georgia Tech’s media relations department announced on Thursday afternoon that the Yellow Jackets will open their 2019 football season against The Citadel. The game will be played on August 31, 2019.

That means the Bulldogs are officially set to play power-5 conference opponents in each of the next three seasons — Clemson in 2017, Alabama in 2018, and Georgia Tech in 2019.

If The Citadel were fortunate enough to win on Saturday, the Bulldogs would face the winner of the Youngstown State-Jacksonville State game. YSU defeated Samford last week, 38-24, while JSU had a bye (the Gamecocks are the #3 seed).

With a victory over Youngstown State, Jacksonville State would host a quarterfinal matchup regardless of which team prevails in the matchup between the Palmetto State schools. If Youngstown State were to pull the upset, and The Citadel were to win, the Bulldogs would host the Penguins (either a night game on Friday, December 9, or on Saturday, December 10).

The Citadel has never faced Jacksonville State on the gridiron. The Bulldogs, of course, have faced YSU once — the last playoff game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

All of that is looking ahead, to be sure.

A few brief thoughts on attendance:

A search of attendance figures for last weekend’s first-round games showed that crowds at eight host schools were down an average of 59.8 percent from the season average. Wofford, for example, drew 2,605 fans for its 15-14 win over Palmetto State rival Charleston Southern, a 65.8 percent decrease from its season average of 7,625 fans.

New Hampshire had the biggest drop-off, with 2,240 fans on hand for a 64-21 win over Lehigh, a 76.7 percent slide from its season average of 9,630. Chattanooga saw the smallest decrease; yet the Mocs’ crowd of 5,238 fans still was down 41.1 percent from their season average of 8,886 fans.

 

The Citadel averaged 13,648 fans for four home games this season, a figure that ranks 17th among 124 FCS schools in 2016, and first among Southern Conference members. (A fifth “home” game was played at North Greenville due to Hurricane Matthew).

Citadel fans, including some 500 knobs, packed the visitors’ side at Wofford for the Bulldogs’ 24-21 overtime win at Gibbs Stadium on Oct. 22, part of a season-high crowd of 11,102 for the Terriers.

The Corps of Cadets will be at Saturday’s game, a school official said Monday.

“We had a great crowd for the game at Wofford,” Thompson said. “I think this should be a well-attended game. Our ticket sales are going well, and the Corps of Cadets should help out.”

For The Citadel’s two home playoff games in 1992, the Bulldogs drew 12,300 fans for a 44-0 win over North Carolina A&T, and 13,021 for a 42-17 loss to Youngstown State.

In other news, Wofford is hoping to bring 110 students in buses to the game.

I know that there has been considerable discussion in various corners of the internet about how many people are expected to attend the game on Saturday. While I would like to think the stands at Johnson Hagood Stadium will be packed with an overflow crowd of Bulldog supporters, I’m not counting on it.

The good news is that The Citadel doesn’t have to sell tickets for a game played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The bad news is the school has to compete with Christmas shopping, early-bird holiday parties, the ACC title game (which features Clemson), an absence of discounted tickets, and the fact people understandably don’t plan ahead for a potential home playoff game.

When 13,021 paid to see The Citadel play Youngstown State in 1992, that number was only 71% of the average attendance for the previous seven games. If you take out the other playoff game, the victory over North Carolina A&T (played the Saturday after Thanksgiving), the number drops to 67% of the average attendance for the six regular-season contests.

If you extrapolate those percentages and use them to determine a potential estimate for Saturday, based on this season’s numbers, the expected attendance would be between 9,144 and 9,690 fans.

Now, I’ve written before that I always thought those attendance figures in 1992 were a little bit off. I was at both games; it sure seemed like more than 12,300 people were at that matchup with North Carolina A&T, that’s for sure.

However, even if attendance for those two games was under-reported, it was still significantly less than the average for the regular-season games. That is undeniable.

I don’t know what the department of athletics has in terms of a goal for Saturday’s attendance. I’m glad the corps of cadets will be on hand; that will help, not only in the numbers made up by the corps, but because a fair number of people are likely to attend just because the corps will be at the game.

If the announced attendance is more than 12,000, I think Jim Senter and his crew should be roundly congratulated for a job well done. I suspect the “acceptable” attendance number may be closer to 10,500.

The counter to my somewhat negative arguments above: last year, Bulldog supporters came out in droves to see playoff games in Conway and North Charleston. There is a sizable base of loyal fans that will be ready for action once the weekend rolls around (many are ready now), especially for a home contest.

I hope that kind of excitement is infectious.

Saturday’s game is going to be tough. I suspect that it may resemble the contest played in Spartanburg earlier this season. I don’t think The Citadel can count on winning the turnover battle 4-0 this time, but the Bulldogs don’t necessarily have to do that in order to win, either.

They have to play better on offense, though. While the passing game has drawn a lot of attention, the truth is the number that really jumps out from the 10/22 box score is the 190 net rushing yards. That obviously isn’t good enough, not by a long shot.

Does The Citadel need to do a better job throwing the ball? Yes. However, the running game is what pays the bills for the Bulldogs.

I am a little worried about the early part of the game, and how The Citadel responds to a two-week layoff. The Bulldogs can’t afford a sluggish start. The coaching staff’s experience in postseason competition should help alleviate that potential problem, though.

At any rate, I’m ready for Saturday. Aren’t we all…

2016 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. North Carolina

The Citadel vs. North Carolina, to be played at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with kickoff at 3:34 pm ET on Saturday, November 19. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ACC Network Extra, with Dan Gutowsky providing play-by-play and John Gregory supplying the analysis.

The game 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. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

This light blue vs. light blue matchup is brought to you by Eiffel 65:

I’m blue da ba dee da ba di da ba dee da ba di da ba dee da ba di…

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and North Carolina

SoCon weekly release

The Citadel makes its case for a top-4 seed

Jonathan King, internet meme

UNC prepares to face the Bulldogs’ triple-option offense

Tar Heels to face another triple-option foe

Undefeated Bulldogs present legitimate test

– Larry Fedora says UNC only looking at The Citadel (video)

– The UNC coach is not overlooking the Bulldogs

– Fedora: “I don’t think we’ll take The Citadel lightly”

– If UNC doesn’t “beat the unbeaten Bulldogs by 50 points” it is because the Tar Heels are “still hung over from losing at Duke”

– Game preview from Campus Insiders

– SB Nation preview: Players to watch

Brent Thompson’s 11/15 press conference, including comments from Kevin Graham, Jonathan King, and Kyle Weaver (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/16 radio show (video)

– Brent Thompson is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS FCS Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 15

The last time The Citadel played North Carolina (in 2009), the game was on ESPN3.com, and the announcers were Bob Picozzi and Paul Maguire. That was the first time Maguire had ever announced a game involving The Citadel (his alma mater).

This week’s ACC Network analyst, John Gregory, also has a connection to The Citadel, though perhaps not one he would fondly remember.

Gregory was Marshall’s starting quarterback in 1988. That season, the Thundering Herd began the year 8-0, rising to #1 in the I-AA polls.

Marshall then traveled to Johnson Hagood Stadium to play The Citadel. Very few games at the old stadium have ever matched that contest for intensity or general atmosphere. It was electric.

MU had been averaging 32.6 points per contest. Gregory was at the time the third-rated passer in I-AA.

However, that day wasn’t one of Gregory’s best. The quarterback finished with 12 completions on 25 attempts, for 176 yards. Three different Bulldogs intercepted Gregory passes (for the record, they were J.D. Cauthen, Terrance Young, and David Matherly).

All in all, it was a long afternoon for the visitors from West Virginia. The Bulldogs upset the Thundering Herd, 20-3.

To be fair, Marshall still shared the SoCon title that year, and advanced to the I-AA quarterfinals. Both of the Thundering Herd’s losses in 1988 were to Palmetto State schools — The Citadel and Furman. Gregory also led Marshall to a victory over The Citadel the following season, 1989.

The third (and thankfully, final) preliminary rankings list for the FCS playoffs was released on Tuesday night:

Rank School Last week
1 North Dakota State 3
2 Eastern Washington 2
3 Jacksonville State 1
4 James Madison 4
5 Sam Houston State 5
6 The Citadel 6
7 Central Arkansas 9
8 Richmond 8
9 North Dakota 10
10 South Dakota State NR

In each of the three rankings, the top 4 has changed, despite none of the teams in the top 4 having lost during that time period. However, The Citadel has been stuck at #6 on all three lists.

After North Dakota State debuted in the rankings at #4 on the initial list, angry shouts from Fargo could be heard throughout the land — or at least in the homes of the selection committee members, as the complaining appears to have had an effect.

Now, does NDSU deserve to be #1 or #2 in the rankings? Probably. How the Bison got there, though, does not reflect well on the committee. Neither does The Citadel’s status as a team with a demonstrably better case for a top-4 seed than either Sam Houston State or Jacksonville State, both of which are ahead of the Bulldogs in the rankings.

Alas, the selection committee apparently can’t get past SHSU’s gaudy offensive statistics (never mind the opposition). A cynic would suggest Jacksonville State is benefiting from having two OVC advocates for its cause on the committee — one the chairman, the other JSU’s own director of athletics.

Per the Massey Ratings, Sam Houston State’s best opponent to date is Nicholls, which is ranked 35th. Its second-best win is versus McNeese State (42nd). Meanwhile, The Citadel has played three opponents ranked in the top 14.

Jacksonville State’s best two wins are against Coastal Carolina (ranked 18th by Massey) and Liberty (26th).

In the NCAA’s “toughest schedules to date” category, The Citadel’s slate is ranked 22nd. Jacksonville State’s schedule is 101st; Sam Houston State’s, 116th.

All those pesky facts are likely to be ignored by the selection committee, however, based on the preliminary rankings (and the committee’s historical bent). I would really like to be wrong about that, but I don’t think I will.

The seeding order matters because home field advantage is very important in the FCS playoffs. The last champion to have won a game on the road en route to a title was Richmond, in 2008. That’s right — North Dakota State has not had to play a road game during its entire five-year championship run.

At least the Bulldogs are almost certain to get a seed. Avoiding a first-round game and getting to host a second-round game are both important keys to advancing in the tournament.

That is particularly true because the assignment of first-round host sites is a process driven by money. Some would argue that in a few cases, team selection is monetarily driven:

It’s down to the Brawl of the Wild Game, beat Montana State and with the Griz’ history of big crowds, [Montana will] make the playoffs.

The writer of that blurb isn’t wrong. Montana is a decent bet to make the field if it wins in part because the program is a money-maker. If you are a fan of the team that gets paired with the Griz for a first-round game, you might as well resign yourself to a road game, even if your team has a better résumé.

More than a few people wondered last year if the deciding factor in picking one particular at-large squad was because the school was within 400 miles of a potential opponent. Thus, it could be bused to the game, saving the NCAA the cost of an extra team flight.

The CFP setup is positively pristine when compared to the selection and seeding for the FCS playoffs.

North Carolina is 7-3 overall, 5-2 in the ACC.

After opening the season with a loss to Georgia in Atlanta, the Tar Heels won four straight games. UNC averaged over 44 points per game in those victories, which included a last-second defeat of Florida State in Tallahassee, a comeback victory over Pittsburgh, and easy wins against Illinois and FCS power James Madison.

However, North Carolina’s surge was ended rather emphatically by a combination of Virginia Tech and Hurricane Matthew. The final score was 34-3; it could be argued that the Hokies were stylistically more suited to play a game in poor weather conditions, though perhaps not so much as to win by 31 points.

UNC recovered from that debacle to win three more games, beating Miami and Virginia on the road before returning home and thumping Georgia Tech, 48-20.

Then came last Thursday night, when the Tar Heels blew an early 14-0 lead and lost to a 3-6 Duke team, 28-27. It was the most disappointing result of the season for UNC.

Statistics of note for North Carolina:

UNC Opp
Points/game 33.5 26.4
Rushing yardage 1482 2223
Yards/rush 4.8 4.5
Rush TDs 20 24
Passing yardage 3058 1936
Comp-Att-Int 255-360-4 157-278-0
Average/pass att 8.5 7.0
Passing TDs 22 9
Total offense 4540 4159
Total Plays 672 769
Yards/play 6.8 5.4
Fumbles/lost 11/8 23-9
Penalties-pen yds 79-636 73-624
Pen yards/game 63.6 62.4
Net punt average 40.9 37.3
Time of poss/game 24:42 35:18
3rd-down conv 63/130 68/161
3rd-down conv % 48.5% 42.2%
Sacks by-yards 20-122 16-94
Red Zone TD% (30-45) 66.7% (28-44) 63.6%
  • No, that’s not a typo — the Tar Heels have yet to intercept a pass this season, which is really amazing
  • On the other hand, UNC quarterbacks have only thrown 4 picks, which is tied for 4th-fewest in FBS
  • North Carolina is ranked 16th in FBS in offensive third down conversion rate (second in the ACC, to Clemson)
  • One way to consistently convert on third downs is to complete passes, and UNC’s 70.8% completion rate is third-best nationally
  • Conversely, the Tar Heels are 93rd in the country in defensive third down conversion rate
  • UNC is 17th in FBS in net punting, and has only allowed a net of one (1) punt return yard all season
  • The lack of interceptions by the defense is a major reason why the Tar Heels are 93rd in turnover margin
  • North Carolina is among the most-penalized teams in the nation
  • UNC has the third-lowest time of possession in all of FBS; only Missouri and Iowa (!) have possessed the football for less time this season

North Carolina’s ranking in rush defense is 106th nationally, a statistic that has been bandied about in a few places this week. However, in terms of yards per rush, the Tar Heels don’t look quite as bad, ranking 79th in that category.

Stats of consequence for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30.7 18.8
Rushing yardage 3599 1211
Yards/rush 5.5 3.8
Rush TDs 31 13
Passing yardage 673 1808
Comp-Att-Int 39-96-2 155-267-8
Average/pass att 7.0 6.8
Passing TDs 5 10
Total offense 4272 3019
Total Plays 745 583
Yards/play 5.7 5.2
Fumbles/lost 16-7 13-8
Penalties-pen yds 51-538 42-400
Pen yards/game 53.8 40.0
Net punt average 36.8 36.8
Time of poss/game 33:56 26:03
3rd-down conv 80/162 39/123
3rd-down conv % 49.3% 31.7%
Sacks by-yards 28-185 1-6
Red Zone TD% (25-44) 56.8% (13-21) 61.9%
  • The Citadel leads FCS in rushing yards per game (359.9); the Bulldogs’s average per rush attempt of 5.5 is 7th-best nationally
  • The Bulldogs are 7th in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 13th in FCS in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs are 4th nationally in time of possession
  • The Citadel’s offense suffered its first sack of the season last week against VMI
  • Despite being tied for 18th in fewest penalties per game, the Bulldogs have committed more penalties than their opponents
  • The Citadel is 20th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in FCS in scoring defense, 22nd in rushing defense, and 21st in pass defense

North Carolina has had its fair share of great players over the years, from Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice to Lawrence Taylor.

However, the most successful NFL quarterback to have been a UNC alum is T.J. Yates, who started against The Citadel when these two schools last met. Yates has thrown six career TD passes in the NFL, just five more than Stump Mitchell.

A lot of people think UNC may finally have produced a future pro all-star QB, though, in current signal-caller Mitch Trubisky (6’3″, 220 lbs.), a junior from Metter, Ohio. Trubisky is in his first year as a full-time starter, and he has excelled for the Tar Heels.

For the season, Trubisky is completing 70.6% of his passes, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt, with 22 touchdown tosses against only four interceptions. Trubisky had a streak of 243 consecutive passes without an interception end versus Virginia Tech.

Elijah Hood (6’0″, 200 lbs.) is a junior running back from Charlotte who rushed for 1,463 yards last season, averaging 6.7 yards per carry, with 17 touchdowns.

I have friends who are UNC fans. The common refrain from them last season was that Hood should have been featured even more than he was (particularly in the Tar Heels’ borderline ridiculous loss to South Carolina).

This year, Hood has had some injury issues that have limited his productivity, but he has still rushed for 719 yards and 8 touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per rush.

Hood’s occasional absences from the lineup have been somewhat mitigated by the fine play of another running back, T.J. Logan (5’10”, 190 lbs.), a senior who has stepped up for the Tar Heels. Logan is also averaging 5.9 yards per carry, with a total of 533 yards rushing and 7 TDs.

North Carolina has several outstanding receivers.

Ryan Switzer (5’10”, 185 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with 75. Switzer is also a great — not good, great — punt returner, probably the outstanding return man of this era. The senior from the other Charleston (in West Virginia) has been compared more than once to Wes Welker.

Bug Howard (6’5″, 210 lbs.) is averaging 15.8 yards per reception. The senior leads the team in touchdown catches, with six.

Austin Proehl (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is a junior who has 34 catches and three touchdowns. His father Ricky played in the NFL for several decades.

UNC sustained a tough loss last month in its receiving corps when Mack Hollins suffered a broken collarbone. The senior wideout was leading the team in yards per reception.

North Carolina’s starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 300 lbs.

The o-line has been somewhat depleted by injuries, but still features several experienced performers. Center Lucas Crowley (6’3″, 290 lbs.) and right tackle Jon Heck (6’6″, 310 lbs.) have combined to make 84 career starts.

Middle linebacker Andre Smith (6’0″, 240 lbs.) and strong safety Donny Miles (5’11”, 205 lbs.) are tied for UNC’s team lead in tackles, with 89. Both will have important roles for the Tar Heels on Saturday, particularly Smith, a sophomore from Jacksonville who drew praise from Brent Thompson during the coach’s radio show.

Smith is a player with excellent lateral movement, according to Thompson. One of the keys to the game for the Bulldogs’ offense is to keep him from making plays (“limit him” in Thompson’s parlance). Against Georgia Tech, Smith had 12 tackles.

Miles made 11 tackles in UNC’s victory over Florida State. The junior from Miami had nine tackles and recovered a fumble in the Tar Heels’ win over Pittsburgh.

Thompson described North Carolina’s defense as “big up front, long up front. They can lock you out a bit if you don’t watch out.”

Defensive tackle Nazair Jones (6’5″, 310 lbs.) certainly qualifies as “big” and “long”. The junior leads UNC in tackles for loss, with 7 1/2. Jones had eight stops against Georgia Tech.

Mikey Bart (6’3″, 270 lbs.) leads the Tar Heels in sacks, with four. Bart has made 25 career starts during his time in Chapel Hill.

Cole Holcomb (6’1″, 220 lbs.) is a former walk-on who ranks third on the team in tackles, with 87. The junior had eleven stops against Duke.

Nick Weiler (6’0″, 190 lbs.) starred in one of the more memorable moments of the college football season. The senior placekicker booted a game-winning 54-yard field goal versus Florida State, and then proceeded to do the “Tomahawk Chop” for the benefit of the Tallahassee crowd.

Up to that point, Weiler had never made a kick of 50 yards or longer, but he has added two more such kicks to his total since then. For the season, he is 12 for 16 on field goal attempts.

Weiler is also a prohibitive favorite to be first-team All-Hair.

Tom Sheldon (6’3″, 200 lbs.) is an Australian who handles the punting duties for the Tar Heels. Although just a freshman, the left-footed Sheldon is 28 years old.

As noted above, UNC’s net punting has been very good this year, with only one net yard allowed all season in returns.

Sheldon had never been to the United States before he arrived at UNC on a recruiting visit. His previous team had been an Australian Rules Football outfit called the Kyabram Bombers, which has its own theme song:

We’re the bombers
we’re the greatest team alive
We’ll wear the red and black,
Pride and courage never lack,
All for one and one for all.

Wearing light blue and white may have been an even bigger culture shock for Sheldon than Lexington-style barbecue…

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 70 degrees. There is a 20% chance of rain after 2 pm. The low on Saturday night is projected to be 34 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an 21.5-point underdog against North Carolina, with an over/under of 58.5. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were 20-point underdogs at South Carolina last season.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 49.5-point underdog at Alabama; Western Carolina is a 30.5-point underdog at South Carolina; Wofford is a 22.5-point favorite versus VMI; Samford is a 29.5-point favorite at East Tennessee State; and Furman is a 2.5-point favorite at Mercer (that last one surprised me).

Gardner-Webb (4-6) finishes its season by hosting Monmouth. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are a 11.5-point favorite.

North Greenville (7-4) received a bid to the NCAA Division II playoffs and will play at Florida Tech on Saturday. The Crusaders are 14.5-point underdogs.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 4th in FCS (unchanged from last week). North Carolina is ranked 25th in FBS.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 5% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of North Carolina 37, The Citadel 14.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Samford (11th), Wofford (12th, a jump of seven spots), Chattanooga (14th, a drop of six positions), Furman (43rd), Mercer (46th), Gardner-Webb (48th), Western Carolina (69th), VMI (72nd), East Tennessee State (87th).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Sam Houston State, James Madison, and Northern Iowa.

– UNC’s game notes roster includes 51 natives of North Carolina. Other states represented on the squad: Georgia (12), Florida (12), Virginia (8), New Jersey (5), Alabama (3), California (3), Maryland (3), Texas (2), Tennessee (2), South Carolina (2), Ohio (2), and one each from Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

As mentioned above, punter Tom Sheldon is from Australia — specifically, Echuca, Victoria.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– North Carolina concludes its regular season on the Friday after Thanksgiving, hosting North Carolina State. UNC could still potentially play a game the following week for the ACC championship; for that to happen, the Tar Heels need a victory over the Wolfpack combined with a loss by Virginia Tech to Virginia.

– Non-conference opponents for UNC in future seasons include Western Carolina (in both 2017 and 2018), California, UNCC, Old Dominion, East Carolina, UCF, Notre Dame (in 2017 and 2022), Georgia State, and South Carolina (in 2019 and 2023, with both games played in Charlotte).

– Brent Thompson is the seventh coach that North Carolina will face this season in his first year as the head coach at his current school. The others: Mike Houston (James Madison), Mark Richt (Miami), Kirby Smart (Georgia), Lovie Smith (Illinois), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), and Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia). UNC is 4-2 against that group.

– Saturday’s game is the last of three contests that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season, against opponents that compete in 3 different leagues — the Big South (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (UNC).

– There are no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep this week.

– Game notes factoid of the week: Brent Thompson’s eight SoCon victories are tied for the most by a first-year head coach in Southern Conference history. Thompson shares the record with Bob Pruett, who won eight league contests in his first year as Marshall’s head coach in 1996. That season was Marshall’s last as a I-AA program; the Thundering Herd went 15-0 and won the national title.

This could be a strange game for The Citadel in the sense that, for the first time all season, expectations are limited. There is no real pressure.

The Bulldogs have done everything that could possibly be asked of them this year. Eight conference games, eight victories. Two non-conference road games in which The Citadel was favored, two more wins.

After this matchup, the Bulldogs will begin what amounts to a second season.

That said, this game is not a throwaway for The Citadel by any means. It is another chance to make a positive impression.

The win last year over South Carolina provided the program (and its fan base) with a huge jolt of energy. A victory over UNC on Saturday would be an even bigger statement.

I’m looking forward to this game. That anticipation is not strictly based on a hope for victory, though I do harbor such thoughts. I don’t think it is unrealistic to think the Bulldogs can win, either.

After all, no one should doubt this team.

Game Review, 2016: VMI

The Citadel 30, VMI 20.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Video from WCIV-TV, including (via Twitter) “raw” interview with Brent Thompson

Video from WCSC-TV

– School release from The Citadel

– School release from VMI

– Game story, The Roanoke Times

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

– Brent Thompson’s post-game speech (via Twitter)

– More video via Twitter involving the SoCon trophy and (of course) Brent Thompson crowdsurfing

On-field end-game video via the Facebook page for The Citadel Sports, including the last two minutes and the Silver Shako presentation

Also via the Facebook page for The Citadel Sports, sideline game video with roughly 12 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter until the 3:20 mark

Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Jonathan King’s strip sack/TD (audio)

Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Jonathan Dorogy’s fourth-quarter TD (audio)

I wasn’t able to attend the contest on Saturday, but I decided to post a short game review anyway. After all, we’re still undefeated!

Trying to follow the game from afar was a bit of an adventure, especially after ESPN3 had a system-wide failure at halftime. I listened to the radio call, which I tend to do anyway when I watch The Citadel play on ESPN3 (in part because the audio is often 30 to 45 seconds ahead of ESPN’s stream, and I like to know what is happening in the game as soon as possible).

Eventually, The Citadel put up a live video feed on its Facebook page. I’ve linked that above (they are in two segments); most of the fourth quarter was made available. It wasn’t ideal, but it was certainly better than nothing, and was greatly appreciated.

While reviewing the video feed after the game,  it was clear that many people from all over the nation followed the action on Facebook — and that was on short notice, too. I saw posts from viewers in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Utah, Idaho, and California, and I’m sure I missed several states (and perhaps a few countries).

The folks in the department of athletics who pulled that off deserve plenty of kudos.

It also reminded me of one of my pie-in-the-sky ideas, so bear with me for a few paragraphs…

During Homecoming, there was a live video feed on Facebook of the parade. That was a great idea. However, I wonder if it is feasible to go one step further.

Every year, the Army-Navy game is televised by CBS. You knew that already. What you may not have known is that the pregame march-on by the U.S.M.A.’s corps of cadets and the U.S.N.A.’s brigade of midshipmen is also televised — by the CBS Sports Network, the cable sports affiliate of CBS.

I watched part of that show two years ago. Besides the march-on, a couple of on-field hosts/reporters interviewed cadets and officials from each academy. In a way, it came across as a more focused version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and was essentially a ninety-minute infomercial for the two institutions.

Given that The Citadel’s home games are now streamed by ESPN3, I’m wondering if the pregame march to the stadium by The Citadel’s corps of cadets could also be a part of a longer broadcast. For all I know, that may not be practical, but it might be worthwhile.

The game itself was a tough one for The Citadel, to the surprise of nobody. VMI was well-prepared, and took the “nothing to lose” concept to new heights with a wide variety of trick plays and gambits.

The Keydets tried an onside kick, successfully executed a wide receiver pass to the quarterback for a touchdown, added a flea flicker that set up another TD, ran multiple “wildcat” plays, attempted a fake punt (that worked due to a penalty on the Bulldogs), and generally zigged whenever zagging was expected.

The Citadel played without several of its regulars on offense (including Cam Jackson, Reggie Williams, and Jorian Jordan). That may have affected the timing of a few plays that didn’t work, though VMI’s defense also deserves credit on that front.

Inside linebacker Allan Cratsenberg was a particular standout for the Keydets. He finished with 20 tackles, the most by a VMI player in a game this century.

For only the third time all season, the Bulldogs did not have an edge in time of possession. Having said that, when The Citadel needed a put-away drive in the fourth quarter, Dominique Allen and company responded with a 16-play possession that took six minutes and forty seconds off the clock.

The Bulldogs also had a few much-needed big plays in the game that offset some of the offensive struggles. Allen’s 70-yard pass to Rudder Brown set up a touchdown, and so did Jonathan Dorogy’s 34-yard fourth-quarter run (with Dorogy finishing that drive himself by taking Allen’s pitch on 4th-and-3 for a 17-yard score).

Of course, the play that will make all the highlight reels was Jonathan King’s 54-yard mad dash to the end zone, after he ripped the ball out of the hands of VMI quarterback Austin Coulling. Someone at The Citadel might want to send the video of that TD to SB Nation for Piesman Trophy consideration.

The freshmen who made the trip to Virginia certainly made their presence felt. On the Facebook video clips, you can clearly hear the yelling and chanting from that side of the stadium, including the “I Believe That We Will Win” rallying cry and (amusingly) a few shouts of “Charleston Crab House!” whenever the Bulldogs made a first down.

As the clock wound down, another chant broke out, one that was unprecedented for cadets at The Citadel:

10 and 0! 10 and 0! 10 and 0! 10 and 0!

Ah yes, 10-0.

Parts of that 10-0 worth noting:

  • The victory at VMI was The Citadel’s sixth road win of the season, the most in school history
  • With the nine wins from last year, this is the most successful two-year stretch for the Bulldogs in program annals
  • The Citadel finished undefeated in Southern Conference play for the first time ever (the school joined the league in 1936)

It has been quite a year.

Unfortunately, there was a somber aspect to the long weekend. On Friday, assistant athletic director for facilities Mike Groshon died of complications from leukemia. He was 63 years old.

Groshon was best known in recent years as the “keeper of the dogs”, namely General and Boo. He grudgingly accepted that role about a dozen years ago, but came to enjoy it.

The 1976 graduate of The Citadel actually accepted a variety of roles in 35 years at his alma mater, including several years as the school’s tennis coach. He finished his tenure in that position with a winning record, then and now not an easy feat at The Citadel.

His main vocation was supervising maintenance and upkeep on the athletic facilities, and he was good at it.

In 2002, a high school band exhibition damaged the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium just one week prior to a home game. Groshon and his crew did such an outstanding job getting the field ready for play, then-coach Ellis Johnson said that Groshon “deserves a pay raise, a week’s vacation, a gold medal. That field was in pitiful condition, and he did a great job of getting it ready.”

His death sparked a large outpouring on social media of praise and sad reflection from people with whom he interacted over the years.

In the 1988 football media guide, Mike Groshon was described as a “vital cog in the operation of Bulldog athletics”. That was true then, and it was true for the next three decades as well.

Condolences to his family and friends.

Next up for The Citadel is another team that wears light blue and white: North Carolina. I’ll post a game preview for that contest later in the week.

It may not be one of my “standard” previews, to be honest. I’ll probably write about the upcoming playoffs as much as the Tar Heels.

In the meantime, I will conclude this post with a terrible photoshop effort, my take on the picks the CFP selection committee will be making on Tuesday…

cfp-2

2016 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 12. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Wade Branner providing play-by-play and Dave Harding supplying the analysis.

The game 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. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 11/8 press conference, including comments from Cody Clark and Tyler Renew (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/9 radio show (video)

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS FCS Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 10

– Sure, we can relive that Cam Jackson run again

– VMI’s new starting quarterback tries to lead Keydets to an upset of the Bulldogs

– Highlights of VMI’s game against Bucknell (video)

– Get well, Mike Groshon

The second week of preliminary rankings by the FCS selection committee resulted in a few changes, but by and large those adjustments did not really affect The Citadel.

Week 2  Rank School Previous (Week 1)
1 Jacksonville State 1
2 Eastern Washington 3
3 North Dakota State 4
4 James Madison 5
5 Sam Houston State 2
6 The Citadel 6
7 Chattanooga 8
8 Richmond 7
9 Central Arkansas 10
10 North Dakota NR

The biggest news was Sam Houston State dropping from #2 to #5. The Bearkats are one of two undefeated FCS teams, with The Citadel being the other. However, SHSU’s strength of schedule is weak when compared to all but one of the other top eight teams (we’ll get to the exception in a moment).

Last week, North Dakota State fans (and media members) complained vociferously after Sam Houston State was ranked ahead of the Bison. They had a point.

It is impossible to know whether or not certain members of the selection committee were influenced by the noise emanating from Fargo. I could make a good guess, though.

Of course, NDSU didn’t get everything it wanted. North Dakota State is still ranked behind Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. The latter school’s #1 ranking continues to be a bit puzzling.

Schedule strength of the top 10 teams through last week’s games (incidentally, Samford is 2nd overall in this category):

  • Jacksonville State (schedule strength of 101st out of 124 FCS teams)
  • Eastern Washington (tied for 12th)
  • North Dakota State (3rd)
  • James Madison (35th)
  • Sam Houston State (89th)
  • The Citadel (tied for 12th)
  • Chattanooga (34th)
  • Richmond (37th)
  • Central Arkansas (82nd)
  • North Dakota (38th)

Jacksonville State is 8-1. The one defeat came at LSU, so nobody is saying that JSU should be penalized severely for its loss. However, the Gamecocks don’t play in a very strong league, and don’t have the non-conference schedule heft to match that of Eastern Washington and North Dakota State — and both of those schools also play in tougher conferences while maintaining identical 8-1 records.

Of course, some observers would note that one difference between the three schools is that Jacksonville State’s director of athletics is on the selection committee.

The Citadel is undefeated, has a significantly better strength of schedule, and also has a win over another team in the top 10 of the rankings. However, not only are the Bulldogs behind Jacksonville State, they are ranked below Sam Houston State as well. There is no legitimate reason for that to be the case.

In my opinion, The Citadel should currently be ranked in the top 4. Eastern Washington and North Dakota State should be 1-2 in some order, followed by James Madison and The Citadel in the 3-4 spots. However, unless JSU and SHSU lose, the Bulldogs are not likely to pass either one of them (particularly Jacksonville State).

This effectively means The Citadel’s seeding “ceiling” is probably #5. The difference between being seeded #5 instead of #4 could be the difference between playing at home or on the road in a potential quarterfinal game.

That would be unfortunate for The Citadel.

Earlier this week, SB Nation’s “Football Study Hall” site posted a report on tempo at the FBS level. It’s a very interesting and well-considered piece.

After I read it, I decided to take a look at pace of play in FCS. Basically, I took stats from 122 teams (for practical reasons, I didn’t include “transitional” schools Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word), and determined how quickly FCS teams have run offensive plays so far in 2016. Here are the top 20 squads:

Team (Conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 19.49872
Eastern Kentucky (OVC) 19.68576
Samford (Southern) 20.29769
South Dakota (MVFC) 20.86083
Sam Houston State (Southland) 21.5656
Murray State (OVC) 21.80123
Eastern Washington (Big Sky) 22.09565
Southern Utah (Big Sky) 22.11938
Southern Illinois (MVFC) 22.12278
Indiana State (MVFC) 22.34259
Dartmouth (Ivy League) 22.52891
Western Carolina (Southern) 22.53821
Eastern Illinois (OVC) 22.7168
Sacramento State (Big Sky) 22.78134
Morehead State (Pioneer) 23.02286
Montana (Big Sky) 23.18182
Marist (Pioneer) 23.25649
Princeton (Ivy League) 23.31231
Columbia (Ivy League) 23.37113
VMI (Southern) 23.48567

Stephen F. Austin’s pace is faster than all but three teams in FBS: Missouri (which is absurdly fast), Baylor, and California.

These are the 20 “slowest” teams, with Wofford taking more time between plays than any other team in FCS (only Stanford and Georgia Tech are slower at the FBS level):

Team (conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Florida A&M (Mid-Eastern) 28.66306
Youngstown State (MVFC) 28.76508
Jacksonville (Pioneer) 28.82095
Mississippi Valley St. (Southwestern) 28.88979
Robert Morris (Northeast) 29.07609
North Dakota (Big Sky) 29.10984
Presbyterian (Big South) 29.31664
San Diego (Pioneer) 29.42857
Albany (NY) (Colonial) 29.43738
Stony Brook (Colonial) 29.46168
Chattanooga (Southern) 29.56397
Tennessee Tech (OVC) 29.77833
Texas Southern (Southwestern) 30.02473
Tennessee State (OVC) 30.05179
Charleston Southern (Big South) 30.076
North Dakota State (MVFC) 30.33216
Saint Francis (PA) (Northeast) 30.35612
Delaware (Colonial) 30.87125
Wofford (Southern) 30.90445

 

In my FCS Playoffs primer, I mentioned this comment from the chairman of the selection committee, Brian Hutchinson, when asked by an interviewer about “Sam Houston State’s value to the committee”:

The value of Sam Houston State is that they are an 8-0 team right now [that] is averaging close to 60 points per game and close to 600 yards of [total] offense. That’s the value that people see.

As I said in that post, I hope no committee members will actually use total offense as a criterion of any real significance. Part of my concern has to do with schedule strength, of course, but style of play is also a factor.

Sam Houston State leads FCS in total offense. As you can see above, SHSU is also the 5th-fastest offense in the division, in terms of pace of play.

I think it would be more than a little ridiculous to use total offense as a marker for comparing the Bearkats to teams like Chattanooga (19th in total offense, but the 9th “slowest” team) or The Citadel (23rd in total offense, and in the bottom third in pace of play, at 27.33 seconds between plays). The latter two teams shouldn’t have their style of play held against them by a committee member who is overly impressed by raw statistics.

While I’ve got this information handy, here are pace of play rankings for the nine SoCon squads, plus a few other teams:

  • Stephen F. Austin (1st out of 122)
  • Samford (3rd)
  • Sam Houston State (5th)
  • Eastern Washington (7th)
  • Western Carolina (12th)
  • VMI (20th)
  • Mercer (27th)
  • James Madison (37th)
  • Lehigh (41st)
  • Harvard (44th)
  • Liberty (47th)
  • Kennesaw State (71st)
  • The Citadel (84th)
  • Gardner-Webb (87th)
  • East Tennessee State (91st)
  • Furman (95th)
  • Presbyterian (110th)
  • Chattanooga (114th)
  • Charleston Southern (118th)
  • North Dakota State (119th)
  • St. Francis [PA] (120th)
  • Delaware (121st)
  • Wofford (122nd)

Friday is Founders Day at VMI:

The VMI Corps of Cadets will commemorate Founders Day this Friday with a parade featuring a 17-gun salute executed by the Cadet Battery to honor VMI’s founders and the nation’s veterans.

The anniversary, which marks 177 years since 23 VMI cadets relieved the state militia and converted the state arsenal into the Institute, will also see the dedication of the recently renovated Cormack and Cocke halls at 10 and 11 a.m., respectively.

There will also be a parade at 10:30 am on Saturday.

If you’re going to the game, be sure you’re up to speed on the parking situation.

Scott Wachenheim is in his second year as VMI’s head coach. His team is 3-6 this season, 1-5 in SoCon play. That qualifies as improvement for the Keydets’ football program, given that VMI had won two games in each of the last five years.

The Keydets opened the 2016 season by dropping a 47-24 decision at Akron. VMI’s defense allowed 576 yards of total offense, but the Keydets stayed in the game, putting together two drives of 90+ yards to pull within two points as the third quarter ended.

Akron scored 21 fourth-quarter points to ice the contest. However, it was a very respectable showing by VMI against an FBS opponent.

VMI’s next game was a 17-13 victory at Morehead State. While the Keydets’ loss to Akron was encouraging, the win over the Eagles (which play football in the non-scholarship Pioneer League) was not. VMI’s offense was sluggish, but the defense kept Morehead State at bay, allowing the fewest points to a Keydets opponent in four seasons.

A third straight road game resulted in a triple overtime victory, 23-17 over Bucknell. The Keydets did not give up any points in the three OT sessions.

It was the first time VMI had won back-to-back games since 2005, and (unbelievably) the first time the program had won consecutive road games since the last game of the 1981 season and the first game of the 1982 campaign.

Back in Lexington, another overtime affair did not go the Keydets’ way. Mercer edged VMI 33-30 in a game reportedly marred by poor SoCon officiating (very surprising, I know). VMI trailed 21-7 at halftime before making a comeback, taking the lead with just 32 seconds remaining in regulation. The Keydets could not hold the lead, and then lost in OT.

VMI rebounded from that setback with a 37-7 home victory over East Tennessee State. Al Cobb threw three TD passes, and the Keydets rushed for 233 yards.

Since that game, VMI has lost four straight contests. The first of those defeats was a 55-21 loss at Samford. SU quarterback Devlin Hodges threw for 435 yards and 5 TDs, and VMI also got victimized by a pick-6.

Chattanooga then beat the Keydets 30-13. UTC rushed for 297 yards despite Derrick Craine missing the game with an injury. One of VMI’s two TDs was a 79-yard bomb from Al Cobb to Javeon Lara.

VMI returned home, but was beaten in Lexington 24-10 by Furman. The loss was a costly one for the Keydets, as Cobb suffered a shoulder injury.

Last week, VMI lost 32-29 at Western Carolina. The Keydets should have won the game, but basically handed the victory to the Catamounts with a series of miscues. Among other things:

  • VMI fumbled the opening kickoff, which was returned by WCU for a touchdown
  • The Keydets had four kicks blocked (two field goal attempts, two PATs)
  • VMI threw three interceptions
  • Western Carolina scored with 54 seconds to play on a 53-yard pass

Statistics of note for VMI:

VMI Opp
Points/game 22.7 28.7
Rushing yardage 1056 1487
Yards/rush 3.2 4.3
Rush TDs 16 10
Passing yardage 2266 2501
Comp-Att-Int 208-330-12 210-334-6
Average/pass att 6.9 7.5
Passing TDs 11 22
Total offense 3322 3988
Total plays 663 682
Yards/play 5.0 5.8
Fumbles/lost 7/3 11/6
Penalties-pen yds 35-318 75-681
Pen yards/game 35.3 75.7
Net punt average 34.6 34.3
Time of poss/game 28:50 31:10
3rd-down conv 47/143 48/138
3rd-down conv % 32.9% 34.8%
Sacks by-yards 13-91 23-122
Red Zone TD% (22-35) 63% (23-36) 64%
  • VMI is 2nd nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • The Keydets are 84th in FCS in scoring defense and 63rd in rushing defense
  • VMI is 29th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Keydets are 85th in time of possession
  • VMI is 28th in passing offense

Statistics of consequence for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30.8 18.7
Rushing yardage 3366 1129
Yards/rush 5.6 4.1
Rush TDs 29 12
Passing yardage 540 1645
Comp-Att-Int 33-82-2 140-246-8
Average/pass att 6.6 6.7
Passing TDs 4 8
Total offense 3906 2774
Total plays 685 524
Yards/play 5.7 5.3
Fumbles/lost 15/6 12/7
Penalties-pen yds 43-449 38-358
Pen yards/game 49.9 39.8
Net punt average 37.3 36.6
Time of poss/game 34:37:00 25:22:00
3rd-down conv 75/151 35/110
3rd-down conv % 49.7% 31.8%
Sacks by-yards 25-165 0-0
Red Zone TD% (22-39) 56% (12-20) 60%
  • The Citadel leads the nation in rushing offense (374.0 yards/game) and is seventh in average yards/rush
  • The Bulldogs are 9th in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is third nationally in time of possession
  • The Bulldogs are 13th in fewest penalties per game
  • The Citadel is 21st in the country in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 15th nationally in defensive third down conversion rate

VMI throws the ball on 49.8% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, with 68.2% of the Keydets’ total yards coming via the air. The Keydets operate out of the spread.

Al Cobb was the preseason choice as the SoCon’s all-conference quarterback. Cobb was injured against Furman and did not play last week versus Western Carolina.

Will he play on Saturday? Cobb is not listed on the two-deep. According to an article in The Roanoke Times, he may be available.

The starter, though, will be redshirt freshman Austin Coulling (6’4″, 200 lbs.). Coulling, a native of Salem, Virginia, has played in five games this season, starting against WCU last Saturday.

For the season, he is completing 56.9% of his passes, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with two touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Coulling does not lack for confidence:

After hours of watching video, Coulling said he thinks there are some areas in The Citadel defense that the offense can exploit.

“There are opportunities there for us to take,” Coulling said. “As a team, if we come out with the same energy we came out with last week and execute more efficiently than we did last week and have the same running game as we had last week, I mean, anything can happen. … We can come out on top.”

Daz Palmer (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is a freshman from Norfolk who is leading the Keydets in rushing. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, with 3 rushing TDs. Palmer also has 12 receptions this season.

Wide receiver Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 190 lbs.) was a preseason all-league pick. He has 62 receptions so far this year, with two TDs. Sanders had 7 catches last year versus The Citadel; in fact, Sanders has had 7 receptions in each of his last two games against the Bulldogs (including a 165-yard receiving performance in 2014).

Fellow wideout Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) made the all-conference team last year as a return specialist. Forlines is a dangerous punt returner, averaging 12.9 yards last season and 9.3 yards this year in that discipline. He is second on the team in receptions, with 47 catches and one TD.

Starting tight end Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 232 lbs.) has 30 receptions and four touchdown catches this season. The former quarterback is also the holder on placekicks, and VMI is not afraid to take advantage of his versatility. He threw a 50-yard pass on a trick play against Mercer.

VMI’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 279 lbs. According to the two-deep, the offensive tackles will be flipped for the game against The Citadel.

Fifth-year senior Iyan Roseborough (6’3″, 335 lbs.) has played right tackle this season for the Keydets, but is listed as the left tackle on this week’s depth chart. Roseborough is a native of Jenkinsville, South Carolina, and graduated from Fairfield Central High School.

Redshirt freshman Cole Brummit (6’4″, 250 lbs.) made his first career start against Western Carolina at left tackle. He is listed as the right tackle this week.

VMI’s defense normally lines up in a 3-4. In last season’s contest, the Keydets were generally effective at bottling up The Citadel’s triple option attack. After Cam Jackson broke loose for a 68-yard TD on the Bulldogs’ fourth play from scrimmage, VMI did not allow another offensive TD.

The Keydets’ D is led by two active inside linebackers. Ryan Francis (6’1″, 205 lbs.) is a redshirt junior from Knoxville who had 15 tackles versus The Citadel in last year’s matchup. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Natrona, Pennsylvania; he had 11 stops against the Bulldogs in last season’s game.

The two are currently tied for the team lead in tackles, with 94 each. They have combined for 21 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.

Francis is the main pass rusher, with six of those sacks; he also has two fumble recoveries. Against Mercer, Francis also threw a pass out of a fake punt formation; it was intercepted.

Another linebacker, Alijah Robinson (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is third on the team in tackes, with 58. Robinson also has two sacks.

Cornerback Riuq Trotman (5’9″ 155 lbs.) is a sophomore from Virginia Beach who leads the Keydets in interceptions, with three.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is in his fourth year as a placekicker for the Keydets. He has shared kicking duties with freshman Reed King (5’9″, 150 lbs.).

Regardless of the kicker, VMI has had major problems in the kicking game this season, with nine blocked kicks — five field goal attempts, and four PAT tries.

Christopher does have a strong leg, which he employs on kickoffs.

VMI’s punter is redshirt sophomore Bill Hogan (6’1″, 225 lbs.), who can also play linebacker. He has had one punt blocked this season. Hogan was the punter for VMI when the Keydets played The Citadel last season, and did a solid job.

Jake Keith (5’10”, 190 lbs.), a freshman from Blacksburg, is the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Lexington, Virginia, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 52 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is 27 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an 18-point favorite over VMI, with an over/under of 47.5.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 7.5-point favorite over Wofford; Samford is a 15.5-point favorite against Mercer; Furman is a 6.5-point favorite over Western Carolina; and East Tennessee State is a 24-point favorite against Cumberland.

Gardner-Webb (now 4-6) is off this week, presumably celebrating its stunning victory at Charleston Southern last Saturday. North Carolina (7-3) was upset by Duke 28-27 on Thursday night.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 4th in FCS (moving up one spot from last week, the second consecutive week the Bulldogs have crept up one position). VMI is ranked 69th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 93% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 34, VMI 13.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (8th), Samford (12th), Wofford (19th), Mercer (41st), Gardner-Webb (46th), Furman (47th), Western Carolina (64th), East Tennessee State (82nd).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Chattanooga, Sam Houston State, and Northern Iowa.

– VMI’s game notes roster includes 69 natives of Virginia. Other states represented on the squad: Tennessee (9), North Carolina (4), Pennsylvania (4), Georgia (3), Alabama (2), and one each from West Virginia, Louisiana, New York, Michigan, Texas, Maryland, and South Carolina.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– VMI concludes its season next week at Wofford.

– FBS opponents for VMI in future seasons include Toledo and Old Dominion in 2018; Army in 2019; and North Carolina State in 2023.

– On The Citadel’s two-deep this week, Evan McField is listed as the #2 B-back, with Isiaha Smith not listed on the depth chart. That is the only change from last week’s two-deep.

– Game notes factoid of the week: The Citadel has rushed for at least 400 yards in five games this season, tying the school’s single-season record. Those five games: North Greenville (559 yards, the most by an FCS school in a game so far in 2016), Western Carolina (513), Samford (463), East Tennessee State (427), and Gardner-Webb (419).

– With its victory over Samford on Saturday, The Citadel won its fifth consecutive Homecoming game. The Bulldogs won their fifth straight Parents’ Day game earlier in the season when they defeated Chattanooga.

The ten consecutive “celebration” victories are a modern-day school record. The Citadel had never won eight straight such games prior to the current run.

– The original cost of the Silver Shako (which was created in 1976) was $532.72.

– More than 40 players (and a few coaches) from VMI’s 1981 team will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. That Keydets squad beat Army and Virginia Tech, finishing with a 6-3-1 record. VMI has not had a winning season since that year.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson was asked about resting starters, trying to avoid injuries, etc., given that The Citadel has clinched a playoff spot. Thompson’s response:

It’s a loser’s mentality, there’s no doubt about that. You don’t go out there worrying about which guys are going to get hurt and who’s going to do this, and who’s going to do that. We’re going to go out there and play the game, and play the game to win. There’s a game on our schedule, it’s assigned to us, and we’re going to…go out there and give it our best. It doesn’t really matter who it is, whether it’s this week or next week…we’re going to try to play it, and try to play it to win it. If there are injuries…that’s part of the game and we can’t concern ourselves with that.

Thompson also noted that the offense did not play well against VMI last season, and wants to see improvement this year.

The coach also mentioned the importance of getting a bye for the FCS playoffs. If the Bulldogs want to seriously contend for the national title, they almost certainly need to be a seeded team, and receive the bye that goes with that designation.

A loss to VMI would almost certainly end The Citadel’s chance at a bye. Conversely, the game against North Carolina in two weeks will probably not be a factor in The Citadel’s postseason placement, unless the Bulldogs perform well in that contest.

The Citadel has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1936. In all that time, the football team has never finished undefeated in league play.

Along with the outright SoCon title, and a tenth straight victory, the opportunity to finish undefeated in the conference would be reason enough for the Bulldogs to want this game very badly. They don’t really need another reason, however.

This is the Military Classic of the South.

It will be a fierce contest. VMI will come ready to play on Saturday. The Citadel must respond in kind, and with even greater ferocity.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake, the greatest trophy in all of sports.

The Bulldogs have to do whatever it takes to keep it, and bring it back to Charleston, where it belongs.

Game Review, 2016: Samford

The Citadel 37, Samford 34 (OT).

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WCIV-TV

– Video from WCBD-TV

– Post-game press conference, featuring Brent Thompson, Dee Delaney, Cam Jackson, Tevin Floyd, Nick Jeffreys, Cody Clark, and Tyler Renew (video)

– School release from The Citadel

– School release from Samford

– Samford’s first-half highlights package (video)

– Samford’s second-half and post-game highlights package (video)

– Game story, The Birmingham News

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Nick Jeffreys, versatility personified

– Brent Thompson’s post-game speech, interrupted briefly due to locker room crowd-surfing by a special guest (video)

– Here is a little video (via Twitter) of Brent Thompson’s own crowd-surfing ability

Game highlights (video)

– On-field end-game videos via the Facebook page for The Citadel Sports: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3

– That page on Facebook also has a video clip of the seniors being recognized prior to the game

Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Cam Jackson’s ridiculous 63-yard run

– Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Cody Clark’s game-tying field goal

– Mike Legg and Lee Glaze with the end-of-game call

I hardly know where to begin.

Well, I guess I could start by saying that I was surprised by quite a few things that happened on the field on Saturday…

While talking to a couple of people before the game, the subject of Samford’s defense came up. I suggested that because of SU’s “Bear” front, which tends to clog up the middle of the line, Tyler Renew would probably not have a big game.

Renew proceeded to have one of the greatest rushing days in The Citadel’s long gridiron history.  He made me look like a dope. (I’m glad he did.)

I also wasn’t expecting Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges to turn into a dual-threat star. Hodges had entered the game with only 71 net rushing yards all season. Even if you take out sacks, he still had less than 240 yards on the ground, and had not carried the ball for more than 12 yards on any play.

However, you have to give Samford’s coaching staff credit for taking advantage of an opportunity and making an adjustment in the game plan. As a result, Hodges scored two rushing touchdowns (one for 57 yards) and had two other short runs for first downs.

He was clearly athletic enough to run, including a Houdini act late in the first half that turned a would-be sack into an eight-yard pickup, setting up a field goal.

Then, I wrote in my preview that turnovers would be a critical factor in the game. Naturally, neither team committed a turnover.

The one thing I got right had nothing to do with any type of intellectual analysis.

When asked before the game whether or not I thought The Citadel would prevail, I basically went with the theory that while Samford was a difficult matchup, the Bulldogs had found a way to win all season, and that maybe it was just their year.

They did find a way to win again, and it is their year. It is also a season for the ages.

Random thoughts from an increasingly frazzled fan:

– The atmosphere on Saturday was fantastic. The crowd was into the game from the opening kickoff, despite the delay in clearing the field after the Corps of Cadets and all the reunion classes marched into the stadium. It also took a little time for some of the fans in the East stands to get to their seats.

I was a little concerned when the third quarter began, because I noticed a lot of people had left, presumably to go to their respective tailgates. However, when I looked around a few minutes later, the home stands were packed once again.

By the numbers, it wasn’t one of the larger crowds in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (though it was the most-attended game at The Citadel since 2009). However, there was an unusual intensity in the stadium that could be felt by anyone who was there.

I’ve been to a lot of games over the years at JHS. I’m not sure how I would rank that one in terms of an all-around experience.

My top-ranked game in that respect has always been the 1988 contest against Marshall. I probably wouldn’t put Saturday’s matchup on that level, but it was close. Very close.

– When you look at the statistics, it’s a little surprising the game went to overtime. The Citadel dominated time of possession (as expected), ran many more plays (89 to 67), rung up 542 yards of total offense, and held Samford to 280 passing yards (on 46 attempts). As mentioned, there were no turnovers.

However, Samford had a few things go in its favor.

For one thing, SU placekicker Reece Everett had a good game. While he may have missed the fateful 44-yard attempt in overtime, Everett also made two long field goals during the game, from 51 and 44 yards. Prior to Saturday, Everett’s longest made field goal of the season had only been 36 yards.

Samford also benefited from an advantage in field position. This was partly because of a four-yard edge in net punting, but mostly due to stopping The Citadel twice on fourth-down conversion attempts, including one at The Citadel’s own 40-yard line in the fourth quarter. That was a gamble by Brent Thompson which did not pay off. Hey, it happens.

Getting points from your kicker without having to advance to the Red Zone, taking advantage of good field position, and those big run plays by Hodges…they all added up for Samford, and put it in position to win the game.

The Citadel also got hurt by a double whammy of officiating decisions in the fourth quarter. The second of those was a pass interference call that was made by an official 20 yards away from the play, a dubious call exacerbated by the lateness of the flag.

However, that paled in comparison to a non-call made on the previous play, an obvious intentional grounding call that was ignored by the referee.

not-grounding

If that had been called, Samford would have had a 3rd-and-17 (if not longer), instead of the much more manageable 3rd-and-7 that led to the pass interference penalty.

During the game, Samford had five 3rd-down conversion attempts of longer than seven yards. It was 0 for 5 converting in those situations, with three incomplete passes and a sack.

As Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier tweeted after the game, “If Citadel doesn’t win, that no grounding/pass interference sequence goes down in Bulldog/SoCon ref lore”. Luckily for The Citadel (and the Southern Conference), the Bulldogs overcame that situation.

– One of those 3rd-and-long situations for Samford came in overtime. On 3rd-and-12, Devlin Hodges sat back in the pocket and waited…and waited…and waited…and moved to his right, then waited some more…and waited…and waited…and finally threw the football out of bounds.

The play seemed to take an eternity. It almost did. Hodges threw the ball 9.7 seconds after receiving the snap.

That’s an extremely long time for a QB to hold the ball and not find an open receiver. It was great downfield coverage by the Bulldogs, to say the least.

– I mentioned this on my Twitter feed on Saturday night, but I think it’s worth repeating here.

There is a cliché that gets tossed around all the time (usually from TV game analysts) that goes something like this: triple option teams can’t play from behind, mainly because they don’t pass the ball enough (or effectively).

On Saturday, The Citadel trailed by ten points with just 5:30 left in regulation and the clock running, and faced a 3rd-and-7 from its own 31-yard line. From that point forward through the end of the game, the Bulldogs did not complete a pass.

They still won.

– The Citadel clinched an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs with the win. It has not, however, won the “outright” SoCon title yet.

Not everyone seems to understand how that works. Just in case you weren’t sure:

The Citadel has clinched at least a share of the league crown. However, the automatic bid to the playoffs does not constitute an outright championship. Chattanooga can still tie The Citadel for the conference title if the Mocs beat Wofford, and The Citadel loses to VMI.

Last year, the situation was reversed. Chattanooga got the automatic berth in the playoffs by virtue of its victory over The Citadel, but shared the league title with the Bulldogs because the teams finished with the same conference record (the Mocs having earlier lost to Mercer).

In other words, it’s just another reason The Citadel needs to beat VMI next week.

Of course, The Citadel doesn’t really need another reason to beat VMI, not with the coveted Silver Shako at stake. It is the greatest trophy in all of sports, and it needs to stay in Charleston, where it belongs.

I’m glad the freshmen in the corps of cadets are making the trip to Virginia for the game. I’ll write more about VMI when I preview the matchup later in the week. For now, I’ll just say that any alumnus of The Citadel ought to visit VMI at least once, just to get an idea of the similarities and differences between the two schools.

The Citadel will be trying to win the outright league title while finishing undefeated in SoCon play for the first time ever, which strikes me as another good reason to make the trip.

I may have a separate post prior to the game preview that deals with the FCS playoff structure, which seems to be a source of confusion in some quarters (understandably so). If I have time, I’ll outline the basics, explain all the historical problems associated with the selections, mention a few things to watch, etc.

For now, I’ll close with the usual motley assortment of pictures. This week, I wanted to include some non-football shots, since it was Homecoming. I also wandered by the temporary museum in Daniel Library and took a few photos there. Most of the pictures are annotated.

2016 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 5, 2016. The game will not be televised

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kevin Fitzgerald will provide play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre 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. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

– The Citadel versus Samford: a clash of styles

– Style seems to be the word choice of the week for this game

– Aiming for a second straight SoCon title

– Samford continues on a “brutal” road stretch

Brent Thompson’s 11/1 press conference, including comments from Tevin Floyd and Cam Jackson (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/2 radio show (video)

– Donnell Boucher is flexible, and that’s very good for The Citadel

– Samford head coach Chris Hatcher and quarterback Devlin Hodges preview the game against The Citadel (video)

– Brief interview with Samford offensive coordinator Russ Callaway (video)

– Brief interview with Samford defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Mississippi State (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Wofford (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Chattanooga: first half and second half/postgame (video)

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 3

– Four players from The Citadel named Academic All-District

– Homecoming Schedule

– The Citadel will honor the late Charles Foster

– Groundbreaking for the War Memorial takes place on November 4

At his weekly press conference, a member of the local media asked Brent Thompson about recruiting. The reporter suggested that the current players at The Citadel are better athletes than those who preceded them. Thompson’s response:

I think we’re doing a good job of recruiting our type of player, not necessarily the better athletes. We’ve certainly got some good athletes…

…really, a lot of it is more the development and retention of those players. I think over the past three years, since I’ve been here, we’ve lost very few players. We’re going to naturally be a better football team when we’ve got fourth- and fifth-year players, rather than those first- and second-year players. We’ve got a veteran ball club at this point, and that’s what we attribute a lot of [our success].

After a follow-up question, Thompson added:

When it comes to recruiting, the first thing that we really look for are good football players. We know that we can win and we can train good football players. They’ve got to have it inside of them first…

We’ve got to do our research. It takes a long time for us to figure out the players [out there] we want to recruit here. It comes down to the academics, it comes down to the corps of cadets, it comes down to being a good football player.

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit for us, and we understand that, and we can move on from that. Duggar Baucom has a great saying: “The next ‘No’ gets me closer to the next ‘Yes’.”

…We know that there are plenty of good football players out there for The Citadel, that fit what we do.

Retention is a key at most schools, of course, but it is absolutely the difference-maker at The Citadel, due to the nature of the institution. Too many coaches (in a wide variety of sports) have never completely grasped this, or have needed a few years at the military college to fully understand it.

For example, The Citadel football program’s attrition rate in 2005, 2006, and 2007 was poor (especially 2005; by the 2008 season, only six players from that class of recruits were still on the team). It is hard to build a consistently successful program when there is a revolving door of players, especially when bringing in undergraduate transfers is generally impractical (and rare).

I’ve written about this before, but as a comparison, here are some numbers from a few of Charlie Taaffe’s recruiting classes:

There were nine 5th-year seniors on the 1992 SoCon title team, including Jack Douglas, Lester Smith, and Carey Cash. Those players were part of Taaffe’s second recruiting class. It was obviously a tremendous group of recruits; we’re not just talking about quantity, but quality.

Taaffe brought in sixteen recruits the following year (1989). All sixteen were on the team for at least two years; fifteen completed four years. Fourteen of them were on the postseason two-deep in 1992.

It was actually even a better class than that, because three walkons from that year also made the ’92 two-deep. Sixteen recruits, eighteen significant contributors. That’s about as good as it gets.

Those two classes made up the foundation of the 1992 Southern Conference championship team.

The fourth year wasn’t quite as good, but it was okay. Of the seventeen recruits from that year, thirteen eventually lettered, with ten of the aforementioned 1992 two-deep.

The following year’s class was not as successful, with only eight of eighteen recruits lettering during their respective careers at The Citadel. That is indicative of a considerable amount of attrition.

Given all that, it’s not surprising the win totals, starting in 1989, were (in order): 5, 7, 7, 11, 5, 6, and 2 (Taaffe’s final season).

The easiest way to prevent attrition at The Citadel? Recruit potential cadets who can become good players, as opposed to recruiting players and trying to make them cadets.

It’s obviously not that simple; coaches have to bring in talented athletes. However, those talented athletes have to be capable of handling (and embracing) the challenge that is The Citadel, like all cadets.

Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs? Are you kidding me?

Yes, Jim Mora, I’m going to talk about the playoffs for a few paragraphs.

While the team has to take things one game at a time, I’m a fan. It’s my constitutional duty to look ahead and make potentially unfounded assumptions based on events that haven’t yet taken place.

On Thursday, the NCAA selection committee for the FCS playoffs released the first of three preliminary Top-10 rankings. I anticipated that the rankings would resemble a train wreck, and I was not disappointed.

First, they were initially released on ESPNU, midway through a program called “College Football Daily”. It was clear that show anchor Brendan Fitzgerald and analyst Jason Sehorn knew very little about the FCS, and had no enthusiasm for the subject.

Both were under the impression that 16 teams made the playoffs (instead of 24, the actual number). The rankings release was interspersed with year-old highlight clips.

Gene Henley of the Chattanooga Times Free-Press tweeted afterwards that the NCAA should just send out the rankings via email next week and forget about the TV spot. I couldn’t agree more.

As for the rankings themselves, they do not make a lot of sense from either an analytical or “eyeball” perspective. They smack of politics, to be honest, which should not surprise anyone.

Here are the Week 1 rankings:

Rank School
1 Jacksonville State
2 Sam Houston State
3 Eastern Washington
4 North Dakota State
5 James Madison
6 The Citadel
7 Richmond
8 Chattanooga
9 Charleston Southern
10 Central Arkansas

A few observations:

  • Samford, not on this list, beat #10 Central Arkansas on the road and has a much better strength of schedule (10th in FCS to 74th)
  • Sam Houston State, like The Citadel, is undefeated; unlike the Bulldogs, the Bearkats have not beaten a single D-1 team with a winning record, yet are four spots ahead of The Citadel
  • There are two teams in the Top 10 with victories over other Top 10 teams, The Citadel and North Dakota State (which has two, plus a victory over Iowa); each has a record that is better or the same as #1 Jacksonville State (and its #88 schedule strength)
  • Eastern Washington (7-1) has a win over a team in the FBS top 25, two victories over FCS teams with winning records, and lost in OT at North Dakota State, but is still behind Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State, for no discernible reason

Basically, the committee seems to be saying that the way to get a top seed is to play in a below-average league and schedule even weaker teams out of conference.

What are the ramifications for the Southern Conference (including The Citadel)?

Many observers were under the impression that the SoCon was going to place three teams in the FCS playoffs this season, with an outside shot of four squads making the field. After reviewing these rankings, however, I am not so sure.

Right now, I still think the most likely outcome is that three SoCon teams advance to the postseason. However, there is now some doubt. If these rankings are a true reflection of what we can expect from the selection committee, all bets are off.

If that group is going to do things like rank Central Arkansas #10, and completely ignore strength of schedule, it brings in possibilities that could spell trouble for the SoCon.

After last week’s victory over ETSU, I thought The Citadel was probably a “lock” for postseason play, even if it didn’t win another game. I no longer believe that to be the case.

The Citadel needs to keep winning. The same is true for Samford and Chattanooga. If anything, this week’s game in Charleston just got a little more important.

Besides being Homecoming, Saturday will be the final regular-season game at Johnson Hagood Stadium this year. I am specifying “regular-season” because, like all Bulldog fans, I am hopeful that The Citadel will qualify for the playoffs, and in doing so hosts a postseason game or two (or three). It’s just one more reason why every game matters this time of year.

The Bulldogs have played three games at JHS so far this season, but have yet to sport the light blue jerseys/white pants combination that is the traditional home uniform.

I have refrained from making uniform-related comments to this point in the 2016 campaign, but I think it would be nice if the team wore the actual school colors at home once in a while. I realize in some quarters that opinion is considered just short of perverse.

If The Citadel does not wear the traditional home ensemble, it will mark the first time since 2010 that the Bulldogs did not do so for at least one home game. That would be a shame, particularly as it is by far the best of the myriad uniform combinations currently in the rotation.

One problem when writing about The Citadel and Samford is that both are “Bulldogs”. Therefore, as always, I have to define some terms.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. That is because I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

I’ll refer to Samford as “SU”, the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, or the “Baptist Tigers”.

That’s right, Baptist Tigers. I mentioned this last year, but it’s well worth repeating:

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

It seems to me that “Crimson Bulldog” is a little too reminiscent of “Crimson Tide”, which might explain why the “crimson” part is no longer in usage. I also think that someone seriously underestimated bears when it comes to their ability to eat.

In 1987, Terry Bowden took over as head coach at Samford. He had been coaching at Salem College in West Virginia, and when he took the Samford job he brought his quarterback from Salem with him.

That QB was Jimbo Fisher. The current Florida State coach played for one season at Samford, setting a few dozen records, all with his original hair, and then was an assistant coach at the school for the next five seasons.

Of course, Terry’s father Bobby Bowden both played and coached at Samford (then known as Howard). A few other fun facts:

  • Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961, one of only two such transactions involving a law school, and the only one in which the law school moved across state lines. Yes, that’s the same Cumberland University that lost 222-0 to Georgia Tech in 1916.
  • The college played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, defeating Birmingham-Southern 9-0 on November 19, 1927.
  • Back in the day, the football program was happy to hop on a train to play an opponent. That included matchups with Duquesne at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, North Dakota in Grand Forks, and Havana National University (in Cuba). The team also played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico in 1954 and 1963.

Okay, now back to the cold, hard world of 2016 pigskin…

Samford is 6-2 this season, 4-1 in the SoCon.

SU opened the season with a 77-7 win over woefully outmatched Mars Hill, a Division II school (that also happens to be Mike Houston’s alma mater). It was the first time Samford had scored 70 or more points in a game in almost 30 years.

The Birmingham Bulldogs rolled up 573 yards of total offense in 96 plays. The defense was in fine form, too, allowing only 136 yards of total offense and adding a fumble return TD for good measure.

The next week, SU’s defense added two more defensive touchdowns to its total, a major reason Samford defeated Central Arkansas 35-29. That game was played at UCA.

The result made little sense from a statistical standpoint. Samford was outgained 577 to 257, as Central Arkansas won the time of possession battle by over 13 minutes and limited SU to just 56 offensive plays from scrimmage.

Samford was 3 for 16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts, was held to negative rushing yards, and did not run a play in the red zone. The Birmingham Bulldogs prevailed anyway. It’s a wonderful, wacky world.

After a bye week, Samford traveled to Chattanooga and got waxed by the Mocs, 41-21. UTC was only 6 for 17 on third-down conversion attempts, but still put up 518 yards of total offense and had a time of possession edge of over 18 minutes.

Chattanooga jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the contest and Samford never got closer than 10 points after that. SU threw 53 passes for 343 yards, but only rushed for 46 yards on 20 attempts.

Back in the homey confines of Seibert Stadium, the Birmingham Bulldogs outlasted Wofford 28-26. The Terriers scored a touchdown with 3:24 to play in the fourth quarter to get within two points, but Samford intercepted a pass attempt on the two-point conversion try and held on for the victory.

The two teams combined for 20 penalties, but no turnovers. Wofford had a time of possession edge of over 18 minutes, ran 21 more plays, outgained Samford by 44 yards, and was 9 of 18 on third down (as compared to SU’s 4 for 12).

Samford won despite that, mainly due to an impressive, consistent performance from quarterback Devlin Hodges, who was 28 for 32 for 315 yards and four TD passes.

The following week, SU defeated Furman 38-21 in Greenville. Hodges threw for 411 yards (27 for 38, with three touchdowns and one interception). Samford finished with 517 total yards, including 106 rushing yards.

SU returned home and blasted VMI, 55-21. Samford quarterbacks combined to throw six touchdowns passes, while the defense chipped in with another return TD, this time a pick-six.

The score was 38-14 at halftime. SU finished with 462 passing yards.

Samford had “only” 375 passing yards in its next game, against Western Carolina, but added 215 rushing yards in a 30-17 victory. SU led 13-7 at the break, but then took control of the contest with two third-quarter TDs.

The victory over WCU was unusual in the sense that Samford actually had the edge in time of possession, a function of its success on the ground. K’rondis Larry rushed for 167 yards on 22 carries. They were consistent gains, too, as his longest run from scrimmage was 29 yards.

Last week, Samford lost 56-41 to Mississippi State. In eighteen previous meetings between the two schools, the Baptist Tigers had scored a total of 31 points.

Samford won the time of possession battle for a second straight week; just as it did against Western Carolina, SU had success running the ball as well as throwing it.

SU ran 104 (!) offensive plays from scrimmage against Mississippi State, including 70 pass attempts. The only offensive negative was three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

A few relevant stats for Samford:

SU Opp
Points/game 40.6 27.2
Rushing yardage 847 1431
Yards/rush 3.5 3.9
Rush TDs 9 15
Passing yardage 3008 1869
Comp-Att-Int 264-382-8 152-269-9
Average/pass att 7.9 6.9
Passing TDs 30 12
Total offense 3855 3300
Total plays 625 636
Yards/play 6.2 5.2
Fumbles/lost 10/4 15/8
Penalties-pen yds 54-576 54-507
Pen yards/game 72.0 63.4
Net punt average 39.3 34.9
Time of poss/game 26:33 33:27
3rd-down conv 43/122 49/140
3rd-down conv % 35.2% 35.0%
Sacks by-yards 16-100 20-135
Red Zone TD% (27-38) 71% (19-30) 63%
  • Samford is 8th nationally in scoring offense, 10th nationally in total offense, and 2nd in passing offense (376 yards per game)
  • The Birmingham Bulldogs are 13th in FCS in pass efficiency offense
  • SU is 8th in the country in net punting
  • Samford is 116th out of 122 teams in time of possession
  • SU is 34th nationally in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate
  • Samford has 4 defensive TDs; only three FCS teams have more this season
  • The Birmingham Bulldogs are 15th in turnovers gained and 22nd in turnover margin

Now let’s take a quick look at The Citadel in the same categories:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30 16.8
Rushing yardage 2903 1036
Rushing attempts 526 257
Yards/rush 5.5 4
Rushing TDs 25-Jan 10
Passing yardage 461 1365
Comp-Att-Int 29-70-2 105-200-8
Average/pass att 6.6 6.8
Passing TDs 4 6
Total offense 3364 2401
Total plays 596 457
Yards/play 5.6 5.3
Fumbles/lost 12/6 11/7
Pen-pen yards 40-425 34-329
Pen yards/game 53.1 41.1
Net punt average 37.5 36.3
Time of poss/game 34:10 25:49
3rd-down conv 64/130 29/96
3rd-down conv % 49.2% 30.2%
Sacks by-yards 22-153 0-0
Red Zone TD% (20-35) 57% (9-17) 53%
  • The Citadel is second nationally in rushing offense (363 yards per game)
  • The Bulldogs are ninth in the country in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 16th in turnover margin, and 10th in turnovers lost
  • After leading the nation in the category two weeks ago, The Citadel is now 4th in time of possession
  • The Citadel is seventh in scoring defense, 13th in total defense, and 14th in passing yards allowed
  • The Bulldogs are 12th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel remains the only team in FCS not to allow a sack so far this season

It could be argued that Samford’s game against Wofford provides the most answers when it comes to trying to determine how Saturday’s game will be played. With that in mind, here are some comments from the Terriers about their game versus the Birmingham Bulldogs. These are all related to Samford’s offense:

“Hodges is an All-American type of quarterback,” Wofford defensive end Tyler Vaughn said. “If you give him time, even the slightest bit of time, he’ll pick you apart. That’s kind of what he did.”

“A lot of the throws were nickel-and-dime routes. That’s their philosophy,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. “You know it’s going to happen. They’re going to get their share of completions. But you just hope you can make the tackle. …The ones that kill you are the ones where you blow the coverage and the ball goes over your heads. That happened a couple of times.”

Wofford’s defense has been able to apply a great deal of pressure to opposing quarterbacks so far this season, well ahead of last season’s pace with 34 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. The Terriers got to Hodges just twice, one by Vaughn and one by Steven Cornellier.

“Their offensive line was doing some really good things,” Vaughn said. “We couldn’t get to the quarterback as fast as we wanted, especially in the first half (falling behind, 21-10). In the second half, we got back to Wofford defense and got a little more pressure. But it was hard.

“The tough thing for us was trying to catch up to 5-foot-10 guys who can run. We’re bigger guys. If they got a good block somewhere and we didn’t do our assignment right, it was all that much harder for us linemen to get up field and help catch the receivers.”

“The screen plays are safe plays for them,” Ayers said. “It’s like a run play. They did a great job of blocking and getting into the chute and getting some big yardage out of it.”

Wofford safety Jaleel Green said the Terriers had to win individual matchups to have any chance of containing the short passes.

“When they get out there and start setting up screens, it’s all about one-on-one matchups,” Green said. “If you can beat a block, you can slow them down. But they would put an extra guy out there and make us pay a couple of times, turning them into big runs.”

Samford has thrown the football on 61% of its offensive plays in its first eight games of the season. Slightly over 78% of its total yardage has come via the air.

Starting quarterback Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 213 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore from Kimberly, Alabama, who was named the league’s offensive player of the month for October. Hodges is completing 69.2% of his passes, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt, with 28 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.

Hodges more or less “arrived” on the scene last season when he entered Samford’s game against The Citadel in relief. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 271 yards versus the Bulldogs in that contest, including an 83-yard TD strike.

Samford rotates a trio of running backs, though in the last two games K’rondis Larry (5’6″, 150 lbs.) has seen the bulk of the action. Besides the aforementioned 167 yards versus Western Carolina, he ran for 99 yards against Mississippi State, including a 68-yard scamper. Larry is averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Karel Hamilton (6’1″, 202 lbs.) is a senior from Valrico, Floria. The preseason all-conference selection had 16 receptions against Western Carolina. He had 213 receiving yards against Mississippi State.

The Citadel is all too aware of how explosive Hamilton can be, as he had 15 catches and 220 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season, including that 83-yard bomb thrown by Hodges. It is possible that Hamilton will eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the season on Saturday.

It would be a mistake to focus solely on Hamilton, though, as Samford has five other players with at least eighteen receptions this year. That group includes Kelvin McKnight (5’8″, 185 lbs.), a sophomore with six TD catches so far this season. McKnight is also an outstanding punt returner, averaging an eye-opening 9.5 yards per return despite not breaking one for a TD — yet.

Emmanuel Obajimi (6’0″, 200 lbs.) is a redshirt senior; like Hamilton and McKnight, he is a Florida native. All three can take a short toss and go a long way with it. In the case of Obajimi, that includes receptions of 61 yards versus VMI and 38 yards against Wofford.

Obajimi and K’rondis Larry are SU’s primary kick returners. It should be noted that in last week’s game against Mississippi State, Obajimi did not play.

Samford’s sturdy starting offensive line features three seniors (two of whom are fifth-year players) and averages 6’4″, 300 lbs.

Left guard Armando Bonheur (6’3″, 305 lbs.) leads the way for the o-line. The preseason all-league pick (who was an all-SoCon coach’s choice at the end of last season) is a redshirt senior from Orange Park, Florida.

Under longtime defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, Samford has traditionally employed a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option attack. For several years, Bulldogs really struggled moving the football, with terrible third-down conversion rates.

In the last two seasons, though, The Citadel has improved in that category, picking up conversions at a 39% clip. That doesn’t seem all that great, and it really isn’t, but it’s miles better than what the Bulldogs did from 2010-12 (15%).

Linebacker Shaheed Salmon (6’1″, 226 lbs.), a junior from Tampa, was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Month for October. Salmon leads Samford in tackles with 81, including 13 for loss. He also has seven pass breakups, and blocked a field goal attempt against VMI.

Defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden (6’1″, 240 lbs.) was a preseason all-conference selection. The redshirt sophomore has 11 tackles for loss this year, including 4 1/2 sacks.

Senior noseguard Jared Holloway (6’1″, 290 lbs.) has 3 1/2 sacks for the Birmingham Bulldogs, along with two forced fumbles. Holloway will miss the first half of Saturday’s game after being ejected for targeting in the second half of Samford’s game against Mississippi State.

Jamerson Blount (6’0″, 180 lbs.) had 11 tackles last season against The Citadel. The free safety from Tallahassee was a preseason all-league pick. Blount, a senior, is second on the team in tackles with 69.

Austin Barnard (6’4″, 200 lbs.) is Samford’s punter. Of his 41 punts this season, 15 have been downed inside the 20.

As was mentioned above, SU is 8th in all of FCS in net punting. The redshirt sophomore also handles kickoffs for the Birmingham Bulldogs.

Starting placekicker Reece Everett (5’11”, 180 lbs.) is 8 for 11 converting field goal attempts this year, with a long of 36 yards. His longest attempt this year has been 51 yards. Everett has only missed one extra point all season.

Samford has played four home contests this season. On the statistical summaries for those games, the following individuals were listed as the official scorers:

  • Homer Simpson (twice)
  • Johnny Manziel
  • Jon Coctosen

I believe that Samford’s official scorer against Mars Hill actually spells his name “John Coctostan”. Given that Coctostan is a Scots-Romanian surname, it is perhaps not surprising that the person who had to input the name in the stats book misspelled it.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 69 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is 49 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 4.5-point favorite over Samford, with an over/under of 58.5.

The line has really fluctuated this week. The Citadel opened as a 2.5-point favorite, but less than nine hours later the game had been bet down to a pick’em. Since then, however, the line has moved even more the other way.

I’m not a gambler, so I don’t have any real insight as to all that. It may not take a lot of money to really move FCS lines, though.

One other thing: the over/under is down one point from where it opened earlier in the week.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Wofford is a 5-point favorite at Furman; Western Carolina is a 6.5-point favorite over VMI; and Mercer is a 23.5-point favorite against East Tennessee State.

Chattanooga is off this week.

Gardner-Webb (now 3-6 on the season) is a 18.5-point underdog at Charleston Southern. North Carolina (6-2) is a 10.5-point favorite against Georgia Tech.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 5th in FCS (moving up one spot from last week). Samford is ranked 12th (down one position from last week).

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 58% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 33, Samford 30.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (10th), Wofford (23rd), Mercer (44th), Furman (47th), Gardner-Webb (60th), Western Carolina (66th), VMI (68th), East Tennessee State (86th).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Central Arkansas, The Citadel, Youngstown State, South Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Charleston Southern, Chattanooga.

– Samford’s game notes roster includes 33 natives of Alabama, but more of its players actually hail from Georgia (35). Other states represented on its roster: Florida (23), Tennessee (12), North Carolina (3), Mississippi (2), and one each from Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oregon, and California.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– After this Saturday, Samford plays two more conference games. SU hosts Mercer next week, and then travels to East Tennessee State for its regular-season finale.

– Samford will play Georgia next year, and will also start a four-game series with Kennesaw State in 2017.

– There were no new names on The Citadel’s two-deep this week, the fifth consecutive week that has been the case.

– As of early Friday morning, there were three tickets remaining for purchase in the West Stands. Yes, three.

I cannot really get a good sense of how many seats are available in the East Stands, at least not from looking at the stadium map infographic on the ticket sales website. I’m going to make what is probably a very bad guess and say there are about 2,000 tickets left on that side. I could be way off in either direction, to be honest.

– The Citadel will be attempting to win its fifth consecutive Homecoming game on Saturday. The Bulldogs won their fifth straight Parents’ Day game earlier in the season when they defeated Chattanooga.

The nine consecutive “celebration” victories are a modern-day school record.

There is not much left to be said about Saturday’s game. It is a big game, to be sure, but that’s because every game remaining on the schedule is a big game. That’s what happens when you start 8-0.

(I said that when the Bulldogs were 6-0 and 7-0, too, but hey, it’s still true.)

I think Samford is going to be a very tough matchup for The Citadel. I also believe that The Citadel is going to be a very tough matchup for Samford.

This week, time of possession has received a considerable amount of attention (and indeed, I’ve focused on it myself). That means third-down conversions will be key. In many respects, it’s a repeat of the Chattanooga game in terms of how the Bulldogs want to play the game.

However, I think turnovers will be an even more important factor than they usually are (and they’re usually of significant importance). That is simply because of the disparate ways the two teams approach the game from an offensive perspective. It’s not just about ball control, but the results of each team’s drives.

Brent Thompson also noted during his radio show that he has concerns with Samford’s special teams. That will be something to watch on Saturday, particularly on punt returns.

I can’t wait for Saturday. It’s going to be intense, and just a little crazy…

…and that’s before the game even starts.

Game Review, 2016: East Tennessee State

The Citadel 45, East Tennessee State 10.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, Johnson City Press

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Brent Thompson, Cam Jackson, Dominique Allen, and Jorian Jordan

Video from WCIV-TV, along with (via Twitter) some “raw” first-half highlights

– School release

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Post-game quotes from ETSU head coach Carl Torbush

Photo gallery from East Tennessee State (via Facebook)

Game highlights

Midway through the first quarter, I knew that The Citadel was going to win. It wasn’t a case of overconfidence, either. It was just obvious.

It felt odd to watch a conference game in such a way. I’m used to being nervous and annoyed and generally unsettled while watching The Citadel play; to not have an angst-ridden experience while cheering on the Bulldogs was strange.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with being comfortable. However, I suspect I could get used to it.

At any rate, the next relaxing afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium will not take place anytime in the near future, as Samford comes to town on Saturday and presents a major challenge for the Cadets. I’ll write about the Birmingham Bulldogs in my game preview later this week.

For now, a few brief thoughts on the game against ETSU:

– The post-game notes package provided by the school included this factoid: the 35-point margin of victory over ETSU was the highest by the Bulldogs in a SoCon game since The Citadel won 44-7 at Elon in 2006.

The last time The Citadel had beaten a conference foe at Johnson Hagood Stadium by 35+ points prior to Saturday? That was in 2001, when the Bulldogs beat VMI 49-7. Before that, you have to go back to 1992 to find a 35+ point home victory over a league opponent (that was also VMI; the score was 50-0).

The most recent such home result before last Saturday that did not involve VMI was a 41-0 win against Marshall in 1978.

– The Citadel was able to rest some of its starters and other key performers for a significant portion of the second half. That may prove very beneficial for those players on the defensive side of the ball, who will need to be fresh this week.

In its loss to Mississippi State on Saturday, Samford ran 104 offensive plays from scrimmage, an extremely high number. How high?

Well, in the overtime victory at Wofford, The Citadel’s defense was on the field for 67 snaps — the most plays faced by the Bulldogs’ D in a game all season.

– A total of 56 Bulldogs saw action against East Tennessee State. Only 46 players took the field for both the Chattanooga and Wofford games.

Of those who played on Saturday, 24 recorded a defensive statistic, the most Bulldogs to do so in a game this year.

– As the players ran onto the field before the game through the “Block C” formation, they were followed by General and Boo. The two dogs wound up near the home sideline as their respective handlers tried to avoid the cadet and player traffic.

I noticed Brent Thompson pet both dogs as he stood along the sideline. I’m not sure how many head coaches have interacted with live animal mascots just before kickoff. At least, it’s not something I’ve seen before.

– The Bulldogs committed a couple of penalties on punt returns on Saturday, which is something that needs to get cleaned up. Having said that, one of the penalties was the very definition of ticky-tacky.

Kailik Williams was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty midway through the fourth quarter. Why? Because after an outstanding punt return by DeAndre Schoultz, Williams was ruled to have stepped out of the sideline “box” area while celebrating.

He did not race onto the field, or make a spectacle of himself. Williams merely walked along the sideline with his arm upraised.

For reasons not immediately clear, one of the officials decided to throw a flag. Perhaps he needed to make his quota.

After watching the replay, ESPN3 analyst Sadath Jean-Pierre said, “That’s a tough call.” It was a very polite thing for him to say.

Remember, if a player gets two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, he is ejected from the game. Imagine if someone got thrown out for that in a tight game.

– Despite rushing for 427 yards against East Tennessee State, The Citadel no longer leads FCS in rush yards per game. That is because Cal Poly rushed for 527 yards in a 59-47 win over Sacramento State.

Like the Bulldogs, the Mustangs run a version of the triple option. If you’re curious to see what the west coast TO looks like, here is a link to the game highlights from Cal Poly’s victory: Link

– Here is something worth the attention of anyone interested in playoff berths and seeding possibilities:

On Thursday [November 3], the selection committee will release the first of three weekly Top 10 rankings – much like what happens on the FBS level. It’s a new feature of the committee leading into Selection Sunday on Nov. 20. The first rankings will be aired on ESPN’s “College Football Live,” which begins at 3 p.m. ET.

Sam Houston State is top-ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25 and in other leading FCS polls. But the Bearkats, playing in a relatively down Southland Conference, are lacking a high strength of schedule, so the committee may not have them atop its first rankings.The STATS postseason projection has had the Bearkats as the fourth seed in recent weeks, behind North Dakota State, Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State.

The Citadel should be in the initial Top 10 rankings. That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs will be, of course. I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the selection committee shoehorned six or seven MVFC squads into the rankings, or some other absurdity.

It will be interesting to compare the Massey Ratings (and other ratings/polls) to the selection committee’s rankings. This is what the Massey Ratings Top 10 looks like, as of this week:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • Eastern Washington – 2
  • Jacksonville State – 3
  • Central Arkansas – 4
  • The Citadel – 5
  • Youngstown State – 6
  • South Dakota State – 7
  • Sam Houston State – 8
  • Charleston Southern – 9
  • Chattanooga – 10

Samford, by the way, is #11 in the Massey Ratings, and has a victory over #4 Central Arkansas.

One thing you may have noticed about the Massey Ratings is that no CAA team is in the Top 10. I am quite sure that at least one CAA team will be in the NCAA selection committee’s top 10 when its rankings are released on Thursday.

This week’s pictures are not as bad as those from last week, which is faint praise. They are (mostly) annotated, however. Most of the game action photos are from the first half.