Game Review, 2017: Chattanooga

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

“By the numbers”, The Post and Courier

Game story, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Game story, University Echo

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WRCB-TV

Game story, The Chattanoogan

AP game story

School release (The Citadel)

School release (Chattanooga)

Extended box score

Postgame comments from UTC coach Tom Arth (video)

ESPN3 replay of the game

The Citadel needed that win. It wasn’t easy, to the surprise of no one, but that’s okay — it wasn’t supposed to be. The bottom line is the Bulldogs went to Chattanooga and got the victory.

Random observations:

– The Citadel’s special teams weren’t at their best on Saturday. The missed 27-yard field goal hurt, but the real problem came in defending kickoffs and punt returns.

Chattanooga freshman Brandon Dowdell had 167 return yards, which is why three of UTC’s eleven possessions began at or inside the 50-yard line, despite the fact the Bulldogs committed no turnovers during the contest. Dowdell’s 37-yard punt return in the second quarter gave the Mocs a first down on The Citadel’s 35-yard line, and UTC scored its second (and final) touchdown of the game on the ensuing drive.

For the game, Chattanooga had a 14.0-yard edge in average field position, a significant margin. As a comparison, the largest field position differential advantage in all FBS games on Saturday was 16.7 by TCU against Kansas, a game the Horned Frogs won 43-0.

– Chattanooga only had four second-half possessions. The first three drives for UTC in the second half resulted in just 54 total yards and five first downs. Two of those first downs came via a defensive penalty; one of those calls was dubious, and the other was a simply terrible officiating decision.

Despite the bizarre rulings by the men in stripes, the Bulldogs’ defense kept the Mocs in check throughout the second half until the final possession, when The Citadel almost unfathomably gave up 69 yards to Chattanooga in just five plays.

However, the defense held Chattanooga at bay when it counted, with Aron Spann’s second interception of the afternoon sealing the victory.

– The Citadel was 8 for 17 on third down, which is solid. Meanwhile, Chattanooga was 0 for 7 trying to convert on third down. That discrepancy explains the difference in time of possession (37:02 – 22:58) and plays (72 to 50).

The Mocs actually averaged more yards rushing per attempt than The Citadel, 7.5 to 6.2. Of course, the Bulldogs had many more rushes (65 to 19).

If you took out plays of 30+ rushing yards (along with sacks and kneeldowns), Chattanooga would have averaged 4.82 yards per rush, while The Citadel would have averaged 3.97 yards per carry.

– Breakdown of running plays for The Citadel: the A-backs got 28 carries, including 15 from Cam Jackson. The B-backs had 19 carries, the quarterback position finished with 14, and the wideouts had two rushes.

– The Citadel had four rushing plays of 30+ yards on Saturday. Dominique Allen, Grant Drakeford, Raleigh Webb, and Rod Johnson all had one each.

In their four previous SoCon games this season, the Bulldogs had a combined total of *one* 30+ yard rushing play.

The big play has been all too absent for much of this year for The Citadel’s offense. Hopefully its return against Chattanooga is a sign of things to come.

– I’m glad Grant Drakeford didn’t get hurt on his 35-yard run in the third quarter. Drakeford was brought down by a horsecollar tackle, and it was ugly. He could easily have been seriously injured on that play.

Speaking of injuries, let’s hope Kailik Williams can return to action soon. He missed much of the second half on Saturday with what was called a “lower leg deal” by head coach Brent Thompson.

– I thought UTC coach Tom Arth may have made a mistake early in the fourth quarter when he elected to punt on 4th-and-9 from the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line. At the time UTC trailed 17-14.

I understand that 4th-and-9 is not an easy conversion opportunity, but it seemed to me trying to pick up the first down that deep in opposing territory was the better move than giving up a possession (particularly in a game like that; as mentioned, UTC only had four second-half possessions).

Instead of pinning the Bulldogs deep, the punt sailed into the end zone for a touchback. On the very next play from scrimmage, Dominique Allen burst through the UTC defense for a career-long 54-yard run. That took care of any field position advantage.

– Chattanooga has now gone four straight games without causing a turnover.

– The Citadel is now 2-1 on the road in league play this year, with a conference game at Furman still to play. The Bulldogs have won at least half of their SoCon road games in each of the last seven seasons.

– The Bulldogs had 405 yards rushing against UTC, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Last year, there were three conference games in which the Bulldogs had 400+ rushing yards while averaging six or more yards per carry — Samford, East Tennessee State, and Western Carolina.

Upcoming: a big, big week. Not only is it Homecoming Week at The Citadel, but the coveted Silver Shako is on the line as VMI comes to town.

It’s time to ratchet the intensity up another ten or twenty notches…

 

 

2017 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played at Finley Stadium/Davenport Field, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 21, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Chris Goforth will handle play-by-play, while B.J. Coleman supplies the analysis. 

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. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

Bulldogs aren’t giving up on the playoffs just yet

– Game notes from The Citadel and Chattanooga

Preview from The Citadel’s website

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is in the “receiving votes” category, and would be ranked #31 if the poll went that far)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is in the “receiving votes” category, and would be ranked #31 if the poll went that far)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/17 press conference, including comments from Rod Johnson and Quinlan Washington (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/18 radio show (video)

Tom Arth wants Chattanooga to “be the aggressors” on Saturday

Rushing defense key for Mocs against The Citadel

– A trying season for UTC’s seniors

– Chattanooga searching for its first home win (video from WDEF-TV)

– Chattanooga media luncheon with head coach Tom Arth, quarterback Cole Copeland, and defensive back C.J. Fritz (videos)

– Inside Chattanooga Football (video)

Highlights of Chattanooga’s win over VMI (video)

The Citadel hits the road again after two disappointing home losses, looking to break a three-game losing streak. If the Bulldogs have even a remote chance of making a third straight trip to the FCS playoffs, they almost certainly have to win their next four games. That starts on Saturday in the River City against Chattanooga.

The Mocs are having an even more difficult time on the gridiron, as they are currently 1-6 for the 2017 campaign. UTC’s only victory came against the other military school in the Southern Conference, VMI.

New coach Tom Arth has had a tough debut season to date in the SoCon, perhaps more so than was expected. Among other issues, Chattanooga is now featuring its third starting quarterback of the season, a true freshman who was originally going to be redshirted.

Every year, it is mandatory to explain the history related to Chattanooga and its mascot/nickname. I’ve written frequently about the school’s identity and branding issues over the years.

Chattanooga has a webpage on its varsity sports website devoted to the one big question that has dominated discussion at the school for decades: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill…

Named after legendary football coach A.C. “Scrappy” Moore, Scrappy, the Chattanooga mascot, is a fixture for the Mocs.  A re-design in 2008 puts Scrappy in the image of the State Bird of Tennessee, a Mockingbird.  The mockingbird is known as a fierce protector of its nest and environment. It is sometimes seen swooping down on a dog, cat or predator that may be venturing too close to the bird’s protected territory.   Once described by “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon as “a sledge-hammer wielding mockingbird with a heart of Blue & Gold,” Scrappy symbolizes that competitive passion.

Faced with politically sensitive issues and in need of a stronger core identity to help establish a strong brand as Chattanooga’s Team, the athletics department embarked on a comprehensive identity program in 1996. A new direction for the athletics identity was determined, moving away from the politically incorrect Native American Indian imagery.

The “Power C” and “Cowcatcher logo” are also branding symbols of note at Chattanooga. The subject even came to the attention of The New York Times back in 2009.

The official name of the school, meanwhile, is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

Why does Finley Stadium/Davenport Field have artificial turf? Well, because the facility was relentlessly mocked on ESPN’s SportsCenter program about 13 years ago.

A recent article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press explains:

James Madison and Montana met for the [2004 FCS] title at Finley, but that showdown was upstaged by the stadium’s new sod coming up in chunks throughout the game that was televised nationally on ESPN2.

“That’s probably the worst field I’ve ever played on in my life, grade school through college,” then-James Madison quarterback and current UTC offensive coordinator Justin Rascati said afterward. “I was really surprised how bad it was for this type of game.”

[Former Finley Stadium executive director Merrill] Eckstein explained that the field was resodded after UTC’s 2004 season because the NCAA repeatedly griped about how brown it looked.

“We would paint it green, but by the end of the first quarter, the green was all over the uniforms of the players,” Eckstein said. “Somebody had to sign on the sod deal, and I’m the genius who did that.”

[Gordon] Davenport, the current chairman of the Stadium Corp., vividly remembers the morning after the 2004 FCS title game and watching ESPN’s “SportsCenter” at home.

“They were using the visuals of the field as their entire story,” Davenport said. “I’m sitting there looking at Davenport Field. I wasn’t involved with the stadium at that point, but I jumped right in for the fundraising for the first version of the artificial turf and have ratcheted up my involvement ever since.”

Finley Stadium/Davenport Field hosted the FCS title game from 1997 through the 2009 season. Thus, both Chattanooga and The Citadel have hosted the I-AA/FCS championship, as Johnson Hagood Stadium was the site of the final in 1983 and 1984.

Here is a trivia question: which school has Chattanooga faced on the gridiron more than any other opponent?

The answer, which might be surprising for some, is The Citadel. On Saturday, the Mocs and Bulldogs will meet for the 51st time.

It is Chattanooga’s longest football series in terms of games played, despite the fact that this is the school’s 110th year of fielding a football team. Conversely, The Citadel has played five different opponents 51 or more times.

I don’t think fans of either program would consider this matchup a classic (or even modern) rivalry. The two schools are not close in terms of geography, nor are they similar in enrollment size or mission.

Nevertheless, the game preview on UTC’s website suggests the ‘rivalry’ is a “hot one”, one that has been “turning into one of the more heated rivalries in the league over the last few meetings.”

As mentioned above, Chattanooga is 1-6 so far this season.

  • In the FCS Kickoff game, played in Montgomery, Alabama, Jacksonville State defeated the Mocs 27-13
  • UTC then lost (somewhat predictably) at LSU, 45-10
  • In its first home game of the season, Chattanooga didn’t score until late in the third quarter, and dropped a 21-7 decision to UT Martin
  • The Mocs picked up their first win of the season at woebegone VMI, routing the Keydets 63-7
  • Chattanooga then got rolled at home by Western Carolina, 45-7
  • The following week wasn’t much better, as UTC lost its Homecoming game to Furman, 41-17
  • Last Saturday in Macon, Mercer beat the Mocs 30-10

One thing that is noticeable when perusing those games: Chattanooga has yet to play a close game this season.

Former UTC head coach Russ Huesman left his alma mater after the 2016 season to take the job at Richmond. In a bit of a surprise, Chattanooga reached down into the Division III coaching ranks to pick his successor.

Tom Arth is only 36 years old, but he has already had an interesting (and largely successful) run in the game of football. A star quarterback at John Carroll University, Arth spent three seasons (2003-2005) as a backup for the Indianapolis Colts, where he befriended Peyton Manning.

Arth never took the field for the Colts in a regular season game (to be fair, backups to Manning back then never played), but he did suit up for various NFL Europe and Arena League teams. Arth is surely the first coach in Southern Conference history to have played for the Scottish Claymores and the Hamburg Sea Devils.

He returned to his alma mater as an assistant in 2010. Arth became head coach of the Blue Streaks in 2013, and in four seasons compiled a 40-8 record. Last season, John Carroll went 12-2, including a monumental win over D-3 heavy Mt. Union.

Arth is a native of Cleveland. He played his high school ball at perennial power St. Ignatius.

Another critical piece of information: according to Wikipedia, he was the lowest-rated player in the ESPN NFL 2K5 video game.

Stats of note for UTC through seven games:

Chattanooga Opponents
Points per game 18.1 30.9
Rushing yardage 398 1144
Average per rush 2.01 3.96
Average per game 56.9 163.4
TDs rushing 6 11
Passing yardage 1431 1286
Comp-Att-Int 143-246-11 88-135-5
Average per pass 5.8 9.3
TDs passing 9 13
Total offense 1829 2430
Total plays 444 427
Yards per play 4.1 5.7
Kick returns-yards 34-591 23-435
Punt returns-yards 10-88 9-152
Fumbles/lost 7/5 3/1
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 6.9/55.7 6.7/64.0
Net punt average 39.9 36.6
Time of possession/game 29:43 30:17
3rd down conversions 32/98 36/88
3rd down conversion rate 32.6% 40.9%
Sacks by-yards 8-57 24-198
Field goals-attempts 5-6 5-12
Red Zone touchdown rate 11-19 (57.9%) 15-23 (65.2%)
  • Chattanooga is 119th (out of 123 FCS teams) in rushing offense; UTC’s 2.01 yards per attempt is fourth-worst nationally
  • The Mocs are 74th in rushing defense
  • UTC is 83rd in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate, and 86th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • Chattanooga’s defense has only one fumble recovery, the lowest total in FCS
  • Partly because of that, UTC’s turnover margin is 114th nationally
  • Chattanooga completes a lot of short passes, which is why the Mocs are 109th in yards per pass completion
  • That, plus UTC’s 11 interceptions, has led to an offensive pass efficiency rating that is 91st in FCS
  • The Mocs are 115th in defensive pass efficiency
  • Chattanooga is 100th nationally in scoring offense and 86th in scoring defense

I took a quick look at some of last year’s stats for the Mocs (the full 13-game season). A few eye-opening differences from 2016 to 2017:

  • UTC’s offense scored 34.2 points per game in 2016; in 2017, 18.1
  • Chattanooga averaged 5.1 yards per rush last year; so far this season, 2.01
  • UTC quarterbacks only threw 7 interceptions in 342 pass attempts last season; they have already thrown 11 picks (in 246 attempts) this year
  • The Mocs’ defense is allowing 9.3 yards per pass attempt this season; in 2016, that number was 6.2
  • Chattanooga’s offense is averaging a full 2 yards less per play this year (6.1 to 4.1) while the defense is allowing 1.1 more yards per play (5.7 to 4.6)

Key stats for The Citadel through six games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 25.7 20.8
Rushing yardage 1761 640
Average per rush 4.9 3.4
Average per game 293.5 106.7
TDs rushing 16 10
Passing yardage 652 1152
Comp-Att-Int 38-88-3 89-148-7
Average per pass 7.4 7.8
TDs passing 5 7
Total offense 2413 1792
Total plays 450 338
Yards per play 5.4 5.3
Kick returns-yards 12-226 14-289
Punt returns-yards 11-83 5-16
Fumbles/lost 14/5 6/4
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.5/37.2 3.2/31.0
Net punt average 37.5 38.1
Time of possession/game 34:32 25:28
3rd down conversions 43/94 24/66
3rd down conversion rate 45.7% 36.4%
Sacks by-yards 10-55 4-27
Field goals-attempts 2-4 2-4
Red Zone touchdown rate 17-26 (65.4%) 11-15 (73.3%)
  • The Citadel is 17th in offensive third down conversion rate and 51st in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs have been called for the 12th-fewest penalties per game in FCS
  • The Citadel is 5th nationally in rushing; the Bulldogs are 26th in FCS in yards per rush
  • In terms of pass efficiency, The Citadel is 74th on offense, and 72nd on defense; both of those numbers took a hit last week
  • The Citadel is 60th in the country in scoring offense and 31st in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 4th nationally in time of possession
  • The Citadel is 37th in FCS in turnover margin

At his weekly press conference, Brent Thompson described Chattanooga’s offense as being “a little more pass-oriented” and “more pro-style” this season under Tom Arth’s direction.

UTC’s offense has been affected by a revolving door at quarterback. Last year’s starter, Alejandro Bennifield (6’3″, 220 lbs.), was suspended for the first four games of the season for academic reasons. He returned to the field against Western Carolina, only to suffer a concussion after one of the more brutal hits on a QB you will ever see.

He has yet to return for the Mocs, and may not, although Arth said this week that Bennifield was improving. That is good to hear.

Nick Tiano (6’5″, 240 lbs.), a transfer from Mississippi State, started the season at quarterback, but he was also injured against the Catamounts, hurting his shoulder.

The starter for the last two games has been Cole Copeland (6’4″, 200 lbs.), a true freshman from Cleveland, Tennessee. Copeland was going to redshirt this year, but he is running the show now (and presumably will for the foreseeable future, as long as he stays healthy).

Copeland’s stats versus Furman: 30 for 42 passing for 317 yards and two touchdowns, which is fairly impressive for a debut. He did throw four interceptions, however, and was sacked three times.

Last week against Mercer, Copeland was 22 for 39 for 206 yards, suffering one interception and three sacks. The Mocs only rushed the ball 42 times combined in those two games (and that includes six sacks), so it is fairly clear that despite Copeland’s inexperience, UTC’s coaches are willing to put the offense in his hands.

Darrell Bridges (6’1″, 200 lbs.), a senior from Chattanooga, leads the Mocs in rushing, although he is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Bridges had 88 yards (on only 15 carries) and UTC’s lone touchdown versus LSU. He also scored last week against Mercer.

Bingo Morton (6’2″, 215 lbs.), though not listed as a starter on the two-deep, is Chattanooga’s leading receiver so far this season, with 23 receptions (three for TDs). Two of those touchdowns came against VMI; Morton, tipped as a potential breakout candidate in the preseason by at least one publication, also had a 59-yard TD catch versus UT Martin.

Chattanooga’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 300 lbs.

Starting center Josh Cardiello (6’3″, 305 lbs.) began his collegiate career at Georgia. The senior was a preseason first-team All-SoCon pick this year after being a second-team all-league selection at the end of last season.

Left tackle Malcolm White (6’6″, 305 lbs.), was a preseason second-team all-league selection. The sophomore from Johnson City, Tennessee made the All-Freshman team for the SoCon last year.

Despite missing last week’s game, middle linebacker Tavon Lawson (6’1″, 225 lbs.) still leads the Mocs in tackles, with 50. The native of Talladega also has 5 1/2 tackles for loss.

Noseguard Derek Mahaffey (6’2″, 205 lbs.) had nine tackles last week against Mercer, which strikes me as a lot of tackles for someone at that position. He had eight tackles the week before versus Furman.

Also worth mentioning: Mahaffey wears #5 on his jersey. How many interior linemen wear #5?

Defensive end Taylor Reynolds (6’3″, 275 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon choice.

Lucas Webb (6’1″, 205 lbs.) already has two interceptions and a fumble recovery, not surprising given that he is already a three-time first-team all-SoCon performer. Webb had eight tackles against The Citadel in last year’s game between the two teams. He has 47 career starts.

Cornerback C.J. Fritz (5’11”, 175 lbs.) had six tackles versus The Citadel last season. Fritz has started every game for the Mocs over the last two seasons.

Placekicker Victor Ulmo (5’8″, 180 lbs.) is 5 for 6 on field goal attempts, including a 44-yarder last week versus Mercer. His one miss was from 47 yards. Ulmo also handles kickoffs for the Mocs.

Colin Brewer (6’1″, 205 lbs.), UTC’s punter, made the All-Freshman team last season. Brewer also serves as the holder on placekicks. Both Ulmo and Brewer are from Chattanooga.

The primary punt returner for the Mocs is freshman Brandon Dowdell (5’10”, 195 lbs.), a native of Cordele, Georgia. He is averaging 10.1 yards per return, which is outstanding. The Bulldogs must be very careful when (if?) punting to him on Saturday.

Running back Richardre Bagley (5’9″, 180 lbs.) has returned most opponents’ kickoffs for Chattanooga this season.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Chattanooga, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 75 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 3.5-point favorite over Chattanooga. The over/under is 47.5.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 3.5-point favorite over Mercer; Western Carolina is a 27.5-point favorite at VMI; and Wofford is a 2.5-point favorite over Samford. East Tennessee State is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State: Clemson, South Carolina, and Presbyterian are all off this week. South Carolina State is a 17-point favorite at Delaware State; Coastal Carolina is a 23.5-point underdog at Appalachian State; and Charleston Southern (hungry for a victory) is a 30-point favorite over Savannah State.

Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 44th in FCS, a drop of 3 spots from last week.

Chattanooga is ranked 70th in FCS, falling nine places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 193rd, while Mercer is 252nd.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 24, Chattanooga 20. The Bulldogs are given a 63% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 11th (up two spots), Samford is 22nd (up one position), Furman is 27th (down two places), Western Carolina is 29th (up two spots), Mercer is 34th (also up two spots), Charleston Southern is 35th, East Tennessee State is 72nd (down eight places), Presbyterian is 78th, South Carolina State is 85th, and VMI is 112th.

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota, Western Illinois, and Eastern Washington.

– Since 1911, The Citadel has a 5-6-1 record for games played on October 21. The last time the Bulldogs played on October 21, they defeated Western Carolina in overtime, 30-27.

The Citadel has played Chattanooga twice on this particular date, splitting the two matchups. The Bulldogs’ 12-0 win over the Mocs in 1972 is the only time the program has won on the road on October 21.

– The Citadel’s two-deep for the Chattanooga game is the same as that for the Wofford contest, the second consecutive week there has not been a change on the depth chart.

– Changes on the UTC two-deep: Darrell Bridges is listed as the starter at running back, ahead of Richardre Bagley, who was in that spot for the Mercer game. Cole Strange was not listed as a starter at left guard on last week’s depth chart, but actually started the game anyway and is the presumed starter against The Citadel. As noted earlier in this post, linebacker Tavon Lawson did not play against the Bears due to injury, but is back in the starting lineup this week.

– Among Chattanooga’s notable graduates are actor Dennis “Mr. Belding” Haskins, retired general Burwell Bell, and chemist Irvine Grote.

– For the second straight week, The Citadel will be involved in a “Military Appreciation Day” game. As part of the festivities, Mocs coach Tom Arth will wear camouflage pants.

– The roster for Chattanooga (per its game notes) includes 52 players from the State of Tennessee. Other states represented on the roster: Georgia (26 players), Alabama (14), Florida (8), and one each from Ohio, Arkansas, Kentucky, Colorado, and California.

There are no Palmetto State residents on the Chattanooga roster. That means, of course, that not even one UTC player is from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, internationally recognized for its superiority on the gridiron. This mind-boggling recruiting oversight almost certainly explains the sudden downturn in the Mocs’ pigskin fortunes.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Citadel has not won at Chattanooga since 2011. That was a memorable game, as the Bulldogs came back from a 27-0 deficit in the third quarter and won 28-27.

I think Saturday’s contest presents the Cadets with a reasonable opportunity to pick up another victory at Finley Stadium, but it won’t be easy. While UTC is struggling this season, the Mocs still have a lot of talented players, many of whom are used to winning.

If that sounds a lot like the makeup of The Citadel’s roster, well, that is because there are a lot of similarities. Both teams know what it is like to win. Both teams need to win.

I expect this game to be hard-fought and close. However, if the Bulldogs can put together four solid,well-played quarters of football, they should return to Charleston with a victory.

Here is hoping they do just that.

Game Review, 2017: Wofford

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package, The Post and Courier

“By the Numbers”, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– Game story, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

– School release

– Video from WCSC-TV (postgame discussion with Brent Thompson and Dominique Allen)

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

– ESPN3 video of the game

First, something not related to the football game but a bit more important:

Caroline Cashion, a mainstay on The Citadel’s soccer team for the past few years, was injured in the Bulldogs’ match against Chattanooga on Friday. She was hurt while attempting to head the ball away from goal; Cashion collided with one of the Mocs and went down heavily, immediately clutching her lower back after she landed.

Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier posted this message to Facebook on Sunday:

From Craig Cashion, father of injured Citadel soccer player Caroline Cashion: “Thank you to everyone for thoughts and prayers. Caroline still cannot move her legs but her feeling has moved from her waist to her upper thigh so she is improving slowly.”

Some Bulldog fans may recall that in addition to her high school soccer exploits, Cashion served as the placekicker for West Ashley High School’s football team, most memorably kicking a game-winning field goal against Summerville during her sophomore campaign.

Let us hope she makes a complete recovery.

Saturday’s loss was tough. The Bulldogs played hard, and often played well, but it wasn’t enough. There is only so much that can be said about a game like that.

A few random thoughts:

– I didn’t have any significant issues with the officiating in terms of specific calls, but the game management left a lot to be desired. There was no reason that contest should have taken over three hours to play.

A key third-down play for Wofford in the second quarter may have come after the play clock hit zero, but I wasn’t sure. The ESPN3 game replay would tend to indicate that the play should have been whistled dead, but it wasn’t and such is life, especially when league opponents face the Terriers.

– During the contest, I was more than a little startled to hear the P.A. announcer credit Wofford linebacker Michael Roach with a tackle on a kick return. Why?

Well, because Roach almost died last season after going into cardiac arrest during a game. I remembered his name (you could say I was predisposed to do so), and immediately tweeted a question, asking if he was playing again.

Not surprisingly (as Todd Shanesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal soon replied), he wasn’t.

Later, Roach was credited by the P.A. with another special teams tackle. I had my suspicions, which were confirmed when I took another look at Wofford’s roster.

Wofford lists two players as wearing #43, Roach (who obviously doesn’t play) and linebacker Shaun Moore, a freshman from Spring Valley High School in Columbia.

It was undoubtedly Moore who made two tackles on special teams Saturday night, though the statistics don’t indicate as such. He is credited with participating in the game, however.

I don’t really know who was at fault for this particular episode of mistaken identity. I think it is probably up to the road team’s support staff to make sure the P.A. announcer (and his spotter) is given the correctly numbered roster. Whether or not that happened, I have no idea.

For a brief moment, though, I was left wondering if Michael Roach was making medical history…

– Near the end of the game, Brent Thompson was left with a tough decision in regards to when to take his timeouts on defense. There was a bit of nuance as to when he should take them. In general, he handled the situation reasonably well, though I thought he probably should have taken his first timeout one play earlier. Some might argue he should have done so two plays earlier.

It was a very tricky time/score management scenario. I was going through the various potential permutations myself and not coming up with any decisive answers, which is unusual for me, as I am one of those nerds who spends way too much time thinking about clock management.

In the end, it didn’t really matter once Wofford picked up its penultimate first down.

It mattered a little too much to a couple of guys behind me, though, who were loudly berating the coach as the clock wound down. I particularly remember one of them (maybe both of them) bellowing, “This isn’t high school!” as they yelled for Thompson to call timeout. “You’re paid to do this!” They shouted a few other things, too.

They were right about one thing. It wasn’t, and isn’t, high school. It is college. That applies to the coaches and players…and it also applies to the fans.

Thompson shouldn’t be immune from criticism — he is a professional, after all. There comes a time as a critic, however, when the point has been made, and over-the-top obnoxious behavior isn’t going to change anything or make things better.

In short, a couple of people need to grow up.

– The colored smoke routine for Military Appreciation Day was new (at least, I don’t remember seeing it before, but admittedly I could be very wrong about that). It led to a chaotic-looking scene on the field after the team made its run through the “Block C”.

To be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the chaos. Let’s do that again.

– When the Bulldogs play again at Johnson Hagood Stadium in two weeks, it will be Homecoming. The opponent will be VMI, and the coveted Silver Shako will be on the line.

Would it be too much to ask that the team breaks out light blue jerseys and white pants for that game? Even if it is too much to ask, I’m asking anyway. C’mon.

As usual, the pictures aren’t the best; they aren’t the worst, either. No annotations, though the game action is in sequential order. My thanks to Spike The Bulldog for the pose in the initial photo (water bottle and all).

 

 

2017 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on October 14, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs linebacker James Riley supplies the analysis. 

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. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– Preview article in The Post and Courier

Russell Hubbs, linebacker and weightlifter

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

– SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #22)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #23)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/10 press conference, including comments from Dominique Allen and Myles Pierce (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/11 radio show (video)

Promo for Wofford-The Citadel (video)

Wofford weekly media lunch (video)

Wofford highlight/postgame package for its game versus Western Carolina

ESPN3 replay of Western Carolina-Wofford game (video)

Wofford piling up wins

Offensive line paves way for Terriers’ running game

Game preview from SB Nation

My brief review of last week’s game against Mercer

Non-football links:

The Citadel plans to rebuild/replace Capers Hall

– Basketball season is right around the corner

Saturday will presumably be the last time in 2017 the Bulldogs will play a regular-season game with an early evening kickoff. The Citadel’s next four games (two at home, two on the road) are all set to start at 2:00 pm ET.

No kickoff time has been announced for the contest at Clemson, but it is highly doubtful that matchup will be a night game, particularly as it will be Military Appreciation Day in Death Valley.

Speaking of Military Appreciation Day, that designation is also in play for this weekend at Johnson Hagood Stadium. In the last three seasons, The Citadel has won all three of its games on Military Appreciation Day at JHS (against Gardner-Webb, Western Carolina, and Furman).

This week’s opponent, Wofford, is 5-0. Four of the Terriers’ five victories have been close, with two of them one-point affairs. Last week’s game versus Western Carolina was decided in overtime.

Key statistics for The Citadel through five games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 27.6 21.0
Rushing yardage 1535 551
Average per rush 4.9 3.7
Average per game 307.0 110.2
TDs rushing 14 8
Passing yardage 620 933
Comp-Att-Int 34-74-3 78-131-7
Average per pass 8.4 7.1
TDs passing 5 6
Total offense 2155 1484
Total plays 387 280
Yards per play 5.6 5.3
Kick returns-yards 8-158 12-236
Punt returns-yards 10-83 4-24
Fumbles/lost 12/4 4/3
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.4/38.2 2.8/27.2
Net punt average 37.1 37.3
Time of possession/game 35:12 24:48
3rd down conversions 36/77 16/52
3rd down conversion rate 46.8% 30.8%
Sacks by-yards 9-46 4-27
Field goals-attempts 2-4 2-3
Red Zone touchdown rate 15-23 (65.2%) 9-13 (69.2%)
  • The Citadel is 12th nationally in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs’ defense is 16th in FCS in third down conversion rate allowed
  • The Citadel is third in rushing offense, and 21st in average per rush
  • Defensively, the Bulldogs are 25th in rushing yards allowed, 48th in average per rush allowed
  • The Citadel is fourth nationally in time of possession per game
  • Pass efficiency: the Bulldogs are 55th in FCS on offense, and 47th on defense
  • The offensive pass efficiency numbers include an average of 18.2 yards per catch, fourth nationally
  • The Citadel is 29th in FCS in scoring offense and 50th in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 99th in red zone scoring offense (a number that includes made field goals)
  • Defensively, The Citadel is 41st in red zone scoring (again, counting field goals made)
  • The Bulldogs are 35th nationally in net punting
  • The 4.4 penalties per game committed by The Citadel is 10th-fewest in FCS

I included those red zone rankings, but I will point out that red zone TD rate (not computed on a national basis by the NCAA, at least from what I can tell) is a better barometer of a team’s success in that area of the field.

Also, it is quite possible that The Citadel’s opponents have been called for fewer penalties per game than any other team’s opponents in all of FCS. Bulldog opponents are only committing on average 2.8 penalties per contest; to give you an idea how low that number is, VMI leads the nation in fewest penalties per game…at 3.0.

The lack of flags thrown against The Citadel’s opponents has been an issue in league play for several years, of course.

Average yards picked up on first down by The Citadel in its five games this season:

  • vs. Newberry: 8.1 yards
  • vs. Presbyterian: 7.0 yards
  • vs. East Tennessee State: 6.0 yards
  • vs. Samford: 5.2 yards
  • vs. Mercer: 7.5 yards

At least the Bulldogs improved in this category. Some of that came late, and via the pass.

Usually, a correlating statistic would be the yards required to move the chains:

  • vs. Newberry: average of 5.1 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Presbyterian: average of 3.0 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. East Tennessee State: average of 6.3 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Samford: average of 8.8 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Mercer: average of 6.1 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down

Usually, but perhaps not this time. Incidentally, the Mercer game featured the Bulldogs’ first 3rd-and-short pass attempt of the season. It was not completed.

Wofford stats of note through five games:

Wofford Opponents
Points per game 29.0 21.8
Rushing yardage 1482 644
Average per rush 5.5 3.8
Average per game 296.4 128.8
TDs rushing 16 7
Passing yardage 551 887
Comp-Att-Int 31-59-0 89-139-8
Average per pass 9.3 6.4
TDs passing 2 6
Total offense 2033 1531
Total plays 328 309
Yards per play 6.2 5.0
Kick returns-yards 14-242 21-491
Punt returns-yards 10-97 6-77
Fumbles/lost 7/4 6/2
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 5.6/49.8 4.2/36.8
Net punt average 36.1 39.4
Time of possession/game 32:35 27:25
3rd down conversions 31/67 29/64
3rd down conversion rate 46.3% 45.3%
Sacks by-yards 5-35 5-24
Field goals-attempts 6-6 4-7
Red Zone touchdown rate 12-21 (57.1%) 10-17 (58.8%)
  • Wofford is 14th nationally in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Terriers’ defense is 108th in third down conversion rate allowed
  • Wofford is fifth in FCS in rushing offense, and 16th in average yards per rush
  • Defensively, WC is 40th in rushing yards allowed, 53rd in average per rush allowed
  • The Terriers are 17th nationally in time of possession per game
  • Pass efficiency: Wofford is 31st in FCS on offense, and 28th on defense
  • The offensive pass efficiency numbers include an average of 17.8 yards per catch, fifth in FCS
  • Wofford is 42nd nationally in scoring offense and 32nd in scoring defense
  • The Terriers are fifth in red zone scoring offense (a number that includes made field goals)
  • Defensively, WC is 40th in red zone scoring (counting field goals made)
  • The Terriers are 14th nationally in turnover margin (and lead the SoCon in that category)
  • Wofford has yet to throw an interception this season, one of just three FCS teams that can still make that claim (the others are South Dakota and North Dakota State)
  • Conversely, the Terriers are 16th nationally in defensive interceptions
  • The 5.6 penalties per game committed by Wofford is 30th-fewest in FCS

Starting quarterback Brandon Goodson (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is completing 53.8% of his passes so far this season, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, with one TD and no interceptions. He is averaging only 2.9 yards per rush, but Goodson’s primary job is to run the offense and set up his teammates.

His backup, sophomore Joe Newman (5’11”, 177 lbs.) had a big play against The Citadel in last year’s playoff game, but has not seen as much action thus far as some might have anticipated. Newman has appeared in all five games for the Terriers, however, and it would not be surprising to see him on the field in a significant role this Saturday.

Andre Stoddard (5’10”, 230 lbs.) has stepped in as the new fullback in Wofford’s offense and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Stoddard attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville.

Slotback Blake Morgan (5’10”, 190 lbs.) is a breakaway threat. He had a 94-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage against Presbyterian, and is averaging 7.9 yards per attempt. The sophomore from Florida also had a 72-yard pass reception versus PC, and has accounted for seven plays of 20 or more yards this year. Morgan is listed as one of the kickoff return men this week as well.

Lennox McAfee (5’7″, 175 lbs.) is a junior from Nashville who can also break a game open. He is averaging 7.8 yards per rush, including a 57-yard TD run against Mercer. McAfee, Wofford’s primary punt returner, rushed for 63 yards against The Citadel last year in Spartanburg, but was injured in the Terriers’ playoff game versus Charleston Southern.

R.J. Taylor (5’11”, 190 lbs.) leads Wofford in receptions, with 11. Another wideout, Jason Hill (also 5’11”, 190 lbs.), caught a 75-yard TD pass versus Presbyterian.

Tight end Chandler Gouger (6’4″, 230 lbs.) was a preseason second-team all-league choice. He had three TD receptions last season, but has yet to catch a pass in 2017.

Average size of the projected starters on Wofford’s offensive line: 6’3″, 297 lbs. That is the same height and one pound more (on average) from last year’s Terriers o-line.

Left tackle Ross Demmel (6’3″, 290 lbs.) was a preseason second-team all-league choice. The Cincinnati native started all 14 games for the Terriers last season.

Chuck Rouse (6’3″, 320 lbs.) is the largest of the starters on the offensive line. The senior went to Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant.

Wofford’s defense is keyed by its line, which includes two preseason all-conference selections. One of them, defensive end Tyler Vaughn (6’1″, 270 lbs.), was a first-team all-SoCon pick last season.

The other two starters on the d-line are two tough widebodies — 6’2″, 320 lb. Miles Brown (a junior from Maryland who went to Sidwell Friends) and 6’1″, 305 lb. Mikel Horton. Brown was a preseason all-league pick, while Horton (a native of Kentucky) is a sophomore who had a very impressive freshman campaign for the Terriers.

Brown and Horton have combined for 5 1/2 tackles for loss (2 1/2 sacks) so far in 2017.

Inside linebacker Colton Clemons (6’0″, 245 lbs.) is a senior from Fayetteville, Georgia who currently leads Wofford in tackles, with 31. Clemons, a first-year starter, had nine tackles and an interception last week against Western Carolina. His father was a linebacker on the St. Louis Rams team that won the 2000 Super Bowl.

While the Terriers have a lot of good defensive players, arguably the one that impressed Bulldog fans the most last season was a true freshman linebacker, Datavious Wilson. Now a sophomore, the Hartsville resident (6’1″, 235 lbs.) led Wofford in tackles last season, with 97.

Devin Watson (5’11”, 195 lbs.) was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection. The junior cornerback from Gainesville, Georgia is tied for third on the team in tackles and also has two interceptions this year.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback George Gbesee (5’8″, 180 lbs.) started 11 games for the Terriers last season. He was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Gbesee has three interceptions this season, two of which came last week against Western Carolina (including the disputed pick that ended the game).

Luke Carter (6’1″, 220 lbs.) handles placekicking, punting, and kickoff duties for Wofford. The sophomore from Florence is 6 for 6 on field goal attempts (including a 44-yarder against Furman), and has yet to miss a PAT this season.

Miller Mosley (5’11”, 182 lbs.), who began his college career at the Air Force Academy, is the holder. He was a high school quarterback (and is also listed as a QB on Wofford’s roster).

Junior long snapper Ross Hammond (6’1, 225 lbs.), a third-year performer at his position, is the son of South Carolina’s Secretary of State, Mark Hammond. The senior Hammond played college football at Newberry.

The game on Saturday will employ instant replay review. It will be the second (and last) time this season Wofford plays a league game with instant replay review as an option, while it will be the second of four SoCon contests for The Citadel under the system.

Essentially, league games are being played under two different sets of rules this year, depending on whether or not a stadium has instant replay. I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating: the decision by the SoCon to let conference schools off the hook for setting up replay until (at least) 2019 was dubious at best.

That inequity could be a factor in the conference title race. In fact, it may have already been a factor.

In Wofford’s victory over Western Carolina last week, the Terriers were the beneficiaries of two questionable officiating calls in overtime. A big run to set up the eventual game-winning TD appeared to be aided by a hold at the point of attack that was apparently not seen by the men in stripes. Wofford scored (from three yards out) on the next snap.

Then, after an amusing play (well, unless you were a Catamount fan) in which WCU quarterback Tyrie Adams was tackled by four Terrier defenders, one of whom happened to be the umpire, Wofford sealed the victory with an interception in the end zone.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t an interception. Earlier I mentioned two “questionable” calls, but to be honest this one wasn’t questionable at all. The Wofford defender clearly corralled the football after it had hit the ground, showed it to the nearby official, and was rewarded.

The ruling almost certainly would have been overturned on review, and the Catamounts would have had at least one more play. Without replay, Western Carolina didn’t get that chance.

If the game had taken place at Mercer or at The Citadel, though, things would have been different. That is a problem for the league.

It cost The Citadel (a small public school) approximately $15,000 to set up an instant replay review system at Johnson Hagood Stadium. I am not sure why the other schools in the league (besides Mercer) could not have done the same.

For some of the institutions, it might have been a financial issue. It may be the case, for example, that Wofford is cash-poor. That seems like the only reasonable explanation.

A few sports-related tidbits from perusing the minutes of recent Board of Visitors meetings at The Citadel…

From the June 9/10 meeting:

[The Citadel Brigadier Foundation] is on track to deliver $1.55 million for athletic scholarships this year, with a goal of reaching $15 million in the Memorial Fund Athletic Endowment by June 2018.

There was also a discussion about the fact that a decline in annual giving to colleges and universities is a national trend. As you might have guessed, millennials are to blame.

[The Chairman] reviewed the remaining agenda items…

…Other items of interest included:
 Arrival of the new Vice President for Communications and Marketing in July
 New plan for Capers and the final concept for the East Side stands
 Need for a parking garage
 Determining the vision of LEAD 2024
Challenges of having a winning football season

I can only speak for myself, but I welcome the challenge of having a winning football season. I would like to suffer such a trial on an annual basis.

In all seriousness, I wish more of the discussion surrounding that particular agenda item had been mentioned in the minutes, just for clarification.

From the August 3/4 meeting:

[Jim] Senter reported the athletic cadre is back on campus and is doing well. The basketball team will be going on a tour of the Dominican Republic, which will be funded by the proceeds from the Florida State game. Maybank Field has new turf, thanks to a gift from Mr. Bill Sansom. The seats on the East Side of the stadium will be ready for the 7 October football game; visitors will be put in the northwest corner of the stadium for the first two games. Although scheduling ACC games has become more difficult, games against Clemson have been set for the 2020 and 2024 seasons. The new baseball coach is doing well and is busy on the recruiting trail. We will have instant replay at football games this year at a cost of $15,000.

Gen. John Rosa also provided a report on the college in general. The retiring school president noted that, among other things, decisions about the next capital campaign had to be made, and a review of the potential compensation package for the president-to-be needed to be performed. He also stated that the “New President and spouse will ‘bring excitement’ to the college community”.

There was no recorded discussion about the potential level of excitement if the individual chosen to be the new leader of the military college wasn’t actually married.

From the August 7 meeting, a motion:

“That the Board of Visitors approves the recommendation of The Citadel Real Estate Foundation to move forward with the development process of approximately 3,800 seats on the East Stands of Johnson
Hagood Stadium as well as approximately 40,000 square feet of office, education and/or residential space. The Board directs The Foundation to develop detailed specifications, pricing and recommendations to
finance and fund the cost of the new East Side facility for presentation to the Board at its September meeting.”

After discussion, Colonel Harrington moved to amend by striking out “directs” and inserting “requests” and by adding after “presentation” “for continued evaluation.”

The amended motion was unanimously approved by the BOV. Much of the information that came out of this meeting was later reported by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier (whose presence was also noted in the minutes).

From the September 14 meeting:

As moving the football game against Presbyterian College to Bailey Memorial Stadium in Clinton was expensive, the freshmen will only go to the Furman game this year.

I believe that originally the freshmen in the corps of cadets were slated to attend two road games this season, one at Samford and one at Furman. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, the trip to Samford got scrapped.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 20% chance of showers, with an expected high of 84 degrees. The low on Saturday night will be 70 degrees.

It appears that fans may get a break from the heat and humidity of last week’s game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. We can only hope.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Wofford is a 5-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 43.5.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 34-point favorite over VMI; Mercer is a 7-point favorite over Chattanooga; and Western Carolina is a 14.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State. Samford has a bye this week.

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 22.5-point favorite at Syracuse; South Carolina is a 2.5-point underdog at Tennessee (the same amount Arkansas was favored over the Gamecocks last week); South Carolina State is a 1.5-point underdog at Bethune-Cookman; Coastal Carolina is a 19-point underdog at Arkansas State; Presbyterian is a 14.5-point home underdog at Charleston Southern. Of course, PC was a 20-point home ‘dog versus St. Francis University last week, and won that game 26-14.

Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 41st in FCS.

Wofford is ranked 13th in FCS, moving up four places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 184th, while Wofford is 117th.

Massey projects a final score of Wofford 23, The Citadel 17. The Bulldogs are given a 34% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Samford is 23rd (up one spot), Furman is 25th (up 10 places), Western Carolina is 31st (down two from last week), Charleston Southern is 35th, Mercer is 36th, Chattanooga is 61st (down 7 spots), East Tennessee State is 64th (up 12 places), Presbyterian is 81st, South Carolina State is 82nd, and VMI is 112th (down three places).

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Western Illinois, and Youngstown State.

– Since 1916, The Citadel has a 3-9 record for games played on October 14. The last time the Bulldogs won on October 14 was in 1961, a 10-8 victory at William and Mary in that championship season.

The Citadel has not won a home game on October 14 since 1950, a 19-12 win over Davidson.

– There are no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the Wofford game.

– Despite outscoring its opponents overall by a 138-105 tally, The Citadel has been outscored 49-28 in the first quarter this season.

– Wofford has outscored its opponents 56-26 in the fourth quarter (and OT) so far in 2017.

– Among Wofford’s notable graduates are Carolina Panthers owner (and major Wofford benefactor) Jerry Richardson, longtime political operative Donald Fowler, and MSNBC anchor/reporter Craig Melvin.

– The roster for Wofford (per its website) includes 32 players from the State of South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (14 players), Ohio (11), North Carolina (8), Florida (8), Tennessee (8), Kentucky (4), Maryland (3), Alabama (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Maine, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

None of the Palmetto State players on Wofford’s roster attended noted gridiron power Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, which is decidedly odd (and certainly counterproductive) for a school with designs on recruiting in-state talent.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

This is going to be a different kind of game from any other The Citadel has played in 2017, in terms of expectations. I don’t think any of the “experts” believes the Bulldogs will win this week.

That is understandable, but I’m not giving up on Brent Thompson’s charges just yet. Wofford is formidable, but has also been a bit fortunate to be undefeated to this point in the season.

The last couple of weeks have probably not been easy on the home team’s collective psyche. However, this is still a talented, capable squad. It just needs to put together a complete performance.

I am hoping to see that happen on Saturday.

Game Review, 2017: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package, The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including postgame discussion with Brent Thompson

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

ESPN3 video of the game

This isn’t going to be a long review (and it is late, for reasons not having anything to do with the game itself). Nevertheless, I wanted to make a few quick observations.

– The Citadel threw 13 passes in the first half — six in the first quarter, and seven in the second quarter. The Bulldogs completed five of their first six throws, but were only 1-for-7 in the second quarter.

I wasn’t really sure why The Citadel threw so often in the first half. Later in the game, sure, but it seemed to me that the Bulldogs got out of their natural offensive rhythm. I realize much of the passing was based on what Mercer’s defense was doing, but I still thought it was odd.

– The two-deep for Saturday’s game included ten freshmen on offense (five starters) and seven on defense. The Bulldogs also featured a freshman punter and numerous other first-year players on all the special teams units.

It showed at times, particularly on offense. The Bulldogs may be better later in the season once this group of players has more experience, but that fact may be hard for some supporters to accept.

– Dominique Allen played the entire game at quarterback, as Jordan Black did not take a snap under center. Brent Thompson explained why:

Just a different game plan. We ran a lot more zone options last week (at Samford). This week, it was more operational, and Dom was operating just fine. We had to move pretty quickly, because (Mercer’s defense) was moving around quite a bit, and one quarterback seems to suit me better with all those moving parts.

I don’t have a problem with that decision. Allen certainly wasn’t making bad plays. The only real reason to change QBs in that situation is if you think just making a switch could spark the team, and Thompson clearly didn’t believe that.

However, I wish Thompson could have gone into the stands during one of the media timeouts and explained the situation to the fan behind me who yelled “Put in Black!” at least 300 times during the game.

– The officials didn’t decide the game, but they weren’t in good form, either, unless you enjoy the art of haphazard ball-spotting.

The SoCon crew seemed to delight in delaying the game for instant replay reviews whenever possible (one reason the contest took 3:21 to play), but there was somehow no review of a punt that hit a Mercer gunner in the back on a would-be return.

ESPN announcer Kevin Fitzgerald, looking at the scrum of players around the football: “Whoever comes out of this pile physically holding it is going to get the football.”

You would have thought so, but nope. The Citadel’s Logan Bailey came out of the pile with the football. The referee looked at him — and then awarded possession to Mercer.

I guess that play wasn’t worth a review. Maybe the wrong team recovered the football.

– It was one of the muggier days at Johnson Hagood Stadium in recent memory, which made the length of the game all the more arduous. The announced attendance was disappointing (9,969), which was due to a lot of factors, including the heat (I’m sure a significant number of people with tickets wound up not going to the game).

This is just a theory of mine, but I believe one thing that will improve attendance is a permanent seating structure on the East side. That isn’t going to be around again until at least the 2019 season, of course.

This week’s pictures aren’t half-bad, at least compared to most weeks. They are currently not annotated (I may go back and do that later). They are in order, however, so anyone trying to piece together plays/results can use the play-by-play from the box score to match things up (at least through most of the first three quarters).

2017 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Mercer, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 7, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs linebacker James Riley supplies the analysis. 

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. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– The Citadel won’t hit the panic button

– Back at home after a month away

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #17)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #17)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/3 press conference, including comments from Tyler Davis and Kailik Williams (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/4 radio show (video)

– The Bulldog Breakdown [10/2] (video)

Mercer running game searching for its rhythm

Bears rout VMI

Mercer is right back in the SoCon title race

Bobby Lamb says the series has been “a bloodbath”

Mercer’s student newspaper: this is the best MU team since football was re-instituted in 2013

Mercer highlights versus VMI (video)

Mercer highlights versus Wofford (video)

It is very disappointing when the Bulldogs throw in a complete clunker of a game, regardless of the sport. That is magnified in football, however, because there are only a limited number of opportunities to generate a positive outcome. It is important to make the most of each and every contest.

That didn’t happen on Saturday. The contest was essentially over after the first quarter. I know that the team “played better” in the second half, but does that really matter? I don’t think so, to be honest.

Garbage time is garbage time, particularly when the team in question is not an extremely young squad, but rather an outfit coming off consecutive league titles and expected to compete for another one. There are no truly positive developments to be taken from the debacle at Seibert Stadium. It was simply a bad loss.

That said, the following is also true: many of the players and coaches on the current team have been part of the pigskin scene at the military college for the last 2+ years.

Over that time period The Citadel is 22-7, 15-2 in the SoCon, with two conference crowns and a win over an SEC team (along with a road playoff triumph). The next victory by the current edition of the Bulldogs will tie the 1959-60-61 teams for most wins by the program over a three-year period (23).

In other words, there are a bunch of winners on the roster. They are used to success, and they’re not likely to take a step back after a bad performance.

Temporary stands have been set up on the East side of Johnson Hagood Stadium in time for the game against Mercer:

Seating has been added to the east side of Johnson Hagood Stadium for the stretch run of the 2017 season. The seating is general admission and will be available on a first-come, first-serve so fans are encouraged to purchase their general admission tickets in advance. The seating is in close proximity to the Bulldog Beer Garden and the Kids’ Zone…

The Bulldog Beer Garden…is located next to the Altman Center on the southeast side of the stadium. Concessions including food and beverages will be located in this area presented by Sticky Fingers.  The adjacent location will also have a kid’s fun zone with inflatables for children of appropriate ages.  The Bulldog Beer Garden will be tented, accommodate up to 500 patrons, and will have TVs playing football games of interest…

…[the Kids’ Zone] includes Jumpcastles, face painting, and other fun activities [that] are available for ages 12 & under.

The temporary seating (not including the beer garden) will have room for approximately 1,000 spectators.

Saturday’s game is part of Parents’ Weekend. Schedule of events: Link

On Friday, seniors will receive their class rings. That is a big deal at The Citadel, of course, even for football players who have already picked up their fair share of hardware. As Kailik Williams said:

It means a lot. A lot of people didn’t think I was going to make it. Sometimes, I didn’t even think I was going to make it.

There are plenty of alums who can relate to that sentiment.

The football program is currently on a very good run when it comes to the “celebration games”, Parents’ Day and Homecoming. The Citadel has won ten straight of those contests, winning on Parents’ Day and Homecoming in each of the last five seasons.

From what I can tell, that is the longest winning streak in those games since the Bulldogs’ first Homecoming game — which, according to former school president/historian Oliver Bond, occurred in 1924. The Citadel defeated Furman 6-0 in that October 25 contest at Hampton Park before more than 4,000 fans, with Anderson native Carl Hogrefe scoring the winning touchdown.

However, five Parents’ Day wins in a row is not a school record. The mark for sustained success on Parents’ Day is eight, a streak that began in 1978 with a 21-14 win over Delaware and lasted through 1985, a 10-3 victory over Western Carolina.

The Citadel has not played Mercer on Parents’ Day or Homecoming before this season.

The Bulldogs led FCS in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate prior to the Samford game (61%). However, The Citadel only converted 3 of 13 third-down attempts last Saturday.

A look at first down/third down plays explains why, especially when compared to the first three games this season.

Average yards picked up on first down by The Citadel:

  • vs. Newberry: 8.1 yards
  • vs. Presbyterian: 7.0 yards
  • vs. East Tennessee State: 6.0 yards
  • vs. Samford: 5.2 yards

That is not a great trend.

It also leads to more difficult third down situations for the Bulldogs:

  • vs. Newberry: average of 5.1 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Presbyterian: average of 3.0 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. East Tennessee State: average of 6.3 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Samford: average of 8.8 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down

Those third down conversion attempts against Samford included a 3rd-and-15, a 3rd-and-19, and a 3rd-and-28.

Penalties were a major factor in the offensive struggles. The Bulldogs were flagged eight times on offense (not counting two other infractions that were declined).

On defense, the Bulldogs have to do a better job against the pass.

Yards per pass attempt allowed:

  • vs. Newberry: 7.2 yards
  • vs. Presbyterian: 5.1 yards
  • vs. East Tennessee State: 5.7 yards
  • vs. Samford: 12.4

You aren’t going to win many games allowing 12.4 yards per pass attempt.

It should be noted, though, that The Citadel’s offense averaged 10.9 yards per pass attempt itself, in line with its season average. I wouldn’t mind that number for the Bulldogs in any game they play during the season.

Key stats for The Citadel through four games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 31.0 20.2
Rushing yardage 1334 351
Average per rush 5.0 3.5
Average per game 333.5 87.8
TDs rushing 12 5
Passing yardage 440 822
Comp-Att-Int 20-42-2 66-108-7
Average per pass 10.5 7.6
TDs passing 5 6
Total offense 1774 1173
Total plays 309 207
Yards per play 5.74 5.67
Kick returns-yards 6-128 12-236
Punt returns-yards 6-44 1-1
Fumbles/lost 6/1 2/1
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 5.0/43.0 2.5/23.8
Net punt average 39.7 37.2
Time of possession/game 37:24 22:36
3rd down conversions 33/62 12/38
3rd down conversion rate 53.2% 31.6%
Sacks by-yards 8-44 3-20
Field goals-attempts 2-3 1-2
Red Zone touchdown rate 13-19 (68.4%) 6-9 (66.7%)
  • The Citadel leads the nation in time of possession
  • The Bulldogs are second nationally in rushing offense and 14th in the country in rushing defense
  • Despite the 3rd down struggles last week, The Citadel is still 4th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate
  • Defensively, the Bulldogs are 22nd nationally in third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 12th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in net punting
  • Even with 10 accepted penalties versus Samford, The Citadel is 17th nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • The Citadel is 35th in scoring offense and 29th in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 12th in offensive pass efficiency, a number that includes The Citadel’s 22 yards per catch rate, tops in FCS

Mercer has been competitive ever since joining the Southern Conference in time for the 2014 football season. The Bears have had a habit of playing close games. What they have not done as often as MU fans would like is win those games.

Since 2014, Mercer has played 14 conference games decided by five points or less. The Bears are 4-10 in those contests. Three of those losses have come against The Citadel, by a total of five points.

Of the four close SoCon victories, two have come on the road (both against VMI). One of the two home wins was a 17-14 decision over Chattanooga in 2015, a result that helped The Citadel claim a share of the Southern Conference title.

This year, Mercer has lost two hard-fought SoCon contests, including a home loss to Wofford that the Bears probably should have won.

Mercer’s schedule after five games:

  • beat Jacksonville 48-7, an easy win over an overmatched Pioneer League foe (JU has recovered to win its next 3 games, though)
  • lost 28-27 to Wofford, a game in which the Bears led by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter
  • played very well (particularly on defense) in a 24-10 loss at Auburn; Mercer forced five turnovers in that contest
  • lost 26-23 in overtime at East Tennessee State; MU led by 10 points entering the fourth quarter
  • defeated VMI 49-14, rolling up 575 yards of offense in the process

Statistics of note for the Bears:

Mercer Opponents
Points per game 31.4 19.8
Rushing yardage 790 721
Average per rush 3.9 3.4
Average per game 158 144.2
TDs rushing 10 9
Passing yardage 1108 1009
Comp-Att-Int 83-135-5 88-125-5
Average per pass 8.2 8.1
TDs passing 10 3
Total offense 1898 1730
Total plays 340 334
Yards per play 5.58 5.18
Kick returns-yards 12-242 22-267
Punt returns-yards 7-75 7-68
Fumbles/lost 4/2 9/6
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 5.4/46.2 6.2/62.8
Net punt average 37.4 35.3
Time of possession/game 29:15 30:45
3rd down conversions 28/67 32/72
3rd down conversion rate 41.8% 44.4%
Sacks by-yards 9-57 6-48
Field goals-attempts 4-6 3-6
Red Zone touchdown rate 15/20 (75.0%) 8/15 (53.3%)
  • Mercer leads the nation in kick return defense
  • The Bears are 30th nationally in net punting
  • MU is 40th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate and
  • Conversely, the Bears are 100th (out of 123 teams) in defensive third down conversion rate
  • Mercer is 54th in rushing offense and 57th in rushing defense
  • MU is 31st in scoring offense and 27th in scoring defense
  • Mercer is 23rd nationally in turnover margin, helped by six recovered fumbles on defense (1oth-best in FCS)

Mercer’s passing attack accounts for 58.3% of its total offense, though only 41.5% of its offensive plays from scrimmage are passing attempts (including sacks).

After four years as the starter, MU quarterback John Russ graduated. Mercer had a replacement ready, however.

Redshirt freshman Kaelan Riley (6’3″, 222 lbs.) is 80 for 132 passing this season (a 60.6% completion rate), averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, with 10 TD passes against five interceptions. The native of Calhoun, Georgia accounted for 75 touchdowns in high school (with a win-loss record of 54-4) while also playing basketball and tennis. Brent Thompson described him as a “spectacular” player.

Running back C.J. Leggett (5’9″, 217 lbs.) began his college career at Georgia Tech. After an injury, he transferred to Mesa Community College.

The redshirt junior from Suwanee, Georgia is averaging 4.6 yards per carry for the Bears. In recent weeks, his workload has increased, despite not being listed as the starter on the two-deep. He rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries versus ETSU, and added 89 yards on 16 rushes against VMI.

Other MU running backs of note include Tee Mitchell (5’10”, 203 lbs.) and Alex Lakes (5’11”, 221 lbs.). Lakes has had an injury-ravaged career, but the redshirt senior is still Mercer’s all-time leading rusher.

Mitchell was a second-team All-SoCon pick in 2015, but was suspended for the entire 2016 season. He is now back and a definite threat in the backfield.

Two years ago, Mitchell (a former Air Force Prep school student) and Lakes combined for 98 yards and a TD against The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Junior tight end Sam Walker (6’4″, 229 lbs.) was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection. He did not play versus VMI, but is expected to suit up against The Citadel.

Wide receiver Marquise Irvin (6’2″, 215 lbs.) is a junior from Huntsville, Alabama. He was a second-team all-conference choice in 2016. Irvin had eight catches for 81 yards in last year’s game against the Bulldogs.

Brent Thompson noted that Mercer does a good job of getting Irvin the pigskin, including bubble screens. He can catch the deep ball too.

Avery Ward (6’2″, 191 lbs.) is a senior wideout from Alpharetta, Georgia, who has been a regular for the Bears since his freshman campaign. In 2014, he had 104 yards receiving (including a 65-yard TD catch) against The Citadel. He also led the team in catches versus the Bulldogs the following season.

Chandler Curtis (5’11”, 200 lbs.) is a senior who, when not injured, is a fine wide receiver and a scintillating return man. The problem for Curtis over his college career has been staying healthy.

He was healthy enough to haul in a 61-yard touchdown pass against VMI last week. Curtis has been the primary punt and kick returner for the Bears this season.

Mercer’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 298 lbs. Right guard Caleb Yates (6’3″, 294 lbs.) is a three-year starter who was a preseason second-team all-league pick.

Mercer noseguard Dorian Kithcart (6’0″, 285 lbs.) was described by Brent Thompson as a “big load” who “moves extremely well”. He is a redshirt sophomore from Durham.

Defensive end Isaiah Buehler (6’3″, 262 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. This season he has 2 1/2 tackles for loss, along with 2 quarterback hurries.

Eric Jackson (5’8″, 190 lbs.), a redshirt sophomore from Powder Springs, Georgia, is a strong safety who currently leads the team in tackles. He has 39 stops through five games.

Inside linebacker Lee Bennett (6’0″, 221 lbs.) is filling up the stat sheet for the Bears this season. He is second on the team in tackles, and also has two tackles for loss (including a sack), a quarterback hurry, a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery. Bennett had six tackles versus The Citadel in 2016.

LeMarkus Bailey (5’11”, 201 lbs.), an outside linebacker, leads the team in tackles for loss, with 6 1/2. The native of Marietta, Georgia is a redshirt junior. He had one of the three tackles for loss Mercer recorded against The Citadel in last year’s contest.

Placekicker Cole Fisher (6’1″, 190 lbs.) was the preseason first-team all-conference kicker. Fisher made a 50-yard field goal against Samford last year. This year he hasn’t made one of that distance, though he did attempt a 52-yarder versus Jacksonville.

Fisher is also Mercer’s kickoff specialist. While only four of his 29 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks, opponents are only averaging 12 yards per return against the Bears (which leads the nation, as mentioned earlier).

Mercer’s punter is true freshman Grant Goupil (6’2″, 184 lbs.). Nine of his 22 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, with an expected high of 84 degrees. It will be mostly cloudy, with winds of 6-14 mph.

I have a feeling it is going to be one of those wet and windy days. Field conditions could be tricky for both teams and might favor the defenses.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 6-point favorite over Mercer. The over/under is 50.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 4-point favorite at Chattanooga; Samford is a 35-point favorite at VMI; Wofford is a 3.5-point favorite over Western Carolina; and East Tennessee State is an 8.5-point favorite over Robert Morris;

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 21.5-point favorite over Wake Forest; South Carolina is a 2.5-point home underdog versus Arkansas; South Carolina State is a 16.5-point favorite against Morgan State ; Coastal Carolina is a 1-point underdog at home versus Georgia State; Presbyterian is a 20-point home underdog against St. Francis University (which upset Liberty last week); and Charleston Southern is a 31-point underdog at Indiana.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 42nd in FCS, a drop of 12 spots from last week.

Mercer is ranked 56th in FCS, moving up three places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 176th, while Mercer is 202nd.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 26, Mercer 23. The Bulldogs are given a 56% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 17th (up one spot), Samford is 24th (up 14 spots), Western Carolina is 29th (a jump of 18 places, the second week in a row the Catamounts have moved up exactly 18 spots), Furman is 35th (up 8 places), Charleston Southern is 38th, Chattanooga is 54th (down 22 spots), East Tennessee State is 76th (down six places), South Carolina State is 87th, Presbyterian is 101st, and VMI is 109th (down three places).

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Youngstown State, South Dakota, and Illinois State.

– Since 1911, The Citadel has a 9-5-1 record for games played on October 7. That includes two wins over Richmond and victories over the Charleston Navy and the Parris Island Marines.

The Bulldogs last played at home on October 7 during the 2004 season. That was a Thursday night game against Benedict in Johnson Hagood Stadium during the year of “half a stadium”, which included temporary stands for the cadets on the West side (shades of this week’s game in reverse).

I was at that contest (won by the Bulldogs 29-0), which is on the short list for “worst atmosphere” of any game every played by The Citadel at JHS. Attendance: 5,127, which I believe is the lowest recorded for any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium since at least 1964.

– Changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the Mercer game: Gage Russell is now listed as the starter at punter; the backup at that position is Branden Glick. At B-back, Brandon Berry has been added to the depth chart.

– Baseball facts about Mercer that I am required to mention every time the Bulldogs meet the Bears:

Mercer was once coached by George Stallings, who helmed both the football and baseball teams. He was a little better at coaching baseball.

Stallings would later become known as “The Miracle Man” for leading the Boston Braves to the 1914 World Championship. That team was in last place in the National League on the 4th of July but stormed to the pennant (by 10 1/2 games!), then dispatched the favored Philadelphia Athletics in a four-game sweep to win the World Series.

Denton True “Cy” Young served as Mercer’s baseball coach from 1903-05. Mercer won the Georgia state championship for college teams in all three of those years.

After each spring in Macon with the Mercer team, Young returned to pitch for Boston (the team now known as the Red Sox); during that three-year stretch, he compiled a major league record of 72-44 with a 1.96 ERA.

– Among Mercer’s notable graduates are TV personality/attack dog Nancy Grace, missionary/spy John Birch, and current Georgia governor Nathan Deal.

– Mercer disbanded its football program following the 1941 campaign, and didn’t field a team again until 2013. This is the fifth year for the program since the re-institution of the sport in Macon.

– The roster for Mercer (per its game notes) includes 62 players from the State of Georgia. Other states represented on the roster: Florida (15 players), Tennessee (9), Alabama (5), South Carolina (2), and one each from North Carolina and Texas.

The two Palmetto State players on Mercer’s squad are redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Destin Guillen (who attended Berea High School), and freshman quarterback Brett Burnett (a product of Airport High School). However, Mercer has no players from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School on its roster, an inexplicable oversight for a university actively searching for high-quality gridiron talent.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

After the first four to five games of the 2017 season, it appears that the SoCon could be a complete free-for-all. Every team except VMI is capable of winning (and losing) in conference play on any given week.

While that is good from a competitiveness standpoint, I’m afraid it might also mean that a team with a 5-3 conference record will struggle to gain a playoff spot, because it may be hard to for the league squads to separate themselves into easily defined groups (playoff-caliber teams, non-playoff teams, etc.). The league’s non-conference results haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t been that good, either.

For The Citadel, that potential problem is even more acute, because the Bulldogs finish the regular season at Clemson.

That is why each SoCon contest is so important. It is quite possible that to participate in the postseason for a third consecutive season, the Bulldogs can only afford one more league setback.

It is thus even more critical to “hold serve” at home. The one advantage The Citadel has is that it has not played a conference game at Johnson Hagood Stadium thus far.

The Bulldogs have to cash in on their four SoCon home games. Those matchups will be against Mercer, Wofford, Western Carolina, and VMI.

It won’t be easy, and that starts with this week’s matchup. Mercer has been very close to beating the Bulldogs for three straight years.

There is no question that the team from Macon desperately wants to end the close-but-no-cigar run it has had against The Citadel. Those losses have undoubtedly been very hard to take, particularly for head coach Bobby Lamb.

There is also no doubt, however, that the Bulldogs want to put their poor afternoon at Samford in the rear view mirror. The surest way to do that is to win in front of a supportive Parents’ Day crowd.

The stakes, as always, are high. The drive for the playoffs begins anew on Saturday.

2017 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Samford

If you look in the trophy case on the right side [at the entrance to Mark Clark Hall], you will see the game ball that I gave to the corps of cadets because of the overtime at their end of the field. It was so loud that the Samford offense couldn’t communicate, forced them to jump offsides…that helped contribute to the missed field goal. Every time I walk into Mark Clark Hall I look at that ball and think about that game.

Brent Thompson, on last year’s contest between The Citadel and Samford

The Citadel at Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium in Homewood, Alabama, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on September 30, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. Curt Bloom will handle play-by-play, while Chad Pilcher supplies the analysis. Hattie Breece will report from the sidelines.

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. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

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

Links of interest:

The Citadel is ready for action after its bye week

Assessing the SoCon after four weeks

Another look at the league through September 28

The Citadel keeps on winning

Ja’Lon Williams likes pizza (as he should)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #11, down one spot from last week; Samford is ranked #23)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #8, up two spots from last week; Samford is ranked #25)

Brent Thompson speaks to the Orangeburg Touchdown Club

Brent Thompson’s 9/26 press conference, including comments from Dominique Allen and Ja’Lon Williams (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 9/27 radio show (video)

– The Bulldog Breakdown [9/21] (video)

Chris Hatcher briefly discusses both Samford’s loss to and the upcoming game versus The Citadel (video)

Chris Hatcher speaks after SU’s 9/25 practice (video)

Highlights from Samford’s game versus Western Carolina (video)

– Southern Pigskin “SoCon Podcast” (audio)

I’m just back from a trip overseas, so this will be one of the more abbreviated (and perhaps eccentric) previews I’ve written in a while. Sorry about that. I’m not sorry about travelling, though.

Last Saturday, I watched from a good seat at Stadio Olimpico as Roma defeated Udinese 3-1. The atmosphere was incredible; it seemed like half the fans in the Curva Sud section had a giant team flag (note: I wasn’t nearly crazy enough to sit in that part of the arena).

Singing, chanting, yelling, stomping, dancing, flag-waving…you name it, the Roma fans did it.

The last time I was at a sporting event in which the crowd intensity even remotely compared to what I witnessed in Rome — well, that was when Samford played The Citadel last season.

As always, I have to establish ground rules when writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. The reason for that is simple: I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

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

For those unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers, a quick little history lesson:

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.

I am still trying to figure out why the students thought bears wouldn’t eat as much meat as bulldogs, but maybe the bulldogs of a century ago were particularly carnivorous.

Last year’s game was a bit of a curiosity from a stats perspective. The day after the game, I wrote that it was surprising the contest had gone to overtime, considering how The Citadel had dominated several offensive categories (including time of possession).

When I took a closer look at the statistical profile this summer, however, I realized that the opposite was true. Samford probably should have won the game.

SU had the edge in four out of the Five Factors:

  • Field position (an edge of eight yards of starting field position, 32 to 24)
  • Efficiency (50.0% to 47.8%, meaning a higher percentage of Samford’s offensive plays were successful)
  • Explosiveness (1.108 to 1.101, meaning Samford’s successful plays tended to be more explosive)
  • Finishing Drives (5.4 to 4.0, as Samford averaged more points per possession inside the 40-yard line)

Neither team committed a turnover, so the fifth factor was a draw.

Of course, two of the four factors were close. In those two categories (Efficiency and Explosiveness), The Citadel had a “hidden edge” in the sense that it simply ran many more plays than SU.

That edge in plays meant that despite SU having a higher “explosive play” average, the Cadets had more offensive plays of 20+ yards (six to three). The yards per play numbers were close (6.3 to 5.8, favoring The Citadel).

All of that said, the bottom line is The Citadel was down 10 points with less than six minutes to play. It didn’t look good for the home team, especially while running an offense that allegedly isn’t designed to come back from double-digit deficits.

Tell that to Cam Jackson and company, though.

At his press conference earlier this week, Brent Thompson mentioned two things he remembered about the game against Samford last year. One was Cam Jackson’s fourth-quarter run.

The other was Thompson’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-one from his own 43, which backfired when the Bulldogs did not pick up the first down, leading to a short-field TD (and ten-point lead) for SU. Thompson said at the presser that if he had to do it over again, he probably would have punted.

While it may have been a mistake, I usually don’t mind that type of aggressive move. I would much prefer that than, say, deciding to punt inside the opponents’ 40-yard line on fourth-and-one.

Keeping the ball is particularly important when playing a team like Samford. That was borne out in the 2015 contest at Seibert Stadium. The Citadel won the game handily (44-25), but still allowed SU touchdown drives of 98 and 99 yards. Both of those drives came after punts, and the two possessions combined took only 4:17 off the clock.

Key statistics for The Citadel through three games (victories over Newberry, Presbyterian, and East Tennessee State):

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 36.7 15.3
Rushing yardage 1140 212
Average per rush 5.4 3.2
Average per game 380 70.7
TDs rushing 10 3
Passing yardage 288 499
Comp-Att-Int 14-28-2 45-82-5
Average per pass 10.3 6.1
TDs passing 5 3
Total offense 1428 711
Total plays 240 149
Yards per play 5.9 4.8
Kick returns-yards 3-67 11-221
Punt returns-yards 5-44 1-1
Fumbles/lost 6-1 2-1
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 3.3/37 2.0/18.3
Net punt average 40.38 36.31
Time of possession/game 37:35 22:25
3rd down conversions 30/49 8/30
3rd down conversion rate 61% 27%
Sacks by-yards 6-38 0-0
Field goals-attempts 2-3 1-1
Red Zone touchdown rate (11-14) 79% (3-5) 60%
  • The Citadel currently leads FCS in rushing yards per game and offensive third down conversion rate
  • On defense, the Bulldogs are 12th nationally in third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is second in the country in time of possession, behind only North Dakota State
  • The Bulldogs are 17th nationally in scoring offense, and 14th in scoring defense
  • The 40.38 net punting yards averaged by The Citadel is currently 13th-best in FCS
  • The Citadel is fourth nationally in fewest penalties per game, but only third in the SoCon (VMI is 2nd in FCS; Furman is 3rd)

Samford is 2-2, with wins over Kennesaw State and West Alabama, and losses to Georgia and Western Carolina. Stats through four games for SU:

Samford Opponents
Points per game 31.2 36.0
Rushing yardage 305 925
Average per rush 2.8 4.7
Average per game 76.2 231.2
TDs rushing 1 11
Passing yardage 1314 1203
Comp-Att-Int 111-173-2 76-124-4
Average per pass 7.6 9.7
TDs passing 13 8
Total offense 1619 2128
Total plays 283 320
Yards per play 5.7 6.7
Kick returns-yards 16-393 12-272
Punt returns-yards 11-77 10-110
Fumbles-lost 8-2 5-3
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.4/39 6.0/58
Net punt average 36.6 36.5
Time of possession/game 26:55 33:05
3rd down conversions 26/62 28/66
3rd down conversion rate 42% 42%
Sacks by-yards 9-43 6-41
Field goals-attempts 2-3 2-4
Red Zone touchdown rate (9-15) 60% (11-14) 79%
  • Samford is 6th nationally in passing yardage per game
  • SU is also 19th in FCS in kickoff return yardage (per attempt)
  • As far as third down conversion rates are concerned, Samford is 34th in the country on offense, and 85th on defense
  • Samford is 13th-best nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • SU is 33rd in scoring offense, and 98th (out of 122 teams) in scoring defense

Chris Hatcher said the following during his press conference earlier this week:

Offensively, we’ve got to do a better job of controlling that football a little bit more consistently for the entire game, and that will be the key to our success this week.

Here is a quick look at the last four years of The Citadel-Samford series from a time of possession/rushing point of view (it should be noted Hatcher has only been the head coach at SU for two of those seasons):

  • 2013: The Citadel controlled the ball for 35:42 and outrushed Samford 338-65
  • 2014: The Citadel controlled the ball for 37:42 and outrushed Samford 359-132
  • 2015: The Citadel controlled the ball for 35:15 and outrushed Samford 424-82
  • 2016: The Citadel controlled the ball for 38:17 and outrushed Samford 463-93

The Citadel won three of those games (losing the 2014 contest by a 20-17 score).

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

However, in recent years The Citadel has improved in that category against Samford:

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

The victory by Samford over Kennesaw State will probably turn out to be a good one for SU. The Owls have won two straight since SU’s 28-23 win on the opening Thursday of Week 1.

I watched part of the game, which was interrupted by a tornado warning (and subsequent lightning delays). It seemed to me that Chris Hatcher was trying to establish a rushing attack, so much so that SU actually had more runs than passing attempts (33 to 26, counting sacks as passing attempts).

Even taking sacks out of the equation, though, Samford finished with only 81 rushing yards on those 33 attempts (2.45 yards per carry).

I don’t know if the fact KSU is a triple option team had an impact on SU’s offensive play-calling. I do know that in the next three games, Samford went back to its pass-happy ways.

  • Against West Alabama, Samford had 48 pass plays (sacks included) and 30 rushing plays
  • Against Georgia, Samford had 38 pass plays (sacks included) and 20 rushing plays
  • Against Western Carolina, Samford had 67 (!) pass plays and 21 rushing plays

In that WCU game, Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 205 lbs.) threw for a school-record 516 yards and four TDs. The native of Kimberly, Alabama was the SoCon offensive player of the year last season.

Hodges, a redshirt junior, began his career as a starter after Samford’s 2015 loss to The Citadel, and hasn’t looked back. In last year’s game between the two teams, he was 35 for 46 passing, for 280 yards and two TDs.

While not inclined to run, Hodges is far from a statue. He had a 57-yard TD run right up the middle against the Bulldogs last year on a called QB draw, and showed an ability to move (and escape) in the pocket.

So far this season, Hodges is averaging 7.6 yards per pass attempt, with 13 TDs against just two interceptions.

Kelvin McKnight (5’9″, 188 lbs.) already had 37 receptions this season. The junior from Bradenton, Florida is averaging 13.4 yards per catch. A preseason first-team all-league selection, McKnight had nine receptions against The Citadel last season, for 118 yards.

McKnight is also Samford’s primary punt returner, and he can be dangerous in that role as well. He averaged 8.7 yards per punt return last season. At his press conference, Brent Thompson noted that McKnight is not afraid to pick up a bouncing ball while on the run.

Another wideout, sophomore Chris Shelling (5’8″, 170 lbs.), had 12 receptions for 245 receiving yards last week. Shelling only had seven receptions all of last season (five of those were against Furman).

Average size of Samford’s projected starting offensive line: 6’5″, 291 lbs. The largest of that group is the center, 6’5″, 325 lb. Nate Lee, a sophomore from Valdosta, Georgia.

Samford had three defensive players named to the preseason first-team all-conference squad — Ahmad Gooden, Shaheed Salmon, and Omari Williams. They happen to be three of SU’s top four tacklers to this point in the 2016 campaign.

Ahmad Gooden (6’1″, 240 lbs.) is a defensive end who had 15 tackles in last season’s game versus The Citadel. This year, the redshirt junior from Talladega has 3.5 sacks after only four games.

Weakside linebacker Shaheed Salmon (6’2″, 232 lbs.) currently leads the Baptist Tigers in tackles, with 41. Salmon, a senior from Tampa, did not play against The Citadel last season due to injury. It is the only contest he has missed in his entire career.

Last year, Deion Pierre (6’3″, 230 lbs.) tied his career high for tackles versus The Citadel, making 11 stops. The senior is second on the team in tackles after four games this season.

Omari Williams (6’1″, 200 lbs.), a local product from Birmingham, was named first-team all-SoCon by the coaches and the media after last season, a year in which the cornerback led the league in passes defended with 19 (including four interceptions). Williams returned an interception for a touchdown against West Alabama.

Darius Harvey (5’11”, 185 lbs.) is the other starting cornerback for Samford. Harvey also had a pick-6 versus West Alabama, a game in which the junior from Tallahassee added a 93-yard kickoff return TD.

Samford’s punter, Austin Barnard (6’4″, 210 lbs.) was a second-team preseason all-league choice. The senior also handles kickoffs for SU.

The placekicker for Samford is redshirt freshman Jordan Weaver (6’2″, 195 lbs.), who is 2 for 3 on field goal attempts in 2016, with a long of 32 yards. His miss, a 37-yard effort against Georgia, was blocked.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Homewood, Alabama, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with an expected high of 81 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 1-point favorite over Samford. The over/under is 60.5. That line has moved about 2 points, as SU opened as the favorite.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 13.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State; Mercer is a 25.5-point favorite over VMI; and Chattanooga is an 8.5-point favorite over Western Carolina.

There is no line for the Presbyterian-Wofford game. If there were, I’m guessing it would be around 30 points or so (in favor of the Terriers).

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is an 8-point favorite at Louisville; South Carolina is an 8-point underdog at Texas A&M; South Carolina State is a 14-point home underdog against North Carolina A&T; Coastal Carolina is a 4.5-point underdog at ULM; and Charleston Southern is a 42-point favorite versus Mississippi Valley State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 30th in FCS, actually improving four spots by not playing. The previous two weeks saw the Bulldogs fall a combined 16 spots despite two victories.

Samford is ranked 38th in FCS, dropping seven positions from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 155th, while Samford is 166th.

Massey projects a final score of Samford 31, The Citadel 29. The Cadets are given a 48% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 18th (up one spot), Chattanooga is 32nd (up five places), Charleston Southern is 40th, Furman is 43rd (up 18 spots), Wester Carolina is 47th (also gaining 18 spots), Mercer is 59th (down 10 places), South Carolina State is 84th, Prebyterian is 99th, and VMI is 106th (down six places).

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Western Illinois (jumping into the top five after dismantling Coastal Carolina), South Dakota State, and Jacksonville State.

– Since 1916, The Citadel has a 6-5 record for games played on September 30. The most notable of those victories was probably the 1989 game against South Carolina State, which was played at Williams-Brice Stadium in the wake of Hurricane Hugo.

The Citadel won that game 31-20. Charleston’s Bulldogs have actually defeated Orangeburg’s Bulldogs twice on September 30, having also done so in 2000, by a 45-16 score.

The last time The Citadel played on September 30, in 2006, the Bulldogs defeated Chattanooga 24-21. However, The Citadel has not won a road game on 9/30 since a 42-14 victory at Maine in 1967.

– Changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the Samford game: Grant Drakeford is now listed as a potential starter at A-back, and there are also three new additions to the defensive depth chart — A.J. Stokes, Israel Battle, and Willie Eubanks III.

– Samford has won eight straight home games.

– Among Samford’s notable graduates are actor Tony Hale (who has won two Emmy awards for his work in the HBO comedy Veep), actress Gail Patrick (best known as the trailblazing producer of the Perry Mason TV show), and longtime college football coach Bobby Bowden.

– The roster for Samford (per its game notes) includes 41 players from the State of Georgia, more than from Alabama (37). Other states represented on its roster: Florida (18 players), Tennessee (11), Mississippi (4), North Carolina (3), and one each from Maryland, Arkansas, Texas, and California.

There are no players from South Carolina on the Samford squad, not even from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a legendary hotbed of gridiron supremacy.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

– Not football-related, but worth mentioning: Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier had a good feature this week on Bulldog hoopster Leandro Allende, a native of Puerto Rico. Allende is understandably concerned about the devastation of the island caused by Hurricane Maria:

For Allende, the plight of his fellow Puerto Ricans hit home when he saw an acquaintance on the news.

“I have a friend who does not live in a very nice place,” he said. “I saw him on a kayak going through the flooded streets. That broke my heart when I saw that.”

I suspect the game on Saturday will be high-scoring. Samford will try to take advantage of The Citadel’s secondary, while on the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will attack an SU defense that gave up 290 yards rushing (5.1 yards per carry) last week against Western Carolina.

The key defensively for The Citadel will be to pressure Samford QB Devlin Hodges; as last year’s game proved, that will not be an easy task. The offense has to maintain its edge in time of possession to take the heat off the defense, and the Bulldogs also have to make their drives count and score touchdowns. Avoiding turnovers is paramount.

Last season, Tyler Renew wrecked Samford’s D from the B-back position. I wonder if the move to play Brandon Berry against ETSU was designed (at least in part) to get him ready for Samford, with the coaching staff perhaps thinking that more of a “bruiser” would be needed at the position this week. That may be something to watch.

We’ll be watching anyway, of course. The first three games are in the books, and the bye week has been completed. It’s time for the business end of the 2017 season to begin.