2012 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 8.  The game will not be televised, although it will be webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes                   Box score from The Citadel’s game last week

Georgia Southern game notes        Box score from GSU’s game last week

SoCon weekly release

I want to start by talking about one of my favorite topics, attendance.

A crowd of 14,264 attended the game against Charleston Southern. Even with the ticket promotions and the postgame fireworks, I was pleasantly surprised with that total. As I arrived, I could see that there were a lot of people in the area around the stadium, even if a significant portion of them were just there for the tailgating.

It was the largest crowd for a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium since 2009, and the largest crowd for a home opener since 2006.

Charleston Southern actually brought a decent number of fans, a departure from previous seasons. More power to them. Georgia Southern will bring considerably more this week, so an opportunity for a big crowd is there.

This will be only the second time the two schools have met on the gridiron in the month of September. The Citadel played Georgia Southern on September 11, 1993, in Statesboro.

That is something to keep in mind when looking at attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium for previous contests against the Eagles. Somewhat surprisingly, only twice has a game at JHS against Georgia Southern drawn crowds larger than the one last Saturday against CSU. However, all of those games came later in the season.

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium when Georgia Southern is the opponent:

1994 — 18,559
1996 — 9,427
1998 — 14,222
2000 — 12,391
2002 — 16,427
2004 — 12,472
2006 — 12,129
2008 — 11,190
2010 — 10,385

I think there is a good chance that attendance will get a sizable bump for this matchup. It helps that both Clemson and South Carolina are playing earlier in the day.

That makes it all the more important for the Bulldogs to play well against the Eagles, because I believe that attendance for the remaining home games may be affected by The Citadel’s “momentum”. If a large crowd sees a good game, some of those people will come back for more. The bandwagon will start to roll again.

Interestingly, The Citadel’s potential attendance surge would be going against the national tide, at least if early-season FBS crowds are any indication:

There was exactly one announced capacity crowd in eight Southeastern Conference home openers. Before the Labor Day Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game, six out of seven Atlantic Coast Conference schools had smaller crowds than their openers last year – some of them much smaller. Attendance was down at six out of eight Big 12 home openers from 2011. Five out of eight Pac-12 schools had smaller crowds as well, and Oregon’s 13-year sellout streak was in jeopardy until game day.

The Citadel’s attendance against Charleston Southern (14,264) was greater than the average attendance for the four MAC games played last week (13,928).

Can The Citadel beat Georgia Southern? Of course. What are the Bulldogs’ chances? Probably not very good, if history is a guide.

One of the great games in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium was The Citadel’s 20-3 upset of top-ranked Marshall in 1988. The Bulldogs would also beat a top-10 opponent at JHS in 1991 when they edged #7 Furman 10-6 in a classic defensive struggle.

However, that 1991 win over Furman is one of just three victories by the Bulldogs over top 10 opposition since 1990. Two of those wins came in 1991; Appalachian State was ranked #9 when the Bulldogs beat the Mountaineers that season.

The Citadel defeated East Tennessee State in 1997 in Johnson City when the Bucs were ranked #8 (and still played football). Other than that, nothing:

– The Citadel vs. Top 10 opposition since 1990: 3-40 (29 straight losses)
– The Citadel vs. Top 5 opposition since 1990: 0-23
– The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern since 1990 when GSU was in the top 10: 0-9

I’m not trying to be negative. I’m just trying to provide a little perspective. If The Citadel were to win on Saturday, it would be the biggest win for the football program in at least fifteen years and the signature victory for Kevin Higgins in his tenure at the school.

It would also snap a rather ignominious streak: the Bulldogs have lost nine consecutive conference home games since beating Samford in 2009. The Citadel has not won a SoCon contest at Johnson Hagood Stadium since switching to the triple option offense.

While Georgia Southern has a history of high-octane offenses and rushed for 557 yards last week in a 58-0 demolition of Jacksonville, the Eagles’ best player is defensive lineman Brent Russell. He has had any number of big games (his performance versus Navy in 2010 was particularly noteworthy). Russell didn’t have a big game against The Citadel last year, though, because he was suspended and didn’t play.

Russell is back for this season’s matchup with the Eagles, but the Bulldogs will be without his fellow All-SoCon defensive lineman, Derek Douglas. Advantage: GSU.

One of the easy storylines for this game would be Russell matching up against The Citadel’s all-league center, Mike Sellers. However, it is unlikely there will be many (if any) one-on-one battles between the two star linemen. Kevin Higgins noted this at his weekly press conference when he pointed out Russell is now a “three technique” lineman.

Georgia Southern has moved Blake Riley to nosetackle in an effort to keep Russell from being repeatedly double-teamed, and as a result it will likely be The Citadel’s guards who will have to deal with Russell more often than not. Of course, the Bulldogs will try to neutralize him whenever possible by optioning off of him. The best way to neutralize Russell, though, is to block him. That will be a difficult task.

Another key figure in GSU’s defense will be Patrick Flowe, who is starting at middle linebacker for the Eagles as a true freshman.  It is surely unusual for a team coming off back-to-back appearances in the national semifinals to immediately start a true freshman at middle linebacker.

Curiously, Flowe is listed as the backup at MLB in GSU’s game notes.

Georgia Southern’s offense did not complete a pass in eight tries against Jacksonville, not that it mattered. In my preview of the Charleston Southern game I mentioned how overrated “balance” in an offense can be. To further illustrate this, GSU is 7-0 in modern program history when it fails to gain any passing yardage. One of those games was in 2010 at Johnson Hagood Stadium against the Bulldogs.

In contrast to The Citadel’s stuttering start against Charleston Southern, GSU came out blazing against the Dolphins, scoring 27 points in the first quarter. The second play from scrimmage for the Eagles was a 79-yard touchdown run by Ezayi Youyoute, one of two quarterbacks who will see significant time for Georgia Southern.

Fifteen different players carried the ball at least once for GSU. They included B-back Dominique Swope (104 yards, 3 TDs), Youyoute (164 yards, 3 TDs), Youyoute’s fellow QB Jerick McKinnon (71 yards, some of which came as a slotback, and a TD), and Robert Brown (63 yards on three rushes).

Those who remember the 2010 game against Georgia Southern (and Bulldog fans could be excused for trying to forget it) will recognize McKinnon’s name, as the then-frosh QB had to replace regular starter Jaybo Shaw early in that contest. McKinnon rushed for 182 yards that afternoon on 35 carries, both of which remain career highs for him.

Brown played in that game too, but as the B-back. He has now been moved to slotback. The fact he will play at all on Saturday is borderline amazing (at least to me), as he had back surgery just seven weeks ago.

Georgia Southern’s offense this season is expected to be more explosive with Youyoute and McKinnon at the controls. Jaybo Shaw was efficient and effective, a solid passer who made good decisions running the triple option, but was not a breakaway threat.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the combination of Youyoute/McKinnon won’t make the right reads, or that either/or can’t throw a nice ball. It may be, however, that The Citadel is playing Georgia Southern at the right time of year, as the two QBs are still developing as signal callers.

Georgia Southern also ran a fake punt against the Dolphins, and recovered an onside kick while leading 41-0 (though I gather that may have been an accident).

GSU had excellent special teams units last year, but is breaking in a new placekicker and punter this season, and needs to find a kick returner to replace Laron Scott.

Speaking of Scott, he also blocked one of the two missed Bulldog PATs that were so critical in last season’s game (free safety Darius Eubanks blocked the other). The Citadel is going to have to do a much better job in that phase of the game.

Confusion alert: Darreion Robinson, Georgia Southern slotback/punt returner, meet Darien Robinson, The Citadel B-back. Both scored touchdowns in last year’s matchup.

Offensively, the Bulldogs face the challenge of trying to control the line of scrimmage against Russell and company. It goes without saying that fumbling six times in a half again would be a bad idea. Georgia Southern lost both of its starting cornerbacks from last season (including the ubiquitous Scott), so perhaps this is the week that Triple O’Higgins breaks out the forward pass in a major way.

I was impressed with freshman running back Vinny Miller last Saturday, as were many other observers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he assumed an expanded role in this week’s game. Miller was one of several freshmen who made significant contributions during the Bulldogs’ victory over the Buccaneers. Another who impressed in his debut was defensive tackle Colin Parsons.

The Citadel’s defense has to do its best to prevent big plays, although it is probably inevitable that GSU will break at least a couple of long gainers. Against Jacksonville, the Eagles had nine runs of 19 yards or more. To combat the Eagles’ explosiveness, The Citadel must punish the high risk/reward nature of GSU’s offense by forcing turnovers.

Last year’s game featured five Georgia Southern fumbles (two lost) and an interception. The Bulldog D needs to at least match that total on Saturday.

The Bulldogs also must win the special teams battle. It’s not just about the placekicking, either.

Georgia Southern held The Citadel’s offense to 264 yards of total offense last season, which was the second-best performance by the Eagle defense all year (only Elon had fewer yards against GSU). However, the Bulldogs matched them on the other side of the ball, as Georgia Southern’s offense produced fewer total yards against The Citadel’s defense (320) than any team it played in 2011 except Appalachian State.

I don’t see that kind of game playing out on Saturday. I think both offenses are going to move the ball and score more points. That would probably be a good outcome from The Citadel’s perspective, as the Bulldogs are less likely to win a low-scoring game.

Indeed, The Citadel is 2-35 in the Kevin Higgins era when scoring 20 or fewer points (including an 0-4 record last season). I can understand having that bad a record when scoring 10 or fewer points, or even 14, but 20? Conversely, GSU is 2-5 under Jeff Monken when scoring 20 or fewer points.

It will be Military Appreciation Day on Saturday. It should be a festive occasion, with plenty of different events happening in conjunction with the football game. It will be even more festive if the home team can pull off a big upset. I would like to see a really big fiesta at Johnson Hagood Stadium that night.

2011 Football Game 9: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played at Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 5.  The game will not be televised. The game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.   Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Georgia Southern as part of a subscription service.

I’ve already written about The Citadel’s victory over VMI. There isn’t much to add to that, except I did want to briefly mention VMI’s fans.  The Keydets brought more supporters to Johnson Hagood Stadium than Wofford did, and weren’t too far behind Furman in the “travel” category. That’s very impressive, given that A) it’s a long trip, and B) VMI hasn’t had a winning season in 30 years.  Full credit to VMI’s fans, a group that surely deserves better results on the gridiron.

Now the Bulldogs face what could be their biggest challenge of the season to date, a road game against Georgia Southern, which until last week was unbeaten and ranked #1 in the country in both FCS polls. The Eagles saw their perfect season go by the boards in a 24-17 loss in Boone to Appalachian State, and are likely to be a rather surly bunch right now, just in time for Homecoming in Statesboro. Beautiful Eagle Creek may seem a little less beautiful right now.

One thing Georgia Southern can’t really afford to do at this point in the season is lose to The Citadel, because it would put the Eagles in a rather difficult position. Right now GSU is 7-1 with three games remaining. After hosting the Bulldogs, Georgia Southern finishes the regular season with two road games. One of those is in Spartanburg against fellow SoCon title contender Wofford, while the finale is a matchup with BCS title contender Alabama.

If Georgia Southern were to lose all three games, it would finish at 7-4, and would have a borderline case for a postseason bid. The record wouldn’t be great, and GSU would have finished the campaign with four straight defeats. Even more problematic would be the fact that the Eagles would have only six victories against Division I teams, as one of GSU’s wins came against Division II Tusculum.

Technically, an FCS playoff at-large team doesn’t need seven D-1 wins, but historically it has been a de facto rule that at-large candidates should have at least seven such victories. (That may change if there is more postseason expansion.)

GSU definitely needs to win one of its next two games to ensure a playoff bid, and probably needs to win both to garner a national seed.

Although the odds of Georgia Southern getting left out of the FCS postseason are low, it’s important not to overlook the problem of scheduling both a “money” game and a matchup against a non-D1 squad. While a team that closes a season with four straight losses isn’t likely to get an at-large berth anyway, what if Georgia Southern had lost earlier in the season (say, to Chattanooga, a one-point victory for the Eagles), and then finished the year with a win over The Citadel but a tough loss at Wofford, and then the expected defeat to the Crimson Tide?

A SoCon team with 7 wins and a loss to Alabama would normally be at worst a marginal at-large contender, but GSU would only have six D-1 victories and would presumably be out of the running.

That’s why it is better, when looking for a no-return home game, that ADs at schools with playoff aspirations try to schedule D-1 schools rather than D-2 or NAIA teams. It’s not that easy to find FCS schools willing to make a one-way trip, at least not cheaply, but it’s something that needs to be done. Of course, there is the additional risk that the school in question may be good enough to actually win the game.

For The Citadel, Jacksonville was an excellent season-opening opponent in this respect. Presbyterian would also be a good candidate, and of course there is a long tradition of games between the Bulldogs and the Blue Hose. Newberry, on the other hand, is probably not an option, since it is still D-2.

For some fans of the Eagles, the playoffs aren’t enough. There is still a significant group of Georgia Southern supporters who believe that it is time for GSU to make the move to the land of FBS. The school published a study on the issue two years ago. At the time I wrote about whether GSU should make the leap, the latest round of conference-jumping wasn’t even on the horizon, much less a staple of hourly news reports.

I think it is even more of a risk to move to FBS now than it was two years ago, because there is major uncertainty about what that division will become in the next few years. Georgia Southern (and Appalachian State) supporters hoping to become part of the FBS club are dreaming of a chance to join a league like the Sun Belt or, in a best-case scenario, Conference USA.

Even if that were to happen, though, in the current climate there is a possibility it would amount to jumping on a treadmill. If the much-theorized breakaway by the major programs to form super-conferences comes to pass, Sun Belt and C-USA schools are not likely to be part of the chosen few. They are more likely to wind up in a larger FCS.

The Citadel has won two straight games, reason for optimism in the continuing story that is Triple O’Higgins. However, I think there is still reason to be cautious. While I’m not one to complain about any victory, Western Carolina and VMI are not exactly the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers when it comes to football prowess. While the Bulldog D has generally been excellent this season, The Citadel’s triple option attack is still very much a work in progress.

That isn’t to say that strides haven’t been made, because they have. It’s just that the Bulldogs haven’t really had that “eureka” moment, or game, at least not yet. It may be that it won’t happen this season.

Was there such a defining game in 1988, the second year of Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack? Was there a specific game when everyone realized that the Bulldogs were no longer learning how to run the offense, but were instead refining it?

Well, I’m not sure. Looking back at the seven-game winning streak in 1988, there wasn’t a true breakout game in terms of rushing yardage. It was more of a gradual increase, from 290 yards rushing (Navy) to 322 (Western Carolina), then a blip downwards (187 vs. Chattanooga), then the two games started by Tommy Burriss (278 yards rushing against Boston University and 301 vs. East Tennessee State).

Tangent: as it happens, the two games Burriss started in 1988 both came against schools that in the next few years would drop their respective football programs. I don’t think this can be blamed on Burriss, however.

The contest against ETSU could qualify as the game that truly established the offense as a force, as in addition to the rushing yardage the Bulldogs threw for 199 yards, with the 500 yards of total offense being the most in a game for the cadets since 1980. The Citadel scored 48 points against ETSU (31 in the second quarter).

The game against the Buccaneers was the eighth of the 1988 campaign. In the ninth game, Gene Brown would return from injury and lead the Bulldogs to one of their more celebrated victories, a 20-3 Homecoming triumph over #1 Marshall.

It would be nice to have a similar result in the ninth game of this season…

It won’t be easy, though, as the Eagles rank first in the SoCon in scoring defense and rush defense. One big reason why is Georgia Southern nosetackle Brent Russell, who Kevin Higgins called “the best defensive lineman in the country at our level.” It’s hard to argue the point. In last week’s loss to Appalachian State, the redshirt junior registered a career-high ten tackles.

One of the more notable performances in Russell’s career came last season against Navy, when he completely dominated the line of scrimmage, a major reason why Navy was held to 193 total yards (109 rushing). The Midshipmen managed to win the game despite Russell’s efforts, 13-7.

I found it interesting that in his weekly SoCon teleconference, GSU coach Jeff Monken was quick to praise Mike Sellers, the Bulldogs’ sophomore center. When The Citadel’s offense faces Georgia Southern’s defense, the critical matchup could be between the two players who line up closest to the ball.

Incidentally (or maybe not so incidentally), Georgia Southern’s defense has forced a punt on their opponents’ opening possession six times. Presbyterian’s opening drive against the Eagles resulted in a field goal attempt that was blocked. The only time the opposition scored on its initial possession against Georgia Southern was last week, when Appalachian State’s first drive resulted in a touchdown. Obviously, that’s also the only game GSU has lost.

Jaybo Shaw, GSU’s quarterback, was injured early in the contest last season at Johnson Hagood Stadium, so (presuming he stays healthy) this will be the first time The Citadel has seen him in extended game action. The Bulldogs will get their fill of quarterbacks named Shaw, however, as they will face Jaybo’s brother Connor in the game at South Carolina. Two Shaws in three weeks is probably a record.

Shaw’s passing numbers are reasonably solid, if modest by comparison to “normal” offenses. He has completed 54% of his throws for five touchdowns, against two interceptions. More importantly, he is averaging 11.2 yards per attempt, as the Eagles are third nationally (second in the SoCon) in pass efficiency. Shaw has rushed for 261 yards and seven touchdowns.

He has distributed the ball well in GSU’s triple option attack, with a bevy of running backs featuring for the Eagles. Robert Brown, the starting B-back, is the leading ground-gainer on the season for GSU. Included in his totals are 178 yards versus Chattanooga, 140 yards against Samford, and 116 yards versus Elon. He is averaging nearly seven yards per carry.

Georgia Southern’s offensive line has included the same five starters in every game except for last week’s contest, with the two-deep released by the school indicating the standard five-man group will return for the game against The Citadel. Three of the five are seniors.

GSU leads the nation in scoring offense (41.1 points per game) and is second in rushing offense.

The Eagles are also dangerous on special teams. Laron Scott averages 35. 5 yards per kick return, tops in FCS. As for punt returner Darreion Robinson, statistics don’t tell the whole story. This effort against Appalachian State does: Link

Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern will be a challenge, but that’s all right. The players won’t be dreading the trip to Statesboro; rather, they will be relishing it. It’s an opportunity to see how far the Bulldogs have come, and how far they still need to go.

Review: Elon

Elon 27, The Citadel 16.

Good news: there were signs of life from the offense, and an absence of navy pants.

Bad news:  it was still a loss, and there is still no “The” on the jerseys, regardless of color

Obviously the offensive unit performed much better on Saturday than in its previous four games; the 16 points were in fact the most scored by The Citadel in league play all season.  There were no turnovers (!) and Ben Dupree was able to execute the offense well enough so that the Bulldogs actually got in a position to pitch the ball on multiple occasions.  The Citadel only punted once.

Dupree played the entire game, made some good reads and showed an ability to improvise.  The star-crossed Ricky Anderson probably had his best game as a Bulldog.  Terrell Dallas demonstrated a couple of times what we already knew, namely that he’s almost an ideal fullback for the triple option offense.

You will excuse me, however, if I point out some things on offense that weren’t so great (besides the loss):

— The Bulldogs did not turn the ball over, but did fumble three times and had several other instances of a less-than-clean center-QB exchange, which generally resulted in lost-yardage or no-yardage plays.  This area of execution did get better, but there is still quite a bit of improvement that needs to be made.

— Dupree didn’t make every read correctly, which showed in some plays that were “stuffed”, both on the inside and on the outside.

— The Bulldogs entered the “red zone” five times on Saturday, but only scored 16 points.  Elon’s red zone success vs. that of The Citadel was the difference in the game (more on that later).

— Luke Caldwell’s 26-yard pass reception in the third quarter (on a 4th-and-8 play that set up The Citadel’s first touchdown) was the only play the Bulldogs offense had that gained more than eighteen yards.  The Citadel now has only nine plays of 20+ yards in its last seven contests.

— When evaluating the offense’s play, another thing to take into consideration is that Elon is not the greatest of defensive teams.  The Phoenix are next-to-last in the Southern Conference in total defense and rushing defense, and third-from-last in scoring defense and pass defense.  Elon lacks a truly disruptive playmaker on the defensive line like Georgia Southern’s Brent Russell or Wofford’s Ameet Pall — and the Phoenix’s best lineman, Brandon Ward, did not play against The Citadel after being arrested on an assault charge earlier in the week.

All that said, it was an encouraging performance by the offense.  I admit I was worried that the Homecoming crowd would be subjected to some brutal moments of ineptitude, but for the most part those were avoided.  I wish this was the kind of game we had been getting from the offensive unit in early October rather than early November, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Unfortunately, after two straight weeks of solid play while getting no help from the offense, the Bulldog defense didn’t quite get it done on Saturday.  The Citadel seemed to have caught a break when Phoenix starting quarterback Scott Riddle got injured at Chattanooga, but Elon backup QB Thomas Wilson made no big mistakes and methodically led his team down the field, particularly in the second half.

What the Bulldog D couldn’t do, ultimately, was get off the field, especially in the second half.  Elon scored touchdowns on all three of its second-half drives (not counting a one-play drive that was a kneeldown to end the game).  The Phoenix consistently converted on third down (9-13 for the game) and did not commit a turnover.  Indeed, the two offenses had similar numbers; besides the lack of turnovers, there were very few big plays (Elon had two 20+ yard plays to The Citadel’s one).

The difference was how the two teams did in the red zone.  Elon moved inside The Citadel’s 20-yard line on four occasions, and scored touchdowns all four times.  That has proven to be the defense’s biggest problem this season, as the Bulldogs are last in the SoCon in red zone defense, having allowed 29 touchdowns in 41 red-zone possessions.

The Citadel got some stops in the second quarter, but other than that Elon efficiently picked up chain-moving yardage on almost every play (The Citadel only had four tackles for loss in the game), converted on third down when necessary and scored when it got its opportunities.  The few times Elon faced third-and-long, it managed to pick up the first down via the pass (including critical 19- and 14-yard third down completions late in the third quarter after The Citadel had retaken the lead).

While there were no offensive big plays, The Citadel did get an 87-yard kickoff return from Keith Gamble to set up its second TD.  Earlier in the game, the Bulldogs also converted a fourth down via a fake field goal that probably would have resulted in a touchdown if it had been a little more smoothly executed.  Alas, that first down led to a shorter field goal attempt that was blocked.

Okay, time to talk about the uniforms…

Link

I was afraid of a potential red jersey/navy pants combo, but thankfully that did not come to pass.  As for the actual jersey and helmet:

— As mentioned earlier, no “THE”; that would have been too difficult, I guess

— I liked the “Big Red” crescent/tree logo on the shoulders; very distinctive

— The color itself wasn’t overly obnoxious (in other words, it wasn’t an “electric” red)

— I don’t like the “side panels”, which are a Nike staple, and they look even worse with this combo

— The numerals were hard to read, which is also true of the navy jerseys

— I think the navy stripes on the helmet should have been red

— The helmet logo should have featured original artwork; as it is, it’s just a redo of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ mark

I didn’t have a problem with breaking out the red jerseys for this game.  The original Big Red, of course, arrived on campus in March; its disappearance and rediscovery is an interesting tale.  Wearing red jerseys for the Homecoming following that development seemed reasonably appropriate (and a good way to push merchandise).

I’m not sure I would want to see them again, however.  I certainly don’t want the football team wearing red jerseys to become a yearly event.  I think doing that would make it much less special, and also detract from the school’s traditional colors for its sports teams.

Of course, it could be argued that the parade of different football uniform color combinations this season has already devalued the tradition of wearing light blue and white. In ten games, the Bulldogs have worn six different jersey/pant color combos, including four different looks for the six home games.

In fact, I think the fact The Citadel did not have a standard uniform combination this season made the red jerseys seem a little less unusual.  Let’s face it, if the Bulldogs had lined up wearing silver or black, nobody would have been all that shocked, so the red jersey wasn’t that much of a departure.

Now The Citadel gets a bye week.  As bye weeks go, this one can’t be more pointless. Ten straight games, then a bye week, then a road game at Samford to finish the season.  I realize this is mostly due to the odd number of teams in the Southern Conference (nine), but it still seems dumb.

I feel a little better about the team after Saturday’s game, but the Bulldogs are still 2-8, with a seven-game losing streak, and winless in the SoCon.  It’s a transition year, to be sure, but I would like to start transitioning to victories.

Later in the week (I hope) I’m going to write about Kevin Higgins’ tenure at The Citadel and the status of the program as a whole.

Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Wofford

Date and time:  Saturday, October 30, at 1:30 pm ET

Television:  SportSouth and FCS-Central; Tom Werme and Sam Wyche on the call from Spartanburg

This, somewhat amazingly, is going to be the fifth year in a row the game between Wofford and The Citadel has been televised.  I believe it’s the third consecutive time Werme and Wyche have called the game; in 2006 the game was televised by South Carolina ETV, while the last three (and Saturday’s game) have all been carried by SportSouth.

Tangent:  The Citadel doesn’t appear on television that often, which is understandable, but this week there are two Big XII matchups that won’t be televised, which is less understandable.  One reason for this is the Big XII has a poor TV contract, and the other is that one of the matchups is a Texas A&M home game.

Aggies AD Bill Byrne is well-known for his aversion to pay-per-view telecasts, or regional broadcasts where the school doesn’t receive a payout.  He apparently believes televising home games hurts attendance.  He is almost certainly wrong about that, at least in the long term.  I actually wrote a little bit about this subject in last year’s Wofford preview.

A school with a tradition as grand as that of Texas A&M should have no trouble with home attendance in the first place.  At any rate, television is a great promotional tool for a school’s football program and the university in general, and it’s very surprising that in 2010, there is still someone in a position of authority who doesn’t believe that.

Byrne may be the final holdout, after the 2007 death of longtime Chicago Blackhawks owner “Dollar Bill” Wirtz.  As a result, Texas A&M was the last FBS team to appear on TV this season, when it finally had a game against Oklahoma State televised.

When I initially started writing this post, my idea was to use the bulk of it to discuss Kevin Higgins’ status as head coach of The Citadel.  However, I changed my mind about one-third of the way through it, for a couple of reasons.

One is that I felt I had not had time to thoroughly research a couple of points I wanted to make.  I didn’t want to write some hurried screed lacking proper foundation, particularly on this issue.  Also, I’m not sure writing about a coach’s tenure immediately after his team commits nine turnovers lends itself to treating things with proper perspective.

It’s just a blog, but I do have some standards…

What I’m going to do, I think, is wait until The Citadel’s bye week, and then in lieu of a normal preview (since there won’t be a game to write about) I’ll post my thoughts on the coaching situation.

Because of the last-minute change in approach, this preview is going to be shorter than normal.  That is probably just as well, because to be perfectly honest I’m not quite sure what to say about Saturday’s game against the Terriers, other than the Bulldogs can’t possibly play worse on offense than they did against Georgia Southern.  At least, I hope not.

Wofford was 3-8 last season, as it struggled with a lot of injuries and what was considered a bad case of fumbleitis, although not as bad as the Bulldogs’ fumbling problems this year.   The Citadel has fumbled 33 times, losing 19.  Through eight games last season, Wofford had fumbled 19 times, losing 13.

Wofford lost one fumble in its ninth game, against The Citadel, but unfortunately that didn’t keep the Terriers from scoring 43 points.

Last season one of Wofford’s key injuries was to fullback Eric Breitenstein.  He’s back this season, and leading the nation in scoring, averaging just over two touchdowns per game (he scored four times against Furman while rushing for 234 yards).  Breitenstein has scored at least two touchdowns in his last six games.

Mitch Allen struggled last year for the Terriers, but the quarterback has been much improved this season.  Allen had a season-high 178 yards rushing against Western Carolina (one of three Terriers to rush for over 100 yards in that game).  He also has a 3.9 GPA in Physics, which a professor at another Southern Conference school once told me would be the equivalent of a 2.9 GPA at The Citadel.  (Hey, I’m just reporting the facts here.)

While perusing the statistics, I was surprised to see that Wofford’s opponents actually have had a slight edge in time of possession.  Wofford is converting 43% of its third down attempts, which is a little lower than what the Terriers would like but better than last season.   Wofford as usual has not shied away from going for it on 4th down, and the Terriers are 8 for 11 in that category.

Mike Niam is a 6’3″, 245 lb. linebacker for Wofford.  He played in two games last season for the Terriers, leading the team in tackles both times, before tearing his ACL.  He returned for spring practice, then had to have surgery on his knee in the fall, when it was discovered he had torn his ACL again.  He missed the first five games of the season, but returned two weeks ago — and has led the team in tackles in both games since returning.

Wofford’s best defensive player, though, is DE Ameet Pall, a Canadian who leads the nation in sacks per game (1.5).  He has 10.5 sacks total on the season (3 of those against Furman — boy, that was a tough game for the Paladins, wasn’t it?).  Peet has 15 tackles for loss overall.  At least one observer rates him ahead of GSU defensive tackle Brent Russell, which is really saying something.

Wofford placekicker Christian Reed is 8-10 on FG attempts but has missed four PATs this season (including a stretch of three misses in a row).  The Terriers have only punted 25 times in seven games; just five of those have been returned (although for a 13-yard average that probably concerns Terrier coaches).

Wofford games don’t feature a lot of penalties.  The Terriers are being flagged about five times per game.  Wofford opponents are only averaging three penalties per contest, which I find a bit curious.

One injury of note for Wofford:  center Trey Johnson broke his arm in last week’s game against Elon.  He will be replaced by redshirt freshman Jared Singleton, who played most of that contest after Johnson got hurt.

Last season’s game against Wofford was one of the more disappointing games I’ve seen at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  (Unfortunately, this year I’ve seen two games at JHS that were even more disappointing.)  The Bulldogs played poorly in all aspects of the game, and the score reflected that.

Kevin Higgins thinks that the matchup with Wofford on Saturday will be “a great football game“.  I’m glad he thinks it will be, since he’s the head coach.  Of course, last season he thought the Bulldogs were “going to war“.  That wasn’t quite the case.

I just watch the games from a safe distance, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think it’s going to be a great game.  Wofford has confidence, experience, and is at home.  The Citadel (at least offensively) lacks confidence, experience, and is on the road.  The Bulldogs have lost 11 straight SoCon games away from home, and most of them weren’t close losses.

I would like to be wrong on Saturday.  Very wrong.

Final note:  Jean Marshall, who for many years was the ticket manager for The Citadel’s department of athletics, died last week at the age of 80.  I was just one of many people who had the chance to interact with Ms. Marshall over the years.  As was stated in The Blue and White (probably by Andy Solomon), “She was a favorite of many and will be missed.”  Condolences to her family.

Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Bulldogs return to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a 1:00 pm ET game against the Eagles.  First, though, a few thoughts on the Appalachian State game, since I didn’t post a review of that contest.

First, I heard the final score — 39-10.  I later read that during the game, The Citadel:

Did not complete a pass (the first time the Bulldogs had failed to do that in 15 years)

— Committed two turnovers, one fumble and one interception

— Botched two punt snaps, the second of which led to punter Cass Couey leaving the game with an injury

— Lost the battle of time of possession, despite 53 rush attempts (in 59 total plays)

— Only averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return

— Missed out on a defensive turnover thanks to a pass interference penalty

— Allowed TD receptions of 65 and 73 yards

Lost one of its experienced playmakers, running back Van Dyke Jones, with what was later determined to be an ACL injury; Jones’ career highlight, of course, was a 69-yard run against the Mountaineers in last year’s meeting

All of that came on the road, against the #1 ranked team in FCS football.  So how exactly did The Citadel only lose by 29 points?

Well, App State dialed it down some in the fourth quarter, but there were some positives for the Bulldogs, looking at the stat sheet:

— First, full credit to backup punter Alexander Wall for doing a nice job on short notice; he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and only allowed 10 total return yards

— While Matt Thompson started, Sam Martin did play and saw significant time, so his injury from last week apparently wasn’t serious

— The aforementioned PI aside, the Bulldogs only committed five penalties

— The Bulldog D did force two turnovers that counted, including a fumble that was returned 40 yards by Eric Clanton, setting up the game’s first score; a later interception by Brandon McCladdie was the first pick by an App State opponent this season

— The defense, despite giving up two big pass plays, allowed less than 400 yards of total offense, which against App State (and considering it was on the field longer than normal) wasn’t too bad

— App State was only 5-14 on third down conversions

— The Citadel blocked not one but two PATs

Okay, so maybe I had to stretch to come up with some of those positives, but I guess my final analysis of the game would go something like this:  it could have been worse. Hey, the Mountaineers are ranked #1; the Bulldogs are not.  It was never going to be a game for The Citadel to use in measuring its progress this season.

On the other hand, Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is such a game.

Prior to this season, Jeff Monken had spent the past 13 years as an assistant for Paul Johnson at three different schools — Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. (Monken was also a grad assistant at Hawai’i when Johnson was the offensive coordinator there.)  He was hired by GSU to restore the triple option, and with it the glory days of Eagle football.

Perhaps the difference in expectations for the football programs at Georgia Southern and The Citadel can be summed up by this Monken quote:

“Who cares about transition years?  Nobody cares about that.  We want to win. I want to win, our fans want to win, our kids want to win. Nobody wants to hear about transition, or we’re young, or we’re learning. That’s a bunch of talk.

When you play a football game, you play to win. My expectation is the same for this season as it is for every season, and that’s to try and win every game. That’s what I expect.”

Contrast that with The Citadel, where most (although by no means all) fans are content to allow Kevin Higgins a “transition year” in the sixth season of his tenure at the military college.  Of course, Monken knows that he has a little more leeway than what he expressed in the above quote.  Georgia Southern fans aren’t expecting him to compete for the national title this year.

Next year, though, is a different story…

There are also those GSU supporters who aren’t that interested in the FCS national crown, because they would rather see the program move up to FBS land.  I think that would be a mistake, at least as things are currently constituted in the two sub-divisions.  I wrote about this last year, when GSU released its study on the issue.

Of course, now Appalachian State has decided it’s also going to study the pros and cons of making the move.  It’s prudent to assess the landscape of college football, and I don’t blame either school for investigating their options.  It’s my opinion, though, that unless there are major alterations in the world of FCS (or FBS), staying put is the way to go for the folks in Boone and Statesboro.

Georgia Southern is 3-3, 1-2 in the SoCon.  It looked for a while like Monken was ahead of schedule, for going into the game against Wofford the Eagles were 3-1 and ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.  However, a home loss to the Terriers was followed by last week’s setback at Chattanooga, and it’s clear that it’s not yet smooth sailing for GSU in conference play.

The biggest advantage Georgia Southern has had over The Citadel in re-instituting the triple option has been at quarterback, where the Eagles can rely on Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw, who not only ran the offense at Tech, but also ran it in high school.  He’s not an explosive runner, but he can make all the reads and can also throw the ball fairly well (10.3 yards per pass attempt; 4 TDs, no INTs).

GSU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush.  J.J. Wilcox is a solid slotback who can also catch the ball (his eleven receptions leads the team).  Robert Brown is a freshman fullback who actually leads the Eagles in rushing, but he’s been hurt.  There is no Adrian Peterson (GSU version, not Oklahoma version) suiting up this year for GSU.

Wilcox is the only GSU player with more than 95 receiving yards (he has 302).  No other Eagle has more than six grabs, but when one does make a catch, it’s usually for a good gain.  GSU receivers are averaging 19.1 yards per reception.

Georgia Southern has a young-ish offensive line (three juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman), and it’s been a little inconsistent.  While the Eagles are fourth nationally in rushing offense, they have suffered eleven sacks, which is a lot for a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often.

On defense, the Eagles are led by Brent Russell, an interior lineman with 4.5 sacks, three other tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.  He’s a very good player.  Other than Russell, though, GSU is not particularly sack-happy, with 12 total sacks on the year.  Georgia Southern has a solid, if not dynamic, group of linebackers and an improved secondary, although one with a tendency to give up the big play (five TD passes allowed of greater than 25 yards).  Does that sound familiar?

Georgia Southern’s special teams have been outstanding. Placekicker Adrian Mora has not missed a field goal or extra point this season.  He hasn’t been asked to kick long FGs (his longest this year is 41 yards) but he has made all that he has tried. Punter Charlie Edwards is the key factor behind the Eagles’ excellent net punting average of 39 yards, fourth in the country.

Georgia Southern’s 3-1 start included a game at Navy.  GSU lost that game, but only by a 13-7 margin.  Considering it was a battle of triple option teams, both with Paul Johnson connections, I thought it was interesting that the game was low scoring.

The Citadel is also running a similar triple option system, of course.  Will the Eagles defend the same way against the Bulldogs?  And how exactly did they defend, anyway?

Well, a good person to ask would be The Birddog, chronicler of Naval Academy athletics and the unquestioned Tolstoy of the Triple Option.  I’ve mentioned his blog before; for something of an introductory primer on the offense, here are a few posts from it:

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

I asked him a few questions about the Georgia Southern-Navy game.  Some of the Q-and-A is below:

Question:  I read that GSU defended the option in part by using its corners more aggressively (“firing the corners”) than is the norm.  Is that correct?

Answer:  The best way to defend firing corners is just to block.  It’s not an uncommon move; Air Force, Wake Forest, and SMU did it too. The difference between the wins and the losses was personnel, specifically the slotbacks. One of our junior slotbacks who was injured to start the year came back against Wake Forest, and all of a sudden it was no longer a problem.

Question:  Would the passing game be one way to combat that?  Specifically, throwing the ball to a slotback, or maybe even the fullback (on a screen pass)?

Answer:  There are ways to beat it in the passing game too.  The simplest way is to just throw to the uncovered receiver.  I think there’s a video of that in the Air Force writeup.

[Note from SS…that post can be found here:  Link ]

The cornerback blitz is as vulnerable to screen passes as any other blitz, and Navy runs a screen to the fullback in the direction of the blitz on occasion. The wheel-post works really well against blitzing corners too.

The safety has to roll over to cover the wide receiver, which leaves a linebacker to cover a slotback, which is usually a pretty favorable matchup for the offense.  I have an example toward the end of this post:  Link

Georgia Southern’s staff knew the Navy staff’s hand signals, so Navy had to stop going no-huddle early on.  Brent Russell also played a very good game.


Question:  Any thoughts on their splits?

Answer:  GSU’s splits are wider than Navy’s. There was a rule enacted last year that prohibited anyone lined up outside the tackles from blocking below the waist back inside the tackle box. That’s why Navy’s slots line up with their inside foot inside the outside foot of the tackle.  GSU doesn’t bother having their slots cut block inside anymore, preferring to keep the formation more spread.

Thanks again to The Birddog for answering my (probably simpleminded) questions.

The passing game has been a sore spot for The Citadel this year, of course, so the notion that being able to successfully throw the ball against GSU’s defense might be a key to the game probably makes Bulldog fans a little queasy.  The Bulldog slotbacks also must block well; perimeter blocking has been an issue for The Citadel all season.

Earlier in the post I linked Jeff Hartsell’s story about The Citadel’s anemic passing game.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that is worth noting:

…the Bulldogs have to get some semblance of a throwing game in shape before Georgia Southern brings its version of the double-slot option to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that offensive coaches will simplify their passing schemes this week in order to do just that.

“One thing we talked about as a staff (Monday) morning is simplifying what we are doing,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference. “Last week, we carried in 30 to 36 passing plays that you practice on a routine basis, based on what you might see in a game. At this point, I think we have a good idea of what our opponents will be running. Now, in my mind, we’ve got to get that 36 down to 10 or 15 plays.

“We need to run those plays well in practice every day, so that the quarterback is more confident, and receivers and everybody else are on the same page. So I think we’ve got to simplify and practice those specific plays more throughout the week.”

Hartsell also pointed out later in the story that the better you are at running the ball in the TO, the easier it is to pass it.
It should be a nice day for a game on Saturday in Charleston, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.  Let’s hope that the sun finally shines on The Citadel in conference play.