2011 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Jacksonville

The Citadel vs. Jacksonville, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 3.  The game will not be televised, although it will be webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

It’s that time of year! College football has arrived and not a moment too soon.  I’m tired of reading about the Summer of Ponzi and all the other scandals that have beset the sport in the off-season, and while I enjoy discussing realignment as much as anybody, the Texas A&M two-step with the SEC is starting to get old.  I’m ready to see some activity on the playing field.

This is an important season for The Citadel’s football program.  I wrote about the program’s status last November; nothing has happened since then to make me think that the 2011 campaign will be anything other than a defining one for Kevin Higgins and his coaching staff.  I’m far from the only person who thinks that success of some sort this season is paramount.   The intensity in the crowd at the recent open scrimmage was palpable.

One thing is certain:  if there ever were a year for the football team to “sneak up” on people, this is the one.  Southern Conference media members picked The Citadel to finish last.  Only one player (Tolu Akindele) made either the preseason all-conference first or second teams.  The SoCon coaches’ vote had The Citadel in next-to-last place, ahead of only Western Carolina; that’s the same verdict rendered by The Sports Network.

Last season, the Bulldogs played three non-conference games before beginning league play.  This year, though, The Citadel will play six of its first seven games against SoCon opposition.  The Bulldogs will have a good idea of where they stand before the fall harvest.

The only non-league game in that group of seven contests is the first one, and it is far from the “gimme game” that the home opener has been in recent years.  Instead of scheduling a glorified scrimmage against the likes of Webber International or Chowan, The Citadel is playing Jacksonville, which went 10-1 last season and shared the Pioneer League title (with Dayton).  The Dolphins, favored to win the PL again, will be a formidable challenge.

Jacksonville University is not to be confused with Jacksonville State University, which is located in Alabama and has a football team coached by Jack Crowe, the man who was on the wrong side of one of The Citadel’s more notable gridiron triumphs. Jacksonville University is located in Jacksonville, Florida, and its football team is coached by Kerwin Bell.  (More on him later.)

Jacksonville began in 1934 as a junior college named “William J. Porter University” after its founder; in 1958 it became a four-year school after merging with the Jacksonville School of Music.  As of today it’s a private, liberal-arts university with roughly 3,500 undergraduate students (60% of whom are women).

JU’s “Timeline” feature on its website includes a lot of concerts in the 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps an indication of the importance of the music school in relation to the rest of the university at that time.  Performers who made their way to Swisher Gym included Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Duke Ellington, John Denver, and Billy Joel; K.C. and the Sunshine Band recorded a live album there.

Jacksonville awarded honorary doctorates to Bob Hope and Jack Benny on the same day in 1972.  Another same-day honorary doctorate duo for JU:  Charlton Heston and Ann Landers (who received hers less than a year after writing that Jacksonville U. was one of “the four top colleges in the nation”).

It’s also worth noting that Jacksonville University has the second-largest NROTC program in the country.

Jacksonville has twenty-one varsity sports.  Its nickname, the Dolphins, came to be in 1947 following a student contest (the original contest winner was “Green Dolphins”; another possibility had been the “Juggernauts”).  The official school mascot is an actual dolphin — 58-year-old Nellie, a Marineland mainstay.

The most famous of all JU athletes is, without a doubt, basketball Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.  Second place on the school’s famous athlete list is probably occupied by Donnie Hammond.  (Like I said, there is no doubt about #1.)

Gilmore played two seasons at Jacksonville (he started his career at Gardner-Webb, then a junior college) and averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game, which I think can be best described as “awesome”.  In his junior season, he led the Dolphins to the NCAA title game.

Yes, you read that right.  Jacksonville played in the Final Four in 1970, just twelve years after becoming a four-year school.  We’re not talking Division II, either.  The high-scoring Dolphins beat Western Kentucky, Iowa, and No. 1 Kentucky to win the Mideast Regional.  Jacksonville averaged over 106 points per game in those three contests.

– Tangent #1:  What a weird Final Four that was.  There was nothing strange about UCLA being there (and the Bruins would beat Jacksonville in the final, 80-69), but the other three teams were Jacksonville, St. Bonaventure, and New Mexico State.  The Dolphins and the Bonnies were at the time the two smallest schools to ever make it that far, and they played each other in the semifinals.  Alas, it was a mismatch, as St. Bonaventure star Bob Lanier had injured his knee in the regional final and could not play in the Final Four.  Thus, the spectators at Cole Field House were denied the opportunity to watch two future Hall of Fame centers face each other.

After that season, Dolphins coach Joe Williams left JU and took the job at Furman.

– Tangent #2:  Artis Gilmore and his wife have been married for 39 years.  Her name is Enola Gay.  I thought that was worth mentioning.

Okay, it’s time to talk about JU football…

Jacksonville started its football program in 1998, winning its first-ever game 19-14 over Davidson.  The school’s media guide also lists Davidson as being the first ranked team (at No. 3!) the Dolphins ever played, in a 2001 contest won 45-3 by JU, but I have to seriously question that.  What poll would this have been?  Maybe it was a poll only including Southern Conference schools that don’t play scholarship football.

JU plays its home games at Milne Field, a 5,000-seat facility built specifically for the football program, which averaged 3,761 fans per game last season.  The Dolphins have won nine straight home games, but the real eye-popping numbers are from their road games — not necessarily the results on the field, but the travel involved. Jacksonville has six road games this year.  JU will bus to The Citadel for Saturday’s game.  Later in the year the Dolphins will also take the bus to Campbell, assuming the bus driver can find his way to Buies Creek.

However, the Dolphins will make four road trips by air, flying to the University of San Diego, Drake (which is in Iowa), Marist (New York), and Western Illinois (travelling to WIU on the day of the game).  That is a total of 5,575 miles in the air.

Having multiple long airplane flights is a consequence of playing in the Pioneer League, a non-scholarship FCS conference with ten members.  Jacksonville is the southernmost school in the league, which has three members in the southeast (JU, Davidson, Campbell), five in or around the midwest (Drake, Valparaiso, Dayton, Butler, Morehead State), one west coast entry (USD) and one northeastern school (Marist).

One reason for having such a far-flung league is that all of those schools choose to play football at the non-scholarship level while maintaining a NCAA Division I athletics program.  Since 1993, institutions have had to play football at the same level as their other sports, which affected schools like Dayton (a D-3 power in football during the 1980s) in particular.  There aren’t a lot of D-1 schools that offer non-scholarship football but provide schollies in other sports (which distinguishes these institutions from those in the Ivy League, for example).

Jacksonville is not likely to become a scholarship football program in the near future. That possibility was suggested to the president of the university, who responded:

[It] costs too much for us to do it right now. For us to move into scholarship football because of the rules for gender equity, we would not only have to be able to fund the scholarship program year in and year out, we would also have to fund a similar amount for women’s athletics.

And we simply can’t afford it right now. If we had some major donors that came forward and helped us, then something like that could be possible. It’s simply economics. We need a stadium, our stadium is quaint. We would need a stadium where the fan base would generate revenue.

The revenue we get right now is diminutive. With a stadium, you could start getting money back into the program. There are some positives to it, but it’s simply too expensive right now.

In 2013, two new football programs will join the Pioneer League — Stetson and Mercer.  That should help alleviate Jacksonville’s travel burden to a certain extent.

Kerwin Bell played his high school ball in the small town of Mayo, Florida, where he was known as “The Throwin’ Mayoan”.  Arriving at the University of Florida as a walk-on, in one year he managed to climb the ladder from eighth-string to starter.  In 1984, Bell and the Gators would win the SEC title, winning eight straight games to close out the season.  The SEC title was short-lived, however, as the conference rescinded it the following year due to UF being on probation.  In 1985 Florida would go 9-1-1 for a second straight season, and again was not awarded the league crown (and again could not go to a bowl game) because of NCAA violations.

Two years later Bell began his pro career, which featured multiple stops in the CFL (including a stint in the Canadian outpost of Sacramento), a tour of duty with the Orlando Thunder of the Arena Football League, and a two-year stay with the Indianapolis Colts.  Bell got into one game with the Colts, mopping up in a 1996 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.  In that game, he threw five passes, completing all five for 75 yards and a touchdown (to Marvin Harrison).  Bell finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.  Contained within his Wikipedia entry is this astute observation:

[Kerwin Bell] has the highest career passer rating of any quarterback in NFL history, higher than current and future Hall of Fame members Joe Namath, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

Bell’s coaching career actually started in 1990.  While recovering from an ACL injury he worked for one year as a graduate assistant coach for Steve Spurrier, who had taken over the Florida program.  His next coaching job came with the Toronto Argonauts in 2000, where he served as offensive coordinator (while still playing quarterback).

He then spent six years as head coach of a new football program at Trinity High School in Ocala, Florida.   He has been the head coach at JU for the last four seasons (with the upcoming campaign being his fifth).  Bell is 29-17 overall at Jacksonville, with records of 3-8, 9-4, 7-4, and 10-1. In two of the last three campaigns JU has won outright or shared the Pioneer League title, with the 2008 season documented by a “JUDolphins.com best seller”.

It seems reasonable to speculate about whether Bell is striving to follow a career path similar to that of Jim Harbaugh, who started his head coaching career at a Pioneer League school (San Diego) before moving up to Stanford, and who now is in charge of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.  Bell said last season that he is not “the kind of guy who needs to be on TV“, but if he continues his successful run at JU, he is likely going to get an opportunity to take a higher-profile job.

Bell’s staff at Jacksonville includes three assistant coaches who played in the NFL. Ernie Logan spent nine seasons in the league as a defensive lineman.  Not surprisingly, he is the Dolphins’ DL coach.

Ernie Mills was a wide receiver who also spent nine years in the NFL, mostly with Pittsburgh.  He caught eight TD passes in 1995, a year in which the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl.

Jerry Crafts (aka “The Condo”) appeared in two Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills, one of five NFL teams for which he played, along with three CFL teams, four AFL outfits, two WLAF franchises, and (inevitably) one XFL team (the Los Angeles Xtreme).  He also made an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio program.

Like Bell, Mills also played his college ball at Florida, with their careers in Gainesville overlapping slightly, along with that of Dolphins defensive coordinator Jerry Odom, the only coach the JU athletics website lists as being on Twitter.  He doesn’t appear to take full advantage of the service.

Staff meetings at JU must get confusing at times, what with two coaches named “Ernie”, two named “Jerry”, another named “Kerry” (running backs coach Kerry Webb), and a head coach called “Kerwin”.

The Dolphins have 100 players listed on their active roster.  All but six of them are from Florida.  A couple of notable names on the list who may or may not see action against The Citadel are freshman quarterback Kade Bell, son of the head coach, and freshman WR/TE Andrew Robustelli.  If Robustelli’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because his grandfather was a Hall of Fame defensive end for the New York Giants in the 1950s.

Jacksonville runs a pro-style offense, and while the Dolphins like to pass, the offense is reasonably balanced.  Last season JU rushed 387 times while throwing 348 passes.  I would still describe it as a “pass-first” setup, mainly because I’m guessing a lot of the rushing attempts came at the end of blowouts.

Ah yes, blowouts.  The Dolphins had a lot of those in 2010, with an 86-7 demolition of poor Valparaiso being the biggest (check out that 38-point second quarter).  JU also pummeled Webber International (41-0), Marist (56-14), Davidson (42-15), and Morehead State (61-17).

As you can see, JU likes to put up crooked numbers.  The Dolphins lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 42.2 points per game, just one of several gaudy team offensive statistics.  Jacksonville averaged 486 yards of total offense per game (7.3 yards per play).  JU also averaged an outstanding 9.3 yards per pass attempt, with 35 of its 217 completed throws going for touchdowns (against only seven interceptions).

Leading that offense this year, as he has for the previous three, is 6’2″, 210-lb. senior quarterback Josh McGregor, who has more career passing yards than any returning QB in the nation (8,186).  He has thrown 87 touchdown passes in his 35-game run as the JU signal-caller.  McGregor threw for 300 yards or more seven times last season and is on the Payton Watch List.  A highlight package featuring some of McGregor’s 2010 exploits has been uploaded to YouTube.

His top target is senior wideout Josh Philpart, who has 29 career touchdown receptions.  Philpart averaged 16.7 yards per catch last year.  Another receiver, Larry Thompson, was only a half-step behind Philpart in most statistical categories, other than TDs.  Jacksonville likes to spread things around, as six different players caught at least 18 passes last season (including two running backs).

Incidentally, Philpart did not have a reception in the game last season against Appalachian State.  I’m guessing that the Dolphins will try to get him involved in the game early against The Citadel in order to avoid having him become a non-factor.

Jacksonville’s all-time rushing leader, Rudell Small, has graduated, but the Dolphins have a more than adequate replacement in J.J. Laster, who rushed for 830 yards last season in backup duty (8.5 yards per carry).  Laster rushed for 177 yards in the game against Marist.

JU lost both its starting left tackle and left guard off the offensive line.  Last year’s right tackle, Chad Cypher, is moving to left tackle to protect McGregor’s “blind side”; at 6’6″, 310 lbs., Cypher at least looks the part.  He has drawn some pre-season accolades.

Kevin Higgins briefly discussed Jacksonville’s offense with Jeff Hartsell after a weeknight practice:

They have a multiple offense, a little bit like we were the first couple of years. They will spread you out, the QB is a really smart player who can check at the line of scrimmage. They try to create space on the field, and the QB is experienced and one of the tops in I-AA. And the line is very experienced as well.

As for the Dolphins’ defense, Higgins stated he had no idea how Jacksonville would line up against The Citadel, as JU didn’t face an option team last season (the Dolphins normally feature a 4-3 scheme).

Jacksonville’s defensive line is relatively experienced.  It is also small.  Nose tackle Mike Mayoral weighs 210 pounds.  Defensive end Rolando Fines is a little bigger (245 lbs.) and is expected to lead the group.

As far as JU’s linebacking corps is concerned, Kerwin Bell is quoted in JU’s media guide as saying that “we’re sort of iffy there.”  Layne McCombs is a senior who would be Jacksonville’s top defensive player, except he has a knee problem (torn ACL from last season).  Whether he plays or not is apparently open to question.  The Dolphins are probably going to play some of their younger players in this unit and hope for the best.

Jacksonville is in better shape in the defensive secondary, with three starters returning and a decent amount of depth.  One concern for JU is that none of its DBs are particularly tall.

Jacksonville had an excellent punt return squad last season, averaging a sizzling 11.1 yards per return in 2010, but its top return man graduated.  Its kick return numbers were mediocre at best.  JU did a fairly good job holding down its opponents’ return yardage.

The Dolphins will have a new punter and a new placekicker this season, which could be problematic in a season opener.

The Citadel’s total offense numbers in the eight Southern Conference games in 2010 were as follows:  359, 304, 263, 197, 160, 143, 300, 203.  Those are listed in order of the games as they were played — in other words, the 359 total yards of offense came in the Bulldogs’ first league game (against Furman).  The offense continued to put up fewer yards of offense each week until “breaking through” with 300 yards against a less-than-stellar Elon defense, and then regressed back to 203 yards against a solid Samford D in the season’s final game (which The Citadel managed to win anyway).

On the bright side, the offense only committed one turnover in the final two games (combined), which was obviously a vast improvement from, say, the Georgia Southern debacle (nine turnovers).  The Citadel turned the ball over 32 times in all, which included 23 lost fumbles.  The Bulldogs actually had 44 total fumbles in eleven games, and also had an inordinate number of ball-possession miscues that did not quite result in fumbles but had the effect of ending a play before it really got started.

The lack of yardage can be directly tied to The Citadel’s ball-control woes.  Those issues must be fixed if the Bulldogs are to have a respectable 2011 campaign.  The offense’s ineptitude also had a negative impact on the defense, which had to defend a short field too many times.  Kevin Higgins admitted as much during his radio interview with Phil Kornblut on August 25 (Kornblut also talked to Tolu Akindele and Terrell Dallas).  The head coach didn’t mince words:

We really played, I think, much better defense than people give us credit for, and the reason is because our offense was so bad, the defense was on the field so much, that there was a lot of pressure on them…it was the first year with the option, the ball was on the ground…I remember going home at this time last year and going, ooh.

Fans going home after watching the Bulldogs offense struggle didn’t all say “ooh”…more like “ugh” (or perhaps something unprintable).

There is optimism among those following the team that the second year in the offense will result in significant improvement.  I sure wouldn’t mind winning four more games this season than last, like the Bulldogs did in 1987-88 running Charlie Taaffe‘s wishbone (going from 4-7 to 8-4).

There are also whispers about a special “edge” the Bulldogs now possess.  This edge is reportedly known in certain circles as The Candeto Factor.  It’s all hush-hush.

Sophomore Ben Dupree will be the starter at quarterback (and a team captain as well, which I thought was interesting), after beginning last season as the starter, moving to second string, then third string, making a cameo appearance as a running back, and then returning to the starting lineup as the quarterback for the final two games of the season.  If making the right reads, Dupree, who has shown signs of being an elusive runner, could be a big-play threat.  He is a bit on the small side and needs to improve his passing.

Dupree will be backed up by Matt Thompson and freshman Aaron Miller, who looked good (at least to me) in the Bulldogs’ last open scrimmage.  There is depth at running back, with at least four different players hoping to make an impact, including the Lazarus of the backfield, Rickey Anderson.  Terrell Dallas is the fullback, and he’s a good one.  Against Jacksonville’s smallish defensive line, he may be called upon to do some power running.  His understudy is Darien Robinson, who isn’t afraid to move a pile either.

Mike Sellers, thrown into the line of fire as the starting center as a freshman, is bigger and better.  That should be the case for the offensive line in general (including the imposing Neal Strange), although injured guard Jameson Bryant will not play in the opener.  Keith Carter moves from defense to offense to add athleticism to the o-line.  (I keep wanting to call him Kenny Carter.  Getting old is tough.)

While most triple option offenses don’t throw the ball too often, this isn’t any ordinary triple option offense — it’s the Triple O’Higgins!  Higgins told Kornblut that the ideal number of passes in the TO’H is 10-12 per game.

Several of those pass attempts will undoubtedly be thrown in the general direction of Domonic Jones, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver last season.  At 6’5″, he could prove to be a tough matchup for the short Jacksonville defensive backs.  Actually, he should prove to be a tough matchup for almost any defensive secondary he faces.  One of The Citadel’s other receivers, Luke Caldwell, may be the best passer on the team, if the Samford game last season and the recent scrimmage are any indication.

As mentioned above, the Bulldog D was solid in 2010 for the most part.  I think the only time I was really disappointed in the unit’s play was against Elon.  The defense had trouble getting off the field in that game, and also fared poorly in the “red zone”. Stopping opponents from scoring when inside the 20 should be a point of emphasis this year, as that is an area in which the Bulldogs need to do better (allowing a 64% TD rate last season).

Against Jacksonville, which converted on third down 49% of the time in 2010, it will be even more important to prevent long drives and turn the ball back over to the offense. To do that, The Citadel needs to improve incrementally in defensive statistical categories such as average per pass attempt (7.6 last year) and average per rush (4.3).

The Bulldogs also need to grab more than their fair share of turnovers.  The Citadel finished last in the Southern Conference in interceptions in 2010.  The squad needs to grab a few more and also force more fumbles.

To paraphrase Akindele in his interview with Phil Kornblut, the Bulldogs D needs its playmakers to make more big plays.  Akindele himself is one of those playmakers, having led the team in tackles last season.

He’s joined by a solid group of linemen and linebackers, including Derek Douglas, Chris Billingslea, and Rod Harland, who judging from the recent scrimmage has been ready to lace ’em up again since last season ended.  He was bringing the heat, as the kids say.  (They do say that, right?)

The defense as a whole has a lot of depth (a priority for the coaches), particularly on the line, but also in the secondary, making it easier to absorb the loss of Cortez Allen, now of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Bulldogs seem to be in solid shape at cornerback, which is a good thing, as Jacksonville’s group of talented receivers will provide a stern test.

Cass Couey returns for the third straight year as the Bulldogs’ dependable punter. The Citadel in general was okay in most phases of the return game.  Keith Gamble, besides starting at cornerback, is a threat to go the distance as a kick returner (he had an 87-yarder against Elon last year).  He averaged 25 yards per return in 2010.

Ryan Sellers will be the starting placekicker for The Citadel this season.  The kickoff specialist shared PK duties last year, making five of nine, including a 47-yarder against Chattanooga, the season long for a Bulldog kicker by eight yards.  As you would expect of a kicker, he wears a kicker’s number — #99.

The matchup between the Bulldogs and the Dolphins will be a big one for both teams, even though it is only the first game of the season.  In the long run, it may actually mean more to Jacksonville than it does to The Citadel, though.

JU missed out on a bid to the FCS playoffs by a narrow margin last season.  While the Dolphins were 10-1, the schedule strength just wasn’t there to justify Jacksonville receiving a berth in the postseason.  Jacksonville only played two scholarship programs, one of which (Old Dominion) had only re-started its football program the year before.  The other, of course, was Appalachian State, which throttled the Dolphins (not that there was any shame in that).

In fact, Jacksonville has only defeated three scholarship programs in its history — Old Dominion last season, Coastal Carolina (in the Chanticleers’ first season of football in 2003), and Savannah State (in 2008).  In 2011, the Dolphins will have three opportunities to beat scholarship programs, as JU will open the season against The Citadel, Western Illinois, and Charleston Southern (with the CSU game played at Milne Field).

To make its case for an at-large bid (the Pioneer League is not an automatic qualifying conference), Jacksonville needs to win at least two (if not all three) of those games.  Beating up Valparaiso and Marist isn’t going to be enough.  Moreover, if JU cannot beat a team picked to finish last in the SoCon, its case for a bid may completely dissolve.

For The Citadel, getting off to a good start this season is critically important.  The Bulldogs badly need to gain confidence in their offensive system and establish some momentum prior to a run of six consecutive Southern Conference games.  It’s also a home game, and the team must show its supporters that there is reason to believe in the upcoming campaign.

Fans gave the team some leeway last season as the new offense was installed.  It was understood that there would be trying times on occasion in 2010, although some of those times were more trying than anyone would have liked.  Now there has been a year for the coaches and players to get comfortable with the system.  There won’t be any more metaphorical mulligans handed out.

The Citadel has only had one winning season since 1997.  The game against Jacksonville could go a long way in determining whether that trend will continue, or if the Bulldogs can begin to dream of success — for this season, and for future seasons as well.

I’m looking forward to late Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Elon

Time/location:  2:00 pm ET, Johnson Hagood Stadium

Television:  None (maybe a good thing)

It’s Homecoming at The Citadel.  What can alums expect from the Bulldogs’ offense against Elon?

Well, let’s look at the trends in Southern Conference play.  The first game was against Furman.  The latest was against Wofford.  So, in order:

Furman — 359 total yards, 14 points

Western Carolina — 304 total yards, 13 points

Chattanooga — 263 total yards, 10 points

Appalachian State — 197 total yards, 10 points

Georgia Southern — 160 yards, 0 points

Wofford — 143 total yards, 0 points

Now, that’s what I call a trend…

The yards per play is very close to the same orderly negative statistical trend, but there was a minor uptick against GSU (masked by nine turnovers).  For the record, The Citadel’s yards per play in the SoCon, in order of games played:  4.6, 4.1, 4.0, 3.3, 3.4, 2.3

So, if things continue as they have in the league, The Citadel’s Homecoming will feature an offense that will accumulate less than 140 yards of total offense, average about 2 yards per play, and won’t score.

I don’t think it will be that bad, but it’s hard to find much to be encouraged about, at least offensively (the defense has played fairly well over the last month, certainly well enough for the Bulldogs to have won SoCon games if the offense had been competent).

Turnovers have been the headline problem, of course, but another issue is that the Bulldogs aren’t making big plays in the offense.  One reason The Citadel has scored only five touchdowns in six conference games is a lack of long-distance runs or passes.  The Bulldogs only have had eight plays of 20+ yards in those six contests; only two of those plays were longer than 30 yards — and one of those two plays was a 33-yard run by punter Cass Couey, obviously not a product of the option offense.

The Bulldogs have had nine drives of greater than 50 yards in league play.  Four of those nine came against Furman in the conference opener.  None came in the last two games.

Incidentally, of those nine 50+ yard drives, Matt Thompson was the quarterback for five of them, Sam Martin the QB for the other four.

I would like to think the Bulldogs will give a spirited performance for the Homecoming crowd.  That didn’t happen last season, when The Citadel lost 43-17 to Wofford in a very poor showing that greatly disappointed the alumni.

The year before, the Bulldogs narrowly averted a horrific loss at Homecoming to a terrible Chattanooga team.  The Mocs were in the process of mailing in their season under a lame-duck coach, but The Citadel needed last-minute heroics from Andre Roberts to escape with a 24-21 victory.

This year’s Homecoming game has been designated as a “Red Out”.  There are two reasons for this, in my opinion.

The official reason is to commemorate the return of “Big Red”.  The other (and this is just my opinion) is to take advantage of the largest crowd of the season and sell a bunch of “Big Red” merchandise.

That crowd size has to be the only reason the administration would have considered having a “Red Out” for a game in which the opponent is Elon, whose primary school color is…red.  At least, I hope that’s the only reason.  It still strikes me as not being a wise decision, and I know I’m not the only one.

The effort to promote Big Red apparently will also include red jerseys for the football team, if the rumors are true (and I’m sure they are).  There will also be a special Homecoming helmet design (see post #40 on this thread from TCISN), which is basically a remake of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ helmets.  Not bad, but not innovative or particularly interesting.

If The Citadel does indeed don red jerseys against Elon, that will mean the Bulldogs would not have worn the traditional home color combo of light blue jerseys/white pants for any home game this season.  I guess at this point our traditional colors are now alternate colors, and the alternate uniforms are the “main” uniforms.

Below I’ve listed the color combos for all nine games to date in 2010:

Chowan (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Arizona (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Presbyterian (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Furman (road):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Western Carolina (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Appalachian State (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Chattanooga (home):  dark blue jerseys, white pants

Georgia Southern (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Wofford (road):  white jerseys, dark blue pants

One thing I’m unfortunately fairly confident about:  if The Citadel does wear red jerseys on Saturday, the jerseys will have “CITADEL” on the front, and not “THE CITADEL”. That, of course, is true for all the other jerseys the Bulldogs have worn this year, regardless of color.  I assume it’s a cost-saving issue, as having the “THE” on the jersey would undoubtedly cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is one of my more cynical and less positive posts, and so the fact it’s also one of my shorter game previews is probably just as well.  That said, I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised on Saturday.  For one thing, it’s time for a little payback as far as Elon is concerned.  The Phoenix’s last visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium (in 2008) was a victory for the visitors, one basically handed to Elon by inept Southern Conference officiating.

Quarterback Scott Riddle may not start for Elon due to injury.  You may remember the last time Riddle started something against The Citadel; he ran away before finishing it, though.

Riddle can talk to Fred Jordan about shoulder injuries…

I’m not expecting a brawl on Saturday.  I do want to see some fight in the Bulldogs, though.

Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Bulldogs return to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a 1:00 pm ET game against the Eagles.  First, though, a few thoughts on the Appalachian State game, since I didn’t post a review of that contest.

First, I heard the final score — 39-10.  I later read that during the game, The Citadel:

Did not complete a pass (the first time the Bulldogs had failed to do that in 15 years)

— Committed two turnovers, one fumble and one interception

— Botched two punt snaps, the second of which led to punter Cass Couey leaving the game with an injury

— Lost the battle of time of possession, despite 53 rush attempts (in 59 total plays)

— Only averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return

— Missed out on a defensive turnover thanks to a pass interference penalty

— Allowed TD receptions of 65 and 73 yards

Lost one of its experienced playmakers, running back Van Dyke Jones, with what was later determined to be an ACL injury; Jones’ career highlight, of course, was a 69-yard run against the Mountaineers in last year’s meeting

All of that came on the road, against the #1 ranked team in FCS football.  So how exactly did The Citadel only lose by 29 points?

Well, App State dialed it down some in the fourth quarter, but there were some positives for the Bulldogs, looking at the stat sheet:

— First, full credit to backup punter Alexander Wall for doing a nice job on short notice; he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and only allowed 10 total return yards

— While Matt Thompson started, Sam Martin did play and saw significant time, so his injury from last week apparently wasn’t serious

— The aforementioned PI aside, the Bulldogs only committed five penalties

— The Bulldog D did force two turnovers that counted, including a fumble that was returned 40 yards by Eric Clanton, setting up the game’s first score; a later interception by Brandon McCladdie was the first pick by an App State opponent this season

— The defense, despite giving up two big pass plays, allowed less than 400 yards of total offense, which against App State (and considering it was on the field longer than normal) wasn’t too bad

— App State was only 5-14 on third down conversions

— The Citadel blocked not one but two PATs

Okay, so maybe I had to stretch to come up with some of those positives, but I guess my final analysis of the game would go something like this:  it could have been worse. Hey, the Mountaineers are ranked #1; the Bulldogs are not.  It was never going to be a game for The Citadel to use in measuring its progress this season.

On the other hand, Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is such a game.

Prior to this season, Jeff Monken had spent the past 13 years as an assistant for Paul Johnson at three different schools — Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. (Monken was also a grad assistant at Hawai’i when Johnson was the offensive coordinator there.)  He was hired by GSU to restore the triple option, and with it the glory days of Eagle football.

Perhaps the difference in expectations for the football programs at Georgia Southern and The Citadel can be summed up by this Monken quote:

“Who cares about transition years?  Nobody cares about that.  We want to win. I want to win, our fans want to win, our kids want to win. Nobody wants to hear about transition, or we’re young, or we’re learning. That’s a bunch of talk.

When you play a football game, you play to win. My expectation is the same for this season as it is for every season, and that’s to try and win every game. That’s what I expect.”

Contrast that with The Citadel, where most (although by no means all) fans are content to allow Kevin Higgins a “transition year” in the sixth season of his tenure at the military college.  Of course, Monken knows that he has a little more leeway than what he expressed in the above quote.  Georgia Southern fans aren’t expecting him to compete for the national title this year.

Next year, though, is a different story…

There are also those GSU supporters who aren’t that interested in the FCS national crown, because they would rather see the program move up to FBS land.  I think that would be a mistake, at least as things are currently constituted in the two sub-divisions.  I wrote about this last year, when GSU released its study on the issue.

Of course, now Appalachian State has decided it’s also going to study the pros and cons of making the move.  It’s prudent to assess the landscape of college football, and I don’t blame either school for investigating their options.  It’s my opinion, though, that unless there are major alterations in the world of FCS (or FBS), staying put is the way to go for the folks in Boone and Statesboro.

Georgia Southern is 3-3, 1-2 in the SoCon.  It looked for a while like Monken was ahead of schedule, for going into the game against Wofford the Eagles were 3-1 and ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.  However, a home loss to the Terriers was followed by last week’s setback at Chattanooga, and it’s clear that it’s not yet smooth sailing for GSU in conference play.

The biggest advantage Georgia Southern has had over The Citadel in re-instituting the triple option has been at quarterback, where the Eagles can rely on Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw, who not only ran the offense at Tech, but also ran it in high school.  He’s not an explosive runner, but he can make all the reads and can also throw the ball fairly well (10.3 yards per pass attempt; 4 TDs, no INTs).

GSU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush.  J.J. Wilcox is a solid slotback who can also catch the ball (his eleven receptions leads the team).  Robert Brown is a freshman fullback who actually leads the Eagles in rushing, but he’s been hurt.  There is no Adrian Peterson (GSU version, not Oklahoma version) suiting up this year for GSU.

Wilcox is the only GSU player with more than 95 receiving yards (he has 302).  No other Eagle has more than six grabs, but when one does make a catch, it’s usually for a good gain.  GSU receivers are averaging 19.1 yards per reception.

Georgia Southern has a young-ish offensive line (three juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman), and it’s been a little inconsistent.  While the Eagles are fourth nationally in rushing offense, they have suffered eleven sacks, which is a lot for a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often.

On defense, the Eagles are led by Brent Russell, an interior lineman with 4.5 sacks, three other tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.  He’s a very good player.  Other than Russell, though, GSU is not particularly sack-happy, with 12 total sacks on the year.  Georgia Southern has a solid, if not dynamic, group of linebackers and an improved secondary, although one with a tendency to give up the big play (five TD passes allowed of greater than 25 yards).  Does that sound familiar?

Georgia Southern’s special teams have been outstanding. Placekicker Adrian Mora has not missed a field goal or extra point this season.  He hasn’t been asked to kick long FGs (his longest this year is 41 yards) but he has made all that he has tried. Punter Charlie Edwards is the key factor behind the Eagles’ excellent net punting average of 39 yards, fourth in the country.

Georgia Southern’s 3-1 start included a game at Navy.  GSU lost that game, but only by a 13-7 margin.  Considering it was a battle of triple option teams, both with Paul Johnson connections, I thought it was interesting that the game was low scoring.

The Citadel is also running a similar triple option system, of course.  Will the Eagles defend the same way against the Bulldogs?  And how exactly did they defend, anyway?

Well, a good person to ask would be The Birddog, chronicler of Naval Academy athletics and the unquestioned Tolstoy of the Triple Option.  I’ve mentioned his blog before; for something of an introductory primer on the offense, here are a few posts from it:

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

I asked him a few questions about the Georgia Southern-Navy game.  Some of the Q-and-A is below:

Question:  I read that GSU defended the option in part by using its corners more aggressively (“firing the corners”) than is the norm.  Is that correct?

Answer:  The best way to defend firing corners is just to block.  It’s not an uncommon move; Air Force, Wake Forest, and SMU did it too. The difference between the wins and the losses was personnel, specifically the slotbacks. One of our junior slotbacks who was injured to start the year came back against Wake Forest, and all of a sudden it was no longer a problem.

Question:  Would the passing game be one way to combat that?  Specifically, throwing the ball to a slotback, or maybe even the fullback (on a screen pass)?

Answer:  There are ways to beat it in the passing game too.  The simplest way is to just throw to the uncovered receiver.  I think there’s a video of that in the Air Force writeup.

[Note from SS…that post can be found here:  Link ]

The cornerback blitz is as vulnerable to screen passes as any other blitz, and Navy runs a screen to the fullback in the direction of the blitz on occasion. The wheel-post works really well against blitzing corners too.

The safety has to roll over to cover the wide receiver, which leaves a linebacker to cover a slotback, which is usually a pretty favorable matchup for the offense.  I have an example toward the end of this post:  Link

Georgia Southern’s staff knew the Navy staff’s hand signals, so Navy had to stop going no-huddle early on.  Brent Russell also played a very good game.


Question:  Any thoughts on their splits?

Answer:  GSU’s splits are wider than Navy’s. There was a rule enacted last year that prohibited anyone lined up outside the tackles from blocking below the waist back inside the tackle box. That’s why Navy’s slots line up with their inside foot inside the outside foot of the tackle.  GSU doesn’t bother having their slots cut block inside anymore, preferring to keep the formation more spread.

Thanks again to The Birddog for answering my (probably simpleminded) questions.

The passing game has been a sore spot for The Citadel this year, of course, so the notion that being able to successfully throw the ball against GSU’s defense might be a key to the game probably makes Bulldog fans a little queasy.  The Bulldog slotbacks also must block well; perimeter blocking has been an issue for The Citadel all season.

Earlier in the post I linked Jeff Hartsell’s story about The Citadel’s anemic passing game.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that is worth noting:

…the Bulldogs have to get some semblance of a throwing game in shape before Georgia Southern brings its version of the double-slot option to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that offensive coaches will simplify their passing schemes this week in order to do just that.

“One thing we talked about as a staff (Monday) morning is simplifying what we are doing,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference. “Last week, we carried in 30 to 36 passing plays that you practice on a routine basis, based on what you might see in a game. At this point, I think we have a good idea of what our opponents will be running. Now, in my mind, we’ve got to get that 36 down to 10 or 15 plays.

“We need to run those plays well in practice every day, so that the quarterback is more confident, and receivers and everybody else are on the same page. So I think we’ve got to simplify and practice those specific plays more throughout the week.”

Hartsell also pointed out later in the story that the better you are at running the ball in the TO, the easier it is to pass it.
It should be a nice day for a game on Saturday in Charleston, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.  Let’s hope that the sun finally shines on The Citadel in conference play.

Review: Chattanooga

Chattanooga 28, The Citadel 10.

Kevin Higgins quote #1:

“The coaches talked all week about challenging our players to come out and play with more intensity than the past week, and as we watched the game and evaluated everything, they did just that.”

Kevin Higgins quote #2:

“They got off to a 14-0 start, which put us in a hole.”

No, he didn’t say those two things one right after the other (although they are the first two quotes you see when you click on the press conference notes page on the school’s athletics website).  He might as well have, however.  It’s testimony to the fact that intensity only goes so far.  Besides, the other team is likely to bring some intensity of its own to the table.

It would have been nice if the Bulldogs had decided to “play with more intensity” against Western Carolina.  Perhaps if that had been the case, The Citadel would have beaten the Catamounts.  However, Chattanooga is a better team than WCU, and it showed on Saturday.  In its second year under Russ Huesman, UTC has already passed The Citadel as a football program, something that will surely frustrate Bulldog fans already antsy about Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of the Bulldogs.

I’m not one of those fans, but I’ll say this.  I don’t want to hear any more discussion about a Bulldog team being flat, or not being intense enough — whatever you want to call it — for a football game.  There are only eleven football games on the schedule. How hard can it be for the team to mentally prepare and focus for each and every one?

I realize that to a certain extent I’m still harping on the loss to the Catamounts while writing a review about the Chattanooga game, but I make no apologies.  It was an embarrassing loss, and deserves to be acknowledged as such, repeatedly if necessary.

Kevin Higgins can’t do anything about Southern Conference officiating, however.  For the second time in three years, a Parents’ Day game at Johnson Hagood Stadium featured less-than-stellar work from the men in stripes.  It wasn’t quite as bad as the Elon game two years ago (that was a very special episode of SoCon officiating ineptitude, although I don’t think Mayim Bialik was involved), but it was poor nonetheless.

Most of the trouble on Saturday had to do with spotting the ball.  I’m including in that category the missed call on UTC’s first touchdown, which was clearly a fumble that occurred before the ball crossed the goal line.  There were other issues (notably a mystery pass interference call that kept a drive alive for the Mocs), but mainly it was the spotting.

One of the neat things about Parents’ Day is that a larger number of folks than normal are seeing a football game at The Citadel for the first time.  I shudder to think what goes through the minds of people experiencing their first taste of SoCon officiating.

I know that over time things are supposed to even out, but somehow I’ve missed seeing a lot of the makeup calls…in all sports.  For example, if you peruse the league statistics for women’s soccer (through Sunday’s play), you will find that only two players have been red-carded in league matches so far this season.  Just two.

Yes, both from The Citadel.  I guess we have a bunch of Nigel de Jong wannabes on our squad.

(Of course, if they were really de Jong wannabes they wouldn’t have been sent off, as his special brand of violence seems immune from on-field censure.)

Tangent:  The women’s soccer team at The Citadel is 4-2 in the SoCon despite seeing red on occasion, and looks well-positioned to make the league tourney for the first time in school history.  That would be a tremendous accomplishment for Bob Winch and the program.  I’m hoping the team is a little greedy, though; a top-4 finish would give the Bulldogs a first-round home game at WLI Field.  At this point, it’s within reach.

I’m going to be traveling over the next couple of weeks.  I may have to make a post about that team when I get back, if I have time.

Okay, back to (American) football.

I want to emphasize the officiating didn’t cost The Citadel the game against Chattanooga.  No, the Bulldogs just weren’t good enough on Saturday.  The headline for Jeff Hartsell’s game story referred to “missed opportunities”.  I think that’s about right.

Small things hurt the Bulldogs.  A snap infraction on the Chattanooga 1-yard line.  An overthrown pass on a trick play that was going to go for a TD.  A receiver not quite strong enough to hold off a defender in the end zone, turning a potential TD into an interception.  Giving up first downs on third-and-six (or more) three times during the game’s decisive drive.  (UTC was 6-for-10 on third-down conversions.)

The Citadel was unable to create a big play on offense, other than punter Cass Couey’s 33-yard run for a first down (an outstanding call, perfectly executed).  UTC basically sat back on defense, counting on the young offense not being able to sustain a drive with a succession of positive plays.  It was a sound strategy, and it worked. Chattanooga’s D only broke down twice, on Couey’s run (which set up the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown) and on the receiver pass that could have been a a TD.

The Mocs rushed for 222 yards on 41 carries.  I was disappointed that the Bulldog defense allowed that many rush yards.  It wasn’t a terrible effort overall by the D, certainly not as frustrating as the week before, but it wasn’t anything special, either. On the fourth-quarter drive that iced the game, The Citadel needed a big play from someone on its defense.  It never got it (although the aforementioned PI call might have made a difference).

Incidentally, I suspect Chattanooga’s biggest problem in its quest for a playoff bid is going to be its special teams.  Against the upper-echelon teams in the league, I’m not sure UTC is dynamic enough to overcome some of the issues it has in that area. That said, Huesman clearly has his program moving forward.

I’m going to try to put a small preview of the Appalachian State game together over the next couple of days.  The next week or so will see a sharp drop in word count.  Of course, that may be a good thing…

Review: Furman

Furman 31, The Citadel 14.

From The Citadel’s perspective, the general takeaway from this game has been fairly positive, both from the point of view of the coaches and the fans.  While the Bulldogs lost, there were signs of progress.  The Citadel outgained Furman, ran 28 more plays, and had a significant edge in time of possession (by almost 14 minutes).  The Bulldogs rushed for almost 300 yards and averaged nearly five yards per carry.

All of that is well and good, but on the other hand, the team lost by 17 points.  I like to look at the bright side of things, too, but a loss is a loss.  However, it’s a transition year.  As long as the squad shows improvement, most supporters are going to be reasonably satisfied, and that’s the way it should be.

Just a few observations:

— It’s hard to win on the road in the Southern Conference when the defense does not force a turnover or sack the quarterback.  The Bulldogs’ d-line did provoke the Paladins into committing two holding penalties.  (Jon Gruden claimed during the Packers-Bears game on Monday Night Football that a holding penalty was just as good as a sack, and if Gruden said it, it must be true.)

— Here is something I haven’t seen discussed much, but I think it’s worth noting.  Of Furman’s 296 total yards, 123 came on the two drives to open each half, both resulting in touchdowns.  The Paladins only faced a third down three times during those drives (technically just two, actually, because one third down was wiped away by a Bulldog penalty).

Furman’s other three scores were a field goal at the end of the first half that came after a busted coverage in the secondary resulted in a 45-yard pass completion, and two short touchdown drives at the end of the game following an interception and failed onside kick, respectively.

It’s just one game, but the defense has to be able to adjust more quickly on opening drives.  The Citadel’s offensive and special teams units aren’t good enough to offset points given up by the defense like that.  Kevin Higgins has noted that the offense has done better following its first possession (or two) after seeing how the opposing defense is playing the triple option.  That’s understandable, but the Bulldog defense can’t be afforded the same luxury.  It has to stop the opponent right out of the gate.

— I like the idea of using both quarterbacks in each game.  My general impression (which could be wrong) is that Matt Thompson played better after re-entering the game.  Perhaps watching Sam Martin from the sidelines helped give him a greater understanding of what was happening on the field.  While as a rule I think it’s best to have one clear-cut starter at QB, this year is different — again, it’s a transition season. Let’s see what both players can bring to the table.

— I have been pleasantly surprised at the improvement of the offensive line, particularly considering those players weren’t recruited for this type of offense.  That is a credit to them and to the coaching staff.  There are still blocking issues, but that has more to do with the slotbacks and receivers than the line.

—  It was a tough day at the office for punter Cass Couey, who had been so good the first three games.  I expect him to bounce back on Saturday.

— Somebody, anybody, catch the ball…

— In the past 15 games, Bulldog placekickers are 4 for 4 converting field goals against FBS opposition, but 7 for 15 against everyone else.

Now it’s back to Johnson Hagood Stadium for consecutive games, the first on Saturday against Western Carolina, which will be starting a 6’7″, left-handed true freshman quarterback.  Here is his first-person account of his recruitment.  More on that game later.

Review: Presbyterian

The Citadel 26, Presbyterian 14.  It was a good win.  Of course, any win is a good win.

I was worried about this one, even though PC has now lost 17 in a row, because I wasn’t sure the Bulldog offense was capable of scoring a lot of points against any FCS/FBS competition, and I remembered how the Blue Hose had gashed The Citadel’s defense last season.  In last season’s game, Presbyterian had 190 yards passing and 204 yards rushing.  

On Saturday night, though, the Bulldogs held PC’s offense to 212 total yards.  The Blue Hose attempted 26 passes, but only managed 90 yards through the air, and suffered three interceptions. Of those 26 throws, 11 were completed, but 8 of the 11 went for a combined 32 yards.  (PC had a drive in the second quarter that went like this:  pass completion for -1 yard, pass completion for 1 yard, pass completion for no gain, punt.)

Trandon Dendy had another good game against The Citadel, again going over the 100-yard mark, with 103 yards on 15 carries, including a 43-yard TD run in the first quarter.  I was a bit surprised he didn’t carry the ball more often.  Sometimes I think teams try to have an “ideal” run/pass balance when they would be better off concentrating on what is actually effective. 

The play that seemed to jump-start the Bulldog defense was an ill-advised post pass by the Blue Hose that was intercepted by Demetrius Jackson (the first of two picks for Jackson).  Prior to that play, Dendy had run the ball four consecutive times, picking up a first down and then six more yards on first-and-ten.  The Citadel would eventually convert the interception into the go-ahead touchdown. 

The Bulldogs would hold Presbyterian to 73 total yards on the Blue Hose’s next eight possessions.  Other than Dendy’s first-quarter TD run and a six-play, 76-yard drive late in the game, when The Citadel’s D seemed to lose focus, PC was unable to move the ball.  A Cass Couey punt inside the five set the stage for the game’s final points, a quarterback sack in the end zone for a safety (that should have been ruled a fumble/TD, not that it mattered).

Speaking of Couey, he has arguably been The Citadel’s most effective player over the first three games of the season.  He’s been very solid.

The Bulldog offense looked better against PC than it did against Chowan, which was good to see, although there is still plenty of room for improvement.  There were six fumbles (two lost), eight penalties (one which cost the Bulldogs a touchdown), dropped passes (including an easy would-be TD), and missed blocks (particularly on the perimeter). 

Odds and ends:

— There were some good play calls in this game.  Unfortunately, two of the best ones didn’t work out.  A perfectly-timed post pass for a TD was called back by an illegal formation penalty. The Bulldogs showed good composure to overcome that disappointment and score on the drive anyway (Van Dyke Jones getting the TD he should have had three plays earlier).

Another fine call was the slotback option pass by Ben Dupree, a cinch TD that was dropped.  Those have to be caught, obviously.  Dupree looked comfortable in the slotback position and could be quite a weapon for The Citadel.  I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bulldogs try that play once per game.

— I also liked the fact The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-5 on the PC 37 on its opening drive.  Matt Thompson made the right read, gave the ball to Terrell Dallas, and 37 yards later the fullback was in the end zone.  Very nice.

—  Warning:  Xs-and-Os discussion to follow.  There is no guarantee I actually know what I’m talking about in the next two paragraphs.

Presbyterian had some interesting alignments along its defensive front.  In particular, the Blue Hose had a setup where the DL lined up directly opposite the center, left guard, and tackles, but left the space opposite the right guard empty, with no obvious (at least to me) coverage from the linebackers.

PC appeared to be keying on the quarterback, and it looked to me like the DBs were “cheating” like crazy throughout much of the game.  As a result, some of the option plays that went to the slotbacks didn’t go so well.  On the other hand, if the guy assigned to the fullback whiffed, there was no safety net.  Hence, Terrell Dallas’ 80-yard TD run where he wasn’t touched.

— I sometimes worry I’m a little negative when I write these reviews (or previews), so let me give a shout-out to the radio team for calling a fine game.  I thought Walt Nadzak had one of his better efforts in the analyst’s chair, and Darren Goldwater deserves a lot of credit for correctly identifying players, a very difficult task because of the conditions and the uniforms.

— Ah yes, the uniforms…

Putting aside for the moment that navy blue is supposed to be an accent color, not the pre-dominant one, in The Citadel’s uniforms, it appears in this photo that The Citadel had at least four different shades of blue (including the helmet) in its uniform on Saturday.  Maybe that’s just the lighting in the photo.  I would like to think so, but I suspect otherwise. 

One unaccounted-for consequence of wearing navy jerseys with medium (not light) blue numerals is that it made it harder to ID players, particularly at night, following a storm, and with cannon fire smoke hanging in the air.  I’m guessing nobody in the press box was crazy about the uniforms — at least, nobody whose job involves trying to figure out which players are in the game/making tackles/carrying the ball/etc.

As usual, the uniform fails to include the full (and correct) name of the school in the lettering on the front of the jersey.  I have no idea why it’s so difficult to do this.  Maybe it’s a Nike thing.

— 

All in all, a good night for The Citadel’s football team.  The team completes its non-conference slate with a 2-1 record, which is what was expected, but not guaranteed. 

I’ll conclude this by saying that I like the idea of playing Presbyterian on a regular basis; maybe not every season, but more often than not.  PC fits the bill of what The Citadel needs in a non-conference home opener better than just about any other alternative, particularly with the way the schedule will shake out over the next few years (including the revival of the series with VMI).

On to Furman.

Review: Arizona

Well, it was about what I expected.

Arizona is probably a better-than-average Pac-10 team, possibly a contender in that league (although Oregon has to be the favorite).  The Wildcats did what top-25 FBS teams are supposed to do when playing an outmanned FCS squad.

I don’t believe in moral victories, but I do believe in looking at the positive side of things when it’s warranted.  Some points in The Citadel’s favor:

1.  It wasn’t a complete debacle.  I was worried that even if The Citadel were not completely overmatched, the nascent offensive system would turn the ball over repeatedly and give Arizona a bunch of easy points.  Other than a couple of mini-stretches late in the first half and early in the second, however, that didn’t happen.  52-6 may not look that great, but it’s a lot better than 82-6.

2.  Apparently the Bulldogs came out of the game relatively unscathed.  Kevin Higgins mentioned Alex Carr and Tolu Akindele had been banged up in his press conference, but he didn’t rule any player out for the game against Presbyterian.

Two players Higgins didn’t mention but who I wondered about (in terms of injuries) were Johnathan Glaspie and Tyler Starnes, both of whom took big hits during the game.  Glaspie actually re-entered the game after taking a shot earlier in the contest.  (Judging from his expression as he walked off the field, I wasn’t sure he knew if he was in Tucson or still playing for Spring Valley High School.)  Starnes got somersaulted on a carry near the end of the game; it’s a wonder he didn’t suffer a serious leg injury.

— Edit:  According to Jeff Hartsell, Higgins did mention Starnes in his Monday presser.

3.  The defensive line was solid.  The Bulldogs appear to have found a potential star in Derek Douglas, who was singled out for praise by Higgins, and deservedly so.  He wasn’t the only lineman to make a play or two in the game, though.  I particularly liked the lick Erik Clanton laid on one unsuspecting Wildcat running back.  Of course, it helps when nobody blocks you…

4.  Sam Martin did a nice job running the offense when he entered the game.  I went back and noted who was in the game for Arizona on defense when Martin began his first drive.  The Wildcats had nine of their eleven defensive starters in the game, plus two other players who were in their regular rotation on the line.  In other words, he wasn’t playing against walk-ons when he led The Citadel to its first score.

5.  Although he didn’t throw the ball real well and didn’t have much luck moving the team, Matt Thompson never seemed to panic and maintained his poise.

6.  I agree with Higgins that the tackling was better against Arizona.  However, I think it still needs improvement.

7.  Terrell Dallas showed flashes of what he’s capable of accomplishing in this offense, which is a lot.

8.  The Citadel got an encouraging performance from its special teams units.  Cass Couey had an excellent game.  I bet he enjoyed punting in the desert air.  Sam Keeler made both of his field goal attempts; I hope that will improve his confidence.  The coverage teams did a nice job, and freshman Terrance Martin established himself as The Citadel’s primary kick returner.

9.  The Bulldogs only committed two penalties for a total of nine yards, my favorite statistic from the game.  More of that, please.

Obviously, there were negatives unrelated to the competition that need to be addressed.  Some of those for the offense would be the center-QB exchange, the pitch techniques, and the dropped passes (hopefully an anomaly).  The defense must continue to concentrate on tackling, and the back seven must show more dynamism.

There are more observations to make about what will (or should) happen going forward, of course.  I’ll try to mention those in my preview of the Presbyterian game.