Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Elon

Time/location:  2:00 pm ET, Johnson Hagood Stadium

Television:  None (maybe a good thing)

It’s Homecoming at The Citadel.  What can alums expect from the Bulldogs’ offense against Elon?

Well, let’s look at the trends in Southern Conference play.  The first game was against Furman.  The latest was against Wofford.  So, in order:

Furman — 359 total yards, 14 points

Western Carolina — 304 total yards, 13 points

Chattanooga — 263 total yards, 10 points

Appalachian State — 197 total yards, 10 points

Georgia Southern — 160 yards, 0 points

Wofford — 143 total yards, 0 points

Now, that’s what I call a trend…

The yards per play is very close to the same orderly negative statistical trend, but there was a minor uptick against GSU (masked by nine turnovers).  For the record, The Citadel’s yards per play in the SoCon, in order of games played:  4.6, 4.1, 4.0, 3.3, 3.4, 2.3

So, if things continue as they have in the league, The Citadel’s Homecoming will feature an offense that will accumulate less than 140 yards of total offense, average about 2 yards per play, and won’t score.

I don’t think it will be that bad, but it’s hard to find much to be encouraged about, at least offensively (the defense has played fairly well over the last month, certainly well enough for the Bulldogs to have won SoCon games if the offense had been competent).

Turnovers have been the headline problem, of course, but another issue is that the Bulldogs aren’t making big plays in the offense.  One reason The Citadel has scored only five touchdowns in six conference games is a lack of long-distance runs or passes.  The Bulldogs only have had eight plays of 20+ yards in those six contests; only two of those plays were longer than 30 yards — and one of those two plays was a 33-yard run by punter Cass Couey, obviously not a product of the option offense.

The Bulldogs have had nine drives of greater than 50 yards in league play.  Four of those nine came against Furman in the conference opener.  None came in the last two games.

Incidentally, of those nine 50+ yard drives, Matt Thompson was the quarterback for five of them, Sam Martin the QB for the other four.

I would like to think the Bulldogs will give a spirited performance for the Homecoming crowd.  That didn’t happen last season, when The Citadel lost 43-17 to Wofford in a very poor showing that greatly disappointed the alumni.

The year before, the Bulldogs narrowly averted a horrific loss at Homecoming to a terrible Chattanooga team.  The Mocs were in the process of mailing in their season under a lame-duck coach, but The Citadel needed last-minute heroics from Andre Roberts to escape with a 24-21 victory.

This year’s Homecoming game has been designated as a “Red Out”.  There are two reasons for this, in my opinion.

The official reason is to commemorate the return of “Big Red”.  The other (and this is just my opinion) is to take advantage of the largest crowd of the season and sell a bunch of “Big Red” merchandise.

That crowd size has to be the only reason the administration would have considered having a “Red Out” for a game in which the opponent is Elon, whose primary school color is…red.  At least, I hope that’s the only reason.  It still strikes me as not being a wise decision, and I know I’m not the only one.

The effort to promote Big Red apparently will also include red jerseys for the football team, if the rumors are true (and I’m sure they are).  There will also be a special Homecoming helmet design (see post #40 on this thread from TCISN), which is basically a remake of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ helmets.  Not bad, but not innovative or particularly interesting.

If The Citadel does indeed don red jerseys against Elon, that will mean the Bulldogs would not have worn the traditional home color combo of light blue jerseys/white pants for any home game this season.  I guess at this point our traditional colors are now alternate colors, and the alternate uniforms are the “main” uniforms.

Below I’ve listed the color combos for all nine games to date in 2010:

Chowan (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Arizona (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Presbyterian (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Furman (road):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Western Carolina (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Appalachian State (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Chattanooga (home):  dark blue jerseys, white pants

Georgia Southern (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Wofford (road):  white jerseys, dark blue pants

One thing I’m unfortunately fairly confident about:  if The Citadel does wear red jerseys on Saturday, the jerseys will have “CITADEL” on the front, and not “THE CITADEL”. That, of course, is true for all the other jerseys the Bulldogs have worn this year, regardless of color.  I assume it’s a cost-saving issue, as having the “THE” on the jersey would undoubtedly cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is one of my more cynical and less positive posts, and so the fact it’s also one of my shorter game previews is probably just as well.  That said, I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised on Saturday.  For one thing, it’s time for a little payback as far as Elon is concerned.  The Phoenix’s last visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium (in 2008) was a victory for the visitors, one basically handed to Elon by inept Southern Conference officiating.

Quarterback Scott Riddle may not start for Elon due to injury.  You may remember the last time Riddle started something against The Citadel; he ran away before finishing it, though.

Riddle can talk to Fred Jordan about shoulder injuries…

I’m not expecting a brawl on Saturday.  I do want to see some fight in the Bulldogs, though.

Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Presbyterian

Gametime:  7 pm ET, at Johnson Hagood Stadium

TV:  Uh, that would be a no.

The final non-conference game of the season for The Citadel is a matchup with in-state foe Presbyterian, a traditional opponent from days gone by, but now back on the schedule for a second consecutive year after an absence of almost two decades.  I wrote about the series history in my preview for last year’s contest, for anyone interested.

With the Bulldogs’ 46-21 victory in 2009, The Citadel now holds a commanding 49-11-1 lead in the series, including a 27-3 mark at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which has been the site for every game between The Citadel and PC since 1950 save one (a 1963 contest played in Savannah; I’m not sure why).  The Blue Hose last defeated the Bulldogs in 1979; since then, The Citadel has won eleven straight games in the series.

Tangent:  Last year’s preview includes links to some photos taken by Life magazine in 1955; a reporter for the weekly was on campus to write a story about Mark Clark’s new job as president of the school.  He was joined by a staff photographer, who took a lot of photos of cadet life, including a series of shots of the Homecoming football game against PC (none of which were used in the article).

I don’t have a copy of the issue (it’s from November 28 of that year), but from what I can tell, the actual feature on Clark is only about two pages in length.  I’m amazed at how many photographs were taken for such a short piece.  I’m glad they were taken, though; as a whole, they’re fascinating.   If you want to surf Google’s archive for the 1955 Clark/The Citadel Life photos (albeit while wading through some pictures not related to the military college), go here.

The road to FCS status has not been an easy one for the Blue Hose.  As recently as 2005, Presbyterian won the (Division II) South Atlantic Conference with a 10-2 overall record, the first conference title for PC since winning the SAC in 1979 (coincidentally, the last time the Blue Hose beat the Bulldogs).  However, as Presbyterian has made the transition from D-2 to FCS, the win-loss record has naturally declined, leading to last season’s 0-11 record.

Those eleven losses included only one game in which PC lost by less than seven points, a 41-37 setback against Coastal Carolina in Conway, which is also the team/locale of the Blue Hose’s last road victory (in October of 2007).  Presbyterian has lost 16 straight games overall, and has also lost 16 consecutive road games.  PC opened the 2010 campaign with two “automatic” losses, to Wake Forest and Clemson, by a combined score of 111-34.

Having noted all that recent gridiron misery for the Blue Hose, it would not be a shock if Presbyterian defeats The Citadel on Saturday.  Disappointing, yes, and perhaps a bit surprising, but not a shock.

Presbyterian hung around in last season’s game against the Bulldogs for the better part of three quarters, and now The Citadel will have to compete while continuing to work the kinks out of a brand-new offense that struggled at times against Chowan, to say nothing of Arizona.  It’s exactly the kind of situation that would give a team like Presbyterian hope.

After all, PC moved the ball on The Citadel’s defense last year, including 204 yards rushing.  Trandon Dendy was responsible for 147 of those rushing yards, and he’s back this year.  Joining him on the Blue Hose offense is Michael Ruff, who caught two touchdown passes last week against Clemson, and who also caught a TD pass on this much-seen trick play against Wake Forest.

PC won’t be afraid to throw some more “trickeration” The Citadel’s way, so the Bulldog defense needs to be prepared.  I do wonder if the Blue Hose might have been better off saving some of their best stuff for a more competitive game.  The fake against Wake was a great play, but even with it PC still lost by 40.  On the other hand, you’re probably not going to make SportsCenter if you run the play in an untelevised game.

Last year I wrote that against Presbyterian, the defensive line was occasionally  “pushed around by an offensive line that included a 258-lb. left tackle and a 240-lb. center.”  That won’t happen this year…because PC’s offensive line is much heavier. The starting center for the Blue Hose weighs 260 lbs., and the left side of the o-line averages 297 lbs.  So far, this year’s edition of The Citadel’s defensive front has shown a lot of potential.  It better show more than potential this Saturday.

The challenge for the Bulldog offense is to have the same type of production against PC it had last season, but without Andre Roberts.  The Blue Hose had no answer for Roberts, who caught 12 passes for 184 yards and 4 TDs against Presbyterian.  Andre won’t be in Charleston on Saturday; he’ll be in Atlanta, preparing to (hopefully) make his NFL debut with the Arizona Cardinals the next day.

Which player will (or should) be running Saturday’s offensive attack has been a subject of interest.  Kevin Higgins has announced that Matt Thompson will again get the call as the starter at QB, which I think is fine.  Thompson did struggle against Arizona, but that was Arizona — he’s not the only guy who struggled.  Sam Martin did do a fine job running the triple option when he entered the game in the third quarter, and should see his share of time too.

Really, at this point it doesn’t matter much who starts.  Both should play, both will probably get plenty of work, and in this transition season, anointing a permanent starting quarterback strikes me as probably a waste of time and possibly counter-productive.  I was a little surprised that Game 1 starter Ben Dupree was so quickly moved to slotback, but I gather that the coaching staff wants him on the field, regardless of position.  I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if Dupree is still in the mix at QB, even with the switch.

Things on offense that must continue to improve include the perimeter blocking, the center-QB exchange (something that affected both Thompson and Martin, despite Martin not actually losing a fumble), the pitch plays (both QBs threw some scary pitches, especially Thompson, with one of his resulting in a lost fumble), and the pass catching.  In this offense, you really can’t afford to drop passes, because there aren’t many reception opportunities as it is, and they tend to be big plays when successfully completed.

I would like to see more “playmaking” from the back seven, particularly the linebackers.  Other things that need to improve on defense include the tackling, which was better against Arizona but still not optimal (the Wildcats’ first TD came after Juron Criner gained an additional 20 yards following a missed tackle), and assignment pickups (with the DBs missing some reads against Chowan).

A few other random observations not related to the actual play on the field:

– I noticed during the Arizona game that the coach who sends in the offensive signals on the sideline wears a red shirt, presumably to make him easier for the QBs to see. He was wearing a plain Nike shirt; given that The Citadel is trying to push “Big Red” apparel, maybe the coach could wear a Big Red polo shirt instead.  Just a thought.

– Speaking of Big Red, The Citadel is going to have a “red out” at Homecoming.  Now, Arizona is having a “red out” against Iowa this Saturday, which should go well, since red is one of Arizona’s colors and Iowa wears black and gold.  I’m not necessarily criticizing The Citadel’s administration for the basic idea behind the “red out”, given the aforementioned push for Big Red, but as it happens the Bulldogs’ opponent for Homecoming is Elon.  The primary school color for the Phoenix is…red.

I don’t believe enough thought was put into that decision.

– Against Chowan, The Citadel introduced a new cartoon mascot, apparently to replace the shako-wearing Spike.  Here is a photo of the “new” Spike (if he is actually being called Spike; I’m not sure about that):  Link

There have already been complaints about the “look” of the new mascot, which has floppier ears than the old one, and of course does not wear the shako.  I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the shako may have been a bit problematic when it came to wear and tear.

I don’t think the new mascot really looks like a rabbit, as was suggested in that thread I linked above, but I do think that if that’s going to be the new cartoon image, then The Citadel probably needs to adjust its mascot “mark” accordingly.  It should be consistent.  Of course, consistency has never been a hallmark of The Citadel’s logos/marks/branding history; it’s almost as bad as the school’s lack of stability in its football uniform history.

Ultimately, of course, my opinion about the new mascot doesn’t matter, and the same is true for any other alumnus.  That’s because the cartoon mascot isn’t intended to entertain the alums; it’s there for their kids.  If your typical five-year-old likes the mascot, then it’s good enough for The Citadel.  Adults are supposed to be entertained by good cut-block technique and superior tailgating.

Presbyterian will certainly be up for this game, as it represents a very real chance to break its long losing skid.  If the Bulldogs were to lose to PC, it would be the beginning of a very long season.  However, I am hopeful that the offense can generate enough points to avoid the upset, and I suspect the defense will be more than ready to assert itself.

I’ll be very curious about the attendance, what with Clemson (on TV) and South Carolina (at home) playing at the same time as The Citadel.  The weather should be more conducive to watching football than it was for Chowan, at least (please, no more 1 pm starts in early September).

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.

Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

It has been a disappointing season for The Citadel, but it is likely that it has been an even more disappointing campaign for Georgia Southern.  The Eagles, like the Bulldogs, are 4-6, and losing seasons are definitely not the norm in Statesboro.

It will be only the third losing season for the Eagles since Erk Russell restarted the football program in 1982.  In 1996 Frank Ellwood went 4-7 in his only season in charge; Ellwood was a transitional coach following the firing of Tim Stowers.  In 2006, Brian VanGorder blew into town and left after one year, leaving with a 3-8 record.  He was replaced by the current coach, Chris Hatcher.

Hatcher had been very successful at Division II Valdosta State (winning a national title in 2004) but has not managed to lift GSU to its accustomed heights, with season records of 7-4, 6-5, and this year’s 4-6 to date.  When Ellwood completed his one season as head man in Statesboro, he was replaced by Paul Johnson, who proceeded to win 37 games and a national title over his first three years in command.  (Johnson won another I-AA crown in his fourth season, as well.)

Hatcher’s 17 wins pale in comparison, even when given the benefit of the doubt for having to pick up the pieces left by the hurricane that was VanGorder.  Stowers won 26 games in his first three seasons as the head coach; Mike Sewak won 27 in his first three years.  Even Erk Russell, starting from scratch in 1982, won 21 games over his first three seasons.  Small wonder there is some question about Hatcher’s job security.

After all, this is a school that has considered a move to FBS.  Struggling in the SoCon is not a good recipe for making a move up the football ladder.

The Eagles are 3-4 in the SoCon, having lost last week at home to Furman 30-22.  The Paladins jumped out to a 24-0 lead in that game and held on for the victory.  It was the third straight loss for GSU; the other two losses were a 52-16 beatdown at Appalachian State and a 31-10 loss at Samford.

GSU fans aren’t used to losing games by 30+ points, but it’s happened three times this season:  once to North Carolina (no shame in that), the aforementioned game against ASU and a 44-6 wipeout at South Dakota State earlier this season.  The Jackrabbits are ranked #21 in the FCS, but that is no consolation to Eagle fans.

Like The Citadel, Georgia Southern has allowed 28 points or more in 6 games this year.  In league play, the Eagles have struggled on pass defense, allowed 7.9 yards per pass attempt, worst in the conference, and 12 touchdowns, tied for worst with…The Citadel.

GSU’s rush defense is statistically better, although part of that is due to teams rushing fewer times against the Eagles than any other squad in the league.  The Eagles have done a good job forcing turnovers, which is why GSU is +2 in turnover margin (because the GSU offense has given the ball away quite a bit itself).

Georgia Southern likes to blitz, which can lead to big plays both ways.  Samford, nobody’s idea of a big-play team, had touchdown passes of 69 and 57 yards in its victory over the Eagles.   The Citadel will have opportunities to get its receivers in one-on-one situations.

The receiver the Bulldogs would most like to see in a one-on-one matchup, of course, is Andre Roberts.  It’s his last game for the Bulldogs; maybe he’ll have a chance to cap a memorable career in grand style.

On offense the Eagles are near the bottom in most categories in conference play, ranking seventh (out of nine teams) in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, pass efficiency, and third-down conversions.  Georgia Southern has, however, been efficient in the red zone.  The Eagles are also first in the league in time of possession.

The biggest problem GSU has had, statistically, is allowing sacks — 30 in league play, the most allowed by a conference team.  The Citadel needs to continue the trend of opponents putting GSU quarterbacks on the ground if the Bulldogs plan on winning this game.

Georgia Southern has committed more penalties than all but one team in league play.  However, The Citadel has had fewer penalties called against its opponents than any other school in the conference.  Something’s gotta give…

Lee Chapple started the first nine games at quarterback for the Eagles, but last week was replaced as the starter by Kyle Collins.  Chapple will probably start against The Citadel.  He has thrown 7 touchdowns this season, but has been intercepted 14 times.  GSU running back Adam Urbano is only averaging 63.3 yards per game on the ground in league play, but he’s a definite receiving threat, having caught 45 passes this season, which leads the Eagles.

This game will not be Homecoming at Paulson Stadium — that was last week, against Furman.  However, there will probably still be a good crowd urging GSU (including 16 Eagle seniors) on to victory.  The Citadel has historically not fared well in Statesboro, with only one victory (in 2003) in ten trips to Paulson.

However, perhaps Saturday will be different.  After all, it will be November 21, and strange and wondrous things have been known to happen on that date, most notably on November 21, 1978.

That day, The Citadel trailed Furman 18-0, but scored 35 unanswered points to defeat the Paladins 35-18.  The coach of the Bulldogs that day was Art Baker, and it was the first (and only) time Baker ever won a game in The Citadel-Furman series.  He had been 0-8 until then, losing games as head coach of both Furman and The Citadel.

He would also lose the next season, in his final game as a head coach in the series, but on November 21 he was golden.  Maybe that’s a good sign for the Bulldogs on Saturday against GSU.

Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. UT-Chattanooga

Note:  it can be difficult to figure out what to call the athletic teams of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  Recently the school began using a ‘C’ mark, for “Chattanooga”.  The university’s teams have variously been referred to over the years as “UT-Chattanooga”, “Tennessee-Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Chattanooga”.

The nickname/mascot history is even more tangled.  A “moccasin” used to be a snake, then a shoe, then a cartoon Cherokee Indian called ‘Chief Moccanooga’, and now a mockingbird train conductor (and “moccasin” has morphed into “moc”, for mockingbird).

There is an explanatory page on the school’s website.  The page includes a quotation from Jimmy Fallon.  As you may have guessed, the quote is not very funny.

In the post that follows, I will call the school either “UT-Chattanooga”, or “UTC”, because that’s what I’ve always called it, and I see no particular reason to change.

Around this time last year The Citadel played UT-Chattanooga in Charleston.  It was Homecoming for the Bulldogs, and everyone expected a big win, since the Mocs were 1-9 (and would eventually finish 1-11).  At that time I wrote about how UTC had collapsed as a program after consistently challenging for league honors in its first 10-15 years in the Southern Conference.

Well, The Citadel did win that day, but barely, letting a team playing out the string with a lame-duck coach hang around and nearly steal the victory.  The Bulldogs survived thanks to Andre Roberts’ last-minute punt return TD, but despite winning the game, it was almost as poor a showing as The Citadel had for this year’s Homecoming.

UT-Chattanooga replaced Rodney Allison with Russ Huesman, who basically has the ideal background for a UTC head coach.  Huesman played high school football at famed Moeller High School in Cincinnati for Gerry Faust, who was destined to become a much-maligned coach for Notre Dame (albeit one who never lost to Navy).  Huesman then played college football for the Mocs, with his first two years under Joe Morrison and his last two under Bill “Brother” Oliver.

Huesman was a longtime assistant at William & Mary, where he coached the secondary (Huesman was a DB himself at UTC) and was later the defensive coordinator.  Players he coached while with the Tribe include longtime NFL interception magnet Darren Sharper, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.  That’s not a bad list of guys to have as references.

He then moved to Memphis for several seasons, including a stretch as recruiting coordinator for the Tigers, before spending five seasons as the defensive coordinator for Richmond, the defending FCS champions.

That’s a nice resume for any prospective head coach at the FCS level; being an alum is an even bigger bonus.  Huesman seems to have given the program some much-needed enthusiasm.  Home attendance has increased significantly, with three of the ten biggest crowds in Finley Stadium history so far this season.  There was even a bonfire on Wednesday night.

Another thing Huesman did was bring in a transfer from Tennessee to play quarterback.  B.J. Coleman has had a solid season for the Mocs, nothing flashy stats-wise but generally getting the job done.

Coleman has thrown fourteen touchdowns against six interceptions, although he did throw three picks last week against Appalachian State.  Five of his six interceptions for the season, in fact, have come in the last three games.  Coleman is a sophomore who will have two more years of eligibility after this season.

The Vols transfer has spread the ball around, although his favorite target is definitely Blue Cooper, who has 68 receptions and could conceivably make the All-SoCon squad ahead of Andre Roberts (Elon’s Terrell Hudgins is a lock for the other first-team spot at wide receiver).

UTC suffered a blow when running back Bryan Fitzgerald was injured and lost for the season.  Freshman Chris Awuah is the leading rusher for the Mocs, but he is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.  UTC is last in the league in rushing offense.

UTC has respectable, if not eye-popping, defensive statistics across the board, generally ranking in the upper half of the SoCon in most categories for conference-only games.  The Mocs have struggled, however, in defending 3rd-down conversions; the Mocs D is 7th in the league (The Citadel is 8th in the league, ahead of only Furman).  Another sore spot for the defense is red zone conversion rate; UTC is last in the SoCon, and has allowed 17 touchdowns in 25 opponents’ possessions inside the 20.

The Mocs are tied for the lead in interceptions in conference play with eight; free safety Jordan Tippet has five of his own.

One defensive stat that is very impressive for UTC:  sacks.  The Mocs have 24 sacks on the season; their 16 sacks in league play in second-best in the conference.  The primary sack-master is right defensive end Josh Beard, who has 10.5 of them so far this year.  His partner in crime on the other side of the line, freshman DE Joshua Williams, has 6.

Despite the mediocre 3rd-down defense numbers and lack of a rushing game, UTC leads the league in time of possession.  The Mocs don’t hurt themselves with penalties (second in the SoCon).  UTC is next-to-last in net punting, but features an outstanding placekicker in Craig Camay, who is 13-16 converting field goals this year, with a long of 52.  Camay is also a weapon for onside kicks; the Mocs have recovered four of five onside kick attempts in league action.

A few other odds and ends:

— I was surprised to find out that The Citadel is UT-Chattanooga’s most common opponent.  Saturday’s game will be the 43rd meeting between the two schools.  The school in second place on the Mocs most-played list?  Tennessee, which has faced UTC on 41 occasions.  The Vols are 37-2-2 in those games.

— UTC is 5-4, but if it has dreams of a winning season, it probably needs to beat The Citadel.  Next week, the Mocs play Alabama.  Yikes.

Tangent:  what is with the SEC and these late-season matchups against FCS schools?  Last week, there were four such games:  Tennessee Tech-Georgia, Furman-Auburn, Northern Arizona-Mississippi, and Eastern Kentucky-Kentucky.

Last year, of course, The Citadel closed out its season by playing Florida.  Why aren’t these games being played in the first couple of weeks of the season? I hope all of them were Homecoming games.

— UTC’s game notes reference The Citadel’s football stadium (on the same page) as “Haggod Stadium” , “Johnson Hagood Stadium”, and “Sansom Field”.

— The Citadel has never won four straight games against UT-Chattanooga.  The Bulldogs currently enjoy a three-game winning streak versus the Mocs.

It’s hard to say what The Citadel’s chances on Saturday are, since it’s hard to determine which Bulldog team will show up — the one that played Appalachian State and Furman, or the one that played Elon, Western Carolina, and Wofford?

It will be interesting to see who starts at quarterback.  If I had to guess (and it’s only a guess), I would say that Miguel Starks, even if just “85%”, will get the nod.  Just the thought of a gimpy Bart Blanchard sitting in the pocket as the two sack-happy UTC defensive ends converge on him is cringe-inducing…

I certainly hope that the Bulldogs are more competitive than they were last week.  This is a big game for UTC, which has a chance for a winning season.  Given that the Mocs won a total of six games in the previous three years, that would be a major accomplishment.  UT-Chattanooga will be ready to play on Saturday.  The Bulldogs better be ready as well.

Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Wofford

I wrote about the series between Wofford and The Citadel during the preview for last season’s matchup between the two schools.  I’m not going to re-hash the history in this post; if anyone is interested, the link will serve to give some background.

This will be the third consecutive meeting between the Terriers and Bulldogs to be featured on SportSouth, which may be the first time The Citadel has played on TV against the same opponent three years in a row.  Tom Werme and Sam Wyche will again call the action from the booth.

When sporting events began to be regularly broadcast (first over radio, then television), some of the individuals running sports clubs feared that broadcasting games would lead to attendance declines, because people could just stay at home and listen to the radio, or watch on TV.  This notion was largely debunked by Hall of Fame baseball executive Larry MacPhail (in the 1930s and early 1940s).

Tangent:  this type of thinking had gone on for decades, beginning with clubs trying to deny telegraph operators the right to give scoring updates for baseball games.  In 1876, the first year of the National League’s existence, Hartford owner Morgan Bulkeley (one of the three most undeserving members of the Hall of Fame) attempted to bar representatives of the local telegraph company from buying tickets.

However, the question has to be asked:  if a game is on TV, why would someone choose to see it in person, rather than watch it on the tube?  Going to a game can be very inconvenient and expensive.  Instead, you could choose to not leave your house and watch the game (preferably in HD) while lying on your couch, with all the comforts of home, including a refrigerator, bathroom, and an HVAC system.

A lot of people go to the games anyway, as evidenced by the large crowds that see many different kinds of sporting events.  Even when it is noted that there are empty seats at an arena or stadium (like Doak Campbell Stadium for the North Carolina State-Florida State game last Saturday, the bottom line is that there were still a lot of people who went to the game (in that case, over 50,000).

Why do they go?  Well, tradition, I suppose, along with camaraderie — tailgating, seeing old friends in the same seats every year, that type of thing.  They go for the atmosphere.  Sometimes, that atmosphere isn’t so great.  However, occasionally there is a day to remember, a day when the electricity in the stadium isn’t just being provided by the power company.

It’s the kind of thing that gets people off their couches and in their cars and headed to the game, just for the chance to be a part of a high-voltage event, to be swept along in a moment of nirvana.  Maybe it won’t happen too often, but when it does, it makes up for all the times it didn’t.

Such an occurrence happened at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 1988.  Since this Saturday is Homecoming, I’m going to write briefly about the most memorable Homecoming game in the history of the stadium, which had the most electric atmosphere of any game I’ve ever seen at JHS.

***November 5, 1988 — Marshall (#1) vs. The Citadel (#19)***

It was a bright, sunny day when the Thundering Herd and the Bulldogs met on the gridiron.  Marshall had played in the I-AA title game the year before, losing 43-42 to Northeast Louisiana.  After that setback, the Thundering Herd hit the ground running in 1988.  By the time Marshall ventured to Charleston, it was 8-0 and ranked #1 in I-AA football.

The Thundering Herd featured a high-octane offense averaging 32.6 points per game.  Starting quarterback John Gregory threw for 3,127 yards and 21 touchdowns in 1988.  Many of Gregory’s throws went to Mike Barber, Marshall’s All-American wide receiver, who would be named I-AA player of the year in 1988 by the American Football Coaches Association.  Barber had caught 106 passes in 1987 and followed that up with “only” 79 catches in 1988.

When Gregory wasn’t throwing passes to Barber, he was tossing them to Sean Doctor, the Herd tight end, who in just two years in Huntington would accumulate 2,100 receiving yards.  Marshall could run the ball, too, as halfback Ron Darby gained 1,282 yards in 1988 and scored 16 touchdowns.

That was the juggernaut facing The Citadel, although the Bulldogs did not lack for confidence.  The Citadel came into the game 6-2, having won five straight games, including a 42-35 victory over Navy.  That triumph had been led by quarterback Gene Brown.  However, Brown was injured two weeks later against UT-Chattanooga.

Tommy Burriss had ably filled in at quarterback (no surprise, as he was the former starter) to lead the Bulldogs to victories over Boston University (yes, BU still played football back then) and East Tennessee State.  Brown’s return to the field was highly anticipated, though, as he was a truly gifted director of Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack.

A crowd of 20,011 showed up to see the matchup, the second time that season more than 20,000 people had attended a football game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

After a scoreless first quarter, The Citadel would strike first, with Adrian Johnson scoring on a one-yard touchdown run.  Marshall would respond with a short field goal, but the score was only 6-3 at halftime (the Bulldogs having missed the PAT).

However, The Citadel’s offense began to control the game, dominating the time of possession.  Brown entered the game in the second quarter and the rushing yardage started to pile up.  Johnson rushed for 106 yards and Raymond Mazyck added 79 (on just 10 carries).  The Bulldogs as a team rushed for 359 yards, and perhaps more importantly ran 83 plays and kept Marshall’s high-powered offense off the field.

Even when Marshall had the ball, the Herd struggled.  In one sequence, the Herd would run eight consecutive plays inside the Bulldog 5-yard line without scoring a TD.  For the game, Marshall only managed 247 yards of total offense.

The crowd went into a frenzy when Phillip Florence took an end-around 33 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, and when Johnson scored his second touchdown of the day in the fourth period, it was all over.  20-3, The Citadel.

Well, almost over.  As the game ended, the field was invaded by the corps of cadets, a number of whom headed straight for the goalpost in the south endzone.  The uprights were then torn down…okay, maybe not quite torn down.  The cadets were unable to rip the uprights away from the crossbar, and the crossbar remained attached to the stanchion.  It was the Cardinal Richelieu of goalposts.

It didn’t matter, though, as it was the thought that counted.  The administration didn’t seem to mind having to shell out some cash for a new goalpost, either, which may be the best indication of how amazing the atmosphere at the game really was.

Tangent:  the next week, Marshall’s Darby rushed for 262 yards against Western Carolina, which would have been a Southern Conference record — but on the same day, Brown rushed for 286 yards against VMI (on only 13 carries!) to shatter the mark.  Talk about bad timing for Darby.

Now that was a game worth attending.  What about Saturday’s game?  Will it be worth attending for Bulldog fans?

Wofford had enjoyed seven consecutive winning seasons before this year’s campaign.  The Terriers are 2-6, although it should be noted that Wofford played not one but two FBS schools this year, losing to both South Florida and Wisconsin.

However, eyebrows were raised around the conference when the Terriers (picked in the preseason to finish in the league’s top 3) lost 38-9 at UT-Chattanooga.  The Mocs have proven to be the most improved team in the league, but that loss clearly showed that Wofford had some unexpected issues.  The two main themes for the Terriers this year have been injuries and turnovers. 

Wofford entered the season with a fairly inexperienced squad (only nine returning starters), and that inexperience has been compounded by a rash of serious injuries, many of them season-ending.  Only ten players have started every game for the Terriers; in all, 34 different players have made at least one start. 

Many of the losses have been on defense (including pre-season All-SoCon pick Mitch Clark, who has only played one game this year).  The Terriers also suffered the loss of starting fullback Eric Breitenstein (who rushed for 121 yards against South Florida).  Wofford was already missing halfback Jeremy Marshall, who tore an ACL last season against Appalachian State; in this season’s matchup with the Mountaineers, another Terrier halfback, Derek Boyce, tore his ACL.

The Terriers run an option attack known as the “wingbone”, with the emphasis on run.  Wofford, with all its problems, still leads FCS in rushing, averaging 258 yards per game.  However, the Terriers are last in the division in passing, averaging only 70.5 yards per contest.

Quarterback Mitch Allen is completing just 45.2% of his passes.  That’s not a huge problem – after all, he doesn’t attempt that many – but while Allen has thrown five touchdown passes, he’s also thrown five interceptions (in just 62 attempts). 

Wofford as a team has thrown six picks, and has also fumbled 19 times, losing 13.  Losing two-thirds of their fumbles is a bit of bad luck, to be sure, but the Terriers are at heart a possession-oriented team.  Committing nineteen turnovers over eight games is not typical of a Wofford outfit.  The Terriers have committed 3+ turnovers in four games this season, losing all four.

The Terriers are still a dangerous offensive team, even with the turnover bugaboo, but have been inconsistent.  Wofford rolled up 537 yards of total offense against Appalachian State and another 426 against Western Carolina.  Unlike The Citadel’s last opponent, Samford, the Terriers are more than capable of creating big plays (Wofford has had five plays from the line of scrimmage of over 60 yards).

On the other hand, Wofford only had 170 yards of total offense against Elon (The Citadel can relate) and just 151 against UT-Chattanooga.  Part of the inconsistency can be traced to the Terriers’ third down conversion rate, which is just 38.3%. 

For the style of offense Wofford employs, that isn’t good enough.  The problems converting third down have led to Wofford averaging less than 29 minutes per game in time of possession, definitely not what an all-out running team like the Terriers wants.

When Wofford scores first, it is 2-0; when it doesn’t, 0-6.  Wofford is 0-5 when trailing after three quarters and 0-4 when scoring less than 20 points. 

Terrier opponents are averaging 387 yards per game in total offense.  Wofford has forced twelve turnovers in eight games, including five interceptions.  Much like its offense, the Terrier D has not had a lot of luck in the fumble department, forcing twenty but recovering only seven.  That’s the kind of statistic that will eventually turn in Wofford’s favor; let’s hope it doesn’t happen this week.

Wofford’s opponents have been in the “red zone” 36 times this season, and have scored touchdowns on 26 of those occasions.

The Terriers have a solid kick return game, led by running back Mike Rucker.   Wofford has a net punting average of 35.9, which is quite good.  The Terriers have only attempted four field goals all season, making two (both against Elon).

In last year’s game, The Citadel did a good job offensively but couldn’t stop the Terriers, as Wofford had 409 yards of total offense, including 279 yards rushing.  Andre Roberts had a huge game (14 receptions, 190 yards, 3 TDs) but it wasn’t enough, as Wofford stayed one step ahead of the Bulldogs the whole way, committing no turnovers and converting all three of its fourth-down attempts.

You can bet that Roberts will be priority #1 for the Wofford defense, but you can say that about any defense that faces The Citadel.  Who winds up throwing the ball in Roberts’ direction is anybody’s guess. 

What I hope happens is that if both Bart Blanchard and Miguel Starks are healthy, the coaches rotate them by series instead of by play.  If one of them is moving the team down the field, then that’s the guy that needs to stay in the game.  I’m not forgetting about Tommy Edwards, either.  He got the job done against Samford, and he’ll get the call if need be against the Terriers. 

I would like to see more of the type of playcalling used in the game against Furman, which seemed to suit the offensive line.  Speaking of the o-line, that unit will need to contain Wofford defensive end Ameet Pall, a Montreal native who is having a fine season for the Terriers.  Kevin Higgins was quick to note Pall’s abilities during his press conference on Monday.

It’s been too long since The Citadel won in this series.  Hopes are high that the Bulldogs will end that streak on Saturday, in front of an appreciative Homecoming crowd.  I am not so sure, to be honest, but I’ll be there cheering them on regardless.

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.