College Football Week 6, 2021: Thursday notes and observations

Tuesday notes and observations

Game notes from The Citadel

ETSU’s digital gameday program

SoCon weekly release

ETSU’s Folks makes history with eighth season of college football

Jaylan Adams returns to Johnson City

The Brent Thompson Show (in podcast format)

Broadcast information

The Citadel at East Tennessee State, to be played at William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee, with kickoff at 4:35 pm ET on October 9, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on the following TV stations:

  • ECBD (Charleston, SC)
  • WBTW (Myrtle Beach, SC)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WMYT (Charlotte, NC)
  • WWCW (Lynchburg/Roanoke, VA)
  • WYCW (Greenville, SC/Spartanburg, SC/Asheville, NC).

Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Todd Agne supplies the analysis. 

The contest can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. Other stations carrying the game include WQXL in Columbia (100.7 FM/1470 AM) and WDXY in Sumter (105.9 FM/1240 AM).

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

– From an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

[VMI head football coach Scott Wachenheim] has interest in moving VMI-The Citadel to the end of the season every year.

“I’d even do it at a neutral site, but I do like doing it home-and-home because of the fanfare,” he said. “The whole experience at their place and our place is pretty cool, especially when our corps goes down there and their corps comes up here.”

The Citadel-VMI has occasionally been played at a neutral site. I think home-and-home is definitely the way to go, however.

I would be okay with the game being played in November every year. As a practical matter, the Bulldogs can’t host on the final Saturday of the regular season because of the timing for the fall furlough, but there is no reason the two teams can’t face each other on the second Saturday of the month (or the third Saturday in November when the matchup is in Virginia).

As for The Citadel’s other primary rival, Furman, that series is similar in that there has not been a “standard” time for playing the game. Some of the Paladins faithful have occasionally argued that it should be an end-of-year affair, but historically that contest has been played in October more than any other month.

I believe consistently playing it in midseason would be most appropriate. I know others might have differing opinions, but for me, The Citadel and Furman should always play in mid-October, in the third or fourth league game of the campaign.

Incidentally, 19 of the 29 previous gridiron meetings between The Citadel and ETSU have been in October. Five have been in November, four in September, and one in March.

Roster review:

– Of the 113 players on The Citadel’s online roster, 61 are from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (18 players), Florida (11), North Carolina (9), Virginia (5), Alabama (2), Texas (2), and one each from New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– East Tennessee State also has 113 players on its online roster. Of those, 45 are from Tennessee. Other states with representatives on the Bucs’ squad: Georgia (31 players), North Carolina (8), Florida (7), Ohio (5), Virginia (5), Alabama (3), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (2), and one each from California Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota, and West Virginia.

The two South Carolina natives on ETSU’s roster are fourth-year running back D.J. Twitty (who went to Chapman High School in Inman) and redshirt freshman defensive back Tylik Edwards (Rock Hill High School). 

College Football Week 6, 2021: Tuesday notes and observations

Brent Thompson 10/4 press conference (featuring Duggar Baucom)

ETSU head football coach Randy Sanders’ 10/4 press conference

East Tennessee State having fun while relishing role of favorite

Logan Billings returns, scores two touchdowns

The weather forecast for Saturday afternoon in Johnson City, per the National Weather Service: a 40% chance of showers, with a high of 76°.

William B. Greene Jr. Stadium opened in 2017. It has a listed capacity of 7,694, with the playing field an artificial turf surface. 

ETSU is actually averaging more fans per game (9,926) than the stadium’s listed capacity. The Buccaneers have played three home contests so far this season, against UVA Wise, Delaware State, and Wofford (with 10,153 fans in the stadium for the game versus the Terriers).

Fans of the Bulldogs planning on making the trip to Johnson City should know that ETSU head coach Randy Sanders highly recommends the stadium food, suggesting during his Monday presser that people should come to the game “just for the hot dogs. They’re amazing.” 

Sanders also mentioned that he believes Greene Stadium needs a “cigar section”. When a reporter pointed out that ETSU has a tobacco-free campus, Sanders wryly noted that the campus was also supposed to be alcohol-free, but “I see a lot of bottles [lying around] when I leave in the evening”.

ETSU’s press conference also featured starting quarterback Tyler Riddell and linebacker Jared Folks, an eighth-year (yes!) college football player. As I’ve mentioned before, Folks started his collegiate gridiron career at Temple in 2014, the same year in which insurance pitchman Patrick Mahomes debuted for Texas Tech.

The early lines are out. East Tennessee State is a 10½-point favorite; the over/under is 59½.

Other SoCon lines:

  • Chattanooga is a 10-point favorite at VMI (over/under of 51½)
  • Mercer is a 16½-point favorite at Western Carolina (over/under of 72½)
  • Furman-Wofford is a pick’em (with an over/under of just 37½)

Samford is off this week.

A few other FCS lines of interest:

  • Morehead State is a 3½-point favorite at Presbyterian; the over/under is 90½
  • Florida A&M is a 10-point favorite against South Carolina State; over/under of 54½
  • Charleston Southern is an 18-point favorite against Robert Morris; over/under of 48½
  • Campbell is a 9-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; over/under of 67½
  • James Madison is a 10½-point favorite over Villanova; over/under of 63
  • Kennesaw State is an 18-point favorite over Hampton; over/under of 66½
  • Elon is a 6-point favorite at Maine; over/under of 53½
  • Austin Peay is a 7½-point favorite over Southeast Missouri State; over/under of 68½

For anyone interested, here is my working spreadsheet for FCS games played through October 2:  Link

East Tennessee State, which is averaging 37.6 points per game (15th nationally), fares very well in most offensive categories.

Among all FCS teams, ETSU is 10th in both yards per play (6.72) and adjusted yards per rush (5.85). Senior running back Quay Holmes is second in rushing yards per game (123.4), trailing only a Harvard player who has played in two fewer contests.

The Buccaneers are 8th overall in adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.05) and11th in adjusted pass efficiency (9 TD passes, 3 interceptions), with a 62.3% completion percentage and a third down conversion rate of 49.3% (9th-best in the subdivision). ETSU quarterbacks have been sacked on less than 3% of all pass plays.

East Tennessee State is 36th in estimated points per Red Zone possession (5.35), and 8th in FCS in time of possession (34:10). 

ETSU runs the football on 60.7% of its plays from scrimmage.

Defensively, the Buccaneers are 30th nationally in yards allowed per play (4.89). They are 32nd in adjusted yards allowed per rush (4.24) and 22nd in adjusted yards allowed per pass attempt (5.30).

ETSU has allowed 7 TD passes, but has 5 interceptions. Opponents are completing 63.8% of their throws. The Buccaneers’ adjusted defensive pass efficiency rating ranks 38th in FCS.

East Tennessee State’s defense is allowing 18.4 points per contest (19th-best overall). It is 28th in estimated points allowed per Red Zone possession (4.50) and 48th in third down conversion rate against (35.7%). Against the Bucs’ D, opponents have run the football 38.2% of the time.

ETSU is tied for 25th in FCS in turnover margin per game (0.8). The Buccaneers have gained 9 turnovers (four fumble recoveries, five interceptions) while losing 5 (two fumbles, three picks).

East Tennessee State is called for a few more penalties than the typical FCS squad, drawing an average of 7 flags per contest (tied for 42nd-most in the country), for 59 yards per game (50th). The Buccaneers are 77th nationally in net punting (35.29).

The Citadel’s offense is averaging 28.8 points per game, 43rd overall. It is averaging 5.95 yards per play, which is 34th nationally.

The Bulldogs are 28th in adjusted yards per rush (5.31) and 2nd in adjusted yards per pass attempt (9.16, behind only South Dakota State). Their adjusted pass efficiency rating is 26th, with 2 TDs, 1 pick, and a completion rate of 53.8%. Bulldog QBs have been sacked on 11.3% of pass plays, obviously a stat that needs to improve.

The offense is converting third downs at a 44.2% clip (29th in FCS). The Citadel is 48th nationally in time of possession (31:21), which is lower than in past seasons. The Bulldogs are averaging an estimated 5.21 points per Red Zone possession, 41st in FCS.

The Citadel has run the football on 83.2% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, 3rd nationally (behind Davidson and Kennesaw State).

On defense, The Citadel is allowing 31.8 points per game. The Bulldogs give up on average 6.46 yards per play, which ranks 108th in FCS. That includes an adjusted yards allowed per rush of 5.36 (96th overall) and an adjusted yards allowed per pass attempt of 7.60 (105th). Bulldog opponents are completing 63.4% of their passes, with 8 TDs (against 4 interceptions). The Citadel’s adjusted defensive pass efficiency rating is 98th in the country.

The Bulldogs are allowing a third down conversion rate of 52.1% (123rd nationally). The defense is 39th in estimated points allowed per Red Zone possession (4.64).

Against The Citadel, opponents have an almost even pass/run ratio — 50.8% rush attempts, and 49.2% pass plays.

The Citadel is tied for 39th in FCS in turnover margin (0.5). The Bulldogs have gained five turnovers (1 fumble recovery, 4 interceptions) while losing three (two fumbles, one pick).

With an average of just 4.25 penalties, The Citadel ranks 14th nationally in fewest flags per contest. The Bulldogs rank 33rd in fewest penalty yardage per game (46.75), indicating that the squad needs to get better at avoiding major infractions. It could also indicate that the officials in last week’s game against VMI were a little too officious.

The Citadel is 16th overall in net punting (40.24). 

More to come later in the week…

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: returning starters in the SoCon

Other preseason posts from July:

One of the major storylines for the upcoming football season is the large number of experienced gridders who are returning to college this fall. The “free year” that was the F20/S21 school year has led to a glut of so-called “superseniors”, players in their sixth years (or fifth-year players who haven’t redshirted).

As a result of the extra year being granted, Clemson has at least two players (linebacker James Skalski and punter Will Spiers) who could conceivably play in 70 games during their college careers. That is just a ludicrous number of games for a college football player, but we live in ludicrous times.

Illinois has 22 superseniors, most in the country (the Illini also have 18 “regular” seniors). In February, the AP reported that over 1,000 superseniors were on FBS rosters, a number that has probably declined since then, but still obviously significant.

Information on FCS programs is sketchier, but there was a recent report confirming that Southern Illinois has 16 superseniors, which has to be close to the most in the subdivision, if not the most. Between Illinois and SIU, there are a lot of veteran pigskin collegians in the Land of Lincoln.

Incidentally, one of Southern Illinois’ superseniors is former Western Carolina running back Donnavan Spencer, who transferred from Cullowhee to Carbondale for the fall 2021 campaign.

All of this is reflected in sizeable “returning starters” lists among a lot of teams throughout the sport, including both the FBS and FCS. As an example, here are some numbers from the ACC and SEC, per Phil Steele’s 2021 College Football Preview:

  • Wake Forest: 20 returning starters (but with tough injury news over the last week)
  • North Carolina State: 19
  • Miami: 19 (and only lost 9 out of 70 lettermen)
  • Syracuse: 19
  • Arkansas: 19
  • North Carolina: 18
  • LSU: 18 (hopefully some of them will play pass defense this season)
  • Florida State: 17 (joined by a bunch of D-1 transfers)
  • Boston College: 17
  • Georgia Tech: 17
  • Vanderbilt: 17 (possibly not a positive)
  • Mississippi: 17

The team in those two leagues with the fewest returning starters is Alabama, with 11. Of course, the Tide had six players from last season’s squad picked in the first round of the NFL draft, so a bit of turnover in Tuscaloosa was inevitable. I suspect Nick Saban isn’t too worried about replacing them.

The returning production totals are unprecedented at the FBS level.

The top 10 includes several very interesting teams, including Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona State, Nevada, and UCLA. It is somewhat incredible that Coastal Carolina has a returning production rate of 89% and doesn’t even crack the top 15.

Some of the teams at the bottom of this ranking are national powers that reload every year. Alabama was already mentioned, but the same is true for Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Florida.

BYU and Northwestern also had outstanding seasons last year (and combined for three first-round draft picks). The story wasn’t the same for Duke and South Carolina, however.

Okay, now time to talk about the SoCon. Who in the league is coming back this fall? An easier question to answer would be: who isn’t?

SoCon returning starters, Fall 2021

The spreadsheet linked above has 12 categories. A quick explanation of each:

  • F20/S21 Games Played: total number of games played by a team during the 2020-21 school year, both in the fall (F20) and the spring (S21)
  • F20/S21 Participants: the number of players who suited up during 2020-21
  • F20/S21 Starters: the number of different starters during 2020-21
  • F20/S21 Returning Participants: the number of returnees who played during 2020-21
  • F20/S21 Returning Starters: the number of returning starters from 2020-21
  • F20/S21 Returning Starters 2+: the number of returnees from 2020-21 who started at least two games
  • Spring 2021: total number of games played by a team in the spring (all conference games, except for VMI’s playoff matchup)
  • Spring 2021 Participants: the number of players who took the field during the spring
  • Spring 2021 Starters: the number of different starters during the spring
  • Spring Returning Participants: the number of returnees who played in the spring
  • Spring Returning Starters: the number of returning starters from the spring
  • Spring Returning Starters 2+: the number of returnees who started at least two games during the spring

Most of that needs no explanation. The idea of including a category for multiple starts was inspired by Chattanooga’s game against Mercer, when the Mocs fielded what was essentially a “B” team. UTC had 19 players who started that game, but did not start in any of Chattanooga’s other three spring contests.

There are a few players who started one game in the spring, but also started at least one game in the fall. They are listed as having started multiple games for F20/S21, of course, but not for the spring.

The list of starters does not include special teams players. Some programs list specialists as starters, but they generally are not treated as such from a statistical point of view, and for the sake of consistency I am only listing offensive and defensive starters.

Returnee stats are based on each school’s online football roster as of July 26 (the league’s Media Day). 

Players on current rosters who did not start in F20/S21, but who did start games in 2019, are not included as returning starters. There are two players from The Citadel who fit this description; undoubtedly there are a few others in the conference.

I also did not count any incoming transfers with prior starting experience. That is simply another piece to a team’s roster puzzle.

There is no doubt that transfers will have a major impact on the fall 2021 season. For example, Western Carolina has 15 players on its roster who arrived from junior colleges or other four-year schools following the spring 2021 campaign (the Catamounts have 26 transfers in all).

Five of the nine SoCon schools did not play in the fall. Thus, their overall numbers are the same as their spring totals (and are noted as such on the spreadsheet).

As I’ve said before, when it comes to the veracity of the game summaries, I think the athletic media relations folks at the SoCon schools did quite well for the most part, especially when considering how difficult staffing must have been at times during the spring. There were a few miscues, and in terms of data input, the participation charts seemed to cause the most problems.

Did Mercer start a game with no offensive linemen? Uh, no. Was a backup quarterback a defensive starter for Chattanooga? Nope. In three different contests, did Furman take the field after the opening kickoff with only 10 players? It did not.

There was also a scattering of double-counted players, usually a result of misspellings or changes in jersey numbers. Hey, it happens.

Ultimately, I am fairly confident in the general accuracy of the numbers in the spreadsheet linked above, particularly the categories for starters. The totals for participants should also be largely correct, although I will say that it is harder to find (and correct) errors in online participation charts for participants than it is starters. That is because the players who tend to be occasionally omitted from the charts are special teams performers and backup offensive linemen — in other words, non-starters who do not accumulate standard statistics.

According to the SoCon’s fall prospectus, 553 of the 636 players who lettered in F20/S21 are playing this fall (86.9%). That tracks with my numbers, with 83.2% of all participants returning (573 of 689). I did find one player listed as a returnee in the prospectus who is not on his school’s online roster; it is possible there are one or two more such cases.

Samford had by far the most participants, with 95 (in seven contests). Of that group, however, 24 only appeared in one game during the spring. The number of multiple-game participants for SU is more in line with some of the other spring-only teams, such as Furman; the Paladins also played seven games, with 71 participants, 64 of whom played in at least two games.

Having said that, kudos to Samford for being able to maintain a roster that large this spring. That is a credit to its coaching and support staff.

Mercer, which played three games in the fall and eight in the spring, has the most returnees that started multiple games, with 37. There are 25 Bears who are returning after making at least two spring starts.

The Citadel has the most players returning who had 2+ starts in the spring, with 28. Wofford has the fewest (19), not a huge surprise given the Terriers only played in five games.

Chattanooga and East Tennessee State combine to return 122 out of 128 players who participated in the spring season. Those returnees include 75 players who started at least one spring game.

Conference teams average 30.44 returning starters from the spring. No squad has fewer than 25.

For the SoCon, I’m not really capable of fully replicating the formula Bill Connelly uses for his FBS returning production rates; I lack access to some of the necessary data. Therefore, I am just going to list some of the (very limited) spots throughout the conference in which teams will have to replace key performers from the spring. I realize that is more anecdotal in nature than the rest of this post.

  • Furman must replace three starters on its offensive line, including the versatile Reed Kroeber (41 career starts for the Paladins). FU also loses first-team all-SoCon free safety Darius Kearse.
  • Wofford has to replace its second-leading rusher from the spring (Ryan Lovelace), and players who accounted for 61% of the Terriers’ receiving production.
  • VMI loses three defensive stalwarts who were second-team all-conference selections; one of them, lineman Jordan Ward, will be a graduate transfer at Ball State this fall.
  • The Keydets will also miss Reece Udinski, who transferred to Maryland (as was announced before the spring campaign even began). However, Seth Morgan certainly filled in at QB with aplomb after Udinski suffered a season-ending injury.
  • Mercer must replace leading rusher Deondre Johnson, a second-team all-league pick.
  • Samford placekicker Mitchell Fineran, an all-SoCon performer who led the conference in scoring, graduated and transferred to Purdue. He is the only regular placekicker or punter in the conference from the spring not to return for the fall.
  • I mentioned earlier that Western Carolina running back Donnavan Spencer (a first-team all-conference choice) transferred to Southern Illinois. The Catamounts also lost another first-team all-league player, center Isaiah Helms, a sophomore who transferred to Appalachian State. That has to sting a bit in Cullowhee. 
  • WCU’s starting quarterback last spring, Ryan Glover, transferred to California (his third school; he started his collegiate career at Penn). Glover and VMI’s Udinski are the only league players to start multiple games at quarterback this spring who are not returning this fall.
  • Western Carolina defensive tackle Roman Johnson is listed on the Catamounts’ online roster, but also reportedly entered the transfer portal (for a second time) in mid-July. I am including him as a returning starter for now, but there is clearly a lot of uncertainty as to his status.
  • The Citadel must replace starting right tackle Thomas Crawford (the only spring starter for the Bulldogs who is not returning).
  • A few players who appeared in fall 2020 action but not in the spring eventually found their way to FBS-land. Chattanooga wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly, a two-time first team all-SoCon selection during his time with the Mocs, will play at Western Michigan this season. Mercer wideout Steven Peterson, who originally matriculated at Coastal Carolina before moving to Macon, is now at Georgia. Strong safety Sean-Thomas Faulkner of The Citadel will wear the mean green of North Texas this fall.

Odds and ends:

  • Of the 51 players on the media’s all-SoCon teams (first and second), 42 will return this fall. 
  • One of those returnees is ETSU linebacker Jared Folks, who will be an eighth-year collegian this season (the only one in D-1). Folks started his college career at Temple in 2014 — the same year in which Patrick Mahomes debuted for Texas Tech.
  • Robert Riddle, the former Mercer quarterback who did not appear in F20/S21, is now at Chattanooga. Riddle made nine starts for the Bears over two seasons, but his time in the program was ravaged by injuries.
  • Chris Oladokun, who started Samford’s spring opener at QB, transferred to South Dakota State. Oladokun began his college days at South Florida before moving to Birmingham, where he started eight games for SU in 2019. His brother Jordan will be a freshman defensive back at Samford this fall.

So, to sum up: every team has lots of players back, which means (almost) every team’s fans expects the upcoming season for their respective squads to be truly outstanding. College football games this year will all take place in Lake Wobegon, because everyone will be above average.

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: close games

Here are links to other posts I’ve written this month as the 2021 fall campaign approaches:

I’ve often stated that marginal improvement in various statistical categories can make an outsized difference in a team’s success, and lead to winning more games. For example, in my post about havoc rates, I wrote:

…one play — a forced fumble, a big tackle for loss, an interception — could well be the difference between a win or a loss. After all, just think about how many close games The Citadel has played in the conference in recent years.

This is certainly true, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually researched just how many close games the Bulldogs have played over the past few seasons. It was time to change that oversight.

Thus, I created a spreadsheet (of course). This one includes all Southern Conference games played between 2011 and the 2021 spring campaign for every league team which played during the period. That is ten seasons of data.

I am defining close games by the more-or-less standard definition, matchups decided by eight or fewer points — in other words, one-score games. That obviously includes all overtime contests.

Close games in the SoCon, 2011-S2021

The chart includes three teams no longer in the conference (Appalachian State, Elon, and Georgia Southern) and all of the current league members, including two teams (ETSU and VMI) that rejoined the conference since the 2011 season.

As mentioned, only conference games are listed. I’ve also noted the total number of league games played each year.

Since 2011, 44.81% of all SoCon contests have been close games. The rate has been quite consistent over the years; the highest percentage of close games during that time was last season (55.17%), while the lowest was in 2014 (32.14%). If you combine those two campaigns, the average comes out to 43.86%, right near the mean — and the other years are all between 41%-50%.

A few random observations:

  • Not counting Appalachian State or Georgia Southern (both of which left the SoCon after the 2013 season), the team with the best record in one-score games has been Wofford, while the unluckiest team in that respect has been VMI. 
  • In its five seasons since rejoining the conference, East Tennessee State has played by far the highest percentage of close games (68.42%).
  • Conversely, Western Carolina has the lowest rate of close games (26.32%).

The Citadel has played 78 league games since 2011. In 39 of those contests — exactly half — the Bulldogs have been involved in a one-score game. 

In all SoCon matchups over the period, The Citadel has a record of 41-37, so the Bulldogs have a slightly better record in games that are not close (22-17) than in games that are (19-20).

What does it all mean? Does it mean anything at all?

Generally speaking, over time a team’s record in one-score games should be right around .500, and that is the case for The Citadel. When it comes to close contests, the program has not been a statistical outlier from a historical perspective (which might comes as a surprise in some quarters). 

One takeaway, then, might be that instead of hoping small advancements will lead to a better record in close games, the actual intended results should be for fewer close games, with the difference being several more decisive victories.

Regardless, odds are that at least three of the Bulldogs’ league matchups this season will go right down to the wire. As always, critical plays have to be made in those key moments.

The fans have to be ready, too…

2021 Spring Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on March 20, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Dave Weinstein will handle play-by-play, while Jason Kempf supplies the analysis.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

Links of interest:

– Bulldogs looking for good news

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on ETSU’s website

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders’ 3/15 press conference

Stump Mitchell: From too small to play college football to NFL assistant

ETSU’s Holmes not taking The Citadel lightly

– Fast start is key for the Buccaneers

Saturday’s game gives ETSU “exciting chance to snap [its] road skid”

– “Live Stats” online platform

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and East Tennessee State above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools playing (Wofford is off this week):

The Citadel’s volleyball team beat ETSU for the first time ever!

Could this be foreshadowing for the football game on Saturday? We can only hope.

In other non-gridiron news, Hayden Brown is returning to the hardwood for the Bulldogs.

Participation report:

The Citadel had 35 players see action in the game versus Western Carolina. The Catamounts had 56 participants.

Breaking down the Bulldogs’ numbers a little further: just five players had rushes/receptions, while only 12 players recorded tackles.

ETSU used 47 players last week against Furman.

Updated career points scored by Bulldogs on the active spring roster:

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for its matchup with ETSU, by class.

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt freshmen: 9
  • Sophomores: 3
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 10
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 1
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

There were several changes to the two-deep from last week. This week’s depth chart accounts for a couple of absences that were previously known. I was glad to see a two-deep that appears to be more accurate.

Here is a breakdown of East Tennessee State’s projected depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 8
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 14
  • Sophomores: 6
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 7
  • Redshirt juniors: 3
  • Seniors: 3
  • Redshirt seniors: 2
  • Graduate students: 1

East Tennessee State is 1-1 in the spring after not playing in the fall. The Bucs defeated Samford, 24-17, in their opener. Last week, they lost 17-13 to Furman. Both games were played in Johnson City, but they weren’t back-to-back affairs. The game versus Samford was followed by two open weeks, with one of those a scheduled bye and the other resulting from the Bucs’ contest against Wofford being canceled.

(All statistics below are sack-adjusted.)

ETSU has passed (or attempted to pass) on 56.3% of its offensive plays. The Bucs are averaging 4.5 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt (1 pass TD, 1 interception).

The Bucs have an offensive third down conversion rate of 37.9%. East Tennessee State is 0-2 on 4th down attempts, with one of those tries in a desperation situation against Furman, and the other just outside the red zone against Samford (on a 4th-and-5). Another would-be fourth down attempt was converted via penalty (in a situation where the Bucs eschewed a long field goal attempt).

ETSU has nine offensive plays of 20+ yards from scrimmage in its first two games, three runs and six passes. Its longest rush has been 22 yards, while the longest pass play was 59 yards.

Defensively, East Tennessee State is allowing 5.0 yards per rush and 3.6 yards per pass attempt (with 8 sacks and 3 interceptions on 86 opponent passing plays, giving up just one passing touchdown).

ETSU has a defensive third down conversion rate of 35.5%. Opponents are 2-3 on 4th down tries, with Samford converting two 4th-and-1 plays (both via rush), while Furman failed to score on a 4th-and-goal from the Bucs’ 1-yard line (also a running play).

Through two games, the Buccaneers have allowed opponents to convert just 2 of 15 third down attempts in the second half. Samford only scored 3 second-half points versus ETSU.

However, Furman put all 17 points of its points on the board in the third quarter, scoring TDs in its first two possessions in that quarter. On those two drives, the Paladins only faced one third down.

ETSU has allowed six plays of 20+ yards, two runs (long of 35 yards) and four passes (with a long of 27 yards).

East Tennessee State’s net punting average is an excellent 42.6 yards. ETSU has made all five of its PATs and all three of its field goal attempts (with a long of 38 yards).

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders on the Buccaneers playing their first road game of the spring:

It’s our first road game so this is a new experience for the 40-45 guys that are on the buses headed to Charleston. This will be a different experience as well. The one thing right now with COVID is that you don’t have to deal with quite as much of the noise or hostility like you would in a normal season.

Another takeaway from Sanders’ press conference: he was not particularly pleased with the officiating in last week’s game versus Furman. This was in part detailed in an article written prior to his Monday presser:

One penalty in particular seemed to draw Sanders’ ire. ETSU quarterback Tyler Riddell threw a pass away to avoid the rush and was called for intentional grounding. The ball flew high over the head of his “intended” receiver and out of bounds.

“I’ve never seen an intentional grounding penalty go right over the top of two receivers,” Sanders said. “But I’ve learned something. I’d never won a game in February and I’ve done that. Now I’ve seen an intentional grounding penalty go right over the top of two receivers. The official said they had no chance to catch it and I’m like ‘Well, no kidding. There’s a reason he’s throwing it away.'”

Sanders stated that the league office had yet to respond to some questions he had about a few of those calls by the men in stripes.

Ah, SoCon officiating. Some things, unfortunately, never change.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, and a high of 54°. It could be a bit windy on the peninsula as well.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, East Tennessee State (as of March 16) in an 8½-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 39½.

Other SoCon lines this week (as of March 16): Furman is a 5½-point favorite over Chattanooga (over/under of 36½); Samford is a 5½-point favorite over VMI (over/under of 63½); and Mercer is an 8-point favorite over Western Carolina (over/under of 51).

A few more games of note in FCS: Davidson is a 5-point favorite over Presbyterian; Kennesaw State is a 19-point favorite over Dixie State; North Dakota State is a 3½-point favorite over North Dakota; Lafayette is an 8-point favorite at Bucknell; William and Mary is a 1½-point favorite over Elon; Sam Houston State is a 28½-point favorite at Lamar; and Jacksonville State is an 8½-point favorite over Southeast Missouri State (one of seven FCS contests being played on Sunday).

– East Tennessee State’s notable alumni include singer/bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, actor/director Timothy Busfield, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales.

As I have written several times before, Bales has had one of the world’s best jobs over the years, as he has enjoyed the privilege of listening to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis.

– The Citadel is 12-16 in the all-time series against ETSU. The Bulldogs have won three of the last four gridiron meetings between the two schools.

– East Tennessee State’s roster includes 40 players from Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (25 players), Florida (8), North Carolina (6), Ohio (5), South Carolina (3), Virginia (3), Alabama (2), and one each from California, Kentucky, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

– The three Palmetto State products on ETSU’s squad are freshman defensive back Tylik Edwards (Rock Hill High School); redshirt sophomore running back D.J. Twitty (Chapman High School); and freshman linebacker Colby Smith (who started his college career at Erskine and is listed on the Bucs’ roster as being from Rock Hill, but who played high school football in Charlotte).

Alas, no Buccaneer can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s supreme expression of pigskin greatness, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. East Tennessee State’s abysmal failure to recruit any players who have worn the famed orange and white will forever limit the program’s ability to compete for national titles. Donnie Abraham has thrown up his hands in frustration.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on March 20. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 16-1 (3-0 in the SoCon). On March 14, the Bulldogs outlasted Mt. Olive 9-7. The Citadel scored six runs in the second inning, thanks in large part to three errors by the Trojans’ catcher. Base hits by Dan McDonnell and Phillip Tobin keyed the rally. The winner pitcher was Steve Basch, with Hank Kraft picking up a save by inducing a double play in the ninth to end the game.

The next day, the Bulldogs beat Belmont Abbey 7-3. Tony Skole had two hits and an RBI, while Anthony Jenkins added a double and two runs driven in. Gettys Glaze had three hits (including two doubles) in the contest. Bart Mays was the winner in relief, after Robbie Kirven had started the game for The Citadel.

In an article in The News and Courier that accompanied the box score, head coach Chal Port stated that he wasn’t worried about his players feeling burdened by the long winning streak. “This team is just playing for the fun of it. They’re not playing for streaks or rankings. We’re just swinging hard in case we hit it.”

Port also told the writer, a relative newcomer to the Bulldogs beat named Jeff Hartsell, that “our hat size is still the same.”

The Citadel next played a SoCon series against Appalachian State that was shortened to two games after a rainout. The Bulldogs swept a doubleheader from the Mountaineers.

In the first game, a six-run eighth inning (which was actually an extra inning, as the two games were scheduled for seven innings) paved the way for a 10-5 victory. Kraft picked up the win with 2 1/3 innings of relief work. Jenkins had three hits, including a double and a homer, and drove in three runs. Chris Coker, Mike Branham, and Mike Black each had two RBI.

The Bulldogs scored five runs in the second inning of the second game, and held on for a 5-2 win. Richard Shirer garnered the victory, with Glaze recording the save. The Citadel’s run-scorers were McDonnell, Coker, Tobin, Jason Rychlick, and Larry Hutto.

The following day, The Citadel defeated Howard 14-4. Basch got the win, with Hal Hayden and Kevin McGarvey also seeing action on the hill. The Bulldogs had four doubles (Skole, Jenkins, Branham, McDonnell) and five stolen bases (Skole, Jenkins, Branham, Coker, Hutto). Eight different Cadets crossed the plate safely at least once.

There were more fireworks against LeMoyne the next afternoon, and The Citadel needed all the runs it could muster to prevail, 16-11. Billy Baker managed to get through 7 difficult innings on the mound for the win; he also homered and doubled.

Eight different Bulldogs had multi-hit games; Jenkins joined Baker in the home run/double combo department, while Coker had a double, a triple, and a stolen base. Branham and Black also doubled for The Citadel, with Glaze adding a triple to the box score. McDonnell stole three bases and joined Coker in the three-runs-scored club.

The Citadel was 6-0 during the week ending March 20, with a winning streak of 21 games. The overall record stood at 22-1 (5-0 SoCon).

I decided to wait until the end of this post to write about last week’s game. It was a very disappointing performance, one of the worst losses in league play the Bulldogs have had in some time (regardless of time of year).

The defense held Western Carolina out of the end zone in the second half, but the damage had already been done. First, The Citadel allowed yet another quick score by an opponent (this one took three plays instead of one, but that didn’t make anybody feel better).

Then there was the long TD run the Bulldogs gave up at the end of the half. That was both deflating and (as it turned out) decisive.

The Catamounts had averaged only 3.83 yards per rush in their previous three games. Against The Citadel, however, WCU rushed for 7.45 yards per carry.

Offensively, the Bulldogs managed to move the ball without scoring. The mishaps included a red zone failure inside the 10, a missed field goal, and a lost fumble after a 52-yard drive.

The Citadel had nine full possessions during the game. Four of those drives totaled 50 plays — but resulted in zero points. That is not going to get it done.

Part of the problem was the absence of big plays on offense, a recurring issue. The Bulldogs only had two plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more, both rushes by Jaylan Adams — one for 21 yards, and the other his 20-yard TD in the third quarter.

Brent Thompson:

We brought a lot of this on ourselves. We’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves. Things happen for a reason, and we’ll keep pressing through this.

One of the obvious problems can be seen in the participation chart. I think it is fair to say that a Division I football team should really be fielding more than 35 players in a competitive game. That is where The Citadel is right now, though, and the squad just has to persevere.

At least there isn’t any whining about it. That would be even more unacceptable than losing.

The Bulldogs will continue to show up (COVID-19 notwithstanding). They will learn from adversity, and they will get even tougher, and they will improve.

Ultimately, though, they’re playing to win, which is what makes all the effort worthwhile. Let’s hope things begin to move in a more worthwhile direction on Saturday.

Football 2019, Game 10: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The Citadel at East Tennessee State, to be played at William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on November 2, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on five television stations in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton provides the analysis.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on ETSU’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/30)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/28)

The Dogs:  Episode 10

About that Homecoming reunion for the Draytons

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders’ weekly press conference

Sanders tells Buccaneers to keep believing

East Tennessee State hopes for happy Homecoming

Basketball preview article in The Post and Courier 

Charlie Taaffe passes away at age 69

Television stations carrying the football game:

  • WCBD (Charleston)
  • WYCW (Greenville/Spartanburg)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WWCW (Roanoke, VA)
  • WJHL (Tri-Cities [TN])

It is possible that the game will be carried on a digital sub-channel on one of the above-mentioned stations, rather than the primary channel itself. Check your local listings if you plan on watching the game on TV.

This preview is a little on the short side. Sorry about that, but A) I’ve been really busy, and B) my computer picked a less-than-ideal time to die.

I just hope the Bulldogs are more functional on Saturday than I am right now.

Also, the next preview (for the Chattanooga game) will be late, possibly being posted on the Friday night before the contest. It will not be very long. Just as The Citadel’s football team has an upcoming break, I’m taking some time off as well.

Okay, back to the present…

This week’s “stats of note” for East Tennessee State are for its five SoCon games. I didn’t include the statistics for the Buccaneers’ games against Appalachian State, Shorter, or Austin Peay.

ETSU Opponents
Points Per Game 16.2 24.6
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 138 220
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.45 5.30
Attempts-Completions-Interceptions 155-84-3 147-86-3
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 5.10 4.69
Total Plays 304 376
Yards per play 5.26 5.05
Total punts 30 25
Punting Net Average 34.4 38.5
Penalties-Yards 26-271 19-186
Penalty yards per game 54.2 37.2
Time of Possession per game 28:17 31:43
Offensive plays per second 27.91 seconds 25.31 seconds
3rd Down Conversions 17/63 (26.98%) 31/73 (42.47%)
4th Down Conversions 2/5 (40.00%) 5/8 (62.50%)
Fumbles-Lost 6-5 6-2
Sacks-Yards Lost 9-49 11-66
Red Zone: Touchdowns 5/12 (41.67%) 14/21 (66.67%)
Turnover Margin -3 +3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 45.39% 58.51%

Random observations based on the above statistics (remember, these are conference numbers only):

– In terms of yardage, ETSU is the second-most penalized team in the league; penalties on special teams have particularly bedeviled the Bucs

– The Buccaneers are not having a lot of fumble luck; losing five out of six fumbles is kind of rough

– ETSU is last in the league in scoring offense

– One reason for that is the Buccaneers are last in offensive third down conversion rate, and by a lot

– East Tennessee State is also the only team in the league with an offensive red zone TD rate under 50%; conversely, The Citadel’s offense has a red zone TD rate of 76%

– The Citadel and ETSU are the bottom two teams in the league in offensive yards per play, but one key difference is the Bulldogs average almost 15 more offensive plays per game

East Tennessee State’s non-conference slate went about as expected. The Bucs lost 42-7 to Appalachian State, whipped Shorter 48-10, and picked up a nice home victory over Austin Peay (20-14).

It was the game in between the victories over Shorter and Austin Peay that arguably set the tone for ETSU’s fortunes (or lack thereof) in SoCon play. VMI came to Johnson City, and in a game delayed by lightning, the Keydets eventually prevailed 31-24 in overtime.

That was not how the Buccaneers wanted to begin the league slate, and things didn’t improve from there. ETSU dropped a tough game at Furman (17-10) and then lost at home to Wofford (35-17, with the Terriers pulling away late).

A week off didn’t change the momentum. On a Thursday night, Chattanooga beat the Bucs 16-13 on a last-minute field goal (after the Mocs had struggled mightily in the kicking game throughout the contest). Last week, Samford edged ETSU 24-17, with a 4th-quarter TD by the Crimson Bulldogs proving to be the winning score.

Both of those games were on the road. Saturday’s game is the first at home for East Tennessee State since October 5.

Some comments from ETSU head football coach Randy Sanders on his radio show this week:

– “We have to be ready to score.” Sanders emphasized the lack of possessions in a game against a triple option team, or as he referred to it, a “three back offense”.

– Sanders on the Bulldogs’ offense: “Whenever you get them to punt on 4th down, you’ve done something good.”

– He was complimentary of The Citadel’s defense, saying that it is “much, much more multiple” under first-year defensive coordinator Tony Grantham. According to Sanders, “you can see as the season has gone on…that they have become more comfortable” in the new system.

– Sanders was also impressed with The Citadel’s kickers. He mentioned that he would like to see ETSU punt returner Malik McGue (a transfer from Army) “shake loose” on a return. McGue (5’8″, 188 lbs.) is averaging a healthy 7.1 yards per return despite only having a long of 19 yards on nine runbacks, which suggests he may indeed be someone The Citadel needs to be very wary of on Saturday.

– Star defensive end Nasir Player (a 6’5″, 271 lb. native of Columbia) was called for targeting against Samford last week, and will miss the first half of the game against the Bulldogs. Sanders was not very happy about the call against the redshirt senior, and said “it’s a shame that a call like that…can truly affect two games.”

– The host of the radio show, ETSU play-by-play man Jay Sandos, had good things to say about The Citadel’s quarterback; alas, he kept calling the Bulldogs’ signal-caller “Bobby Rainey”.

A few thoughts on some ETSU players from Brent Thompson on his radio show:

– East Tennessee State’s leading receiver is a tight end, 6’3″, 226 lb. sophomore Nate Adkins. Thompson stated that Adkins is “the best tight end in the league, by far”.

– Thompson noted the Bucs’ excellent defensive ends, Nasir Player and Jason Maduafokwa (6’3″, 270 lbs.), who like Player is a redshirt senior. He was also impressed with ETSU’s linebacking corps, which is a combination of experienced and young (including two redshirt freshman starters).

– He mentioned that in addition to starting quarterback Trey Mitchell (6’4″, 215 lbs.), ETSU will also use the “wildcat” formation at times.

Last year, ETSU won this matchup 26-23 in Charleston. Running back Quay Holmes (6’1″, 216 lbs.) was largely held in check on the ground, but did hurt the Bulldogs with four receptions out of the backfield.

Free safety Tyree Robinson (5’11”, 184 lbs) intercepted two passes in the game, returning one 42 yards for a TD. Robinson and Holmes were both preseason first team all-SoCon selections this year, along with Player and Maduafokwa.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Johnson City, Tennessee, per the National Weather Service: sunny and a high of 56 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 30 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Thursday evening), The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over East Tennessee State, with an over/under of 41 1/2.

Through nine games this season, The Citadel is 4-5 ATS. The over has hit only twice.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: VMI is a 14 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina; Furman is a 9-point favorite at Chattanooga; Samford is a 3-point favorite at Mercer; and Wofford is a 46 1/2 point underdog at Clemson.

– Also of note: Elon is an 11-point favorite over William & Mary; Towson is a 9 1/2 point favorite over Delaware; and Charleston Southern is a 2 1/2 point favorite at Gardner-Webb.

Georgia Tech is a 7 1/2 point home underdog to Pittsburgh.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 27, with Florida A&M favored over Delaware State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 41st in FCS. The Buccaneers are 80th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 72% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 24, ETSU 17.

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

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Northern Iowa is 9th, Villanova 11th, Kennesaw State 13th, Southern Illinois 15th, Elon 19th, Furman 22nd, Towson 27th, Idaho 30th, North Carolina A&T 34th, McNeese State 38th, Wofford 42nd, Florida A&M 43rd, Monmouth 48th, Jacksonville State 50th, Holy Cross 55th, Chattanooga 57th, Samford 58th, South Carolina State 60th, Duquesne 63rd, William & Mary 66th, VMI 70th, Campbell 73rd, Georgetown 78th, Tennessee Tech 81st, Prairie View A&M 85th, Mercer 86th, Robert Morris 90th, Charleston Southern 93rd, Gardner-Webb 98th, Davidson 99th, Brown 102nd, Marist 107th, Western Carolina 112th, Howard 117th, Valparaiso 120th, Jacksonville 124th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– East Tennessee State’s notable alumni include former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith (soon to be coaching in the Hula Bowl!), country music singer/bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales.

As I say every year, Bales has one of the best jobs in the world, as he gets to listen to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis.

– Future FBS opponents for the Bucs include Georgia (during the 2020 season), Vanderbilt (2021), North Carolina (2022), and Appalachian State (2024).

– East Tennessee State’s roster includes 43 players from the state of Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (24 players), Alabama (7), North Carolina (7), Ohio (7), South Carolina (6), Florida (6), Virginia (2), and one each from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The Palmetto State products (and their respective high schools) on the Buccaneers’ squad are Ben Blackmon (Newberry), Nasir Player (Ridge View), Landon Kunak (Spartanburg), Treyvion Houston (Greer), Donovan Swinger (T.L. Hanna), and D.J. Twitty (Chapman).

While there are a few South Carolina natives on ETSU’s team, none are from that internationally known purveyor of pigskin perfection, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. What in the name of Donnie Abraham is going on? There is little doubt that failing to recruit the gridiron warriors who wear the famed maroon and orange will haunt the East Tennessee State program for many decades to come.

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

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

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is largely unchanged from last week’s edition. Gunner Covey is listed as a starter at defensive end.

– When it comes to the coin toss, The Citadel has been very successful, winning the flip at least seven times in nine games; the only one the Bulldogs definitely did not win was versus Charleston Southern. (I have not been able to determine which team won the toss in the Samford game.)

Update: There appears to be some controversy (?!) about this subject. According to this week’s game notes (thanks to commenter MG for pointing this out), The Citadel is 9-0 when it comes to winning the coin toss.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson also referenced having won all the tosses. The problem with this: per the play-by-play for the Charleston Southern game box score, CSU won the coin toss (and elected to defer).

It is true that play-by-play logs are not necessarily gospel. Perhaps asking the game captains might help.

Also, I guess we can now assume (dangerous, making assumptions) that The Citadel did win in fact the coin toss against Samford.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-6 for games played on November 2. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1968: An injury-riddled group of Bulldogs surprised Davidson, 28-21, in a game played at Charlotte Memorial Stadium. Joe Bedenbaugh rushed for 111 yards, and Steve Brackett added 102 yards and two TDs. This is the earliest game on record in which two players for The Citadel broke the 100-yard rushing mark. Tony Passander ran for a touchdown and threw for another (a 58-yarder to Tom Sanchez). On defense, head coach Red Parker singled out Ken Diaz and Charlie Baker for praise.
  • 1985: At Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Western Carolina 10-3. Adrian Williams rushed for the game’s only touchdown. Greg Davis added a field goal and a PAT for the Bulldogs. The Citadel’s defense held the Catamounts to 268 total yards and forced three turnovers, all interceptions — one by Brian Graves and two by J.D. Cauthen.
  • 1991: Before a crowd of 20,071 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Bulldogs beat Appalachian State 17-10. Jack Douglas rushed for 115 yards and threw a 52-yard TD pass to Cornell Caldwell. Erick Little scored The Citadel’s other touchdown on a seven-yard run. Rob Avriett booted a 46-yard field goal and converted both extra points. The Bulldogs thwarted two fourth-quarter drives by the Mountaineers; David Brodsky intercepted a pass that had been tipped by Bill Melby, and later Derek Moore broke up a key fourth-down pass to preserve the win.
  • 2013: After once trailing 17-0, The Citadel came back to win a Homecoming game against Samford, 28-26. Darien Robinson rushed for 83 yards and three touchdowns, while Vinny Miller had 95 yards on the ground and a TD of his own. The defense chipped in with two turnovers — an interception by Nick Willis, and a fumble recovery by Tevin Floyd (created by a Mark Thomas sack). The game also featured a key conversion off a fake punt by Eric Goins, a 27-yard run that set up Robinson’s second touchdown.

Charlie Taaffe was the coach who demonstrated that The Citadel could compete and win in the modern era of college football.

The Bulldogs had not won a Southern Conference title since 1961 when he was hired, but Taaffe used the wishbone offense to lead The Citadel to a league championship and the No. 1 ranking in Division I-AA in 1992. He won the Eddie Robinson award as the I-AA national coach of the year in ’92.

“I think Coach Taaffe is the standard around here,” said current Bulldogs coach Brent Thompson. “He had quite the career record here and he found a way to sustain a lot of success. He was able to win a championship in a very challenging Southern Conference.

“As far as I am concerned, he is probably the guy that is most responsible for us and our staff being back here.”

I was still a cadet when Taaffe was named head football coach at The Citadel. The change in offense was stark, but there also seemed to be a shift in attitude. The new coach had certain standards, and they were going to be met. There didn’t seem to be much doubt about that, somehow.

In just his second year, Taaffe orchestrated an 8-win season that included an undefeated home slate, with memorable wins over Navy and Marshall. There was a palpable enthusiasm that began to envelop Johnson Hagood Stadium on gamedays.

Charlie Taaffe re-established a level of high expectations for the football program; despite some lean years at times, that point of view has persisted into the present day. That is one of his legacies at The Citadel, and it is an outstanding one.

I expect Saturday’s game to be close, and possibly not high-scoring. While East Tennessee State is winless in the SoCon to this point in the season, the Buccaneers are a better team than their record indicates. Randy Sanders stated during his radio show that he expected his team to “play hard”, and there is no reason to doubt that — especially since this is ETSU’s Homecoming game.

If the Bulldogs can do the things they have been doing well of late on offense — ball control and finishing drives — they should be in good shape. That will be particularly true if the defense continues its gradual but noticeable improvement (and maintains its recent run of largely solid play on third down).

It won’t be easy, but The Citadel has an opportunity to continue to play impactful games well into the twilight of the season. The Bulldogs must seize that opportunity.

Game Review, 2019: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

– Associated Press story

– WCSC-TV game report (with video)

– WCSC-TV recap (video via Twitter)

– School release

– Mercer website story

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

This was very, very cool.

Congrats to Brandon Rainey on setting a record that had been around for a while:

Stats of note:

The Citadel Mercer
Field Position* 31.13 (+4.7) 26.43 (-4.7)
Success Rate* 53.42% 46.30%
Big plays (20+ yards) 3 4
Finishing drives (average points) 7.00 4.25
Turnovers 1 1
Expected turnovers 1.22 0.66
Possessions* 8 7
Points per possession* 4.38 3.43
Offensive Plays* 73 53
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 5.57 3.17
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 6.20 8.53
Yards/play* 5.59 6.21
3rd down conversions 14 for 17 (82.4%) 5 for 12 (41.7%)
4th down conversions 0 for 1 2 for 3
Red Zone TD% 5 for 5 (100.0%) 1 for 3 (33.3%)
Net punting 32.0 33.0
Time of possession 37:15 22:45
TOP/offensive play 30.20 seconds 25.28 seconds
Penalties 4 for 51 yards 5 for 45 yards
1st down passing 1/1, 20 yards, TD 7/9, 95 yards, TD
3rd and long passing 0/1 4/6, 88 yards
4th down passing 0/0 2/2, 34 yards, sack
1st down yards/play* 6.45 6.71
3rd down average yards to go 4.75 5.00
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 1 0

*does not include Mercer’s final drive of first half, or The Citadel’s final drive of second half

Some quick thoughts on the above statistics:

– The Citadel scored a touchdown all five times it advanced past the Mercer 40-yard line. That kind of efficiency is key to having success in games like this. Mercer, conversely, was held to two field goals (missing one of them) when its offense got in scoring range. MU did score two TDs on drives in that territory as well, but the non-TD possessions hurt the Bears.

– This was the first time all season the Bulldogs’ offense did not have a three-and-out during the game.

– The Citadel had eight possessions (not counting kneeldowns) in the game, the fewest in any contest this year. Mercer’s seven possessions (again, not counting end-of-half kneeldowns) marked the fewest an opponent has had versus the Bulldogs in 2019.

– Mercer’s opening drive lasted 16 plays and took up 8:53 of the first quarter. For the rest of the game, the Bears ran 38 plays (counting a first-half kneeldown) and had the ball for only 13 minutes, 52 seconds.

Thus, after the first possession by MU, The Citadel’s offense had the football for 73% of the time in game action. Even accounting for that drive, the Bulldogs had a lopsided advantage in time of possession.

In the second half alone, The Citadel possessed the ball for 23:14.

– For the third time this year, the Bulldogs converted more than half of their third-down conversion attempts, with their 82.4% success rate on third down versus Mercer easily the best of the campaign. The Bulldogs’ offense also converted third downs at better than a 50% clip against Towson and Georgia Tech.

– The Citadel’s offense ran a play every 30.2 seconds, which was actually the second-fastest pace for the Bulldogs this year (excepting only the VMI contest).

– The Bulldogs averaged 6.45 yards on first down against Mercer, the second-best average on first down in 2019 (The Citadel averaged a ridiculous 9.57 yards on first down versus Western Carolina).

– The Citadel’s offensive success rate of 53.42% was the second-highest of the year, behind only its success rate against Towson (54.05%).

Random observations:

– The Citadel now has an all-time record on Homecoming of 48-42-2. That marks the most games above the break-even point for the program since the celebration contest began in 1924.

– The Bulldogs have won eight consecutive Homecoming games, the second-longest streak ever (only surpassed by the 10 straight won between 1969 and 1978).

– Bobby Lamb waited until very late to call Mercer’s final two timeouts of the second half. I thought that was a mistake, both from a practical and psychological standpoint.

The Citadel took over possession after Sean-Thomas Faulkner’s fourth-down sack with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter. However, Lamb elected to wait until 1:27 remained in the game to call the Bears’ second timeout.

The Citadel ran seven plays during that time frame. Two of those plays were key third-and-long runs that resulted in first downs. After one more play sandwiched between Mercer’s final two timeouts, Remus Bulmer shook loose for the Bulldogs’ clinching touchdown.

– Lamb, a longtime presence in the Southern Conference at Furman and Mercer, is now 7-8 against The Citadel in his head coaching career.

– There were a couple of tough injuries during the game. Mercer’s Jamar Hall appeared to be knocked out after a violent collision with Dante Smith, and The Citadel’s Phil Davis was hurt intercepting a pass on the next-to-last play of the contest.

Best of luck to both of them going forward.

– Gage Russell, the Bulldogs’ holder on placements who has also seen time this season as a punter, usually wears jersey #93. However, on Saturday he wore #94 to honor his father, a 1994 graduate of The Citadel whose class was celebrating its 25th anniversary reunion.

Russell is a third-generation cadet at the military college, as his grandfather graduated from The Citadel in 1954.

– I have to mention the officials’ ball-spotting tendencies, because they were not good.

Often, it seemed like The Citadel had to go 11 or 12 yards for a first down instead of the standard 10, because the ball would be spotted incorrectly, sometimes by a full yard.

The failed fourth-down run in the second quarter by The Citadel also featured a bad spot, though I am not certain that even a correct placement by the officials would have resulted in a first down. Still, it would have been nice to be sure.

Incidentally, the holding penalty that negated a TD by the Bulldogs in the second quarter appeared to be a fair decision.

– Arguably, the most athletic move made at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday didn’t occur on the field of play.

During the retirement of the colors following the Alma Mater, the wind played havoc with the Touchdown Cannon Crew’s attempts to corral the flag. One intrepid cadet, with assistance, was able to hoist himself to the top of the wall behind the end zone and (with very little space to maneuver) was able to grab the end of the flag and pass it to his colleagues.

Watching the drama unfold, I was a bit concerned for the cadet’s safety, and I didn’t think risking a fall from a wall at least nine feet high was really worth the trouble. However, it ended well.

Perhaps in the future, someone could bring a ladder to the game, just in case a similar situation arises.

– I thought the crowd was into the game. Sometimes at Homecoming, that isn’t really the case — there are a lot of distractions, after all — but the enthusiasm was there on Saturday. (Oddly, that isn’t necessarily apparent on the ESPN+ broadcast.)

The Citadel has now put itself in position to compete for the SoCon title. It needs a little bit more help, but not much more. If the Bulldogs win their final three games, with or without a league championship they are likely bound for postseason play.

However, none of those three upcoming matchups will be easy. The first of them, and the last game before a long-awaited off week, comes next Saturday at East Tennessee State, as The Citadel makes the trip to Johnson City to face the defending conference co-champions.

I’ll write about that game later this week.

This week’s pictures are a little different in scope, because I was enjoying the reunion festivities prior to the game. There aren’t many game action shots, either. I have no regrets and make no apologies, as I had a good time, with the Bulldogs’ victory just the capper on a fine weekend.

I included a few shots from the soccer game on Friday. I also attended The Citadel’s open basketball practice on Saturday, though there are no pictures of the team working out, as I wasn’t sure that was really permitted/desired.

I will say it was nice to be thanked for attending by the wife of the head basketball coach. There can’t be too many D-1 institutions where that happens.

Anyway, here are the photos, such as they are.

 

Ruminating about ratings — 2019 preseason numbers for The Citadel, SoCon, FCS, and more

Recent posts about football at The Citadel:

“Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2018 football season

– Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

– Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Other links of interest:

– Cam Jackson, playing American football in Turkey (and enjoying dessert)

Brandon Rainey talks about the upcoming season, and about closure

Dante Smith had a very good game against Alabama; is ready to have even more very good games this season

Bulldogs hold first scrimmage in the heat of Charleston

Usually, I discuss the Massey Ratings at the same time that I write about the preseason rankings from the various college football magazines. This year, because the ratings came out a little later, I decided to have two posts, one for rankings (which can be read here) and one for ratings.

I’m going to also briefly delve into several other preseason computer ratings for FCS teams. There will be a table!

For several years now, I’ve been incorporating the Massey Ratings into my game previews. For those not entirely familiar with this ratings system, here is an explanation:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpreted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

As I’ve mentioned before, Massey has ratings for almost every college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, and Canadian schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 927 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, from Clemson (#1) to Vermilion Community College (#927).

Vermilion is located in Ely, Minnesota. The Ironmen were 1-7 last season (1-5 in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference).

This year, The Citadel is #176 overall in the preseason ratings. In previous campaigns, the Bulldogs had overall preseason rankings of 218 (in 2018), 130 (2017), 113 (2016) and 174 (2015).

The teams on The Citadel’s 2019 schedule are ranked in the ratings as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • Towson: 151 (45%)
  • Elon: 161 (36%)
  • Georgia Tech: 54 (3%)
  • Charleston Southern: 245 (86%)
  • Samford: 148 (32%)
  • VMI: 249 (85%)
  • Western Carolina: 220 (75%)
  • Furman: 153 (34%)
  • Mercer: 181 (58%)
  • East Tennessee State: 192 (50%)
  • Chattanooga: 183 (47%)
  • Wofford: 138 (39%)

Going by the ratings, a Massey preseason poll for the SoCon would look like this:

1 – Wofford
2 – Samford
3 – Furman
4 – The Citadel
5 – Mercer
6 – Chattanooga
7 – East Tennessee State
8 – Western Carolina
9 – VMI

Massey’s FCS-only rankings (ratings) for select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • South Dakota State – 2
  • Eastern Washington – 3
  • Princeton – 4
  • Dartmouth – 5
  • UC Davis – 6
  • James Madison – 7
  • Northern Iowa – 8
  • Illinois State – 9
  • Weber State – 10
  • Colgate – 11
  • Harvard – 15
  • Kennesaw State – 19
  • Wofford – 21
  • Samford – 24
  • Towson – 26
  • Furman – 28
  • Elon – 33
  • Jacksonville State – 38
  • The Citadel – 46
  • Mercer – 49
  • Chattanooga – 51
  • North Carolina A&T – 54
  • East Tennessee State – 55
  • San Diego – 58
  • Duquesne – 59
  • Richmond – 61
  • Alcorn State – 70
  • Western Carolina – 75
  • Charleston Southern – 87
  • VMI – 91
  • South Carolina State – 94
  • Campbell – 96
  • North Alabama – 103
  • Gardner-Webb – 104
  • LIU – 110
  • Davidson – 114
  • Hampton – 117
  • Jacksonville – 118
  • Presbyterian – 122
  • Mississippi Valley State – 125
  • Merrimack -126

In the “overall” category, some schools of note:

  • Clemson – 1
  • Alabama – 2
  • Georgia – 3
  • LSU – 4
  • Oklahoma – 5
  • Ohio State – 6
  • Notre Dame – 7
  • Florida – 8
  • Texas A&M – 9
  • Auburn – 10
  • Syracuse – 15
  • Texas – 16
  • Washington – 17
  • Missouri – 18
  • Kentucky – 19
  • UCF – 20
  • Fresno State – 25
  • North Dakota State – 26 (highest-rated FCS team)
  • Stanford – 27
  • South Carolina – 34
  • North Carolina State – 35
  • Virginia – 40
  • Wake Forest – 42
  • Miami (FL) – 44
  • Appalachian State – 47
  • Vanderbilt – 49
  • Army – 50
  • Georgia Tech – 54
  • Southern California – 56
  • Florida State – 59
  • Ohio – 66
  • Marshall – 71
  • Air Force – 79
  • Georgia Southern – 85
  • Navy – 98
  • North Texas – 99
  • Rutgers – 103
  • Oregon State – 116
  • Coastal Carolina – 127
  • Liberty – 131
  • Laval – 155 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Connecticut – 169
  • Ferris State – 174 (highest-rated D-2 team)
  • Rice – 179
  • Laney College – 184 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • UTEP – 191
  • Mary Hardin-Baylor – 227 (highest-rated D-3 team)
  • Morningside (IA) – 237 (highest-rated NAIA team)

Of course, the Massey Ratings aren’t the only ratings out there. On his website, Massey himself lists 19 other services, some of which include FCS teams in their respective ratings. Not all of those have preseason ratings, however.

There appear to be five other ratings systems (on his list, anyway) that have updated preseason FCS ratings. I decided to create a table in order to compare the ratings (by rankings) of 17 different FCS schools — the nine SoCon institutions, along with The Citadel’s three non-conference FCS opponents this season (Towson, Elon, and Charleston Southern), two other instate schools (Presbyterian and South Carolina State), and three other solid programs in the league footprint (Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, and North Carolina A&T).

Like any good table, there is a key:

Drum roll…

The table (remember, these are rankings only for the 126 FCS teams; i.e., VMI is the preseason #91 team among all FCS squads in the Massey Ratings):

Team A B C D E F
The Citadel 46 24 43 36 39 59
VMI 91 111 114 107 106 120
Furman 28 33 20 25 27 32
Wofford 21 22 13 17 13 13
Chattanooga 51 49 54 42 33 43
ETSU 55 56 31 65 83 19
Samford 24 23 25 24 20 52
WCU 75 82 86 78 76 99
Mercer 49 54 56 48 41 67
Towson 26 29 11 28 18 23
Elon 33 36 24 40 38 26
Ch. Southern 87 83 62 74 97 62
Presbyterian 122 115 115 112 112 114
S.C. State 94 85 88 81 71 71
Kennesaw St. 19 5 7 9 15 8
N.C. A&T 54 37 18 37 53 11
Jacksonville St. 38 26 6 12 10 16

While some teams have fairly small groupings in terms of rankings among the services (such as Furman, Wofford, and Presbyterian), others differ wildly (particularly East Tennessee State and North Carolina A&T).

I was perhaps most surprised by the generally solid rankings for Samford, which comes across as a borderline top 25 preseason pick in these ratings. That certainly isn’t how SU has been perceived in the various rankings that have been released this summer, either league or national.

A few other things I’ll mention that aren’t reflected in the table:

– Entropy System’s preseason #1 FCS team isn’t North Dakota State, but South Dakota State. Hmm…

–  CSL included Virginia University of Lynchburg in its rankings. VUL is not an FCS school, but the computer program that put together the list may have thought it was, given that the Dragons play seven FCS opponents this season (Merrimack, Davidson, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Hampton, Southern, and Morgan State).

All of those games are on the road — in fact, the Dragons will play ten road games in 2019. VUL, a member of the National Christian Colleges Athletic Association (NCCAA), has two home games this year.

For the purposes of this post, I removed Virginia University of Lynchburg from the CSL Ratings, so that all the teams ranked were actually FCS squads.

– LIU, which will field an FCS team for the first time (having combined varsity programs at its two branch campuses), is ranked #22 by CSL, probably because the then-Pioneers (new nickname: Sharks!) were 10-1 in D-2 last season. Considering LIU did not play a Division I team last season, that high of a preseason ranking seems a bit dubious. We’ll know rather quickly just how dubious it is, as LIU opens its season at South Dakota State.

The overall situation with LIU is quite interesting. Basically, a D-2 varsity athletics program is being folded into an existing D-1 setup. Not everyone was happy about that decision.

College basketball fans may be familiar with the LIU Blackbirds, which made the NCAA tourney a few times and once played home games in the old Paramount Theater in Brooklyn. Now there are no Blackbirds, and no Pioneers (from the LIU-Post campus). Everyone is a blue-and-gold Shark.

LIU-Brooklyn didn’t have a football team, unlike LIU-Post. Thus, the D-2 football program is simply moving up to D-1 — but because it is going to be part of an already existing D-1 athletics program, it doesn’t have to go through a “transition” period and is immediately eligible to compete for the NEC title and an NCAA playoff berth.

– Steve Pugh is the creator/publisher of the “Compughter Ratings”. He has a master’s degree from Virginia Tech, as does Ken Massey. Apparently VT grad students spend most of their waking hours coming up with sports ratings systems.

– The Laz Index also rates Florida high school football teams. It has done so since 1999.

– Along with college football, the Born Power Index rates high school football teams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey — in fact, it was used last year by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association to rank playoff teams in that state.

This didn’t go over too well:

There has been a tremendous amount of criticism heaped on the NJSIAA for the new United Power Rankings.  A complicated formula that no one is 100 percent sure is accurate at any time, it basically breaks the ranking of teams into numbers – The Born Power Index and average power points.

The Born Power Index has been around since 1962, and is a mathematical rating system which somehow, determines how good a team is. Somehow, I say, because the formula is proprietary, and William Born, its creator, is not sharing with the public. That lack of transparency has a lot of people bothered.

The index will apparently not be a part of the “power ranking” for the New Jersey high school football playoffs this season.

– Five of the six ratings systems have Princeton in the top 7. The exception is the Compughter Ratings, which has the Tigers ranked 19th. On the other hand, fellow Ivy League school Dartmouth is ranked 12th by the Compughter Ratings.

Entropy has both Princeton and Dartmouth in the top 5, and Harvard ranked 14th among FCS schools. Massey also has Princeton and Dartmouth in the top 5; Harvard is 15th in that service.

Ivy League schools with high ratings (and rankings) are the norm for most of these college football ratings services. I think this is a bug, not a feature.

Personally, I find it difficult to justify ranking Princeton and Dartmouth in the top five, or even the top 20 for that matter. That said, the Tigers and Big Green might be very good.

However, the Ivy Leaguers’ lack of schedule connectivity with the vast majority of their FCS brethren — particularly the more highly-regarded teams — makes it all but impossible to compare those squads to the elite outfits in the sub-division. For example, in 2019 none of the Ivies will face a team from the MVFC, Big Sky, SoCon, Southland, OVC, Big South, or SWAC.

Here is a list of all the non-conference games played by Ivy League schools this season against teams ranked in the STATS preseason Top 25:

  • Dartmouth hosts #13 Colgate
  • Cornell hosts #13 Colgate
  • Penn is at #22 Delaware

Princeton has been the standard-bearer for the league in recent years. The Tigers host Lafayette and Butler, and travel to Bucknell. Those three teams were a combined 8-25 last season; this year, their respective preseason Massey rankings in FCS are 100, 112, and 108.

It is very hard to say that Princeton is one of the best FCS teams in the country when there is no practical way to demonstrate the validity of such a statement.

At any rate, we’re getting even closer and closer to football season, which is all that really matters.

“Advanced” stats from The Citadel’s 2018 SoCon campaign

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Additional links about the Bulldogs’ upcoming gridiron campaign:

Hero Sports previews The Citadel

Five questions as The Citadel opens fall practice

WCSC-TV was at the first fall practice

What about a preview of the Bulldogs’ first opponent, Towson?

What follows is mostly (but not exclusively) about the “Five Factors” of college football. This is the third straight year I’ve written about The Citadel and the Five Factors; you can read my previous efforts here and here.

Later in this post I’ll discuss a few stats not directly related to the Five Factors, but we’ll start with the 5F. First, here is Bill Connelly of ESPN (formerly of SB Nation; he moved to the four-letter about a month ago) on what the Five Factors actually are. This is from 2014, but it still applies:

…I’ve come to realize that the sport comes down to five basic things, four of which you can mostly control. You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.

  • If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.

  • If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.

  • If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.

  • If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.

  • If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

Connelly later adjusted some of the formulas that result in the five factors, but the basic principles are the same.

I’ve already discussed a lot of other statistics in my annual post on per-play numbers, conversion rates, etc. (see Part 1 and Part 2, linked above), but these are slightly different types of stats.

They are “advanced” statistics for the Bulldogs’ 2018 season. Is there a really convenient spreadsheet that goes with this post? You bet there is!

Keep in mind that these stats are for SoCon games only. Eight games. Sample size caveats do apply.

Also, please remember that the stats were compiled by me, so they may not be completely perfect. However, finding “ready-made” FCS stats for these categories is not easy. Actually, it’s just about impossible. I’m not complaining…okay, maybe I am complaining.

Since there are no readily available equivalent stats online for FCS teams, I will occasionally be using FBS data for comparisons. With that in mind, let me quote something from last year’s post about advanced stats.

Now, you may be wondering whether or not FCS stats would be similar to those for the FBS.

For the most part, they should be — with a couple of possible caveats. I asked Bill Connelly a question about FBS vs. FCS stats and potential differences, and he was nice enough to respond. Here is what he had to say about it on his podcast:

…The one thing you will notice is the further down you go, from pro to college, from FBS to FCS, Division II to high school and all that…the more big plays you’re going to have, and the more turnovers you’re going to have. That’s going to be the biggest difference, because you’re going to have more lopsided matchups, and you’re just going to have more mistakes. And so if you go down to the FCS level, it’s not going to be a dramatic difference with FBS — but that’s going to be the difference. You’re going to have more breakdowns, you’re going to have more lopsided matchups to take advantage of, you’re not going to have quite the same level of proficiency throughout a defense, and so there will be more mistakes on defense, and I think the reason North Dakota State has been so good is that they’re about as close as you can get to kind of being mistake-free in that regard.

As long as an FCS team plays in a league in which most, if not all, of the teams are competitive (such as the SoCon), statistical variance should be relatively normal, so I feel reasonably confident that there is validity to the numbers I’m about to present.

Okay, time for the Five Factors.

Field position

Annual reminder: the key to evaluating and understanding this category is that an offense’s effectiveness (in terms of field position) is measured by the starting field position of its defense (and vice versa).

Special teams play is obviously critically important for field position as well. Net punting, kickoff coverage, the return game — it all counts. Last year, The Citadel benefited from strong special teams play.

The FBS national average for starting field position in 2017 was the 29.6 yard line. Unfortunately, I was unable to determine the average starting field position for 2018, but it is probably similar. There may have been a very slight uptick due to the rule change for fair catches on kickoffs.

-Average starting yard line of offensive drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 32.3 24.3  8.0
Road 33.9 28.7  5.2
Avg. 33.1 26.5  +6.6

The Citadel won the field position battle in six of eight league contests. The exceptions were Mercer and ETSU.

However, the numbers for the Mercer contest do not include Rod Johnson’s game-winning 94-yard kickoff return for a TD. That is because this statistic only reflects where offensive drives started, and the Bulldogs did not have an offensive drive after Johnson’s return (because he scored).

There is a similar issue with Dante Smith’s touchdown in the Western Carolina game, which came directly after a blocked punt by Bradley Carter. This isn’t a flaw in the statistic, but just something that has to be kept in mind.

The Citadel’s net punting average in SoCon play was 38.3 (third-best, behind Mercer and Furman). The league average was 35.5. Trust my numbers on that, as the net punting averages on the SoCon website are incorrect.

The Bulldogs were fourth in both punt return average and kickoff return average in conference play. The Citadel was third in kickoff return coverage, with a touchback rate of 43.2% (second-best in the SoCon). That TB rate is in line with the 2017 average (46.7%).

A corollary stat to field position is “3-and-outs+”, which is forcing an offense off the field after a possession of three plays or less that does not result in a score.

After a sizable edge in this stat in 2016 (a 7.7% positive margin), the Bulldogs’ differential in during the 2017 campaign was -2.5%. Last year, The Citadel rebounded in a major way, with a differential of almost 9% (33.70% – 24.73%). It helped that the offense reduced its number of 3-and-out drives by a significant margin (though there were occasional struggles in this area).

Toledo (+8.2) and Syracuse (+7.6) ranked 1-2 in field position margin for FBS. Other teams that had sizable edges in field position included Michigan, Marshall, Ohio State, LSU, and Auburn.

Florida State, with a FP margin of -9.3, was the worst FBS team in the category. It was a tough year in Tallahassee.

Efficiency

For defining efficiency, a stat called “Success Rate” is useful. Via Football Outsiders:

A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

The FBS average for Success Rate in a given season is roughly 40%.

-Success Rate-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 41.37% 41.21% 0.17%
Road 38.53% 39.76% -1.23%
Avg. 40.02% 40.42% -0.40%

The Citadel was 3-5 in the efficiency battle in league games, coming out ahead against Mercer, ETSU, and Western Carolina. (Yes, VMI edged the Bulldogs in Success Rate, and by more than you might think.)

Two years ago, The Citadel had a differential of -4.24% in Success Rate, so 2018 was an improvement. That said, the Bulldogs have to stay “on schedule” on offense with their triple option attack, and 40% is not quite good enough.

During the 2016 season, The Citadel had an offensive Success Rate of 45.4%. Last year, such a percentage would have resulted in about 30 more “successful” plays in league action for the Bulldogs, or 3.75 per game. Three or four more successful plays per contest, whether they were long gainers or just helped move the chains, could have made a difference in several close games.

In FBS, Alabama led the way in offensive Success Rate, at 56.2%. Oklahoma ranked second, at 54.9%. Other squads that fared well in this sphere included Ohio, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Army was also solid (22nd nationally).

Rice, Central Michigan, and Rutgers (130th and last) were the most inefficient offensive units in the subdivision.

UAB ranked first in defensive Success Rate. Another C-USA team, Southern Mississippi, was second, followed by Michigan and Cincinnati. Alabama, Fresno State, and Appalachian State also finished in the top 10.

It should come as no surprise that the worst defensive teams in this category were Louisville, Oregon State, and cellar-dweller Connecticut, with the Huskies in particular having a historically bad defense.

In terms of margin, Alabama dominated (+22.0%). Clemson was second. Also in control from a marginal efficiency perspective: Wisconsin, Florida, Mississippi State, and Ohio State.

Explosiveness

Here is an explanation of “IsoPPP”:

IsoPPP is the Equivalent Points Per Play (PPP) average on only successful plays. This allows us to look at offense in two steps: How consistently successful were you, and when you were successful, how potent were you?

The triple option offense does not lend itself to explosive plays, as a rule. Now, big plays are certainly important to the overall success of the offense. However, the modest-but-successful plays generally associated with the attack tend to cancel out the “chunk” plays when calculating the stat.

The Bulldogs only came out ahead in this category in one of eight league contests, the third consecutive season that was the case. That one game was against Samford.

-Explosiveness (IsoPPP)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 0.98 1.25 -0.27
Road 1.06 1.41 -0.35
Avg. 1.02 1.33 -0.31

The averages are slightly worse than last season, with the largest discrepancy the defensive rate at home (it was 1.05 in 2017).

FBS rankings are from Football Outsiders, which also includes “IsoPPP+”, which adjusts for opponent strength. However, I’m just going to list the unadjusted IsoPPP averages here.

The FBS national median for Explosiveness was 1.17. Oklahoma led the subdivision, at 1.46, followed by Maryland (in a bit of a surprise), Memphis, Houston, and Alabama.

As would be expected, the triple option (or triple option oriented) teams were all below average in explosiveness, with the notable exception of Georgia Southern (1.19, 53rd overall). Navy was 111th, New Mexico 112th, Georgia Tech 113th, Air Force 120th, and Army 129th (next-to-last, only ahead of Central Michigan).

BYU was the champion when it came to defensive IsoPPP (0.90). The rest of the top five: Iowa, Georgia, Washington, and Wyoming. Clemson was 8th, South Carolina 12th, and Georgia Southern 15th.

Last season, Georgia Southern was next-to-last in defensive IsoPPP, so there was a dramatic improvement on defense for that program. Beautiful Eagle Creek shimmered in the moonlight again.

On the wrong end of too many explosive plays: Virginia Tech, Coastal Carolina, South Alabama, East Carolina, Georgia State, and (of course) Connecticut, which had a defensive IsoPPP of 1.50. Yikes.

Imagine what would have happened if Oklahoma had played Connecticut last season…

Finishing Drives

This category calculates points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line, based on the logical notion that the true “scoring territory” on the field begins at the +40.

The FBS national average for points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line in 2017 was 4.42.

-Finishing Drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 4.56 3.90 0.66
Road 4.82 5.41 -0.59
Avg. 4.69 4.55 0.14

This was a big improvement over a terrible 2017, when the Bulldogs struggled to put points on the board while in the Red Zone or the Front Zone.

The margin in 2018 might have been modest, but it was much more respectable than the -2.64 put up the year before. The defense does need to do a better job of bending (as opposed to breaking) when on the road, but that unit still improved by over a point in this category from 2017.

  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2016: 11.1
  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2017: -6.6
  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2018: 2.0

There are usually a lot of close games in the Southern Conference (five of the Bulldogs’ eight league games last season were decided by 7 points or less). That makes it all the more important, when approaching the goal line, to put the pigskin in the end zone.

Oklahoma led FBS in finishing drives (offense) last year, with a borderline-ridiculous 5.7 points per trip inside the 40-yard line. UCF was 2nd, followed by Utah State, Houston, Clemson, and Washington State. The worst team at finishing drives was UTSA.

The best defense inside the 40-yard line was Clemson, which allowed only 3.0 points per trip. Other stout defensive units in this area included Mississippi State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Miami (FL), Kentucky, and Appalachian State. The worst defense inside the 40 was also the worst defense outside the 40, or on the 40, or above the 40, or anywhere — Connecticut.

As you might imagine, Clemson topped the charts in finishing drives margin, at +2.4. As succinctly noted in Athlon’s college preview magazine, that meant opponents needed to create twice as many chances as Clemson to score as many points. That never happened, obviously.

Mississippi State (+2.1) was second. In last place was Louisville, at -2.0, but at least the Cardinals were consistent — they finished 126th in finishing drives (offense), and 126th in finishing drives (defense). Louisville’s scoring margin from 2017 to 2018 dropped by an incredible 35 points per game, a monumental collapse.

Turnovers

First, a table of the actual turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 7 2 -5
Road 4 10 6
Total 11 12 1

This was the second year in a row the Bulldogs didn’t fare well at home in the turnover department.

The next table is the “adjusted” or “expected” turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 6.04 3.82 -2.22
Road 5.70 8.02 2.32
Total 11.74 11.84 0.10

As mentioned in previous posts, the expected turnovers statistic is based on A) the fact that recovering fumbles is usually a 50-50 proposition, and B) a little over 1/5 of passes that are “defensed” are intercepted. The “passes defensed” interception rate is calculated at 22%.

Essentially, The Citadel’s turnover margin was almost exactly what you would expect it to be. There was a bit of “turnover luck” both at home and on the road, but it all canceled out in the end.

The luckiest FBS team by far, at least in terms of turnovers, was Kansas — which makes one wonder how bad the 3-9 Jayhawks would have been if they hadn’t received a friendly roll of the dice when it came to takeaways.

Also fortunate in 2018: FIU, Maryland, Arizona State, and Georgia Tech. Among those teams not so lucky: ULM, Connecticut, UTEP, Tulane, Rutgers, and Florida State, with the Seminoles having the worst turnover luck in the country. Did I mention it was a tough year in Tallahassee?

How did The Citadel fare in the “Five Factors” head-to-head with each opponent in league play?

  • at Wofford: 2-3, with sizable edges in field position and turnovers, but a terrible efficiency number
  • Chattanooga: 2-3, again winning the field position battle, and with a slight edge in finishing drives
  • at Mercer: 2-3, coming out ahead in efficiency and turnover margin
  • ETSU: 1-4, with only an edge in finishing drives (though with most categories closely contested)
  • at VMI: 2-3, with an enormous edge in field position (and committing one fewer turnover)
  • Furman: 1-4, again having a field position edge, but not in front in any other category
  • at Western Carolina: 4-1, only trailing in explosiveness
  • Samford: 3-1-1 (neither team committed a turnover), with The Citadel playing its best 30 minutes of football all season in the 2nd half

There are three other statistical categories that I’ll mention here. All of them are included in tabs on the linked spreadsheet (and all reference SoCon games only).

-First down yardage gained per play-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 6.50 5.59 0.91
Road 5.00 5.95 -0.45
Avg. 6.01 5.78 0.23
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.21 yards on first down in 2016
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.83 yards on first down in 2017
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.01 yards on first down in 2018

In 2017, the margin in this category was -0.23; last year, it flipped (in a good way) in the other direction. The Bulldogs’ first-down defense was better on the road in 2018 than it had been the previous season.

-3rd down distance to gain (in yards)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 5.99 8.68 2.69
Road 6.09 7.85 1.76
Avg. 6.04 8.28 2.24

The margin in 2017 was 1.64, while it was 2.49 in 2016. Thus, last year was a nice rebound, but there is room for improvement.

In FBS, Army’s offense averaged 5.4 yards to go on third down, best in the nation. Army’s opponents averaged 8.4 yards to go on third down, also best in the nation.

In related news, Army won 11 games last season.

Definition of “passing downs”: 2nd down and 8 yards or more to go for a first down, 3rd/4th down and 5 yards or more to go for a first down

-Passing down success rate: offense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
Home 62 23 20.00%
Road 71 12 19.28%
Total 133 35 19.64%

Last season, the Bulldogs ran the ball 79.2% of the time on “passing downs”, a dramatic increase from 2017 (65.6%), and actually a higher percentage than in 2016 (75.6%). The success rate declined by more than ten percentage points, though.

I think this is an area that needs work. I will say that the emphasis on running the ball on passing downs — even more so than might be expected from a triple option team — may at least in part have been an attempt to position the offense for a more manageable 3rd-down or 4th-down play. This is not a bad idea (Army last year was extremely effective with a similar philosophy).

Still, that success rate has to increase.

-Passing down success rate: defense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
Home 36 62 30.61%
Road 31 66 29.90%
Total 67 128 30.26%

This isn’t bad; the passing attempts success rate against the Bulldogs’ D was 32.0%. That 26.8% success rate for opponents when running the ball on passing downs was too high, though.

No matter how “advanced” the statistics are now or might become in the future, the essence of football remains the same. Run. Throw. Catch. Block. Tackle. Kick.

That is why people love watching the game. It was true 100 years ago, and it is still true today.

It is almost time for another season. It cannot come soon enough.

Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, SoCon discussion, and more (including coin toss data!)

This is Part 2 of my annual “Inside the Numbers” post. Why is it in two parts? Well, because it is a big ol’ pile of words and numbers, and couldn’t be contained in just one post.

If you happened on this part of the writeup first, you may want to first go to Part 1 for the introduction. You can read Part 1 right here.

Referenced throughout this post will be The Spreadsheet.

Let’s start this part of the post with the Red Zone, an area of the field which apparently got that moniker from none other than Joe Gibbs.

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 43.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 66.7%

Better, much better. 2017 was a disaster in the Red Zone, but in 2018 the Bulldogs finished a respectable 4th in the league.

There is still room for improvement, though. My suggestion: figure out why scoring from inside the 20-yard line against VMI is so difficult.

In the last four games against the Keydets, The Citadel has only scored 6 touchdowns in 20 trips to the Red Zone. That is maddening. The ability to finish drives is paramount when the coveted Silver Shako is on the line.

When all games are taken into account, the Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of 63.6% last season, good for 42nd nationally (they were 90th in 2017). Davidson, which scored touchdowns on 35 of 40 trips inside the 20-yard line, led FCS (87.5%). Also in the top five: Robert Morris, Jacksonville, North Dakota State, and North Carolina A&T.

While it helps to be proficient in the Red Zone, it isn’t an automatic indicator of success. Davidson, the subject of some discussion in Part 1 of this post, had crazy offensive numbers but was 6-5 overall (still a sizable improvement over previous years for the Wildcats).

Meanwhile, Robert Morris scored TDs in 29 of 37 Red Zone opportunities, but finished 2-9, which can happen when opponents average 43.5 points per game. Jacksonville allowed 38.7 points per game, and thus JU wound up 2-8.

On the other hand, North Dakota State and North Carolina A&T won a lot of games, as did UC Davis (6th in this category), South Dakota State (7th), San Diego (8th), Kennesaw State (10th), and Princeton (11th).

Samford was 12th, Furman 15th, Mercer 34th, South Carolina State 46th, VMI 58th, ETSU 68th, Presbyterian 71st, Wofford 73rd, Elon 90th, Western Carolina 92nd, Towson 94th, James Madison 96th, Chattanooga 98th, Charleston Southern 101st (after finishing 6th nationally in 2017), and Alabama State 124th and last (at 34.5%).

Eastern Washington had the most Red Zone opportunities in FCS, with 76 (converting 65.8% of them into TDs). James Madison had the second-most RZ chances in the subdivision (69); the Dukes also finished second in Red Zone opportunities in 2017.

Presbyterian only entered the Red Zone 17 times last season, fewest in FCS.

As far as FBS teams are concerned, UCF led the way, with a TD rate in the Red Zone of 79.7%. Following the Knights in this category were Miami (OH), Houston, Washington State, and Navy.

Other notables: Clemson (6th), Army (tied for 16th), Georgia Southern (19th), Alabama (30th), Oklahoma (32nd), Coastal Carolina (75th), South Carolina (tied for 100th), Southern California (109th), LSU (119th), and Arkansas (130th and last, at 43.2%).

The top five in Red Zone chances: Alabama (79 in 15 games), Syracuse (75 in 13 games), Clemson (75 in 15 games), Ohio (72 in 13 games), and North Carolina State (71 in 13 games).

Oklahoma was 7th, Army tied for 24th (as did Georgia Tech), South Carolina tied for 34th, and Akron finished at the bottom (only 21 times inside the 20-yard line in 12 games).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 81.8%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 58.6%

Again, this was a big improvement from 2017. The Citadel finished 3rd in the SoCon in defensive Red Zone TD rate.

The best defensive team in conference play in the Red Zone was Chattanooga, followed by Furman.

Nationally, The Citadel finished 36th in defensive Red Zone TD rate (the Bulldogs were 117th in 2017). North Carolina A&T, with a 31.0% rate, topped FCS. The Aggies were followed by North Dakota State and three northeastern programs — Holy Cross, Colgate, and Dartmouth.

James Madison was 6th, Chattanooga 7th, South Carolina State 19th, Elon 29th, Mercer 60th, Charleston Southern 61st, ETSU 63rd, Furman 65th, Western Carolina 78th, Wofford 81st, Samford 105th, Towson 106th, VMI 112th, and Morehead State 124th and last (opponents scored 42 TDs in 49 Red Zone possessions against the Eagles — 85.7%).

Quick note: Furman’s defense allowed touchdowns on 14 of 25 Red Zone trips in conference play (56%). The Paladins’ non-league opponents, however, scored on 85.7% of possessions that ventured inside the 20, which is why nationally FU is a bit lower (62.5%) than in the SoCon stats.

That discrepancy is a sample-size issue, though, and one I thought worth mentioning. Thanks to a cancellation caused by Hurricane Florence, Furman only had two non-conference opponents, and they were Clemson and Elon. Clemson was 4 for 5 scoring TDs inside the 20-yard line, and Elon was 2 for 2.

The more you know…

Princeton’s opponents only made 17 trips to the Red Zone in 10 games, fewest in all of FCS. Colgate, Dartmouth, and North Dakota State were also stingy when it came to letting teams get close to their respective end zones.

The Citadel was 61st overall, facing 41 Red Zone possessions in 11 contests. VMI tied for allowing the most opponent appearances inside the 20, with 61 in 11 games, sharing that dubious mark with Robert Morris and Northern Colorado.

Mississippi State led FBS in defensive Red Zone touchdown rate, at 29.4%. Others in the top 5: Auburn, Michigan State, Oregon, and Clemson.

Alabama tied for 56th, South Carolina was 65th, and Coastal Carolina was 103rd. None other than Oklahoma (!) finished last. The Sooners allowed TDs on 45 of 54 Red Zone trips by their opponents (83.3%).

The fewest Red Zone appearances by their opponents: Fresno State, with just 27 in 14 games. The most allowed: Connecticut, with 67 in 12 games.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2017: 38.7%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2018: 45.3%

The Bulldogs finished second in the league, behind Samford (48.2%). The league average in 2018 was 39.7%. The Citadel also had the most third down conversion attempts in SoCon action.

This was another category in which Davidson (55.6%) finished first in FCS. Princeton, North Dakota State, and Yale joined the Wildcats in the top 5. Kennesaw State was 6th, Samford 10th, and The Citadel 22nd.

Furman was 24th, Western Carolina 27th, Wofford 40th, Towson 42nd, Chattanooga 44th, ETSU 61st, Elon 62nd, Mercer 72nd, VMI 92nd, Presbyterian 93rd, South Carolina State 115th, Charleston Southern 119th, and Savannah State (which is moving to D-2) 124th and last, at 23.7%.

Army led FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (57.1%). Boise State was 2nd, followed by Alabama, Oklahoma, and UCF.

Clemson was 20th, Georgia Tech 26th, South Carolina 41st, Coastal Carolina 42nd, Air Force 50th, Georgia Southern 70th, Navy 76th, North Texas 84th, New Mexico 85th, Florida Atlantic 119th, and Rice 130th and last at 28.7%.

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2017: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2018: 35.1%

For the fourth consecutive year, the Bulldogs were very solid in this area.

Wofford led the league, at 30.4%. VMI, which allowed league opponents to convert third downs at a 48.1% clip, was last.

North Carolina A&T topped FCS with a defensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 25.4%. Jacksonville State, Weber State, Harvard, and Sam Houston State completed the top 5.

Wofford was 25th overall, The Citadel 38th, South Carolina State 44th, Elon 55th, Samford 68th, Furman 74th, Chattanooga 75th, Charleston Southern 85th, Towson 91st, ETSU 93rd, Presbyterian 95th, Western Carolina 106th, Mercer 109th, VMI 118th, and Butler (which definitely didn’t do it in this category) 124th and last, at 53.6%.

A brief comment: The Citadel opens its season this year with games against Towson and Elon (the latter on the road). It is clear the Bulldogs need to maintain these advantages in 3rd-down conversion rate on both sides of the ball. Another thing that has to happen for The Citadel to win either of those games, of course, is to force its opponents to face more third downs in the first place.

Miami (FL) allowed its opponent to convert only 25.3% of third down attempts last season, good enough to lead all of FBS. The Hurricanes were followed by UAB, Mississippi State, Army, and Cincinnati, with Clemson finishing 6th.

Alabama was 24th, Georgia Southern 62nd, South Carolina 70th, Air Force 94th, Coastal Carolina 115th, Navy 122th, Georgia Tech 129th, and Louisville 130th and last (51.9%). Bobby Petrino just couldn’t rally the defense on third down; hard to believe, isn’t it?

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 13 sacks, 24 passes defensed in 205 pass attempts (11.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 in SoCon action: 29 sacks, 27 passes defensed in 287 pass attempts (10.5% PD)

Note: Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions (but plays that result in sacks are not counted as part of the PD rate).

The Bulldogs led the league in sacks last season. Notice the large increase in pass plays faced by The Citadel in 2018; VMI accounts for a good chunk of that differential, and then Samford’s Devlin Hodges never quit slinging the pigskin against the Bulldogs, either.

The Citadel had 24 “hurries”, down slightly from 2017. I’m not a huge fan of that stat, because I’m not completely sure it is consistently interpreted by all game scorers.

The Citadel’s “havoc rate” was 19.9%, up a little from 2017 (when it was 19.4%). The definition of havoc rate: tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed, all added together and then divided by total plays.

I do not believe there is a website that compiles havoc rates for FCS teams, but Football Outsiders does track the statistic for FBS teams, so that can be a little bit of a measuring stick. A havoc rate of 19.9% would have been good enough to tie Penn State for 8th nationally in FBS in 2018.

Naturally, that 19.9% was for conference games only. For the entire season, The Citadel’s havoc rate was 19.1%.

I compiled the havoc rate for the nine SoCon teams, counting all games played and not just league contests. In the table below, “TFL” stands for tackles for loss; “FF” refers to forced fumbles; and “INT/PBU” combines interceptions with passes broken up.

Team TFL FF INT/PBU Def. Plays Havoc rate
ETSU 92 10 69 840 20.4%
The Citadel 83 12 34 675 19.1%
Furman 59 11 40 680 16.2%
Chattanooga 57 16 52 779 16.0%
Wofford 70 8 48 806 15.6%
Samford 61 9 42 790 14.2%
WCU 62 11 45 837 14.1%
Mercer 60 10 40 834 13.2%
VMI 52 3 38 837 11.1%

 

Some of the raw totals were really close, as you can see.

The top 5 “havoc rate” teams in FBS in 2018: Miami (FL), Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, and Texas A&M. The Hurricanes had a havoc rate of 24.2%.

Louisville finished last in havoc rate, at 9.1%, well behind even Connecticut and Georgia State (which tied for next to last).

In this section, I’m going to discuss “big plays”. There are different definitions of what constitutes a big play. My methodology is simple (maybe too simple); I define “big plays” as offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20+ yards, regardless of whether or not they are rushing or passing plays.

  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2017: 36 (21 rushing, 15 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2018: 26 (13 rushing, 13 passing)

In 2016, 19 of the 26 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. In 2017, however, that number fell to just 17 of 36, as the Bulldogs were woeful in the Red Zone.

Last year, 18 of 26 big plays directly or indirectly resulted in TDs, as The Citadel all but matched its 2016 numbers.

The Bulldogs need to increase their number of long running plays this season. There should be at least two big plays each game on the ground. Three per game would be even better.

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2017: 32 (10 rushing, 22 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2018: 37 (10 rushing, 27 passing)

In 2016, 18 of 28 big plays given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns. In 2017, 25 of 32 allowed long gainers ultimately resulted in TDs.

Last year, 23 of 37 big plays allowed immediately or eventually led to touchdowns. That isn’t a terrible rate, but 37 sizable gains given up in eight league games is obviously too many. The Bulldogs cannot afford to give up major chunks of yardage like that.

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 8 for 19 (42.1%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 16 of 27 (59.3%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 3 for 7 converted against (42.9%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 6 for 14 converted against (49.9%

The 4th-down conversion rate for SoCon teams in league play was 56.6%.

The increasing aggressiveness on 4th-down calls by the Bulldogs is noticeable and, in my opinion, promising.

For the season, The Citadel attempted 38 4th-down conversion tries, and was successful on 23 of them (60.5%). Nationally, only VMI (45) and Southern Utah (44) attempted more among FCS teams.

The Bulldogs’ 23 made conversions ranked second overall to Southern Utah (which converted 28 times, succeeding 63.6% of the time). VMI was 21 for 45 (46.7%).

North Dakota State led the subdivision in success rate on 4th down, at 85.7%; the Bison only attempted to convert 7 fourth downs, making 6 of them. Other high-percentage 4th-down teams: Princeton, Mercer, Dartmouth, and Furman. Others in the top ten included Kennesaw State (8th) and Western Carolina (9th).

Of the top nine teams, however, only Kennesaw State (34 tries) and Princeton (23) attempted as many as 20 4th-down attempts. Mercer had 10 conversion attempts; Furman, 13.

I think there is a real advantage to be gained by succeeding on 4th down, particularly in volume. For the proof of that, all anyone has to do is look at Army, which attempted 36 4th-down tries (tied for 4th in FBS) and converted an amazing 31 of them.

Making 86.1% of so many 4th-down attempts is incredible, and a big reason why the Black Knights won 11 games, especially when you factor in the fact that Army also led all of FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (at 57.1%).

Here is one way to think about it: Army attempted 196 third-down conversions last season, making 112 of them. However, the Black Knights eventually picked up a first down 31 times after not succeeding on third down. If you throw those into the mix, Army wound up moving the chains 73% of the time after facing a third down — which is a staggering rate.

One key reason for Army’s success on 4th down: 23 of those attempts were 4th-and-1 plays. The Black Knights made 21 of them.

Which team’s offenses weren’t good on 4th down? Well, Penn was 0 for 8 on 4th-down attempts. Then there was Howard, which converted a pedestrian 36.1% of the time, but went for it on 4th down a lot, winding up 13 for 36 on the season. Only VMI (24) had more failed 4th-down conversion attempts, and as noted above the Keydets tried more of them than any other team.

Lane Kiffin ordered up the most 4th-down tries in FBS, as his Florida Atlantic squad attempted 44 of them. At 28.6%, San Jose State had the worse 4th-down conversion rate in that subdivision.

Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.

John Heisman, who was possibly a bit overzealous when it came to ball control

When evaluating fumble stats, one of the guiding principles is that teams generally have a 50-50 chance at the recovery.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 17 (lost 7)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 16 (lost 8)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 9 (recovered 5)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 12 (recovered 5)

Obviously, the defense must work hard to get luckier. Perhaps the team can search local fields for four-leaf clovers.

On average, SoCon teams lost 5.55 fumbles in league play.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2017: 43
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action: 2018: 43

The average number of total penalties against SoCon teams in league play was 48. The Citadel actually had the fewest penalties in the conference, but there was a catch: the Bulldogs were assessed more major infractions than most, resulting in 57.8 penalty yards per game (5th-most in the SoCon).

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2017: 26
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2018: 37

For the first time in many years, the Bulldogs did not rank last in this category, as their opponents were actually called for more penalties last year than the norm. However, the penalty yardage assessed against The Citadel’s opposition was still below average.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2018, SoCon action: 4 (in eight games)

I think the Bulldogs should have gone for it on two of the four punts, to be honest, but in the end all of these moves more or less worked out for The Citadel. Perhaps the most questionable punt came in the season opener against Wofford, but the Terriers threw an interception just two plays later that set up a Bulldogs TD, so it is rather hard to argue with Brent Thompson’s decision.

The bottom line is that I’m glad there were only four.

  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2018, SoCon action: 2 (in eight games)

Don’t ask me why VMI punted on 4th and 15 at The Citadel’s 27-yard line late in the second quarter, then decided to go for it on 4th and 8 from its own 33 on the opening drive of the third quarter (in a tie game).

Ah, 4th down. That toddlin’ down…

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

On the spreadsheet I have categorized every fourth down situation The Citadel’s offense had in Southern Conference play (see the “4th down decisions” tab).

The Citadel punted on six of seven occasions in which it had a fourth down in the Deep Zone. The exception came against Furman, a “desperation” attempt down two scores with less than a minute to play.

In the Back Zone, the Bulldogs punted 9 times and went for it 5 times — against Wofford (2nd quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by three scores), Chattanooga (4th quarter, 4th-and-2, game tied), Mercer (1st quarter, 4th-and-1, down 7-0), East Tennessee State (less than 2 minutes to play, 4th-and-5, down by 3 points), and Samford (early in the 4th quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by 6).

The Citadel converted three of those. The successful pickup against Samford led to a 60-yard go-ahead touchdown run on the very next play. The 4th-down pass attempt versus ETSU did not go nearly as well, to say the least. The run versus UTC would have resulted in a first down, except it was fumbled away.

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 19 times and went for it on 4th down five times, making two of those. One of the two successful conversions was a “desperation” attempt.

In the Front Zone, The Citadel had two punts (both mentioned earlier), one made field goal, and went for it nine times, converting seven of them. Six of the seven conversions were on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2; the other was on 4th-and-3. The two failed tries were on 4th-and-4 and 4th-and-8.

In the Red Zone, The Citadel attempted six field goals (making five), and went for it seven times (making a first down and/or touchdown on four of those).

That is an improvement over previous years. In the four preceding seasons, the Bulldogs were 2 for 8 going for it on 4th down in the Red Zone (not counting overtime games).

I also have listed what SoCon opponents did on 4th down versus The Citadel.

In the Deep Zone, it is fairly simple. Opponents punted on all eleven occasions they were faced with a fourth down.

In the Back Zone, there were 14 punts and two conversion attempts. Earlier, I mentioned VMI’s somewhat bizarre 4th-down try. The other attempt was a late-game “desperation” effort by Samford that was not successful.

In the Mid Zone, opponents punted seven times. There was one 4th-down attempt, a late-game try by Western Carolina while down 14 points. It was 4th-and-10, but the Catamounts pulled it off anyway, completing a 20-yard pass for the first down.

In the Front Zone, there was the aforementioned punt by VMI (from the Bulldogs’ 27), and five field goal attempts (two successful). On 4th-down tries, opponents were 4 for 8.

There were seven field goal attempts by the Bulldogs’ opponents in the Red Zone, with six of them sailing through the uprights. There were three 4th-down tries:

  • VMI, down 7-0 early in the 1st quarter, rushed for nine yards on 4th-and-1 from The Citadel’s 15-yard line (and scored on the next play).
  • Western Carolina, down 14 points with three minutes to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 4-yard line.
  • Samford, down 15 points with just over a minute to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 8-yard line.

(Note: as discussed before, overtime games are not included in these tabulations.)

A few years ago, The Citadel seemed to embark on a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

In 2016, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games. In five of the six games in which the Bulldogs won the toss, they deferred, just as they had done in 2015. The exception was at Western Carolina, where The Citadel elected to receive after winning the toss.

In 2017, The Citadel was 5-3 in coin toss contests, and deferred all five times it won.

So what did the Bulldogs do last year? Well, they won the coin toss four times. On two of those occasions, both at home, they deferred — but on the road at VMI and at Western Carolina, they elected to receive the opening kickoff.

I’m not sure why, unless the home/road situation was a factor. However, it had not been an issue in prior seasons.

Someone should ask Brent Thompson about this. It is certainly something that must be investigated. If necessary, Congressional hearings should be held.

There is a tab on the spreadsheet that lists game-by-game attendance (home and away) and game length (in terms of time). Home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium took on average 12 minutes less to play than contests the Bulldogs played on the road.

This was an almost complete reversal from 2017, when home games were on average 11 minutes longer than road matchups. That is because last season’s road games averaged 3:15, while the year before they clocked in at just 2:54 — a 21-minute difference. Perhaps more teams having instant replay capability resulted in increased game length.

I’m ready for football season. Isn’t everybody?