Game Review, 2016: Samford

The Citadel 37, Samford 34 (OT).

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WCIV-TV

– Video from WCBD-TV

– Post-game press conference, featuring Brent Thompson, Dee Delaney, Cam Jackson, Tevin Floyd, Nick Jeffreys, Cody Clark, and Tyler Renew (video)

– School release from The Citadel

– School release from Samford

– Samford’s first-half highlights package (video)

– Samford’s second-half and post-game highlights package (video)

– Game story, The Birmingham News

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Nick Jeffreys, versatility personified

– Brent Thompson’s post-game speech, interrupted briefly due to locker room crowd-surfing by a special guest (video)

– Here is a little video (via Twitter) of Brent Thompson’s own crowd-surfing ability

Game highlights (video)

– On-field end-game videos via the Facebook page for The Citadel Sports: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3

– That page on Facebook also has a video clip of the seniors being recognized prior to the game

Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Cam Jackson’s ridiculous 63-yard run

– Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Cody Clark’s game-tying field goal

– Mike Legg and Lee Glaze with the end-of-game call

I hardly know where to begin.

Well, I guess I could start by saying that I was surprised by quite a few things that happened on the field on Saturday…

While talking to a couple of people before the game, the subject of Samford’s defense came up. I suggested that because of SU’s “Bear” front, which tends to clog up the middle of the line, Tyler Renew would probably not have a big game.

Renew proceeded to have one of the greatest rushing days in The Citadel’s long gridiron history.  He made me look like a dope. (I’m glad he did.)

I also wasn’t expecting Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges to turn into a dual-threat star. Hodges had entered the game with only 71 net rushing yards all season. Even if you take out sacks, he still had less than 240 yards on the ground, and had not carried the ball for more than 12 yards on any play.

However, you have to give Samford’s coaching staff credit for taking advantage of an opportunity and making an adjustment in the game plan. As a result, Hodges scored two rushing touchdowns (one for 57 yards) and had two other short runs for first downs.

He was clearly athletic enough to run, including a Houdini act late in the first half that turned a would-be sack into an eight-yard pickup, setting up a field goal.

Then, I wrote in my preview that turnovers would be a critical factor in the game. Naturally, neither team committed a turnover.

The one thing I got right had nothing to do with any type of intellectual analysis.

When asked before the game whether or not I thought The Citadel would prevail, I basically went with the theory that while Samford was a difficult matchup, the Bulldogs had found a way to win all season, and that maybe it was just their year.

They did find a way to win again, and it is their year. It is also a season for the ages.

Random thoughts from an increasingly frazzled fan:

– The atmosphere on Saturday was fantastic. The crowd was into the game from the opening kickoff, despite the delay in clearing the field after the Corps of Cadets and all the reunion classes marched into the stadium. It also took a little time for some of the fans in the East stands to get to their seats.

I was a little concerned when the third quarter began, because I noticed a lot of people had left, presumably to go to their respective tailgates. However, when I looked around a few minutes later, the home stands were packed once again.

By the numbers, it wasn’t one of the larger crowds in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (though it was the most-attended game at The Citadel since 2009). However, there was an unusual intensity in the stadium that could be felt by anyone who was there.

I’ve been to a lot of games over the years at JHS. I’m not sure how I would rank that one in terms of an all-around experience.

My top-ranked game in that respect has always been the 1988 contest against Marshall. I probably wouldn’t put Saturday’s matchup on that level, but it was close. Very close.

– When you look at the statistics, it’s a little surprising the game went to overtime. The Citadel dominated time of possession (as expected), ran many more plays (89 to 67), rung up 542 yards of total offense, and held Samford to 280 passing yards (on 46 attempts). As mentioned, there were no turnovers.

However, Samford had a few things go in its favor.

For one thing, SU placekicker Reece Everett had a good game. While he may have missed the fateful 44-yard attempt in overtime, Everett also made two long field goals during the game, from 51 and 44 yards. Prior to Saturday, Everett’s longest made field goal of the season had only been 36 yards.

Samford also benefited from an advantage in field position. This was partly because of a four-yard edge in net punting, but mostly due to stopping The Citadel twice on fourth-down conversion attempts, including one at The Citadel’s own 40-yard line in the fourth quarter. That was a gamble by Brent Thompson which did not pay off. Hey, it happens.

Getting points from your kicker without having to advance to the Red Zone, taking advantage of good field position, and those big run plays by Hodges…they all added up for Samford, and put it in position to win the game.

The Citadel also got hurt by a double whammy of officiating decisions in the fourth quarter. The second of those was a pass interference call that was made by an official 20 yards away from the play, a dubious call exacerbated by the lateness of the flag.

However, that paled in comparison to a non-call made on the previous play, an obvious intentional grounding call that was ignored by the referee.

not-grounding

If that had been called, Samford would have had a 3rd-and-17 (if not longer), instead of the much more manageable 3rd-and-7 that led to the pass interference penalty.

During the game, Samford had five 3rd-down conversion attempts of longer than seven yards. It was 0 for 5 converting in those situations, with three incomplete passes and a sack.

As Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier tweeted after the game, “If Citadel doesn’t win, that no grounding/pass interference sequence goes down in Bulldog/SoCon ref lore”. Luckily for The Citadel (and the Southern Conference), the Bulldogs overcame that situation.

– One of those 3rd-and-long situations for Samford came in overtime. On 3rd-and-12, Devlin Hodges sat back in the pocket and waited…and waited…and waited…and moved to his right, then waited some more…and waited…and waited…and finally threw the football out of bounds.

The play seemed to take an eternity. It almost did. Hodges threw the ball 9.7 seconds after receiving the snap.

That’s an extremely long time for a QB to hold the ball and not find an open receiver. It was great downfield coverage by the Bulldogs, to say the least.

– I mentioned this on my Twitter feed on Saturday night, but I think it’s worth repeating here.

There is a cliché that gets tossed around all the time (usually from TV game analysts) that goes something like this: triple option teams can’t play from behind, mainly because they don’t pass the ball enough (or effectively).

On Saturday, The Citadel trailed by ten points with just 5:30 left in regulation and the clock running, and faced a 3rd-and-7 from its own 31-yard line. From that point forward through the end of the game, the Bulldogs did not complete a pass.

They still won.

– The Citadel clinched an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs with the win. It has not, however, won the “outright” SoCon title yet.

Not everyone seems to understand how that works. Just in case you weren’t sure:

The Citadel has clinched at least a share of the league crown. However, the automatic bid to the playoffs does not constitute an outright championship. Chattanooga can still tie The Citadel for the conference title if the Mocs beat Wofford, and The Citadel loses to VMI.

Last year, the situation was reversed. Chattanooga got the automatic berth in the playoffs by virtue of its victory over The Citadel, but shared the league title with the Bulldogs because the teams finished with the same conference record (the Mocs having earlier lost to Mercer).

In other words, it’s just another reason The Citadel needs to beat VMI next week.

Of course, The Citadel doesn’t really need another reason to beat VMI, not with the coveted Silver Shako at stake. It is the greatest trophy in all of sports, and it needs to stay in Charleston, where it belongs.

I’m glad the freshmen in the corps of cadets are making the trip to Virginia for the game. I’ll write more about VMI when I preview the matchup later in the week. For now, I’ll just say that any alumnus of The Citadel ought to visit VMI at least once, just to get an idea of the similarities and differences between the two schools.

The Citadel will be trying to win the outright league title while finishing undefeated in SoCon play for the first time ever, which strikes me as another good reason to make the trip.

I may have a separate post prior to the game preview that deals with the FCS playoff structure, which seems to be a source of confusion in some quarters (understandably so). If I have time, I’ll outline the basics, explain all the historical problems associated with the selections, mention a few things to watch, etc.

For now, I’ll close with the usual motley assortment of pictures. This week, I wanted to include some non-football shots, since it was Homecoming. I also wandered by the temporary museum in Daniel Library and took a few photos there. Most of the pictures are annotated.

Game Review, 2016: Gardner-Webb

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Shelby Star

Photo gallery, The Shelby Star

Video from WCSC-TV

Box score

Post-game notes

DeAndre Schoultz’s punt return for a TD

Dominique Allen’s big fourth-quarter run

Normally, I don’t post a game review if I wasn’t in attendance, but as the Bulldogs are entering their bye week, I decided to make a quick post about the victory over Gardner-Webb anyway.

Once the game was over, my initial reaction was as follows: “Phewwwwwwwwwwwwww.”

The Citadel rushed for 419 yards (averaging 6.3 yards per carry), was 9 for 18 on third-down conversions, 2 for 3 on fourth-down conversions, had an edge in time of possession of over three minutes, only committed two offensive penalties…and yet, at times the offense seemed to really struggle. Why?

Well, only completing one pass (in seven attempts) was one reason. So was one of the two aforementioned penalties, a 15-yarder that took the Bulldogs from 1st-and-goal on the 2-yard line to 1st-and-goal on the 17 — followed immediately by a lost fumble.

The Citadel also was not quite as efficient on first down as it would like to be. The Bulldogs ran 31 first down plays (30 runs, 1 pass). On 13 of those plays, The Citadel gained three yards or less. It’s hard to consistently pick up first downs when faced with 2nd-and-long or 3rd-and-long (the Bulldogs had nine of those), especially when the passing game isn’t in sync.

Sure, the final number says The Citadel converted third downs at a 50% clip, but they weren’t consistently picked up throughout the game. Three of the nine conversions came on the game-winning TD drive, and another was a 33-yard scramble on 3rd-and-18 by Dominique Allen that set up the Bulldogs’ second touchdown.

The Citadel had eleven possessions in the contest. There was a five-possession sequence (last drive of the first half, all four drives of the third quarter) in which the Bulldogs ran only 20 offensive plays from scrimmage for a total of 61 yards.

That highlights just how big DeAndre Schoultz’s punt return really was. His TD scamper came after those five possessions, and basically wiped out the advantage Gardner-Webb had built up in the third quarter.

On the other hand, for a third game in a row the offense came through when it had to score. This time, it was a 10-play, 72-yard drive that decided the game, with Allen’s 41-yard run on 3rd-and-7 the key play.

The defense’s performance during the game was a bit uneven. Gardner-Webb was held to a third-down conversion rate of 35.7%, which is excellent. However, the Bulldogs allowed four scoring drives of 61 yards or more, including one for 91 yards on the possession that immediately followed Schoultz’s punt return.

The Citadel did not force a turnover, and 57 minutes into the contest had not recorded a sack. Those last three minutes, though…

Gardner-Webb’s final six plays on offense:

  • Five-yard loss on a sack by Jonathan King
  • Two-yard run, with Dee Delaney and company stopping the action right there
  • Ten-yard loss on a sack by Noah Dawkins
  • Incomplete pass
  • Incomplete pass
  • Nine-yard loss on a sack by Kevin Graham

That’s how you finish.

– Quick note: Kailik Williams has made 26 tackles in the last two games. He is starting, finishing, and doing a whole lot in between.

The Citadel has won three games by a combined 13 points. The Bulldogs trailed with less than three minutes to play in all three of them.

While it is more than fair to suggest that The Citadel must get better on both sides of the ball if it plans on adding to the win total, there is definitely something to be said for having the mental fortitude (and physical endurance) to come through when the game is on the line. Being in those situations will probably be beneficial down the road, too.

The Bulldogs haven’t been at their best so far this season, but they’ve been tough enough to win all three of their games anyway. That inner resolve is perhaps best exemplified by senior linebacker Dondray Copeland:

On Friday morning, Dondray Copeland was at his mother’s bedside as she died at the way-too-young age of 48.

On Saturday night, Copeland took the field with his Citadel teammates and played a major role in the Bulldogs’ 31-24 win at Gardner-Webb before 6,850 fans at Spangler Stadium.

Copeland had seven tackles in the game, tied for second-most on the team.

The Bulldogs now get a well-deserved bye week. The Citadel’s next game is at Western Carolina on October 1.

I’m also taking a week off — well, more like ten days off. My preview of the WCU game will probably be of the abbreviated variety (not necessarily a bad thing), and it won’t be posted until a week from Thursday, or maybe the following Friday morning.

(Hey, at least I scheduled my break for the bye week.)

Go Dogs!

2016 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel at Gardner-Webb, to be played at Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 17.

The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on the Big South Network, with Fabian Fuentes providing play-by-play and Alex Guest supplying the analysis.

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Game preview from The Shelby Star

– Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/13 press conference, including comments from Malik Diggs and DeAndre Schoultz (video)

Brent Thompson 9/14 radio show (video)

– The Citadel’s “steal” curtain defense

– Offense has yet to get going (but hey, the Bulldogs are still 2-0)

– For Dee Delaney, ascension is fueled by competition

Delaney wants to be the best

Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

– Radio broadcast open for Saturday’s game (audio)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

As mentioned in the post introduction, the contest will be on the radio, and also on the Big South Network. If you have a Roku player, you can stream the game on your TV, as the Big South Network now has a Roku channel.

(No, the SoCon Digital Network doesn’t have a Roku channel yet. I’ve asked the league about it. More than once.)

A quick review of Gardner-Webb’s history, some of which I originally wrote when the Runnin’ Bulldogs faced the shako-wearing Bulldogs back in 2014:

Gardner-Webb’s roots can be traced back to 1905, when it was established as Boiling Springs High School. It became a junior college in 1928, and began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at North Carolina and North Carolina State.

Gardner-Webb is affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 225-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina (as opposed to Boiling Springs, South Carolina; the two towns are about 30 miles apart).

There are around 4,900 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women. They hail from 37 states and 21 countries.

According to the school website:

Historically the University has played significant roles in teacher education and ministerial preparation for church-related vocations. Programs of instruction and experiences designed to prepare teachers and ministers continue to be major objectives of the University.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium, a multi-purpose facility with a capacity of 8,500 for football, and an artificial turf field.

Stadium Journey positively reviewed the setup in 2012. Apparently fried Oreos are a thing at Gardner-Webb.

The previous meeting between the two schools resulted in a 37-14 victory for The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, though it should be pointed out that Gardner-Webb led 14-13 midway through the third quarter. Twenty-four unanswered points later, however, Mike Houston had his first win as The Citadel’s head coach.

The matchup on Saturday is the return game of a home-and-home series set up a few years ago by Larry Leckonby, the former AD at The Citadel. Leckonby needed a home game for the 2014 season after Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced they were moving to FBS. Thus, the agreement with Gardner-Webb was made.

That is the main reason why The Citadel only has five home games this season. Next year, Johnson Hagood Stadium will host six games, including non-conference matchups against Newberry and Presbyterian.

The Citadel’s other non-conference game in 2017 is at Clemson, one of five in-state teams the Bulldogs will face next season.

It is decidedly an “old school” schedule. Newberry was a regular foe for The Citadel from the end of World War II until 1960, while from 1915 until the late 1980s Presbyterian was an almost annual opponent on the Bulldogs’ home slate (the two schools having met on the gridiron 62 times in all).

Carroll McCray is the head coach of Gardner-Webb, and he also played there. McCray was an offensive lineman for Tom Moore.

McCray’s coaching career has included stops at Samford, Furman, and Mercer (working under Bobby Lamb at the latter two schools), along with Appalachian State and South Carolina (he was a staffer for Sparky Woods in Boone and Columbia).

He was the head coach at Austin Peay for four seasons before leaving to take an assistant’s position at Furman. McCray later was the head coach at North Greenville for one year before taking the Gardner-Webb job; his replacement at NGU was current Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell. McCray’s record in four years at his alma mater is 16-21 (4-12 in the Big South).

Last year, Gardner-Webb was 4-7, 2-4 in the Big South. The highlight of the campaign was a 34-20 victory over Liberty, which was ranked #15 at the time.

Incidentally, G-W also beat a team ranked #15 in 2013, when Richmond came to Boiling Springs and left with a 12-10 defeat. The Citadel is currently ranked…#15.

(Dum dum dum dummmm.)

Gardner-Webb’s biggest problem last season was scoring points. The Runnin’ Bulldogs only averaged 12.8 points per game. That was fifth-worst in all of FCS. G-W’s defense was solid (only allowing 20.6 points per contest), but couldn’t overcome the lack of productivity on the offensive side of the ball.

G-W was shut out three times, all on the road (by Wofford, Coastal Carolina, and Charleston Southern) and failed to break double digits in two other games (against Kennesaw State and Monmouth). Gardner-Webb actually won two low-scoring affairs (14-10 over Presbyterian and 13-9 over Virginia Union).

Gardner-Webb struggled on the ground (averaging just 3.6 yards per rush). However, there was a reason G-W ran 66% of the time anyway. When the Runnin’ Bulldogs tried to become Passin’ Bulldogs, things didn’t always go well. Just to give you an idea:

  • 46.0% completion percentage (ranked 117th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 98.7 yards per game passing (118th)
  • 9.44 passing yards per completion (117th) [and only 4.3 yards per pass attempt]
  • 82.93 offensive team passing efficiency (118th)

The team also finished 113th in total offense, 109th in Red Zone offense, 107th in total first downs, and 118th in 3rd-down conversion rate (25.1%).

Defensively, Gardner-Webb’s only major negative was probably not forcing enough turnovers (14 in 11 games). However, in general the numbers looked good on that side of the ball, particularly the defensive third-down conversion rate (25.9%, which was third-best nationally).

Those anemic 3rd-down conversion rates for both G-W and its opponents meant that there was a lot of punting in Gardner-Webb games, an average of 13.5 boots per contest. In contrast, The Citadel and its opponents combined for 8.3 punts per game in 2015.

One other observation: Gardner-Webb held its own in 2015 when it came to scoring in the 2nd and 4th quarters, but was outscored by a combined 121-41 in the 1st and 3rd periods.

This season, Gardner-Webb is 1-1. It opened the campaign by travelling to Elon and extinguishing the Phoenix, 31-6. Last week, the Runnin’ Bulldogs ran aground at Western Carolina, losing 44-14. The game against The Citadel will be G-W’s home opener.

Against Elon, the score was 3-3 at halftime, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs came out of the locker room on fire. As part of a 327-yard rushing day, Gardner-Webb scored on four of its first five possessions of the second half, with the shortest of those scoring drives being 65 yards.

Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell rushed for 154 yards, while running back Khalil Lewis also hit triple figures on the ground and scored three touchdowns. Gardner-Webb was 8 of 13 on third down conversion attempts, a vast improvement in that category from what it managed throughout the 2015 season.

What made the outburst even more impressive was that offensive coordinator Brett Nichols missed the game to be present at the birth of his son.

Gardner-Webb’s second game was a complete reversal of its first, at least in the second half. Western Carolina held a slim 17-14 lead as the third quarter began, but the Catamounts dominated the game from that point forward, scoring 27 unanswered points on four long scoring drives.

WCU finished with 690 yards of total offense (averaging 8.0 yards per play), including 427 passing yards. Catamounts running back Detrez Newsome rushed for 148 yards on 19 carries.

Gardner-Webb punted six times in seven second-half possessions, turning the ball over on downs the only time it didn’t punt. G-W also fumbled a kickoff.

Gardner-Webb runs a spread offense, one that features several natives of South Carolina.

Tyrell Maxwell (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Cordova who went to Edisto High School. Maxwell was a standout quarterback and safety in high school (appearing in the Shrine Bowl), but he has strictly been a dual-threat QB at Gardner-Webb.

Maxwell is 23-46 passing for 188 yards so far this season for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, with one interception. He has 225 rushing yards (5.9 yards per carry), with two touchdowns. Maxwell is the alltime rushing leader at the quarterback position for G-W.

Khalil Lewis (5’10”, 210 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore running back from Hilton Head Island. He rushed for over 100 yards against Elon and Western Carolina, the first Gardner-Webb running back to have back-to-back 100+yard rushing games in five years.

Redshirt senior tight end Mike Estes (6’4″, 230 lbs.)  is the primary receiving threat for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Estes was a first-team All-Big South performer last year after catching 29 passes (five of which went for TDs). He caught four passes in each of the first two games this season.

Estes had four receptions against The Citadel two years ago, including a 17-yarder.

Average size of the projected starters along the offensive line for Gardner-Webb: 6’3″, 303 lbs.

Left guard Caleb Smith (6’3″, 330 lbs.) is the biggest member of a very large o-line. He is also a preseason first-team All-Big South selection. The redshirt senior is from Woodruff.

Defensively, Gardner-Webb normally lines up in a 3-4, although against the triple option there may be some adjustments.

Bookend outside linebackers lead the way for the defense. Chad Geter (6’2″, 253 lbs.) is a redshirt senior from Irmo who went to Dutch Fork High School. A two-time All-Big South pick, Geter had 92 tackles last season.

Aaron Cook (6’1″, 235 lbs.) is an Edgefield resident. Cook was a second-team All-Big South choice last season. Two years ago versus The Citadel, he led the Runnin’ Bulldogs with nine tackles.

Free safety Spencer Havird (6’2″, 202 lbs.) is a three-year starter. The redshirt junior, a native of San Diego, led the Big South last season in passes defended.

Gardner-Webb will rotate as many as eight players along the three down lineman spots. There is a lot of bulk in that mix, too. The projected starters average 282 lbs.; the three listed players at nosetackle weigh 293 lbs., 309 lbs., and 295 lbs.

Placekicker Paul Schumacher (5’10”, 172 lbs.) was 7-12 on field goal attempts last season, with a long of 41. The junior also handles kickoffs and PATs. Schumacher competes as a long jumper on the school’s track team.

Andrew Komornik (6’5″, 263 lbs.) is a redshirt junior and one of the larger punters around. The resident of Ft. Mill was busy last season, with 70 punts (averaging 38.1 yards per boot).

Sophomore Brody Rollins (5’11”, 176 lbs.) is a speedster, and maybe the top breakaway threat on the Gardner-Webb roster. He is averaging 29.7 yards per kick return, and is also the backup quarterback for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Boiling Springs, per the National Weather Service: a chance of rain before 2:00 pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, then a chance of showers after 4:00 pm. It is expected to be partly sunny, with a high near 82 degrees. On Saturday night, there is a 30% chance of showers. It will be mostly cloudy, with a low around 67 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Gardner-Webb (the Bulldogs were also a 15.5-point favorite over Furman last week). The over/under is 37.5, one of the lower totals on the entire Division I slate.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 13-point favorite at Furman; Wofford is a 42-point favorite over Johnson C. Smith; Mercer is a 14.5-point favorite over Tennessee Tech; and Western Carolina is a 29.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State.

The game between Western Carolina and ETSU will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway, the site for last Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Tennessee matchup. There may not be as many fans in Bristol for this week’s game.

Samford and VMI are both off this week.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 5-1 against the spread, with only VMI failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 26-point favorite against James Madison.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 14th among FCS teams, down two spots from last week. Gardner-Webb is ranked 72nd, dropping 16 spots after its loss to Western Carolina.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 88% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 24-7.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (6th), Samford (17th), Western Carolina (21st), Wofford (26th), Furman (43rd), Mercer (46th), VMI (60th), East Tennessee State (110th).

Seven of the nine SoCon teams moved up in the rankings this week.

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Gardner-Webb has 39 players from North Carolina on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (20), Georgia (12), Florida (7), Alabama (3), Virginia (2), Tennessee (2), Illinois (2), and one each from California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. In addition, offensive tackle Jordan Stalker is a native of Australia, and starting defensive end P.J. Fuimaono is from American Samoa.

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

– Gardner-Webb will play Miami (OH) later in the season. Future FBS opponents for the Runnin’ Bulldogs include Wyoming (2017), Appalachian State (2018), and Charlotte (2019). Last season, Gardner-Webb opened the season against South Alabama.

G-W has played some power-five conference schools in recent years, including Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Mississippi State.

– Tom Moore has the distinction of having been the head football coach at both Gardner-Webb (1979-82) and The Citadel (1983-86). His records at the two schools were similar — 17-24 at Gardner-Webb, and 18-25-1 at The Citadel.

– This week in the FCS national statistical rankings: The Citadel’s national lead in the “fewest penalties” category did not last long.

Other observations: The Citadel is tied for sixth nationally in turnover margin (+5). While the rushing numbers are modest compared to the previous two seasons (currently 21st), the offensive passing statistics have been good — sixteenth in completion percentage, fourth in yards per completion (18.6), and eighth in passing efficiency.

Among individuals, Dee Delaney is third nationally in passes defensed and interceptions, while Tyler Renew is 13th nationally in rush yards per game.

– Brent Thompson is the fourth head coach in school history to begin his career with two victories. If The Citadel wins on Saturday, he will be one of two to begin his career with three wins.

Ralph Foster started his career 4-0, including a 3-0 mark in 1906. That season is notable because the TSA Matrix Ratings System recently awarded the national championship to The Citadel for that year.

It hasn’t been widely publicized as of yet, unlike The Citadel’s 1871 national title. One other difference is that the 1871 championship is undisputed (both Yale and Princeton claim the 1906 title as well).

I’ll probably write more about the 1906 championship campaign early next year.

– Triple option oddity, the sequel: through two games this season, more Bulldogs have caught passes (seven) than had rushing attempts (five).

– Saturday’s game is one of three that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season. As it happens, the Bulldogs’ three Old North State opponents compete in three different leagues — the Big South  (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (North Carolina).

The Citadel is favored on Saturday, and justifiably so. However, Gardner-Webb has proven to be a tough out at home in recent years, and has a history of giving good teams a hard time (as its victories over ranked opposition attest).

If the Cadets play a solid game on both sides of the ball, limiting turnovers and penalties, they should come back to Charleston with their third win of the season. It would be a great way to go into a bye week.

That said, nothing is easy at The Citadel, and that includes road football games. Any win away from home is a good win.

We’ll see if the team can get the job done on Saturday.

Game Review, 2016: Furman

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Greenville News

“Notes” section, The Greenville News

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Brent Thompson, Dominique Allen, and Jordan Black

Video from WCIV-TV

Game story, The Moultrie News

Short game story, Southern Pigskin

Game video highlights

Josh LeBlanc catch

Box score

Post-game notes

The Citadel 19, Furman 14.

It was not the most elegant of contests. Both offenses had plays they would like to have had back. The special teams weren’t all that special.

Then again, the defenses for both sides had a lot to do with the way the game was played. That, and the hard-fought nature of the matchup (which came as a surprise to no one).

Both teams ran 61 plays. Furman averaged 4.5 yards per play, The Citadel 4.9.

The Bulldogs only averaged 3.5 yards per rush, well under expectations, but the Paladins were even more anemic on the ground, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.

It wasn’t a complete debacle for the offenses. The two teams combined to score five touchdowns on five Red Zone opportunities. The Citadel actually converted on 50% of its third down attempts (8-16).

The Bulldogs would have converted at an even better clip if not for some ill-timed penalties. One wonders if the SoCon office had a word with the officiating crew after The Citadel was only called for one penalty last week.

During the course of the game, the two teams combined for a fumbled kickoff, a muffed punt, three missed field goals, and a botched PAT. Yeesh.

The Citadel led 13-7 at the break, with each side taking advantage of special teams miscues for TDs. The difference over the first thirty minutes was the touchdown scored by Jordan Black to conclude The Citadel’s opening drive, by far the longest sustained possession of the half by either squad.

Furman would eventually take the lead late in the third quarter, driving 67 yards for the score. The key play was an outstanding 31-yard reception by Paladins receiver Andrej Suttles, setting up a first-and-goal on the 1-yard line that was converted into a TD two plays later.

The Citadel’s offense would have three opportunities to regain the lead. The first ended in a missed field goal attempt.

The second, a drive set up by Dee Delaney’s second interception of the game, ended after a 4th-and-1 run by Dominique Allen was ruled short of the line to gain by the officials. It was a very poor spotting decision in the eyes of many observers (including mine).

Brent Thompson tried very hard not to say too much when asked about that after the game:

I certainly thought we got it, and I thought we got it pretty clearly…you just hope that nobody really…changes the outcome of a game because of a decision like that.

The Bulldogs persevered, however, and four plays later Furman had to punt. The ensuing drive would be the decisive one, with the critical play a 29-yard completion from Allen to DeAndre Schoultz on 3rd-and-7 from The Citadel’s 25-yard-line.

Two plays later, Thompson and offensive coordinator Lou Conte dialed up their best play call of the night, a 1st-and-10 pass to Tyler Renew that went for 21 yards. Five rushing plays later, Allen scored what proved to be the winning TD.

Furman’s last chance was snuffed out by a Malik Diggs interception, one of three picks by the Bulldogs.

Random thoughts:

– If you’re an official and you decide to call a taunting penalty on a player for pointing at an opponent, perhaps you should also consider the action that led to the player pointing at the opponent — and penalize that individual as well. Just an idea.

– The Citadel needs to clean up its placekicking mechanics. I’m not necessarily talking about the kicker, but all the elements involved.

– The first-half injury to Furman running back Darius Morehead further exacerbated what appears to be the Paladins’ biggest problem, namely a lack of offensive playmakers.

– Dee Delaney was a preseason first-team All-American, and he had an All-American kind of game against Furman. He had two interceptions (both impressive), two pass breakups, and four tackles.

– Kailik Williams was all over the field (12 tackles), and Noah Dawkins was also a prominent on-field presence (8 tackles).

– The Citadel’s defense had no sacks, but I thought it got decent pressure on the passer for a good portion of the game. Tevin Floyd helped create the first of Dee Delaney’s two interceptions with what was recorded as a “hurry”; another hurry (by Dawkins) led to the second of Delaney’s picks.

– In the “links of interest” section above, I included a link of freshman wide receiver Josh LeBlanc’s first career reception. It was certainly a memorable one. LeBlanc is a native of Houston, Texas.

– Brent Thompson’s answers in his post-game Q-and-A sessions with the media have included some of the more quietly thoughtful, introspective comments you will hear from a coach in that type of setting. He clearly hasn’t been a head coach for long.

– It was the first home game of the season for the folks running the PA. Let’s hope things will improve by the time North Greenville comes to town.

– All things considered, it was a solid crowd for the home opener (particularly given the stadium seating situation). It was by and large a good show, too, on the field and off. That should pay dividends for attendance at home games later in the season.

Next up: a non-conference road game against Gardner-Webb. I’ll have a preview for that one later in the week (maybe by Thursday).

As usual, I took pictures, which can be seen below (most of them are annotated). As is often the case, they are mostly bad.

If you’re wondering about the paucity of action shots (such as they are) for the third and fourth quarters, my camera’s batteries died on me shortly after halftime. Then my cellphone’s battery started a downward spiral of its own late in the game. It was one of those nights.

I’ll trade all that for the victory, however.

2015 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 7. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Preview of VMI-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Scott Wachenheim on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 11/3 press conference (with comments from Sam Frye and Mitchell Jeter)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Promotional spot for VMI-The Citadel

FCS Coaches’ Poll

Eric Goins one of 32 kickers recognized by the Fred Mitchell Award

Dee Delaney and Mitchell Jeter both make a CFPA Watch List

VMI’s video preview of the game

Scott Wachenheim is in his first year at the helm of VMI football; it is the first head coaching job for the 53-year-old native of Woodland Hills, California. Wachenheim replaced Sparky Woods, who was let go after seven seasons in Lexington.

Wachenheim was an offensive lineman at Air Force who later served as an assistant coach under Ken Hatfield at Rice for twelve years (Hatfield had also been Wachenheim’s head coach when he played at Air Force). In the last five years of his tenure at Rice, Wachenheim was the Owls’ offensive coordinator; prior to that, he had been the offensive line coach.

After the Ken Hatfield era at Rice ended, Wachenheim spent three years at Liberty, then moved to the NFL for one season as the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins. He had been an assistant at Virginia for five years before getting the VMI gig.

At his introductory press conference, Wachenheim was asked if, and how, VMI could win:

I think you win because you’re at VMI. I think that’s why you win…because of what our young men work at on post and in barracks. I think you can take those lessons that have been proven over many, many years to produce some of America’s best leaders and some of the toughest men and use that to help you build a championship football team.

That’s fine and all, but VMI players have always worked hard on post and in the barracks, and it hasn’t translated into a winning season since 1981. Until the administration at the school makes it a priority to have a more successful football program, that is likely to continue.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for league contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Both VMI and The Citadel have played five conference games. The Keydets are 1-4 in the SoCon. They have lost to Furman (24-21), Samford (49-13), Chattanooga (33-27), and Wofford (41-20). VMI’s lone win in the league came at Mercer (28-21).

Of those games, the Samford, Chattanooga, and Wofford matchups were played in Lexington.

The Citadel is 5-0 in the league, having defeated Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), and Mercer (21-19) at home, while beating Samford (44-25) and Furman (38-17) on the road.

In five league games, VMI’s offense has thrown the ball 201 times, with nineteen other would-be pass play attempts resulting in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Keydets have rushed 135 times, so VMI has passed the ball (or attempted to pass) on just under 62% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 74.1% of VMI’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). The Keydets average 6.1 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). VMI’s average yards per pass attempt rises to 7.1 when sacks are not considered.

Among SoCon teams, VMI is seventh in scoring offense (21.8 ppg). The Keydets are fifth in total offense, but last in yards per play (5.1).

The Citadel is second in scoring defense (16.6 ppg) and total defense, allowing 4.8 yards per play. Chattanooga leads the conference in both categories.

The Keydets are second in passing offense, averaging 287 yards per game. VMI is sixth among SoCon teams in offensive pass efficiency, with seven touchdown passes against eleven interceptions.

The Citadel is sixth in the conference in pass defense, but second in pass defense efficiency. The Bulldogs are allowing 6.5 yards per pass attempt, third in the league, and have intercepted 7 passes in conference play (while giving up four TD tosses).

Last week, The Citadel did not intercept a pass against Mercer (which still has not thrown a pick all season). The Bulldogs now have a 13/4 interception/TD ratio, second-best in the FCS (behind Southern Utah, which has 14 interceptions and has only allowed 3 touchdown passes).

While VMI quarterback Al Cobb has been sacked nineteen times in conference play, The Citadel’s defense has recorded 17 sacks, tied with Chattanooga for the most in SoCon games. Mitchell Jeter picked up another sack against Mercer and now has 5.5 in league contests, more than any other player.

VMI has completed 60.8% of its passes, fourth-best among league teams. The Keydets average 40.2 pass attempts per contest, second-most in the conference (Samford is averaging a borderline incredible 47.6 passing attempts in SoCon play).

The Citadel’s defense is allowing an opponents’ completion percentage of 59.5%, third-lowest in the conference.

VMI is last in the SoCon in rushing offense, averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Not counting sacks, the Keydets average 27 rushing attempts per league contest.

In conference games, The Citadel is second in rushing defense, and is allowing 3.4 yards per rush (also placing second in that category).

VMI is converting 42.9% of its third-down attempts, fourth-best in the SoCon. The Citadel is second in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (35.2%).

The last two games for VMI have featured the highs and lows of third-down conversion attempts. Against Mercer, the Keydets converted 17 of 19 third-down tries, including 12 straight to begin the game (and six of those were 3rd-and-7 or longer).

Last week versus Wofford, however, VMI was only 1 for 12 converting third-down attempts.

The Keydets have a red zone TD rate of 57.9% (11-19). Of the Keydets’ eleven red zone touchdowns, six came via the rush. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (50%, 8-16) is tied for first in the conference with Wofford (10-20).

When going for it on fourth down this season, VMI is 6 for 12 (50%). Opponents of The Citadel have tried ten fourth-down attempts in league action, converting six times.

VMI is last among league teams in total defense, allowing 33.6 points per game. The Keydets are fifth in the league in total defense, allowing 5.6 yards per play.

The Keydets are fifth in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 4.9 yards per rush attempt (next-to-last in the league). VMI opponents have scored fourteen rushing touchdowns in five games.

The Citadel is first in scoring offense (34.0 ppg), second in total offense (averaging 6.2 yards per play, tops in the SoCon) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs rank second nationally, behind only Cal Poly). The Citadel is averaging 5.6 yards per rush attempt, best in the conference.

Tangent: speaking of Cal Poly, the Mustangs had four different players rush for over 100 yards last week – but still lost by 17 points to Southern Utah, 54-37. Cal Poly lost five fumbles, three of which were returned for touchdowns by the opportunistic Thunderbird defensive unit.

You don’t see a box score like that every day.

The Bulldogs are next-to-last in the SoCon in passing yardage per game (ahead of Wofford), but average a league-best 11.1 yards per pass attempt, and are first in offensive pass efficiency among conference squads. The Citadel’s offense has two TD passes and one interception in league play.

VMI is fifth in pass defense among SoCon outfits, sixth in defensive pass efficiency, with one interception against five touchdown passes allowed. The Keydets’ D has four sacks in five games.

At 52.9%, The Citadel leads the conference in offensive third down conversion rate; overall, the Bulldogs are third nationally (behind James Madison and Kennesaw State). VMI is sixth in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, at 46.2%.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 72.7%, second-best in the league. All 16 of the Bulldogs’ red zone touchdowns in SoCon play have been of the rushing variety.

VMI’s red zone defensive TD rate is 71.4%, which ranks next-to-last among conference teams.

The Bulldogs are 2 for 4 on fourth-down conversion attempts in league games. The Keydets’ defense has stopped SoCon opponents on fourth down on 4 of 8 occasions.

The Citadel is +5 in turnover margin (gained eleven, lost six), tied for second in the league in that category. The Keydets have the SoCon’s worst mark at -9 (gained five, lost fourteen).

For the season, VMI is -16 in turnover margin, worse than any other FCS team except Idaho State. Only one team (Mississippi Valley State) has committed more turnovers than the Keydets.

Of the fourteen turnovers VMI has given up in SoCon play, ten of them have occurred in the second half — eight interceptions, two fumbles. Both of the second-half fumbles came last week against Wofford; one of them happened after a Terrier punt hit a Keydet blocker on the foot, and was then recovered by Wofford.

VMI has committed at least one second-half turnover in all five of its conference games. In only one of those games (against Chattanooga, interestingly enough) did the Keydets commit fewer than two turnovers in the second half.

On FG attempts, the Bulldogs are 3 for 5 in the league (21-21 on PATs). The Keydets are 4 for 5 kicking field goals, and are 13-14 on extra point attempts.

The Citadel is fifth in the conference in net punting yardage (35.9), while VMI ranks seventh (31.2). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are third in the league, while the Keydets are second.

VMI is next-to-last in the SoCon in kickoff return average, though the Keydets opened last week’s game against Wofford with a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD. The Citadel is first in this category, though it should be noted that the Bulldogs have only returned six kickoffs in league contests.

The Bulldogs rank fourth in time of possession (32:16) among league teams. The Keydets are sixth (26:43).

VMI is averaging 71 plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.66 plays-per-minute rate, which is a rapid pace. The Bulldogs are averaging 70.4 plays per game, with a 2.18 plays-per-minute rate.

In league play, VMI has been called for 3.6 penalties per game, second-fewest in the SoCon (behind Mercer); the Keydets are third nationally in this category. In addition, VMI has been the beneficiary of more penalty yardage assessed against its opponents than any other league team.

The Citadel has been called for the third-most penalties among SoCon teams. Of course, Bulldog opponents have been called for fewer penalties than opponents of any other conference school, which is becoming a tradition.

Note: statistics in the following sections are for all games.

Al Cobb (6’3″, 190 lbs.) is VMI’s outstanding second-year quarterback. Cobb is from Pulaski, Tennessee (one of ten Tennesseans on the Keydets’ roster).

So far this season, Cobb is completing 60.8% of his passes, averaging 7.02 yards per attempt, with 14 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He is averaging almost 40 pass attempts per game.

Cobb is not afraid to throw the ball downfield. He is averaging 11.5 yards per completion, with 23 passes going for 25+ yards. Cobb also had a 29-yard reception versus Samford.

While that catch showed some versatility, Cobb much prefers to throw the ball to targets like Aaron Sanders.

Sanders (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is a junior who led the Keydets in receptions last season with 58, for 901 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had a big game against The Citadel in last year’s matchup, with 7 receptions for 165 yards and a score.

This season, Sanders already has 72 receptions, which leads the SoCon. That includes a monster outing in VMI’s victory over Mercer, in which he caught a school-record 16 passes for 218 yards.

Of those 218 yards, 146 came after the catch. That will be something to watch on Saturday, not just for Sanders but for the other Keydet pass-catchers. The Citadel’s defenders have to do a good job tackling “in space” to avoid giving up big plays.

VMI flanker Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) has 44 receptions, second on the team. The junior from Richmond caught a touchdown pass against The Citadel last season.

Tight end Sam Patterson (6’5″, 215 lbs.) is a big-play threat who has five touchdown receptions this season. Patterson was limited by injury last year, but he had eight TD catches in 2013.

Derrick Ziglar (5’9″, 230 lbs.) is a fifth-year senior who leads the Keydets in rushing. Ziglar, who averages 4.4 yards per carry and has seven rushing TDs, can also catch passes out of the backfield (nine receptions).

VMI has had some injury issues in the backfield, opening up an opportunity for freshman Quan Myers (5’9″, 175 lbs.).

Average size of the projected starters on the Keydets’ offensive line: 6’4″, 298 lbs. Left tackle Andrew Lewis (6’5″, 260 lbs.) was injured against Wofford last week, but the converted tight end is still listed as a starter on the two-deep.

VMI lines up in a 3-4 defense when not facing the triple option. The Keydets often featured five-man fronts during the latter years of Sparky Woods’ time on post.

It will be interesting to see how Scott Wachenheim and his defensive coordinator, Tom Clark, approach things from a schematic standpoint. Clark was a defensive coach (and former coordinator) at William & Mary prior to taking the position at VMI. Of course, Wachenheim has plenty of experience with the option from an offensive perspective, dating back to his days as a player at Air Force and as a coach at Rice.

Joe Nelson (6’3″, 265 lbs.) is an excellent defensive lineman in his third year as a starter. He had ten tackles against The Citadel in last year’s game.

In the previous two seasons, Nelson was a nosetackle, but he is starting at defensive end this year.

The Keydets’ two inside linebackers are both tackling machines. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3, 220 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, with 89. The sophomore from Pennsylvania has started every game this season, as has redshirt junior Ryan Francis (6’1″, 200 lbs.). Francis has 85 tackles, including seven tackles for loss.

Outside linebacker Tony Richardson (6’3″, 215 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with 8.5. Free safety Greg Sanders (no relation to Aaron Sanders) is a 5’10”, 170 lb. sophomore who is third on the team in tackles, with 69.

Caleb Furlow (6’2″, 195 lbs.) has started every game at cornerback for the Keydets after missing last season due to injury. In 2013, Furlow made 12 starts at strong safety.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is a third-year starter at placekicker for VMI. He is 9-11 on FG attempts this season, with a long of 40 yards. Christopher has a strong leg, having made two 52-yard field goals during his career. He is 21-24 on PATs this year.

Hayden Alford (6’3″, 200 lbs.) is VMI’s punter, averaging 39.5 yards per punt, with six of his forty kicks downed inside the 20-yard-line. He has had one punt blocked this season.

Alford is also VMI’s backup quarterback, and the Keydets are not afraid to take advantage of that; Mike Houston called VMI’s special teams “very aggressive” on his radio show.

That aggression includes opening the second half against Wofford with an onside kick, which was ruled to have been recovered by Wofford, though that decision was controversial.

The Citadel will have to be on its guard on Saturday; players must be mindful of the possibilities for fake punts and other special teams “tricks”.

Dane Forlines in VMI’s primary punt returner, and has also returned the most kickoffs for VMI (16). Greg Sanders is second in that category, with eight kickoff returns. One of those eight was a 99-yard kick return TD on the opening play of the game against Wofford.

Sanders was the first Keydet to return a kickoff return for a touchdown since Tim Maypray (now a VMI assistant coach) did it against The Citadel in 2007. Maypray’s return against the Bulldogs that season was also 99 yards.

Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 225 lbs.), who is VMI’s starting fullback, also snaps on punts and holds on placekicks. The snapper for placekicks is junior Walker Hays (6’1″, 265 lbs.).

Odds and ends:

– As always, there will be a lot going on at Homecoming. Here is a schedule listing some of the events: Link

– The Citadel Regimental Band will perform at halftime.

– The Bulldogs will be trying to win their sixth league game of the season on Saturday. Only once before, in 1992, has The Citadel won six SoCon football contests in a year.

– The weather forecast: as of Wednesday night, the National Weather Service was projecting a mostly sunny day in Charleston on Saturday, with a high of 80 degrees.

It is Homecoming. The Bulldogs are on a four-game winning streak, are 5-0 in the SoCon, and play for the league title next week. The weather looks good.

There is no reason not to be at this game — and it is possible that many other people share that opinion. On his radio show Wednesday night, Mike Houston mentioned that he was told by a school official that the West Stands were “sold out” for Saturday.

Massey Ratings update: The Citadel is rated 112th in Division I, 17th among FCS teams. Chattanooga is the highest-rated SoCon team (9th in FCS).

Harvard is still rated first among FCS teams, which I consider to be an example of how playing a restricted schedule can skew a rating. The Ivy League as a whole has played a grand total of four non-conference games this season against opponents outside of the NEC and Patriot League (Rhode Island twice, Maine, and Villanova).

VMI is rated 80th among FCS teams, one spot ahead of Mercer. Other league squads: Western Carolina (30th), Furman (41st), Wofford (44th), Samford (52nd).

South Carolina is rated 67th among all D1 squads; Georgia Southern is 66th. Clemson is still 2nd.

There are 24 FBS teams currently trailing The Citadel in the ratings.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 23-point favorite over VMI. The over/under is 62.

That strikes me as a fairly ludicrous line, given that only Samford has beaten VMI by a larger margin, and The Citadel has only defeated two teams by more points all season (Davidson and Wofford).

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 16-point favorite at Mercer; Western Carolina is favored by 8 points versus Furman; and Samford is expected to crush Clark Atlanta, as the Birmingham Bulldogs are 50-point favorites against the Division II school.

The matchup between Furman and Western Carolina is essentially the league’s third-place game and does carry some potential playoff ramifications, though that may be a longshot for either team.

Wofford is off on Saturday. The Terriers will host Furman next week.

– East Tennessee State finally got a win this season, beating Warner 42-9. The Buccaneers are now 1-7. ETSU travels to Moon Township, Pennsylvania on Saturday, to play Robert Morris. The Colonials are 24.5-point favorites in that game.

– Of the 22 starting positions on The Citadel’s offensive and defensive units, the same player has started every game for 18 of them.

That number was 20 until last week, when Vinny Miller and Alex Glover missed the Mercer game with injuries. Both are listed as starters on this week’s two-deep, however.

– VMI has 56 players from Virginia on its roster. Other states represented: Tennessee (10), Pennsylvania (6), Maryland (5), North Carolina (4), Georgia (4), West Virginia (2), New York (2), and one each from Florida, Michigan, Alabama, and South Carolina (starting right tackle Iyan Roseborough, who went to Fairfield Central High School). There is also one Keydet from Washington, DC.

– Two weeks ago, VMI won at Mercer, breaking a 30-game road losing streak. Last week was a home game for the Keydets.

VMI has not won two straight road games since 1979. The Keydets will have a chance to do so on Saturday.

– VMI last defeated The Citadel in 2002, a matchup played in Charlotte. It is a game generally remembered for being contested in miserable weather, and with horrific field conditions.

– In 2003, VMI finished 6-6, its last non-losing season. The Keydets were coached at the time by Cal McCombs, a graduate of The Citadel. Since that year, VMI’s overall record is 25-107.

– Individual leaders for The Citadel (SoCon games only): Dee Delaney has three interceptions in five league contests, one more than any other player, and is far and away the conference leader in passes defensed. Besides leading the league in sacks, Mitchell Jeter also tops the SoCon in tackles for loss.

Joe Crochet remains the only conference player to have recovered more than one fumble in league play (he has two). Eric Goins has the most converted PATs without a miss (21).

Dominique Allen leads the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency and is tied for first in points scored (48). DeAndre Schoultz is apparently the only league punt returner with enough returns (14 in conference games) to qualify for the conference leaderboard.

While none of them are leading the league, there are four Bulldogs in the top 10 of rushing (conference play only): Dominique Allen, Cam Jackson, Vinny Miller, and Tyler Renew. To highlight the number of quality runners The Citadel has on the roster, two other Bulldogs (Isiaha Smith and Evan McField) appear in the top 10 in overall rushing among league players (joined on that list by Allen and Miller).

– In the links section at the top of this post, I noted that Eric Goins has been recognized for the Fred Mitchell Award. As it happens, Mitchell (a longtime sportswriter) is leaving the Chicago Tribune next month after a 41-year career with that newspaper.

– This week, the Bulldogs will wear light blue jerseys and white pants for Homecoming. Hey, our actual school colors! Miracles do happen.

– This year’s senior class finished 4-0 in Parents’ Day games, with victories over Western Carolina, Appalachian State, Charlotte, and Wofford.

If The Citadel wins on Saturday, the seniors will also complete a perfect 4-0 set of wins on Homecoming. In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have prevailed at Homecoming against Elon, Samford, and Furman.

Somewhat surprisingly, in the modern history of Parents’ Day/Homecoming games (since 1953), The Citadel has never had a four-year stretch in which it won all eight “celebration weekend” contests.

VMI always comes ready to play against The Citadel, and this year will be no different. The Keydets are led by a talented quarterback capable of ringing up yards and points in a hurry (that includes last year’s matchup, when Al Cobb threw for 396 yards against the Bulldogs).

Most of VMI’s games this season have been competitive, and the Keydets are probably unfortunate to only have one league victory. VMI’s win at Mercer and its near-miss against Chattanooga are two good examples of what the Keydets can do on a good day.

Even on some not-so-good days, VMI has done things that make you think. Against Richmond, a top-10 FCS team, the Keydets rushed for 202 yards. That’s not something you necessarily expect.

During his Tuesday press conference, Mike Houston made the observation that the players took the rivalry very seriously, and that for them the VMI game is “as big, or maybe even bigger” than the game against Furman. He noted the game was very important for the players, and that he had sensed this last year as well.

That was good to hear.

This is the first of three big games for The Citadel. It is the only one of the three, however, in which the coveted Silver Shako is at stake.

The greatest trophy in all of sports has resided in Charleston for quite some time now. It needs to stay in the Holy City for at least another year.

Go Dogs!

2015 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel at Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 24. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Chuck Hussion providing play-by-play and Sam Wyche supplying the analysis. Bob Mihalic will be the sideline reporter.

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

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

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

Links of interest:

– Preview of The Citadel-Furman from The Post and Courier

– Preview of The Citadel-Furman from The Greenville News

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 10/20 press conference (with comments from Dominique Allen and Joe Crochet)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Dee Delaney was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Samford

For the second week in a row, The Citadel’s football team performed well and was rewarded with a win. This time it came on the road, against Samford.

The game went almost exactly how The Citadel would have wanted. The Bulldogs controlled the ball (35:15 time of possession) and averaged 6.2 yards per play on offense (including 5.9 yards per rush).

Dominique Allen ran the triple option with aplomb, rushing for 166 yards. Isiaha Smith scored three touchdowns. The offense committed no turnovers.

Conversely, the defense forced four turnovers, one of which was returned for a backbreaking touchdown just before the end of the first half, and limited Samford to 2.6 yards per carry.

SU did throw for 414 yards, but 113 of those came in the game’s final nine minutes, with The Citadel ahead by three touchdowns. Only two of Samford’s last ten completions resulted in a gain of more than nine yards (and neither was a “huge” play, as they were gains of 12 and 16 yards, respectively).

The Bulldogs were only called for two penalties (one enforced, for five yards). Will Vanvick had a punt downed on the 1-yard line, and later had another go out of bounds on the Samford 2-yard line.

It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, though. Both Samford possessions that came after those outstanding punts by Vanvick resulted in touchdown drives, the second of which featured an 83-yard TD pass by SU.

After that play, Samford recovered an onside kick, and appeared to have some momentum. It took exactly one play for The Citadel’s defense to pop SU’s balloon, however, with Dee Delaney forcing a fumble that was recovered by Joe Crochet.

That play finished off a (mostly) great day at the office for Delaney, who was the league’s defensive player of the week. It was also Crochet’s second fumble recovery of the year; somewhat surprisingly, he is the only player in the Southern Conference to have more than one recovered fumble this season.

Okay, time to talk about Furman…

Bruce Fowler is in his fifth season as the Paladins’ head football coach. He has a record of 23-31 (16-17 in the SoCon), with an FCS playoff appearance two seasons ago.

Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman. He is a member of the Dick Sheridan coaching tree, like every other Furman head coach since Sheridan left Greenville after the 1985 season.

Furman was 3-8 last year, which was a tough way to follow up a league co-championship. The Paladins suffered through a string of injuries in 2014 that would have tested the patience of Job, but whether or not the school administration would be similarly patient if Furman struggles again this season is open to debate.

It is worth noting that there is a new director of athletics at the school, Mike Buddie (who was in the mix for the job at The Citadel before the military college hired Jim Senter).

I don’t know anything about the inner workings of Furman, but I was reminded of the school’s modern-day expectations when I read that former head coach Jimmy Satterfield had been inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame; he was honored two weeks ago. Satterfield was 66-29-3 in eight years at the helm, with a national title to his credit.

Satterfield’s record in his last two seasons at Furman was a combined 11-10-1. He was fired.

Bobby Lamb is the head coach at Mercer, the opponent for The Citadel next week. He was Fowler’s predecessor at Furman, where he also played. Lamb’s record at Furman was 67-40 (one league title).

Lamb’s record in his last two seasons at Furman was a combined 11-11. He was fired.

I could be wrong, but this might be an important year for Bruce Fowler. We shall see.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for all games, unless otherwise indicated.

As I mentioned last week, that isn’t ideal for comparative purposes, but Furman and The Citadel have combined to play only five league games. Since 2015 total statistics at this point are almost certainly more germane to this season than the 2014 numbers, I’m going to use this year’s stats.

Furman is 3-3 on the season, with wins over VMI (24-21), South Carolina State (17-3), and UCF (16-15). The Paladins have lost to Chattanooga (31-3), Virginia Tech (42-3), and Coastal Carolina (38-35). The games against the Chanticleers, Keydets, and Orangeburg’s Bulldogs were contested in Greenville.

The Citadel is 4-2, with victories over Davidson (69-0), Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), and Samford (44-25). The Bulldogs have lost to Charleston Southern (33-20) and Georgia Southern (48-13). The matchups against the Eagles and Birmingham’s Bulldogs were road games for The Citadel.

In six games, Furman’s offense has thrown the ball 190 times, and has had fourteen other would-be pass plays result in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Paladins have rushed 199 times, so the run/pass mix for FU is very close to 50-50.

Passing yardage accounts for 57.4% of Furman’s total offense (I took out the sack yardage when computing that statistic). The Paladins average 5.12 yards per pass attempt (again, with sack yardage taken into account).

Among SoCon teams, Furman is last in both scoring offense (16.3 ppg) and total offense, and is also last in the league in yards per play (4.5). The Citadel is third in scoring defense (21.1 ppg) and total defense and is allowing 5.4 yards per play.

Furman is fifth in passing offense, averaging 193.2 yards per game. The Paladins are last among SoCon teams in offensive pass efficiency, with three touchdown tosses and six interceptions.

The Citadel was leading the conference in pass defense and pass defense efficiency prior to the Samford game, but now ranks third in the league in the first of those categories. However, the Bulldogs still lead all SoCon squads in defensive pass efficiency (12th nationally), allowing 6.2 yards per attempt (the league low).

The Citadel has intercepted eleven passes while allowing just one touchdown throw (which came last week against Samford). That is the top ratio in FCS; only Jacksonville and Southern Utah have intercepted more passes (13) than the Bulldogs.

Furman quarterbacks have been sacked fourteen times, tied for the second-most among conference squads. As noted above, the sack yardage against the Paladins has been significant; for example, VMI has been sacked seven more times than Furman, but the Paladins have lost more yardage from sacks (110) than the Keydets (108).

The Citadel’s defense has recorded twelve sacks, third-best in the league. Mitchell Jeter has 5.5 of those sacks for the Bulldogs.

Furman has completed 55.3% of its passes, second-lowest among SoCon teams. The Paladins are averaging 31.7 pass attempts per contest, fourth-most in the conference.

Not counting sack yardage, Furman is averaging 3.9 yards per carry. The sack statistic really makes a difference in this case, because the Paladins’ average per rush is technically 3.1 yards per attempt. FU has eight rushing touchdowns, fewest in the league.

The Citadel is sixth in rushing defense, and is allowing 4.8 yards per rush (tied for the league worst in that category). Samford was not able to consistently run the ball against the Cadets last Saturday, but I don’t expect that to dissuade the Paladins from trying to control the game on the ground.

Furman is only converting 34.8% of its third-down attempts, the lowest percentage in the SoCon. The Citadel is third in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (38.4%), though the Bulldogs did allow Samford to convert 9 of 17 third-down attempts last week.

The Paladins have a red zone TD rate of 66.7%, fourth-best among SoCon squads; seven of the eight TDs Furman has scored in the red zone were via the rush. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (52.9%) ranks third in the conference.

When going for it on fourth down this season, Furman is 4 for 7. Opponents of The Citadel have tried fourteen fourth-down attempts, converting nine times (Samford was 1 for 2 last week).

Furman is fourth in the league in both scoring and total defense, allowing 25.0 points and 373.3 yards per game. FU is allowing 5.4 yards per play.

The Paladins are third in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 4.3 yards per rush attempt. Furman opponents have scored eleven rushing touchdowns in six games.

The Citadel is tied for first in scoring offense (35.5 ppg), third in total offense (averaging 6.3 yards per play) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs currently rank second nationally, trailing only Cal Poly). The Bulldogs are averaging 5.8 yards per rush attempt, best in the conference.

The Bulldogs are last in the SoCon in passing yardage per game. However, The Citadel continues to average a league-best 10.7 yards per pass attempt, and is third in offensive pass efficiency among conference squads.

Furman is fifth in pass defense among SoCon outfits, but third in defensive pass efficiency, with seven interceptions against five TD passes allowed. The Paladins’ D has only six sacks so far this season, tied for the league low.

At 52.6%, The Citadel leads the conference (and is seventh nationally) in offensive third down conversion rate. Furman is second in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, with an excellent 36.0% rate.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 74.1%, third-best in the league. All twenty of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns from red zone possessions have come via the rush.

Furman’s red zone defensive TD rate is 60.9%, which ranks fourth among conference teams.

The Bulldogs are 3 for 8 on fourth down this year after going 1-1 last week. The Paladins’ defense has faced thirteen fourth-down conversion attempts, and has prevented a first down on eight of those occasions.

The Citadel is +4 in turnover margin (gained sixteen, lost twelve), tied for the top spot in the league in that category. Furman is -1 in that category (gained nine, lost ten).

On field goal attempts, the Bulldogs are 4 for 6, while the Paladins have made five of six tries. Neither team has missed a PAT so far this season.

The Citadel leads the conference in net punting yardage (38.7). Furman ranks fourth (34.8). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are second in the league, while the Paladins are sixth.

Furman is last in the SoCon in kickoff return average (18.2 yards). The Citadel is fourth (22.6).

As far as time of possession is concerned, the Bulldogs rank fifth in that statistic (30:50) among league teams. FU is one spot ahead of them in fourth (31:44).

The Paladins are averaging 67.2 plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.12 plays-per-minute rate. The Bulldogs are averaging slightly more plays per game (67.7) at a slightly faster pace (2.19 plays-per-minute).

Furman has been called for more penalties this year than any other SoCon team (6.7 per game). However, The Citadel’s opponents have been flagged for only 4.8 penalties per contest, third-fewest in the conference.

Now that I’ve posted all those numbers and made the respective comparisons, it’s fair to ask how relevant they are.

It’s a question that doesn’t have a good answer. It’s quite possible they aren’t particularly meaningful at all — at least, where the Paladins are concerned.

Is Furman the team that beat an FBS squad and dropped a hard-fought game to FCS #1 Coastal Carolina by just 3 points? Or are the Paladins the team that struggled at home with VMI and lost badly to Chattanooga?

The raw statistics would indicate the latter scenario is closer to the truth, but there is a reason they’re called “raw” statistics. I think a closer examination of the numbers might suggest that Furman is actually a good team, potentially a very good team.

For example, if you disregard the Paladins’ game against Virginia Tech, Furman is only allowing 3.7 yards per rush. That would be the best mark in the SoCon.

Furman went toe-to-toe with Coastal Carolina, outgaining the Chanticleers through the air and matching CCU on the ground. How did Furman lose? Well, the Paladins gave up a 100-yard kickoff return in that game, and were also foiled by two turnovers.

Before running into a buzzsaw at Chattanooga, Furman had won three straight games, including a 16-15 victory over UCF. I know that the Knights are one of the worst FBS teams in the country, but hey — it’s still a road win over an FBS team. The Paladins held UCF to 3.7 yards per play; the Knights finished with only 98 yards passing (and were intercepted three times by Furman).

I’m inclined to think Furman is better than its statistics show. The only thing that makes me question that judgment is the VMI game, where the Paladins’ defense was solid, but the offense struggled. Frankly, I am a bit puzzled by Furman’s offensive numbers in that contest.

Furman quarterback Reese Hannon (6’1″, 209 lbs.) is a three-year captain who has started 27 games for the Paladins. Hannon was injured in the Paladins’ opening game last season and missed the rest of the 2014 campaign.

Hannon is third among active SoCon players in passing yardage (incidentally, there are three Paladins in the conference’s top 10 in that category). This season, the Greer native (who Mike Houston compared to Andrew Luck in playing style) is completing 55.7% of his pass attempts, averaging 5.99 per attempt, with three touchdowns against six interceptions.

While his 2014 season opener resulted in a season-ending injury, Hannon’s first game in 2015 was considerably more positive, despite Furman eventually losing to Coastal Carolina. Hannon threw for a school-record 365 yards (on 41 attempts), including two TD passes. He also added 35 rushing yards, finishing with 400 yards of total offense — which was also a single-game school record.

Furman tends to run a lot of two-back offensive sets. Mike Houston commented during his radio show that the Paladins “run downhill”, with a lot of play-action.

Triston Luke (5’9″, 187 lbs.) is a freshman from Tennessee who took the last train from Clarksville to the Furman campus. He leads the Paladins in rushing attempts and yards. He scored two touchdowns against South Carolina State.

The starting fullback, Ernie Cain, is a 6’0″, 220 lb. redshirt senior who leads the team in rushing touchdowns with five. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

Furman’s projected offensive line starters average 6’3″, 280 lbs. They have combined to make 111 career starts.

Right guard Joe Turner (6’3″, 270 lbs.) has started 40 games for the Paladins, and was selected first-team All-SoCon by the league coaches last season. He is a fifth-year senior from Roswell, Georgia.

Eric Thoni, a 6’1″, 260 lb. center, returned to the squad (and the starting lineup) after missing last season; he was dismissed from the team during the summer of 2014. Thoni has made 27 career starts.

In general, the Paladins’ offensive line has been more stable this season than it was last year. Four of the five projected starters on Saturday have started every game for Furman this year.

Furman has multiple quality pass-catchers. Jordan Snellings (6’2″, 195 lbs.) is a fifth-year senior who has had a fine career in Greenville. Snellings had eight receptions for 102 yards and a TD in last year’s matchup at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

This season, Andrej Suttles (5’10”, 185 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with 23. He is averaging 14.2 yards per catch, with two touchdowns.

Logan McCarter (6’1″, 182 lbs.) is a big-play threat who averaged 21.5 yards per reception last season. He has 16 catches this year, with a long of 57 yards versus VMI.

Duncan Fletcher came to Furman as a quarterback, and started two games in 2013. Fletcher is now a 6’4″, 231 lb. tight end with 43 career receptions.

He will be a tough cover for The Citadel. Longtime observers of the military college’s football program are well aware that Paladin tight ends have often enjoyed success against the Bulldogs in recent years.

Furman has a new defensive coordinator this season. Kyle Gillenwater was on James Madison’s staff for 15 years, including five seasons as that school’s DC. He joins a staff that has a lot of familiarity with defending the triple option.

Jordan Hawkins (6’1″, 295 lbs.) is a junior defensive tackle who has already started 26 games in his career. Fellow DT Jaylan Reid is a 5’11”, 274 lb. redshirt freshman who is starting in front of veteran lineman John Mackey (who has 27 career starts).

Defensive end Brian Ross (6’5″, 235 lbs.) blocked a punt versus VMI and returned it for a touchdown, a critical play in that contest. The DE on the other side of the line, T.J. Warren (6’2″, 222 lbs.), was a linebacker before being moved to the d-line this spring.

Tackling machine Cory Magwood (6’2″, 232 lbs.) leads the Paladins in stops, with 63. He had 18 tackles last season against The Citadel, and is the active career leader in tackles in the SoCon.

Carl Rider (6’2″, 225 lbs.) redshirted last season due to injury. The middle linebacker was a first-team all-league pick in 2013. He seems to be back at full strength this season. Rider (who Mike Houston called a “lunch-pail kind of guy, blue-collar player, real tough”) had 19 tackles against South Carolina State.

Last year, the Paladins went through more safeties than Spinal Tap did drummers. In 2015, things have been better for Furman on that front.

Trey Robinson (6’1″, 212 lbs.) has started every game and has 4 interceptions and 49 tackles. Byron Johnson (6’2″, 231 lbs.) has started the last five contests at strong safety, while Richard Hayes III has started four games at free safety (having missed one game due to injury).

At cornerback, Reggie Thomas (6’0″, 186 lbs.) has the most career starts of any Furman player, with 41. He has two forced fumbles for the Paladins this season.

Redshirt junior Jamarri Milliken (5’11”, 190 lbs.) will return to the starting lineup on Saturday. He missed the first half of the Chattanooga game after being sidelined by a targeting penalty incurred against VMI.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth is five for six on field goal attempts for Furman. His best effort was a school-record 55-yarder that gave Furman a fourth-quarter lead against UCF that the Paladins did not relinquish.

Hollingsworth is only a sophomore, but he has already made three 50+ yard field goals in his career. With that strong a leg, it should come as no surprise that Hollingsworth also handles kickoffs (8 of his 23 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks).

He also serves as Furman’s punter; this season, he is averaging 37.7 yards per boot. Last season, Hollingsworth had a punt blocked by Samford.

Andrej Suttles is the Paladins’ regular punt returner, a duty he also held last year. Logan McCarter is the primary kickoff returner for Furman; last year he had a 63-yard kickoff return against The Citadel.

Long snapper Danny LaMontagne had been the Paladins’ regular snapper for 33 straight games before he broke his ankle at South Carolina last season. He has snapped in all five games for Furman this year.

Luke Cuneo is a redshirt freshman from Ashland, Massachusetts, who serves as the Paladins’ holder on placekicks. Cuneo is probably one of the smaller players to see playing time in Division I, as he is 5’6″, 168 lbs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast is promising. As of this writing (Thursday night), the National Weather Service was projecting sunny skies in Greenville on Saturday, with a high of 71 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an eight-point favorite over Furman. The over/under is 45.5.

Of course, Samford was an eight-point favorite over The Citadel last week. Sometimes sharpies aren’t too sharp when it comes to FCS games.

– Furman has 27 players from Georgia on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: North Carolina (17), Florida (14), South Carolina (14), Tennessee (12), Alabama (4), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (2), and one each from New Jersey, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and New York.

– As mentioned above, Reese Hannon broke the single-game total offense record for a Furman player against Coastal Carolina.

The record Hannon broke had been set just last season, by his current backup, P.J. Blazejowski, who had 382 yards of total offense in Furman’s OT loss to The Citadel. Curiously, the top six single-game marks for individual total offense in Furman history all occurred in losses.

In case you were wondering, The Citadel’s single-game individual total offense record (486 yards) was set in 2007 by Duran Lawson, in a 54-51 overtime victory over…Furman.

– This Saturday will be Homecoming at Furman. Attendance for the last five Homecoming games at Paladin Stadium:

2010 — 10,394 (vs. Chattanooga)
2011 — 11,716 (vs. Wofford)
2012 — 11,191 (vs. Georgia Southern)
2013 — 9,217 (vs. Samford)
2014 — 8,047 (vs. Samford)

While Homecoming attendance at Furman may have been disappointing in the past two years, there is a good chance it will rebound this Saturday; for one thing, a sizable contingent of visiting supporters should be on hand. That group will include most of the freshmen members of The Citadel’s Corps of Cadets, making the trip to Greenville via a fleet of buses.

It has been many years since a significant part of the corps made a road trip for a football game. As an alumnus, I’m very pleased at this development. I would like for it to happen on a near-annual basis.

– Furman’s game notes for this week includes a reference to “Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito”, which I believe wins some version of SID bingo. Well done.

– On the other hand, the FU release also includes this blurb:

Furman has already avenged a pair of losses from a year ago, defeating both VMI (24-21) and South Carolina State (17-3) after dropping games to the Keydets and Bulldogs in 2014. A win over The Citadel on Saturday would improve the Paladins to 3-0 in revenge matchups.

I’ve got to ask: how are “revenge matchups” being defined? After all, Furman has lost two games this season to teams which also defeated the Paladins last year (Coastal Carolina and Chattanooga).

Is it only a revenge matchup if Furman wins?

– Furman was off last week. In the past four years, the Paladins are 2-2 coming off bye weeks, with one of the wins a 24-17 victory over The Citadel in 2013. This is the first time Furman has played a home game after a bye week since 2011, when the Paladins defeated Presbyterian 66-21.

– Former Bengals and Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche will be the ESPN3 analyst on Saturday. It is unlikely that he will say anything about Cleveland during the broadcast. You never know, though.

While this is a key game for the Bulldogs, it is an equally important game for Furman.

In fact, this game is a great opportunity for the Paladins. With a victory, Furman will be in a position similar to the one The Citadel is in right now — right in the middle of the conference race, and with legitimate playoff aspirations.

The Paladins have already played Chattanooga and VMI. Their remaining league schedule includes three teams The Citadel has beaten (Samford, Western Carolina, and Wofford).

If Furman were to defeat The Citadel, that school’s supporters could logically conclude that the Paladins are capable of beating those same three squads. Take care of business against that trio and Mercer, and Furman is 8-3 and preparing for postseason play. Even at 7-4, the Paladins would have a shot at a playoff berth, given their strong non-conference schedule.

I suspect this will be a very physical contest on both sides of the ball. Furman’s offense will try very hard to establish the run.

There have been times in the recent past (the 2012 game, for instance) when the Paladins got away from running the football. I don’t expect the Furman coaching staff to make the same mistake this time.

That said, I have a lot of confidence in the Bulldogs. They have played very good football over the past two weeks, and I see no reason for that to change on Saturday.

I think this will be a hard-fought game between two good teams. I’m looking forward to it; the atmosphere should be great.

Go Dogs!

2015 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 10. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Preview of Wofford-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Ayers on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 10/6 press conference (with comments from Kyle Weaver, Mitchell Jeter, Dee Delaney…and Duggar Baucom)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Hey, a quick hoops update: learn to embrace the pace!

Oh, and a little baseball news: the 2016 schedule is out, and the attractive home slate includes two games against Clemson — which will be the first time the Tigers have played The Citadel in Charleston since 1990.

This week has been dominated by the aftermath of the extreme flooding that has affected almost all of South Carolina. That is particularly the case in Columbia, where I live and where on Wednesday the University of South Carolina was put in the position of having to move a home football game out of the city.

The Citadel was more fortunate, as its home football game on Saturday will go on as scheduled. This is a big week at the military college, as it is Parents’ Weekend, when seniors get their rings and freshmen become official members of the corps of cadets.

I was a little undecided as to what I would write about for this preview. The Citadel is coming off of a bye week, and there really isn’t much in the way of major news, at least of the non-weather variety. Later in this post I’ll have a small statistical breakdown of the Terriers, but I’m going to take the opportunity to make this a “theme” post. That theme? Mother Nature.

Charlie Taaffe’s first game as The Citadel’s head football coach was scheduled to take place on Saturday, September 5, 1987. The opponent was Wofford; the venue, Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Well, Taaffe did eventually coach that game, but it took place one day later, on September 6, the Sunday before Labor Day. The delay was necessitated by a week of rain (sound familiar?) that left the field (and just about everything else in the area) a soggy mess.

Walt Nadzak actually made the decision to postpone the game early on Friday afternoon, with heavy rains still in the area. From an article in the local newspaper written by a young tyro named Jeff Hartsell:

“We didn’t think it would be fair to the players on either team to have to play in water over their ankles,” Nadzak said Friday. “We didn’t think it would be fair to the crowd or anybody involved. It would not have been a good game in that kind of weather, under miserable conditions. A lot of people would have stayed home, and I think there’s a batter chance of people coming out to see Charlie Taaffe’s first football team on Sunday afternoon.”

The contest was rescheduled for 3:00 pm on Sunday. The corps of cadets marched to the game wearing duty uniforms, which no one in attendance could ever recall happening before. There was still rain in the vicinity at kickoff, but a decent crowd (given the circumstances) of 11,470 was on hand for the game anyway.

By the time the second half began, the sun had made an appearance. Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack had made its appearance much earlier. Fourteen different Bulldogs ran with the football that day, led by Tom Frooman.

Frooman had 101 yards rushing (on only nine carries), then a career high, and scored on the second play from scrimmage, taking the ball from Tommy Burriss on a misdirection play and rumbling 67 yards for a TD. The Citadel won the game 38-0; others in the statistical record included Anthony Jenkins (who intercepted a pass and returned it 33 yards, setting up a touchdown) and Gene Brown (who scored the final TD of the game on a 16-yard keeper).

The Citadel’s offense ran 84 plays from scrimmage (compared to the Terriers’ 42) and rushed for 384 yards, controlling the clock to an enormous degree (44:16 time of possession).

Two years later, bad weather would again cause a change of plans for a home football game at The Citadel. This time, the game was played on the day it was scheduled, but not at Johnson Hagood Stadium. It was a very different (and more dire) situation, but one that featured the same player in a starring role.

Hurricane Hugo’s impact on Charleston and the rest of the Lowcountry is never too far from the minds of those who remember it. Among the footnotes to that time is the 1989 “Hugo Bowl”, a game between The Citadel and South Carolina State that was supposed to have been played in the Holy City, but was eventually contested at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

There would have been a certain kind of hype attached to the game, which explains why a reporter for The Nation was one of the 21,853 people in attendance. However, any sociopolitical context had already been effectively blown away by the winds that had done so much damage to the state the week before.

The Citadel had won its previous game at Navy, 14-10, but that victory had come at a cost. The starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, Brendon Potts, was lost for the season with a knee injury. His replacement was a redshirt freshman named Jack Douglas.

Douglas made his first career start for The Citadel against South Carolina State. He scored two touchdowns while passing for another (a 68-yard toss to Phillip Florence, one of two passes Douglas completed that afternoon).

Shannon Walker had a big game for the Bulldogs, returning a kickoff 64 yards to set up a field goal, and later intercepting a pass that, after a penalty, gave The Citadel possession at South Carolina State’s 6-yard line (Douglas scored his first TD two plays later).

Adrian Johnson scored the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter on a 26-yard run. The Citadel had trailed South Carolina State at halftime, but held the Orangeburg Bulldogs scoreless in the second half.

The military college won the game, 31-20, and finished with 260 rushing yards — 137 of which were credited to one Tom Frooman (on 15 carries). The native of Cincinnati rushed for 118 yards in the second half, with a key 41-yard run that came on the play immediately preceding Johnson’s TD.

Frooman added 64 yards on an 80-yard drive that cemented the victory (Douglas capping that possession with a 3-yard touchdown in the game’s final minute of play).

“We were down and someone had to take control,” Frooman said. “I wanted this game bad.”

Later in that season, the Bulldogs would return to Johnson Hagood Stadium on November 4, their first game in Charleston after the hurricane. The game was attended by a crowd of 15,214.

The Citadel defeated Terry Bowden’s Samford squad, 35-16. That contest featured one completed pass by The Citadel (thrown by Speizio Stowers, a 16-yarder to Cornell Caldwell) and 402 rushing yards by the home team.

Frooman led the way again with 113 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Douglas added 105 yards and a score. Raymond Mazyck picked up 92 yards and a TD, and Kingstree legend Alfred Williams chipped in with 55 yards on the ground.

Tom Frooman had a fine career at The Citadel. He was an Academic All-American, and is still 13th on the school’s all-time rushing list.

It is interesting that some of his best performances came in weather-altered games. Perhaps that says something about his ability to adapt. Or it could just be a fluke. Either way, the yards still count.

Wofford is 3-2, 1-0 in the SoCon. The Terriers are 3-0 against FCS teams (Tennessee Tech, Gardner-Webb, Mercer) and 0-2 versus FBS squads (losing big at Clemson and close at Idaho).

I’m inclined to ignore the game against Clemson (currently a Top-10 FBS team), and am not quite sure what to make of the Idaho contest (a long-distance road game played in a small dome). I’m just going to focus on the other three matchups.

Wofford defeated Tennessee Tech 34-14 in Spartanburg on September 12, a week after playing Clemson. In a way, the game was closer than the score indicates; in another, it was not.

Tennessee Tech scored a touchdown on its opening possession of the game, and had other chances to put points on the board. However, twice the Golden Eagles turned the ball over in the red zone.

In the second quarter, Tennessee Tech advanced to the Wofford 20-yard line before Terriers safety Nick Ward intercepted a pass to thwart the drive. The opening drive of the third quarter saw the Golden Eagles march 69 yards down the field, only to fumble the ball away at the Wofford 4-yard line. A third trip to the red zone at the end of the game ended on downs.

Despite those costly mistakes, Tennessee Tech actually won the turnover battle, as Wofford lost the ball three times on fumbles. Given all that, were the Golden Eagles unlucky to lose the contest? Well, no.

Wofford dominated major portions of the game, controlling the ball (and the clock) with long, sustained drives. The Terriers scored four touchdowns and added two field goals, with each scoring possession at least nine plays in duration (Wofford’s second TD was the result of a 15-play, 73-yard drive). A seventh long drive (10 plays) ended in one of the lost fumbles.

The Terriers averaged 6.9 yards per play, including 6.2 yards per rush and 12.9 yards per pass attempt (two quarterbacks combined to go 7 for 9 through the air, including a 25-yard TD).

Wofford’s time of possession was a commanding 37:05, which is what happens when an offense has a successful ground game and converts 9 of 12 third-down opportunities; the Terriers ran 81 plays from scrimmage. Wofford finished with 562 total yards, more than twice the output of Tennessee Tech (which had 274).

Winning this game by 20 points was a solid result for Wofford. Tennessee Tech had lost badly to Houston prior to facing the Terriers (no shame in that). Following their game in Spartanburg, however, the Golden Eagles defeated Mercer and Murray State (the latter a road game) before losing last week to UT Martin.

On September 26, the Terriers shut out Gardner-Webb 16-0. That home game came one week after a 41-38 loss to Idaho in the Kibbie Dome.

The contest was affected by a near-constant rain that put a damper on both offenses. Wofford won despite producing only 224 yards of total offense (including 159 yards rushing, averaging only 3.0 yards per carry).

On defense, however, Wofford had six tackles for loss and limited the Runnin’ Bulldogs to 149 yards of total offense (and no points, obviously). Gardner-Webb averaged only 2.6 yards per play, never advancing past the Terriers’ 40-yard line.

Wofford did manage another long scoring drive in the game, a 16-play, 96-yard effort that led to the game’s only touchdown. Placekicker David Marvin added three field goals, including a 50-yarder.

Gardner-Webb is 1-3 on the season, with the lone victory coming in a squeaker against Virginia Union. The Runnin’ Bulldogs lost South Alabama by only 10 points in their season opener, but then dropped an overtime decision at home to Elon.

Last week, Wofford escaped middle Georgia with a 34-33 win over Mercer, prevailing in overtime after the Bears missed a PAT in the extra session. Mercer scored 10 points in the final three and a half minutes of regulation, but was unable to score a potential game-winning TD late after having first-and-goal on the Wofford 4-yard line in the closing seconds.

The Terriers got back to their running ways in this one, rushing for 391 yards on 52 attempts (7.5 yards per carry). The possessions weren’t as long in terms of total snaps (only one lasted more than eight plays), but they were efficient enough (five scoring drives of 64+ yards).

Wofford had three runs of more than 50 yards in the contest. The passing game wasn’t in much evidence, as the Terriers only attempted six passes (completing four for a total of 43 yards).

While Mercer’s missed PAT proved costly for the Bears, the game only went to overtime in the first place because Wofford had its own issues in the kicking game, as two of its field goals and an extra point were tipped/blocked (two by the same player, Mercer linebacker Kyle Trammell).

Wofford also fumbled four times, losing two of them.

When the dust had settled in Macon, the Terriers had won despite being outgained in total yardage (464-434) and being on the short end in terms of plays (89-58) and time of possession (a six-minute edge for the Bears).

Mercer is now 2-2 on the campaign, having lost to Tennessee Tech (as mentioned earlier) and Wofford, with victories over Austin Peay and Stetson.

Wofford passes the ball 15.3% of the time, with 21.1% of its total yardage coming through the air.

The Terriers’ depth chart lists four quarterbacks, all separated by the “OR” designation, as in “one of these guys will start, you have to guess which one”. So far this season, three different signal-callers have started for the Terriers.

Evan Jacks, who started last year’s game against The Citadel and rushed for 141 yards and two TDs, has thrown 30 of Wofford’s 48 passes this season, and is also second on the team in rushing attempts. He is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

Brad Butler and Brandon Goodson have also made starts at QB for the Terriers and could see action on Saturday. At least one of them is likely to do so (and the fourth quarterback, senior Michael Weimer, could also make an appearance).

Wofford fullback Lorenzo Long rushed for 194 yards against Mercer, including a 60-yard TD run. Long rushed for 930 yards and 15 TDs last season.

Halfbacks Nick Colvin and Ray Smith both possess impressive yards-per-carry statistics. Colvin is also tied for the squad lead in receptions, with five. You may recall that Smith had a 92-yard touchdown run versus Georgia Tech last year, the longest run by an opponent against the Yellow Jackets in that program’s entire long and distinguished history (and as I said last year, that is just amazing).

Sophomore backup running back Hunter Windham has the Terriers’ lone TD reception. Wideout R.J. Taylor has five catches.

Will Gay, who started at halfback for two of Wofford’s first three games, is out for the season with a knee injury. Gay was also a return specialist for the Terriers.

On the offensive line, Wofford’s projected starters average 6’3″, 292 lbs.

Right tackle Anton Wahrby was a first-team preseason All-SoCon selection; the native of Sweden was a foreign exchange student at Lexington High School (just your everyday 300-lb. foreign exchange student). He is majoring in French.

Right guard T.J. Chamberlin, a preseason second-team all-conference pick, made his season debut against Mercer. Chamberlin missed the first four games of the Terriers’ campaign recovering from a knee injury.

On defense, Wofford runs what it calls the “Multiple 50”. Usually, this involves three down linemen and four linebackers.

The Terriers have had their share of injuries this season, though there is a sense that Mike Ayers and his staff can “plug and play” for most of those players missing time.

One possible exception to that is nosetackle E.J. Speller, who was injured in the opener at Clemson. His gridiron career is now over after shoulder surgery.

Replacing him in the lineup is Miles Brown, a 6’1″, 310-lb. freshman from Cheverly, Maryland, who attended Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. Perhaps he is pals with President Obama’s two daughters, who are also students at Sidwell Friends.

Wofford suffered a blow when linebacker Terrance Morris, a second-team preseason all-league pick, hurt his knee prior to the start of the season. He is out for the year.

Drake Michaelson, also a preseason second-team all-SoCon choice, is the league’s reigning defensive player of the week after making 11 tackles and returning a fumble 31 yards against Mercer. Michaelson and fellow inside linebacker John Patterson share the team lead in tackles, with 38.

Jaleel Green had eight tackles against The Citadel last season from his strong safety position, including two for loss. Chris Armfield, one of the starting cornerbacks, was a second-team all-league preseason pick in 2014.

Armfield has started all five games for the Terriers; indeed, every projected starter for Wofford on defense has started at least four times so far this year.

As mentioned above, Wofford has had some issues with placekicking, but that has more to do with protection than the specialists. Placekicker David Martin is 7 for 10 on the season in field goal tries, with that long of 50 yards against Gardner-Webb. He is 15 for 16 on PAT attempts.

Wofford punter Brian Sanders was the preseason all-league selection at his position. He is currently averaging less than 35 yards per punt; however, his placement statistics are good, with 7 of his 22 punts being downed inside the 20-yard line. Sanders also serves as the holder on placekicks.

Long snapper Ross Hammond is a true freshman. His father, Mark Hammond, is the South Carolina Secretary of State. Ross Hammond’s maternal grandfather played in the CFL and AFL.

Chris Armfield and Nick Colvin are Wofford’s kick returners. Colvin returned a kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown against Idaho. Paul Nelson is the team’s punt returner; he had a 24-yard return and a 17-yard return versus Gardner-Webb.

Odds and ends:

– Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel will feature the usual assortment of on-campus activities. There is a listing of them here: Link

– This is definitely a week to check for road closures. This map may help (I hope it helps me, at least): Link

– Wofford has 38 residents of South Carolina on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: Georgia (21), Florida (16), Tennessee (12), Ohio (8), North Carolina (7), Kentucky (4), Virginia (2), Wisconsin (2), Minnesota (2), and one player each from Alabama, Maryland, Arizona, and Oklahoma. As previously noted, offensive lineman Anton Wahrby is a native of Sweden.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Wofford-The Citadel is a pick’em. The over/under is 48.

– Apparently it is going to be impossible for The Citadel to play a home game at Johnson Hagood Stadium this season under pleasant weather conditions. The forecast on Saturday from the National Weather Service, as of this writing: showers and thunderstorms likely, with a 60% chance of precipitation.

– There will be a halftime performance by the Summerall Guards.

– The Citadel is reportedly wearing its “blazer” football uniform combination for this contest. It’s an apparent effort to make sure cadet parents attending their first football game at The Citadel will have no idea what the school’s official athletic colors actually are.

I’ll be honest here. I have no idea how Saturday’s game will play out on the field. There are a lot of factors involved that only serve to confuse the situation, including potential weather concerns, personnel issues, how The Citadel will perform after a bye week, Wofford’s occasionally inconsistent play (mentioned by Mike Ayers on the SoCon teleconference)…there is a lot going on, and that’s even before you get to Parents’ Day and the hoopla associated with it.

One comment I’ve heard from a few fans that I hope the team doesn’t take to heart: “The Citadel is going to have to be 10 to 14 points better than Wofford to win, because of the officiating.”

The players and coaches can’t worry about the way the game is called. They have enough to worry about.

However, there is no question that plenty of people who follow The Citadel have little to no confidence when it comes to getting a fair shake from SoCon officials, particularly after last year’s officiating debacle in this matchup. I can’t say that I blame them.

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino may not appreciate those negative opinions about his on-field officials, but Bulldog fans have long memories.

I hope The Citadel wins. I also hope there isn’t another egregious officiating mishap that affects the outcome of the game. I’m sure everyone feels the same way.

Stay dry, and fill up the stadium on Saturday.