Review: Chowan

It was hot.

That wasn’t surprising.  An early September day in Charleston is a good candidate to be hot.  I think the heat/humidity combo in Charleston at this time of year is actually worse than that of Columbia, and everyone knows how hot Columbia can get.  The game started promptly at 1 pm.  Thus, it was hot.

The heat probably was a factor in the announced attendance of 9,106.  That’s the lowest home attendance for a Bulldog home game since the 2004 game against Benedict (5,127).  I was there for that one too; that was a Thursday night “experiment” played during the period the home stands had been dismantled.

Also a factor, of course, was the anonymity of the opponent and the program’s lack of success in recent years.  I think that even if The Citadel had been playing a name opponent after coming off a winning season, though, the 1 pm start time might have turned off a lot of people.  The early afternoon start times are convenient for me, but in the main most fans (or potential fans) don’t want to be in the stands at that time during late summer.

As was pointed out to me, however, the Frosty accompanying the attendance announcement on the scoreboard filled up anyway.  Imagine if we had 15,000 or so in attendance; the cup would have overflowed.  What a waste of Frosty that would be.

As for the game itself, some quick points:

— Late in the second quarter, Chowan gave up 28 points in 1:18 of game time, which is not easy to do.  The score went from 21-0 to 49-0 while a good chunk of the crowd was underneath the stands, having left early for halftime.  I’ll say this for the Hawks, though — they didn’t quit.  It would have been easy to mail it in after such a demoralizing sequence of events, but Chowan scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter and played hard throughout the second half.

— The “triple option” offense, it seemed to me, was for the most part restricted to two options rather than three.  There weren’t a lot of plays that led to a pitch, or the chance of a pitch.  I thought the game plan was conservative, which was not inappropriate, but wasn’t all that effective either.  The blocking needs to be improved, particularly on the perimeter.

Here are some (distinctly unprofessional) pictures of the offense for anyone interested.  There is a shot of the offense in its basic formation; one with multiple wideouts; and a really bad “action” shot of the offense:

— I was a little disappointed in the defense, which allowed a number of long drives and big plays.  Twice Chowan got to the Bulldog 1-yard line in the first half and failed to score.  I guess you can credit The Citadel’s D for making the stops when it mattered, but in both cases it had more to do with Chowan shooting itself in the foot than superior defensive play.

The defense missed too many tackles, and the secondary blew some coverage assignments.  Part of the latter had to do with different personnel getting a chance to play, which is understandable.  There is no excuse for missing tackles, though.  The defensive line played well, although the second Chowan TD came on a play during which a lineman whiffed on an easy sack.

Here is a before/after shot sequence for fans of the D to enjoy, though.  Chowan is about to snap the ball on a 4th-quarter play where it has the ball on the Bulldog 12, second-and-7.  The second picture shows the aftermath of the play, thanks to Derek Douglas (Chowan would eventually miss a FG on the drive).

— I thought Matt Thompson had a good game, although I wouldn’t anoint him the permanent starter just yet.  I think Ben Dupree deserves to get some time, too, and I also think Sam Martin should continue to get some looks.  Thompson did show a good throwing arm.

It helped that he had Domonic Jones as a target.  Jones is 6’5″ and plays every inch of that.  He should be causing problems for SoCon defenses for several years to come.

— I noticed there were no names on the jerseys, which I thought was interesting.  The light blue jersey/navy pants combination still looks awful.

I’ll write about the Arizona game in my preview of that matchup, but suffice to say it’s going to be a major challenge for the Bulldogs.  I was impressed with the Wildcats when I watched them play on Friday night at Toledo.  Arizona has serious playmakers at quarterback, running back, and receiver, and a solid defense.  The one thing going for the Bulldogs is that the desert heat should not present any problems, after playing in the heat and humidity of midday Charleston.

The new “Kids Zone” debuted on Saturday.  This is a good idea and I was glad to see it. I even took a couple of pictures of the KZ (in one, a cadet is staring almost directly into the camera, clearly wondering to herself why someone would be taking pictures).

I took this picture (which includes the captains about to go onto the field for the coin toss) just to show how hot it was.  It was apparently too hot for General and Boo (note the absence of the doghouse, to say nothing of the dogs themselves).

Edit:  I just noticed that one of the dogs (probably General) is standing on top of a table near the top left of the picture, just outside a tent, being held on a leash by (I think) Mike Groshon.  So there was at least a cameo appearance by the live mascot.  You can also see the doghouse under the tent.  Looks like they were trying to keep him in the shade as much as possible, which strikes me as a very good idea.

I went to the Holliday Alumni Center to get my first in-person look at Big Red, the original.  It is actually a little smaller than I thought it would be, but it’s still arresting visually.  (For those unfamiliar with Big Red, its backstory.)

Here are a few more pictures to end this post.  These are just some shots of the field just prior and during the team’s entrance.  The last one includes some cannon fire in the background.

Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Chowan

It’s time for college football!   This year the scene at Johnson Hagood Stadium should include a lot of the following:  great tailgating, photo ops with Bulldogs both live and bronze, and, uh, fumbles…

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the sunniest intro of all time.  I have to be honest here, though.  While I am looking forward to the season, this year I am a bit apprehensive about what lies ahead for the Bulldogs on the gridiron.  The Citadel is going to the triple option on offense, with a head coach who has never run the offense (or any similar offense) before, and with players who were mostly recruited for a very different kind of system.

The players who were recruited with the triple option in mind, of course, are all true freshmen.  The quarterback position will likely be manned by one (or more) of those true freshmen. The “knob”-starting quarterback double is a rare one, and for a reason. It’s an exceedingly difficult combination.

The Southern Conference media and coaches agree that this season could be a long one for The Citadel, just as the last two seasons have been.  The media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the league.  The coaches ranked The Citadel eighth out of nine teams, ahead of only Western Carolina.

The Catamounts finished last in 2009, with only one league win.  That one WCU victory came against The Citadel, which tied for next-to-last.  More of the same is expected by those who follow the SoCon.

Before beginning league play, though, The Citadel will play three non-conference games.  Next week’s game at Arizona should be…interesting.  The following week the Bulldogs will take on Presbyterian, a team that went 0-11 last season, including a 46-21 loss to The Citadel.  However, even the Blue Hose would be favored against the Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Chowan University, a Division II school located in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

When the Hawks were announced as the opposition for the home opener, a collective yawn could be heard from The Citadel’s less-than-thrilled fans.  It’s hard to blame anyone for not being excited about Chowan being on the schedule, with all due respect to that school.  I’m guessing this game’s not going to be a sellout.

Having said that, let’s take a look at Chowan.

I wish I could say with confidence exactly how “Chowan” should be pronounced.  This is probably something that should concern Bulldogs play-by-play announcer Darren Goldwater a lot more than me, but I like to know these things.  I even sent an e-mail to Chowan’s department of athletics asking the question, and quickly got a response:

It’s pronounced CHO-WAN with a hard CH, just like CHOKE or CHICKEN. CHO-WAN.

That’s from somebody who works at the school, so she ought to know, but two different people have insisted to me that it’s actually pronounced “Shuh-WONN”, with the “Sh” sound at the beginning and the accent on the second syllable.  Since both of them are natives of eastern North Carolina, the region of the state that actually has decent BBQ, I tend to trust them.

“Chowan” is a derivative of “Chowanoke”, the name given to the native tribe of the region by 16th-century European explorers.  My guess is that if you were French, you pronounced it with the “Sh”, and if you were English, you went with the hard “Ch” sound.  It’s kind of like Beaufort (BO-fert), North Carolina, and Beaufort (BYOO-fert), South Carolina.

You like to-ma-to, I like to-mah-to, let’s call the whole thing off…

There is also a Chowan river, and a Chowan County — but Chowan University isn’t located in that county, but in the adjoining county of Hertford.  Naturally, this school in northeastern North Carolina is named to honor a tribe whose name means “people of the south”.

Regardless of its pronunciation, the school has been around in one form or another since 1848, when it was founded as Chowan Baptist Female Institute.  The school remained all-female until 1931, but in 1937 it became a junior college.

It reverted back to four-year status in 1992, and changed its name to the current Chowan University in 2006.  This fall, it will offer its first Masters Degree program, in Elementary Education.  Chowan remains affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

About 1100 students attend Chowan.  I thought the section titled “Who we serve” on the school’s website was interesting:

The Chowan University community is committed to serving average students. By “average” we mean students with a GPA from 2.25-3.25 and “average” SAT scores (around 1300 for the three part SAT). Students below these criteria may be admitted if they show a commitment to the Chowan University experience and academic potential…

Many of our students are first generation college students which means their parents did not attend college or complete a college degree. Because of Chowan’s commitment to individual attention in a Christian environment, these students thrive here.

I liked this statement.  Too many schools insist on presenting themselves as wannabe Ivies, when everyone knows better.  Here we have a school that knows exactly what its mission is, and what it wants to do, and isn’t apologetic about it in the least.  Good for Chowan.

Chowan had a fine run in football as a junior college, almost entirely under James Garrison, who was the head coach at the school for 43 years (and for whom its football stadium is named).  Quite a few Chowan alums went on to four-year schools and then the NFL, including George Koonce, Curtis Whitley, and Mark Royals.

However, Chowan has struggled on the gridiron since becoming a four-year school itself.  Since 1993, the Hawks (formerly the Braves) have a cumulative record of 39-168-1 in Division III and (since 2005) Division II.  That includes Saturday’s 59-10 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne.

Chowan has been a football member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association since the 2008 season (and is now a full member of the conference). Chowan is the first non-HBCU member of the CIAA in the league’s 98-year history.

The CIAA now has 13 members, and as a result the conference’s slogan for this year is “Triskaidekaphobia: Fear the 13!”  I’m not sure what the Southern Conference’s slogan would be — “The SoCon: The Nation’s Most Transient League”?

For Chowan football, the last five years have looked like this:

2005 — 2-8, including a 56-10 loss to North Greenville (now of Willy Korn fame) and a 42-21 defeat at the hands of Allen, which dropped its program after the season

2006 — 0-10, including losses of 42-0 to Western Carolina, 52-6 to North Greenville, and 28-0 to Webber International; Webber played The Citadel the following season, with a slightly different result

2007 — 2-9, including a lot of total beatdowns:  51-0 (Coastal Carolina), 56-14 (North Greenville), Presbyterian (62-10), and Newberry (67-0)

2008 — 2-8, which featured an early-season 69-20 loss to VMI (which had concluded its 2007 campaign in memorable fashion)

2009 — 2-8, although most of the games were more competitive; the Hawks did lose 36-21 to Old Dominion, the Monarchs’ first game since restarting its program after a 68-year hiatus (ODU did finish the season 9-2, though)

Those last two seasons came under the direction of the current head coach, Tim Place.  Place is a Washington & Lee alum who was previously the head coach at Urbana, an NAIA school in Ohio.

One of the members of Place’s coaching staff is Omar Nesbit.  Nesbit was an All-SoCon lineman at The Citadel, graduating in 2002.  He is the Hawks’ offensive line coach.

According to the school’s pre-season football guide, the team runs a “multiple” offense and a “multiple” defense.  Thirteen starters are back from last year’s outfit.

Last season the Hawks scored 25.3 points per game, not bad, but allowed 35.2 ppg. While the Hawks were a respectable passing team, all 25 of its TD passes were thrown by C.J. Westler, who was the offensive player of the year in the CIAA, and who is not among the returnees.  Much like The Citadel, Chowan has to find a quarterback (it played two in the Lenoir-Rhyne game).

Chowan turned the ball over three times per game, almost double its opponents’ totals, and averaged an anemic 2.9 yards per rush.  The Hawks gave up 48 sacks.

Defensively, the Hawks allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 9.3 yards per pass attempt, which is obviously not good.  Opponents scored touchdowns 70% of the time when they entered the “red zone”.  Chowan was also not a particularly efficient punting or placekicking team.

Against Lenoir-Rhyne, Chowan allowed 513 rushing yards (6.9 per attempt).  This is noteworthy in that L-R is running the same offensive system this season it ran last year under the direction of then-offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine — who of course is now the offensive coordinator at The Citadel.

Laurendine has his work cut out for him, based on early reports.  For example, this is how Jeff Hartsell began his recap of the August 21 scrimmage:

After watching his quarterbacks combine for six interceptions and at least five fumbled snaps in Saturday’s scrimmage, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins stated the obvious.

“Offensively, we have a lot of work to do,” said Higgins…

You could say that, coach.  On the bright side, nine of the eighteen pass attempts in the scrimmage were caught by Bulldogs.  Alas, six of them were defenders.  At least on those plays the QB got the snap from center.  Unofficial totals from the scrimmage had the first-team offense rushing 27 times for 67 yards.

At least the defense apparently looked good, although how much of that was due to the offense’s struggles is open to question.  The kicking game again failed to impress, a problem Higgins has been unable to solve for the last two seasons.

The scrimmage on August 28 was apparently better, based on some anecdotal reports.  At this point it appears the Bulldogs will play two “true” freshman quarterbacks, Ben Dupree (from Pennsylvania) and Matt Thompson (from Florida).

Terrell “First Sergeant” Dallas will be the fullback.  There are several candidates to fill the slotback positions, led by Van Dyke Jones and injury-plagued Rickey Anderson (everyone’s crossing their fingers for you, Rickey).  The offensive line has some experience, but not at center, which in part explains the center-QB exchange problems.

We won’t know for sure exactly how the new offense will look until Saturday, but it probably will be a slightly different variation than Charlie Taaffe’s version of the wishbone.  It’s not going to be quite like Wofford’s option attack, either.

It’s probably going to most resemble the setup run by Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and now Georgia Tech.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Higgins, with a personal history of running spread passing offenses, throws the ball a little more often than you see in most triple option offenses.

He has to figure out a way to get talented tight end Alex Sellars involved in the offense. Higgins has also commented on the big-play ability of Domonic Jones, a 6’5″ redshirt freshman.  I like the idea of isolating a tall receiver on a smaller defensive back in this offense.  Of course, you have to have a quarterback capable of getting the ball to Jones.

I linked this in an earlier post, but to get up to speed on how this offense will probably operate, check out The Birddog (helmed by a grad/fan of the Naval Academy), the triple option devotee’s website of choice.  Here is a primer on the TO:  Link

While the offense is filled with question marks, the defense should have a lot of answers.  There is depth and talent on that side of the ball, particularly in the defensive backfield.  Cortez Allen has drawn pre-season accolades.  Other DBs with the potential to shine include Keith Gamble (who had an 89-yard interception return against Presbyterian last season) and Joseph Boateng (who intercepted two passes in his collegiate debut against North Carolina).

Former safety Rod Harland is now a linebacker, joining team leader Tolu Akindele and Jeremy Buncum as likely starters.  The defensive line should be solid, if a little young.  Chris Billingslea had some impressive moments last season (and made the All-SoCon freshman team as a result).  Keith Carter is a redshirt freshman who should draw notice, if only for being a defensive tackle who wears #33.

The other defensive lineman (at least that’s his roster designation) I want to mention is Milford Scott, a special teams terror who blocked three kicks last season and created havoc many other times.  He’s tall, has long arms, and describes himself as a “Charleston homeboy” from the beach.  He’s a weapon.

Unfortunately, Scott’s dynamism on special teams was an exception (not counting Andre Roberts, obviously).  While punter Cass Couey fared reasonably well, the Bulldogs continued to struggle in the placekicking department.  That’s two seasons in a row The Citadel has had sub-optimal kicking, and early returns suggest it might be three in a row.

I don’t blame the kickers.  I blame the coaching staff.  It’s the job of the staff to get that aspect of the squad fixed, either by improving the kickers on the squad or finding somebody else to kick.

The Citadel also could stand to improve its punt coverage team (Scott aside) and its kickoff return unit.  The Bulldogs will sorely miss Andre Roberts as a punt returner; look for that component of special teams to not be as effective this season.

There has been a lot of turnover in the coaching staff, not only with the new offensive scheme (where the aforementioned Laurendine is joined by offensive line coach Bob Bodine), but with the defense as well.  Higgins recruited former Wofford assistant Josh Conklin to join the staff, and later named him defensive coordinator.

Conklin will get help from another new assistant, Denny Doornbos, who was the defensive coordinator at Army during the Bob Sutton years, which were mostly good ones.  I have to gleefully point out, though, that he was the DC for this game…and for this game, too.

While all the talk in the off-season has been about the offensive scheme, and how the coaches will implement it, I think the new coaches on the defensive side of the ball will be just as important.  Generally, you would like to have more staff continuity than The Citadel has had, but in the case of the defense, I think a fresh approach may be just what was needed.

There was a sense over the last two seasons that the defense had underachieved; in particular, some observers felt the unit was not aggressive enough.  The Bulldogs’ D must be pro-active this season, and give the offense short fields with which to work. The defense will likely also have to bail the offense out on a regular basis.

This is going to be an important year for Kevin Higgins.  The off-season issues, not surprisingly, did not sit well with the alumni — and I’m not just talking about the big boosters or the message board regulars.  He also has had back-to-back disappointing seasons on the field.

The move to a new offense, and the overhaul of his coaching staff, were both bold moves made by someone who expects to stick around for a while.  They weren’t short-term stopgaps.  That is to his credit, I think.

Now, however, even with modest on-field expectations, he needs to get the fan base to buy into his program again.  After all, Larry Leckonby and company need to sell tickets and sponsorships.  Jerry Baker has Brigadier Club membership goals to obtain, whatever his methods are (high-tech, low-tech, begging, etc.).

A 1:00 pm start time against Chowan on Labor Day weekend in Charleston probably isn’t going to be a big winner as far as attendance goes.  I fully expect one of those hot-and-humid Lowcountry days that are fairly typical for this time of year. Ugh.  Of course, that’s assuming a hurricane doesn’t come into play.

I’ll be there anyway, though.  I’m ready for some football.

Variety pack: Triple Option, The Citadel on TV, college baseball on the clock, Plant of the Week

This is going to be a grab-bag type of post, a variety pack if you will.  I may do this sort of thing periodically, as I really need to blog on a more regular basis.  I look at this as a way to make shorter comments on various issues, mostly about sports (including sports at The Citadel), with a few other odds and ends that catch my eye.  Think of them as Twitter entries that are longer than 140 characters.

Speaking of Twitter, my latest tweets can be seen on the left side of this page.  If anyone hasn’t noticed and is halfway interested in following me on Twitter, the location is http://twitter.com/SandlapperSpike (my tweets feature links/comments on a lot of stuff, including up-to-the-minute updates on Bulldog sports, baseball, football, and soccer, among other things).

As The Citadel counts down to kickoff against Chowan (as of today, T-41 days!), it’s time to focus on the Bulldogs’ new offense, which may be a little like an old offense, namely Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack.  However, it appears that Kevin Higgins may intend to run more of a “spread” triple option than Taaffe’s offense.

With that in mind, it might be a good idea to take a look at what the folks at Navy (and Georgia Tech, with Paul Johnson’s arrival in Atlanta) have been doing, particularly since Higgins apparently told one of our quarterback recruits (Ben Dupree) that The Citadel would be running a “Navy-style triple-option offense.”

Another reason to pay attention to the triple option is that Georgia Southern is also going to start running the offense this season, in a return to its roots.

For those interested in a breakdown of the nuts and bolts of the triple option, then, I cannot recommend highly enough a visit to The Birddog, the blog of choice for Navy football (and lacrosse).  The Birddog does a great, great job of illustrating (with video!) the intricacies of the triple option attack.

I’ve picked out four posts that I think serve as a good introductory primer for what the offense is all about.  (I hope I’ve chosen correctly.)  While reading these, just in case anyone gets confused, keep in mind that Paul Johnson is the former head coach at Navy (and Georgia Southern, of course) and is now at Georgia Tech.  The current Navy head coach is Ken Niumatalolo, and his offensive coordinator is Ivin Jasper.

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

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

As of today, only one of The Citadel’s football games is scheduled to be televised (at Wofford on October 30).  There is always a chance that a local station (either in Charleston or another SoCon town) will elect to broadcast a game, although that is unlikely.  Other than that scenario, there are only two other games that could be televised.

It is possible (but doubtful) that SportSouth will pick up the November 20 game at Samford as part of its “SoCon Saturday” package, as the last two weekends of the regular season are “wild card” weekends — basically, the network will televise the most attractive matchup that week, based on the teams’ records to that point in the season.  Admittedly, very few prognosticators are going to bet that a game between Samford and The Citadel will have serious repercussions in the league standings, but you never know.

However, there is a decent chance that The Citadel’s game at Arizona on September 11 will be televised by Fox Sports Net Arizona (FSN-AZ), a regional sports network received by cable subscribers in Arizona (and I believe parts of California and New Mexico), and also available as part of DirecTV’s “Sports Pack”.  Arizona has asked the Pac-10 (and the league’s TV partners) for a waiver in order for the game to be broadcast.

The reason a waiver is needed is because there are already two Pac-10 games scheduled to be televised during the same time period, and that league’s national cable partners have television exclusivity rights for those games.  In other words, a local/regional broadcast can’t take place at the same time as a nationally televised league TV game.  If another Pac-10 school wants its game on television, it has to play in another time slot.

However, Arizona and Arizona State have been given waivers in the past because home game time slots for those schools are limited, especially early in the season. You just can’t play a football game in the desert in the midday heat.

(Matt Sarzyniak was nice enough to explain the Arizona/Arizona State waiver issue to me, which I appreciate.)

We’ll see what happens.  I am cautiously optimistic that the game will be televised.

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee passed legislation that, if approved, will establish a time clock in college baseball.  The committee is basically incorporating the rules employed by the SEC for its 2010 conference tournament.

The 20-second rule for throwing a pitch was already on the books, but now it will be enforced with a timer, as will the amount of time allocated between innings.  I’ll be interested to see how the Southern Conference handles this; will it have a visible clock, with a timekeeper in the press box monitoring it?  Or will it just have an umpire carrying a watch?  I’m guessing the latter, for financial reasons.

The committee also modified the obstruction rule, which got a lot of notoriety in the Southern Conference tournament thanks to the second-round game/brawl between The Citadel and Elon.  That was the second-wildest fight I’ve ever seen at the SoCon tourney (nothing compares to the epic Raleigh/Piepenbrink donnybrook in 1990, though).

Not about sports:  you can be assured that I will never quote from or link to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Why, you ask?  This is why.

Link 1

Link 2

I sincerely hope that the Review-Journal goes bankrupt sooner rather than later.  Also, the photo of the CEO in the first link — doesn’t he look like a guy who hopes you throw something at him, so that he can sue you?

I have a great deal of respect for copyright law.  I think this guy and the Review-Journal (which is funding him) are abusing copyright law.

Not about sports:  I really enjoyed this article in The New Yorker on the identification and authentication of artworks.  It’s a long piece, but worthwhile.  I won’t spoil it, but there is a major twist halfway through.  The bottom line:  if P.T. Barnum had been more familiar with the art world, he would have said “there’s a sucker born every 15 seconds.”

Finally, a new feature, the Plant of the Week.  That’s right, plants.  As I’ve said elsewhere on the blog, I consider gardening a sport.  In honor of this being the first edition of the PotW, I will honor not one but two plants in my garden.  Both are crinums. Feast your eyes on a Powelii (Cecil Houdyshel) and a Herbertii (no common name).

Until next time…