College Football, Week 8: Tuesday notes and observations

Brent Thompson’s Monday press conference

Starting around the 17:00 mark of Brent Thompson’s Monday presser, there is an interesting question-and-answer discussion of recruiting, focusing on the impact the “free COVID year” has had. Over about five minutes, Thompson goes over a lot of the aspects involved, and not just from The Citadel’s perspective.

According to Thompson, his staff has offered about 80% fewer players this year than in a typical year. Considering that, as the coach notes, The Citadel is a “high school recruiting program”, it looks like this will be another very difficult year for prep prospects.

Time to talk about future non-conference schedules…

In a normal year, The Citadel has three non-conference games. One is always a “money” game against FBS opposition. At least one of the other matchups must be played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, because otherwise there would only be four home contests in a season.

During the 2024 season, FCS teams have the option to play 12 regular-season games because of the way the calendar falls, and The Citadel will indeed fulfill that quota. How, you ask? We’ll get there in a moment.

First, the 2022 campaign. The Bulldogs will open the season in Buies Creek, North Carolina, playing at Campbell on September 3.

The next non-conference tilt is also in the state of North Carolina, in Boone against Appalachian State. That matchup was originally supposed to take place on September 24, but was moved forward one week, to October 1. That change was apparently requested by App, and as a result The Citadel’s payout was for the game was increased, from $325,000 to $350,000.

The final out-of-league game of the 2022 season will be a home game for the Bulldogs, and it will be very late in the year – November 12, to be exact. The Citadel’s opponent will be Virginia University of Lynchburg (VUL), which is not a D2 school or even in the NAIA. Rather, VUL is a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).

VUL, an HBCU with about 500 undergraduate students, has five FCS schools on its schedule this season. It has played three of them so far. Combined score of those three games: 154-27. The winless Dragons have also played Mars Hill and Erskine, among others.

I am honestly not sure of the last time The Citadel played a program that was not in the NCAA or the NAIA. It is possible that it hasn’t happened since before World War II.

The fact the game is on November 12 is also odd. I can only assume The Citadel had difficulty finding a home opponent to fill out its slate. VUL will receive $40,000 to make the trip to Charleston.

In 2023, The Citadel will again play only five home games. The FBS opponent that season will be Georgia Southern, and it will be the season opener (September 2). The payout for that contest is $320,000.

The following week (September 9), Campbell will play the Bulldogs in Johnson Hagood Stadium, completing a two-game agreement.

Two weeks later, on September 23, The Citadel will travel to Orangeburg to play another set of Bulldogs – South Carolina State. That will be the first of a two-game series between the two schools; the return matchup will be held in Charleston in 2024.

As mentioned earlier, 2024 is a 12-game regular season. The home game against South Carolina State will be on September 7. The following week, on September 14, The Citadel will host North Greenville. The Crusaders will receive $40,000 for their appearance (matching the VUL payout, so that appears to be the going rate for such games).

The other two non-conference contests will be road games for The Citadel. The first is the season opener, on August 31, at Charleston Southern. I am on record as saying that scheduling this contest is a serious mistake that does not reflect well on The Citadel’s department of athletics. This is the first of a two-game agreement (more on that later).

On November 23, The Citadel will play at Clemson, completing a contract that included the 2020 matchup between the two schools. The payout for the contest is $475,000, plus an additional consideration – besides the standard 300 complimentary tickets, the military college has the option to request an additional 2,000 tickets for sale.

The Citadel has only one scheduled non-conference game so far for the 2025 season. That is a matchup with Mississippi, now scheduled for September 6. The payout is $500,000.

In 2026, the return matchup for the two-game contract with Charleston Southern will take place in Charleston on September 19.

That contest was originally supposed to be played on September 5, but CSU apparently asked for the game to be moved (presumably to pick up an FBS opponent). Charleston Southern agreed to pay The Citadel $20,000 to change the game date. The contract addendum making the adjustment was completed on May 5 of this year.

Less than three weeks later, The Citadel signed an agreement to play at Charlotte on September 5, for a payout of $305,000; The Citadel will also receive 600 tickets for sale.

I’ll post my normal stats breakdown either later today or perhaps on Wednesday…

College Football Week 7, 2021: Thursday notes and observations

Tuesday notes and observations (including a statistical overload, featuring The Citadel and Furman but with some comments on FCS in general)

The Citadel’s game notes

Furman’s game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Brent Thompson Show

Furman Football, Monday episode

Paladins’ Shiflett:  a quarterback playing wide receiver (and well)

Guide to gameday in and around Paladin Stadium (don’t bring any turkey calls)

Broadcast information

The Citadel at Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, SC, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on October 16, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Mark Childress will handle play-by-play, while Cole Neely supplies the analysis. The game will also be available on ESPN College Extra.

The contest can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. Other stations carrying the game include WQXL in Columbia (100.7 FM/1470 AM) and WDXY in Sumter (105.9 FM/1240 AM).

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

“Live Stats” for the game

The kickoff time for this game is 6:00 pm ET (or maybe 6:05 pm ET, as it is listed in a couple of places), which struck more than a few people as odd. I don’t think it will have any bearing on the outcome of the contest, but I’m also not sure why Furman decided on a late afternoon/early evening start time. In terms of the calendar, this is the latest home night game in program history.

The reasoning behind waiting for darkness certainly isn’t about tradition. In fact, this is the first time The Citadel and Furman will have played a night game at Paladin Stadium since it opened in 1981. I do not know if the two schools ever played an evening contest at Furman’s previous home field, Sirrine Stadium, either (to be honest, I’m not sure what the lights situation was there).

This is also Furman’s first home night game since the Paladins played Chattanooga in 2016. That matchup was a “blackout” game for the Paladins, as the team wore black jerseys and the home partisans were encouraged to sport black as well. The Mocs won that evening, 21-14.

I have to say that I don’t recall too many successful “blackout” contests, regardless of school. I distinctly remember South Carolina playing a much-hyped “blackout” game in Columbia against Florida in 2001. The Gators dominated the Gamecocks, 54-17. Via the Associated Press:

Rex Grossman and his teammates were more amused than overwhelmed when much of the record 84,900 at Williams-Brice Stadium turned out in black.

“It was fun,” Grossman said. “It was like they weren’t even there. They were blacked out. Then we drove them out, they left.”

Even Florida Coach Steve Spurrier chuckled at the sight. “One of our receivers said, ‘Coach, it was nice of them to wear all black so we can pick the ball out of the sky,”’ he said.

I believe Furman will wear its traditional purple jerseys on Saturday night. Just as well, I suppose.

On Monday, Furman radio voice Dan Scott asked Clay Hendrix: “Are the players excited about playing a night game here?”

Hendrix: “I have no idea. You’ll have to ask them, we haven’t talked about it.”

Roster review:

– Of the 112 players on The Citadel’s online roster, 61 are from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (18 players), Florida (11), North Carolina (9), Virginia (4), Alabama (2), Texas (2), and one each from New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– Of the 110 players on Furman’s online roster, 11 are from South Carolina. More Paladins are from Georgia (26) than any other state. Other states represented: Florida (17 players), Tennessee (17 players), North Carolina (10), Texas (8), Alabama (3), Kentucky (3), Ohio (3), Illinois (2), Pennsylvania (2), and one each from Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

It is not surprising that only 10% of Furman’s roster hails from the Palmetto State, as that is an inevitable result of recent recruiting by the Paladins. In the last two years, the program has largely eschewed South Carolina in favor of bringing in talent from other states, including a notable dip into the Texas high school ranks.

It should be said that Furman has traditionally recruited Georgia (and to a lesser extent Tennessee) for players as much, if not more, than South Carolina, so this isn’t necessarily a new development. However, the absence of S.C. signees in FU’s last two recruiting classes has understandably received some negative feedback from the local high school community. Wofford also drew the ire of that group for only signing one player from South Carolina.

Hard feelings could be attributed in part to this specific recruiting cycle’s mountain of COVID-19 issues. Some of the locals were particularly upset that in a very difficult year for high school players, Furman’s and Wofford’s classes were almost exclusively from out of state.

I don’t really have a strong opinion on this topic. I will say that Furman and Wofford are private schools, and have no responsibility to recruit players from South Carolina. It can be a tough look at times, to be sure. It might also be an issue for things like attendance (although that is probably debatable).

Instinctively, it seems to me that Furman and Wofford are better off as football programs when they regularly bring in at least a few S.C. players each year. After all, while the Paladins only have 11 players from South Carolina, 8 of them are on the current two-deep.

I suspect that Furman (and probably Wofford) will sign several Palmetto State products in the coming year.

One thing that sometimes gets lost in the discussion, though, is the fact that Furman’s student body is mostly from out of state. Getting hard numbers can be tricky, but one source states that only 27.7% of FU’s undergraduates are from South Carolina. The nature of the institution as a whole (and how it has changed over the years) is surely a factor in the Paladins’ recruiting outlook.

Brief lines/odds discussion:

Furman is an 11½-point favorite over The Citadel; the over/under is 50½.

Other SoCon lines: Mercer is a 12½-point favorite over VMI (over/under of 63½); Samford is a 6-point favorite at Wofford (over/under of 72½); and East Tennessee State is a 2½-point favorite at Chattanooga (over/under of 51).

None of those spreads surprised me except for VMI-Mercer. The Bears should be favored, but 12½ is a lot of points against a team that won the league last season and just beat Chattanooga.

A few lines from the FCS world that I thought were a little strange (for recreational purposes only, as I live in South Carolina where gambling is still illegal):

  • Colgate-Cornell: this is a pick’em, but Cornell should be favored at home, perhaps by as much as a touchdown; the over/under is only 34½ (?!)
  • Princeton-Brown: the Tigers are a 16½-point road favorite; the spread probably should be higher
  • Bucknell-Fordham: to be fair, Christy Mathewson’s alma mater is not good, but the Rams as 24½-point favorites might be a bit much
  • Monmouth-Campbell: I know it is a long road trip for Monmouth, but I think the wrong team (Campbell, by 4½ points) is favored
  • Robert Morris-North Alabama: another long road journey, another game in which it is possible the wrong team (UNA) is favored — this time by 10½ points
  • Tarleton State-Dixie State: repeating myself, but Tarleton State should be a slight favorite, not the homestanding Trailblazers (by 2½ points)

Feel free to silently cackle when my guesses inevitably go 0-6.

The weekend is almost here, for which we are all grateful…

College Football Week 6, 2021: Thursday notes and observations

Tuesday notes and observations

Game notes from The Citadel

ETSU’s digital gameday program

SoCon weekly release

ETSU’s Folks makes history with eighth season of college football

Jaylan Adams returns to Johnson City

The Brent Thompson Show (in podcast format)

Broadcast information

The Citadel at East Tennessee State, to be played at William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee, with kickoff at 4:35 pm ET on October 9, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on the following TV stations:

  • ECBD (Charleston, SC)
  • WBTW (Myrtle Beach, SC)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WMYT (Charlotte, NC)
  • WWCW (Lynchburg/Roanoke, VA)
  • WYCW (Greenville, SC/Spartanburg, SC/Asheville, NC).

Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Todd Agne supplies the analysis. 

The contest can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. Other stations carrying the game include WQXL in Columbia (100.7 FM/1470 AM) and WDXY in Sumter (105.9 FM/1240 AM).

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

– From an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

[VMI head football coach Scott Wachenheim] has interest in moving VMI-The Citadel to the end of the season every year.

“I’d even do it at a neutral site, but I do like doing it home-and-home because of the fanfare,” he said. “The whole experience at their place and our place is pretty cool, especially when our corps goes down there and their corps comes up here.”

The Citadel-VMI has occasionally been played at a neutral site. I think home-and-home is definitely the way to go, however.

I would be okay with the game being played in November every year. As a practical matter, the Bulldogs can’t host on the final Saturday of the regular season because of the timing for the fall furlough, but there is no reason the two teams can’t face each other on the second Saturday of the month (or the third Saturday in November when the matchup is in Virginia).

As for The Citadel’s other primary rival, Furman, that series is similar in that there has not been a “standard” time for playing the game. Some of the Paladins faithful have occasionally argued that it should be an end-of-year affair, but historically that contest has been played in October more than any other month.

I believe consistently playing it in midseason would be most appropriate. I know others might have differing opinions, but for me, The Citadel and Furman should always play in mid-October, in the third or fourth league game of the campaign.

Incidentally, 19 of the 29 previous gridiron meetings between The Citadel and ETSU have been in October. Five have been in November, four in September, and one in March.

Roster review:

– Of the 113 players on The Citadel’s online roster, 61 are from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (18 players), Florida (11), North Carolina (9), Virginia (5), Alabama (2), Texas (2), and one each from New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– East Tennessee State also has 113 players on its online roster. Of those, 45 are from Tennessee. Other states with representatives on the Bucs’ squad: Georgia (31 players), North Carolina (8), Florida (7), Ohio (5), Virginia (5), Alabama (3), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (2), and one each from California Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, and West Virginia.

The two South Carolina natives on ETSU’s roster are fourth-year running back D.J. Twitty (who went to Chapman High School in Inman) and redshirt freshman defensive back Tylik Edwards (Rock Hill High School). 

College Football Week 6, 2021: Tuesday notes and observations

Brent Thompson 10/4 press conference (featuring Duggar Baucom)

ETSU head football coach Randy Sanders’ 10/4 press conference

East Tennessee State having fun while relishing role of favorite

Logan Billings returns, scores two touchdowns

The weather forecast for Saturday afternoon in Johnson City, per the National Weather Service: a 40% chance of showers, with a high of 76°.

William B. Greene Jr. Stadium opened in 2017. It has a listed capacity of 7,694, with the playing field an artificial turf surface. 

ETSU is actually averaging more fans per game (9,926) than the stadium’s listed capacity. The Buccaneers have played three home contests so far this season, against UVA Wise, Delaware State, and Wofford (with 10,153 fans in the stadium for the game versus the Terriers).

Fans of the Bulldogs planning on making the trip to Johnson City should know that ETSU head coach Randy Sanders highly recommends the stadium food, suggesting during his Monday presser that people should come to the game “just for the hot dogs. They’re amazing.” 

Sanders also mentioned that he believes Greene Stadium needs a “cigar section”. When a reporter pointed out that ETSU has a tobacco-free campus, Sanders wryly noted that the campus was also supposed to be alcohol-free, but “I see a lot of bottles [lying around] when I leave in the evening”.

ETSU’s press conference also featured starting quarterback Tyler Riddell and linebacker Jared Folks, an eighth-year (yes!) college football player. As I’ve mentioned before, Folks started his collegiate gridiron career at Temple in 2014, the same year in which insurance pitchman Patrick Mahomes debuted for Texas Tech.

The early lines are out. East Tennessee State is a 10½-point favorite; the over/under is 59½.

Other SoCon lines:

  • Chattanooga is a 10-point favorite at VMI (over/under of 51½)
  • Mercer is a 16½-point favorite at Western Carolina (over/under of 72½)
  • Furman-Wofford is a pick’em (with an over/under of just 37½)

Samford is off this week.

A few other FCS lines of interest:

  • Morehead State is a 3½-point favorite at Presbyterian; the over/under is 90½
  • Florida A&M is a 10-point favorite against South Carolina State; over/under of 54½
  • Charleston Southern is an 18-point favorite against Robert Morris; over/under of 48½
  • Campbell is a 9-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; over/under of 67½
  • James Madison is a 10½-point favorite over Villanova; over/under of 63
  • Kennesaw State is an 18-point favorite over Hampton; over/under of 66½
  • Elon is a 6-point favorite at Maine; over/under of 53½
  • Austin Peay is a 7½-point favorite over Southeast Missouri State; over/under of 68½

For anyone interested, here is my working spreadsheet for FCS games played through October 2:  Link

East Tennessee State, which is averaging 37.6 points per game (15th nationally), fares very well in most offensive categories.

Among all FCS teams, ETSU is 10th in both yards per play (6.72) and adjusted yards per rush (5.85). Senior running back Quay Holmes is second in rushing yards per game (123.4), trailing only a Harvard player who has played in two fewer contests.

The Buccaneers are 8th overall in adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.05) and11th in adjusted pass efficiency (9 TD passes, 3 interceptions), with a 62.3% completion percentage and a third down conversion rate of 49.3% (9th-best in the subdivision). ETSU quarterbacks have been sacked on less than 3% of all pass plays.

East Tennessee State is 36th in estimated points per Red Zone possession (5.35), and 8th in FCS in time of possession (34:10). 

ETSU runs the football on 60.7% of its plays from scrimmage.

Defensively, the Buccaneers are 30th nationally in yards allowed per play (4.89). They are 32nd in adjusted yards allowed per rush (4.24) and 22nd in adjusted yards allowed per pass attempt (5.30).

ETSU has allowed 7 TD passes, but has 5 interceptions. Opponents are completing 63.8% of their throws. The Buccaneers’ adjusted defensive pass efficiency rating ranks 38th in FCS.

East Tennessee State’s defense is allowing 18.4 points per contest (19th-best overall). It is 28th in estimated points allowed per Red Zone possession (4.50) and 48th in third down conversion rate against (35.7%). Against the Bucs’ D, opponents have run the football 38.2% of the time.

ETSU is tied for 25th in FCS in turnover margin per game (0.8). The Buccaneers have gained 9 turnovers (four fumble recoveries, five interceptions) while losing 5 (two fumbles, three picks).

East Tennessee State is called for a few more penalties than the typical FCS squad, drawing an average of 7 flags per contest (tied for 42nd-most in the country), for 59 yards per game (50th). The Buccaneers are 77th nationally in net punting (35.29).

The Citadel’s offense is averaging 28.8 points per game, 43rd overall. It is averaging 5.95 yards per play, which is 34th nationally.

The Bulldogs are 28th in adjusted yards per rush (5.31) and 2nd in adjusted yards per pass attempt (9.16, behind only South Dakota State). Their adjusted pass efficiency rating is 26th, with 2 TDs, 1 pick, and a completion rate of 53.8%. Bulldog QBs have been sacked on 11.3% of pass plays, obviously a stat that needs to improve.

The offense is converting third downs at a 44.2% clip (29th in FCS). The Citadel is 48th nationally in time of possession (31:21), which is lower than in past seasons. The Bulldogs are averaging an estimated 5.21 points per Red Zone possession, 41st in FCS.

The Citadel has run the football on 83.2% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, 3rd nationally (behind Davidson and Kennesaw State).

On defense, The Citadel is allowing 31.8 points per game. The Bulldogs give up on average 6.46 yards per play, which ranks 108th in FCS. That includes an adjusted yards allowed per rush of 5.36 (96th overall) and an adjusted yards allowed per pass attempt of 7.60 (105th). Bulldog opponents are completing 63.4% of their passes, with 8 TDs (against 4 interceptions). The Citadel’s adjusted defensive pass efficiency rating is 98th in the country.

The Bulldogs are allowing a third down conversion rate of 52.1% (123rd nationally). The defense is 39th in estimated points allowed per Red Zone possession (4.64).

Against The Citadel, opponents have an almost even pass/run ratio — 50.8% rush attempts, and 49.2% pass plays.

The Citadel is tied for 39th in FCS in turnover margin (0.5). The Bulldogs have gained five turnovers (1 fumble recovery, 4 interceptions) while losing three (two fumbles, one pick).

With an average of just 4.25 penalties, The Citadel ranks 14th nationally in fewest flags per contest. The Bulldogs rank 33rd in fewest penalty yardage per game (46.75), indicating that the squad needs to get better at avoiding major infractions. It could also indicate that the officials in last week’s game against VMI were a little too officious.

The Citadel is 16th overall in net punting (40.24). 

More to come later in the week…

College Football Week 5, 2021: Tuesday notes and observations

Brent Thompson’s Monday press conference (9/27)

The Citadel’s game notes for its matchup against VMI

VMI has been rewarded for its patience

– The weather forecast for Saturday afternoon in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 81°.

– The early lines are out. The Citadel is favored over VMI by 1½ points; the over/under is 65½.

I have no idea why the Bulldogs are favored in this game. My own numbers, which are admittedly experimental in nature and not to be trusted, suggest that VMI should be favored by around 9 points. 

When the coveted Silver Shako is at stake, however, anything can happen. 

– Other SoCon lines:

  • Chattanooga is favored over Western Carolina by 21½ points (over/under of 57½)
  • East Tennessee State is favored over Wofford by 14½ points (over/under of 49½)
  • Mercer is favored over Samford by 7½ points (over/under of 68½)

Furman is off this week.

– Also of note from a local or semi-local perspective: South Carolina State is favored by 7½ points over Bethune-Cookman; Kennesaw State is a 2½-point favorite over Jacksonville State; Davidson is favored by 10 points at Stetson; North Carolina A&T is favored by 19½ points over Robert Morris; Richmond is a 12½-point favorite over Elon; and Campbell is a 3-point favorite at North Alabama.

Presbyterian and Charleston Southern are both idle this weekend.

Above, I mentioned my experimental power ratings for FCS teams. This is just a tryout and probably won’t come to anything, but I decided to compare my numbers to the spreads for all FCS vs. FCS contests and see how many outliers there were.

I basically came up with seven games (not including VMI-The Citadel) in which my ratings differed from the opening line by more than a touchdown. Here they are, with my system’s pick against the spread in bold:

  • Sacred Heart-Howard: the Pioneers are 4-point favorites at HU
  • Duquesne-Merrimack: the homestanding Warriors are favored by 3 points
  • Dayton-Morehead State: the Flyers are 2½-point road favorites
  • Brown-Bryant: the Bears are 1½-point road favorites
  • Delaware State-Wagner: the Seahawks are a 1½-point favorite at home
  • Dixie State-South Dakota State: the mighty Jackrabbits are 45-point favorites
  • Central Arkansas-Abilene Christian: ACU is a 1-point favorite at home

Yes, six of the picks are road teams. Feel free to giggle when all of the home teams cover this weekend.

Some FCS conference realignment news: Texas A&M-Commerce, which won the D2 football national title in 2017, announced today it is moving up to FCS and will be a member of the Southland Conference. For you old-timers, this is the school that until 1996 was called East Texas State. Its most notable football alums: Dwight White, Harvey Martin, and Wade Wilson.

Of course, conference realignment rumors (and actual moves) are all the rage right now, both at the FBS and FCS level.

Austin Peay is leaving the OVC for the A-Sun. An OVC school that does not play football, Belmont, is headed to the MVC — and yet another OVC member, Murray State, is widely rumored to be moving as well.

Texas A&M-Commerce probably won’t be the only Division II school to move up, either. There are a host of D2 programs all over the nation reportedly interested in the verdant pastures of Division I. In the southeastern part of the country, keep an eye on (among others) Valdosta State, West Georgia, West Florida, and Queens University of Charlotte.

West Florida, Valdosta State, and Texas A&M-Commerce are the last three national champions in football at the Division II level.

Queens is a small private school (less than 2,000 undergraduates) that does not sponsor football. It does have a dominant swimming program (both men’s and women’s), and its men’s hoops squad beat Howard last season and only lost to George Mason by one point.

Per Wikipedia, the Queens Sports Complex includes a statue of Rex (the school’s mascot), which is “the largest standing lion sculpture in the world.” That sounds D1 to me…

Also, while I haven’t heard anything yet about Anderson University moving up to D1, it did hire Bobby Lamb to start its football program — and has more students than Queens (which, like Anderson, is in the South Atlantic Conference). Anderson’s enrollment has more than doubled over the last 15 years.

Just something to think about.

College Football Week 3, 2021: Thursday notes and observations

North Greenville’s head coach is a graduate of The Citadel, and his team can beat The Citadel

Brent Thompson’s 9/13 press conference

The Brent Thompson Show (9/15)

The Citadel’s game notes

Broadcast information

North Greenville at The Citadel, to be played on Sansom Field at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on September 18, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Play-by-play will be handled by Kevin Fitzgerald, while Jason Kempf supplies the analysis. Anna Witte will be the sideline reporter.

The contest can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. Other stations carrying the game include WQXL in Columbia (100.7 FM/1470 AM) and WDXY in Sumter (105.9 FM/1240 AM).

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

Well, this is going to be short and sweet. I didn’t have a lot of time this week to put together a lot of notes and information, and perhaps it was just as well.

On the bright side, the reunion classes did a great job of raising money for The Citadel. Major props to everyone involved.

Unfortunately, that was the only highlight from Saturday. Nothing went right on the field (and even off the field, the new scoreboard had issues that need to be addressed).

It was an abysmal performance by the Bulldogs. There was no excuse for the team to be so flat, particularly given the circumstances. If the squad plays like that for the rest of the season, the outlook is very bleak indeed.

The defense has not been able to get off the field in two games (66.7% 3rd-down conversion allowed rate), and has yet to force a turnover. Opponents are completing 80% of their pass attempts, as the Bulldogs have only defensed two out of 50 throws. Yards per play allowed: 8.6.

Offensively, things haven’t been great either. The Citadel is averaging only 4.6 yards per play, has struggled to put together drives (33.3% 3rd-down conversion rate), and has averaged 4.9 yards per pass attempt (adjusted for sacks).

In the two games, The Citadel has had five plays from scrimmage that resulted in gains of 20 yards or more. Opponents have had 18.

This week, North Greenville comes to town, and the Crusaders probably think they have a very good chance of beating the Bulldogs. NGU is an excellent D2 team, with several impact players who began their collegiate careers at D1 schools (read Jeff Hartsell’s article, linked above, for details). North Greenville’s starting quarterback can already lay claim to a victory over The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, from the 2017 season when he started for Mercer.

NGU played quite respectably against The Citadel back in 2016, a year in which the Bulldogs won the SoCon title. If anything, the early season results suggest that the Crusaders are more talented now than they were then — perhaps considerably so. 

North Greenville’s offense is balanced (69 pass plays, 63 rush attempts through two games). Slightly over 60% of its yardage comes via the air.

Defensively, NGU has 13½ tackles for loss (including 3½ sacks) and has forced four turnovers (three interceptions). Opponents are averaging 4.29 sack-adjusted yards per rush.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us this week,” said Brent Thompson at his Monday presser. Yes, the Bulldogs certainly do.

There is no line on The Citadel’s game against North Greenville this week, not too surprising given that NGU is a D2 squad. However, one book does have moneylines for the contest: +290 (North Greenville) and -410 (The Citadel). I’m not an expert on this by any means, but I believe that would indicate a likely spread of 8 to 8½ points, if one existed.

Other SoCon lines this week:

  • Kentucky is a 30½-point favorite over Chattanooga (over/under of 42½)
  • Cornell is a 1½-point favorite over VMI (over/under of 53)
  • Samford is a 13-point favorite at Western Carolina (over/under of 71½)
  • Wofford is a 6-point favorite over Kennesaw State (over/under of 54½)
  • North Carolina State is a 29½-point favorite over Furman (over/under of 42½)
  • East Tennessee State is a 27½-point favorite over Delaware State (over/under of 41½)

Mercer is off this week.

I don’t have any opinion on the FBS vs. FCS games; those spreads look about right to me.

I like VMI’s chances at Cornell, as the Keydets arguably should be favored. My numbers would support Samford covering against Western Carolina (but with the Catamounts being competitive). 

No offense to the Terriers, but I am surprised Kennesaw State is the underdog in that matchup. The spread in Delaware State-ETSU is exactly where it should be “on paper”, but in reality I like the Buccaneers a bit more than that.

As for totals, I would take the over in Samford-WCU and Delaware State-ETSU, and the under in Kennesaw State-Wofford.

This is all just for “recreational purposes”, of course, as I live in a state where gambling on such events is illegal. Also, I wouldn’t be shocked if I went 0-fer on all my picks…

A brief coda: The Citadel had a tough week last week, but it wasn’t even in the running for toughest week for a triple-option program.

Georgia Southern got absolutely smoked by FAU (38-6), but that wasn’t the “winner”, either.

Nothing tops Navy’s 23-3 loss to Air Force, which led to the following sequence of events:

  • Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper was fired after the game, but not by head coach Ken Niumatalolo — no, he was fired by AD Chet Gladchuk
  • Niumatalolo asked Gladchuk to reconsider, and Jasper was subsequently reinstated to the staff as QBs coach
  • Another offensive assistant, Billy Ray Stutzmann, was dismissed for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine (which is required for all Naval Academy personnel)

Jasper has been at Navy for 22 years (two separate stints), including 14 seasons as the OC (all under Niumatalolo, who has been at Navy himself for 24 years, including the last 20 seasons).

Gladchuk has been the AD at Annapolis for 20 years, so these are all people who have worked together for a long time. The whole situation is bizarre.

Okay, Bulldogs. It is time to win. Style points are not important, just the final score.

College Football Week 2, 2021: Thursday notes and observations

Wednesday’s notes and observations

Links of interest for Thursday:

The Brent Thompson Show (recorded September 8, 2021)

The Citadel is “back open for business” at Johnson Hagood Stadium

The Citadel’s game notes (in case you missed the release earlier this week)

Weekly release from the SoCon

Charleston Southern’s game notes

Weekly release from the Big South

Broadcast information

Charleston Southern at The Citadel, to be played on Sansom Field at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on September 11, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on four TV stations — ECBD in Charleston, WMYT in Charlotte, WWCW in Lynchburg/Roanoke, and WYCW in Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville.

Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton supplies the analysis.

The contest can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. Other stations carrying the game include WQXL in Columbia (100.7 FM/1470 AM) and WDXY in Sumter (105.9 FM/1240 AM).

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

This was reported last week, but I wanted to mention here that The Citadel has added another FBS opponent to a future schedule. The Bulldogs will play at Charlotte on September 5, 2026. 

The Citadel will receive $305,000 for the game, along with 400 complimentary tickets. In addition, the 49ers will provide 600 tickets for The Citadel to sell.

Other future FBS opponents for the Bulldogs include Appalachian State (in the 2022 season), Georgia Southern (2023), Clemson (2024), and Mississippi (2025).

The current administration has established a preference for playing close-to-home FBS opponents, and has been more focused on G5 schools. I understand the reasoning, and sometimes there isn’t much of a difference in the guarantees, but I believe playing P5 teams is generally a better idea, particularly in terms of publicity and cachet. The exception to this would be a matchup against a service academy.

Of the 117 players on The Citadel’s online roster, 66 are from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (17 players), Florida (11), North Carolina (9), Virginia (5), Alabama (2), Texas (2), and one each from New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

Charleston Southern has 116 players on its online roster. There are 34 natives of South Carolina on the squad. Other states represented include Georgia (30 players), Florida (25), North Carolina (17), Kentucky (3), Texas (2), and one each from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Virginia.

Defensive lineman Devonte Turner played high school football in Florida, but is originally from Windsor, Ontario.

Actually, there are 117 players listed on Charleston Southern’s roster. Lorvens Florestal, a freshman from Delray Beach, Florida, was tragically killed two weeks ago in an off-campus shooting. He was an innocent bystander — simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Lorvens Florestal was 19 years old.

Most of CSU’s players were recruited to North Charleston out of high school. There are 12 players on the Buccaneers’ roster who began playing collegiately at another four-year institution or a junior college. 

Charleston Southern did not play in the fall of 2020, but did compete in four spring games. The Bucs were 2-2, losing road games to Kennesaw State and Monmouth, but winning at home versus Robert Morris and Gardner-Webb.

Spring stats of note for CSU, offense:

  • Points per game: 20.75
  • Yards per play: 4.88 
  • Run/pass ratio: 44.9% rush attempts, 55.1% pass plays
  • Adjusted yards per rush: 3.83
  • Adjusted yards per pass attempt: 5.73
  • Pass completion percentage: 62.7%
  • Sack percentage per pass play: 9.55% (142 attempts, 15 sacks allowed)
  • 3rd down conversion rate: 43.8% (28 for 64)
  • 4th down conversion rate: 33.3% (2 for 6)
  • Estimated points per red zone possession: 4.93

Spring stats of note for CSU: defense:

  • Points allowed per game: 20.00
  • Yards per play allowed: 5.05
  • Run/pass ratio for opponents: 61.2% rush attempts, 38.7% pass plays
  • Adjusted yards per rush allowed: 3.43
  • Adjusted yards per pass attempt allowed: 7.60
  • Pass completion percentage allowed: 55.7%
  • Sack percentage per pass play: 5.83% (97 attempts against, 6 sacks)
  • 3rd down conversion rate against: 37.1% (23 for 62)
  • 4th down conversion rate against: 50.0% (8 of 16)
  • Estimated points per red zone possession allowed: 3.75

Other spring stats of note for CSU:

  • Average time of possession per contest: 27 minutes, 37 seconds
  • Net punting: 37.48 yards
  • Penalties per game: 6.0
  • Penalty yardage per contest: 55.25
  • Turnover margin per game: -0.25 (4 gained, 5 lost in 4 games)

It is difficult to come to any sweeping statistical conclusions about Charleston Southern’s football team, given the small four-game sample size. CSU’s offense had success through the air, though the Buccaneers did allow more than their fair share of sacks. The offensive third down conversion rate was good.

When Charleston Southern had a big play on offense, it almost always came via the pass. In the four games, CSU only had one run of more than 20+ yards.

However, fans of the Bulldogs might remember current CSU starting quarterback Jack Chambers rushing for 33 and 38 yards on consecutive plays during the Buccaneers’ game versus The Citadel in 2019. Chambers entered that contest late in the third quarter and had an immediate impact.

Defensively, Charleston Southern’s spring campaign featured outstanding play in the red zone. Opponents scored only seven times in twelve trips inside the 20-yard line (six TDs and a field goal). CSU got burned by long pass plays a few times (including a 51-yard touchdown toss by Kennesaw State and a 70-yard TD by Monmouth), but was good against the run; in three of the four games, Charleston Southern did not allow a run of 20+ yards. 

Against Kennesaw State, which runs the triple option, CSU did not give up a run of longer than 10 yards, with an adjusted yards per rush allowed of only 3.38.

KSU won that game 24-19; two of the Owls’ scores came on pass plays (Kennesaw was 4 for 5 throwing the ball, with one sack). Also of possible interest: KSU quarterback Jonathan Murphy accounted for half of the Owls’ rushing yardage (and almost 40% of the carries).

The Citadel has an all-time record of 1-5 on September 11. The lone victory came against Presbyterian in 1982. As described in this week’s game notes:

…Randy Gold’s 42-yard interception return in the third quarter proved to be the difference as
The Citadel opened the season with a 21-16 victory over Presbyterian. The victory was the 14th-straight
victory inside Johnson Hagood Stadium. Quarterback Gerald Toney scored on runs of 43 yards and 10
yards in the first quarter, and linebacker Keith McCauley paced the defense with 11 tackles, two forced
fumbles and a blocked punt.

On a rainy night in Charleston, the two teams combined for nine turnovers and the above-mentioned blocked punt. During one drive, PC was stopped on downs inside the Bulldogs’ 1-yard line. The Citadel only had 237 yards of total offense — not much, but just enough.

Getting closer to the long-awaited home opener…

College Football Week 1, 2021 — Monday notes and observations

In years past, I would always produce a weekly post about the upcoming football game for The Citadel. I did that for about a decade. As I wrote earlier in the summer, though, I’m changing things up this season.

Time constraints are part of the reason for that, but to be honest I also got tired of the routine involved in preparing the posts — and after a while it felt a bit like diminishing returns for me as a writer and perhaps for anyone who actually read them.

This has led to what will be something of an experiment. I’m going to just make quick posts when I can. Some of the discussion will be similar to what I did before, but there will be differences as well. Much of what I write will still be focused on the Bulldogs and its opponent for a given Saturday (or Thursday, as is the case for the Coastal Carolina game this week), but I’ll also delve into other college football-related stuff on occasion.

That is my intent, anyway. I happen to really enjoy college football, flawed and ridiculous as it is.

First, here are links to my posts from this summer. Most of them, of course, are statistical summations and analyses of The Citadel’s spring football season, so they are (hopefully) a good primer for anyone ready to get deep into prep work for the Bulldogs’ 2021 fall campaign:

Here are a few recent links of interest:

Season preview for The Citadel from The Charlotte Observer

The Citadel’s football practices have been top secret (not even Val Kilmer can watch them)

Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk (SC) interviews Brent Thompson, Jaylan Adams, and Willie Eubanks III

Game notes from The Citadel for its game against Coastal Carolina

Coastal Carolina’s game notes are also available

Brent Thompson’s Monday afternoon (8/30) press conference

Associate AD Kevin Olivett discusses The Citadel’s plans for the home football schedule on The Mauro Midday Show

The weather forecast for Thursday night in Conway, per the National Weather Service: mostly clear, with a low of 66°.

This will be only the second game between the two programs contested at Brooks Stadium. The first, of course, was the 2015 playoff game, which was played in the afternoon in November, with a gametime temperature of 71° (and almost no wind). Attendance that day: 6,751.

A few sportsbooks set lines late last week for The Citadel-Coastal Carolina. When the lines were initially released on Friday, Coastal Carolina was favored by 31½, but by Saturday evening the spread had already moved to 35½ . As of Monday night, it is 34½, with an over/under of 54½. The moneyline for The Citadel is currently +4750.

Incidentally, here are the point spreads for The Citadel’s last 15 games against FBS competition:

  • 2009, North Carolina: 32
  • 2010, Arizona: 40
  • 2011, South Carolina: 39
  • 2012, North Carolina State: 14
  • 2013: Clemson: 40
  • 2014, Florida State: 58
  • 2015, Georgia Southern: 25½
  • 2015, South Carolina: 20
  • 2016, North Carolina: 21½
  • 2017, Clemson: 47
  • 2018, Alabama: 51
  • 2019, Georgia Tech: 26
  • 2020, South Florida: 18
  • 2020, Clemson: 48
  • 2020, Army: 30

The Citadel is 6-9 ATS during that stretch, with (obviously) two outright victories.

Last year, Coastal Carolina was 9-2-1 against the spread, while the Bulldogs (F20/S21) were 5-7.

In Week 0, there was only one FCS vs. FBS matchup. San Jose State beat Southern Utah 45-14 (the line closed at 28 in most places, so the Spartans wound up covering).

Some other lines of note for this week around the country (and the SoCon), as of Monday evening; this is just a selection, and not the entirety of the slate by any means:

Wednesday night game

  • UAB is a 14½-point favorite over Jacksonville State (in Montgomery)

Thursday night games 

  • Chattanooga is a 2½-point favorite over Austin Peay 
  • Samford is a 14½-point favorite over Tennessee Tech 
  • UNLV is a 10½-point favorite over Eastern Washington (hmm…)
  • Appalachian State is a 10½-point favorite over East Carolina (in Charlotte)
  • Ohio State is a 14-point favorite at Minnesota
  • North Carolina State is an 18-point favorite over South Florida 
  • UCF is a 4½-point favorite over Boise State 

Friday night games 

  • North Carolina is a 5½-point favorite over Virginia Tech 
  • Wake Forest is a 31-point favorite over Old Dominion
  • South Dakota State is a 3½-point favorite at Colorado State (yes, the FCS team is favored)

Saturday games

  • Georgia State is a 2-point favorite over Army
  • Connecticut is a 2½-point favorite over Holy Cross (only 2½?!)
  • Boston College is a 50½-point favorite over Colgate
  • Nebraska is a 42½-point favorite over Fordham
  • Air Force is a 42½-point favorite over Lafayette
  • Wisconsin is a 4½-point favorite over Penn State (up to 5½ in some places)
  • VMI is a 19½-point favorite over Davidson
  • Furman is a 1½-point favorite over North Carolina A&T
  • Eastern Kentucky is a 10½-point favorite at Western Carolina
  • Wofford is a 6½-point favorite at Elon
  • Vanderbilt is a 21½-point favorite over East Tennessee State
  • Alabama A&M is a 5½-point favorite over South Carolina State
  • West Virginia is a 2½-point favorite at Maryland
  • Iowa is a 3½-point favorite over Indiana
  • Marshall is a 2½-point favorite at Navy
  • Alabama is an 18½-point favorite over Miami [FL] (in Atlanta)
  • Texas is an 8-point favorite over Louisiana
  • South Carolina is a 43½-point favorite over Eastern Illinois
  • Southern California is a 14-point favorite over San Jose State
  • LSU is a 3-point favorite at UCLA
  • Oregon is a 20½-point favorite over Fresno State
  • Clemson is a 3-point favorite over Georgia (in Charlotte)

Sunday night game

  • Notre Dame is a 7½-point favorite at Florida State

Monday night game

  • Mississippi is a 10-point favorite over Louisville

More to come in the next day or two…

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: taking advantage of 4th down

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, this time I’m focusing on how to increase offensive productivity with a fully realized 4th down “go for it” philosophy. That isn’t a radical or new concept, but I just wanted to discuss the advantages a team can accrue on other downs when it has a high 4th down go rate.

First, links to other posts I’ve recently written in the leadup to the 2021 fall campaign:

As usual, I’ll start with the statistical spreadsheet for The Citadel’s spring 2021 season, which I’ll be referencing at times throughout:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

Of note for this discussion, one of the tabs on that spreadsheet lists all decisions made on 4th down by The Citadel (and its opponents) in conference action; another catalogs short-yardage plays and results, including those on 4th down; and there is also a tab dedicated to down-and-distance plays by the Bulldogs and their opponents, broken down by run and pass.

Let’s start with the down-and-distance numbers. The Citadel in spring 2021, on offensive plays from scrimmage:

  • Rushed 85.6% of the time (all plays)
  • Rushed 87.1% of the time on 1st down
  • Rushed 88.0% of the time on 2nd-and-short (3 yards or less)
  • Rushed 94.0% of the time on 2nd-and-medium (4 to 6 yards)
  • Rushed 96.3% of the time on 3rd-and-short (2 yards or less)
  • Rushed 89.2% of the time on 3rd-and-medium (3 or 4 yards)

Those aren’t surprising percentages, of course. That is the nature of the triple option offense. On standard downs, The Citadel is going to run the football. It will run the football a lot on passing downs, too.

(“Standard” in this case means downs that aren’t considered expected passing downs in a regular offensive system.)

One thing that can be said about the Bulldogs under Brent Thompson is that the playcalling, from a run-pass perspective, has been consistent. Eerily consistent.

For example, take a gander at the numbers in conference games from his first season as head coach (2016) and the most recent campaign (spring 2021):

  • 2016: 494 rushing plays, 83 passing plays
  • 2021: 492 rushing plays, 83 passing plays

It doesn’t get much closer than that.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the results from those passing plays were not exactly the same. The adjusted yards per pass attempt for those seasons:

  • 2016: 7.41
  • 2021: 2.98

That is not a typo. When sacks allowed are included in the passing numbers (as they should be), The Citadel averaged fewer than three yards per pass play last spring. 

The Bulldogs were sacked on 17.07% of their pass plays, by far the highest rate suffered by any offense in the SoCon (Mercer was second at 10.45%; Furman 3rd at 8.81%). Samford threw 226 more passes than The Citadel, but its quarterbacks were only sacked three more times.

The Citadel’s sack rate allowed was 16.55% when including its four games in the fall. Among all 97 FCS schools that played at least once in the fall and/or spring, that was the third-worst percentage overall, with Cal Poly and Kennesaw State the only other two teams with worse rates. Kennesaw State is also a triple option outfit, while Cal Poly was transitioning out of a triple option offense into a spread offense under new coach Beau Baldwin.

Triple option teams do tend to be on the wrong end of this statistic, for a bunch of obvious reasons. In the FBS, Navy had the worst sack rate allowed (15.65%), while Army was 10th-worst (10.59%). On the other hand, Air Force (3.17%) had one of the lowest rates in the country.

The average sack rate for FCS teams (F20/S21) was 6.77%. The average in the SoCon this spring was 7.39%, a figure reduced to 6.88% if The Citadel’s totals aren’t included.

One major reason for the Bulldogs’ high sack rate on offense was that a significant percentage of The Citadel’s pass plays occurred in the 4th quarter, with the Bulldogs trailing. In the final period, The Citadel was 10 for 27 through the air, with one interception and nine sacks allowed.

A team that doesn’t throw the football very often was largely ineffective in the passing game when the opponent knew a pass was probably coming. This is not a shock to informed observers. It is also not a shock to uniformed observers.

The real issue, it seems to me, is that such a large percentage of the Bulldogs’ aerial attack came on obvious passing downs, instead of on standard downs.

The Citadel attempted 32 pass plays on 1st down or 2nd-and-short. Those are generally not passing downs, and so the element of surprise would normally be quite beneficial for the Bulldogs.

All but seven of those pass plays, however, came while A) trailing in the 4th quarter — often by multiple scores — or B) down 10+ points in one of the other three quarters. There was nothing unexpected about most of those plays.

For the record, here are the seven pass plays for The Citadel on 1st down/2nd-and-short in true “standard down” situations:

  • Against Mercer, down 7-0 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at TC 45 (result: incomplete)
  • Against Western Carolina, down 7-6 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at WCU 39 (result: incomplete)
  • Against ETSU, tied 7-7 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at ETSU 49 (result: 44-yard gain to set up TD)
  • Against ETSU, down 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, first-and-10 pass at TC 25 (result: 7-yard gain)
  • Against ETSU, down 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, first-and-15 pass at TC 31 (result: interception)
  • Against Furman, first play from scrimmage, first-and-10 pass at TC 25 (result: incompletion)
  • Against Furman, ahead 13-7 in the 2nd quarter, first-and-10 pass at Furman 40 (result: incompletion)

To be honest, the Bulldogs were not overly efficient on those occasions, either. Completing 2 of 7 passes for 51 yards (with a pick) is nothing to write home about. On a positive note, 7.29 yards per attempt isn’t half-bad, although it clearly needs to be a lot better for such plays.

The larger point is that The Citadel needs to be a bigger threat in the passing game, regardless of its status as a triple option offense. It needs to do so in order to keep defenses honest (which will also help the rushing attack), and to increase its number of explosive plays. 

I believe that the best way to do that, besides improvement in execution, is by throwing the ball more on standard downs. I don’t mean that the Bulldogs should be throwing 15 more passes per game or anything like that, though.

I think The Citadel should take advantage of its pugnaciousness on 4th down when calling plays on other downs, particularly first and second down. Basically, once the Bulldogs are past a certain point on the field (probably their own 30), the assumption should be that they are going to go for it on any 4th down play of 4 yards to go or less.

Instead of having three downs to make 10 yards, and almost always trying to grind out three runs to get there, a pass play on first down, or second-and-short (or medium), should be employed a little more often. If it doesn’t work, there are still three other downs available to move the chains. 

That should be the mindset.

Now, I freely admit that I am not a coach. I do not claim to have an advanced knowledge of the game (although I am a former championship football player¹). There are certainly a lot of things I don’t know about the program, especially related to personnel. I’m merely a dude with a computer; a less witty Statler.

It is just my unenlightened opinion that throwing the football on select first-and-second down plays a few more times per game (maybe once every other possession, or twice every three possessions) could open things up. The Citadel really needs more of those long gainers on offense, too; 22 plays of 20+ yards in eight contests is not enough.

Only three of those big plays came via the pass. Incidentally, all three of them came on first-and-10.

I’ve actually written about this concept before, but I believe that with the gradual increase in scoring in recent years, creating big plays is even more crucial to sustained offensive success. In the current game environment, a pure “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense has its limitations (and The Citadel is playing all 11 of its regular-season games this season on artificial turf, so there won’t be a lot of dust to kick up).

Having said all that, it must be duly noted that long, time-consuming drives should and will remain the Bulldogs’ bread-and-butter. As ESPN college football writer Bill Connelly has stated:

The key to explosiveness is efficiency. The key to making big plays is being able to stay on the field long enough to make one.

Negotiate the ball down the field. Pump it in there. Just keep matriculating the ball down the field. Yes, sir.

There are less than 50 days until the season starts. We’re getting closer.

 

¹City of Orangeburg (SC) Parks and Recreation Department — Pee Wee Division

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: 4th down decision-making

When it comes to gridiron discussion, one of my favorite topics is 4th down decision-making. This is an area of the game in which I think it is still possible to gain a competitive advantage, simply by being slightly ahead of the curve from a tactical perspective.

First, a quick list of the posts preceding this one so far in July:

As always, I begin with the statistical spreadsheet for The Citadel’s spring 2021 campaign:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

One of the tabs on that spreadsheet goes into 4th down decision-making at a somewhat granular level, both for The Citadel and its opponents; another lists the success rates for short yardage plays on 3rd and 4th downs.

Did the Bulldogs go for it on 4th down more often than other SoCon schools? You better believe it:

Team (offense)4th down conv4th down att4D%4D att/gm
The Citadel193259.4%4.00
Furman91850.0%2.57
VMI101566.7%2.14
Western Carolina41330.8%2.17
Samford61250.0%1.71
Chattanooga41136.4%2.75
Mercer51145.5%1.38
ETSU2922.2%1.50
Wofford6966.7%1.80
Total6513050.0%2.22

It should be pointed out that The Citadel also faced more 4th down situations than any other SoCon team. However, the difference on a per-game basis wasn’t enormous. The Bulldogs averaged exactly nine 4th down situations per contest, which led the league, but Samford (8.86) and Furman (8.71) weren’t far behind, and the two schools with the fewest per game, Chattanooga and Wofford, each averaged seven.

Now, The Citadel did have fewer possessions per contest than other teams, and that has to be taken into account. The Bulldogs averaged 10.88 possessions per game, and so on most drives were faced with at least one 4th down call to make. 

The Citadel was very aggressive in those situations, going for a first down 44.44% of the time, the highest percentage in the conference, and considerably higher than every other squad except Chattanooga. Here is a table illustrating that:

Team (offense)4th down attPunts4D FGA4D total plays4D go rate
The Citadel323467244.44%
Chattanooga111252839.29%
Furman183766129.51%
VMI1526115228.85%
Wofford92063525.71%
Western Carolina133445125.49%
ETSU92894619.57%
Samford1233176219.35%
Mercer114676417.19%
Total1302707147127.60%

Incidentally, “4D FGA” refers to the number of field goal attempts on fourth down. Most field goal attempts take place on 4th down, of course, but not all do (end-of-half clock situations, for example). Thus, field goal attempts that took place on other downs (which happened six times in league play) are not listed on the chart. 

As expected, I did not find any punts in league games that occurred on a down other than 4th. Those halcyon days of yore, when “quick kicks” were a regular feature of the game, are gone forever.

It can occasionally be disorienting to read complete play-by-play newspaper stories from contests played decades ago, when teams frequently punted on 3rd down. They were not averse to punting on first and/or second down, either.

Indeed, The Citadel’s 12-7 Homecoming victory over Clemson in 1928, one of the more famous upsets in school history, included several first down punts by both teams. The Citadel’s second touchdown was scored directly off a botched punt snap by Clemson on first down. The Bulldogs’ first score was set up by a blocked punt that came on third down.

The Citadel blocked a third down punt for a TD in its 19-7 victory over South Carolina in 1950 as well, so maybe that strategy should make a comeback after all, at least among certain power conference teams…

I noted in a couple of previous posts that trying to compare FCS statistics for F20/S21 is largely pointless, and also a difficult task at any rate. However, while I can’t determine 4th-down situational stats for every team in the subdivision that played, a perusal of readily available information allows me to say with a reasonable amount of confidence that The Citadel’s “go rate” would have ranked third overall in FCS for the spring campaign.

The two teams ahead of the Bulldogs in this respect were Davidson (54.17%) and Eastern Illinois (47.69%). EIU, which like The Citadel is located in a town called Charleston, is a program with at least a short history of going for it a lot on 4th down; the Panthers led the nation in 4th down tries in 2019, going 28 for 52.

Alas, in spring 2021 they were not nearly as successful, only converting 10 of 31 4th down attempts en route to a record of 1-5.

Davidson finished the spring season 4-3, but that included an FCS playoff appearance, as the Wildcats won the automatic bid out of the non-scholarship Pioneer League. Davidson was 15 for 26 on 4th down attempts, to go along with six 4th down field goal tries and just 16 punts — the only team in all of D-1 to have attempted more 4th down conversions that punts/FGA combined.

I also ran the numbers for FBS, with one caveat. I could not find a way to remove field goal attempts that were not 4th-down plays from the list, and I was not about to go through 551 game summaries. Sorry, but I do have my limits.

Therefore, the FBS numbers that follow are possibly off by a percentage point — probably no more than that, though (and in most cases less), and for some teams they will be completely accurate. Any change would be a slight increase in the go rate.

Last year’s leading riverboat gambler in the bowl subdivision, to the surprise of no one, was Lane Kiffin, with Mississippi going for it 33 times (with only a combined 37 punts/FGA). That adds up to a go rate of 47.14%, easily tops in FBS.

Kiffin is a naturally aggressive tactician and play caller; the fact that the Rebels were truly terrible on defense also factored into the equation. Expect more of the same this season, as Kiffin is still Kiffin and Mississippi’s D might not be much better.

Army was second (39.08%), which is not exactly a shock. Jeff Monken is now well known for his willingness to go for it on 4th down.

Some of the other teams near the top of the list suffered through tough seasons, which might have impacted their number of attempts. However, there were also very successful squads with high go rates — including BYU, Kent State (albeit in just four games), Buffalo, and Liberty.

At the other end of the spectrum was Maryland (127th and last), which in five games only attempted one 4th-down conversion (leading to a more-no-than-go rate of 2.78%). The Terrapins did make that conversion try, though, and thus finished with a 100% success rate on 4th down.

Some coaches leaned heavily on excellent field goal kickers, and that clearly affected their 4th down decision-making. Oklahoma had a go rate of just 12.99% (6th-lowest in FBS), in part because the Sooners attempted 28 field goals in 11 games (making 22 of them). Only Pittsburgh attempted more field goals per game.

Then there were a few teams that didn’t go for it too often on 4th down because there was basically no need to do so; teams in the bottom 25% of the category included Notre Dame, Ohio State, Clemson, and Alabama.

Here is a list of select FBS teams and their 4th down “go rate”:

  • BYU, 34.92% (6th nationally)
  • Kent State, 34.78% (7th)
  • UCLA, 34.69% (8th)
  • Buffalo, 34.21% (10th)
  • Liberty, 32.35% (14th)
  • Navy, 32.26% (15th)
  • Northwestern, 31.33% (22nd)
  • Air Force, 30.56% (29th)
  • South Carolina, 28.40% (34th)
  • Coastal Carolina, 26.15% (48th)
  • North Carolina, 26.03% (49th)
  • East Carolina, 22.22% (72nd)
  • Kentucky, 20.24% (85th)
  • Georgia Southern, 17.89% (97th)
  • North Carolina State, 14.29% (113th)

Along these lines, I also took a quick look at punts per game. Kansas led the nation with 7.67 punts per contest, which sums up the Jayhawks’ football fortunes as well as just about anything. Massachusetts was second, as natural an outcome as could be imagined.

The teams with the fewest punts per game: Kent State (only 2.25 per contest), BYU, Liberty, Florida, and Alabama. Yep.

I’m very appreciative of Brent Thompson’s aggressiveness when it comes to going for it on 4th down, particularly in short-yardage situations. The Bulldogs faced 22 plays of 4th down and 3 yards or less in spring 2021, and went for it 21 times. 

There were actually three other short-yardage plays on 4th down that aren’t included among those 22, because of subsequent penalties; Thompson either went for it on those plays or would have, if given the chance. That means his intended go rate on 4th-and-short was 96%. That is the way it should be, especially given the core tenets of the offense.

I know there are a few fans who believe The Citadel was a little too aggressive on 4th down. I respectfully but firmly disagree, however. In order to be successful, the Bulldogs have to maximize their opportunities. One of the best ways to do that is use all the downs which are available. 

I do think that The Citadel could be even more productive when it comes to taking advantage of the program’s 4th down mindset, though. That will be the subject of my next post.