2018 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 10, 2018.

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA FCS Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 11/6 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 11/7 radio show (video)

The Bulldog Breakdown 11/7

Noah Dawkins is a finalist for the Blanchard-Rogers Trophy

– “The Heat” – Western Carolina game

Samford meets with the media

This week is Homecoming at The Citadel. As always, there will be plenty of events on campus, and a lot of visitors on hand.

On Saturday, the barracks open at 8:30 am (and then close ninety minutes later). The Summerall Guards will perform at 8:50 am.

The review parade is at 11:00 am.

I have to establish very important and utterly sacred ground rules when writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”. Obviously, the SoCon should have forced Samford to come up with a new nickname when the suburban Birmingham school joined the league, but that canine has now left the kennel.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. After all, I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog. So there.

I’ll occasionally call Samford “SU”, or the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, or the “Crimson Bulldogs”, or the “Homewood Homebodies”, or the “Baptist Tigers”.

For those unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers, a short history lesson that I’ve referenced before:

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

As a rule, bears are a lot bigger than bulldogs, and also generally give the impression of being hungry a lot. I’m not sure why the students voted the way they did, but 1916 was a long time ago.

However, 1916 wasn’t so long ago for The Citadel’s oldest living former regimental commander, Marion “Joe” Smoak. After all, that was the year he was born.

The pageantry and celebrations during The Citadel Homecoming 2018 will include a meeting between the oldest living Regimental Commander of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, who is 102, and the youngest, who is 21. Ambassador Marion “Joe” Smoak, will make his way from Washington D.C. to visit campus during what would be his 80th reunion since graduating. Just before the Homecoming Review Parade, Smoak and Cadet Col. Sarah Zorn will meet to shake hands before the Corps.

 

After graduating from The Citadel with an English degree, and then from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Smoak served in the U.S. Army as an officer, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1961. During those years, he was a Judge Advocate Officer in both the Pacific and European theaters during World War II. That was followed by tours with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions during which Smoak accumulated 58 jumps earning master parachutist status…From 1969-1974, he was Chief of Protocol for President Richard Nixon, retiring from the Department of State in 1974 with the grade of Ambassador.

You may recall the recent profile of Helen McCoy, the 101-year-old fan of Bulldog football whose preferred beverage of choice at games is rum and Coke. Well, according to his family, Smoak enjoys a daily martini.

Hey, maybe they know something…

The Citadel has had some success in blocking punts this year, including two last week versus Western Carolina. The second of the two blocked punts against the Catamounts was returned for a TD by redshirt freshman Dante Smith, the first time the Bulldogs had scored on a punt block since 2012. Credit for the block on that play went to Bradley Carter, a scout team ace from Blythewood.

Sean-Thomas Faulkner has blocked two punts this season (including the first against WCU last Saturday), and the redshirt freshman has been close to getting a hand on several others. He appears to be a natural at the art of blocking kicks, a point reinforced during Brent Thompson’s radio show when the coach remarked that Faulkner “blocked about a dozen” punts while on the scout team last season.

A kick-blocking savant is a great weapon for a team to have, and The Citadel really hasn’t had such an individual since Domonic Jones terrorized SoCon punters and placekickers several years ago. Before Jones, there was the indefatigable Milford Scott, the bane of many an up-back’s existence.

Actually, the Bulldogs have a little bit of a tradition when it comes to blocking kicks. That dates at least as far back as 1950, when Sam Rubino famously blocked two punts in a game against South Carolina, both of which were returned for touchdowns in The Citadel’s staggering 19-7 upset of the Gamecocks.

Samford was the consensus preseason favorite to win the SoCon, and can still do so, but the Birmingham Bulldogs have not exactly had the season their fans envisioned.

After an essentially useless 66-9 season-opening victory over Shorter, Samford lost its next four contests, a stunning September swoon:

  • Florida State scored two late touchdowns to escape with a 36-26 win over SU. It was a game Samford probably should have won, but the Crimson Bulldogs lost the turnover battle 5 to 1, giving the Seminoles the chance to avoid one of the worst losses in FSU history.
  • The following week, Samford began SoCon play by losing at home to Mercer, 30-24. The Bears led 17-7 at halftime and dominated time of possession in the first three quarters of the game. Samford gave up a 73-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter that proved to be too much to overcome.
  • The following week at Chattanooga, SU fell behind 17-0 and eventually lost, 27-20. Devlin Hodges threw 62 passes in the game, completing 44 of them — but also got picked off three times. Samford managed to drive the ball to the UTC 15-yard line late in the game, but was unable to score a tying touchdown.
  • Samford then lost at Kennesaw State, 24-10. In this game, SU actually had the same number of rushing attempts as it did passes (including sacks). Against a triple option opponent, Samford didn’t fare too badly against the run (KSU averaged 4.0 yards per rush) and only lost the TOP battle by five minutes, but trailed the Owls 21-3 after KSU’s first possession of the second half and never got back into the contest.

Since the loss to Kennesaw State, though, Samford has rebounded to win its next four games. The first two triumphs were massive offensive explosions (66-28 over Western Carolina and 70-22 over VMI). Samford had a total of 1,509 yards of combined total offense in those two games.

SU maintained the positive momentum derived from those two blowouts, and that resulted in solid victories over Furman (38-25) and Wofford (35-20). In both contests, SU lost the time of possession battle by a wide margin, but it didn’t matter.

The game against the Paladins was played in Greenville, and was followed by a bye. Last week’s win over the Terriers came at home — and on SU’s Homecoming. Thus, the Homewood Homebodies will play in Homecoming games on back-to-back Saturdays.

The math is fairly simple for Samford at this point. Win its last two games against The Citadel and East Tennessee State, and SU will claim the SoCon’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Lose either one of them, and the Baptist Tigers will be home for the holidays.

Samford’s rank in conference play (SoCon games only) in select categories:

  • 1st in scoring offense (42.7 points per game)
  • 1st in total offense, and 1st in yards per play
  • 1st in passing efficiency offense
  • 1st in passing offense, but somewhat surprisingly only 4th in yards per pass attempt (The Citadel is 3rd)
  • 6th in rushing offense, 5th in yards per play
  • 4th in scoring defense (25.3 points per game)
  • 6th in total defense, 4th in yards allowed per play
  • 5th in rushing defense, but a solid 2nd in rush yards allowed per play

[Running is] not what [Chris Hatcher] wants to do. Just like me — I don’t want to throw the football, right? He doesn’t want to run the football. Let’s face it, let’s do what we do, and let’s make it better…

Brent Thompson, during a discussion of offensive philosophy on his radio show (which also included thoughts on Mike Leach’s concept of what really constitutes “balance” in an offense)

Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 210 lbs.) has completed 71.3% of his passes this season, with 30 TD tosses against 15 interceptions, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (not taking sacks into account). The senior from Kimberly, Alabama has made news this season with both his passing statistics and his success as a duck caller.

Hodges is obviously really good. The best (and perhaps only) way for The Citadel to stop him is to keep him on the sidelines. One other note about Hodges: he has punted the ball 10 times this season.

Samford alternates two running backs, DeMarcus Ware (5’9″, 186 lbs.) and Roland Adams (5’10”, 203 lbs.). Ware, a freshman from Mississippi, has six rushing touchdowns and leads the squad in rushing yards, while Adams (a senior from Florence, Alabama) is averaging 6.0 yards per carry and has scored three times. As you might expect, both are capable receivers out of the backfield.

Wide receiver Kelvin McKnight (5’8″, 186 lbs.) caught nine passes for 118 yards in his previous visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium. The senior from Bradenton, Florida has 76 receptions so far this season, with eight touchdowns, and is well on his way to repeating as a first-team All-SoCon performer. He is averaging an almost absurd 15.2 yards per catch.

McKnight also serves as SU’s punt returner.

It is hard to highlight every Samford pass-catching target, since 20 different Crimson Bulldogs have caught passes this year, but Chris Shelling (5’8″, 165 lbs.) is definitely worth mentioning. Shelling has nine TD catches, and is second on the team in receptions, with 48. He has found the end zone against every SoCon opponent this season except for (somewhat surprisingly) Western Carolina.

Samford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’6″, 299 lbs. Left tackle Nick Nixon (6’6″, 275 lbs.), a junior from Hendersonville, Tennessee, was a preseason first-team all-league pick.

Incidentally, four of SU’s o-line starters are 6’6″, and the other is 6’7″. The tallest of the group is actually the center, Brendan Loftus (6’7″, 322 lbs.), who began his collegiate career at the University of Miami.

I don’t remember seeing many 6’7″ centers, at least on the gridiron. Hoops, sure…

Under defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, SU has mostly employed a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option offense. From 2010 to 2012, the Bulldogs had a difficult time moving the football against Samford, with really bad third-down conversion rates (15% for the combined three-year period).

However, in recent years The Citadel got better in that category against SU:

  • 2013: 8 for 17, 47.1%
  • 2014: 7 for 19, 36.8%
  • 2015: 6 for 14, 42.9%
  • 2016: 11 for 21, 52.3%

Last year was a setback. The Citadel was only 3 for 13 converting third downs (23.1%). That conversion rate has to dramatically increase on Saturday if the Bulldogs want to win.

Defensive end Ahmad Gooden (6’2″, 245 lbs.), the preseason defensive player of the year in the SoCon, has 15 tackles for loss thus far in 2018 (including 5 1/2 sacks). Against Furman, he returned a fumble 58 yards for a touchdown, a huge play in that game.

In his last two games versus The Citadel, Gooden has 27 total tackles. He is a senior from Talledega.

Although not listed as a starter, freshman defensive end Nelson Jordan (6’1″, 252 lbs.) is second on the team in sacks, with three. He also has three additional tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries.

Middle linebacker Aaron Harris (6’0″, 218 lbs.) is far and away Samford’s leader in tackles this season, with 71. The senior transferred from Southern Mississippi after his freshman year.

William Bryant (6’1″, 194 lbs.) is a junior strong safety who ranks third on the team in tackles. He also leads the team in passes defensed.

Samford placekicker Mitchell Fineran (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is 10 for 13 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 46. The freshman has made all 42 of his PATs, and also handles kickoffs (with a touchback rate of 17.5%).

Bradley Porcellato (6’0″, 170 lbs.) is the SU punter. Like a lot of D-1 punters these days, Porcellato is a native of Australia — specifically, Melbourne. He is a product of Prokick Australia, a school for kickers down under that has sent many punters to U.S. colleges and universities.

While listed on the two-deep and on the game notes roster, Porcellato is not on the team’s online roster, which seems odd.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  partly sunny, with a high of 66 degrees. That sounds like great Homecoming weather to me.

– The Citadel is 6-5 all-time against Samford, including a 4-2 record at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The last meeting between the teams in Charleston was certainly a memorable one.

– Useless trivia alert:  the two sets of Bulldogs both have long consecutive program scoring streaks. Samford has scored in its last 199 games, the longest streak in the SoCon. The second-longest streak belongs to The Citadel, at 93 games.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Samford is a 13-point favorite versus The Citadel (as of Thursday night). The over/under is 60.

When the line was first posted on Tuesday evening, Samford was an 11 1/2 point favorite.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Chattanooga is a 6-point favorite over Mercer; Furman is an 11 1/2 point favorite at VMI; Wofford is a 14 1/2 point favorite at Western Carolina.

ETSU is off this week.

– Also of note: Towson is an 1 1/2 point favorite at Elon, while Charleston Southern is a 9 1/2 point favorite over Gardner-Webb. Alabama, next week’s opponent for The Citadel, is a 24-point favorite against another set of Bulldogs, those representing Mississippi State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 60th in FCS, up five spots from last week. Samford is 23rd (also moving up five places).

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 23% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Samford 33, The Citadel 24.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey: Colgate (7th), James Madison (11th), Kennesaw State (12th), Elon (14th), Towson (18th), Wofford (24th), Furman (32nd), East Tennessee State (35th), Chattanooga (40th), North Carolina A&T (46th), Youngstown State (50th), San Diego (53rd), Mercer (55th), Northern Arizona (59th), Richmond (61st), Holy Cross (64th), Sacred Heart (69th), Western Carolina (78th), North Alabama (85th), South Carolina State (87th), Gardner-Webb (90th), Charleston Southern (91st), Campbell (92nd), VMI (93rd), Dayton (100th), Lehigh (107th), Presbyterian (120th), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, Princeton, UC Davis, South Dakota State, and Dartmouth.

I think that top 5 exposes a flaw in the Massey Ratings, to be honest. Because Ivy League schools as a group play a non-conference schedule with limited connectivity to the rest of Division I, the top teams in the conference tend to be placed higher in the ratings/rankings than they should be.

Princeton is a good team, but it is hard to imagine the Tigers are really on the same level with the elite FCS squads. There is certainly no evidence suggesting that to be the case.

Biggest movers in FCS this week: Lamar moved up 17 spots to 45th after winning at Central Arkansas, 38-24. Conversely, UCA is now 44th, a fall of 17 places, after losing to the Cardinals.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Michigan, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Kentucky, UCF, and Florida. Some other notables:  Missouri is 11th (?!), Ohio State 13th, Mississippi State 14th, South Carolina 17th, Penn State 18th, Auburn 20th, Fresno State 22nd, North Carolina State 24th, Boston College 29th, Texas 30th, Army 34th, Duke 36th, Pittsburgh 38th, Arizona State 42nd, Tennessee 45th, Virginia 46th, Georgia Tech 50th, Appalachian State 52nd, Maryland 56th, Florida State 61st, Wake Forest 64th, North Texas 71st, Toledo 72nd, South Florida 73rd, Minnesota 82nd, Georgia Southern 84th, Air Force 89th, North Carolina 97th, Louisville 100th, Coastal Carolina 101st, Navy 105th, Liberty 109th, Charlotte 111th, Old Dominion 118th, Connecticut 126th, UTEP 129th, and Rice 130th and last (after the Owls lost to the Miners last week).

Biggest movers in FBS this week:  Missouri moved up 15 spots after beating Florida 38-17 in Gainesville. Meanwhile, Minnesota fired its defensive coordinator after a 55-31 home loss to Illinois. The Golden Gophers dropped 20 places in the rankings after that debacle.

– Among Samford’s notable alumni: actress Mary Anderson (Maybelle in Gone With The Wind), opera singer Elizabeth Futral, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Harold E. Martin.

– Samford’s roster includes 47 players from Georgia and 41 from Alabama. Other states represented on its squad:  Florida (16 players), Tennessee (8), Mississippi (4), North Carolina (2), and one each from Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, and Indiana.

As noted earlier, starting punter Bradley Porcellato is from Australia.

There are no South Carolinians on the squad, which means no players from celebrated gridiron super-machine Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School are on SU’s roster. The absence of any alumni from the famed maroon and orange is stupefying; one can only ascertain that there is a possibility Samford may be dropping the sport in the near future, and thus is not interested in superior footballing talent going forward.

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

– This week’s two-deep changes:  as was announced by Brent Thompson earlier this week, Brandon Rainey is now the starting quarterback. Clay Harris is the new starter at B-back. Nkem Njoku has been named a starter at one of the A-back spots.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-7-2 for games played on November 10, although the Bulldogs have won the last five contests played on that date. The Citadel is 6-2 at home on November 10 (either at Johnson Hagood Stadium or Hampton Park), 4-1 in SoCon play. A brief review of a few of the contests, as we travel back in time:

  • 1906:  At Hampton Park, The Citadel shut out Mercer, 10-0. The game started at 11:00 a.m., so as not to interfere with other activities surrounding “Gala Week”, a festival that celebrated Charleston’s recovery from the devastating 1886 earthquake. Apparently there was a lot of partying associated with the festival, as only 200 hardy souls were awake enough at that hour to attend the football game. Starting quarterback and team captain James Hammond was the outstanding performer for the Bulldogs. The Citadel scored two touchdowns (which were worth five points back then), with Ted Russell and Albert Able finding the end zone for the blue and white.
  • 1973:  Before a crowd of 12,600 on a chilly Homecoming afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Furman 26-21. Andrew Johnson and Gene Dotson both scored two touchdowns for the Bulldogs, with Johnson rushing for 172 yards while Dotson chipped in with 131. The Citadel (which only had one completed pass) trailed 21-20 in the fourth quarter before Johnson’s second TD of the day gave the Bulldogs the lead for good. A sack by Greg Erickson snuffed out the Paladins’ last scoring opportunity. Other defensive stalwarts for The Citadel that day included Jim Roberts, Tom Leitner, Kemble Farr, Brian Ruff, and Tony Cicoria.
  • 1990:  After a Wofford halfback stated to a reporter that the Terriers had a better offensive attack than The Citadel — indeed, that Wofford had “the best wishbone offense in the country” — The Citadel’s defense held the Terriers to 30 yards rushing in a 48-14 Bulldogs victory before a crowd of 14,121 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. In a game played in blustery conditions, The Citadel rushed for 394 yards, with fourteen different Bulldogs carrying the ball at least once. Ray Wimbush and Jack Douglas both ran for 2 TDs; other Bulldogs to score included Willie Jones, Erick Little, and Howard Barnard (two field goals). Dwayne Smalls recovered one fumble and forced another, while Geren Williams dominated the line of scrimmage from his noseguard position.
  • 2007:  Andre Roberts caught eight passes for 180 yards and a touchdown, while Bart Blanchard threw for 370 yards and three TDs, as The Citadel rallied to beat Elon 42-31 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Tory Cooper scored three rushing touchdowns, while Taylor Cornett and Tim Higgins each had a TD reception. Andrew Rowell had an interception for the Bulldogs and also blocked a field goal. Attendance: 10,261.

– Samford has an all-time record of 7-4-1 in games played on November 10.

– As many fans of the Bulldogs know, the 1906 squad mentioned above won the national championship, as it finished that campaign undefeated and untied (and also unscored upon). Two other programs, Yale and Princeton, also claim a share of the title for that season, with various selectors opting for one of the three schools. Princeton, for example, was the retroactive pick of the Helms Foundation, while The Citadel was the choice of the TSA Matrix Ratings System.

For some reason, the 1906 title hasn’t been as widely publicized as The Citadel’s 1871 national title (though to be fair, that championship has flown under the radar at times as well). One possible reason for the difference in recognition between the two seasons is that the 1871 title is undisputed.

I’m hoping there will be a sizable crowd at the game on Saturday — not just in the tailgating areas (that is a given), but in the stands. It should be a nice day to watch a good gridiron contest.

I am a little irked that some members of the national press are already assuming Samford will win on Saturday:

Yes, I know which team is favored. I also know which team is playing at home, which team is playing before a lot of passionate alumni, and which team played its best half of football this season just last week.

All of that counts for something. As for how much it counts…I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

Game Review, 2012: Furman

The Citadel 42, Furman 20.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Greenville News

The Citadel’s release

Furman’s release

Postgame interview of Kevin Higgins (video)

WCSC-TV story (with video)

WCIV-TV story (with video)

Boxscore

Well, that was an enjoyable afternoon in the Upstate…

The Citadel spotted Furman a touchdown, came roaring back with some big (and entertaining) plays, hung in there while the contest was still in doubt, took a risk and was richly rewarded for it, and then finished the game in style.

A fake punt was the key play in the game. Furman’s offense had held the ball for the first seven minutes of the third quarter, settling for a field goal after a couple of outstanding plays by Mitchell Jeter (including a 13-yard sack).

The Bulldogs’ D needed to stay off the field for a while, which is why Kevin Higgins elected to roll the dice on 4th-and-5 from The Citadel’s 30-yard-line. Cass Couey has executed fake punts before, though not in a while, but he did his part very well, and eighteen yards later the Bulldogs were near midfield with a fresh set of downs.

Eight plays after Couey’s mad dash, Dalton Trevino took a pitch and raced around the left corner and into the end zone, taking out an official in the process (who was fortunate not to get hurt). Trevino’s TD run was particularly well blocked on the outside.

That made the score 28-20. On the Paladins’ next possession, The Citadel forced a three-and-out. After Furman punted, the Bulldogs scored on an 85-yard drive that featured two outstanding plays by Ben Dupree. The first was a 23-yard pass completion to Terrance Martin on 3rd-and-18. Both the throw and catch were of high quality.

While some observers were mildly surprised by the precise, powerful throw Dupree made to Martin, the 28-yard TD toss he made to Domonic Jones three plays later was exactly the kind of improvisational maneuver that Bulldog fans have come to expect from the Pennsylvania native, only with a twist at the end. He was going to throw, then he was going to run, then he was going to run the other way, then he suddenly pulled up and lobbed the ball into the waiting arms of Jones for an easy touchdown.

That was a fun play. At least, it was fun if you were rooting for The Citadel. For Furman, it was more of the same, as the Paladins struggled in the fourth quarter all season. VanDyke Jones completed the day with his third touchdown of the game on The Citadel’s next series.

Odds and ends:

— Jerodis Williams and Hank McCloud combined to rush for 195 yards on 30 carries. The Bulldogs had trouble all day stopping the run. On the other hand, Furman’s passing game was ineffective, particularly after starting quarterback Reese Hannon left the game with an injury.

That made the Paladins’ occasional deviation from its rushing attack all the more puzzling. Furman had a couple of promising first-half drives that were short-circuited by pass plays gone bad.

I realize that you have to mix things up once in a while, but in my opinion the Paladins should have continued to feed the ball to Williams and McCloud until the Bulldogs actually stopped them. Instead, Furman seemed determined to add to Chris Billingslea’s personal highlights collection.

I also thought Furman gave up on its running game way too early. Neither Williams nor McCloud had a rushing attempt in the fourth quarter; all twelve of the Paladins’ plays in the last period (counting a play wiped out by penalty) were passing attempts or sacks by The Citadel on would-be pass plays.

— While The Citadel has had its own issues with home attendance, the Bulldogs enjoyed a lot more support this year than did the Paladins. Furman averaged just over 9,000 fans per game this season, with Saturday’s finale drawing a crowd of 8,127. A significant number of those in attendance were wearing blue and white, and they made themselves heard all afternoon.

— Furman is building a new football complex. As part of that effort, the current press box is being demolished.

The lower two levels of the complex will be devoted to the football program. The plans include rooms that will accommodate all eight position groups (only four rooms are available now, forcing some groups to meet in locker rooms), and an office for each coach. The training room will be expanded and modernized…

…The complex’s top level will serve as home to working press and feature a spacious television broadcast booth, home and visiting radio booths, coaches boxes, and twin photo decks, as well as public address and ultra-modern video production room…

…[The building is] essential…in terms of Furman’s efforts to be competitive in Division I and the Southern Conference. In recent years, every other conference member has upgraded its athletic facilities.

The facility is scheduled for completion in late 2013.

— The last three times the game between Furman and The Citadel has ended the regular season, the Bulldogs have won, which could be a annoying fact for some members of Furman’s sports information department. As I outlined in my preview, the matchup cannot be the final game of any season in which The Citadel is the home team. As it happens, the Bulldogs will close their 2013 regular-season campaign at Clemson (which, by the way, is the opponent Furman has ended its season against the most times).

I would not put a lot of money on Furman vs. The Citadel being the season finale in 2014, either, but we’ll see what happens.

There was some hope that the Bulldogs could garner an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. That didn’t happen.

Looking over the bracket, I don’t have an issue with The Citadel not making the field. I would have been disappointed if the Bulldogs were left out at the expense of a team like Lehigh (the Mountain Hawks fashioned a 10-1 record against a tissue-soft schedule), but the teams that did get selected all brought something to the table.

The last two at-large teams in the field were South Dakota State and Stony Brook. The latter school is one of two Big South entrants into the field, which does raise a question, since the Big South is not a strong league (and there are only seven teams in it).

However, I understand why the selection committee took the Seawolves. Stony Brook played two FBS schools this season, and won one of those games, beating Army. Admittedly, the Bulldogs of the Hudson are not a good team, but SBU won the game by twenty points.

Stony Brook also played very credibly in a loss at Syracuse (28-17). I suspect that the Seawolves are a very good team that had one bad afternoon (at Liberty).

I thought the only curious decision the committee made was taking New Hampshire (and giving it a bye) instead of Towson. I think that was probably a mistake, but it doesn’t really affect The Citadel, since the CAA was going to get at least three teams into the field one way or another.

Next year, the playoff field will increase from 20 to 24 teams. I am not sure the Bulldogs would have landed in a 24-team bracket this season. It would have been very close.

I’m sure the players are mildly disappointed at not making the playoffs, but they shouldn’t be. This was a successful season for The Citadel, and having it end with a 22-point victory over Furman in Greenville seems more than appropriate.

Next year appears to hold a lot of promise on the gridiron for The Citadel, but there will be plenty of time to discuss that. Too much time for a lot of people, I’m sure.

For those players who have completed their football careers at The Citadel, many thanks for providing a lot of good memories, especially this season, even if it were at times a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

One more round wound up having a good taste to it.

As usual, I’ll close with a few photos. I had a tough afternoon taking pictures, thanks mostly to a rather insistent beam of sunlight that kept coming over the press box and into my line of sight. The quality of these shots is even worse than normal, which is really saying something…

Game Review, 2012: Wofford

Wofford 24, The Citadel 21.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Kevin Higgins’ postgame presser (video), with James Riley

Game story, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

Box score

I don’t really have a lot to say (or write, I suppose) about this game that hasn’t been said already. It was close, and the Dogs made a lot of good plays. They just didn’t make enough of them.

It’s hard to win on the road when you spot a good team 17 points, although to be fair The Citadel did not play poorly in the first half. There were a few bad breaks, and also some missed opportunities.

Odds and ends:

— I felt that offensive pass interference could have been called on Wofford on the pass that preceded the field goal; if it had been called, the Terriers would have only led 21-7 at halftime instead of 24-7. As it was, Domonic Jones actually got a piece of the ball on Wofford’s field goal, but it went through the uprights anyway. You don’t see that every day.

— The Citadel suffered yet another major injury on Saturday, as left guard Keith Carter ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. I was worried when I saw him sitting on the bench during the game. His absence on the o-line will be felt. Carter is a fine player and also serves as one of the team’s captains. He is having surgery on Friday.

— The bye week gave the coaches a chance to add a few new plays to the offensive repertoire. I would like to see that inside trap run (not sure what else to call it) more often going forward. It was frequently effective, and has “breakaway” potential, too.

— James Riley’s first game as a Bulldog was quite impressive. He had 12 tackles, with 2.5 for loss (including a sack). You could make an argument that he was the best defender on the field, for either team.

— It was nice to see The Post and Courier send a reporter and a columnist to the game. I would assume Clemson playing on Thursday night may have had something to do with that, but no matter.

In his column, Gene Sapakoff wrote: “Hopefully, head coach Kevin Higgins gets an extension on a contract due to expire after the 2013 season.”

While it is true that the Bulldogs have improved, contract extensions generally aren’t an immediate priority when the team has lost four of five contests, including one to an opponent the head coach has not beaten in eight tries, and with three games still remaining in the season.

That isn’t meant to be a slap at Kevin Higgins, by the way. He may eventually get an extension, and he may well deserve it.

I’m just suggesting that folks at The Citadel may not appreciate Sapakoff making such a pronouncement, particularly as his forays into the world of Bulldog athletics are limited at best.

— At the game on Saturday I was sitting in the stands next to a friend of mine. Midway through the third quarter he turned to me, gestured to the home stands and said, in an exasperated tone, “Those people don’t deserve their team.”

The statement was perhaps a bit harsh, but I knew where he was coming from. It was a largely docile crowd for major portions of the game.

There were 9,658 fans in attendance, the most people to see a game at Gibbs Stadium all season. That high-water mark could be attributed to homecoming, and to a sizable number of blue-clad fans in the visitors’ section.

The atmosphere at many football games can be described as festive or intense; at Wofford, it is pastoral.

Having said that, I enjoyed my trip to Spartanburg. I didn’t like the final score, but you can’t have everything.

Okay, pictures. I took a ton of bad photos on Saturday. My ability to take out-of-focus shots is almost unmatched. The least  embarrassing of the lot can be found below.

2012 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 13.  The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Comments from Kevin Higgins at his weekly press conference

Mark Speir SoCon teleconference

Hey, read about The Citadel’s outstanding punter, Cass Couey. He likes to fish!

When The Citadel played Western Carolina last season, I wrote (among other things) the following:

The game against Western Carolina isn’t about a learning experience, or moving forward, or anything like that. There is only one goal for the matchup with the Catamounts, and only one acceptable outcome.  The Citadel must win this game.

That was true then, and it is true now, though the circumstances are not quite the same. The Citadel was 2-4 at this point last season, having lost two straight games, and played WCU on the road.

This year, the Bulldogs are 3-3, but have lost three consecutive contests, with the last two games being dispiriting affairs. The seventh game of 2012 will take place at Johnson Hagood Stadium, on Parents’ Day.

Last year, The Citadel took care of business against the Catamounts, winning 35-7. What about Saturday’s game?

First, let’s take a quick look back at last Saturday’s game against Samford. Yes, we have to do that…

I think at this point The Citadel is a known quantity on defense. It is a unit that has some limitations, including a lack of experience in key spots. To be fair, though, that was the concern heading into the season.

For example, I believe most people liked our starting linebackers but were worried about depth at that position. Now the Bulldogs have lost two of those three players for the season. That is a problem and will continue to be one for the rest of the campaign.

It doesn’t mean the defense is a lost cause; far from it. There is still talent on that side of the ball.

The main problem on D against Samford, in my view, was that the defensive line did not have a particularly good day, getting very little pressure on Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin, and not having much luck against the run either.

I think the d-line is better than that one game. That was certainly the case against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. It is also true that against Samford, the defense didn’t get any help from the offense, and that took its toll in the second half.

The offense’s play was the really disappointing thing about the game in Birmingham. It wasn’t the first time The Citadel had struggled offensively against Samford, though.

In three games against Samford since moving to the triple option, The Citadel is a combined 6 for 39 on third-down conversions. That is…not good.

Samford’s “bear” front basically forces a team to go outside or over the top to beat it. A team that is successful in doing so can break a lot of big plays. Georgia Southern couldn’t convert on third down against Samford either (0 for 10), but had three long touchdown runs. In the last three games against Samford, The Citadel has only had four plays from the line of scrimmage that went for longer than 20 yards.

In his weekly press conference, Kevin Higgins referenced both issues. I felt a little better after hearing his comments. The game plan, to me, appears to have been a fairly good one:

Our goal going into the game was to be aggressive…We went for it on fourth-and-one because we wanted to send a message out to our guys that we wanted them to play aggressive. We were fortunate to get the first down. The very next play we had a play-action throw, as Ben Dupree hit Matt Thompson for a 48-yard strike and we got some momentum going there.

We had two legitimate shots for touchdowns that we just didn’t throw the ball real well or we dropped it. We ended with six dropped balls on the day. Several of those being real tough catches, but we needed to make those plays. Additionally in the second quarter Dupree threw an interception off a scramble and that hurt us [it certainly did, as it was returned for a TD].

Third down conversions were not good…We didn’t do a good job at continuing drives, as we ended up going 1-14 on third-down conversions. If we would have moved the ball better in the first half, it would have taken pressure off of our defense.

That comes close to summing up the offense’s afternoon.

Before moving on to the Western Carolina game, a special teams observation. The Citadel had a field goal blocked against Samford, never a good thing, but paid back that mishap with its own field goal block a short time later. It was yet another rejection for special teams stalwart Domonic Jones. He also got a hand on a second Samford field goal attempt that eventually sailed wide.

In his last 17 games, Jones has blocked six punts and two field goal attempts (not counting the deflection against Samford). He blocked two punts against Jacksonville in last year’s opener, and would later block a punt versus Elon and another in the VMI game (of course, you had to take a number to do that against the Keydets).

Jones has burned Appalachian State in consecutive seasons, blocking a punt for a TD in both the 2011 and 2012 games against the Mountaineers. His first career block of a field goal attempt came this year and was a critical play in the Bulldogs’ victory over Georgia Southern (and may have influenced the Eagles’ other FG attempt, a last-second miss).

Blocking a kick every other game is rather remarkable, and while Jones has drawn some recognition for his kick-blocking exploits, I’m not sure he has really received his just due. I think the SoCon needs to consider adding a place on its all-conference team for a special teams performer who isn’t a kicker or return man. Jones would be an obvious candidate to fill that spot.

Times have been tough for the Western Carolina football program in recent years. If you need confirmation of that, all you have to do is look at the WCU game notes. I’ve seen a lot of releases over the years, but the folks in Cullowhee have apparently made a commitment to stating brutal truths. No sugarcoating is allowed, I guess. The lowlights include:

– An 18-game losing streak in SoCon play, which is the longest current streak of futility for any FCS team in its own conference. The last time Western Carolina won a league game? Well, it was the last time WCU played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

– That win over The Citadel in 2010 is also the last time the Catamounts defeated an NCAA Division I opponent, and the last time WCU won a road game.

– Western Carolina lost 20 SoCon games in a row from 2005-08.

– WCU has lost five straight games this season after winning its opener against Mars Hill.

– The Catamounts are 4-29 in their last 33 road contests, a stretch that dates back to 2005. WCU’s current road losing streak stands at 11 games, which is the sixth-longest such streak among FCS schools (Idaho State has lost a staggering 36 consecutive road games).

– WCU beat Mars Hill 42-14. The fourteen points allowed by the Catamounts marked the fewest points scored by an opponent since, you guessed it, the 2010 game against The Citadel (a 24-13 WCU victory).

– Western Carolina has lost 47 of its last 50 Southern Conference games. Two of the three victories have come against The Citadel.

On the bright side, most observers applauded Western Carolina’s selection of Mark Speir as its new head coach. Speir was a student assistant at Clemson during the latter part of the Danny Ford era in Tigertown. He then moved to Western Carolina for several years before three-year stops at Presbyterian and Elon. He had been on the Appalachian State coaching staff since 2003, and the recruiting coordinator for Jerry Moore since 2004.

Speir comes across (at least in the media teleconferences the SoCon puts out every week) as folksy, but not overly so. While listening to him this week, I was particularly impressed with a comment he made (basically unprompted) about this year’s Catamount squad:

I told [the WCU players] we are still here for this team, the 2012 team, to be a good football team, and we have five more opportunities to become a good football team…and our staff is not looking to next year, we’re looking [forward] to this week and the next four weeks…

That sounds like the opposite of, say, Charlie Weis. Being the opposite of Charlie Weis as a football coach strikes me as a good place to be (although Weis apparently has a great agent).

Speir clearly has his work cut out for him, though, especially this season. This year’s WCU outfit has been okay offensively, but on defense…not so much.

The aforementioned game notes actually include a paragraph entitled “Western Carolina’s Troubles With The Triple Option”. I couldn’t wait to read that section.

– Wofford rushed for 590 yards against the Catamounts, averaging over 8.5 yards per carry. Three Terriers rushed for over 100 yards.

– Georgia Southern rushed for 614 yards against WCU, averaging over 7.7 yards per carry. GSU had five different ballcarriers rush for at least 89 yards.

– You didn’t have to run the triple option to run on Western Carolina, though. Furman averaged 7.9 yards per carry in its victory over the Catamounts; the Paladins’ Jerodis Williams rushed for 239 yards on only 18 carries. Williams also added a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD.

– Samford running back Fabian Truss rushed for 180 yards against Western Carolina.

In that Samford game, though, Western Carolina actually had the lead in the fourth quarter before giving up 15 unanswered points and losing 25-21. Still, that level of competitiveness should get The Citadel’s attention.

WCU opened the scoring against Samford with a fumble recovery for a touchdown, one of three fumble returns for TDs the Catamounts have had this season. Maybe it isn’t the world’s greatest defense, but it appears WCU’s D is at least opportunistic at times.

Western Carolina runs a spread offense, not unlike that of Appalachian State. Eddie Sullivan has received the bulk of the snaps at quarterback, but Troy Mitchell will also see a lot of time. Against Georgia Southern, the two were interchanged for each other on almost every down, and occasionally were in the backfield together.

The Catamounts have several running backs; the two-deep’s listed starter, Michael Vaughn, has fewer rushing yards than three of the other RBs. Jacoby Mitchell is Western Carolina’s leading receiver, but keep an eye on 6’4″ freshman Spearman Robinson, a native of Greenwood.

There appears to be a bit of uncertainty on the left side of WCU’s offensive line, with both the LG and LT spots on the two-deep listed as an “or” situation. Josh Weinberg is a 260-lb. true freshman who will start at right tackle.

On defense, Western Carolina’s best player is linebacker/tackling machine Rock Williams, a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Randy Pressley isn’t listed as a starter at linebacker, but he made 16 tackles against Georgia Southern last week, including the Catamounts’ only tackle for loss.

WCU’s defensive line is not particularly large, as only two of the nine players on the depth chart weigh more than 265 lbs. and four of them weigh less than 250 lbs. The secondary is young; two of the starters are freshmen, and two others are sophomores.

Western Carolina punter Clark Sechrest is having a good year thus far. He presents a different challenge for Domonic Jones and company in that he is left-footed and can employ the “rugby style” of punting. He is also the backup placekicker. According to WCU’s website, he kicks field goals and PATs with his right foot.

The regular placekicker for WCU, Richard Sigmon, is 4 for 8 on FG attempts with a long of 45. He has had one kick blocked. Sigmon is also the kickoff specialist. Four of his 27 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Western Carolina’s punt return unit is not particularly strong. On kickoff returns, the long for the season for the Catamounts is 38 yards.

Tangent alert…

I need a ruling. Is Saturday’s game Parent’s Day (as noted on the school’s game preview) or Parents Day (on the website’s season schedule)? Actually, I think Parents’ Day would be more correct than either.

The press release from External Affairs refers to “Parents’ Weekend” throughout, except for (of course) the title of the release (“Parents Weekend”).

I’m going to go with Parents’ Day on this blog post. Yes, I know nobody cares.

What we really care about is the action on the field. The Citadel needs to win this game. It doesn’t really matter how, although I would personally be in favor of a blowout victory in which everyone gets to play a lot and the cadets all get overnights. Hey, I’m generous. Also, I remember Parents’ Day 1986 all too well. Not a good weekend.

There have been some good Parents’ Day games (the most famous being The Citadel’s 1950 victory over South Carolina), but lately things haven’t gone the home team’s way at what I call the “celebration” games — Parents’ Day and Homecoming. The Citadel has lost five consecutive celebration games.

Since 1953 (when the modern yearly Parents’ Day/Homecoming advanced schedule began), The Citadel has never lost six consecutive celebration games.

Incidentally, in none of those five losses did The Citadel wear its “traditional” uniform of light blue jerseys/white pants. Sure, that is just a coincidence. Still, perhaps Kevin Higgins’ Leadership Council can get together and appease some old alums while reversing a little karma. Just a suggestion.

I think the Bulldogs will win on Saturday, although I’m not overly confident. Nobody should be confident, given the results of the last two weeks. It is also worth pointing out that despite Western Carolina being a terrible football program for a number of years now, the Catamounts have won two of the last three games in this series.

WCU has players on its roster who know they can beat The Citadel. They will be more confident against the Bulldogs than any other SoCon team.

On the other hand, the stats don’t lie. League opponents have run the ball at will against Western Carolina. Saturday’s game is a good opportunity for Triple O’Higgins to put up some big numbers, and for the players to regain some lost confidence.

Perhaps the fans can regain some lost confidence as well.

Congratulations to all the seniors as they get their rings, with a gentle reminder that it isn’t over yet. There are still diplomas to be acquired.

Congratulations also to the freshmen who have made it to this benchmark. You still have a long way to travel, but you’ve survived the most stressful part of the trip.

I hope everyone has a good time this weekend. Let’s win this game.

2012 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. North Carolina State

The Citadel at North Carolina State, to be played at Carter-Finley Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 22.  The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with play-by-play from Mike Gleason, analysis by Paul Maguire, and sideline reporting from Sarah Stankavage. The contest can also be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze patrolling the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pregame, halftime, and postgame commentary. Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio. The Citadel Sports Network broadcast can be heard on the radio in Carter-Finley Stadium via 90.3 FM.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

North Carolina State game notes

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches Poll

The Sports Network FCS Poll

Map of Carter-Finley Stadium and surrounding parking lots

Video of NCSU head coach Tom O’Brien’s weekly press conference

I was travelling last weekend, so I wasn’t in Boone to watch The Citadel play Appalachian State (obviously my loss). I wanted to know what was going on, of course, so occasionally I would get out my smartphone and check for scoring updates. (Okay, maybe more than occasionally.)

When the game started I was wandering around the extremely impressive Oriental Institute on the campus of the University of Chicago (a school that was once a member of the Big 10, by the way, and is still a member of that conference’s academic consortium). By the time it ended I was at the underrated Loyola University Museum of Art, just off of Michigan Avenue. Hey, I’m not just a sports geek; my nerdiness is multi-faceted.

The Oriental Institute wasn’t quite as impressive, however, as The Citadel putting FIFTY-TWO POINTS ON THE BOARD IN BOONE. Fifty-two points…and in only three quarters!

Three Bulldogs rushing for over 100 yards? Another with over 100 receiving yards? Unbelievable, and also unprecedented, for while The Citadel did have three 100-yard rushers in a game against VMI in 1998, there was no 100-yard receiver in that particular contest.

I’ve spent the past couple of days trying to reconstruct the App State game before taking a look at this week’s game against North Carolina State. Kevin Higgins may give his charges only 24 hours to enjoy a victory before focusing on the next game, but I can take more time to review things.

The highlights were great fun to watch. The two TD runs by Ben Dupree, the long pass plays, the blocked punt for a TD, the sacks/pressures, and the “truck jobs” by Rickey Anderson and Van Dyke Jones — they were all good, especially with Danny Reed roaring in the background.

I think everyone by now has a good idea of what happened in the game, so I’m not going to rehash all of it. I will say, though, that while the offense was responsible for 45 points (the punt block providing the other TD) and an astounding 618 yards of total offense, it seems to me the defense may have been the more consistent unit against the Mountaineers.

I’m not sure the offense’s productivity last Saturday is sustainable, at least not in the manner it was accomplished.

As I wrapped up my preview of the Appalachian State game last week, I wrote:

The Bulldogs were only 3 for 14 on third-down conversions against Georgia Southern. That won’t be good enough against Appalachian State.

This is something I actually got right. The Citadel turned that third-down conversion stat on its head, as it went 11 for 14 on third-down conversions against the Mountaineers. That is quite a switch, but a closer look tells a more remarkable tale.

Four times against Appalachian State, the Bulldogs were faced with a third down needing six yards or more to move the chains. In fact, all four of those conversion attempts were 3rd-and-8 or longer. The Citadel’s average gain on the four plays? 36.25 yards, with two of them resulting in touchdowns (Dupree’s long scampers) and another leading to a first-and-goal (the 32-yard pass reception by Domonic Jones).

That is an absurd success rate, both in terms of percentage and resulting yardage. In contrast, the Bulldogs had eight third down plays against Georgia Southern in which they needed to gain at least six yards for a first down. The Citadel converted only one of those against the Eagles (the first TD of that contest, a 26-yard pass from Dupree to Jones on a 3rd-and-7).

When The Citadel played Charleston Southern, the Bulldogs converted twice on third-and-six but were 0-3 on third-down conversion attempts longer than that (and 3-for-9 overall).

I’m not trying to take anything away from the offense. After all, The Citadel only faced a third-and-long situation four times in twelve drives, which is excellent. However, those conversions led to 21 of the Bulldogs’ 38 first-half points. It could have been a very different game if The Citadel had converted on, say, only one of those long-yardage situations.

Going forward, The Citadel can’t count on that type of success on third-and-long. It’s nice to know, though, that the Bulldogs are capable of making big plays on offense when necessary. Another huge plus: no turnovers.

As for the defensive effort against the Mountaineers, it was just what the doctor ordered. Appalachian State had averaged over 42 points per game in the previous six contests against the Bulldogs at Kidd Brewer Stadium, so holding App to 14 points through three quarters was a welcome change.

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

The defense did an excellent job preventing Mountaineers QB Jamal Jackson from making big plays (his longest pass completion of the day was only 15 yards). I am a little puzzled by App’s seeming unwillingness to throw the ball deep. Perhaps it was more a case of being unable than unwilling. The Citadel got a lot of pressure on Jackson when he did attempt to go long (Mark Thomas put his stamp on the game twice in this respect).

Now the Bulldogs will play a football game in another city in North Carolina. It won’t be a conference game, though. North Carolina State is this year’s FBS opponent, as The Citadel will pocket $375,000 for appearing at Carter-Finley Stadium this Saturday.

North Carolina State is different in at least one respect from The Citadel’s recent FBS opposition. South Carolina, Arizona, and North Carolina are all schools that have never produced a player who had a significant career as an NFL quarterback. Briefly reviewing those three schools’ histories with regards to signal-callers:

– Before Nick Foles was selected in the third round of the most recent NFL draft, Arizona had not had a QB picked in the draft since 1985. The Wildcats haven’t had an alum start a game at quarterback in the NFL since 1974.

– T.J. Yates started five regular-season games (and two playoff games) for the Houston Texans last season, which was remarkable enough. More remarkable, perhaps, is that he became the first UNC player to ever start a game at quarterback in the NFL.

– Anthony Wright, with 19 career starts, is one of only two former South Carolina players to start an NFL game at quarterback.

NC State, with a program arguably on the same level historically as those schools, is QBU by comparison, with three alums (so far) making an impact on the NFL scene at the quarterback position.

Roman Gabriel was the first. Gabriel, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, was the second overall pick in the NFL draft in 1962. He played for 16 years in the league with the Rams and Eagles, winning the NFL MVP award in 1969. Gabriel was in a movie with John Wayne; he also portrayed a headhunter on Gilligan’s Island.

Erik Kramer’s NFL career wasn’t quite as distinguished as Gabriel’s, but in ten seasons Kramer did make 67 starts. His claims to fame include an appearance on Married with Children (as himself). Most notable, however, is the fact that Kramer is the only man alive to have quarterbacked the Detroit Lions to victory in a playoff game.

Philip Rivers is a known quantity to current football fans. By the time the month of October rolls around, he will have started 100 games in the NFL and thrown for over 25,000 yards. Unlike Gabriel and Kramer, Rivers has yet to make an appearance in a network sitcom.

Russell Wilson may not be as well known as Rivers yet, but odds are he will be sooner rather than later; he has already made his first commercial. Russell was the Pack’s starting QB for three seasons before spending his final year as a transfer grad student at Wisconsin (leading the Badgers to the Rose Bowl). He won the starting QB job for the Seattle Seahawks this year as a rookie despite only being a third-round pick.

Wilson’s move to Madison was a controversial one, and could have backfired on NC State head coach Tom O’Brien. It didn’t, though, largely because O’Brien had another potential NFL quarterback in Mike Glennon waiting in the wings. Glennon wasn’t a sure bet this time last year, however, and so O’Brien was the subject of a lot of criticism.

Criticism of O’Brien isn’t exactly a new concept. O’Brien has always had a particular kind of rap against him, that of being a decent coach with a definite ceiling. At Boston College, he took over a program racked by scandal and patiently built it into a perennial bowl team, consistently winning eight or nine games every season.

After a while, though, BC fans began to tire of never winning “the big one” and playing in middling bowl games (which O’Brien usually won; he is 8-2 in bowls). O’Brien also apparently didn’t get along with his AD, and so he wound up taking the NC State job. The school needed an experienced, steady disciplinarian (O’Brien went to the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Marine Corps).

O’Brien had a slower start in terms of wins and losses at North Carolina State, but in the last two years the team has won nine and eight games, respectively. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple last year, as not only had Wilson departed, but due to scheduling two FCS teams, the Pack had to win seven regular season games to qualify for a bowl.

A befuddling loss to O’Brien’s old team, Boston College, meant that NC State had to win its last two games to get to seven victories, and one of those was against eventual ACC champ Clemson — but the ever-erratic Pack smashed the Tigers, 37-13. Then in the season finale against two-win Maryland, NC State trailed 41-14 in the third quarter before scoring 42 straight points to win the game and a berth in the Belk Bowl (slacks for everybody!).

Fans of NC State are unsure if the Pack can win a title with Tom O’Brien as a coach. He is not known for recruiting at a championship level, he isn’t an offensive innovator, and there is nothing in his history that suggests he can take the program to the “next level”.

On the other hand, he wins more than he loses, he runs a relatively tight ship, and he knows how to beat UNC (5-0 against the Heels). Maybe one year, a few more breaks will go his way, and NC State will wind up in the Orange Bowl.

O’Brien has also inspired TOBing, easily one of the great college football memes of this century, good enough to be the subject of newspaper articles. It has been mentioned by ESPN and NC State’s own game notes. The TOBing craze was instigated by longtime blogger Akula Wolf of Backing the Pack.

The coach has a couple of Low Country connections. His youngest daughter works for the Historic Charleston Foundation. O’Brien is also one of the 1,989 college football and basketball coaches who owns a vacation home along the South Carolina coast.

When Russell Wilson transferred to Wisconsin, that put the onus on Mike Glennon to deliver an all-star type of season. He did just that in 2011, completing 62.5% of his passes for 3,054 yards and 31 TDs. In his last four games, Glennon threw for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The 6’6″ Glennon struggled in this year’s opener against Tennessee, throwing four interceptions, but has been pick-free in two wins over Connecticut and South Alabama. He threw three TD passes against the Jaguars.

While Glennon is established as the snap-taker, that same sense of stability cannot be found at running back for NC State. Irmo High grad Mustafa Greene will not play against The Citadel, as he has been suspended. James Washington and Tony Creecy should get the bulk of the carries. Washington is the last NCSU player to rush for 100 yards in a game; he did so against North Carolina last season.

NC State is averaging 2.6 yards per rush through three games, a number that includes lost yardage from sacks, but is still not very good. The Pack has not had a player rush for over 1,000 yards since 2002.

Part of not having a 1,000-yard back  can probably be attributed to offensive line play, which has been a sore subject for Pack supporters during the O’Brien era. The coach has not been able to consistently develop the kind of quality o-line talent in Raleigh that he had in Chestnut Hill.

This season a couple of regulars were shifted around (“new” starting left guard R.J. Mattes has now played in four different spots on the o-line in his career). NC State is already on its second left tackle of the campaign after Rob Crisp was injured against Tennessee.

Several receivers are capable of making big plays for the Pack. Bryan Underwood has two TD receptions this year of more than 40 yards. Quintin Payton is a 6’4″ wideout who is averaging almost 20 yards per reception; he had 129 receiving yards versus Tennessee. Tobais Palmer had five TD catches in 2011. He is also NC State’s primary kick returner. Another receiver, Rashard Smith (who caught a touchdown pass against South Alabama), returns punts.

Mike Glennon will also occasionally throw to his tight ends. Actually, Glennon will throw to just about anybody, as he has already completed passes to twelve different players this season through just three games.

NCSU’s strength on defense lies in its secondary, which has talent and experience. All-American David Amerson is an amazing ball-hawk; he intercepted 13 (!) passes last season and already has two picks this year. He got burned a couple of times against Tennessee, but that can happen to the best of DBs.

Amerson is joined in the defensive backfield by safeties Earl Wolff (such a good name for an NC State player) and Brandon Bishop, who have combined to start 69 games for the Pack. The two aren’t afraid to mix it up, either, as they have accounted for a combined 54 tackles through three games this season.

Incidentally, Wolff’s mother is currently serving overseas in the military.

North Carolina State’s linebacking corps is not nearly as experienced. Middle linebacker Sterling Lucas is back after missing the 2011 season due to injury. Lucas is easily the best-educated of all the Pack players, although he has yet to inform the school’s athletic media relations department that it has the name of his high school listed improperly in the game notes.

NCSU has a couple of promising younger players in sophomores Rodman Noel (whose younger brother, Nerlens Noel, is a super-hyped freshman basketball player at Kentucky this year) and Brandon Pittman. Noel will start in the Pack’s base 4-3, but Pittman will play a lot.

On the defensive line, NCSU will rotate up to ten guys. The key players in this unit on Saturday might be veteran right end Brian Slay and 315-lb. DT Thomas Teal.

Over the last two games NCSU has held its opponents to a meager 2-for-23 on third down conversion attempts, with South Alabama pulling an 0-fer in the category (in eleven tries). Tennessee was 9-for-19 converting third downs against the Pack.

Both of NC State’s kicking specialists started as freshmen last year. Niklas Sade is the Pack’s placekicker. He has made 50 consecutive PATs and was 11-16 on FG attempts last year, although so far this season Sade is only 2-5. His career long is 45 yards.

Wil Baumann is NC State’s punter. From what I can tell, based on the stats, he is more of a directional kicker than a true “boomer”. This could be a tough week for fans of the Domonic Jones Puntblocking Experience (DJPE), however, as NC State hasn’t had a punt blocked in over three seasons, and hasn’t had one blocked and returned for a TD since 2005.

For the third consecutive week, The Citadel will play in a game designated as Military Appreciation Day. NC State has an impressive history of producing military officers, and I would anticipate a particularly good show at Carter-Finley.

It is hard to really predict how Saturday’s game will go. The Citadel was very competitive in its last matchup against an FBS opponent, and that was against a nationally ranked South Carolina squad at the close of last season. On the other hand, it is also true that the Gamecocks did not punt in that game.

I don’t think this NC State team is as good as that South Carolina outfit (at the very least, there will be no Alshon Jeffery with which to contend), but the Pack is a solid ACC program that features a fine quarterback and several playmakers.

By my count, Tom O’Brien is 10-0 against I-AA/FCS schools in his head coaching career. One of those wins came in 2007 against Wofford, in O’Brien’s first season in Raleigh. NC State won that game 38-17, a good approximation of what the smart money says Saturday’s result will be.

NC State has played Georgia Tech in each of the last two years, so it is not unfamiliar with the triple option. The Pack did not always defend the Jackets’ offense very well in those games, but then Georgia Tech has a different level of athlete in its system than does (for the most part) The Citadel. At any rate, NCSU was already preparing for this game before the season began.

Much of the focus for this week’s contest has been on how NC State will defend Triple O’Higgins, but it may be that The Citadel’s biggest task will be for its defense to stop a potent (if occasionally inconsistent) Pack offense. In most FBS vs. FCS contests, the main advantage the FBS school has is on the line of scrimmage. How the Bulldogs solve that problem will go a long way to determining how close the game will be.

To me, this game is a freeroll for the Bulldogs. A loss doesn’t affect any of the team’s long-term goals in any way, except for having a winning season, and even there The Citadel will have plenty of opportunities to get three more victories.

What is important is that The Citadel comes out of this game with A) no serious injuries, B) confidence intact, and C) a cashed check for $375K.

Ben Dupree was asked if a win over NC State would “validate” the program. He correctly said no.

To beat an FBS team, you have to be on your ‘A’ game. I don’t think winning this game would validate us, but it would get us some more national attention. We’re hoping to win this game and be a top 5 team.

Exactly right.

In a bit of an oddity, The Citadel could be the team on Saturday night in danger of suffering a letdown. I hope that doesn’t happen, but it wouldn’t be a big surprise for the Bulldogs to come out flat after two enormous (and potentially program-altering) wins.

That said, the bandwagon is starting to fill up. A win in Raleigh would fill it to near capacity.

2011 Football Game 7: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 22.  The game will not be televised. The game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.   Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Western Carolina as part of a subscription service.

This is a post that combines a review of the Appalachian State game with a preview of the Western Carolina contest. At least, that was going to be the plan…

As it happens, I did not attend the App State game, nor did I listen to it on the radio. Without going into specifics, Saturday was a difficult day for me.

In lieu of an extensive review of the 49-42 loss to the Mountaineers, I want to make a general point about access to athletics at The Citadel. It’s really amazing how far we’ve come in the information age, isn’t it?  I didn’t get to watch the game on Saturday, but I can see the highlights on my computer (via The Kevin Higgins Show).

I can go online and read about how the game went from a number of different sources, whether it is the established press (like Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier) or the releases from both participating schools (plus the SoCon).

I can pull up the game statistics on that same school website, and I can even get fan reaction from a message board.

Of course, in normal circumstances, if I had not been able to see the game in person I could have listened to Danny Reed call the game. The Citadel has always had a small radio network, but now you can follow the radio play-by-play online as well, and for home games you can watch a video feed (for a not-unreasonable fee).

The access to information is particularly welcome for a small school like The Citadel. It used to be hard to follow the program from anywhere outside of the Charleston metro area. Now people all over the world have the opportunity to get at least a taste of the action.

I know I don’t take it for granted.  I just wish all this had come about sooner.

Tangent:  I do have one request, if anyone knows somebody in the athletic media relations office. When The Citadel switched to a new provider for its website, some things got lost in the shuffle, including the statistics for previous years. For example, when I was trying to figure out how many penalties Wofford had committed against The Citadel in recent seasons, I wound up having to get the information from Wofford’s website.  

I know it’s not a big deal, but it would be nice if all of those compiled stats could be uploaded again. You never know when some dweeb will want to look up pitch counts from 2003.

Quick hitters from the game against the Mountaineers:

— The Bulldogs went with the all-navy look on Saturday.  It’s the fourth time The Citadel has sported that combo.  In those four games, the Bulldogs are 1-3, 0-3 in SoCon play.  The Citadel has allowed a total of 100 points in those three league defeats.

— The Citadel finally scored in the first quarter of a game. It did take a drive sustained by a fake punt to accomplish that, but the points still count.

Speaking of the fake punt, that was well-executed. I don’t remember seeing one quite like it before, with Cass Couey actually getting the snap and then making an underhand shovel to Kevin Hardy. Statistically, it was a running play. I think you could make an argument that it was a pass attempt.  I guess it comes down to the definition/interpretation of what constitutes a forward pass.

— By this point, if teams don’t know Luke Caldwell is looking to throw the ball on the end-around, they need to fire their video coordinators.

— Domonic Jones has four punt blocks this season, although I think the one against the Mountaineers was his first “stuff” job, as I seem to recall the previous three being tips rather than complete blocks. I could be wrong about that.

At any rate, he did a great job of not only blocking the punt, but recovering very quickly to get up and run it in for the TD.  I could not quite make out on the video the Bulldog (Chris Billinglea?) who essentially occupied the entire App State protection unit; whoever it was, well done.

I’m enjoying this new era of The Citadel blocking punts on a semi-regular basis.  Now the Bulldogs just need to force more punts.

The Citadel plays Western Carolina this Saturday, in Cullowhee.

Let’s be clear about this. It doesn’t matter that it’s a road game. It doesn’t matter that the team is still going through triple option growing pains. It doesn’t matter there is uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position. It doesn’t matter that the defense has lost its mojo over the last two games and needs to regain its confidence.

The game against Western Carolina isn’t about a learning experience, or moving forward, or anything like that. There is only one goal for the matchup with the Catamounts, and only one acceptable outcome.  The Citadel must win this game.

Since the final game of the 2005 season, Western Carolina has played 43 Southern Conference games. The Catamounts have lost 40 of them. Only three times has WCU tasted victory. One of those games came in 2008 against a Chattanooga squad that went 1-11.

The other two wins came in Western Carolina’s last two meetings against The Citadel.

It’s really worse than that in some respects. WCU’s program has been just awful over the last few years, but you would never know it by its games against the Bulldogs. Not only has The Citadel lost those two games (including last year’s dreadful 24-13 setback), but the Bulldogs could very easily have lost four of the last five contests against WCU. The Citadel needed overtime to beat the Catamounts in 2006, and survived in 2007 by just a six-point margin (37-31). As I wrote last year:

The Bulldogs may face a team that is struggling and/or lacks (as a program) certain resources.  However, The Citadel will never be in a position to just show up and win while playing its “C” game.  The military school doesn’t have the capacity to do that, and never will, because of its own restrictions (note that I said restrictions, not disadvantages).

At its best as a program, The Citadel could beat any league team — and could lose to any league team.  That’s just the way it is.  In terms of physical talent, no other conference squad will ever be overmatched by the Bulldogs.

Last season, the Bulldogs came out flat and lost to a struggling team that was giving a true freshman quarterback (Brandon Pechloff) his first career start. The year before, The Citadel lost to a WCU team that could barely get out of its own way.

That’s why it is paramount that the Bulldogs start strong on Saturday. Don’t allow a downtrodden team hope — and when I say downtrodden, it is not an exaggeration. When a coach feels compelled to write an open letter to fans after a 44-point home loss, you know there is a problem.

Western Carolina ranks last in the following SoCon statistical categories: scoring defense, rush defense (allowing 319 yards per game — ouch), pass defense efficiency, total defense (shocker), defensive interceptions, sacks against the offense, sacks by the defense, penalties, time of possession, opponents’ third-down conversion rate, and opponents’ first downs.

The Catamounts do lead the league, curiously, in drawing penalties by their opponents.  I guess blowouts can get a little sloppy. The Citadel needs to stay disciplined on Saturday and maintain its status as the league’s least-penalized team.

In all fairness to Western Carolina, a lot of defenses would have less-than-stellar numbers against the rush after playing Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern. On the other hand, Furman rolled up 268 rushing yards in a 47-point outburst against the Catamounts.  Elon scored 38 (in a 38-31 game in Cullowhee that was WCU’s best SoCon performance to date). Even in Western Carolina’s lone victory, Mars Hill scored 31 points.

Pechloff, a 6’7″ left-hander, is a good passer when he has time to throw the ball. The Bulldogs need to rush him effectively and often in this game, as besides being a sack target Pechloff is turnover-prone (including nine interceptions this season). That largely explains why the Catamounts are second in the league in passing yardage per game but next-to-last in offensive pass efficiency (ahead of only, you guessed it, The Citadel).

His main aerial target is Josh Cockrell, who had two TD catches against both Elon and Furman (he added a rushing TD against the Phoenix). Cockrell only caught one pass against The Citadel last season, but I still remember it. I have rarely been as frustrated by a 20-yard catch in my life, as an under-duress Pechloff floated a pass that just sat in the air for seemingly days before settling into the arms of Cockrell. It summed up the whole game.

Western Carolina is not a strong running team, ranking seventh in the league in rush offense.  The Catamounts average just 3.8 yards per carry.

In an effort to avoid yet another slow start, Kevin Higgins is considering an old Bo Schembechler move to get the team ready for battle. Schembechler, Fritz Crisler, Fielding Yost…it doesn’t matter which ex-Michigan coach had the idea. As long as it works, I’m fine with it.

I’m also okay with Higgins’ decision (as noted in the above link) to start Ben Dupree at quarterback, at least for one more game (though I understand the argument for making a switch). I think the coach’s reasons for sticking with Dupree are solid. Besides, if Aaron Miller winds up getting close to twice as many snaps (as he did against Appalachian State), it’s not that big a deal anyway.  Both of them will play. The one who is more effective at the controls of Triple O’Higgins will play more.

I won’t be in Cullowhee on Saturday, but I’ll be following the action. I want to hear the phrase “fire those cannons” early and often. This game needs to be an Al Davis (RIP) special. Just win, baby.

2011 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played at Finley Stadium, with kickoff at 6:05 pm ET on Saturday, October 1.  The game will not be televised.  The game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.  Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Chattanooga as part of a subscription service.

This post will serve as a combination review of the Elon game and preview of the Chattanooga contest.  I’m combining them because A) I’ve been a little busy, and B) I’m not sure I have enough to say about the two games to justify separate posts.

I’ll have to do the same thing next week, because I definitely won’t have the chance to write a review of the UTC game, as I will be travelling.  I won’t even be able to listen to Danny Reed and Walt Nadzak call the game on the radio.

That’s what I did for the Elon game, as I had another obligation.  As a result I found myself listening to Reed and Nadzak as I drove through a series of thunderstorms (one would pop up about every five minutes; it was ridiculous) while trying to navigate I-26 on a football Saturday.  Between the rain and the Gamecock fans heading to Columbia (some of whom drove about as well as Stephen Garcia threw the ball that night), it was a bit of an adventure.

I concentrated on Reed’s call, though, and he did a solid job informing his listeners about the game.  I also learned he likes to call running backs “sidecars”.

I did go back and look at some of the game later, courtesy of Elon’s video recording, which came in handy.  It helped flesh out some of the observations that follow, though it’s not the same thing as seeing the game “live”, either in person or via an internet stream.

I want to talk about play-calling for a moment.  Specifically, I’m going to write about two play calls in the first quarter.  Now, I don’t pretend to be any kind of coach; as I have said numerous times before, I’m just a dude with a computer.  It’s obviously not an easy task to coordinate an offense or defense, or call plays and formations.  There was a good article on this subject in The Post and Courier last week that featured Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.  It was quite illuminating (I have to say part of Steele’s routine struck me as overkill, but what do I know).

Anyway…

— On the first series of the game, the Bulldogs had second and eight from their own 31-yard line.  The Citadel ran an end-around receiver pass, with wideout Luke Caldwell’s toss to Kevin Hardy falling incomplete.  The play did not appear to fool the Elon defense.

I’m not sure that’s a good play to run at the beginning of the game, when you’re trying to establish an offensive rhythm.  Having said that, a variation of that play helped The Citadel win the game against Samford last year (and worked perfectly in one of the pre-season scrimmages).

It didn’t matter much, because on the next play Ben Dupree reversed field and scampered for 36 yards, extending the drive.  That would eventually lead to the play call that really bothered me.

— The Bulldogs had third-and-goal on the Elon three-yard line.  Dupree got the snap, took a quick drop, and threw a slant pass in the general direction of Domonic Jones. The pass was not accurate, but would not have been completed even if it had been.  It was well defended.

1) The team is on the three-yard line, with two downs to score, running the triple option.  Even if the Bulldogs don’t score on third down, the opportunity is there to go for it on 4th down if The Citadel picks up a yard or two.  That’s what the offense is all about.

2) Okay, so the coaches want to mix things up with a pass — but why on third down? That’s the one down Elon might have expected a pass play.  In that sequence, I think throwing the ball on first or second down is the better plan.

3) Also, the pass itself included no play-action.

4) Jones is 6’5″.  Maybe a fade might have been a better idea than a slant.

A lot of people probably concentrated on the short field goal that was missed following that play, but to me the real missed opportunity occurred one or two plays earlier.

Speaking of the kicking game, I am on record as saying I don’t blame the kickers. One thing that anyone following The Citadel knows is that the placekicking has been inconsistent for several years.  That’s not about the kickers, the holders, or the snappers.  That’s coaching.  Either the players need to be coached better, or the coaches need to find better players.

The missed field goals are frustrating, but almost as problematic is the kick return unit, which is averaging less than 20 yards per return.  Against Elon, the Bulldogs started at their own 29-, 10-, 27-, and 30-yard lines after Phoenix kickoffs.  That needs to improve.

I thought Elon coach Jason Swepson inadvertently assisted The Citadel on Saturday with a couple of curious decisions.  After an Aaron Mellette touchdown reception gave Elon a 12-7 lead with 12:55 remaining in the third quarter, Swepson elected to go for two points, despite the fact that almost 28 minutes remained in the game.  The Phoenix didn’t make the conversion, which struck me as justice served, because nobody should start chasing points with so much time left in a game.

After a Bulldog fumble, Elon had the ball at The Citadel 38-yard line with 2:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.  After a Phoenix first down moved the ball to the 27-yard line, Elon ran the ball (and the clock) to set up a 44-yard field goal attempt, which was missed.  In my opinion, the Phoenix settled too quickly for the long FG try.

After The Citadel’s game notes indicated the Bulldogs were going to wear white jerseys and white pants against Elon, The Citadel broke out navy pants instead.  The Bulldogs wore that combo once last season, versus Wofford.  The Bulldogs lost that game 35-0.  In the two white jerseys/navy pants games, five different Bulldog passers have combined to go 3-14 for 21 yards, and the team has averaged just 7.5 points per game, which is actually worse than the 9.7 ppg the team has averaged in the ten SoCon games played since installing the triple option.

Maybe they should have worn the white pants…

I wrote this three years ago about Chattanooga’s football program, which was in the middle of a 1-11 campaign:

You know it’s been a bad season when the beat writer for the local paper notes that “punter Jeff Lloyd, who lost his starting job for three games, may be the Mocs’ most productive player.”

Later in the column he writes that Lloyd has been effective “when he has been able to get a punt off.”

UTC’s struggles have presented an opportunity for assorted anti-football advocates to step forward and call for the program’s elimination.  The loudest of these voices is a computer science professor at UTC named Joe Dumas.  From the link:

“This is a perfect time for UTC to get out of the football business for good and concentrate on academics while maintaining successful athletic programs like basketball, golf, tennis, etc.”

Well, Chattanooga didn’t drop the football program.  Instead, the school hired alumnus Russ Huesman to coach the team, and that proved to be a very good decision.  Huesman currently has a winning record in both league play (9-8) and overall (14-12), which is quite impressive when you consider the state of the program when he took over.

I did a little googling, but could not find any recent proclamations by Dr. Dumas on the subject of UTC football.  He is still at the school, but seems to be a bit more interested in politics right now, at least from what I could determine.  It is probable he still feels the football program should be eliminated, but it’s hard to make your voice heard on such matters when people are loudly celebrating victories.

Even though the Mocs lost a tough game last week at Appalachian State, you could make an argument that Chattanooga has been the most impressive SoCon team so far this season.  After a 40-7 loss to Nebraska in which the Mocs did not embarrass themselves, UTC reeled off consecutive non-conference FCS wins over Jacksonville State (38-17) and Eastern Kentucky (23-14), the latter a road victory.

Entering the game against Appy, Chattanooga had the most impressive early-season resume of any conference squad.  Against the Mountaineers, UTC did not allow an offensive touchdown, but two defensive TDs by App State did in the Mocs.

B.J. Coleman is in his third year as UTC’s starter after transferring from Tennessee, and is a major reason why the program is on the upswing.  Coleman has 48 career TD passes (against 26 interceptions).  I remember the game two years ago, when Coleman led a comeback victory over The Citadel by throwing 61 passes, somehow including no rushing attempts or sacks.

Coleman’s primary target is Joel Bradford, who was first-team all-SoCon last season and is well on his way to repeating that honor.  Bradford had 15 receptions for 162 yards in the win over Jacksonville State.

Chattanooga rushed for 212 yards against Jacksonville State, but only 32 yards at Appalachian State.  Interestingly, Huesman seemed more upset with his receivers’ blocking than that of his offensive line versus Appy.

On defense, UTC has been solid since the Nebraska game, particularly excelling on third down; its last three opponents as a group only converted 19% of the time in that situation.  Redshirt sophomore middle linebacker Wes Dothard has been the SoCon defensive player of the week for two of the last three weeks.  UTC’s strong linebacking corps also includes Ryan Consiglio, who had 13 tackles in the loss to Appalachian State, and all-name candidate Gunner Miller.

The defensive backfield is excellent, and includes 2010 SoCon freshman of the year Kadeem Wise (who had seven interceptions last season) along with veterans Chris Lewis-Harris and Jordan Tippet.

The Mocs will miss Nick Davison, as the defensive tackle is out for the season after an ACL injury.

Punter Mike Hammons is a three-year starter, but placekicker Nick Pollard is a freshman who has yet to make a field goal of longer than 30 yards.

The Citadel’s defense has been really good so far, to state the obvious.  I was really glad to see the excellent play in the red zone against Elon (after struggling in that department last season against the Phoenix), and the forced turnovers.  It was an outstanding effort from the entire unit.

In the last two years against Chattanooga, though, the D has A) let the quarterback throw the ball 61 times without being sacked, giving up a big lead in the process, and B) allowed 222 rushing yards in a game.

I don’t expect either of those things to occur on Saturday, but UTC’s offense will again pose a stiff challenge.  Obviously giving up around 30 points or so isn’t going to work for The Citadel, given the offensive issues.

At his news conference Monday, Higgins reaffirmed his belief in starter Ben Dupree, while leaving open the possibility of using backup Matt Thompson or even true freshman Aaron Miller.

“Possibly,” Higgins said when asked about using other QBs. “Ben has only started five games now, so there is still a learning curve. He obviously has to get better. Ben has to improve, but if we need to use Matt or Aaron, we will.”

The Citadel had plenty of less-than-stellar passing days last season where Dupree wasn’t involved, like the aforementioned 2-8 (11 yards, plus an interception) against Wofford, or the 0-6 performance versus Appalachian State, or the “3 for us, 3 for them” outing in the Georgia Southern debacle (3 completions, 3 interceptions), or last year’s game against UTC (2-8 for 25 yards and a pick).

I don’t think passing in and of itself would be enough to dislodge Dupree from the #1 QB spot.  If he is having trouble making the reads in the Triple O’Higgins, that would obviously be a different story.  I don’t think that’s what this is about, though.  It’s really about the passing component of the triple option in general not working, whether because of passing, blocking, receiving, play-calling, or all of the above.  Whatever it is, it’s clearly bigger than just one player.

I’ll find out sometime on Sunday how the game went.  I hope it’s worth the wait.

Go Dogs!