2016 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

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

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

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

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

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

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

– The Citadel versus Samford: a clash of styles

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

– Aiming for a second straight SoCon title

– Samford continues on a “brutal” road stretch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 3

– Four players from The Citadel named Academic All-District

– Homecoming Schedule

– The Citadel will honor the late Charles Foster

– Groundbreaking for the War Memorial takes place on November 4

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

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

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

After a follow-up question, Thompson added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the Week 1 rankings:

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

A few observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few relevant stats for Samford:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chattanooga is off this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and that’s before the game even starts.

2015 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel at Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium in Homewood, Alabama, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 17. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Mike Grace providing play-by-play and Chad Pilcher supplying the analysis. Caroline Saunders will report from the sidelines.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

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

Links of interest:

– Preview of The Citadel-Spurrier (oops, I mean Samford)  from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Chris Hatcher on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 10/13 press conference (with comments from Dominique Allen, Tevin Floyd, and Dondray Copeland)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Chris Hatcher post-practice interview on 10/12 (he begins his summation with “We had a good day, very businesslike…”)

Chris Hatcher post-practice interview on 10/13 (he begins his summation with “We had a good day, I tell ya, very businesslike…”)

– Chris Hatcher post-practice interview on 10/14 (“We need to develop us a physical swagger about ourselves…”)

– Chris Hatcher post-practice interview on 10/15 (“We didn’t have a whole lot of pep about us…”)

– Tevin Floyd named SoCon Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Wofford

Dominique Allen is “growing into his job”

– The Citadel’s defense to be tested by the “Hatch Attack”

– Game highlights against Wofford

Like every fan of The Citadel, I was pleased with the Bulldogs’ performance against Wofford. The only negative was that I didn’t get to watch the game in person.

I have some regrets about that (a weather-related decision), but given the events in and around Columbia during the previous week, I was a little gun-shy when it came to the roads (and the rain). As it happens, unrelated events later in the day made me feel a little better about staying home.

On the bright side, I did get to watch the game on ESPN3. While I enjoyed the action on TV (Roku is my friend), it wasn’t the same as being there. I really missed the gameday experience.

It reminded me that when it comes to improving attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, attracting first-timers to the game is extremely important. We need to get more people hooked on the fun that is a football game at The Citadel.

Some quick observations about the victory over the Terriers:

– Wofford actually had a time of possession edge of almost six minutes. At the end of the first half, in fact, the Terriers had held the ball more than twice as long as The Citadel, despite the Bulldogs’ 21-6 lead.

That is why The Citadel’s first drive of the second half was important. Sixteen plays, eighty yards, 6:36 off the clock, and a TD to cap it off.

The Bulldogs were 3 for 3 on third down conversion attempts on that drive, including twice moving the chains on 3rd-and-5. The other third down conversion came inside Wofford’s 10-yard line.

Oh, and the drive began on the 20 after the Bulldogs fumbled the kickoff, but recovered. That could have been a game-changer in the worst way. Malik Diggs should get his fair share of credit for recovering the fumble and making a big save.

– The Citadel averaged 5.11 yards per rush, and 12.5 yards per pass attempt (seven completions in ten attempts). The Bulldogs committed no turnovers.

Those are the kinds of numbers that win lots of games.

– The defense held Wofford to 2.43 yards per rush (Lorenzo Long: 9 carries, 21 yards). The Citadel also forced two turnovers. The Terriers were only 2 for 13 converting third downs.

I thought the Bulldogs played “fast” on defense, especially early in the contest. It set a tone.

– The Citadel looked fresh and extremely well-prepared. The coaches did a fine job during the bye week.

The offensive playcalling was excellent. There were “special” plays designed for Cam Jackson, but they were within the flow of the offense. Tyler Renew was used in a way that took advantage of his strengths as a runner.

Dominique Allen was outstanding, and made certain play calls look really good, none more so than the 2nd-and-2 pass on the Wofford 24-yard line in the third quarter. Brandon Eakins was open, but he wasn’t that open. Allen had to clear the safety with the throw, and he did so, hitting Eakins in stride for the touchdown.

– The Bulldogs won the battle of special teams with room to spare.

Watching the game on ESPN3 also gave me an opportunity to confirm that SoCon officiating leaves a lot to be desired — and yes, I know I’m criticizing the officiating in a game The Citadel won 39-12. It doesn’t matter.

The targeting penalty on Quinlan Washington was a joke, and I don’t care if some ivory tower panel later rubber-stamped the ruling. As Mike Houston said later when asked if he thought it was targeting: “I don’t think anybody does.”

Basically, Washington was thrown out of the game for making a good play. The official didn’t like that Washington hit the Wofford quarterback so hard, and decided to eject him. It was as simple as that.

That call was followed by another officiating bungle on the very next play. Wofford fumbled on the 2-point conversion attempt, and the ball was picked up by a Bulldog player who began running down the field for a 2-point defensive score, only for the play to be blown dead.

The Terriers’ last offensive snap of the game resulted in a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by The Citadel’s Dondray Copeland that was eventually nullified, a play that featured a plethora of flags and a meeting between the referee and several Wofford players. Why, I have no idea.

Luckily, the Bulldogs dominated the game. Imagine if it had been close, though, and the officiating had affected the game’s result. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it — that’s what happened in last year’s matchup.

I don’t enjoy harping on the officials. I know it’s perceived in some quarters as whining. However, it’s the elephant in the SoCon’s little room, and it can’t be ignored.

Other SoCon fan bases complain about the officials, too. Many of those complaints are valid. Heck, The Citadel’s supporters were angry with the officiating after a 27-point victory.

The players and coaches who give it their all each and every week in the league deserve better.

As always when writing about The Citadel and Samford, I have to define some terms (as this is a Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs matchup).

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel, while “Birmingham Bulldogs”, “SU”, or “Baptist Tigers”* will serve as references to Samford.

*From a historical review of Samford football:

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

Picking a mascot for its gastronomical qualities seems like a reasonable thing to do, though I think the students were selling the typical appetite of bears a little short.

Chris Hatcher was a well-regarded Division II coach, who in seven years at Valdosta State (his alma mater) won 76 games and the 2004 national title. That’s when Georgia Southern hired him and gave him two objectives: win, and don’t be like Brian VanGorder.

Hatcher successfully avoided the VanGorder comparison, but couldn’t quite get over the hump in the wins category. In three seasons in Statesboro, he was 18-15, which wasn’t good enough for that program.

He was let go after a win over The Citadel at Paulson Stadium to close out the 2009 season. Following a 13-6 victory, Hatcher worked his coach’s TV show, then was fired immediately afterwards.

Hatcher didn’t stay out of work long, as Murray State hired him to revitalize a program that had gone 13-43 in the previous five seasons. He would coach at the Kentucky school for five years, compiling a record of 27-30.

His worst season at Murray State was his last one, as the Racers finished 3-9 in 2014. It came as a bit of a surprise when Samford then hired him to take over for the retiring Pat Sullivan.

However, Sullivan was a fan of the hire:

“He has experienced winning on and off the field, he’s won a national championship, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Sullivan said. “And, more than anything, he’s a good man.”

Prior to his arrival at Samford, Hatcher ran an offensive system he called the “Hatch Attack”:

“We want to be a fast-paced offense,” he said. “It will be an exciting brand of football.”

In his five years at Murray State, Hatcher’s offense topped Division I-FCS in several categories. Last season, the Racers ranked second in the nation in passing offense averaging 327.2 yards per game and 15th nationally in total offense at 468.3 yards per game.

In his prior job as coach at Valdosta (Ga.) State [note: the article skipped over his three years at Georgia Southern], Hatcher led the Blazers to the 2004 Division II national championship and tutored quarterback Dusty Bonner to two Harlon Hill Trophies — the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.

Hatcher said his offensive philosophy is to get the ball into the hands of playmakers and to also run the ball effectively.

“You have to be able to run the ball when you want to,” he said, “and you have to then be able to stop the run.

“We want to get the ball in space to people who know how to move, and to do it quickly,” Hatcher added.

Hatch’s offense at Samford this season looks a lot like the one Pat Sullivan ran last year, though. That isn’t by accident.

Samford may have a new head coach, but the offensive coordinator (Travis Trickett) was a holdover from the old staff. Actually, the new staff is the old staff; Hatcher retained most of Sullivan’s assistants, including Trickett and defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio.

With a talented, veteran team returning, Hatcher didn’t change a lot of on-field concepts. As the coach said during the SoCon media teleconference, he “left the schemes pretty much the same on offense and defense”.

The transition wasn’t seamless (“it wasn’t all peaches and cream,” said Hatcher), but ultimately Samford has many of the same players from last season playing for most of the same coaches from last season, and employing a similar style on both sides of the ball.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for all games (unless otherwise indicated). This isn’t ideal for comparative purposes, but as each team has only played two league games, and 2015 statistics at this point are surely more valid than the 2014 totals, I’m using these numbers.

Samford has played five games, three at home (against Central Arkansas, Florida A&M, and Chattanooga) and two on the road (Louisville and VMI). SU is 3-2 overall, beating Central Arkansas, Florida A&M, and VMI.

The Citadel is 3-2 as well, having played Davidson, Western Carolina, Charleston Southern, and Wofford (all at home), along with Georgia Southern (in Statesboro).

In its five games, Samford’s offense has thrown the ball 190 times and run the ball 190 times. It really isn’t a true 50-50 run/pass mix, though, because ten of those rushing plays are sacks.

Passing yardage accounts for 65.8% of SU’s total offense. During his radio show, Mike Houston mentioned that about one-third of Samford’s pass plays are screens.

Among SoCon teams, Samford leads in scoring offense (35.2 ppg, 18th nationally in FCS) and is second in total offense, and is also second in the league in yards per play (6.1). The Citadel is tied for second in total defense and is allowing 5.2 yards per play. The Bulldogs are second in scoring defense (20.6 ppg).

SU leads the league in passing offense, averaging 304.2 yards per game (good for 12th in all of FCS, and the only SoCon team to average more than 300 yards per game through the air). Samford is also first in the conference in passing efficiency, with ten touchdowns and six interceptions. Nationally, Samford ranks 23rd in offensive pass efficiency among FCS teams, one spot ahead of…The Citadel.

The Citadel leads the conference in pass defense and pass defense efficiency (3rd nationally), allowing only 5.37 yards per pass attempt. Opponents are completing passes at a 54.5% rate against the Cadets, also the low for league teams.

SU quarterbacks have been sacked ten times, third-most among conference squads. The Citadel’s defense has recorded seven sacks (fifth in the SoCon) and nine interceptions (second).

The Birmingham Bulldogs have averaged 38 pass attempts per game. VMI (41.2) is the only SoCon squad to have averaged more.

Samford is averaging 8.01 yards per pass attempt, which is second in the SoCon to The Citadel, which is averaging 10.67 yards per attempt (obviously with a lot fewer throws).

The Baptist Tigers are sixth in rushing offense (4.2 yards per carry), averaging 158.4 yards per game. Samford has ten rushing touchdowns.

The Citadel is next-to-last in rushing defense, and is allowing a league-worst 5.1 yards per rush. Incidentally, that was also the case when these two teams met last season, only at that time the Bulldogs were giving up 6.2 yards per rush (league games only).

Samford is third-best in offensive third down conversion rate (47.9%). The Citadel is second in defensive third down conversion rate (34.8%).

SU has a red zone TD rate of 58.5%, sixth-best among SoCon squads in the league. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (57.1%) ranks third in the conference.

Samford has attempted the fewest fourth-down conversion attempts among SoCon teams (going 1 for 4). Opponents of The Citadel have tried twelve fourth-down attempts, converting eight times.

Samford is fifth in the league in scoring defense, allowing 25.2 points per game. SU is next-to-last in total defense (5.4 yards allowed per play) and sixth in rushing defense (4.4).

The Citadel is third in total offense (averaging 6.4 yards per play) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs currently rank third nationally, trailing Cal Poly and Kennesaw State). The Bulldogs are next-to-last in passing yardage per game; as mentioned above, however, The Citadel is averaging a league-best 10.7 yards per pass attempt.

Samford is currently next-to-last in pass defense, but that is misleading. SU is second in the SoCon in pass efficiency defense, and leads the conference in interceptions with ten. Samford has 13 sacks, second among league teams behind Chattanooga.

At 54.7%, The Citadel leads the conference (and is fifth nationally) in offensive third down conversion rate. Samford is fourth in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, at 38.9%.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 69.6%, third-best in the league. Samford’s red zone defensive TD rate is 44.4%, which ranks second among conference teams (trailing only Chattanooga’s 33.3%).

The Cadets are 2 for 7 on fourth down so far this season. Samford’s defense has faced eleven fourth-down conversion attempts, and has prevented a first down on seven of those occasions, an excellent rate.

Samford is +4 in turnover margin (gained fourteen, lost ten), tied for the top spot in the league in that category. The Citadel is exactly even in turnover margin (gained twelve, lost twelve).

The Citadel has only attempted four field goals so far this season, making three of them. Samford has tried eight FGs, converting five.

Samford is last among conference teams in net punting (averaging 31.9 yards net per punt), while The Citadel is second (38.4). Samford and The Citadel rank 1-2 among SoCon squads in kickoff coverage.

While the military college is fifth-best in kickoff returns, Samford has the best kickoff return average in the conference (26.7 yards per return, including a 100-yard touchdown return by Karel Hamilton against Chattanooga).

SU is last in the league in time of possession (26:59). The Citadel is fifth in that statistic (29:57).

The Birmingham Bulldogs are averaging 76 offensive plays from scrimmage per game, second-most in the SoCon (only Mercer’s offense averages more). When combined with the TOP numbers, that comes out to about 2.81 plays per minute. It’s very much a hurry-up offense.

From Samford’s game notes:

In its first five games, Samford has had 13 scoring drives that have lasted less than two minutes, and seven that have lasted less than a minute. The times of those drives were: 0:20, 0:38, 0:39, 0:40, 0:45, 0:47, 0:47, 1:08, 1:24, 1:25, 1:45, 1:51 and 1:58.

The Citadel’s offense averages 65.8 plays per contest, with a 2.19 plays-per-minute rate.

One interesting tidbit: Samford is far and away the top team in the SoCon when it comes to opponents’ penalties and penalty yardage. Opponents are averaging committing eight penalties per game against Samford, giving up 87.8 yards per contest in penalty yardage.

The Citadel’s opponents have only been flagged for 5.2 penalties per game (40.0 yards), second-fewest in the league. Bulldog fans are not surprised by that.

This is Samford quarterback Michael Eubank’s second year in the program after transferring from Arizona State, where he played for three years (redshirting his freshman campaign).  The native of California is completing 70.5% of his pass attempts (an improvement over last season’s 63.3%), averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, with ten touchdowns against four interceptions.

According to Mike Houston, Eubank (6’5″, 250 lbs.) has a quicker, cleaner throwing motion this season. Houston theorized during his weekly press conference that Eubank’s improvement in that area could be attributed to instruction from Chris Hatcher.

Denzel Williams (5’10”, 215 lbs.) was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection. Though he leads the team in rushing attempts and yards, he actually hasn’t started a game this season; instead, sophomore K’rondis Larry (5’6″, 150 lbs.) has started every game and has almost as many carries as Williams. Both Williams and Larry are averaging at least 5 yards per rush, and both are capable receivers out of the backfield.

In looking over some numbers from last season, I noticed that Williams has added almost 25 lbs. to his frame this year.

Speaking of weight, Samford has a large offensive line. The starters average 6’3″, 297 lbs.

Right tackle Gunnar Bromelow was a first team all-league pick by the league’s coaches last year. Left guard Hayden Naumann started eleven games last season for UAB before transferring to Samford; he lines up next to left tackle Wesley Carter, himself a former UAB player who transferred to Samford two years ago.

Karel Hamilton is only a junior, but he is second among all SoCon players in career receptions, yardage, and touchdown catches. This year he is averaging six receptions per contest (11.3 yards per catch). Last season, Hamilton (6’1″, 210 lbs.) was an all-league selection by both the coaches and media members after putting up a 55-877-6 line in eleven games.

He is one of several talented pass-catchers that line up for Samford. Emmanuel Obajimi, a part-time starter last season, has three touchdown receptions so far this year.

Freshman Kelvin McKnight (5’8″, 185 lbs.) caught a 66-yard TD against Central Arkansas in his first collegiate game, and has also carried the ball a few times for the Birmingham Bulldogs. He had a 37-yard touchdown run against Chattanooga.

Tight end Tony Philpot had 4 catches for 72 yards and a TD last year against The Citadel. He has six receptions so far this season.

Under defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, Samford has generally featured a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option attack, and has been successful doing so more often than not.

From 2010-12, The Citadel was only 6 for 39 on third-down conversion attempts against Samford (15.3%). That has changed slightly in the last two meetings, as in 2013-14 the Bulldogs were 15-36 converting third downs, a considerably more respectable 41.7%.

The Citadel has really struggled in the passing game against Samford in the last two seasons, however, with a combined total of just 115 passing yards (averaging a putrid 4.1 yards per pass attempt).

Samford’s strength on defense starts with defensive tackle Michael Pierce, a redshirt senior and probably the favorite for the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He was big enough last year at 309 lbs., but he is now listed at 6’0″, 340 lbs.

Pierce, who has 6.5 tackles for loss this season (already more than he had all of last year), began his college career at Tulane. He is the older brother of Myles Pierce, a sophomore linebacker at The Citadel.

Michael Pierce had two sacks last week against VMI, and also added a two-yard touchdown run after lining up as a fullback on offense.

Middle linebacker Justin Cooper was a preseason all-league selection. He had 17 tackles last season against The Citadel, and leads Samford in tackles this season.

Free safety Jamerson Blount, a second team All-SoCon pick last year by the league’s coaches and by its media members, is second on the team in tackles. Cooper and Blount both have intercepted two passes this season.

James Bradberry is in his fourth year as a starting cornerback at Samford. Bradberry has intercepted exactly two passes in each of his first three seasons for SU; he has none so far this year.

Anthony Pistelli is Samford’s placekicker, and also handles kickoffs. So far this season, Pistelli is 5 for 7 on field goal attempts, with a long of 37. Both of his misses have come from outside 40 yards.

Punter Austin Barnard is averaging 42.3 yards per boot, but as mentioned, Samford is last in the league in net punting. Barnard, who also holds for placekicks, began his college career at Miami (FL).

Karel Hamilton had that 100-yard kickoff return for a TD against UTC referenced earlier, but it was one of only two kicks he has returned this year. K’rondis Larry is the primary kick returner for Samford.

Kelvin McKnight and Gavin Sinclair (a fellow wide receiver) are the main punt returners for SU.

Per Phil Steele’s preseason rankings, Alec Hulmes is the SoCon’s top long snapper. Hulmes ranked 9th among all FCS long snappers, according to Steele.

Hulmes, a senior from Garner, North Carolina, was also a preseason All-SoCon second team choice on the offensive line. I am not sure how, as he has no career starts on the line (or, I suppose, at any position).

I assume there is a story behind that…

Odds and ends:

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Samford is an eight-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 56.

– Seibert Stadium is named for Finley Page Seibert, Jr., who donated money for the completion of the facility in 1961 (adding stands on the west side). At the time, Bobby Bowden was the school’s head coach.

– Samford has 36 players from Alabama on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: Georgia (31), Florida (24), Tennessee (9), North Carolina (4), California (3), Kentucky (3), Mississippi (3), Texas (2), and one each from Oregon, Arkansas, and Alaska.

– The Citadel has five Alabama natives on its squad: Cam Jackson, James Riley, Tyus Carter, Myles Pierce, and Tyler Jackson.

– Samford has 15 transfers from other four-year universities on its roster, including 13 from FBS schools. Seven of them are in the Birmingham Bulldogs’ starting lineup.

– Saturday’s contest will be Samford’s first home game since September 19, a 31-21 loss to Chattanooga.

– I quoted this in the links section, but during one of his post-practice interviews Chris Hatcher made a reference to what he called “physical swagger”. I don’t remember hearing that expression before, but I kind of like it.

– The Citadel is apparently wearing yet another uniform color combination, this time what the equipment staff calls “summer leave” (white jerseys and those ugly, non-standard gray pants).

This game has an element of the unknown to it. Neither team has really played a similar opponent.

While The Citadel has excellent pass defense statistics, it is only fair to note that the Bulldogs have only played one team this season (Western Carolina) that had anything resembling a regular passing attack. (No, I’m not counting Davidson.)

On the other hand, Samford hasn’t faced a team quite as committed to the run as The Citadel.

The Citadel has to get pressure on Michael Eubank, or it will be a long day at the office for the defense. I think the secondary has been legitimately excellent for the Bulldogs this season, regardless of the opposition’s passing ability, but any coverage will eventually break down if the quarterback has all day to throw the football.

Being able to consistently tackle in space will also be important for The Citadel in this contest.

I wouldn’t be surprised if The Citadel’s offensive game plan resembles the one from last week. That includes the judicious use of the forward pass, particularly on short-yardage plays.

Tyler Renew had a good game against Samford last year (102 rushing yards), so he may get a chance to repeat his fine effort versus Wofford.  Another player to watch: Vinny Miller, who two years ago rushed for 95 yards against SU.

The Bulldogs were solid on special teams against Wofford, and that must continue against Samford. There may be an opportunity for The Citadel on that front, as the special teams outfit that arguably shined the most against the Terriers (the punt return squad) is matched up against what is on paper SU’s weakest special teams unit.

Over the past few years, this matchup has usually been close. I don’t expect that to change on Saturday.

Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

It has been a disappointing season for The Citadel, but it is likely that it has been an even more disappointing campaign for Georgia Southern.  The Eagles, like the Bulldogs, are 4-6, and losing seasons are definitely not the norm in Statesboro.

It will be only the third losing season for the Eagles since Erk Russell restarted the football program in 1982.  In 1996 Frank Ellwood went 4-7 in his only season in charge; Ellwood was a transitional coach following the firing of Tim Stowers.  In 2006, Brian VanGorder blew into town and left after one year, leaving with a 3-8 record.  He was replaced by the current coach, Chris Hatcher.

Hatcher had been very successful at Division II Valdosta State (winning a national title in 2004) but has not managed to lift GSU to its accustomed heights, with season records of 7-4, 6-5, and this year’s 4-6 to date.  When Ellwood completed his one season as head man in Statesboro, he was replaced by Paul Johnson, who proceeded to win 37 games and a national title over his first three years in command.  (Johnson won another I-AA crown in his fourth season, as well.)

Hatcher’s 17 wins pale in comparison, even when given the benefit of the doubt for having to pick up the pieces left by the hurricane that was VanGorder.  Stowers won 26 games in his first three seasons as the head coach; Mike Sewak won 27 in his first three years.  Even Erk Russell, starting from scratch in 1982, won 21 games over his first three seasons.  Small wonder there is some question about Hatcher’s job security.

After all, this is a school that has considered a move to FBS.  Struggling in the SoCon is not a good recipe for making a move up the football ladder.

The Eagles are 3-4 in the SoCon, having lost last week at home to Furman 30-22.  The Paladins jumped out to a 24-0 lead in that game and held on for the victory.  It was the third straight loss for GSU; the other two losses were a 52-16 beatdown at Appalachian State and a 31-10 loss at Samford.

GSU fans aren’t used to losing games by 30+ points, but it’s happened three times this season:  once to North Carolina (no shame in that), the aforementioned game against ASU and a 44-6 wipeout at South Dakota State earlier this season.  The Jackrabbits are ranked #21 in the FCS, but that is no consolation to Eagle fans.

Like The Citadel, Georgia Southern has allowed 28 points or more in 6 games this year.  In league play, the Eagles have struggled on pass defense, allowed 7.9 yards per pass attempt, worst in the conference, and 12 touchdowns, tied for worst with…The Citadel.

GSU’s rush defense is statistically better, although part of that is due to teams rushing fewer times against the Eagles than any other squad in the league.  The Eagles have done a good job forcing turnovers, which is why GSU is +2 in turnover margin (because the GSU offense has given the ball away quite a bit itself).

Georgia Southern likes to blitz, which can lead to big plays both ways.  Samford, nobody’s idea of a big-play team, had touchdown passes of 69 and 57 yards in its victory over the Eagles.   The Citadel will have opportunities to get its receivers in one-on-one situations.

The receiver the Bulldogs would most like to see in a one-on-one matchup, of course, is Andre Roberts.  It’s his last game for the Bulldogs; maybe he’ll have a chance to cap a memorable career in grand style.

On offense the Eagles are near the bottom in most categories in conference play, ranking seventh (out of nine teams) in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, pass efficiency, and third-down conversions.  Georgia Southern has, however, been efficient in the red zone.  The Eagles are also first in the league in time of possession.

The biggest problem GSU has had, statistically, is allowing sacks — 30 in league play, the most allowed by a conference team.  The Citadel needs to continue the trend of opponents putting GSU quarterbacks on the ground if the Bulldogs plan on winning this game.

Georgia Southern has committed more penalties than all but one team in league play.  However, The Citadel has had fewer penalties called against its opponents than any other school in the conference.  Something’s gotta give…

Lee Chapple started the first nine games at quarterback for the Eagles, but last week was replaced as the starter by Kyle Collins.  Chapple will probably start against The Citadel.  He has thrown 7 touchdowns this season, but has been intercepted 14 times.  GSU running back Adam Urbano is only averaging 63.3 yards per game on the ground in league play, but he’s a definite receiving threat, having caught 45 passes this season, which leads the Eagles.

This game will not be Homecoming at Paulson Stadium — that was last week, against Furman.  However, there will probably still be a good crowd urging GSU (including 16 Eagle seniors) on to victory.  The Citadel has historically not fared well in Statesboro, with only one victory (in 2003) in ten trips to Paulson.

However, perhaps Saturday will be different.  After all, it will be November 21, and strange and wondrous things have been known to happen on that date, most notably on November 21, 1978.

That day, The Citadel trailed Furman 18-0, but scored 35 unanswered points to defeat the Paladins 35-18.  The coach of the Bulldogs that day was Art Baker, and it was the first (and only) time Baker ever won a game in The Citadel-Furman series.  He had been 0-8 until then, losing games as head coach of both Furman and The Citadel.

He would also lose the next season, in his final game as a head coach in the series, but on November 21 he was golden.  Maybe that’s a good sign for the Bulldogs on Saturday against GSU.

Georgia Southern flies into town

Georgia Southern has tradition.  Six national titles.  Erk Russell.  Tracy Ham.  Adrian Peterson.   Paul Johnson.  Brian VanGorder.  Uh, wait…

Tradition gives rise to expectations, and when those expectations aren’t met, sometimes a foolish decision or two gets made.  Such was the case when Georgia Southern fired Mike Sewak after consecutive years in which GSU lost in the first round of the playoffs.  Sewak won 35 games in four seasons in Statesboro, but he had followed Paul Johnson, who in five years had won 62 games and two national titles.  Georgia Southern expected more.

Sewak was replaced by Brian VanGorder, which in retrospect certainly qualifies as a foolish decision.  VanGorder apparently decided that if there was a GSU tradition he could break, he would break it.  He did everything but drain “Beautiful Eagle Creek” (although I bet he would have if he had thought of it).  The program still hasn’t quite recovered from the VanGorder Era, even though he was only there for one season.  He finished with a 3-8 record, mostly because he scrapped Georgia Southern’s option attack and in the process made the Southern Conference’s best player, quarterback Jayson Foster, a wide receiver.  It is hard to imagine a coach doing less with more than VanGorder did in Statesboro, as Foster was just one of several very talented players on the roster.  After that season, the embattled VanGorder left to take a job with the Atlanta Falcons, and was replaced by the current coach, Chris Hatcher.

This is Hatcher’s second year in Statesboro.  In his first year, he did what any intelligent human being would do, and put Jayson Foster back in charge of the offense.  The result was a 7-4 record and the Walter Payton Award for Foster as the nation’s top FCS player.

This season Hatcher’s Eagles are 4-4, which doesn’t begin to tell the story of how crazy a year they’ve had.  Georgia Southern has had a tendency to play up to or down to the level of its opponents, which has led to the following:  an overtime win over 2-6 Northeastern, a fourth-quarter comeback victory over 1-7 Austin Peay, an overtime one-point loss to third-ranked Wofford (where Hatcher elected to go for two and the victory in the first overtime period, but the play call got horribly botched), a two-point setback at home to #10 Elon, a one-point loss at home to second-ranked (and three-time national champion) Appalachian State, and a wild road victory over a terrible Western Carolina team where GSU trailed 31-3 in the fourth quarter.

That WCU game happened last week, so you would expect Georgia Southern to be on a major high when it arrives to take on the Bulldogs at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday.   Maybe that will still be the case, but Hatcher’s dismissal of three freshmen (all contributors) from the team just this past Tuesday might put a damper on things.

Georgia Southern will be favored to beat The Citadel, given that the Bulldogs have lost four in a row and can’t run the ball on offense.  Georgia Southern has had problems stopping the run, but it’s hard to see The Citadel taking advantage of that on Saturday.  The offensive line will be facing a 330-lb. nosetackle and two quality defensive ends, including South Carolina transfer Dakota Walker.

The Citadel has also struggled on defense.  That probably will continue on Saturday, as the undersized front seven for the Bulldogs face a GSU offensive line that averages 294 lbs.  What the Eagles are not good at is holding on to the ball.  GSU has committed 25 turnovers this season (13 picks, 12 lost fumbles), and has a turnover margin of -13.  Last week the Eagles won despite a seven-turnover performance that included three giveaways in the fourth quarter (two of which actually occurred during the wild comeback).  The problem for The Citadel is that the Bulldogs haven’t been inclined to force turnovers (only 10 so far this season).  Georgia Southern also had 11 penalties (for 137 yards) against Western Carolina.  The Eagles are averaging 8 penalties per game.

Georgia Southern still has hopes of a playoff bid if it can win its last three games, but I doubt that 7-4 is going to get it done.   Running the table would include a win over Furman, which would vault the Eagles over the Paladins, but I don’t think the SoCon will get more than three postseason bids unless the fourth-place team beats one of the top three, and GSU has already lost to all three of the top teams in the league.  If Furman could beat Georgia Southern and Wofford, the Paladins would likely get a fourth bid for the SoCon, but I think the Eagles’ chances of postseason play are extremely slim.

As for Saturday’s game, I think the Bulldogs will have a much better outing than they did against Samford.  Bart Blanchard will start at QB, but I would expect Cam Turner to get some snaps as well.  The best chance The Citadel has for victory is for Georgia Southern to continue its season-long habit of playing to the level of its competition.

One good thing for The Citadel is that another horrendous second quarter, such as those against Furman and Samford, appears unlikely.  GSU has been outscored 99-45 in that period this season.   On the other hand, the Eagles have dominated the scoring in the fourth quarter (95-40).

We’ll see what happens.