2019 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on October 19, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. Bob Mihalic will handle play-by-play, while Sam Wyche supplies the analysis.

It is also part of this week’s “ESPN College Extra” package, available on some cable/satellite systems. On DirecTV, the game will be broadcast on Channel 792.

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. 

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

Meet the Macdaddy

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

– Game preview on Furman’s website

– Preview from The Greenville News

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/16)

– Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/14)

– The Dogs:  Episode 8

There are two things fans going to the game definitely need to know. One is that Saturday is Furman’s Homecoming. The other, perhaps more momentous news: the Paladins are going to sell beer (and wine) at the stadium.

 

My thoughts on this are certainly not relevant to anyone, particularly Furman fans, since I am a graduate of The Citadel who doesn’t drink beer. Having said that, as this is my blog, I have a few observations.

  • “Patrons under 21 need to be accompanied by a parent” — surely this could have been worded better, unless they plan on serving any and all ‘patrons’, which would be problematic
  • Waiting until kickoff to start selling beer may not be a great idea, strictly on a logistics basis
  • You know selling beer at football games has become a full-fledged trend when Furman decides to start doing it

This appears to be a “soft opening”, as most (if not all) of the information surrounding the beer sales has originated from Twitter. Homecoming is either the ideal or worst time to debut this setup; I can’t decide which.

However, based on The Citadel’s experience selling beer at Johnson Hagood Stadium, I think the beer garden is a dubious proposition. If FU really wants to make money on selling beer (and wine), and also wants to use it as a way to bring people into the stadium who might otherwise not go to the game, then the school should simply sell it to folks sitting in the stands watching the game, just like any other concessions item.

Commit to the concept.

As for Furman’s attendance, which is almost certainly a factor in the decision to sell alcohol at football games, a quick review of the Paladins’ per-game attendance numbers since 2012.

  • 2012: 9,009*
  • 2013: 8,299
  • 2014: 7,229
  • 2015: 6,795*
  • 2016: 5,771
  • 2017: 7,775*
  • 2018: 6,139

*seasons in which The Citadel played at Paladin Stadium

The attendance for The Citadel’s 2015 game at Furman was 12,124. That is the largest attendance for any game at Paladin Stadium since 2011. The Bulldogs’ trip to Greenville in 2017 also produced the largest crowd for a Furman home game that season.

If you were wondering how Furman only averaged 6,795 fans per game in 2015 despite having 12,124 spectators show up for one of its five home matchups, the Paladins’ game against South Carolina State that season (a contest played in terrible weather conditions) had a total attendance of 1,022. Without even looking, I’m going to guess that is the lowest attendance in the history of Paladin Stadium.

At any rate, the decline in attendance for Furman over the last seven seasons is obviously of concern to its administration. Through three home games this year, Furman is averaging 6,281 fans. That number should increase following Saturday’s contest.

Brent Thompson confirmed on his Wednesday night radio show that Furman’s attendance numbers would be helped by an influx of about 450 freshman cadets. I was glad to hear that.

The Citadel has sent freshmen to several football games in recent years, a welcome development indeed. In the last five seasons, cadets have been bused to games at Wofford, Chattanooga, VMI, and (earlier this year) Georgia Tech.

A planned excursion to Samford in 2017 was scuttled by one of the now-annual hurricane evacuations, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trip to Birmingham in the next few years. Next season, Mercer could easily be on the agenda, along with a repeat journey to Wofford or VMI.

I believe this will be the third consecutive time The Citadel has sent cadets to Greenville for the Furman game.

Okay, let’s talk about “rivalries” for a moment. This is the part of the post where I probably make a lot of people mad, but so be it.

Let me say up front that these are just my opinions, I know they are just my opinions, and I’m undoubtedly a terrible person for having these opinions.

From Jeff Hartsell’s column earlier this week:

Does The Citadel have too many rivalry games?

During my weekly chat with former Citadel offensive lineman Kyle Weaver (esteemed host of The Citadel Grayline), I asked Kyle to rank the Bulldogs’ various rivals in football. Weaver, who played on The Citadel’s Southern Conference championship teams in 2015 and 2016, went with Wofford, Charleston Southern, Furman and VMI in roughly that order. Ask another Bulldog, and you might get the same four teams in a different order.

I think it is possible that if you asked any other graduate of The Citadel, you would not get the order Weaver listed. Not that he doesn’t have a right to his opinion – after all, he’s an alum, and he wore the uniform of both a cadet and a football player.

That said, I could not disagree with him more.

First, to be fair, I don’t really think a school can have “too many rivalry games”. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt Auburn or LSU. Besides, a team should treat every game it plays like it is a rivalry game anyway.

As far as The Citadel is concerned, the school has two traditional rivals in football – Furman and VMI.

Those two schools have a long history with The Citadel; for Furman, there is also geographic proximity, while VMI is a fellow military college with a similar mission. The three institutions have also been in the SoCon together since 1935 (excepting VMI’s decade-long stay in the Big South).

You can rank them 1A and 1B, with the order generally dependent on an individual alum’s background and/or age.

Wofford’s series with The Citadel is also a lengthy one, but for much of that span the two schools were not in the same NCAA division, much less the same conference. There was also a significant period of time (between 1959 and 1975) in which they only faced each other once. That is essentially an entire generation of games not played.

(Of course, Texas and Texas A&M might currently be testing the “skip a generation” thesis.)

If there is such a thing as a “secondary rivalry”, Wofford and The Citadel might qualify. The two schools are now both in the SoCon, but that wasn’t the case when at least two-thirds of living graduates of The Citadel were in college. In fact, through the 1991 season, The Citadel had actually played Presbyterian 16 more times.

This is an issue. When it comes to Bulldog opponents, Wofford is still associated in some people’s memories with PC and Newberry. That perceived grouping isn’t true anymore, to be sure, but the mental affiliation remains a factor.

However, the more recent history is also why I can understand how a younger graduate, particularly a football player, might have a different perspective. I completely respect that.

(A more intriguing question might be this one: is Wofford a rival of Furman?)

When it comes to Charleston Southern, though, few alumni of The Citadel consider that to be a rivalry of any kind.

I’ve used this analogy before, but it still applies: at most county fairs, there is a guy in a ‘dunk tank’ who insults people, hoping they will spend money on baseballs to throw at him. That basically describes Jamey Chadwell’s efforts at CSU in trying to develop a rivalry between the two schools.

Was he aided by certain members of the local media? Sure, to the point where it was almost embarrassing (“inner-city rivalry”). Was he tacitly supported by the CSU administration? Yes (on that issue; perhaps not on others).

Did he/they succeed? Well, no. There was no chance of that happening, really.

A natural rivalry has to develop organically. Schools with little in common and no real history (which is the case for The Citadel and Charleston Southern) are a lot less likely to develop a rivalry.

Ultimately, there has to be interest on both sides. In the case of The Citadel and CSU, I’m not convinced there is much interest on either side. If you doubt that, take a closer look at attendance figures.

Anderson University announced two weeks ago that it was starting a football program. In five years or so, I fully expect someone to claim Anderson and Furman (or Wofford) are “big rivals”.

As for The Citadel, I’m sure Erskine is next on deck in the rivalry sweepstakes…

Furman statistics of note (six games):

Furman Opponents
Points Per Game 37.50 19.83
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 269 207
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 6.90 5.34
Att-Comp-Int 108-64-4 194-130-6
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 7.85 5.35
Total Plays 387 413
Yards per play 7.19 5.35
Total punts 21 32
Punting Net Average 43.19 38.88
Penalties-Yards 25-231 33-242
Penalty yards per game 38.50 40.33
Time of Possession per game 32:14 27:46
Offensive plays per second 29.98 sec 24.20 sec
3rd Down Conversions 36-72 (50.00%) 34-82 (41.46%)
4th Down Conversions 3-5 (60.00%) 3-6 (50.00%)
Fumbles-Lost 8-4 10-5
Sacks-Yards Lost 12-59 10-67
Red Zone: Touchdowns 20/23 (87%) 12/20 (60%)
Turnover Margin 3 -3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 69.50% 50.12%

What follows are mostly random musings on the stats above, referencing the FCS national statistical rankings when appropriate.

One thing to keep in mind: two of Furman’s six games, and both of its losses, came against FBS competition (Georgia State and Virginia Tech). FU lost those two games by a total of 13 points — and frankly got jobbed on a terrible replay call against the Hokies, preventing a potential comeback.

The Paladins have triumphed over Charleston Southern (an easy win in the season opener), East Tennessee State (a tough defensive struggle), Mercer (a blowout victory at home), and Samford (a blowout victory on the road).

– Furman’s offense is second in all of FCS in both Red Zone scoring rate (a slightly overrated stat) and Red Zone TD rate (a very important stat). Only North Dakota State has a higher scoring rate in the Red Zone. The only team with a better TD rate in the Red Zone than the Paladins? North Dakota.

The Citadel’s offense is 30th nationally in Red Zone TD rate (72%). That ranks 2nd in the SoCon. Chattanooga (54%) has the lowest rate in the league (though that isn’t close to the dregs of the sub-division).

– The Paladins are 3rd in offensive yards per play, trailing only Kennesaw State and North Dakota State. The Bulldogs are in the bottom 20 in this statistic.

– Furman is 10th in offensive third down conversion rate (and also leads the SoCon, ahead of 13th-ranked Wofford). The Citadel is 54th.

– The Paladins are tied for 31st in turnover margin per game. The Citadel is tied for 57th.

VMI is 10th nationally, best in the league. Three conference squads (Mercer, Samford, and Western Carolina) are in the bottom 15.

– FU is 16th in time of possession. The Citadel is 2nd (just behind Yale; Wofford is 3rd).

Samford is last, but you knew that already. What you may not have known is that Mercer is next-to-last.

– After accounting for sacks, Furman’s defense allows almost the exact same yards per play on rushes as it does on pass attempts. It is uncanny.

That defensive yards per play allowed number is 40th-best nationally, second in the SoCon (behind ETSU). Princeton leads the category nationally, but has played fewer games against decidedly lesser competition than every other team in the top 50 save its fellow Ivy League schools.

The rest of the top five: Sam Houston State, Georgetown (this is the second year in a row the Hoyas have put up excellent defensive numbers), Kennesaw State, and South Dakota State.

The Citadel is in the bottom 30 in defensive yards allowed per play. Charleston Southern, a team both The Citadel and Furman have played, is fourth-worst in FCS, allowing just over seven yards per play.

– Furman is 2nd nationally in net punting. The Citadel is 7th, and may get its regular punter (Matthew Campbell) back this week. Gage Russell has done a fine job in Campbell’s absence, however.

– I was surprised that Furman’s opponents have only attempted six fourth-down conversions through six games.

As I noted in my review of the Western Carolina game, The Citadel is 15 for 21 (71.4%) converting 4th downs this year, ranking among the FCS leaders in both attempts (tied for 4th nationally) and conversions (3rd). Among teams with 10+ tries on fourth down, the Bulldogs are 4th in conversion percentage.

Furman starting quarterback Darren Grainger (6’4″, 195 lbs.) is a redshirt freshman from Conway who is having an excellent year for the Paladins. For the season, he is completing 59.6% of his passes, averaging 9.84 yards per attempt (not accounting for sacks), with 11 TD throws against just two interceptions.

Grainger also averages a little over nine rushing attempts per game (with a long of 33 yards). He has four rushing TDs. Last season, he played in four games for Furman, but did not see the field against The Citadel.

Running back Devin Wynn (6’0″, 203 lbs.), a junior from Greensboro, Georgia, is averaging 8.4 yards per carry this season. He had 217 rushing yards against Samford, and added a 61-yard TD reception just for good measure. Last season against the Bulldogs, Wynn had 86 rushing yards on just nine attempts.

Wynn, who also returns kicks for Furman, was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection, as was wideout Thomas Gordon (6’0″, 178 lbs.). The senior from Charlotte leads the Paladins in receptions with 24, four of which have gone for touchdowns. He is averaging almost 17 yards per catch.

By sacred rule, I have to mention Furman’s starting tight end, who traditionally runs wide open across the middle of the field at least three times during any game against The Citadel, no matter who he is. This year, he is sophomore Ryan Miller (6’4″, 214 lbs.), who has TD receptions of 41 and 32 yards this season.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 292 lbs. The line has a lot of experience, although there does appear to be some question as to who will start at center.

Left guard Reed Kroeber (6’4″, 302 lbs.) is a redshirt junior who has also played center and tackle for the Paladins during his career. The native of Roswell, Georgia has made 28 starts during his career.

Lining up next to Kroeber is left tackle Bo Layton (6’7″, 287 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Knoxville who was a first-team all-SoCon pick after last season. The other starting tackle, Andy Godwin (6’4″, 283 lbs.) was a preseason second team all-conference pick. Godwin is a redshirt senior from Neptune Beach, Florida.

The player who lines up at noseguard is often an important factor in how a team defends the triple option. Furman’s starter at that position is mobile fire hydrant Taylor Hodge (5’9″, 255 lbs.). The sophomore has four starts this season. (Yes, I triple-checked the height/weight line.)

The Paladins’ defense is keyed by its linebackers. Senior “spur” Jordan Willis (6’0″, 207 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, and is second in tackles for loss. Willis had 11 stops in last year’s game versus The Citadel.

Adrian Hope (6’1″, 218 lbs.) had 15 sacks last season (including one against the Bulldogs) despite not starting a game. As a result, he was a first-team all-conference choice, and not surprisingly the sophomore from Ocala, Florida was a preseason first team all-league pick this year.

Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 225 lbs.), a junior from Rome, Georgia, was a preseason second-team all-SoCon pick.

Despite being third on the team in tackles so far this season, McKoy is actually listed as a backup on the two-deep at middle linebacker, behind Braden Gilby (6’2″, 233 lbs.). Gilby, a redshirt freshman from St. Petersburg (not the one in Russia), ranks second in tackles for the Paladins.

Free safety Bryan Okeh (6’4″, 216 lbs.) has the most starts of any Paladin defender (31). The senior from Powder Springs, Georgia intercepted his first career pass earlier this season against Mercer.

Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 188 lbs.), a junior from Inman, has made 16 consecutive field goals, a streak that dates back to last season. His career long is 53 yards. He was last season’s all-conference placekicker.

Atkins is also Furman’s punter and kickoff specialist. He is very good at those roles, too (some may remember his 81-yard punt against The Citadel last year). Matthew Campbell and Atkins are the two best punters in the league.

Furman’s primary punt returner is starting cornerback Amir Trapp (5’10”, 170 lbs.). Trapp, who began his college career at Clemson, is the son of former Tiger (and NFL defensive back/Olympic gold medalist) James Trapp.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Greenville, per the National Weather Service: a 30%-60% chance of rain, with a high of 64 degrees. There is a 70% chance of showers in the evening.

The possibility of rain during the game has steadily increased over the course of the week (and the anticipated high temperature has fallen as well).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is an 18-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 53 1/2.

Through seven games, The Citadel is 3-4 ATS, with the over hitting twice.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 3 1/2 point favorite over East Tennessee State in a Thursday night game; Wofford is a 24 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina; and Mercer is a 1 1/2 point favorite over VMI. Samford is off this week.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 40, with North Dakota State the favorite over Missouri State. Also of note: Kennesaw State is a 37 1/2 point road favorite over Presbyterian.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 63rd in FCS. The Paladins are 15th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 16% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 17.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, Montana, South Dakota State, James Madison, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Villanova is 10th, Idaho State 12th, Kennesaw State 16th, Central Arkansas 20th, North Carolina A&T 24th, Elon 28th, Towson 31st, Incarnate Word 35th, Central Connecticut State 38th, Jacksonville State 44th, Wofford 47th, McNeese State 50th, Florida A&M 54th, Richmond 56th, Chattanooga 59th, William & Mary 60th, Samford 62nd, VMI 68th, Columbia 72nd, East Tennessee State 78th, South Carolina State 83rd, Campbell 85th, Charleston Southern 91st, Mercer 93rd, Gardner-Webb 94th, Davidson 97th, Lafayette 104th, Western Carolina 111th, LIU 117th, Jacksonville 122nd, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Furman’s notable alumni include Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, physicist Charles Townes, and journalist Eleanor Beardsley.

– Future non-conference FBS opponents for Furman include Tennessee (in 2020), North Carolina State (2021), Clemson (2022 and 2025), South Carolina (2023), and Mississippi (2024). The Paladins also have home-and-home series scheduled with Colgate and North Carolina A&T, and play at Kennesaw State in 2023 (I believe that is the return game for a 2016 matchup).

– Furman’s roster includes 34 players from the state of Georgia. Other states represented: South Carolina (18 players), Florida (12), North Carolina (10), Tennessee (9), Alabama (6), Maryland (2), Texas (2), Virginia (2), and one each from California and Illinois.

The 18 Palmetto State products on the Paladins’ squad represent 16 different high schools, with two each from Southside Christian (in Simpsonville) and St. Joseph’s (Greenville).

However, in what can only be described as a colossal error in recruiting, none of the Paladins are from legendary mega-gridiron superpower Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The hopes of Furman’s football program, whether modest or monstrous, will be forever doomed if Clay Hendrix and the rest of his coaching staff continues to ignore the incredible talents who wear the famed maroon and orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is almost exactly the same as the depth chart from last week. The only change is that Clay Harris (now presumably healthy) is again listed as the projected starter at B-back.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-10 for games played on October 19. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1912: The Bulldogs edged Porter Military Academy, 66-0. C.D. Gibson and Billy Folger each scored three touchdowns for The Citadel. I’ve written about this one before. The reporter covering the game for The News and Courier wrote that Porter was “plucky” and claimed the “game was a good one in spite of the score…Porter played [a] hard game, while Cadets’ work was loose in spots”. There is no telling what he would have said if the contest had actually been close. The paper also ran an advertisement for castor oil with the tag line “Children like it — it does ’em good”, so there was clearly a severe lack of editorial control at the local newspaper during this era.
  • 1957: On a chilly evening at Johnson Hagood Stadium, an estimated 11,000 spectators watched The Citadel shut out Richmond, 26-0. Bobby Schwarze threw three TD passes, two to Paul Maguire and one to Joe Chefalo. Fullback Ed Dzanis scored the other TD on a one-yard run. Dzanis also intercepted a pass, as did Barry Thomas (who led the Bulldogs in rushing, with 85 yards on eight carries).
  • 1963: The Citadel prevailed over Arkansas State, 10-9. Pat Green’s 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play proved decisive. Arkansas State had taken the lead with 36 seconds to play, but four completed passes from Wade St. John (three to Wes Matthews, one to Vince Petno) set up Green’s heroics. The Bulldogs’ lone TD came on a 72-yard run by Converse Chellis, aided by a block from Joe Missar.
  • 1968: The Bulldogs won a Parents’ Day affair over VMI, 13-8. Tony Passander threw for one TD and ran for the other. The touchdown pass was an 80-yarder to Tom Sanchez, and was at the time the longest in school history. The Citadel’s defense forced three turnovers — a pass interception by Billy Watson and fumble recoveries by Eddie Watkins and Joe Isaac.

This will not be an easy game for The Citadel. Furman is probably the SoCon’s best team (and has certainly performed in that manner to this point in the season). The Bulldogs surely feel better about themselves after a solid victory over Western Carolina, but the Paladins present a far more imposing challenge.

However, it isn’t an impossible task. The Citadel has to play near its best, but the Bulldogs don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be outstanding.

I think a big key to the game is for The Citadel to control the clock on offense and avoid an early turnover. If the weather becomes a factor, as increasingly appears to be the case, ball security is paramount (even more so than usual).

Defensively, the Bulldogs must prevent big plays (occasionally a problem this season for The Citadel) and take advantage of any Paladin mistakes, as there aren’t likely to be many. Finding a way to put pressure on Grainger, a mobile QB protected by a fine offensive line, will be very difficult. It will also be necessary.

If the Bulldogs’ special teams could pull off a couple of game-changing plays, that would be very handy as well.

Are all of those points obvious? Yes. Then again, football is frequently obvious.

I hope the Bulldogs play well on Saturday. I also think they will.

2018 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Furman

Rarely does a football team live up to its nickname the way The Citadel’s gritty squad did at Johnson Hagood Stadium Saturday afternoon. They don’t call them the Bulldogs for nothing.

Third-string quarterback Joe Sumrall, pressed into action by a rash of injuries, directed Bobby Ross’ team to one first-half touchdown and freshman running back Alvin Perkins exploded 54 yards for another. Handed that cushion, The Citadel defense then hung on to take a 13-9 victory over arch-rival Furman.

“I’ve never been as proud of a team as I am of this one today,” said a relieved Ross afterwards. “We were depleted by injuries, and some other guys were playing hurt. But these kids have shown a lot of spunk all season.”

The Post and Courier, November 16, 1975

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 27, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Danielle Hensley is the sideline reporter. 

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. 

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 10/23 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 10/24 radio show (video)

The Citadel’s oldest fan (presumably) is 101 years old; she watches the Bulldogs while drinking rum and Coke

Bulldogs outlast VMI, retain the coveted Silver Shako

“The Heat” — VMI game (video)

Zane Najdawi a preseason all-conference selection for the Bulldogs; hoopsters picked to finish 6th in the SoCon by the coaches

“Meet the Bulldogs” basketball event to be held outside of Gate 2 at Johnson Hagood Stadium

– Furman enters “must win” portion of the season

This is Hall of Fame weekend at The Citadel. Originally, it was supposed to take place on the weekend of the Charleston Southern game, but then that matchup got postponed due to Hurricane Florence.

This year’s inductees include basketball player Cameron Wells, wrestler Odie Delaney, baseball pitcher Brian Rogers, football player Gene Brown, and honorary enshrinee LTG Claudius “Bud” Watts III, the former school president.

It is an excellent class, but since this is a post that is mostly about football, allow me to single out Gene Brown for a moment. I’m very glad to see him honored; if anything, his election was overdue:

  • Brown was named the Southern Conference’s offensive player of the week four times in 1988. No other Bulldog football player has ever been honored that many times by the SoCon in one season. Brian Ruff was the league’s defensive player of the week three times in both 1975 and 1976; Stump Mitchell, Jack Douglas, and Everette Sands each had three conference offensive player of the week nods in one season (in 1980, 1990, and 1992, respectively). That is an extremely impressive group of players, and Brown actually went one better than all of them.
  • His most critical performance that year came in The Citadel’s 20-3 victory over then-#1 Marshall. On one of the grand occasions in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium, Brown returned from injury to lead the Bulldogs to a victory as memorable as any football game ever played on the peninsula. Do you remember the goalposts? I do…
  • Besides all-conference and SoCon Offensive Player of the Year honors, Gene Brown was also named the South Carolina State Player of the Year for the 1988 season. He became just the third Bulldog to receive that designation, after Andrew Johnson and Brian Ruff (who picked up that honor twice).
  • He had 286 yards against VMI in the Oyster Bowl! On only 15 carries!
  • That win over Navy at Johnson Hagood Stadium was quite nice, too.

To more than a few observers, the 1988 season marked a turning point in Bulldog football. Supporters and players came to understand that, even in the “modern era” of college football, The Citadel could do more than just compete on the gridiron — the Bulldogs could win, and win big, and with a lot of style. The program’s identity (then and now) as an option team was solidified during that campaign.

The architect of that change in outlook was Charlie Taaffe. The player who best illustrated Taaffe’s vision, and who first demonstrated its power, was Gene Brown.

Saturday will also be Military Appreciation Day at The Citadel (well, the football promotion version; after all, every day is military appreciation day at The Citadel). When Furman last visited Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 2016, it was also Military Appreciation Day. Expect the usual festivities associated with the event; the “Block C” logo at midfield already sports red, white, and blue coloring.

Before getting too far into this week’s preview, I wanted to briefly discuss the victory over VMI. Obviously, retaining the coveted Silver Shako was paramount, and the team succeeded in getting the job done.

That said, it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. The Bulldogs still have issues that need to be fixed if they want to have a strong finish to the 2018 campaign.

When asked on his radio show about where the team could take away from the win over the Keydets, Brent Thompson mentioned “figuring out a way to win” (not a small thing, given the Bulldogs’ close losses this season). He also stated The Citadel had “played well at times on defense” and that he was pleased with some of the adjustments made on the offensive line.

Offensively, the Bulldogs finally produced some big running plays, including Jordan Black’s 71-yard TD dash in the third quarter.

The Citadel had three 20+ yard rushes versus VMI, which increased The Citadel’s total number this season of such running plays in SoCon action to seven. Those three plays included two touchdowns; the third long run led to a field goal.

I was slightly disappointed in the way the game ended from the Bulldogs’ perspective. The offense had a chance to essentially ice the game twice, and failed to do so. The defense allowed a big play TD in the fourth quarter, and later gave up a potential tying touchdown on a last-gasp drive by VMI.

The Citadel did enough to win the game, particularly on special teams, where the Bulldogs had a huge edge in the contest. Despite that, the Bulldogs still gave the Keydets a chance to force overtime. That isn’t the ideal recipe for long-term success.

However, you have to give the opponent credit too, even one that hasn’t won a game in a while.

Before the season began, I thought VMI might be truly atrocious, perhaps one of the very worst teams in all of FCS. While the Keydets haven’t been good, they are considerably more competitive than I expected.

VMI has played six league contests. In four of those, the Keydets lost by 3 or fewer points, and they could have easily won three of the matchups. Reece Udinski is a good quarterback, and he has a few playmakers with which to work. Defensively, VMI has really struggled, but opponents still have earn their points against them.

When VMI finally breaks through and wins a game, I think the team that loses to them will be very unhappy — but the squad that plays the Keydets in the following game shouldn’t be all that excited, either.

This is the first time since 2012 that The Citadel has played VMI and Furman in back-to-back weeks. That year, the Bulldogs defeated VMI 27-24 in Lexington, and followed that up with a 42-20 triumph over Furman in Greenville.

Before then, you have to go back to 1992 to find the last time The Citadel played the Keydets and Paladins in consecutive games. That season, the Bulldogs beat VMI 50-0 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, then won 20-14 at Furman to clinch the Southern Conference title.

Future scheduling report: Furman has the following games lined up against FBS opponents:

  • 2019: Georgia State and Virginia Tech (remember, next year FCS teams can play 12 regular-season games)
  • 2020: Tennessee
  • 2021: North Carolina State
  • 2022: Clemson
  • 2024: Mississippi
  • 2025: Clemson

The Citadel’s future FBS foes (so far) look like this:

  • 2019: Georgia Tech
  • 2020: Clemson
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina
  • 2024: Clemson
  • 2025: Mississippi

Clemson and Mississippi are basically switching out the two SoCon schools as their respective FCS matchups in 2024 and 2025.

As for non-conference FCS opponents over the next five years: Furman currently has scheduled matchups with Colgate (two games) and Kennesaw State; in addition, Clay Hendrix stated this week on his radio show that the Paladins will face Charleston Southern next year in Greenville.

Meanwhile, The Citadel will play Towson, Elon (two games), Charleston Southern (three games), and Campbell (two games). Both schools have slots available to add other non-conference contests.

From the preview of the game on Furman’s website:

The game will mark the 98th meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs in a series that began in 1913 and has been played annually since 1919, with a brief three-year cessation from 1943-45 when the two schools closed ranks with the rest of America and the Allies to fight Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito in World War II.

I couldn’t help but notice this blurb. For one thing, “Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito” is a phrase doesn’t make a lot of game previews. However, Furman used the same line in its game notes for the 2015 matchup.

The Citadel won that contest 38-17, spoiling Furman’s Homecoming, so perhaps history can repeat itself.

Furman is 2-4 overall so far this season, 2-2 in the Southern Conference. The Paladins had a very tough start to their 2018 campaign, beginning with a 48-7 loss to Clemson.

The loss to the Tigers was predictable, but a 45-7 beatdown at the hands of Elon the following week was not. The two teams had split their matchups the previous season, with the Paladins prevailing in a playoff game.

In this contest, though, the Phoenix had more rushing yards (275) than Furman had total yards (262). Elon added 173 yards passing, while the Paladins committed three turnovers and were never really in the game.

FU’s would-be first home game of the season (against Colgate) was cancelled, thanks to Hurricane Florence. The next Saturday, the Paladins blew a 27-6 second-half lead and lost at East Tennessee State, 29-27. The winning points for the Buccaneers came on a late-game safety with the score tied, something you don’t see every day.

Furman rebounded the following week, outlasting Western Carolina 44-38. It was the Paladins’ first home game of the season (on September 29), and the team responded by jumping out to a 31-10 lead, then hanging on down the stretch to pick up the victory. The game was filled with numerous big plays, including a kickoff return for a touchdown by FU’s Dejuan Bell.

After a bye, the Paladins then played their best game of the season, defeating Wofford 34-14. Starting quarterback Harris Roberts threw for three touchdown passes and rushed for two others. The Paladins’ defense kept the Terriers’ offense in check, in large part by getting off the field on third down (Wofford was only 3 for 11 converting third down attempts).

Last week, Samford defeated Furman 38-25. The Paladins led 19-9 early in the third quarter, but Samford proceeded to score four TDs in less than eleven minutes of game action to put the game away. The key play was a 58-yard fumble return for a touchdown by SU defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden.

Despite the loss, the most impressive performer during the game was arguably Furman placekicker/punter Grayson Atkins, who kicked three field goals of 50 or more yards, and averaged 45.8 yards on six punts.

Furman’s regular starting quarterback is Harris Roberts (6’4″, 209 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Cumming, Georgia. For the season, Roberts is 37-54 passing, with four TDs against two interceptions, averaging an outstanding 10.1 yards per attempt (this does not account for sacks).

The problem for the Paladins has been keeping Roberts on the field. He missed much of the Clemson game, all of the Elon game, and left the Samford game last week early in that contest.

Whether or not he plays this Saturday is a big question, and Furman is trying to keep The Citadel guessing. FU’s depth chart lists four potential starters at quarterback.

Everyone knows that when a team has two quarterbacks, it really has none. What everyone doesn’t know is that if a team has four quarterbacks, it really has -2.

Redshirt senior Kealand Dirks (6’0″, 250 lbs.) was a preseason first-team all-SoCon pick, after being a second-team selection following last season. Dirks is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this year after averaging 4.7 yards per rush in 2017.

Devin Wynn (6’0″, 195 lbs.) has just as many carries this year as Dirks, but has gained 118 more yards. The sophomore tailback got his first start last week versus Samford, running for 83 yards on 13 rushes.

Junior flanker Thomas Gordon (6’0″”, 174 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with sixteen. Gordon, a preseason second-team all-league choice, is averaging 16.2 yards per catch; he had a 77-yard touchdown catch against Samford.

Although listed as a backup, another receiver to watch is Dejuan Bell (5’9″, 160 lbs.), a freshman from North Augusta who was a high school track star. As noted in the overview of Furman’s season, Bell returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Western Carolina. He also had a 45-yard TD reception in that game.

Although he only has two receptions this season, by rule I have to mention Furman’s starting tight end, who will traditionally be seen running wide open across the middle of the field at least three times during this game. Jake Walker (6’4″, 228 lbs.), a sophomore, was a preseason second-team all-conference selection.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 283 lbs. Left guard Reed Kroeber (6’4″, 286 lbs.), a versatile lineman who began the year as the center (and who has also played tackle for the Paladins) was a preseason second-team all-league pick, and the redshirt sophomore arguably should have been on the preseason first team.

The linchpin of Furman’s defensive unit is senior noseguard Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 278 lbs.), who has started 36 games for the Paladins during his college career. Reid was a second-team all-conference choice after last season; it is a testament to how many outstanding defensive linemen there are in the league that Reid did not make first team, because he is really good.

Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 225 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, with 56. The sophomore linebacker was a preseason first-team All-SoCon pick. He also has one of the Paladins’ three interceptions this season.

Middle linebacker Donavan Perryman (6’2″, 225 lbs.) has 46 stops on the campaign. Perryman is a sophomore from Rock Hill.

Although not listed as a starter, Adrian Hope (6’1″, 218 lbs.) warrants mentioning. He has seven sacks from the “Bandit” position (including three against Wofford). Hope is a redshirt freshman from Ocala, Florida, who had 56 career sacks in high school.

Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 178 lbs.) was a second-team all-conference pick after last season, and the senior from Nashville was a preseason first-team selection this year. The strong safety has 31 career starts.

As discussed earlier, Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 187 lbs.) handles both the placekicking and punting duties for the Paladins, and handles them very well. The sophomore from Inman is 7 for 9 on field goal tries this year, with his two misses from 48 and 50 yards, and the three aforementioned makes of 50+. Atkins also handles kickoffs, and has a touchback rate of 51.6%.

Besides returning kicks, Dejuan Bell is now listed as the primary punt returner for Furman.

Evan Vaughn (6’2″, 227 lbs.) is in his third season as the Paladins’ long snapper. He is a junior from Honea Path.

Reese Vita (6’1″, 203 lbs.), the holder on placements, is a redshirt junior quarterback from Sarasota. He somehow was not listed as a potential starting QB on Furman’s depth chart this week, surely a missed opportunity.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly cloudy, with a 20% chance of showers, and highs in the upper 60s.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 54 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Wofford is a 9-point favorite over Mercer; VMI is a 17 1/2 point underdog at Chattanooga; and East Tennessee State is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina.

Samford is off this week.

Those lines are all as of Thursday evening.

– Also of note:  Towson is a 1-point underdog at Delaware, while Charleston Southern is a 23-point underdog against Kennesaw State.

Alabama is off this week, preparing for its November 3 contest at LSU — a night game in Baton Rouge.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 63rd in FCS. Furman is ranked 44th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 40% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 28.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (8th), Elon (12th), Colgate (14th), Kennesaw State (18th), Yale (21st), Wofford (26th), Samford (34th), Chattanooga (36th), North Carolina A&T (43rd), Mercer (48th), East Tennessee State (49th), San Diego (62nd), Charleston Southern (79th), Western Carolina (85th), Savannah State (99th), South Carolina State (101st), VMI (105th), Hampton (109th), Presbyterian (116th), Gardner-Webb (117th), Davidson (118th), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, Dartmouth, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota State.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio State. Some other notables:  Texas is 12th, UCF 13th, Texas A&M 14th, North Carolina State 18th, Missouri 21st, Auburn 23rd, Mississippi State 25th, South Carolina 27th, Duke 33rd, Boston College 34th, Virginia 36th, Appalachian State 37th, Army 39th, Virginia Tech 46th, Tennessee 52nd, Florida State 53rd, Maryland 55th, Vanderbilt 61st, Georgia Tech 66th, Wake Forest 67th, North Texas 76th, Georgia Southern 81st, Air Force 83rd, Toledo 86th, Arkansas 93rd, North Carolina 95th, Coastal Carolina 100th, Navy 104th, Liberty 106th, Old Dominion 113th, Charlotte 118th, UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Furman’s notable alumni:  philologist Maurice Bloomfield, opera singer Elizabeth Bishop, and soccer player/fisherman/rapper Clint Dempsey.

– Furman’s roster includes 35 players from Georgia. Other states represented on its squad:  North Carolina (15 players), South Carolina (15), Tennessee (10), Florida (9), Alabama (6), Maryland (4), Ohio (2), and Virginia (1).

While Furman has 15 players who attended 14 different high schools in South Carolina (two Paladins went to Dreher), none of them are graduates of legendary gridiron steamroller Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This is a staggering omission that will undoubtedly have a permanently negative impact on the FU football program, and for that matter the university as a whole. Ignoring the mighty maroon and orange is no way to run an institution.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep is very similar to the one released for the VMI game. There are two changes, both due to an injury to Rod Johnson, who may not play the rest of the season. As a result, Khafari Buffalo is listed as one of the Bulldogs’ two kick returners, while Dante Smith is now a potential starter at one of the A-back positions.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-8-1 for games played on October 27. The Bulldogs are 5-1-1 at home on that date. A brief review of a few of the contests, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1951:  Before a Parents’ Day crowd of 6,085, The Citadel defeated Presbyterian 35-0. Starting quarterback Buddy Friedlin ran for two touchdowns, including a 62-yard sprint down the sideline. Other Bulldogs to score that day: Rudy Willcox, Curtis Bozeman, and Johnny Mamajek (who rushed for 121 yards on 15 carries). The game was described as a “rough and tumble” affair and featured a post-game fistfight between two opposing linemen.
  • 1984:  In Boone, North Carolina, The Citadel beat Appalachian State 21-5, the fourth straight victory for the Bulldogs. While the Mountaineers outgained the Bulldogs, four turnovers by App State proved costly. Cliff Walters intercepted a pass to set up one TD, and another Bulldogs score came after Warren McGrier recovered a fumbled punt. Robert Hill threw a touchdown pass to Victor Frazier and ran for another; the third TD for The Citadel came on a run by Mike Lewis.
  • 1990:  One week following the Bulldogs’ upset of South Carolina, Jack Douglas ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-15 victory over East Tennessee State. The 200 yards rushing would prove to be a career high for Douglas, who also threw a pass to Cornell Caldwell for 64 yards. Others scoring TDs for The Citadel that day: Erick Little and Everette Sands. Torrence Forney, fresh off the most famous recovered onside kick in Bulldog history, intercepted two passes. Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium that afternoon: 13,217.

– Kickoff for that 1990 contest was at the somewhat unusual time of 4:00 pm ET. The Citadel experimented with that start time for a few games. Why, you ask?

Well, according a newspaper column by the estimable Ken Burger, the Downtown Merchants Association complained to the school that earlier kickoff times were hurting downtown businesses, while the Restaurant Association claimed night games had a negative effect on the local dinner trade.

You just can’t please everybody.

– The excerpt from The Post and Courier at the top of this post is from the game story of The Citadel’s 13-9 win over Furman in 1975. I just wanted to note that, despite neither team being in contention for a league crown, the article was on page A-1 of the newspaper. The front page also featured a large photo of a play from the game.

Attendance that afternoon (it was Homecoming): 17,345. Defensive stars from the game for the Bulldogs included Brian Ruff (nine tackles, two fumble recoveries), Tony Starks, and Ron Shelley. The Citadel clinched the victory when Cary Vick forced a fumble on a sack, which was recovered by David Sollazzo.

– Completed unrelated to sports, and maybe anything else: While researching this post, I learned that for the 1951-52 school year, The Citadel’s appropriation from the state was $825,000.

Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs played their poorest game in several seasons. It was disappointing, and unacceptable.

I don’t know if The Citadel will win this week, but I am very confident that the squad will put in a much better performance than it did last season.

Whatever happens at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday, we’ll be watching.