Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

Time and Place:  6:00 pm ET, Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Television:  a tape-delayed broadcast on a local cable channel called MTN-18 that really needs to improve its website

This will be only the second Saturday night game played in Boone since 2001.  I gather that many of the Mountaineer fans wanted a night game; why you would want one in the mountains in mid-October, I have no idea, but their wish has been granted.  Appalachian State also played a Saturday night game against Presbyterian two years ago.

Note that I specified “Saturday night”.  In the last three seasons, the Mountaineers have played two Friday night games in Boone, one a I-AA semifinal against Richmond, the other a regular season game against Wofford televised (unfortunately for Wofford) on ESPN2.  So a night game in Boone isn’t a novelty; it’s just a little unusual.

This preview is a fairly short one, because I am in the middle of a busy stretch that includes some travel.  Among other things, that means I won’t be able to even listen to the dulcet tones of Darren Goldwater on the radio.  I won’t find out how the game went until late Saturday night.  I can probably make a decent guess as to how it will go, though.

Just a few brief observations, while I have a few minutes:

— Appalachian State is ranked #1 in both the FCS Coaches Poll and The Sports Network poll.  The last time The Citadel defeated the top-ranked I-AA team, it was 1988, and the opponent was Marshall.  That is still the most “electric” atmosphere for any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium that I have attended.

The upset on that sunny afternoon was keyed by an outstanding performance by the Bulldog defense.  To stay competitive on Saturday night, The Citadel will need a similar effort from its defensive unit.

— Sam Martin was hurt during the Chattanooga game.  This excerpt from Jeff Hartsell’s Tuesday report in The Post and Courier concerned me:

…early in the second quarter, Martin got hit by Mocs tackle Nick Davison and another player. He got to his feet and called a timeout, to Higgins’ consternation.

“I said, ‘Sam, why did you call a timeout?’ ” Higgins said at his Monday news conference. “He said, ‘Coach, I couldn’t see anything.’ So we got him off the field, and I determined it was a concussion. I’m not sure if that is what our medical staff is calling it, but we didn’t put him back in the game. He was doing fine after the game.

“We’ll keep giving him tests, but (Sunday) he was fine, (Monday) he was fine. I think he will be OK and we’ll get him practicing this week.”

Okay, a couple of things:

1)  Kevin Higgins has considerable coaching expertise, but I’ll go with the medical staff’s determination on whether or not a player has a concussion.

2)  If he really suffered a concussion, he wouldn’t be practicing.

As to what really happened to Martin during the UTC game, I have no idea.  I’m no doctor.  It sounded a little bit like what happened to Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist during the Irish’s game against Michigan State, though.  Crist was reportedly diagnosed with an “ocular migraine”.  He left that game, but later returned (and played very well).

I might add that we are less likely to find out these days exactly what a player’s medical condition is/was due to privacy laws, and I think that’s a good thing.  I also have full confidence in our medical/training staff.

— Alex Sellars tore his ACL and is done for the year.  It’s been a tough season for the fifth-year senior, who had previously suffered from back problems.  He had some outstanding moments for the Bulldogs during his career; it’s a shame there apparently won’t be any more on the field.

— Armanti Edwards is now a Carolina Panther, meaning that in terms of success, he’s gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.  He gets paid better to stay in the outhouse, though.

— His successor, DeAndre Presley, has already been named SoCon offensive player of the week three times this season, including last week against Elon, when he amassed 374 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns.  Presley has yet to throw an interception this season in 118 attempts.

Presley was injured late in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday.

— The Mountaineers’ offensive line has remained intact through all five games so far this season.  Four of those five linemen also started every game last year, and the fifth (Daniel Kilgore) started on the line for every game in 2008.

— Speaking of experience, Appalachian State has three receivers (Matt Cline, CoCo Hillary, and big-play threat Brian Quick) who seem to have been playing for the Mountaineers since the late 1990s.

— As you can see, Appalachian State had lots of starters on offense coming back, save the quarterback position, and Presley obviously has made the transition from Edwards fairly seamless.  However, the Mountaineers have some new faces on defense, and that’s been a bit of a problem (at least, as big a problem as an undefeated team could have).

Appalachian State is allowing 254 passing yards per game and 381 total yards per contest, both below-average numbers.  However, its average points allowed per game (23.8) isn’t as bad as those peripheral statistics.  App State games are like track meets, and opponents find it difficult to keep up.  No lead is safe, either, as Chattanooga found out (ASU prevailing 42-41 after scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter).

— In last year’s game against the Mountaineers, the Bulldogs just missed pulling off a big upset (30-27, OT).  What The Citadel did well in that game was run the football, compiling 214 yards rushing while in a spread attack, including one of the more spectacular runs in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (Van Dyke Jones’ 69-yard TD).

The Bulldogs will need more than 214 yards rushing to compete with App State on Saturday, at least as long as the offense continues to average less than 60 yards passing per game.  Incidentally, The Citadel’s 247.7 ypg rushing is actually less than ASU’s (264.6 ypg).

— Appalachian State has already had ten different players score offensive touchdowns this season.  Five of those players have scored three TDs or more (Presley has eight).

— If the Mountaineers punt, don’t be confused when you hear Sam Martin’s name mentioned.  That’s the name of the ASU punter, no relation (I’m guessing) to the Bulldog quarterback.

— You may have read that Appalachian State is going to conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of moving up to FBS (I-A).  Of course, just last year fellow Southern Conference member Georgia Southern commissioned its own study on the topic, which I wrote about (probably too extensively) here.

In general, I am skeptical about schools moving up to FBS land; while fans and administrators dream of being the next Boise State, the truth is most schools are much more likely to become the next Louisiana-Monroe.  However, I can understand why App State is exploring the terrain.

It’s a strange time right now in the world of FCS.  The CAA is a good example.  Villanova is the reigning FCS champ, but has an offer to move to I-A and the Big East.  Two league schools (Hofstra and Northeastern) dropped the sport last year.  Georgia State and Old Dominion are now fielding teams and will join the league.  Rhode Island is considering a move to the Northeast Conference (motto:  we’re cheaper).

That’s just one league.  Back in the not-so-gentle world of the Southern Conference, it wasn’t that long ago the league included East Tennessee State, VMI, and Marshall.  Things change, and it’s important to evaluate things once in a while.  After all, as recently as 1995, The Citadel studied I-A as a possible option.

I think Appalachian State is marginally better positioned to move to FBS than Georgia Southern.  However, I greatly suspect that the feasibility study will show that ASU should stay right where it is, which I think would satisfy most of its fan base.  However, if “right where it is” were to no longer exist, the school should have a better idea of what its options are.

There won’t be a specific review post of the Appalachian State game on the blog next week.  Writing the preview of the Georgia Southern game is going to be enough of a struggle as it is; I’ll undoubtably take a look back at the ASU game as part of that preview.  The TV schedule post will still happen, possibly a day later than normal.

Go Dogs!

Wofford, for the sixty-first time

Well, after last week’s difficult loss, the Bulldogs get to travel to Spartanburg to take on the latest edition of Wofford football.  The Citadel has lost nine straight times to Wofford, which is not particularly surprising, since Wofford has been quite good for most of the past decade with one coach (Mike Ayers, who has been there for 21 years), while The Citadel has mostly struggled over the same time period with four different head coaches. 

It wasn’t always that way.  In fact, it usually hasn’t been that way.  The Citadel has a commanding 40-19-1 lead in the alltime series.  Many of the games have been played in Charleston, although Saturday’s game will be the fifteenth played in Spartanburg (The Citadel has won eight of the previous fourteen).  There have also been a fair amount of neutral site contests, including eight games played in Orangeburg (most of those occurred during the 1950s, with the games serving as sideshows for the Orangeburg County Fair).

One of the more notable games between Wofford and The Citadel occurred in 1987.  That was Charlie Taaffe’s first season as coach of the Bulldogs, and Wofford would be his first opponent.  The matchup was scheduled for Saturday, September 5th, but heavy rains in the days leading up to the game flooded the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium and resulted in the game being postponed until Sunday afternoon.  This made for a rather odd atmosphere (I don’t know of any other football game The Citadel has ever played on Sunday).  The conditions were still rather soggy, although the sun came out, and you had people in their Sunday best, along with people who looked like they had just rolled out of bed.  The Corps of Cadets marched over to the stadium wearing their duty uniforms, which was probably unprecedented. 

The Bulldogs won the toss and elected to receive.  On first down following the kickoff, Roger Witherspoon went up the middle for seven yards.  On the next play, Tom Frooman took the ball on a misdirection play and went to his left.  67 yards later, he was in the end zone, having not been touched.  The Citadel went on to win the game, 38-0, an auspicious debut for Taaffe’s wishbone offense.  Having an offense geared almost exclusively to the run was a complete 180-degree turn for the program, given that Taaffe’s predecessor as coach, Tom Moore, ran a pure passing attack (two years before, Kip Allen had thrown for 428 yards against Wofford, which is still the school record).  Bulldog fans learned to enjoy the finer points of the triple option, mainly (well, solely — let’s be honest here) because Taaffe’s teams were generally successful. 

Taaffe’s final victory as coach of The Citadel, in 1995, also came against Wofford.  He exited (less than auspiciously) as the winningest football coach in school history.

This year’s game features another team that runs the option, only this time it’s Wofford and its “wingbone” attack.  The Terriers lead the nation in rushing, averaging over 354 yards per game.  Wofford doesn’t pass much (which explains why the Terriers have only allowed two sacks all year), but because of the rushing dominance it still ranks second nationally in total offense.  The attack has produced points, too — Wofford is averaging 38 per game.  The Terriers usually don’t turn the ball over, although last week they coughed it up five times against Appalachian State.  Despite that debacle, Wofford still has a +10 turnover differential, which leads the conference and is fourth-best nationally.

Brief Digression:  in Appalachian State’s 70-24 beatdown of the Terriers last Friday night, near the end of the game Appy had the ball inside the Wofford 20.  The TV announcers, Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard, were talking about how the coaches were great friends, they sat together with their wives at coaches’ conventions, etc.  Instead of just taking a knee, though, the Mountaineers kept running the ball (albeit with their backup QB), and scored their 10th touchdown of the night.  Wischusen and Huard were a bit nonplussed by that.  Just imagine what App State would have done if the coaches hadn’t been such good friends…

Wofford’s defense is fourth in the nation in sacks, led by defensive end Mitch Clark, who has six in eight games.  Last week Appalachian State rolled up 620 yards of total offense (ouch) on the Terriers.  The Wofford D isn’t nearly that bad, obviously, but teams have had some success passing the ball against it.  Presbyterian had 351 yards passing, Georgia Southern 303, and then last week’s game featured 382 yards passing for Appy. 

Wofford’s net punting statistics are excellent (so are The Citadel’s).  Wofford has made seven of nine field goals this season, with a long of 43 yards (let’s not talk about The Citadel and field goals, at least not this week).

The site of Saturday’s game, Gibbs Stadium, is a very nice 13,000-seat stadium that was built in the mid-1990s.  Also built around that time was the Richardson Athletic Building, home base for Wofford athletics.  The building is named for Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers and a Wofford alum (and benefactor, as you might imagine).  The Panthers hold their summer training camp there.

This game will be on SportSouth.  Watching The Citadel play games on TV is still a little bit of a novelty.  Watching The Citadel win games on TV is an even bigger novelty, alas.  The announcers will be Tom Werme and Sam Wyche.  Wyche will undoubtably be in a good mood, since he was just elected to Greenville County Council.

The Summerall Guards are performing at the game, which seems only fitting, since there are 61 members of the Summerall Guards, and this is the sixty-first game between Wofford and The Citadel.

The Citadel could win this game.  After last week’s loss, though, I don’t know what kind of mindset the team will have as it travels up to Spartanburg.  I also don’t know how Wofford will react to giving up 70 points in its biggest game of the season.

We’ll find out at 3 pm on Saturday.