Football 2019, Game 10: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The Citadel at East Tennessee State, to be played at William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on November 2, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on five television stations in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton provides the analysis.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on ETSU’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/30)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/28)

The Dogs:  Episode 10

About that Homecoming reunion for the Draytons

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders’ weekly press conference

Sanders tells Buccaneers to keep believing

East Tennessee State hopes for happy Homecoming

Basketball preview article in The Post and Courier 

Charlie Taaffe passes away at age 69

Television stations carrying the football game:

  • WCBD (Charleston)
  • WYCW (Greenville/Spartanburg)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WWCW (Roanoke, VA)
  • WJHL (Tri-Cities [TN])

It is possible that the game will be carried on a digital sub-channel on one of the above-mentioned stations, rather than the primary channel itself. Check your local listings if you plan on watching the game on TV.

This preview is a little on the short side. Sorry about that, but A) I’ve been really busy, and B) my computer picked a less-than-ideal time to die.

I just hope the Bulldogs are more functional on Saturday than I am right now.

Also, the next preview (for the Chattanooga game) will be late, possibly being posted on the Friday night before the contest. It will not be very long. Just as The Citadel’s football team has an upcoming break, I’m taking some time off as well.

Okay, back to the present…

This week’s “stats of note” for East Tennessee State are for its five SoCon games. I didn’t include the statistics for the Buccaneers’ games against Appalachian State, Shorter, or Austin Peay.

ETSU Opponents
Points Per Game 16.2 24.6
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 138 220
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.45 5.30
Attempts-Completions-Interceptions 155-84-3 147-86-3
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 5.10 4.69
Total Plays 304 376
Yards per play 5.26 5.05
Total punts 30 25
Punting Net Average 34.4 38.5
Penalties-Yards 26-271 19-186
Penalty yards per game 54.2 37.2
Time of Possession per game 28:17 31:43
Offensive plays per second 27.91 seconds 25.31 seconds
3rd Down Conversions 17/63 (26.98%) 31/73 (42.47%)
4th Down Conversions 2/5 (40.00%) 5/8 (62.50%)
Fumbles-Lost 6-5 6-2
Sacks-Yards Lost 9-49 11-66
Red Zone: Touchdowns 5/12 (41.67%) 14/21 (66.67%)
Turnover Margin -3 +3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 45.39% 58.51%

Random observations based on the above statistics (remember, these are conference numbers only):

– In terms of yardage, ETSU is the second-most penalized team in the league; penalties on special teams have particularly bedeviled the Bucs

– The Buccaneers are not having a lot of fumble luck; losing five out of six fumbles is kind of rough

– ETSU is last in the league in scoring offense

– One reason for that is the Buccaneers are last in offensive third down conversion rate, and by a lot

– East Tennessee State is also the only team in the league with an offensive red zone TD rate under 50%; conversely, The Citadel’s offense has a red zone TD rate of 76%

– The Citadel and ETSU are the bottom two teams in the league in offensive yards per play, but one key difference is the Bulldogs average almost 15 more offensive plays per game

East Tennessee State’s non-conference slate went about as expected. The Bucs lost 42-7 to Appalachian State, whipped Shorter 48-10, and picked up a nice home victory over Austin Peay (20-14).

It was the game in between the victories over Shorter and Austin Peay that arguably set the tone for ETSU’s fortunes (or lack thereof) in SoCon play. VMI came to Johnson City, and in a game delayed by lightning, the Keydets eventually prevailed 31-24 in overtime.

That was not how the Buccaneers wanted to begin the league slate, and things didn’t improve from there. ETSU dropped a tough game at Furman (17-10) and then lost at home to Wofford (35-17, with the Terriers pulling away late).

A week off didn’t change the momentum. On a Thursday night, Chattanooga beat the Bucs 16-13 on a last-minute field goal (after the Mocs had struggled mightily in the kicking game throughout the contest). Last week, Samford edged ETSU 24-17, with a 4th-quarter TD by the Crimson Bulldogs proving to be the winning score.

Both of those games were on the road. Saturday’s game is the first at home for East Tennessee State since October 5.

Some comments from ETSU head football coach Randy Sanders on his radio show this week:

– “We have to be ready to score.” Sanders emphasized the lack of possessions in a game against a triple option team, or as he referred to it, a “three back offense”.

– Sanders on the Bulldogs’ offense: “Whenever you get them to punt on 4th down, you’ve done something good.”

– He was complimentary of The Citadel’s defense, saying that it is “much, much more multiple” under first-year defensive coordinator Tony Grantham. According to Sanders, “you can see as the season has gone on…that they have become more comfortable” in the new system.

– Sanders was also impressed with The Citadel’s kickers. He mentioned that he would like to see ETSU punt returner Malik McGue (a transfer from Army) “shake loose” on a return. McGue (5’8″, 188 lbs.) is averaging a healthy 7.1 yards per return despite only having a long of 19 yards on nine runbacks, which suggests he may indeed be someone The Citadel needs to be very wary of on Saturday.

– Star defensive end Nasir Player (a 6’5″, 271 lb. native of Columbia) was called for targeting against Samford last week, and will miss the first half of the game against the Bulldogs. Sanders was not very happy about the call against the redshirt senior, and said “it’s a shame that a call like that…can truly affect two games.”

– The host of the radio show, ETSU play-by-play man Jay Sandos, had good things to say about The Citadel’s quarterback; alas, he kept calling the Bulldogs’ signal-caller “Bobby Rainey”.

A few thoughts on some ETSU players from Brent Thompson on his radio show:

– East Tennessee State’s leading receiver is a tight end, 6’3″, 226 lb. sophomore Nate Adkins. Thompson stated that Adkins is “the best tight end in the league, by far”.

– Thompson noted the Bucs’ excellent defensive ends, Nasir Player and Jason Maduafokwa (6’3″, 270 lbs.), who like Player is a redshirt senior. He was also impressed with ETSU’s linebacking corps, which is a combination of experienced and young (including two redshirt freshman starters).

– He mentioned that in addition to starting quarterback Trey Mitchell (6’4″, 215 lbs.), ETSU will also use the “wildcat” formation at times.

Last year, ETSU won this matchup 26-23 in Charleston. Running back Quay Holmes (6’1″, 216 lbs.) was largely held in check on the ground, but did hurt the Bulldogs with four receptions out of the backfield.

Free safety Tyree Robinson (5’11”, 184 lbs) intercepted two passes in the game, returning one 42 yards for a TD. Robinson and Holmes were both preseason first team all-SoCon selections this year, along with Player and Maduafokwa.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Johnson City, Tennessee, per the National Weather Service: sunny and a high of 56 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 30 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Thursday evening), The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over East Tennessee State, with an over/under of 41 1/2.

Through nine games this season, The Citadel is 4-5 ATS. The over has hit only twice.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: VMI is a 14 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina; Furman is a 9-point favorite at Chattanooga; Samford is a 3-point favorite at Mercer; and Wofford is a 46 1/2 point underdog at Clemson.

– Also of note: Elon is an 11-point favorite over William & Mary; Towson is a 9 1/2 point favorite over Delaware; and Charleston Southern is a 2 1/2 point favorite at Gardner-Webb.

Georgia Tech is a 7 1/2 point home underdog to Pittsburgh.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 27, with Florida A&M favored over Delaware State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 41st in FCS. The Buccaneers are 80th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 72% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 24, ETSU 17.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, James Madison, Sacramento State, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Northern Iowa is 9th, Villanova 11th, Kennesaw State 13th, Southern Illinois 15th, Elon 19th, Furman 22nd, Towson 27th, Idaho 30th, North Carolina A&T 34th, McNeese State 38th, Wofford 42nd, Florida A&M 43rd, Monmouth 48th, Jacksonville State 50th, Holy Cross 55th, Chattanooga 57th, Samford 58th, South Carolina State 60th, Duquesne 63rd, William & Mary 66th, VMI 70th, Campbell 73rd, Georgetown 78th, Tennessee Tech 81st, Prairie View A&M 85th, Mercer 86th, Robert Morris 90th, Charleston Southern 93rd, Gardner-Webb 98th, Davidson 99th, Brown 102nd, Marist 107th, Western Carolina 112th, Howard 117th, Valparaiso 120th, Jacksonville 124th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– East Tennessee State’s notable alumni include former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith (soon to be coaching in the Hula Bowl!), country music singer/bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales.

As I say every year, Bales has one of the best jobs in the world, as he gets to listen to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis.

– Future FBS opponents for the Bucs include Georgia (during the 2020 season), Vanderbilt (2021), North Carolina (2022), and Appalachian State (2024).

– East Tennessee State’s roster includes 43 players from the state of Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (24 players), Alabama (7), North Carolina (7), Ohio (7), South Carolina (6), Florida (6), Virginia (2), and one each from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The Palmetto State products (and their respective high schools) on the Buccaneers’ squad are Ben Blackmon (Newberry), Nasir Player (Ridge View), Landon Kunak (Spartanburg), Treyvion Houston (Greer), Donovan Swinger (T.L. Hanna), and D.J. Twitty (Chapman).

While there are a few South Carolina natives on ETSU’s team, none are from that internationally known purveyor of pigskin perfection, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. What in the name of Donnie Abraham is going on? There is little doubt that failing to recruit the gridiron warriors who wear the famed maroon and orange will haunt the East Tennessee State program for many decades to come.

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

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

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is largely unchanged from last week’s edition. Gunner Covey is listed as a starter at defensive end.

– When it comes to the coin toss, The Citadel has been very successful, winning the flip at least seven times in nine games; the only one the Bulldogs definitely did not win was versus Charleston Southern. (I have not been able to determine which team won the toss in the Samford game.)

Update: There appears to be some controversy (?!) about this subject. According to this week’s game notes (thanks to commenter MG for pointing this out), The Citadel is 9-0 when it comes to winning the coin toss.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson also referenced having won all the tosses. The problem with this: per the play-by-play for the Charleston Southern game box score, CSU won the coin toss (and elected to defer).

It is true that play-by-play logs are not necessarily gospel. Perhaps asking the game captains might help.

Also, I guess we can now assume (dangerous, making assumptions) that The Citadel did win in fact the coin toss against Samford.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-6 for games played on November 2. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1968: An injury-riddled group of Bulldogs surprised Davidson, 28-21, in a game played at Charlotte Memorial Stadium. Joe Bedenbaugh rushed for 111 yards, and Steve Brackett added 102 yards and two TDs. This is the earliest game on record in which two players for The Citadel broke the 100-yard rushing mark. Tony Passander ran for a touchdown and threw for another (a 58-yarder to Tom Sanchez). On defense, head coach Red Parker singled out Ken Diaz and Charlie Baker for praise.
  • 1985: At Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Western Carolina 10-3. Adrian Williams rushed for the game’s only touchdown. Greg Davis added a field goal and a PAT for the Bulldogs. The Citadel’s defense held the Catamounts to 268 total yards and forced three turnovers, all interceptions — one by Brian Graves and two by J.D. Cauthen.
  • 1991: Before a crowd of 20,071 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Bulldogs beat Appalachian State 17-10. Jack Douglas rushed for 115 yards and threw a 52-yard TD pass to Cornell Caldwell. Erick Little scored The Citadel’s other touchdown on a seven-yard run. Rob Avriett booted a 46-yard field goal and converted both extra points. The Bulldogs thwarted two fourth-quarter drives by the Mountaineers; David Brodsky intercepted a pass that had been tipped by Bill Melby, and later Derek Moore broke up a key fourth-down pass to preserve the win.
  • 2013: After once trailing 17-0, The Citadel came back to win a Homecoming game against Samford, 28-26. Darien Robinson rushed for 83 yards and three touchdowns, while Vinny Miller had 95 yards on the ground and a TD of his own. The defense chipped in with two turnovers — an interception by Nick Willis, and a fumble recovery by Tevin Floyd (created by a Mark Thomas sack). The game also featured a key conversion off a fake punt by Eric Goins, a 27-yard run that set up Robinson’s second touchdown.

Charlie Taaffe was the coach who demonstrated that The Citadel could compete and win in the modern era of college football.

The Bulldogs had not won a Southern Conference title since 1961 when he was hired, but Taaffe used the wishbone offense to lead The Citadel to a league championship and the No. 1 ranking in Division I-AA in 1992. He won the Eddie Robinson award as the I-AA national coach of the year in ’92.

“I think Coach Taaffe is the standard around here,” said current Bulldogs coach Brent Thompson. “He had quite the career record here and he found a way to sustain a lot of success. He was able to win a championship in a very challenging Southern Conference.

“As far as I am concerned, he is probably the guy that is most responsible for us and our staff being back here.”

I was still a cadet when Taaffe was named head football coach at The Citadel. The change in offense was stark, but there also seemed to be a shift in attitude. The new coach had certain standards, and they were going to be met. There didn’t seem to be much doubt about that, somehow.

In just his second year, Taaffe orchestrated an 8-win season that included an undefeated home slate, with memorable wins over Navy and Marshall. There was a palpable enthusiasm that began to envelop Johnson Hagood Stadium on gamedays.

Charlie Taaffe re-established a level of high expectations for the football program; despite some lean years at times, that point of view has persisted into the present day. That is one of his legacies at The Citadel, and it is an outstanding one.

I expect Saturday’s game to be close, and possibly not high-scoring. While East Tennessee State is winless in the SoCon to this point in the season, the Buccaneers are a better team than their record indicates. Randy Sanders stated during his radio show that he expected his team to “play hard”, and there is no reason to doubt that — especially since this is ETSU’s Homecoming game.

If the Bulldogs can do the things they have been doing well of late on offense — ball control and finishing drives — they should be in good shape. That will be particularly true if the defense continues its gradual but noticeable improvement (and maintains its recent run of largely solid play on third down).

It won’t be easy, but The Citadel has an opportunity to continue to play impactful games well into the twilight of the season. The Bulldogs must seize that opportunity.

Game Review, 2019: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

– Associated Press story

– WCSC-TV game report (with video)

– WCSC-TV recap (video via Twitter)

– School release

– Mercer website story

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

This was very, very cool.

Congrats to Brandon Rainey on setting a record that had been around for a while:

Stats of note:

The Citadel Mercer
Field Position* 31.13 (+4.7) 26.43 (-4.7)
Success Rate* 53.42% 46.30%
Big plays (20+ yards) 3 4
Finishing drives (average points) 7.00 4.25
Turnovers 1 1
Expected turnovers 1.22 0.66
Possessions* 8 7
Points per possession* 4.38 3.43
Offensive Plays* 73 53
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 5.57 3.17
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 6.20 8.53
Yards/play* 5.59 6.21
3rd down conversions 14 for 17 (82.4%) 5 for 12 (41.7%)
4th down conversions 0 for 1 2 for 3
Red Zone TD% 5 for 5 (100.0%) 1 for 3 (33.3%)
Net punting 32.0 33.0
Time of possession 37:15 22:45
TOP/offensive play 30.20 seconds 25.28 seconds
Penalties 4 for 51 yards 5 for 45 yards
1st down passing 1/1, 20 yards, TD 7/9, 95 yards, TD
3rd and long passing 0/1 4/6, 88 yards
4th down passing 0/0 2/2, 34 yards, sack
1st down yards/play* 6.45 6.71
3rd down average yards to go 4.75 5.00
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 1 0

*does not include Mercer’s final drive of first half, or The Citadel’s final drive of second half

Some quick thoughts on the above statistics:

– The Citadel scored a touchdown all five times it advanced past the Mercer 40-yard line. That kind of efficiency is key to having success in games like this. Mercer, conversely, was held to two field goals (missing one of them) when its offense got in scoring range. MU did score two TDs on drives in that territory as well, but the non-TD possessions hurt the Bears.

– This was the first time all season the Bulldogs’ offense did not have a three-and-out during the game.

– The Citadel had eight possessions (not counting kneeldowns) in the game, the fewest in any contest this year. Mercer’s seven possessions (again, not counting end-of-half kneeldowns) marked the fewest an opponent has had versus the Bulldogs in 2019.

– Mercer’s opening drive lasted 16 plays and took up 8:53 of the first quarter. For the rest of the game, the Bears ran 38 plays (counting a first-half kneeldown) and had the ball for only 13 minutes, 52 seconds.

Thus, after the first possession by MU, The Citadel’s offense had the football for 73% of the time in game action. Even accounting for that drive, the Bulldogs had a lopsided advantage in time of possession.

In the second half alone, The Citadel possessed the ball for 23:14.

– For the third time this year, the Bulldogs converted more than half of their third-down conversion attempts, with their 82.4% success rate on third down versus Mercer easily the best of the campaign. The Bulldogs’ offense also converted third downs at better than a 50% clip against Towson and Georgia Tech.

– The Citadel’s offense ran a play every 30.2 seconds, which was actually the second-fastest pace for the Bulldogs this year (excepting only the VMI contest).

– The Bulldogs averaged 6.45 yards on first down against Mercer, the second-best average on first down in 2019 (The Citadel averaged a ridiculous 9.57 yards on first down versus Western Carolina).

– The Citadel’s offensive success rate of 53.42% was the second-highest of the year, behind only its success rate against Towson (54.05%).

Random observations:

– The Citadel now has an all-time record on Homecoming of 48-42-2. That marks the most games above the break-even point for the program since the celebration contest began in 1924.

– The Bulldogs have won eight consecutive Homecoming games, the second-longest streak ever (only surpassed by the 10 straight won between 1969 and 1978).

– Bobby Lamb waited until very late to call Mercer’s final two timeouts of the second half. I thought that was a mistake, both from a practical and psychological standpoint.

The Citadel took over possession after Sean-Thomas Faulkner’s fourth-down sack with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter. However, Lamb elected to wait until 1:27 remained in the game to call the Bears’ second timeout.

The Citadel ran seven plays during that time frame. Two of those plays were key third-and-long runs that resulted in first downs. After one more play sandwiched between Mercer’s final two timeouts, Remus Bulmer shook loose for the Bulldogs’ clinching touchdown.

– Lamb, a longtime presence in the Southern Conference at Furman and Mercer, is now 7-8 against The Citadel in his head coaching career.

– There were a couple of tough injuries during the game. Mercer’s Jamar Hall appeared to be knocked out after a violent collision with Dante Smith, and The Citadel’s Phil Davis was hurt intercepting a pass on the next-to-last play of the contest.

Best of luck to both of them going forward.

– Gage Russell, the Bulldogs’ holder on placements who has also seen time this season as a punter, usually wears jersey #93. However, on Saturday he wore #94 to honor his father, a 1994 graduate of The Citadel whose class was celebrating its 25th anniversary reunion.

Russell is a third-generation cadet at the military college, as his grandfather graduated from The Citadel in 1954.

– I have to mention the officials’ ball-spotting tendencies, because they were not good.

Often, it seemed like The Citadel had to go 11 or 12 yards for a first down instead of the standard 10, because the ball would be spotted incorrectly, sometimes by a full yard.

The failed fourth-down run in the second quarter by The Citadel also featured a bad spot, though I am not certain that even a correct placement by the officials would have resulted in a first down. Still, it would have been nice to be sure.

Incidentally, the holding penalty that negated a TD by the Bulldogs in the second quarter appeared to be a fair decision.

– Arguably, the most athletic move made at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday didn’t occur on the field of play.

During the retirement of the colors following the Alma Mater, the wind played havoc with the Touchdown Cannon Crew’s attempts to corral the flag. One intrepid cadet, with assistance, was able to hoist himself to the top of the wall behind the end zone and (with very little space to maneuver) was able to grab the end of the flag and pass it to his colleagues.

Watching the drama unfold, I was a bit concerned for the cadet’s safety, and I didn’t think risking a fall from a wall at least nine feet high was really worth the trouble. However, it ended well.

Perhaps in the future, someone could bring a ladder to the game, just in case a similar situation arises.

– I thought the crowd was into the game. Sometimes at Homecoming, that isn’t really the case — there are a lot of distractions, after all — but the enthusiasm was there on Saturday. (Oddly, that isn’t necessarily apparent on the ESPN+ broadcast.)

The Citadel has now put itself in position to compete for the SoCon title. It needs a little bit more help, but not much more. If the Bulldogs win their final three games, with or without a league championship they are likely bound for postseason play.

However, none of those three upcoming matchups will be easy. The first of them, and the last game before a long-awaited off week, comes next Saturday at East Tennessee State, as The Citadel makes the trip to Johnson City to face the defending conference co-champions.

I’ll write about that game later this week.

This week’s pictures are a little different in scope, because I was enjoying the reunion festivities prior to the game. There aren’t many game action shots, either. I have no regrets and make no apologies, as I had a good time, with the Bulldogs’ victory just the capper on a fine weekend.

I included a few shots from the soccer game on Friday. I also attended The Citadel’s open basketball practice on Saturday, though there are no pictures of the team working out, as I wasn’t sure that was really permitted/desired.

I will say it was nice to be thanked for attending by the wife of the head basketball coach. There can’t be too many D-1 institutions where that happens.

Anyway, here are the photos, such as they are.

 

2019 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 26, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while Matt Dean supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

Marquise Blount is wreaking havoc

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on Mercer’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/23)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/21), including an appearance by Bulldogs linebacker Phil Davis

– Marquise Blount repeats as SoCon Defensive Player of the Week, and Jacob Godek is the SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week

The Dogs:  Episode 9

– A Look At Game Day

– Volleyball Highlights!

– Bobby Lamb talks about Mercer’s win over VMI

– Mercer postgame player interviews following the VMI game

“Commissioner’s Corner” — a brief video interview of league commissioner Jim Schaus

– General (a/k/a “G2”) to be honored during cadet marchover

This weekend at The Citadel is Homecoming, of course. The school’s information page for the festivities can be found here: Link

Besides a schedule of events, that link includes a great picture of the 1906 Bulldogs football team. That squad won the national title (technically sharing it with Princeton and Yale), according to the TSA Matrix Ratings System. As you may recall, the TSA Matrix Ratings System is also the selector which crowned the 1871 football team the undisputed national champion for that season.

A few of the Homecoming activities worth mentioning:

Friday:

  • The Citadel plays Furman in soccer at WLI Field, with a start time of 3pm
  • The Memorial Parade begins at 5:10 pm

Saturday:

  • Open barracks on campus from 8:30 am to 10:00 am
  • The Summerall Guards perform on the parade ground at 8:50 am
  • The Homecoming Review Parade begins at 11:00 am
  • Kickoff of the football game is at 2:00 pm — don’t be late (remember that the security check at the gates will take a few minutes)

Sunday:

  • The Citadel plays Wofford in soccer at WLI Field, with a start time of 2:00 pm

Earlier this year, I wrote about Homecoming at The Citadel, listing all of the games that have been played since the original Homecoming contest (a 6-0 victory over Furman) in 1924.

You can read that post (which includes an incredibly handy spreadsheet) here: Link

A few Homecoming-related trivia items:

  • Saturday’s contest will be The Citadel’s 92nd Homecoming game (overall record: 47-42-2)
  • It will be the first time Mercer has been the opponent; the Bears are the 18th different school to be featured in that role
  • The Citadel’s first Homecoming opponent, Furman, has faced the Bulldogs 26 times in the celebration game, more than any other school
  • The Citadel has won the last seven Homecoming games, its second-longest streak (the longest was 10 straight from 1969 to 1978)
  • Brent Thompson is 3-0 on Homecoming; only Bobby Ross (5) won more such games without a loss as the Bulldogs’ head coach
  • Charlie Taaffe and Eddie Teague each won six Homecoming games as head coach of the Bulldogs, sharing the record for most wins
  • Before 2017, The Citadel had played 50 consecutive Homecoming games in November; now, the contest will have been played in October two of the last three seasons
  • Saturday’s game will be only the second time a Homecoming game has been played on October 26
  • The longest play of any kind by The Citadel (offense, defense, or special teams) in a Homecoming game was Nehemiah Broughton’s 92-yard touchdown run in the Bulldogs’ 44-24 victory over Chattanooga in 2004
  • Last season’s 42-27 triumph over Samford was also The Citadel’s largest comeback victory in a home game in school history

Let me very briefly discuss last week’s win over Furman. Admittedly, I could probably discuss it for a couple of hours, but a few sentences will suffice.

I’ll just mention one statistic, and one situation.

– The stat: Furman entered that game averaging 7.19 yards per play, which was third-best in all of FCS. The Citadel’s defense held the Paladins to 3.38 yards per play.

It is hard to do much better than that on the defensive side of the ball.

– The situation occurred late in the first half, with The Citadel leading 7-3:

Cit 4-2 at Cit19 Timeout Furman, clock 02:03.
Cit 4-2 at Cit19 Brandon Rainey rush for 4 yards to the CIT23, 1ST DOWN CIT

That will almost certainly be my favorite “go for it” decision of the year.

Was it the right call from an analytical point of view? It probably was (a little better than 50-50). How many other coaches would have gone for it? Very few.

Brent Thompson explained his reasoning on his coach’s show, and it made a lot of strategic sense — but in my opinion, the psychology of the decision was even more important.

That basically was the coach having confidence in his team (both offensively and defensively) and, at the same time, challenging his squad. There was an element of “we’re going to do this and you can’t stop us” to it, too.

It was a standout moment in what was just an excellent win in every way. I was particularly impressed by how the Bulldogs controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Now, the Bulldogs have to focus on Mercer.

Statistics of note for the Bears (through seven games):

Mercer Opponents
Points Per Game 30.86 31.71
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 221 289
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.30 5.10
Att-Comp-Int 239-135-13 228-133-4
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 6.47 6.84
Total Plays 468 525
Yards per play 5.93 5.89
Total punts 32 38
Punting Net Average 31.6 33.9
Penalties-Yards 32-270 52-482
Penalty yards per game 38.57 68.86
Time of Possession per game 26:10 33:50
Offensive plays per second 23.49 sec 27.06 sec
3rd Down Conversions 37-94 (39.36%) 47-113 (41.59%)
4th Down Conversions 5-12 (41.67%) 6-10 (60.00%)
Fumbles-Lost 10-5 7-4
Sacks-Yards Lost 8-58 8-43
Red Zone: Touchdowns 15/24 (62.50%) 19/32 (59.38%)
Turnover Margin -10 +10
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 47.22% 55.05%

– Mercer is tied for 118th in FCS in turnover margin (out of 124 teams). The Citadel is tied for 71st.

– The Citadel is first nationally in time of possession. The rest of the top five: Davidson, Yale, Wofford, and Portland State. Mercer is 121st, ahead of only Marist, Sacred Heart, and Samford.

– The Bulldogs are 12th in FCS in net punting, while MU is 113th.

– Mercer is 2nd in kickoff return average (27.27 yards per return). Only Elon has a better average than the Bears. The Citadel is 63rd (19.94).

– In the category of fewest penalties per game, Mercer is tied for 13th nationally. The Bulldogs are 27th.

– The Citadel is 55th in offensive third down conversion rate, while the Bears are 52nd.

– Defensively, Mercer is 83rd in third down conversion rate, while The Citadel is 86th.

– The Citadel is 7th nationally in offensive fourth down conversion attempts, and 3rd in conversions made. The Bulldogs’ 73.9% success rate (17 for 23) is the best among all teams with at least 20 attempts.

– Mercer is 39th in offensive yards per play. The Citadel is 102nd.

– On defense, MU is 83rd in yards allowed per play. The Bulldogs are 90th.

Mercer started its season with a 49-27 win at Western Carolina. The Bears’ David Durden returned the opening kickoff 82 yards, which set the tone for the game. Robert Riddle threw four TD passes, while Tyray Devezin rushed for two more (and caught one of Riddle’s touchdown throws). Five of MU’s touchdowns were 30 yards or longer.

Originally, Mercer had only scheduled 11 regular season games. However, the Bears added a 12th, playing at Presbyterian after the Blue Hose had a game against Stetson canceled due to Hurricane Dorian. MU took full advantage of its extra opportunity, routing PC 45-7. Riddle threw three more TD passes (and ran for a fourth score).

Those two victories, however, were washed away by four consecutive losses, with the first of those a 48-34 home loss to Austin Peay. The Bears had a punt blocked and threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

MU then lost at Furman, 45-10. The Paladins rolled up over 600 yards of total offense, including 410 rushing yards.

The following week, Campbell totaled 515 yards of offense in a 34-27 win in Macon. The Camels moved the ball equally well on the ground and through the air.

Then, Mercer lost 34-17 at Chattanooga. The Mocs took advantage of four MU turnovers, scoring 27 points in the second half.

After an open week, Mercer broke its losing streak with a 34-27 home victory over VMI. Late in the first half, Riddle suffered a terrible lower leg injury. His replacement was former starting QB Kaelan Riley, who led the Bears to a much-needed win.

In that game, Mercer showed a good deal of resiliency for a team coming off of four straight losses. The Bears could have packed it in on a miserable night, with bad weather and their starting quarterback suddenly out with a season-ending injury. Instead, they surged to a three-touchdown lead before a late Keydet comeback attempt.

Kaelan Riley (6’3″, 231 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Calhoun, Georgia, now takes over at quarterback for the Bears. Riley has 16 career starts (including 11 as a redshirt freshman), so he has plenty of experience.

Riley was the SoCon Freshman of the Year in 2017. That included a win against The Citadel, in which he was 12 for 23 for 111 yards passing. He played briefly versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game, after Robert Riddle was injured on Mercer’s final drive.

Last season, Riley completed 54.2% of his throws, averaging 8.69 yards per attempt (not accounting for sacks), with 12 TDs against just two interceptions. In limited time this year, he is 13 for 26 passing, with one TD and two picks.

Junior running back Tyray Devezin (5’8″, 233 lbs.) leads Mercer in rushing, and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. The native of Woodstock, Georgia had a career night against VMI last week, rushing for 193 yards, including a 56-yard TD. Devezin, a preseason first team all-SoCon choice, has also caught two TD passes this season.

Another running back for the Bears, redshirt freshman Deondre Johnson (5’7″, 166 lbs.), is averaging 6.1 yards per rush attempt. He has three rushing touchdowns. Johnson, who came to Mercer as a walk-on, also returns kicks, and had a 98-yard TD return against Chattanooga.

Between them, Devezin and Johnson average 23 carries per game for the Bears.

Eight different players have caught touchdown passes for Mercer this season.

The leading receiver for the Bears is Tucker Cannon (6’0″, 192 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Dunwoody, Georgia. Cannon has 25 receptions, and is averaging 18.2 yards per catch. He hauled in an 85-yard TD against Western Carolina.

Cannon is also Mercer’s primary punt returner, and he is a good one, averaging 7.8 yards per return. Cannon (also a kick returner) caught a TD pass versus The Citadel last season.

Tight end Chris Ellington (6’4″, 237 lbs.), a preseason second team all-league selection, has 19 catches, with 3 touchdown grabs. The senior from Jacksonville had 74 receiving yards and a TD versus VMI last Saturday.

Mercer will miss David Durden (6’2″, 197 lbs.), a sophomore wideout who was the preseason first team all-conference return specialist. Durden, who caught five passes against The Citadel last season (including one for a TD), is out for at least three more weeks with a back injury.

Mercer’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 305 lbs. Left tackle Austin Sanders (6’3″, 287 lbs.) was a first-team All-SoCon media selection last year.

Mercer has a new defensive coordinator this season, Mike Adams. He spent the last three years at Charleston Southern as special teams coordinator (and also coached the safeties), but he has previous experience as a defensive coordinator, as he held that position at South Carolina State from 2006 to 2014.

MU has a solid defensive line, led by human bowling ball Dorian Kithcart (6’0″, 288 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Durham, North Carolina. Kithcart leads Mercer in tackles for loss (7 1/2).

Also looming on the d-line (figuratively and literally) is 6’5″, 297 lb. Destin Guillen, a redshirt senior defensive end from Greenville. Guillen is one of five redshirt seniors for Mercer who start on defense.

Inside linebacker Will Coneway (5’11”, 217 lbs.) leads the Bears in tackles this season, with 42. He also led MU in tackles last year (including a 13-stop performance against The Citadel). There is some question as to the status of the redshirt senior for Saturday’s matchup, as he was injured last week in the VMI game.

Malique Fleming (5’11”, 208 lbs.) was a preseason second team all-league pick at defensive back, but he is listed on Mercer’s most recent two-deep as an outside linebacker. The redshirt junior from Nashville played free safety last season (and from that position made nine tackles versus the Bulldogs).

Redshirt junior cornerback Harrison Poole (5’11”, 196 lbs.) had quite a night against VMI, with five pass breakups. As Bobby Lamb pointed out earlier this week, the leader in that category in the SoCon for the season has only eight (that would be East Tennessee State’s Tyree Robinson).

Poole isn’t currently listed among the league leaders in passes defended, presumably because he has only played five games — but thanks to his game versus Keydets, just three conference players have more passes defensed than he does.

– Mercer special teams, the good: as mentioned above, the Bears have outstanding return units. MU also has a fine placekicker, Caleb Dowden (5’11”, 174 lbs.). The redshirt freshman from Statesboro has yet to miss a kick this year, making all nine of his field goal tries (with a long of 45 yards) and going 27-27 on PATs.

MU’s kickoff specialist is first team FCS Hair All-American Devin Folser (6’2″, 170 lbs.), a freshman from McDonough, Georgia. Only one of his 38 kickoffs has resulted in a touchback.

– Mercer special teams, the bad: the Bears have had three punts blocked. Wait, is that the Sean-Thomas Faulkner batsignal going off?

Grant Goupil (6’1″, 184 lbs.) is Mercer’s regular punter (as he was two seasons ago). He has had punts blocked against Presbyterian (a partial, as it still went 16 yards), Austin Peay (which set up a TD for the Governors), and Chattanooga (which also set up a touchdown).

Dowden has punted seven times for the Bears, including three of the four Mercer punts against VMI.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, with a high of 77 degrees. There is also a possibility of rain on Saturday evening (with a projected low of 67 degrees).

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Wednesday evening), The Citadel is a 13-point favorite over WCU, with an over/under of 61 1/2.

Through eight games this season, The Citadel is 4-4 ATS. The over has hit only twice.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Wofford is an 11-point favorite over Chattanooga; Furman is a 26 1/2 point favorite at Western Carolina; and Samford is a 4 1/2 point favorite versus East Tennessee State. VMI is off this week.

– Also of note: Elon is a 1 1/2 point favorite at Rhode Island; Towson is a 16 1/2 point underdog at James Madison; and Charleston Southern is a 3 1/2 point home underdog against Monmouth.

Georgia Tech is off this week, so its fans will get an extra seven days to celebrate last week’s overtime victory at Miami. The Yellow Jackets have split two overtime games this season.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 31, with North Carolina A&T favored over Howard.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 43rd in FCS. The Bears are 88th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 78% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 34, Mercer 24.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, James Madison, Sacramento State, and Montana.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Villanova is 10th, Kennesaw State 14th, North Carolina A&T 20th, Towson 24th, Elon 26th, Furman 28th, Sam Houston State 31st, UT Martin 35th, Alcorn State 40th, Wofford 45th, Jacksonville State 50th, Chattanooga 53rd, Richmond 57th, William & Mary 59th, Samford 61st, Austin Peay 66th, Georgetown 70th, VMI 74th, Campbell 77th, South Carolina State 79th, East Tennessee State 84th, Dayton 87th, Charleston Southern 90th, Davidson 91st, Colgate 95th, Gardner-Webb 99th, Eastern Illinois 104th, North Alabama 109th, Western Carolina 114th, Merrimack 119th, Butler 124th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Mercer’s notable alumni include TV personality Nancy Grace, music promoter Phil Walden, and football coach Wally Butts.

– Mercer will play North Carolina later this season. Other future FBS opponents for the Bears include Vanderbilt (in 2020), Alabama (2021), Auburn (2022), and Mississippi (2023).

Mercer also has three games remaining in its series with Yale.

– Mercer’s roster includes 80 players from the state of Georgia. Other states represented: Florida (15 players), Tennessee (4), South Carolina (3), North Carolina (2), Alabama (2), and Ohio (1).

Geographically speaking, MU has the least diverse roster in the Southern Conference.

The three Palmetto State products on Mercer’s squad are redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Burnett (Airport High School), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Tyrese Cohen (Midland Valley High School), and the aforementioned defensive end Destin Guillen (the redshirt senior went to Berea High School). They were also the only South Carolina natives on last year’s roster.

As has been the case for many years, Mercer has no players from storied pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. It appears that the school’s aspirations for its football team are painfully modest, as it is hard to imagine how any program with even a scintilla of ambition would not spend an inordinate amount of time and money recruiting the fantastic gridders that wear the famed maroon and orange.

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

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

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is almost unchanged from last week, with the only difference involving some of the linebackers’ position descriptions (though the players listed remain the same).

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-6-1 for games played on October 26. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1929: At the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel shut out Presbyterian 14-0. Edwin McIntosh scored two touchdowns and also added both PATs. The star of the game on offense for the Bulldogs was halfback Howard “Red” Whittington, whose superb running set up the second TD. The Bulldogs collected two turnovers on defense, as Julius “Runt” Gray intercepted a pass and Louis Kirby recovered a PC fumble.
  • 1940: Before an estimated 4,000 home supporters, the Light Brigade trounced Oglethorpe 25-0. (Yes, during this era The Citadel’s varsity teams were occasionally referred to as the “Light Brigade”, but most alums didn’t like it and “Bulldogs” became the nickname of choice again after World War II.) Hank Foster opened the scoring with a 52-yard punt return for a TD. Joe Bolduc added a touchdown run to increase the lead, and then “Big Ben” Suitt added two more TDs, the second of which Suitt set up himself with a blocked punt.
  • 1957: The Bulldogs edged Furman at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 18-14, as 12,000 spectators looked on. The Citadel had taken an 18-0 lead on a touchdown run by Joe Chefalo and TD catches by Bob Saunders (from quarterback Dick Guerreri) and Joe Davis (on a halfback option pass by Tom Hemmingway). Furman stormed back to make it a game, but a final play that resulted in a touchdown for the Purple Hurricanes came too late, as time had expired.
  • 1974: On Parents’ Day at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Appalachian State, 28-17. Gene Dotson scored two rushing TDs and threw for another, with Dickie Regan making the touchdown grab. Andrew Johnson rushed for 117 yards, including a 55-yard burst for a TD. The story of the game may have been on the other side of the ball, though, as the Bulldogs’ defense forced six turnovers. One of them came on an interception by Brian Ruff, who was named SoCon defensive player of the week for that and for his 29 credited tackles (16 “primary” and 13 “assisted”). Oh, by the way: Ruff was playing with two broken wrists.
  • 1991: At the Oyster Bowl in Norfolk, Virginia, the Bulldogs outlasted VMI, 17-14. Terrance Rivers and Jack Douglas both scored rushing TDs for The Citadel, and Rob Avriett added a 45-yard field goal. Neither team scored in the second half, with the Bulldogs’ defense keeping the Keydets at bay thanks to an interception by Lester Smith and two memorable stops by Lance Cook (VMI also missed two field goals). This game was also notable for an airplane delay that resulted in team doctor Kenny Caldwell and radio analyst Rob Fowler not getting to the game until halftime. After the contest was over, a group of cadets tore down one of the goalposts.
  • 1996: The Citadel defeated Georgia Southern 35-20 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Bulldogs trailed 14-7 at halftime, but scored four second-half TDs to pull away. Deon Jackson had 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns (including a 63-yard run). After an Eagle score, Carlos Frank took the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a TD, and The Citadel never looked back. Kenyatta Spruill added a touchdown run, and Stanley Myers threw a 37-yard TD pass to George Hampton. Incidentally, most of this game is on YouTube.

You may have noticed that I only highlighted six of The Citadel’s seven victories on October 26. The other contest was a 28-21 win at East Tennessee State in 1985. That was the game in which Marc Buoniconti suffered a broken neck.

This has not been the easiest of years for Buoniconti; his father Nick passed away in late July after a long decline. Of course, the difficult reality is that there is no easy year for him, or an easy day for that matter.

I don’t really have much to say about that — no epiphany, no great words of wisdom. The one thing I will note, however, is that it has now been 34 years since the injury, and Marc Buoniconti is still with us. That is probably a tribute to his caretakers (including his father), and to modern medicine, but most of all it is a credit to him.

That determination and perseverance over such a long period of time is worthy of admiration and respect.

Against Furman last Saturday, The Citadel arguably played its best game in the last two seasons. Can the Bulldogs repeat that level of play versus Mercer?

It could be difficult. Mercer will be ready to play, and the Bears have a lot of talent. Homecoming can be a distraction, too.

Offensively, The Citadel needs to score early (and preferably often). This is the type of game where a fast start could pay major dividends.

The Bulldogs’ defense has a tricky task ahead of it. Mercer’s offensive attack could change markedly with a new quarterback. Or, maybe it won’t change at all. No one will know (at least, no one from The Citadel will know) until the ball is snapped.

Mercer is a bit of a boom-or-bust outfit when it comes to special teams. The Citadel must keep the Bears in “bust” mode throughout the contest.

Last week, the Bulldogs won convincingly despite losing the turnover battle (3-1). For this game, however, The Citadel must take advantage of Mercer’s giveaway tendencies.

I think the Bulldogs will be prepared. There is an opportunity for this team to reach goals that may have been thought out of reach just a couple of weeks ago, and the players and coaches know it.

Johnson Hagood Stadium should be a happening place on Saturday (even if the weather doesn’t completely cooperate). I’m looking forward to it.

I think everyone else is, too.

2019 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on October 19, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. Bob Mihalic will handle play-by-play, while Sam Wyche supplies the analysis.

It is also part of this week’s “ESPN College Extra” package, available on some cable/satellite systems. On DirecTV, the game will be broadcast on Channel 792.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

Meet the Macdaddy

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

– Game preview on Furman’s website

– Preview from The Greenville News

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/16)

– Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/14)

– The Dogs:  Episode 8

There are two things fans going to the game definitely need to know. One is that Saturday is Furman’s Homecoming. The other, perhaps more momentous news: the Paladins are going to sell beer (and wine) at the stadium.

 

My thoughts on this are certainly not relevant to anyone, particularly Furman fans, since I am a graduate of The Citadel who doesn’t drink beer. Having said that, as this is my blog, I have a few observations.

  • “Patrons under 21 need to be accompanied by a parent” — surely this could have been worded better, unless they plan on serving any and all ‘patrons’, which would be problematic
  • Waiting until kickoff to start selling beer may not be a great idea, strictly on a logistics basis
  • You know selling beer at football games has become a full-fledged trend when Furman decides to start doing it

This appears to be a “soft opening”, as most (if not all) of the information surrounding the beer sales has originated from Twitter. Homecoming is either the ideal or worst time to debut this setup; I can’t decide which.

However, based on The Citadel’s experience selling beer at Johnson Hagood Stadium, I think the beer garden is a dubious proposition. If FU really wants to make money on selling beer (and wine), and also wants to use it as a way to bring people into the stadium who might otherwise not go to the game, then the school should simply sell it to folks sitting in the stands watching the game, just like any other concessions item.

Commit to the concept.

As for Furman’s attendance, which is almost certainly a factor in the decision to sell alcohol at football games, a quick review of the Paladins’ per-game attendance numbers since 2012.

  • 2012: 9,009*
  • 2013: 8,299
  • 2014: 7,229
  • 2015: 6,795*
  • 2016: 5,771
  • 2017: 7,775*
  • 2018: 6,139

*seasons in which The Citadel played at Paladin Stadium

The attendance for The Citadel’s 2015 game at Furman was 12,124. That is the largest attendance for any game at Paladin Stadium since 2011. The Bulldogs’ trip to Greenville in 2017 also produced the largest crowd for a Furman home game that season.

If you were wondering how Furman only averaged 6,795 fans per game in 2015 despite having 12,124 spectators show up for one of its five home matchups, the Paladins’ game against South Carolina State that season (a contest played in terrible weather conditions) had a total attendance of 1,022. Without even looking, I’m going to guess that is the lowest attendance in the history of Paladin Stadium.

At any rate, the decline in attendance for Furman over the last seven seasons is obviously of concern to its administration. Through three home games this year, Furman is averaging 6,281 fans. That number should increase following Saturday’s contest.

Brent Thompson confirmed on his Wednesday night radio show that Furman’s attendance numbers would be helped by an influx of about 450 freshman cadets. I was glad to hear that.

The Citadel has sent freshmen to several football games in recent years, a welcome development indeed. In the last five seasons, cadets have been bused to games at Wofford, Chattanooga, VMI, and (earlier this year) Georgia Tech.

A planned excursion to Samford in 2017 was scuttled by one of the now-annual hurricane evacuations, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trip to Birmingham in the next few years. Next season, Mercer could easily be on the agenda, along with a repeat journey to Wofford or VMI.

I believe this will be the third consecutive time The Citadel has sent cadets to Greenville for the Furman game.

Okay, let’s talk about “rivalries” for a moment. This is the part of the post where I probably make a lot of people mad, but so be it.

Let me say up front that these are just my opinions, I know they are just my opinions, and I’m undoubtedly a terrible person for having these opinions.

From Jeff Hartsell’s column earlier this week:

Does The Citadel have too many rivalry games?

During my weekly chat with former Citadel offensive lineman Kyle Weaver (esteemed host of The Citadel Grayline), I asked Kyle to rank the Bulldogs’ various rivals in football. Weaver, who played on The Citadel’s Southern Conference championship teams in 2015 and 2016, went with Wofford, Charleston Southern, Furman and VMI in roughly that order. Ask another Bulldog, and you might get the same four teams in a different order.

I think it is possible that if you asked any other graduate of The Citadel, you would not get the order Weaver listed. Not that he doesn’t have a right to his opinion – after all, he’s an alum, and he wore the uniform of both a cadet and a football player.

That said, I could not disagree with him more.

First, to be fair, I don’t really think a school can have “too many rivalry games”. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt Auburn or LSU. Besides, a team should treat every game it plays like it is a rivalry game anyway.

As far as The Citadel is concerned, the school has two traditional rivals in football – Furman and VMI.

Those two schools have a long history with The Citadel; for Furman, there is also geographic proximity, while VMI is a fellow military college with a similar mission. The three institutions have also been in the SoCon together since 1935 (excepting VMI’s decade-long stay in the Big South).

You can rank them 1A and 1B, with the order generally dependent on an individual alum’s background and/or age.

Wofford’s series with The Citadel is also a lengthy one, but for much of that span the two schools were not in the same NCAA division, much less the same conference. There was also a significant period of time (between 1959 and 1975) in which they only faced each other once. That is essentially an entire generation of games not played.

(Of course, Texas and Texas A&M might currently be testing the “skip a generation” thesis.)

If there is such a thing as a “secondary rivalry”, Wofford and The Citadel might qualify. The two schools are now both in the SoCon, but that wasn’t the case when at least two-thirds of living graduates of The Citadel were in college. In fact, through the 1991 season, The Citadel had actually played Presbyterian 16 more times.

This is an issue. When it comes to Bulldog opponents, Wofford is still associated in some people’s memories with PC and Newberry. That perceived grouping isn’t true anymore, to be sure, but the mental affiliation remains a factor.

However, the more recent history is also why I can understand how a younger graduate, particularly a football player, might have a different perspective. I completely respect that.

(A more intriguing question might be this one: is Wofford a rival of Furman?)

When it comes to Charleston Southern, though, few alumni of The Citadel consider that to be a rivalry of any kind.

I’ve used this analogy before, but it still applies: at most county fairs, there is a guy in a ‘dunk tank’ who insults people, hoping they will spend money on baseballs to throw at him. That basically describes Jamey Chadwell’s efforts at CSU in trying to develop a rivalry between the two schools.

Was he aided by certain members of the local media? Sure, to the point where it was almost embarrassing (“inner-city rivalry”). Was he tacitly supported by the CSU administration? Yes (on that issue; perhaps not on others).

Did he/they succeed? Well, no. There was no chance of that happening, really.

A natural rivalry has to develop organically. Schools with little in common and no real history (which is the case for The Citadel and Charleston Southern) are a lot less likely to develop a rivalry.

Ultimately, there has to be interest on both sides. In the case of The Citadel and CSU, I’m not convinced there is much interest on either side. If you doubt that, take a closer look at attendance figures.

Anderson University announced two weeks ago that it was starting a football program. In five years or so, I fully expect someone to claim Anderson and Furman (or Wofford) are “big rivals”.

As for The Citadel, I’m sure Erskine is next on deck in the rivalry sweepstakes…

Furman statistics of note (six games):

Furman Opponents
Points Per Game 37.50 19.83
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 269 207
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 6.90 5.34
Att-Comp-Int 108-64-4 194-130-6
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 7.85 5.35
Total Plays 387 413
Yards per play 7.19 5.35
Total punts 21 32
Punting Net Average 43.19 38.88
Penalties-Yards 25-231 33-242
Penalty yards per game 38.50 40.33
Time of Possession per game 32:14 27:46
Offensive plays per second 29.98 sec 24.20 sec
3rd Down Conversions 36-72 (50.00%) 34-82 (41.46%)
4th Down Conversions 3-5 (60.00%) 3-6 (50.00%)
Fumbles-Lost 8-4 10-5
Sacks-Yards Lost 12-59 10-67
Red Zone: Touchdowns 20/23 (87%) 12/20 (60%)
Turnover Margin 3 -3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 69.50% 50.12%

What follows are mostly random musings on the stats above, referencing the FCS national statistical rankings when appropriate.

One thing to keep in mind: two of Furman’s six games, and both of its losses, came against FBS competition (Georgia State and Virginia Tech). FU lost those two games by a total of 13 points — and frankly got jobbed on a terrible replay call against the Hokies, preventing a potential comeback.

The Paladins have triumphed over Charleston Southern (an easy win in the season opener), East Tennessee State (a tough defensive struggle), Mercer (a blowout victory at home), and Samford (a blowout victory on the road).

– Furman’s offense is second in all of FCS in both Red Zone scoring rate (a slightly overrated stat) and Red Zone TD rate (a very important stat). Only North Dakota State has a higher scoring rate in the Red Zone. The only team with a better TD rate in the Red Zone than the Paladins? North Dakota.

The Citadel’s offense is 30th nationally in Red Zone TD rate (72%). That ranks 2nd in the SoCon. Chattanooga (54%) has the lowest rate in the league (though that isn’t close to the dregs of the sub-division).

– The Paladins are 3rd in offensive yards per play, trailing only Kennesaw State and North Dakota State. The Bulldogs are in the bottom 20 in this statistic.

– Furman is 10th in offensive third down conversion rate (and also leads the SoCon, ahead of 13th-ranked Wofford). The Citadel is 54th.

– The Paladins are tied for 31st in turnover margin per game. The Citadel is tied for 57th.

VMI is 10th nationally, best in the league. Three conference squads (Mercer, Samford, and Western Carolina) are in the bottom 15.

– FU is 16th in time of possession. The Citadel is 2nd (just behind Yale; Wofford is 3rd).

Samford is last, but you knew that already. What you may not have known is that Mercer is next-to-last.

– After accounting for sacks, Furman’s defense allows almost the exact same yards per play on rushes as it does on pass attempts. It is uncanny.

That defensive yards per play allowed number is 40th-best nationally, second in the SoCon (behind ETSU). Princeton leads the category nationally, but has played fewer games against decidedly lesser competition than every other team in the top 50 save its fellow Ivy League schools.

The rest of the top five: Sam Houston State, Georgetown (this is the second year in a row the Hoyas have put up excellent defensive numbers), Kennesaw State, and South Dakota State.

The Citadel is in the bottom 30 in defensive yards allowed per play. Charleston Southern, a team both The Citadel and Furman have played, is fourth-worst in FCS, allowing just over seven yards per play.

– Furman is 2nd nationally in net punting. The Citadel is 7th, and may get its regular punter (Matthew Campbell) back this week. Gage Russell has done a fine job in Campbell’s absence, however.

– I was surprised that Furman’s opponents have only attempted six fourth-down conversions through six games.

As I noted in my review of the Western Carolina game, The Citadel is 15 for 21 (71.4%) converting 4th downs this year, ranking among the FCS leaders in both attempts (tied for 4th nationally) and conversions (3rd). Among teams with 10+ tries on fourth down, the Bulldogs are 4th in conversion percentage.

Furman starting quarterback Darren Grainger (6’4″, 195 lbs.) is a redshirt freshman from Conway who is having an excellent year for the Paladins. For the season, he is completing 59.6% of his passes, averaging 9.84 yards per attempt (not accounting for sacks), with 11 TD throws against just two interceptions.

Grainger also averages a little over nine rushing attempts per game (with a long of 33 yards). He has four rushing TDs. Last season, he played in four games for Furman, but did not see the field against The Citadel.

Running back Devin Wynn (6’0″, 203 lbs.), a junior from Greensboro, Georgia, is averaging 8.4 yards per carry this season. He had 217 rushing yards against Samford, and added a 61-yard TD reception just for good measure. Last season against the Bulldogs, Wynn had 86 rushing yards on just nine attempts.

Wynn, who also returns kicks for Furman, was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection, as was wideout Thomas Gordon (6’0″, 178 lbs.). The senior from Charlotte leads the Paladins in receptions with 24, four of which have gone for touchdowns. He is averaging almost 17 yards per catch.

By sacred rule, I have to mention Furman’s starting tight end, who traditionally runs wide open across the middle of the field at least three times during any game against The Citadel, no matter who he is. This year, he is sophomore Ryan Miller (6’4″, 214 lbs.), who has TD receptions of 41 and 32 yards this season.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 292 lbs. The line has a lot of experience, although there does appear to be some question as to who will start at center.

Left guard Reed Kroeber (6’4″, 302 lbs.) is a redshirt junior who has also played center and tackle for the Paladins during his career. The native of Roswell, Georgia has made 28 starts during his career.

Lining up next to Kroeber is left tackle Bo Layton (6’7″, 287 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Knoxville who was a first-team all-SoCon pick after last season. The other starting tackle, Andy Godwin (6’4″, 283 lbs.) was a preseason second team all-conference pick. Godwin is a redshirt senior from Neptune Beach, Florida.

The player who lines up at noseguard is often an important factor in how a team defends the triple option. Furman’s starter at that position is mobile fire hydrant Taylor Hodge (5’9″, 255 lbs.). The sophomore has four starts this season. (Yes, I triple-checked the height/weight line.)

The Paladins’ defense is keyed by its linebackers. Senior “spur” Jordan Willis (6’0″, 207 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, and is second in tackles for loss. Willis had 11 stops in last year’s game versus The Citadel.

Adrian Hope (6’1″, 218 lbs.) had 15 sacks last season (including one against the Bulldogs) despite not starting a game. As a result, he was a first-team all-conference choice, and not surprisingly the sophomore from Ocala, Florida was a preseason first team all-league pick this year.

Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 225 lbs.), a junior from Rome, Georgia, was a preseason second-team all-SoCon pick.

Despite being third on the team in tackles so far this season, McKoy is actually listed as a backup on the two-deep at middle linebacker, behind Braden Gilby (6’2″, 233 lbs.). Gilby, a redshirt freshman from St. Petersburg (not the one in Russia), ranks second in tackles for the Paladins.

Free safety Bryan Okeh (6’4″, 216 lbs.) has the most starts of any Paladin defender (31). The senior from Powder Springs, Georgia intercepted his first career pass earlier this season against Mercer.

Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 188 lbs.), a junior from Inman, has made 16 consecutive field goals, a streak that dates back to last season. His career long is 53 yards. He was last season’s all-conference placekicker.

Atkins is also Furman’s punter and kickoff specialist. He is very good at those roles, too (some may remember his 81-yard punt against The Citadel last year). Matthew Campbell and Atkins are the two best punters in the league.

Furman’s primary punt returner is starting cornerback Amir Trapp (5’10”, 170 lbs.). Trapp, who began his college career at Clemson, is the son of former Tiger (and NFL defensive back/Olympic gold medalist) James Trapp.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Greenville, per the National Weather Service: a 30%-60% chance of rain, with a high of 64 degrees. There is a 70% chance of showers in the evening.

The possibility of rain during the game has steadily increased over the course of the week (and the anticipated high temperature has fallen as well).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is an 18-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 53 1/2.

Through seven games, The Citadel is 3-4 ATS, with the over hitting twice.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 3 1/2 point favorite over East Tennessee State in a Thursday night game; Wofford is a 24 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina; and Mercer is a 1 1/2 point favorite over VMI. Samford is off this week.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 40, with North Dakota State the favorite over Missouri State. Also of note: Kennesaw State is a 37 1/2 point road favorite over Presbyterian.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 63rd in FCS. The Paladins are 15th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 16% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 17.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, Montana, South Dakota State, James Madison, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Villanova is 10th, Idaho State 12th, Kennesaw State 16th, Central Arkansas 20th, North Carolina A&T 24th, Elon 28th, Towson 31st, Incarnate Word 35th, Central Connecticut State 38th, Jacksonville State 44th, Wofford 47th, McNeese State 50th, Florida A&M 54th, Richmond 56th, Chattanooga 59th, William & Mary 60th, Samford 62nd, VMI 68th, Columbia 72nd, East Tennessee State 78th, South Carolina State 83rd, Campbell 85th, Charleston Southern 91st, Mercer 93rd, Gardner-Webb 94th, Davidson 97th, Lafayette 104th, Western Carolina 111th, LIU 117th, Jacksonville 122nd, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Furman’s notable alumni include Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, physicist Charles Townes, and journalist Eleanor Beardsley.

– Future non-conference FBS opponents for Furman include Tennessee (in 2020), North Carolina State (2021), Clemson (2022 and 2025), South Carolina (2023), and Mississippi (2024). The Paladins also have home-and-home series scheduled with Colgate and North Carolina A&T, and play at Kennesaw State in 2023 (I believe that is the return game for a 2016 matchup).

– Furman’s roster includes 34 players from the state of Georgia. Other states represented: South Carolina (18 players), Florida (12), North Carolina (10), Tennessee (9), Alabama (6), Maryland (2), Texas (2), Virginia (2), and one each from California and Illinois.

The 18 Palmetto State products on the Paladins’ squad represent 16 different high schools, with two each from Southside Christian (in Simpsonville) and St. Joseph’s (Greenville).

However, in what can only be described as a colossal error in recruiting, none of the Paladins are from legendary mega-gridiron superpower Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The hopes of Furman’s football program, whether modest or monstrous, will be forever doomed if Clay Hendrix and the rest of his coaching staff continues to ignore the incredible talents who wear the famed maroon and orange.

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

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

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is almost exactly the same as the depth chart from last week. The only change is that Clay Harris (now presumably healthy) is again listed as the projected starter at B-back.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-10 for games played on October 19. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1912: The Bulldogs edged Porter Military Academy, 66-0. C.D. Gibson and Billy Folger each scored three touchdowns for The Citadel. I’ve written about this one before. The reporter covering the game for The News and Courier wrote that Porter was “plucky” and claimed the “game was a good one in spite of the score…Porter played [a] hard game, while Cadets’ work was loose in spots”. There is no telling what he would have said if the contest had actually been close. The paper also ran an advertisement for castor oil with the tag line “Children like it — it does ’em good”, so there was clearly a severe lack of editorial control at the local newspaper during this era.
  • 1957: On a chilly evening at Johnson Hagood Stadium, an estimated 11,000 spectators watched The Citadel shut out Richmond, 26-0. Bobby Schwarze threw three TD passes, two to Paul Maguire and one to Joe Chefalo. Fullback Ed Dzanis scored the other TD on a one-yard run. Dzanis also intercepted a pass, as did Barry Thomas (who led the Bulldogs in rushing, with 85 yards on eight carries).
  • 1963: The Citadel prevailed over Arkansas State, 10-9. Pat Green’s 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play proved decisive. Arkansas State had taken the lead with 36 seconds to play, but four completed passes from Wade St. John (three to Wes Matthews, one to Vince Petno) set up Green’s heroics. The Bulldogs’ lone TD came on a 72-yard run by Converse Chellis, aided by a block from Joe Missar.
  • 1968: The Bulldogs won a Parents’ Day affair over VMI, 13-8. Tony Passander threw for one TD and ran for the other. The touchdown pass was an 80-yarder to Tom Sanchez, and was at the time the longest in school history. The Citadel’s defense forced three turnovers — a pass interception by Billy Watson and fumble recoveries by Eddie Watkins and Joe Isaac.

This will not be an easy game for The Citadel. Furman is probably the SoCon’s best team (and has certainly performed in that manner to this point in the season). The Bulldogs surely feel better about themselves after a solid victory over Western Carolina, but the Paladins present a far more imposing challenge.

However, it isn’t an impossible task. The Citadel has to play near its best, but the Bulldogs don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be outstanding.

I think a big key to the game is for The Citadel to control the clock on offense and avoid an early turnover. If the weather becomes a factor, as increasingly appears to be the case, ball security is paramount (even more so than usual).

Defensively, the Bulldogs must prevent big plays (occasionally a problem this season for The Citadel) and take advantage of any Paladin mistakes, as there aren’t likely to be many. Finding a way to put pressure on Grainger, a mobile QB protected by a fine offensive line, will be very difficult. It will also be necessary.

If the Bulldogs’ special teams could pull off a couple of game-changing plays, that would be very handy as well.

Are all of those points obvious? Yes. Then again, football is frequently obvious.

I hope the Bulldogs play well on Saturday. I also think they will.

Game Review, 2019: Western Carolina

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– Associated Press story

– WCSC-TV game report (with video)

– School release

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

Stats of note:

The Citadel WCU
Field Position 35.11 (+5.98) 29.13 (-5.98)
Success Rate* 51.79% 46.15%
Big plays (20+ yards) 5 4
Finishing drives** 5.83 3.40
Turnovers 0 3
Expected turnovers 0.0 1.38
Possessions* 9 8
Points per possession* 4.38 2.13
Offensive Plays* 56 66
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 6.54 5.10
Yards/pass att (including sacks)* 18.25 5.14
Yards/play* 7.38 5.12
3rd down conversions* 2 of 10 12 of 18
4th down conversions 4 of 4 2 of 4
Red Zone TD%** 4 of 4 (100%) 2 of 4 (50%)
Net punting 33.0 45.0
Time of possession 32:21 27:39
TOP/offensive play 31.82 seconds 25.14 seconds
Penalties 4 for 37 yards 9 for 76 yards
1st down passing 3/4, 73 yards, 3 TD 7/9, 50 yards, int***
3rd and long passing 0/0 5/5, 104 yards, sack
4th down passing 0/0 1/2, 5 yards, int
1st down yards/play 9.57 2.52
3rd down average yards to go 5.45 8.18
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 2 2

*final drive of 1st half for The Citadel not included; last two plays of 2nd half for The Citadel not included
**final drive of 2nd half for The Citadel not included

***also sacked twice

Random thoughts on the above stats and a few other things…

– Western Carolina managed to convert 12 of 18 third downs. The Catamounts were only 2 for 5 on 3rd-and-short (1 or 2 yards), but were 6 for 9 on 3rd-and-long (8+ yards). That included conversions on 3rd and 8 (twice), 3rd and 9, 3rd and 14, 3rd and 17, and 3rd and 19.

I don’t need to tell you that it is less than ideal for a defense to allow a 66.7% conversion rate on 3rd-and-long. The Bulldogs have to get stops in those situations.

What made it all the more puzzling was the Bulldogs’ success defending short-yardage plays. Five times, Western Carolina faced a 3rd or 4th down of one yard or less. Only twice did WCU pick up the first down.

– The Citadel had four sacks yesterday. All four of them came on WCU’s final offensive drive. Two of them set up 3rd-and-long situations that the Catamounts subsequently converted.

– One of those four sacks was by Joseph Randolph II (who wears jersey number 98). However, the PA announcer mistakenly credited it to freshman linebacker Anthony Britton Jr. (jersey number 88).

The senior defensive lineman heard the announcement; shaking his head, he pulled down on his jersey to emphasize the “98” and raised his arms in the air, as if to say “That was me!”

Yes, the players can hear the loudspeaker announcements, and the crowd.

– I don’t know if the coaches and players can hear some of the individual comments from the crowd, though; I hope not.

I often wish I couldn’t hear some of the fans’ opinions. Lately, this includes a couple of guys who get extremely upset if the fullback dive doesn’t gain at least five yards. The fact that the play is a core component of the triple option offense doesn’t seem to matter to them.

And yes, we all know the defense needs to get more pressure on the quarterback. The coaches and players know that too.

Just chill, guys.

– One thing fans have every right to complain about is the SoCon officials and their ball-spotting abilities. There were some hilarious errors on Saturday.

– The Citadel’s first down passing numbers were about as good as anyone could want. The only incompletion came during the second drive of the game, at the Bulldogs’ 38-yard line. Two subsequent running plays set up a 4th-and-3 on the 45 yard line; Brandon Rainey rushed for a seven-yard gain and a first down.

It is possible that Brent Thompson called that pass play knowing that there was a strong likelihood he would go for it on 4th down anyway, so he had three plays with which to work to pick up the first down.

– The Citadel won the turnover battle 3-0. This was only the second time all season the Bulldogs had the edge in that category.

– The Bulldogs are now 15 for 21 (71.4%) converting 4th downs this season. The Citadel is among the FCS leaders in both attempts (tied for 4th nationally) and conversions (3rd). Among teams with 10+ tries on fourth down, the Bulldogs are 4th in conversion percentage.

– Western Carolina should be credited for not giving up when it fell behind 28-3, and keeping things interesting until late in the fourth quarter. Tyrie Adams made several fine plays, though his most impressive maneuver was the way he bounced back up after taking a huge sack from Phil Barrett — the “no hands” jump-to-his-feet acrobatics. Holding on to the ball after taking the hit was also commendable.

– It was a very pleasant afternoon. I wish more people had been there to enjoy it (attendance: 8,023), but I wasn’t surprised by the turnout.

Next game: The Citadel travels to Greenville to play Furman. The Paladins were off this past Saturday.

I’ll preview that contest later in the week.

I took some pictures, as usual. There aren’t as many game action shots this week.

2019 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 12, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

It is also part of this week’s “ESPN College Extra” package, available on some cable/satellite systems. On DirecTV, the game will be broadcast on Channel 792.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on Western Carolina’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/9)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/7)

The Dogs:  Episode 7

– Noah Dawkins signs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

– The story behind the memorial

Brief thoughts on the game against VMI…

The Bulldogs’ performance was dispiriting; there was very little that was positive about it, result aside. The fact that it happened in front of one of the larger crowds in recent years to see a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium just seemed to make it worse.

The early TD drive may have been fool’s gold, because it suggested that The Citadel could successfully move the ball by throwing it on a regular basis. That proved not to be the case.

The offense completely got away from what it does well, and what it has to do. The Citadel is not going to beat anyone, including VMI, if it does not control the ball, loses the turnover battle, and has more pass plays than rushes (if you take sacks into account).

The defense wasn’t much better. VMI averaged six yards per play, and did not commit a turnover. Reece Udinski completed 71.4% of his passes.

Incidentally, I don’t really want to hear about how tall the Keydets’ receivers are, either. Short or tall, they were open more often than not (that was especially true on VMI’s final pass play).

It was all very frustrating.

Maybe some of the Bulldogs did not understand the nature of the rivalry between the two military colleges. However, I’m going to guess that over the next twelve months, they are going to find out just how important it really is.

Okay, let’s talk about this Saturday’s game. The opponent is Western Carolina. The Catamounts are currently 1-4, 0-2 in the SoCon.

Key statistics for Western Carolina (through five games):

WCU Opponents
Points per game 20.8 38.2
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.18 6.12
Rush attempts (sacks taken out) 194 210
Comp-Att-Int 95-147-4 (64.6%)
62-115-3 (53.9%)
Average per catch 8.8 14.5
Yards per pass attempt (sacks included) 4.66 6.95
Total plays 355 333
Yards per play 4.94 6.43
Fumbles-Lost 6-3 1-1
Penalties-yards 35-259 25-226
Penalty yards per game 51.8 45.2
Punts-yards 32-1260 22-916
Net punting average 33.0 37.5
Time of possession/game 31:24 28:36
Offensive plays per second 26.54 sec 25.77 sec
3rd down conversions 32/82 (39.0%) 25/62 (40.3%)
4th down conversions 7/11 (63.6%) 4/8 (50.0%)
Sacks by-yards 8-44 14-85
Red Zone scoring (13-17) 76.5% (18-19) 94.7%
Red Zone TD rate (11-17) 64.7% (13-19) 68.4%
Turnover margin -3 +3

WCU’s game results:

– The season didn’t start off well for Western Carolina. Mercer ran the opening kickoff back to the WCU 18-yard line and scored three plays later. After a three-and-out by the Catamounts, the Bears returned the ensuing punt back 38 yards and Mercer scored on the next play.

Mercer led that game 42-14 at halftime.

– Against North Carolina State, the Catamounts only managed 106 yards of total offense (including just one yard in the second half). Four WCU players, including star quarterback Tyrie Adams, were suspended for the contest and didn’t play.

– Adams didn’t see the field against North Greenville, either, and Western Carolina was fortunate to escape with a victory. The Crusaders were only 3 for 17 passing, but one of those three completions was a 72-yard TD that gave NGU the lead late in the third quarter. WCU scored the game-winning touchdown with 5:04 to play.

That broke a 10-game losing streak which dated back to last season. Western Carolina is currently on a nine-game losing skid in SoCon play.

– The Catamounts trailed Chattanooga 7-6 after the first quarter of that matchup. At halftime, the score was 37-21 Mocs. The first half featured scoring plays of 28, 24, 69, 73, and 36 yards — four of those by Chattanooga.

Then WCU rallied to get within 44-36 after three quarters, but UTC scored 16 points in the final period.

– Gardner-Webb converted a 33-yard field goal on the game’s final play to beat Western Carolina. G-W actually committed one more turnover than WCU, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs outgained the Catamounts en route to the upset victory.

The one thing you can say for Western Carolina is that it has some very loyal supporters. In three home games, the Catamounts are averaging 9,874 fans. There were 11,865 spectators in attendance for the game against Gardner-Webb.

Team rankings comparison in select statistical categories:

– Time of possession: The Citadel remains first in FCS (36:54 per game). Western Carolina is 29th nationally.

– Turnover margin: The Bulldogs are tied for 88th, while the Catamounts are tied for 91st. Both are at -3 for the season, but Western Carolina has played one fewer game.

– Offensive 3rd down conversion rate: The Citadel is 32nd (at 42.3%), while WCU is 60th (39.0%).

– Defensive 3rd down conversion rate: Western Carolina is 72nd; The Citadel is 76th (40.8%).

– 4th down attempts: The Citadel is tied for 5th nationally, with 17 fourth down attempts (the Bulldogs’ 11 successful conversions is tied for 4th). WCU has 11 fourth down tries, which is tied for 40th-most in FCS. The Catamounts have made seven of those.

– Yards per rush (does not account for sacks): The Citadel is 86th in FCS (3.50), obviously not good enough for the Bulldogs. Western Carolina is tied for 45th (4.42).

– Net punting: The Bulldogs are 8th (41.28), while WCU is 98th (33.03).

Tyrie Adams (6’2″, 185 lbs.) was the preseason SoCon Offensive Player of the Year. The redshirt senior quarterback from St. Petersburg has started two games this season (Mercer and Gardner-Webb) and entered in relief against Chattanooga.

For the season, Adams is completing 66.7% of his passes, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt (not including sacks), with four touchdown tosses against three interceptions.

Last year against The Citadel, Adams was 12 for 21 passing for 148 yards and a pick. He also added 74 yards rushing. In the 2017 matchup at Johnson Hagood Stadium, Adams threw three TD passes.

Starting running back Connell Young (6’0″, 210 lbs.), a senior from Greensboro, had 217 rushing yards against Chattanooga. His backup, redshirt junior Donnavan Spencer (5’10”, 190 lbs.) had 122 rushing yards last season against the Bulldogs, including a 75-yard TD.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Daquan Patten (5’6″, 185 lbs.) leads WCU in receptions, with 22. He is also the Catamounts’ primary punt and kick returner. The native of Columbia (Blythewood High School) is the son of former WCU and NFL wideout David Patten (who earned three Super Bowl rings while with the New England Patriots).

Nate Mullen (5’9″, 185 lbs.) is currently second on the team in catches, with 15. Mullen, a redshirt senior who began his college career at Charlotte, caught 55 passes last season.

Tight end Owen Cosenke (6’3″, 235 lbs.) was an all-SoCon performer in 2018 after catching eight touchdown passes. This season, the junior from Aldie, Virginia has 11 receptions, two for TDs.

The projected starters on the Catamounts’ offensive line average 6’4″, 300 lbs. Junior left guard Grady Thomas (6’5″, 305 lbs.), who went to Spartanburg High School, has started 16 games for WCU.

Jarquavius Wortham (6’1″, 225 lbs.) is a senior who lines up at defensive end, though he played linebacker last season for the Catamounts. The transfer from Georgia Military leads WCU in sacks, with 2 1/2.

Junior linebacker Trevor Childers (6’1″, 215 lbs.) leads Western Carolina in tackles, with 46. His 5 1/2 tackles for loss is also tops for WCU.

Michael Murphy (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart, but the redshirt junior (another Spartanburg High School product) played in the Catamounts’ secondary last year. He returned a fumble 48 yards for a TD against The Citadel (one of two defensive touchdowns Murphy scored in 2018). This year, he has 29 tackles (fourth-most on the team), an interception, and a forced fumble.

Redshirt senior JerMichael White (6’1″, 190 lbs.) is second on the roster in stops (with 45). The native of Johnson City, Tennessee was injured most of last season.

John Brannon III (6’2″, 195 lbs.), a senior from Charlotte, has 25 tackles from his cornerback spot. He also has a fumble recovery and two interceptions, including a pick-six against Mercer.

Western Carolina has used two punters and three placekickers this season (and for what it is worth, WCU also has an “or” situation on its two-deep at long snapper).

Redshirt sophomore Caleb Ferguson (5’11”, 185 lbs.) had a 69-yard TD run off a fake punt against Chattanooga (in which he outran the Mocs’ return man). It was definitely one of the highlights of the season for WCU. Not surprisingly, Ferguson is listed as a running back on the roster.

Fort Mill’s Brandon Dickerson (5’11”, 195 lbs.) has actually had the most punts for Western Carolina this season. Dickerson attended Indian Land High School.

One of the three placekickers employed this year by the Catamounts is no longer on the roster. That leaves either Richard McCollum (5’9″, 170 lbs.) or Julian Pletz (5’10”, 190 lbs.) to do the job.

Pletz is listed as the starter this week; he is 5-5 on PATs this season, but has never made a field goal in his short career at WCU (0 for 1).

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 82 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 68 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Wednesday evening), The Citadel is a 17-point favorite over WCU, with an over/under of 64 1/2.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Samford is a 7-point favorite at VMI. That’s it, that’s the list. Five SoCon teams are off this week.

– Also of note: Elon is a 3 1/2 point underdog versus Delaware; Charleston Southern is a 24-point underdog at Kennesaw State; and Towson is an 11-point favorite against Albany.

Georgia Tech is a 17 1/2 point underdog at Duke.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 29, with Princeton the big favorite over Lafayette.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 64th in FCS, falling 25 spots from last week, the largest drop in FCS. The Catamounts are 108th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 85% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 38, Western Carolina 24.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, Montana, South Dakota State, James Madison, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Villanova is 8th, Sacramento State 11th, Towson 14th, Furman 17th, Kennesaw State 20th, North Carolina A&T 27th, Southeast Missouri State 32nd, Elon 40th, Wofford 43rd, Samford 45th, Columbia 51st, Chattanooga 54th, Georgetown 58th, Florida A&M 63rd, South Carolina State 66th, Drake 72nd, East Tennessee State 79th, Campbell 80th, VMI 82nd, Richmond 83rd, Mercer 91st, Charleston Southern 93rd, Davidson 94th, Gardner-Webb 96th, North Alabama 102nd, Howard 106th, Robert Morris 111th, Jacksonville 119th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Western Carolina’s notable alumni include actor Sean Bridgers, comedian Rich Hall, and college basketball pioneer Ronnie Carr.

– WCU will play Alabama later this season. Next year, Western Carolina will play non-conference games against Liberty, Eastern Kentucky, and Gardner-Webb. Other future non-league opponents for the Catamounts include Oklahoma (in 2021), Georgia Tech (2022), Arkansas (2023), North Carolina State (2024), and Wake Forest (2025).

WCU also has home-and-home series in the future against Montana and Charleston Southern. You decide which one is stranger for Western Carolina — a two-game set in which it has to travel to Missoula, Montana, or one in which it plays at Buccaneer Field in North Charleston.

– Western Carolina’s game notes roster includes 54 players from the state of North Carolina. Other states represented:  Georgia (17 players), South Carolina (15), Florida (6), Tennessee (4), Alabama (2), Ohio (2), and one each from Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The 15 Palmetto State products on WCU’s squad represent 13 different high schools (two each from Spartanburg H.S. and Blythewood H.S.). However, in an incredible anomaly, none are from internationally renowned gridiron force Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This bizarre oversight by Western Carolina’s coaches will prove the undoing of its football program for at least a generation (and probably much longer).

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

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

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is almost exactly the same as the one for last week. The only change is that Raleigh Webb is now listed as one of the kickoff returners.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 5-8 for games played on October 12. (Note: the record book lists 14 games played on that date, but the Bulldogs’ 1946 matchup against Newberry was actually played on Friday, October 11.)

Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1935: At the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Wofford, 20-7. Arthur “White Top” Ferguson scored the first of three touchdowns for the Bulldogs. The other TDs were scored by Ed Hall and Claude McCredie (the latter on a 60-yard punt return; McCredie also made two extra points). Teal Therrell recovered two fumbles for The Citadel.
  • 1963: The Citadel shut out Presbyterian, 24-0, in the “Georgia Peach Shrine Game”, held at Beacon Memorial Park Stadium in Savannah, Georgia. It was a benefit for the Greenville Shriners Hospital. Jim Parker rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown (on only seven carries), with Bruce Whitney and Vince Petno also finding the end zone (Petno’s score came on a pass from Wade St. John). Pat Green added a 28-yard field goal and all three PATs.
  • 1985: The Citadel clubbed Davidson, 31-0, in a steady drizzle at Johnson Hagood Stadium before 8,741 fans. Kip Allen threw three TD passes, two to Lee Glaze and one to Tom Frooman. Warren McGrier rushed for 81 yards, and four different Bulldogs intercepted passes — Joel Thompson, Brian Graves, J.D. Cauthen, and Pete Long.
  • 1991: At West Point, New York, The Citadel defeated Army, 20-14, spoiling the Black Knights’ Homecoming game. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 20-0 lead behind touchdowns from Jack Douglas and Everette Sands, with Rob Avriett adding two field goals. Army attempted a comeback, but The Citadel’s defense forced five turnovers — an interception by Shannon Walker and four fumbles, recovered by (in order) Jim Wilson, Lance Cook, Geren Williams, and Lester Smith.
  • 2002: The Bulldogs won at home versus East Tennessee State, 26-7. Nehemiah Broughton scored twice and rushed for 99 yards, while Scooter Johnson caught five passes for 85 yards. Jeff Klein added a one-yard rushing TD, and Travis Zobel kicked two field goals (and also had a 43-yard run after a botched would-be punt). The defense sacked ETSU quarterbacks seven times; four of those sacks were authored by Cliff Washburn.

There isn’t really much to say at this point. The Citadel needs to win this game.

Frankly, the Bulldogs should win this game. Western Carolina has had a difficult season, and the loss to Gardner-Webb could prove to be a backbreaker for the Catamounts.

That doesn’t mean this will be an easy game, though. Far from it. Nothing is easy at The Citadel, and that is before considering the way the last two games have gone for the Bulldogs.

The Citadel needs to start fast and not let up.

There is still hope for this season. That starts with a victory on Saturday.

2019 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, The Military Classic of The South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 5, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on four television stations in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton provides the analysis.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– What does Raleigh Webb have in common with Cris Carter?

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

“Gameday Central” on VMI’s website

– Bobby Ross has multiple perspectives on The Citadel-VMI

Radio interview with VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/2)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (9/30)

The Dogs:  Episode 6

Willie Eubanks is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Month

The Citadel’s soccer team shuts out VMI 2-0

TV stations carrying the football game:

  • WCBD-TV (Charleston)
  • WYCW-TV (Greenville/Spartanburg)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WWCW (Roanoke)

It is possible that in one or two cases, the game will be carried on a digital sub-channel of one of the above-mentioned stations, rather than the main channel itself. Be sure to check your local listings if you plan on watching the game on one of those stations.

This is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel. As always, there will be a lot happening on campus, including the seniors receiving their class rings.

The key Saturday morning activities preceding the football game:

  • 8:30 am – 10:15 am: Open Barracks
  • 8:45 am: Kelly Cup
  • 9:15 am: The Citadel Rifle Legion Performance
  • 9:30 am: Regimental Band Concert
  • 10:15 am: Freshmen Promotion Ceremonies
  • 11:00 am: Parade

Just to add to the crowd, VMI is bringing about 500 Keydets to the game. The stadium will be packed.

It doesn’t hurt that both Clemson and South Carolina are off this week. That has led to a lot of weddings being scheduled for Saturday, but let’s face it — who wants to go to a wedding? Going to a football game is much more fun.

I’m sure the tailgating areas will be stuffed with fans as well. It should be a great scene.

I’ll briefly discuss the Samford game.

That was a tough loss. I’m not sure anything else needs to be said about it, but I’ll type a few more words anyway.

– I was disappointed in the targeting call against Sean-Thomas Faulkner. I think it was erroneously made by the replay official, who must have felt the need to insert himself into the game.

It reminded me, in a vague way, of a call made against The Citadel five years ago, when Carson Smith was ejected early in a home game against Chattanooga for trying to force a fumble. One of the on-field officials decided Smith was trying to punch someone, and tossed him.

Smith would normally have been suspended for the next game, too, but was reinstated after an appeal, as even the SoCon acknowledged the stupidity of the call.

Faulkner won’t get that chance, as there is no appeal process for targeting. He won’t be able to play the first half of this game. That will be a problem for the Bulldogs, one they will have to overcome.

– Brent Thompson made a lot of tough decisions against Samford. Some worked, some didn’t. That’s the nature of the game, especially one that winds up a four-overtime affair.

I actually questioned only two of them, and neither was that simple:

I thought he should have gone for a field goal attempt on The Citadel’s second drive of the game, but (as he noted afterwards) that call worked out, because the defense got a three-and-out and the Bulldogs scored on the ensuing possession.

After The Citadel scored in the first overtime, Thompson elected to kick the PAT rather than go for two and end the game right there. During his coach’s show, he was asked about that scenario, and said he had considered it, but that “the book” said taking the PAT was the proper play, and he essentially agreed with that (as he felt the Bulldogs were still moving the ball fairly well).

There wasn’t a right or wrong answer to the question, to be sure.

Thompson’s adherence to “analytics” has been one of the more fascinating subplots to the season. As someone who is naturally interested in the subject, it has been great to follow. The coach is clearly of an aggressive mindset when it comes to decision-making, and the mathematical approach has seemed to embolden him.

While not every call will work out, maintaining that philosophy will, in the long run, be extremely beneficial.

A very quick look at the national statistical rankings in FCS:

  • The Citadel now has a healthy lead in time of possession, ranking first nationally (at 38:00) and with more than a two-minute edge over second-ranked Yale. VMI ranks 110th out of 124 teams.
  • The Bulldogs are 34th in offensive 3rd down conversion rate; VMI is 55th. Wofford is 16th, while Furman is 20th.
  • As far as defensive 3rd down conversion rate is concerned, The Citadel is 82nd nationally. VMI is a solid 38th and leads the Socon in that category. Somewhat surprisingly, Charleston Southern is 19th.
  • The Citadel has attempted 14 fourth-down conversion attempts this season, tied for 8th-most in FCS. The Bulldogs are tied for 4th in successful conversions (10). VMI is 6 for 12 on 4th down, with the 12 attempts in a tie for 20th-most.
  • The Bulldogs are 66th in pass efficiency defense. The Keydets are 91st.

Tangent: 50 years ago…

October 18, 1969…

The Citadel rolled to a 28-2 victory at VMI. Tony Passander threw three TD passes, all to Mike Davitt, and Bob Duncan rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown. Jim Leber converted four PATs. The Bulldogs picked up 29 first downs and 498 yards of total offense. 

The statistics in the table below are from VMI’s last three games — at East Tennessee State (a 31-24 win in overtime), home against Robert Morris (a 31-21 loss), and home versus Wofford (a 51-36 setback). The Keydets’ first two contests were against Marshall and Mars Hill (and are thus not included because neither was against an FCS team).

Also not in these numbers are the overtime stats for the ETSU game, for reasons of consistency.

Opponents VMI
Rushing Attempts 127 94
Average Per Rush 6.43 5.29
Rushing Touchdowns 8 6
Pass plays 60 163
Average Per Attempt 9.57 5.02
Average Per Completion 17.35 9.62
Passing Touchdowns 5 4
Total offensive plays 187 257
Yards per play 7.43 5.12
Fumbles: Number-Lost 2-2 4-2
Penalties: Number-Yards 19-167 13-112
Net Yards Per Punt (median) 34.7 31.9
Kickoff touchbacks 4 8
Possession Time (average) 31:08 28:52
Seconds per play 29.97 20.22
Third-Down Conversions 15 of 40 (37.5%) 24 of 56 (42.9%)
Fourth-Down Conversions 2 of 4 4 of 10
Red Zone TDs-Opps 7 of 13 8 of 13
Sacks By: Number-Yards 10-57 2-16

Other thoughts on the statistics above, and the three games in general:

– Both East Tennessee State and Wofford averaged 7.1 yards per rush against VMI (taking sacks out of the equation). The Terriers, to no one’s surprise, simply kept running, as 62 of Wofford’s 70 offensive plays from scrimmage were rushes.

The Buccaneers, on the other hand, kept trying to pass for some reason; including overtime, ETSU threw 39 passes, and completed only 18 of them. This determined effort to throw the football against VMI probably cost East Tennessee State the game.

– Robert Morris is not a good team, but VMI managed to lose to the Colonials anyway, which had to be very frustrating for its fan base. Among the problems the Keydets had in that game: a botched PAT and a missed short field goal (apparently neither the fault of the placekicker); an exchange of fumbles on consecutive plays that wound up costing VMI 52 yards in field position; and a pass defense that gave up several big plays (Robert Morris averaged 12.1 yards per pass attempt).

VMI itself only had two offensive plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more against Robert Morris, which strikes me as a surprisingly low total. The Keydets had just three such plays versus East Tennessee State, but had ten last week against Wofford — four on the ground and six through the air.

While the Keydets may operate a bit of a “dink and dunk” offense, VMI has the capability of producing a lot of explosive plays.

– Wofford had two punt returns of 39 and 21 yards. The first of those returns set up a touchdown.

VMI has not been very good on special teams in recent years, and this season does not appear to be much different in that respect. However, the Keydets did block a punt against Robert Morris, the first blocked punt for VMI in five years, when the Keydets blocked one against…The Citadel.

– Against ETSU, VMI executed a neat trick play, a throw back to quarterback Reece Udinski that went for 30 yards. Don’t be surprised to see even more trickery by VMI on Saturday. The Keydets always seem to have a few gadget plays in reserve, ready to spring upon the Bulldogs.

– VMI had a turnover margin of +2 in these three games. For the season, the Keydets have a turnover margin of +7, which ranks 9th-best in FCS. That number was helped considerably by a +4 day against Mars Hill.

The Citadel currently stands at -2, which is tied for 75th nationally.

– The three opponents combined for a Red Zone TD rate of 53.8%. That reminds me of one of the things that has bedeviled The Citadel against the Keydets in the last few seasons.

In the last four games of the series, The Citadel’s offense has entered the red zone 20 times versus VMI. However, the Bulldogs have only scored six touchdowns in those possessions.

That is a rate of just 30%. If The Citadel’s offense doesn’t improve in this area on Saturday, the Bulldogs are probably not going to win.

– Both of VMI’s Southern Conference games have been delayed by lightning. Let us hope that particular streak ends at two.

Tangent: 25 years ago…

November 12, 1994

Travis Jervey ran for a 96-yard TD on The Citadel’s first play from scrimmage as the Bulldogs hammered VMI, 58-14, in Norfolk, Virginia. The Citadel rushed for 506 yards and six touchdowns, including 224 yards and two TDs from Jervey. Terrence Rivers had three touchdown runs, and Bryan Morgan added a 41-yard TD burst. C.J. Haynes threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Chauncey Chappelle. The Bulldogs’ other touchdown came on a 73-yard interception return by Anquan Gist.

VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim on The Citadel’s offense:

“They maintain the ball as well as any team I’ve ever watched. But they also have big-strike [passing] capability.

“That offense…what it forces defenses to do is play man coverage. So they get a lot of one-on-one matchups and they’ve got good receivers that can take advantage of it.”

In a radio interview, Wachenheim also stated that Brent Thompson is “the most patient play-caller I have seen in a long, long time.”

VMI’s “Air Raid” offense is piloted by outstanding junior quarterback Reece Udinski, a 6’4″, 224 lb. native of North Wales, Pennsylvania. For the season, Udinski is completing 59.9% of his passes, averaging 6.11 yards per attempt (sacks not included), with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

That’s right, no picks. Udinski will set a new SoCon record if neither of his first two passes on Saturday are intercepted, as he is just one shy of matching former Elon quarterback Scott Riddle’s record of 218 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. However, Riddle still has a substantial lead in most fights started.

Udinski had some big games last year, including three 400-yard passing efforts. Bulldog fans may recall one of them in particular, as he threw for 447 yards and 5 TDs against The Citadel last season (with 49 completions, the most in a league game in 2018).

VMI tends to throw short passes, but can go downfield on occasion. Udinski is a patient QB who is not afraid to make a simple throw.

He has had help this year from the running game, which wasn’t really the case last season.

Redshirt junior running back Alex Ramsey (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is a big back who is averaging a healthy 5.9 yards per carry. Ramsey had 153 yards rushing against Robert Morris, and then followed that up with a 207-yard performance versus Wofford (with 3 TDs). He can also catch the ball (24 receptions so far this year; 8 catches last season versus the Bulldogs).

Ramsey is one of five Keydets with more than 20 catches. Wideout Javeon Lara (6’2″, 188 lbs.), the lone Texan on the VMI roster, has four TD receptions, including the game-winner against ETSU. Lara was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.

Another wide receiver, Leroy Thomas (5’11”, 180 lbs.), leads the team in catches with 27. The freshman from Roanoke had 10 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown last week versus Wofford.

Jakob Herres (6’4″, 211 lbs.), like Lara and Thomas, is averaging over 11 yards per reception. The sophomore from Easton, Pennsylvania had six receptions for 117 yards and a TD last year against The Citadel.

Rohan Martin (5’10”, 181 lbs.) has 25 catches. The senior from Stafford, Virginia is also the primary punt returner for the Keydets.

VMI’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 289 lbs. Sophomore left tackle Marshall Gill (6’4″, 270 lbs.) has been a starter for every game of his career at VMI at that position.

VMI has had a consistent lineup on defense, with ten Keydets starting every game.

Strong safety A.J. Smith (6’2″, 204 lbs.), a junior from Virginia Beach, leads the team in tackles, with 32. Smith also has two interceptions and a forced fumble. He had ten tackles against The Citadel last season.

Redshirt junior linebacker Elliott Brewster (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is tied for second on the team in stops. Brewster is not listed as a starter on the two-deep this week, which I find curious. However, he will surely see a lot of action, especially given his performance against the Bulldogs last season (a team-high 15 tackles).

Cornerback Kaleb Tucker (6’1″, 177 lbs.), a native of Hampton, Virginia, has 31 tackles this year. The senior also has two interceptions, a sack, and a fumble recovery.

Ethan Caselberry (6’4″, 201 lbs.) started ten games at free safety last season for the Keydets. This year, the sophomore from Sparkman, Alabama is starting at outside linebacker. Wherever he plays, he tends to make tackles (including nine last year as a true freshman against The Citadel).

Caselberry’s backup on the depth chart is freshman Aljareek Malry (6’0″, 173 lbs.). Despite not being a starter, the Maryland resident has played enough this year to rank 5th in tackles. Malry also blocked a punt against Robert Morris.

Grant Clemons (6’2″, 199 lbs.) is the Keydets’ placekicker. Clemons is 5 for 11 this season on field goal attempts, with a long of 37 yards. The senior is perfect on PATs (16-16). He also handles kickoffs.

Fellow senior Reed King (5’9″, 168 lbs.) is VMI’s punter (and also holds on placements). King is averaging 43.0 yards per boot, with a long of 60 yards. Seven of his 27 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Tangent: 5 years ago…

November 22, 2014

Six different Bulldogs scored touchdowns as The Citadel won at VMI, 45-25. Aaron Miller rushed for a one-yard TD and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Alex Glover. Other Bulldogs to score: Tyler Renew, Reggie Williams, Isiaha Smith (134 rushing yards), and Jake Stenson (120 rushing yards). Eric Goins converted all six PATs and added a 30-yard field goal. 

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 20% chance of showers, with a high of 79 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 69 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Wednesday evening), The Citadel is a 17-point favorite over VMI, with an over/under of 66. That line has not changed since it opened.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 4-point favorite at Samford; Western Carolina is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Gardner-Webb; Wofford is a 2-point favorite at East Tennessee State; and Chattanooga is a 1 1/2 point favorite at Mercer.

– Also of note: Elon is a 7-point underdog at New Hampshire, and Charleston Southern is an 11 1/2 point favorite over Savannah State. Towson is off this week.

Georgia Tech is a 10 1/2 point underdog at home versus North Carolina.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 26, with Harvard the favorite over Howard in the first meeting in football ever between those two institutions.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 39th in FCS, while VMI is 94th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 87% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 45, VMI 28.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, James Madison, Montana, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Northern Iowa is 10th, Towson 12th, Delaware 16th, Kennesaw State 21st, Idaho 27th, Furman 31st, North Carolina A&T 33rd, Elon 34th, Samford 38th, San Diego 45th, William & Mary 49th, Wofford 55th, Colgate 62nd, Chattanooga 67th, South Carolina State 74th, Campbell 77th, East Tennessee State 82nd, Mercer 85th, Charleston Southern 91st, Davidson 95th, Lehigh 99th, Gardner-Webb 103rd, Western Carolina 104th, Robert Morris 115th, Butler 122nd, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– VMI’s notable alumni include actor Fred Willard, civil rights activist (and Anglican martyr) Jonathan Daniels, and rugby star Dan Lyle.

– Next season, VMI will play non-conference games against Robert Morris, Virginia, and Princeton. Other future non-league opponents for the Keydets include Davidson, Cornell, Kent State, Wake Forest (in 2022), Bucknell, North Carolina State (2023), Louisville (2024), and Virginia Tech (2026).

– VMI’s roster includes 65 players from Virginia. Other states represented:  North Carolina (6 players), Alabama (5), Pennsylvania (4), Maryland (4), Tennessee (2), South Carolina (2), and one each from California, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

That means 68.4% of VMI’s squad hails from the state of Virginia. While the Old Dominion is certainly not bereft of football talent, the lack of geographic diversity on the team has probably not helped VMI in its recent struggles on the gridiron.

VMI’s class breakdown (per its game notes):

  • Freshmen: 52 (39 “true” freshmen, 13 redshirt freshmen)
  • Sophomores: 14 (five are redshirts)
  • Juniors: 22 (13 are redshirts)
  • Seniors: 8 (two are redshirts)

The two Keydets from the Palmetto State are redshirt freshman defensive back Tim Smith (who attended Nation Ford High School in Rock Hill), and freshman wide receiver Kyser Samuel (from Gray Collegiate Academy in Columbia).

That means there are no VMI players from legendary pigskin power Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. While it is well-known to anyone with a basic awareness of the sport, it bears repeating that VMI cannot hope to return to the summit of the SoCon (or even view its apex in the distance) as long as the football program continues to ignore the amazing abilities of those who have worn the famed maroon and orange.

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

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

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is quite similar to last week’s edition. Emeka Nwanze and Logan Billings are both listed as potential starters at B-back (along with the incumbent, Clay Harris).

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-4-1 for games played on October 5, with the tie being the only time the Bulldogs have played VMI on that date (14-14 in 1985). Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1929: The Citadel shut out Oglethorpe, 18-0. The Stormy Petrels had defeated Georgia the week before, but were no match for the Bulldogs. Before 3,000 spectators at the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, Edwin McIntosh, Lindsey Hobbs, and Howard “Red” Whittington all scored touchdowns, with Whittington’s one-yard run set up by a spectacular 50-yard scamper by Julius “Runt” Gray.
  • 1935: Before a home crowd of 2,000 fans, The Citadel dominated Erskine, 18-0 (yes, same score as in 1929). Claude McCredie scored twice for the Bulldogs, with Ed Hall adding a third TD. John Miller and Croswell Croft led the defensive effort; the The News and Courier sub-headline read, “The Seceders lose more than they gain and are worn to frazzle by winners”.
  • 1957: On the road at Davidson, The Citadel ran out as 21-7 victors. Barry Thomas scored two touchdowns for the Cadets. The first TD of the day came on a halfback pass from Billy Hughes to Joe Chefalo. All three PATs were successfully converted by Connie Tuza. There was a near riot at the end of the game, as some Davidson freshmen attempted to steal The Citadel’s “touchdown cannon”. They did not succeed.
  • 1968: The Citadel won at Furman, 31-12. Tony Passander threw three touchdown passes, all to Gene Hightower, and Jay Goolsby rushed for a fourth TD. Jim Gahagan kicked four extra points and added a 41-yard field goal to the tally. The Bulldogs lost four fumbles in the contest, but prevailed anyway.
  • 1991: With 13,811 fans in attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel ran past Western Carolina, 38-13. Jack Douglas rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns, while Erick Little and Cedric Sims each added TDs for the Bulldogs. Rob Avriett kicked a 37-yard field goal and converted all five of his PAT attempts. On defense, Rob Briggs and Detric Cummings both intercepted passes.
  • 2013: In overtime, Thomas Warren’s 35-yard field goal propelled the Bulldogs to a 31-28 victory over Appalachian State. Ben Dupree (136 yards rushing) and Darien Robinson (109 yards) each scored two touchdowns for The Citadel. The winning points in OT came after an interception by Mitchell Jeter stopped the Mountaineers on their drive in the extra session. Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: 13,601.

I am worried about this game. Of course, I am always worried, but for Saturday I have a specific concern — namely, how the team will recover from the physical and mental toil of last week.

That will not be easy, and then the squad has to get ready for a very frisky VMI team that is ready to win this matchup. The Bulldogs have to do that while navigating all the distractions associated with Parents’ Weekend (and there are many).

The Keydets may be more confident about this game than they have been in several years. They ought to be. For one thing, VMI easily could have (and maybe should have) won last year’s contest. More to the point, this year’s team looks improved, with a more diverse offense, and a legitimate star at quarterback.

They aren’t bringing 500 members of their corps down to Charleston just to be sociable. They have expectations.

That said, The Citadel has expectations too. The Bulldogs are still a good team. They can still have an outstanding season. All of their primary goals are still on the table.

Plus, this game matters. This game is important.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake. It is, without debate, the greatest trophy in all of sports.

The Bulldogs must do everything in their power to retain it, and keep it in Charleston, where it rightfully belongs.