It was just one game…or was it?

Elon 43, The Citadel 7.  I blame the navy pants…

I waited a few days to post my thoughts on this game because I honestly was not sure what to make of it.  That’s because it wasn’t just a loss, it was a debacle.  The score may have been 43 to 7, but in reality it felt like 63 to -7.

The Citadel started the game deep in its own territory after a special teams miscue, then committed its first offensive penalty before its first offensive snap.  After a three-and-out (losing four yards in three plays), the Bulldogs gave up a 28-yard punt return.  Then the defense committed a penalty on its first play.

Elon picked up a first down on its first official play from scrimmage.  One play, one first down.  It took The Citadel 37 minutes to pick up its initial first down.

Elon scored on every one of its first-half possessions, and also scored to open the second half.  The Citadel scored its lone TD in the fourth quarter, which was immediately followed by a 15-play, 81-yard drive by the Phoenix that lasted for over seven minutes and resulted in the game’s final touchdown.

Some not-so-fun stats for the game included first downs (Elon 29, The Citadel 5), net rushing yardage (Elon 267, The Citadel 18), and net passing yardage (Elon 276, The Citadel 102).  The Citadel was 0-12 converting third downs, which led to the Bulldogs losing the time of possession battle by almost 17 minutes.

With the loss The Citadel is now 2-3 on the season, 0-2 in the Southern Conference.  Was what happened at Elon a fluke, mostly a fluke, or is it that the Bulldogs simply are not a good team and aren’t going to become one?

There are cumulative season statistics that do not give one confidence in the team’s chances of beginning a long winning streak.  For example:

  • Opponents are rushing for more than 200 yards per game against The Citadel, on average.  In contrast, the Bulldogs are averaging slighly over 117 yards per game. 
  • The Bulldogs’ average yards-per-play is almost a full yard less than that of its opponents.
  • Bulldog opponents are converting over half of their third down conversion attempts (52%), while The Citadel is converting less than one-third of its third downs (32%).
  • The Citadel’s defense, in five games, has four sacks.  Opponents have thrown 171 passes.  The Citadel’s offense has thrown 22 fewer passes but has been sacked eight more times.
  • The Citadel’s defense has turned opponents over ten times (six interceptions, four fumble recoveries), but arguably only two of those turnovers came when the outcome of the game was still in question.
  • The Citadel has only 17 tackles for loss in five games.  Opponents have 31.

Having noted all that, I will say that I don’t believe the Bulldogs are quite as inept as they showed against Elon.  That game reminded me a little bit of The Citadel’s basketball team at the SoCon tourney.  It seems like almost every year the Bulldogs play their first game in the league tournament, get off to a tough start, and it just snowballs, so that 10 minutes into the game the score is 31-6. 

Of course, many of those poor hoops performances were by teams that weren’t very good at all.  The football team this season was supposed to be better than that.  The Bulldogs do have two wins, but one of them came against a team that is still winless (Presbyterian), and the other against a team who in its next home game lost 38-0 to Columbia (Princeton, which this season is thankful for the existence of the Patriot League). 

There was some talk after the game by the players and Kevin Higgins that the Bulldogs had lacked an “edge” to their game when they took the field at Elon.  Really?  If true, there is no excuse for that.  There are eleven games in the season, not 162 (and there is no excuse for being listless when you play 162, either).  If you’re not ready to play, take off your helmet and give it to somebody who is.

The Citadel still has a chance to salvage its season, though.  There are still six games left to play.  A playoff bid is unlikely, unless the Bulldogs win all six games, but a winning league and overall season is still possible.  It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen unless The Citadel improves in several areas.

On offense, The Citadel must do a better job of running the ball, if only to improve its third down conversion rates.  The Bulldogs need long drives, not just to score, but to keep the defense off the field. 

Also, teams are going to continue to smother Andre Roberts until The Citadel punishes them.  Other players are going to have to make big plays, and not just once or twice.  The Bulldogs need a consistent playmaker to complement Roberts.  Of course, everyone knew that before the season started.  Five games in, and we’re still waiting for that second threat.

On defense, the front seven has to put pressure on the quarterback and create turnovers.  It must also do a much better job against the run.  I get the distinct sense that, especially on the line, The Citadel has been less than the sum of its parts. 

There were high hopes for the d-line before the campaign began, but it has been far from dominant.  Because of that, the Bulldogs have been victimized by long drives where they couldn’t get off the field.  Again, the third-down conversion rate on defense has been terrible.

On the bright side, the red zone defense has actually been pretty good.  The problem has been that opponents have been in that zone far too often.

One game doesn’t make a season.  The promise of the Appalachian State performance (despite the loss) can’t be completely washed away by the horrific play at Elon.  Maybe PC and Princeton aren’t very good, but those wins still count.  The Bulldogs can start to erase the Elon memories with a win at Western Carolina on Saturday.

However, there are a lot of questions about the team as it enters the second half of the season.  Those questions have to be answered.  I worry that the time to answer some of them has already passed.