2018 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

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

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA FCS Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 11/6 press conference

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

The Bulldog Breakdown 11/7

Noah Dawkins is a finalist for the Blanchard-Rogers Trophy

– “The Heat” – Western Carolina game

Samford meets with the media

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

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

The review parade is at 11:00 am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Hey, maybe they know something…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McKnight also serves as SU’s punt returner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

ETSU is off this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Wofford

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

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

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Preview of Wofford-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Ayers on the SoCon teleconference

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

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wofford also fumbled four times, losing two of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay dry, and fill up the stadium on Saturday.

2014 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 15. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 11/11 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Samford defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio on the SoCon media teleconference

Aaron Miller is the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week

Homecoming highlights

Jaquiski Tartt will be Samford’s first-ever Senior Bowl representative

My preview of The Citadel’s upcoming basketball season

Also, a hoops season preview article from The Post and Courier

As this is a Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs matchup, I have to define some terms:

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel, while “Birmingham Bulldogs”, “SU”, or “Baptist Tigers” will serve as references to Samford.

It is possible that this is Pat Sullivan’s last year coaching at Samford. Sullivan has had serious health problems in recent years, and missed the first three games of last season while recuperating from back surgery.

This year, Sullivan missed the season opener at TCU (where he was once the head coach) as he recovered from cervical fusion surgery; he coached Samford’s league opener against VMI from the press box. Most of the coach’s health issues can be traced from chemotherapy and radiation treatments he received after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2003.

Defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio was the acting head coach against TCU and has handled a considerable amount of media obligations on Sullivan’s behalf throughout much of the season.

If this is Sullivan’s final season (and I have no idea if it is), he’s having another solid campaign. The Birmingham Bulldogs are 6-3 and have clinched the program’s fourth consecutive winning season. Samford won’t win a piece of the SoCon title this year as it did in 2013, but it could finish as high as second.

Last week’s victory over Western Carolina was Sullivan’s 46th win in his eight years at Samford. That made him the school’s alltime winningest football coach. The school’s field house will be named in his honor.

Samford has not played a “like” non-conference opponent. Besides TCU, the Birmingham Bulldogs have played two small Alabama schools, Stillman (which competes in Division II) and Concordia (which isn’t an NCAA or NAIA member; it plays in the USCAA).

After it plays The Citadel, Samford will finish its season by playing at Auburn, Pat Sullivan’s alma mater (and where as a quarterback he led the team to three bowl games and won the Heisman Trophy in 1971).

Samford beat the two Alabama colleges by a combined score of 107-0; it lost to a powerful TCU squad 48-14. As far as evaluating SU is concerned, then, it’s best to simply focus on its games in SoCon play.

The first conference opponent Samford faced was VMI, in the third game of the season. SU destroyed the Keydets 63-21. SU led 49-0 at halftime, delighting the partisan home crowd, and rolled up 525 yards of total offense (including 180 yards rushing for Denzel Williams).

Samford’s next game was a 38-24 loss at Chattanooga. Starting quarterback Michael Eubank threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns, but was also intercepted three times and sacked four times.

One week after averaging 7.5 yards per play, SU was held to 4.7 yards per play by the Mocs (despite 129 yards receiving for Karel Hamilton). Samford also allowed a punt return TD in the contest.

The Birmingham Bulldogs rebounded with a 21-18 home victory over Mercer. Samford led the entire game, and was up by 11 points with less than a minute to play when Mercer’s Chandler Curtis returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown. SU recovered the ensuing onside kick to preserve the victory. Hamilton had 10 catches and 101 receiving yards, while Jaquiski Tartt had eight tackles and also intercepted a pass.

After a bye week, Samford lost at home to Wofford 24-20. The Terriers took the lead with less than five minutes in the game, then stopped SU on 4th-and-1 from the Wofford 24, gaining possession and the win.

Samford’s D held Wofford to 3.8 yards per play (and under 200 total rushing yards, though Terriers fullback Lorenzo Long did rush for 128 yards on 20 carries). Michael Eubank passed for 305 yards and a TD (he also threw a pick). Samford was 3-13 on third down conversions and only rushed for 49 yards, which contributed to Wofford’s edge in time of possession (over seven minutes).

The following week, SU destroyed Furman in Greenville 45-0. Samford led 14-0 after less than three minutes, having only run one offensive play. A blocked punt for a TD opened the scoring for the Birmingham Bulldogs, and they never looked back. Denzel Williams rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while Eubank had another 300-yard passing day. Karel Hamilton had 206 yards receiving (on nine catches).

In beating Western Carolina 34-20 last week, Williams rushed for 156 yards and two more TDs, while Hamilton had another 100-yard receiving day. Justin Cooper had 14 tackles to lead a defense that intercepted two WCU passes.

The next three sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for SoCon games only (unless otherwise indicated). Samford has played six league games, facing every conference team except The Citadel.

The Bulldogs have played all but two SoCon teams, Samford and VMI.

In those six conference matchups, Samford’s offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 46.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for 57.8% of SU’s total offense.

Samford is second in scoring offense (34.5 ppg) and total offense, and also second in the league in yards per play (5.9). The Citadel is next-to-last in total defense and is allowing 7.2 yards per play, but is actually fifth in scoring defense (28.2 ppg).

SU leads the league in passing offense, averaging 252.7 yards per game in conference action. Samford is third in the SoCon in passing efficiency, with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. SU quarterbacks have been sacked twelve times, tied with Mercer for the most allowed in league play.

The Birmingham Bulldogs have averaged 32.2 pass attempts per game, which is more than every league team except Furman and VMI.

Samford is averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which is fourth in the SoCon. The Citadel is sixth in pass defense, but dead last in defensive pass efficiency, allowing 9.5 yards per pass attempt. In five league games, the Cadets only have five sacks and three interceptions.

The Birmingham Bulldogs are fourth in rushing offense (4.4 yards per carry), averaging 185 yards per game. Samford’s 17 rushing touchdowns are second in the conference, behind Chattanooga.

The Citadel is next-to-last in rushing defense, and is allowing a league-worst 6.2 yards per rush.

Samford is fourth in offensive third down conversion rate (42.5%). The Citadel is fifth in defensive third down conversion rate (44.8%).

SU has a red zone TD rate of 60%, second-worst in the league (but well ahead of Furman’s abysmal 28.6%). The Citadel’s red zone D has been solid, with a TD rate of 47.3%, second-best in the league (behind only Western Carolina).

Samford is third in scoring defense, allowing 20.2 points per game. SU is also third in total defense (4.5 yards allowed per play) and rushing defense (3.9).

The Citadel is third in total offense (averaging 5.5 yards per play) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs rank second nationally, trailing only Cal Poly). The Bulldogs are next-to-last in passing (averaging only 6.4 yards per attempt), but are actually fifth in passing efficiency.

Samford leads the league in passing defense, allowing 141 yards per game (which is third nationally). SU is also first in the SoCon in pass efficiency defense, and leads the conference in interceptions (9).

At 49.4%, The Citadel is second in the SoCon in offensive third down conversion rate, behind only UTC. Samford is second in defensive third down conversion rate (32.3%), so this will definitely be something to watch on Saturday.

The Citadel has an offensive TD rate of 66.7%, tied for third-best in the league. Samford’s red zone defensive TD rate is 76.5%, sixth-best in the conference.

Samford is +2 in turnover margin in league action, while The Citadel is +1.

As far as time of possession is concerned, The Citadel has held the ball for an average of 31:25, second-highest in the conference. Samford is next-to-last in that category (28:39).

That hasn’t prevented the Birmingham Bulldogs from leading the league in offensive plays. Samford’s hurry-up style has led to it averaging 2.58 plays per minute in SoCon games when on offense. Conversely, The Citadel runs 2.33 plays per minute when it is on offense.

Interestingly, the two teams have run almost the exact same number of offensive plays per game (73.8 for Samford, 73.4 for The Citadel).

The Citadel is tied for the second-fewest penalties per game in SoCon play, while Samford has the second-most. On the other side of the coin, SU opponents commit more penalties per game than all but one team in the league (VMI). As its fans know all too well, The Citadel does not get the benefit of having a lot of flags thrown on opposing teams in SoCon contests; only Wofford has seen fewer in this category.

Samford quarterback Michael Eubank (6’6″, 246 lbs.) is a native of California who was the No. 8 high school dual-threat QB in the nation in 2011, per Rivals.com. He would up attending Arizona State for three years, redshirting his freshman year and then playing in 20 games over the next two seasons, rushing for seven touchdowns and throwing for four more.

In January of 2014, Eubank transferred to Samford. This season, he is completing 64.7% of his passes, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, with ten touchdowns and six interceptions. Eubank also has five rushing touchdowns.

Denzel Williams (5’10”, 191 lbs.) is the workhorse running back in Samford’s spread offense. The redshirt sophomore has 157 of the team’s 392 rushing attempts this season; Eubank is the only other player with more than 37.

For the season, Williams is averaging 87.8 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry; with 15 rushing touchdowns, he also leads the SoCon in scoring. Williams had 180 yards rushing against VMI, and also had 100-yard efforts against Furman and Western Carolina.

Karel Hamilton (6’1″, 190 lbs.) is far and away the leader in receptions for Samford, with 45. The sophomore is averaging a sterling 16.4 yards per catch, with six TDs. As mentioned earlier, Hamilton had 206 yards receiving against Furman; he also had 115 yards receiving versus Western Carolina, 101 yards against Mercer, and 129 yards versus Chattanooga.

Tight end Tony Philpot (6’2″, 243 lbs.) was a second-team all-league selection in the preseason.

Average size of the starters on Samford’s offensive line: 6’4″, 299 lbs. Right tackle Gunnar Bromelow, a preseason first-season All-SoCon selection, is the biggest of the group; the redshirt junior checks in at 6’6″, 305 lbs. Right guard C.H. Scruggs was a second-team All-SoCon preseason choice.

Four of the five o-line starters are in their fourth or fifth year in the program.

In my opinion, free safety Jaquiski Tartt (6’1″, 218 lbs.) is one of the two best defensive players in the league (along with Chattanooga’s Davis Tull). He had a pick-6 against The Citadel in 2012. Tartt is second on the team in tackles, with 57.

Tartt was one of two Samford defensive backs to get a first-team preseason All-Conference nod. James Bradberry, a 6’1″, 205 lb. cornerback, was the other. Bradberry spent one year at Arkansas State before joining the Birmingham Bulldogs’ program.

Strong safety Jamerson Blount (6’1″, 190 lbs.) leads the team in passes defensed and is also third in tackles. He is one of 22 players from Florida on the SU roster.

Samford’s leading tackler is middle linebacker Justin Cooper, a 6’2″, 230 lb. redshirt junior who began his college career at Texas Tech. Cooper has 5.5 tackles for loss this season (69 overall) and is the reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Week.

Fellow linebacker Josh Killett (6’2″, 220 lbs.) has six tackles for loss as part of his 40 overall tackles.

Along the defensive line, Samford is quite imposing. There are a lot of players in the rotation (including three noseguards on the two-deep), and plenty of individual size and skill.

Michael Pierce, a 6’0″, 309 lb. defensive tackle who spent his first two years in college at Tulane before transferring to Samford last year, was a first-team All-SoCon preseason selection. He has 33 tackles this year, including five tackles for loss.

Mike Houston called Pierce “one of the better d-linemen in the league” in his weekly press conference. Pierce’s younger brother Myles is a freshman linebacker at The Citadel who had a tackle last week against Furman.

One of three players listed on the depth chart at the “stud” position, Roosevelt Donaldson (6’2″, 258 lbs.), leads the team in tackles for loss, with seven. He also has the most sacks (four).

For Samford, both kicker Warren Handrahan and punter Greg Peranich were first-team preseason picks for the All-SoCon team.

Peranich is averaging 43.1 yards per punt, with 14 of his 41 kicks downed inside the 20 (against four touchbacks). However, two of his punts this season have been returned for TDs. Samford is in the bottom five nationally in average punt return allowed (17.77 yards).

Handrahan is 5-9 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 47. Last season he was 19-24 on field goal attempts, with a long of 48. That included two field goals against The Citadel (including a 44-yarder).

He did not kick in Samford’s victory over Western Carolina last week. Backup placekicker Reece Everett was 2-2 on field goal tries (and is 4-5 for the season). Everett is listed as this week’s starter on the two-deep.

Samford’s kickoff specialist is Michael O’Neal. Almost 25% of O’Neal’s kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks; he has only kicked the ball out of bounds once this year.

Nationally, SU is 43rd in kickoff return average (21.0 yards/return) and 61st in kickoff return defense (19.8 yards/return).

Robert Clark, a 5’9″, 173 lb. wide receiver, is Samford’s primary kickoff and punt returner. His longest kick return this season was for 45 yards.

From 2010-2012, The Citadel’s offense only scored a combined total of 34 points in three games against Samford’s “Bear” front. In those three games, the Bulldogs faced third down on 39 occasions, converting only six of them for first downs.

Last season’s game was different. The Citadel was 8-17 on third down and scored four rushing touchdowns while rolling up a respectable 338 yards rushing. The Bulldogs overcame a 17-0 deficit to win 28-26, with Vinny Miller rushing for 95 yards.

The Citadel only passed for 55 yards in that contest, however (on 16 attempts). If the Bulldogs hope to win on Saturday, they will likely have to throw for more yardage than that, and more effectively as well.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel’s game notes mentioned the initial encounter between Samford and The Citadel on the gridiron, the 1989 contest. It was arguably the most memorable game between the two teams. It was the first game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium following the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo. The Citadel won the game, 35-16. Three brief comments on that matchup:

  • The Citadel only attempted two passes, completing one of them. I’ll bet you thought Jack Douglas threw that completed pass, but nope: it was Speizio Stowers with a 16-yard pass to Cornell Caldwell.
  • Douglas threw the other Bulldog pass in that game, which fell incomplete, but we’ll cut him some slack, since he rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown while directing an attack that finished with 402 yards rushing. Tom Frooman had 113 of those yards and three TDs, while Raymond Mazyck added 92 yards on the ground and a score. Also prominent in the statbook that day: Kingstree’s own Alfred Williams, with 55 yards rushing on 11 carries.
  • Care to guess what the attendance was? Remember, Charleston was still in major recovery mode from the hurricane (you could say the same about Johnson Hagood Stadium). Okay, the answer: 15,214. Think about that, especially when compared to recent attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere, for that matter).

– Speaking of the game notes, I didn’t realize Jake Stenson became the first Bulldog since Andre Roberts in 2008 to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game. Kudos to him.

– The 22 positions on offense and defense for The Citadel have been started by a total of 32 players — 18 on offense, and only 14 on defense. Eleven Bulldogs have started every game, including seven on defense.

– The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame will enshrine six new members this week. Two baseball players, 1990 CWS hero Hank Kraft and Rodney Hancock (the scourge of Furman) will be inducted. All-American wrestler Dan Thompson will be enshrined, as will football lineman Mike Davitt, a mainstay during the Red Parker era. Charleston mayor Joe Riley and basketball player/cookbook author Pat Conroy will be recognized as “honorary” members.

– The 1:00 pm ET start time will be the fourth different start time for a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2014. Other start times: Noon, 2pm, and 6pm.

– Only one player on Samford’s roster, reserve defensive lineman Cole Malphrus, is from South Carolina. The junior is from Hilton Head.

There are 28 natives of Alabama playing for SU, along with 22 each from Georgia and Florida. Tennessee is represented by seven players, while four hail from Mississippi, three from California, and two from North Carolina. There is even one Alaskan playing for the Baptist Tigers (freshman defensive back C.J. Toomer).

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Aubie The Tiger, the mascot for Auburn.

Vote for Spike!

This is a tough matchup for The Citadel. It’s an opponent with a defense that has a history of success against the triple option (last year notwithstanding) and an offense that would be expected to do well against the Bulldogs’ pass D.

The key to the game for The Citadel is to keep Samford’s offense off the field as much as possible. The SU defense has been good at stopping teams on third down this season; the Bulldogs have to reverse that trend on Saturday.

Samford has had some results that might give The Citadel some confidence, including its games against Wofford and Mercer. On the other hand, the Birmingham Bulldogs drilled Furman (which took The Citadel to overtime just last week) and handled Western Carolina with relative ease.

The Citadel can win this game, but it will probably take the Bulldogs’ best performance of the season. That includes a team effort from not only the offense and defense, but also the special teams, which were subpar against the Paladins (to say the least).

I am a little worried about the atmosphere on Saturday. After the big Homecoming win over Furman, this game might be anticlimactic to some.

It shouldn’t be that way for the team, however. There are still goals to pursue for these Bulldogs, including a third straight victory and a chance to finish the year with a winning season in conference play.

I’m looking forward to this contest. It’s a home game, after all. There aren’t that many of them in a given season.

You have to treasure them all, especially when there won’t be another one until next September.

Game Review 2011: Samford

Samford 19, The Citadel 14.

Ugh. I’m not sure what really needs to be said about this game, which The Citadel should have won but let get away. Just a terrible loss. I’ll just make a few haphazard comments and observations:

— Fashion update for this week: The Citadel went with the navy jerseys/white pants look for Homecoming, which I guess is its postmodern traditional look. It was the first time the Bulldogs wore that combo this season; they also wore them once last season, in the game against Chattanooga. The Citadel lost both games.

— The Citadel has now lost five consecutive “celebration weekend” games — in other words, Parents Day/Homecoming contests. It’s only the third time the Bulldogs have lost five straight PD/HC games, and the first time since the 1985-1987 seasons.

I think that’s significant because those are generally the two most highly attended games of each season. Continuing to lose those contests isn’t going to engender a lot of enthusiasm among the alums and supporters at the games. Of course, attendance on Saturday dipped below 14,000, a very disappointing crowd for a Homecoming game on a nice Saturday afternoon.

— I am the first person to say that The Citadel needs to be on television more often, but after sitting through all those interminable TV timeouts, I think I might settle for just the road games being televised. (Okay, I’m joking. Sort of.)

Then there is the “TV jinx”: The Citadel has now lost 16 of its last 17 televised games (counting ESPN.com), which is ridiculous. That total includes the last seven seasons. It could rise to 17 for 18 after this week’s game against South Carolina.

While I’m ranting, put me down as someone who hates the 3:00 pm kickoff…

— Samford ran 79 offensive plays from scrimmage, exactly what the Birmingham Bulldogs wanted to do, and those plays were not completely imbalanced in terms of run/pass. While The Citadel held the time of possession edge, Samford was able to sustain a number of drives, with five of them going for nine plays or longer. Dustin Taliferro managed to throw 45 passes without being intercepted.

Samford also rushed for 113 yards, lower than it would have liked but just enough for the victory. Of course, a lot of those yards came on the game-winning drive.

— The Citadel lost two fumbles, which hurt (particularly the second one), but the loss can be attributed in large part to the two blocked field goal attempts. The Bulldogs have now had four placekicks blocked in the last two games.

From my vantage point, the problem on Saturday was a protection issue. However, I might be wrong about that. Kevin Higgins stated after the game that “”We know our operation time is slow from the center back to the holder,” but this photo does make one wonder.

It goes without saying that it is unacceptable to have four kicks blocked over a seven-kick span. It appears that Georgia Southern exploited a flaw, and that this was not adequately addressed in the week leading up to the Samford game.

The Citadel has now lost three league games this season because of placekicking unit issues. I’ve said this before (actually, last week), but the Bulldogs do not have enough margin for error to survive continued woes in this area. The SoCon is an unforgiving league; if a team has a weakness, it will pay for that weakness more often than not.

— The playcalling at the end of the drive that resulted in the second blocked field goal was…frustrating. I realize that a lot of this is predicated on QB reads, but the sequence on first-and-ten at the Samford 11-yard line went like this: Darien Robinson up the middle for two yards, Darien Robinson up the middle for a one-yard loss, Darien Robinson up the middle for no gain. Oof.

I’m not calling the plays, and everyone should be thankful that I’m not, but a little something different had to be in order there. Toss sweep, anyone?

— I am on record as saying that alums have at times been a little hard on the corps of cadets, but I was very disappointed in the corps’ performance on Saturday. The upperclassmen did not even bother to stand for the opening kickoff.

I’m sorry to be an old fogey, but that’s simply not going to cut it. If the cadets are so tired that they lack the energy to cheer on their team for three hours, then I think they are clearly too exhausted to go out on the town after the game. My recommendation to Gen. Rosa and Col. Mercado would be to let the clearly fatigued young men and women of the corps stagger back to campus immediately after the game is over and head straight to bed. There is no need to worry about overnights/extra hours of leave, as an 8 pm lights-out would be much more appropriate.

On to game eleven. The scene shifts to Columbia. I predict a busy week is ahead for a certain ex-QB named Jack Douglas…

Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Samford

Factoids:

— Gametime/location:  2:30 pm ET/Seibert Stadium, Birmingham, Alabama

— Both teams are known as the Bulldogs.  Really, one of the requirements for Samford to join the Southern Conference should have been for the school to change its nickname.

— Samford is 4-6, 2-5 in the SoCon; The Citadel is 2-8, 0-7.

The Citadel’s game notes

Samford’s game notes

I wrote this in my preview of the first game of the season (the game against Chowan):

While I am looking forward to the season, this year I am a bit apprehensive about what lies ahead for the Bulldogs on the gridiron.  The Citadel is going to the triple option on offense, with a head coach who has never run the offense (or any similar offense) before, and with players who were mostly recruited for a very different kind of system.

The players who were recruited with the triple option in mind, of course, are all true freshmen.  The quarterback position will likely be manned by one (or more) of those true freshmen. The “knob”-starting quarterback double is a rare one, and for a reason. It’s an exceedingly difficult combination.

The Southern Conference media and coaches agree that this season could be a long one for The Citadel, just as the last two seasons have been.  The media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the league.  The coaches ranked The Citadel eighth out of nine teams, ahead of only Western Carolina.

So I guessed I called this one…

The Citadel is hoping to go out with a bang after a whimper of a season.

“Next season starts this week,” was Higgins’ message Monday at his final weekly news conference of the season, as The Citadel prepares for Saturday’s season-ender at Samford.

“We need to keep building on some of the things we’ve done and see if we can get next season off to a great start on Saturday,” Higgins said.

Higgins is using the bye week to make the Samford game the football equivalent of MayMester, which isn’t a bad idea.  Motivation is presumably an issue for both The Citadel and Samford, neither of which have a chance at a winning season, or a winning league campaign.

I would be cautious about making too much of the offense’s improvement against Elon.  I’m not sure what it says about the unit’s progress when just being able to successfully complete the center/QB exchange is considered a breakthrough.  (That said, I do think Mike Sellers shows considerable promise.)

Samford and The Citadel match up statistically in a lot of areas, including red zone offense and defense, third-down conversions, scoring defense, and rush defense. The Citadel has a better passing defense (by about 40 yards per game), but Samford is much more balanced on offense.  Of course, most teams are more balanced offensively than The Citadel.  In this case the result is Samford averaging about 80 yards more in total offense.

That said, Samford hasn’t really lit up the scoreboard in SoCon play much more than The Citadel.  While Samford hasn’t been shut out twice like the Cadets, it has only scored 20 or more points in two league games, not coincidentally the two games in the conference Samford has won.  One of those was a 38-7 rout of Western Carolina, while the other was a 20-13 upset of Georgia Southern.  Both of those games, interestingly, were on the road.  At home, Samford is averaging just 10 points per game.

The lack of point production comes despite the presence of Alabama’s all-time leading rusher.  That would be the State of Alabama’s all-time leading rusher, to be more specific.  Chris Evans will probably cross the 4,500-yard mark in Saturday’s game, which is more career rushing yards than Bo Jackson, Shaun Alexander, Mark Ingram, Sherman Williams, Johnny Musso, William Andrews, James Brooks, Lionel James, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Major Ogilvie…etc.

That’s not bad (and a cheat of a trivia question, too).

Two years ago Evans rushed for 174 yards against The Citadel and scored two touchdowns as Samford won easily at Seibert Stadium, 28-10.  Samford’s huge offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage in that game, and Evans took full advantage.  That’s something Pat Sullivan’s crew will try to do again on Saturday, and he’s bringing another sizable o-line to the proceedings.  Samford’s offensive line starters average a meatball over 298 lbs.

Last year, though, that plan of attack didn’t work out, as The Citadel beat Samford 28-16, and the defense limited Evans to 52 yards rushing.  That game featured a freshman starting quarterback named Tommy Edwards.

Tangent:  If you want to impress your friends, ask them to name the three quarterbacks to start against Samford for The Citadel.  The three QBs in question are Edwards, Jack Douglas (in the 1989 contest that marked The Citadel’s first game back at Johnson Hagood Stadium after Hurricane Hugo) and Cam Turner.

There will be another freshman starter for The Citadel this Saturday, as Ben Dupree will make his second consecutive start (and third overall).  Dupree didn’t turn the ball over against Elon, which was probably more than enough for him to get the starting nod again.

I don’t have any idea how the game on Saturday will go.  Samford is not a particularly good team, but it is better than Western Carolina, and it is good enough to have beaten Georgia Southern.  Samford will be playing at home, which should give it an edge, although that hasn’t been born out in its league results.

A win at Samford would be a nice way to close out the season for The Citadel, and would give its players and fans some positive vibes for 2011.  Let’s hope for the best.

Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

I’ll begin this post with what may become an annual riff on UTC nomenclature.  As I noted last year, trying to determine what to call the athletic teams of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga isn’t the simplest thing in the world to do:

Recently the school began using a ‘C’ mark, for “Chattanooga”.  The university’s teams have variously been referred to over the years as “UT-Chattanooga”, “Tennessee-Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Chattanooga”.

The nickname/mascot history is even more tangled.  A “moccasin” used to be a snake, then a shoe, then a cartoon Cherokee Indian called ‘Chief Moccanooga’, and now a mockingbird train conductor (and “moccasin” has morphed into “moc”, for mockingbird).

There is an explanatory page on the school’s website detailing some of the nickname history.

I’ve actually made a change from last year in how I am referring to the school.  While the school itself is still called the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, it is now consistently calling its athletic teams “Chattanooga” while still using the “UTC” acronym.  Therefore, I’ll drop the “UT-Chattanooga” usage.

Irrelevant but semi-interesting:  while surfing UTC’s website (the main one, not the athletics site) I found out that UTC was actually a private school until 1969, when it merged with the University of Tennessee.  Between 1889 and 1907, it was called U.S. Grant University.

Both UTC and The Citadel have had football programs that have been in the doldrums for a decade or more.  However, the Mocs appear poised to finally move up the ladder in the Southern Conference, under the direction of Russ Huesman.  Huesman inherited a program that had gone 1-11 in the year before he arrived.  In 2009, his first year at the helm, the Mocs improved to 6-5.

This season Chattanooga is 2-2, after losing its first two games to Appalachian State and Jacksonville State, both currently ranked in the FCS Top 5.  The Mocs rebounded with victories over Eastern Kentucky and Western Carolina, the latter game played in Cullowhee.

Those two losses may have excited the UTC fan base more than the two wins, as both were close games against quality opponents.  Chattanooga led Appalachian State 28-7 at halftime before the Mountaineers scored 28 fourth-quarter points to take a 7-point lead.  The Mocs scored what would have been the tying touchdown with under a minute to play, but Huesman elected to go for two.  It didn’t work, and Appalachian State escaped Finley Stadium with a victory.

Chattanooga also led Jacksonville State 17-7 entering the fourth quarter, only for the Gamecocks to respond with 14 fourth-quarter points.  JSU’s game-winning TD came on a 72-yard pass play with 1:16 remaining.  That game, played in Alabama, came one week after Jacksonville State’s stunning win over Mississippi.

UTC’s 42-24 victory over EKU included 548 yards of total offense, including 375 yards passing (4 TDs) from B.J. Coleman and 122 yards rushing from Erroll Wynn.

Against Western Carolina, the Mocs turned the ball over four times, one of those being a fumble returned for a touchdown (Chattanooga lost three fumbles overall).  UTC was also burned by a wide receiver pass for a TD, but prevailed 27-21 in part because the Mocs D forced four turnovers of its own.

Speaking of Coleman (a transfer from Tennessee), you may remember him from last year’s game, in which The Citadel blew a 15-point lead.  During the UTC rally, the Mocs went to a no-huddle offense, and the Bulldogs never stopped it, despite the fact Chattanooga could not run the ball.  Coleman somehow threw 61 passes without being sacked, and was only “hurried” once.

Obviously, The Citadel has to turn that around on Saturday, but it won’t be easy.  For one thing, UTC appears to actually have a running game now, with senior Erroll Wynn averaging exactly 100 yards per game in three games (he didn’t play against App State).  That should take a lot of pressure off Coleman, who is averaging almost nine yards per pass attempt and has thrown 10 TD passes (against only 3 interceptions).

Chattanooga doesn’t seem to be missing Coleman’s main target from last season, Blue Cooper, all that much, as Joel Bradford has already caught 30 passes and is averaging over 126 yards receiving per game (nearly 17 yards per reception). Bradford is also a fine punt returner.

Other than the fourth-quarter problems against Appy and JSU, the Mocs D has played well, holding both EKU and WCU to less than 60 yards rushing and forcing eleven turnovers in its last three games, including nine interceptions.  Four of the picks were made by freshman Kadeem Wise.

Defensive end Chris Donald is another Tennessee transfer making an impact for the Mocs.  He has 4.5 sacks so far this season.  UTC is currently ninth in the country against the run.  One reason for that is linebacker Ryan Consiglio, who is averaging almost eleven tackles per game.

You may have seen Jeff Hartsell’s breakdown of The Citadel’s recent recruiting classes on “Bulldog Bites”.  Just for comparison, here is the two-deep from The Citadel’s playoff game against North Carolina A&T in 1992.  I could be wrong about a couple of these guys, but I should have most of this right.  The number by a player’s name is the year he entered The Citadel (for instance, Jack Douglas entered in the fall of 1988, hence “88”).

QB — Jack Douglas (88) and CJ Haynes (90)

FB — Everette Sands (89) and Travis Jervey (91)

LHB — Erick Little (90) and Terrance Rivers (90)

RHB — Cedric Sims (89) and Undra Mitchem (90)

TE — Marty Fagan (88) and Greg Perry (89, and originally a walk-on)

WR — Cornell Caldwell (89) and Damond Boatwright (90)

LT — David Morelli (88) and Doug Cobarras (89)

LG — Shayne Stephens (89) and Levi Davis (90)

C — Brett Copeland (88) and Bart Hearn (91 walk-on, I think)

RG — Lance Hansen (88) and Scott Reagan (89)

RT — Carey Cash (88) and Mike Wilkerson (91)

PK — Jeff Trinh (91)

DE — Garrett Sizer (89) and Ed McFarland (89, and originally a walk-on)

DE — Judson Boehmer (89) and Brad Keeney (92)

RT — LaQuincy Powell  (89, and yet another walk-on from that class), Todd Lair (91, maybe a walkon; not sure)

LT — Jake Erhard (89) and Lenny Clark (91)

LB — Micah Young (91) and Jim Wilson (88)

LB — Rob Briggs (89) and Tracey Gamble (90)

LB — Mike Wideman (89) and Kendall McKnight (90)

LCB — Torrency Forney (89) and Chauncey Chappelle (92)

RCB — Detric Cummings (90) and Corey Gay (90)

SS — Dan Johnson (89) and Ahren Self (91)

FS — Lester Smith (88) and Speizio Stowers (89)

P — Eric Willingham (88)

The return specialists were all part of the offense-defense two-deep.  Sizer was the long snapper.

46 players —

9 fifth-year seniors (including Douglas, Smith, and Cash)

17 players from the ’89 recruiting class, including three walk-ons

10 from the ’90 recruiting class

8 from the ’91 recruiting class

2 “true” freshmen

One quick note on the above:  the 1991 recruiting class was actually rather thin; only two other scholarship members of that class would contribute in future seasons. Whether that “lost class” was a key factor in the eventual decline in The Citadel’s gridiron fortunes is hard to say, although it certainly didn’t help.

I had plenty to say about the loss to Western Carolina last week, and about some things that rather obviously need to improve.  I’ll add a little to what I already mentioned, and note a couple of other things:

— I was glad to see that Kevin Higgins acknowledged the poor play of the secondary against WCU (you can read about his press conference here and here).  Watching the lack of ball awareness was excruciating.

— He also addressed game-planning for opposing defenses, explaining what he feels the issues are.  I suspect that this wouldn’t be as big a problem if the Bulldogs were in Year 3 or Year 4 of the triple option.

Teams that have run an option attack for a long time, like Navy or Air Force or Wofford, generally force the opponents to adjust to them, not the other way around.  That’s because their players have been in the system long enough to recognize different defensive looks, and understand basically (if not always specifically) what each person’s job is when facing a certain setup.

Having said that, I was a little concerned that Higgins seemed confident in what Russ Huesman’s defense will probably do on Saturday.  He’s basing that on what Huesman has done in the past against the option, but the Mocs have had a week off and presumably a lot more time to put in new things.  What if UTC comes out in a defensive formation for which the Bulldogs aren’t prepared?  Another lost half for The Citadel’s offense?

— Amidst all the talk about changing quarterbacks, his decision to change placekickers has seemingly gone under the radar.

— About those quarterbacks…

I’ll be honest.  I don’t care which quarterback starts.  If Higgins thinks Sam Martin starting might jump-start the team in the opening quarter, then by all means run him out there.  The bottom line is that both Martin and Matt Thompson are going to play, and they’re both going to play about the same number of plays — at least, that’s the plan.

Martin has looked more comfortable in the offense than Thompson, but he hasn’t been that much better.  We’re not talking about the second coming of a healthy Jamelle Holieway here.  At this point, we don’t know if we’re talking about the second coming of a healthy Brendan Potts (which would be okay by me).

Neither Martin nor Thompson has mastered the center/QB exchange (to be fair, neither have the centers).  Thompson seems to still struggle with the “mesh”, and should also heed the advice of John Wooden — be quick but don’t hurry.  However, he’s a true freshman with some obvious talent, and he deserves a chance to show what he can do (as does Martin).  This is, as I’ve said before, a transition season, although not everyone seems to understand that.

While leaving the stadium on Saturday after the WCU game, I overheard a Bulldog fan say, in a non-ironic way, that the loss to the Catamounts meant “we won’t go to the playoffs now.”  You don’t say…

One thing both quarterbacks must improve (and for that matter, their receiving corps): the Bulldogs currently have a pass completion rate of 35.4%.  While The Citadel doesn’t throw the ball a lot in this offense, it has to do better than that.  Completing less than 36% of your pass attempts is just horrendous.  If that percentage holds up, it would be the lowest completion percentage for a Bulldog squad since 1965.  Care to guess how many games that 1965 team won?

Two.

The Bulldogs will be Underdogs on Saturday, and deservedly so.  However, I’ll close this post by pointing out that there is hope for the game against UTC:

1)  Chattanooga, while improved, hasn’t really proven that it’s made a move to the next level in the Southern Conference, at least not yet.  Those two games against Appalachian State and Jacksonville State were both impressive in a lot of ways, but they were also both losses.  Last year The Citadel also lost a close game to Appalachian State at home, in overtime.  It did not lead to a winning season.

I’m not quite ready to buy stock in a team which to this point in the season has only beaten Eastern Kentucky (which has just one win on the season) and Western Carolina.

2)  The Bulldog offense may continue to struggle, but I find it hard to believe that the defense (particularly the DBs) will have two consecutive clunkers.  I think there is a lot of talent on that side of the ball, and sometime (hopefully soon) it will begin to show. Also, there is something to be said for regression to the mean.

We’ll find out Saturday.

A big win, but don’t get carried away just yet

Let’s start this column with the newest installment of the “Milestone Report”, chronicling just a few of the latest firsts, streaks, and records set by this season’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs:

  • The Citadel’s 18th win on the season tied the 1985 squad for second-most in school history, with only the 1979 team winning more games (20)
  • The Citadel continues to set a new school standard for Southern Conference victories with its 13th league win of the season, and extends its record run of SoCon road wins (the Bulldogs are now 7-2 on the road in conference play)
  • With that 13th win, the Bulldogs shattered an 82-year-old SoCon record, the mark for biggest league turnaround in consecutive seasons, which had been established by Auburn in 1927; the Tigers went from one conference victory to twelve that season, while The Citadel has gone from one win to thirteen (and counting)
  • The Citadel broke a 14-game losing streak to Davidson
  • The Citadel won for the first time at Davidson since a 1990 contest, a game played during a brief four-year period (1989-1993) when the Wildcats were not in the Southern Conference; as a result, Wednesday night’s victory was the first time The Citadel had won a league game at Davidson since 1961

Davidson entered the game with an RPI of 49.  The Wildcats have dropped out of the top 50 of the RPI following the loss to The Citadel (as of Thursday the Wildcats are at 56), but will almost certainly finish the season in the top 100.  To be honest, I am not completely sure when the Bulldogs last recorded a victory over a “Top 100 RPI” team.  I believe that it has not happened since 1989, when The Citadel beat South Carolina.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s RPI has jumped up to 148 (I’m using ESPN’s RPI numbers).  The Bulldogs are one spot ahead of none other than VMI. 

Of course, Davidson didn’t have Stephen Curry last night, and that certainly made a difference.  Whether it made enough of a difference to have changed the outcome of the game is debatable.  In the first game between the two teams, Curry put up 32 points (with only 16 FG attempts) and added five assists  — one assist more than Davidson had as a team last night.  Even if you didn’t count Curry’s shooting numbers, though, Davidson still had a good FG% as a team in the game at McAlister Field House (although obviously with teams having to concentrate on Curry, his teammates have better opportunities).

The Citadel and Davidson are 1-2 in the league in FG% defense (the Wildcats lead that category) and in 3FG% defense (with the Bulldogs ranked first).  Given that, it’s not surprising that the game featured poor shooting by both teams, and without its star, Davidson never got into a shooting rhythm.  The Wildcats could not even make free throws (9-17 for a team that averages 71% from the line).

What should concern Davidson more than the bad shooting, though, was the fact that the Wildcats were not able to contain the Bulldogs on the boards.  The Citadel had a season-high 48 rebounds last night to Davidson’s 31 (after Davidson won the rebounding battle 35-25 in the first matchup).  Demetrius Nelson had a big night scoring inside, but he had scored 18 points in the first game, so that wasn’t a major surprise.  The difference was that he also added 14 rebounds (after only having 4 against Davidson at McAlister) to the Bulldogs’ cause. 

Davidson did have 13 offensive rebounds, but when you miss 73% of your shots from the field, you’re going to get more opportunities for boards on the offensive end of the floor. 

John Brown had 12 rebounds in 22 minutes of action.  That’s the fifth time this season he’s had 12 boards in a game (he’s now hit that mark three times in a row).  Brown has played more than 20 minutes in ten games this season.  He has had double digit rebound totals in seven of them (and nine boards in of one of the others).  That’s not even counting his 12-boards-in-15-minutes performance against Samford.  Brown is averaging 13.47 rebounds per 40 minutes of play (14.75 per 40 over his last four games).  When he stays out of early foul trouble, he is a force. 

Davidson leads the league in turnovers forced, and The Citadel committed a few too many last night (13).  The Bulldogs had 19 turnovers in the first matchup, so they improved a little, but again Curry’s absence has to be considered (he had five steals in the January game).  On the flip side, despite missing its point guard, Davidson only committed seven turnovers.

Nelson missed five free throws, the only blip in an outstanding effort.  Cameron Wells was 8-8 from the charity stripe, though, which alleviated an off-shooting night for him from the field.

Everyone who has been following the Bulldogs is excited right now, and deservedly so, but I want to sound a note of caution.  I mentioned earlier in this post that the last time The Citadel won a road game against a top-100 opponent was against South Carolina in 1989.  That year had some parallels to this season. 

In 1989, The Citadel was trying to rebound from an 8-20 campaign.  The team started the year slowly, but gradually improved.  The win over the Gamecocks was the exclamation point on a run during which the Bulldogs won six out of seven games, including a beatdown of longtime hoops bully Marshall (the final game ever played at Deas Hall, the most fantastic Division I basketball arena in human history).  Earlier in the year The Citadel had also beaten the College of Charleston on the road, which would be the last win at the CofC for the Bulldogs until this season.  With two games remaining in the regular season, the Bulldogs were in a position to claim second place in the SoCon regular season, with an outside shot at first.

The Citadel wouldn’t win another game.  The Bulldogs lost a tight game on the road to Western Carolina, then lost at UT-Chattanooga, and then lost in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament to East Tennessee State (which would then proceed to win the tourney).

I’m not saying we’re in for a repeat of 1989.  For one thing, this year’s team is simply better.  You can ask Ed Conroy — after all, he played on the 1989 team.  It’s just that there is still work to be done this season, and to consolidate all the gains made on the court this year, the team needs to finish strong.  Also, while I don’t want to be perceived as being overly pessimistic, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the margin of error for the program is still small.  It’s not as small as it has been, though, and that’s a credit to Conroy and the players. 

The Southern Conference tournament is going to be tough for everybody.  If you’re The Citadel, you have to worry about Davidson (with Curry), UT-Chattanooga (a good team, and the tourney host), the College of Charleston (can the Bulldogs really beat that team three times in a row?), and a bunch of other squads that could pose matchup problems.  Drawing Elon or Appalachian State in the tourney would not be fun. 

Of course, those teams have to worry about drawing The Citadel…

That’s why getting the bye is so important.  Speaking of that, the “magic number” for The Citadel to clinch a bye in the tournament is now 2.  For those unfamiliar with the “magic number” concept (it’s a baseball expression), what that means is any combination of two Bulldog victories or College of Charleston losses will guarantee a bye for The Citadel.  Two Bulldog wins would do it, as would two CofC losses.  One Bulldog win and one Cougar loss would be enough.  The CofC has four games remaining, and The Citadel has three.

The Citadel now has eight days before its next game.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  I’m inclined to think it’s a good thing, because the Bulldogs probably need a bit of a break.  There is always the fear that the team will lose momentum, but I believe it helps that when they play again, it will be at home before what should be a very good crowd.  I can’t wait.

Quick note:  I’ve had a few more visitors to the blog than normal; I’m glad some of you have enjoyed it.  To answer a couple of questions that have been asked:

  • The photos at the top are of General, Anthony Jenkins, and Jack Douglas, as most fans of The Citadel know.  I don’t really have a lot of pictures from sporting events involving The Citadel; the shots of Jenkins and Douglas are scanned newspaper photos, and I struggled to get a decent scan of them (as you can probably tell)
  • The blog is intended to be a general sports blog with an emphasis on the mighty Bulldogs; I’ve actually focused a little more on The Citadel’s athletic teams than I had originally anticipated (mainly because of the hoopsters, although I am more than ready for Fred Jordan’s crew to take the field)