McAlister Musings: The Citadel (and #EmbraceThePace) begins SoCon play

Links of interest:

Preview of the upcoming league campaign from The Post and Courier

School release

– Game notes from the respective schools for The Citadel versus UNC-Greensboro

Duggar Baucom has the Bulldogs “embracing his pace” in Year 2

Game story for The Citadel-Virginia Tech

– Shooting slump? What shooting slump?

SoCon preseason coach’s poll (The Citadel was picked last)

SoCon preseason media poll (The Citadel was picked next-to-last, ahead of VMI)

SoCon weekly release

Three future Bulldogs sign with The Citadel

Game coverage for UNC-Greensboro versus The Citadel:

ESPN3: Kendall Lewis will handle the play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre provides the analysis

Radio: Mike Legg, the “voice of the Bulldogs”, will call the game on WQSC 98.5 FM/1340 AM

SoCon play begins on Wednesday night. Records for each team in the league entering conference action:

Team Overall Home Away Neutral Streak kenpom rank
UTC 9-3 5-0 3-2 1-1 W1 70
ETSU 9-3 4-1 3-2 2-0 L1 82
UNCG 9-4 6-2 1-2 2-0 L1 159
Samford 8-4 4-2 4-2 0-0 W1 177
Furman 7-6 3-2 4-4 0-0 L1 153
The Citadel 7-6 6-1 1-5 0-0 L2 313
Mercer 5-7 4-2 0-3 1-2 L3 191
Wofford 5-8 4-0 1-5 0-3 L1 219
WCU 4-8 2-2 2-5 0-1 L1 305
VMI 3-8 3-2 0-6 0-0 L1 323

In the kenpom ratings, the SoCon is currently the 19th-ranked conference (out of 32 leagues). It is ranked between C-USA and the Horizon League. This maintains an upward trend for the league, which finished 19th overall in last year’s kenpom ratings after ranking between 25 and 30 in the previous four seasons.

Let’s take a look at The Citadel’s “Four Factors”. Well, I guess I should first give a quick explanation about the Four Factors for anyone not familiar with them.

Dean Oliver is a well-known basketball statistician who has worked for several NBA teams. He wrote the widely praised and highly influential book Basketball on Paper, which included the concept of the Four Factors. Simply put, these are four statistical categories that correlate strongly to winning and losing. They are effective field goal percentage, turnovers per possession, offensive rebounding percentage, and free throws attempted per field goals attempted.

Effective field goal percentage is basically a statistic which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth more than a two-point FG. Turnovers per possession and offensive rebounding possessions are rate stats. FTA/FGA is a way to see how effective a team is at getting to the foul line (and how successful it is at making free throws once it gets there).

Here (courtesy of kenpom.com) are The Citadel’s “Four Factors” as of 12/26/16.

Category Offense Off rank Defense Def rank Nat’l avg
Effective FG%: 50.6 154 59.8 347 50.1
Turnover %: 16.7 52 17.7 253 19.2
Off. Reb. %: 28.3 215 34.5 314 29.8
FTA/FGA: 31.6 250 43.2 298 35.2

 

Note: kenpom statistics do not take into account games against non-D1 teams.

There are 351 teams in Division I, so being ranked 347th in defensive eFG% is not too good. Almost all of the Bulldogs’ defensive statistics are subpar.

Of those stats, the one that is most surprising is probably defensive turnover rate. The Citadel finished last season turning over its opponents on slightly over 19% of possessions, which ranked in the top 100 nationally. This year, that percentage is down to a significant degree (in a related development, the Bulldogs’ steal rate has declined as well).

Of course, last year’s numbers include the entire season, while this year’s statistics to date only reflect ten non-conference games (and none of the three contests against non-D1 opponents).

The Citadel only forced eight turnovers against Iowa State (in a 91-possession game), and didn’t have much luck with Arizona State either. The defensive turnover rate was a little better against Virginia Tech.

In the seven D-1 games the Bulldogs have played against non-power 5 teams, here were the turnover rates for The Citadel’s opponents: 21%, 14%, 18%, 22%, 14%, 28%, and 20%. That’s more like it.

Turnover rate isn’t everything, though. The Citadel actually won both of the above-listed games in which its opponent only had a 14% TO rate (Stetson, USC-Upstate). Meanwhile, Campbell turned the ball over at a 28% clip against the Bulldogs — but the Camels prevailed anyway, 97-91.

I also broke down the rest of the Four Factors for those same seven games versus non-P5 teams (in order, those matchups were: at College of Charleston, at Stetson, Presbyterian, Colgate, USC-Upstate, Campbell, at UMBC). The Citadel was 4-3 in those contests, winning at Stetson and against Presbyterian, Colgate, and USC-Upstate.

I think it is worth examining those games in greater detail because they are a better approximation of the level of competition the Bulldogs will be facing in SoCon action. Admittedly, the league appears to be a bit stronger overall than this particular sample size.

For example, the kenpom rankings (as of 12/27/16) for this “group of seven” are as follows: 89, 226, 241, 290, 301, 311, 347

The current kenpom rankings for The Citadel’s nine SoCon opponents: 70, 82, 153, 159, 177, 191, 219, 305, 323

At any rate, here are The Citadel’s Four Factors stats for the seven games in question:

  • Offensive eFG percentage (national average is 50.1%): 35.1%, 59.3%, 66.7%, 62.9%, 52.0%, 50.8%, 46.6%
  • Offensive rebound percentage (national average is 29.8%): 40%, 25%, 35%, 30%, 33%, 30%, 28%
  • Offensive turnover rate (national average is 19.2%): 27%, 10%, 11%, 16%, 14%, 20%, 15%
  • Offensive FTA/FGA rate (national average is 35.2%): 34.3%, 35.8%, 66.7%, 54.8%, 32.9%, 53.3%, 17.3%
  • Defensive eFG percentage (national average is 50.1%): 45.8%, 58.8%, 54.0%, 63.7%, 57.6%, 67.3%, 51.9%
  • Defensive rebound percentage (national average is 70.2%): 64%, 77%, 63%, 56%, 73%, 72%, 65%
  • Defensive turnover rate (national average is 19.2%): 21%, 14%, 18%, 22%, 14%, 28%, 20%
  • Defensive FTA/FGA rate (national average is 35.2%): 71.2%, 46.0%, 43.5%, 15.1%, 34.9%, 50.9%, 61.2%

I listed the defensive turnover rate statistics again, just to have everything included in the bullet points.

Yes, that is a lot of numbers, and some of them can be headache-inducing, but they do tell a story.

The Citadel’s offensive eFG% was better than the national average in six of the seven games — all but the season opener at College of Charleston. Conversely, that game against CofC is the only one of the group in which the Bulldogs’ defensive eFG% was better than the national average.

As far as rebounding is concerned, The Citadel has been respectable on the offensive end of the court, but needs to improve on the defensive glass. Bulldog opponents are getting too many second-shot opportunities, and that has led to a lot of easy baskets.

The rebounding issues partly explain why teams are converting 2-point field goal attempts against The Citadel at an extremely high rate (59.8%; the national average is 48.8%).

One factor that affects the Bulldogs’ ability to rebound is that The Citadel is not a particularly tall team. In terms of “average height”, a kenpom statistic that attempts to determine the size of a team based on minutes allocated to its players, the Bulldogs rank 349th, a full two inches per player below the national average. The only “shorter” teams in D-1 are Alabama A&M and St. Francis of Brooklyn.

In addition, The Citadel is 331st in “effective height”, which is an average of the center and power forward positions. Ken Pomeroy has written that effective height tends to be associated with success in key defensive categories, which makes plenty of sense.

For instance, UCF leads the nation in defensive eFG%. In a related development, the Knights’ starting center is 7’6″ Tacko Fall.

I’ve already discussed The Citadel’s defensive turnover rate. On offense, the Bulldogs have done a good job protecting the ball, aside from the game at CofC and a minor blip against Campbell.

The Citadel has had a few games this season in which it allowed the opponent to shoot too many free throws. As an illustration, just look at that number versus CofC (71.2%!). In that game, College of Charleston attempted almost as many free throws (42) as it did two-point shots from the field (43).

A key factor in the Bulldogs’ 120-111 loss to UMBC was the free throw disparity. The Citadel was 14-18 from the line, while the Retrievers were 37-49.

That’s a 23-point differential for made free throws in a game that went to two overtime periods. It was probably the reason why Duggar Baucom’s face turned an unusual shade of red late in the contest.

Do you need a scorecard when you attend a game at McAlister Field House? Yes, you probably do. The Citadel’s rotation includes at least eleven players for most games, including a bunch of freshmen.

# Name Pos Ht Wt Yr Hometown
0 Preston Parks G 6’1″ 175 Fr. Greenville, SC
1 Frankie Johnson G 5’9″ 150 Fr. Darlington, SC
2 Quayson Williams G 5’11” 170 So. Greensboro, NC
3 Matt Frierson G 6’1″ 150 So. Laurel, MD
4 Ezekiel Balogun F 6’6″ 235 Fr. Lagos, Nigeria
5 Warren Sledge G 6’3″ 180 Sr. Keller, TX
10 Leandro Allende G 6’6″ 190 Fr. Caguas, PR
11 Tom Koopman C 6’8″ 210 Sr. Weert, Holland
12 Chris Ross G 6’2″ 170 Fr. Dallas, TX
21 Bobby Duncan F 6’4″ 210 Gr. Fayetteville, NC
23 Kaelon Harris G 6’4″ 225 Fr. Tulsa, OK
24 Tyler Burgess F 6’7″ 195 Fr. Easley, SC
32 Brian White F 6’8″ 205 Sr. Richmond, VA
35 Zane Najdawi F 6’7″ 205 So. Midlothian, VA
50 Griffin Peevey C 6’7″ 220 Fr. Waco, TX

I’ve watched most of The Citadel’s games on ESPN3, as I’ve only been able to attend one game in person (the matchup against USC-Upstate). My initial impressions of some of the freshmen:

– Frankie Johnson is listed at 5’9″, but he is really about 5’6″. It doesn’t matter; he can play. It was easy to see why Duggar Baucom likes Johnson. To borrow a term from Star Wars, the game seems to go into hyperdrive when Johnson is on the hardwood.

Johnson was a fine high school quarterback. Watching him whip passes across the court, I wondered if Johnson could be a good baseball pitcher as well. Fred Jordan, take note!

– Preston Parks is only shooting 29.2% from three-point land, but he is capable of lighting it up at any time. He made four three-pointers against Presbyterian, five versus USC-Upstate, and six at UMBC.

Parks scored 25 points against USC-Upstate, and was the key player down the stretch in the Bulldogs’ victory over the Spartans. He scored or assisted on 10 of The Citadel’s last 12 points in the contest.

– Kaelon Harris is a broad-shouldered Tulsa resident who isn’t afraid to take the ball to the basket. Harris had 30 points against Arizona State, and 26 versus Stetson.

He needs to work on his free throw shooting (59.7%), particularly because with his style of play, he is going to get a lot of chances to score from the foul line.

– Leandro Allende is a 6’6″ guard who can and will shoot from beyond the arc. He is also capable of competing in the paint, and has the kind of rangy length that can pose problems for teams facing the Bulldogs’ full-court press.

During the game against UMBC, John Feinstein (serving as the analyst on ESPN3) suggested that Allende wasn’t really someone the Bulldogs were counting on to shoot from outside, at least long-term. I have to disagree with Feinstein on that one.

– Ezekiel Balogun is a physical forward from Nigeria. He is a more selective three-point shooter than most of the Bulldogs, but he has made 6 of his 13 tries from three-land this season.

Balogun’s biography on the school website states that he has a 6’11” wingspan and a 36-inch vertical. With that in mind, it is no surprise that Balogun currently leads the Bulldogs in blocked shots per minute played, averaging one block for every 13.3 minutes on the court.

The Citadel has six upperclassmen who see action on a regular basis. Veteran observers are familiar with these players, but I’ll list them here anyway.

– Zane Najdawi leads the Bulldogs in many statistical categories, including points per game (17.9) and rebounds per game (8.2). The sophomore has scuffled offensively in his last two outings, but should be the main focus on that side of the court as The Citadel begins SoCon play.

Najdawi is very good at getting to the foul line. He ranks 17th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

– Quayson Williams has scored in double figures in ten of the Bulldogs’ last eleven games. He is shooting 44.7% from three-land in all games. That percentage drops slightly when non-D1 games aren’t considered, to 43.1%, but that is still excellent.

Outside shooting is Williams’ bread and butter — almost 72% of his field goal attempts are trifecta tries.

– Brian White’s offensive output has been inconsistent. He did not score against Presbyterian, Campbell, or College of Charleston (playing only two minutes versus CofC), and made only one field goal against USC-Upstate. On the other hand, White had a big 23 points in the Bulldogs’ victory at Stetson, 20 points versus Colgate, and 21 points at UMBC.

In two of the three high-scoring games mentioned above (along with a 16-point performance against Toccoa Falls), White was able to take — and make — a bunch of three-pointers. From at or near the top of the key, he is very effective from beyond the arc.

For the season, he is shooting 53.1% from three-land. Fifteen of his seventeen made three-point shots this year have come in just three games.

– Warren Sledge leads the team in minutes played. He got off to a rough start this season with his outside shooting, but has now made 11 of his last 23 three-point shots, a good sign heading into the conference campaign.

Sledge’s value to the team does not necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but he is a key contributor who has started every game this season for the Bulldogs.

– Matt Frierson is a three-point specialist in the truest sense of the term. Of his 83 field goal attempts so far this season, 79 have come from beyond the arc.

His current percentage of 32.9% isn’t terrible, but Frierson has been in a bit of a slump. Not counting a 4-for-7 effort versus Campbell, he has only made 4 of his last 30 three-point attempts.

Frierson shot 34.7% from beyond the arc last season, so there is a decent chance that he could begin to heat up from downtown. The Bulldogs could use the extra scoring punch he is capable of providing.

– Tom Koopman generally plays about 7 to 10 minutes per game as a frontcourt reserve. The senior from Holland is a handy guy to have around, soaking up fouls that otherwise might be charged to Najdawi, and occasionally providing a bucket or two as a bonus.

Against USC-Upstate, Koopman scored eight points in just nine minutes. He had seven points in just seven minutes versus Presbyterian.

So far this season, The Citadel has had five games that weren’t decided until the final minute of regulation (or overtime). Expect that trend to continue as the Bulldogs begin their conference campaign.

From the SoCon’s weekly release:

Southern Conference teams played 90 league games during the 2015-16 regular season. Twenty-one games (23 percent) were decided by one possession or went into overtime. In 2015, the league had 23 of 90 (26 percent) conference games decided by one possession.

In 2014, the league had 17 of 88 (19 percent) conference games decided by one possession. In 2013, the league had 30 of 108 (28 percent) conference games decided by one possession. In 2012, the league had 32 of 108 (30 percent) conference games decided by one possession.

The Citadel will play five league games in an eleven-day stretch (three at home), so the next couple of weeks are going to be big ones for the Bulldogs.

– UNC-Greensboro is 9-4 this season, 6-4 versus D-1 competition. The losses have come against Virginia, High Point, Wake Forest, and Georgetown.

The Spartans are led by 6’8″, 255 lb. senior R.J. White, a preseason all-SoCon selection. After UNCG’s loss to Georgetown, Hoyas head coach John Thompson III said that White might have been the best offensive post player GU had faced to this point in the season.

UNCG guard Dionte Baldwin had two good games versus The Citadel last season, with a combined 38 points and 15 assists in the two contests. Baldwin (6’0″, 191 lbs.) is a senior from Greensboro.

The Spartans play at a pace that is a bit below the national average, so the battle for tempo could be interesting.

According to kenpom.com, The Citadel has a 27% chance of defeating UNC-Greensboro. That site projects a final score of 95-89.

Per one source that deals in such matters, UNCG is a 7.5-point favorite, with an over/under of 184.

– Furman (which hosts the Bulldogs on 12/31) is 7-6 overall, 5-6 against D-1 opponents. None of FU’s losses have been by more than six points. The general consensus among league hoops aficionados seems to be that Furman is better than its record indicates.

Preseason all-league pick Devin Sibley (6’2″, 175 lbs.) leads Furman in scoring, at 15.4 points per game. Daniel Fowler (6’4″, 175 lbs.) is also having a solid season for FU thus far.

As is the case with UNC-Greensboro, the Paladins’ pace of play is below the national average. The Citadel has a 9% chance of winning at Furman, per kenpom.com.

– Wofford and The Citadel play in Spartanburg on January 2. The Terriers are 5-8 (as of 12/26), with just two victories against Division I competition.

However, Wofford is still projected to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Southern Conference. The Terriers are led by preseason all-conference choice Fletcher McGee (6’4″, 194 lbs.).

McGee is averaging 16.1 points per game, and is also shooting 41.4% from three-land. His teammate, Eric Garcia (6’0″, 185 lbs.) is shooting 51.7% from beyond the arc.

Wofford is another SoCon team that likes to dial down the pace. Per kenpom.com, The Citadel has an 18% chance of picking up a road victory.

– On January 5, the Bulldogs host East Tennessee State, one of the two preseason favorites in the SoCon (Chattanooga being the other). ETSU is not afraid to play an uptempo brand of basketball; given that and the Buccaneers’ talent advantage, this could be one of the tougher home games The Citadel will play all season.

T.J. Cromer (6’3″, 195 lbs.) and Hanner Mosquera-Perea (6’9″, 230 lbs.) were both named to the SoCon’s preseason all-league squad.

Cromer had two good games against The Citadel last season, including the Bucs’ 101-92 OT win at McAlister Field House. He is averaging 17.3 points per game this season.

Mosquera-Perea is a transfer from Indiana (where he played for three seasons). The native of Colombia is described on ETSU’s website as “possibly the most highly decorated recruit in program history”.

East Tennessee State also added four new junior-college transfers to its roster. The Citadel has a 12% chance of defeating the Buccaneers, according to kenpom.com.

– Two days after ETSU’s trip to Charleston, VMI will make an appearance at The Citadel. The Keydets are currently 3-8, with only one D-1 victory (against Charleston Southern).

Q.J. Peterson (6’0″, 185 lbs.) is back for one more season in Lexington. The preseason all-SoCon pick led the league in scoring last season, and is averaging 18.5 points per game so far this year.

VMI actually plays at the third-fastest pace in the conference, slightly above the national average. Kenpom.com’s projection gives The Citadel a 69% chance of beating the Keydets, which is nice.

The Citadel certainly faces a challenging start to its league campaign. It would not be shocking if the Bulldogs struggle out of the gate in SoCon play.

That said, I think The Citadel is going to be better this year than last. There is a chance the Bulldogs could be a very tough out for their opponents, particularly as the season progresses.

I would encourage anyone who enjoys basketball to make an effort to see The Citadel in person. The Bulldogs may look fast on TV (or online), but it can be hard to fully grasp the pace of the game they play unless you are in the arena.

It is a fun brand of hoops (especially when The Citadel is making shots).

I look forward to seeing a few more games up close myself. I’m also hopeful the Bulldogs will pull out a few more wins this season.

A brief review of The Citadel’s 2016 football season

Oh, well. Saturday just wasn’t The Citadel’s day.

That happens sometimes. I can accept it, particularly knowing that in 2016, so many Saturdays (and two Thursdays) were great ones for the Bulldogs.

There really isn’t much to add to what has already been said elsewhere. The Citadel had some chances early in the game, but did not take advantage of them.

The defense played very well throughout the contest, but the offense and special teams weren’t up to par. Wofford had a lot to do with that, of course.

I didn’t have an issue with any particular coaching decision during the game. I know a few people weren’t crazy about Brent Thompson electing to try a field goal down seven points late in the game, but there was still time left for The Citadel to get the ball back (which it did), and the odds of making a field goal in that situation were better than converting the long fourth-and-goal.

In addition, if the Bulldogs had converted on the field goal attempt and then later scored a touchdown, they would have won the game rather than just forced overtime.

I was impressed with the crowd (for both sides). It seemed to me that a higher percentage of folks than normal were really into the game.

In my game preview, I wrote that a probable “acceptable” attendance figure for the matchup would be 10,500, given the various factors involved. The actual attendance on Saturday: 10,333. Close enough.

One of the disappointing things about participating in the FCS playoffs has been the selection committee’s decision to create a “South Carolina mini-bracket” for two straight years. I’ve written before that this is not in keeping with a national tournament, and is fundamentally unfair as well.

Last year, fans of the Missouri Valley Football Conference were angry after all five teams in that league to receive bids were put in the same half of the bracket. In addition, the MVFC commissioner publicly complained.

Do you know what happened after she complained? The selection committee immediately altered the way it sets up the tournament, making an adjustment so that particular circumstance wouldn’t happen again.

It would be nice if the Southern Conference made a public request to the committee to change the over-regionalization of the bracket. However, I do not know if league commissioner John Iamarino is concerned about the issue.

I think he should be.

The selection committee’s gerrymandering of the FCS playoffs at the expense of certain teams and conferences really devalues the tournament as a whole — and if the idea is that it is financially impractical to put together a balanced 24-team event, that begs a rather obvious question: why then hold a 24-team tournament in the first place?

Even before The Citadel played this year, I had serious misgivings about the setup for the FCS playoffs. Until the tournament is properly seeded (as in, all the teams are seeded and appropriately bracketed), I will continue to feel that way.

In fact, while I was previously dubious about the MEAC and SWAC electing to send their respective league champions to another post-season event instead (the “Celebration Bowl”), now I tend to think that those two conferences may be on to something, not only from a financial perspective, but a philosophical one.

The regular season still matters. The playoffs? I’m not so sure.

“If we’re not the best Citadel team ever,” [Tyler] Renew said, “we’re right there with the top one.”

He isn’t wrong. There isn’t much that separates the 2016 squad from the 1992 team, with the latter generally considered the finest Bulldog team of the post-World War II era (if not every era).

This year’s team won ten straight games. Six of those ten victories were on the road.

The 2016 team finished undefeated in the Southern Conference, the first time in school history a Bulldogs squad had done so. I consider that a very significant accomplishment, as The Citadel has been competing in the SoCon since 1936.

The ’92 outfit won 11 games. It lost twice — to the two teams that played in the I-AA title game that season.

Charlie Taaffe’s best team was victorious at Arkansas and at Army, and won at Furman to clinch the league title. It also shut out Appalachian State in Boone, defeated Chattanooga and East Tennessee State by a combined 41 points, won a playoff game 44-0, and pulverized VMI 50-0.

I am inclined to keep the 1992 squad #1 on the my personal all-time single-season list, with the 2016 team a very strong #2. Opinions can vary, to be sure.

However, Renew and company have definitely been part of the best two-season stretch in the school’s long gridiron history. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

The past two years have included a total of nineteen victories (including one at South Carolina), and a 14-1 record in conference play. Two of the four Southern Conference championships in program history have come in the last two years.

Of those nineteen wins since the beginning of the 2015 season, ten came on the road. I also think the players themselves should get extra credit for winning those nineteen games under two different head coaches (with the seniors on the team having been recruited by a third head coach).

As far as three-year runs go, I lean towards keeping Eddie Teague’s 1959-1960-1961 teams at the top — at least, for one more year. Those three squads were a combined 23-7-1, with a Southern Conference title and a Tangerine Bowl victory as just two items on their collective honors list.

Next year’s team will have a chance to be part of a new three-year standard for football excellence at The Citadel. I am quite hopeful on that front (as are most Bulldog fans).

The Bulldogs will be back in action on September 2, 2017, against Newberry. I’m already looking forward to next season, but that is still almost nine months away.

For now, I just want to say thank you to all the players and coaches, especially the seniors. Supporters of The Citadel have been treated to two consecutive years of truly outstanding football, with a bevy of talented and likable players providing a great deal of excitement and satisfaction.

It has been very enjoyable to watch.

Yes, I took pictures. They aren’t very good, but then they never are.

I included a few pictures from The Citadel’s victory over USC-Upstate on Saturday afternoon, which was a fun game to watch. (Yes, I’ll be writing about the Bulldogs of the hardwood in the near future. Give me a little time, though.)

These photos aren’t annotated.

 

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

“Inside the game” from The Post and Courier

Bulldogs hope home field makes difference

– It’s another dogfight

– Bulldogs and Terriers face off again

– 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

– Five players to watch for The Citadel and Wofford

– 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 4:00 pm 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. Jeff Farrington and 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.