Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

Time and Place:  6:00 pm ET, Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Television:  a tape-delayed broadcast on a local cable channel called MTN-18 that really needs to improve its website

This will be only the second Saturday night game played in Boone since 2001.  I gather that many of the Mountaineer fans wanted a night game; why you would want one in the mountains in mid-October, I have no idea, but their wish has been granted.  Appalachian State also played a Saturday night game against Presbyterian two years ago.

Note that I specified “Saturday night”.  In the last three seasons, the Mountaineers have played two Friday night games in Boone, one a I-AA semifinal against Richmond, the other a regular season game against Wofford televised (unfortunately for Wofford) on ESPN2.  So a night game in Boone isn’t a novelty; it’s just a little unusual.

This preview is a fairly short one, because I am in the middle of a busy stretch that includes some travel.  Among other things, that means I won’t be able to even listen to the dulcet tones of Darren Goldwater on the radio.  I won’t find out how the game went until late Saturday night.  I can probably make a decent guess as to how it will go, though.

Just a few brief observations, while I have a few minutes:

— Appalachian State is ranked #1 in both the FCS Coaches Poll and The Sports Network poll.  The last time The Citadel defeated the top-ranked I-AA team, it was 1988, and the opponent was Marshall.  That is still the most “electric” atmosphere for any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium that I have attended.

The upset on that sunny afternoon was keyed by an outstanding performance by the Bulldog defense.  To stay competitive on Saturday night, The Citadel will need a similar effort from its defensive unit.

— Sam Martin was hurt during the Chattanooga game.  This excerpt from Jeff Hartsell’s Tuesday report in The Post and Courier concerned me:

…early in the second quarter, Martin got hit by Mocs tackle Nick Davison and another player. He got to his feet and called a timeout, to Higgins’ consternation.

“I said, ‘Sam, why did you call a timeout?’ ” Higgins said at his Monday news conference. “He said, ‘Coach, I couldn’t see anything.’ So we got him off the field, and I determined it was a concussion. I’m not sure if that is what our medical staff is calling it, but we didn’t put him back in the game. He was doing fine after the game.

“We’ll keep giving him tests, but (Sunday) he was fine, (Monday) he was fine. I think he will be OK and we’ll get him practicing this week.”

Okay, a couple of things:

1)  Kevin Higgins has considerable coaching expertise, but I’ll go with the medical staff’s determination on whether or not a player has a concussion.

2)  If he really suffered a concussion, he wouldn’t be practicing.

As to what really happened to Martin during the UTC game, I have no idea.  I’m no doctor.  It sounded a little bit like what happened to Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist during the Irish’s game against Michigan State, though.  Crist was reportedly diagnosed with an “ocular migraine”.  He left that game, but later returned (and played very well).

I might add that we are less likely to find out these days exactly what a player’s medical condition is/was due to privacy laws, and I think that’s a good thing.  I also have full confidence in our medical/training staff.

— Alex Sellars tore his ACL and is done for the year.  It’s been a tough season for the fifth-year senior, who had previously suffered from back problems.  He had some outstanding moments for the Bulldogs during his career; it’s a shame there apparently won’t be any more on the field.

— Armanti Edwards is now a Carolina Panther, meaning that in terms of success, he’s gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.  He gets paid better to stay in the outhouse, though.

— His successor, DeAndre Presley, has already been named SoCon offensive player of the week three times this season, including last week against Elon, when he amassed 374 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns.  Presley has yet to throw an interception this season in 118 attempts.

Presley was injured late in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday.

— The Mountaineers’ offensive line has remained intact through all five games so far this season.  Four of those five linemen also started every game last year, and the fifth (Daniel Kilgore) started on the line for every game in 2008.

— Speaking of experience, Appalachian State has three receivers (Matt Cline, CoCo Hillary, and big-play threat Brian Quick) who seem to have been playing for the Mountaineers since the late 1990s.

— As you can see, Appalachian State had lots of starters on offense coming back, save the quarterback position, and Presley obviously has made the transition from Edwards fairly seamless.  However, the Mountaineers have some new faces on defense, and that’s been a bit of a problem (at least, as big a problem as an undefeated team could have).

Appalachian State is allowing 254 passing yards per game and 381 total yards per contest, both below-average numbers.  However, its average points allowed per game (23.8) isn’t as bad as those peripheral statistics.  App State games are like track meets, and opponents find it difficult to keep up.  No lead is safe, either, as Chattanooga found out (ASU prevailing 42-41 after scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter).

— In last year’s game against the Mountaineers, the Bulldogs just missed pulling off a big upset (30-27, OT).  What The Citadel did well in that game was run the football, compiling 214 yards rushing while in a spread attack, including one of the more spectacular runs in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (Van Dyke Jones’ 69-yard TD).

The Bulldogs will need more than 214 yards rushing to compete with App State on Saturday, at least as long as the offense continues to average less than 60 yards passing per game.  Incidentally, The Citadel’s 247.7 ypg rushing is actually less than ASU’s (264.6 ypg).

— Appalachian State has already had ten different players score offensive touchdowns this season.  Five of those players have scored three TDs or more (Presley has eight).

— If the Mountaineers punt, don’t be confused when you hear Sam Martin’s name mentioned.  That’s the name of the ASU punter, no relation (I’m guessing) to the Bulldog quarterback.

— You may have read that Appalachian State is going to conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of moving up to FBS (I-A).  Of course, just last year fellow Southern Conference member Georgia Southern commissioned its own study on the topic, which I wrote about (probably too extensively) here.

In general, I am skeptical about schools moving up to FBS land; while fans and administrators dream of being the next Boise State, the truth is most schools are much more likely to become the next Louisiana-Monroe.  However, I can understand why App State is exploring the terrain.

It’s a strange time right now in the world of FCS.  The CAA is a good example.  Villanova is the reigning FCS champ, but has an offer to move to I-A and the Big East.  Two league schools (Hofstra and Northeastern) dropped the sport last year.  Georgia State and Old Dominion are now fielding teams and will join the league.  Rhode Island is considering a move to the Northeast Conference (motto:  we’re cheaper).

That’s just one league.  Back in the not-so-gentle world of the Southern Conference, it wasn’t that long ago the league included East Tennessee State, VMI, and Marshall.  Things change, and it’s important to evaluate things once in a while.  After all, as recently as 1995, The Citadel studied I-A as a possible option.

I think Appalachian State is marginally better positioned to move to FBS than Georgia Southern.  However, I greatly suspect that the feasibility study will show that ASU should stay right where it is, which I think would satisfy most of its fan base.  However, if “right where it is” were to no longer exist, the school should have a better idea of what its options are.

There won’t be a specific review post of the Appalachian State game on the blog next week.  Writing the preview of the Georgia Southern game is going to be enough of a struggle as it is; I’ll undoubtably take a look back at the ASU game as part of that preview.  The TV schedule post will still happen, possibly a day later than normal.

Go Dogs!

Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Chowan

It’s time for college football!   This year the scene at Johnson Hagood Stadium should include a lot of the following:  great tailgating, photo ops with Bulldogs both live and bronze, and, uh, fumbles…

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the sunniest intro of all time.  I have to be honest here, though.  While I am looking forward to the season, this year I am a bit apprehensive about what lies ahead for the Bulldogs on the gridiron.  The Citadel is going to the triple option on offense, with a head coach who has never run the offense (or any similar offense) before, and with players who were mostly recruited for a very different kind of system.

The players who were recruited with the triple option in mind, of course, are all true freshmen.  The quarterback position will likely be manned by one (or more) of those true freshmen. The “knob”-starting quarterback double is a rare one, and for a reason. It’s an exceedingly difficult combination.

The Southern Conference media and coaches agree that this season could be a long one for The Citadel, just as the last two seasons have been.  The media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the league.  The coaches ranked The Citadel eighth out of nine teams, ahead of only Western Carolina.

The Catamounts finished last in 2009, with only one league win.  That one WCU victory came against The Citadel, which tied for next-to-last.  More of the same is expected by those who follow the SoCon.

Before beginning league play, though, The Citadel will play three non-conference games.  Next week’s game at Arizona should be…interesting.  The following week the Bulldogs will take on Presbyterian, a team that went 0-11 last season, including a 46-21 loss to The Citadel.  However, even the Blue Hose would be favored against the Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Chowan University, a Division II school located in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

When the Hawks were announced as the opposition for the home opener, a collective yawn could be heard from The Citadel’s less-than-thrilled fans.  It’s hard to blame anyone for not being excited about Chowan being on the schedule, with all due respect to that school.  I’m guessing this game’s not going to be a sellout.

Having said that, let’s take a look at Chowan.

I wish I could say with confidence exactly how “Chowan” should be pronounced.  This is probably something that should concern Bulldogs play-by-play announcer Darren Goldwater a lot more than me, but I like to know these things.  I even sent an e-mail to Chowan’s department of athletics asking the question, and quickly got a response:

It’s pronounced CHO-WAN with a hard CH, just like CHOKE or CHICKEN. CHO-WAN.

That’s from somebody who works at the school, so she ought to know, but two different people have insisted to me that it’s actually pronounced “Shuh-WONN”, with the “Sh” sound at the beginning and the accent on the second syllable.  Since both of them are natives of eastern North Carolina, the region of the state that actually has decent BBQ, I tend to trust them.

“Chowan” is a derivative of “Chowanoke”, the name given to the native tribe of the region by 16th-century European explorers.  My guess is that if you were French, you pronounced it with the “Sh”, and if you were English, you went with the hard “Ch” sound.  It’s kind of like Beaufort (BO-fert), North Carolina, and Beaufort (BYOO-fert), South Carolina.

You like to-ma-to, I like to-mah-to, let’s call the whole thing off…

There is also a Chowan river, and a Chowan County — but Chowan University isn’t located in that county, but in the adjoining county of Hertford.  Naturally, this school in northeastern North Carolina is named to honor a tribe whose name means “people of the south”.

Regardless of its pronunciation, the school has been around in one form or another since 1848, when it was founded as Chowan Baptist Female Institute.  The school remained all-female until 1931, but in 1937 it became a junior college.

It reverted back to four-year status in 1992, and changed its name to the current Chowan University in 2006.  This fall, it will offer its first Masters Degree program, in Elementary Education.  Chowan remains affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

About 1100 students attend Chowan.  I thought the section titled “Who we serve” on the school’s website was interesting:

The Chowan University community is committed to serving average students. By “average” we mean students with a GPA from 2.25-3.25 and “average” SAT scores (around 1300 for the three part SAT). Students below these criteria may be admitted if they show a commitment to the Chowan University experience and academic potential…

Many of our students are first generation college students which means their parents did not attend college or complete a college degree. Because of Chowan’s commitment to individual attention in a Christian environment, these students thrive here.

I liked this statement.  Too many schools insist on presenting themselves as wannabe Ivies, when everyone knows better.  Here we have a school that knows exactly what its mission is, and what it wants to do, and isn’t apologetic about it in the least.  Good for Chowan.

Chowan had a fine run in football as a junior college, almost entirely under James Garrison, who was the head coach at the school for 43 years (and for whom its football stadium is named).  Quite a few Chowan alums went on to four-year schools and then the NFL, including George Koonce, Curtis Whitley, and Mark Royals.

However, Chowan has struggled on the gridiron since becoming a four-year school itself.  Since 1993, the Hawks (formerly the Braves) have a cumulative record of 39-168-1 in Division III and (since 2005) Division II.  That includes Saturday’s 59-10 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne.

Chowan has been a football member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association since the 2008 season (and is now a full member of the conference). Chowan is the first non-HBCU member of the CIAA in the league’s 98-year history.

The CIAA now has 13 members, and as a result the conference’s slogan for this year is “Triskaidekaphobia: Fear the 13!”  I’m not sure what the Southern Conference’s slogan would be — “The SoCon: The Nation’s Most Transient League”?

For Chowan football, the last five years have looked like this:

2005 — 2-8, including a 56-10 loss to North Greenville (now of Willy Korn fame) and a 42-21 defeat at the hands of Allen, which dropped its program after the season

2006 — 0-10, including losses of 42-0 to Western Carolina, 52-6 to North Greenville, and 28-0 to Webber International; Webber played The Citadel the following season, with a slightly different result

2007 — 2-9, including a lot of total beatdowns:  51-0 (Coastal Carolina), 56-14 (North Greenville), Presbyterian (62-10), and Newberry (67-0)

2008 — 2-8, which featured an early-season 69-20 loss to VMI (which had concluded its 2007 campaign in memorable fashion)

2009 — 2-8, although most of the games were more competitive; the Hawks did lose 36-21 to Old Dominion, the Monarchs’ first game since restarting its program after a 68-year hiatus (ODU did finish the season 9-2, though)

Those last two seasons came under the direction of the current head coach, Tim Place.  Place is a Washington & Lee alum who was previously the head coach at Urbana, an NAIA school in Ohio.

One of the members of Place’s coaching staff is Omar Nesbit.  Nesbit was an All-SoCon lineman at The Citadel, graduating in 2002.  He is the Hawks’ offensive line coach.

According to the school’s pre-season football guide, the team runs a “multiple” offense and a “multiple” defense.  Thirteen starters are back from last year’s outfit.

Last season the Hawks scored 25.3 points per game, not bad, but allowed 35.2 ppg. While the Hawks were a respectable passing team, all 25 of its TD passes were thrown by C.J. Westler, who was the offensive player of the year in the CIAA, and who is not among the returnees.  Much like The Citadel, Chowan has to find a quarterback (it played two in the Lenoir-Rhyne game).

Chowan turned the ball over three times per game, almost double its opponents’ totals, and averaged an anemic 2.9 yards per rush.  The Hawks gave up 48 sacks.

Defensively, the Hawks allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 9.3 yards per pass attempt, which is obviously not good.  Opponents scored touchdowns 70% of the time when they entered the “red zone”.  Chowan was also not a particularly efficient punting or placekicking team.

Against Lenoir-Rhyne, Chowan allowed 513 rushing yards (6.9 per attempt).  This is noteworthy in that L-R is running the same offensive system this season it ran last year under the direction of then-offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine — who of course is now the offensive coordinator at The Citadel.

Laurendine has his work cut out for him, based on early reports.  For example, this is how Jeff Hartsell began his recap of the August 21 scrimmage:

After watching his quarterbacks combine for six interceptions and at least five fumbled snaps in Saturday’s scrimmage, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins stated the obvious.

“Offensively, we have a lot of work to do,” said Higgins…

You could say that, coach.  On the bright side, nine of the eighteen pass attempts in the scrimmage were caught by Bulldogs.  Alas, six of them were defenders.  At least on those plays the QB got the snap from center.  Unofficial totals from the scrimmage had the first-team offense rushing 27 times for 67 yards.

At least the defense apparently looked good, although how much of that was due to the offense’s struggles is open to question.  The kicking game again failed to impress, a problem Higgins has been unable to solve for the last two seasons.

The scrimmage on August 28 was apparently better, based on some anecdotal reports.  At this point it appears the Bulldogs will play two “true” freshman quarterbacks, Ben Dupree (from Pennsylvania) and Matt Thompson (from Florida).

Terrell “First Sergeant” Dallas will be the fullback.  There are several candidates to fill the slotback positions, led by Van Dyke Jones and injury-plagued Rickey Anderson (everyone’s crossing their fingers for you, Rickey).  The offensive line has some experience, but not at center, which in part explains the center-QB exchange problems.

We won’t know for sure exactly how the new offense will look until Saturday, but it probably will be a slightly different variation than Charlie Taaffe’s version of the wishbone.  It’s not going to be quite like Wofford’s option attack, either.

It’s probably going to most resemble the setup run by Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and now Georgia Tech.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Higgins, with a personal history of running spread passing offenses, throws the ball a little more often than you see in most triple option offenses.

He has to figure out a way to get talented tight end Alex Sellars involved in the offense. Higgins has also commented on the big-play ability of Domonic Jones, a 6’5″ redshirt freshman.  I like the idea of isolating a tall receiver on a smaller defensive back in this offense.  Of course, you have to have a quarterback capable of getting the ball to Jones.

I linked this in an earlier post, but to get up to speed on how this offense will probably operate, check out The Birddog (helmed by a grad/fan of the Naval Academy), the triple option devotee’s website of choice.  Here is a primer on the TO:  Link

While the offense is filled with question marks, the defense should have a lot of answers.  There is depth and talent on that side of the ball, particularly in the defensive backfield.  Cortez Allen has drawn pre-season accolades.  Other DBs with the potential to shine include Keith Gamble (who had an 89-yard interception return against Presbyterian last season) and Joseph Boateng (who intercepted two passes in his collegiate debut against North Carolina).

Former safety Rod Harland is now a linebacker, joining team leader Tolu Akindele and Jeremy Buncum as likely starters.  The defensive line should be solid, if a little young.  Chris Billingslea had some impressive moments last season (and made the All-SoCon freshman team as a result).  Keith Carter is a redshirt freshman who should draw notice, if only for being a defensive tackle who wears #33.

The other defensive lineman (at least that’s his roster designation) I want to mention is Milford Scott, a special teams terror who blocked three kicks last season and created havoc many other times.  He’s tall, has long arms, and describes himself as a “Charleston homeboy” from the beach.  He’s a weapon.

Unfortunately, Scott’s dynamism on special teams was an exception (not counting Andre Roberts, obviously).  While punter Cass Couey fared reasonably well, the Bulldogs continued to struggle in the placekicking department.  That’s two seasons in a row The Citadel has had sub-optimal kicking, and early returns suggest it might be three in a row.

I don’t blame the kickers.  I blame the coaching staff.  It’s the job of the staff to get that aspect of the squad fixed, either by improving the kickers on the squad or finding somebody else to kick.

The Citadel also could stand to improve its punt coverage team (Scott aside) and its kickoff return unit.  The Bulldogs will sorely miss Andre Roberts as a punt returner; look for that component of special teams to not be as effective this season.

There has been a lot of turnover in the coaching staff, not only with the new offensive scheme (where the aforementioned Laurendine is joined by offensive line coach Bob Bodine), but with the defense as well.  Higgins recruited former Wofford assistant Josh Conklin to join the staff, and later named him defensive coordinator.

Conklin will get help from another new assistant, Denny Doornbos, who was the defensive coordinator at Army during the Bob Sutton years, which were mostly good ones.  I have to gleefully point out, though, that he was the DC for this game…and for this game, too.

While all the talk in the off-season has been about the offensive scheme, and how the coaches will implement it, I think the new coaches on the defensive side of the ball will be just as important.  Generally, you would like to have more staff continuity than The Citadel has had, but in the case of the defense, I think a fresh approach may be just what was needed.

There was a sense over the last two seasons that the defense had underachieved; in particular, some observers felt the unit was not aggressive enough.  The Bulldogs’ D must be pro-active this season, and give the offense short fields with which to work. The defense will likely also have to bail the offense out on a regular basis.

This is going to be an important year for Kevin Higgins.  The off-season issues, not surprisingly, did not sit well with the alumni — and I’m not just talking about the big boosters or the message board regulars.  He also has had back-to-back disappointing seasons on the field.

The move to a new offense, and the overhaul of his coaching staff, were both bold moves made by someone who expects to stick around for a while.  They weren’t short-term stopgaps.  That is to his credit, I think.

Now, however, even with modest on-field expectations, he needs to get the fan base to buy into his program again.  After all, Larry Leckonby and company need to sell tickets and sponsorships.  Jerry Baker has Brigadier Club membership goals to obtain, whatever his methods are (high-tech, low-tech, begging, etc.).

A 1:00 pm start time against Chowan on Labor Day weekend in Charleston probably isn’t going to be a big winner as far as attendance goes.  I fully expect one of those hot-and-humid Lowcountry days that are fairly typical for this time of year. Ugh.  Of course, that’s assuming a hurricane doesn’t come into play.

I’ll be there anyway, though.  I’m ready for some football.

Go East, young man

The Citadel 28, Samford 16.

There are two obvious storylines from this game, from the perspective of The Citadel.  The performance of Tommy Edwards is one; the success of the Bulldog defense is the other.  First, Tommy Edwards…

Miguel Starks started the game at quarterback after an outstanding effort against Furman, and soon discovered that the Samford defense was more than ready for him.  Starks was in the game for seven offensive drives (not counting Andre Roberts’ fumbled punt), and on those seven drives The Citadel picked up only two first downs.

It was a lot like the Elon game, except that the opposition wasn’t constantly scoring following the Bulldogs’ three-and-outs.  The Citadel was lucky not to be trailing by more than ten points at halftime.  By then, Starks was out of the game, having injured his ankle — not the ankle that was already hurt, but the other one.  This has not been a good year for ankles attached to Bulldog quarterbacks.

Edwards came into the game with just 37 seconds left in the half, and I thought that The Citadel would just run out the clock.  After all, he is a “true” freshman walk-on who admitted later that his goal entering the season was just to make the travel squad.

Instead, Edwards came out throwing, completing four passes for 30 yards (and having a long pass dropped).  The Bulldogs ran out of time and had to attempt a long field goal (53 yards), which missed, but it was still the team’s most impressive drive of the half.  During that initial drive led by Edwards, The Citadel picked up two first downs, just as many as it had made in the first 29:23 of the contest (to go with just 70 yards of total offense pre-Edwards).

At first there was some suspicion that Samford might have been playing a “prevent” defense, and would have something different in store for Edwards in the second half, but the Cadets continued to improve offensively.  The Citadel started winning the field position battle (key against a grind-it-out team like Samford), and began its second possession of the third quarter on its own 45 yard line.

On first down, Edwards rolled right, then turned around and threw across the field to an open Van Dyke Jones, who slalomed his way to a touchdown.  It was an excellent play call, perfectly executed.

After that, momentum favored The Citadel.  Two possessions later, Andre Roberts returned a punt 41 yards into Samford territory and the home team was in business, eventually taking the lead early in the fourth quarter on another TD pass from Edwards, this one to Alex Sellars.

The defense took care of the rest of the game, with Cortez Allen intercepting two passes, running the second one back for a TD.  He also returned the first one for a score, but one of the officials intervened, mysteriously ruling him out of bounds on the Samford 5 yard line (oh, those wacky SoCon officials).  Terrell Dallas scored on the next play anyway.

For any freshman quarterback to arrive on campus in August, come off the bench in a midseason game and lead a team to victory would be impressive.  It’s even more impressive for a freshman at The Citadel to do it, given what “knob” year is like, and particularly when the QB is a walk-on.  Even more unusual, at least for The Citadel, is the fact that Edwards is a native of California.

Over the years, not a lot of football players from the Golden State have plied their trade at the military college, which I suppose isn’t that big of a surprise.  No one can say for certain how many Californians have played for The Citadel, but I would guess that less than twenty football players from California have lettered for the Bulldogs over the years.  As it is, the media guide only lists five, including Valley Village’s McDonald Love (captain of the 1935 team) and North Hollywood’s Brian Baima (an all-SoCon split end in 1971).

When Edwards threw his second TD pass on Saturday, he almost certainly set the career record for TD passes thrown by a Californian at The Citadel, breaking the mark previously held by wide receiver Scott Flanagan of Camarillo, who threw a touchdown pass against Florida last season (off a trick play).  If it is any consolation to Flanagan, he still holds the road record in the category…

It was a red-letter day for the defense (or perhaps I should say a navy and light blue day, given the mismatched uniform combination The Citadel wore at Johnson Hagood).  Samford is a run-first, run-second, and then pass if necessary kind of team, and the Birmingham Bulldogs were held to 35 net rushing yards (which included four sacks).  Last season bruising running back Chris Evans rushed for 174 yards against The Citadel; this season, he was held to 52.

The defense kept The Citadel in the game after some early miscues, including a bad punt and Roberts’ uncharacteristic fumble.  Holding Samford to a field goal after the Roberts bobble was critical to the eventual victory.  The Citadel recorded ten tackles for loss, including a combined six from starting defensive tackles Terrence Reese and Kyle Anderson.  Add in the two Cortez Allen interceptions, and you couldn’t ask for much more from the D.

It was easily the most complete game of the season by The Citadel’s defense, although to be honest I thought Samford had a rather unimaginative game plan.  Even a couple of trick plays seemed halfhearted.  Samford lacked dynamism (no run plays of more than 13 yards; no pass plays for more than 20) and didn’t seem to have any answers when it struggled to run the ball, especially when field position in the second half turned against it.

Samford would wind up with 46 pass attempts.  Of those 46, there was just one recorded post route (which went for Samford’s final TD), one deep in route, and one deep out (the pass Allen intercepted and returned for a touchdown).  All three of those passes came in the fourth quarter after Samford had fallen behind by two scores.

Samford actually finished the game with more first downs than The Citadel (15 to 12).  However, other than the final drive, Samford never moved the ball more than the 30 yards it gained on its opening possession.

All in all, it was a good day for The Citadel.  As to which quarterback starts against Wofford, who knows.  Jeff Hartsell informs us that the fourth-string quarterback is Irmo’s Brian Hill; maybe he’ll get a shot.  It doesn’t matter as long as the Bulldogs can beat Wofford, which hasn’t happened in a while.  It will also be Homecoming.  The countdown to Saturday begins.

Bulldogs show some bite, and just in time

The Citadel 38, Furman 28.  Out of the ashes…

The Bulldogs had managed to put together two of the worst performances by the football team in quite some time, so expectations were low heading into the battle with Furman.  With Bart Blanchard hobbled by a toe injury, all the quarterback snaps were taken by redshirt freshman Miguel Starks.  He proved more than ready for the challenge, much to the chagrin of a Paladin defense that never really figured out a way to stop him (other than forcing fumbles — more on that later).

Also up to the challenge this week were offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini and head coach Kevin Higgins, who deserve some praise after drawing criticism for the playcalling in some previous games (particularly the Western Carolina contest).  With Starks in the game, the run/pass ratio changed markedly.  Going into the Furman game, here were the relevant numbers for the season:

  • Rush attempts — 184 (677 yards)
  • Pass attempts — 181 (1020 yards)

There was balance, to be sure, but not a lot of success, as the Bulldogs were averaging just 3.68 yards per carry and only 5.64 yards per pass attempt.  Then came the Furman game:

  • Rush attempts — 49 (296 yards)
  • Pass attempts — 19 (183 yards)

The Bulldogs averaged 6.04 yards per rush against the Paladins and 9.63 yards per pass attempt.  You can win a lot of games averaging six yards per carry and nine yards for every pass thrown.

Starks was the headliner, but Van Dyke Jones appears to be the solution at running back, based on this game as well as the Appalachian State contest.  He looked very good teaming up with Starks on the various read-option plays.  He picks up tough yards, and he’s got the potential to break long runs (as the Mountaineers’ defense can attest).

The offensive line had its best game of the year, by far.  There was some discussion about fundamentals and correcting mistakes and such, but ultimately it seemed to me that the linemen much preferred the aggressive, run-oriented approach the Bulldogs had on Saturday to the usual pass-to-set-up-run attack.  It’s a cliché, but I think the guys liked the “hit ’em in the mouth” strategy.  I know a lot of older alumni appreciated it.

It wasn’t just a run-run-pass scenario, either.  Nine of Starks’ nineteen pass attempts came on first down (he threw on first down a little over 25% of the time, enough to keep the Paladins honest).  On third and long, The Citadel actually ran the ball five out of seven times.  The Bulldogs were totally committed to the run on third and short/medium, rushing on all five of those occasions.  Conversely, on four second-and-short plays The Citadel threw twice.  It was a nice mix.

Starks threw six passes in each of the first three quarters (one pass in the third quarter was wiped out by a penalty).  In the fourth, with the Bulldogs protecting a double-digit lead, he would throw only three times (a flag erasing one attempt).  The drive that put the game away featured no passes, with Starks scoring the clinching TD on a 23-yard run.

The other noticeable thing about the passing game was that Starks threw exclusively short and intermediate passes in the first half, but started to go deep in the third quarter.  On consecutive pass attempts in that quarter, he threw a slant pass for 20 yards, followed by a 28-yard TD toss on a post route (both to Scott Harward), a 38-yard post would-be TD to Andre Roberts wiped out by a holding penalty, a 35-yard pass to Roberts (sensational catch by Andre), and an incomplete post pass to Alex Sellars (which would have resulted in a 45-yard TD if the connection had been made).

Starks’ touch on his passes was generally good, and his receivers helped him on the few occasions where he was off target.  There were two legitimately outstanding catches, one by Kevin Hardy (arguably the best reception Hardy has made for the Bulldogs to date) and Roberts’ scintillating effort in the third quarter, which got the Bulldogs out of a field position hole (moving the ball from the 12 to the 47).  Only one pass all day was dropped.

Of course, it’s easier to call plays when your team leads the entire game, as was the case on Saturday for The Citadel.  After a very impressive opening drive for a TD, the Bulldogs took advantage of an unintentional onside kick (the wind becoming a temporary 12th man) to grab a 14-0 lead before Furman could run a play on offense.

This would ultimately lead to a rather unusual situation, as despite scoring 28 points in the game Furman’s offense never had the ball with less than a 10-point deficit facing it.  In other words, at no point in the game were the Paladins within one drive of tying the game or taking the lead.  Furman would get within 3 points at 24-21 early in the third quarter, but The Citadel scored a TD on its next drive, stretching the lead back to 10, and the Paladins could draw no closer.

Furman’s failures were mostly on defense, but Paladins QB Jordan Sorrells will surely want to forget the two interceptions he threw, both in the end zone, and both with Furman trailing 31-21.

The first of the two was particularly bad, as on first-and-ten at the Bulldog 26 he threw the ball late over the deep middle of the field and into the wind, while rolling out in the opposite direction, and with three defenders in the vicinity.  Calling that pass “ill-advised” doesn’t really do it justice.  I thought he played fairly well other than that, though.  It’s hard to lead a comeback when you trail the entire game by double digits.

It wasn’t all great for The Citadel, though.  The defense continued to struggle with preventing long drives.  Furman converted six out of eleven third down attempts, and was 3-for-3 on 4th down tries.  The Paladins did not punt until the third quarter.  Truthfully, the defense has not had a solid game all season, and I am including the Princeton game in that analysis, despite the Bulldogs allowing just seven points, because the Tigers moved the ball fairly well for a significant portion of that game (and also because Princeton is just not a very good team this year).

Looking back, an argument could be made that the defense’s most satisfactory performance came in the season opener against North Carolina.

Against the Paladins, the Bulldogs only had one sack, although Furman is not a team prone to giving up sacks.  What the defense did do well was create some critical turnovers; in previous games those two end-zone picks weren’t happening.

It was a good thing the defense did get those turnovers and make those stops, as Starks lost two fumbles in the second half (after fumbling twice earlier without punishment).  On that issue, I was struck by some comments made by Higgins in The Post and Courier:

On the fumbles, Higgins said, “We knew the first time he stepped on campus that was going to be a challenge. We watched him as a freshman on the scout team and said, that will be a challenge. But until you actually get under fire, it takes a while to understand that.

This sounds a little like the Tiki Barber situation with the New York Giants, when he was alternating between big runs and big fumbles (sometimes on the same play).  Maybe the Bulldog staff should get Tom Coughlin on the phone…

The Citadel is going to have to live with some fumbling, it appears.  Other teams are going to make a concerted effort to try to strip Starks of the ball, which may lead to more fumbling, but which may also lead to bigger plays by Starks as players go for the ball rather than the tackle.  Starks isn’t going to go down just by being hit; he has to be wrapped up, and if other teams don’t realize this now they will realize it soon enough.

I think that with Starks at QB, Bulldog fans are going to have more than the usual number of “no no yes yes!” and “yes yes oh no” moments, at least in the near future.

As disappointing as the Bulldogs’ lost weekends at Elon and Cullowhee were — and those were VERY disappointing results —  it’s good to see the team (and coaches) get up off the canvas and come out fighting.  To do so against Furman makes it even better.  Now it’s time to focus on Samford, which shouldn’t be too difficult, given last year’s mauling.  It’s about time to re-buckle those chinstraps.

Too bad the game is football and not horseshoes

The Citadel played well on Saturday against Appalachian State.  After getting drubbed repeatedly over the past few seasons by the Mountaineers, the Bulldogs held their own for 60 minutes, which was a nice change of pace.  Alas, the game lasted longer than 60 minutes, and overtime was not kind.

Let’s make this a ramble:

— I thought that the playcalling on offense by the Bulldog coaching staff was excellent throughout the game.  Bart Blanchard and Miguel Starks were mixed-and-matched very well, a task that had to have been made more difficult by Blanchard’s ankle problem.

The TD pass to Alex Sellars was perfectly timed and executed.  I really liked the commitment to running the ball, and it paid off (214 yards rushing).

My only criticism would be about the sequence of plays called in overtime.  I am not sure about the first and second down calls, and as for third down…

When you have the ball first in overtime, you really don’t want to be in must-attempt-FG mode if you can help it.  The Citadel had a third-and-long it needed to convert.

Given the overall situation, I think it would have been best to run the play using the starting QB who had displayed a lot of composure during the game, and who has now thrown 6 TD passes in his last two games.  His first option would have been the player who is almost certainly the best wide receiver in school history.

In other words, I think the ball needed to be in the hands of Blanchard and/or Andre Roberts on that play.  I’m not a coach, though.

— There were only seven accepted penalties by the two teams combined in the game.  However, five of them came in the fourth quarter.  It was like watching a bizarro NHL game.

— Sam Keeler can’t think about the kick he missed in OT.  He needs to think about the 50-yarder and the 45-yarder he made in the first half.  His kicking was a plus for the Bulldogs on the day overall, without question.

— Defensively the Bulldogs did a fair job of bending but not breaking in the first half.  It got tougher to keep Appalachian State out of the end zone as the game went on.  The overall strategy seemed sound; the Bulldogs were hampered by a blown coverage that led to the tying TD in the fourth quarter, and by some shoddy tackling.  Poor tackling was the proximate cause of the Mountaineers’ second touchdown.  That is something which must improve.

The Bulldogs did not create a turnover on defense.  If The Citadel could have forced just one turnover, it likely would have won the game.  The Bulldogs’ D came into the game with six interceptions and three recovered fumbles, but just two of those turnovers have come while the outcome of a game was still in doubt (both against Presbyterian, with Cortez Allen accounting for each of them).

— Van Dyke Jones’ 69-yard TD run was one of the better runs I’ve seen by a Bulldog.  Maybe it wasn’t the best ever at Johnson Hagood Stadium (Stump Mitchell’s effort against VMI in 1980 comes to mind), but it was truly special.

— Attendance was announced as 14,238.  That seemed about right to me as I surveyed the stands.  However, that’s just how many people were inside Johnson Hagood Stadium.  What was truly striking was the attendance outside the stadium.  The parking lots were packed.

There are now lots of fans who tailgate but don’t go to the game itself, and I don’t mean the groups where a couple of people remain to watch over the tailgating equipment while everyone else goes to the game.  I’m talking about gatherings where almost no one goes to the game, where everyone just remains in the parking lot the entire time.

I mentioned that the tailgating scene could be perceived as “too good” when I wrote about attendance a couple of months ago.  It seems to me, though, that the tailgating-only crowd has increased exponentially as of late, thanks to the ability to incorporate the joys of satellite television (along with flat-screen TVs) into a tailgate setup.

There was an article about “TV Tailgating” in Columbia, S.C.’s The State newspaper on Sunday about this very subject.  That story focused on people watching South Carolina play on TV while stationed in one of the parking lots outside Williams-Brice Stadium.

Of course, at The Citadel the game inside the stadium is rarely on television.  Folks tailgating during the game watch other contests on TV while listening to Darren Goldwater call the Bulldogs’ games on the radio.  At least, I hope they’re listening to the Bulldogs on the radio…

Twenty years ago, if the parking lots had been as full as they were on Saturday, I believe there would have been at least 17,000 people watching the game inside JHS, perhaps more.  However, twenty years ago there weren’t portable satellite dishes, and when people talked about “plasma” they were referring to blood and not TVs.

I don’t know what The Citadel’s administration can do about that.  I don’t know if it wants or needs to do anything about it, either.

— It was Military Appreciation Day, and thus the fans who did venture inside Johnson Hagood were treated to a good show, including a flyover by a World War II-era B25 bomber, a parachutist bringing the game ball (landed on the 45 yard line — nice job!), and the Parris Island Marine Band performing at halftime.

There was a pull-up bar station in the concessions area under the stadium, so that future Marines could showcase their upper body strength in what could have been construed as an attempt to impress women, but was undoubtably meant just for recruiting purposes.

— Also underneath the stadium was a table for The Citadel’s club hockey team, which was doing a little fundraising by raffling off a motorcycle.  A cadet wearing a complete goalie outfit was part of the show.  I couldn’t decide if his uniform was terribly awesome, or awesomely terrible.  Click on the link to judge for yourself.

— Fourth game played, fourth game wearing navy pants, fourth game with a terrible-looking uniform.  Maybe The Citadel should wear orange jerseys and yellow helmets with them.

— The sound system is still a bit too loud, in my opinion.  A few other stadium music/sound observations…

1)  In the third quarter, someone thought it would be a good idea to play the “Everybody Clap Your Hands” snippet while The Citadel was punting.  I guess the fans were supposed to get excited about the home team not converting on third down.  “One hop this time; right foot let’s punt.”
2)  “Cotton Eye Joe”?  Really?  Probably made the App State fans feel right at home.  It’s also a staple at Yankee Stadium.  Why not bring in Ronan Tynan while you’re at it?
3)  I liked the NFL Films-style music, but it sounded a bit tinny over the speakers.  Maybe a better recording is needed.
4)  The referee’s microphone cutting in and out surely did wonders for sales of Advil and Tylenol.

— I spotted Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier hustling down to the field at the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter.  As he got about halfway down the stadium steps, Appalachian State scored the tying touchdown.  Hartsell hesitated briefly, then started to head back to the press box (as if he had forgotten something), and then turned back and went to the sideline area.  Perhaps he was saying to himself, “I really need to update Bulldog Bites!”

— App State fans in the East side stands tried to start an “ASU” chant in the third quarter, only to be drowned out by a lusty rendition of “Hey Baby” by the corps of cadets.  The Mountaineer supporters seemed confused by the choice of song (hard to blame them) and quieted down almost immediately.  I still could survive without it, but for that moment, “Hey Baby” worked.  Well played, cadets.

All in all, it was a good game, but it was still a loss.  Next for the Bulldogs is a trip to Elon.  Getting a win there will not be easy, but if The Citadel plans to contend in the conference, it will be necessary.

Victoria procul Procer

Sing once again with me
Our strange duet
My power over you
Grows stronger yet

Final:  The Citadel 38, Princeton 7, in the second (and presumably final) act of a “strange” series.  Your humble chronicler was in attendance for this one, and was fortunate not to get sunburned on a surprisingly sunny and warm day in New Jersey.

Was the margin of victory a fair reflection of the difference between the two teams?  Princeton head coach Roger Hughes didn’t think so, and I can’t say that I blame him.  I will say that after the first quarter, I was fairly confident that The Citadel would win the game, even though the Bulldogs trailed 7-3 after the opening stanza.  The Citadel was clearly the stronger, more athletic squad, and only a lot of turnovers and/or bad luck would prevent a Bulldog victory.  It was only a question of how long Princeton could hang around.

To the Tigers’ credit, they hung around for three quarters, and yes, 38-7 is rather harsh on the Ivy League team.  Two long PU drives bogged down inside the 20 during the third quarter, and Princeton botched both of its succeeding field goal attempts.  The first hit the right upright squarely and bounced backwards, while the second, which was both low and slow (in a manner of speaking), was blocked by The Citadel’s Kyle Anderson.

Some quick takeaways from the game:

  • Princeton quarterbacks, in 46 pass attempts, were not sacked.  That’s not good, and has to change if The Citadel expects to compete in the Southern Conference.  I know that the Bulldogs concentrated on stopping Princeton’s running game, but you still have to knock the quarterback down once in a while, especially when the opponent throws the ball 46 times out of 74 plays.
  • The Bulldogs now have more interceptions this year (4) than they did all last season (3).  That’s a marked improvement, obviously.  I would have liked to have seen some turnovers forced earlier in the game, though, when the outcome was still in doubt.
  • Bart Blanchard had a solid game.  The dropped passes (at least 5) about drove me crazy, and I was just a spectator, but he shook them off and wasn’t afraid to continue throwing passes to unproven receivers.  I really liked the way he moved up in the pocket when he threw the TD pass to Alex Sellars, too.
  • Blanchard and Andre Roberts are still struggling with ankle injuries, and it shows.
  • The 34-yard pass to Roberts from Blanchard was an excellent play call, and also a key moment in the game.
  • I thought Terrell Dallas and Van Dyke Jones both ran very hard, which was particularly noteworthy considering each was coming off an injury.  They didn’t seem tentative.  I was concerned that a long layoff from game action (especially for Dallas) might result in some fumbling issues, but that didn’t happen.
  • Jonathan Glaspie…I was so hoping he was going to score.  Two more yards.  Oof.  On the bright side, with an 86-yard return, he can tell fellow Spring Valley product Andre Roberts that between the two of them, Glaspie has the longest career return/reception (Roberts’ career long play is a 78-yard catch).
  • I don’t like the navy pants.  I didn’t like them when The Citadel played UNC, either.

Some quick takeaways from the action off the field:

  • The Princeton band played it fairly close to the vest (by its own standards) and everyone was happy, I guess.  I am not sure if the band members realized playing “Dixie” was actually semi-controversial.  The halftime lampoon job was rather tame and not particularly funny, but I gather that most aspiring Ivy League comedy writers go to Harvard or Dartmouth.
  • Speaking of the Crimson, the biggest reaction by the Princeton crowd when scores of other games were announced was for Harvard losing.  Plenty of cheering for that result, which I found amusing.  I suspect Yale losing would have resulted in a similarly gleeful outburst.
  • I mentioned this before, but Princeton season tickets are only $25, with single-game tickets $7.  I arrived at the stadium to find that game programs were free.  The concessions were reasonably priced, with quality “souvenir” cups.  Most of the fans in attendance also got free magnetic schedules.  Go Princeton!

In my game preview I noted that it is unlikely that The Citadel will be playing a similar two-game home-and-home with an Ivy (or Patriot) League school in the near future, for a variety of reasons.  One thing that needs to happen, though, is that every few years the school needs to play a game in the northeast.  The contingent of alums and other supporters that came to cheer on The Citadel at Princeton was truly impressive.  Those folks deserve to see more games, and I hope that administrators at The Citadel keep that in mind.

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

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

(I explained to her that The Citadel is a military school.  She was a touch dubious.  I guess my bearing isn’t martial enough.  Perhaps I should sneer more.)

I took some pictures of the campus, including a few buildings and other athletic facilities, and some inside the stadium itself.  I am not a particularly good photographer, and my camera isn’t the best, which is why there are very few “game action” shots.  My attempts at capturing action on the field tended to result in images that only Jackson Pollack would appreciate.  The pictures that aren’t completely embarrassing can be seen at the end of this post.

Finally, the top three outstanding performers that I saw this weekend:

3)  Jonathan Glaspie

2)  Bart Blanchard

1)  Jennifer Hope Wills.  Yowza.