Too bad the game is football and not horseshoes

The Citadel played well on Saturday against Appalachian State.  After getting drubbed repeatedly over the past few seasons by the Mountaineers, the Bulldogs held their own for 60 minutes, which was a nice change of pace.  Alas, the game lasted longer than 60 minutes, and overtime was not kind.

Let’s make this a ramble:

— I thought that the playcalling on offense by the Bulldog coaching staff was excellent throughout the game.  Bart Blanchard and Miguel Starks were mixed-and-matched very well, a task that had to have been made more difficult by Blanchard’s ankle problem.

The TD pass to Alex Sellars was perfectly timed and executed.  I really liked the commitment to running the ball, and it paid off (214 yards rushing).

My only criticism would be about the sequence of plays called in overtime.  I am not sure about the first and second down calls, and as for third down…

When you have the ball first in overtime, you really don’t want to be in must-attempt-FG mode if you can help it.  The Citadel had a third-and-long it needed to convert.

Given the overall situation, I think it would have been best to run the play using the starting QB who had displayed a lot of composure during the game, and who has now thrown 6 TD passes in his last two games.  His first option would have been the player who is almost certainly the best wide receiver in school history.

In other words, I think the ball needed to be in the hands of Blanchard and/or Andre Roberts on that play.  I’m not a coach, though.

— There were only seven accepted penalties by the two teams combined in the game.  However, five of them came in the fourth quarter.  It was like watching a bizarro NHL game.

— Sam Keeler can’t think about the kick he missed in OT.  He needs to think about the 50-yarder and the 45-yarder he made in the first half.  His kicking was a plus for the Bulldogs on the day overall, without question.

— Defensively the Bulldogs did a fair job of bending but not breaking in the first half.  It got tougher to keep Appalachian State out of the end zone as the game went on.  The overall strategy seemed sound; the Bulldogs were hampered by a blown coverage that led to the tying TD in the fourth quarter, and by some shoddy tackling.  Poor tackling was the proximate cause of the Mountaineers’ second touchdown.  That is something which must improve.

The Bulldogs did not create a turnover on defense.  If The Citadel could have forced just one turnover, it likely would have won the game.  The Bulldogs’ D came into the game with six interceptions and three recovered fumbles, but just two of those turnovers have come while the outcome of a game was still in doubt (both against Presbyterian, with Cortez Allen accounting for each of them).

— Van Dyke Jones’ 69-yard TD run was one of the better runs I’ve seen by a Bulldog.  Maybe it wasn’t the best ever at Johnson Hagood Stadium (Stump Mitchell’s effort against VMI in 1980 comes to mind), but it was truly special.

— Attendance was announced as 14,238.  That seemed about right to me as I surveyed the stands.  However, that’s just how many people were inside Johnson Hagood Stadium.  What was truly striking was the attendance outside the stadium.  The parking lots were packed.

There are now lots of fans who tailgate but don’t go to the game itself, and I don’t mean the groups where a couple of people remain to watch over the tailgating equipment while everyone else goes to the game.  I’m talking about gatherings where almost no one goes to the game, where everyone just remains in the parking lot the entire time.

I mentioned that the tailgating scene could be perceived as “too good” when I wrote about attendance a couple of months ago.  It seems to me, though, that the tailgating-only crowd has increased exponentially as of late, thanks to the ability to incorporate the joys of satellite television (along with flat-screen TVs) into a tailgate setup.

There was an article about “TV Tailgating” in Columbia, S.C.’s The State newspaper on Sunday about this very subject.  That story focused on people watching South Carolina play on TV while stationed in one of the parking lots outside Williams-Brice Stadium.

Of course, at The Citadel the game inside the stadium is rarely on television.  Folks tailgating during the game watch other contests on TV while listening to Darren Goldwater call the Bulldogs’ games on the radio.  At least, I hope they’re listening to the Bulldogs on the radio…

Twenty years ago, if the parking lots had been as full as they were on Saturday, I believe there would have been at least 17,000 people watching the game inside JHS, perhaps more.  However, twenty years ago there weren’t portable satellite dishes, and when people talked about “plasma” they were referring to blood and not TVs.

I don’t know what The Citadel’s administration can do about that.  I don’t know if it wants or needs to do anything about it, either.

— It was Military Appreciation Day, and thus the fans who did venture inside Johnson Hagood were treated to a good show, including a flyover by a World War II-era B25 bomber, a parachutist bringing the game ball (landed on the 45 yard line — nice job!), and the Parris Island Marine Band performing at halftime.

There was a pull-up bar station in the concessions area under the stadium, so that future Marines could showcase their upper body strength in what could have been construed as an attempt to impress women, but was undoubtably meant just for recruiting purposes.

— Also underneath the stadium was a table for The Citadel’s club hockey team, which was doing a little fundraising by raffling off a motorcycle.  A cadet wearing a complete goalie outfit was part of the show.  I couldn’t decide if his uniform was terribly awesome, or awesomely terrible.  Click on the link to judge for yourself.

— Fourth game played, fourth game wearing navy pants, fourth game with a terrible-looking uniform.  Maybe The Citadel should wear orange jerseys and yellow helmets with them.

— The sound system is still a bit too loud, in my opinion.  A few other stadium music/sound observations…

1)  In the third quarter, someone thought it would be a good idea to play the “Everybody Clap Your Hands” snippet while The Citadel was punting.  I guess the fans were supposed to get excited about the home team not converting on third down.  “One hop this time; right foot let’s punt.”
2)  “Cotton Eye Joe”?  Really?  Probably made the App State fans feel right at home.  It’s also a staple at Yankee Stadium.  Why not bring in Ronan Tynan while you’re at it?
3)  I liked the NFL Films-style music, but it sounded a bit tinny over the speakers.  Maybe a better recording is needed.
4)  The referee’s microphone cutting in and out surely did wonders for sales of Advil and Tylenol.

— I spotted Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier hustling down to the field at the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter.  As he got about halfway down the stadium steps, Appalachian State scored the tying touchdown.  Hartsell hesitated briefly, then started to head back to the press box (as if he had forgotten something), and then turned back and went to the sideline area.  Perhaps he was saying to himself, “I really need to update Bulldog Bites!”

— App State fans in the East side stands tried to start an “ASU” chant in the third quarter, only to be drowned out by a lusty rendition of “Hey Baby” by the corps of cadets.  The Mountaineer supporters seemed confused by the choice of song (hard to blame them) and quieted down almost immediately.  I still could survive without it, but for that moment, “Hey Baby” worked.  Well played, cadets.

All in all, it was a good game, but it was still a loss.  Next for the Bulldogs is a trip to Elon.  Getting a win there will not be easy, but if The Citadel plans to contend in the conference, it will be necessary.

When an easy win causes unease

The Citadel 46, Presbyterian 21.  Concerns?  Yes. 

Presbyterian rushed for 204 yards against The Citadel, averaging 4.7 yards per rush.  In its first three games this season, PC had rushed for a total of 203 yards. 

Blue Hose running back Trandon Dendy came into the game averaging 3.0 yards per rush, with a season long of 16.  Against the Bulldogs, Dendy rushed for 147 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, with a 40-yard TD run included.  

Presbyterian’s previous seven games against Southern Conference opponents (all played over the last two years) included five games in which PC had 61 yards rushing or less, and none of more than 140 yards.  The 4.7 yards per rush garnered by the Blue Hose on Saturday is the best PC has done against any SoCon opponent over that period.

The Citadel’s defense occasionally got pushed around by an offensive line that included a 258-lb. left tackle and a 240-lb. center.  This is not good.  

Against Princeton I thought the defense did an excellent job against the run, particularly considering the Tigers have a fine running back in Jordan Culbreath.  Against PC there were problems, unless there was some major sandbagging taking place.  I don’t see that, though, not when it’s rush defense that’s the issue.

At one point late in the second quarter Presbyterian held a 14-13 lead and was moving the ball, combining its rushing attack with a fairly sharp mid-range passing game.  Then, the Blue Hose got a little greedy, and tried a long pass that was intercepted by Bulldog defensive back Cortez Allen.  On the ensuing drive The Citadel scored a touchdown to take a 20-14 lead into halftime, and the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half.  Allen’s pick was probably the key play in the game; it was certainly important in terms of momentum.

Offensively the Bulldogs did not have much in the way of a ground game, but I am not as worried about that as I am the defensive letdown.  That’s because there isn’t a big need to run the ball when the passing game is working like it was Saturday night. 

PC’s strategy for defending Andre Roberts was a bit curious.  Actually, I am not completely sure the Blue Hose had a strategy for defending him.  Twelve catches for 184 yards and four TDs is a good night (and that’s despite dropping a sure 70-yard TD on the first play of the game).

Then there were the special teams…

Two missed extra points.  Yuck.  (Actually, there were three missed opportunities for PATs, as Kevin Higgins went for two at 26-14 early in the third quarter, which I think was too soon to start chasing the lost point.)  I wasn’t crazy about the kickoffs, either, although I think the coaches were trying some different personnel, so that may not be as big a problem.  The punts seemed a touch slow (in terms of getting them off), as well.

Against Appalachian State, The Citadel cannot afford to give away free points like that, or put the defense in a difficult position after a kickoff/punt.  The Mountaineers will be a formidable enough challenge as it is.

A few other, even more random thoughts:

  • The team wore navy pants again, this time with the “home” tops.  Light blue over dark blue — almost indescribably ugly.  Maybe against Appalachian State we can wear gold jerseys to match the navy pants.  Gold isn’t a school color, of course, but at this point that doesn’t appear to be a serious consideration.  The Citadel should just go all out and become the Oregon of the east.  The Bulldogs could have polka dot tops and horizontally striped pants, or some other Nike-approved combination.
  • Speaking of Oregon, the Ducks wore “throwback” uniforms on Saturday (in this case, from the 1990s, which isn’t all that far back, but we are talking about Oregon here).  The Ducks won big.  Navy wore throwback unis too, and also won big.  Previously winless Colorado also wore throwbacks, and proceeded to shut out Wyoming 24-0.  Maybe The Citadel should consider its own “throwbacks” day.  There would be plenty of options.
  • Attendance wasn’t that bad, particularly considering the weather.  It wasn’t great, but it could have been worse.  I will say that it shows the difference between scheduling Presbyterian and scheduling Webber International.  I expect a very good crowd will be at Johnson Hagood this Saturday for a 1pm start against Appalachian State, which will bring plenty of its own fans.
  • The halftime interview was unintentionally amusing.  Kevin Higgins is a very patient man.  Suggestion:  just have someone give Higgins a headset, and let Darren Goldwater ask him a question or two.  SportSouth actually did this when interviewing Wofford coach Mike Ayers at halftime of its broadcast of The Citadel-Wofford game last season, with Sam Wyche asking the questions.  It turned out to be fairly informative (with Ayers spending a lot more time with the announcers than any coach I’ve ever seen interviewed at halftime).
  • It may have “just” been PC, but Keith Gamble’s interception return for a TD was very impressive.  More of that, please.

Now it’s time for the “real” season, as The Citadel begins its eight-game SoCon slate.  The Bulldogs are 2-1, exactly what everyone thought they would be at this point.  I’m still not sure just what to make of this team, but so far, so good.