Creating more big plays with an aggressive 4th down philosophy

Two aging raconteurs are seated at a table in a local restaurant. One is sipping a Westbrook IPA while checking his smartphone. The other looks up from a copy of Street & Smith’s college football annual, drains his bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and speaks:

“What are you reading now, Beemo? I swear you’re glued to that thing, gotta look up and smell the roses once in a while.”

“There are no roses around here. Besides, I was just checking to see if anything was happening. That Sports Arsenal dude just posted again.”

His companion snorts. “That dork? What, more statistics? Somebody needs to tell him football is about HITTING people and makin’ them stay hit.”

Beemo takes another sip from his glass. “I know, J.B., I know. He’s gotta get his head outta these numbers. They don’t mean nothing. Still, sometimes it’s kind of interesting. Did you know-“

J.B. is having none of it. “Forget that nonsense. You can do anything with stats. Bobby Knight once said that these goofs use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than elimination.”

“You mean illumination,” Beemo corrects mildly.

“I meant what I said, whatever that was. Anyways, has anybody called in with a practice report? I heard through the grapevine that the backup QB looks good.”

“Haven’t heard anything from practice other than the official reports and Hartsell’s stories. Kinda quiet. Nobody ever seems to have any juicy info this time of year.”

“It’s frustrating,” grumbles J.B. “I like those videos they put out on the Twitter, but that’s not telling me who’s gonna be on the two-deep for the opener.”

Beemo glances up from a menu and sighs. “Nobody in our crew ever seems to be at practice.”

After looking at his empty bottle, J.B. scowls, and then signals the waiter. “You’d think Fast Willie would let us know what’s up once in a while. Guess he’s too busy with his kids. Don’t know why, they’ll always be around.”

“That’s why I’m reading this Sports Arsenal stuff. It’s not much, though.”

J.B. nods his head, a sad look on his face. “Yeah. So what’s he going on about now?”

In August of 2017, SBNation college football statistics guru Bill Connelly wrote about how he had changed his mind about big plays, at least in terms of their essential genesis within a football game (my phrasing, not his). It was a very instructive dissection of something that is more random than has often been assumed.

Now, big plays are obviously very important. Connelly opined that “big plays are probably the single most important factor to winning football games”, and it is hard to argue with that notion. I happen to agree with it myself.

Connelly also noted that while long drives could be demoralizing, a defense that prevented big plays while allowing smaller gains could succeed because of the difficulty in maintaining a long drive without making a mistake.

However, he now has a slightly different perspective, one which may or may not seem intuitive:

…[S]uccess rate changes pretty dramatically based on down and distance. Aside from third-and-1, though, big play rates barely change at all…

…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.

…Efficiency is everything in [college football]. Explosiveness is too random to rely on without efficiency.

I’ve bolded and italicized the key sentence.

Let’s think about this from The Citadel’s point of view.

Staying on the field hasn’t been a problem for the Bulldogs’ offense over the last couple of seasons. In 2016, The Citadel finished second nationally in FCS in time of possession; last season, the Bulldogs were the national leader in the category.

Offensive efficiency, though, was generally lacking in 2017. A quick glance at The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate in SoCon play (38.7%, after being at or above 50% the previous two seasons) tells a less-than-excellent story.

The advanced stats do so as well. After a Success Rate of 45.4% in 2016 league action, The Citadel slipped to a 39.0% rate last year. While FCS numbers are not readily available for Success Rate, 39.0% would be slightly below average in FBS (South Carolina, the median FBS team in the category, had an offensive Success Rate of 41.8% last year).

Holding the ball has its advantages, of course. It tends to tire out the opposing defense, and keeps the Bulldogs’ D relatively fresh. Also, if the defense isn’t on the field, it can’t give up points.

That said, The Citadel has to do more on offense than simply maintain possession. It has to score points. Most of the Bulldogs’ problems in that area last season can be traced to abysmal Red Zone offense, but that in itself is a product of inefficiency.

The Citadel simply must produce more successful plays. If it does so, the chances of creating more “big plays” will increase.

They won’t increase with a predictable progression. As noted, big plays appear to be largely random. There will inevitably be more of them, however — and the more big plays The Citadel has on offense, the more likely the Bulldogs will have a successful 2018 campaign.

How can The Citadel increase its percentage of successful offensive plays? First, let’s define what constitutes a successful play (besides a touchdown):

  • A play that results in a first down
  • A play that increases the chances of picking up a first down on the next play

That’s basically it.

Essentially, the Bulldogs want to move the chains. Keeping the chains moving means more plays, which means more chances for successful plays, which means more chances that one of those successful plays will turn into a big play.

First downs are successful plays, so the more of them, the better. Earlier, I referenced third down conversion rate. Success on third down matters.

However, it’s also possible to pick up the necessary yardage to keep a drive alive on first down, and on second down…and on fourth down.

I believe fourth down is underutilized in college football. Too many times, a team punts when going for it is the proper call.

It goes deeper than that, though. The best way to approach most offensive possessions, especially those that begin less than 70 yards from the end zone, is to assume that the offense is already in “four-down territory”.

Doing so means a team can be more creative with offensive playcalling. For a team like The Citadel, that can really open up the playbook.

Last year, 44.4% of The Citadel’s pass plays came on “passing downs” — in other words, in down-and-distance situations in which the opponent could anticipate a potential throw. The Bulldogs only had a Success Rate of 18.2% when throwing on passing downs (as I noted in my “advanced stats” post from last month).

I don’t think The Citadel necessarily needs to throw more often in its triple option offense; 8 to 12 pass plays per game strikes me as a fairly reasonable range. However, the Bulldogs have to make those pass plays count.

One way to do that is to have a higher percentage of The Citadel’s pass plays occur on “standard downs”, i.e. when the opponent is less likely to be thinking about a potential throw.

By incorporating a more aggressive “go for it” plan of attack, The Citadel could throw more often on those standard downs — on first down, for example, or on 2nd-and-medium plays between the 40s, or even on 3rd-and-short inside the 50-yard line.

It is easier to risk a throw on 2nd-and-5 from your own 47-yard line if you know that, even if it is incomplete, you still have two potential plays to pick up the first down, rather than just one.

Also, surprising a defense with a pass is a great way to create a big play.

If you’re a fan, I bet you’ve watched a lot of games where this scenario happens: the team you’re rooting for is on defense, and the opponent comes up short on third down. It’s 4th-and-1 around midfield, and they line up to punt — and you think to yourself, “Phew. Let them punt. Glad they didn’t go for it.”

I know I have.

Well, I would like The Citadel to be on the other side of that situation, and then flip it. My preference would be for the opposing team’s players (and fans) to think they’ve made a stop on third down, only to see the Bulldogs’ offense stay on the field. As a collective, the response from the opponents may often be “Uh-oh”.

Now, this might take some preseason psychological preparation, not just for the offense, but for the Bulldogs’ D. Every now and then, The Citadel won’t pick up the first down, and the defense will have to go out and defend a shorter field. It has to be ready for that, and accept it as a challenge.

Clearly, going for it on more 4th down tries is not a new concept. It is just one that has not been employed too often, or effectively. However, some coaches seem to be catching up. Advanced statistical analysis in college football has already made an impact.

Tulane head coach Willie Fritz is a solid example of this. Fritz is a very good coach, but he wants to be an even better one, as this AP article from last year suggests:

Fritz was head coach at Georgia Southern when the Eagles took a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter of their 2014 opener against North Carolina State. The Wolfpack rallied to win 24-23 after Fritz made a fourth-down decision — a gut call he is still kicking himself about.

Fritz is no longer interested in following his gut.

“That may be the hot dog I had before the game,” Fritz said. “I want facts and numbers.”

He is now getting those facts and numbers from a firm specializing in statistical analysis for college football, one that has over 50 Division I clients (including several FCS schools, with about half of the Ivy and Patriot League programs on board). Fourth down situations are just a small part of the analytical services on offer, but that part of the game is certainly a major focus (as this 2016 company newsletter attests).

At least two “pure” triple option teams, Georgia Southern and Army, are or have been clients.

Before I get into 4th-down go-for-it specifics, one thing should be noted.

Generally speaking, in the first three quarters of a football game, a coach should make decisions that maximize his team’s total points scored. In the fourth quarter, however, a coach should instead maximize his team’s win probability, which is a distinct difference.

In other words, a team’s standard 4th-down chart changes as the end of the game draws closer, and the number of possessions shrink. The coach has to take into consideration the time and score of game, the number of potential drives remaining, and sometimes even whether or not his team is an underdog.

For a program like The Citadel, which generally has lower-possession games, it is possible that the win probability cutoff point shouldn’t be the beginning of the fourth quarter, but rather the 5:00 mark of the third quarter. Even that is arbitrary, of course.

When faced with a fourth down, in what down-and-distance situations should The Citadel go for a first down?

If you are a college football fan, you’ve probably seen a 4th-down “when to go” chart somewhere on the internet. Maybe more than one.

However, every program is different. What is the right call for one may not be for another.

That’s why I decided to create a 4th-down chart specifically for The Citadel. The chart is based on certain statistics compiled by the Bulldogs over the last two seasons in SoCon play.

Some of the components included are:

  • 3rd down and 4th down conversion rates for each additional yard to gain (for example, in the last two years The Citadel has had a 78.7% success rate on 3rd/4th and 1; 62.5% on 3rd/4th and 2; 53.3% on 3rd/4th and 3, etc.)
  • Net punting for the Bulldogs in 2016/17 (in order to determine where the other team would likely get the ball if The Citadel punted)
  • Expected points for each yard line on the field (based on a chart from Bill Connelly’s book, Study Hall)

Here it is, in all its glory:

4th down decision chart

A few explanations:

– There are six colors represented on the chart. Three of them are self-explanatory — green (go for it), yellow (field goal attempt), and red (punt).

– Another color, light green, indicates an area where the coach has to decide whether to go for it or attempt a field goal. This is dependent on game conditions, ability of the kicker, etc.

One of the more difficult aspects of creating this chart was determining the field goal parameters. Ultimately, I decided to base them on a field goal kicker (or unit, to be precise) with average accuracy and a realistic distance capability limit of 52 yards. I realize that may not strike everyone as perfect; feel free to adjust accordingly.

– You may notice that, when faced with a 4th down and either 1 or 2 yards to go, the coach should always go for it when within 58 yards of the goal line (i.e. the team’s own 42-yard line). That includes 4th-and-short situations inside the 5-yard line.

Remember, the goal is to score as many points as possible on each drive. Touchdowns are valuable enough that going for it near the goal line is almost always the percentage play, rather than kicking a field goal, because even if the team doesn’t convert, the opponent is usually stuck with terrible field position.

One exception to this: near the end of the first half, the field goal try becomes a more viable option inside the red zone, as bad field position for the opponent is no longer a factor (because the half is about to end anyway).

– Per this chart, in most circumstances the Bulldogs should either go for it or attempt a field goal when in opposing territory on any 4th down of 5 yards or less to go. That includes 4th-and-5 from the 50.

– There are two other color areas on the chart to discuss. One (light blue) is a section I am calling “General’s Choice”, after, naturally, General.

This is a section in which the Bulldogs’ two-year statistics tend to suggest that punting is probably the percentage play. However, the sample size is limited, and some of the available stats indicate that going for it may not be unreasonable.

Basically, if Brent Thompson decided to take a relatively aggressive approach, going for it in this area of the field on certain downs may be the right move.

– Then there is the gray section that I am calling “Boo Territory”, after the seemingly more hyper and aggressive of the school’s two mascots.

Most of the time, punting is the play in this section. Nonetheless, you can find a lot of analytical sources that would advocate going for it in this area.

The Citadel’s statistical profile doesn’t reflect that, which is why the section isn’t green (or even light blue). If Brent Thompson really wanted to make a statement during a game, though, he would go for it in Boo Territory (or maybe fake a punt).

Obviously, a chart like this would vary at least slightly for each game. Among the factors to consider in making adjustments to it: whether or not the team is playing at home, weather conditions, the opponent’s efficiency on offense and defense, its special teams units (both placekicking and punting), and its pace of play.

As you can probably tell, I’m ready for football season. It’s getting closer…

Other things I’ve written in the lead-up to the season:

– Part 1 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play numbers)

– Part 2 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 fourth-down decision-making and plenty of other statistics)

– A look at advanced statistics, first down/third down information, and standard/passing down data

– Last year’s conference-only statistics for the SoCon (all teams), with some additional league observations

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

– Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– A glance at the SoCon non-conference slate

Last but probably not least on the list of links: an interactive chart showing the percentage of time every FBS team has gone for it on 4th down (2009-2017)

 

Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2017 4th down decision-making, plus much more (Red Zone stats! 3rd down conversion info! Big plays! Coin tosses! Game length data!)

This is Part 2 of my annual “Inside the Numbers” post. This year, it is in two parts because, well, it got too cumbersome for just one post.

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

Referenced throughout this post will be The Spreadsheet.

Let’s start this part of the post with the Red Zone, which was a crimson-colored house of horrors for The Citadel last season:

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 56.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 43.3%

In case anyone was wondering whether or not 43.3% was bad, the answer is yes, it was bad. Very bad. Last in the league, in fact (the Red Zone average TD rate in SoCon play was 61.7%).

The Bulldogs were throwing away points inside the 20. There was a three-game stretch (UTC, VMI, WCU) where The Citadel only scored touchdowns on 3 out of 13 trips to the Red Zone, which is abominable.

Also, while scoring rate isn’t as big a deal as TD rate in the Red Zone, the Bulldogs were last in the league in that category as well, and last by a huge margin. The Citadel only scored 50% of the time in the Red Zone (either field goals or TDs), which is simply miserable (the league average RZ scoring rate was 79.6%).

When all games are taken into account, The Citadel ranked only 90th (out of 123 FCS teams) in Red Zone TD rate, with the Bulldogs faring better in the statistic in out-of-conference play (leading to a 51.2% rate for all games).

I believe The Citadel should have a goal of converting at least 70% of its red zone opportunities into touchdowns, something that was done by fourteen FCS teams last season. I would have said 75% (in fact, that was the benchmark I suggested last year), but only five FCS teams accomplished that, so it may be a tough goal. Those five teams, incidentally, were Monmouth (which scored touchdowns on 80.9% of its Red Zone possessions), South Dakota State, Incarnate Word, Princeton, and North Dakota State.

Three of those five teams had good-to-great seasons. On the other hand, Incarnate Word was 1-10; the key to the Cardinals’ Red Zone stats wasn’t as much the TD rate, but the lack of total opportunities (24 in 11 games). Charleston Southern was sixth nationally in the category, but like UIW also struggled to drive inside the 20 (only doing so 26 times last season).

Sam Houston State and James Madison finished 1-2 in Red Zone opportunities (77 and 72, respectively). At the other end of the spectrum was VMI, which only had 13 chances inside the 20 in 11 games.

In general, Furman and Wofford fared the best in offensive Red Zone statistics among SoCon teams.

In 2016, Navy led all FBS teams in Red Zone TD rate. Last season, Army finished first in the category (at 82.4%). The Midshipmen slipped to 26th overall (at 68.6%). Air Force was 11th, Clemson 14th, and Georgia Tech 15th. Some teams that need to improve offensive Red Zone efficiency in 2018 include South Carolina (93rd), Georgia Southern (109th), and Kent State (last).

In terms of total Red Zone opportunities among FBS teams, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma ranked 1-2. UCF, Alabama, and Ohio State rounded out the top 5. South Carolina was tied for 116th, and UTEP was last (no place to go but up, Jim Senter).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 52.2%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 81.8%

Oof. The Bulldogs were the worst Red Zone defense in the league, and by a considerable margin. The one positive was that opposing teams didn’t get inside the 20 quite as often as the league average (about half a possession per game difference).

The best defensive team in conference play in the Red Zone was Western Carolina, though truthfully the league did not have a dominant team in this category.

Villanova topped FCS in defensive Red Zone TD rate (34.4%), with St. Francis University and South Carolina State tying for second. Towson was 35th and Charleston Southern 37th. The Citadel finished 117th.

Wisconsin led FBS in defensive Red Zone TD rate, allowing touchdowns just 31.4% of the time. Notables in the top 30: Troy (2nd), TCU (3rd), Virginia Tech (4th), Clemson (5th), Alabama (9th), Georgia (11th), South Carolina (26th). UTEP finished last.

Make no mistake, The Citadel’s difficulty in making positive plays in the Red Zone was a huge factor in the team’s overall struggles. In fact, I feel confident in saying that finishing drives (on both sides of the ball) was the #1 problem for the Bulldogs in 2017. That aspect of the game has to get significantly better this season if The Citadel wants to contend for a conference title.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2015: 50.0%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2017: 38.7%

For all games, The Citadel actually finished 24th in FCS in offensive third-down conversion rate (42.2%); the Bulldogs were 21 for 32 on third down attempts against Newberry and Presbyterian, upping the percentage, though a 4 for 17 performance versus Clemson had the opposite effect.

The league average in conference play was 38.8%, so the Bulldogs were fair-to-middling in the category. Obviously, you can’t be fair-to-middling in too many things (especially important things like 3rd down conversions) and still expect to compete for a championship.

Furman (51.4%) and Wofford led the SoCon. In all games, the Paladins had an offensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 48.6%, which ranked 4th nationally.

The top three in FCS were Princeton, Youngstown State, and Kennesaw State. Wofford was 8th, Towson 32nd, Western Carolina 33rd, Samford 41st, Mercer 55th, Presbyterian 59th, Charleston Southern 87th, ETSU 94th, Chattanooga 101st, South Carolina State 110th, VMI 118th, and Georgetown 123rd and last.

Army topped FBS in offensive third-down conversion rate, at 55.2%. Air Force was 3rd, Clemson 7th, Georgia Tech 13th, Navy and UCF tied for 15th, South Carolina was 85th, and Charlotte last (at just 26.0%).

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2015: 33.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2017: 33.3%

That’s solid, and also extremely consistent. In conference play, Furman and The Citadel ranked 1-2 in this category.

The Bulldogs finished 42nd nationally in defensive 3rd-date conversion rate, with a number slightly higher (35.8%) than their league stats. McNeese State led FCS (with a very impressive 23.8%), followed by North Carolina Central and North Dakota State.

You’ll notice that NDSU, Jacksonville State (9th) and James Madison (10th) tend to rank at or near the top of many of these categories. There is a reason those teams won a lot of games.

A few others worth mentioning: Towson (17th), South Carolina State (22nd), Charleston Southern (68th), Florida A&M (last). New head coach Willie Simmons is going to have to whip the Rattlers’ D into shape; allowing a 53.4% 3rd-down conversion rate to opponents is not a recipe for success.

For the second consecutive season, Michigan led FBS in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, at 26.1%, finishing just ahead of Virginia Tech in that category. Texas, Washington State, Wisconsin, and Clemson followed (in that order). Alabama was 30th, South Carolina 76th, and Oregon State was last (allowing third down conversions at a 53.2% clip).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 20 sacks, 33 passes defensed in 212 pass attempts (15.6% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 13 sacks, 24 passes defensed in 205 pass attempts (11.7% PD)

Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions.

The lack of sacks is noticeable, though it is also true that the Bulldogs increased their “hurries” totals in league play for a fourth consecutive season (garnering 26 last year). I’m a little leery of hurries as a statistic, though — it reminds me a little too much of trying to define errors in baseball, in the sense that one person’s idea of an error is not necessarily someone else’s.

The Citadel’s “havoc rate” was 19.4%. The definition of havoc rate: tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed, all added together and then divided by total plays.

I am unaware of any site that compiles havoc rates at the FCS level, but Football Outsiders does track the statistic for FBS teams, so that can be a little bit of a measuring stick. A havoc rate of 19.4% would have been good enough to tie for 18th nationally in FBS.

To be honest, I was a little surprised The Citadel’s havoc rate would be that high, given the relatively modest totals that went into compiling the stat. Then I realized I was forgetting about the relatively low number of total plays and how that affected the numbers.

In terms of total tackles for loss, the Bulldogs were not ranked that high in FCS, tying for 50th nationally. However, The Citadel’s tackles for loss rate was 20th-best in the subdivision.

The top 5 “havoc rate” teams in FBS in 2017: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Alabama, and Clemson.

East Carolina finished last in havoc rate, which isn’t all that surprising. Next-to-last, though: Nebraska. Scott Frost needs to find some top-shelf Blackshirts in a hurry.

Since I mentioned tackles for loss rate, and I’ve already gone into “overkill” mode with the numbers, here are some rankings for tackles for loss rate in FCS. As mentioned previously, The Citadel was 20th (this is for all games, not just conference matchups).

Others: North Carolina A&T (1st), McNeese State (2nd), Yale (3rd), Jacksonville State (4th), Morgan State (5th), North Dakota State (12th), Charleston Southern (17th), South Carolina State (26th), Samford (38th), James Madison (44th), Presbyterian (120th), Dayton (123rd).

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

  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2015: 30 (19 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2017: 36 (21 rushing, 15 passing)

In 2015, 20 of the 30 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. In 2016, that was the case for 19 of the 26.

In 2017? Just 17 of 36. That reflects The Citadel’s struggles in the Red Zone.

There may be a perception out there that the Bulldogs were unable to break long gainers for TDs last season. All too often, it seemed like a Bulldog would break away for a 30- or 40-yard gain, only to be stopped around the 20-yard-line, and then the team couldn’t punch the ball in for six.

The problems in the Red Zone seemed to accentuate this issue. However, the truth is a little more complicated.

In 2017, The Citadel’s offense actually had just as many touchdowns from 40+ yards out in SoCon action as it did in 2016 — four. The difference? Last year, only one of those four long scores occurred when the game was still in doubt. All four long TDs in 2016 were consequential (as were the Bulldogs’ two defensive scores in league play that season).

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2015: 23 (9 rushing, 14 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2017: 32 (10 rushing, 22 passing)

In 2015, 14 of the 23 big plays allowed by the Bulldogs either resulted in TDs or led to them on the same drive. In 2017, 18 of 28 big plays given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns.

Last year, 25 of the 32 big plays allowed resulted in immediate TDs or led to touchdowns on the drive they occurred. That is a higher percentage than was the case in the prior two years.

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2015: 3 for 8 (37.5%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 8 for 19 (42.1%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2015: 8 for 13 converted against (61.5%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 3 for 7 converted against (42.9%)

The 4th-down conversion rate for SoCon teams in league play was 49.5%.

I need to note here that the official league totals for The Citadel in these categories (both offense and defense) are a little different than what I have listed above. That is because I don’t count certain 4th down plays.

Against ETSU, The Citadel was officially 0-for-2 on 4th down. Those two “attempts” were A) a botched punt snap recovered by the Buccaneers, and B) the final play of the game, when Dominique Allen ran backwards before going down, in a successful effort to run out the clock.

I didn’t count either of those plays as fourth down attempts in my stats package. I also don’t count a fumbled punt by VMI as a 4th down attempt by the Keydets.

Whoa, nellie! Fumble!!!

When evaluating fumble stats, keep in mind that teams generally have a 50-50 chance at the recovery. The only other observation worth making about fumbles is that fumbling is bad.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 12 (lost 8)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 17 (lost 7)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 8 (recovered 7)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 9 (recovered 5)

On average, SoCon teams lost 5.78 fumbles in league play.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2015: 42
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2017: 43

For a third consecutive season, the number of penalties per game against the Bulldogs declined (there was one fewer conference game in 2015). The average total number of penalties per team in SoCon play was 44.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2015: 29
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2017: 26

No team had fewer penalties enforced against its opponents than The Citadel in league play, and it wasn’t particularly close. This has been an ongoing tradition in the SoCon for many years, as long-time fans of the Bulldogs are all too well aware.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2015, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)

I think a couple of these punts were debatable decisions. Some of them were understandable (the punt near the end of the first half against Mercer, for example).

It is possible Brent Thompson may have second-guessed himself for the punt late in the fourth quarter against Chattanooga, and also the punt in the first half versus Furman. Then again, the coach really doesn’t have time to second-guess himself. He has to make a call, and move on.

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

Three of the five punts in 2017 came in one game, as UTC coach Tom Arth was quite conservative, maybe overly so. The Citadel scored 10 points on two of the ensuing drives after the Mocs punted.

ETSU’s short-range punt didn’t work out for the Buccaneers, either, as the Bulldogs put together a 66-yard touchdown drive after getting the ball back.

4th down is just the downiest of all downs, isn’t it?

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

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

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

The Citadel punted all four times it had a fourth down in the Deep Zone. In the Back Zone, the Bulldogs punted 23 times (counting the “botched snap punt” in the ETSU game) and went for it in two late-game situations (against Wofford and Western Carolina).

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 10 times and went for the first down six other occasions, successfully converting four times. I would characterize only one of those fourth down conversion attempts as something other than a “desperation” situation (that being the first of two attempts in the Mid Zone versus WCU).

In the Front Zone, The Citadel had two punts (both mentioned in the section above on punting), three field goal attempts (making one of those), and went for it five times. Only one of the five tries was successful, a 4th-and-1 play against Mercer in the second quarter.

Then there was the Red Zone, where all too often the Bulldogs wound up red-faced.

There were six missed (or blocked) field goal attempts, and two field goal tries that were made — but one of the made field goals came after the Bulldogs lined up to go for it on 4th down, then committed a false start.

The Citadel went for it on 4th down in the Red Zone five times, but only converted once, on the opening drive of the game against Wofford.

Over the last four seasons, The Citadel has had 32 4th-down situations in the Red Zone during SoCon regulation play. The Bulldogs have gone for the first down and/or touchdown on 4th down eight times, making it twice:

  • On the opening drive versus Wofford in 2017 (two-yard run for Brandon Rainey on 4th-and-1 from the Wofford 11-yard-line)
  • In the fourth quarter against VMI in 2016 (a 17-yard TD run by Jonathan Dorogy on 4th-and-3 from the VMI 17-yard-line)

(Note: there was a key go-for-it play that occurred in an overtime session during that four-year period, specifically the OT against Furman in 2014. In that situation, Aaron Miller picked up the first down on 4th-and-1 from the Furman 4-yard-line, and later scored what would prove to be the game-winning TD.)

For the second straight year, I’ve also tabulated what the Bulldogs’ league opponents did on 4th down versus The Citadel.

In the Deep Zone, conference opponents punted nine times on 4th down, but on one of those punts The Citadel committed a penalty that resulted in an automatic first down. There was also a late-game “desperation” attempt to go for it in the Deep Zone by VMI that was unsuccessful.

In the Back Zone, there were 19 punts and three fourth down tries. Wofford picked up a first down, ETSU failed to convert on its attempt, and VMI kept a drive alive after the Bulldogs jumped offsides on 4th down.

In the Mid Zone, The Citadel’s opposition punted all thirteen times a 4th down was faced. Well, there were actually 12 punts, as VMI bobbled a snap on one of its attempts to boot the ball away.

In the Front Zone, there were two punts (both by UTC, as detailed above) and four field goal attempts (two were made). Furman made both of its fourth-down attempts in the Front Zone, while VMI was 0-for-1.

There were two field goal attempts by The Citadel’s opponents in the Red Zone. Both were converted. The sole go-for-it situation faced by the Bulldogs’ D in the Red Zone came against Chattanooga, when the Mocs needed a TD late in the game. A pass attempt on 4th-and-10 was intercepted by Aron Spann III.

Three years ago, The Citadel began what appeared to be a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

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

That is the only time in the last three seasons of conference play in which the Bulldogs did not defer the option after winning the coin toss. In 2017, The Citadel was 5-3 in coin toss contests, and deferred all five times it won.

The “defer” gambit, which was undoubtedly influenced by Bill Belichick, has become a league-wide movement, with seven of the nine schools deferring on every occasion after winning the coin toss (at least in SoCon matchups). Bucking the trend are Western Carolina and VMI, both of which elected to receive every time after winning the coin toss (in conference action).

There is a tab on the spreadsheet that lists game-by-game attendance (home and away) and game length (in terms of time). Home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium took on average 11 minutes longer to play than contests the Bulldogs played on the road.

I suspect that is a direct result of The Citadel being one of two teams that have instant replay review capability. It did not benefit the Bulldogs in any way last season, of course.

Less than two months before new statistics come to life…

Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics

Some other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

– Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

A glance at the SoCon non-conference slate

Also of interest from around the internet:

Hero Sports previews The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign

– The Citadel’s 2018 Athletic Hall of Fame inductees include former quarterback Gene Brown

This is Part 1 of a two-part post that focuses on select statistics on the 2017 football season. I broke it down into two parts this year to make it at least slightly easier to digest.

Part 2 can be found here.

I’ve also released three other stats-oriented posts:

A look at advanced stats (the Five Factors!), first down/third down information, and standard/passing down data

Last year’s conference-only statistics for the SoCon (all teams), with some additional league observations

An essay on a pet theory of mine: creating more big plays with an aggressive fourth-down philosophy

In the buildup to recent seasons, I have written about playcalling tendencies by The Citadel’s coaching staff, and I’m going to continue to do that this year. As always, I am comparing statistics over a rolling three-year period.

For this post, I’ll take a look at the 2017 season stats, and compare/contrast them with those from the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. The two most recent campaigns featured Brent Thompson as head coach, with the other (2015) the final season under Mike Houston (with Thompson serving as offensive coordinator that year).

My focus in this post will be on the following:

  • down-and-distance run/pass tendencies (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • yards per play numbers (offense and defense, rushing and passing)
  • select defensive passing stats (including sacks, hurries, and passes defensed)
  • success in the “red zone” (mostly defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big plays”)
  • fourth-down decision-making (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • situational punting for The Citadel and its opponents (i.e. punting from inside the 50-yard line)
  • the all-important coin toss
  • attendance and time-of-game information

Some of those items will be in Part 1, and others will be in Part 2.

First things first: The Spreadsheet

One thing you will notice is that almost all of the statistics in the spreadsheet are broken down by game. In other words, if you wanted to know about The Citadel’s average yards-per-rush against VMI (good), or The Citadel’s Red Zone numbers against the Keydets (not good), or the Bulldogs’ time-of-possession for every quarter of every SoCon game this season, or any number of other things that you never dreamed you really wanted to know until you read this paragraph — well, this is the spreadsheet for you.

If you didn’t want to know about any of those things, you should keep reading anyway. After all, I’m going to keep writing.

Most of the statistics that follow are based on league play, and only league play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. The bottom line for The Citadel is that its on-field success or failure will primarily be judged on how it does in the Southern Conference, not against Charleston Southern, Towson, or Alabama (this year’s non-conference slate).

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

  • The Bulldogs played seven games in 2015 against SoCon teams. The conference schools competing on the gridiron that year were Western Carolina, Wofford, Samford, Furman, Mercer, VMI, and Chattanooga.
  • The Citadel played eight games in 2016 versus Southern Conference opponents. The league schools that year: Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Wofford, East Tennessee State, Samford, and VMI (with ETSU joining the league for football that season).
  • In 2017, the Bulldogs played the same SoCon opponents as they had in 2016. The Citadel faced East Tennessee State, Samford, Chattanooga, and Furman on the road, while playing Mercer, Wofford, VMI, and Western Carolina at home.

One quick note before diving in to the numbers: I am fairly confident in the overall accuracy of the statistics, though I am definitely not infallible. One thing that helped this year was that the SoCon (promptly) put league-only stats on its website. That was very nice to see.

Not so nice, though, were the conference’s play-by-play data summaries for several games. I had a great deal of difficulty compiling information for most of the contests, in particular The Citadel’s games against ETSU, Chattanooga, VMI, and Mercer — especially Mercer.

The biggest problem was a glitch in the system that gave teams a first down on the 20-yard-line after touchbacks on kickoffs, instead of the 25-yard-line. That often led to a lot of down-and-distance errors, and occasionally some team identification issues as well (which led to things like defensive tackles punting for -42 yards, defensive backs rushing for 43-yard losses, and other assorted hiccups).

I could refer back to the team play-by-play summaries for the correct information, and I did. However, those summaries don’t include play breakdown categories, which is what I use for a lot of the data listed on the spreadsheet.

All that said, I think I got everything straightened out. If I didn’t, apologies in advance.

Incidentally, here is last year’s spreadsheet: Link

If someone also wants to look at the 2015 stats, that spreadsheet can be found here: Link

Some definitions:

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

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2017. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2016, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2015 (which will be in brackets).

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

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 81.1% (86.0%) [89.1%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 81.1% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 86.0% of the time in 2016. The Citadel ran the ball 89.1% of the time on first down during its 2015 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 77.9% of the time in 2017, after rushing 85.6% of the time on its 2016 plays from scrimmage, and on 86.5% of all offensive plays in 2015. The lower percentage is almost certainly an indicator of The Citadel trailing in more games in 2017 than it did in the previous two seasons.

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

– 2nd-and-short:  88.9% (94.1%) [89.2%]
– 2nd-and-medium:  87.2% (96.1%) [89.8%]
– 2nd-and-long:  76.9% (83.8%) [89.2%]
– 3rd-and-short:  91.7% (100.0%) [93.1%]
– 3rd-and-medium:  83.9% (88.5%) [82.4%]
– 3rd-and-long:  57.6% (68.1%) [66.0%]

Obviously, there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs. However, if the result of a play was a sack, that counted as a passing down even if a pass wasn’t thrown. For the season, Bulldog QBs were sacked 10 times in league play, for a loss of 64 total yards.

  • After running the ball on every 3rd-and-short play in 2016, the Bulldogs threw the ball twice in that down-and-distance situation last year. One attempt was in a late-game hurry-up situation against Mercer. The other throw resulted in a two-yard TD catch by Keyonte Sessions (from Dominique Allen) versus Western Carolina.
  • On 3rd-and-long, The Citadel was more inclined to run the ball against ETSU, Chattanooga, and Western Carolina, while the Bulldogs threw more often versus Mercer and Furman.
  • The Citadel passed on first down far more often against Mercer (16 times) than any other league opponent. Conversely, the Bulldogs threw on first down 5 or fewer times against six different conference teams (ETSU, Samford, Chattanooga, VMI, and Western Carolina).

In this section, I’m listing what The Citadel’s conference opponents did in down-and-distance situations over the last two seasons (2016 and 2017).

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

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage). The 2016 numbers are in parenthesis:

– 2nd-and-short:  81.8% (75.9%)
– 2nd-and-medium:  61.0% (47.9%)
– 2nd-and-long:  41.5% (44.8%)
– 3rd-and-short:  78.6% (66.7%)
– 3rd-and-medium:  46.7% (36.4%)
– 3rd-and-long:  22.6% (27.3%)

Again, some of these numbers reflect the fact The Citadel was trailing more often than it did in 2016. Thus, opponents were able to run the ball more. It is not a coincidence that the teams which threw the ball more than 50% of the time against the Bulldogs all lost.

  • Chattanooga did not have a rushing attempt on any of its 3rd down plays against The Citadel. The Mocs were also 0 for 7 on third down conversion attempts.
  • Mercer was the only conference opponent that did not attempt a pass versus the Bulldogs on either 2nd-and-short or 2nd-and-medium. The Bears did throw the ball 7 times on 2nd-and-long.
  • On 3rd-and-long, ETSU and VMI combined for 21 pass plays and only one rushing attempt.

In the next few sections of this post, I’m going to alternate offense and defensive numbers. Don’t get dizzy!

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon action: 70.7 plays per game, 11.9 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon action: 72.1 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon action: 70.1 plays per game, 12.1 possessions per game

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

**I don’t count a drive as an actual possession when it consists solely of a defensive TD via a return, or when it is a defensive turnover that ends the half or game. I also don’t count a drive as a possession when the offensive team does not attempt to score (such as a kneel-down situation). That’s how I interpret the statistic, regardless of how it may be listed in a game summary.

Last season, The Citadel had a time of possession edge in SoCon play of over six minutes (33:10 – 26:50). It was actually a smaller edge than the Bulldogs had enjoyed in 2016 (33:41 – 26:19), but greater than that from 2015 (32:13 – 27:47).

The Citadel held the ball longer than its opponents on average in three of the four quarters (the fourth quarter was the exception). The Bulldogs won the TOP battle in every game except two (Mercer and Furman).

Nationally (counting all games), the Bulldogs led all of FCS in total time of possession per contest. San Diego, standard-bearer of the Pioneer League, finished second in the category, meaning the two programs flip-flopped their positions from the year before (when the Toreros led the subdivision in TOP).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 SoCon play: 65.7 plays per game, 12.0 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 SoCon play: 57.6 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 SoCon play: 58.8 plays per game, 11.8 possessions per game

Against Chattanooga, The Citadel’s defense faced only 47 offensive plays, not counting “running out the half” plays. Last year versus the Mocs, the Bulldogs’ D faced…47 plays. Two different locales, two different UTC head coaches, same number of plays.

Mercer ran 72 offensive plays against The Citadel (again, not counting drives in which no attempt to score was made). VMI ran a total of 68. The two teams had different approaches, however — the Bears threw only 23 passes, while VMI had 41 pass plays (including five would-be attempts that resulted in sacks).

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

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon games: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.57 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon games: 5.58 yards per play, including 5.28 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon games: 5.38 yards per play, including 5.24 yards per rush and 7.0 yards per pass attempt

The rushing yards per play numbers were down again, though not by a lot (as compared to 2016, anyway). The real issue, in my opinion, is the yards per pass attempt. Seven yards per attempt is not good enough.

– 2015 passing for The Citadel in seven conference games: 63 pass attempts for 609 yards (three interceptions)

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

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

You also should throw in the 10 sacks allowed (after giving up just one sack in league play in 2016). While I mentioned that seven yards per attempt is not acceptable, I have to acknowledge that the league average in 2017 was only 7.05 yards per pass attempt. Admittedly, that number is skewed by VMI only averaging 4.55 yards/pa in SoCon action while attempting the third-most passes in the league.

In this post, I’m also going to take a look at The Citadel’s per-play stats from a national perspective (all of FCS, and including all games, not just conference play). I’ll throw in some statistics from a few FBS teams as well, concentrating (in that subdivision) on schools that run the triple option, teams of local interest, and a few others worth mentioning.

The Bulldogs’ offense was 55th nationally in yards per play, with a 5.42 average (all games). Alcorn State’s 7.04 yards per play led FCS, closely followed by Sam Houston State (which had topped the subdivision in the category in 2016). SoCon teams in the top 50: Furman ranked 14th, Western Carolina 27th, Samford 41st, and Wofford 48th.

Presbyterian was 59th in FCS, while Charleston Southern was 62nd, South Carolina State 92nd and Towson 100th. VMI finished next-to-last, ahead of only Lafayette.

Oklahoma led FBS in yards per play (shocker, I know), with a staggering 8.29 average. Other FBS rankings in this category of interest: UCF (2nd), Louisville (3rd — Lamar Jackson will be missed), Georgia (12th), Alabama (13th), Navy (42nd), Army (46th), Georgia Tech (54th), Clemson (55th), Air Force (77th), South Carolina (85th), UTEP (129th and last — good luck, Jim Senter).

The Citadel’s overall rate of yards per rush was 18th-best in FCS, second in the SoCon to Western Carolina (which was 11th in yards/rush nationally). Also hitting the top 50: Wofford (21st), Furman (27th), Presbyterian (31st), and Charleston Southern (41st). South Carolina State was 75th, and Towson 90th.

The top two FCS teams in yards per rush were Alcorn State (6.42 yds/rush) and North Dakota State. Kennesaw State, like The Citadel a triple option outfit, finished 5th.

I should emphasize that these national numbers include sacks. That is why Mississippi Valley State, which finished last in yards per rush, ended the season with negative rushing yardage. The Delta Devils netted -103 yards rushing for the season, after suffering exactly 400 yards lost due to sacks. MVSU quarterbacks were sacked on almost one-fifth of their pass plays (18.6%).

Arizona, thanks mostly to spectacular quarterback Khalil Tate, led FBS in yards per rush, at 6.56. The top five also included Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida Atlantic, and Army. Other teams of note: Georgia (7th), Alabama (10th), Navy (14th), Georgia Tech (17th), New Mexico (18th), Air Force (36th), Clemson (43rd), Georgia Southern (78th), South Carolina (93rd), Western Kentucky (129th and last).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 5.07 yards per play, including 3.69 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 4.94 yards per play, including 4.61 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 5.69 yards per play, including 4.87 yards per rush and 7.5 yards per pass attempt

In 2016, the Bulldogs were very good against the pass. Last year, not so much. The rushing yards against numbers were similar, but still a dropoff of over a yard per rush from 2015.

The average yards per play in the SoCon was 5.22. As mentioned above, the average yards per pass attempt in conference play was 7.05; the average yards per rush (taking out sacks) was 4.03.

Nationally in FCS (remember, these stats are for all games), The Citadel was 102nd in defensive yards allowed per play (6.02). Jacksonville State (3.84) led FCS, after finishing second in 2016. Also in the top 5: James Madison, North Dakota State, South Carolina State (Buddy Pough’s troops had mostly very strong defensive numbers), and North Carolina A&T.

Charleston Southern was 13th, Wofford 35th, Chattanooga 38th, and East Tennessee State 40th. Towson finished 54th overall, while Presbyterian was 101st.

Lehigh finished last in FCS, allowing 7.35 yards per play. Two things to point out here: 1) Lehigh did not play an FBS school, so there wasn’t an Oklahoma or UCF on its schedule to skew the numbers; 2) despite the porous defense, the Mountain Hawks tied for the Patriot League title and garnered that league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

Alabama led FBS in defensive yards allowed per play (3.99), the second straight season the Tide topped the charts in that category. Clemson was 2nd, followed by Wisconsin, Washington, and Ohio State.

Georgia was 10th and South Carolina 35th. The last-placed team was East Carolina, and it wasn’t close: the Pirates allowed 7.72 yards per play.

The Citadel was 94th in FCS in the national defensive yards/rush category (at 4.54, better than its league-only stats). The top 5 nationally: McNeese State (1.94 yards allowed per rush), Jacksonville State, Yale, Villanova, and South Carolina State. In the top 50: Charleston Southern (19th), Wofford (33rd), Mercer (38th), Furman (50th). Towson finished 83rd, Presbyterian 116th, and Lehigh 123rd and last.

Alabama was also the best FBS team in terms of yards allowed per rush (2.72). Washington finished 2nd, with Troy, Ohio State, and Northern Illinois rounding out the top 5. Clemson was 8th, South Carolina 38th, and Air Force last (allowing 5.93 yards per rush).

Counting all games, The Citadel allowed 7.86 yards per pass attempt, 103rd nationally in FCS. It could have been worse: Gardner-Webb finished last in this category, allowing 9.57 yards per pass attempt.

The top squad nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt was St. Francis University (5.26 yds/pa). Joining the Red Flash in the top 5 were James Madison, Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, and North Dakota State.

Top 50 teams included Western Carolina (18th), South Carolina State (21st), Towson (27th), Charleston Southern (29th), Wofford (47th), and East Tennessee State (49th). Presbyterian was 75th, just behind Chattanooga and four spots ahead of Furman.

In what should come as a surprise to nobody, Alabama finished first in FBS in yards allowed per pass attempt (5.45 yds/pa). Clemson was right behind the Tide, with Florida State in third. South Carolina was 36th. East Carolina was last, allowing 10.42 yards per pass attempt, which must have been hard to watch for ECU fans over the course of the season.

Okay, that’s enough for Part 1 of Inside The Numbers.

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

Link to Part 2

2017 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Clemson

The Citadel vs. Clemson, to be played at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina, with kickoff at 12:20 pm ET on November 18, 2017.

The game will be televised by local affiliates of the ACC National Network and streamed on the ACC Digital Network. Tom Werme will handle play-by-play, while Dave Archer supplies the analysis and D.J. Shockley reports from the sideline.

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:

– Game preview, The Post and Courier

Bulldogs aim to play their best

– Game notes from The Citadel and Clemson

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Brent Thompson’s 11/14 press conference, including comments from Jordan Black and Myles Pierce (video)

– Link to the ACC Digital Network’s streaming coverage of The Citadel-Clemson

This week’s preview is shorter than usual. I apologize to anyone who enjoys the “regular” previews, overlong though they may be. This was a tough week to crank out the verbiage, both in terms of time and trying to think of things to write about.

I’ll also be taking a short break from the blog for a couple of weeks. I’ll probably write about the basketball team again in mid-December.

Brent Thompson on playing an FBS team:

I love it. I love it for our players, I love it for our fans. I love it for myself. I love it for the experience of it. I think it’s a lot of fun…I’ve got no problem with it. I think it’s one of the best things we do, and I would love to see it carried on, because you never know when…you do have those days like you had against South Carolina [in 2015]…you live your whole life for those days and times as a coach.

Jordan Black (who grew up a Georgia Tech fan) on playing an FBS team:

I always look forward to these games. As a kid, you watch these athletes on TV on these big fields in front of thousands of fans. These games mean a lot to us guys who don’t get to do that on the regular. It’s exciting to play on this scale of football, so I’m going to enjoy this week.

Okay, so who has a problem with Clemson playing The Citadel? Well, we all know the answer to that…

Gene Sapakoff, sports columnist for The Post and Courier:

Sagarin says Clemson should be favored by 50 over The Citadel, Gamecocks by 27 over Wofford. FBS fans deserve less FCS riff-raff

First, the obvious. The “local” columnist a) chooses to ignore the fact that The Citadel beat an FBS team just two years ago, and b) is seemingly unaware that Wofford is actually not as big an underdog this week as The Citadel was when it beat South Carolina.

Of course, most supporters of The Citadel know that this is standard operating procedure for Sapakoff. His general antipathy for things he considers less than “major” (at least, those that don’t involve Bill Murray) is well-known.

At this point, however, I think it’s fair to ask the entity for which he works if Sapakoff’s decidedly unsophisticated views are representative of the company. As it happens, another fan of the military college pointed out Sapakoff’s comments to Mitch Pugh, who is the executive editor of The Post and Courier. Pugh’s response (also via Twitter):

I don’t think that came of[f] the way he intended…. Who can forget that run by Renew and win two years ago?

I disagree with Pugh. I believe Sapakoff’s comments came off exactly the way the sportswriter intended — which is to say, they came off as insulting.

What he is saying is that Dominique Allen and Myles Pierce are “riff-raff”, as apparently were Tyler Renew and Andre Roberts and Jack Douglas and all the other Bulldog players who have played I-AA/FCS football. Sapakoff’s snide remark leads to no other realistic interpretation, particularly given his history, both in print and on social media.

Of course, he’s also essentially clowning on the players and coaches at Wofford, and Furman, and South Carolina State (just to name three other institutions with long histories in this state).

In recent months, The Post and Courier has expanded its distribution in an effort to become a more statewide newspaper. When Evening Post Industries announced it was increasing its distribution in the Midlands, one of its executives had this to say:

“Our newspaper group’s mission has always been to build community and this move is an extension of that mission,” said P.J. Browning, senior vice president of Evening Post Publishing Newspaper Group and publisher of The Post and Courier.

One thing I would point out to the fine folks who run Evening Post Industries is this: the “community” in the Palmetto State includes a lot of people who have connections to schools besides Clemson University and the University of South Carolina-Columbia. Many of them are proud of those associations, too.

Nobody is asking reporters to be cheerleaders. (Heck, I don’t want cheerleaders on the news desk — I want information.) However, would it be so terrible if the newspaper’s “voices” weren’t so openly antagonistic to the smaller schools in this state, particularly the one that has a football team located in the city in which The Post and Courier is based?

A couple more thoughts on FCS vs. FBS matchups:

I wrote this three years ago after Kirk Herbstreit went on an uninformed rant on the subject:

FCS players almost always love playing these games. They like to measure themselves against top-level competition. They enjoy playing in large stadiums, in a “big time” atmosphere, often on television.

Fans of smaller schools usually like these games too, especially if they aren’t too far away. They are often used for alumni networking and fundraising.

Sometimes, there is an element of tradition associated with these contests. You don’t think alums from Furman or The Citadel enjoy occasional matchups with South Carolina or Clemson? I can assure you that they do.

There is another aspect to this issue. I’ll let Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, asked last year about playing FCS teams, explain:

If you don’t play a FCS, how do they make their budget playing a big school? How do the division two’s make their budget? Playing a FCS, see what I’m saying? Alright, you start taking these budgets away from these lower games…where will all the high school football players going to go? Why are they going to keep playing football because all these teams going to have to drop ball and not play games. What you’re doing is you’re killing the sport…from an ego…and all of a sudden guys ain’t gonna play football no more because there ain’t enough schools out there to get scholarships. It’s not about playing FCS, it’s about the game of football and filtering it all the way down so there are scholarships in division two. I played division two football…turned out pretty good…and right now my school doesn’t play football anymore…you know why…couldn’t afford to. What if those opportunities for kids go away?”

Statistics of note for The Citadel through ten games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 23.4 22.9
Rushing yardage 3086 1391
Average per rush 5.2 4.3
Average per game 308.6 139.1
TDs rushing 22 19
Passing yardage 981 1848
Comp-Att-Int 51-131-6 156-255-11
Average per pass 7.5 7.2
TDs passing 9 12
Total offense 4067 3239
Total plays 728 576
Yards per play 5.6 5.6
Kick returns-yards 28-602 24-646
Punt returns-yards 19-171 8-55
Fumbles/lost 18-7 12-6
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.8/39.7 3.0/30.0
Net punt average 35.3 34.0
Time of possession/game 34:07 25:53
3rd down conversions 69/156 36/108
3rd down conversion rate 44.2% 33.3%
Sacks by-yards 16-87 10-64
Field goals-attempts 5-13 4-6
Red Zone touchdown rate (21-40) 52.5% (19-25) 76.0%
  • The Citadel is 18th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate, and 24th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • Only six FCS teams have committed fewer penalties per game than the Bulldogs (though positive, that statistic is not necessarily a precursor to winning games, as 0-11 VMI is the least penalized team in the nation)
  • The Bulldogs are 121st in kick return defense, which could be problematic against Clemson
  • While The Citadel is last nationally in passing offense, when the Bulldogs do complete a pass, it tends to be a big deal — they rank 1st in FCS in yards per completion (19.24).
  • The Citadel is 2nd in rushing offense (Kennesaw State ranks 1st) and 47th in rushing defense
  • The Bulldogs are 67th in scoring offense and 40th in scoring defense
  • The Citadel is 2nd nationally in time of possession, trailing only Pioneer League champ San Diego

Clemson has had a lot of success in recent years against Georgia Tech, which (like The Citadel) runs the triple option.

Over the past four matchups against the Yellow Jackets, the Tigers have allowed on average just 154 rushing yards per game.

The fact that the Tigers face Georgia Tech every year as opposed to some teams that see the option only a few times a decade is another reason for Clemson’s success, according to [Clemson defensive coordinator Brent] Venables.

“I think planning ahead is probably important, and then from year-to-year when you have a lot of carryover from your personnel and your staff, I think that really helps,” he said. “You’re able to kind of get to the shortcuts quickly as opposed to helping guys try to figure it out .”

The “we play them every year” thing comes up for The Citadel in league play, obviously, especially against teams that have not had a lot of turnover on their coaching staff. Ultimately, though, the reason Clemson is successful defending the triple option is the reason the Tigers’ defense is usually successful against any team it plays: Clemson has a lot of very talented players, and they are extremely well-coached.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Clemson, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny, with an expected high of 64 degrees, and a 30% chance of showers (though any rain would likely not arrive until after 5:00 pm).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Clemson is a 47-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 52.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Western Carolina is a 21 1/2 point underdog at North Carolina; Wofford is a 19-point underdog at South Carolina; Furman is a 4 1/2 point favorite at Samford; Mercer is a 40 1/2 point underdog at Alabama; and Chattanooga is a 10-point favorite versus East Tennessee State. VMI’s season is over.

Around the Palmetto State, Coastal Carolina is a 7 1/2 point underdog at Idaho in a classic Sun Belt battle; Presbyterian is a 3-point home underdog versus Gardner-Webb; South Carolina State is a 7 1/2 point favorite at Savannah State; and Charleston Southern is a 1 1/2 point underdog against Liberty.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 60th in FCS (out of 124 teams), a drop of eight spots from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 224th, while Clemson is 2nd.

Massey projects a final score of Clemson 49, The Citadel 0.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Furman is 17th (up one place from last week), Wofford is 24th (down three spots), Samford is 25th (down one place), Western Carolina is 37th (down five spots), Mercer is 40th (unchanged from last week), Charleston Southern is 62nd, Chattanooga is 65th (up two spots), East Tennessee State is 75th (down four places), South Carolina State is 93rd, Presbyterian is 96th, and VMI is 116th (unchanged).

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

– Since 1911, The Citadel has a 5-6 record in games played on November 18. Four of those five wins came in Charleston; the home victories include shutouts of Porter Military Academy and Oglethorpe.

The only road victory on that date in The Citadel’s football history came the last time the Bulldogs played on November 18, in 2006, when The Citadel defeated Elon 44-7. In that contest, Andre Roberts caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Duran Lawson. Nuru Goodrum had three rushing TDs for the Bulldogs.

Tory Cooper rushed for 109 yards. Also having good games that day for The Citadel: Derek Moore and Montrell Lee (both of whom scored touchdowns) and James Wilson (who returned an interception for 49 yards).

– Among Clemson’s notable alums are Medal of Honor recipient Jimmie Dyess, soccer player/commentator Stuart Holden, and diplomat Kristie Kenney.

– Nine current Clemson players are the sons of former Clemson players. Four of the fathers played on the Tigers’ 1981 team that won the AP national title: Jeff Davis (who has two sons on the roster), Perry Tuttle, Bill Smith, and Frank Magwood.

– The roster for Clemson (per its website) includes 47 players from the State of South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (18 players), North Carolina (15), Florida (13), Virginia (6), Alabama (4), Maryland (3), Tennessee (3), Indiana (2), Kansas (2), Massachusetts (2), and one each from Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

One of the Tigers, 6’3″, 305 lb. defensive tackle Albert Huggins, is a graduate of legendary football powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. Amazingly, Clemson is the only opponent The Citadel has played this season with a player on its roster who once suited up for the famed (and feared) maroon and orange. Clemson is also the only opponent of the Bulldogs that won a national title last season. That is not a coincidence.

I must point out, however, that of these two schools, it was The Citadel that finished undefeated in league play in 2016.

– 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 week’s game notes from The Citadel included a bit of a change-up in the presentation of the depth chart from past weeks. I like the format adjustment.

– Factoid from those game notes worth mentioning: offensive guards Jonathan Cole and Jon Barrett Lewis, both “true” freshmen, have combined to play 1,514 of a possible 1,522 offensive snaps through ten games this season.

– Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson. Few schools, if any, put on a better show for Military Appreciation Day than does Clemson, much to its credit. I am sure this year’s production will be outstanding as well.

You will notice I haven’t written about last week’s game against Furman. The reason is simple: there is nothing to say, at least in a positive vein.

I don’t have many expectations for this week’s matchup with Clemson, but I do have some. I expect the Bulldogs to be well prepared, to fight for all sixty minutes of game action, and to have no regrets after the game is over.

This year hasn’t gone as well as the Bulldogs (and their fans) had hoped. That happens. However, it is still important to wring as much out of the season as possible.

Go Dogs!

2017 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Furman

GREENVILLE — The Citadel Bulldogs, offensively on their best behavior of the fall, scored touchdowns in each of the first three periods Saturday night to breeze by Furman’s Hurricanes 24-6 at Sirrine Stadium…

…A chilly crowd, estimated at 8,000 persons, saw the Cadets dominate play throughout the game.

Dick Guererri got the soldiers moving in the first quarter with a fourth down, five-yard touchdown pass to halfback Billy Hughes. Sophomore Jerry Nettles, who still looks like the hottest article the Charleston ball club has come up with in a long time, directed the other two touchdown drives. Ray Woodworth slammed over from the two for a second-quarter score, and raced four yards for the other.

Employing a weird, semi-I formation on the extra point attempts, the Cadets made good on all three tries. Guererri passed to Hughes for one while Nettles hit Paul Maguire with a pass and ran another on the option.

…Workhorse for the Bulldogs was Joe Chefalo, the Southern Conference’s No. 2 rusher. Joe picked up 60 yards on nine carries…Big Barry Thomas carried six times for 49 yards.

– The News and Courier, October 26, 1958

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 11, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Bob Mihalic will handle play-by-play, while Sam Wyche supplies the analysis and Scott Cole reports from the sideline.

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:

– Game preview, The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Furman’s website

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked #32 if the poll went that far)

– Brent Thompson’s 11/7 press conference, including comments from Jonathan King and Dominique Allen  (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 11/8 radio show (video)

– Game story from Furman-Western Carolina [played two weeks ago; Paladins had a bye last week]

– ESPN3 replay of Furman-Western Carolina (video)

A quick turnaround for Furman

Freshmen linebackers have been getting it done for the Paladins

– My review of last week’s game against Western Carolina

– Link to ESPN3’s streaming coverage of The Citadel-Furman

Non-football links:

AD Jim Senter is a finalist for the same position at UTEP

Alumnus advances to further action (?) on the TV show “The Voice”

My sort-of preview of the upcoming basketball season for The Citadel

From Jeff Hartsell’s article on Furman’s season:

Attendance at Paladin Stadium is up about 25 percent this year over last, from 5,771 to 7,192 per game.

Furman home attendance this season:

  • Elon (September 9): 6,342
  • ETSU (September 20): 7,104
  • VMI (October 14): 7,216
  • Mercer (October 21, Homecoming): 8,108

Attendance at Paladin Stadium the last three times The Citadel has been Furman’s opponent:

  • 2010: 12,791
  • 2012: 8,127
  • 2015: 12,124

Future non-conference opponents for the Paladins:

  • 2018: Furman plays Clemson
  • 2019: Furman plays Georgia State and Virginia Tech (and also plays at Kennesaw State in a return meeting)
  • 2020: Furman plays Tennessee
  • 2021: Furman plays North Carolina State
  • 2022: Furman plays Clemson
  • 2024: Furman plays Mississippi

This will be the 40th time Furman and The Citadel have met in the month of November. The two schools have met on the gridiron in October 52 times, and in September on five occasions.

The Bulldogs are 15-23-1 against the Paladins in November, but have won the last four matchups held in the eleventh month. Next season, the two teams will meet on October 27 in Charleston.

This season, Furman is 6-3, 5-1 in the SoCon. After losing three games to start the 2017 campaign, the Paladins have won six straight contests.

Furman is a contender for an FCS playoff berth. The Paladins still have a slim chance at the automatic bid out of the SoCon, although that possibility will evaporate if Wofford wins at VMI on Saturday.

While an 8-3 record would almost certainly be more than good enough to get an at-large bid, I tend to doubt Furman will make the postseason with a 7-4 record. Thus, the Paladins probably have to win their final two games of the season to keep playing. After hosting The Citadel, FU closes its regular season with a matchup at Samford.

Furman’s less-than-great shot at a playoff bid if it finishes 7-4 has almost as much to do with the way the Paladins’ schedule played out as it does the actual losses.

At 0-3, Furman was nowhere near the postseason; then, as the Paladins began their winning streak, they didn’t have a statement victory to make people (including FCS poll voters) really sit up and take notice. Colgate, ETSU, a struggling UTC squad, VMI…it was hard for Furman to get what might be called “poll momentum”.

The last two weeks have been better on that front, particularly the win at Western Carolina. Furman is now ranked in the STATS poll, but is still in the “receiving votes” category in the FCS Coaches’ Poll.

The problem is that a loss in either of its last two games would likely leave Furman out of the rankings in both major polls. While the polls aren’t the end-all and be-all in terms of playoff placement, they tend to drive the narrative, and my sense is historically that has had an effect on the selection committee.

Having said that, there could well be a couple of unranked teams that wind up getting at-large spots; in fact, I think the odds are good that at least one such team will receive a bid. However, a 4-loss team from the SoCon (that may also be the fourth team from the league in the pecking order) is not going to be in a good position.

I could be wrong about all of the above, of course, particularly since there is still a lot of football to be played.

Key stats for Furman after nine games:

Furman Opponents
Points per game 34.4 23.3
Rushing yardage 2187 1245
Average per rush 4.7 3.8
Average per game 243 138.3
TDs rushing 26 13
Passing yardage 1648 2143
Comp-Att-Int 96-155-3 193-292-8
Average per pass 10.6 7.3
TDs passing 14 13
Total offense 3835 3388
Total plays 623 620
Yards per play 6.2 5.5
Kick returns-yards 20-436 32-744
Punt returns-yards 8-21 15-129
Fumbles/lost 14-8 9-7
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 3.6/34.7 7.3/59.9
Net punt average 35.6 39.7
Time of possession/game 30:36 29:24
3rd down conversions 65/130 41/119
3rd down conversion rate 50.0% 34.5%
Sacks by-yards 24-159 5-29
Field goals-attempts 6-9 7-11
Red Zone touchdown rate (26-34) 76.5% (19-32) 59.4%
  • Furman is 19th nationally in scoring offense, and 43rd in scoring defense
  • The Paladins are 10th in rushing offense, 30th in rushing yards per play
  • FU is 46th in rushing defense, 47th in rushing yards allowed per play
  • The Paladins are 2nd in FCS in offensive pass efficiency; they are 91st in pass efficiency defense
  • Furman is 6th-best in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate, and 34th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • FU commits the second-fewest penalties per game in the division (VMI leads in that category)
  • Furman’s kick return defense is 109th nationally (out of 123 teams)
  • FU is 68th in FCS in net punting
  • The Paladins are 48th in time of possession and tied for 34th in turnover margin

Statistics of note for The Citadel through nine games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 23.8 19.2
Rushing yardage 2940 1108
Average per rush 5.3 4.0
Average per game 326.7 123.1
TDs rushing 21 13
Passing yardage 758 1587
Comp-Att-Int 43-112-6 142-236-11
Average per pass 6.8 6.7
TDs passing 7 10
Total offense 3698 2695
Total plays 664 512
Yards per play 5.6 5.3
Kick returns-yards 21-402 21-547
Punt returns-yards 18-164 8-55
Fumbles/lost 18/7 12/6
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.6/39.3 3.1/30.7
Net punt average 35.9 33.9
Time of possession/game 34:46 25:14
3rd down conversions 65/142 31/98
3rd down conversion rate 45.8% 31.6%
Sacks by-yards 16-87 5-33
Field goals-attempts 5-13 4-6
Red Zone touchdown rate (20-39) 51.3% (14-20) 70.0%
  • The Citadel is 67th nationally in scoring offense, and 20th in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 2nd in rushing offense (behind only Kennesaw State), and 13th in rushing yards per play
  • The Citadel is 31st in rushing defense, 72nd in rushing yards allowed per play
  • Offensive pass efficiency has not been a strength of the Bulldogs, ranking 105th nationally; the team is 45th in pass efficiency defense
  • The Citadel is 13th-best in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate, and 15th in defensive third down conversion rate, one of the five best third-down rate combos in the division
  • The Bulldogs commit the 10th-fewest penalties per game in the division (tied with Samford for 10th)
  • The Citadel’s kick return defense is 120th nationally (out of 123 teams)
  • Net punting has been inconsistent at times, but overall The Citadel is 61st nationally in that category
  • The Bulldogs are 1st in FCS in time of possession and (like Furman) are tied for 34th in turnover margin

Rushing yardage accounts for 57.0% of Furman’s total offense. The Paladins actually run the ball from scrimmage 74.3% of the time, however (not including sacks).

P.J. Blazejowski (6’0″, 195 lbs.) has somehow only started 22 career games for Furman, despite the fact that the senior quarterback from St. Augustine has seemingly been on the Paladins’ roster since 1995. Blazejowski may be best remembered by fans of The Citadel for his performance in the 2014 game between the two teams, when he accounted for 382 total yards in a losing effort.

This season, Blazejowski is completing 61.2% of his passes, averaging an outstanding 10.9 yards per attempt, with 14 touchdown tosses against only three interceptions.

Furman has plenty of guys who will carry the ball, from a variety of formations. Blazejowski actually ranks fourth on the team in rushing from the QB position.

The three backs ahead of him on the rushing yardage list are all good, including leading rusher Antonio Wilcox (6’1″, 230 lbs.), who has impressed Brent Thompson. “I really like the way Wilcox runs,” was the coach’s largely unprompted comment on his radio show. The senior had 201 yards and a TD against Western Carolina two weeks ago.

Redshirt junior Kealand Dirks (6’0″, 244 lbs.) has three 100-yard rushing games in his last five contests, while Darius Morehead (5’9″, 180 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Nashville, is averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 288 lbs. Starting center Matthew Schmidt (6’3″, 290 lbs.) was a preseason first team All-SoCon selection. Schmidt and fellow senior Terrell Bush (6’4″, 298 lbs.), the left guard, have combined to start 62 games for the Paladins.

Eleven different Furman players have caught passes this year. Leading that list (in terms of receptions and yardage) is redshirt senior Logan McCarter (6’2″, 189 lbs.), who is averaging 20.2 yards per catch.

In the 2015 game between the two teams at Paladin Stadium, McCarter actually threw a TD pass, so the Bulldogs need to be aware of that specific brand of trickery.

Thomas Gordon (6’0″, 174 lbs.) is a sophomore from Charlotte capable of making big plays. The sophomore from Charlotte had a 77-yard TD reception against Elon earlier this season. Last year, he caught an 83-yard touchdown pass versus VMI.

Gordon also serves as Furman’s primary kick and punt returner.

Furman has often had impact players at tight end, and that is certainly true this year. Andy Schumpert (6’5″, 202 lbs.) is putting together a strong case for all-conference honors. The senior has seven touchdown receptions this season, including six in his last five games.

Starting noseguard Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 270 lbs.) is a force in the middle of the Paladins’ defensive line. The redshirt junior from Marietta had seven tackles versus Mercer three weeks ago.

Reid, who is the reigning SoCon champ in the shotput, has five tackles for loss this season, and five quarterback hurries as well. Reid had a good game against The Citadel last year, registering six stops and a forced fumble.

Two freshmen linebackers have given Furman a lot of production. Reynard Ellis (6’1″, 227 lbs.) was playing high school football in Birmingham at this time last season. Right now, he is Furman’s second-leading tackler (with 57) and is also one of six different Paladins with at least one interception.

Fellow true freshman Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 218 lbs.) is third on the team in tackles, with 55. McKoy was originally recruited by Furman as a safety.

Free safety Bryan Okeh (6’4″, 212 lbs.) leads the Paladins in tackles this season, with 60. That includes a 14-tackle effort by the sophomore against Western Carolina. There aren’t too many 6’4″ free safeties roaming the secondary for an FCS team.

Strong safety Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 171 lbs.), a junior from Nashville, was a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick. So far this year, Annoor has two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and 1 1/2 sacks.

Furman placekicker Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 184 lbs.) is 6 for 9 on field goal attempts. The freshman had two 46-yard field goals against North Carolina State. Atkins has made all 40 of his PATs.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth (5’11”, 161 lbs.), who was the Paladins’ main placekicker for the previous three seasons, is now Furman’s kickoff specialist. He remains the team’s punter, however.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Greenville, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with an expected high of 51 degrees. The low on Saturday night will be 33 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is a 13-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 52 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Western Carolina is a 2 1/2 point favorite over Mercer; Wofford is a 30-point favorite at VMI; and Samford is a 19 1/2 point favorite over East Tennessee State. Chattanooga is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 16-point favorite against Florida State; South Carolina is a 7 1/2 point favorite versus Florida; Coastal Carolina is a 17 1/2 point underdog at Troy; Presbyterian is a 17 1/2 point underdog at Liberty; South Carolina State is a 2 1/2 point favorite over Hampton; and Charleston Southern is a 5 1/2 point underdog at Kennesaw State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 52nd in FCS (out of 124 teams), a drop of five spots from last week.

Furman is ranked 18th in FCS, falling two places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 213th, while Furman is 123rd.

Massey projects a final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 17. The Bulldogs are given a 14% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 21st (unchanged from last week), Samford is 24th (up nine spots), Western Carolina is 32nd (up three places), Mercer is 40th (down six spots), Charleston Southern is 49th, Chattanooga is 67th (down one spot), East Tennessee State is 71st (down one spot), Presbyterian is 91st, South Carolina State is 97th, and VMI is 116th (down one spot).

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

– Since 1911, The Citadel has a 5-8 record in games played on November 11. Four of those five wins came in Charleston; one of them was the memorable 19-7 victory over South Carolina at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 1950.

The only road victory on that date in The Citadel’s football history came in 1972, when the Bulldogs defeated Furman 19-13 at Sirrine Stadium. A few tidbits from that contest:

  • It was Furman coach Bob King’s last game in charge of the Paladins after 15 seasons
  • The game was delayed for several minutes in the first quarter when the yardage chain broke
  • Harry Lynch, questionable to play after suffering broken ribs in the previous week’s game, started at quarterback for The Citadel and scored two touchdowns
  • Bob Carson rushed for 102 yards, including a 58-yard TD run
  • The Bulldogs had two running backs hit the century mark, as Jon Hall ran for an even 100 yards

– Among Furman’s notable graduates are Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, physicist Charles Townes, and journalist Eleanor Beardsley.

– Furman has worn white jerseys in each of its last four games against The Citadel. I’m guessing that the Paladins will don purple tops on Saturday.

– The roster for Furman (per its website) includes 29 players from the State of Georgia. Other states represented: South Carolina (19 players), North Carolina (13), Tennessee (11), Florida (10), Alabama (6), and one each from Massachusetts, Ohio, and Virginia.

The nineteen Paladins from the Palmetto State attended fifteen different high schools. Three players went to Dreher High School in Columbia; Wren High School and St. Joseph’s Catholic School both have two alums on the FU roster.

Shockingly, none of Furman’s South Carolina-based players attended legendary pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. There is no question that Clay Hendrix will be looking to change that; otherwise, Furman’s recent struggles on the gridiron will definitely resurface again.

– 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’s two-deep for the Western Carolina game includes no changes on offense or defense, the fifth consecutive week that has been the case. On special teams, Cam Jackson and Raleigh Webb are now listed as the primary kick returners. Joshua Roides is listed as the backup at placekicker and punter, while Tyler Davis is the emergency long snapper (which I suspect may have already been the case; it’s just noted on the depth chart now).

It should be noted that Josh LeBlanc did not play last week due to injury and is probably questionable for the game on Saturday. The same is true for Kailik Williams, who was only able to take part in about five plays against Western Carolina. Both are listed as starters on the two-deep.

– Several busloads of cadets, mostly freshmen, are expected to make the trip to Greenville on Saturday to cheer on the Bulldogs. In 2015, about eight busloads of freshmen made plenty of noise while watching The Citadel’s 38-17 victory that afternoon.

This was originally going to be the second road football excursion for the freshmen during the season, but Hurricane Irma put the kibosh on an anticipated trip to Samford.

–  Don Powers, for five seasons the head football coach at The Citadel, will be honored at Western Carolina’s home game this Saturday. Powers, a graduate of WCU, is the latest inductee into that school’s athletic hall of fame.

Most observers expect Furman to win on Saturday, and with relative ease. The Paladins are playing well and have a great deal of confidence, while the Bulldogs are coming off what in some ways was their most disappointing performance in the last three years.

The reasons that Furman should win are many. The Paladins are playing at home; they have won six straight games; the team is motivated because a potential playoff bid is in the offing; the Paladins are also motivated because The Citadel has beaten Furman three years in a row; FU defensive coordinator Chad Staggs knows how to defend The Citadel’s offense and will always stop it; the Bulldogs are coming off a tough loss, and could be without key defensive stalwart Kailik Williams; etc., etc., etc.

I offer one argument against all that. I think it’s a good argument, though.

There are still plenty of players on The Citadel’s roster who have been a part of two league championships. They didn’t forget how to win. They have a lot of pride. They’ve still got a chance to have a winning season, and popping a purple balloon would also be a very enjoyable way to end the SoCon schedule.

I think the Bulldogs will be ready to play on Saturday. I’m sure the Paladins are going to be prepared as well. That’s fine.

Kickoff is just a few hours away.

2017 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 4, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kendall Lewis 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:

– Game preview, The Post and Courier

The next two games for The Citadel are fairly important

Aron Spann III was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Month for October

Spann spent most of October intercepting passes and recovering fumbles

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Western Carolina’s website

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked #32 if the poll went that far)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked #35 if the poll went that far)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/31 press conference, including comments from Cam Jackson and Aron Spann III (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 11/1 radio show (video)

– Promo for Western Carolina-The Citadel (video)

Cam Jackson promo for Senior Day (video)

– ESPN3 replay of Furman-Western Carolina (video)

– Game story from Furman-Western Carolina

– My review of last week’s game against VMI

– Link to ESPN3’s streaming coverage of Western Carolina-The Citadel

Non-football links:

The Citadel Basketball 2017-18 “Hype Video”

The Citadel’s 2018 baseball schedule has been released

In my review of the VMI game, I made an error. I make plenty of mistakes as it is, but this one was particularly dumb and needs to be corrected.

The record for most wins over a three-year period is held by the 1990-1991-1992 teams, not the 1959-1960-1961 squads (as I incorrectly stated in my post). Therefore, the current Bulldogs still need one victory to tie the mark for most victories over three consecutive seasons. The current mark is 25 (7 wins in 1990, 7 wins in 1991, and 11 victories in 1992).

Over a four-year period, the record for most wins is 30. That has happened twice, in two overlapping stretches — 1989-1990-1991-1992, and 1990-1991-1992-1993.

As of last week, The Citadel has won 29 games over the last four seasons, with three games left in the 2017 campaign.

The Citadel needs one more victory this year to clinch a winning season. It would be the third straight winning campaign for the Bulldogs. There have been five previous occasions in which The Citadel strung together three consecutive winning seasons:

  • 1923-1924-1925
  • 1924-1925-1926
  • 1959-1960-1961
  • 1979-1980-1981
  • 1990-1991-1992

You may have noticed the first couple of three-year runs above include some duplicate seasons. That is because The Citadel actually had four straight winning seasons from 1923 through 1926, the only time in school history that has happened.

The record for most consecutive non-losing campaigns is five, from 1988 through 1992. Four of those years resulted in winning seasons, while the 1989 team went 5-5-1. The Citadel won 38 games during that period, the most ever by the program over a five-year stretch.

After reviewing the participation reports for the Bulldogs’ games so far this season, I believe that 15 “true” freshmen on the current roster have played in at least one game this season. The list:

  • Jalen Barr
  • Brandon Berry
  • Lane Botkin
  • Aaron Brawley
  • Micah Byrd-Brown
  • Jonathan Cole
  • Willie Eubanks III
  • Sean-Thomas Faulkner
  • Collin Flanders
  • Patrick Ivey
  • Jon Barrett Lewis
  • Keyonte Sessions
  • Matthew Taylor
  • John Wesley Whiteside
  • Wally Wilmore

In addition, two freshmen who have since left the team took part in at least one game for The Citadel.

Of the original list of signees, it appears that eight have not yet seen the field for the Bulldogs this season. Presumably, those eight players are likely candidates to redshirt this season.

Three of the players listed above were not on the signee list from last January — Collin Flanders, Micah Byrd-Brown, and Patrick Ivey.

At his first press conference as The Citadel’s head coach, I remember that Mike Houston discussed a personal desire to field “older teams…guys who have been with us for three or four years.” I assume that Brent Thompson has a similar philosophy, but it may be that some of the turnover on the roster following last season, especially in certain positions, has led to more true freshmen playing than might have been expected – or wanted.

Brent Thompson on what the team’s mindset needs to be in the red zone:

We’ve got to get off the football [line of scrimmage] and we’ve got to be able to grind out three or four yards at a time, no matter what the box looks like…

…maybe we need to come downhill more. Maybe we need to stop tricking them, and doing this and that, and let’s just line up and show them the whites of our eyes and let’s play football.

That’s a good line — “show them the whites of our eyes”. Part of Thompson’s education at Norwich obviously included a study of the battle tactics of William Prescott.

On Friday, six new members of The Citadel’s Athletic Hall of Fame will be honored at the annual dinner (which had to be rescheduled after Hurricane Irma disrupted on-campus events earlier this year).

Reading through the bios of the inductees, I naturally learned a few things I didn’t know before. For one, baseball player Steve Arrington won an unusual triple crown in 1973, as he led all Southern Conference batters in home runs and RBI, and also led the league in strikeouts by a pitcher. You don’t see that combination every day.

Francis “Pete” Grant played both offense and defense for The Citadel’s football team in 1965, the only member of that squad to do so. Given that the restrictions on unlimited substitution had been lifted for good by then, I have to wonder if Grant was the last Bulldog to regularly play both ways.

I did know that during his time at The Citadel, Cliff Washburn was named the SoCon player of the week in both football and basketball, the first person to ever pull off that double. I also knew that Kris Kut could really sling the javelin (three league titles), and now helps current Bulldog athletes throw it even farther than he did.

The two honorary inductees are Gil Kirkman, impresario of The Citadel Sports Network, and Andy Clawson, head athletic trainer for The Citadel. When Clawson was hired by The Citadel, the #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce.

Yes, Clawson has been around for a while.

As is almost necessary when discussing Western Carolina, the school must be harshly criticized for a decision made long ago that has had a lasting impact.

Back in 1933, the students and administration at the institution chose “Catamounts” as the official nickname for its varsity athletic teams. The runner-up choice was “Mountain Boomers”.

How in the world can you not pick “Mountain Boomers” as your nickname when you have a golden opportunity to do so? What a waste.

From reading between the lines in the school’s official account of how the nickname was chosen, it appears that the football coach at the time, a gentleman named C.C. Poindexter, influenced the final decision.

Poindexter wanted his players to have the “fierce spirit, savage attacks, and lightning quick moves” of a catamount. Alas, his football teams at the school compiled a record of 10-26-2 over four seasons.

I bet they would have won a lot more games as the Mountain Boomers.

As far as this Saturday is concerned, Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir had this to say on the game’s importance to his program:

This is probably our biggest week…maybe since our staff has been here…to decide [if] the culture, the expectations, the standards of this program [have] changed.

…Now that [we’ve] been knocked down and had a disappointing loss, are we a different team this week because we have two losses, as we were last week. Are we going to be a front-running team, or are we going to be a team that’s satisfied and complacent, or is this a football team that has truly made a change — and not necessarily even how the scoreboard comes out. We can…play a whale of a game this Saturday, and lose…because we’re playing a good football team in The Citadel, and we can go play great football and still get beat.

What I’m saying is we’re going to see as a staff, how this team comes [to] practice this week. How are we going to compete this Saturday…this may be our biggest week since we’ve been here. That is the challenge. What is the character of the 2017 Cats…this will say a lot about where we are as a program.

Western Carolina is 6-3 on the season, 4-2 in the SoCon.

  • WCU lost its opener 41-18 at Hawai’i, but actually outgained the Rainbow Warriors
  • The Catamounts then dismantled Davidson 63-17; WCU had 778 yards of total offense in the contest
  • Western Carolina won the next week at Gardner-Webb, 42-27; Detrez Newsome’s 146 yards lifted his career rushing yards total to over 3,000
  • WCU opened SoCon play with a big home win over Samford, 38-34 (incidentally, the game took 4 hours and 10 minutes to play)
  • At Chattanooga, the Catamounts bashed the Mocs 45-7
  • Western Carolina lost a tough game in OT at Wofford, 35-28 (a game marred by shaky officiating in the extra session)
  • In a 49-10 victory, WCU took care of business in the second half against East Tennessee State, scoring 21 points in both the third and fourth quarters
  • The Catamounts got past a stubborn VMI in Lexington, 26-7
  • Last week, Furman beat WCU in a rainstorm in Cullowhee, 28-6

Statistics of interest for Western Carolina through nine games:

WCU Opponents
Points per game 35.0 22.9
Rushing yardage 2239 1765
Average per rush 5.4 4.6
Average per game 248.8 196.1
TDs rushing 22 14
Passing yardage 1851 1504
Comp-Att-Int 144-243-8 129-265-10
Average per pass 7.6 5.7
TDs passing 16 11
Total offense 4090 3269
Total plays 659 647
Yards per play 6.2 5.1
Kick returns-yards 28-541 49-827
Punt returns-yards 20-135 13-94
Fumbles/lost 11/6 9/7
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 7.3/69.6 6.9/62.1
Net punt average 40.1 35.8
Time of possession/game 27:49 32:11
3rd down conversions 50/121 50/142
3rd down conversion rate 41.3% 35.2%
Sacks by-yards 19-135 22-129
Field goals-attempts 7-14 8-9
Red Zone touchdown rate (23-34) 67.6% (19-32) 59.4%
  • Western Carolina is 7th nationally in rushing offense, but 97th in rushing defense
  • WCU’s offense is 11th in yards per rush, while its defense is 89th in yards per rush allowed
  • The Catamounts are 31st in offensive third down conversion rate, and 42nd on defensive third down conversion rate
  • WCU is 19th in FCS in scoring offense, and 41st in scoring defense
  • Western Carolina is 34th in offensive pass efficiency, and 6th in defensive pass efficiency
  • The Catamounts have excellent special teams numbers, including 4th nationally in net punting and 8th in kick return defense
  • With three defensive TDs, Western Carolina ranks 12th-best in that category
  • WCU is one of the league’s more penalized teams, and ranks 49th in most penalties per game nationally

Key stats for The Citadel through eight games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 24.4 17.8
Rushing yardage 2573 855
Average per rush 5.3 3.5
Average per game 321.6 106.9
TDs rushing 20 12
Passing yardage 705 1454
Comp-Att-Int 41-104-3 128-215-11
Average per pass 6.8 6.8
TDs passing 6 7
Total offense 3278 2309
Total plays 590 456
Yards per play 5.6 5.1
Kick returns-yards 15-281 18-441
Punt returns-yards 15-118 8-55
Fumbles/lost 16/5 9/5
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.6/42.0 2.9/28.4
Net punt average 36.1 36.2
Time of possession/game 34:26 25:33
3rd down conversions 57/126 29/89
3rd down conversion rate 45.2% 32.6%
Sacks by-yards 16-87 5-33
Field goals-attempts 4-12 3-5
Red Zone touchdown rate (19/34) 55.9% (12/18) 66.7%
  • The Citadel is 14th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate, and 18th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs are 2nd in rushing offense (behind only Kennesaw State), and 19th in rushing defense (which leads the SoCon)
  • The Citadel is 14th nationally in yards per rush and 36th in yards per rush allowed
  • Offensively, the Bulldogs are 48th in yards per play; on defense, The Citadel is 39th in yards per play allowed
  • The Citadel is 2nd in FCS in time of possession (McNeese State leads in that category)
  • The Bulldogs are 67th in scoring offense and 14th in scoring defense
  • The Citadel has committed the 11th-fewest penalties per game in FCS

When it comes to individual performers, much of the focus this week for the game at Johnson Hagood Stadium has been on one player, Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams.

Adams (6’2″, 180 lbs.), a dynamic dual-threat QB, was injured last week in the Catamounts’ loss to Furman. The redshirt sophomore from St. Petersburg was sacked early in the second quarter and appeared to suffer a lower leg injury (on the ESPN3 broadcast, the play occurs at the 57:10 mark).

Despite what looked to be a potentially serious injury, Adams is still listed as the starter on the WCU two-deep. There are other indications that he may in fact play on Saturday. Brent Thompson stated during his radio show that the Bulldogs would certainly prepare for the game with the assumption that Adams would start.

If Adams does not play, Ray Smith (6’1″, 190 lbs.) will likely start. Smith, a redshirt junior who began his college career at East Carolina, entered the game against Furman after Adams went out.

Adams’ status is one thing, but Western Carolina has another impact player in the backfield, preseason all-SoCon selection Detrez Newsome (5’10”, 210 lbs.). Over the last decade, Newsome is the only Catamount running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season — and the native of Raeford, North Carolina has done so each of the last two years.

Despite missing three games this season, Newsome still has a chance at another 1,000-yard campaign, as the senior has amassed 736 yards in just six contests. Newsome is averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

Newsome is also a threat as a kick returner, and leads the Catamounts in returns. However, he is not listed in that role on this week’s two-deep.

Western Carolina’s all-time leading receiver is redshirt senior Terryon Robinson (5’11”, 190 lbs.). The preseason all-league pick has 45 receptions this season, averaging 15 yards per catch, and has seven TD receptions.

In the 2014 game between WCU and The Citadel, Robinson caught 10 passes for 183 yards.

The average size of Western Carolina’s projected starters on the offensive line: 6’4″, 298 lbs. The tallest and heaviest member of that group is Nathan Dalton (6’7″, 315 lbs.). The redshirt junior from East Flat Rock, North Carolina was a preseason second-team all-conference choice.

Outside linebacker Tahjai Watt (6’5″, 215 lbs.) leads the Catamounts in tackles for loss (8) and sacks (6). The redshirt senior from Charlotte had only one career start before this season, but is clearly making the most of his final collegiate campaign.

The leading tackler for Western Carolina to this point in the season has been safety Marvin Tillman (6’1″, 195 lbs.). The native of Durham has 77 stops, and also shares the team lead in interceptions with three.

Keion Crossen (5’10”, 180 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick. The senior cornerback is also a track star, as he won the league title in the 100-meter dash last year.

Redshirt junior Ian Berryman (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is one of the nation’s best punters. This season, Berryman has boomed 14 of his 44 punts for 50 yards or more, and has landed 20 of them inside the 20-yard line.

Berryman has also kicked off at times for Western Carolina, and is one of four different Catamounts to attempt field goals this season. Joshua Gibson (5’8″, 163 lbs.), the listed starter at the position, is 4 for 5 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 43 yards.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with an expected high of 78 degrees. The low on Saturday night will be 61 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Western Carolina is a 1 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 50 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Mercer is a 2-point favorite over Samford; Wofford is a 12-point favorite over Chattanooga; and East Tennessee State is a 17 1/2 point favorite over VMI. Furman is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 7 1/2 point favorite at North Carolina State; South Carolina is a 24 1/2 point underdog at Georgia; Coastal Carolina is a 23 1/2 point underdog at Arkansas; Presbyterian is 17 1/2 point underdog at Monmouth; and Charleston Southern (ravenous for a league win) is a 10 1/2 point favorite at Gardner-Webb. South Carolina State is off this week.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 47th in FCS (out of 124 teams), a drop of one spot from last week.

Western Carolina is ranked 35th in FCS, falling three places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 197th, while Western Carolina is 177th.

Massey projects a final score of Western Carolina 26, The Citadel 24. The Bulldogs are given a 47% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Furman is 16th (up seven places), Wofford is 21st (unchanged from last week), Samford is 31st (down nine spots), Mercer is 34th (up six spots), Charleston Southern is 49th, Chattanooga is 66th (up nine spots), East Tennessee State is 72nd (down five places), Presbyterian is 88th, South Carolina State is 100th, and VMI is 115th (down one spot).

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

– Since 1911, The Citadel has an ominously poor 4-11 record in games played on November 4.

The last time the Bulldogs won a game on that date, it was in 1989 against Samford. The Citadel won 35-16 in the first home game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium after Hurricane Hugo.

The Citadel’s offense only attempted two passes during that contest, completing one (the QB in question was Speizio Stowers). While starting QB Jack Douglas did not complete a pass in the game, he did rush for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Douglas, Tom Frooman, and Raymond Mazyck combined for 310 yards and five TDs (three by Frooman). Alfred Williams added 55 yards to a potent ground attack.

That 1989 game is The Citadel’s only November 4 home victory in the modern history of Johnson Hagood Stadium. Indeed, the Bulldogs have only won twice on that date since World War II, once at home and once on the road.

The November 4 road triumph was a big one, though. It was the 14-8 victory at VMI in 1961 that clinched The Citadel’s first Southern Conference title. Bill Whaley’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Henry Mura with 2:29 to play proved to be the difference. Earlier in the game, Whaley had scored from one yard out on a quarterback sneak.

You can watch video highlights of that 1961 contest on YouTube. The game-winning TD pass comes at the 1:36 mark of the clip. I’m not completely sure, but I believe Mura’s catch was his only career TD reception. He picked a great time for it.

– The Citadel’s two-deep for the Western Carolina game includes no changes on offense or defense, the fourth consecutive week that has been the case. On special teams, there are now no listed backups at placekicker or punter.

It should be noted that there will be one new starter on defense this Saturday, regardless of the depth chart listing, as Ben Roberts will be suspended for the first half after being called for targeting in the second half of the VMI game.

– Jacob Godek has had touchbacks on 19 of his 37 kickoffs this season. As a result, The Citadel’s touchback rate of 51.4% ranks 11th-best in FCS.

– Among Western Carolina’s notable graduates are comedian Rich Hall, former NFL referee/current ESPN officiating consultant Gerry Austin, and actor Sean Bridgers.

– The roster for Western Carolina (per its website) includes 58 players from the State of North Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (22 players), South Carolina (8), Tennessee (4), Florida (4), and one each from Alabama, California, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, and Virginia.

The eight Catamounts from the Palmetto State attended the following high schools: Blythewood (two), Spartanburg (two), T.L. Hanna (two), St. Joseph’s, and Rock Hill. Surprisingly, none of WCU’s South Carolina-based players attended historic gridiron superpower Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. Ronnie Carr would be very disappointed.

– 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.

Saturday’s game will mark the end of The Citadel’s home slate. Will the final game of the season at Johnson Hagood Stadium provide a happy result for the home fans?

It’s possible, but there is a surprising amount of opaqueness when it comes to this matchup, despite the fact we are now in the month of November. I don’t have a very good read on what might happen. (Of course, that is arguably the case for every game.)

At any rate, there is quite a lot riding on this contest for the Bulldogs. That includes a possible winning season and a chance to make a late-season playoff push.

It’s time to start the stretch run of the 2017 season.

Game Review, 2017: VMI

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” section, The Post and Courier

– “By the numbers”, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

– Video from WCSC-TV, including postgame comments from Dominique Allen

– Video from WCIV-TV

– AP game story

– School release (The Citadel)

– School release (VMI)

– Extended box score

Game highlights, including postgame comments from Brent Thompson, Brandon Rainey, and Dominique Allen (video)

– ESPN3 replay of the game

The greatest trophy in all of sports, the coveted Silver Shako, will remain in Charleston for at least one more year. With any luck, the most lustrous of laurels shall continue to reside in the Holy City for many years to come.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday’s game had a lot of similarities with the last matchup between the two teams at Johnson Hagood Stadium:

  • The Citadel won the toss and deferred in 2015 and 2017; VMI defended the north end zone to open the game both times
  • Cam Jackson scored on the Bulldogs’ third play from scrimmage in 2015; Grant Drakeford scored on the Bulldogs’ third play from scrimmage in 2017
  • The Citadel held VMI’s offense to 87 rushing yards in 2015 and 72 rushing yards in 2017
  • VMI had 212 yards of total offense in 2015 and 219 yards of total offense in 2017
  • VMI threw 36 passes in both games
  • The Keydets punted 7 times in 2015 and 6 times in 2017 (and would have punted 7 times on Saturday, but a punt snap got mishandled)
  • In 2015, The Citadel ran 71 plays from scrimmage, VMI 70; in 2017, both teams ran 68 plays from scrimmage
  • The Citadel was 0 for 5 scoring TDs on red zone opportunities in 2015; the Bulldogs were 1 for 5 in 2017

When it came to the red zone, the difference between the game on Saturday and the 2015 contest was that in the latter game, the Bulldogs converted on all of their field goal attempts.

– Speaking of the red zone:

“There were a couple of times we got inside the red zone and shot ourselves in the foot,” said [Brent] Thompson, whose team totaled 407 rushing yards against VMI (0-9, 0-8) and 405 in last week’s 20-14 win at Chattanooga. “We had some opportunities to put the ball in the end zone, and that’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel all season. And that’s something we are usually pretty good at.”

The Bulldogs’ red zone TD rate for the season is 55.9%, which is actually slightly better than last season (52.1%). However, in SoCon play The Citadel’s red zone TD rate is only 45.8%.

– I was a little surprised that Brent Thompson elected to try another field goal late in the game. From a “game theory” point of view, I probably would have gone for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal, even from the six-yard line.

If the Bulldogs punch in the TD in that spot, they go up by three scores and completely ice the game. A successful field goal wouldn’t have altered the two-vs.-three score dynamic.

Also, if The Citadel didn’t make it, VMI probably would have wound up with the ball around or inside its own 5-yard line. The odds of the Keydets marching 95+ yards down the field (just to get within one score) were not good.

However, game theory aside, there is also something to be said for sending a message to your kicker, which in effect was this: “You’re struggling, but you’re still our kicker, and we are still counting on you and have confidence in you.”

Thompson also might have decided that whether or not the Bulldogs could go up two/three scores was irrelevant, because his defense wasn’t going to give up any more points anyway. If that was in fact his thought process, it was a very reasonable assumption.

– Brandon Rainey and Lorenzo Ward combined for 25 carries from the B-back position. Between them, they averaged 8.2 yards per carry. That will work.

From the quarterback position, Dominique Allen and Jordan Black combined to tote the football 20 times for 93 yards. The A-backs had 11 carries for 113 yards.

– Even though he was only 1 for 8 passing, I thought Dominique Allen threw the football fairly well. VMI made a couple of good defensive plays, and Bulldog receivers could have (and perhaps should have) caught at least two other pass attempts.

– VMI entered the game committing fewer penalties per game than any other FCS team, and didn’t hurt its reputation on that front against The Citadel. The Keydets were only whistled for one infraction all afternoon.

– It was good to see members of the VMI band make the trip. As usual, the Keydets brought a decent number of fans to Charleston. Considering the geographic distance, school size, and the program’s record over the last few decades, the fact that VMI often meets or exceeds other SoCon opponents in terms of “traveling” is very impressive.

– I have a suggestion: no matter where The Military Classic of the South is played, Charleston or Lexington, each team should wear a solid-colored jersey. In other words, it should be color-on-color, with The Citadel wearing light blue jerseys and VMI sporting red tops.

I think it would look great. The schools’ colors are not dissimilar to those for UCLA and Southern California, which have had well-received color-on-color matchups the last few years.

It is likely such a move would require league approval, but I don’t see why the SoCon would have any issues with it.

– I enjoyed the “Meet The Bulldogs” event for the basketball team held on the plaza at Johnson Hagood Stadium prior to the football game.

Along with the players, the cheerleaders and Spike the Bulldog showed up for the festivities. A bunch of kids had a good time, and it appeared that the players did as well.

I have no idea what kind of getup Spike was wearing, though…

– It was fun to watch all the reunion classes “march” into the stadium before the game. I was impressed to see several graduates of the Class of 1952 on the field, armed with a giant flag and a sign that read ‘1952’.

– The ceremony after the game is nice, but the P.A. announcing got a little bit behind the action. That caused some confusion (and also led to the start of The Citadel Alma Mater being drowned out).

– After the presentation, the colors were lowered. Those in the stadium (and on the field) stood silently as the flag was removed from the pole. In fact, it was so quiet that you could hear the cranking as the flag was lowered.

In a way, I was appreciative of the fact you could hear the crank. On the other hand, it may be time to break out the WD-40.

– During the postgame press conference, the assembled media learned that Dominique Allen has a “small budget”. Much hilarity ensued.

(Check out his postgame interview session on the second of the two WCSC-TV links listed above for context.)

– With the victory on Saturday, The Citadel has won 24 games over the past three seasons. The Bulldogs won 9 games in 2015, 10 games in 2016, and 5 games (so far) in 2017.

That total of 24 wins is one short of the record for victories over a three-year period. The Citadel won 25 games in the 1990-1991-1992 seasons.

I took quite a few photos this week, including a few related to some of the activities surrounding Homecoming. Some of the pictures are actually half-decent.