Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, SoCon discussion, and more (including coin toss data!)

This is Part 2 of my annual “Inside the Numbers” post. Why is it in two parts? Well, because it is a big ol’ pile of words and numbers, and couldn’t be contained in just one post.

If you happened on this part of the writeup first, you may want to first go to Part 1 for the introduction. You can read Part 1 right here.

Referenced throughout this post will be The Spreadsheet.

Let’s start this part of the post with the Red Zone, an area of the field which apparently got that moniker from none other than Joe Gibbs.

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 43.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 66.7%

Better, much better. 2017 was a disaster in the Red Zone, but in 2018 the Bulldogs finished a respectable 4th in the league.

There is still room for improvement, though. My suggestion: figure out why scoring from inside the 20-yard line against VMI is so difficult.

In the last four games against the Keydets, The Citadel has only scored 6 touchdowns in 20 trips to the Red Zone. That is maddening. The ability to finish drives is paramount when the coveted Silver Shako is on the line.

When all games are taken into account, the Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of 63.6% last season, good for 42nd nationally (they were 90th in 2017). Davidson, which scored touchdowns on 35 of 40 trips inside the 20-yard line, led FCS (87.5%). Also in the top five: Robert Morris, Jacksonville, North Dakota State, and North Carolina A&T.

While it helps to be proficient in the Red Zone, it isn’t an automatic indicator of success. Davidson, the subject of some discussion in Part 1 of this post, had crazy offensive numbers but was 6-5 overall (still a sizable improvement over previous years for the Wildcats).

Meanwhile, Robert Morris scored TDs in 29 of 37 Red Zone opportunities, but finished 2-9, which can happen when opponents average 43.5 points per game. Jacksonville allowed 38.7 points per game, and thus JU wound up 2-8.

On the other hand, North Dakota State and North Carolina A&T won a lot of games, as did UC Davis (6th in this category), South Dakota State (7th), San Diego (8th), Kennesaw State (10th), and Princeton (11th).

Samford was 12th, Furman 15th, Mercer 34th, South Carolina State 46th, VMI 58th, ETSU 68th, Presbyterian 71st, Wofford 73rd, Elon 90th, Western Carolina 92nd, Towson 94th, James Madison 96th, Chattanooga 98th, Charleston Southern 101st (after finishing 6th nationally in 2017), and Alabama State 124th and last (at 34.5%).

Eastern Washington had the most Red Zone opportunities in FCS, with 76 (converting 65.8% of them into TDs). James Madison had the second-most RZ chances in the subdivision (69); the Dukes also finished second in Red Zone opportunities in 2017.

Presbyterian only entered the Red Zone 17 times last season, fewest in FCS.

As far as FBS teams are concerned, UCF led the way, with a TD rate in the Red Zone of 79.7%. Following the Knights in this category were Miami (OH), Houston, Washington State, and Navy.

Other notables: Clemson (6th), Army (tied for 16th), Georgia Southern (19th), Alabama (30th), Oklahoma (32nd), Coastal Carolina (75th), South Carolina (tied for 100th), Southern California (109th), LSU (119th), and Arkansas (130th and last, at 43.2%).

The top five in Red Zone chances: Alabama (79 in 15 games), Syracuse (75 in 13 games), Clemson (75 in 15 games), Ohio (72 in 13 games), and North Carolina State (71 in 13 games).

Oklahoma was 7th, Army tied for 24th (as did Georgia Tech), South Carolina tied for 34th, and Akron finished at the bottom (only 21 times inside the 20-yard line in 12 games).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 81.8%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 58.6%

Again, this was a big improvement from 2017. The Citadel finished 3rd in the SoCon in defensive Red Zone TD rate.

The best defensive team in conference play in the Red Zone was Chattanooga, followed by Furman.

Nationally, The Citadel finished 36th in defensive Red Zone TD rate (the Bulldogs were 117th in 2017). North Carolina A&T, with a 31.0% rate, topped FCS. The Aggies were followed by North Dakota State and three northeastern programs — Holy Cross, Colgate, and Dartmouth.

James Madison was 6th, Chattanooga 7th, South Carolina State 19th, Elon 29th, Mercer 60th, Charleston Southern 61st, ETSU 63rd, Furman 65th, Western Carolina 78th, Wofford 81st, Samford 105th, Towson 106th, VMI 112th, and Morehead State 124th and last (opponents scored 42 TDs in 49 Red Zone possessions against the Eagles — 85.7%).

Quick note: Furman’s defense allowed touchdowns on 14 of 25 Red Zone trips in conference play (56%). The Paladins’ non-league opponents, however, scored on 85.7% of possessions that ventured inside the 20, which is why nationally FU is a bit lower (62.5%) than in the SoCon stats.

That discrepancy is a sample-size issue, though, and one I thought worth mentioning. Thanks to a cancellation caused by Hurricane Florence, Furman only had two non-conference opponents, and they were Clemson and Elon. Clemson was 4 for 5 scoring TDs inside the 20-yard line, and Elon was 2 for 2.

The more you know…

Princeton’s opponents only made 17 trips to the Red Zone in 10 games, fewest in all of FCS. Colgate, Dartmouth, and North Dakota State were also stingy when it came to letting teams get close to their respective end zones.

The Citadel was 61st overall, facing 41 Red Zone possessions in 11 contests. VMI tied for allowing the most opponent appearances inside the 20, with 61 in 11 games, sharing that dubious mark with Robert Morris and Northern Colorado.

Mississippi State led FBS in defensive Red Zone touchdown rate, at 29.4%. Others in the top 5: Auburn, Michigan State, Oregon, and Clemson.

Alabama tied for 56th, South Carolina was 65th, and Coastal Carolina was 103rd. None other than Oklahoma (!) finished last. The Sooners allowed TDs on 45 of 54 Red Zone trips by their opponents (83.3%).

The fewest Red Zone appearances by their opponents: Fresno State, with just 27 in 14 games. The most allowed: Connecticut, with 67 in 12 games.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2017: 38.7%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2018: 45.3%

The Bulldogs finished second in the league, behind Samford (48.2%). The league average in 2018 was 39.7%. The Citadel also had the most third down conversion attempts in SoCon action.

This was another category in which Davidson (55.6%) finished first in FCS. Princeton, North Dakota State, and Yale joined the Wildcats in the top 5. Kennesaw State was 6th, Samford 10th, and The Citadel 22nd.

Furman was 24th, Western Carolina 27th, Wofford 40th, Towson 42nd, Chattanooga 44th, ETSU 61st, Elon 62nd, Mercer 72nd, VMI 92nd, Presbyterian 93rd, South Carolina State 115th, Charleston Southern 119th, and Savannah State (which is moving to D-2) 124th and last, at 23.7%.

Army led FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (57.1%). Boise State was 2nd, followed by Alabama, Oklahoma, and UCF.

Clemson was 20th, Georgia Tech 26th, South Carolina 41st, Coastal Carolina 42nd, Air Force 50th, Georgia Southern 70th, Navy 76th, North Texas 84th, New Mexico 85th, Florida Atlantic 119th, and Rice 130th and last at 28.7%.

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2017: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2018: 35.1%

For the fourth consecutive year, the Bulldogs were very solid in this area.

Wofford led the league, at 30.4%. VMI, which allowed league opponents to convert third downs at a 48.1% clip, was last.

North Carolina A&T topped FCS with a defensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 25.4%. Jacksonville State, Weber State, Harvard, and Sam Houston State completed the top 5.

Wofford was 25th overall, The Citadel 38th, South Carolina State 44th, Elon 55th, Samford 68th, Furman 74th, Chattanooga 75th, Charleston Southern 85th, Towson 91st, ETSU 93rd, Presbyterian 95th, Western Carolina 106th, Mercer 109th, VMI 118th, and Butler (which definitely didn’t do it in this category) 124th and last, at 53.6%.

A brief comment: The Citadel opens its season this year with games against Towson and Elon (the latter on the road). It is clear the Bulldogs need to maintain these advantages in 3rd-down conversion rate on both sides of the ball. Another thing that has to happen for The Citadel to win either of those games, of course, is to force its opponents to face more third downs in the first place.

Miami (FL) allowed its opponent to convert only 25.3% of third down attempts last season, good enough to lead all of FBS. The Hurricanes were followed by UAB, Mississippi State, Army, and Cincinnati, with Clemson finishing 6th.

Alabama was 24th, Georgia Southern 62nd, South Carolina 70th, Air Force 94th, Coastal Carolina 115th, Navy 122th, Georgia Tech 129th, and Louisville 130th and last (51.9%). Bobby Petrino just couldn’t rally the defense on third down; hard to believe, isn’t it?

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 13 sacks, 24 passes defensed in 205 pass attempts (11.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 in SoCon action: 29 sacks, 27 passes defensed in 287 pass attempts (10.5% PD)

Note: Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions (but plays that result in sacks are not counted as part of the PD rate).

The Bulldogs led the league in sacks last season. Notice the large increase in pass plays faced by The Citadel in 2018; VMI accounts for a good chunk of that differential, and then Samford’s Devlin Hodges never quit slinging the pigskin against the Bulldogs, either.

The Citadel had 24 “hurries”, down slightly from 2017. I’m not a huge fan of that stat, because I’m not completely sure it is consistently interpreted by all game scorers.

The Citadel’s “havoc rate” was 19.9%, up a little from 2017 (when it was 19.4%). The definition of havoc rate: tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed, all added together and then divided by total plays.

I do not believe there is a website that compiles havoc rates for FCS teams, but Football Outsiders does track the statistic for FBS teams, so that can be a little bit of a measuring stick. A havoc rate of 19.9% would have been good enough to tie Penn State for 8th nationally in FBS in 2018.

Naturally, that 19.9% was for conference games only. For the entire season, The Citadel’s havoc rate was 19.1%.

I compiled the havoc rate for the nine SoCon teams, counting all games played and not just league contests. In the table below, “TFL” stands for tackles for loss; “FF” refers to forced fumbles; and “INT/PBU” combines interceptions with passes broken up.

Team TFL FF INT/PBU Def. Plays Havoc rate
ETSU 92 10 69 840 20.4%
The Citadel 83 12 34 675 19.1%
Furman 59 11 40 680 16.2%
Chattanooga 57 16 52 779 16.0%
Wofford 70 8 48 806 15.6%
Samford 61 9 42 790 14.2%
WCU 62 11 45 837 14.1%
Mercer 60 10 40 834 13.2%
VMI 52 3 38 837 11.1%

 

Some of the raw totals were really close, as you can see.

The top 5 “havoc rate” teams in FBS in 2018: Miami (FL), Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, and Texas A&M. The Hurricanes had a havoc rate of 24.2%.

Louisville finished last in havoc rate, at 9.1%, well behind even Connecticut and Georgia State (which tied for next to last).

In this section, I’m going to discuss “big plays”. There are different definitions of what constitutes a big play. My methodology is simple (maybe too simple); I define “big plays” as offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20+ yards, regardless of whether or not they are rushing or passing plays.

  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2017: 36 (21 rushing, 15 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2018: 26 (13 rushing, 13 passing)

In 2016, 19 of the 26 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. In 2017, however, that number fell to just 17 of 36, as the Bulldogs were woeful in the Red Zone.

Last year, 18 of 26 big plays directly or indirectly resulted in TDs, as The Citadel all but matched its 2016 numbers.

The Bulldogs need to increase their number of long running plays this season. There should be at least two big plays each game on the ground. Three per game would be even better.

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2017: 32 (10 rushing, 22 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2018: 37 (10 rushing, 27 passing)

In 2016, 18 of 28 big plays given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns. In 2017, 25 of 32 allowed long gainers ultimately resulted in TDs.

Last year, 23 of 37 big plays allowed immediately or eventually led to touchdowns. That isn’t a terrible rate, but 37 sizable gains given up in eight league games is obviously too many. The Bulldogs cannot afford to give up major chunks of yardage like that.

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 8 for 19 (42.1%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 16 of 27 (59.3%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 3 for 7 converted against (42.9%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 6 for 14 converted against (49.9%

The 4th-down conversion rate for SoCon teams in league play was 56.6%.

The increasing aggressiveness on 4th-down calls by the Bulldogs is noticeable and, in my opinion, promising.

For the season, The Citadel attempted 38 4th-down conversion tries, and was successful on 23 of them (60.5%). Nationally, only VMI (45) and Southern Utah (44) attempted more among FCS teams.

The Bulldogs’ 23 made conversions ranked second overall to Southern Utah (which converted 28 times, succeeding 63.6% of the time). VMI was 21 for 45 (46.7%).

North Dakota State led the subdivision in success rate on 4th down, at 85.7%; the Bison only attempted to convert 7 fourth downs, making 6 of them. Other high-percentage 4th-down teams: Princeton, Mercer, Dartmouth, and Furman. Others in the top ten included Kennesaw State (8th) and Western Carolina (9th).

Of the top nine teams, however, only Kennesaw State (34 tries) and Princeton (23) attempted as many as 20 4th-down attempts. Mercer had 10 conversion attempts; Furman, 13.

I think there is a real advantage to be gained by succeeding on 4th down, particularly in volume. For the proof of that, all anyone has to do is look at Army, which attempted 36 4th-down tries (tied for 4th in FBS) and converted an amazing 31 of them.

Making 86.1% of so many 4th-down attempts is incredible, and a big reason why the Black Knights won 11 games, especially when you factor in the fact that Army also led all of FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (at 57.1%).

Here is one way to think about it: Army attempted 196 third-down conversions last season, making 112 of them. However, the Black Knights eventually picked up a first down 31 times after not succeeding on third down. If you throw those into the mix, Army wound up moving the chains 73% of the time after facing a third down — which is a staggering rate.

One key reason for Army’s success on 4th down: 23 of those attempts were 4th-and-1 plays. The Black Knights made 21 of them.

Which team’s offenses weren’t good on 4th down? Well, Penn was 0 for 8 on 4th-down attempts. Then there was Howard, which converted a pedestrian 36.1% of the time, but went for it on 4th down a lot, winding up 13 for 36 on the season. Only VMI (24) had more failed 4th-down conversion attempts, and as noted above the Keydets tried more of them than any other team.

Lane Kiffin ordered up the most 4th-down tries in FBS, as his Florida Atlantic squad attempted 44 of them. At 28.6%, San Jose State had the worse 4th-down conversion rate in that subdivision.

Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.

John Heisman, who was possibly a bit overzealous when it came to ball control

When evaluating fumble stats, one of the guiding principles is that teams generally have a 50-50 chance at the recovery.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 17 (lost 7)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 16 (lost 8)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 9 (recovered 5)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 12 (recovered 5)

Obviously, the defense must work hard to get luckier. Perhaps the team can search local fields for four-leaf clovers.

On average, SoCon teams lost 5.55 fumbles in league play.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2017: 43
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action: 2018: 43

The average number of total penalties against SoCon teams in league play was 48. The Citadel actually had the fewest penalties in the conference, but there was a catch: the Bulldogs were assessed more major infractions than most, resulting in 57.8 penalty yards per game (5th-most in the SoCon).

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2017: 26
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2018: 37

For the first time in many years, the Bulldogs did not rank last in this category, as their opponents were actually called for more penalties last year than the norm. However, the penalty yardage assessed against The Citadel’s opposition was still below average.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2018, SoCon action: 4 (in eight games)

I think the Bulldogs should have gone for it on two of the four punts, to be honest, but in the end all of these moves more or less worked out for The Citadel. Perhaps the most questionable punt came in the season opener against Wofford, but the Terriers threw an interception just two plays later that set up a Bulldogs TD, so it is rather hard to argue with Brent Thompson’s decision.

The bottom line is that I’m glad there were only four.

  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2018, SoCon action: 2 (in eight games)

Don’t ask me why VMI punted on 4th and 15 at The Citadel’s 27-yard line late in the second quarter, then decided to go for it on 4th and 8 from its own 33 on the opening drive of the third quarter (in a tie game).

Ah, 4th down. That toddlin’ down…

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

On the spreadsheet I have categorized every fourth down situation The Citadel’s offense had in Southern Conference play (see the “4th down decisions” tab).

The Citadel punted on six of seven occasions in which it had a fourth down in the Deep Zone. The exception came against Furman, a “desperation” attempt down two scores with less than a minute to play.

In the Back Zone, the Bulldogs punted 9 times and went for it 5 times — against Wofford (2nd quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by three scores), Chattanooga (4th quarter, 4th-and-2, game tied), Mercer (1st quarter, 4th-and-1, down 7-0), East Tennessee State (less than 2 minutes to play, 4th-and-5, down by 3 points), and Samford (early in the 4th quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by 6).

The Citadel converted three of those. The successful pickup against Samford led to a 60-yard go-ahead touchdown run on the very next play. The 4th-down pass attempt versus ETSU did not go nearly as well, to say the least. The run versus UTC would have resulted in a first down, except it was fumbled away.

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 19 times and went for it on 4th down five times, making two of those. One of the two successful conversions was a “desperation” attempt.

In the Front Zone, The Citadel had two punts (both mentioned earlier), one made field goal, and went for it nine times, converting seven of them. Six of the seven conversions were on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2; the other was on 4th-and-3. The two failed tries were on 4th-and-4 and 4th-and-8.

In the Red Zone, The Citadel attempted six field goals (making five), and went for it seven times (making a first down and/or touchdown on four of those).

That is an improvement over previous years. In the four preceding seasons, the Bulldogs were 2 for 8 going for it on 4th down in the Red Zone (not counting overtime games).

I also have listed what SoCon opponents did on 4th down versus The Citadel.

In the Deep Zone, it is fairly simple. Opponents punted on all eleven occasions they were faced with a fourth down.

In the Back Zone, there were 14 punts and two conversion attempts. Earlier, I mentioned VMI’s somewhat bizarre 4th-down try. The other attempt was a late-game “desperation” effort by Samford that was not successful.

In the Mid Zone, opponents punted seven times. There was one 4th-down attempt, a late-game try by Western Carolina while down 14 points. It was 4th-and-10, but the Catamounts pulled it off anyway, completing a 20-yard pass for the first down.

In the Front Zone, there was the aforementioned punt by VMI (from the Bulldogs’ 27), and five field goal attempts (two successful). On 4th-down tries, opponents were 4 for 8.

There were seven field goal attempts by the Bulldogs’ opponents in the Red Zone, with six of them sailing through the uprights. There were three 4th-down tries:

  • VMI, down 7-0 early in the 1st quarter, rushed for nine yards on 4th-and-1 from The Citadel’s 15-yard line (and scored on the next play).
  • Western Carolina, down 14 points with three minutes to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 4-yard line.
  • Samford, down 15 points with just over a minute to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 8-yard line.

(Note: as discussed before, overtime games are not included in these tabulations.)

A few years ago, The Citadel seemed to embark on a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

In 2016, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games. In five of the six games in which the Bulldogs won the toss, they deferred, just as they had done in 2015. The exception was at Western Carolina, where The Citadel elected to receive after winning the toss.

In 2017, The Citadel was 5-3 in coin toss contests, and deferred all five times it won.

So what did the Bulldogs do last year? Well, they won the coin toss four times. On two of those occasions, both at home, they deferred — but on the road at VMI and at Western Carolina, they elected to receive the opening kickoff.

I’m not sure why, unless the home/road situation was a factor. However, it had not been an issue in prior seasons.

Someone should ask Brent Thompson about this. It is certainly something that must be investigated. If necessary, Congressional hearings should be held.

There is a tab on the spreadsheet that lists game-by-game attendance (home and away) and game length (in terms of time). Home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium took on average 12 minutes less to play than contests the Bulldogs played on the road.

This was an almost complete reversal from 2017, when home games were on average 11 minutes longer than road matchups. That is because last season’s road games averaged 3:15, while the year before they clocked in at just 2:54 — a 21-minute difference. Perhaps more teams having instant replay capability resulted in increased game length.

I’m ready for football season. Isn’t everybody?

Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with some SoCon and FCS discussion as well

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

– Football attendance at The Citadel — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Also of interest from around the internet:

The time a couple of cadets swiped an elephant and took it to a football game

Brent Thompson talks to SportsTalk

The Citadel was picked to finish 7th in the SoCon by both the coaches and media polls

Thompson wasn’t impressed with those polls

Bulldogs punter Matthew Campbell is on the “Watch List” for the FCS Punter of the Year award (presented by the Augusta Sports Council)

“Meet the Bulldogs” is on August 24

This is Part 1 of a two-part post that focuses on select statistics on the 2018 football season. As was the case last year, I broke it down into two parts.

Part 2 can be found here.

I’ll also be releasing a couple of other stats-oriented posts in the (hopefully) near future. When I do, I’ll link them in this spot.

[Link when available!]

In recent seasons, I have written about play-calling tendencies by The Citadel’s coaching staff; I’ll continue to do that this year. I like to compare statistics over a rolling three-year period.

For this post, I’ll take a look at the 2018 season stats, and compare/contrast them with those from the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. All three campaigns have featured Brent Thompson as head coach, so there is some consistency there.

My focus will be on the following:

  • down-and-distance run/pass tendencies (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • yards per play numbers (offense and defense, rushing and passing)
  • select defensive passing stats (including sacks, hurries, and passes defensed)
  • success in the “red zone” (essentially defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big plays”), and how they impact TD drives
  • fourth-down decision-making (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • situational punting for The Citadel and its opponents (i.e. punting from inside the 50-yard line); I’m generally not a fan of this tactic
  • the all-important coin toss (with a curious change in philosophy for The Citadel!)
  • attendance and time-of-game information

Some of these items will be in Part 1, while others will be in Part 2.

First things first: The Spreadsheet

One thing you will notice is that almost all of the statistics in the spreadsheet are broken down by game. In other words, if you wanted to know about The Citadel’s yards per pass attempt versus Mercer (outstanding), or the Bulldogs’ Red Zone numbers against VMI (not good for the second straight season), or The Citadel’s time-of-possession for every quarter of every SoCon game this season, or any number of other things that you always wanted to know, but didn’t actually know that you wanted to know — well, this is the spreadsheet that you never dreamed about because you have really lame dreams.

If you didn’t want to know about any of those things, you should re-evaluate the priorities in your life.

The statistics that follow are (unless specifically noted) based on league play, and only league play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. The Citadel’s on-field success or failure will be judged for the most part on how it does in the Southern Conference, not against its out-of-conference slate.

The league schedules over the last three years looked like this:

  • The Citadel played eight games in 2016 versus Southern Conference opponents. The league schools that year: Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Wofford, East Tennessee State, Samford, and VMI (with ETSU joining the league for football that season).
  • In 2017, the Bulldogs played the same SoCon opponents as they had in 2016. The Citadel faced East Tennessee State, Samford, Chattanooga, and Furman on the road, while playing Mercer, Wofford, VMI, and Western Carolina at home.
  • Last season, The Citadel’s league opponents remained unchanged. At home, the Bulldogs played Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Furman, and Samford; away from Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel faced Wofford, Mercer, VMI, and Western Carolina.

Caveat alert: I am reasonably confident in the overall accuracy of the statistics, though I am definitely capable of making mistakes. The SoCon included league-only stats on its website for the second year in a row, which was helpful.

I am happy to report that this year, the play-by-play data summaries were much cleaner. The glitch that affected kickoffs has been fixed, which was a blessing. Other than a weird (but easily navigable) hiccup in the Mercer game summary, and some minor issues in a couple of other summaries, I didn’t have too much trouble compiling the data I needed.

As additional references, here are the links to the spreadsheets from 2017, 2016, and 2015.

2017: Link

2016: Link

2015: Link

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2018. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2017, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2016 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 84.3% (81.1%) [86.0%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 84.3% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 81.1% of the time in 2017. The Citadel ran the ball 86.0% of the time on first down during its 2016 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 83.7% of the time in 2018, after rushing 77.9% of the time in 2017, and on 85.6% of all offensive plays in 2016. This return to running on more than four-fifths of all offensive plays can be attributed to not having to pass as much in late-game situations, which was the case in 2017. The Bulldogs did not face significant deficits last season in the way they occasionally did the year before.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage):

– 2nd-and-short: 75.0% (88.9%) [94.1%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 88.0% (87.2%) [96.1%]
– 2nd-and-long: 87.6% (76.9%) [83.8%]
– 3rd-and-short: 96.2% (91.7%) [100.0%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 88.2% (83.9%) [88.5%]
– 3rd-and-long: 70.2% (57.6%) [68.1%]

There were naturally a few called pass plays that turned into runs. However, if the result of a play was a sack, that counted as a passing down even if a pass wasn’t thrown. For the season, Bulldog QBs were sacked 6 times in league play (after being sacked 10 times in 2017), for a loss of 38 total yards.

  • In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have faced 3rd-and-short 78 times in league play, and have thrown the ball just three times, including once last season (against VMI; the pass was not completed).
  • While The Citadel threw the ball more often on 2nd-and-short last year, beware of small sample sizes: 3 of the 7 times the Bulldogs did so were against ETSU, with two of those passes coming on The Citadel’s final drive, while trailing and running out of time.
  • To sum up, last year on 2nd-and-short and 3rd-and-short, the Bulldogs went back to pass eight times. The results were not good; The Citadel was 2-7 throwing the ball for 28 yards, with one sack/lost fumble. The Bulldogs have to take better advantage of the surprise element when passing in those down-and-distance situations.
  • The Citadel threw the ball on first down far more often versus ETSU and Furman than any of its other SoCon opponents. Twenty of the Bulldogs’ 35 first-down passes came against those two squads.

In this section, I’m listing what The Citadel’s conference opponents did in down-and-distance situations over the last three seasons.

Overall, conference opponents rushed on only 42.4% of their plays from scrimmage against the Bulldogs in 2018, after doing so on 53.5% of their plays in 2017 and 49.7% of their plays in 2016. On first down, league teams rushed 44.0% of time, as compared to 62.5% two years ago and 56.2% in 2016.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage). The 2017 numbers are in parenthesis, while the 2016 stats are in brackets.

– 2nd-and-short: 73.7% (81.8%) [75.9%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 46.4% (61.0%) [47.9%]
– 2nd-and-long: 39.7% (41.5%) [44.8%]
– 3rd-and-short: 83.3% (78.6%) [66.7%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 41.7% (46.7%) [36.4%]
– 3rd-and-long: 27.8% (22.6%) [27.3%]

Some of the differences between last year and the previous two seasons can be attributed to game situation circumstances (i.e., The Citadel trailed more often in 2017 than in the other two years).

Another factor is VMI’s transition to the Air Raid, which markedly changed things in a couple of categories. Notably, the Keydets called pass plays on first down a remarkable 37 out of 40 times against the Bulldogs.

  • Teams that passed more than they rushed against The Citadel were 1-4 against the Bulldogs (Chattanooga won; Mercer, VMI, Western Carolina, and Samford all lost).
  • In 2017, Mercer did not attempt a pass versus the Bulldogs on either 2nd-and-short or 2nd-and-medium. Last year, the Bears faced six of those particular down-and-distance situations, and threw the ball on four of them.
  • VMI was the only SoCon squad to pass the ball on 3rd-and-short against The Citadel, doing so twice.
  • Samford did not run the ball once versus The Citadel on 2nd-and-medium, 3rd-and-medium, 3rd-and-long, or on 4th down.

In the next few sections of this post, I’m going to alternate offensive and defensive numbers.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon action: 72.1 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon action: 70.1 plays per game, 12.1 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2018 in SoCon action: 69.0 plays per game, 11.6 possessions per game

*Overtime possessions are not included in any of the conference-only statistics, for the sake of consistency (and avoiding statistical sample size issues).

**I don’t count a drive as an actual possession when it consists solely of a defensive TD via a return, or when it is a defensive turnover that ends the half or game. I also don’t count a drive as a possession when the offensive team doesn’t attempt to score (such as a kneel-down situation). That accounts for any possession discrepancies between my numbers and a game summary.

Last year, the Bulldogs had a time of possession edge in league play of almost six minutes (32:55 – 27:05), which was the second season in a row TOP for The Citadel declined slightly. In 2017, the Bulldogs kept the ball for 33:10, while in 2016 they held it for 33:41.

The Citadel held the ball longer than its opponents on average in three of the four quarters in 2018, with the second quarter being the outlier. The Bulldogs won the TOP battle in every game except one (Furman, the second consecutive season the Paladins had the edge in that category).

Nationally (counting all games, not just conference matchups), the Bulldogs finished fifth in total time of possession per contest, behind Cal Poly, Portland State, Wofford, and Yale. In the previous two seasons, The Citadel had finished first (2017) and second (2016) in TOP.

The bottom three teams in the FCS for time of possession per game were VMI (third from last), Brown (second from last), and Prairie View A&M (last, at 24:26).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 SoCon play: 57.6 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 SoCon play: 58.8 plays per game, 11.8 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 SoCon play: 62.3 plays per game, 11.5 possessions per game

VMI and Samford each broke the 80-play mark against the Bulldogs’ defense, but The Citadel won both of those games anyway. The 89 offensive plays run by Samford were the most faced by The Citadel in at least the last five years, and probably longer than that. By way of comparison, Charlotte’s offense ran “only” 88 plays in the wild 63-56 2OT game The Citadel had with the 49ers in 2014.

The school’s official record book states the most plays run by an opponent against the Bulldogs is 99, by Davidson in 1972. The Bulldogs won that game 25-16, despite committing seven turnovers (the Wildcats only managed to score three points after all of those takeaways, and also committed five turnovers themselves).

Another memorable aspect of that matchup with Davidson: The Citadel was assessed a fifteen-yard delay of game penalty before the contest even started. The team was penalized because the band was late getting off of the field.

Annual note: while NCAA statistical records count sack yardage against rushing totals, the NFL considers sack yardage as passing yardage lost. I take the NFL’s position on this, because it makes much more sense. Thus, all conference statistics included in this post count sack yardage against passing stats.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon games: 5.58 yards per play, including 5.28 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon games: 5.38 yards per play, including 5.24 yards per rush and 7.0 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2018 in SoCon games: 5.36 yards per play, including 4.89 yards per rush and 7.8 yards per pass attempt

The rushing yards per play numbers were down by a fairly significant margin. They did trend upward towards the end of the season, however.

– 2016 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 83 pass attempts for 615 yards (two interceptions)

– 2017 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 114 pass attempts for 797 yards (five interceptions)

– 2018 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 90 pass attempts for 701 yards (three interceptions)

That 2018 line isn’t going to match up with the SoCon official totals, mostly because of the sacks issue, and also because it doesn’t include a nine-yard pass completion in overtime against Chattanooga. As I mentioned earlier, overtime statistics are not included (because they tend to radically skew the numbers).

While it was somewhat disappointing that The Citadel couldn’t break the 8-yard per pass attempt barrier in SoCon action, the Bulldogs actually fare well in this category when compared to the rest of the league. I ran the numbers for each of the nine teams in conference play, taking sacks into account. Here are the results:

 

Furman 8.44
The Citadel 7.80
Wofford 7.45
Samford 7.40
Mercer 6.95
Western Carolina 6.76
Chattanooga 6.10
ETSU 5.49
VMI 5.19

Because The Citadel does not throw the ball very often, however, it still needs to improve in this area. That may seem counter-intuitive, but the fact is that when the Bulldogs do toss the pigskin into the air, they need to really make it count.

Let’s take a look at The Citadel’s per-play stats from a national perspective (all of FCS, and including all games, not just conference play). I’ll include stats from select FBS teams as well, concentrating (in that subdivision) on schools that run the triple option, teams of local interest, and a few others.

The Bulldogs’ offense was 84th nationally in yards per play, with a 5.23 average (all games). Davidson led FCS, averaging 7.79 yards per play while running the curiously named “gun-spread” offense.

This was just one of several offensive categories in which the Wildcats (a much-improved 6-5 last year) finished near (or at) the top of the subdivision; winning a game by a 91-61 score can certainly help your stats, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Davidson also had seven other games in which it scored at least 40 points; the Wildcats were 4-3 in those contests.

Davidson was followed in the yards per play department by South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, North Dakota State, and Princeton, all of which enjoyed outstanding seasons in 2018. SoCon teams in the top 50:  Wofford was 13th, Samford 20th, Western Carolina was 23rd, and Mercer was 33rd.

Kennesaw State was 11th, Hampton 22nd, Towson 34th, Elon 63rd, Charleston Southern 101st, South Carolina State 103rd, Presbyterian 111th, and VMI 112th. Bucknell finished 124th and last, averaging just 3.49 yards per play.

Oklahoma led FBS in yards per play again last season, with a mind-boggling 8.60 average. Other FBS rankings in this category of interest: Alabama (2nd, at 7.76 yards per play), Clemson (3rd), Memphis (4th), Mississippi (5th), UCF (9th), Appalachian State (14th), South Carolina (24th), Georgia Tech (39th), Georgia Southern (53rd), Coastal Carolina (59th), Air Force (tied for 72nd), Army (79th), Navy (tied for 101st), Florida State (110th), New Mexico (tied for 116th), Central Michigan (130th and last, at 3.78 yards per play).

The Bulldogs’ overall yards per rush was 38th-best in FCS, third in the SoCon behind Wofford (8th) and Western Carolina (20th).

The FCS top five in yards per rush attempt: Davidson (7.44 yards/rush), Eastern Washington, Princeton, South Dakota State, and North Dakota State (the same top five for overall yards/play). Kennesaw State was 9th, Towson 33rd, Elon 47th, Mercer 49th, Charleston Southern 53rd, ETSU 54th, Furman 69th, South Carolina State 72nd, Presbyterian 99th, Chattanooga 100th, VMI 121st, and Fordham 124th and last, averaging only 1.71 yards per rush.

I should point out (not for the first time) that these national rushing numbers include sacks. You may recall that in 2017 Mississippi Valley State actually finished with a negative rushing total, due to a ton of sacks (and some less-than-stellar actual rushing). This past year, the Delta Devils managed to finish in the positive column (115th nationally).

Oklahoma’s amazing offense led FBS in yards per rush at 6.57, just ahead of Clemson. Memphis, Wisconsin, and Ohio rounded out the top five.

Illinois was a somewhat surprising 6th, followed by Georgia, UCF, and Appalachian State. Georgia Tech and Maryland tied for 10th. Others of note: Georgia Southern (17th), Alabama (23rd), Army (31st), Navy (32nd), Air Force (tied for 41st), Coastal Carolina (48th), South Carolina (58th), Ohio State (tied for 76th), New Mexico (tied for 113th), Florida State (129th), and San Jose State (130th and very much last, at 2.07 yards per rush).

In terms of yards per pass attempt, The Citadel finished 18th nationally in FCS, at 8.3 yards/attempt. (That obviously includes all games.)

Another triple option team, Kennesaw State, led FCS teams at 9.73 yards per attempt. North Dakota State was 2nd, San Diego 3rd, Davidson 4th, South Dakota State 5th, and Furman 6th.

Wofford was 28th in the category, while Mercer was 31st, Western Carolina 36th, and Samford 37th. Towson was 46th, Elon 63rd, VMI 109th (with 19 interceptions, most in the subdivision), Charleston Southern 119th, and Bucknell last (at 4.95 yards per attempt).

In case you were wondering, Bucknell finished 1-10 last year.

Oklahoma completed the FBS yards-per-play triple crown by leading in yards per pass attempt, at 11.3, just ahead of Alabama (11.1). The Crimson Tide had a slightly better passing rating, thanks to a tiny edge in TD-to-interception ratio.

Two triple option teams also had great stats in this area. Army finished third in yards per pass attempt (10.6), and Georgia Southern finished 9th (8.8). In addition, the Eagles went the entire season without throwing an interception, the only FBS team to do so (Cal Poly also went INT-free in FCS).

Georgia Southern threw ten TD passes in 117 attempts. On the other hand, Rutgers had only five TD tosses in 351 attempts, tied for the lowest number of touchdown passes in FBS (with Navy, which passed the ball 223 fewer times). The Scarlet Knights also led FBS in interceptions thrown, with 22, and tied with Central Michigan for an FBS-worst 4.5 yards per pass attempt.

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 4.94 yards per play, including 4.61 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 5.69 yards per play, including 4.87 yards per rush and 7.5 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 in SoCon action: 6.18 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per pass attempt

The Bulldogs were better against the pass in 2018 than they were the season before, though not quite at the level as they were in 2016. The Citadel only had one truly bad game against the pass in league play, against Chattanooga (but it was definitely bad).

The yards allowed per rush stat is concerning. The Citadel got burned on some big rushing plays, particularly against Wofford and Western Carolina. The Bulldogs also gave up a 41-yard scramble to Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges, which really bumped up the opponent’s yards per rush for that game, especially since SU only had 15 rushing plays in the entire contest.

Nationally in FCS (stats are for all games, of course), The Citadel was 104th in defensive yards allowed per play (6.44). Colgage led FCS in this category, at 3.85 yards per play. Also in the top five: Dartmouth, Drake, Georgetown, and North Carolina A&T.

Colgate undoubtedly had an excellent defense, but also was the beneficiary of playing four of the bottom five teams in yards per play (Bucknell, Fordham, Georgetown, William and Mary). Having said that, the Raiders only lost two games all season (to Army and North Dakota State) and beat James Madison in the FCS playoffs. Colgate was a very solid club.

Georgetown managed to finish in the top 5 in defensive yards per play, and the bottom five in offensive yards per play. That strikes me as a novel accomplishment.

The Hoyas (5-6 in 2018) were sturdy against the pass, and other than Dartmouth and Colgate, nobody ran the ball — at least, not successfully — against Georgetown all season. The Hoyas’ offense often had trouble moving the football too, however.

Other teams of varied interest: Kennesaw State was 6th, James Madison 10th, North Dakota State 18th, Wofford 21st, Charleston Southern 23rd, ETSU 28th, Chattanooga 33rd, Samford 38th, Elon 50th, South Carolina State 65th, Towson 76th, Furman 87th, Presbyterian 91st, Mercer 102nd, Western Carolina 105th, VMI 113th, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff 124th and last (allowing 8.55 yards per play, far and away the worst average in FCS).

Mississippi State was the top FBS defense in yards per play (4.13). Clemson was 2nd, followed by Miami (FL), Appalachian State, and Michigan State.

Alabama was 24th, Georgia 25th, Georgia Southern 48th, South Carolina tied for 56th, Army tied for 59th, and Connecticut deader-than-dead last at 130th, allowing 8.81 yards per play. As noted by multiple members of the college football media, Oklahoma only had the second-best offense last season — because the best offense was whatever team played UConn in a given week.

Among all FCS squads, The Citadel was 68th in yards allowed per rush (4.53). Keep in mind (sorry for repeating this) this number does not separate sacks, which are included in the NCAA’s rush statistics (thus accounting for the wide difference from the SoCon-only numbers presented above).

The top five in this category: Maine (2.42 yards allowed per rush), Dartmouth, Drake, Georgetown, and Alcorn State.

Colgate was 6th, North Carolina A&T 8th, James Madison 9th, Kennesaw State 11th, Wofford 12th, North Dakota State 18th, ETSU 28th, Chattanooga 38th, Eastern Washington 40th, Charleston Southern 41st, Samford 42nd, Elon 48th, Monmouth 53rd, Furman 63rd, Towson 79th, South Carolina State 90th, Davidson 95th (basically the opposite of Georgetown when it came opponents running the football), Western Carolina 98th, Presbyterian 112th, VMI 113th, Gardner-Webb 122nd, and Cal Poly 124th and last (7.51 yards allowed per rush).

In the land of FBS, Clemson’s defense allowed only 2.51 yards per rush, leading the nation. The Tigers were followed by Michigan State, Northern Illinois, Mississippi State, and Utah.

Air Force was 17th, Florida State 20th, Alabama 21st (Dante Smith’s 14.4 yards-per-carry put a dent in the Crimson Tide’s average), Georgia Southern 43rd, Georgia 49th, South Carolina 78th, Georgia Tech 89th, Coastal Carolina 127th, and Connecticut 130th and last (7.67 yards allowed per rush).

Tangent: speaking of that game against Alabama, let’s just revisit one stat from it, shall we? From SB Nation:

Nick Saban’s defense had given up fewer than 100 yards on defense in the first half all season. The Citadel had 149 yards of total offense in the first half alone.

I had not seen that statistic before last month, when I encountered it while doing some research. It is kind of amazing. Just remember, though, that in 2018 The Citadel’s best half of football against a team from the state of Alabama came during Homecoming. Never forget that.

The Citadel was 113th in opposing yards per pass attempt in 2018. Again, that number is a bit different from the SoCon stats listed earlier because of the sacks issue, but it is also true the Bulldogs struggled against the pass in two of their three non-conference games, against Alabama (allowing 14.3 yards per pass attempt) and Towson (11.9).

There is no doubt this will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel when the Bulldogs face Tom Flacco and Towson in the season opener.

Colgate led FCS in defensive yards per pass attempt, at 5.06. Also in the top five: Prairie View A&M, Dartmouth, North Carolina A&T, and Campbell.

Georgetown was 7th, Kennesaw State 12th, James Madison 21st, ETSU 33rd, Wofford 39th, Chattanooga 47th, South Carolina State 53rd, Samford 55th, Elon 58th, Presbyterian 67th, Charleston Southern 70th, Towson 82nd, Furman 91st, Mercer 101st, Western Carolina 103rd, VMI 117th, Davidson 121st (basically the opposite of Georgetown when it came to defending the pass, too), and Arkansas-Pine Bluff 124th and last (allowing 11.03 yards per pass attempt).

Mississippi State led FBS in opposing yards per pass attempt (5.6). Miami was second, followed by Temple, Notre Dame, and Penn State.

LSU was 9th, Michigan 10th, Georgia 17th, Clemson 26th, Alabama 30th, South Carolina 55th, Georgia Southern 68th, Army 80th, Georgia Tech 85th, Navy 113th, Coastal Carolina 118th, Air Force 122nd, and Connecticut 130th and last (allowing 10.7 yards per pass attempt, and also winning the reverse defense triple crown).

That concludes Part 1 of Inside The Numbers.

Part 2 will include offensive/defensive statistics for Red Zone play and 3rd-down conversion rates. Also discussed: sacks, passes defensed, fumbles, penalties, punts, big plays, 4th down decision-making, a comparison of league attendance and game length, and (what everyone has been anxiously awaiting) coin toss strategy.

Link to Part 2

2018 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 7:00 pm ET on November 29, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kendall Lewis will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Danielle Hensley is the sideline reporter. 

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

Bulldogs still getting attention from the Alabama game

– Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Charleston Southern’s website

– Brent Thompson’s 11/27 press conference

– The Bulldog Breakdown

You will notice this is a slightly shorter preview than usual. Apologies for that, but I’ve been rather busy of late.

Also, to be honest, this game sneaked up on me. I have a feeling it may have sneaked up on a lot of people, which probably doesn’t bode well for attendance.

I’ll still be at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Thursday night, though. I’ll be the fan shivering in the sub-50 degree weather. Brrrrrrrrrrr.

Attempt to entice fans, Part 1:

Attempt to entice fans, Part 2:

Since The Citadel is playing Charleston Southern this week, I fully anticipated an obnoxiously loud social media drumbeat of “this is a rivalry”, or “this should be a rivalry”, or “The Citadel should play at CSU every other year; playing all the games at Johnson Hagood Stadium is a crime against humanity”, or “Jamey Chadwell should be the next head coach at Ohio State when Urban Meyer retires”.

That largely hasn’t happened. Heck, nobody even asked Brent Thompson at his press conference about coaching “the bigger school” in the game, and no media member attempted to fish for a bulletin board comment from a player (though there were no players at the presser, which was perhaps just as well).

As to why things have been relatively muted, there are several reasons:

  • Chadwell, a huge media favorite (there was practically a cult of personality surrounding him when he was at CSU) is no longer in the area; thus, the Lowcountry press corps is not as engaged
  • Charleston Southern is on probation for playing ineligible athletes, possibly including a lot of football players during the time period Chadwell coached the team (that information will likely become public soon)
  • There just aren’t many CSU fans, even though almost all of the ones who exist seem to be on Twitter

That last point is worth a further look.

Charleston Southern’s home attendance from 2012 through 2018 (this season):

  • 2012:  2,295 (117th out of 122 FCS teams)
  • 2013:  4,509 (91st out of 124 FCS teams)
  • 2014:  4,329 (94th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 2015:  4,487 (96th out of 125 FCS teams)
  • 2016:  2,712 (112th out of 124 FCS teams)
  • 2017:  2,345 (110th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 2018:  1,764 (120th out of 125 FCS teams)

Obviously, the 2018 season isn’t over yet, but CSU’s position in the attendance table is essentially set.

Jamey Chadwell was the coach of the Buccaneers from 2013 through 2016, and in three of those seasons, Charleston Southern had markedly better home attendance. However, there was a catch.

Season attendance averages at Buccaneer Field were massively affected by games against Coastal Carolina and The Citadel, contests in which the visiting fans made up the overwhelming majority of those spectators at the games (and in the case of the 2014 contest versus the Bulldogs, the official attendance figures were wildly inflated as well).

If you take out those games, here is the average home attendance for CSU in 2013, 2014, and 2015:

  • 2013:  4,102
  • 2014:  3,422
  • 2015:  3,290

To be fair, Charleston Southern got a significant bump in attendance by (presumably) its own fans in Chadwell’s first season, 2013. After that, though, attendance among the Buc faithful began to decline, and has done so for five consecutive years (Chadwell’s last three seasons at the school, and Mark Tucker’s two campaigns in charge of the program).

The Citadel has had its own attendance issues in recent years (a subject I have written about on more than one occasion, including this past April), but the Bulldogs are still in another galaxy from the Buccaneers when it comes to fan and alumni interest.

An argument could be made that the difference is due to longstanding tradition, etc., and that is a legitimate point — but it still doesn’t fully explain the enormous gap in support. There is only so much to be said about averaging 1,764 fans per home game, as CSU did this year.

I also remember the program getting an incredible amount of local media attention in the buildup to its season-opening game at North Dakota State in 2016, which included at least one Charleston-area TV affiliate sending a sports anchor and a cameraman to Fargo. The Post and Courier sent its sports columnist, Gene Sapakoff, to watch the game as well.

All that publicity led to this a week later: a home opener at Buccaneer Field with an announced attendance of 1,780.

It makes for an interesting discussion of Jamey Chadwell’s legacy at Charleston Southern, especially given that one (if not both) of his Big South titles at CSU will probably be stripped from the program. What did he provide the school in terms of long-term success and stability?

In five years, will his on-field results matter? Do they matter now?

At least he didn’t cheat CSU out of millions of dollars in order to buy a bunch of Red Skelton paintings…

Oh, there was one Twitter kerfuffle this week. The Citadel’s athletic media relations department initially released game notes listing the Bulldogs’ opponent as “Ladson Southern”. This was changed a day later, perhaps after someone in authority politely opined that it was a touch sophomoric.

I had two takeaways from the affair; A) certain people seemed okay with Jamey Chadwell’s infantile “broom” incident but were nonetheless outraged by the “Ladson Southern” description; B) hey, people actually read the game notes!

[Whispers] One of the “Ladson Southern” references was accidentally left in the game notes after they were reworked.[/shhhh]

Charleston Southern is 5-5 this season under head coach Mark Tucker, a former assistant coach at The Citadel for six seasons in the 1990s. Tucker piloted the Bucs to a 6-5 record last year in his first season at the helm. He has a reputation as a good offensive coach, particularly with regards to quarterback play.

In general, this year the Buccaneers have beaten the teams they should beat (Presbyterian, Campbell, Gardner-Webb, Virginia-Lynchburg) and lost to the better teams on their schedule (Florida, Kennesaw State, Elon, Monmouth).

The one outlier was a bizarre 23-3 loss at Savannah State on October 6, a result so odd I’m inclined to discount it. Two items of interest from that contest: Savannah State controlled the ball for over 21 minutes in the second half, and limited the Bucs to one first down over the game’s final two quarters; and CSU was held to 33 yards rushing, well under its season average (185.4 yards/game).

Normally I would highlight multiple players from The Citadel’s opponent in this space. As for why I am not providing an extensive breakdown of CSU’s two-deep for this matchup, the reader has the choice of one of three reasons:

A) Pure, unadulterated laziness on my part

B) The fact that I am hurriedly writing this section less than 24 hours before the game kicks off while fielding telephone calls and trying to eat a turkey sandwich at the same time

C) The gnawing suspicion that with two weeks to prepare, and the new redshirt rule in effect, Charleston Southern is going to field a lot of players on Thursday night who have not seen a lot of action this season, making the typical review of key players almost pointless

However, here are six CSU players to watch:

  • Solomon Brown (6’1″, 235 lbs.): The defensive lineman has played for Charleston Southern since 2003, and has been a standout in all 16 of those seasons
  • Johnny Robinson (6’4″, 230 lbs.): Another senior DL who is tough to move, Robinson is a native of Apopka, Florida
  • J.D. Sosebee (6’1″, 215 lbs.): A redshirt junior linebacker, Sosebee was a first-team All-Big South performer this season (as were Brown and Robinson)
  • Joe Gold (6’3″, 270 lbs.): The center was a second-team all-conference selection; he began his college career at Florida Atlantic
  • Kyle Reighard (6’2″, 197 lbs.): CSU’s punter was a first-team all-league pick last year, and a second-team choice this season
  • Terrence Wilson (5’8″, 200 lbs.): A sophomore from Leesville, Wilson leads the Bucs in rushing, averaging 6.2 yards per carry

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Thursday night in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly clear, with a low of 44 degrees. That is about 25 to 30 degrees colder than I would prefer, but so be it.

– The source I normally use for odds and lines does not have Thursday night’s contest listed, which is probably because it is a postponed regular-season FCS game.

In case you were wondering, Kennesaw State is a 7 1/2 point favorite over Wofford in the FCS playoff matchup between those two teams.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 50th in FCS. Charleston Southern is 81st.

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 87% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 28, Charleston Southern 13.

– Among Charleston Southern’s notable alumni:  U.S. senator Tim Scott, medical researcher Sam Gandy, and major league pitcher Tyler Thornburg.

– Charleston Southern’s roster includes 48 players from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (23 players), Florida (16), North Carolina (11), and Virginia (1). There are three players on the squad who have no listed hometown. A quick search on the internet did not shed any light on their geographical backgrounds. Perhaps, like Otis Sistrunk, they are transfers from the University of Mars.

No player on CSU’s team is as well-educated as offensive lineman D’Andra Thompson; the sophomore is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. It is somewhat surprising that Thompson is not on the Buccaneers’ two-deep, given the traditional athletic superiority of those who have worn the famed maroon and orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep changes:  Jay Howard and Joshua Bowers are listed as the starting cornerbacks for the Bulldogs against Charleston Southern.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 2-2 in games played on November 29, 1-1 at home. The Bulldogs have not played on that date since 1958. A quick look at a couple of the games, courtesy of the TSA Wayback Machine:

  • 1930:  The Citadel edged Wofford, 7-6, in a game played in Spartanburg. The big play was an 80-yard touchdown pass from Julius “Runt” Gray to Larkin Jennings, after Gray faked a punt — on first down. Gray added the PAT that proved the winning margin. The Terriers scored in the fourth quarter but missed the extra point that would have tied the game.
  • 1941:  The Citadel walloped Sewanee, 28-0, in a game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium before 5,000 spectators (this game is incorrectly listed in the record book as having been played in Tennessee). The stars for the Bulldogs that day were running backs Andy Victor and Martin Gold, who combined to rush for 253 yards. Victor also threw a TD pass to Zeke Campbell. The Bulldogs’ defense held the Golden Tigers to just two first downs.

Not played on November 29: the Bulldogs’ 1924 game versus Presbyterian, which is listed in the record book as taking place on that date, but was actually played on November 27, which was also Thanksgiving Day that year. The Citadel won the contest 13-0.

I was at the last game at Johnson Hagood Stadium played on a Thursday night. The year was 2004, the date was October 7, and the opponent was Benedict College.

It was the first home contest held after the razing of the West stands. Public address announcer Sam Evans opened the festivities by intoning, “Welcome to what’s left of historic Johnson Hagood Stadium.”

The Citadel won, 29-0. The attendance was 5,127, the lowest for any game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium since at least 1964.

That year also featured a season-ending contest at home, but without the Corps of Cadets in attendance because the game was played during the Thanksgiving furlough. The Bulldogs defeated Western Carolina 17-0 before a crowd of 3,874.

The atmosphere at the latter matchup did not sit well with many people at The Citadel, including one Harvey M. Dick. That same day there was a meeting of the Board of Visitors:

Colonel Dick expressed concern that the Corps of Cadets will be absent from today’s football game with Western Carolina, due to the Thanksgiving break.  He made the following motion, which was seconded by Colonel Saleeby.

“THAT the Corps of Cadets be in uniform and be present at all scheduled home football games.”

Discussion on the motion included whether the matter is one that the Board should set policy or one that the Board should provide guidance.  The President stated that he sensed the feeling of the Board and he favored a motion to ensure the Board’s direction is in the record.  The motion was unanimously carried.

Yes, General Grinalds “sensed the feeling of the Board”. I can hear Col. Dick’s raised voice now.

That is why The Citadel will no longer play a home game during the Thanksgiving furlough (the break was extended by several days in the mid-1990s). This policy has had various repercussions, including the Bulldogs almost always playing their regular season finale on the road. It also means The Citadel can’t play yearly rivalry games to conclude the season (i.e. playing Furman every year in the final game, or VMI every year in the last contest).

Nevertheless, the policy is an excellent one. Harvey Dick was absolutely right. The Citadel should never play at Johnson Hagood Stadium without the Corps of Cadets in attendance.

The corps will be at the stadium in force on Thursday night, as will a hardy bunch of Bulldog fans, and maybe a few Buccaneer supporters too. I am not sure how many people will make it to the game, oyster roast or no oyster roast. I’m guessing that attendance will be higher than 3,874, but that 5,127 number may be tough to reach.

That said, I expect the Bulldogs to come out with a point to prove, namely that they are the team everyone saw in their last three games. If that kind of performance is repeated on Thursday night, The Citadel will have a positive end to its 2018 campaign, with a lot to look forward to next year.

I’m hopeful. Go Dogs!

2018 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Alabama

The Citadel vs. Alabama, to be played at Bryant-Denny Stadium, with kickoff at 12:00 pm ET on November 17, 2018.

The game will be televised on SEC Network. Dave Neal will handle play-by-play, while D.J. Shockley supplies the analysis. Dawn Davenport is the sideline reporter. 

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

The benefits of playing Alabama

Saban and Thompson agree: Tua should play!

Central Michigan morphed into the Crimson Tide

– Game notes from The Citadel and Alabama

– SoCon weekly release

SEC weekly release

– Brandon Rainey and Aron Spann III receive SoCon player of the week honors

“The Heat” — Samford edition

– AFCA FCS Coaches’ poll

– AP Top 25 poll (FBS)

– Brent Thompson’s 11/13 press conference

Nick Saban’s 11/12 press conference

My game review of The Citadel’s victory over Samford

My game review of the last time The Citadel played an SEC opponent (bonus: the Twitter response)

While The Citadel is through with its SoCon campaign, the league title race (and the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs) has not yet been decided. The possibility of a tie for the title between two or three teams still exists.

Naturally, because this is the SoCon, there has been some controversy over the tiebreaker that could be necessary to determine the auto-bid.

This tiebreaker is based on points allowed in conference play. It is an odd way to break the tie, inasmuch as you would think points allowed among the affected teams would be a more appropriate way to resolve it (or point differential, for that matter), but this is the SoCon and that is how the league set it up. Of course, it is hard to tell what the conference’s original intent was in terms of points allowed, given how the tiebreaker scenario is described:

That is a muddle, isn’t it?

It reminds me of another SoCon tiebreaking debacle, this one in hoops. At the end of the 1985-86 basketball season, there was a three-way tie for seventh place in the league. At that time, there were nine teams in the conference, but only eight advanced to the SoCon basketball tournament. Therefore, one of the three tied teams (VMI, The Citadel, and Furman) had to be eliminated.

The conference did not have a clear rule as to what to do in a three-way tie, so then-league commissioner Ken Germann ruled that VMI and Furman would play in the tournament, while The Citadel was out. However, Bulldogs AD Walt Nadzak appealed to the conference’s basketball committee, which reversed the commissioner’s ruling and put The Citadel in the conference tourney, at the expense of the Paladins.

That led to a memorable quote by Furman basketball coach Butch Estes, who said “If the commissioner had any backbone, we would play it off on a court like gentlemen.”

I always enjoyed that particular line, with the coach stating the situation should be resolved “like gentlemen” while in the same sentence saying that the league commissioner didn’t have a spine.

Germann retired the following year.

While at Bryant-Denny Stadium, The Citadel’s football team will dress in the visitors’ locker room, which is known as The Fail Room. Yes, you read that correctly.

It is actually named for a longtime Crimson Tide benefactor, James M. Fail. As the story goes:

“This naming opportunity came at Mr. Fail’s request,” said Mal Moore, Director of Athletics. “Mr. Fail has been such a strong supporter of ours and had already made a significant gift to name our media suite in memory of his late father-in-law, former Birmingham Post-Herald sports editor Naylor Stone. But he had always been hesitant to use his unique name for a naming right until the right opportunity came along.”

 

“Anything I’ve done would not have been possible without the University of Alabama,” [Fail] said…”Now, many years later, I am honored to give back to the school that means so much to me. Earlier this year, when I saw the visitors’ locker room as a potential naming right, I figured it was the most appropriate opportunity I would ever have to use my name.”

Fail made his gift in late 2008, a little over a year before his death at age 83.

Bryant-Denny Stadium currently seats 101,821, though I don’t expect it to be filled to capacity for the game on Saturday. That said, there is a good chance the stadium will host the largest crowd to ever see The Citadel play a football game. The current record in that category is 90,374, for the Bulldogs’ game against Florida in 2008.

When Denny Field (named for George H. Denny, the school president who spearheaded its construction) opened in 1929, it had seats for 6,000 fans. It has expanded numerous times since then. The stadium was renamed Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1975, while Paul “Bear” Bryant was still coaching the football team.

Alabama’s proposed athletic facility renovations include an upgrade to the stadium, one which could slightly reduce its seating capacity:

The plan is highlighted by renovations to Bryant-Denny Stadium that will cost more than $250 million. The precise cost of renovations may still change in the years to come, and exact dates for renovations haven’t yet been set. All facilities plans are subject to approval by the board of trustees, and fundraising goals must still be met.

The first phase, which is expected to include changes to the Mal Moore building and include some of the renovations to Bryant-Denny Stadium, could begin during the fall of 2019 or after the 2019 football season. The first round of renovations to the stadium are estimated to cost $78 million. It is likely to reduce seating to less than 100,000 from its current capacity of 101,821, [AD Greg] Byrne said, but the exact capacity after renovations isn’t known.

It will add a student terrace in the stadium’s south end zone, with a large, new video board positioned over the student section. Byrne said he doesn’t anticipate cutting down on the total number of seats in the student section. The north end zone will also receive two new video boards for those who can’t see the video board in the south end.

Bryant-Denny Stadium has only been the primary home stadium for Alabama over the last 20 years or so. For decades, the Crimson Tide generally split home games between Bryant-Denny and Legion Field in Birmingham, with the larger Legion Field hosting most of the “big” SEC games (Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, etc.). Most non-conference games and select SEC matchups (including Mississippi State and Vanderbilt on a regular basis) were played at Bryant-Denny.

Once Bryant-Denny’s expansion reached a point where it was just as large (if not larger) than Legion Field, Alabama started playing all of its home games in Tuscaloosa.

This partly explains Bear Bryant’s amazing 72-2 career record at Bryant-Denny Stadium, as he only faced the Auburn/LSU/Tennessee triumvirate one time on that field (a 1980 game versus LSU, won by the Tide 28-7).

On the other hand, 72-2 is still a remarkable statistic. The two losses were to Florida in 1963, and to Southern Mississippi in 1982. The latter contest was the final game Bryant coached at the stadium.

His first game (and victory) at Bryant-Denny, in 1958, came against a Southern Conference opponent — Furman. The Paladins lost two games to Bryant at the stadium. Two other Palmetto State schools, South Carolina and Clemson, were both 0-3 against him there.

Lately, the Saban vs. Bryant debate has (on at least a national level) swung heavily in favor of the current Alabama coach. Now, it’s quite possible Nick Saban may make this a moot point if he coaches for another decade and keeps winning games and titles at his current pace, but I think a lot of people are engaged in recency bias when it comes to evaluating Bryant’s career.

One of the common observations is that Saban has won in a “more competitive” era. I’m not sure I buy that, for several reasons, not the least of which is defining Bryant’s career as a singular “era” is rather difficult.

For one thing, Bryant coached roughly half of his career when substitution was restricted, and the other half when unlimited substitution became the rule. He was one of the great coaches in the time of limited substitutions, and he was the first dominant coach when free substitution became the order of the day.

Another issue with defining his “era” that has to be mentioned:  Bryant coached all-white teams that won championships, and he coached integrated teams that won championships. His on-field success in making that transition could be considered somewhat unusual.

Bryant’s ability to adapt was probably his outstanding trait as a coach. He won with great passing quarterbacks like Joe Namath and Ken Stabler, and he also won after switching to the wishbone in the early 1970s.

He had two spectacular runs at Alabama. It is rare for a coach to basically have a “second act” at the same school (especially when he never left), but Bryant did just that.

In a seven-year period from 1960-66, he lost a total of six games. Then, after a bit of a slump in 1969-70, he went on another extended roll, going 107-13 from 1971 to 1980.

Bryant also won the SEC title at Kentucky in 1950, the only time that school has ever won the conference crown in football (not counting a 1976 shared title, which included an after-the-fact forfeit win). That has to give him a bonus point or two.

The other undeniable thing Bryant had going for him was an incredible charismatic presence, perhaps best demonstrated by this amazing TV commercial for a telephone company. The last line — “I sure wish I could call mine” — was a complete ad-lib by the coach.

Nick Saban himself is quite comfortable on TV, and is not devoid of personality, but surely no coach of any era has had Bryant’s gravitas, or his voice for that matter (which is probably for the best, given how many thousands of Chesterfields must have contributed to that tone).

Of course, if Saban wins another four or five national championships, they won’t bother renaming the stadium after him — they’ll rename the school after him. Saban University, aight?

In that scenario, the stadium would presumably be renamed after Miss Terry…

Bear Bryant had one career victory over The Citadel. Nick Saban also has one win over the Bulldogs.

Bryant’s 1949 Kentucky team defeated The Citadel 44-0. That season, the Wildcats also had shutout victories over LSU, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida en route to a 9-3 campaign.

The next season, Kentucky won the SEC title and finished 11-1, including a defeat of top-ranked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

In 2002, The Citadel played Saban’s LSU Tigers in a night game in Baton Rouge, with the Bayou Bengals winning 35-10. That season, LSU was only 8-5.

However, the following year LSU won the national title with a 13-1 record, defeating Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Hmm…

Alabama fans might want to start making plans for next year’s CFP title game, which happens to be in New Orleans, and they might also start thinking about how to distinguish between Alabama crimson and Oklahoma crimson.

Much of the discussion for this game from the Alabama perspective centers around starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (6’1″, 218 lbs.), the current favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Tagovailoa has had a marvelous season, throwing 28 touchdown passes while only being intercepted twice, with a 67.9% completion percentage.

The sophomore, who hails from Ewa Beach, Hawai’i, is averaging a ludicrous 11.7 yards per pass attempt (not accounting for sacks). When he throws the ball, 47% of the time the result of the play is a first down or touchdown.

However, Tagovailoa has been playing with a balky knee for the past few games, and while he will almost certainly start against The Citadel, how long he stays in the game is open to question. Backup quarterback Jalen Hurts (6’2″, 218 lbs.) is a more than capable signal-caller, to say the least (Hurts is 26-2 as a starter), but the junior from Houston is also injured and unlikely to see action versus the Bulldogs.

There is a decent chance third-string QB Mac Jones (6’2″, 205 lbs.) will see the bulk of the playing time for the Crimson Tide in Saturday’s game. Jones is a redshirt freshman from Jacksonville who was a four-star prospect coming out of high school. In other words, he is a very talented quarterback in his own right.

Among the plethora of outstanding players at the offensive skill positions for the Crimson Tide are sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (6’1″, 192 lbs.), who seems to be good for at least two long TD catches per game (he is averaging 20.6 yards per reception); freshman wideout Jaylen Waddle (5’10”, 177 lbs.), a big-play threat as a receiver (18.8 yards/catch) and an impact punt returner (14.6 yards/return); and running back Damien Harris (5’11”, 215 lbs.), a senior from Richmond, Kentucky, who is approaching 3,000 yards rushing for his career in Tuscaloosa.

It says something about the depth at Alabama that Damien Harris (a great player) may not even be the most talented running back named Harris on the Crimson Tide roster, because sophomore Najee Harris (6’2″, 230 lbs.) is a gridiron dynamo who is averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

Henry Ruggs III (6’0″, 183 lbs.), a big-play threat from Montgomery, has 28 receptions for the Tide this season, with 8 of the sophomore’s catches resulting in touchdowns. Then there is DeVonta Smith (6’1″, 173 lbs.), another sophomore, who is best known for hauling in the winning touchdown pass against Georgia in the CFP title game. Smith has missed time this season due to injury but still has 3 TD catches.

Alabama’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 313 lbs. Junior left tackle Jonah Williams (6’5″, 301 lbs.), a native of Folsom, California, has made 38 starts for the Crimson Tide during his career.

Starting center Ross Pierschbacher (6’4″, 309 lbs.), whose last name fits comfortably on the back of his jersey, has made 51 career starts for Alabama. Williams and Pierschbacher were both first-team All-SEC picks after last season.

Alabama has plenty of intimidating defensive players, but none are quite as frightening to opposing offenses as noseguard Quinnen Williams (6’4″, 295 lbs.). The redshirt sophomore from Birmingham has dominated all season; just check out this twitter thread of his play versus Mississippi.

Williams, the national defensive player of the week for his performance against LSU, has been so good some pundits have begun to suggest he deserves Heisman consideration. He may be The Citadel’s toughest obstacle in trying to run its triple option offense, though Williams will have plenty of help.

Isaiah Buggs (6’5″, 286 lbs.), an imposing defensing end from Ruston, Louisiana, leads Alabama in sacks with 9 1/2.  He had 3 1/2 of those sacks against Texas A&M, garnering SEC player of the week honors as a result.

Linebacker Dylan Moses (6’3″, 233 lbs.) leads the Crimson Tide in tackles this season, with 54, including 9 for loss (3 1/2 sacks). The sophomore from Baton Rouge is described by UA’s website as a “freak athlete”; before enrolling at Alabama, Moses won the 2016 high school version of the Butkus Award as the top prep linebacker.

Deionte Thompson (6’2″, 196 lbs.), a free safety from Orange, Texas, paces the Tide with 32 solo stops. The redshirt junior also has two interceptions, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.

Christian Miller (6’4″, 244 lbs.), a redshirt senior, is having a fine season after missing much of last year with an arm injury (though he did see action late in the campaign, including the playoff games against Clemson and Georgia). The linebacker from Columbia, SC, has 7 1/2 sacks so far in 2018, and was the SEC defensive player of the week after recording 2 1/2 sacks versus Mississippi.

Miller will become the second member of his immediate family to face The Citadel, as his father Corey played for South Carolina when the Bulldogs and Gamecocks met in 1990. Corey Miller was arguably South Carolina’s best defensive player on that occasion, although it probably provided the elder Miller little solace.

Placekicker Joseph Bulovas (6’0″, 206 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Mandeville, Louisiana, is 10 for 14 on field goal attempts this year. Last week against Mississippi State, he connected on a 49-yarder, his longest of the season. Bulovas also handles kickoffs for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama has employed two punters this season, including freshman Skyler DeLong (6’4″, 189 lbs.), a Ft. Mill native. DeLong has not punted in a game since October 13, however, as walk-on senior Mike Bernier (6’2″, 219 lbs.) has seen action in the last three games.

Mac Jones serves as the team’s holder on placements. As mentioned earlier, Jaylen Waddle is the primary punt returner (and a very dangerous one).

Alabama lists four different kick returners on its two-deep, including Najee Harris and fellow running back Josh Jacobs (5’10”, 216 lbs.), a versatile player from Tulsa who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Louisville. Jacobs leads Alabama in total touchdowns, with nine rushing, one receiving, and the kick return TD versus the Cardinals.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Tuscaloosa, per the National Weather Service:  partly sunny, with a high of 62 degrees.

– This will be the first gridiron meeting between The Citadel and Alabama, although Alabama’s media guide (in the “Series vs. 2018 opponents” section) credits the Tide with beating the Bulldogs twice, in 1939 and 1940. That is an error. I suspect it is a transposition mistake from last season, when the Crimson Tide played Mercer (which did play Alabama in 1939 and 1940).

– Other SEC teams that have yet to face the Bulldogs: Mississippi State and Missouri.

– Alabama’s winning streak against unranked teams (80 games) is the longest in FBS history and a fairly well-known statistic. What I did not know until perusing the Crimson Tide’s game notes is that Alabama has also dominated games against teams ranked outside of the AP top 15, losing only once to an opponent in that category since 2008. That happened in 2010, against South Carolina (a/k/a “The Stephen Garcia Game”).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Alabama is a 51-point favorite versus The Citadel (as of Tuesday night). The over/under is 60 1/2.

Against the spread this season, The Citadel is 4-5. The over has hit in five of the nine contests, with one of the others a push.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams (also as of Tuesday night):  Samford is an 8-point favorite at East Tennessee State; Furman is an 8-point favorite at Mercer; Wofford is a 35 1/2 point favorite versus Presbyterian; Chattanooga is a 31-point underdog at South Carolina; and Western Carolina is a 30 1/2 point underdog at North Carolina.

Samford initially opened as a 10-point favorite against ETSU, but the line dropped two points in less than 24 hours.

– Also of note: Towson is a 3-point underdog against James Madison, and Charleston Southern is a 2-point favorite at Campbell.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 50th in FCS, up ten spots from last week, a fairly significant jump. Alabama, as you might imagine, is ranked first among all FBS squads.

Massey projects Alabama will win the game on Saturday, with a predicted final score of 57-0.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey: Colgate (6th), James Madison (8th), Towson (11th), Kennesaw State (12th), Elon (15th), Wofford (22nd), Furman (31st), East Tennessee State (34th), Samford (36th, a fall of 13 spots), North Carolina A&T (42nd), Chattanooga (49th), Mercer (51st), San Diego (58th), Holy Cross (60th), Richmond (64th), Duquesne (69th), South Carolina State (74th, a 13-spot jump), Western Carolina (82nd), North Alabama (87th), Campbell (88th), Charleston Southern (89th), VMI (99th), Gardner-Webb (101st), Lehigh (105th), Davidson (117th), Presbyterian (123rd), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, Princeton, Dartmouth, South Dakota State, and Eastern Washington.

As I noted last week, Massey tends to overrate the top Ivy League programs, a quirk that is almost certainly due to the lack of connectivity in scheduling between the Ivy League and the rest of FCS. Dartmouth managed to rise from 5th to 3rd in the rankings after beating a 3-6 Cornell team by 11 points. That doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

Biggest movers in FCS this week: William and Mary moved up 18 spots (from 58th to 40th) after winning at Villanova, 24-17. Meanwhile, Austin Peay fell 17 places (from 66th to 83rd) after getting pummeled 52-21 by Eastern Illinois.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, West Virginia, UCF. Some other notables:  Florida is 12th, Kentucky 15th, Mississippi State 17th, Auburn 19th, South Carolina 22nd, Utah State 26th, Northwestern 29th, Boston College 30th, Tennessee 34th, North Carolina State 35th, Duke 36th, Army 37th, Georgia Tech 42nd, Appalachian State 50th, Wake Forest 52nd, Troy 58th, Maryland 60th, UAB 62nd, Florida State 65th, Memphis 71st, Air Force 83rd, Toledo 85th, Arkansas State 87th, North Texas 88th, Georgia Southern 89th, Louisiana-Lafayette 94th, North Carolina 95th, Louisville 102nd, Navy 103rd, Coastal Carolina 104th, Liberty 107th, Old Dominion 113th, Charlotte 114th, Rutgers 116th, South Alabama 128th, and Rice 130th and last.

Biggest movers in FBS this week:  Minnesota rowed the boat up 16 places (from 82nd to 66th) after a 41-10 beatdown of Purdue. San Diego State and North Texas each fell 17 spots after losing to UNLV and Old Dominion, respectively.

– Among Alabama’s notable alumni: writer Gay Talese, actor/singer Jim Nabors (“Shazam!”), actress Sela Ward (who was a cheerleader at Alabama), and legendary baseball announcer Mel Allen (“How about that!”).

Bernie Madoff went to Alabama, but left after just one year in Tuscaloosa, so we won’t hold him against the school.

– Alabama’s roster includes 39 players from from Alabama. Other states represented on its squad:  Texas (12 players), Florida (12), Louisiana (11), Georgia (7), California (6), Maryland (5), South Carolina (4), Mississippi (4), Tennessee (2), Kentucky (2), and one player each from Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, Utah, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana, and Hawai’i. Linebacker Terrell Lewis is from Washington, DC.

Alabama scours the country for footballing prodigies, which is rather apparent when the roster includes players from 23 states plus the District of Columbia. Just eyeballing the list, I am mildly surprised there are only four Mississippians on the team, along with two natives of Tennessee. That seems a touch low for those two border states.

There are four South Carolinians on the Crimson Tide squad — punter Skyler DeLong (Nation Ford High School in Ft. Mill), linebacker Jaylen Moody (Conway High School), defensive lineman Stephon Wynn Jr. (from Anderson; transferred from T.L. Hanna to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior year in high school), and linebacker Christian Miller (Spring Valley High School in Columbia).

However, there are no players from internationally renowned pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This is profoundly mystifying, given the Tide’s hunger for gridiron superstars. When the dynasty ends (and all dynasties do at some point), there is no question that the biggest reason for Alabama’s downfall will be its failure to recruit talent from the famed maroon and orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep changes:  There aren’t many changes from last week’s depth chart. Lorenzo Ward and Keyonte Sessions are again listed as starters. Raleigh Webb is now listed as one of the two primary kick returners.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of just 2-10 for games played on November 17. The Citadel is 2-5 on the road on that date. While those totals are very poor, there is a silver lining — the Bulldogs have won their two most recent games played on November 17 after losing their first ten contests.

A brief review of those two victories, as we travel back in time on the TSA Wayback Machine:

  • 2007: At Lexington, Virginia, The Citadel clobbered VMI 70-28 to retain the coveted Silver Shako. Tory Cooper scored three touchdowns and Tim Higgins scored twice. Other Bulldogs to find the end zone that day included Andre Roberts, Bart Blanchard, Ta’Mar Jernigan, Taylor Cornett, and Cam Turner. Cooper had 176 yards rushing, while Roberts had 128 receiving yards. Mike Adams converted all ten of his PATs. The Citadel finished the afternoon with 509 total yards of offense.
  • 2012: The Citadel defeated Furman at Paladin Stadium, 42-20. I was there and wrote about the game. VanDyke Jones rushed for three touchdowns for the Bulldogs. Dalton Trevino, Domonic Jones, and Ben Dupree also scored TDs. A key play in the contest was a fake punt successfully executed by Cass Couey. The defense was led by James Riley, who had 12 tackles.

– Alabama claims seventeen national championships in football, under five different head coaches — Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Gene Stallings, and Nick Saban. Bryant is credited with having coached six national title teams, while Saban has coached five Crimson Tide squads to a #1 finish (he also has a sixth title from his tenure at LSU).

The Citadel has only two claimed national titles in football (1871 and 1906), though like Alabama, the Bulldogs have won championships in two different centuries. While The Citadel’s 1871 crown is essentially undisputed, the 1906 title is a more recent claim and is shared with two other schools (Yale and Princeton).

Brent Thompson, at his press conference on Tuesday:

Obviously, this is a very important football game for us, for a lot of reasons. We want to just go out there and make a great showing, compete our butts off, as best as we possibly can, on such a big and grand stage. It’s going to be a exciting atmosphere for us. They are a very, very good football team, the best we’ve probably ever seen. There are not a whole lot of deficiencies [for Alabama] on either side of the ball, they’re extremely fast, they’re extremely physical, they play very strong. It will be all that we can do to be able to move the ball and to stop them from scoring, but we certainly will give them everything that we’ve got.

I feel confident that the Bulldogs will play very hard, and will compete to their utmost. The issue is how effective that effort will be against a team as comprehensively talented as Alabama.

Call me a Pollyanna, but I think The Citadel will acquit itself well on Saturday. I’m not predicting the biggest upset in modern college football history, but I think the Bulldogs will surprise some people.

I certainly hope so.

Go Dogs!

Game Review, 2018: Samford

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– Video from WCSC-TV

– AP game story

– School release (The Citadel)

– School release (Samford)

Box score

– Game highlights, including postgame comments from Brent Thompson (video)

– ESPN+ replay of the game

Why do people keep coming back to watch games year after year? Well, for a lot of reasons, of course.

However, one of the biggest reasons is that there is always a chance you will get to witness something special, something extraordinary, something that will cause you to pridefully say years from now, “I was there that day.”

I think Saturday’s game was like that if you are a fan of The Citadel. It was certainly one of the most memorable games in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium.

It wasn’t a game that resulted in a championship for the Bulldogs. It didn’t set up another key contest, or even clinch a winning season. The fact there were no obvious stakes for the Bulldogs arguably made the game — including the on-field play and the general atmosphere  — all the more remarkable.

Ultimately, it was a tremendous advertisement for football at the military college, and for The Citadel as a whole.

With 10:37 to play in the second quarter, Samford took possession of the ball at its own 33-yard line. To that point in the contest, SU had run 23 plays for 221 yards, scoring three touchdowns. The Citadel had only run 15 plays from scrimmage for a total of 49 yards, and had no points.

The game’s momentum started to change slightly over the next four possessions, two by each team. The Citadel scored on the second of its two drives in that sequence, but then Samford drove 65 yards late in the half, settling for a field goal and a 24-7 lead at the break.

The third quarter didn’t start off very well for The Citadel either, as Bulldogs quarterback Brandon Rainey promptly fumbled the ball away. It would prove to be one of Rainey’s few missteps in a brilliant second-half performance, but Samford was in position to take an even more commanding lead.

That SU failed to do so is a credit to The Citadel’s defense. There was a key play that may have flown under the radar, but that I think is worth highlighting.

On third and six from the Bulldogs’ 25-yard line, SU quarterback Devlin Hodges threw a swing pass to Robert Adams. It looked like Adams was going to pick up the first down, but Aron Spann III defeated his blocker and then stopped Adams four yards short of the line to gain, forcing a fumble that rolled out of bounds.

Without that stop by Spann, the drive would have continued. Instead, Samford saw a 40-yard field goal attempt sail wide of the right upright (and that particular upright has not been kind to the Birmingham Bulldogs in their last two trips to Johnson Hagood Stadium).

Eight plays later, Lorenzo Ward was in the end zone for The Citadel, and the tide had begun to turn.

It didn’t completely turn, though. Samford drove down the field for another field goal try, and this one was good. Then The Citadel had to punt after a seven-play possession.

That set up the next huge play by the Bulldogs’ defense, as Shawn McCord sacked Hodges on first down, basically taking the ball away from the quarterback in the process. It took the offense three plays to go 10 yards for its third TD (and the second by Ward) and close to within six points.

The next three possessions for each team…

  • Samford: 13 plays, 73 yards, one first down (on a 41-yard run by Hodges), no points
  • The Citadel: 19 plays, 202 yards, eight first downs, 21 points (including a scintillating 60-yard TD run by Rainey to take the lead, and two more TDs for Ward, including a 43-yard scamper)

The game was essentially decided. Samford drove 67 yards on its final drive against a prevent defense, but couldn’t punch it in for a TD, and at the final whistle the scoreboard, almost unbelievably, read 42-27 in favor of the home team.

It was really incredible to see the change in fortunes of the two teams as the game progressed. The Citadel’s players and coaches have to be credited for that.

Essentially, a runaway train was plunging straight downhill. The Bulldogs managed to somehow stop the train, gradually turn it around, then push it in the other direction, where it careened downhill even more uncontrollably than it did before, even though that means it would have been going downhill both ways.

It makes no sense, even as a metaphor. Isaac Newton would have to rewrite at least two of his three laws of motion.

The comeback still happened, though.

Assorted observations:

– I thought the corps of cadets richly deserved the overnights granted by Gen. Walters. As the game wound down, the chant “We want ‘Bama!” could be heard from that section of the stadium, one of several things I’ll always remember about this game.

– Then there was the money that started falling out of the sky after one of the Bulldogs’ second-half touchdowns. It was apparently thrown by someone in one of the suites. After another touchdown for The Citadel, more money appeared from the clouds on high.

I admit I would have been more impressed if the bills were 20s…

– The spontaneous “jump around” by the team on the sideline at the 6:11 mark of the fourth quarter led to a renewed burst of energy in the stands, and then that filtered back down to the team again, just repeating the cycle. It was kind of crazy.

– At the game, someone asked me about time of possession. I don’t know what the modern-day record for TOP is for The Citadel; it presumably is something in the 40-45 minute range. Saturday’s game wasn’t quite so lopsided in terms of time of possession, although The Citadel did have the edge in that area by over ten minutes (35:01 to 24:59).

That said, it was actually the smallest edge in time of possession The Citadel has had against Samford in the teams’ last six meetings:

  • 2018 — The Citadel 35:01, Samford 24:59
  • 2017 — The Citadel 36:52, Samford 23:08
  • 2016 — The Citadel 38:17, Samford 21:43
  • 2015 — The Citadel 35:15, Samford 24:45
  • 2014 — The Citadel 37:42, Samford 22:18
  • 2013 — The Citadel 35:42, Samford 24:18

Obviously, time of possession isn’t always indicative of dominance one way or the other (after all, SU won two of the games listed above). However, it seems to me that being on the short end of TOP on a regular basis puts a lot of strain on a team’s defense. Eventually, that can be a problem.

– Okay, a negative observation. The P.A. was too loud, sometimes painfully so. I also would have liked for the band to play more, but at least that unit got to play at halftime (a Homecoming tradition).

– The drill team outfits worn by some members of the Class of 1968, which were on display both at the parade and at the stadium march-on, were unique. I guess when you’ve been out of school for 50 years, you have had plenty of time to think of some fun things to do at your reunion.

I was amazed at how many ’68 alums were there. It was truly an impressive turnout for that class.

– It got rather cool during the second half, at least to me, but then my blood is unnaturally thin. Anecdotally, the cold weather appeared to improve beer sales, so I guess that was a positive.

All in all, I thought the crowd was great. Sure, some people went back to the reunion party tents for the second half, which always happens at Homecoming (not a criticism), but those who remained were into the game in a major way.

Nerd stuff, comeback category:

  • The 21-point comeback by The Citadel was the largest by the Bulldogs in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium. The previous mark was 20, which has happened twice — in 1973 against Chattanooga (when the Bulldogs trailed 20-0 but won the game 28-20) and 2007 versus Furman (a 27-7 deficit turned into a 54-51 victory in OT).
  • The biggest comeback in school history remains the 2011 game at Chattanooga, when the Bulldogs trailed 27-0 before rallying to win that contest 28-27.
  • Also worth mentioning in terms of comebacks is The Citadel’s 1989 game versus Western Carolina. The Bulldogs trailed WCU 22-0 but came back to tie the contest, 22-22. The game ended with that scoreline, the last time The Citadel played a football game that ended in a tie. That matchup was played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia as a consequence of Hurricane Hugo.

Nerd stuff, passing statistics category:

  • The 69 pass attempts by Samford’s Devlin Hodges on Saturday were the most ever thrown in a game by an opponent of The Citadel. The record for most completions in a game by an opponent remains 49, set earlier this year by VMI’s Reece Udinski in Lexington.
  • Hodges did set the Johnson Hagood Stadium record for pass completions (43) and attempts (69) in a game, by any individual.
  • The previous record-holder for pass completions and attempts in a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium was Jim Schumann, who threw 56 passes (completing 36) for Boston University against The Citadel in 1988. The Bulldogs won that game 24-13.
  • In case you were wondering, Kip Allen holds the JHS record for pass completions and attempts in a game by a Bulldog, as he was 34 for 53 versus Wofford in 1985, a 42-28 victory for The Citadel. His 428 passing yards in that contest remains a school record as well (regardless of venue).
  • Allen’s 34 completions against the Terriers is the all-time game record for The Citadel; the attempts record for the Bulldogs, also held by Allen, is 57, set at Clemson in 1986.

Editor’s note: I will be travelling most of this week, and as a result my upcoming preview of the game between The Citadel and Alabama game will be A) much earlier than usual, and B) much shorter than usual. Apologies for that, but real life intrudes once in a while.

I took pictures on Saturday, mostly bad ones. Many of them are of the review parade. As for the game pics, I started having battery issues late in the first half, and I also just struggled taking photos in general (not for the first time). Thus, there are no second-half action shots. I did take some pictures of the post-game on-field activity, however.

 

2018 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 10, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. 

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA FCS Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 11/6 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 11/7 radio show (video)

The Bulldog Breakdown 11/7

Noah Dawkins is a finalist for the Blanchard-Rogers Trophy

– “The Heat” – Western Carolina game

Samford meets with the media

This week is Homecoming at The Citadel. As always, there will be plenty of events on campus, and a lot of visitors on hand.

On Saturday, the barracks open at 8:30 am (and then close ninety minutes later). The Summerall Guards will perform at 8:50 am.

The review parade is at 11:00 am.

I have to establish very important and utterly sacred ground rules when writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”. Obviously, the SoCon should have forced Samford to come up with a new nickname when the suburban Birmingham school joined the league, but that canine has now left the kennel.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. After all, I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog. So there.

I’ll occasionally call Samford “SU”, or the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, or the “Crimson Bulldogs”, or the “Homewood Homebodies”, or the “Baptist Tigers”.

For those unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers, a short history lesson that I’ve referenced before:

The Howard College [later to be renamed Samford] team was known originally as the “Baptist Tigers.” However, rival Auburn also had “Tigers” as a nickname. Howard’s teams went by “Baptist Bears” until Dec. 14, 1916, when the student body voted two-to-one for the “Crimson Bulldog” over the “Baptist Bears.” Students decided that a bulldog could eat more Birmingham-Southern Panther meat than a bear could.

As a rule, bears are a lot bigger than bulldogs, and also generally give the impression of being hungry a lot. I’m not sure why the students voted the way they did, but 1916 was a long time ago.

However, 1916 wasn’t so long ago for The Citadel’s oldest living former regimental commander, Marion “Joe” Smoak. After all, that was the year he was born.

The pageantry and celebrations during The Citadel Homecoming 2018 will include a meeting between the oldest living Regimental Commander of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, who is 102, and the youngest, who is 21. Ambassador Marion “Joe” Smoak, will make his way from Washington D.C. to visit campus during what would be his 80th reunion since graduating. Just before the Homecoming Review Parade, Smoak and Cadet Col. Sarah Zorn will meet to shake hands before the Corps.

 

After graduating from The Citadel with an English degree, and then from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Smoak served in the U.S. Army as an officer, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1961. During those years, he was a Judge Advocate Officer in both the Pacific and European theaters during World War II. That was followed by tours with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions during which Smoak accumulated 58 jumps earning master parachutist status…From 1969-1974, he was Chief of Protocol for President Richard Nixon, retiring from the Department of State in 1974 with the grade of Ambassador.

You may recall the recent profile of Helen McCoy, the 101-year-old fan of Bulldog football whose preferred beverage of choice at games is rum and Coke. Well, according to his family, Smoak enjoys a daily martini.

Hey, maybe they know something…

The Citadel has had some success in blocking punts this year, including two last week versus Western Carolina. The second of the two blocked punts against the Catamounts was returned for a TD by redshirt freshman Dante Smith, the first time the Bulldogs had scored on a punt block since 2012. Credit for the block on that play went to Bradley Carter, a scout team ace from Blythewood.

Sean-Thomas Faulkner has blocked two punts this season (including the first against WCU last Saturday), and the redshirt freshman has been close to getting a hand on several others. He appears to be a natural at the art of blocking kicks, a point reinforced during Brent Thompson’s radio show when the coach remarked that Faulkner “blocked about a dozen” punts while on the scout team last season.

A kick-blocking savant is a great weapon for a team to have, and The Citadel really hasn’t had such an individual since Domonic Jones terrorized SoCon punters and placekickers several years ago. Before Jones, there was the indefatigable Milford Scott, the bane of many an up-back’s existence.

Actually, the Bulldogs have a little bit of a tradition when it comes to blocking kicks. That dates at least as far back as 1950, when Sam Rubino famously blocked two punts in a game against South Carolina, both of which were returned for touchdowns in The Citadel’s staggering 19-7 upset of the Gamecocks.

Samford was the consensus preseason favorite to win the SoCon, and can still do so, but the Birmingham Bulldogs have not exactly had the season their fans envisioned.

After an essentially useless 66-9 season-opening victory over Shorter, Samford lost its next four contests, a stunning September swoon:

  • Florida State scored two late touchdowns to escape with a 36-26 win over SU. It was a game Samford probably should have won, but the Crimson Bulldogs lost the turnover battle 5 to 1, giving the Seminoles the chance to avoid one of the worst losses in FSU history.
  • The following week, Samford began SoCon play by losing at home to Mercer, 30-24. The Bears led 17-7 at halftime and dominated time of possession in the first three quarters of the game. Samford gave up a 73-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter that proved to be too much to overcome.
  • The following week at Chattanooga, SU fell behind 17-0 and eventually lost, 27-20. Devlin Hodges threw 62 passes in the game, completing 44 of them — but also got picked off three times. Samford managed to drive the ball to the UTC 15-yard line late in the game, but was unable to score a tying touchdown.
  • Samford then lost at Kennesaw State, 24-10. In this game, SU actually had the same number of rushing attempts as it did passes (including sacks). Against a triple option opponent, Samford didn’t fare too badly against the run (KSU averaged 4.0 yards per rush) and only lost the TOP battle by five minutes, but trailed the Owls 21-3 after KSU’s first possession of the second half and never got back into the contest.

Since the loss to Kennesaw State, though, Samford has rebounded to win its next four games. The first two triumphs were massive offensive explosions (66-28 over Western Carolina and 70-22 over VMI). Samford had a total of 1,509 yards of combined total offense in those two games.

SU maintained the positive momentum derived from those two blowouts, and that resulted in solid victories over Furman (38-25) and Wofford (35-20). In both contests, SU lost the time of possession battle by a wide margin, but it didn’t matter.

The game against the Paladins was played in Greenville, and was followed by a bye. Last week’s win over the Terriers came at home — and on SU’s Homecoming. Thus, the Homewood Homebodies will play in Homecoming games on back-to-back Saturdays.

The math is fairly simple for Samford at this point. Win its last two games against The Citadel and East Tennessee State, and SU will claim the SoCon’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Lose either one of them, and the Baptist Tigers will be home for the holidays.

Samford’s rank in conference play (SoCon games only) in select categories:

  • 1st in scoring offense (42.7 points per game)
  • 1st in total offense, and 1st in yards per play
  • 1st in passing efficiency offense
  • 1st in passing offense, but somewhat surprisingly only 4th in yards per pass attempt (The Citadel is 3rd)
  • 6th in rushing offense, 5th in yards per play
  • 4th in scoring defense (25.3 points per game)
  • 6th in total defense, 4th in yards allowed per play
  • 5th in rushing defense, but a solid 2nd in rush yards allowed per play

[Running is] not what [Chris Hatcher] wants to do. Just like me — I don’t want to throw the football, right? He doesn’t want to run the football. Let’s face it, let’s do what we do, and let’s make it better…

Brent Thompson, during a discussion of offensive philosophy on his radio show (which also included thoughts on Mike Leach’s concept of what really constitutes “balance” in an offense)

Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 210 lbs.) has completed 71.3% of his passes this season, with 30 TD tosses against 15 interceptions, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (not taking sacks into account). The senior from Kimberly, Alabama has made news this season with both his passing statistics and his success as a duck caller.

Hodges is obviously really good. The best (and perhaps only) way for The Citadel to stop him is to keep him on the sidelines. One other note about Hodges: he has punted the ball 10 times this season.

Samford alternates two running backs, DeMarcus Ware (5’9″, 186 lbs.) and Roland Adams (5’10”, 203 lbs.). Ware, a freshman from Mississippi, has six rushing touchdowns and leads the squad in rushing yards, while Adams (a senior from Florence, Alabama) is averaging 6.0 yards per carry and has scored three times. As you might expect, both are capable receivers out of the backfield.

Wide receiver Kelvin McKnight (5’8″, 186 lbs.) caught nine passes for 118 yards in his previous visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium. The senior from Bradenton, Florida has 76 receptions so far this season, with eight touchdowns, and is well on his way to repeating as a first-team All-SoCon performer. He is averaging an almost absurd 15.2 yards per catch.

McKnight also serves as SU’s punt returner.

It is hard to highlight every Samford pass-catching target, since 20 different Crimson Bulldogs have caught passes this year, but Chris Shelling (5’8″, 165 lbs.) is definitely worth mentioning. Shelling has nine TD catches, and is second on the team in receptions, with 48. He has found the end zone against every SoCon opponent this season except for (somewhat surprisingly) Western Carolina.

Samford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’6″, 299 lbs. Left tackle Nick Nixon (6’6″, 275 lbs.), a junior from Hendersonville, Tennessee, was a preseason first-team all-league pick.

Incidentally, four of SU’s o-line starters are 6’6″, and the other is 6’7″. The tallest of the group is actually the center, Brendan Loftus (6’7″, 322 lbs.), who began his collegiate career at the University of Miami.

I don’t remember seeing many 6’7″ centers, at least on the gridiron. Hoops, sure…

Under defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, SU has mostly employed a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option offense. From 2010 to 2012, the Bulldogs had a difficult time moving the football against Samford, with really bad third-down conversion rates (15% for the combined three-year period).

However, in recent years The Citadel got better in that category against SU:

  • 2013: 8 for 17, 47.1%
  • 2014: 7 for 19, 36.8%
  • 2015: 6 for 14, 42.9%
  • 2016: 11 for 21, 52.3%

Last year was a setback. The Citadel was only 3 for 13 converting third downs (23.1%). That conversion rate has to dramatically increase on Saturday if the Bulldogs want to win.

Defensive end Ahmad Gooden (6’2″, 245 lbs.), the preseason defensive player of the year in the SoCon, has 15 tackles for loss thus far in 2018 (including 5 1/2 sacks). Against Furman, he returned a fumble 58 yards for a touchdown, a huge play in that game.

In his last two games versus The Citadel, Gooden has 27 total tackles. He is a senior from Talledega.

Although not listed as a starter, freshman defensive end Nelson Jordan (6’1″, 252 lbs.) is second on the team in sacks, with three. He also has three additional tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries.

Middle linebacker Aaron Harris (6’0″, 218 lbs.) is far and away Samford’s leader in tackles this season, with 71. The senior transferred from Southern Mississippi after his freshman year.

William Bryant (6’1″, 194 lbs.) is a junior strong safety who ranks third on the team in tackles. He also leads the team in passes defensed.

Samford placekicker Mitchell Fineran (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is 10 for 13 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 46. The freshman has made all 42 of his PATs, and also handles kickoffs (with a touchback rate of 17.5%).

Bradley Porcellato (6’0″, 170 lbs.) is the SU punter. Like a lot of D-1 punters these days, Porcellato is a native of Australia — specifically, Melbourne. He is a product of Prokick Australia, a school for kickers down under that has sent many punters to U.S. colleges and universities.

While listed on the two-deep and on the game notes roster, Porcellato is not on the team’s online roster, which seems odd.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  partly sunny, with a high of 66 degrees. That sounds like great Homecoming weather to me.

– The Citadel is 6-5 all-time against Samford, including a 4-2 record at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The last meeting between the teams in Charleston was certainly a memorable one.

– Useless trivia alert:  the two sets of Bulldogs both have long consecutive program scoring streaks. Samford has scored in its last 199 games, the longest streak in the SoCon. The second-longest streak belongs to The Citadel, at 93 games.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Samford is a 13-point favorite versus The Citadel (as of Thursday night). The over/under is 60.

When the line was first posted on Tuesday evening, Samford was an 11 1/2 point favorite.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Chattanooga is a 6-point favorite over Mercer; Furman is an 11 1/2 point favorite at VMI; Wofford is a 14 1/2 point favorite at Western Carolina.

ETSU is off this week.

– Also of note: Towson is an 1 1/2 point favorite at Elon, while Charleston Southern is a 9 1/2 point favorite over Gardner-Webb. Alabama, next week’s opponent for The Citadel, is a 24-point favorite against another set of Bulldogs, those representing Mississippi State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 60th in FCS, up five spots from last week. Samford is 23rd (also moving up five places).

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 23% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Samford 33, The Citadel 24.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey: Colgate (7th), James Madison (11th), Kennesaw State (12th), Elon (14th), Towson (18th), Wofford (24th), Furman (32nd), East Tennessee State (35th), Chattanooga (40th), North Carolina A&T (46th), Youngstown State (50th), San Diego (53rd), Mercer (55th), Northern Arizona (59th), Richmond (61st), Holy Cross (64th), Sacred Heart (69th), Western Carolina (78th), North Alabama (85th), South Carolina State (87th), Gardner-Webb (90th), Charleston Southern (91st), Campbell (92nd), VMI (93rd), Dayton (100th), Lehigh (107th), Presbyterian (120th), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, Princeton, UC Davis, South Dakota State, and Dartmouth.

I think that top 5 exposes a flaw in the Massey Ratings, to be honest. Because Ivy League schools as a group play a non-conference schedule with limited connectivity to the rest of Division I, the top teams in the conference tend to be placed higher in the ratings/rankings than they should be.

Princeton is a good team, but it is hard to imagine the Tigers are really on the same level with the elite FCS squads. There is certainly no evidence suggesting that to be the case.

Biggest movers in FCS this week: Lamar moved up 17 spots to 45th after winning at Central Arkansas, 38-24. Conversely, UCA is now 44th, a fall of 17 places, after losing to the Cardinals.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Michigan, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Kentucky, UCF, and Florida. Some other notables:  Missouri is 11th (?!), Ohio State 13th, Mississippi State 14th, South Carolina 17th, Penn State 18th, Auburn 20th, Fresno State 22nd, North Carolina State 24th, Boston College 29th, Texas 30th, Army 34th, Duke 36th, Pittsburgh 38th, Arizona State 42nd, Tennessee 45th, Virginia 46th, Georgia Tech 50th, Appalachian State 52nd, Maryland 56th, Florida State 61st, Wake Forest 64th, North Texas 71st, Toledo 72nd, South Florida 73rd, Minnesota 82nd, Georgia Southern 84th, Air Force 89th, North Carolina 97th, Louisville 100th, Coastal Carolina 101st, Navy 105th, Liberty 109th, Charlotte 111th, Old Dominion 118th, Connecticut 126th, UTEP 129th, and Rice 130th and last (after the Owls lost to the Miners last week).

Biggest movers in FBS this week:  Missouri moved up 15 spots after beating Florida 38-17 in Gainesville. Meanwhile, Minnesota fired its defensive coordinator after a 55-31 home loss to Illinois. The Golden Gophers dropped 20 places in the rankings after that debacle.

– Among Samford’s notable alumni: actress Mary Anderson (Maybelle in Gone With The Wind), opera singer Elizabeth Futral, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Harold E. Martin.

– Samford’s roster includes 47 players from Georgia and 41 from Alabama. Other states represented on its squad:  Florida (16 players), Tennessee (8), Mississippi (4), North Carolina (2), and one each from Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, and Indiana.

As noted earlier, starting punter Bradley Porcellato is from Australia.

There are no South Carolinians on the squad, which means no players from celebrated gridiron super-machine Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School are on SU’s roster. The absence of any alumni from the famed maroon and orange is stupefying; one can only ascertain that there is a possibility Samford may be dropping the sport in the near future, and thus is not interested in superior footballing talent going forward.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep changes:  as was announced by Brent Thompson earlier this week, Brandon Rainey is now the starting quarterback. Clay Harris is the new starter at B-back. Nkem Njoku has been named a starter at one of the A-back spots.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-7-2 for games played on November 10, although the Bulldogs have won the last five contests played on that date. The Citadel is 6-2 at home on November 10 (either at Johnson Hagood Stadium or Hampton Park), 4-1 in SoCon play. A brief review of a few of the contests, as we travel back in time:

  • 1906:  At Hampton Park, The Citadel shut out Mercer, 10-0. The game started at 11:00 a.m., so as not to interfere with other activities surrounding “Gala Week”, a festival that celebrated Charleston’s recovery from the devastating 1886 earthquake. Apparently there was a lot of partying associated with the festival, as only 200 hardy souls were awake enough at that hour to attend the football game. Starting quarterback and team captain James Hammond was the outstanding performer for the Bulldogs. The Citadel scored two touchdowns (which were worth five points back then), with Ted Russell and Albert Able finding the end zone for the blue and white.
  • 1973:  Before a crowd of 12,600 on a chilly Homecoming afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Furman 26-21. Andrew Johnson and Gene Dotson both scored two touchdowns for the Bulldogs, with Johnson rushing for 172 yards while Dotson chipped in with 131. The Citadel (which only had one completed pass) trailed 21-20 in the fourth quarter before Johnson’s second TD of the day gave the Bulldogs the lead for good. A sack by Greg Erickson snuffed out the Paladins’ last scoring opportunity. Other defensive stalwarts for The Citadel that day included Jim Roberts, Tom Leitner, Kemble Farr, Brian Ruff, and Tony Cicoria.
  • 1990:  After a Wofford halfback stated to a reporter that the Terriers had a better offensive attack than The Citadel — indeed, that Wofford had “the best wishbone offense in the country” — The Citadel’s defense held the Terriers to 30 yards rushing in a 48-14 Bulldogs victory before a crowd of 14,121 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. In a game played in blustery conditions, The Citadel rushed for 394 yards, with fourteen different Bulldogs carrying the ball at least once. Ray Wimbush and Jack Douglas both ran for 2 TDs; other Bulldogs to score included Willie Jones, Erick Little, and Howard Barnard (two field goals). Dwayne Smalls recovered one fumble and forced another, while Geren Williams dominated the line of scrimmage from his noseguard position.
  • 2007:  Andre Roberts caught eight passes for 180 yards and a touchdown, while Bart Blanchard threw for 370 yards and three TDs, as The Citadel rallied to beat Elon 42-31 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Tory Cooper scored three rushing touchdowns, while Taylor Cornett and Tim Higgins each had a TD reception. Andrew Rowell had an interception for the Bulldogs and also blocked a field goal. Attendance: 10,261.

– Samford has an all-time record of 7-4-1 in games played on November 10.

– As many fans of the Bulldogs know, the 1906 squad mentioned above won the national championship, as it finished that campaign undefeated and untied (and also unscored upon). Two other programs, Yale and Princeton, also claim a share of the title for that season, with various selectors opting for one of the three schools. Princeton, for example, was the retroactive pick of the Helms Foundation, while The Citadel was the choice of the TSA Matrix Ratings System.

For some reason, the 1906 title hasn’t been as widely publicized as The Citadel’s 1871 national title (though to be fair, that championship has flown under the radar at times as well). One possible reason for the difference in recognition between the two seasons is that the 1871 title is undisputed.

I’m hoping there will be a sizable crowd at the game on Saturday — not just in the tailgating areas (that is a given), but in the stands. It should be a nice day to watch a good gridiron contest.

I am a little irked that some members of the national press are already assuming Samford will win on Saturday:

Yes, I know which team is favored. I also know which team is playing at home, which team is playing before a lot of passionate alumni, and which team played its best half of football this season just last week.

All of that counts for something. As for how much it counts…I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

2018 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 3.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Daniel Hooker will handle play-by-play, while Dan Gibson supplies the analysis. Summer McMahan is the sideline reporter.

The contest can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station.

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

AFCA Coaches’ poll

Brent Thompson’s 10/30 press conference

Brent Thompson’s 10/31 radio show (video)

Catamount Football Weekly

Countdown to tip-off: The Citadel basketball (video)

My review of last year’s game between the two teams

The Citadel announced on Wednesday that the football team will face Georgia Southern on September 2, 2023.

To date, The Citadel’s future FBS foes are as follows (with the guarantees in parenthesis):

  • 2019: Georgia Tech ($400,000)
  • 2020: Clemson ($300,000)
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina ($315,000)
  • 2023: Georgia Southern ($320,000)
  • 2024: Clemson ($300,000)
  • 2025: Mississippi ($500,000)

My main issue with this game (and the matchup with Coastal Carolina in 2021) is that there is less of a guarantee when The Citadel plays G5 schools instead of P5 opponents. That concern is alleviated to an extent by the news that the department of athletics will receive more than $300,000 from both Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern (and the travel should be fairly easy).

I think the Clemson guarantee will also include tickets, but I’m not sure.

Also of note: in 2019 and 2024, FCS schools will have the option of scheduling 12 regular-season games, instead of the standard 11 contests.

Just a couple of quick observations about the Furman game:

– I’ve pointed out the lack of big gains in the running game all season. This was a factor again last Saturday, as the longest rush from scrimmage by a Bulldog was only 14 yards.

The Citadel has to have more “chunk” running plays. Obviously the passing attack took up some of the big play slack versus the Paladins, but an option team has to break off long gainers on the ground from time to time.

The Citadel led the league in yards per rush in both 2015 (5.6 yds/rush) and 2016 (5.2), thanks in part to long gainers. The Bulldogs were second (5.0) in that category last season.

In league play, the Bulldogs are averaging 4.4 yards per rush. That is 5th-best in the conference.

– Defensively, The Citadel did a lot of good things last week. What the Bulldogs didn’t do, though, was force a turnover. Against a Furman squad missing its starting quarterback, that has to be considered to be something of a disappointment.

In six SoCon matchups this season, The Citadel has forced eight turnovers.

  • 2015: 18 forced turnovers in seven league games
  • 2016: 15 forced turnovers in eight league games
  • 2017: 12 forced turnovers in eight league games

Western Carolina plays Wofford next week. There has been some discussion about whether or not it is an advantage for The Citadel that the Catamounts have yet to play a true option team. I don’t know if that really matters (it probably does), but I did notice one other interesting scheduling wrinkle.

This will be the third conference game in 2018 in which The Citadel’s opponent has played a road game before facing The Citadel. In all three cases (Mercer, VMI, and Western Carolina), the opponent is following up a road game by hosting the Bulldogs.

So far in that scenario, The Citadel is 2-0.

Western Carolina is 3-5, 1-5 in the SoCon. The Catamounts won their first three games, but have lost five in a row.

It doesn’t take a whole lot to sum up WCU. Actually, just the scores of its league games tell a lot of the story:

52-50, 38-44, 28-66, 6-26, 46-59, 43-45 (3OT)

The 26-6 loss to Chattanooga is the outlier. Not counting the matchup versus the Mocs, Western Carolina is averaging 41.4 points per game, but allowing 52.8 points per contest.

As you might imagine, the Catamounts are at or near the top of the league in many offensive categories, while their defensive statistics tend to go in the other direction.

In SoCon games, Western Carolina is second in total offense, third in offensive plays from scrimmage, fourth in yards per play, second in yards per rush, and fifth in yards per pass attempt. WCU has committed 14 turnovers, second-most in the league; eight of those are lost fumbles.

The defense ranks last in total defense, next-to-last in yards allowed per play, 7th (of nine teams) in yards allowed per rush, and fifth in yards allowed per pass attempt. WCU has forced 13 turnovers on defense, tied for the most in the league.

A few tidbits:

  • VMI and Western Carolina combined for exactly 1100 total yards on 191 total plays.
  • Western Carolina averaged 7.0 yards per play versus Furman, but the Paladins averaged 8.5 yards per play against WCU.
  • Mercer and Western Carolina combined to score 48 points…in the second quarter.
  • Samford scored 35 points in the first quarter and averaged 9.4 yards per play for the game.
  • ETSU scored 15 points in the final 5:02 of regulation; WCU missed a field goal that would have won the game in the first OT.

“We don’t want to get into a shootout with them.”

Brent Thompson during his press conference, discussing the Catamounts’ offense

Western Carolina’s offense is led by quarterback Tyrie Adams (6’2″, 180 lbs.), who has received the last two SoCon offensive player of the week awards. Adams, a redshirt junior from St. Petersburg, Florida, is completing 64.6% of his passes, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (not accounting for sacks), with 16 TD throws against just four interceptions.

In addition, Adams leads WCU in rushing, as the dual-threat QB averages 5.4 yards per carry, and has scored seven rushing touchdowns. Against The Citadel last season, he threw for a relatively modest 133 yards, but three of his tosses went for touchdowns.

Running back Connell Young (6’0″, 205 lbs.), a junior from Greensboro, averages 5.1 yards per rush. Young also has 26 receptions out of the backfield, with three of those catches going for TDs. He had a TD reception last year versus the Bulldogs.

Wide receivers Nate Mullen (5’9″, 185 lbs.) and Daquan Patton (5’6″, 185 lbs.) have combined for 76 receptions and seven touchdowns. Mullen, a redshirt junior from Harrisburg, North Carolina, has 46 of the catches.

Patten (5’6″, 185 lbs.), the son of former WCU and NFL player David Patten, has five of the TDs. The native of Columbia is a redshirt sophomore who went to Blythewood High School.

While tight end Owen Cosenke (6’3″, 240 lbs.) has only 19 catches, eight of them have resulted in touchdowns. During his radio show, Brent Thompson noted the sophomore’s ability to find the end zone.

The projected starters on Western Carolina’s offensive line average 6’4″, 312 lbs. I believe the group is the largest in the SoCon.

Three of them were preseason all-conference picks, with center Zach Weeks (6’3″, 290 lbs.) a first-team selection. Weeks was a first-team choice by the coaches after last season.

Left guard Andrew Miles (6’4″, 310 lbs.) and right tackle Nathan Dalton (6’6″, 340 lbs.) were both preseason second-team picks. Weeks, Miles, Dalton, and right guard Chase Stehling (6’4″, 335 lbs.) are all redshirt seniors. Three of the four are from North Carolina (Miles is from Flowery Branch, Georgia).

“They’re very young.”

Brent Thompson during his press conference, discussing the Catamounts’ defense

He isn’t wrong. On its current two-deep, Western Carolina lists 14 defensive players who are freshmen, redshirt freshmen, or sophomores.

(I should point out here that The Citadel has 11 such defensive players on its depth chart.)

That said, it is a senior, linebacker Mitchell Chancey (6’0″, 225 lbs.), who leads Western Carolina in tackles, with 90, far more than any other Catamount. The native of Asheville has had 10 or more stops in every game this season.

Marvin Tillman (6’1″, 195 lbs.), a senior safety from Durham, is second on the squad in tackles. Tillman, a preseason first-team all-SoCon selection, intercepted two passes against The Citadel in last year’s contest.

Starting noseguard Solomon Clark (6’0″, 270 lbs.), a senior from Richmond, California, leads the Catamounts in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (5).

Another senior, linebacker Jacquez Williams (6’3″, 220 lbs.), has 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Williams, who has also been credited with a team-leading 10 quarterback hurries, began his college career at Georgia Military.

Redshirt senior Ian Berryman (6’0″, 200 lbs.) has had an outstanding career at WCU as the team’s punter. He was a preseason first-team all-league pick at that spot after being the consensus first-team punter in the SoCon last year. He was also a first-team pick by the coaches as a freshman and a sophomore.

Last year’s game against The Citadel may have been the worst of Berryman’s career, as he had two punts blocked and shanked another one under duress.

Sophomore placekicker Will Horton (5’10”, 165 lbs.) is 9 for 12 in field goal attempts this season, with a long of 47. Horton also handles kickoffs for the Catamounts. Six of his 27 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Cullowhee, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 57 degrees. The low on Saturday night will be 36 degrees.

– The Citadel is 11-10 all-time in Cullowhee.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 5-point favorite at Western Carolina, with an over/under of 66.

The spread and over/under listed above are as of Thursday night. When the lines were first posted on Tuesday afternoon, the Bulldogs were a 4-point favorite, and the over/under was 73 1/2.

Other lines involving SoCon teams (all as of Thursday night): Samford is a 5 1/2 point over Wofford; VMI is a 19-point favorite over Tusculum; Furman is a 4 1/2 point favorite over Chattanooga; and Mercer is a 4 1/2 point favorite over East Tennessee State.

Also of note: Towson is an 11 1/2 point favorite over Maine, while Charleston Southern is a 3-point underdog at Monmouth. Alabama is a 14 1/2 point favorite at LSU.

Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 65th in FCS, down two spots from last week. Western Carolina is 75th (a ten-spot move up from last week).

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 59% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 38, Western Carolina 35.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey: Colgate (10th), Elon (13th), Towson (14th), Kennesaw State (15th), Wofford (20th), Samford (28th), Yale (30th), Furman (33rd), Chattanooga (37th), North Carolina A&T (39th), East Tennessee State (41st), Mercer (54th), Youngstown State (55th), San Diego (64th), Southeastern Louisiana (66th), Charleston Southern (76th), South Carolina State (90th), Savannah State (91st), Campbell (95th), Gardner-Webb (96th), VMI (99th), Hampton (110th), Presbyterian (117th), Davidson (120th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, UC Davis, South Dakota State, and Dartmouth.

Biggest movers in FCS this week: Gardner-Webb moved up 21 spots after beating Campbell 35-7 (the loss dropped the Camels 14 positions). Meanwhile, Youngstown State fell 20 places after losing 43-17 to Indiana State; Bo Pelini’s squad now has to play North Dakota State in Fargo, where the Penguins will be a 35-point underdog.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Florida, Kentucky, and Ohio State. Some other notables: UCF is 13th, Washington State 15th, Mississippi State 17th, Texas A&M 18th, Texas 20th, Auburn 22nd, South Carolina 23rd, North Carolina State 25th, Missouri 26th, Boston College 28th, Syracuse 31st, Army 32nd, Virginia 39th, Mississippi 41st, Duke 43rd, Tennessee 46th, Maryland 48th, Georgia Tech 51st, Florida State 54th, Appalachian State 57th, Wake Forest 58th, Virginia Tech 59th, Colorado 64th, Georgia Southern 65th, Toledo 73rd, North Texas 79th, Air Force 87th, North Carolina 94th, Coastal Carolina 99th, Navy 104th, Liberty 105th, Charlotte 112th, Old Dominion 119th, UTEP 130th and last.

Biggest movers in FBS this week: Oregon State jumped from 120th to 103rd after beating Colorado; conversely, the Buffaloes fell 20 spots after blowing a 28-point lead and losing to the Beavers. Appalachian State also dropped 20 positions after losing to Georgia Southern (which moved up 16 places).

– Among Western Carolina’s notable alumni: football coach (and triple option maestro) Paul Johnson, actress Bobbi Baker, and comedian Rich Hall.

– Western Carolina’s roster includes 48 players from North Carolina. Other states represented on its squad: Georgia (27 players), South Carolina (11), Tennessee (4), Florida (3), Alabama (2), Ohio (2), and one each from California, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The eleven Catamounts from the Palmetto State represent nine different high schools (including two each from Blythewood H.S. and Spartanburg H.S.), but none are from supreme gridiron superpower Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This is an oversight on the part of Western Carolina that will undoubtedly prove detrimental to its football program for decades to come. Ronnie Carr cries himself to sleep every night just thinking about it.

It isn’t like WCU can claim not to be familiar with the region, either. Freshman offensive lineman Torrion Stevenson went to Branchville High School, located in the same county as the famed maroon and orange.

Of note: Stevenson is also a volunteer firefighter in Branchville. At 6’1″, 315 lbs., he is probably the largest firefighter in the local area.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep changes: Ryan McCarthy is now listed as the starter at one of the wide receiver positions. McCarthy caught three passes against Furman last week in his first action as a wideout.

Incidentally, on his radio show Brent Thompson stated that McCarthy has a 39-inch vertical jump. Of course, McCarthy’s regular position is quarterback, and he also plays on The Citadel’s baseball team.

Dante Smith is officially the starter at one of the A-back slots. At the other A-back position, Grant Drakeford and Keyonte Sessions are both listed as potential starters, probably a reflection of Drakeford’s uncertain injury status.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 8-4-1 for games played on November 3. The Bulldogs are 3-2 away from home on that date, 5-3 in SoCon play. A brief review of a few of the contests, as we travel back in time via the TSA Wayback Machine:

  • 1909: The Citadel and Davidson played to a scoreless tie at the state fairgrounds in Columbia. The longest play from scrimmage, 25 yards, came on a fake punt by the Wildcats. While Davidson never got closer than the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line, The Citadel managed to advance the ball to the opposing 10-yard line late in the first half, but eschewed a field goal and failed to convert on third down (back then, teams had three plays to gain five yards for a first down).
  • 1956: Trailing 13-0 early in the second half, The Citadel stormed back to beat Presbyterian, 20-13, in a Homecoming game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Quarterback Jack Griffin rushed for a 25-yard TD, which was followed by a three-yard Joe Chefalo touchdown run (set up by a 60-yard pass to Paul Maguire). Connie Tuza’s PAT tied the contest. After PC went for it on 4th down on its own 23-yard line and failed to pick up a first down, the Bulldogs took advantage, scoring the game-winner on a Ray Woodworth one-yard run. A last-ditch pass by the Blue Hose was intercepted by Bobby Schwarze.
  • 1979: The Bulldogs survived a late field goal attempt and edged Marshall, 17-16, in a game played in Huntington, West Virginia. Stump Mitchell rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns, but The Citadel trailed 16-10 after two special teams miscues (including a blocked punt and a safety on a kickoff return). In the third quarter, Tim Russell gained 20 yards on a fourth-down play, setting up a first-and-goal that resulted in Mitchell’s second TD. That score proved to be the winner, as Marshall missed a 28-yard field goal try with 2:08 to play. The Bulldogs would hold on from there.
  • 1990: Before a crowd of 19,754 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel walloped VMI 23-3. Erick Little rushed for 129 yards, while Ray Wimbush and Everette Sands both scored touchdowns. Howard Barnard added three field goals, while the Bulldogs’ D held the Keydets 25 points under their season average. Tony Skole blocked a punt to set up Barnard’s third field goal.
  • 2012: The Citadel defeated Elon, 28-24. Hey, I wrote about this game. Darien Robinson rushed for 178 yards; the game also featured a Hail Mary TD for the Bulldogs on the final play of the first half, courtesy of Aaron Miller. Brandon McCladdie intercepted a pass and had a fine all-around performance as the Bulldogs prevailed at home.

– The referee for that 1909 game between The Citadel and Davidson was Frank “Shag” Shaughnessy, who (among many other things) was the football team captain at Notre Dame, where he also acquired degrees in pharmacy and law; served as Clemson’s head football coach for one season; played nine games in the major leagues; managed hockey’s Ottawa Senators in the forerunner to the NHL; was president of baseball’s International League for 24 years; and created a playoff system that was eventually adopted by the minor leagues (and led to the modern-day divisions in the major leagues).

– The last time the Bulldogs played on the road on November 3, they defeated Chattanooga 20-17 in double overtime. That day was the Mocs’ Homecoming.

Saturday will be Homecoming at Western Carolina. Hmm…

The Citadel can win this game. The Bulldogs have to control Tyrie Adams; they may not be able to completely stop him, but they have to prevent him from dominating the game.

One way to do that is by keeping Adams off the field. The offense has to maintain possession for long drives. It can’t give the ball away (as was the case in last year’s meeting, when the Bulldogs committed five turnovers).

When the defense has a chance to make a big play, it has to do so — whether that is forcing a turnover or stopping the Catamounts on third (and fourth) down. WCU is probably going to get its yards. The Bulldogs have to prevent the Catamounts from getting points to go along with those yards.

There is opportunity in Cullowhee this Saturday. The Bulldogs have to take advantage; playmakers have to make plays.

Go Dogs!