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

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

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview, The Post and Courier

The next two games for The Citadel are fairly important

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

Spann spent most of October intercepting passes and recovering fumbles

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Western Carolina’s website

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

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

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

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

– Promo for Western Carolina-The Citadel (video)

Cam Jackson promo for Senior Day (video)

– ESPN3 replay of Furman-Western Carolina (video)

– Game story from Furman-Western Carolina

– My review of last week’s game against VMI

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

Non-football links:

The Citadel Basketball 2017-18 “Hype Video”

The Citadel’s 2018 baseball schedule has been released

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Clawson has been around for a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statistics of interest for Western Carolina through nine games:

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

Key stats for The Citadel through eight games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Review, 2017: Chattanooga

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

“By the numbers”, The Post and Courier

Game story, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Game story, University Echo

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WRCB-TV

Game story, The Chattanoogan

AP game story

School release (The Citadel)

School release (Chattanooga)

Extended box score

Postgame comments from UTC coach Tom Arth (video)

ESPN3 replay of the game

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

Random observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

2017 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The size of East Tennessee, The Citadel’s Saturday night opponent at Johnson Hagood Stadium, can be described in one word: awesome.

The Bucs are bigger than anyone the Cadets have met this season, including the massive Vanderbilt Commodores.

“Their size scares me more than Vanderbilt’s,” said the Bulldogs’ offensive coach Bob Gatling. “They are big enough to run right at us and that’s what we’re looking for,” said defensive coach Harold Steelman.

The East Tennessee defensive unit has been tagged with the nickname “Sam’s Gang”; Sam being Sam Riddle, a 6’1″, 195-pound junior middle linebacker who calls the defensive signals. But Sam is one of the smaller members of the “Gang”.

The big guy, who his teammates call “Waterloo Fats”, is senior tackle Terry Manfredi. He stands 6’1″ and tips the scales at 268 pounds.

Charleston Evening Post, September 28, 1966

 

With 1:01 left on the clock, sophomore Jim Gahagan banged home a 38-yard field goal into the teeth of a 16 mile per hour wind last night to give The Citadel a 3-0 victory over the East Tennessee State Buccaneers…

…Cal McCombs¹, the Bulldogs’ 5’9″ cornerback, saved the win with an interception at The Citadel three on the final play of the game.

A Johnson Hagood Stadium crowd of 7,558 braved chilling temperatures to watch the Cadets post their second win in a row after losing the season opener at Vanderbilt. It is the first time since 1964 that the Bulldogs have put together back to back wins [The Citadel had defeated Richmond the week before].

Junior linebacker Barron Windham had breathed life into the Cadets when he recovered a Buccaneers fumble at The Citadel 44 with less than four minutes to play…

…The temperature dropped 15 degrees from a high of 73 to a chilling 58 during the course of the game and a wind out of the northwest was clocked at between 16 and 22 miles per hour.

The News and Courier, October 2, 1966

The Citadel at East Tennessee State, to be played at William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on September 16, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. David Jackson will handle play-by-play, while Mark Hutsell supplies the analysis. Kasey Marler will report from the sidelines.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Teammates band together to help family of Mitchell Jeter

The Citadel, team on the move

Lorenzo Ward gets a chance, takes advantage of it

Bulldogs carry extra motivation into league opener

The Citadel winning with two quarterbacks

Bulldogs endure tough week

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #13, unchanged from last week)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #13, up one spot from last week)

Brent Thompson 9/13 radio show (video)

New week, new challenge for ETSU

Buccaneers set for great challenge (video from WJHL)

ETSU hosting The Citadel and its triple option offense

Carl Torbush’s 9/11 press conference

The Bulldog Breakdown [9/15] (video)

The two quoted blurbs at the top of the post reference the first football game played between East Tennessee State and The Citadel, which took place on October 1, 1966. After that contest, the two schools would not meet again on the gridiron until 1981. By then, ETSU was a member of the Southern Conference.

In the 1966 matchup, Bulldogs quarterback Bill Ogburn had a tough afternoon (perhaps because of the windy conditions), only completing three passes. However, his third and final completion was a big one, as he found split end Tom Moore² for a 16-yard gain that set up Jim Gahagan’s game-winning field goal.

Afterwards:

East Tennessee coach John Bell, visibly shaken over the defeat, shook [Red] Parker’s hand after the game and said simply, “Congratulations, Red. It was a good defensive game, wasn’t it?” Then he put his head down and trudged across the damp turf to his dressing room.

East Tennessee State was founded in 1911. It was then known as the East Tennessee State Normal School. When it opened, 29 students registered for classes.

One of the first things administrators did was select the school colors (navy and gold). By 1920, the school was fielding a football team, apparently called the “Normalites”. Later the squad became the “Teachers”.

By 1930, there were over 1,400 students. Twenty-five years later, that number had risen to 4,000. Enrollment was approaching 7,000 when East Tennessee State reached university status in 1963.

Today, East Tennessee State University has over 14,500 undergraduate and graduate students.

Why are East Tennessee State’s teams called the “Buccaneers”? The school website says:

Johnson City, home of ETSU, is located among the mountains of Eastern Tennessee and is a great distance from the ocean. For this reason, one might wonder why ETSU would select a Buccaneer as their mascot. The answer is not that simple.

Apparently, geologists and archaeologists teamed up and discovered an underground river near the university several years ago. Named Pirate Creek, it evidently winds its way through many subterranean tunnels. It is thought that these caverns at one time channeled all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Soon after this discovery, the legend of buccaneer, Jean Paul LeBucque was found in history books. The legend tells that LeBucque was a nuisance and terror.

Evidently, he was looking for a place to hide his great store of gold and treasure, and find safety for himself. He sailed north in search of a new home and began to look inland. Legend states that he discovered the underground river near Johnson City and called Pirate Creek his home. Geologists feel that the upheaval of the earth’s crust, which now blocks the channel, possibly killed LeBucque. This legend is widely accepted and is one way to explain why an inland school would choose a pirate nickname.

Uh, sure…

The real origin of the “Buccaneers” nickname is a bit more modest. Wanting to call the football team something other than “Teachers”, a player on the 1936 squad suggested “Buccaneers”, apparently getting the idea from a Virginia high school that used the name. His teammates went along with it, and ETSU’s varsity teams have been known as the Buccaneers ever since.

Of note: in the 1980s, the school had a mascot known as “Pepper the Parrot“.

ETSU has a new stadium. Fast facts on the facility:

  • It is called the “William B. Greene Jr. Stadium”; Greene is a co-founder of the Bank of Tennessee and a longtime benefactor to ETSU
  • Construction began on the stadium in 2015; this “initial” phase cost $26 million
  • Current seating capacity is 7,694; however, a grass berm can hold more fans, which is evident based on the attendance for the first game played there (9,530)
  • Gameday parking is $10
  • For the opener, which had a 7:00 pm kickoff, the parking lots were opened for tailgating at 8:00 am
  • The game against The Citadel will be the second contest played at the new stadium and the first SoCon matchup

East Tennessee State was 5-6 last season in its second year after re-instituting football, winning all three of its non-conference games. Two of those contests were against non-D1 teams, but the third was an overtime victory at Kennesaw State to open the 2016 campaign.

  • at Kennesaw State (won 20-17 in double overtime)
  • Western Carolina (won 34-31; game played at Bristol Motor Speedway)
  • at Wofford (lost 31-0)
  • Chattanooga (lost 37-7)
  • at VMI (lost 37-7; yes, the same score as the UTC game)
  • Furman (lost 52-7)
  • West Virginia Wesleyan (won 38-7)
  • at The Citadel (lost 45-10)
  • at Mercer (lost 21-13)
  • Cumberland (won 23-16)
  • Samford (won 15-14, with a field goal on the last play of the game)

Statistics of note for East Tennessee State’s 2016 season (11 games):

ETSU Opponents
Points/game 15.8 28.0
Rushing yardage 1474 2175
Yards/rush 3.45 4.67
Rush TDs 11 26
Passing yardage 1787 2013
Comp-Att-Int 171-296-8 171-263-2
Average/pass att 6.0 7.7
Passing TDs 9 15
Total offense 3261 4188
Total plays 723 729
Yards/play 4.5 5.7
Fumbles/lost 8/2 14/11
Penalties-pen yds 62-615 72-688
Pen yards/game 55.9 62.5
Net punt average 31.8 37.9
Time of poss/game 31:10 28:50
3rd-down conv 63/163 52/137
3rd-down conv % 38.65% 37.96%
Sacks by-yards 14-63 30-196
Red Zone TD% (17-31) 54.8% (31-46) 67.4%

– ETSU did a very good job of avoiding turnovers in 2016; in fact, the Buccaneers tied for first in all of FCS in fewest turnovers, with just 10 in 11 games. However, East Tennessee State was only 45th nationally in turnover margin despite rarely giving the ball away itself, because it finished 107th in turnovers gained (including only two intercepted passes all season).

– While the Buccaneers were 5th nationally in red zone offense, that number is misleading. ETSU did put points on the board 28 out of 31 times once it advanced inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, but 11 of those 28 scores were field goals. East Tennessee State also ranked in the bottom 25 in red zone opportunities.

– East Tennessee State finished in the bottom 15 nationally in total offense, scoring offense, tackles for loss allowed, and net punting. However, ETSU did enjoy success on fourth down, converting 7 of 10 tries in that category; that 70% success rate on fourth down ranked 6th-best in FCS.

The Buccaneers’ defensive statistics tended to be in the middle of the pack from a national perspective. ETSU did struggle with its defensive pass efficiency (bottom 15 in FCS), which can be attributed in part to the lack of interceptions — and, perhaps, to a lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback, as the Buccaneers’ totals for tackles for loss and sacks were a bit low.

Worth mentioning: in last season’s game versus Kennesaw State, which runs the triple option offense, East Tennessee State’s defense came up big. The Owls were held to 2.9 yards per rush (166 total rush yards) in that contest.

Against The Citadel, however, ETSU’s D was not nearly as effective, allowing 7.0 yards per rush (and 427 total rush yards). Still, it seems to me that the Buccaneers’ veteran coaching staff has a handle on defending the triple option; it is mainly a question of personnel.

In one aspect of the game, East Tennessee State fared better than any other conference team against The Citadel last year, a statistic that caught my eye while I was compiling “advanced stats” from the Bulldogs’ 2016 league campaign.

On third down, The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.68 yards needed to gain a first down in league play. That is an excellent number; for comparison, Air Force led FBS teams in that category, at 5.5 yards average distance to go on third downs.

The Bulldogs’ conference opponents, on the other hand, required on average 8.17 yards to move the chains on third down. The differential goes a long way to explaining The Citadel’s 8-0 league record.

However, when ETSU played The Citadel last year, the Buccaneers actually outperformed the Bulldogs in that stat, 5.0 to 5.2. They were the only SoCon team to do so. The required distance to gain on third down of 5.0 yards was easily the least needed on average for any of The Citadel’s conference opponents.

That suggests savvy play calling, in the sense that a young Bucs offense was put in a position to succeed on third down. Indeed, the average distance to gain on third down correlates strongly with third down conversion rate (obviously not a surprise).

It doesn’t make conversions automatic, though, as East Tennessee State found out last year. Against the Bulldogs, even with manageable distance-to-go situations, the Buccaneers were only 2 for 15 on third down conversions.

Four times, ETSU had a third-and-one on offense. Only once in those four attempts did it pick up a first down.

East Tennessee State is 1-1 so far this season, with a 31-10 home win over Limestone, followed by a 52-10 loss to James Madison last Saturday.

Against Limestone, ETSU jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead and cruised to victory. The Buccaneers’ defense held the Saints to 75 yards of total offense in the first half.

ETSU quarterback Austin Herink completed his first 15 passes against the Saints. He finished the game 16 for 20 through the air with three touchdowns and no interceptions, averaging almost 12 yards per attempt. Eight different Buccaneers had receptions.

Conversely, Limestone struggled throwing the ball versus ETSU. The Saints threw the football 20 times, completing only seven, for a total of just 29 passing yards.

East Tennessee State’s matchup with James Madison went about as expected (which could probably also be said for the Limestone game). The Dukes scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, while ETSU’s lone touchdown during the contest came on a pick-six.

As noted by head coach Carl Torbush in his Monday press conference, ETSU also struggled on special teams. In particular, punting (a bugaboo for the Buccaneers last season) was a problem, as East Tennessee State finished the game with a net punting average of 26.0 (on eight punts, so it wasn’t a sample size issue). JMU took one punt back 41 yards for a TD.

Torbush on the JMU game:

“We’re not going to grade alignment, assignment and technique a great deal. We are going to grade effort and make sure that we fought, which I think we did. We need to make sure we have the right guys on the field.”

There was a bright spot, however, and it is something that should interest Bulldog fans:

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Bucs. Their run defense looked stout. Against a team that had rushed for more than 400 yards a week earlier, they held the Dukes to three yards per carry.

East Tennessee State ran the ball on 59% of its plays in 2016. Through two games this season, ETSU has run the ball on…59% of its plays.

The starting quarterback for the Buccaneers is redshirt junior Austin Herink (6’3″, 209 lbs.). The native of Cleveland, Tennessee has started all 24 games for the team over the past two seasons.

Last year, Herink completed 59.6% of his throws, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, with seven TDs and eight interceptions. Against The Citadel in Johnson Hagood Stadium, he was 12 for 25 passing for 157 yards, with one touchdown and one pick.

So far this season, Herink has completed 59.6% of his passes (yes, the exact same percentage as in 2016), averaging 7.6 yards per attempt, with three touchdowns against one interception.

Jujuan Stinson (5’9″, 186 lbs.) is the Buccaneers’ primary running back. He is a redshirt junior from Knoxville who averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season. Stinson has five career 100-yard rushing games.

Senior wide receiver Vincent Lowe (5’9″, 181 lbs.) began his college career at Old Dominion. He leads ETSU in receptions through two games this season, with eight (including one touchdown grab). Last year, Lowe had 21 receptions, averaging 9.8 yards per catch.

Drake Powell (6’2″, 200 lbs.) led the Buccaneers in receptions last season, with 29. He averaged 14.9 yards per catch. Against The Citadel last year, Powell caught three passes for 70 yards, including a 52-yarder.

East Tennessee State’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 297 lbs.

Left guard Ben Blackmon (6’3″, 294 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore who went to Newberry (SC) High School. In high school, he was also on the baseball and swim teams.

Blackmon started all eleven games last season for the Buccaneers, as did center Matt Pyke (6’2″, 302 lbs.). Pyke is a redshirt junior from Clinton, Tennessee (he and Powell are two of three residents of that town on the East Tennessee State roster).

Senior right tackle Alex Rios (6’5″, 295 lbs.) was a preseason second-team all-SoCon selection. The resident of Tucson played two seasons at Pima Community College before transferring to ETSU. Rios did not play against The Citadel in last season’s game, the only contest he did not start in 2016.

Linebacker Dylan Weigel (6’0″, 220 lbs.) was a second-team All-SoCon selection in 2016. A native of Pickering, Ohio, Weigel led the team in tackles last season, with 106 (including eleven versus The Citadel). Now a redshirt junior, Weigel has 14 tackles through two games this season, tied for second on the team.

Fellow linebacker River Boruff (6’2″, 228 lbs.) currently lead the Bucs in tackles, with 17. Boruff has 19 career starts for ETSU; like Weigel (and several other ETSU players on the two-deep), he is a redshirt junior.

East Tennessee State’s starting defensive ends are both from South Carolina. Chris Bouyer (6’2″, 278 lbs.) is a junior from Rock Hill who went to Northwestern High School. The engineering technology major has twice made the SoCon All-Academic Honor Roll.

Redshirt sophomore Nasir Player (6’6″, 247 lbs.) is from Columbia, and graduated from Ridge View High School. Last season, Player was listed as 6’5″, 257 lbs., so he has apparently grown an inch while shedding ten pounds over the course of the year.

Player made the All-SoCon freshman team last season after starting seven games and compiling 5.5 tackles for loss. Another ETSU representative on the conference’s all-frosh squad, Jason Maduafokwa (6’3″, 256 lbs.) is listed as a backup at defensive end, but actually led the team in sacks last year, with four. At least one online site suggested that Maduafokwa could be a “breakout” player this season for the Buccaneers.

Free safety Paul Hunter (5’11”, 183 lbs.) had eleven tackles and two fumble recoveries against The Citadel last season. He was named the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week as a result.

The senior from Denton, Texas has one of the Bucs’ two interceptions this year.

J.J. Jerman (5’10”, 174 lbs.) is a junior from Seymour, Tennessee. A preseason second-team all-league pick at placekicker, Jerman booted through a game-winning field goal in double overtime against Kennesaw State in ETSU’s season opener last year, and then made a 28-yarder on the final play of the game versus Samford to win the Buccaneers’ last game of the 2016 campaign.

In 2016, Jerman was 12-16 on field goal tries and 18-19 on PATs. In ETSU’s game versus Limestone two weeks ago, Jerman connected on a career-long 48-yard field goal.

Kickoff specialist Landon Kunek (6’2″, 184 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore who went to Spartanburg (SC) High School. He also serves as the backup punter.

Marion Watson (6’2″, 160 lbs.) is in his third season as ETSU’s punter. The junior’s career long punt is 59 yards, which came in 2015 against Warner.

Charlotte native Domenique Williams (5’10”, 160 lbs.) is ETSU’s primary kickoff and punt returner. He had a 42-yard kick return against The Citadel last season.

Williams, a junior, is also a defensive back, and he returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown last week against James Madison.

Odds and ends:

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

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 25-point favorite over East Tennessee State. The over/under is 44.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: VMI is a 1.5-point favorite at Robert Morris; Western Carolina is a 3-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; Chattanooga is a 6.5-point favorite over UT Martin; Furman is a 34.5-point underdog at North Carolina State; Samford is a 33.5-point underdog at Georgia; and Mercer is a 43.5-point underdog at Auburn.

Wofford is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 3-point favorite at Louisville; South Carolina is a 6-point favorite over Kentucky; Coastal Carolina is a 2-point favorite at UAB; South Carolina State is a 33-point favorite over Johnson C. Smith (and the over/under for that game is only 39); and Charleston Southern is a 10-point favorite at Elon.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 25th in FCS, a drop of seven spots from last week. Apparently beating PC by 41 points didn’t impress the computer.

East Tennessee State is ranked 93rd in FCS. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 147th, while ETSU is 296th.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 31, East Tennessee State 10. The Bulldogs are given a 91% chance of victory.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 16th (a six-spot drop), Charleston Southern is 18th, Chattanooga is 21st (down seven places), Samford is 27th (falling six spots), Mercer is 47th (down 12 places), Furman is 57th (was 31st last week), Western Carolina is 73rd (a seven-spot fall), South Carolina State is 75th, VMI is 100th (down 30 places), and Presbyterian is 101st.

It was a tough week for the SoCon as a whole, and the system’s algorithm punished the league as a result. Bad home losses for Furman and VMI, in particular, dragged down the ratings for the conference.

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Youngstown State, South Dakota State, and Jacksonville State. Eastern Washington remained in the sixth spot, despite losing at home 40-13 (albeit to North Dakota State).

– In last season’s game between East Tennessee State and The Citadel, ten different Bulldogs had rushing attempts, including Cam Jackson (7 carries for 124 yards and two TDs). Kailik Williams led The Citadel in tackles, with six.

– I mentioned this last year, but ETSU head coach Carl Torbush is a former minor league baseball player. While an assistant coach at Southeastern Louisiana (1976-79), he also served as that school’s baseball coach, leading them to a share of the Gulf South conference title in 1978.

Torbush is a graduate of Carson-Newman. Besides East Tennessee State, he has been the head coach of North Carolina (most people remember that) and Louisiana Tech (no one remembers that). Torbush has been a defensive coordinator at six different FBS schools.

– Former ETSU defensive line coach Scott Brumett was fired in June after being arrested in Chattanooga. Apparently intoxicated, Brumett got upset when his hotel room key card did not work, and allegedly threatened to beat and hang a hotel clerk “from a noose”. Charges were dropped two weeks ago, but the school confirmed that Brumett would not be returning.

– Among East Tennessee State’s notable graduates are former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, country music singer and noted bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, actor Timothy Busfield³, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales (who has one of the best jobs in the world, as he gets to listen to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis).

There are also several pro golfers and baseball players among ETSU’s alumni ranks, including J.C. Snead and Atlee Hammaker.

– The roster for East Tennessee State includes 54 players from the State of Tennessee. Other states represented on its roster: Georgia (15 players), Ohio (10), North Carolina (8), Virginia (8), Alabama (7), South Carolina (6), Florida (6), Texas (2), and one each from West Virginia, New York, and Arizona.

– The six ETSU players from South Carolina are from six different high schools: T.L. Hanna, Ridge View, Newberry, Spartanburg, Northwestern, and Christ School.

Freshman quarterback Drew Johnson, a resident of Spartanburg, is the Buccaneer who went to high school at Christ School, which is located in Arden, North Carolina. He was coached there by former Tennessee QB (and ex-congressman) Heath Shuler.

– While East Tennessee State can boast several Palmetto State players on its roster, the coaching staff has not signed anyone from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a sign that the program has not yet hit the big time — this, despite the fact that ETSU offensive coordinator Mike O’Cain once donned the famed maroon and orange.

Donnie Abraham cannot be happy about the current lack of Bruins in Johnson City, either.

– O’Cain was the running backs coach at The Citadel under Art Baker from 1978 through 1980. Of course, he was also the head coach at North Carolina State for seven seasons in the 1990s, and has served as the OC and/or quarterbacks coach at several other schools, including Clemson (his alma mater), North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and James Madison.

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

Make no mistake, this will be a tough game for The Citadel. East Tennessee State is a young but improving team that is well-coached on both sides of the ball.

The Buccaneers have some deficiencies that need to be addressed (including special teams play), but I fully expect the Bulldogs to get ETSU’s best shot on Saturday, before an enthusiastic, partisan crowd ready to see their team pull off an upset of the two-time defending league champions.

In addition, this has not been an easy week for The Citadel in terms of preparation. The squad did not return to Charleston until Tuesday after playing in Clinton on Saturday. Of course, there was also the terrible news about the death of Mitchell Jeter, a teammate of most of the current Bulldogs.

It would be understandable if the players and coaches struggled to maintain their collective focus. However, I have faith that the team will persevere and play hard and well in Johnson City.

Playing hard and well has been a hallmark of the program over the past few years. I expect nothing less on Saturday.

 


*Footnotes*
1: McCombs (later the head coach at VMI) was named the South Carolina State Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in the contest.
2: Moore was the head coach of The Citadel from 1983-86.
3: Busfield played Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law in Field of Dreams, among other roles.

 

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.