2013 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Elon

The Citadel at Elon, to be played in Elon, North Carolina, at Rhodes Stadium, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 9. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Elon game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jason Swepson on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Sunday Lifts” — The Citadel Strength and Conditioning

Vinny Miller had a good game against Samford

Elon video highlights against Chattanooga

Elon video highlights against Appalachian State

No major changes for Elon during its bye week

Elon football wasn’t supposed to struggle like this. Under Pete Lembo, the Phoenix enjoyed a solid five-year run, contending for the Southern Conference title several times. While Elon never could quite finish first, the school did make an appearance in the FCS playoffs in 2009.

It wasn’t all seashells and balloons for Lembo, possibly the only SoCon coach to have had one of his own players attempt to fight him on the sidelines during a game. However, Lembo parlayed his fine work at Elon into a gig at Ball State, where he has continued to win games (fashioning a 24-11 record in Muncie through Wednesday’s action).

His successor, Jason Swepson, hasn’t been so lucky. Swepson is now 10-21 in his career as the Elon head man.

Maybe, though, it’s less about Swepson and more about the program. In the five seasons prior to Lembo’s arrival, Elon’s cumulative record on the gridiron was 14-42.

It could be that with the way the football program is currently constituted, Elon cannot win consistently at the D-1 level. That isn’t what its upwardly mobile administration wants to hear, of course.

“This is going to be a sixty-minute football game….probably go into overtime.” — Elon head coach Jason Swepson, referring to his squad’s upcoming game against The Citadel.

Playing a sixty-minute game has been a problem for the Phoenix, at least in terms of offense. In six of Elon’s eight games against D-1 opposition, it has failed to score a touchdown in the second half.

Elon was shut out by Georgia Tech, 70-0, a game which featured a running clock. The Phoenix managed a third-quarter TD versus North Carolina A&T but lost, 23-10.

After scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State, no Phoenix player since then has entered the end zone in the second half. That’s a four-game stretch which includes an OT loss to Western Carolina, breaking a 33-game Catamount losing streak versus Division I opponents.

The WCU setback dropped Elon to 2-7 on the season. After being off last week, the Phoenix is finishing the 2013 season with home matchups versus The Citadel and Georgia Southern before travelling to Birmingham to face Samford.

Of the 122 schools listed in the FCS statistical database, Elon is 89th in scoring offense — and also 89th in scoring defense.

The run/pass ratio for the Phoenix from last year to this season is essentially unchanged. In 2012, 53% of Elon’s plays from scrimmage were passes; this year, 52%.

Elon’s yards per rush has increased from 2.58 (in 2012) to 3.90 (this season), a step forward. However, its yards per pass has declined from 7.99 to 6.22. Thus, its yards per play has been reduced from 5.4 to 5.1.

The Phoenix’s offense has not been particularly good in the red zone, averaging 4.65 points per trip. In the SoCon, only Furman and The Citadel have fared worse inside the 20. (The Bulldogs are last in the league in red zone points efficiency, at just 4.55 points per trip.)

Elon is next-to-last in the league in offensive third down conversion rate, at just 33.6%.

The Phoenix ranks next-to-last in the SoCon in total defense, ahead of only Western Carolina. It is dead last in the league in pass defense (though its defensive pass efficiency ranking is more respectable).

Elon is seventh in the league in rushing defense. In general, the Phoenix D has struggled to get off the field. While its defensive third down conversion rate is middle-of-the-pack, Elon has allowed more first downs than every league team save WCU.

Elon has been okay when it comes to turnover margin (+1 for the season).

Also, for whatever reason, opponents are more likely to commit penalties when playing Elon than most other teams. This reminds me a little bit of last year’s VMI team.

That worries me because the game in Lexington was the one time last season The Citadel committed an unusual number of infractions. The lack of discipline almost cost the Bulldogs the contest.

Elon quarterback Mike Quinn is a junior in his first year as the starter. He has completed 64% of his passes, with 14 TDs and only 5 interceptions. Quinn is currently on a streak of 207 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, which is a single-season SoCon record.

He is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, though, which actually isn’t much higher than what The Citadel’s passers have averaged (5.9).

The Phoenix has three running backs who each have between 300 and 400 yards rushing. Tracy Coppedge has the best yards per carry average of the trio, but he also has lost four fumbles.

Rasaun Rorie has been Elon’s leading receiver. He has 51 catches, with four of those going for touchdowns. Kierre Brown, a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick, has 38 receptions out of the slot. Tight end Doug Warrick has three TD catches.

Elon’s offensive line averages about 6’4″, 282 lbs. None of the five starters weighs 300+ lbs. Center Clay Johnson was a preseason second-team all-conference selection.

The Phoenix will be seeing a triple option team for the third time this season, having already faced Georgia Tech and Wofford. During the SoCon teleconference, Jason Swepson said Elon would use two different defensive fronts against The Citadel.

He also mentioned that Elon is “banged up on defense.” On Saturday, the Phoenix will be without the services of defensive end Jordan Jones and defensive back Akeem Langham.

Jones, suffering from a high ankle sprain, has 34 career starts, including the first eight games of 2013. Langham has started five games this season, four at cornerback and one at strong safety. His football career may be in jeopardy after sustaining two concussions in a four-week span (and at least his third while in college).

Middle linebacker Jonathan Spain is probably Elon’s best defensive player. A preseason first-team All-SoCon selection, Spain is the second-leading tackler for the Phoenix.

Fellow linebacker Alexander Dawson leads the team in stops, with 61. Free safety Chandler Wrightenberry has been credited with 47 tackles.

John Silas hasn’t started a game yet for Elon, but the backup linebacker has 48 tackles. Also of note: Elon has had three different players start at nosetackle this season.

Elon’s placekicker is freshman John Gallagher. He is 7-16 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 48.

Gallagher also kicks off for the Phoenix; 19 of his 41 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. The Phoenix leads the SoCon in kickoff coverage.

David Petroni was the SoCon special teams player of the week in Elon’s loss to Appalachian State, and may have had an even better game in the Phoenix’s win over Furman.

In that contest, FU’s average starting field position was its own 19-yard line, and Petroni’s performance was a big part of the reason why the Paladins faced a “long field” much of the afternoon. For the season, he has placed 28 punts inside the 20-yard line (out of 53 kicks).

Kierre Brown is Elon’s primary kick returner, while cornerback David Wood has been the first choice for returning punts.

Odds and ends:

– Prior to last year’s victory over Elon, The Citadel had lost three straight Homecoming games. After beating Samford on Saturday, the program is on a two-game Homecoming winning streak, which is definitely preferable.

– That win over the Phoenix broke a four-game slide in the series, which The Citadel currently leads 7-5. After Saturday’s game, it may be a long time before the schools meet again on the gridiron, with Elon moving to the CAA after this school year.

– Speaking of the CAA, Elon released its 2014 league schedule this week. It appears the school was given a break in terms of travel for next season. However, 2015 is likely to be a different story, with the Phoenix probably making trips to New Hampshire, Maine, Stony Brook, and (in non-conference play) Boston College.

Logan Airport could be Elon football’s home-away-from-home in 2015.

– Elon is averaging 8,430 fans per home game. Against Chattanooga in the most recent contest at Rhodes Stadium, the attendance was 6,547.

Last year, Elon only drew 6,158 for a game versus Furman, leading to Jason Swepson’s immortal comment that “it felt like a coffin out there.” It will be interesting to see if the atmosphere on Saturday is equally as funereal.

– I’ve written about Elon’s move to the CAA before, as part of a discussion about the overall restructuring of the Southern Conference. Maybe this move will work out for the school, but things could get difficult in a hurry for Elon.

That would be especially true if the CAA goes through even more membership changes. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least three schools currently competing in football in the CAA leave the conference in the next two years.

– Darien Robinson caught eight passes last week, most of them of the shovel-pass variety. As per The Citadel’s game notes, that’s the most receptions for a Bulldog since Kevin Higgins switched to the triple option in 2010.

Robinson entered the game with 17 career receptions.

– One of Robinson’s catches on Saturday came from a pass thrown by Jake Stenson. With that completed pass, Stenson now has a passer efficiency rating of 234.40.

– Ryan Bednar, injured in the game against Samford, is listed on the two-deep and is expected to play.

Saturday will be the final conference game of the year for The Citadel, and while the season has not lived up to expectations, the Bulldogs will have a chance to even their SoCon record at 4-4. Finishing .500 in the league wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

It is also a chance to win a game at a place where The Citadel has struggled in recent years, having not won at Rhodes Stadium since 2006. In 2011, the Bulldogs lost in overtime, but the 2009 game was a debacle. (Among other things, Elon had 29 first downs to The Citadel’s 5.)

Elon has had two weeks to prepare for the triple option, but has also had two weeks to think about its loss to Western Carolina. That might not be ideal.

I really enjoyed what I saw from the Bulldogs against Samford — not just the win, but the resolve. Now the team needs to continue that push on the road.

That’s not always easy, but I like The Citadel’s chances on Saturday.

2013 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

The Citadel vs. Appalachian State, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 5. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Appalachian State game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Scott Satterfield on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

Unigate and the Unigate Update

An all-star game called the “Medal of Honor Bowl” will be played at Johnson Hagood Stadium in January 2014

Jake Stenson is having a nice season

My brief review of the Furman game, with less-than-stellar pictures, some thoughts on Unigate, and an examination of first-half playcalling

At the beginning of the season, this next group of games (Appalachian State, at Georgia Southern, at Chattanooga, Samford) was believed to be the stretch that would determine whether or not The Citadel was a legitimate contender for a playoff berth and/or a Southern Conference championship. Obviously things have changed.

Barring a complete turnaround, this is going to be a very disappointing season for the Bulldogs. Historically disappointing, even. There may have been a year with higher expectations that went south in a hurry, but I honestly don’t remember one.

What makes it particularly irksome, I think, is the wasted opportunity. This is clearly the weakest the SoCon has been in many years. There have been past teams at The Citadel with promise that had to go toe-to-toe with excellent conference opponents on a weekly basis, and had a record which suffered as a result. That isn’t the case this year.

I am hard-pressed to find any positives from the loss to Furman. I don’t think the Paladins are very good this season, which makes The Citadel’s struggles on both sides of the ball even more frustrating.

Offensively, the Bulldogs could not move the ball on a young and thin Furman defense. Meanwhile, The Citadel’s D allowed several big plays through the air and continued a recent tradition of not getting consistent pressure on the quarterback or forcing any turnovers.

Each team had the ball four times in the “red zone”. Furman scored three touchdowns and a field goal when it got close to the goal line. The Citadel only managed one TD and one field goal when it moved the ball inside the 20.

That has been part of the story of this season. The CItadel’s opponents have an 80% TD rate in the red zone. The Citadel’s offensive TD rate is only 57%.

I referenced the first-half playcalling in my prior post. I still don’t really understand it.

Darien Robinson wound up with 14 carries for 63 yards, not a great deal of yardage, but not exactly a sign that he was “bottled up” either. A lot of the postgame discussion, though, centered around Furman having “nine men in the box”, which forced The Citadel into trying other options.

I am not so sure. It seems to me the coaching staff planned on calling for first-down throws (among other things) before determining whether or not the Paladins could stop the ground attack. If they did, one wonders why they didn’t use the better passer of the two Bulldog QBs, Aaron Miller, to execute that strategy.

I’m not saying they should have started Miller, however. I’m saying I think focusing on the run game from the start of the contest was the way to go. That’s what the triple option is all about.

For whatever reason, Furman never seemed to bite hard on any play-action. It could be because the Paladins could easily read it, or it could be that Furman’s defense just didn’t respect The Citadel’s passing threat. Maybe both. I don’t know.

When I look at Appalachian State’s football profile, including statistics, I see a team that has some things in common with The Citadel.

The Citadel is 0-3 at Johnson Hagood Stadium this year, the first time the Bulldogs have lost their first three home games in a season since 1965, when The Citadel started off 0-5 at home before winning its season finale against Furman. (Two of those opening three losses in 1965 were to South Carolina and West Virginia, though.)

Appalachian State is 0-2 in Boone this year, and has lost five of its last eight games at home. One of those five losses was The Citadel’s 52-28 whipping of the Mountaineers last season, a game in which the Bulldogs amassed 618 yards of total offense.

The last time App started a season 1-3 was ten years ago, in 2003, but it closed strong that year and finished 7-4.

There is considerable angst in Mountaineer country. It’s understandable. This is a program making a leap of faith, and a tough start in its initial transition season has fans nervous.

Gone is the longtime coach. Gone after this season is the known quantity that is life in the FCS. Suddenly, the yearly string of (often easy) victories has gone as well.

However, it is a bit early to write off Appalachian State, which has lost to three teams with a combined record of 11-1. Noteworthy as well: the Mountaineers haven’t lost to an FCS team with a losing record since 2004.

I won’t pretend to have an insider’s perspective on what went down with Jerry Moore. I only know what I’ve read, and some of those accounts have been conflicting.

It reminds me vaguely of the last days at South Carolina of Frank McGuire, a legendary coach who hung on for a little too long. He was then pushed out of his job in a manner that made more than a few people uncomfortable.

Scott Satterfield was the natural choice to take over. He was a quarterback for App in the mid-1990s, and a coach with the program for many years after that, all on the offensive side of the ledger (including six years as the QB coach and last season as the offensive coordinator).

The question, of course, is if Satterfield has what it takes to successfully lead Appalachian State into FBS play as a first-time head coach. The one thing I can say is his first four games in a transition year were never going to answer that question — actually, this season as a whole won’t answer it.

Appalachian State’s last visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 2011, also came on Parents’ Day. In that game, Jamal Londry-Jackson made his first career start for the Mountaineers at quarterback, and for quite a while it appeared he would never throw an incomplete pass.

He completed his first 15 throws in that contest as App State raced out to a 49-14 lead, before The Citadel made a game of it with a late flurry of TDs (the final was 49-42). The Mountaineers scored on seven of their first eight possessions that day.

Londry-Jackson was the preseason SoCon player of the year, but he has split time at quarterback this season with Kameron Bryant. Londry-Jackson is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Whether he will return to the form that made him an all-conference performer is hard to say, though I wouldn’t bet against it.

Bryant is also returning from a knee injury, one he suffered last season against Coastal Carolina. Statistically, Bryant has been more effective so far this year than Londry-Jackson, as he has thrown five touchdown passes while only being picked off once (Londry-Jackson has two TDs and two INTs) while rushing for 56 yards on 15 carries (Londry-Jackson has only 15 yards on the same number of rushes). Bryant also has 150 more passing yards in three fewer pass attempts.

The Mountaineers have a plethora of quality wideouts, including sophomore Sean Price, an All-American candidate when he plays. Price missed the first two games of the season due to off-field issues, but he has had 99 (Elon) and 98 (Charleston Southern) yards receiving in App’s last two games. Price is an elite wide receiver and a very tough matchup for any team. There is little doubt Appalachian State will throw several deep balls his way against The Citadel, especially after seeing what Furman was able to do last week.

It only seems like Tony Washington and Andrew Peacock have been catching passes for the Mountaineers for 10 years. Both are now seniors. Washington is a big-play threat who also doubles as App’s kick returner (he had a 51-yard kick return against the Bulldogs last season). Peacock is a fine possession receiver who can also throw the ball if you’re not paying attention (he tossed two TD passes last season). These guys are good.

The Mountaineers may not look to throw to their tight end this week, as there is uncertainty at the position. Two different players have started at tight end for App in the last two games, and they are both injured.

At running back, Appalachian State features Marcus Cox, who has been the SoCon freshman of the week for the past two weeks. Against Charleston Southern, he ran effectively (87 yards) and caught passes out of the backfield (4 for 91 yards). The previous week, Cox rushed for 159 yards — and had 149 yards more receiving. Amazingly, Cox was the first player in App’s football history to have 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.

Last season, Appalachian State used a mix-and-match approach to its offensive line, but so far this season the same group of five players has started every game for the Mountaineers. App’s two offensive tackles are both 6’6″; one of them, right tackle Will Corbin, is the only starting lineman who weighs more than 300 lbs. (he checks in at 311 lbs.). Incidentally, Appalachian State is only averaging 4.0 yards per rush so far this season.

Satterfield brought in a defensive coordinator who is new to the Mountaineers, but not to the SoCon. Nate Woody was the DC at Wofford for 13 years before making the move to Boone. He has changed App’s scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 (though Kevin Higgins referred to it on his coaches’ show as a 5-2).

Ronald Blair is the starter at one of the defensive end spots on App’s two-deep, but the school’s game notes list him as “doubtful” due to a combination of injury and discipline problems. Blair is the Mountaineers’ most experienced defensive lineman. The other end, Deuce Robinson, is a tall (6’5″), active player.

Another lineman to watch is reserve Olawale Dada, a redshirt freshman who was born in Nigeria but moved with his family to the U.S. at age 2. Dada had 12 tackles last week and may be something of a late bloomer, having only started playing football as a sophomore in high school.

App’s starting inside linebackers, John Law and Karl Anderson, currently rank 1-2 in the SoCon in tackles made. Anderson is a fifth-year senior, while Law took a medical redshirt last year during what would have been his freshman campaign. He somehow suffered a serious ankle injury while getting off the team bus at Chattanooga. You’ve got to watch your step when you’re in the Scenic City.

Of the eight defensive backs on the two-deep for the Mountaineers, six are freshmen or sophomores. The lone senior is cornerback Rodger Walker, who missed time last season while coping with a blood disorder.

As mentioned earlier, Tony Washington is the primary kick returner for Appalachian State. He also returns punts for the Mountaineers, and is effective in both roles.

Sam Martin, App’s longtime punter, now does that job for the Detroit Lions. His replacement is a true freshman walkon, Bentlee Critcher.

The Mountaineers suffered a blocked punt against Montana, and had another partially blocked by North Carolina A&T.

Drew Stewart, the placekicker for parts of both 2011 and 2012, is back in the role for 2013. He is 4 for 6 in field goal attempts through four games this season.

Also worth mentioning:

– There were only nine possessions for each team in the Charleston Southern-Appalachian State game, mainly due to a couple of extraordinary drives by the Buccaneers. CSU’s second drive lasted 17 plays and over nine minutes. Its next-to-last drive lasted 16 plays and 8:50.

Only one of App’s nine drives took more than 2:30 off the clock. As a result, Charleston Southern dominated time of possession, holding the ball on offense for over 42 minutes.

The Mountaineers really struggled defensively on third down. Charleston Southern was 10 for 18 on third-down conversions, including three picked up thanks to App State penalties. Four times the Buccaneers went for it on fourth down after not converting on third down; CSU was 4-4 in that situation.

– While The Citadel has not fared well offensively or defensively in red zone situations, Appalachian State has been good on defense inside the 20 (52% TD rate), but not so much on offense (a TD rate of 56%).

I have no idea how things will play out on Saturday. App’s offense is not a good matchup for The Citadel’s defense, but that was true last year as well and the Bulldogs acquitted themselves nicely in Boone. The defense was helped a lot by the offense’s ability to make big plays, particularly on third down. Just to refresh your memory (and mine):

Four times against Appalachian State, the Bulldogs were faced with a third down needing six yards or more to move the chains. In fact, all four of those conversion attempts were 3rd-and-8 or longer. The Citadel’s average gain on the four plays? 36.25 yards, with two of them resulting in touchdowns…

That’s not really something you can count on every game. However, the defensive performance that day could be.

The Mountaineers had nine full possessions in [the first three quarters] and were limited to 239 yards of total offense. Five of the nine App drives ended in punts, one in an interception, and another on a lost fumble. Six of those non-scoring drives were over in five or fewer plays, so the defense played its role in The Citadel’s huge edge in time of possession (the Bulldogs had the ball for over 38 minutes in the contest).

The defense did an excellent job preventing [Jamal Londry-Jackson] from making big plays (his longest pass completion of the day was only 15 yards).

The Citadel put a lot of pressure on the quarterback that day and doing so again this year is an absolute must if the Bulldogs have any hope of containing the Mountaineers’ attack. App won’t make the mistake of not throwing deep this year.

Saturday is Parents’ Day at The Citadel, part of a big weekend at the military college. I’m not sure how many people will be in attendance inside Johnson Hagood Stadium when the game begins. I’m confident the tailgating tents will be overflowing, however.

Appalachian State is 1-3, but it’s not really the kind of 1-3 that makes you think the Mountaineers are about to go into the tank. It’s more a 1-3 along the lines of “haven’t quite put things together yet, but probably will”. If App State puts things together on Saturday, it could be a long day for The Citadel.

However, there is talent on the Bulldog roster too, and the poor season to date doesn’t change that. An outstanding performance like the one in Boone last season is well within The Citadel’s capabilities.

Like everyone sitting on the home side this Saturday, I hope to see it.

Game Review, 2012: Elon

The Citadel 38, Elon 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Game story, Burlington Times-News

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

The Citadel’s release

Kevin Higgins’ postgame news conference (with Darien Robinson)

Postgame locker room speech

WCSC-TV story on the game (with video highlights)

Box score

The weather was great, the atmosphere was festive, the tailgating was ridiculous, and the Bulldogs won on Homecoming. All in all, it was a very good day to be back at The Citadel.

Was I worried when Elon crawled back from a 25-point deficit to get within a touchdown? Sure. I definitely didn’t want to be in the stands to witness the biggest blown lead in The Citadel’s football history.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, thanks to a 14-play drive that didn’t end until Darien Robinson crashed into the end zone with 2:33 remaining, essentially icing the game. Afterwards, Robinson described Kevin Higgins’ pep talk to the offense before the drive:

Coach got his message across in no uncertain terms. He let us know, we had to establish ourselves on that drive.

Heh…”in no uncertain terms.” Robinson certainly took the message to heart, carrying the ball nine times during the possession (which lasted over six minutes and featured nothing but running plays). He gained 54 of his 178 yards for the day on those nine rushes. Of the final ten plays on the drive, eight were runs by Robinson.

The offensive line came to play at the end, too, especially Mike Sellers, who was taking names on a consistent basis.

I was struck by how physical the game was, from both sides. It took its toll on some of the participants. Elon appeared to get the worst of things, most notably when Phoenix running back Karl Bostick was hurt on a rather brutal play in which he got bent over backwards while being tackled.

Bostick’s injury was to his ankle and may have been season-ending, according to Elon coach Jason Swepson. I was afraid that might be the case when it happened.

I think Elon’s players deserve some credit for not quitting after falling behind 31-6 early in the third quarter, especially after the way the first half ended. That had to have been as crushing a way to go into a locker room for the break as one could imagine.

Swepson made a mistake managing the clock at the end of the half, and the Bulldogs took full advantage. Kevin Higgins could have let the half end, and no one would have criticized him, but he elected to run a play and see what would happen. He made an intelligent call, the quarterback draw, and was rewarded. Three plays later, The Citadel would pull off a “Hail Mary”.

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen The Citadel connect on a Hail Mary in person. At least, I don’t recall another one. I do remember, however, seeing the Bulldogs score a touchdown on the final play of the first half at Johnson Hagood Stadium on one other occasion.

That would have been November 28, 1992. With seven seconds remaining in the first half, The Citadel led North Carolina A&T 13-0 in the first round of the I-AA playoffs. The Aggies had the ball and were inside the Bulldogs’ 30-yard-line, but Tracey Gamble sacked the A&T quarterback, who fumbled. Todd Lair picked up the loose pigskin and rumbled 65 yards for a TD.

As it happens, the 1992 team was honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. Perhaps there was a little magic left over from that ’92 squad…

I linked above to The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery of the game, but just in case anyone missed it, here is a nice shot of Matt Thompson making the reception on the Hail Mary: Link

Having the presence of mind to turn and leap into the end zone may have been more impressive than the catch itself — and the catch was great.

The crowd at Johnson Hagood was announced as 14,853. There was no official total to be had for the number of tailgaters, of course. I really don’t know how many people were tailgating who never entered the stadium. If I said at least 3,000, would that be an outrageous guess? Or would it be a conservative estimate?

Oh, and the flyover was outstanding.

Complaints dept.:

– The Citadel let Elon back into the game by unaccountably bogging down on offense in the second half. After scoring a TD on its opening drive of the stanza, the Bulldogs’ next four drives went like this: lost fumble, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out. A better team may have made The Citadel pay for losing its offensive momentum.

– The defense played well in the first half, but was also a bit lucky. Thomas Wilson failed to connect with Bostick on what would have been a TD pass on the Phoenix’s first possession. Later in the half, the Bulldogs blew a coverage, but Wilson overthrew Aaron Mellette, missing out on a long TD pass.

– The Hail Mary disguised the fact that the rest of the Bulldogs’ passing game was suboptimal on Saturday. Aside from that one play, The Citadel was 1-9 passing for 15 yards.

– I thought the Bulldogs’ timing on pitches seemed a little off at times on Saturday. The Citadel lost a fumble on an errant pitch. Another semi-wayward toss was gathered in by Terrance Martin, who turned it into a rather nimble six-yard run.

Employees of the Week dept:

– Darien Robinson

– Mike Sellers

– Brandon McCladdie, for his outstanding coverage of Aaron Mellette, who had caught at least two touchdown passes in his previous six games. Mellette had no TDs on Saturday and had no truly big plays.

Best play I haven’t mentioned yet: Douglas German made a memorable special teams tackle on The Citadel’s final kickoff. I’m not sure what adjective to use to describe it. I think I’ll go with “sudden”.

Now the Bulldogs are just one win away from clinching a winning season, which was the baseline goal entering the 2012 campaign. The first chance to get win #6 comes next Saturday at VMI, as The Citadel looks to retain the coveted Silver Shako.

There is still a possibility the Bulldogs could sneak into the FCS playoffs with two more victories, although the other SoCon results from this weekend probably reduced the chances of that happening. At any rate, this is VMI week. There is no reason to concentrate on anything else.

Below are photos from Saturday. I seem to be getting worse every week taking pictures. Most of the game action shots are from the first half, as I didn’t have much luck with the camera after halftime.

2012 Football, Week 8: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel at Wofford, to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 27.  The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Paul Maguire supplying the analysis. It can also be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Wofford game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show (following the game against Western Carolina), Part 1 and Part 2

Kevin Higgins’ 10/22 press conference quotes

Mike Ayers on this week’s SoCon teleconference

Parking map for Gibbs Stadium

Catching up with…all-SoCon punter and fisherman Cass Couey

Catch up with Darien Robinson, too

This is the sixth time in the last seven years the game between The Citadel and Wofford will be on TV and/or ESPN3.com. It has been on SportSouth, it has been on SCETV, and now it’s on ESPN3, the second time the Bulldogs have been on that streaming service this season.

Paul Maguire was the analyst when The Citadel played NC State, and he will be again on Saturday. During the NCSU game he claimed in jest that his partner in the booth, Mike Gleason, was the offspring of Jackie Gleason. Perhaps this week he will try to suggest that Darren Goldwater is the son of Barry Goldwater. We can only hope.

While I can’t find the records (which is driving me crazy), I believe that The Citadel has only won one televised game during the Kevin Higgins era. It would be nice to turn that around this weekend.

Kevin Higgins has had no answers for Wofford. In the seven games the Bulldogs have played the Terriers since he became head coach of The Citadel, Wofford has won by an average score of 34-14, never failing to put at least 28 points on the board. It doesn’t matter if the Terriers have been good or bad (the 2009 team was 3-8 but still beat The Citadel by 26).

Last year, I wrote about what I felt was a possible lack of defensive aggression for The Citadel when it plays Wofford. In last season’s matchup, Wofford did not commit a turnover, and also was not penalized. That’s a rare combination. Of course, Wofford almost never gets penalized against The Citadel.

In the last four meetings between the two teams, the Terriers have committed a total of five penalties, for thirty yards (and one of the penalties was an intentional delay-of-game to set up a punt).

While I think the Bulldog D needs to be more aggressive, I am not sure it can afford to be. As everyone knows, The Citadel is starting to run out of linebackers, with Yemi Oyegunle the latest to be lost for the season. Oyegunle has a torn groin muscle, which does not sound particularly pleasant.

Getting the injury-ravaged defense ready for Wofford is going to be a tall order, even with an extra week to prepare. I am not overly confident on that front, especially after watching Western Carolina’s offense go up and the down the field against the Bulldogs two weeks ago.

One positive I came up with after crunching some numbers: The Citadel has generally not let a loss to Wofford ruin the rest of the season. The Bulldogs are only 2-5 during Higgins’ tenure after losing to the Terriers, but the overall record post-Wofford in that seven-year time frame is a respectable 13-13.

Wofford leads the league (and the nation) in rushing offense, at 408.3 yards per game. The Terriers also lead the SoCon in total offense, scoring offense, punt return average, field goal percentage (a perfect 8-8), offensive third-down conversion percentage, turnover margin, and both “red zone” offense and defense scoring percentage.

Wofford is second in the conference in offensive pass efficiency, penalties, and offensive sacks allowed (no surprise that the three league triple option teams are 1-2-3 in the last category).

All of that is very impressive, and goes a long way to explaining the Terriers’ 6-1 record. The only caveat is Wofford’s early-season schedule did not feature particularly strong opposition. Wofford has played Gardner-Webb, Lincoln (a Division II school located in Pennsylvania), Western Carolina, Elon, Furman, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State (in that order).

The Terriers rushed for 402 yards against Gardner-Webb and actually increased their rushing yardage totals for each of the next two weeks. That isn’t easy to do when you start off with a 400-yard effort. Wofford rushed for 449 yards against Lincoln and a staggering 590 yards versus Western Carolina.

The following week, Elon “held” the Terriers to 500 yards rushing. Running back Eric Breitenstein had a 321-yard rushing day for the Terriers in that game. Rushing totals for Wofford in its last three games: 303 (against Furman), 221 (Georgia Southern, a game the Terriers lost 17-9), and 393 (Appalachian State).

Nobody has stopped Breitenstein yet this season. He only carried the ball five times against Lincoln because there was no need to use him, but he has rushed for at least 150 yards in four of Wofford’s other six games, and ran for over 100 yards in the other two contests.

While Breitenstein has been a constant, Wofford is going to be challenged over the remainder of the season to maintain its offensive efficiency, due to the loss of some key players due to injury. Left tackle Calvin Cantrell will miss his second straight game on Saturday due to a concussion, while slotback Donovan Johnson and backup quarterback Michael Weimer (who has played quite a bit for the Terriers) are also not expected to see the field.

Jared Singleton, Wofford’s center, is hurt but listed on the two-deep and will probably play. Left guard Tymeco Gregory also got banged up in the game against Appalachian State, but is expected to start.

The injury list for Wofford extends to its defense, as linebacker Kevin Thomas (who has started three games for the Terriers and is third on the team in tackles) will not play against The Citadel. Another linebacker, Phillip LeGrande (who has started all seven games), also may not play against the Bulldogs. Defensive end Zach Bobb started Wofford’s first five games of the season, but injured his knee against Furman and is out for the season.

Wofford placekicker Christian Reed missed the game against Appalachian State with a quad injury but is listed as the starter on the two-deep for this week’s contest. Punter Kasey Redfern replaced him against the Mountaineers and made his only FG try (29 yards).

There is a touch of uncertainty with Wofford’s injury list. For example, while Todd Shanesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal tweeted that Weimer would be out for the game against the Bulldogs, he is still listed on the depth chart. Just keep that in mind.

If Weimer doesn’t go, that doesn’t mean starting quarterback Brian Kass will play the whole game, according to Mike Ayers. Third-string QB James Lawson will likely get some snaps on Saturday.

Incidentally, Wofford has had eighteen different players carry the ball this season. Twelve of them have at least one rush for more than twenty yards.

Among other Terriers of note: offensive right tackle Jake Miles (a preseason all-SoCon selection), outside linebacker Alvin Scioneaux (also a preseason first team pick), and inside linebacker Mike Niam, a force when healthy (he has suffered multiple knee injuries while at Wofford).

Fellow inside linebacker Mike McCrimon leads the Terriers in tackles. Defensive end Tarek Odom’s 40-yard fumble return for a TD sealed the Terriers’ win over Appalachian State. E.J. Speller is a 290-lb. redshirt freshman nosetackle who is having a fine season; he will be a key factor on Saturday.

Wofford’s defense held each of its first four opponents under 100 yards rushing. Last week, the Terriers held the Mountaineers to 106 yards rushing (363 total yards).

Odds and ends:

— Wofford’s sideline reporter for its radio broadcasts is Van Hipp, Jr. If that name sounds familiar to Low Country residents, it’s because he ran for Congress about two decades ago. Hipp wound up in a primary runoff for the seat in the 1st Congressional District, but lost to a political newcomer named Mark Sanford.

— Saturday’s game will be Wofford’s Homecoming, which means The Citadel will play in two consecutive Homecoming games, Wofford’s and its own.

— Wofford is undefeated this season when it loses the coin toss (4-0).

The 1959 game between The Citadel and Wofford was the last game in the series to be played in Orangeburg, at the County Fairgrounds. The game was played on “Big Friday” and only drew 8,000 spectators, a disappointing showing that probably led to the end of neutral-site contests between the two schools. The Citadel won 40-8; six different Bulldogs scored touchdowns in the game.

Wofford would not play The Citadel again until 1967, possibly because of a disagreement between the two coaches, Eddie Teague of The Citadel and Wofford’s Conley Snidow. Snidow accused Teague of running up the score, a charge the Bulldogs coach vehemently denied.

Not only did Snidow complain about a late touchdown scored by The Citadel (even though the TD came after Wofford had fumbled the ball on its own five-yard-line), he belittled the Bulldogs’ victory, saying it came against one of his lesser squads. There may have been some previous bad blood between the two men, as The Citadel had already announced it was suspending the series.

The 1967 contest was the only time The Citadel played Wofford between 1959 and 1975.

By the way, the main photo accompanying the game story features “Broadway Billy” Hughes, and the first paragraph of the article itself describes teammate Billy Whaley as “The Citadel’s vice president in charge of touchdowns”. Ah, those were the days.

For anyone wondering, Paul Maguire did play in the game. He did not score, but caught three passes for forty yards and punted three times, averaging 43 yards per kick.

I’ll be honest. I don’t have a good feeling about the upcoming game, not from The Citadel’s perspective. While Wofford is struggling with injuries of its own, the Terriers have more than their fair share of proven depth. They have options.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are painfully thin at linebacker, a problem exacerbated by (in my opinion) less than optimal play by the defensive line in recent weeks. If The Citadel is going to have any chance of winning Saturday’s matchup, the d-line has to make big plays. That hasn’t really happened in the last month or so.

Anyone who saw the game against Western Carolina has to cringe at the thought of the Bulldogs’ D versus an experienced (if beat up) offensive line and a steady quarterback like Brian Kass, with Eric Breitenstein ready to break loose at any point (he has 12 runs of 20+ yards already this season).

Am I pessimistic? Well, yes.

However, the team has to take a more positive approach. Wofford isn’t invincible, and the Bulldogs don’t need to play a perfect game to win on Saturday. They just have to play very, very well.

I’ll be in Spartanburg on Saturday. I may have my doubts, but I’ll be there. The Bulldogs were good enough to beat Georgia Southern and thrash Appalachian State in Boone. The potential is still there.

Now let’s make something of it.

Game Review, 2012: North Carolina State

North Carolina State 52, The Citadel 14.

Links of interest:

The Post and Courier game story

Notes from The Post and Courier

The News and Observer (Raleigh) game story

The News and Observer photo gallery

Box score

Postgame video with Kevin Higgins, plus Darien Robinson and Derek Douglas

I’m not going to write much about this game. I wasn’t there in person, as I brought a mild case of the flu back home from Chicago. Perhaps it was just as well, although I am disappointed I couldn’t go support a team that certainly deserves as much support as it can get.

I watched the ESPN3 feed of the game, which featured analysis by the one and only Paul Maguire, backed by play-by-play man Mike Gleason in the role of Abbott to Maguire’s Costello. For the record, Gleason is not Jackie Gleason’s son, as Maguire faux-claimed late in the broadcast. At least, I’m fairly sure he’s not…

Also, the ESPN3 graphic about Maguire near the game’s end was wrong to about the 4th power. Maguire, curiously, only seemed to care about the error regarding TD receptions, which I thought was funny.

I was a little surprised that the NC State offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage as easily as it did. Not shocked, but surprised. That is the kind of thing that tends to happen in an FBS vs. FCS matchup, though.

This loss doesn’t bother me too much. As long as none of the players for The Citadel suffered any major injuries, and the team doesn’t have a sudden loss of confidence because of the result, the outcome shouldn’t have an impact on any of the Bulldogs’ long-term goals for this season.

I get the sense that a few people get upset when the Bulldogs lose games against FBS teams by significant margins. They wonder why The Citadel can’t be more competitive with these teams. Often, a comparison is made to the glory days of the late 1980s-early 1990s.

However, that era was definitely an outlier in terms of the school’s history in these matchups. There are two remarkable things about the games The Citadel played against FBS teams from 1988 through 1992. One is that of the eight such contests played during that time, the Bulldogs threatened to win seven of them. The other, and perhaps more amazing statistic, is that the Bulldogs actually won six of those seven (the exception being the 1990 game versus Air Force, which the Falcons won 10-7).

The Citadel won six of eight games against FBS competition from 1988-92 despite having a negative point differential in those contests (thanks to losing the 1988 game against Duke 41-17).

Other than that six-year period, though, even being in the mix against larger schools has not happened too often. Sure, The Citadel beat Air Force soundly in 1976, and knocked off Vanderbilt in 1979. I’ve written about the great victory over South Carolina in 1950, and you can throw in the 0-0 tie against Florida State in 1960 as well. There have been close calls, too, like the game against the Gamecocks in 1984 or the Wyoming loss in 2002.

Most of the time, though, the games are more along the lines of  the “76 Trombones” game against Georgia in 1958, or the 52-0 loss to Vanderbilt in 1970, or the 61-0 setback at Maryland in 2003 — and none of those defeated squads were terrible (heck, the 2003 Bulldogs won six games).

There is hope, then there is reality. Expectations need to be managed.

Now as for the players, they are in a different category. I realize that the players are disappointed. They are competitors, after all. I wouldn’t expect anything less.

All that said, I think there are a few takeaways from the game worth mentioning. In no particular order:

– It was a tough night for special teams. Not only did the Bulldogs allow a punt return TD, the kickoff return team struggled, both in execution and decision-making. That unit needs to improve as The Citadel resumes SoCon play.

– Derek Douglas returned to the field. I was a little surprised to see him get snaps on Saturday, but he is now apparently ready for the stretch run. That is obviously great news for The Citadel.

– The Bulldogs didn’t tackle particularly well in this game.

– The triple option offense can work against any team. Even a well-coached outfit can have breakdowns, and if you make your blocks, and the opposing middle linebacker overruns the play, then Darien Robinson is going to have a very enjoyable sprint to the end zone.

On Robinson’s touchdown, I was interested in the fact that he actually went off-tackle as opposed to right up the middle, a slight alteration in play design that proved to be quite effective.

– Robinson rushed for 103 yards, becoming the first Bulldog to rush for over 100 yards against an FBS opponent since Nehemiah Broughton rushed for 175 yards against Wyoming in 2002. Robinson was the first Bulldog to rush for over 100 yards against an ACC team since Stanford Glenn rushed for 123 yards against Georgia Tech in 1982.

– Not that it matters, but NC State’s final touchdown of the first half should not have counted. Mike Glennon was the recipient of not one, but two pushes from his linemen towards the goal line, which is illegal. It was obvious, but the officials let it go. That said, I’m not losing sleep over it.

– The Citadel’s three starters at linebacker (Rah Muhammad, Carl Robinson, Carson Smith) combined to make 30 tackles, led by Robinson’s 13.

– Of Walker Smith’s six tackles, three came on special teams.

– A total of fifty-two Bulldogs saw action during the game.

It’s time to get back to SoCon action. Next up is Chattanooga, on Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium. I think the team is looking forward to that game. I know that I’m looking forward to it.

Game Review, 2011: Western Carolina

The Citadel 35, Western Carolina 7.

The Bulldogs did exactly what they were supposed to do on Saturday. Facing an inferior opponent that was in a state approaching disarray, The Citadel started fast (!), took a commanding lead and never let Western Carolina into the game.  The game was a must-win, and the Bulldogs came through with a very solid performance.

Random thoughts:

— Kevin Hardy’s opening kickoff return, which went for 59 yards and set up the game’s first touchdown, was by far The Citadel’s best all season. Kickoff returns have been an area of concern for the Bulldogs; here is hoping Hardy’s effort will lead to more big plays in the return game.

— Six different Bulldogs rushed for at least 40 yards (Aaron Miller added 30). Eight different Bulldogs carried the ball, led by Darien Robinson’s 106 yards.

One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that while it was a “must-win” (at least from a fan perspective), a number of reserves saw significant time.  That had been the case on defense in the previous two games, but against WCU several offensive backups played a lot of snaps.

That may be one reason the offense had a bit of a lull midway through the contest, but with a three-touchdown lead that was basically unassailable, I didn’t have any problems with the coaching staff giving younger players an opportunity to get experience.

— The passing game is still a problem.  On Saturday, the Bulldogs completed 2 of 5 passes for just 12 yards, with an interception.  Speaking of the interception, I think the play call leading to it may have been a mistake.

The Citadel’s first drive of the third quarter was going rather well, with runs of 4, 6, 57, and 5 yards (the 57-yarder coming from Rickey Anderson).  On 2nd-and-5 from the WCU 25, though, Miller attempted a pass that was intercepted near the goal line.

A 21-0 lead early in the third quarter is not insurmountable (although Saturday’s game might have been the exception to the rule).  I would have liked to have seen the Bulldogs continue to run the ball against a defense which at that point seemed unable to stop the run, and grab a four-touchdown margin.  Instead, the pick ended the drive and kept Western Carolina at least nominally in the game.

Now, there are decent reasons to throw the ball in that situation (keeping the defense honest, letting Miller get comfortable making decisions when passing, etc.), but I favored a no-nonsense ground assault in that sequence.  Not a big deal, obviously, and I risk being the type of fan who complains when the team doesn’t throw it, then complains when it does.  Then again, as a fan, I have a constitutional right to be irrational.

— It would have been nice for the defense to get a shutout, but that will have to wait for another time and place.  Incidentally, The Citadel’s last road shutout in Southern Conference play came in 1992, against Appalachian State. We all know what else happened in 1992.

— I would be surprised if Western Carolina coach Dennis Wagner is back after this season; he may not last the rest of the campaign.  Included in the game story in the Asheville Citizen-Times were three paragraphs noting the lack of fans in the stadium after halftime, along with quotes from dissatisfied students.

That was coupled with an editorial (from the same writer who penned the game story) entitled “Cats Uninspiring in Homecoming Debacle”, which included the following commentary:

In 12 years of covering this program, I have never seen the Catamounts play so poorly at home as they did in a 35-7 loss to The Citadel — not even when D-II Tusculum chopped the Cats up like firewood last fall.

— The school’s release includes two video clips of post-game interviews with Kevin Higgins and Tolu Akindele.  If you want to see how a pro responds to a leading question that he has no interest in answering, check out the Higgins clip at around the 48-second mark. He doesn’t really care if WCU didn’t have an “edge”, and isn’t about to throw a fellow coach under the bus anyway.

— I believe the reporter in the video asking Higgins and Akindele those questions was Asheville Citizen-Times scribe Tyler Norris Goode, who wrote the above-linked game story and editorial.  If you had read the game story in The Post and Courier, you may have noticed that he also wrote that article.

Regular beat writer Jeff Hartsell didn’t write the game story because he wasn’t in Cullowhee, as The Post and Courier elected not to send a writer to the game, a decision apparently not made by the newspaper’s sports department.  It’s the first time I can recall the paper not sending a reporter to cover a Southern Conference game involving the local football team in…well, I can’t remember another time.

Obviously these are tough times for the newspaper business, so it’s not shocking the paper would cut an occasional corner.  This time it came at the expense of coverage for The Citadel’s football team, which should be a concern for any fan of the military college.

I’m hopeful it was just a one-time thing.  Presumably there will be no issues with coverage for the remaining four games on the schedule, which includes two home games and road games against nearby opponents Georgia Southern and South Carolina.  It’s a situation that bears watching, however.

Next up: VMI.  It’s time for the long-awaited return of the Military Classic of the South, as the two schools battle for the coveted Silver Shako.  I’m looking forward to this one.

2011 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10.  The game will be televised on WYMA (Asheville, NC), and will be available on ESPN3.com.  There will also be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a game against traditional rival Furman.  It’s only the third time the two schools have ever met in a league opener, but it’s the second consecutive season that has been the case.

I’m not going to rehash the history of the series in terms of the time of year the game has been held; anyone interested can read what I wrote on the subject for last year’s game preview.  Regardless of whether you think the game should be a midseason clash (my preference) or played at the end of the year (a not-insignificant number of fans from both schools), I think everyone can agree that September 10 is too early for this game to be played.

Jeff Hartsell has reported that, per the SoCon office, next year’s meeting will come at the end of the 2012 season, on November 17.  (The conference does not make league schedules beyond one year in advance.)

I’m okay with that, as long as the Clemson-South Carolina game continues to be played the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as is now the case.  I just don’t want The Citadel and Furman to play on the same day as the matchup between the Tigers and Gamecocks.

Furman was 5-6 last season, its first losing campaign since 1998.  Bobby Lamb resigned after nine years in charge and over a quarter-century at the school as a player or coach.  The Paladins had missed the FCS playoffs for four consecutive seasons, which did not go over well among some supporters.  It was time for Furman to make a change.

The question, though, is did Furman really make a change?

The new coach is Bruce Fowler.  Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman who played for Dick Sheridan.  Lamb was a 1986 graduate of FU who had played for Sheridan. Fowler spent 18 years at Furman as an assistant coach.  Lamb had been an assistant coach at Furman for 16 seasons.

One difference is that Fowler wasn’t a complete Furman lifer like Lamb had been.  For the past nine years, he had been an assistant at Vanderbilt, where he was defensive coordinator for Bobby Johnson (and Robbie Caldwell in 2010).  Of course, Johnson had been the head coach at Furman before taking the Vandy job, and before that he had been an assistant under Dick Sheridan.

You may have noticed a pattern here.  Dick Sheridan left Furman after the 1985 season to take over at N.C. State, but his presence is still felt in the program.  All four of the men who have held the head coaching position since Sheridan left (including Fowler) were players and/or assistants under him.

If you were going to have your football program maintain what is in effect a 25-year tie to a former coach, you could do much worse than Sheridan, who did nothing but win throughout his coaching career (even as a 28-year-old rookie head coach at an Orangeburg high school).  It’s a type of continuity that may be worth preserving.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that Furman risks going to the well once too often.  Fowler isn’t exactly a carbon copy of Lamb, though — for one thing, he’s 52 years old, 13 years older than Lamb was when Lamb got the job.  Also, he’s primarily a defensive coach (though he was the receivers coach at FU for seven seasons).  Lamb was mostly an offensive coach (and a former quarterback) during his time with the Paladins.

Usually when a school is in a position to make a coaching change after a run of disappointing seasons, it brings in somebody to shake things up.  That’s certainly not what Furman has done.  Besides Fowler, three of the assistant coaches played for Sheridan; another has been a Paladins assistant for 13 years.

Before I move on to the Paladins of 2011, I should note that Art Baker, who preceded Sheridan as head coach at Furman (eventually leaving to take the job at The Citadel), hired Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, and Bobby Johnson as assistant coaches, all of whom would later ascend to the top job at FU.  Baker had a significant impact on Furman’s coaching tree.

Furman lost 30-23 at Coastal Carolina in its opener.  The Paladins never led the contest.  The game had been tied at 16 and 23 before the Chanticleers scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Coastal Carolina gained 231 yards rushing and 195 yards passing against the Furman defense, but perhaps more interesting was that the Chanticleers had 59 rushing attempts for the game.  CCU ran 81 offensive plays from scrimmage for the game, while the Paladins had just 58.

As Bruce Fowler noted in the SoCon teleconference, Furman had trouble getting its defense off the field.  Coastal was 7-16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts and made its only 4th-down try, a major reason the Paladins trailed by over 12 minutes in time of possession.  That continued a trend from last season, when Furman finished last in the SoCon in time of possession.

The Paladins do have two impact players on defense, middle linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed, both of whom are on the Buck Buchanan Watch List.  Another linebacker, Chris Wiley, had fourteen tackles against Coastal Carolina.  Furman defensive end Josh Lynn is tall (6’5″) and rangy, and may be a key factor in how the Bulldogs’ triple action attack fares on Saturday.  Against Coastal, he had five tackles and a sack.

Furman’s starting quarterback against Coastal Carolina was Chris Forcier, of the Forcier Family of Quarterbacks.  I think it’s fair to say that the Forciers are, as a group, somewhat controversial.  I guess it’s a question of style.  When Chris Forcier decided to transfer from UCLA to Furman, the family issued a press release that wound up being posted on Deadspin.

His brother Tate is a former Michigan quarterback who has now transferred to San Jose State (after originally announcing he was going to Miami).  His oldest brother, Jason, also played quarterback at Michigan before transferring to Stanford.  The brothers also transferred to different high schools at various times.

Against the Chants, Forcier was solid, completing two-thirds of his passes while averaging over seven yards per attempt.  A classic “dual threat” quarterback, Forcier also rushed for 50 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter, apparently suffering from cramps.  Without him, the Furman offense sputtered, not scoring in the fourth quarter.

Assuming he is healthy (and there is no reason to believe otherwise), stopping Forcier will be a difficult task for The Citadel’s defense.

If dealing with Forcier wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs must also contend with Jerodis Williams, who rushed for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns against Coastal (including a 68-yard score).  Williams was the Southern Conference offensive player of the week, and also picked up FCS National Back of the Week honors from something called the “College Football Performance Awards“.

Furman had five different receivers catch passes against the Chanticleers (including Williams).  Tyler Maples had five receptions for 65 yards.  Colin Anderson had four catches, and presumably will have a career day against The Citadel, as has often been the case for Furman tight ends.

Along the offensive line, Furman has experienced and well-regarded tackles (one of whom, Ryan Lee, is moving from guard to tackle) and a veteran center, Daniel Spisak (who is Matt Millen’s nephew).  The guards include a first-year starter who came to Furman as a walk-on, and a sophomore who started three times last season before a season-ending foot injury.

Furman placekicker Ray Early was 11-12 on field goal attempts last season, including a long of 52 yards, and only missed one extra point all year (40-41).  Against Coastal Carolina, however, Early’s first field goal attempt of the season was blocked, and he then missed the PAT after the Paladins’ first touchdown.

After that, Early did not attempt a placekick in the game (although he did kick off), giving way to Furman punter Chas Short.  That may be something to watch on Saturday.

Short, incidentally, had a fine year for Furman in 2010.  The Paladins finished in the top 10 nationally in net punting.

With Furman having allowed a bunch of rushing yards to Coastal Carolina, and having lost the time of possession battle so decisively, there may be some hope among Bulldog fans that the Paladins’ defensive issues could play into The Citadel’s hands on Saturday.  As Jeff Hartsell wrote in The Post and Courier:

…on defense, the Paladins’ 4-3 look was blitzed for 237 rushing yards, including 105 yards and two TDs by CCU quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Jamie Childers. That might bode well for the Bulldogs’ option attack, as QB Ben Dupree went for 141 yards and two scores in a 31-9 win over Jacksonville. Higgins said Dupree was 23 for 23 on his option reads, and The Citadel rushed for 439 yards, the most since 1994.

That does seem promising from The Citadel’s perspective.  I would make this observation, though:

The Bulldogs ran the ball well on Furman last year, dominated time of possession, and lost 31-14.  The Citadel gained 294 net yards rushing on 60 attempts, held the ball for over 36 minutes — and did not score until the fourth quarter.

Actually, The Citadel’s 359 total yards against Furman in 2010 was the most yardage gained by the Bulldogs in any Southern Conference game for the entire season.  The problem?  Three turnovers, a missed field goal, and a failed fourth-down try inside the Furman 25.  Another issue was that The Citadel started very slowly on offense, gaining only 64 total yards on its first five possessions.

Conversely, Furman got out of the blocks fast on offense in each half, scoring touchdowns on its initial drive in both the first and third quarters.  Of the Paladins’ other three scores against The Citadel, two came on drives starting in Bulldog territory after an interception and a failed onside kick.

Kevin Higgins has said in the past that sometimes it takes a triple option team a possession or two to figure out how the defense is playing.  That makes sense.  You could see it in last week’s game against Jacksonville, as the game was well into the second quarter until Triple O’Higgins got fully warmed up.

Against a SoCon opponent, though, it needs to warm up faster.  The Bulldogs can’t go an entire quarter with no offensive production, especially as running the offense generally means there are fewer possessions in the game.  Also, while obvious, The Citadel must control its fumbling problems, which cropped up against Jacksonville (albeit with only one coming on an exchange) and stay “on schedule”.

The other thing that can’t happen Saturday if The Citadel has any chance of winning is for the defense to concede relatively easy touchdown drives right out of the dressing room.  Last season, Furman’s TD drives in each half were for a total of 123 yards and featured only two third-down plays.

What the defense really needs is to force some turnovers.  Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs forced no turnovers and also did not record a sack.

The Bulldogs must also contain Forcier, who is capable of making big plays with his arm or his feet, and prevent Williams from breaking long runs, such as the one he had against Coastal Carolina.  (Also, the defense must watch the tight end.  He’ll be catching the ball over the middle for 15 yards before you know it.  Two or three times.)

I thought Ben Dupree played well against Jacksonville.  What he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that he has the ability to make big plays.  While the triple option is mostly about moving the chains, it’s important to have a breakaway aspect to the offense, and Dupree can provide that with his running ability.  He is still a work in progress as a passer.  If he continues to improve that part of his game, he will be a very dangerous weapon indeed.

Terrell Dallas’ injury against the Dolphins was not serious, thankfully, but it appears he may not play on Saturday.  That will be a loss, but Darien Robinson showed he is quite capable of handling the fullback position.

I thought the defense really came to play against Jacksonville.  Now it faces another challenge.  It won’t have the size and depth advantage against Furman that it had against the Dolphins.

Odds and ends:

— Check out the game notes to see all the different helmet logos The Citadel has had over the years (page 5).  There have been no fewer than 25 different designs since 1952 (and I think it’s likely there have been a few more that went unrecorded).

Those artist renderings/photos in the game notes came from the Helmet Archive, a good site if you want to peruse helmet histories of other teams as well.

— Has anyone else noticed that there are a lot of entities giving out “player of the week” awards these days?  It’s hard to figure out which ones to take seriously.  I can’t decide if the plethora of “recognition sites” is a boon or a curse for athletic media relations departments.

— The Summerall Guards are performing at halftime, but not at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Guards will be in Death Valley for the Wofford-Clemson game (it is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson).  It strikes me as a little odd that they would perform at another stadium on the same day as a home football game, but no big deal.

I’m looking forward to the game.  I am hopeful that the success of the home opener, along with Saturday’s opponent, results in a nice crowd at JHS.  As for the on-field action, I’m not quite sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw against Jacksonville.  I would like to be pleasantly surprised again.