2016 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 12. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Wade Branner providing play-by-play and Dave Harding supplying the analysis.

The game 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.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 11/8 press conference, including comments from Cody Clark and Tyler Renew (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/9 radio show (video)

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS FCS Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 10

– Sure, we can relive that Cam Jackson run again

– VMI’s new starting quarterback tries to lead Keydets to an upset of the Bulldogs

– Highlights of VMI’s game against Bucknell (video)

– Get well, Mike Groshon

The second week of preliminary rankings by the FCS selection committee resulted in a few changes, but by and large those adjustments did not really affect The Citadel.

Week 2  Rank School Previous (Week 1)
1 Jacksonville State 1
2 Eastern Washington 3
3 North Dakota State 4
4 James Madison 5
5 Sam Houston State 2
6 The Citadel 6
7 Chattanooga 8
8 Richmond 7
9 Central Arkansas 10
10 North Dakota NR

The biggest news was Sam Houston State dropping from #2 to #5. The Bearkats are one of two undefeated FCS teams, with The Citadel being the other. However, SHSU’s strength of schedule is weak when compared to all but one of the other top eight teams (we’ll get to the exception in a moment).

Last week, North Dakota State fans (and media members) complained vociferously after Sam Houston State was ranked ahead of the Bison. They had a point.

It is impossible to know whether or not certain members of the selection committee were influenced by the noise emanating from Fargo. I could make a good guess, though.

Of course, NDSU didn’t get everything it wanted. North Dakota State is still ranked behind Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. The latter school’s #1 ranking continues to be a bit puzzling.

Schedule strength of the top 10 teams through last week’s games (incidentally, Samford is 2nd overall in this category):

  • Jacksonville State (schedule strength of 101st out of 124 FCS teams)
  • Eastern Washington (tied for 12th)
  • North Dakota State (3rd)
  • James Madison (35th)
  • Sam Houston State (89th)
  • The Citadel (tied for 12th)
  • Chattanooga (34th)
  • Richmond (37th)
  • Central Arkansas (82nd)
  • North Dakota (38th)

Jacksonville State is 8-1. The one defeat came at LSU, so nobody is saying that JSU should be penalized severely for its loss. However, the Gamecocks don’t play in a very strong league, and don’t have the non-conference schedule heft to match that of Eastern Washington and North Dakota State — and both of those schools also play in tougher conferences while maintaining identical 8-1 records.

Of course, some observers would note that one difference between the three schools is that Jacksonville State’s director of athletics is on the selection committee.

The Citadel is undefeated, has a significantly better strength of schedule, and also has a win over another team in the top 10 of the rankings. However, not only are the Bulldogs behind Jacksonville State, they are ranked below Sam Houston State as well. There is no legitimate reason for that to be the case.

In my opinion, The Citadel should currently be ranked in the top 4. Eastern Washington and North Dakota State should be 1-2 in some order, followed by James Madison and The Citadel in the 3-4 spots. However, unless JSU and SHSU lose, the Bulldogs are not likely to pass either one of them (particularly Jacksonville State).

This effectively means The Citadel’s seeding “ceiling” is probably #5. The difference between being seeded #5 instead of #4 could be the difference between playing at home or on the road in a potential quarterfinal game.

That would be unfortunate for The Citadel.

Earlier this week, SB Nation’s “Football Study Hall” site posted a report on tempo at the FBS level. It’s a very interesting and well-considered piece.

After I read it, I decided to take a look at pace of play in FCS. Basically, I took stats from 122 teams (for practical reasons, I didn’t include “transitional” schools Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word), and determined how quickly FCS teams have run offensive plays so far in 2016. Here are the top 20 squads:

Team (Conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 19.49872
Eastern Kentucky (OVC) 19.68576
Samford (Southern) 20.29769
South Dakota (MVFC) 20.86083
Sam Houston State (Southland) 21.5656
Murray State (OVC) 21.80123
Eastern Washington (Big Sky) 22.09565
Southern Utah (Big Sky) 22.11938
Southern Illinois (MVFC) 22.12278
Indiana State (MVFC) 22.34259
Dartmouth (Ivy League) 22.52891
Western Carolina (Southern) 22.53821
Eastern Illinois (OVC) 22.7168
Sacramento State (Big Sky) 22.78134
Morehead State (Pioneer) 23.02286
Montana (Big Sky) 23.18182
Marist (Pioneer) 23.25649
Princeton (Ivy League) 23.31231
Columbia (Ivy League) 23.37113
VMI (Southern) 23.48567

Stephen F. Austin’s pace is faster than all but three teams in FBS: Missouri (which is absurdly fast), Baylor, and California.

These are the 20 “slowest” teams, with Wofford taking more time between plays than any other team in FCS (only Stanford and Georgia Tech are slower at the FBS level):

Team (conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Florida A&M (Mid-Eastern) 28.66306
Youngstown State (MVFC) 28.76508
Jacksonville (Pioneer) 28.82095
Mississippi Valley St. (Southwestern) 28.88979
Robert Morris (Northeast) 29.07609
North Dakota (Big Sky) 29.10984
Presbyterian (Big South) 29.31664
San Diego (Pioneer) 29.42857
Albany (NY) (Colonial) 29.43738
Stony Brook (Colonial) 29.46168
Chattanooga (Southern) 29.56397
Tennessee Tech (OVC) 29.77833
Texas Southern (Southwestern) 30.02473
Tennessee State (OVC) 30.05179
Charleston Southern (Big South) 30.076
North Dakota State (MVFC) 30.33216
Saint Francis (PA) (Northeast) 30.35612
Delaware (Colonial) 30.87125
Wofford (Southern) 30.90445

 

In my FCS Playoffs primer, I mentioned this comment from the chairman of the selection committee, Brian Hutchinson, when asked by an interviewer about “Sam Houston State’s value to the committee”:

The value of Sam Houston State is that they are an 8-0 team right now [that] is averaging close to 60 points per game and close to 600 yards of [total] offense. That’s the value that people see.

As I said in that post, I hope no committee members will actually use total offense as a criterion of any real significance. Part of my concern has to do with schedule strength, of course, but style of play is also a factor.

Sam Houston State leads FCS in total offense. As you can see above, SHSU is also the 5th-fastest offense in the division, in terms of pace of play.

I think it would be more than a little ridiculous to use total offense as a marker for comparing the Bearkats to teams like Chattanooga (19th in total offense, but the 9th “slowest” team) or The Citadel (23rd in total offense, and in the bottom third in pace of play, at 27.33 seconds between plays). The latter two teams shouldn’t have their style of play held against them by a committee member who is overly impressed by raw statistics.

While I’ve got this information handy, here are pace of play rankings for the nine SoCon squads, plus a few other teams:

  • Stephen F. Austin (1st out of 122)
  • Samford (3rd)
  • Sam Houston State (5th)
  • Eastern Washington (7th)
  • Western Carolina (12th)
  • VMI (20th)
  • Mercer (27th)
  • James Madison (37th)
  • Lehigh (41st)
  • Harvard (44th)
  • Liberty (47th)
  • Kennesaw State (71st)
  • The Citadel (84th)
  • Gardner-Webb (87th)
  • East Tennessee State (91st)
  • Furman (95th)
  • Presbyterian (110th)
  • Chattanooga (114th)
  • Charleston Southern (118th)
  • North Dakota State (119th)
  • St. Francis [PA] (120th)
  • Delaware (121st)
  • Wofford (122nd)

Friday is Founders Day at VMI:

The VMI Corps of Cadets will commemorate Founders Day this Friday with a parade featuring a 17-gun salute executed by the Cadet Battery to honor VMI’s founders and the nation’s veterans.

The anniversary, which marks 177 years since 23 VMI cadets relieved the state militia and converted the state arsenal into the Institute, will also see the dedication of the recently renovated Cormack and Cocke halls at 10 and 11 a.m., respectively.

There will also be a parade at 10:30 am on Saturday.

If you’re going to the game, be sure you’re up to speed on the parking situation.

Scott Wachenheim is in his second year as VMI’s head coach. His team is 3-6 this season, 1-5 in SoCon play. That qualifies as improvement for the Keydets’ football program, given that VMI had won two games in each of the last five years.

The Keydets opened the 2016 season by dropping a 47-24 decision at Akron. VMI’s defense allowed 576 yards of total offense, but the Keydets stayed in the game, putting together two drives of 90+ yards to pull within two points as the third quarter ended.

Akron scored 21 fourth-quarter points to ice the contest. However, it was a very respectable showing by VMI against an FBS opponent.

VMI’s next game was a 17-13 victory at Morehead State. While the Keydets’ loss to Akron was encouraging, the win over the Eagles (which play football in the non-scholarship Pioneer League) was not. VMI’s offense was sluggish, but the defense kept Morehead State at bay, allowing the fewest points to a Keydets opponent in four seasons.

A third straight road game resulted in a triple overtime victory, 23-17 over Bucknell. The Keydets did not give up any points in the three OT sessions.

It was the first time VMI had won back-to-back games since 2005, and (unbelievably) the first time the program had won consecutive road games since the last game of the 1981 season and the first game of the 1982 campaign.

Back in Lexington, another overtime affair did not go the Keydets’ way. Mercer edged VMI 33-30 in a game reportedly marred by poor SoCon officiating (very surprising, I know). VMI trailed 21-7 at halftime before making a comeback, taking the lead with just 32 seconds remaining in regulation. The Keydets could not hold the lead, and then lost in OT.

VMI rebounded from that setback with a 37-7 home victory over East Tennessee State. Al Cobb threw three TD passes, and the Keydets rushed for 233 yards.

Since that game, VMI has lost four straight contests. The first of those defeats was a 55-21 loss at Samford. SU quarterback Devlin Hodges threw for 435 yards and 5 TDs, and VMI also got victimized by a pick-6.

Chattanooga then beat the Keydets 30-13. UTC rushed for 297 yards despite Derrick Craine missing the game with an injury. One of VMI’s two TDs was a 79-yard bomb from Al Cobb to Javeon Lara.

VMI returned home, but was beaten in Lexington 24-10 by Furman. The loss was a costly one for the Keydets, as Cobb suffered a shoulder injury.

Last week, VMI lost 32-29 at Western Carolina. The Keydets should have won the game, but basically handed the victory to the Catamounts with a series of miscues. Among other things:

  • VMI fumbled the opening kickoff, which was returned by WCU for a touchdown
  • The Keydets had four kicks blocked (two field goal attempts, two PATs)
  • VMI threw three interceptions
  • Western Carolina scored with 54 seconds to play on a 53-yard pass

Statistics of note for VMI:

VMI Opp
Points/game 22.7 28.7
Rushing yardage 1056 1487
Yards/rush 3.2 4.3
Rush TDs 16 10
Passing yardage 2266 2501
Comp-Att-Int 208-330-12 210-334-6
Average/pass att 6.9 7.5
Passing TDs 11 22
Total offense 3322 3988
Total plays 663 682
Yards/play 5.0 5.8
Fumbles/lost 7/3 11/6
Penalties-pen yds 35-318 75-681
Pen yards/game 35.3 75.7
Net punt average 34.6 34.3
Time of poss/game 28:50 31:10
3rd-down conv 47/143 48/138
3rd-down conv % 32.9% 34.8%
Sacks by-yards 13-91 23-122
Red Zone TD% (22-35) 63% (23-36) 64%
  • VMI is 2nd nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • The Keydets are 84th in FCS in scoring defense and 63rd in rushing defense
  • VMI is 29th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Keydets are 85th in time of possession
  • VMI is 28th in passing offense

Statistics of consequence for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30.8 18.7
Rushing yardage 3366 1129
Yards/rush 5.6 4.1
Rush TDs 29 12
Passing yardage 540 1645
Comp-Att-Int 33-82-2 140-246-8
Average/pass att 6.6 6.7
Passing TDs 4 8
Total offense 3906 2774
Total plays 685 524
Yards/play 5.7 5.3
Fumbles/lost 15/6 12/7
Penalties-pen yds 43-449 38-358
Pen yards/game 49.9 39.8
Net punt average 37.3 36.6
Time of poss/game 34:37:00 25:22:00
3rd-down conv 75/151 35/110
3rd-down conv % 49.7% 31.8%
Sacks by-yards 25-165 0-0
Red Zone TD% (22-39) 56% (12-20) 60%
  • The Citadel leads the nation in rushing offense (374.0 yards/game) and is seventh in average yards/rush
  • The Bulldogs are 9th in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is third nationally in time of possession
  • The Bulldogs are 13th in fewest penalties per game
  • The Citadel is 21st in the country in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 15th nationally in defensive third down conversion rate

VMI throws the ball on 49.8% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, with 68.2% of the Keydets’ total yards coming via the air. The Keydets operate out of the spread.

Al Cobb was the preseason choice as the SoCon’s all-conference quarterback. Cobb was injured against Furman and did not play last week versus Western Carolina.

Will he play on Saturday? Cobb is not listed on the two-deep. According to an article in The Roanoke Times, he may be available.

The starter, though, will be redshirt freshman Austin Coulling (6’4″, 200 lbs.). Coulling, a native of Salem, Virginia, has played in five games this season, starting against WCU last Saturday.

For the season, he is completing 56.9% of his passes, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with two touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Coulling does not lack for confidence:

After hours of watching video, Coulling said he thinks there are some areas in The Citadel defense that the offense can exploit.

“There are opportunities there for us to take,” Coulling said. “As a team, if we come out with the same energy we came out with last week and execute more efficiently than we did last week and have the same running game as we had last week, I mean, anything can happen. … We can come out on top.”

Daz Palmer (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is a freshman from Norfolk who is leading the Keydets in rushing. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, with 3 rushing TDs. Palmer also has 12 receptions this season.

Wide receiver Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 190 lbs.) was a preseason all-league pick. He has 62 receptions so far this year, with two TDs. Sanders had 7 catches last year versus The Citadel; in fact, Sanders has had 7 receptions in each of his last two games against the Bulldogs (including a 165-yard receiving performance in 2014).

Fellow wideout Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) made the all-conference team last year as a return specialist. Forlines is a dangerous punt returner, averaging 12.9 yards last season and 9.3 yards this year in that discipline. He is second on the team in receptions, with 47 catches and one TD.

Starting tight end Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 232 lbs.) has 30 receptions and four touchdown catches this season. The former quarterback is also the holder on placekicks, and VMI is not afraid to take advantage of his versatility. He threw a 50-yard pass on a trick play against Mercer.

VMI’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 279 lbs. According to the two-deep, the offensive tackles will be flipped for the game against The Citadel.

Fifth-year senior Iyan Roseborough (6’3″, 335 lbs.) has played right tackle this season for the Keydets, but is listed as the left tackle on this week’s depth chart. Roseborough is a native of Jenkinsville, South Carolina, and graduated from Fairfield Central High School.

Redshirt freshman Cole Brummit (6’4″, 250 lbs.) made his first career start against Western Carolina at left tackle. He is listed as the right tackle this week.

VMI’s defense normally lines up in a 3-4. In last season’s contest, the Keydets were generally effective at bottling up The Citadel’s triple option attack. After Cam Jackson broke loose for a 68-yard TD on the Bulldogs’ fourth play from scrimmage, VMI did not allow another offensive TD.

The Keydets’ D is led by two active inside linebackers. Ryan Francis (6’1″, 205 lbs.) is a redshirt junior from Knoxville who had 15 tackles versus The Citadel in last year’s matchup. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Natrona, Pennsylvania; he had 11 stops against the Bulldogs in last season’s game.

The two are currently tied for the team lead in tackles, with 94 each. They have combined for 21 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.

Francis is the main pass rusher, with six of those sacks; he also has two fumble recoveries. Against Mercer, Francis also threw a pass out of a fake punt formation; it was intercepted.

Another linebacker, Alijah Robinson (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is third on the team in tackes, with 58. Robinson also has two sacks.

Cornerback Riuq Trotman (5’9″ 155 lbs.) is a sophomore from Virginia Beach who leads the Keydets in interceptions, with three.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is in his fourth year as a placekicker for the Keydets. He has shared kicking duties with freshman Reed King (5’9″, 150 lbs.).

Regardless of the kicker, VMI has had major problems in the kicking game this season, with nine blocked kicks — five field goal attempts, and four PAT tries.

Christopher does have a strong leg, which he employs on kickoffs.

VMI’s punter is redshirt sophomore Bill Hogan (6’1″, 225 lbs.), who can also play linebacker. He has had one punt blocked this season. Hogan was the punter for VMI when the Keydets played The Citadel last season, and did a solid job.

Jake Keith (5’10”, 190 lbs.), a freshman from Blacksburg, is the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Lexington, Virginia, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 52 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is 27 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an 18-point favorite over VMI, with an over/under of 47.5.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 7.5-point favorite over Wofford; Samford is a 15.5-point favorite against Mercer; Furman is a 6.5-point favorite over Western Carolina; and East Tennessee State is a 24-point favorite against Cumberland.

Gardner-Webb (now 4-6) is off this week, presumably celebrating its stunning victory at Charleston Southern last Saturday. North Carolina (7-3) was upset by Duke 28-27 on Thursday night.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 4th in FCS (moving up one spot from last week, the second consecutive week the Bulldogs have crept up one position). VMI is ranked 69th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 93% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 34, VMI 13.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (8th), Samford (12th), Wofford (19th), Mercer (41st), Gardner-Webb (46th), Furman (47th), Western Carolina (64th), East Tennessee State (82nd).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Chattanooga, Sam Houston State, and Northern Iowa.

– VMI’s game notes roster includes 69 natives of Virginia. Other states represented on the squad: Tennessee (9), North Carolina (4), Pennsylvania (4), Georgia (3), Alabama (2), and one each from West Virginia, Louisiana, New York, Michigan, Texas, Maryland, and South Carolina.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– VMI concludes its season next week at Wofford.

– FBS opponents for VMI in future seasons include Toledo and Old Dominion in 2018; Army in 2019; and North Carolina State in 2023.

– On The Citadel’s two-deep this week, Evan McField is listed as the #2 B-back, with Isiaha Smith not listed on the depth chart. That is the only change from last week’s two-deep.

– Game notes factoid of the week: The Citadel has rushed for at least 400 yards in five games this season, tying the school’s single-season record. Those five games: North Greenville (559 yards, the most by an FCS school in a game so far in 2016), Western Carolina (513), Samford (463), East Tennessee State (427), and Gardner-Webb (419).

– With its victory over Samford on Saturday, The Citadel won its fifth consecutive Homecoming game. The Bulldogs won their fifth straight Parents’ Day game earlier in the season when they defeated Chattanooga.

The ten consecutive “celebration” victories are a modern-day school record. The Citadel had never won eight straight such games prior to the current run.

– The original cost of the Silver Shako (which was created in 1976) was $532.72.

– More than 40 players (and a few coaches) from VMI’s 1981 team will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. That Keydets squad beat Army and Virginia Tech, finishing with a 6-3-1 record. VMI has not had a winning season since that year.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson was asked about resting starters, trying to avoid injuries, etc., given that The Citadel has clinched a playoff spot. Thompson’s response:

It’s a loser’s mentality, there’s no doubt about that. You don’t go out there worrying about which guys are going to get hurt and who’s going to do this, and who’s going to do that. We’re going to go out there and play the game, and play the game to win. There’s a game on our schedule, it’s assigned to us, and we’re going to…go out there and give it our best. It doesn’t really matter who it is, whether it’s this week or next week…we’re going to try to play it, and try to play it to win it. If there are injuries…that’s part of the game and we can’t concern ourselves with that.

Thompson also noted that the offense did not play well against VMI last season, and wants to see improvement this year.

The coach also mentioned the importance of getting a bye for the FCS playoffs. If the Bulldogs want to seriously contend for the national title, they almost certainly need to be a seeded team, and receive the bye that goes with that designation.

A loss to VMI would almost certainly end The Citadel’s chance at a bye. Conversely, the game against North Carolina in two weeks will probably not be a factor in The Citadel’s postseason placement, unless the Bulldogs perform well in that contest.

The Citadel has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1936. In all that time, the football team has never finished undefeated in league play.

Along with the outright SoCon title, and a tenth straight victory, the opportunity to finish undefeated in the conference would be reason enough for the Bulldogs to want this game very badly. They don’t really need another reason, however.

This is the Military Classic of the South.

It will be a fierce contest. VMI will come ready to play on Saturday. The Citadel must respond in kind, and with even greater ferocity.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake, the greatest trophy in all of sports.

The Bulldogs have to do whatever it takes to keep it, and bring it back to Charleston, where it belongs.

Game Review, 2016: Samford

The Citadel 37, Samford 34 (OT).

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WCIV-TV

– Video from WCBD-TV

– Post-game press conference, featuring Brent Thompson, Dee Delaney, Cam Jackson, Tevin Floyd, Nick Jeffreys, Cody Clark, and Tyler Renew (video)

– School release from The Citadel

– School release from Samford

– Samford’s first-half highlights package (video)

– Samford’s second-half and post-game highlights package (video)

– Game story, The Birmingham News

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Nick Jeffreys, versatility personified

– Brent Thompson’s post-game speech, interrupted briefly due to locker room crowd-surfing by a special guest (video)

– Here is a little video (via Twitter) of Brent Thompson’s own crowd-surfing ability

Game highlights (video)

– On-field end-game videos via the Facebook page for The Citadel Sports: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3

– That page on Facebook also has a video clip of the seniors being recognized prior to the game

Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Cam Jackson’s ridiculous 63-yard run

– Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Cody Clark’s game-tying field goal

– Mike Legg and Lee Glaze with the end-of-game call

I hardly know where to begin.

Well, I guess I could start by saying that I was surprised by quite a few things that happened on the field on Saturday…

While talking to a couple of people before the game, the subject of Samford’s defense came up. I suggested that because of SU’s “Bear” front, which tends to clog up the middle of the line, Tyler Renew would probably not have a big game.

Renew proceeded to have one of the greatest rushing days in The Citadel’s long gridiron history.  He made me look like a dope. (I’m glad he did.)

I also wasn’t expecting Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges to turn into a dual-threat star. Hodges had entered the game with only 71 net rushing yards all season. Even if you take out sacks, he still had less than 240 yards on the ground, and had not carried the ball for more than 12 yards on any play.

However, you have to give Samford’s coaching staff credit for taking advantage of an opportunity and making an adjustment in the game plan. As a result, Hodges scored two rushing touchdowns (one for 57 yards) and had two other short runs for first downs.

He was clearly athletic enough to run, including a Houdini act late in the first half that turned a would-be sack into an eight-yard pickup, setting up a field goal.

Then, I wrote in my preview that turnovers would be a critical factor in the game. Naturally, neither team committed a turnover.

The one thing I got right had nothing to do with any type of intellectual analysis.

When asked before the game whether or not I thought The Citadel would prevail, I basically went with the theory that while Samford was a difficult matchup, the Bulldogs had found a way to win all season, and that maybe it was just their year.

They did find a way to win again, and it is their year. It is also a season for the ages.

Random thoughts from an increasingly frazzled fan:

– The atmosphere on Saturday was fantastic. The crowd was into the game from the opening kickoff, despite the delay in clearing the field after the Corps of Cadets and all the reunion classes marched into the stadium. It also took a little time for some of the fans in the East stands to get to their seats.

I was a little concerned when the third quarter began, because I noticed a lot of people had left, presumably to go to their respective tailgates. However, when I looked around a few minutes later, the home stands were packed once again.

By the numbers, it wasn’t one of the larger crowds in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (though it was the most-attended game at The Citadel since 2009). However, there was an unusual intensity in the stadium that could be felt by anyone who was there.

I’ve been to a lot of games over the years at JHS. I’m not sure how I would rank that one in terms of an all-around experience.

My top-ranked game in that respect has always been the 1988 contest against Marshall. I probably wouldn’t put Saturday’s matchup on that level, but it was close. Very close.

– When you look at the statistics, it’s a little surprising the game went to overtime. The Citadel dominated time of possession (as expected), ran many more plays (89 to 67), rung up 542 yards of total offense, and held Samford to 280 passing yards (on 46 attempts). As mentioned, there were no turnovers.

However, Samford had a few things go in its favor.

For one thing, SU placekicker Reece Everett had a good game. While he may have missed the fateful 44-yard attempt in overtime, Everett also made two long field goals during the game, from 51 and 44 yards. Prior to Saturday, Everett’s longest made field goal of the season had only been 36 yards.

Samford also benefited from an advantage in field position. This was partly because of a four-yard edge in net punting, but mostly due to stopping The Citadel twice on fourth-down conversion attempts, including one at The Citadel’s own 40-yard line in the fourth quarter. That was a gamble by Brent Thompson which did not pay off. Hey, it happens.

Getting points from your kicker without having to advance to the Red Zone, taking advantage of good field position, and those big run plays by Hodges…they all added up for Samford, and put it in position to win the game.

The Citadel also got hurt by a double whammy of officiating decisions in the fourth quarter. The second of those was a pass interference call that was made by an official 20 yards away from the play, a dubious call exacerbated by the lateness of the flag.

However, that paled in comparison to a non-call made on the previous play, an obvious intentional grounding call that was ignored by the referee.

not-grounding

If that had been called, Samford would have had a 3rd-and-17 (if not longer), instead of the much more manageable 3rd-and-7 that led to the pass interference penalty.

During the game, Samford had five 3rd-down conversion attempts of longer than seven yards. It was 0 for 5 converting in those situations, with three incomplete passes and a sack.

As Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier tweeted after the game, “If Citadel doesn’t win, that no grounding/pass interference sequence goes down in Bulldog/SoCon ref lore”. Luckily for The Citadel (and the Southern Conference), the Bulldogs overcame that situation.

– One of those 3rd-and-long situations for Samford came in overtime. On 3rd-and-12, Devlin Hodges sat back in the pocket and waited…and waited…and waited…and moved to his right, then waited some more…and waited…and waited…and finally threw the football out of bounds.

The play seemed to take an eternity. It almost did. Hodges threw the ball 9.7 seconds after receiving the snap.

That’s an extremely long time for a QB to hold the ball and not find an open receiver. It was great downfield coverage by the Bulldogs, to say the least.

– I mentioned this on my Twitter feed on Saturday night, but I think it’s worth repeating here.

There is a cliché that gets tossed around all the time (usually from TV game analysts) that goes something like this: triple option teams can’t play from behind, mainly because they don’t pass the ball enough (or effectively).

On Saturday, The Citadel trailed by ten points with just 5:30 left in regulation and the clock running, and faced a 3rd-and-7 from its own 31-yard line. From that point forward through the end of the game, the Bulldogs did not complete a pass.

They still won.

– The Citadel clinched an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs with the win. It has not, however, won the “outright” SoCon title yet.

Not everyone seems to understand how that works. Just in case you weren’t sure:

The Citadel has clinched at least a share of the league crown. However, the automatic bid to the playoffs does not constitute an outright championship. Chattanooga can still tie The Citadel for the conference title if the Mocs beat Wofford, and The Citadel loses to VMI.

Last year, the situation was reversed. Chattanooga got the automatic berth in the playoffs by virtue of its victory over The Citadel, but shared the league title with the Bulldogs because the teams finished with the same conference record (the Mocs having earlier lost to Mercer).

In other words, it’s just another reason The Citadel needs to beat VMI next week.

Of course, The Citadel doesn’t really need another reason to beat VMI, not with the coveted Silver Shako at stake. It is the greatest trophy in all of sports, and it needs to stay in Charleston, where it belongs.

I’m glad the freshmen in the corps of cadets are making the trip to Virginia for the game. I’ll write more about VMI when I preview the matchup later in the week. For now, I’ll just say that any alumnus of The Citadel ought to visit VMI at least once, just to get an idea of the similarities and differences between the two schools.

The Citadel will be trying to win the outright league title while finishing undefeated in SoCon play for the first time ever, which strikes me as another good reason to make the trip.

I may have a separate post prior to the game preview that deals with the FCS playoff structure, which seems to be a source of confusion in some quarters (understandably so). If I have time, I’ll outline the basics, explain all the historical problems associated with the selections, mention a few things to watch, etc.

For now, I’ll close with the usual motley assortment of pictures. This week, I wanted to include some non-football shots, since it was Homecoming. I also wandered by the temporary museum in Daniel Library and took a few photos there. Most of the pictures are annotated.

2016 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 5, 2016. The game will not be televised

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kevin Fitzgerald will provide play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre 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.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

– The Citadel versus Samford: a clash of styles

– Style seems to be the word choice of the week for this game

– Aiming for a second straight SoCon title

– Samford continues on a “brutal” road stretch

Brent Thompson’s 11/1 press conference, including comments from Tevin Floyd and Cam Jackson (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/2 radio show (video)

– Donnell Boucher is flexible, and that’s very good for The Citadel

– Samford head coach Chris Hatcher and quarterback Devlin Hodges preview the game against The Citadel (video)

– Brief interview with Samford offensive coordinator Russ Callaway (video)

– Brief interview with Samford defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Mississippi State (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Wofford (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Chattanooga: first half and second half/postgame (video)

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 3

– Four players from The Citadel named Academic All-District

– Homecoming Schedule

– The Citadel will honor the late Charles Foster

– Groundbreaking for the War Memorial takes place on November 4

At his weekly press conference, a member of the local media asked Brent Thompson about recruiting. The reporter suggested that the current players at The Citadel are better athletes than those who preceded them. Thompson’s response:

I think we’re doing a good job of recruiting our type of player, not necessarily the better athletes. We’ve certainly got some good athletes…

…really, a lot of it is more the development and retention of those players. I think over the past three years, since I’ve been here, we’ve lost very few players. We’re going to naturally be a better football team when we’ve got fourth- and fifth-year players, rather than those first- and second-year players. We’ve got a veteran ball club at this point, and that’s what we attribute a lot of [our success].

After a follow-up question, Thompson added:

When it comes to recruiting, the first thing that we really look for are good football players. We know that we can win and we can train good football players. They’ve got to have it inside of them first…

We’ve got to do our research. It takes a long time for us to figure out the players [out there] we want to recruit here. It comes down to the academics, it comes down to the corps of cadets, it comes down to being a good football player.

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit for us, and we understand that, and we can move on from that. Duggar Baucom has a great saying: “The next ‘No’ gets me closer to the next ‘Yes’.”

…We know that there are plenty of good football players out there for The Citadel, that fit what we do.

Retention is a key at most schools, of course, but it is absolutely the difference-maker at The Citadel, due to the nature of the institution. Too many coaches (in a wide variety of sports) have never completely grasped this, or have needed a few years at the military college to fully understand it.

For example, The Citadel football program’s attrition rate in 2005, 2006, and 2007 was poor (especially 2005; by the 2008 season, only six players from that class of recruits were still on the team). It is hard to build a consistently successful program when there is a revolving door of players, especially when bringing in undergraduate transfers is generally impractical (and rare).

I’ve written about this before, but as a comparison, here are some numbers from a few of Charlie Taaffe’s recruiting classes:

There were nine 5th-year seniors on the 1992 SoCon title team, including Jack Douglas, Lester Smith, and Carey Cash. Those players were part of Taaffe’s second recruiting class. It was obviously a tremendous group of recruits; we’re not just talking about quantity, but quality.

Taaffe brought in sixteen recruits the following year (1989). All sixteen were on the team for at least two years; fifteen completed four years. Fourteen of them were on the postseason two-deep in 1992.

It was actually even a better class than that, because three walkons from that year also made the ’92 two-deep. Sixteen recruits, eighteen significant contributors. That’s about as good as it gets.

Those two classes made up the foundation of the 1992 Southern Conference championship team.

The fourth year wasn’t quite as good, but it was okay. Of the seventeen recruits from that year, thirteen eventually lettered, with ten of the aforementioned 1992 two-deep.

The following year’s class was not as successful, with only eight of eighteen recruits lettering during their respective careers at The Citadel. That is indicative of a considerable amount of attrition.

Given all that, it’s not surprising the win totals, starting in 1989, were (in order): 5, 7, 7, 11, 5, 6, and 2 (Taaffe’s final season).

The easiest way to prevent attrition at The Citadel? Recruit potential cadets who can become good players, as opposed to recruiting players and trying to make them cadets.

It’s obviously not that simple; coaches have to bring in talented athletes. However, those talented athletes have to be capable of handling (and embracing) the challenge that is The Citadel, like all cadets.

Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs? Are you kidding me?

Yes, Jim Mora, I’m going to talk about the playoffs for a few paragraphs.

While the team has to take things one game at a time, I’m a fan. It’s my constitutional duty to look ahead and make potentially unfounded assumptions based on events that haven’t yet taken place.

On Thursday, the NCAA selection committee for the FCS playoffs released the first of three preliminary Top-10 rankings. I anticipated that the rankings would resemble a train wreck, and I was not disappointed.

First, they were initially released on ESPNU, midway through a program called “College Football Daily”. It was clear that show anchor Brendan Fitzgerald and analyst Jason Sehorn knew very little about the FCS, and had no enthusiasm for the subject.

Both were under the impression that 16 teams made the playoffs (instead of 24, the actual number). The rankings release was interspersed with year-old highlight clips.

Gene Henley of the Chattanooga Times Free-Press tweeted afterwards that the NCAA should just send out the rankings via email next week and forget about the TV spot. I couldn’t agree more.

As for the rankings themselves, they do not make a lot of sense from either an analytical or “eyeball” perspective. They smack of politics, to be honest, which should not surprise anyone.

Here are the Week 1 rankings:

Rank School
1 Jacksonville State
2 Sam Houston State
3 Eastern Washington
4 North Dakota State
5 James Madison
6 The Citadel
7 Richmond
8 Chattanooga
9 Charleston Southern
10 Central Arkansas

A few observations:

  • Samford, not on this list, beat #10 Central Arkansas on the road and has a much better strength of schedule (10th in FCS to 74th)
  • Sam Houston State, like The Citadel, is undefeated; unlike the Bulldogs, the Bearkats have not beaten a single D-1 team with a winning record, yet are four spots ahead of The Citadel
  • There are two teams in the Top 10 with victories over other Top 10 teams, The Citadel and North Dakota State (which has two, plus a victory over Iowa); each has a record that is better or the same as #1 Jacksonville State (and its #88 schedule strength)
  • Eastern Washington (7-1) has a win over a team in the FBS top 25, two victories over FCS teams with winning records, and lost in OT at North Dakota State, but is still behind Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State, for no discernible reason

Basically, the committee seems to be saying that the way to get a top seed is to play in a below-average league and schedule even weaker teams out of conference.

What are the ramifications for the Southern Conference (including The Citadel)?

Many observers were under the impression that the SoCon was going to place three teams in the FCS playoffs this season, with an outside shot of four squads making the field. After reviewing these rankings, however, I am not so sure.

Right now, I still think the most likely outcome is that three SoCon teams advance to the postseason. However, there is now some doubt. If these rankings are a true reflection of what we can expect from the selection committee, all bets are off.

If that group is going to do things like rank Central Arkansas #10, and completely ignore strength of schedule, it brings in possibilities that could spell trouble for the SoCon.

After last week’s victory over ETSU, I thought The Citadel was probably a “lock” for postseason play, even if it didn’t win another game. I no longer believe that to be the case.

The Citadel needs to keep winning. The same is true for Samford and Chattanooga. If anything, this week’s game in Charleston just got a little more important.

Besides being Homecoming, Saturday will be the final regular-season game at Johnson Hagood Stadium this year. I am specifying “regular-season” because, like all Bulldog fans, I am hopeful that The Citadel will qualify for the playoffs, and in doing so hosts a postseason game or two (or three). It’s just one more reason why every game matters this time of year.

The Bulldogs have played three games at JHS so far this season, but have yet to sport the light blue jerseys/white pants combination that is the traditional home uniform.

I have refrained from making uniform-related comments to this point in the 2016 campaign, but I think it would be nice if the team wore the actual school colors at home once in a while. I realize in some quarters that opinion is considered just short of perverse.

If The Citadel does not wear the traditional home ensemble, it will mark the first time since 2010 that the Bulldogs did not do so for at least one home game. That would be a shame, particularly as it is by far the best of the myriad uniform combinations currently in the rotation.

One problem when writing about The Citadel and Samford is that both are “Bulldogs”. Therefore, as always, I have to define some terms.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. That is because I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

I’ll refer to Samford as “SU”, the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, or the “Baptist Tigers”.

That’s right, Baptist Tigers. I mentioned this last year, but it’s well worth repeating:

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

It seems to me that “Crimson Bulldog” is a little too reminiscent of “Crimson Tide”, which might explain why the “crimson” part is no longer in usage. I also think that someone seriously underestimated bears when it comes to their ability to eat.

In 1987, Terry Bowden took over as head coach at Samford. He had been coaching at Salem College in West Virginia, and when he took the Samford job he brought his quarterback from Salem with him.

That QB was Jimbo Fisher. The current Florida State coach played for one season at Samford, setting a few dozen records, all with his original hair, and then was an assistant coach at the school for the next five seasons.

Of course, Terry’s father Bobby Bowden both played and coached at Samford (then known as Howard). A few other fun facts:

  • Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961, one of only two such transactions involving a law school, and the only one in which the law school moved across state lines. Yes, that’s the same Cumberland University that lost 222-0 to Georgia Tech in 1916.
  • The college played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, defeating Birmingham-Southern 9-0 on November 19, 1927.
  • Back in the day, the football program was happy to hop on a train to play an opponent. That included matchups with Duquesne at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, North Dakota in Grand Forks, and Havana National University (in Cuba). The team also played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico in 1954 and 1963.

Okay, now back to the cold, hard world of 2016 pigskin…

Samford is 6-2 this season, 4-1 in the SoCon.

SU opened the season with a 77-7 win over woefully outmatched Mars Hill, a Division II school (that also happens to be Mike Houston’s alma mater). It was the first time Samford had scored 70 or more points in a game in almost 30 years.

The Birmingham Bulldogs rolled up 573 yards of total offense in 96 plays. The defense was in fine form, too, allowing only 136 yards of total offense and adding a fumble return TD for good measure.

The next week, SU’s defense added two more defensive touchdowns to its total, a major reason Samford defeated Central Arkansas 35-29. That game was played at UCA.

The result made little sense from a statistical standpoint. Samford was outgained 577 to 257, as Central Arkansas won the time of possession battle by over 13 minutes and limited SU to just 56 offensive plays from scrimmage.

Samford was 3 for 16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts, was held to negative rushing yards, and did not run a play in the red zone. The Birmingham Bulldogs prevailed anyway. It’s a wonderful, wacky world.

After a bye week, Samford traveled to Chattanooga and got waxed by the Mocs, 41-21. UTC was only 6 for 17 on third-down conversion attempts, but still put up 518 yards of total offense and had a time of possession edge of over 18 minutes.

Chattanooga jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the contest and Samford never got closer than 10 points after that. SU threw 53 passes for 343 yards, but only rushed for 46 yards on 20 attempts.

Back in the homey confines of Seibert Stadium, the Birmingham Bulldogs outlasted Wofford 28-26. The Terriers scored a touchdown with 3:24 to play in the fourth quarter to get within two points, but Samford intercepted a pass attempt on the two-point conversion try and held on for the victory.

The two teams combined for 20 penalties, but no turnovers. Wofford had a time of possession edge of over 18 minutes, ran 21 more plays, outgained Samford by 44 yards, and was 9 of 18 on third down (as compared to SU’s 4 for 12).

Samford won despite that, mainly due to an impressive, consistent performance from quarterback Devlin Hodges, who was 28 for 32 for 315 yards and four TD passes.

The following week, SU defeated Furman 38-21 in Greenville. Hodges threw for 411 yards (27 for 38, with three touchdowns and one interception). Samford finished with 517 total yards, including 106 rushing yards.

SU returned home and blasted VMI, 55-21. Samford quarterbacks combined to throw six touchdowns passes, while the defense chipped in with another return TD, this time a pick-six.

The score was 38-14 at halftime. SU finished with 462 passing yards.

Samford had “only” 375 passing yards in its next game, against Western Carolina, but added 215 rushing yards in a 30-17 victory. SU led 13-7 at the break, but then took control of the contest with two third-quarter TDs.

The victory over WCU was unusual in the sense that Samford actually had the edge in time of possession, a function of its success on the ground. K’rondis Larry rushed for 167 yards on 22 carries. They were consistent gains, too, as his longest run from scrimmage was 29 yards.

Last week, Samford lost 56-41 to Mississippi State. In eighteen previous meetings between the two schools, the Baptist Tigers had scored a total of 31 points.

Samford won the time of possession battle for a second straight week; just as it did against Western Carolina, SU had success running the ball as well as throwing it.

SU ran 104 (!) offensive plays from scrimmage against Mississippi State, including 70 pass attempts. The only offensive negative was three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

A few relevant stats for Samford:

SU Opp
Points/game 40.6 27.2
Rushing yardage 847 1431
Yards/rush 3.5 3.9
Rush TDs 9 15
Passing yardage 3008 1869
Comp-Att-Int 264-382-8 152-269-9
Average/pass att 7.9 6.9
Passing TDs 30 12
Total offense 3855 3300
Total plays 625 636
Yards/play 6.2 5.2
Fumbles/lost 10/4 15/8
Penalties-pen yds 54-576 54-507
Pen yards/game 72.0 63.4
Net punt average 39.3 34.9
Time of poss/game 26:33 33:27
3rd-down conv 43/122 49/140
3rd-down conv % 35.2% 35.0%
Sacks by-yards 16-100 20-135
Red Zone TD% (27-38) 71% (19-30) 63%
  • Samford is 8th nationally in scoring offense, 10th nationally in total offense, and 2nd in passing offense (376 yards per game)
  • The Birmingham Bulldogs are 13th in FCS in pass efficiency offense
  • SU is 8th in the country in net punting
  • Samford is 116th out of 122 teams in time of possession
  • SU is 34th nationally in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate
  • Samford has 4 defensive TDs; only three FCS teams have more this season
  • The Birmingham Bulldogs are 15th in turnovers gained and 22nd in turnover margin

Now let’s take a quick look at The Citadel in the same categories:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30 16.8
Rushing yardage 2903 1036
Rushing attempts 526 257
Yards/rush 5.5 4
Rushing TDs 25-Jan 10
Passing yardage 461 1365
Comp-Att-Int 29-70-2 105-200-8
Average/pass att 6.6 6.8
Passing TDs 4 6
Total offense 3364 2401
Total plays 596 457
Yards/play 5.6 5.3
Fumbles/lost 12/6 11/7
Pen-pen yards 40-425 34-329
Pen yards/game 53.1 41.1
Net punt average 37.5 36.3
Time of poss/game 34:10 25:49
3rd-down conv 64/130 29/96
3rd-down conv % 49.2% 30.2%
Sacks by-yards 22-153 0-0
Red Zone TD% (20-35) 57% (9-17) 53%
  • The Citadel is second nationally in rushing offense (363 yards per game)
  • The Bulldogs are ninth in the country in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 16th in turnover margin, and 10th in turnovers lost
  • After leading the nation in the category two weeks ago, The Citadel is now 4th in time of possession
  • The Citadel is seventh in scoring defense, 13th in total defense, and 14th in passing yards allowed
  • The Bulldogs are 12th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel remains the only team in FCS not to allow a sack so far this season

It could be argued that Samford’s game against Wofford provides the most answers when it comes to trying to determine how Saturday’s game will be played. With that in mind, here are some comments from the Terriers about their game versus the Birmingham Bulldogs. These are all related to Samford’s offense:

“Hodges is an All-American type of quarterback,” Wofford defensive end Tyler Vaughn said. “If you give him time, even the slightest bit of time, he’ll pick you apart. That’s kind of what he did.”

“A lot of the throws were nickel-and-dime routes. That’s their philosophy,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. “You know it’s going to happen. They’re going to get their share of completions. But you just hope you can make the tackle. …The ones that kill you are the ones where you blow the coverage and the ball goes over your heads. That happened a couple of times.”

Wofford’s defense has been able to apply a great deal of pressure to opposing quarterbacks so far this season, well ahead of last season’s pace with 34 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. The Terriers got to Hodges just twice, one by Vaughn and one by Steven Cornellier.

“Their offensive line was doing some really good things,” Vaughn said. “We couldn’t get to the quarterback as fast as we wanted, especially in the first half (falling behind, 21-10). In the second half, we got back to Wofford defense and got a little more pressure. But it was hard.

“The tough thing for us was trying to catch up to 5-foot-10 guys who can run. We’re bigger guys. If they got a good block somewhere and we didn’t do our assignment right, it was all that much harder for us linemen to get up field and help catch the receivers.”

“The screen plays are safe plays for them,” Ayers said. “It’s like a run play. They did a great job of blocking and getting into the chute and getting some big yardage out of it.”

Wofford safety Jaleel Green said the Terriers had to win individual matchups to have any chance of containing the short passes.

“When they get out there and start setting up screens, it’s all about one-on-one matchups,” Green said. “If you can beat a block, you can slow them down. But they would put an extra guy out there and make us pay a couple of times, turning them into big runs.”

Samford has thrown the football on 61% of its offensive plays in its first eight games of the season. Slightly over 78% of its total yardage has come via the air.

Starting quarterback Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 213 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore from Kimberly, Alabama, who was named the league’s offensive player of the month for October. Hodges is completing 69.2% of his passes, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt, with 28 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.

Hodges more or less “arrived” on the scene last season when he entered Samford’s game against The Citadel in relief. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 271 yards versus the Bulldogs in that contest, including an 83-yard TD strike.

Samford rotates a trio of running backs, though in the last two games K’rondis Larry (5’6″, 150 lbs.) has seen the bulk of the action. Besides the aforementioned 167 yards versus Western Carolina, he ran for 99 yards against Mississippi State, including a 68-yard scamper. Larry is averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Karel Hamilton (6’1″, 202 lbs.) is a senior from Valrico, Floria. The preseason all-conference selection had 16 receptions against Western Carolina. He had 213 receiving yards against Mississippi State.

The Citadel is all too aware of how explosive Hamilton can be, as he had 15 catches and 220 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season, including that 83-yard bomb thrown by Hodges. It is possible that Hamilton will eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the season on Saturday.

It would be a mistake to focus solely on Hamilton, though, as Samford has five other players with at least eighteen receptions this year. That group includes Kelvin McKnight (5’8″, 185 lbs.), a sophomore with six TD catches so far this season. McKnight is also an outstanding punt returner, averaging an eye-opening 9.5 yards per return despite not breaking one for a TD — yet.

Emmanuel Obajimi (6’0″, 200 lbs.) is a redshirt senior; like Hamilton and McKnight, he is a Florida native. All three can take a short toss and go a long way with it. In the case of Obajimi, that includes receptions of 61 yards versus VMI and 38 yards against Wofford.

Obajimi and K’rondis Larry are SU’s primary kick returners. It should be noted that in last week’s game against Mississippi State, Obajimi did not play.

Samford’s sturdy starting offensive line features three seniors (two of whom are fifth-year players) and averages 6’4″, 300 lbs.

Left guard Armando Bonheur (6’3″, 305 lbs.) leads the way for the o-line. The preseason all-league pick (who was an all-SoCon coach’s choice at the end of last season) is a redshirt senior from Orange Park, Florida.

Under longtime defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, Samford has traditionally employed a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option attack. For several years, Bulldogs really struggled moving the football, with terrible third-down conversion rates.

In the last two seasons, though, The Citadel has improved in that category, picking up conversions at a 39% clip. That doesn’t seem all that great, and it really isn’t, but it’s miles better than what the Bulldogs did from 2010-12 (15%).

Linebacker Shaheed Salmon (6’1″, 226 lbs.), a junior from Tampa, was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Month for October. Salmon leads Samford in tackles with 81, including 13 for loss. He also has seven pass breakups, and blocked a field goal attempt against VMI.

Defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden (6’1″, 240 lbs.) was a preseason all-conference selection. The redshirt sophomore has 11 tackles for loss this year, including 4 1/2 sacks.

Senior noseguard Jared Holloway (6’1″, 290 lbs.) has 3 1/2 sacks for the Birmingham Bulldogs, along with two forced fumbles. Holloway will miss the first half of Saturday’s game after being ejected for targeting in the second half of Samford’s game against Mississippi State.

Jamerson Blount (6’0″, 180 lbs.) had 11 tackles last season against The Citadel. The free safety from Tallahassee was a preseason all-league pick. Blount, a senior, is second on the team in tackles with 69.

Austin Barnard (6’4″, 200 lbs.) is Samford’s punter. Of his 41 punts this season, 15 have been downed inside the 20.

As was mentioned above, SU is 8th in all of FCS in net punting. The redshirt sophomore also handles kickoffs for the Birmingham Bulldogs.

Starting placekicker Reece Everett (5’11”, 180 lbs.) is 8 for 11 converting field goal attempts this year, with a long of 36 yards. His longest attempt this year has been 51 yards. Everett has only missed one extra point all season.

Samford has played four home contests this season. On the statistical summaries for those games, the following individuals were listed as the official scorers:

  • Homer Simpson (twice)
  • Johnny Manziel
  • Jon Coctosen

I believe that Samford’s official scorer against Mars Hill actually spells his name “John Coctostan”. Given that Coctostan is a Scots-Romanian surname, it is perhaps not surprising that the person who had to input the name in the stats book misspelled it.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 69 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is 49 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 4.5-point favorite over Samford, with an over/under of 58.5.

The line has really fluctuated this week. The Citadel opened as a 2.5-point favorite, but less than nine hours later the game had been bet down to a pick’em. Since then, however, the line has moved even more the other way.

I’m not a gambler, so I don’t have any real insight as to all that. It may not take a lot of money to really move FCS lines, though.

One other thing: the over/under is down one point from where it opened earlier in the week.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Wofford is a 5-point favorite at Furman; Western Carolina is a 6.5-point favorite over VMI; and Mercer is a 23.5-point favorite against East Tennessee State.

Chattanooga is off this week.

Gardner-Webb (now 3-6 on the season) is a 18.5-point underdog at Charleston Southern. North Carolina (6-2) is a 10.5-point favorite against Georgia Tech.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 5th in FCS (moving up one spot from last week). Samford is ranked 12th (down one position from last week).

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 58% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 33, Samford 30.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (10th), Wofford (23rd), Mercer (44th), Furman (47th), Gardner-Webb (60th), Western Carolina (66th), VMI (68th), East Tennessee State (86th).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Central Arkansas, The Citadel, Youngstown State, South Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Charleston Southern, Chattanooga.

– Samford’s game notes roster includes 33 natives of Alabama, but more of its players actually hail from Georgia (35). Other states represented on its roster: Florida (23), Tennessee (12), North Carolina (3), Mississippi (2), and one each from Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oregon, and California.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– After this Saturday, Samford plays two more conference games. SU hosts Mercer next week, and then travels to East Tennessee State for its regular-season finale.

– Samford will play Georgia next year, and will also start a four-game series with Kennesaw State in 2017.

– There were no new names on The Citadel’s two-deep this week, the fifth consecutive week that has been the case.

– As of early Friday morning, there were three tickets remaining for purchase in the West Stands. Yes, three.

I cannot really get a good sense of how many seats are available in the East Stands, at least not from looking at the stadium map infographic on the ticket sales website. I’m going to make what is probably a very bad guess and say there are about 2,000 tickets left on that side. I could be way off in either direction, to be honest.

– The Citadel will be attempting to win its fifth consecutive Homecoming game on Saturday. The Bulldogs won their fifth straight Parents’ Day game earlier in the season when they defeated Chattanooga.

The nine consecutive “celebration” victories are a modern-day school record.

There is not much left to be said about Saturday’s game. It is a big game, to be sure, but that’s because every game remaining on the schedule is a big game. That’s what happens when you start 8-0.

(I said that when the Bulldogs were 6-0 and 7-0, too, but hey, it’s still true.)

I think Samford is going to be a very tough matchup for The Citadel. I also believe that The Citadel is going to be a very tough matchup for Samford.

This week, time of possession has received a considerable amount of attention (and indeed, I’ve focused on it myself). That means third-down conversions will be key. In many respects, it’s a repeat of the Chattanooga game in terms of how the Bulldogs want to play the game.

However, I think turnovers will be an even more important factor than they usually are (and they’re usually of significant importance). That is simply because of the disparate ways the two teams approach the game from an offensive perspective. It’s not just about ball control, but the results of each team’s drives.

Brent Thompson also noted during his radio show that he has concerns with Samford’s special teams. That will be something to watch on Saturday, particularly on punt returns.

I can’t wait for Saturday. It’s going to be intense, and just a little crazy…

…and that’s before the game even starts.

Game Review, 2016: Chattanooga

The Citadel 22, Chattanooga 14.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

Game story, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Game analysis, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Brent Thompson, Dominique Allen, Cam Jackson, Dee Delaney, and Jonathan King

Video from WCIV-TV

Video from WCBD-TV

Postgame comments from Russ Huesman

Postgame comments from Mocs players Cedric Nettles, Nakevion Leslie, Keionta Davis, C.J. Board, and Alejandro Bennifield

Game story, Southern Pigskin

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Brent Thompson, crowdsurfer

Game highlights

I want to start by pointing out something that is obvious, but yet may go overlooked. With its victory on Saturday, The Citadel clinched a winning season. That matters.

The Bulldogs had a winning season last year too, of course. The last time The Citadel had consecutive winning seasons on the gridiron? 1991-1992.

The Citadel actually had three straight winning campaigns from 1990 to 1992, but the latter two years were the last time the Bulldogs had put together back-to-back over-.500 seasons until yesterday’s achievement.

It has been a long time coming.

From the post-game notes package:

Brent Thompson is the 1st head coach in The Citadel history to begin his career 6-0 and has tied Harry O’Brien for the most wins by a first-year coach in program history

Harry O’Brien’s six-win season came exactly 100 years ago, in 1916. That was arguably the most impressive season on the gridiron by the Bulldogs in the thirty years prior to World War II, as The Citadel finished 6-1-1, including season-closing victories over Clemson (a game played in Orangeburg and won by the Bulldogs 3-0) and South Carolina (a 20-2 shellacking in Columbia).

The stylish O’Brien was a Swarthmore graduate who also coached basketball and baseball at The Citadel. O’Brien later coached hoops at Drexel, too.

Saturday’s contest was a very well-played football game between two good teams. The Citadel won the game, and deservedly so, but there was very little that separated the Bulldogs from the Mocs.

The key to the game, in my opinion, was The Citadel’s offense converting its first ten third-down conversion attempts of the game. It was an amazing run which seemed to violate the rules of probability, and that’s before taking into consideration the fact that Chattanooga had entered the game leading the nation in defensive third-down conversion rate (22%).

It led to The Citadel’s enormous time of possession advantage (39:31 – 20:29), which resulted in Chattanooga’s high-powered offense being kept off the field for extended periods of time. That kept the Bulldogs’ defense fresh, and probably affected UTC’s rhythm on offense as well. The Mocs only ran 47 offensive plays from scrimmage, while the Bulldogs had 81 — a huge differential.

UTC had the edge in yards gained per play, 6.3 to 4.3, a statistic that is a bit deceiving. Not counting C.J. Board’s 75-yard TD reception (though obviously it very much counted in the game), Chattanooga’s average yards per play drops to 4.6.

In the second half, the Mocs ran 27 plays and gained a total of 74 yards, an average of just 2.7 yards per play.

On the first play from scrimmage for The Citadel’s offense, Dominique Allen rushed for a 15-yard gain. The Citadel would run 80 more offensive plays after that, but none of them would result in a gain as long as Allen’s run — a near-remarkable oddity.

In a way, that note serves to highlight an outstanding effort by UTC’s defense in not allowing any big plays. However, it also accentuates the Bulldogs’ success in converting on third down. They had to regularly convert on third down in the game to have a chance to score, much less win.

One reason the Bulldogs were so successful on third down in the first half was they were able to get outside and turn the corner. Basically, the conversions came in two categories: 3rd-and-short plays were mostly keepers by Allen, while third-and-long efforts were pitches to an A-back (usually Cam Jackson). Here are The Citadel’s third-down conversions in the first half:

  • 3rd-and-6, Cam Jackson carries for 13 yards
  • 3rd-and-6, Cam Jackson carries for 13 yards (yes, the same distance/result, and in the same drive)
  • 3rd-and-8, Cam Jackson carries for 9 yards
  • 3rd-and-2, Isiaha Smith carries for 3 yards
  • 3rd-and-4, Cam Jackson carries for 7 yards
  • 3rd-and-3, Dominique Allen carries for 3 yards
  • 3rd-and-3, Dominique Allen carries for 11 yards
  • 3rd-and-3, Rod Johnson carries for 8 yards
  • 3rd-and-3, Dominique Allen carries for 5 yards
  • 3rd-and-6, Dominique Allen carries for 7 yards

In the second half, the Mocs clearly made an adjustment, and thus the pitch to the outside was not as successful for the Bulldogs. However, The Citadel appeared to throw in a couple of new wrinkles in the fourth quarter, which resulted in key first downs picked up on outside runs by Reggie Williams and Tyler Renew.

So, to sum up: The Citadel won despite completing just one pass (for seven yards), not having a single offensive play from scrimmage result in more than a 15-yard gain, and without forcing a turnover.

It wasn’t a fluke victory, though — far from it. Heck, The Citadel even survived the almost customary hosing by the SoCon officials, who in the third quarter managed to twice deny the Bulldogs a clear first down inside the UTC 10-yard line. (It’s one thing to spot a ball poorly, but to do it on consecutive plays takes a considerable amount of talent.)

I thought the fan support was excellent. It wasn’t quite the overflow crowd that some were expecting, but it was substantial enough, and a lot of the folks in the stands were really into the game.

There were a few who weren’t, but that’s always true. Why they have to leave their seats every 15 minutes, only to return 10 minutes later, I have no idea…

After the game, I was asked by a couple of people how big a win this was for The Citadel. Where does it rank on the all-time list?

My answer, basically: “It depends on the next four games.”

The victory over Chattanooga won’t have a lot of meaning, historical or otherwise, if the Bulldogs don’t continue to win games. Beating UTC won’t matter nearly as much if the team loses two or three conference games down the stretch.

I mentioned this in my preview of the Chattanooga game, but it’s worth repeating: in 1992, Marshall and The Citadel played at Johnson Hagood Stadium in a top-10 matchup between SoCon teams undefeated in league play. Marshall won the game…but The Citadel wound up winning the conference title.

The win on Saturday afternoon was one step, a big one, but nevertheless just one step. As Cam Jackson pointed out in last week’s press conference, “Every conference game is just as important as the next.”

The next conference game is at Wofford. It’s just as important.

This week’s pictures are…well, they’re pictures.

2016 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on October 15. The game be televised on multiple Fox regional sports networks, including Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Midwest+, Fox Sports North+, and Fox Sports San Diego. Kevin Fitzgerald will provide play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre supplies the analysis. 

The game will also be streamed on ESPN3.com and Fox Sports Go.

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.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Parents’ Weekend information

– Game notes for The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson 10/11 press conference, including comments from Tevin Floyd and Cam Jackson (video)

Brent Thompson’s 10/12 radio show (video)

Brent Thompson interviewed by Phil Korblut of SportsTalk (audio)

Russ Huesman’s 10/11 press conference (video)

UTC 10/11 press conference featuring players Taylor Reynolds and Alejandro Bennifield (video)

Inside Chattanooga Football (video)

The Citadel has four road wins, most in Division I

With the hurricane behind them, Bulldogs ready to play Chattanooga

Chattanooga eager to play The Citadel

The stress from the upcoming game gives Mocs coach Russ Huesman a sore neck

Mocs running back Derrick Craine is having a very good season (again)

Chattanooga practicing in full pads to prepare for The Citadel

Ultimately, it’s just another conference game

Hey, a little news about Bulldog Hoops!

Updated options for North Greenville tickets

Ryan Bednar has come a long way

Radio open for the game on The Citadel Sports Network

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

Additional link of interest that isn’t necessarily sports-related (although there is a little football talk):

A conversation with John Rosa

I linked the ticket options update above, but let’s take a closer look:

Fans who have tickets for last week’s rescheduled football game against North Greenville can use them for this week’s top-10 matchup against Chattanooga.

“Because The Citadel’s Parents Weekend has been rescheduled to this weekend, we felt we needed to offer fans who purchased tickets because of Parents Weekend the opportunity to still use those as originally intended,” Athletic Director Jim Senter said. “We understand many plans were changed due to the hurricane, and we want to allow those who planned to attend our football game as part of their Parents Weekend activities to still be able to do that.”

Anyone with a ticket to the North Greenville game that was not used last Thursday night at North Greenville can exchange that ticket for admission to Saturday’s home game against Chattanooga. Exchanges are required because if a ticket has already been sold in that seat for this week’s game, the North Greenville ticket holders will be reseated to the best available location. Every effort will be made to keep seat locations as close to the original location as possible.

Fans unable to attend this week’s game will have their ticket honored with an additional ticket in general admission seating at The Citadel’s home game against ETSU on Oct. 29 or can donate their ticket to the Junior Bulldog program, which benefits orphanages and foster families in the Lowcountry.

I think it may be difficult for some people who had tickets to the North Greenville game to be in attendance for the Chattanooga contest. Presumably a significant amount of tickets were purchased by families as part of the Parents’ Weekend festivities. Some of them will return, but a week’s notice is going to be tough for more than a few folks, especially those who hail from outside the southeastern United States.

I’m not sure how that will affect this week’s turnout, or general ticket availability. How much reseating will be necessary?

Earlier this week, my initial reaction to the talk about this being a sellout, or a near-sellout, was just that: it was only talk.

Chattanooga isn’t going to bring a lot of people (the Mocs rarely do; it’s a long trip, after all). No one should be expecting as many Parents’ Day attendees on short notice as there would have been for the North Greenville game. I didn’t see how attendance would make a big jump.

Now, though, I get the impression that Johnson Hagood Stadium will be close to a packed house, especially with any kind of decent walk-up crowd (and the weather on Saturday will apparently be cooperating on that front). The scene should look great on TV, too.

I know The Citadel’s players are more than ready to finally play another home game. It appears the same may be true of the Bulldogs’ fan base, as well. Eight of the last nine games played by The Citadel have been on the road; I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

I will say this, though. If someone plans on exchanging a ticket from the North Greenville game for a Chattanooga ducat, getting to the stadium early should be a priority. I would imagine there may quite a line to exchange those tickets.

When it was suggested to Cam Jackson by a member of the press that the game against Chattanooga was “different from another conference game”, Jackson politely responded that in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t.

No sir, every conference game is just as important as the next.

I don’t think Jackson anticipated having to explain basic mathematics to a reporter at the Tuesday press conference. His comment was later referred to by the same scribe as a “dreaded cliché”.

That was a remarkably poor description. Jackson’s statement wasn’t a cliché; it was the simple truth, one undoubtedly drilled into the Bulldogs by the coaching staff, but the truth nonetheless. (Incidentally, Mocs quarterback Alejandro Bennifield said almost the exact same thing at UTC’s presser.)

The Citadel’s season won’t end on Saturday. There are still five regular-season games remaining (four in SoCon play) after the Bulldogs play Chattanooga.

A win or loss won’t define the 2016 campaign. It’s just one link in a chain. It’s not to be completely discounted, of course. However, the world won’t end if the Bulldogs lose, and Johnson Hagood Stadium won’t turn into Big Rock Candy Mountain if they win.

I can even provide a relevant example to prove this.

The first time Johnson Hagood Stadium hosted a matchup of Top 10 teams came in 1992. On October 17 of that year, The Citadel played Marshall before a record crowd. Both teams were undefeated in SoCon action entering the contest.

Marshall won the game, so naturally the Southern Conference title that year was won by…uh…uh…uh…

The Citadel.

Sometimes people forget that. They shouldn’t.

As is traditional, nomenclature must be established when discussing Chattanooga. I’ve written before (more than once, to be sure) about the school’s identity/branding issues.

Chattanooga has a webpage on its varsity athletics website devoted to the one question that has bedeviled the school for many years: What is a Moc?

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

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

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

The “Power C” and the “Cowcatcher logo” are also phrases that apply to branding at Chattanooga. It’s a subject that has even come to the attention of The New York Times.

In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

The most memorable game played between Chattanooga and The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium was probably the 1988 contest, won by the Bulldogs 23-17. As the clock wound down, UTC had a first-and-goal from the three-yard line, with a chance to win the game with a TD and subsequent PAT. However, a big defensive stand by the Bulldogs (featuring key plays by Rob Brodsky, Matt Larkin, and Terrance Young) preserved the victory.

The Citadel had won two consecutive games before that matchup with UTC; it would eventually win seven straight games that season and make the I-AA playoffs for the first time.

How far has Chattanooga come under Russ Huesman? I wrote this in 2008:

You know it’s been a bad season [for Chattanooga] when the beat writer for the local paper notes that “punter Jeff Lloyd, who lost his starting job for three games, may be the Mocs’ most productive player.”

Later in the column he writes that Lloyd has been effective “when he has been able to get a punt off.”

UTC’s struggles have presented an opportunity for assorted anti-football advocates to step forward and call for the program’s elimination. The loudest of these voices is a computer science professor at UTC named Joe Dumas.  From the link:

“This is a perfect time for UTC to get out of the football business for good and concentrate on academics while maintaining successful athletic programs like basketball, golf, tennis, etc.”

Eight years later, Chattanooga has won outright or shared the last three SoCon titles. This season, the Mocs are 6-0 and ranked third in the nation in the FCS Coaches’ poll.

UTC began its 2016 campaign by annihilating Division II Shorter University, 66-0. The following week, the Mocs beat Presbyterian 34-0.

Two games, a combined score of 100-0. Nice start.

Chattanooga has since played four Southern Conference games, winning all four. Only the first of those, a 21-14 win at Furman, was close (though even in that game, UTC led 21-0 before the Paladins made a belated fourth-quarter charge).

A very good Samford team was pushed aside 44-21, with UTC storming out to another 21-0 lead and never looking back. East Tennessee State was then mauled, 37-7 (one of two road games the Mocs have played so far this season).

Last week, Chattanooga led Mercer 38-3 at halftime and 52-10 in the third quarter before settling for a 52-31 victory. That would be the same Mercer team The Citadel beat by one point in the season opener.

UTC has yet to trail in a game this season, outscoring its opponents 148-10 in the first half.

Many of Chattanooga’s relevant statistics are eye-popping.

UTC Opp
Points Per Game 41.8 12.2
Pts Off Turnovers 59 7
Rushing yardage 1384 430
Rushing Attempts 270 185
Yds/rush 5.1 2.3
TDs Rushing 18 6
Passing yardage 1287 936
Comp-Att-Int 93-139-4 97-170-5
Average Per Pass 9.3 5.5
TDs Passing 15 4
Total Off. Plays 409 355
Average yds/play 6.5 3.8
Average yds/game 445.2 227.7
Fumbles/lost 8/2 12/6
Penalties-yards 37-358 33-331
Average/game 59.7 55.2
TOP/game 34:09:00 25:51:00
3rd-down conv. 27/74 18/82
3rd-down conv. rate 36% 22%
Sacks by-yards 16-122 5-43
Red Zone TD rate (21-28) 75% (8-10) 80%

Among other things:

  • The Mocs lead the nation in scoring defense, total defense, yards allowed per play, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate
  • UTC is third in the nation in rushing defense, and fourth in the country in yards allowed per rush
  • The Mocs are sixth nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt
  • Chattanooga has only been sacked five times, while throwing 139 passes. Meanwhile, its opponents have been sacked 16 times while throwing 170 passes.
  • UTC has a pass completion rate of 67% and is seventh nationally in offensive pass efficiency
  • Chattanooga is also seventh nationally in scoring offense
  • UTC is tenth nationally in time of possession per game (Wofford leads the nation in that category; The Citadel is second)

Now, to be fair, The Citadel has some nice statistics of its own:

  • The Bulldogs are 12th nationally in offensive third-down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is tied for 6th in scoring defense, 12th in total defense, and 12th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs lead the nation in rushing offense, and are 6th in the country in yards per rush
  • The Citadel has not allowed a sack all season, the only FCS team that can make that claim
  • The Bulldogs are one of two FCS teams not to allow a successful fourth down conversion so far this season (Sacred Heart is the other). Admittedly, The Citadel’s opponents have only gone for it on 4th down on three occasions.

“We won’t be able to trick ’em.”

– Russ Huesman, describing his offense versus The Citadel’s defense at his press conference on Tuesday.

Of course, this is the same coach who called a trick play for a TD on the first play from scrimmage in last year’s game…

When Russ Huesman’s son, Jacob, finally exhausted his eligibility, there was some question as to whether or not UTC would regress offensively in 2016 with a new starting quarterback. The answer: nope.

That’s partly because the Mocs brought back most of their other offensive starters, but mainly because Alejandro Bennifield (6’2″, 220 lbs.) has seamlessly stepped in as UTC’s signal-caller.

Bennifield (who was involved in the aforementioned trick play) is completing 66.7% of his passes, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, with fifteen TD tosses against only four interceptions. The junior from Lovejoy, Georgia, is fourth nationally in offensive pass efficiency.

Derrick Craine (5’10”, 205 lbs.) is a senior running back who was a first-team All-SoCon pick last season after rushing for 1,251 yards. His first career 100-yard performance as a Moc came the last time UTC played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, as he had 135 yards in the 2014 matchup.

UTC has at least four receivers who can make big plays. Xavier Borishade (5’10”, 180 lbs.) already has six touchdown receptions this season. The senior was the recipient of the TD toss from Bennifield on the first play of last year’s game against the Bulldogs.

Another wideout, C.J. Board (6’2″, 180 lbs.), is second on the team in receptions. Board has caught three TD passes in 2016. Last year versus The Citadel, Board had 116 receiving yards on five catches.

It should be noted that while the tight end position is not always a prominent feature of Chattanooga’s passing offense, two different Moc TEs caught touchdown passes last week against Mercer.

Chattanooga’s starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 298 lbs.

The line is led by left guard Corey Levin (6’5″, 305 lbs.), who has won the Jacobs Blocking Award the last two years in the Southern Conference. Jacob Revis (6’3″, 295 lbs.) is the Mocs’ starting center, and a preseason all-conference pick.

[Chattanooga is] expected to practice in full pads [Tuesday] and Thursday as they prepare for the Bulldogs’ rough, rugged triple-option attack.

“Most of the time we just go in shells,” coach Russ Huesman said. “You don’t see it much, but when you play option teams, you get low blocks — legal but low blocks — and we’ve got to practice against them at a great speed or we’ll be on the ground the whole game.

I thought this was an interesting approach to preparing for the triple option.

An even better approach for defending the triple option is to recruit players like Keionta Davis (6’4″, 270 lbs.), a defensive end/blunt instrument who was the preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the SoCon. Davis is a Chattanooga native who led the league in sacks last season with 13 1/2 (including two against The Citadel). He already has five sacks in 2016 (and also blocked a field goal attempt against Furman).

Middle linebacker Nakevion Leslie (5’11”, 225 lbs.) was a first-team All-SoCon choice last year. He currently leads the Mocs in tackles. Leslie had 15 stops versus the Bulldogs in last year’s contest.

Fellow linebacker Dale Warren (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is second on the team in tackles. The junior leads the Mocs in tackles for loss, with eight.

UTC has a talented, experienced secondary. Junior free safety Lucas Webb (6’1″, 205 lbs.) has been a first-team all-league pick the last two seasons. Webb, like Davis and perhaps two other Moc defenders, is a legitimate NFL prospect.

Cedric Nettles (6’0″, 205 lbs.) has also been a first-team All-SoCon choice the last two years. The senior had six tackles against The Citadel last season.

Henrique Ribeiro (6’0″, 220 lbs.) is the only Southern Conference placekicker to have been profiled in USA Today this week. The native of Brazil was first-team all-conference last year. So far this season, Ribeirois 5 for 6 on field goal tries, with a long of 52 yards (interestingly, his only miss was blocked).

Ribeiro was Chattanooga’s starting punter last season as well, and has punted 16 times for the Mocs this season, but is listed as the backup at that position this week. Redshirt freshman Colin Brewer (6’3″, 205 lbs.), who has punted ten times this year, is the projected starter.

Brewer is also the holder for UTC. Emory Norred (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is a junior in his third year as the long snapper.

C.J. Board is Chattanooga’s main punt returner, and he is averaging a stellar 8.9 yards per return. Backup running back Richardre Bagley (5’9″, 180 lbs.) is the primary kick returner for the Mocs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny with a high of 74 degrees. The low on Saturday night is projected to be 62 degrees. That works for me.

Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga is a 6-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 49.5. That’s the same over/under that was listed for the Bulldogs’ game last week versus North Greenville.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Samford is an 18 1/2-point favorite over VMI; Mercer is a 4 1/2-point favorite against Western Carolina; and Furman (despite being winless) is a 16 1/2-point favorite at East Tennessee State. The Citadel’s next opponent, Wofford, is off this week.

Gardner-Webb is a 16 1/2-point underdog against Coastal Carolina this week in Boiling Springs. North Carolina is a 7-point underdog at Miami.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 9th in FCS. Chattanooga is ranked 4th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 39% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of UTC 28, The Citadel 24.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Samford (12th), Wofford (20th), Mercer (40th), Gardner-Webb (55th), VMI (58th), Furman (62nd), Western Carolina (63rd), East Tennessee State (90th).

Both Samford and Wofford jumped six spots this week. VMI improved by nine positions.

– Next year’s FCS Kickoff Classic will feature Chattanooga, as the Mocs will play Jacksonville State one week before the regular season begins for most of Division I.

This year, that game was between Charleston Southern and North Dakota State. One difference next season is that the contest will be played at a neutral site — Montgomery, Alabama.

– Chattanooga’s roster is largely made up of Tennessee natives, with 49 Mocs hailing from the Volunteer State. Other states represented on UTC’s roster: Georgia (29), Alabama (13), Florida (1), New York (1), and California (1).

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– There were no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep this week. The depth charts for the North Greenville and Chattanooga games are identical.

– On offense, eight Bulldogs have started each of the first five games. Nine players have started every game on defense for The Citadel.

Among active players, Tevin Floyd has the most career starts for The Citadel, with 31 (all consecutive). Offensive linemen Isaiah Pinson and Kyle Weaver have each made 30 straight starts.

After reviewing UTC’s season, it is apparent that The Citadel has a very difficult task on Saturday. The Mocs have no obvious weaknesses, and have mostly shredded their opponents (including whippings of quality teams like Samford and Mercer).

The one slight blip in Chattanooga’s march came at Furman, a contest worthy of further examination. It’s not as much that the game was nominally close (21-14), because the Paladins’ second touchdown didn’t come until 1:01 remained in the fourth quarter.

No, the real story was UTC only scoring 21 points (including just one score in the first half). How did Furman manage that?

The Paladins had a three-minute edge in time of possession. Furman also won the turnover battle 1-0.

Another key stat: Chattanooga was only 2 for 9 on third down conversion attempts, which led to the Mocs only running 53 plays from scrimmage (FU had 65).

Furman’s offense didn’t do much, but its defense kept the Paladins in the game, holding UTC to 288 yards of total offense.

Turnovers and big plays are always critical in deciding football games, and Saturday’s contest at Johnson Hagood Stadium will be no different.

However, based on that Furman game, I might suggest another category worth watching: third down conversions.

The simplest way to slow down UTC’s offense is to keep it off the field. That means the Bulldogs’ offense has to maintain long, time-consuming drives (and convert on third down), while The Citadel’s defense needs stops (especially on third down conversion attempts).

Oh, one other thing: the Bulldogs need to avoid giving up a TD on the first play from scrimmage. That has happened in both of the last two matchups against the Mocs.

Can the Bulldogs pull off the upset? I don’t know, but I’m ready to find out, and in person.

I think that will be true for a lot of people this Saturday.

2016 Football, Week 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel…was expected to nose out a victory from the visiting Furman contingent, while the Baptists, being exceedingly jealous of their position in the football world, were counted on to put their last ounce of strength into the fray with a view to nothing less than copping the contest. Hence Hampton Park bade fair to be the scene this afternoon of a hotly contested battle between two well nigh evenly matched teams.

Preview article, The Evening Post, November 1, 1913

 

The Citadel football machine ran up the biggest score of its season yesterday, when it swamped Furman, 75-0. Although the Baptists were fully as husky as the local boys and played a hard game throughout, they were simply up against a far superior team…

…End runs, off-tackle plays, line plunges, and forward passes were all successful ground-gainers, and it is the consensus of local opinion that The Citadel has improved 100 per cent since she smothered the College of Charleston 72-0 in her previous appearance here…

…There was plenty of drive and pep in the Blue dashes, the quartet of Folger, Weeks, Holliday, and James, showing much sang-froid and elan, as they say at Furman.

…taking all this into consideration, The Citadel put up the best exhibition of offensive play in years, and it is doubtful if the famous 1909 gang had anything on Folger, Weeks, and Company in their exhibition of yesterday.

Game story, The Sunday News, November 2, 1913

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying 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.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Game story for The Citadel-Mercer, The Post and Courier

– Box score from The Citadel-Mercer

– The Citadel faces a choice at quarterback

–  Johnson Hagood Stadium’s East Stands won’t be used this week

– Tyler Renew is the SoCon offensive player of the week

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/6 press conference (video)

Brent Thompson 9/7 radio show (video)

– Furman set for first SoCon challenge at The Citadel

– Box score from Furman-Michigan State

– BTN highlights of Furman-Michigan State (video)

Entire Furman-Michigan State game in less than 23 minutes (video)

Promotional spot for Furman-The Citadel (video)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

A quick review of last Thursday’s opener…

For the third straight year, The Citadel eked out a win over Mercer. This time the Bulldogs built a big lead early, let it slip completely away, then retook the lead and held on.

I thought Jordan Black did a nice job in his first start. The coaching staff also should be commended for not overburdening him, but instead letting him use his strengths, including mid-range passes. The absence of turnovers was pleasing.

The offense was mostly shut down after the first quarter, but Mercer’s defense has to get some credit for that. Also, with the game on the line, the Bulldogs marched 65 yards down the field, in just over seven minutes, setting up the game-winning field goal.

The biggest play of the night, in my opinion: after a bad pitch on the aforementioned drive resulted in a 2nd-and-17 on The Citadel’s 20-yard-line, Black completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Renew (who hurdled over a defender for the last four yards). That set up a manageable 3rd-and-2, which Black converted with a 5-yard run.

Two plays later, Black hooked up with Reggie Williams on a 25-yard completion. Then, on 3rd-and-7 from the Mercer 32-yard-line, Cam Jackson brushed aside an early challenge from a defender and used his blockers well to pick up a key first down. Shortly thereafter, Cody Clark kicked the 35-yard field goal that proved decisive.

The Citadel’s defense struggled at times during the the first half, which is indicated in Mercer’s yards-per-play statistics. The Bears averaged 6.4 yards per play. However, Mercer only had 96 yards of total offense in the second half.

The Bulldogs did a good job in the Red Zone, allowing just one touchdown in Mercer’s three trips inside the 20. The Citadel also had three sacks and forced two bookend turnovers (a strip-sack by Kevin Graham on Mercer’s first offensive play from scrimmage, and an interception by Kailik Williams to end the Bears’ last possession).

Mercer’s surfeit of offensive penalties could arguably be attributed to pressure from the Bulldogs’ D.

The Citadel’s special teams units were solid, the missed field goal aside.

I won’t miss seeing John Russ under center for the Bears against the Bulldogs. He’s a good college quarterback, a smart playmaker. I expect Russ to lead Mercer to several conference wins this season.

The Citadel won a road game in league play against a quality opponent. It’s a victory that looks good now, and could look really good in November.

Furman was supposed to be a pushover for Michigan State, but the Paladins gave the defending Big 10 champions all they wanted on Friday night. It was a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter.

Darius Morehead, a “true” freshman running back, rushed for 83 yards on 20 carries against a normally stout Spartans defense. Furman only committed one turnover, and could have had a real chance to win if it had done a better job in the Red Zone. The Paladins had two separate drives in which they had first-and-goal from the five-yard-line or closer, only to settle for field goals.

On defense, FU forced two turnovers and held the potent Michigan State ground game to 4.3 yards per rush.

While it was a loss, it was still a very encouraging performance by a team that has struggled in each of the last two seasons. The Paladins’ coaches and players will be very confident when they arrive at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

The next few sections include statistics for 2015 SoCon contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Before making some statistical comparisons, a quick review of each team’s 2015 SoCon season (and yes, I’m repeating myself with regards to The Citadel’s season and stats):

Furman was 4-7 overall last season, 2-5 in conference play. After losing two of its first three games, FU opened league play in 2015 with a 24-21 victory over VMI. The Paladins trailed 14-0 midway through the second quarter before rallying past the Keydets. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown was a key play in the game. Also of note: Furman had almost a 16-minute advantage in time of possession.

FU won a non-league game against South Carolina State before resuming its SoCon campaign, but the Paladins threw up a dud at Chattanooga, losing 31-3. Furman only managed 59 rushing yards during the contest, and was also victimized by a pick-six.

After a bye week, Furman hosted The Citadel. The Bulldogs won the matchup 38-17, overcoming an early 7-0 deficit by scoring 24 straight points. The Citadel rushed for 388 yards. My review of that game can be found here: Link

Furman rebounded from that loss to The Citadel with a stirring comeback at Samford, winning on a last-second field goal 20-17. The Paladins had trailed 17-0 at halftime. FU’s rushing output of 252 yards was easily its highest of the season.

The momentum from that victory was short-lived, however, as the following week the Paladins were crushed in Cullowhee by Western Carolina, 48-10. The Catamounts led 31-3 at halftime after turning two early turnovers into touchdowns; Furman was never in the game after that.

Furman then lost at Mercer, 27-20 in overtime. FU trailed 20-0 before making another comeback, tying the game late on a touchdown run by running back Kealand Dirks. However, Dirks received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after spiking the football following his TD, which meant the Paladins had to attempt a 35-yard PAT. It missed, setting up the OT session won by Mercer.

In its final game of the 2015 season, Furman lost 38-28 at Wofford. The Terriers outrushed the Paladins 417-109, with 73 of Wofford’s rushing yards coming on a game-clinching fourth-quarter drive after Furman had rallied to within a field goal.

The Citadel opened its SoCon campaign in 2015 with a fine home win over Western Carolina, 28-10. The Bulldogs’ next conference game was also at Johnson Hagood Stadium, against Wofford, and The Citadel ran past the Terriers 39-12.

Following that victory, The Citadel won consecutive road games in impressive fashion, versus Samford (44-25) and Furman (by the 38-17 score mentioned earlier). The Bulldogs then edged Mercer 21-19, and retained the coveted Silver Shako with a tough 35-14 win over VMI.

Both of those games were at home. The Citadel lost its final league game of the season, 31-23 at Chattanooga; despite that setback, the Bulldogs still won a share of the Southern Conference title.

In conference play, Furman’s offense averaged 17.4 points per game. The Paladins averaged 4.8 yards per play, including 3.2 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt.

Furman threw the football 213 times, averaging 30.4 tosses per league game. FU passed or was sacked attempting to pass on almost half (49.4%) of its offensive plays from scrimmage. Paladin quarterbacks were sacked nineteen times in seven SoCon matchups.

In terms of yardage, 63.5% of FU’s total offense came via the air. Furman scored fourteen touchdowns in conference play, six rushing and eight passing. The Paladins were intercepted eight times (twice versus the Bulldogs) and fumbled thirteen times in league contests, losing six of those fumbles.

Defensively, The Citadel allowed 18.3 ppg in SoCon action. The Bulldogs allowed 5.1 yards per play, including 3.7 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt. As I mentioned last week, my statistical review of The Citadel’s 2015 league campaign included the tidbit that the Bulldogs’ yards per rush stat was an improvement over the corresponding 2014 average by almost exactly two yards.

The Bulldogs sacked opposing quarterbacks twenty times in league play, and intercepted thirteen passes (breaking up twenty other throws). SoCon opponents averaged 30.3 pass attempts per game versus The Citadel, with those tosses accounting for 46.1% of all offensive plays run from scrimmage against the Bulldogs. Furman attempted 26 passes against the Bulldogs in last year’s matchup, picking up 159 yards on those throws (6.1 yards per attempt).

The Citadel’s defense recovered seven fumbles in conference action.

Furman had 106 third-down attempts in SoCon play, converting 46 of them into first downs (43.4%). The Paladins went for it on fourth down eleven times in conference action, successfully picking up the first down six times (54.5%).

FU was in the Red Zone eighteen times in seven league contests, scoring nine touchdowns in that situation (for a RZ TD rate of 50%; hey, that was easy math).

Furman’s time of possession per game in conference play was 30:56. While this is close to break-even in terms of TOP, the Paladins occasionally controlled the football for major portions of individual quarters. That included the third quarter of last season’s game versus the Bulldogs, when FU had the ball for exactly 11 minutes.

Other quarters in which Furman had the football for an extended period of time: the first quarter against VMI (10:44), the fourth quarter versus Samford (11:56), and in the fourth quarter of two of the Paladins’ non-conference matchups (10:59 against UCF and 11:30 versus South Carolina State).

In games (including non-conference matchups) last season in which Furman had what I’ll call dominant possession quarters, defined as controlling the football for 10:30 or longer, the Paladins were 4-1, with the loss against The Citadel.

On Friday night, Furman had yet another dominant possession quarter, holding the ball for 11:47 of the third quarter against Michigan State. The Spartans turned that around in the fourth quarter, as MSU possessed the football for 10:41 of the final period.

FU averaged only 4.1 penalties per SoCon game. Curiously, the average yardage assessed for Paladin infractions in league play was more than 10 yards per flag, so when Furman committed a penalty, it was often a major foul.

The Citadel’s defense held conference opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 33.7%. Furman was 5 for 13 converting third downs against the Bulldogs in last season’s contest.

Against the Bulldogs, SoCon opposition was 8 for 13 on fourth-down tries (61.5%). Last year, the Paladins converted their only fourth-down attempt against the Cadets.

In Red Zone situations versus league teams, the Bulldogs allowed a TD rate of 52.2% in 2015. Furman’s offense was in the Red Zone three times in last year’s matchup. The Paladins scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal.

As we all know, SoCon officials rarely call penalties against The Citadel’s opponents (with last week’s game against Mercer a notable exception to that rule). In 2015, the Bulldogs were called for 42 penalties in seven conference games (6.0 per contest), while the opposition was only flagged 29 times (4.1 per game).

In last year’s game, Furman and The Citadel combined for nine penalties. Naturally, six of them were against the Bulldogs.

FU allowed 31.4 points per game against conference opposition. League teams averaged 5.7 yards per play against the Paladins, including 5.5 yards per rush and 6.2 yards per pass attempt.

Furman’s defense faced 177 pass attempts in SoCon action. The Paladins’ D had only six sacks in conference action (and just eight sacks all season).  Only 37.0% of their opponents’ plays were pass attempts (or sacks while attempting to pass).

FU allowed 2,838 yards of total offense in seven SoCon games, with 38.9% of that total being passing yardage. The Paladins allowed 26 touchdowns in SoCon play, 19 via the rush (five of those rushing TDs were by the Bulldogs).

Furman intercepted five passes in league play (one was against The Citadel), and recovered three fumbles.

Offensively, The Citadel put up 32.6 points per game in conference action. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 5.6 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt (on 63 total throws in seven SoCon contests).

League opponents intercepted two Bulldog passes (as mentioned, the Paladins got one of those), and broke up four others.

The Citadel lost eight fumbles in seven SoCon games. As I noted in last week’s preview, the Bulldogs lost twelve fumbles in their other six matchups, losing at least one fumble in every non-league contest except the matchup against South Carolina.

Holding onto the football will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel all season. The 2016 Bulldogs passed their first test on that front, with no turnovers and only one mishandled pitch (which was recovered by The Citadel).

Furman’s defense allowed a third-down conversion rate of 47.6% against league teams. On fourth down, Paladin opponents were eight for twelve (66.7%).

SoCon opposition entered the Red Zone against FU 27 times in conference play. The Paladins allowed 19 touchdowns in that situation (70.4%).

The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate on offense was exactly 50% in SoCon games. On fourth down, the Cadets were 3 for 8 (37.5%). In last year’s game between the two teams, the Bulldogs were 7 for 12 on third down and had no fourth down conversion attempts.

In 2015, The Citadel’s time of possession in SoCon play was 32:13. The Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of just 56.3% in 2015 against conference opposition. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in five Red Zone situations against the Paladins.

For individual statistics, all games (SoCon and non-conference) are included.

A quick review of the four non-conference games Furman played last season:

Furman opened the 2015 campaign with a tough home loss to Coastal Carolina, 38-35. The Paladins had 525 yards of total offense, including 365 passing yards from Reese Hannon — a school record. The game was statistically very even, two Furman turnovers being the difference.

The next week, the Paladins were thumped 42-3 by Virginia Tech. The Hokies had 583 yards of total offense, and Furman didn’t help itself by committing three more turnovers.

Furman then upset UCF, 16-15. The winning margin came courtesy of a 55-yard fourth-quarter field goal by Jon Croft Hollingsworth, the longest in Paladins history. After not forcing a turnover in its first two games, Furman intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble against the Knights.

FU’s game versus South Carolina State was played in difficult conditions, with both rain and wind affecting the contest. The Paladins won the turnover battle, 3-0, and were never seriously threatened after halftime. The final score was 17-3.

Furman returns 15 starters (including offense/defense/specialists), including six on offense and seven on defense.

Offensively, it appears the Paladins will generally operate out of the pistol formation.

FU did not announce who its starter at quarterback would against Michigan State until shortly before kickoff in East Lansing. It turned out to be junior P.J. Blazejowski.

Blazejowski (6’0″, 193 lbs.) started three of the final five games last season for Furman, and also played last season against The Citadel after Reese Hannon was injured.

You may recall Blazejowski from his performance against the Bulldogs in the 2014 matchup, when he compiled 382 yards of total offense in a wild game The Citadel managed to win in OT. He will make his 12th career start on Saturday (if he remains the starter, which seems likely).

Entering this season, he had a career pass completion rate of 58.3%, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with 13 TDs and 13 interceptions. Against Michigan State, Blazejowski was 15-30 passing, for 123 yards. He threw one interception (which came after the Paladins had picked off a Michigan State pass attempt on the preceding play).

I mentioned in my brief summary of the Michigan State game that freshman running back Darius Morehead (5’9″, 171 lbs.) had a promising collegiate debut for the Paladins. Morehead was a track star in high school, winning the Tennessee D2-AA state title in the 100-meter dash.

His primary backup is Richard Hayes III (5’11”, 201 lbs.), a senior who played safety last year for Furman. Hayes actually tied for the team lead in tackles against the Bulldogs in last season’s meeting, with ten. Based on that game, I think it is safe to say that he’s not afraid of contact.

Six different receivers caught passes last week for Furman. As always with the Paladins, the tight end is a key player. Duncan Fletcher (6’4″, 234 lbs.) had four receptions last week, and also completed a 16-yard pass on a trick play; that tied for FU’s longest completion against MSU.

Last year against the Bulldogs, Fletcher was on the receiving end of a wide receiver pass, one that went for a TD. He began his collegiate career as a quarterback, and played that position versus The Citadel in 2013.

Andrej Suttles (5’11”, 187 lbs.) was a second-team All-SoCon selection last season. The redshirt senior wide receiver has 138 career receptions. He also sees action at punt returner, and had one return last week against Michigan State for five yards.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 293 lbs. Junior center Matthew Schmidt (6’3″, 290 lbs.) played tackle for the Paladins last year, before having his season cut short by an injury suffered in the game against the Bulldogs.

Against Michigan State, Furman started a true freshman at left tackle, Tim Coleman (6’3″, 285 lbs.). The other side of the line, however, features two experienced performers — senior right guard Jackson Buonomia (6’3″, 299 lbs.) and redshirt senior right tackle Harrison Monk (6’4″, 278 lbs.).

Starting defensive end T.J. Warren (6’2″, 233 lbs.) is a redshirt senior who has also seen time at linebacker during his career for the Paladins. According to Furman’s game notes, Warren (a native of Chattanooga) will attend Marine Corps Officers Candidate School at Quantico following graduation.

Furman’s starter at DE opposite Warren is also a redshirt senior. Brian Ross (6’4″, 246 lbs.) has made 13 straight starts. He can be a factor on special teams, too, having blocked a punt last year against VMI that he picked up and ran in for a TD.

Seven of the eleven projected starters for the Paladins are seniors, either fourth- or fifth-year players. One who isn’t is redshirt sophomore DT Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 265 lbs.), a member of last year’s SoCon all-freshman team.

Middle linebacker Carl Rider (6’2″, 232 lbs.) has seemingly been at Furman since the Truman administration. Now finally a redshirt senior (allegedly), Rider was a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2013.

Furman’s active leader in tackles with 260, Rider intercepted a pass last year versus the Bulldogs.

Safety Trey Robinson (6’2″, 220 lbs.) was a second team all-conference pick in 2015, and the senior is a preseason first-team choice this year.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth (5’11, 169 lbs.) handles all of Furman’s kicking duties — placekicking, punting, and kickoffs. The junior did the same last year.

He made two field goals last week versus Michigan State. Hollingsworth also missed a field goal against the Spartans, a 50-yarder, but he is more than capable of making a long kick (as UCF found out last season).

Hollingsworth averaged 38.9 yards per punt last season. On kickoffs, he had 18 touchbacks.

Luke Cuneo is in his second year as the Paladins’ holder. As I noted last year, Cuneo is one of the smaller football players in Division I; the Massachusetts native is 5’6″, 165 lbs.

Furman has a new long snapper this year, true freshman Evan Vaughn (6’1″, 230 lbs.) Vaughn was a Shrine Bowler at Belton-Honea Path High School.

Starting cornerback Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 165 lbs.) returned one kickoff last week against Michigan State. The sophomore had eight returns last season, all in the final three games.

This is not the greatest ticket sales stadium graphic in the history of The Citadel: Link

Furman fans will be sitting on one end of the West Stands on Saturday, because no one will be sitting in the East Stands. To recap:

The Citadel is considering tearing down the visitors’ side at Johnson Hagood Stadium and expects to make a decision by the end of the week, athletic director Jim Senter said Monday.

Flaking lead paint, a health hazard, was discovered on the east side of the 21,000-seat stadium over the summer, and fans were not allowed to sit on that side during the Sertoma Football Classic earlier this month.

The Citadel had planned to repaint the east side stands over the summer. But a lead-testing report received on July 28 confirmed a level of lead-based paint applicable to disposal standards of the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Conditions on the east side of the stadium deteriorated quickly over the summer, said Col. Tom Philipkosky, senior vice president for operations and administration.

“We have been monitoring conditions there, and it got worse very quickly this past year,” he told [The Citadel Board of Visitors’ operations and risk management committee]. “And unfortunately, we caught up to it late.”

Lead paint also is on the underside of the structure on the east side, Senter said.

“So we have to mitigate the entire east side stands,” he said. “At this point, the most important thing is, can fans be seated on the top side with safety? And then, how do we go about utilizing the underneath side, where the restrooms and concession stands are located?”

Johnson Hagood Stadium was originally built in 1948. The old home side was knocked down in 2005, with the new west side stands opened in 2006 and the West Side Tower, housing luxury suites and the press box, opened in 2008.

The fact this problem wasn’t discovered (at least, in its totality) until shortly before the beginning of the season is more than a little irksome, but that can’t be helped now. The question is, what will The Citadel do going forward?

I don’t know, but the long-term answer has to involve replacing the East Stands, and sooner rather than later. Even before the current issue arose, that section of the stadium was problematic.

The visitors’ side of the football stadium needed to be a high priority for the school, in terms of maintenance and upgrading/replacing the structure. I’m not sure that has been the case.

It is now, though, and that’s a good thing. I’m hopeful that in the long run the visitors’ side of the stadium will become a source of pride for the school and something that is appreciated by travelling supporters. That should be the goal.

Regardless, the lack of seating will be a problem this season (I’ll be curious to see what happens for the Parents’ Day and Homecoming games). I get the distinct impression, however, that Jim Senter is going to get things moving.

Part of my confidence in Senter’s ability to navigate the stadium issue is the deft way he handled the Charleston Southern situation, the other off-the-football-field event that has been in the news of late.

The Citadel will play Charleston Southern again (starting in 2018), but the scheduled four-game series will not be a home-and-home. Johnson Hagood Stadium will be the site for all four games. That should never have been in question, really. As Senter pointed out:

“The bottom line is if we draw 9,000 or 10,000 people for each of those games,” he said. “And their capacity is (4,000). Frankly, we’re leaving money on the table that both of us need. So the arrangement is that we will provide 3,000 tickets for (CSU) to monetize, so it would be pretty much like they had the game there, monetarily.”

To his credit, Charleston Southern director of athletics Hank Small saw the writing on the wall:

“At some point, you have to make a decision,” he said. “We’d love to play College of Charleston and The Citadel in basketball home-and-home, as well. But that’s not happening. So what do you do about it? Do you say, we’re just not going to play people? Or do you make the decision that we want to play?

There have always been two major issues related to The Citadel playing Charleston Southern in football. One has to do with schedule flexibility, the other CSU’s stadium. Those concerns have not received a lot of attention from the local media, though one gets the idea that perhaps the press may finally begin to cast a more critical eye on CSU’s facilities issues (after all, it’s not just about The Citadel — College of Charleston isn’t going to play any basketball games at the “Buc Dome”, either).

One thing left unsaid by both ADs is that no matter where the games are played, the overwhelming majority of fans will be supporting The Citadel. Hence, there is no philosophical or practical reason to play the games anywhere other than Johnson Hagood Stadium.

That is something that nobody seems to really want to discuss, but it is reality. Charleston Southern simply doesn’t have that many fans. This isn’t an indictment of its program; it’s just the truth.

On the heels of the program’s most successful season, and after a huge amount of publicity from its televised game at North Dakota State (a contest that was covered onsite by a columnist from The Post and Courier and at least one Charleston-area TV station), Charleston Southern’s announced attendance for its home opener last Saturday was 1,780.

1,780.

That was the lowest attendance of any of the 41 games hosted by FCS schools during the first week of the season. Even Georgetown, which plays its home games at a “stadium” that only has temporary bleachers, drew more fans for a game against Davidson.

It was the second-lowest total for a CSU home game during Jamey Chadwell’s tenure as the Buccaneers’ head coach. It was also the smallest crowd for a Bucs home opener since 2005.

For the record, The Citadel has not appeared in a game with attendance that low, home or away, since at least 1966.

I was a little surprised, but I probably shouldn’t have been. After a strong attendance boost in Chadwell’s first season in North Charleston, the crowds haven’t consistently been coming, other than for home games against Coastal Carolina and The Citadel. In fact, if you take the games against those two schools (and their respective fan bases) out of the equation, average attendance at CSU home games has declined in each of the last two seasons.

There is no doubt that Jim Senter and his staff are well aware of those facts.

The beginning of this post includes blurbs from a preview article and game story for the first matchup between The Citadel and Furman, a 1913 contest played at Hampton Park that was won by the military college 75-0.

The Citadel scored eleven touchdowns in the game, with six different players accounting for them. There were six rushing touchdowns, three passing TDs, a touchdown scored on a blocked punt, and a TD after The Citadel fumbled the ball into the end zone, where a blue-clad lineman fell on it.

Furman was held to two first downs, one in each half. One reason for that is the Baptists elected to kick off to The Citadel after most of those touchdowns, rather than receive the football (teams were allowed to do that back then, which I guess says something about the perceived value of field position in those days).

Incidentally, I called Furman’s team the “Baptists” in the preceding paragraph because that’s how it was described in the newspaper. About a decade later, the football team at Furman would be nicknamed the “Purple Hurricane”. The gridiron squad wouldn’t officially become the “Paladins” until 1963, when students voted to call all of their varsity athletic teams by that moniker (previously, it had been limited to the school’s basketball team).

Furman wasn’t done playing football in the Low Country after its game against The Citadel. Two days later, the twenty-player squad rebounded nicely from that loss by defeating College of Charleston, 30-0.

(Yes, the game against CofC was played just two days after the matchup with The Citadel. It was a different time.)

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly sunny with a high near 88, then turning partly cloudy that night with a low around 76.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Furman. The over/under is 46.5.

Last year, The Citadel entered this matchup as an eight-point favorite.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 23-point favorite over Presbyterian; Samford is a 5.5-point favorite at Central Arkansas; Western Carolina is a 15-point favorite over Gardner-Webb; VMI is an 8.5-point favorite at Morehead State; Mercer is a 32.5-point underdog at Georgia Tech; and Wofford is a 40.5-point underdog at Mississippi.

East Tennessee State is off this week. ETSU will be back in action next week in the “Second Battle of Bristol” against WCU.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 6-1 against the spread, with only Western Carolina failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 10-point favorite at Illinois.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 12th among FCS teams, unchanged from the previous ranking. Furman is ranked 45th, a six-spot jump after its performance at Michigan State.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 82% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 28-14.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (9th), Samford (21st), Western Carolina (28th), Wofford (31st), Mercer (49th), Gardner-Webb (56th), VMI (64th), East Tennessee State (109th).

Mercer’s ranking was the same this week as it was last week. Gardner-Webb leaped 25 spots after its 31-6 road rout of Elon.

ETSU moved up 11 positions following a surprising 20-17 2OT win at Kennesaw State. The Buccaneers were a 26-point underdog, having lost 56-16 to KSU in Johnson City last year.

– As noted by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier, this season marks the first time The Citadel has begun its gridiron campaign with two Southern Conference games since 1963. That year, the Bulldogs lost to William & Mary in their opener before defeating Davidson in the season’s second contest.

In fact, 1963 is the only other year The Citadel has opened the season with two SoCon games. The last time the Bulldogs played two conference games to start the season, the year was 1935 and the conference was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). That team, under the tutelage of Tatum Gressette, began the year 2-0 by defeating Erskine and Wofford in league play.

Both of those games were played in October, as the 1935 season did not begin until October 5.

– Before 2010, The Citadel and Furman had only met one time on the gridiron in the month of September (that happened in 1976). However, since 2010 the two schools have played in the ninth month no fewer than four times, counting this Saturday’s game.

The 2011 matchup was also contested on September 10, which is the earliest any game in the series has been played.

I’ve mentioned this before (actually, several times), but The Citadel-Furman can’t be an end-of-season matchup because of the military college’s academic calendar. That’s not a big deal, because historically the game has been played at midseason more than at any other time.

Having said that, it really shouldn’t be played in September, either. I wish the SoCon office would set aside the second or third Saturday in October on the league schedule every year for these two teams to play. I know it’s not that easy to set up a conference schedule, but I suspect there may be more room to maneuver in October than in September or November (due to more “guarantee games” being played in those months).

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Furman has 30 players from Georgia on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (17), North Carolina (14), Florida (12), Tennessee (12), Alabama (6), Ohio (2), and one each from Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The Paladin who will be closest to home on Saturday is Hilton Head resident Brad Meccariello, a redshirt sophomore. The 5’11”, 185 lb. safety went to Hilton Head Academy.

– Furman has three changes this season from its 2015 schedule. Michigan State, Kennesaw State, and East Tennessee State replace Virginia Tech, UCF, and South Carolina State as opponents, evidence the Paladins’ slate is more stately this year.

FU will play the same seven league teams it faced last year, of course, with ETSU now included as an additional conference foe. Coastal Carolina repeats as a non-conference matchup for the Paladins.

– Furman got a guarantee of $655,000 for playing Michigan State.

– After playing The Citadel, Furman will host Chattanooga next week in Greenville.

– Next season, Furman’s three non-conference games will be at North Carolina State, at Colgate, and home against Elon. In 2018, the Paladins will play Colgate, Elon, and Clemson (the latter two on the road).

In 2019 (a year in which FCS schools can schedule 12 regular-season games), three of FU’s non-league opponents are set: Georgia State, Virginia Tech, and Kennesaw State, all away from home. Presumably, Furman will add a home game against a non-conference opponent to complete its slate for that season.

Furman is also scheduled to play at North Carolina State in 2021, and will host Colgate that same season. The following year, the Paladins will travel to Hamilton, New York, to conclude the four-game series with the Raiders.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– It’s only one week, but I took a look at the FCS national statistical rankings anyway. The Citadel leads the nation in fewest penalties (1); considering the contest in question was a Southern Conference game, that has to be a borderline miracle.

Among individuals, Tyler Renew is 8th nationally in rush yards per game (after his 146-yard effort versus Mercer), while Malik Diggs is 6th nationally in solo tackles per conference (he had nine such stops against the Bears, finishing with 11 tackles overall). Quinlan Washington averaged 32 yards per kickoff return in two opportunities, which ranks 6th nationally after one week.

– The game notes factoid of the week: Reggie Williams averaged 14 yards per play last week, carrying the ball four times for 45 yards, including a 29-yard TD (that was a very nice play call, perfectly executed), and making that big 25-yard catch on the drive that set up the winning field goal.

– Triple option oddity: more players caught passes last week for The Citadel (five) than had rushing attempts (four).

– Saturday’s game will be Military Appreciation Day.

While The Citadel is opening with two league contests, after Saturday’s matchup it won’t play another SoCon game until October 1, when the Bulldogs travel to Cullowhee to face Western Carolina. The next home conference game isn’t until October 15, against Chattanooga.

That puts a little extra emphasis on this week’s game for the Bulldogs, not that more juice is really needed when Furman comes to town.

Of course, this is a big game for the Paladins as well. If it wins this matchup, Furman gets a shot at home against Chattanooga next week with the chance to go 2-0 over the 2015 conference co-champions.

There is also the fact The Citadel has won three of the last four meetings between the schools, including the last two. Furman desperately wants to get on the right side of the ledger again as far as the series is concerned. Otherwise, the Paladins are looking at a potential 0-4 start (a trip to Conway to play Coastal Carolina is Furman’s fourth game on its schedule).

Furman has only won seven games in the past two seasons. A bad start this year would not bode well for head coach Bruce Fowler.

This is a critical game for Furman, and the Paladins will treat it as such. The Bulldogs better be ready.

I think they will. It should be a fun game on Saturday.

2016 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Mercer

In a swift, clean game of football of football this morning, The Citadel eleven defeated that of Mercer University by a score of ten to zero. On account of the unusual time of the game, 11 a.m., the attendance was not very large, but the crowd made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers.

A very noticeable feature was the presence of a great number of ladies, who formed fully one-fourth of the spectators.

The game was an excellent exhibition of the possibilities of the new rules. While the cadets attempted a few straight bucks, the gains were, in almost every instance, made on end runs, quarterback passes, and fake or quarterback kicks.

Mercer’s gains were made mostly on a long end pass, and the old style half-around-end. The game was also characterized by frequent punting. McCathran and Hammond divided the honors. The cadets were very successful in recovering punts and fumbles…

…The Citadel back-field has shown to no greater advantage this year than in the game today. The team ran interference for them like a machine, and time after time, a blue and white jersey went around the ends for long gains.

The Evening Post, November 10, 1906

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 7:00 pm ET on Thursday, September 1.

The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net South, Fox Sports Net Midwest+, and Fox Sports Net West. It will be streamed on ESPN3 and Fox Sports Go, with play-by-play from Darren Goldwater, analysis by Ray Goff, and reporting from Lindsay Rowley. 

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.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

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

A few of my recent posts revolving around football, including the upcoming season for The Citadel:

  • I broke down last season’s conference statistics, including (but not limited to) 4th-down decisions, run/pass tendencies, and…the coin toss
  • Updated to reference the 2015 numbers, I produced my latest of many posts on attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium
  • I took a look at scheduling, in terms of which teams The Citadel’s opponents will play before (and after) facing The Citadel
  • With the past as a guide, I wrote about the difficulty the Bulldogs have had over the years in sustaining success

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

Brent Thompson’s “career crisis”

STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish second)

College Sports Madness preview (The Citadel is picked to finish second in the SoCon)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish second in both polls)

Southern Pigskin preseason poll (The Citadel is picked to finish second)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer [link when available]

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches poll (The Citadel opens the season ranked #15)

Brent Thompson interview with Southern Pigskin (video)

Brent Thompson at The Citadel’s Media Day (video)

Brent Thompson talks to Phil Kornblut on SportsTalk, as do Cam Jackson and Joe Crochet (audio)

Brent Thompson’s 8/30 press conference (video)

The Bulldogs’ depth will be tested early

Mercer continues preparations for The Citadel

Bobby Lamb’s 8/29 press conference (video via Periscope)

Mercer student paper’s sports editor previews the Bears’ season (and picks Mercer to beat The Citadel 34-28)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

It’s time for football, everybody!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

Since this is only Mercer’s third season in the Southern Conference, I think it’s still worthwhile to briefly outline the institution’s history, including that of its football program.

The school now known as Mercer University was founded in 1833 (as a preparatory school for boys) and was originally located in Penfield, Georgia, a small town between Atlanta and Augusta. The campus relocated to Macon in 1871.

The university is named for Jesse Mercer, a Baptist leader who was the first chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees. The college was originally established by Baptists, but no longer has an affiliation with the denomination.

MU has about 4,500 undergraduate students and almost 4,000 graduate/professional students. Mercer has over 76,000 alumni.

In January of 1892, Mercer played its first-ever football game, losing 50-0 to Georgia in Athens. The contest provided the origin story for how the team came to be known as the “Bears”.

The choice of the bear as Mercer’s mascot is said to have been prompted by a University of Georgia football player. In that first football game between the two schools, one of the Georgia players saw a Mercer player burst through the line of scrimmage and exclaimed, “Whence cometh that bear?”

A school publicist (or perhaps an enterprising newspaper reporter) almost certainly invented that quote, which was undoubtedly inspired by Epicurus. There is no telling what Mercer’s mascot would be if that individual had instead been philosophically aligned with Zeno of Citium.

Mercer decided to play an easier opponent for its second game, and thus tangled with the Savannah Catholic Library Association. The Bears still lost, 20-2.

Then someone in Macon got the bright idea to schedule Georgia Tech, which had not yet played a football game. Mercer won, 12-6.

Mercer was once coached by George Stallings, who helmed both the football and baseball teams. He was a little better at coaching baseball; Stallings would later become known as “The Miracle Man” for leading the Boston Braves to the 1914 World Championship.

Cy Young served as Mercer’s baseball coach from 1903-05.

Mercer disbanded its football team following the 1941 campaign, and didn’t field a gridiron squad again until 2013. This is the fourth year for the program since the re-boot.

Incidentally, that 1892 victory over Georgia Tech was the only time the Bears ever beat the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech won 15 of the other 16 meetings (one ended in a tie).

Mercer’s next opponent following its game against The Citadel? Georgia Tech.

The next few sections include statistics for 2015 SoCon contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Before making some statistical comparisons, a quick review of each team’s 2015 SoCon season:

Mercer opened last year’s conference campaign with a 34-33 OT loss to Wofford in Macon. The Bears trailed by 10 points with just three and a half minutes to play, but had a chance to win the game in regulation before settling for a short field goal and OT. In the extra session, Mercer scored a touchdown but missed the PAT, opening the door for the Terriers.

The Bears then lost a tough road game to Western Carolina, 24-21. MU led 21-3 in the second quarter, but the Catamounts scored two fourth-quarter TDs for a comeback victory.

The next SoCon contest was at home, versus VMI. The Keydets prevailed, 28-21, after controlling much of the game (VMI at one point led by 21 points).

Mercer then lost a tough game to The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 21-19, missing a potential tying two-point conversion attempt. It was the second consecutive season that situation presented itself to Mercer, and the second consecutive time the Bears were unable to forge a tie. My review of that game is here: Link

The Bears’ first league win of 2015 was an upset, a 17-14 home victory over eventual league co-champ Chattanooga. MU held off a late comeback attempt by the Mocs, intercepting a pass deep in its own territory while maintaining a three-point lead, and then sealing the win by running out the clock with a pair of first downs.

That was Mercer’s ninth game of the season; the following week, the Bears went to Greenville and beat Furman in OT, 27-20. The Paladins scored late to tie the game at 20, but had to attempt a longer-than-usual PAT due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Furman missed the kick, the game went to overtime, and Mercer wound up winning the contest four plays later.

Mercer returned to Macon for its season finale and was beaten by Samford, 47-21. MU actually led in the third quarter but gave up multiple big plays down the stretch; Samford scored 28 points in the fourth quarter.

The Citadel opened its SoCon campaign in 2015 with a solid home win over Western Carolina, 28-10. The Bulldogs’ next league game was also at home, against Wofford, and The Citadel handled the Terriers 39-12.

Following that victory, The Citadel won consecutive road games in impressive fashion, versus Samford and Furman (by 44-25 and 38-17 scores, respectively). The Bulldogs then edged Mercer 21-19, and retained the coveted Silver Shako with a hard-fought 35-14 win over VMI.

Both of those games were at home. The Citadel lost its final conference game of the season, 31-23 at Chattanooga, though the Bulldogs still won a share of the Southern Conference title.

In league play, Mercer’s offense averaged 22.7 points per game. The Bears averaged 5.2 yards per play, including 4.4 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per pass attempt.

Mercer threw the football 185 times, averaging 26.4 tosses per conference game. MU passed or was sacked attempting to pass on just over 40% of its offensive plays from scrimmage (Mercer was sacked eight times in seven SoCon matchups).

Slightly less than half (48.1%) of MU’s offensive total yardage came via the air. Mercer scored twenty touchdowns in conference play, eleven rushing and nine passing. The Bears were intercepted three times (one each in the last three conference games of the season) and fumbled ten times in league contests, losing four of those fumbles.

Defensively, The Citadel allowed 18.3 ppg in SoCon action. The Bulldogs allowed 5.1 yards per play, including 3.7 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt. As I noted in my statistical review of The Citadel’s 2015 league campaign, that yards per rush stat was an improvement over the corresponding 2014 numbers by almost exactly two yards.

The Bulldogs sacked opposing quarterbacks twenty times in league play, and intercepted thirteen passes (breaking up twenty other throws). SoCon opponents averaged 30.3 pass attempts per game versus The Citadel (with those tosses accounting for 46.1% of all offensive plays run from scrimmage against the Bulldogs).

The Citadel’s defense recovered seven fumbles in conference action.

Mercer had exactly 100 third-down attempts in SoCon play, converting on 39 of them. The Bears went for it on fourth down on fifteen occasions in conference action, successfully making the line to gain nine times (60%).

MU was in the Red Zone 22 times in seven league contests, scoring sixteen touchdowns in that situation (for a RZ TD rate of 72.7%).

Mercer’s time of possession per game in conference play was 31:28. The Bears averaged only 2.7 penalties per SoCon game, resulting in an average of just 20.7 penalty yards accepted against Mercer in those contests.

The Citadel’s defense held league opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 33.7%. Against the Bulldogs, SoCon opposition was 8 for 13 on fourth-down tries (61.5%).

In Red Zone situations versus conference teams, the Bulldogs allowed a TD rate of 52.2% in 2015.

As far as penalties are concerned, the SoCon traditionally is loathe to call infractions against The Citadel’s opponents, and that is reflected in last year’s numbers. While the Bulldogs were called for 42 penalties in seven conference games (6.0 per contest), the opposition was only flagged 29 times (4.1 per game).

MU allowed 26.9 points per game to league opponents. Conference teams averaged 6.4 yards per play against the Bears, including 5.6 yards per rush and 7.8 yards per pass attempt.

Mercer’s defense faced 183 pass attempts in SoCon play, just two fewer pass attempts than the Bears tried on offense. MU had eleven sacks in conference action; in a mirror image of Mercer’s offense, 40.4% of opposition plays were pass attempts (or sacks while attempting to pass).

The Bears allowed 3,087 yards of total offense in seven league games, with 46.1% of that total being passing yardage. Mercer allowed 24 touchdowns in SoCon play, 18 on the ground.

MU intercepted seven passes in conference matchups, and forced thirteen fumbles (while recovering nine opponent fumbles).

Offensively, The Citadel rung up 32.6 points per game in league action. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 5.6 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt. While there were a limited number of passes in The Citadel’s triple option offense, that’s still a very impressive statistic.

League opponents intercepted two Bulldog passes and broke up four others, out of a total of 63 pass attempts in conference action.

The Citadel lost eight fumbles in seven SoCon games. In an illustration of the nature of variance in fumble statistics, the Bulldogs lost twelve fumbles in their other six matchups, losing at least one fumble in every non-league contest except one — the game against South Carolina.

Holding onto the football will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel this season.

Mercer’s defense allowed a third-down conversion rate of 54.5% against league teams. On fourth down, opponents of the Bears were six for twelve.

SoCon opposition entered the Red Zone against Mercer 27 times in conference play. MU allowed 18 touchdowns in that situation (66.7%).

The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate on offense was exactly 50% in SoCon games. On fourth down, the Cadets were 3 for 8 (37.5%).

In 2015, The Citadel’s time of possession in SoCon play was 32:13. The Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of just 56.3% in 2015 against conference opposition, an area in which The Citadel needs to improve in 2016.

For individual statistics, all games (SoCon and non-conference) are included.

Before I get to John Russ and company, let me quickly review the four non-conference games Mercer played last season.

Mercer was 3-1 in those four games. The Bears lost at Tennessee Tech by a 29-22 score, but won by a lopsided margin in the other three contests — 28-7 at Austin Peay, 57-14 versus Stetson, and 52-0 against East Tennessee State.

Obviously, ETSU will be a league opponent for both Mercer and The Citadel this season, but last year that wasn’t the case.

The Bears could have named their score against both Stetson and East Tennessee State, to be honest. In the game against Tennessee Tech, Mercer trailed early before making a comeback, only to be foiled by a late Golden Eagles touchdown. MU only scored two TDs in five red zone trips, which was probably the difference between winning and losing the game.

I’m going to mention one other thing about Mercer’s non-conference games. I came across a statistical oddity that had me rechecking numbers two or three times to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. Check out the net rushing totals for Mercer and its opponents in these four contests:

  • Mercer 261, Austin Peay 56
  • Mercer 256, Stetson 43
  • Mercer 261, Tennessee Tech 56 (yes, exactly the same totals as in the Austin Peay game)
  • Mercer 261, East Tennessee State 68

Mercer had 261 net rushing yards in all three of its non-conference matchups with opponents from the state of Tennessee. I don’t know what the odds are on that happening, other than they are very long indeed.

(In its one league game against a team from the Volunteer State, Mercer finished with 173 net rushing yards versus Chattanooga.)

Mercer returns 22 starters (including offense/defense/specialists), tied with East Tennessee State for the most returnees in the league. As a comparison, The Citadel returns 15 starters, second-fewest in the conference (Western Carolina has 14 starters coming back).

The Bears are led by quarterback John Russ (6’0″, 201 lbs.), a senior from Buford, Georgia. He has started all 35 games for Mercer since the program’s resumption in 2013.

Last season, Russ completed 58.2% of his passes, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt, with 18 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He did not throw an INT until the ninth game of the campaign.

Russ (a self-described “simple guy”) also rushed for 382 yards and 7 TDs, while usually operating out of a “pistol” formation. Last year against The Citadel, the QB was 13 for 25 through the air for 130 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked four times by the Bulldogs.

Junior running back Alex Lakes (5’11”, 222 lbs.) rushed for 1,107 yards in 2014, which led the SoCon. Last year, he struggled through an injury-marred season (that included a punctured lung). Lakes rushed for 51 yards and a TD versus The Citadel in the 2015 matchup.

Chandler Curtis (5’11”, 202 lbs.), a junior, was a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2014 as a freshman. Curtis returned four kicks (three punts and a kickoff) for touchdowns that year.

Curtis hurt his ankle in last year’s season opener, and never got on track afterwards. He also suffered an injury during Mercer’s game against The Citadel, after making three early catches. As a result, he only appeared in three games for the Bears in 2015.

When healthy (and he says he is ready to go this year), Curtis is a threat to go the distance any time he has the ball in his hands. Besides his kick-returning exploits, Curtis had four catches of 40+ yards in 2014.

Avery Ward (6’2″, 178 lbs.) led the Bears in receptions last season, with 40, averaging just over 12 yards per catch.  Six of his grabs went for TDs. Ward caught a 65-yard touchdown pass against The Citadel in the 2014 game between the two teams. He had three receptions for 37 yards in last year’s contest.

Sophomore Jimmie Robinson (5’8″, 179 lbs.) was a high school track star who appeared in all eleven games for Mercer last season as a wideout and kick returner. Robinson may not start, but should see plenty of action for the Bears as a stretch-the-field kind of player.

Mercer tight ends are a factor in the passing game. Robert Brown (a 6’2″, 225 lb. senior) and Sam Walker (a 6’4″, 232 lb. redshirt sophomore) combined for 42 receptions last year, including four against The Citadel (with Brown’s lone reception resulting in a touchdown). Walker was a preseason second-team all-league selection.

MU frequently uses two tight ends in its offense, sometimes employing one of them in an “H-back” role.

Mercer’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’2″, 287 lbs.

Kirby Southard (6’0″, 271 lbs.) has started every game at center for Mercer since the beginning of the 2013 season. John Russ is the only other Mercer player who has started all 35 games for the Bears over the last three years.

Right tackle Bret Niederreither (6’3″, 296 lbs.) began his collegiate career at Temple. In 2014, Niederreither started against The Citadel, but at defensive tackle. In 2015, he started eleven games for the Bears along the offensive line. In 2016, he is a preseason all-SoCon pick.

Mercer lines up on defense in what is nominally listed as a 3-4 setup (I’ve also seen it described as a 3-3-5). Of course, the formation may change against a triple option attack.

Tripp Patterson (6’1″, 213 lbs.) is a senior linebacker who led Mercer in tackles last season (with 70), despite making only six starts. The transfer from Air Force had eleven stops versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game.

Middle linebacker Lee Bennett (6’0″, 223 lbs.) finished second on the team in tackles last season, with 67. The junior had eight tackles against The Citadel last season.

Defensive end Isaiah Buehler, a 6’3″, 258 lb. redshirt sophomore, had two tackles for loss (seven total) against The Citadel last year. Buehler was a preseason second team all-conference choice.

“Bandit” linebacker Tosin Aguebor (6’3″, 238 lbs.) was also a preseason second-team all-league selection. The senior played all eleven games for Mercer last year, after missing the entire 2014 campaign due to injury.

Macon native Tyler Ward (6’1″, 228 lbs.) had 13 tackles against The Citadel in 2014. Ward, one of Mercer’s captains, should see action as part of the linebacker rotation.

Nosetackle Austin Barrett (6’2″, 311 lbs.) had a career-high eight tackles versus the Bulldogs last year. Barrett seems to enjoy playing against military colleges, the junior having registered two sacks last season against VMI.

Free safety Zach Jackson (6’0″, 203 lbs.), a transfer from TCU, had 10 tackles versus The Citadel in 2014. The redshirt senior was injured and did not play against the Bulldogs last season.

Mercer will have to replace its punter, holder, and long snapper this season. The new punter will have big shoes to fill, as Matt Shiel was very effective for the Bears last year.

Last season, placekicker Jagger Lieb (5’9″, 194 lbs.) was 11 for 18 on field goal attempts, with a long of 43. In 2014, he made a 48-yarder against The Citadel.

The junior may face competition for the starting job from sophomore Cole Fisher (6’1, 192 lbs.), who converted the only field goal attempt he tried last season. One thing that Mercer needs to fix is its PAT issues, having missed four of them last year (including a critical one versus Wofford).

Chandler Curtis and Jimmie Robinson are expected to handle most of the return duties for the Bears. As mentioned above, Chandler could be particularly dangerous. That was certainly the case in 2014.

There was some indication that this season, The Citadel might open up the aerial attack (or at least throw the football more than nine times per game in league play). With Jordan Black getting his first start at quarterback on Thursday, however, I suspect that the Bulldogs won’t be throwing the ball all over the field in Macon.

Whether or not they would have anyway is subject to question. While it’s one thing to talk about passing more often, I’m not sure Brent Thompson is all that desperate to have a more balanced offensive approach. A quote from a recent Jeff Hartsell article on the coach was illuminating:

[Bucknell] went 4-7 in 2009 before head coach Tim Landis left for an assistant’s job at San Jose State. Thompson was left looking for a job, and unhappy with what had happened to his offense.

“We were getting into some shotgun stuff, trying to take what we did under center and put it in the shotgun,” he said. “It’s something a lot of teams do — Wofford does it well. But it was deteriorating our physicality, eroding our techniques and I was probably trying to placate too many people, trying to be sexy and more dimensional.

“So I said, if I have it to do over again, we’re going to establish blocking fundamentals, get good at something and go from there.”

Sometimes it takes a game or two for the triple option to start running smoothly. That is reflected, to a certain extent, in the records of the Lenoir-Rhyne teams that featured Brent Thompson as the offensive coordinator, and the 2014 season at The Citadel.

  • 2010: After crushing Chowan 59-10 in its opener, Lenoir-Rhyne lost its second game of that season 20-17 to Concord (a quality D2 program in West Virginia)
  • 2011: Lenoir-Rhyne opened the season with a 26-6 road victory over Concord
  • 2012: In its opener, Lenoir-Rhyne lost 24-21 at Concord
  • 2013: Lenoir-Rhyne lost 18-10 at home to Concord in the season’s first game; L-R would then reel off 13 consecutive wins
  • 2014: The Citadel lost 31-16 at home to Coastal Carolina to begin the season

Last year, the Bulldogs enjoyed an easy 69-0 home victory over Davidson, arguably the perfect lead-in to the conference campaign. This year, The Citadel won’t have that luxury, opening with a league game (and on the road).

One advantage Mercer will have is being able to prepare for a triple-option team over a longer period of time, rather than having to adapt for one week during the season. As Bobby Lamb noted:

“Any time you play [The Citadel] in the middle of the year, you’ve basically got three practice days to get out there and try to defend it, which is very difficult,” Lamb, now in his 13th year as a collegiate head coach, continued. “One of the hardest things to do is to implement it with your scout team and try to emulate what they are doing. Our scout team has had more time to work on it and I think that is going to help us with our familiarity.”

During his weekly press conference, Lamb also said that the SoCon office had called the school about potentially playing a conference game to open the season, and that when Mercer found out the opponent would be the Bulldogs, “we jumped all over it”. One further benefit for the Bears is that they will get to play two triple option teams back-to-back (The Citadel and Georgia Tech), and could concentrate even more on that style of offense in preseason camp.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Thursday night in Macon, per the National Weather Service:  a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms; partly cloudy, with a low around 72 degrees (the projected high temperature for Thursday is 95 degrees).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 7-point favorite over Mercer. Earlier in the summer, that line was 8 1/2, but apparently some money has come in on Mercer. I suspect it wouldn’t take a lot of cash to swing an FCS line by a point and a half, but I could be wrong about that.

As a reminder, Mercer has played fourteen games since joining the SoCon. The Bears have only lost by more than 7 points in three of those games — twice in 2014, and in last year’s season finale versus Samford. Both of The Citadel’s games against Mercer in the last two years have been decided by two points.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 35-point favorite over Shorter; Samford is a 28-point favorite over Mars Hill; Wofford is a 10-point favorite at Tennessee Tech (despite the Terriers losing projected starting quarterback Evan Jacks to a season-ending injury); Western Carolina is a 17-point underdog at East Carolina; East Tennessee State is a 26-point underdog at Kennesaw State; VMI is a 30-point underdog at Akron; and Furman is a 43-point underdog at Michigan State.

Gardner-Webb, a non-conference opponent for The Citadel later in the season, is a 7-point underdog at Elon.

– Massey Ratings: As the season begins, The Citadel is ranked 12th among FCS teams. Mercer is ranked 49th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 77% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 28-17.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (8th), Western Carolina (24th), Samford (27th), Wofford (40th), Furman (51st), VMI (61st), Gardner-Webb (81st), East Tennessee State (120th).

– Per the SoCon weekly release, home teams were 13-15 in SoCon games last season. Of those 28 games, 13 were decided by one possession.

– This is the second year in a row that The Citadel has played in the first conference game of the season. In 2015, the Bulldogs hosted Western Carolina in Week 2.

– According to its media guide, Mercer has 71 players from Georgia on its roster, by far the most from any state. Only seven other states are represented: Florida (10), Tennessee (8), Alabama (5), North Carolina (2), and one each from Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

The representative from the Palmetto State is Destin Guillen, a 6’5″, 294 lb. redshirt freshman from Berea High School in Greenville. He is listed as a backup defensive end on the two-deep.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– The depth chart released by The Citadel for Thursday night’s game includes eight “true” freshmen and two redshirt freshmen, including two projected starters on offense: redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Black, and true freshman guard Drew McEntyre. Both are Georgia natives.

Most of the newcomers are on the offensive side of the ball, as the defense has considerably more experience.

– The Citadel has victories over Mercer in four different cities: Charleston, Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. The Bulldogs are 2-0 in Macon, with a 12-7 victory in 1926 and a 28-26 triumph in 2014.

– The key play in last year’s game between the two teams was Isiaha Smith’s 83-yard TD run late in the first half. Per The Citadel’s game notes, that was the longest run from scrimmage for a Bulldog since 2004.

– One more tidbit from the game notes: The Citadel is one of only two programs to rank in the top three in FCS in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game in each of the past two seasons. In my opinion, that is a reflection of both the offensive system and the general excellence of the offensive line over those two years.

– Earlier in the post, I noted that Mercer’s opponent next week is Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will be the first FBS team that the Bears have played since re-starting football.

Georgia Tech is the only team Mercer will play this season that the Bears did not play last year. Essentially, the Yellow Jackets replace Stetson on MU’s schedule.

– Next season, Mercer will play two FBS opponents — Auburn and Alabama.

MU will also travel to Tuscaloosa in 2021 for another game against the Crimson Tide. Other FBS opponents on future schedules for the Bears include Memphis (2018) and Vanderbilt (2020).

Mercer also has scheduled a four-game home-and-home series against Yale, with those games to take place in 2018, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

At the beginning of this post, I quoted a game story from the first meeting between Mercer and The Citadel on the gridiron, a 1906 contest won by the Bulldogs. The subheading for the article noted that the game featured an “absence of fumbling”.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s ten points in that contest came on two touchdowns, as such scores were worth five points in those days.

It was “Gala Week” in Charleston, a festival created after the 1886 earthquake to celebrate the city’s recovery from that disaster (and also to juice up the local retail scene). Apparently that is why the game had to be played in Hampton Park at 11 a.m., and it may also explain the paltry attendance. Only an estimated 200 spectators witnessed The Citadel’s victory.

I expect quite a few more fans will be at the 2016 edition of the matchup on Thursday night. It should be a fine atmosphere for a game, and I would not be surprised if significant numbers of blue-clad supporters manage to escape their weekly duties long enough to make the trip to Macon.

Mercer’s team (and fan base) is confident that the Bears can break through this season in a big way, after two years of mostly near-misses. MU has improved depth on both sides of the ball, and more than its fair share of experience.

Bobby Lamb’s charges believe they can win. Of course, the same is true for the players who will line up for The Citadel.

The Bulldogs were a major success story last year, and brought great joy to loyal fans who had waited many years for such a season. Memories were created that will last forever, but memories don’t block and tackle.

Can they do it again? Will the team be able to maintain that forward push under a new head coach, with an untested quarterback, and on the road against an opponent that could be ready to take the next step?

Those are the questions. What are the answers?

We’ll find out at least some of them on Thursday night.