2014 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 15. The game will not be televised, but will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Pete Yanity providing play-by-play and Will Merritt supplying the analysis.

Note: the contest will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston’s 11/18 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Sparky Woods on the SoCon media teleconference

WCSC-TV interviews Mike Houston about The Citadel-VMI

The Citadel’s football team has a “ticked off, mad as fire attitude”

It’s too bad Aaron Miller can’t play another season for the Bulldogs

Does Sparky Woods need to win on Saturday to keep his job?

The former Clemson radio tandem of Pete Yanity and Will Merritt will be handling play-by-play and analysis for ESPN3.com’s streaming coverage of the game. Yanity and Merritt have worked two other ESPN3.com productions involving SoCon teams this season, earlier calling Samford-Furman and Wofford-Chattanooga.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay about VMI’s football history and its re-entry into the Southern Conference for the premier Navy football blog, The Birddog (the Midshipmen were playing the Keydets that week). In lieu of me detailing the program’s recent history on the gridiron, as I tend to do in this space, you can read that piece here: Link

One thing I wrote about VMI for The Birddog last month that did not come to fruition:

Every coach VMI has had since 1953 has suffered through at least one winless or 1-win campaign, with the exception of current head coach Sparky Woods…Woods has yet to suffer through a winless or 1-loss season, but he has had four 2-win campaigns. This year, there is a chance VMI’s victory over Davidson in its home opener may be the only win the Keydets enjoy all season.

Of course, VMI defeated Furman three weeks ago, giving the Keydets their second victory of the 2014 campaign. Sparky Woods remains the only VMI coach of the past 60 years to never have a winless or one-win season while in charge of the Keydets.

VMI opened its season at Bucknell, losing 42-38 in a game the Keydets never led (but tied on four separate occasions). Bucknell’s winning score came on a punt return TD.

Al Cobb’s debut at quarterback for the Keydets was a good one, as the redshirt freshman threw for 308 yards and four touchdown passes. Running back Deon Watts ran for 97 yards.

Incidentally, Bucknell has gone on to have a fine season, as the Bison are 8-2 and have an outside shot at an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs.

In its second game, VMI was whipped 48-7 by Bowling Green. The Falcons became the second team in as many weeks to return a punt for a touchdown against the Keydets, and added a blocked-punt TD for good measure.

Bowling Green would go on to upset Indiana the following week and would eventually win the MAC West division title, clinching a berth in that league’s championship game.

VMI played its home opener against a much easier opponent, Davidson, and crushed the Wildcats 52-24. The Keydets finished with 597 yards of total offense.

Aaron Sanders had ten receptions for 215 yards, and Jabari Turner had three TD runs. VMI also picked up a punt-block TD of its own, courtesy of Chris Copeland.

Of some concern for the Keydets, however, was Davidson rolling up 531 yards of offense. The two teams combined for 1,128 yards of total offense; both teams had over 200 rushing yards.

The next week, VMI made the long trip to Birmingham to face Samford. The Keydets suffered through a nightmarish first half, allowing a touchdown on the second play of the game and committing four turnovers. Samford led 49-0 at the break, going on to win 63-21.

A different kind of frustration would come for VMI in its next game, a tough 27-24 home loss to Mercer. A potential game-winning drive in the last two minutes of the game was ended by a Mercer interception. Cobb was 30-44 for 324 yards, but threw two costly picks.

In its next two games, VMI was manhandled 55-7 at Chattanooga and 51-14 at Navy. Against the Mocs, the Keydets only put up 165 yards of total offense.

VMI recovered a fumble for a touchdown against the Midshipmen, but allowed Navy to run for 352 yards on 49 carries (7.2 yards per attempt). I suspect The Citadel’s coaches have watched a lot of video from that particular game.

The Keydets returned home and suffered a double-overtime loss to Gardner-Webb, 47-41. That game featured the largest attendance for a game at Foster Stadium (6,624) since VMI hosted The Citadel two years ago (when 7,863 fans, a fair number clad in blue, were on hand for The Military Classic of the South).

Cobb was 34-53 passing for 351 yards and six touchdowns, each to a different receiver, as VMI made a stirring comeback after being down 18 points in the fourth quarter. It just wasn’t quite enough for the victory.

Wofford then thumped the Keydets 38-3 in a game played in Spartanburg. VMI was outrushed by the Terriers 374-58.

Back at Foster Stadium the following Saturday, VMI would get its first SoCon victory of the season, beating Furman 31-15 in a game not really as close as the score might indicate. The Keydets had lost 21 straight games to the Paladins, but raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead and then forced three Furman turnovers in the second half.

The Keydets had a 14-minute edge in time of possession, helped by converting 12 of 19 third-down attempts. Greg Sanders intercepted a pass for VMI, the third consecutive game he had done so.

After a bye, VMI lost last week at Western Carolina, 42-27. The game featured 1,111 yards of total offense, including 640 by the Catamounts. WCU had over 300 yards rushing and passing, which isn’t something you see every day.

The next three sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for SoCon games only (unless otherwise indicated). Both VMI and The Citadel have played six league contests, obviously against the same teams.

The Keydets’ offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 57.5% of the time, the highest percentage in the conference. Passing yardage accounts for 67.7% of VMI’s total offense, also the league high by percentage.

VMI is last in total offense (4.9 yards per play), scoring offense (18.8 points per game), and rushing offense (3.5 yards per carry). The Citadel is next-to-last in total defense, with a league-worst 6.9 yards allowed per play.

The Bulldogs are also next-to-last in rushing defense, but are actually middle-of-the-pack in scoring D (allowing 21.5 points per game in league action).

VMI is fourth in passing offense, but next-to-last in offensive pass efficiency, with the latter ranking being affected by the Keydets’ league-worst ten interceptions. VMI is averaging 35.3 pass attempts per game in SoCon play, the most in the conference.

The Citadel is sixth in pass defense, but dead last in defensive pass efficiency, allowing 9.1 yards per attempt. The Bulldogs’ D is tied for the league low in interceptions, with three.

When both conference and non-conference games are counted, the Keydets are 28th nationally in passing offense (out of 121 FCS teams), while the Bulldogs are 83rd in passing yardage allowed.

VMI is fourth in offensive third down conversion rate, at 43.5%, while The Citadel is third in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (42.3%). VMI has only attempted five 4th-down plays in conference action, the fewest in the league.

The Keydets have an offensive red zone touchdown rate of 78.6%, the best mark in the conference, though VMI has been in the red zone fewer times than any other team in SoCon play. The Citadel has a defensive red zone TD rate of 50% (11-22), which is third-best in the league.

VMI is last in the league in scoring defense (allowing 40.0 points per game), total defense, and rushing defense (giving up 6.2 yards per carry). The Citadel is fifth in scoring offense (21.5 points per contest) and third in total offense. The Bulldogs lead the league in rushing offense (5.2 yards per attempt).

Including all games, VMI is next-to-last in FCS football in rushing defense (ahead of only winless Nicholls State), while The Citadel is second nationally in rushing offense (trailing only Cal Poly of the Big Sky).

The Citadel is next-to-last in passing offense and sixth in offensive pass efficiency (having only thrown one interception in league play). VMI is fifth in passing defense but next-to-last in defensive pass efficiency.

The Bulldogs are second in the conference in offensive third down conversion rate (46.9%), while VMI is sixth in defensive third down conversion rate, at 48.8%. The Citadel is tied for the most fourth-down attempts in the conference, with 18.

VMI has allowed 19 touchdowns in 23 trips by its opponents inside the 20-yard line (82.6%), the worst defensive red zone TD rate in the league. The Citadel has an offensive red zone touchdown rate of 66.7%, fourth-best in the SoCon.

The Citadel is +1 in turnover margin in conference play, while VMI is -7 (worst in the conference). VMI has actually forced more defensive turnovers than the Bulldogs (11-8), but the Keydets have 18 offensive turnovers, by far the most in SoCon action.

VMI is sixth in the league in time of possession (28:53), while The Citadel is second (32:28).

The Citadel has run 455 offensive plays in its six SoCon games (75.8 per contest), while VMI’s offense has run 388 plays from the line of scrimmage (64.7 per game). In terms of pace, The Citadel runs its plays faster (2.34 snaps per minute) than does VMI (2.23).

The Bulldogs have committed the second-fewest penalties in the league, while VMI is tied for fifth in that category. However, the Keydets’ opponents have committed more penalties than any other team’s opponents. The Citadel is next-to-last in having flags thrown on its behalf, a season-long issue with officiating that has been a constant source of frustration for its fans.

Al Cobb (6’3″, 190 lbs.) is a native of Pulaski, Tennessee who redshirted last season for the Keydets. In his first season as VMI’s quarterback, he is completing 61.3% of his passes, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, with eighteen touchdowns and ten interceptions.

Cobb has completed eight passes this season of more than 35 yards, including two 44-yard completions in his most recent game against Western Carolina.

VMI lists three tailbacks on its two-deep; all three have started at least one game this season for the Keydets. Deon Watts (5’11”, 197 lbs.) is VMI’s leading rusher, with 450 yards (and the senior has also caught 34 passes out of the backfield). Fellow tailback Jabari Turner has seven rushing touchdowns to lead the team.

Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is Cobb’s top receiving target, with 51 catches (including a 60-yarder against Davidson). The sophomore hauled in three passes for the Keydets in last season’s game versus The Citadel.

Redshirt senior Doug Burton leads VMI in receiving touchdowns, with four. VMI uses a three-receiver, one-back offense with a tight end, though starting TE Andrew Lewis only has five receptions all season.

Average size of the projected starters on VMI’s offensive line: 6’4″, 294 lbs. Redshirt freshman center Patrick Doucette and redshirt senior right tackle Andy Marcotte have started every game this season for the Keydets.

Marcotte, at 6’8″, 325 lbs., is the biggest VMI player on the roster, and was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. He set a team record in the weight room with a 635-lb. squat.

VMI operates out of a 3-4 defense when not facing the triple option. When it does, in recent years the Keydets have featured a five-man front.

Nosetackle Joe Nelson (6’3″, 265 lbs.) is one of three Keydets on defense to start every game. The redshirt sophomore has five tackles for loss, including two sacks, and also blocked a PAT against Mercer.

The Keydets’ four starting linebackers rank 1-4 in the team in tackles. Miller Williams, a 6’1″, 220 lb. senior, leads the way with 66 tackles.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Francis (6’1″, 200 lbs.) has three sacks, most on the squad. He is also tied for the lead in tackles for loss, with 6.5.

Francis shares that team lead in tackles for loss with 6’1″, 241 lb. redshirt senior Logan Staib, who has been a mainstay for VMI over the past four seasons. Staib has saved some of his best football for games against The Citadel, having made 14 tackles against the Bulldogs in both 2011 and 2013.

From his position as one of the Keydets’ starting cornerbacks, redshirt sophomore Damien Jones (6’1″, 190 lbs.) has two interceptions and leads the team in passes defensed, with ten. He also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against Navy.

The other starting cornerback, James Fruehan (5’10”, 187 lbs.) is a senior who has appeared in 44 games for VMI over the course of his career. He is sixth on the team in tackles.

Strong safety Alijah Robinson, a 6’0″, 185 lb. sophomore, is fifth on the squad in tackles. His backup, Greg Sanders, leads the Keydets in interceptions with three.

VMI placekicker Dillon Christopher, a sophomore from Newport News, Virginia, is 7 for 13 on field goal tries this season, with a long of 49 against Mercer. He kicked a 45-yarder against Western Carolina.

Christopher is 32-33 on PAT attempts. He is also the Keydets’ kickoff specialist, with 18 touchbacks in 53 kickoffs.

Punter Hayden Alford is averaging 37.0 yards per punt, with a long of 69. He has had 17 of his 53 punts downed inside the 20.

VMI has allowed three punt return TDs this season and ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in punt return defense, allowing an average of almost 14 yards per return.

The Keydets’ primary punt returner is wideout Dana Forlines, who is averaging 3.9 yards per return. Taylor Stout and Greg Sanders have returned almost all kickoffs for VMI; each has a kick return average of 19.2 yards.

Odds and ends:

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Cocky, the overexposed mascot for South Carolina. It’s a quarterfinal playoff matchup in the Challenge.

Vote for Spike!

– Tickets go on sale this Saturday for the Medal of Honor Bowl, the all-star game being held at Johnson Hagood Stadium on January 10, 2015: Link

– As pointed out in The Citadel’s game notes, The Citadel is 4-0 when it gains more than 500 yards of total offense. When it doesn’t, the Bulldogs are 0-7.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 12-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 63.

– VMI has two players on its team from South Carolina. Not surprisingly, most of the Keydets are from Virginia (53). Other states represented on the VMI roster: Tennessee (10), Pennsylvania (7), Georgia and North Carolina (4 each), Alabama (3), Maryland (2), and one each from Texas, California, Ohio, West Virginia, and Washington, DC.

I’ve said this before, but if you are a graduate of The Citadel, a trip to VMI should be on your personal “bucket list”. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the two military schools.

Every alum should travel to Virginia at least once to see the campus, watch a parade, and check out the gameday experience:

The VMI Corps of Cadets marches from barracks onto the field as The Regimental Band plays “Shenandoah”. The Corps welcomes the team onto the field, as “Little John,” a ceremonial cannon, joins the cheers with a thundering boom. The Rats come out of the stands with every Keydet score, and do a pushup for every point on the VMI side of the scoreboard. The familiar strain of “The Spirit” plays to stir the hearts of the Keydet faithful.

Completed in 1962 at a cost of approximately $250,000 through funds allocated by the General Assembly of Virginia and the VMI Alumni Association, the stadium contains 54 rows, is 173 feet high (not including the press box) and has a seating capacity of 10,000. Fiberglass seats were installed in 1974 and refurbished in 1985.

A new Brute Bermuda grass playing surface was initially installed during the summer of 1998, and the crown on the field was elevated to improve drainage.

I was there two years ago to watch The Citadel (barely) clinch a winning season. I won’t be able to make it this Saturday, alas.

I anticipate Saturday’s game will be fairly high-scoring (and judging from the over/under, so does the gambling community). In VMI, you have a passing team that can’t stop the run. The Citadel, meanwhile, is a running team that has struggled against the pass.

Al Cobb is averaging over 35 pass attempts in SoCon play, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t throw at least 40 passes against the Bulldogs. The best way for The Citadel to prevent that is for its offense to control the game on the ground and completely dominate time of possession.

In his press conference on Tuesday, Mike Houston mentioned that the Bulldogs have not had “great, consistent starting field position” this season. That affects the offense’s ability to regularly mount scoring drives, because there is that much further for it to go.

The game last week versus Samford was a good example of this. One of The Citadel’s drives lasted for 17 plays but produced no points; it was one of two possessions for the Bulldogs that lasted for more than five minutes but did not lead to a score.

Special teams can make a difference in that aspect of the game, but so can the defense. One thing the Bulldogs’ D has not done this season is consistently force turnovers. As I mentioned earlier, The Citadel has only forced eight turnovers in six league games.

If the Bulldogs are to retain the coveted Silver Shako on Saturday, forcing multiple turnovers is almost a must for the defense. To do that, The Citadel likely has to get more pressure on the quarterback.

VMI has come close to winning this matchup in recent years, leading at halftime last season and falling just short of a comeback victory the last time the Bulldogs made an appearance at Foster Stadium. The Keydets’ record is not particularly meaningful when The Citadel is the opponent (the reverse is also true).

Several of VMI’s games this season should give fans of the Bulldogs pause, particularly its convincing victory over Furman. The Keydets’ competitive losses to Mercer, Western Carolina, Gardner-Webb, and Bucknell are also noteworthy.

There are several positives to take from this season for The Citadel. It has been an instructive (and often entertaining) year, as a new head coach has begun to put his stamp on the program.

The biggest positive of all would be to keep the greatest trophy in all of sports in Charleston, where it belongs.

Game review, 2014: Furman

Members of The Citadel’s 1990 College World Series team were honored at halftime of the football game on Saturday. This reminded me of a comment from the late great Chal Port after that squad defeated Cal State-Fullerton in the College World Series:

I thought that was one great game. It was not great baseball, but my God that was exciting.

If you substitute “football” for baseball, Port’s comment could easily have applied to the gridiron battle between Furman and The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium. It wasn’t necessarily the most elegant of contests, but it kept the fans guessing for over three hours.

Against Cal State-Fullerton, The Citadel’s baseball team won despite committing seven errors. The football Bulldogs had to overcome a similar number of mistakes against the Paladins to prevail — and, like that 1990 baseball game, regulation wasn’t enough to decide matters.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Greenville News

Game report, WCSC-TV; also, additional comments from Mike Houston

Game report, WCIV-TV

Box score

When it comes to Southern Conference officiating, “open mic night” takes on a whole new meaning…

Late in the fourth quarter, just prior to The Citadel scoring the game-tying touchdown, the game referee had a conversation with Vinny Miller. The running back had been called for three highly dubious holding penalties during the game and was clearly upset (justifiably so), particularly with the last call. What the referee did not know was that his microphone was still on.

After the talk with Miller (whose comments were inaudible), the referee chatted with the umpire and had this to say:

He came to apologize…16 [Miller] came to apologize for being a jackass…why is he staring at me over there, Warren?…The head coach…

Well, I would guess that Mike Houston was staring at you because you had just announced to over 11,000 people that (in your opinion, and your opinion only) one of his players had been acting like a farm animal.

Shortly afterwards, still unaware his microphone had not been turned off, he remarked:

I like excitement. I just don’t like to be involved in the excitement, you know what I mean?

Unfortunately for the players and coaches on both teams (and their increasingly frustrated fans), the officials were all too involved in the excitement of Saturday’s game.

I’m not going to list all the questionable and simply bad calls and non-calls. I’ll just say it wasn’t a good day for the men in stripes.

Despite the officiating, the team that won the game deserved to win it. Some Furman fans may not feel that way, and I understand their misgivings.

However, Furman has now lost eight straight games, and the last half of the fourth quarter (plus overtime) was a partial demonstration of why the Paladins are on their current losing skid. With two golden opportunities to all but ice the game, Furman fumbled the ball away on The Citadel’s 1-yard line, and missed a relatively easy field goal. Teams that do those kinds of things late in close games generally don’t win those games.

Conversely, The Citadel made the big play late in the game when it had to do so, and dominated the OT session on both sides of the ball.

Random thoughts and observations:

– The two teams combined for 509 yards of total offense in the first half.

Furman entered the game last in the SoCon in total offense, averaging just over 305 yards per game. In the first half, though, the Paladins had 212 yards of total offense. Starting QB P.J. Blazejowski accounted for 194 of those yards (including 124 through the air).

– I’ve never seen fewer Furman fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game. It was a bit startling, to be honest. I guess the long string of losses during the season has taken a toll on the fan base.

Those Paladin fans probably wondered about a few of their coaches’ offensive playcalls during the game, including operating out of the shotgun on 4th down and less than a yard; the play near midfield in the third quarter where Blazejowski threw a weird third-and-short pass to no one in particular; and the abandonment of the running game during the overtime period.

– There was some discussion in the stands about the number of fullback carries the Bulldogs had on Saturday. Indeed, Tyler Renew and Isiaha Smith combined for 38 rushes.

That’s a lot. It was almost half of The Citadel’s 78 rushing attempts.

However, it’s also true that those carries by Renew and Smith were good for an average of 4.55 yards per rush. Both backs were consistently getting yardage that put the Bulldogs in manageable down-and-distance situations, a key factor in the 30-18 edge The Citadel had in first downs.

I also wondered if the coaches wanted to avoid overusing the slotbacks, given how thin the Bulldogs currently are at that position. At any rate, all the fullback action set things up nicely on the outside, as the trio of Jake Stenson/Vinny Miller/Jonathan Dorogy averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

Overall, the offensive efficiency was excellent.

– The special teams for the Bulldogs were not very special on Saturday. To review, The Citadel fumbled the opening kickoff, botched a PAT, gave the Paladins great field position with a bad punt, allowed a long kickoff return to open the second half, missed a field goal, and committed two penalties on returns.

Without all those miscues in the kicking game, the Bulldogs probably would have won the game with a little room to spare. As it was, the mistakes in the kicking game made things a lot more difficult for The Citadel.

– On Aaron Miller’s 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, it appeared that Miller was running diagonally through a maze. I noticed on the replay that wideout Jorian Jordan essentially blocked two Paladins on the play, which gave Miller his final lane to the end zone.

– There were several outstanding receptions by The Citadel. The first was Brandon Eakins’ sideline grab in the first quarter, which may have been lost in the shuffle. It was an important catch, though, because it came on third down and kept the Bulldogs’ initial drive alive.

Then there was Alex Glover’s acrobatic snag of a 40-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 in the second quarter. He showed a great deal of athleticism in making that play.

Jonathan Dorogy’s late-game catch was particularly impressive given the fact he was interfered with (though it wasn’t called) and caught the ball anyway. It was also Dorogy’s first career reception. Everyone should clap their hands in appreciation.

That said, I think Jake Stenson’s catch-and-run for a TD was the play of the day, and maybe the best individual play by a Bulldog I’ve seen all season. It had a little bit of everything.

He showed good hands in making the grab near ankle level, shrugged off one would-be tackler, met another defender head-on and bowled him over, and then had the presence of mind (and understanding of the situation) to leap for the goal line, showing great field awareness in the process. It was a very impressive effort.

– Aaron Miller completed only eight passes in the game, but they went to six different receivers. He has options, and he uses them.

– The Bulldogs tried to convert a two-point PAT out of their standard unbalanced formation, and failed spectacularly. It was the third time The Citadel had tried to get two points on that setup, and the first time it hadn’t worked.

Of course, the Bulldogs lost both games in which they successfully converted the two-point trick play, and won on Saturday when they didn’t make it. What does that mean? Nothing.

– I wasn’t a huge fan of going for two at the end of the first half. I felt that was a little too early to begin chasing points, especially when the two teams had combined for eight touchdowns in two quarters of action. It worked out for The Citadel, though.

– The Citadel did not commit a false start penalty in the game. In fact, none of the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen were called for a single infraction. The o-line had a fine day at the office, and the statistics reflect that.

– The kicking contest at the end of the third quarter featured not one, but two cadet kickers. Both of them made their field goal attempts, much to the glee of the Homecoming crowd.

– The regimental band/pipes performance at halftime was excellent. The band needs to be more of a presence during the game, of course. I’ve mentioned this before, and I know the powers that be are working on it.

The crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium got what it wanted, which was a fun football game that ended with the home team celebrating. What was gratifying (and a little surprising) to me was how many people stayed throughout the contest.

Usually at Homecoming games, there is even more action than usual going on outside the stadium. While there were plenty of parties in full swing on Saturday (I can attest to that), the west stands remained mostly full and engaged.

In overtime, the atmosphere was tremendous. I remember looking around at one point and thinking, “This is great.”

I wish it were always that way. It can be. It’s going to take a little time, though — and a few more victories for the Bulldogs.

Homecoming was a lot of fun. I got a chance to reconnect with a lot of old friends. We told a few stories, most of them funny, and counted our blessings.

The new overhead video scoreboard at McAlister Field House is a pleasure to see in person. It’s fantastic. Well done, Class of 1964.

After viewing the scoreboard, I wandered over to the parade ground and watched the Joe Riley announcement. After he leaves office as Charleston’s mayor in January 2016, Riley will be teaching at The Citadel as the first professor in an endowed chair named in his honor, which is outstanding.

I watched the twilight parade, and then went to a reunion party. There, I learned that having multiple food trucks available for sampling at one’s leisure is a very fine thing indeed.

Tailgating on Saturday was quite enjoyable, too.

It was a great weekend. The win over Furman was just the icing on the cake.

Very tasty icing.

This week’s pictures range from surprisingly decent to incredibly bad. It’s a diverse mix, to be sure.

The collection starts with some non-football photos. It was Homecoming, after all…


2014 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 8. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 11/4 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

DeVonta Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

The Citadel looks to finish strong

Furman is still seeking an offensive identity

As a reminder that basketball season is right around the corner, my preview of the Bulldogs’ upcoming campaign:

Getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014-15 hoops season

Revisiting last Saturday’s victory over Mercer:

– I’ll take that first-half performance by The Citadel’s offense every week, preferably for both halves. Five possessions, four touchdowns. They were good, long drives (of 71, 70, 82, and 53 yards).

All four of those scoring drives featured nothing but running plays. The other first-half possession, which resulted in the Bulldogs’ first punt, was short-circuited by a sack on The Citadel’s first would-be pass attempt of the game. That drive also featured the Bulldogs’ only penalty of the entire half (a false start).

– Then there was the second half. In the words of Mike Houston at the SoCon media teleconference:

We always seem to find a way to make it interesting.

Houston added that on the bright side, prevailing in close games helps the players’ mental toughness going forward. I’m not sure the same can be said for the fan base.

The six possessions of the second half resulted in two punts, a missed field goal, a failed fourth down conversion attempt, a lost fumble, and the final drive of the game, when three first downs (including a big 22-yard run by Aaron Miller on 3rd-and-4) clinched the victory for The Citadel.

The Bulldogs were their worst enemy during the latter half. Besides the fumble and the inability to convert on 4th-and-3 from the Mercer 35 (which was about the only time all day Mercer successfully defended on the outside), there were the by now all-too-familiar rash of penalties — six of them.

Now, one of those six penalties was a bit dubious, as I thought the unsportsmanlike conduct infraction called on Mitchell Jeter was weak. It kept Mercer’s final scoring drive alive, too.

However, the Bulldogs also had two false start penalties in the second half. One of them came prior to the opening play from scrimmage for The Citadel’s offense in the third quarter. The other forced the Bulldogs into a 3rd-and-7 that one play later became the aforementioned 4th-and-3 which The Citadel was unable to convert.

There was also an offensive holding penalty (which came right before the fumble — amazing how that works out), a facemask on defense (just a bad break), and a flag thrown on a kick return.

The Bulldogs have to stop committing those penalties.

– The Citadel’s defense did a fine job bottling up Alex Lakes, who came into the game as the SoCon’s leading rusher, at 102 yards per game. He is still the league’s top ground gainer (Aaron Miller is currently second in that category), but on Saturday, the Bulldogs’ D held him to 58 yards on 22 carries, with a long of 11 yards.

Mercer quarterback John Russ had more success running the ball, gaining 96 yards on 14 carries (and that includes lost yardage from two sacks). His 31-yard scamper in the first quarter set up the Bears’ first touchdown.

While I thought The Citadel’s defense for the most part was solid, those rushing yards by Russ are a reminder that the Bulldogs still have issues at times dealing with a QB who can pass or run.

This week, The Citadel will again face a dual-threat quarterback…

– Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb might want a do-over on the Bears’ two-point try. It wound up being a receiver pass to the quarterback, a tricky play that was expertly broken up by The Citadel’s DeVonta Delaney.

In that situation, I thought Mercer would have been better off with either Russ or Lakes trying to make a play, as is usually the case for the Bears. They are the primary ballhandlers for Mercer; a potential game-deciding play probably needs to go through one of them.

– After Aaron Miller picked up a first down on 3rd-and-4 with two minutes remaining (and Miller staying inbounds on the play), Mercer was down to one timeout and thus was not able to prevent the Bulldogs from running out the clock. I was a little surprised The Citadel ran two more “regular” plays (both Miller runs).

Maybe those runs were the Bulldogs’ version of “victory formation”, but I was worried about the chance of a fumble. In that situation, there was no need for The Citadel to risk a Mercer player becoming the college version of Herm Edwards.

Furman is 2-7 overall, 1-3 in the SoCon (with its league record matching The Citadel’s). The Paladins opened the season with a 13-3 home victory over Gardner-Webb, but it proved costly.

After passing for 221 yards, Furman quarterback Reese Hannon broke his left ankle in the third quarter. Just like that, the Paladins had lost their starting QB for the season.

The next week, Furman won its conference opener at Mercer, 25-20. The key play in the game was an interception return for a touchdown by Paladins defensive end Gary Wilkins.

Since defeating the Bears, Furman has lost seven consecutive games, its longest losing streak since 1972, a year in which FU lost its last seven games of the season.

Furman only scored seven points in each of the two games following the Mercer game, a 10-7 loss in Clinton to Presbyterian (the Blue Hose’s first victory over the Paladins since 1979) and a 17-7 defeat to South Carolina State (a team Furman had beaten in the first round of the FCS playoffs last season).

Western Carolina then defeated the Paladins in Greenville, 35-17, the first victory for the Catamounts at Furman in twenty years. WCU converted three Paladin turnovers into 21 points.

The following week saw Furman play arguably one of its better games of the season, eventually losing at home to Coastal Carolina 37-31 in double overtime. Furman had a chance to win the game in the first OT, but a wide receiver pass attempt went awry.

After a bye, the Paladins traveled to Columbia and played respectably in a 41-10 loss to the Gamecocks. Running back Hank McCloud rushed for 106 yards in the contest, including a 60-yard TD run.

The games of the last two weeks, however, could not be described as “respectable” by any fan of the Paladins.

Furman was shut out by Samford, 45-0, a result made worse by the fact it was the Paladins’ Homecoming game. After only one offensive play from scrimmage, Samford led Furman 14-0. It was that kind of day for the Paladins.

It was the worst conference loss for Furman since losing to Davidson 77-14 in 1969, and the first shutout loss to a SoCon opponent since The Citadel blanked Furman in Greenville 24-0 in 1974 (Andrew Johnson rushed for 149 yards in that contest, one of eight 100-yard efforts for Johnson that season).

Last week, the Paladins lost 31-15 at VMI, breaking a 21-game winning streak against the Keydets. VMI took a 24-0 lead in the third quarter and coasted to victory.

Furman only managed 82 yards rushing (on 20 attempts) against VMI. That may have been a more startling statistic than the final score, given that the Keydets had allowed an average of 349.5 rushing yards to their four previous league opponents.

Injuries have been a major theme of Furman’s season. Bruce Fowler didn’t want to go into full-alibi mode at the SoCon media teleconference when asked about it by The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell:

We’ve had a bunch of them, but I don’t like to harp on that. That’s part of [football]. We’ve got some young players who are getting some experience. They’ve been in several games now, some of them, and they’re getting better…

Fowler also mentioned that some of the positions on the roster had been disproportionately affected by injuries.

Exhibit A for that would be at safety. Apparently, being a safety at Furman is the equivalent of being the drummer for Spinal Tap.

Five different Paladins have started at free safety or strong safety in 2014; a sixth (Adekunle Olusanya) is listed as the starter at strong safety for this week’s game against The Citadel. Injuries suffered by Furman safeties include a sprained ankle (three different players), a concussion, a fractured arm (two different guys), a hamstring problem, and mononucleosis. That’s just the safeties, mind you.

Carl Rider, an all-conference pick last season at middle linebacker, tore his labrum. Offensive tackle Charles Emert, who had started 36 games for the Paladins, will miss this week’s contest after suffering a concussion.

There was also Hannon’s injury, of course, along with several others. Even Hank McCloud, who is second among active SoCon players in number of rushes (471), missed a game after dislocating his elbow in a car accident during the summer.

Furman has also been without the services this season of the Robinson brothers, Gary (who had 133 receiving yards versus The Citadel last year) and Terry (who scored two touchdowns against the Bulldogs as a “wildcat” QB). Both suffered injuries last season and have been unable to play this year.

Long snapper Danny LaMontagne fractured his ankle against South Carolina. He had been the regular for 31 games; his backup would normally have been Rider.

That led to this:

…the Paladins turned to the student body [after the South Carolina game] and found senior Andrew Smith.

Smith, who had not worn football pads since playing snapper at Brentwood (Tennessee) Academy in high school, did a solid job [against Samford] but decided not to return this week.

“He’s just got a lot going on as a senior,” said Fowler. “He’s working really hard in school and has some job stuff he’s doing.”

Furman is now using sophomore placekicker Hunter Townes as its long snapper, and offensive lineman Matthew Schmidt as its “short snapper”.

The Paladins have also had some off-field issues, dismissing impact defensive back Jairus Hollman and starting center Eric Thoni during the summer. Then just last week, Furman announced the dismissals of Shawn Boone (a fifth-year player, and a regular in the defensive end rotation) and reserve offensive lineman Aaron Black.

Time for some statistical team/conference comparisons. This week, these will mostly be for SoCon games only.

Furman and The Citadel have each played four league contests. Both have played Mercer and Western Carolina. The Bulldogs have also faced Chattanooga and Wofford, while the Paladins have played VMI and Samford.

If you’ve managed to get this far in my preview, you won’t be surprised to learn that Furman is last in the league in scoring offense (14.2 points per game). The Paladins are next-to-last in total offense and rushing offense.

The Paladins are actually second in passing offense, but in terms of passing efficiency, FU is next-to-last.

The Citadel’s defense is middle-of-the-pack in scoring defense (26.5 points allowed per contest) despite being next-to-last in total defense. The Bulldogs are also firmly in the middle of the standings in pass defense, but are next-to-last in defensive pass efficiency.

As for rushing defense…well, The Citadel is last in that category, trailing even VMI (thanks in part to the Keydets’ wonderful day against the Paladins last week).

One reason both teams don’t fare well in their respective pass efficiency categories: Furman has been intercepted eight times, tied for most in conference play, while The Citadel only has three interceptions (though all three have come in the last two weeks).

Furman’s offense has been in the red zone ten times in four league games. Only twice on those ten occasions have the Paladins scored touchdowns, by far the worst percentage in the SoCon. Counting all games, both league and non-conference, Furman’s red zone offensive TD rate is only 27.2%, so that inability to get into the end zone in league play is not a fluke.

The Citadel’s red zone defense has allowed seven TDs in fifteen attempts (46.7%).

The Paladins are last in the SoCon in third-down conversion rate (32.2%). That may be good news for the Bulldogs, owners of the league’s second-worst third-down defensive conversion rate (48.9%).

Of course, The Citadel’s third-down stats on D may be good news for Furman. Your mileage may vary.

Furman is next-to-last in scoring defense (32.8 points per game), though it is fifth in total defense and fourth in rushing defense. The Paladins are next-to-last in pass defense and last in defensive pass efficiency, though that may not matter much against The Citadel.

If it does matter, that would presumably be good for the Bulldogs.

The Citadel leads the league in rushing offense (and is second nationally), but is only fourth in total offense and sixth in scoring offense (17.5 points per game).

The Bulldogs are second in the league in third-down conversion rate (49.1%), while Furman is last in defensive third-down conversion rate (51.9%). That will be something to watch on Saturday.

As for red zone offense, The Citadel’s TD rate in SoCon play is only 58.3%. Its red zone TD rate in all games is considerably higher (73.5%), so sample size may be an issue when evaluating the conference numbers.

The Paladins have allowed touchdowns thirteen out of seventeen times a SoCon opponent has been in the red zone (76.4%). That number drops slightly (66.7%) when all games are taken into account.

Furman is third in the league in kickoff return average, while The Citadel is fourth in the SoCon (though only seventh when non-conference games are included).

One thing the Bulldogs did very well in Macon was prevent long returns. The Citadel’s kickoff coverage unit was outstanding against Mercer.

Among league teams, Furman is more or less average at returning punts. The Bulldogs rank last in the league in that category.

In conference games, Furman is -3 in turnover margin, while The Citadel is +2. Overall, the Paladins are -6 and the Bulldogs are -1.

The Citadel has held the ball slightly longer than its opponents in SoCon action (30:26); that number rises to 31:30 for all games. Furman is last in the league in time of possession (28:46), but has had the ball longer when all contests are included (30:20).

In conference games, The Citadel has committed nine fewer penalties than Furman, but overall the Paladins have been whistled for eight fewer infractions than the Bulldogs.

The Citadel continues to trail all league teams in the number of penalties called against their opponents. Fans of the Bulldogs are not surprised.

For the season, Furman’s offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 48.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for 57.1% of the Paladins’ total offense.

P.J. Blazejowski (6’0″, 182 lbs.), a freshman from St. Augustine, Florida, was probably a redshirt candidate at the beginning of the season, but once Reese Hannon was injured he became the backup quarterback for the Paladins. He has now started the last four games for Furman.

Blazejowski is completing 52.1% of his passes, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt, with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He is also Furman’s second-leading rusher, averaging 4.5 yards per carry (a number that includes sacks).

Hank McCloud is another Floridian; the redshirt senior is from Tampa. McCloud rushed for 1,092 yards last season, averaging 78 yards per game. He just about hit his average last season against The Citadel, when he ran for 77 yards.

In the 2012 game against the Bulldogs, McCloud rushed for 92 yards on only 12 carries (splitting carries with Jerodis Williams). He has been an excellent player for Furman over his career.

That 2012 contest reminded me of something I noticed from last week’s game against VMI. In both games, Furman got behind and abandoned the run game early. I thought it was a mistake to do so against The Citadel two years ago, and I have to wonder if that was true last Saturday as well.

Furman only rushed the ball 20 times against VMI (and one of those was a sack). Again, VMI entered that contest having allowed 349.5 yards per game on the ground in conference play.

The Paladins’ offensive line has been in a state of flux. Only veteran right guard Joe Turner (6’3″, 275 lbs.) has started every game. Left guard Tank Phillips (6’2″, 307 lbs.) has 24 career starts, so he also has considerable experience.

The loss of Charles Emert to a concussion was a blow for Furman, as he was versatile enough to play anywhere on the line.

Average height/weight of the projected starters on the o-line: 6’3″, 291 lbs. The heaviest of the group is 317 lb. right tackle Terrell Bush, a true freshman from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Last year, Duncan Fletcher was a quarterback for the Paladins. He was 3-3 passing for 61 yards against The Citadel, as he relieved an injured Reese Hannon in that contest. He would eventually start two games at QB.

This season, Fletcher (6’4″, 222 lbs.) is Furman’s starting tight end. He has a 28-yard touchdown reception against VMI (one of two TD catches for him this year), and leads the Paladins in receptions with 33.

Starting flanker Andrej Suttles (5’10”, 182 lbs.) has 30 receptions. Suttles caught 50 passes last season, including four against The Citadel (for 58 yards). He is also Furman’s primary punt returner, and had a 42-yard return against Western Carolina.

Jordan Snellings, the split end, is a taller receiver (6’2″, 190 lbs.), something that occasionally has been a problem for Bulldog defenders. He has 32 receptions this year, and is averaging 13.3 yards per catch. Snellings had 112 yards receiving against Western Carolina, and 111 versus Mercer.

Furman operates out of a base 4-3 defense. That may fluctuate a bit on Saturday, depending on how the Paladins line up against The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Despite all the injuries throughout the team, Furman has had a stable front seven for most of the season.

The defensive line is anchored by Gary Wilkins (6’3″, 240 lbs.), an outstanding defensive end who was the SoCon defensive player of the month for September. The fifth-year senior has made 38 career starts (he was formerly a linebacker).

Wilkins was a preseason all-conference selection, and leads the Paladins in tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6).

There is plenty of experience on the line with Wilkins. Defensive end Ira McCune and defensive tackle John Mackey have combined to make 46 career starts, including every game this season. The other starting defensive tackle is 6’1″, 290 lb. Jordan Hawkins, a sophomore who has already started 18 games for the Paladins.

Middle linebacker T.J. Warren had three tackles for loss (including a sack) against The Citadel last season. Fellow linebacker Cory Magwood leads Furman in tackles with 93; no other Paladin has more than 53.

Marcus McMorris, a redshirt senior from Newberry, had an 89-yard interception return against Samford for a TD last season. This year, he has two interceptions, the only Paladin with multiple picks.

Jamarri Milliken and Reggie Thomas have started every game at the two cornerback positions for Furman. Thomas, at 6’0″, is the taller of the two players.

Nick Miller, a 5’9″, 167 lb. sophomore from Kennesaw, Georgia, is listed as this week’s starting free safety on Furman’s two-deep. Miller is also listed as the backup at both cornerback spots and at nickelback.

As mentioned earlier, Adekunle Olusanya is slated to start at strong safety. He is a redshirt freshman from Tampa.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth is the punter and regular placekicker for the Paladins. He is eight for fifteen on field goal attempts. While erratic, he does have a strong leg, having made a 51-yarder against Western Carolina and a 50-yarder versus Mercer (one of four field goals he made in that game).

Hollingsworth, a freshman from Greenwood, is averaging 39.9 yards per punt, with fifteen of his fifty kicks landing inside the 20-yard line. He had a punt blocked against Samford that was returned for a touchdown.

Nick Miller is one of Furman’s two kick returners. The other is Logan McCarter, a reserve wide receiver who appears to be something of a big-play threat; the redshirt freshman only has three receptions this season, but they went for 27, 36, and 34 yards (with the 36-yarder a TD catch against South Carolina State).

While discussing Furman’s injury troubles above, I referenced the personnel issues the Paladins have had when it comes to longsnapping. It is possible that could be a factor this Saturday.

The Citadel may be more inclined to put pressure on the punter (or placekicker). It is also conceivable that Furman will be more likely in certain situations to go for it on fourth down rather than punt or attempt a field goal.

Odds and ends:

– Furman has 17 players on its team from South Carolina. As is fairly typical, there are more Paladins from Georgia (32) than any other state.

Three other states have double-digit representation on the Furman football roster: Florida (15), North Carolina (12), and Tennessee (10).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 9-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 41.

Keep in mind that The Citadel has only covered the spread twice this season, against Gardner-Webb and…Florida State.

– Members of The Citadel’s basketball team will sign autographs and distribute schedule cards and posters at Johnson Hagood Stadium the hour prior to kickoff.

Also: “the team will also be handing out the 2014 adidas Citadel Homecoming t-shirts.”

– It was announced during Tuesday’s press conference that the 1990 College World Series team will be recognized at halftime on Saturday. (My thanks to WCSC-TV sportscaster Andy Pruitt for mentioning that on Twitter.)

– The honorary captain for the game will be Bill Sansom, Class of 1964.

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Wilma T. Wildcat, the mascot for Arizona.

Vote for Spike!

– This is Homecoming weekend at The Citadel. As always, there is a lot going on.

Watch out for extra traffic and parking issues on Friday, as Joe Riley is apparently making a special announcement of some sort on the parade ground at 1:00 pm ET. The longtime Charleston mayor is a member of the Class of 1964, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its graduation.

There are other major reunion events taking place. Rumor has it that at least one of them, that of the Class of 1989, will be particularly over-the-top (even by the standards of The Citadel).

This is not one of Furman’s better teams, to say the least, but it is a dangerous squad nonetheless, one more than capable of disappointing the home crowd on Saturday.

Last year the Paladins held The Citadel to just 132 yards rushing, and many of the players who were on the field for Furman in that game are back. While the offense has had major problems, the Paladins’ defense has mostly held up this season.

In addition, The Citadel is facing yet another dual-threat QB operating out of a spread offense. Furman has talent at the skill positions and some experience on its offensive line. It will not be an easy matchup for the Bulldogs’ D.

That said, Saturday’s game is an opportunity for The Citadel. This is a winnable game.

If the Bulldogs play like they did in the first half last week against Mercer, The Citadel will likely win. If they repeat the inconsistent and mistake-prone play of the second half of that game, however, they will almost certainly lose.

I would highly recommend the Bulldogs repeat that first-half performance.

2014 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 12:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 18. The game will be televised by the American Sports Network (affiliate list), with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Corey Miller supplying analysis.

The contest will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform. It will also not be available on ESPN3.com.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 10/14 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Russ Huesman 10/14 press conference

Russ Huesman on the SoCon media teleconference

Aaron Miller is the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week

Cam Jackson is the SoCon and (nationally) TSN Freshman of the Week

Brandon Eakins is WCIV-TV’s Athlete of the Week

Mid-season progress report for the Bulldogs

Mocs wary of The Citadel, especially its run game

Let’s talk about television coverage…

Chattanooga-The Citadel will be televised by the American Sports Network. What is the American Sports Network?

A total of 18 live SoCon events, including six football games, are scheduled for carriage by a network of regional Sinclair stations under the banner of the newly formed American Sports Network (ASN).

Sinclair Broadcast Group owns a bunch of stations around the country, including several in South Carolina. Most of the Sinclair stations are located in the southern and midwestern part of the United States.

In terms of the game on Saturday, this is what we’ve got:

– The game will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network (which is a fairly standard practice when a game is televised on “linear” TV).

– It’s not on ESPN3.com, either (unlike the Wofford game earlier or the matchup with VMI later in the season).

– It may be on a station near you. Or it may not.

For satellite TV subscribers, probably the best bet for seeing the game is Altitude Sports, which is carrying UTC-The Citadel for the Rocky Mountain region. Altitude is available as part of DirecTV’s Sports Pack; the game is listed in the guide as appearing on channel 681-1 (an alternate feed for Altitude). Dish Network should also have Altitude Sports.

There is always a possibility the game could be “blacked out” in one or more regions, but at this point I tend to doubt it. I think it will be televised nationwide on Altitude.

For cable subscribers, things may be a little trickier if Altitude Sports is not available. A lot of the local affiliates getting the game are actually carrying it on digital subchannels; for example, in Washington, DC, it will be on WJLA’s “MeTV” subchannel (D-2).

There are also certain areas within the SoCon footprint where the game will not be televised by a local affiliate, notably Columbia and Charlotte. It’s rather disappointing no station in either of those markets is getting Chattanooga-The Citadel.

At the same time the action in Johnson Hagood Stadium begins, Western Kentucky-Florida Atlantic will kick off in Boca Raton. That game is also part of the ASN package, and it’s being televised in Charlotte — but the SoCon matchup is not.

I am frankly puzzled that UTC-The Citadel is not being televised in Columbia, especially since Western Carolina-Furman was carried by Sinclair’s Columbia affiliate (WACH) earlier this year.

Obviously, there are a lot of graduates of The Citadel who live in Columbia and Charlotte. They are not going to be very happy about the way this game has been distributed.

It’s a double whammy for them, in the sense that not only is the game not on TV in their area, but they can’t watch it on the SoCon Digital Network either. Some of The Citadel’s far-flung alumni will have the same problem (the same is true for Chattanooga fans, of course).

I understand what the SoCon was trying to do with this arrangement, and I’m not inclined to be overly critical about it. However, at this point I suspect most fans would rather not have the ASN package at all, and simply take their chances with the SoCon Digital Network.

The good news, from The Citadel’s perspective, is that Saturday’s contest will be the only football game involving the Bulldogs carried by ASN this season.

Update, 10/17/2014: The game will also be televised by MASN, a regional network based in the Baltimore/Washington DC area.

Over the years, I’ve written about Chattanooga (a/k/a UT-Chattanooga, a/k/a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a/k/a UTC) and its branding difficulties. The school has a webpage on its varsity athletics website devoted to one essential question: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill.

In the past, “Moc” was short for “Moccasin”, and referred to a snake, or a shoe, or an Indian (two of them, actually — Chief Chattamoc and, later, Chief Moccanooga). Now it’s a bird.

Chattanooga is similar to The Citadel’s most recent opponent, Charlotte, in that it has been striving for a number of years to establish a “standard” name for its sports teams, i.e. Chattanooga. In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I see no harm in repeating it. A lot of people think The Citadel is a private school, though it is not and has never been.

UTC, on the other hand, was a private college for much of its history (the school was founded in 1886). It did not become a public institution until 1969, when it merged with the University of Tennessee.

Last week, Chattanooga lost 45-10 to Tennessee. For playing the Vols in Knoxville, UTC’s department of athletics received $450,000.

It was the second time this season the Mocs had played an FBS opponent, as Chattanooga had opened the season with a 20-16 loss at Central Michigan, a game for which UTC got a check for $350,000. Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman agreed to play a second FBS school this season in part because most of the money received for playing CMU is going to help pay for a new athletics and training center, which has an estimated total price tag of $12-$14 million.

Although still in the planning stages, the new facility, which will be 50,000-60,000 square feet, will include a large team meeting room, academic lounge, expanded offices for the football staff, a state-of-the-art training room and locker room that would be a dramatic upgrade from the team’s current cramped facility.

“The one thing that will allow Chattanooga athletics to take the next step forward, like a Georgia Southern or Appalachian State or North Dakota State, is if we can get an athletics facility built,” [Mocs AD David] Blackburn said. “Given our city and geographical footprint, that’s the only thing we lack. The biggest benefit of having that new facility built is recruiting. This would help us sell the program to the type recruits our staff needs to take that next step.

Of course, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have made the move to FBS. There is no indication that Chattanooga is in a hurry to join those two schools, though last year it was revealed that UTC was on a list of institutions that were “candidates” for Sun Belt expansion.

One of the results of Chattanooga playing two FBS opponents this season is that the Mocs only have five home games. It does help UTC a little that four of them are league contests (against three road conference matchups).

Next year, the Mocs will play Florida State.

Last year, Chattanooga came oh-so-close to finally making the FCS postseason party, a feat the football program has not accomplished since 1984, when UTC made the playoffs for the only time in school history.

That year (1984) was also the last time the Mocs had won the SoCon until last season, when they tied for the title with Furman and Samford. The Paladins received the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs by winning a tiebreaker, while Samford garnered the conference’s sole at-large berth.

Chattanooga was left home with an 8-4 record (the most wins for the program since 1980). The critical loss was probably an overtime setback at Samford late in the season.

The SoCon’s major postseason awards were split last season, with the media and coaches differing on most of their selections. The Mocs swept the coach’s honors, however, with Russ Huesman (Coach of the Year), Jacob Huesman (Offensive Player of the Year), and Davis Tull (Defensive Player of the Year) all collecting trophies.

Jacob Huesman and Tull both return this year, along with several other fine players from last season’s UTC squad. Given that, along with the upheaval in conference membership, it was no surprise when Chattanooga was picked to win the league by 29 of 30 voting media members.

Chattanooga is 3-3 so far this season. The Mocs opened the year with the aforementioned game at Central Michigan, a contest UTC led 16-0 late in the first half before the Chippewas made a comeback.

In its next game, the home opener, Chattanooga dropped a 26-23 overtime decision to Jacksonville State (which is currently ranked 8th in FCS). UTC didn’t score an offensive touchdown in that game; both of its TDs came on interception returns. The Mocs were held to 111 yards of total offense.

UTC picked up its first victory of the season at Austin Peay, soundly defeating the OVC school 42-6. After a bye week, the Mocs defeated Samford 38-24, winning the turnover battle 3-0 and also returning a punt for a touchdown.

Chattanooga then crushed VMI 55-7, with the Keydets avoiding a shutout by scoring with 36 seconds remaining in the game. In the loss to Tennessee on Saturday, the Mocs turned the ball over three times.

UTC employs a run-oriented offense, having passed the ball (or been sacked attempting to do so) on 37.3% of its plays. However, 46.2% of Chattanooga’s total offense has come via the air.

The Mocs are currently last in the SoCon in total offense, though that is often a misleading statistic. Obviously, UTC’s non-league schedule has included two FBS squads and a top-10 FCS opponent as well, though that is balanced somewhat by games against Austin Peay and new conference member VMI.

Perhaps of more concern to UTC fans is its 4.9 yards per offensive play, the second-lowest average in the SoCon (ahead of only Furman). The Mocs are averaging 4.1 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per pass attempt (Chattanooga is second in the league in offensive pass efficiency).

UTC is converting 35.7% of its third-down attempts, not a particularly good percentage (The Citadel leads the conference in that category, at 49.4%). Chattanooga’s red zone offense has been effective, however, with a TD rate of 70.6%.

The Citadel’s offensive red zone TD rate is 70.3%, a stat buoyed by last week’s performance against Charlotte, when the Bulldogs scored nine touchdowns in nine red zone trips. Samford’s 78.9% TD rate leads the league; Furman’s ghastly 35.3% TD rate is last.

Jacob Huesman is the coach’s son, but he’s not starting because of nepotism. He’s a fine dual-threat quarterback. Earlier this season against VMI, Huesman passed two different career milestones — 2,000 yards rushing, and 4,000 yards passing. He became the first player in program history to attain both marks.

In 2014, the junior signal-caller has completed 62.5% of his passes, averaging 6.38 yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns against five interceptions. Huesman threw a 70-yard touchdown pass against Central Michigan. Against VMI, he tossed four TDs in the first half, ran for another, then opened the third quarter with a 44-yard touchdown run.

Huesman has been sacked eight times this season, with four of those coming against Jacksonville State.

Running back Keon Williams was a preseason All-SoCon selection. He missed last week’s game versus Tennessee with a wrist injury, but is expected to play against The Citadel. In last year’s matchup against the Bulldogs, Williams was injured on the opening kickoff and did not play for the rest of the game.

Williams rushed for 131 yards (on 21 carries) against Samford, his one dominant performance so far this season.

Tangent: in the SoCon weekly release’s “superlatives” section, Williams is credited with 131 yards *receiving* against Samford. That’s a mistake, as all of his yardage in that game came on the ground.

Tommy Hudson has missed the last two games with a turf toe problem, but should be back this week. Mike Houston described him as a “playmaker”, and no wonder.

Hudson is a wideout who also returns punts, and when he returns a punt, he has a tendency to go a long way. He has two punt return TDs already this season (a third TD was called back due to a penalty) and is averaging 32.8 yards per return, albeit on only four attempts.

As a receiver, he is averaging 14 yards per catch, with three touchdowns. He was on the receiving end of that 70-yard TD against Central Michigan thrown by Huesman.

C.J. Board, a 6’2″ sophomore, leads the Mocs with 16 receptions. He is averaging 11.75 yards per catch. The other starting wideout for the Mocs, Xavier Borishade, caught a 33-yard TD pass against the Bulldogs last season.

Faysal Shafaat, UTC’s starting tight end, is a 6’5″, 250 lb. handful. He caught a touchdown pass against The Citadel last year, part of an all-conference campaign (and also scored against the Bulldogs in 2012). This year, the native of Orlando has been hampered by a shoulder injury, but Shafaat has been healthy for the last two weeks, and had three receptions against Tennessee last Saturday.

UTC’s offensive line suffered a blow prior to its opening game when preseason all-conference pick Synjen Herren injured his knee and was lost for the season. Herren has now been replaced at left guard by Corey Levin (who had been the left tackle), one of several moves on the line.

The o-line is fairly big (two-deep average size: 6’3″, 287 lbs.). Starting right guard Chris Mayes, who began his collegiate career at Navy, is a senior who was moved from the defensive line in the spring.

Hunter Townson is a redshirt freshman who has started the last three games at left tackle for the Mocs. Starting center Jacob Revis is also a redshirt freshman, while right tackle Brandon Morgan has made 27 career starts.

While UTC may be last in the SoCon in total offense, it leads the league in total and rush defense, and its average yards/play allowed of 4.2 is the best mark in the conference.

Chattanooga is only allowing opponents an average of 3.1 yards per rush. The Citadel will have to do much better than that if the Bulldogs are to have a chance at winning this week.

The Mocs have 17 sacks on the season, which leads the league. In second place are the Bulldogs with 15, though 10 of those came in one game (versus Gardner-Webb).

Chattanooga opponents have only converted 36.1% of their third-down attempts. UTC’s defense has given up TDs 55% of the time in the red zone; the league leader in that category happens to be The Citadel, at 51.7%.

UTC has forced 12 turnovers, second-best in the SoCon, and has a turnover margin of +3, also second-best in the league. Chattanooga has recovered six opponents’ fumbles and intercepted six passes, returning two of those errant tosses for TDs (both against Jacksonville State, as mentioned earlier).

Against The Citadel’s triple option attack, the Mocs will likely not deviate from their standard front of four down linemen.

Defensive end Davis Tull is the active FCS leader in sacks, with 32.5. He already has six sacks so far this season, with eleven total tackles for loss. Four of those tackles for loss (and two sacks) came against Samford, a game in which Tull also forced a fumble.

UTC has two quality players at the nosetackle position. Daniel Ring is a transfer from Navy who has started 17 consecutive games, while Derrick Lott is a major roadblock for any offense. Lott, who started his career at Georgia, is a 6’4″, 303 lb. wrecking ball with four sacks this year, his sixth as a collegian (he was injured for most of last season and did not play against The Citadel).

Josh Freeman has two sacks this season, and they came last week against Tennessee. The other starter on the d-line is end Zack Rayl. His backup at right end, Keionta Davis, has three sacks and two forced fumbles this year.

Middle linebacker Muhasabi Wakeel leads the team in tackles, with 49. Last year against The Citadel, he was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after a 17-tackle performance.

Nakevion Leslie had 17 tackles versus Central Michigan and has 36 stops on the season. Strong safety Cedric Nettles is averaging 6.8 tackles per game.

Redshirt freshman Lucas Webb is the starting free safety. He has three interceptions, two against Samford and a pick-six versus Jacksonville State.

The other player to return an interception for a TD against JSU, cornerback Dee Virgin, is a 5’10” sophomore from Donalsonville, Georgia. He is second in the SoCon in passes defended, with eight.

The other starter at cornerback for the Mocs, Jeremiah Hay, is also 5’10”, and the first junior college transfer to play for UTC since Russ Huesman became the head coach. Hay is a native of Miami who began his collegiate career at Mississippi before transferring to Pasadena (CA) City College.

Chattanooga has excellent special teams across the board. Hudson is clearly a threat to take any punt back to the house. The Mocs also have an outstanding kick coverage unit.

Placekicker Henrique Ribeiro is a native of Brazil who went to high school in Chattanooga, where he discovered football. He is 6-6 this season kicking field goals (with a long of 47), which means this game will feature two kickers yet to miss a FG this season (as The Citadel’s Eric Goins has made all seven of his field goal attempts).

Nick Pollard handles both the punting and kickoff duties for the Mocs. He is averaging 42.2 yards per punt, with no touchbacks. Eleven of his thirty-nine punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Odds and ends:

– Last season, Chattanooga defeated The Citadel 28-24. I guess UTC was lucky that the final margin was four points, since the Mocs have lost 10 straight games decided by three points or less.

– Chattanooga has no players from South Carolina on its roster. The Mocs do have one Palmetto State connection, as linebackers coach Rusty Wright is from Petticoat Junction, SC.

– Aaron Miller’s 197 rushing yards against Charlotte were the most by any SoCon player so far this season. The 553 rushing yards the Bulldogs had as a team in that game were the most for any FCS squad in 2014.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 49 1/2.

– Earlier this week, The Citadel’s game next season against South Carolina was confirmed. The game will be played on November 21, 2015, and will be the final regular-season matchup that season for the military college.

The Bulldogs will play seven league games next season (four at home) and four non-conference contests (remember, next year the regular-season schedule reverts back to 11 games). The four games The Citadel will play outside the SoCon: at South Carolina, at Georgia Southern (provisionally scheduled for September 19), home against Charleston Southern (on September 26), home against Davidson (the season opener in 2015, on September 5).

This week, The Citadel’s defense will face an offense with a dual-threat quarterback, a quality running back, a big-play threat at wide receiver, and a fairly large offensive line. The Bulldogs encountered a similar cast of characters against Charlotte, and the result was not pretty. As an unwanted bonus, UTC also features a talented tight end who is a serious matchup problem.

The Bulldogs’ D has a major challenge on Saturday. It’s not an impossible one, but it’s difficult.

On the other side of the ball, The Citadel’s offensive line must win the battle up front with an outstanding defensive line, one with multiple playmakers. That will not be easy.

Chattanooga’s special teams units also tend to have the upper hand in most of its games. The Bulldogs must be very sharp in the kicking game on Saturday.

All that said, The Citadel can win this game. It’s an opportunity for the Bulldogs, a chance to make an impact on the conference title race.

It should be a nice, sunny day in Charleston on Saturday. I’m looking forward to an early kickoff at Johnson Hagood Stadium and an exciting, competitive game.

It will be even more exciting if it ends in a Bulldog victory.


Game review, 2014: Charlotte

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Charlotte Observer

WCSC-TV highlights; also, extended interviews with Mike Houston, Aaron Miller, Rah Muhammad, Cody Richardson, Dalton Trevino, and Cam Jackson

WCIV-TV highlights

Box score

When it was finally over, after Cody Richardson had preserved the victory for The Citadel by batting away Charlotte’s last-gasp pass, I didn’t immediately celebrate. I didn’t shout or jump for joy or high-five everyone around me.

I just sat back down, and put my head in my hands.

That game wore me out. I can’t imagine what it did to the players who played in the game, or the coaches who coached in it.

Someone asked me later how long my game review was going to be. My initial reaction was that the review would be two sentences. “We won. Thank God.”

A complete breakdown of the back and forth of this contest would be so long as to make Tolstoy throw up his hands in despair. I am certainly not going to try.

I do have a few thoughts on the game, though…

– The Citadel ran 100 plays from scrimmage on Saturday, a school record, although the two overtime periods are responsible for it being a record. The old regulation mark of 93 plays still stands, as the Bulldogs ran 92 plays from scrimmage against Charlotte before OT began (and then ran eight plays in overtime action).

Actually, The Citadel ran 102 plays from scrimmage, but two of them didn’t count because of penalties.

Of those 100 plays, twenty-five of them went for ten yards or more. Yes, one-fourth of The Citadel’s offensive plays resulted in a gain of at least ten yards.

That’s almost twice as many as the total number of plays the Bulldogs ran that went for no yardage, or lost yardage. The Citadel had thirteen of those — nine incomplete passes, two running plays for no gain, and two running plays that lost one and two yards, respectively.

The Bulldogs had twenty running plays of 10+ yards, and six other rushes that gained nine yards. That means exactly one-third of The Citadel’s 78 running plays wound up as gains of 9+ yards.

In a way, it makes you wonder why The Citadel threw as often as it did, but I’m not going to question any of Brent Thompson’s playcalling. Why should I? His offense finished with 36 first downs, 689 yards of total offense, an average gain of almost seven yards per play, and nine TDs.

That’s good enough for me. It’s good enough for anybody. I’m just glad it was (barely) good enough to win the game on Saturday.

– Attention, slick coaching move alert: this alert went off late in the fourth quarter, when a trick punt formation by The Citadel forced Charlotte to call its remaining timeout. That lost timeout for the 49ers was arguably crucial in helping the Bulldogs survive until overtime. Nicely done, Mike Houston.

– In my game preview, I referred to Charlotte wide receiver Austin Duke as “very good, and very dangerous.” He was all of that and more against the Bulldogs, despite dropping two potential TD passes during the game.

The 49ers’ season-long propensity for big plays continued unabated on Saturday. Six of Charlotte’s seven touchdowns were thirteen yards or longer; 83- and 71-yard TDs for Duke, a 13-yard reception for Trent Bostick, and touchdown runs by Duke (15 yards), Kalif Phillips (26 yards) and Maetron Thomas (25 yards to open the first overtime period).

In addition to those touchdowns, the 49ers had five other runs of 15+ yards and pass completions of 15, 21, and 28 yards.

– The one thing Charlotte struggled with at times on offense was finishing drives when it got close to the goal line. The 49ers only scored three touchdowns in seven red zone trips (conversely, The Citadel’s nine offensive trips inside the 20 all resulted in TDs).

Charlotte had trouble punching the ball into the end zone the closer it got to it. Duke scored from 15 yards out on the 49ers’ first possession, but UNCC’s third drive bogged down after having first-and-goal from the Bulldogs’ 8-yard line, and Charlotte settled for a field goal.

The 49ers subsequently scored from 13 yards out on a pass to Bostick, and Duke later had a 7-yard TD catch, but Charlotte wasted other opportunities deep in Bulldog territory. The Citadel stopped Charlotte on downs at the 10-yard line on a 4th-and-2 play in the third quarter (when the 49ers were in position to take their first lead of the game). Charlotte was held to another field goal later in the game after having 2nd-and-goal on the Bulldogs’ 4-yard line.

Of course, the 49ers’ other goal-to-go failure came in the second overtime period, with eight plays from inside the 11-yard line (including one that resulted in a Bulldog penalty which gave Charlotte a fresh set of downs at the 3-yard line).

The game’s final sequence may have illustrated the difference between the two teams. If it’s possible to say there was a decisive factor in a 63-56 2OT game, red zone offense and defense might have been it.

– Matt Johnson has been inconsistent at times for the 49ers this season (he entered the game against the Bulldogs with 7 TDs and 8 interceptions), but the Charlotte quarterback hardly put a foot wrong on Saturday. He threw an excellent deep ball and showed good accuracy on short- and mid-range passes.

His decision-making was also good, as he made very few mistakes, none of any real consequence. His most impressive move may have actually been an incomplete pass on the next-to-last play of the game, imaginatively throwing the ball away to avoid a sack by Mitchell Jeter.

– Speaking of people who had a good game, Aaron Miller was exceptional. His performance was essentially a “how-to” guide for playing quarterback in an option offense. He made excellent reads, put the ball exactly where it needed to be on pitches, and threw the ball well all day long.

Miller was at his best when running with the football. I particularly liked how he finished runs, regularly falling forward for extra yardage while maintaining good ball security. All in all, it was a tour-de-force for #12.

– I just wanted to note here that I thought the scattered booing for Kalif Phillips when he got hurt near the end of regulation was unwarranted. Booing an injured player is always wrong, of course.

I understand that some people thought he was faking an injury to stop the clock, but it wouldn’t have affected the game anyway, since the 49ers had picked up a first down on the previous play and the clock had stopped to move the chains. As it happened, any advantage Charlotte may have gained by saving time was lost when the 49ers didn’t immediately snap the ball after the clock was re-started.

Some of the crowd’s ire may have been a result of Charlotte having several players go down (mostly on defense) as the game progressed. Phillips got “blamed” for being the last 49er to leave the field, if you will.

Phillips may have just been worn out. It would be understandable, as he took a lot of hits while toting the ball 22 times. Phillips didn’t return for the overtime periods, though I don’t think his absence affected the game’s outcome. Charlotte’s failure to score in the second OT was (as mentioned above) another example of its game-long difficulties inside the 10-yard line.

– The attendance (10,467) was both unsurprising and disappointing. Jim Senter has work to do.

I thought the amount of people on campus for Parents’ Day was fairly typical. I didn’t think it was possible for that many individuals to be in the campus bookstore at the same time, though.

The number of people tailgating didn’t seem to me to be quite as high as normal, but I could be very wrong about that. I would be willing to listen to other opinions on the subject.

– I don’t know if the coaches were a little disappointed in the limited number of fans cheering on the team during the Dogwalk. I could understand if they were, but it’s a direct reflection of the morning parade ending just prior to the players arriving at the stadium. The timing just isn’t ideal for the big weekends (Parents’ Day, Homecoming).

This week’s photo gallery (seen below) features a smattering of Saturday’s non-football activity, including some shots inside Murray Barracks, the parade, etc. You know the drill by now — the photos are not going to win any Pulitzers, there is an element of randomness, the photographer is beyond hopeless, etc. This time, there are quite a few pictures. Quantity over quality, I guess.

Mike Houston greeted the media after the game by quietly exclaiming, “Holy Cow!”

You said it, coach.


2014 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 4. The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Corey Miller supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. The two-hour pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Note: this game will NOT be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network.

Links of interest:

Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

SoCon weekly release

Bulldogs “break big”

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Ayers on the SoCon teleconference and at his media luncheon

This is the eighth time in the last nine years the game between The Citadel and Wofford is being televised over the air (SportSouth, SCETV, etc.) or streamed on ESPN3.com. For the third year in the row, the game is on ESPN3.com, and for the third year in the row Darren Goldwater will be handling play-by-play.

Last year, Goldwater worked this game with Paul Maguire. This time, his analyst is former South Carolina linebacker Corey Miller.

Over the past ten seasons (counting this one), The Citadel has only won three times when appearing on television/ESPN3.com, though the Bulldogs did beat Samford last year in an ESPN3 game. The Citadel has to improve its winning percentage in “TV games”, if for no other reason than because the football program is going to appear on television/ESPN3.com more often going forward.

I mentioned in my review of the Gardner-Webb game that even though there were a lot of positives to be taken away from the contest, there is still a lot of room for improvement for The Citadel. I’ll mention just a few things that need to get better, or are cause for concern.

– Placekicking was, by and large, a success story last week. All three field goal attempts were converted, and they were critical to the eventual victory.

The Citadel’s Eric Goins is 5-5 on field goal attempts for the season, which is outstanding. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs are only 4-7 converting PATs (and missed one against Gardner-Webb).

One of the oldest clichés in gridiron lore is that missing a short kick or PAT will “come back to haunt ’em”. There is a lot of truth to that, though.

Admittedly, I’ll take those three-point FGs over single-point PATs every time. It’s just that in football, teams have to be greedy. They need all the points.

The Citadel has been a little lucky with a couple of deflections, too, although maybe not as lucky as Wofford was in this matchup two years ago (Domonic Jones is probably still wondering how that ball traveled so far).

– It finally happened last week. The Citadel forced a turnover, the first of the season for the defense (a fumble recovery by Joe Crochet after a Carson Smith sack).

However, the Bulldogs still lost the turnover battle to Gardner-Webb 2-1 (yes, the weird de facto onside kick in the first half counts as a lost fumble). The defense has to make those game-changing plays.

I know that’s a tough thing to say just after The Citadel’s D sets a school record for sacks, but turnovers matter. The Bulldogs need to force a lot more of them.

The Citadel only had one pass breakup (and no interceptions) on 35 Gardner-Webb passing attempts. Even given the Bulldogs’ style of secondary coverage (a “don’t give up the big play” strategy), that’s too low a number.

– Despite rushing for 323 yards against Gardner-Webb, The Citadel had a lot of rushing attempts that went for short yardage, and that can be a problem when trying to stay “on schedule”.

The Bulldogs rushed 58 times. On 34 of those occasions, The Citadel gained three or fewer yards. That’s 58.6% of the time, and strikes me as being a little problematic.

Of course, a couple of those short-yardage plays went for touchdowns. Jake Stenson can’t gain more than three yards on a three-yard TD run. That isn’t the issue.

However, 16 of the 26 first-down running plays The Citadel had against Gardner-Webb resulted in gains of three yards or less. That put more pressure on subsequent second (and third) downs.

It didn’t hurt The Citadel much last Saturday, largely because of the success the Bulldogs had on first-down passing plays. Against other defenses, though, The Citadel has to be a little better when it runs the ball on first down.

Last year against Wofford, the Bulldogs rushed the ball 15 times on first down. The Citadel gained three yards or less on ten of those plays, a big reason the Bulldogs were 3-15 on third-down conversion attempts.

For the entire game, The Citadel gained three or fewer yards on 23 of 38 rushing attempts (60.5%; that statistic does not include sacks). The Bulldogs threw the ball 22 times, often in obvious passing situations. In related news, The Citadel did not score an offensive touchdown.

Oddly, while I’ve just written a few paragraphs discussing how The Citadel needs to improve its rushing attack, I suspect the passing game may be the key element again this week…

Wofford is 2-2 entering SoCon play, but trying to figure out if it’s a good 2-2 or a bad 2-2 or even a mediocre 2-2 is not easy. It’s possible that even Wofford fans aren’t entirely sure what to make of their squad this year.

On the SoCon media teleconference, Mike Ayers said that his team could play like “superstar[s]” or like the participants for “some of those Pop Warner teams that play at halftime”.

The Terriers opened the season with a 38-19 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but only trailed 24-19 in that game with ten minutes to play. Now, the Yellow Jackets are erratic (and also currently undefeated), but the Terriers should get some credit for holding Georgia Tech to 226 yards rushing.

Wofford outrushed the Jackets and also had the edge in time of possession. Georgia Tech averaged 17.6 yards per pass attempt, however.

All in all, it was a very decent effort by Wofford against an FBS squad.

After taking a week off, Wofford hosted D-2 North Greenville, winning 42-27. This was a rather weird contest that featured two lightning delays. To cap things off, with less than two minutes to play the lights went out in Gibbs Stadium (while a punt was in midair), and everybody decided to just go home. If you include delays, by that point the game had lasted for five hours.

The Terriers piled up the rushing yards (377 on 53 attempts), but were actually outgained on the (very long) night by the Crusaders, thanks to 370 North Greenville passing yards.

Wofford then lost 43-36 at Gardner-Webb. The Terriers were leading 28-14 late in the second quarter, but gave up a TD with seven seconds remaining in the half, and were outscored 23-8 after the break.

Gardner-Webb allowed the Terriers to rush for 322 yards, exactly one yard less than The Citadel managed against the Runnin’ Bulldogs. However, Wofford only ran the ball 47 times against G-W, while The Citadel rushed 58 times.

While Gardner-Webb picked up a relatively modest 232 yards passing against Wofford, G-W was only sacked twice. That was a far cry from the ten sacks it would give up in Charleston a week later.

The passing yardage total also doesn’t account for multiple defensive pass interference calls against Wofford during the game (the Terriers finished with 91 yards in penalties). Gardner-Webb had three passing touchdowns in the game, including the winning score with 2:04 to play.

Last week, Wofford defeated UVA-Wise (a provisional Division II school) 49-15 in Spartanburg. The Terriers dominated early, let the Highland Cavaliers drift back into the game (it was 28-15 midway through the third quarter), then closed out the contest on a 21-0 run.

After the first possession of the second half, Wofford adjusted its pass defense. The Terriers eschewed their traditional man-to-man coverage for more zone, a move necessitated by UVA-Wise’s success throwing the ball.

It worked, as Wofford held UVA-Wise to 35 yards passing on its final four possessions after making the switch, with two interceptions.

Mike Ayers:

We’re not really good at playing man-to-man right now, not with the way things are being called. We just can’t do it. If we defend six times, we’ll probably get four pass-interference calls. You can’t do it that way. It keeps moving the sticks and affords them the opportunity to keep doing it.

You look at the game and it was a carbon copy of Gardner-Webb (43-36 loss in the previous game). It’s going to be that way against anyone that has the ability to throw the football and has a big guy that we don’t match up with very well. We’re not going to play a whole lot of man-to-man from now on. I promise you that.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that The Citadel’s passing attack could be a key factor in this game. I think I’ve illustrated in the last few paragraphs why that is the case.

The Bulldogs simply have to take advantage of what appears to be a weakness in the Terriers’ defense. That is particularly true because other than pass defense, I think Wofford may actually be in good shape for its SoCon campaign.

Wofford’s offense is led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Evan Jacks, the latest in a long line of solid signal-callers for the Terriers. He will provide a major challenge for The Citadel’s defense.

Jacks has rushed 45 times for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging 8.6 yards per pass attempt and is completing just under 60% of his throws, with three TD passes and three interceptions.

Against North Greenville, Jacks threw an 85-yard touchdown pass. He had a 45-yard TD run versus Gardner-Webb.

Jacks is a third-generation college football player, as his father played for Connecticut and his grandfather was a QB at Penn.

The Terriers appear to have found their latest star fullback in the person of sophomore Lorenzo Long, who was lightly recruited out of Pensacola, Florida. It may be that prep running backs in Pensacola are given short shrift because they can’t measure up to the most celebrated high school running back to ever come out of Pensacola — Emmitt Smith.

Long has 318 yards on 51 carries, with six touchdowns. He had 151 yards rushing against Gardner-Webb, and 138 yards versus North Greenville. Long has three runs of 40+ yards this season, and has also returned kickoffs.

Wofford halfback Ray Smith had a 92-yard touchdown run against Georgia Tech, which was (rather amazingly, at least to me) the longest run against the Yellow Jackets in that program’s entire history. Smith’s future children and grandchildren will hear about that gallop many times.

The other starting halfback for the Terriers, Will Gay, rushed for 81 yards in last year’s game against the Bulldogs (on only nine carries) and also caught a TD pass. Gay is Wofford’s primary punt returner as well.

The strength of the Terriers’ offensive line is probably on the right side. Redshirt junior T.J. Chamberlin, a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection, is the right guard. Sophomore Anton Wahrby (a second-team preseason pick) is the right tackle.

Wahrby is a native of Sweden who was a foreign exchange student at Lexington High School. He presumably was one of the larger exchange students in Palmetto State history, as the 6’4″ Wahrby currently tips the scales at 290 lbs.

Will Irwin was on the receiving end of that 85-yard pass from Jacks against North Greenville, He also had a nine-yard TD run in that game on an end-around. Last season, Irwin had a 30-yard touchdown catch against The Citadel.

Wade Francis backs up Irwin at wide receiver. Francis had six receptions (including a TD) against Gardner-Webb.

The defense for the Terriers suffered a blow when starting linebacker Travis Thomas (a fifth-year senior) tore his Achilles’ tendon in the game against Gardner-Webb. He has been replaced by redshirt freshman Daryl Vining.

On the SoCon teleconference, Mike Houston said Wofford defensive end Tarek Odom was probably the best defensive lineman The Citadel will have faced (outside of Florida State’s DL group) this season. He was “all over the field” against Georgia Tech, and is explosive “with a great motor”.

Odom was a first-team All-SoCon choice after last season, and was a preseason all-league pick this year. He is joined on the line by nosetackle E.J. Speller, a tough 290 lb. junior who also drew praise from Houston.

Inside linebacker Kevin Thomas leads the Terriers in tackles through four games. He was second on the team in tackles last season, a year in which he also had 8.5 tackles for loss.

Both of Wofford’s starting cornerbacks were preseason second-team All-SoCon selections. Bernard Williams started all eleven games for the Terriers last season, forcing three fumbles and leading Wofford defenders in passes broken up.

Chris Armfield also started all eleven contests in 2013, and led the league in interceptions with three. Armfield intercepted a pass against UVA-Wise and returned it 60 yards, setting up a touchdown.

Backup cornerback Brion Anderson has two interceptions this season.

Free safety Jaleel Green has started all four games this season for Wofford, and has an interception return for a TD to his credit (versus UVA-Wise). The strong safety position has been a bit of a revolving door, with three different Terriers having started in that role.

Redshirt freshman David Marvin had a very impressive debut against Georgia Tech, converting both of his field goal attempts (one a 51-yarder) and punting four times for an average of 43.5 yards per kick. He also handled kickoff duties for the Terriers.

Unfortunately, Marvin suffered a sprained knee during the game, which led to Wofford having to scramble for a replacement (or three).

In his stead, reserve defensive back Michael Sarafianos handled extra points, while Brian Sanders punted (and continued to hold on placekicks). Also appearing for the Terriers: backup soccer goalkeeper Ben Bruggeworth, who performed the kickoff duties. When he kicked off for Wofford against North Greenville, it was the first time Bruggeworth had appeared in a high school or college football game.

Marvin is back as the team’s placekicker (resuming those duties last week), with Sanders remaining the first-team punter and Bruggeworth the kickoff specialist. Michael Comer is the Terriers’ veteran long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– Wofford doesn’t have a band, so it usually brings in a “guest band”. This week, for the first time, Gibbs Stadium will be graced by the presence of the band from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a/k/a the “Orange Pride“.

The Orange Pride Marching Band is greatly renowned, and always resplendent in the O-W school colors of maroon and orange. It will easily be the smartest group of high school students to ever provide musical entertainment at Wofford.

– At halftime, Wofford will recognize its 2014 Hall of Fame honorees.

– It will be “Family Weekend” at Wofford.

– Scheduling info: Wofford will play games at Clemson and at Idaho in 2015. I have no idea what Wofford is getting out of the Idaho game, to be honest.

In 2016, the Terriers have a game at Mississippi.

– Per at least one site that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a two-point favorite on Saturday, which just goes to show how much attention is paid to FCS games by oddsmakers (and bettors in general). That is to say, almost none.

The over/under is 51.5, incidentally.

– Spike The Bulldog is 4-1 in the Capital One Challenge. This week, he is battling Cy The Cardinal, the mascot for Iowa State.

Vote for Spike!

This is a game that a lot of us upperclassmen and guys who were here last year have been waiting for. I think there is a little bit of a revenge factor.

I’m going to return to this quote. First, let’s talk about the importance of the game against Wofford on Saturday.

It’s important because The Citadel needs to win more games, establish momentum, and successfully compete in the Southern Conference. It’s not important because of what happened in 1916 or 1959 or 1987 or 1998 (and I say that as someone with a great respect for history).

Aaron Miller and Rah Muhammad shouldn’t care about any kind of losing streak. Whatever happened when John Zernhelt or Ellis Johnson or Don Powers were at The Citadel doesn’t matter. This year matters.

I know that a lot of our alums want to see us beat Wofford. Heck, I do too. I want us to beat Wofford every year. I want us to win all of our games every year.

By paying too much attention to the recent past, though, there is a risk of playing against history rather than facing the here-and-now. If prior events are overly emphasized, a team can be psyched out rather than psyched up.

Wofford is a solid, well-coached squad. It isn’t perfect, as the defensive problems I’ve outlined above suggest, but it’s fully capable of beating any team in the league. I don’t want the Bulldogs to play last year’s Wofford team, or 2004’s Wofford team, or any of the teams in between.

I want the Bulldogs to play the 2014 edition of the Terriers. I also want the Bulldogs to win.

It’s important not to get too wound up about things like a streak or some kind of “revenge factor”.

Oh, that quote above? That’s not from any of The Citadel’s players. It’s a comment made by Wofford linebacker Drake Michaelson before the Terriers’ game against Gardner-Webb.

Michaelson was talking about Wofford playing Gardner-Webb this year after losing the game to G-W last season. The Terriers may have been waiting for another shot at the Runnin’ Bulldogs, but in the end Gardner-Webb won again.

Ultimately, players should be highly motivated to play each and every game. It’s not that long a season, after all.

I plan on being in Spartanburg on Saturday, and I hope a lot of fellow blue-clad fans also make the trip. From a scheduling perspective, one thing the SoCon has done which I appreciate is stagger The Citadel’s annual games against Furman and Wofford, so that there is one game in the Upstate each season, instead of two in one season and no games in the next.

This year, that game is at Wofford. It should be a very nice day. It would be a really nice day if the Bulldogs could pull off a victory.

Game review, 2014: Gardner-Webb

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Shelby Star

Video from WCSC-TV, including interview with Mike Houston

Box score

It’s good to win, especially when the month of September is coming to a close and you haven’t won yet. The victory over Gardner-Webb was cathartic for both the team and its fans.

The Citadel did a lot of things right on Saturday night, but the Bulldogs weren’t perfect. I’m going to discuss a few things that could stand improvement when I preview the Wofford game later in the week.

Having said that, there were a lot of positives in this game, on the field and off. What follows are a few observations (and the usual assortment of motley pictures).

– I wrote this at the beginning of my preview of the Gardner-Webb game:

The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

The Citadel turned things around in the passing game by changing its approach at the beginning of the contest, throwing the ball on the first two plays from scrimmage. Gardner-Webb was caught flat-footed by the Bulldogs’ Air Raid attack, and before all the cadets had filed into the stands, The Citadel had its first lead of the season.

The Bulldogs averaged 12.4 yards per pass attempt, which will usually get it done. Aaron Miller’s second throw of the day went to Rudder Brown, who caught the ball and then crisscrossed the field for a 47-yard gain. That almost doubled the previous long reception of the season (24 yards).

Ten of The Citadel’s fifteen pass attempts came on first down. Indeed, the Bulldogs threw the ball 28% of the time on first down versus Gardner-Webb, twice as often as the first three games (14%). Breaking tendencies, anyone?

– Aaron Miller completed eight passes during the game, while his counterpart for Gardner-Webb, Lucas Beatty, completed 29. Despite that discrepancy, each quarterback completed passes to six different receivers.

I could describe that as an oddity, but it’s not. The Citadel may not throw the ball a lot, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs lack capable pass-catchers. There is considerable depth in that department.

– Through three games, opponents had converted 33% of their 3rd-and-long attempts against The Citadel’s defense, which was obviously too high a percentage. The Bulldogs did a much better job on Saturday, as Gardner-Webb only picked up one first down on seven 3rd-and-long situations.

G-W was 0-6 attempting a pass on 3rd-and-long (with three of those plays resulting in sacks by The Citadel). Gardner-Webb’s only successful 3rd-and-long conversion was a run by quarterback Lucas Beatty after he broke containment.

– It isn’t often a fan can be generally satisfied with his team’s pass defense when the opposing quarterback is 29-35 through the air, averages eight yards per attempt, and is not intercepted. That was the case on Saturday, however. Of course, recording ten sacks (and the accompanying 70 yards of lost yardage for G-W) does make a difference, especially when four of those sacks come on third down. Recovering a fumble on one of those sacks helps, too.

– There was one coaching decision during the game I questioned, although not for long. During the second quarter, Gardner-Webb began a possession at The Citadel’s 35-yard line after a fumble recovery-and-return (the fumble was bogus, but whatever).

After starting the drive with an incomplete pass, Beatty was sacked by the law firm of Thomas & Jeter on second down. That left G-W with a 3rd-and-18 situation.

On third down, a completed pass returned the ball to the original line of scrimmage. However, G-W was called for holding on the play.

Mike Houston then had the option of accepting the penalty, and setting up 3rd-and-28 from the Gardner-Webb 47; or declining the penalty and taking the result of the play, which would leave G-W with 4th-and-10 from The Citadel’s 35. He chose to decline the penalty.

I would have been inclined to take the penalty, myself. It was obvious Gardner-Webb would go for it on 4th down in that situation (Carroll McCray certainly wasn’t going to have his placekicker attempt a 52-yard field goal).

It would have been tough to decline the penalty, and then have Gardner-Webb pick up the first down. Ten yards wasn’t that unmanageable, either.

At least, that’s what I thought, and then on 4th down Tevin Floyd raced through the G-W offensive line and sacked the quarterback in 0.7 seconds. I immediately shouted, “Good decision, coach!”

Score one for Mike Houston.

– The 1960 throwbacks were a hit with the crowd. Very sharp. If you want to buy one, check out the auction.

I’ve been critical of The Citadel’s constant uniform tinkering in the past, but the helmet tweaking for Military Appreciation Day was excellent. You can see the uniforms up close in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery.

– I also appreciated the small (and not so small) touches for Military Appreciation Day, including the red-white-blue end zone motif. I thought that on the whole, the school did a very nice job on that front.

– Hey, the band played more than twice during the game! It was noticed, too.

There are still a few things to get worked out. Twice during the second quarter, the videoboard went into sound-explosion mode just as the band started to play, so a little more coordination is still needed.

I gather the band will need time to expand its repertoire, so it may be next year before the ideal is reached, but that’s okay. Baby steps.

They did play the theme from “Hawaii 5-0”, although I’m not sure everyone heard it. The acoustics at Johnson Hagood Stadium are a bit of an issue.

– I thought the freshmen were in good form on Saturday. Some (not all) of the upperclassmen weren’t quite as spirited.

One thing all the cadets (and other supporters) did like was the placekicking contest following the third quarter. There is nothing quite as enjoyable as watching a fellow member of the corps attempt a 35-yard field goal in his shined leathers.

I would advocate more cadet-oriented contests. There should be at least three such events during the game.

– In my opinion, the cheerleading squad makes a difference, and was badly missed during its hiatus. Also making a difference: the omnipresent Spike The Bulldog, surely the hardest-working anthropomorphic mascot in college athletics.

– Attendance was low, officially announced as 8,573. I think that was an accurate total.

There were a lot of factors at play: South Carolina played a home game at the same time, Clemson was on TV at the same time, the weather was threatening, Gardner-Webb didn’t bring many fans, and the home team was 0-3. That said, it was the smallest crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium I could recall since the Thursday night game against Benedict in 2004.

Improving home football attendance is just one of the many tasks for new AD Jim Senter, but it’s an important one. Longtime fans can remember when attendance at The Citadel’s home games was significantly higher.

In the game program on Saturday was a blurb with the headline “On This Day in Citadel Football History”, which noted that on September 27, 1980, The Citadel defeated UT-Chattanooga 29-13 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Attendance for that game was 18,345 — almost 10,000 more than showed up at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game exactly 34 years later.

Below are some pictures I took before and during the game. Some of them are actually in focus.