2016 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on December 3, 2016. The game will only be available on television via ESPN College Extra

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Greg Mescall will provide play-by-play, while Stan Lewter supplies the analysis. 

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

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

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

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and Wofford

SoCon weekly release

– The Citadel versus Wofford: a “scary” matchup

Attendance at FCS playoff games has been poor; The Citadel hopes to change that on Saturday

A discussion revolving around the “fourth option”

Brent Thompson had an interesting major in college

Feature on Isaiah Pinson, Jacobs Blocking Award winner in the Southern Conference

“Inside the game” from The Post and Courier

Bulldogs hope home field makes difference

– It’s another dogfight

– Bulldogs and Terriers face off again

– Terriers get shot at redemption

– Wofford battles injury issues

– Wofford player says “we all know, and they [The Citadel] know, that we should have won that first one”

– Wofford’s safeties are key players on their defense

– Five players to watch for The Citadel and Wofford

– Game story from Wofford’s victory over Charleston Southern

– Preview of the game from Yahoo! Sports

– Preview of the game from Southern Pigskin

Brent Thompson’s 11/29 press conference, including comments from Myles Pierce, Isaiah Pinson, and Tyler Renew (video)

Wofford media luncheon interviews with Mike Ayers, Brandon Goodson, and JoJo Tillery (video)

Wofford review of its win over Charleston Southern (video)

– FCS playoff bracket

A couple of other links:

My preview of The Citadel’s 10/22 game versus Wofford

My review of The Citadel’s 10/22 game versus Wofford

Hey, if you’re going to the football game on Saturday night, why not make it a multi-sport doubleheader?

The Citadel’s basketball team will be in action at McAlister Field House, with a noon tipoff for a game against USC-Upstate.

The game against the Spartans is part of the Holy City Hoops Classic (great name for an event). The Citadel defeated Colgate on Friday, and takes on Campbell at 4:00 pm on Sunday.

So far this season the Bulldogs are 5-3, including a 4-0 record at home.

The football game on Saturday will be called on ESPN3 by Greg Mescall (play-by-play) and Stan Lewter (analysis).

As far as I can tell, this is the first time either one has ever called a football game involving a SoCon team.

Mescall is a graduate of Monmouth. In his broadcasting career, he has primarily been a commentator for water polo matches, both as a play-by-play announcer and an analyst (he appears to have spent a considerable amount of time on the west coast, as you might imagine).

This season, however, Mescall started working FBS/FCS college football games, two on play-by-play (both involving Georgia Southern, incidentally) and two as a sideline reporter for the NEC game of the week on ESPN3.

Lewter’s background is actually in basketball. He was an assistant for three years under Jim Valvano at North Carolina State, and later was the head coach at Livingstone.

After starting a broadcasting career as a basketball announcer, several years ago Lewter began to pick up occasional assignments as an analyst for college football games (shades of Nate Ross, a/k/a the “Renaissance Man”). Lewter has called four FBS/FCS games so far this season.

While the game is being streamed on ESPN3, the contest is now also slated to appear on ESPN College Extra.

For those TV viewers with DirecTV, the viewing guide indicates that Wofford-The Citadel will be broadcast in HD on Channel 788-1. For Time Warner Cable subscribers, the matchup is listed on channel 392. In both instances, a subscription to a “sports pack” may be required.

The buildup to this game has featured some loquacious Wofford players, none more voluble than starting free safety JoJo Tillery:

We’re looking for revenge. We all know, and even they know, that we should have won that first one, but mistakes happen.

Tillery wasn’t the only Terrier willing to do some talking. Outside linebacker Terrance Morris had this to say about playing The Citadel:

This is what we’ve been looking for, actually. We [had the] mindset that we let the first one get off the hook…

…now we get to play them all over again at their place and probably get a victory over there, give them a taste of how it felt when they got one over here [in Spartanburg].

Wofford depth chart differences from the first game against The Citadel (10/22), last week versus Charleston Southern, and this week against the Bulldogs:

On offense, there has been only one change. Lennox McAfee, a backup halfback and return man, broke his leg against the Buccaneers. His replacement at both spots is freshman Blake Morgan, who has good speed (and who, it should also be noted, had a 20-yard reception against The Citadel in the October matchup).

Defensively, most of the personnel changes have occurred at linebacker. Dylan Young and Datavious Wilson have been listed as starters for all three games. John Patterson started at inside linebacker versus The Citadel in October, and sustained a serious (and season-ending) neck injury.

Lincoln Stewart replaced him, only to be injured last week. Stewart had to be carted off the field; everyone was relieved to learn afterwards that he had movement in his extremities.

Mike Ayers stated that Stewart had suffered a pinched nerve, and apparently the senior from Florida is available this week, as he is listed as a starter on the two-deep. Stewart had seven tackles versus The Citadel in the regular-season matchup.

Terrance Morris did not start against The Citadel in October, but at the time Morris was completing a recovery from a knee injury that had cost him the entire 2015 season. He started against Charleston Southern and is slated to start on Saturday.

In the defensive secondary, the same four players have been listed as starters on all three of the two-deeps in question. Three of their backups are different on this week’s depth chart from the one that was published for the October game against the Bulldogs.

David Marvin has been listed as the starter at both placekicker and punter for the last two weeks, after Brian Sanders was the projected starter at punter against The Citadel in the regular-season meeting. Sanders is now listed as the backup placekicker, after Luke Carter had held that role through last week. (Sanders is also the holder for the Terriers.)

Statistics of note for Wofford:

Wofford Opp
Points per game 27.9 17.2
Total yards rushing 3395 950
Yards/rush 5.0 2.7
Rushing TDs 32 7
Total yards passing 854 2303
Comp-Att-Int 63-113-2 234-367-15
Average/pass att 7.6 6.3
Passing TDs 4 20
Total offense 4249 3253
Total plays 794 723
Average per play 5.4 4.5
Fumbles/lost 18-9 8-6
Penalties-pen yards 66-614 59-541
Pen yards/game 51.2 45.1
Net punt average 44.8 38.1
Time of poss/game 33:54 26:06
3rd-down conv 71/167 65/159
3rd-down conv % 42.5% 40.9%
Sacks by-yards 28-184 20-2
Red Zone TD% (30-47) 63.8% (24-35) 68.6%
  • Wofford leads the nation in net punting
  • The Terriers have only been intercepted twice all season, the fewest interceptions allowed in the country
  • That is a big reason why Wofford is 7th in fewest turnovers lost, with eleven; four of those came against The Citadel in the 10/22 matchup
  • The Terriers are 25th nationally in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate
  • Wofford is 4th nationally in time of possession and 5th in rushing offense (282.9 yards per game)
  • The Terriers are 4th in FCS in both rushing defense and total defense, and 7th in scoring defense
  • Despite those impressive numbers, Wofford is only 87th in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate

Wofford’s top-5 ranking in rushing defense is even more impressive when you realize that the Terriers are also 5th in yards allowed per rushing attempt. Wofford allowed 4.6 yards per rush against Charleston Southern, but that was actually a solid effort given the opponent, as the Buccaneers lead the nation in yards per rush (at 6.0).

The Citadel is 9th nationally in yards per rushing attempt (5.5), but was held to 3.7 yards per rush against the Terriers in October.

A few stats for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points per game 28.5 20.8
Total yards rushing 3943 1374
Yards/rush 5.5 4.0
Rushing TDs 32 13
Total yards passing 700 2001
Comp-Att-Int 42-104-3 167-288-8
Average/pass att 6.7 6.9
Passing TDs 5 13
Total offense 4643 3375
Total plays 825 630
Average per play 5.6 5.4
Fumbles/lost 21-10 15-8
Penalties-pen yards 55-572 48-461
Pen yards/game 52.0 41.9
Net punt average 36.9 36.9
Time of poss/game 34:42 25:17
3rd-down conv 88/179 40/131
3rd-down conv % 49.2% 30.6%
Sacks by-yards 28-185 2-11
Red Zone TD% (25-45) 55.6% (14-24) 58.3%

  • The Citadel leads the nation in rushing offense (358.3 yards per game)
  • The Bulldogs are 2nd nationally in time of possession (behind only San Diego; the Toreros pulled off the biggest upset of the first round last Saturday by winning at Cal Poly)
  • The Citadel is 7th in FCS in offensive third-down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs have only thrown three interceptions; as mentioned above, Wofford is tops nationally with only two picks tossed this season
  • The Citadel is 10th in total defense, 14th in scoring defense, 19th in pass defense, and 25th in rushing defense
  • This season, The Citadel has lost 13 turnovers, tied for 15th-fewest nationally (James Madison, helmed by former Bulldogs coach Mike Houston, has the fewest turnovers lost, with just nine in eleven games)
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in FCS in defensive third-down conversion rate

Wofford quarterback Brandon Goodson (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is completing 48.2% of his passes, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with three touchdown tosses against two interceptions.

Goodson was only averaging 1.7 yards per carry entering the October matchup between the Terriers and Bulldogs, but the junior from Dacula, Georgia has picked things up on the ground since then, and is now averaging a healthy 5.0 yards per rush.

In the first meeting between the two teams this season, Goodson was 4 for 7 passing for 44 yards and an interception (which was really a fumble, in my opinion, but the official scorer ruled that Kailik Williams’ “Pitch Six” was a pick). He added 48 rushing yards on eight attempts versus the Bulldogs.

Lorenzo Long (5’9″, 205 lbs.) is a tough, shifty running back from Pensacola who rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries against the Bulldogs in Spartanburg. Long was named first-team all-SoCon by both the coaches and media.

The senior has rushed for 1,290 yards this season (5.0 yards/carry), with 16 TDs, including two last Saturday. The second of those was an outstanding individual effort that demonstrated both his speed and power.

Will Gay (5’9″, 185 lbs.), a fifth-year senior, is averaging 6.6 yards per carry this season. He is also Wofford’s primary punt returner. He appeared to suffer a shoulder injury of some sort against Charleston Southern, but later re-entered the game.

I noted earlier that freshman Blake Morgan (5’9″, 185 lbs.) is now on the two-deep. Morgan has only 15 rushing attempts so far this year, but he has made the most of them — averaging 11.5 yards per carry.

Tight end Chandler Gouger (6’2″, 230 lbs.) leads Wofford in receptions, with thirteen. The junior from Chattanooga has caught 3 of Wofford’s 4 passing TDs this season, and is averaging 15.8 yards per catch.

Wofford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 296 lbs.

I wrote about this in my preview of the October game, but it’s worth mentioning again: left guard Dequan Miller didn’t start Wofford’s contest against East Tennessee State because he was busy taking the LSAT. Miller was a second-team all-league pick by the media.

The line is anchored by right tackle Anton Wahrby (6’5″, 300 lbs.). Wahrby was a first-team all-conference choice by both the coaches and media.

Starting center Roo Daniels (6’2″, 285 lbs.) was a second-team all-league selection by both the coaches and media.

The strength of Wofford’s defense is its line.

Miles Brown (6’1″, 310 lbs.) is more than capable of playing nosetackle (as he did last season), but the sophomore is just as good (if not better) at defensive end. The coaches named him to their all-league first team. He had 10 tackles against The Citadel in the October meeting.

True freshman Mikel Horton (6’0″, 315 lbs.), one of several Kentucky natives on Wofford’s two-deep, has proved to be a quick (and yet immovable) study at nosetackle. He made the all-freshman team; it is possible he should have made one of the all-league teams as well.

Junior Tyler Vaughn (6’1″, 270 lbs.) did make all-conference (first team media and coaches). He has 16.5 tackles for loss, including 8 sacks. Vaughn had 7 stops versus the Bulldogs in the regular-season matchup.

Datavious Wilson (6’1″, 230 lbs.), a freshman from Hartsville, is far and away Wofford’s team leader in tackles, with 78. Wilson was hugely impressive against The Citadel, ranging all over the field to make 15 tackles.

Wilson left the Charleston Southern game in the second half with what may have been a muscle injury. He did not return, but is still listed as a starter.

Because of its line, Wofford’s defense would be formidable with almost any combination of linebackers; however, tackling monsters like Wilson don’t grow on trees. If he were not able to play on Saturday, the Terriers would definitely miss his presence.

Fellow linebacker Dylan Young (6’1″, 235 lbs.) had an interesting afternoon against The Citadel in the first meeting, with one tackle, one interception, and one extended taunting display (that somehow went unnoticed by the SoCon officiating crew). Young is a senior from Collierville, Tennessee.

Both of Wofford’s safeties are solid. Strong safety Jaleel Green (6’2″, 215 lbs.) had a very good game against the Bulldogs. The senior from Jacksonville was a first-team all-SoCon pick by the media. He is second on the team in stops, with 56.

Free safety JoJo Tillery (6’2″, 205 lbs.), a talkative sophomore, is third on the squad in tackles, with 55.

Junior placekicker David Marvin (6’2″, 210 lbs.) was named the all-league placekicker and punter, to the surprise of nobody. He is a major reason why the Terriers lead all of FCS in net punting, and the junior from Charlotte is an even better placekicker.

Marvin is 15 for 19 on field goal attempts this season, including five from 50+ yards. He made a 54-yarder and a 57-yarder against Furman. Marvin’s four misses include a 62-yard attempt and a 49-yard effort (against The Citadel) that was blocked.

Sophomore long snapper Ross Hammond (6’1, 220 lbs.) is the son of South Carolina’s Secretary of State, Mark Hammond. The senior Hammond played college football at Newberry.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 62 degrees. Saturday night is projected to be mostly cloudy, with a low of 47 degrees.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 8th in FCS (down one from last week). Wofford is ranked 10th (up three spots).

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 55% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 20, Wofford 17.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (11th), Samford (22nd), Mercer (40th), Furman (48th), Gardner-Webb (51st), Western Carolina (67th), East Tennessee State (70th), VMI (71st).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, James Madison, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, Wofford.

– Massey’s predicted final scores for the other seven FCS playoff games:

  • Jacksonville State 21, Youngstown State 17
  • James Madison 42, New Hampshire 34
  • North Dakota 28, Richmond 24
  • North Dakota State 31, San Diego 10
  • Sam Houston State 41, Chattanooga 36
  • South Dakota State 28, Villanova 17
  • Eastern Washington 35, Central Arkansas 28

The game between Wofford and The Citadel is projected to be the closest and the lowest-scoring of the eight contests. All eight home teams are projected to win; home teams were 7-1 last week, with the aforementioned San Diego-Cal Poly game the only matchup in which the road team pulled off a victory.

– Non-conference opponent update: North Greenville is now 9-4 on the season and 2-0 in the D-2 playoffs after defeating Tuskegee on Saturday. Jeff Farrington and the Crusaders are now in the quarterfinals, but face a tall order if they want to advance any further, as NGU must play North Alabama, a traditional D-2 power that already defeated North Greenville 52-21 earlier this season.

– Speaking of North Alabama, it is widely believed that the school’s varsity athletics programs will be moving to Division I by the fall of 2018. An announcement is expected next week. The Lions would join the Atlantic Sun; as part of a partnership agreement with the Big South, UNA would play football in the latter conference (the A-Sun doesn’t sponsor football) as the newest member of FCS.

– Wofford’s game notes depth chart includes 12 players from South Carolina. Other states represented on the Terriers’ two-deep: Kentucky (7), Georgia (5), Florida (5), Ohio (4), Tennessee (4), North Carolina (2), and one each from Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Maryland.

Offensive tackle Anton Wahrby is a native of Sweden who was an exchange student at Lexington (SC) High School.

– The Citadel’s game notes depth chart includes 17 players from South Carolina. Other states represented on the Bulldogs’ two-deep: Georgia (14), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), and one each from Oklahoma and Texas.

– Cam Jackson’s absence from The Citadel’s two-deep is the only change from the Bulldogs’ official depth chart for the game against North Carolina. Rod Johnson is listed as a starter at A-back, with Jonathan Dorogy as his backup.

It would be a setback of some significance for the Bulldogs if Jackson is unable to play on Saturday. He is arguably The Citadel’s most dynamic player. Jackson is third nationally in yards per rush, at 7.29 yards per carry.

– Georgia Tech’s media relations department announced on Thursday afternoon that the Yellow Jackets will open their 2019 football season against The Citadel. The game will be played on August 31, 2019.

That means the Bulldogs are officially set to play power-5 conference opponents in each of the next three seasons — Clemson in 2017, Alabama in 2018, and Georgia Tech in 2019.

If The Citadel were fortunate enough to win on Saturday, the Bulldogs would face the winner of the Youngstown State-Jacksonville State game. YSU defeated Samford last week, 38-24, while JSU had a bye (the Gamecocks are the #3 seed).

With a victory over Youngstown State, Jacksonville State would host a quarterfinal matchup regardless of which team prevails in the matchup between the Palmetto State schools. If Youngstown State were to pull the upset, and The Citadel were to win, the Bulldogs would host the Penguins (either a night game on Friday, December 9, or on Saturday, December 10).

The Citadel has never faced Jacksonville State on the gridiron. The Bulldogs, of course, have faced YSU once — the last playoff game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

All of that is looking ahead, to be sure.

A few brief thoughts on attendance:

A search of attendance figures for last weekend’s first-round games showed that crowds at eight host schools were down an average of 59.8 percent from the season average. Wofford, for example, drew 2,605 fans for its 15-14 win over Palmetto State rival Charleston Southern, a 65.8 percent decrease from its season average of 7,625 fans.

New Hampshire had the biggest drop-off, with 2,240 fans on hand for a 64-21 win over Lehigh, a 76.7 percent slide from its season average of 9,630. Chattanooga saw the smallest decrease; yet the Mocs’ crowd of 5,238 fans still was down 41.1 percent from their season average of 8,886 fans.

 

The Citadel averaged 13,648 fans for four home games this season, a figure that ranks 17th among 124 FCS schools in 2016, and first among Southern Conference members. (A fifth “home” game was played at North Greenville due to Hurricane Matthew).

Citadel fans, including some 500 knobs, packed the visitors’ side at Wofford for the Bulldogs’ 24-21 overtime win at Gibbs Stadium on Oct. 22, part of a season-high crowd of 11,102 for the Terriers.

The Corps of Cadets will be at Saturday’s game, a school official said Monday.

“We had a great crowd for the game at Wofford,” Thompson said. “I think this should be a well-attended game. Our ticket sales are going well, and the Corps of Cadets should help out.”

For The Citadel’s two home playoff games in 1992, the Bulldogs drew 12,300 fans for a 44-0 win over North Carolina A&T, and 13,021 for a 42-17 loss to Youngstown State.

In other news, Wofford is hoping to bring 110 students in buses to the game.

I know that there has been considerable discussion in various corners of the internet about how many people are expected to attend the game on Saturday. While I would like to think the stands at Johnson Hagood Stadium will be packed with an overflow crowd of Bulldog supporters, I’m not counting on it.

The good news is that The Citadel doesn’t have to sell tickets for a game played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The bad news is the school has to compete with Christmas shopping, early-bird holiday parties, the ACC title game (which features Clemson), an absence of discounted tickets, and the fact people understandably don’t plan ahead for a potential home playoff game.

When 13,021 paid to see The Citadel play Youngstown State in 1992, that number was only 71% of the average attendance for the previous seven games. If you take out the other playoff game, the victory over North Carolina A&T (played the Saturday after Thanksgiving), the number drops to 67% of the average attendance for the six regular-season contests.

If you extrapolate those percentages and use them to determine a potential estimate for Saturday, based on this season’s numbers, the expected attendance would be between 9,144 and 9,690 fans.

Now, I’ve written before that I always thought those attendance figures in 1992 were a little bit off. I was at both games; it sure seemed like more than 12,300 people were at that matchup with North Carolina A&T, that’s for sure.

However, even if attendance for those two games was under-reported, it was still significantly less than the average for the regular-season games. That is undeniable.

I don’t know what the department of athletics has in terms of a goal for Saturday’s attendance. I’m glad the corps of cadets will be on hand; that will help, not only in the numbers made up by the corps, but because a fair number of people are likely to attend just because the corps will be at the game.

If the announced attendance is more than 12,000, I think Jim Senter and his crew should be roundly congratulated for a job well done. I suspect the “acceptable” attendance number may be closer to 10,500.

The counter to my somewhat negative arguments above: last year, Bulldog supporters came out in droves to see playoff games in Conway and North Charleston. There is a sizable base of loyal fans that will be ready for action once the weekend rolls around (many are ready now), especially for a home contest.

I hope that kind of excitement is infectious.

Saturday’s game is going to be tough. I suspect that it may resemble the contest played in Spartanburg earlier this season. I don’t think The Citadel can count on winning the turnover battle 4-0 this time, but the Bulldogs don’t necessarily have to do that in order to win, either.

They have to play better on offense, though. While the passing game has drawn a lot of attention, the truth is the number that really jumps out from the 10/22 box score is the 190 net rushing yards. That obviously isn’t good enough, not by a long shot.

Does The Citadel need to do a better job throwing the ball? Yes. However, the running game is what pays the bills for the Bulldogs.

I am a little worried about the early part of the game, and how The Citadel responds to a two-week layoff. The Bulldogs can’t afford a sluggish start. The coaching staff’s experience in postseason competition should help alleviate that potential problem, though.

At any rate, I’m ready for Saturday. Aren’t we all…

The 2016 FCS Playoffs — a review of the bracket

The Bracket

Links of interest:

The Citadel’s playoff path: a bye, then a familiar foe

– Lehigh football snubbed of home playoff game

New Hampshire makes field for 13th straight year

Albany left out of playoffs; coach calls exclusion “a sham”

Wofford earns playoff bid

Charleston Southern disappointed not to host playoff game

After being disappointed in the seeding, Sam Houston State coach: “It is what it is”

South Dakota State gets seed

Youngstown State in playoffs after a ten-year absence

“Samford shouldn’t even be in the tournament, let’s just get it straight”

North Carolina A&T makes playoff, but coach says “we’re still pretty down around here”

Chattanooga makes playoff field

Cal Poly gets bid, will host San Diego

Preview article on NCAA.com

First, let’s correct an error in that last article I linked above, the one posted on the NCAA’s own website:

Some other teams that will miss out on postseason action as a whole include Montana, Western Illinois and North Carolina Central, who all lost steam down the stretch and were defeated in Week 12.

North Carolina Central won on Week 12, defeating North Carolina A&T 42-21. The Eagles aren’t missing out on postseason action, either — North Carolina Central is going to the Celebration Bowl instead of the FCS playoffs, while the team that lost to the Eagles (North Carolina A&T) got a bid as an at-large team.

I also linked a “handicapping the field” article from the Bison Media Zone. Media members in North Dakota do not think Samford should have made the field.

Of course, being a resident of the Flickertail State isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to FCS expertise. In this particular preview, the writer referred to Charleston Southern as the “Mocs”.

I also think he has his guns pointed in the wrong direction when it comes to the exclusion of Albany. I tend to agree that Albany should have been in the tournament, but he failed to identify the most obvious beneficiary of the Great Danes’ absence — New Hampshire.

The two teams played in the same league (the CAA) and finished with the same overall record (7-4). Albany beat FBS Buffalo (admittedly, not the best FBS squad in world history). More to the point, the Great Danes won at New Hampshire.

The Wildcats also managed to lose to Ivy League cellar-dweller Dartmouth, and had no real standout victory. Albany’s worst loss was to Delaware, which strikes me as considerably more acceptable than losing to Dartmouth.

Albany head coach Greg Gattuso called the snub of his team “a sham” on Twitter. He had other comments:

I guess, if I had a question for the (selection) committee, it would be, what in (New Hampshire’s) body of work would be better than ours?

I just think the resume was better. Oh, by the way, we beat them head-to-head at their field. Remember us beating them at their field two weeks ago?

 

One criteria they might say is conference record. But to me, it’s a skewed point when (New Hampshire) didn’t play the second- and third-place teams. They didn’t play Richmond, they didn’t play Villanova. To me, conference schedule when you don’t play everybody should be thrown out (in picking the tournament).

I think Gattuso has a very legitimate argument.

New Hampshire had been in the playoffs in each of the previous 12 seasons; perhaps the committee just felt comfortable sticking them in the field. Maybe there is an unwritten rule that UNH has to be in the tournament.

Once New Hampshire was picked, the committee then got the chance to pair the Wildcats with Lehigh, and gave New Hampshire a home game in the first round. UNH’s average home attendance is 11,108, so it could be assumed its host bid (in terms of a cash guarantee) was quite good.

Albany’s average home attendance this season was 5,928. Could the committee have been thinking about the potential monetary difference if it came down to Lehigh-Albany or Lehigh-UNH? I’m sure the official answer is “No”, but cynics may have some doubts.

In related news, during an interview on a North Dakota radio show, selection committee chairman Brian Hutchinson referenced North Carolina A&T’s “bid offer” as a point in its favor.

I think he probably misspoke — after all, North Carolina A&T isn’t even hosting a first-round game — but what his comment really illustrates is that money is never far from the mind of the committee when selecting, bracketing, and seeding teams. That is unfortunate.

The committee apparently had no choice but to pair San Diego and Cal Poly against each other in the first round, despite the fact the two schools have already played this season. From the NCAA’s “Pre-Championship Manual“:

5. Regular season non-conference match-ups in the first round of the championship should be avoided, provided it does not create an additional flight(s).

6. Teams from the same conference will not be paired for first-round games (except for teams from the same conference that did not play against each other during the regular season; such teams may play each other in the first round);

7. Once the first-round pairings have been determined, there will be no adjustments to the bracket (e.g., a seeded team may play a conference opponent that advanced out of the first round).

If Cal Poly and USD had been in the same league, the rematch would have been avoided — but since they’re not, they had to be matched up, because not doing so would have created two extra flights.

That is because Poly and USD were less than 400 miles from each other, but more than 400 miles away from every other unseeded team. Here is the rule on busing/flights:

During the championship, institutions that are playing within 400 miles (one way) of their campus will be required to travel to that site via bus. Institutions traveling more than 400 miles (one way) to their game will be approved for air travel to that site.

I think it’s absurd that the “allow one more flight” stipulation only applies if teams are in the same conference, but that’s the rule, and the committee had no other option. The rule needs to be changed.

Of course, when it comes to bracketing, the committee tends to take the path of least resistance anyway. This is the second year in a row there has been a regular-season rematch in the first round.

Last year, the Patriot League champion (Colgate) played at New Hampshire, with the winner facing James Madison. Colgate and UNH had already met during the 2015 regular season.

Naturally, this year the Patriot League champion (Lehigh) will again play at New Hampshire, with the winner again facing James Madison…

The manual has this to say about awarding host sites:

3. If the minimum financial guarantees are met, the committee will award the playoff sites to the higher seeded teams.

4. When determining host institutions for playoff games when both teams are unseeded, criteria shall apply as follows: (1) quality of facility, (2) revenue potential plus estimated net receipts, (3) attendance history and potential, (4) team’s performance (i.e., conference place finish, head-to-head results and number of Division I opponents), and (5) student-athlete well-being (e.g., travel and missed class time).

This is not exactly breaking news, but it does explain one aspect of hosting that apparently bothered Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell:

…Chadwell expressed disappointment about having to go on the road, but said getting a playoff opportunity was the ultimate goal.

“It’s disappointing. I don’t know all of the details, but you would think a conference champion would get more favor in the bidding process,” Chadwell said.

As it happens, conference champions don’t get more favor in the bidding process — unless they are matched up against teams in their own league in the first round (which would only occur if the two teams had not met during the regular season).

Charleston Southern hosted last year, but that was because it was a seed and met a minimum financial guarantee. This season, the Buccaneers were unseeded and paired with Wofford.

The decision to hold the game in Spartanburg probably came down to Wofford offering a better financial package, but Charleston Southern fans should be concerned about “quality of facility” being a more significant criterion for hosting than “revenue potential”.

Attendance history is also a factor. Below is the average home attendance for the 16 unseeded teams in the field:

  • North Carolina A&T: 14,472
  • Youngstown State: 14,353
  • New Hampshire: 11,108
  • Illinois State: 10,156
  • Chattanooga: 9,494
  • Central Arkansas: 8,767
  • Weber State: 8,734
  • Richmond: 8,700
  • Cal Poly: 8,413
  • Wofford: 7,625
  • Lehigh: 6,527
  • Villanova: 6,153
  • Samford: 5,897
  • Charleston Southern: 2,712
  • San Diego: 2,405
  • St. Francis (PA): 1,617

Attendance affects both a potential bid by a school, and the committee’s evaluation of its revenue potential.

Only two of the eight first-round matchups are hosted by teams that had lower average home attendance than their opponents. Richmond is hosting North Carolina A&T, and Central Arkansas is hosting Illinois State.

The second of those involves two schools with fairly close numbers in terms of attendance, but the other matchup has a much wider differential. Either North Carolina A&T wasn’t particularly interested in hosting, or Richmond put in a major league bid.

I’m disappointed that for the FCS playoffs, there is yet again a mini-South Carolina bracket in what is supposed to be a national tournament.

This is the second year in a row The Citadel and Charleston Southern have both been bracketed in this fashion, and it is a lame, lame move by Brian Hutchinson and his committee for the second year in a row.

Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen:

It’d be nice to face somebody else, somebody besides teams we play all the time.

Linebacker Tevin Floyd of The Citadel:

We have histories with both [Wofford and Charleston Southern], so I think we just wanted to experience something new.

Head coach Brent Thompson of The Citadel:

When it’s the playoffs, you look for some different opponents. You want to get some people to travel in and maybe work outside (the norm) a little bit. But it is what it is, and we have to win the state of South Carolina at this point.

Floyd also said he was happy to be playing at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and Allen referenced a “fun” matchup with either potential opponent, but the point is clear.

I also don’t understand why the committee couldn’t have swapped the Charleston Southern-Wofford pairing and the North Carolina A&T-Richmond pairing in order to avoid a potential second-round rematch.

In other words, the CSU-Wofford winner could have been matched up against North Dakota, while the survivor of N.C. A&T-Richmond played The Citadel (instead of the other way around, as the committee arranged things).

If the committee seeded all the teams, 1 through 24, it would be possible to have a balanced, fair tournament. Instead, bracketing decisions are made explicitly for geographic reasons, and they lead to inequities.

Weber State and Cal Poly both were 7-4 overall; Weber State was 6-2 in the Big Sky, while the Mustangs were 5-3. Now, due to unbalanced league schedules, Cal Poly played a slightly tougher slate than the Wildcats (and it also had a good non-conference win over South Dakota State). On the other hand, Weber State beat Cal Poly during the season.

You could argue that if every team in the tournament were seeded, Cal Poly might deserve a slightly higher seed than Weber State. If so, both teams would probably be seeded in the 17-20 range.

If that happened, each would play first-round road games against similarly-rated opponents. Instead, we have the current geographical setup and the “400 miles” bus/flight cutoff point.

Thus, Cal Poly plays a home game against San Diego of the non-scholarship Pioneer League, a team the Mustangs already defeated earlier this season 38-16. Meanwhile, Weber State travels almost 1,800 miles to play at Chattanooga, a solid SoCon squad that acquitted itself well last week against Alabama.

The decision to make Lehigh travel to New Hampshire also seems problematic to me; if anything, it should be the other way around. Again, however, cash is king in this tournament — though a few folks in Las Vegas are apparently putting their hard-earned money on Lehigh (which is a 4 1/2 point favorite despite having to go on the road).

Final “toughest schedule” numbers from the NCAA for Jacksonville State, James Madison, Sam Houston State, and The Citadel:

  • The Citadel: 19th
  • James Madison: 57th
  • Jacksonville State: 80th
  • Sam Houston State: 102nd

All four finished undefeated against non-FBS competition. SHSU, which was 11-0, did not play an FBS opponent, while the other three schools were all 10-1, with each losing to an FBS team from a power conference.

The committee decided to give Jacksonville State the highest seed out of this group. Did it help Jacksonville State that it made the finals last year? Probably. Did it help Jacksonville State that its director of athletics was on the committee? It couldn’t have hurt.

What it means is that if The Citadel is fortunate enough to advance to the quarterfinals, and its opponent is Jacksonville State, the Bulldogs will be the road team. It is not evident why that should be the case.

Another seeding oddity, in my opinion, was North Dakota being the #7 seed and South Dakota State being the #8. I’m not sure why the Jackrabbits would have been behind UND.

Because the committee seeded those teams in that way, SDSU has a potential rematch with North Dakota State in the quarterfinals. I don’t have a problem with regular-season rematches once teams advance to the quarterfinals, but it seems to me the committee had an easy opportunity to avoid that situation, and in a perfectly justifiable way.

Per at least one source that deals in such matters, here are the lines for the eight first-round games, as of Tuesday afternoon:

  • Wofford is a 1.5-point favorite over Charleston Southern, over/under of 51.5
  • Chattanooga is a 15-point favorite over Weber State, over/under of 51.5
  • Lehigh is a 4.5-point favorite at New Hampshire, over/under of 63.5
  • Richmond is a 13-point favorite over North Carolina A&T, over/under of 53.5
  • Illinois State is a 1.5-point favorite at Central Arkansas, over/under of 49.5
  • Youngstown State is an 8.5-point favorite over Samford, over/under of 50.5
  • Cal Poly is a 12.5-point favorite over San Diego, over/under of 65.5
  • Villanova is a 14.5-point favorite over St. Francis (PA), over/under of 37.5

As you can see, there are two road favorites (Lehigh and Illinois State).

Massey Ratings predicted scores for this Saturday:

  • Wofford 26, Charleston Southern 24
  • Chattanooga 31, Weber State 19
  • Lehigh 33, New Hampshire 28
  • Richmond 36, North Carolina A&T 24
  • Central Arkansas 23, Illinois State 21
  • Youngstown State 28, Samford 20
  • Cal Poly 35, San Diego 29
  • Villanova 21, St. Francis (PA) 7

I’m not pleased with how the tournament was constructed. However, there is nothing that can be done about it, at least not for this season. All eyes will now be following the action on the gridiron.

If you’re in the field, you have a chance. That’s the bottom line.

2016 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 12. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Wade Branner providing play-by-play and Dave Harding 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. 

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

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

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 11/8 press conference, including comments from Cody Clark and Tyler Renew (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/9 radio show (video)

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– STATS FCS Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 10

– Sure, we can relive that Cam Jackson run again

– VMI’s new starting quarterback tries to lead Keydets to an upset of the Bulldogs

– Highlights of VMI’s game against Bucknell (video)

– Get well, Mike Groshon

The second week of preliminary rankings by the FCS selection committee resulted in a few changes, but by and large those adjustments did not really affect The Citadel.

Week 2  Rank School Previous (Week 1)
1 Jacksonville State 1
2 Eastern Washington 3
3 North Dakota State 4
4 James Madison 5
5 Sam Houston State 2
6 The Citadel 6
7 Chattanooga 8
8 Richmond 7
9 Central Arkansas 10
10 North Dakota NR

The biggest news was Sam Houston State dropping from #2 to #5. The Bearkats are one of two undefeated FCS teams, with The Citadel being the other. However, SHSU’s strength of schedule is weak when compared to all but one of the other top eight teams (we’ll get to the exception in a moment).

Last week, North Dakota State fans (and media members) complained vociferously after Sam Houston State was ranked ahead of the Bison. They had a point.

It is impossible to know whether or not certain members of the selection committee were influenced by the noise emanating from Fargo. I could make a good guess, though.

Of course, NDSU didn’t get everything it wanted. North Dakota State is still ranked behind Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. The latter school’s #1 ranking continues to be a bit puzzling.

Schedule strength of the top 10 teams through last week’s games (incidentally, Samford is 2nd overall in this category):

  • Jacksonville State (schedule strength of 101st out of 124 FCS teams)
  • Eastern Washington (tied for 12th)
  • North Dakota State (3rd)
  • James Madison (35th)
  • Sam Houston State (89th)
  • The Citadel (tied for 12th)
  • Chattanooga (34th)
  • Richmond (37th)
  • Central Arkansas (82nd)
  • North Dakota (38th)

Jacksonville State is 8-1. The one defeat came at LSU, so nobody is saying that JSU should be penalized severely for its loss. However, the Gamecocks don’t play in a very strong league, and don’t have the non-conference schedule heft to match that of Eastern Washington and North Dakota State — and both of those schools also play in tougher conferences while maintaining identical 8-1 records.

Of course, some observers would note that one difference between the three schools is that Jacksonville State’s director of athletics is on the selection committee.

The Citadel is undefeated, has a significantly better strength of schedule, and also has a win over another team in the top 10 of the rankings. However, not only are the Bulldogs behind Jacksonville State, they are ranked below Sam Houston State as well. There is no legitimate reason for that to be the case.

In my opinion, The Citadel should currently be ranked in the top 4. Eastern Washington and North Dakota State should be 1-2 in some order, followed by James Madison and The Citadel in the 3-4 spots. However, unless JSU and SHSU lose, the Bulldogs are not likely to pass either one of them (particularly Jacksonville State).

This effectively means The Citadel’s seeding “ceiling” is probably #5. The difference between being seeded #5 instead of #4 could be the difference between playing at home or on the road in a potential quarterfinal game.

That would be unfortunate for The Citadel.

Earlier this week, SB Nation’s “Football Study Hall” site posted a report on tempo at the FBS level. It’s a very interesting and well-considered piece.

After I read it, I decided to take a look at pace of play in FCS. Basically, I took stats from 122 teams (for practical reasons, I didn’t include “transitional” schools Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word), and determined how quickly FCS teams have run offensive plays so far in 2016. Here are the top 20 squads:

Team (Conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Stephen F. Austin (Southland) 19.49872
Eastern Kentucky (OVC) 19.68576
Samford (Southern) 20.29769
South Dakota (MVFC) 20.86083
Sam Houston State (Southland) 21.5656
Murray State (OVC) 21.80123
Eastern Washington (Big Sky) 22.09565
Southern Utah (Big Sky) 22.11938
Southern Illinois (MVFC) 22.12278
Indiana State (MVFC) 22.34259
Dartmouth (Ivy League) 22.52891
Western Carolina (Southern) 22.53821
Eastern Illinois (OVC) 22.7168
Sacramento State (Big Sky) 22.78134
Morehead State (Pioneer) 23.02286
Montana (Big Sky) 23.18182
Marist (Pioneer) 23.25649
Princeton (Ivy League) 23.31231
Columbia (Ivy League) 23.37113
VMI (Southern) 23.48567

Stephen F. Austin’s pace is faster than all but three teams in FBS: Missouri (which is absurdly fast), Baylor, and California.

These are the 20 “slowest” teams, with Wofford taking more time between plays than any other team in FCS (only Stanford and Georgia Tech are slower at the FBS level):

Team (conference) Time between plays (seconds)
Florida A&M (Mid-Eastern) 28.66306
Youngstown State (MVFC) 28.76508
Jacksonville (Pioneer) 28.82095
Mississippi Valley St. (Southwestern) 28.88979
Robert Morris (Northeast) 29.07609
North Dakota (Big Sky) 29.10984
Presbyterian (Big South) 29.31664
San Diego (Pioneer) 29.42857
Albany (NY) (Colonial) 29.43738
Stony Brook (Colonial) 29.46168
Chattanooga (Southern) 29.56397
Tennessee Tech (OVC) 29.77833
Texas Southern (Southwestern) 30.02473
Tennessee State (OVC) 30.05179
Charleston Southern (Big South) 30.076
North Dakota State (MVFC) 30.33216
Saint Francis (PA) (Northeast) 30.35612
Delaware (Colonial) 30.87125
Wofford (Southern) 30.90445

 

In my FCS Playoffs primer, I mentioned this comment from the chairman of the selection committee, Brian Hutchinson, when asked by an interviewer about “Sam Houston State’s value to the committee”:

The value of Sam Houston State is that they are an 8-0 team right now [that] is averaging close to 60 points per game and close to 600 yards of [total] offense. That’s the value that people see.

As I said in that post, I hope no committee members will actually use total offense as a criterion of any real significance. Part of my concern has to do with schedule strength, of course, but style of play is also a factor.

Sam Houston State leads FCS in total offense. As you can see above, SHSU is also the 5th-fastest offense in the division, in terms of pace of play.

I think it would be more than a little ridiculous to use total offense as a marker for comparing the Bearkats to teams like Chattanooga (19th in total offense, but the 9th “slowest” team) or The Citadel (23rd in total offense, and in the bottom third in pace of play, at 27.33 seconds between plays). The latter two teams shouldn’t have their style of play held against them by a committee member who is overly impressed by raw statistics.

While I’ve got this information handy, here are pace of play rankings for the nine SoCon squads, plus a few other teams:

  • Stephen F. Austin (1st out of 122)
  • Samford (3rd)
  • Sam Houston State (5th)
  • Eastern Washington (7th)
  • Western Carolina (12th)
  • VMI (20th)
  • Mercer (27th)
  • James Madison (37th)
  • Lehigh (41st)
  • Harvard (44th)
  • Liberty (47th)
  • Kennesaw State (71st)
  • The Citadel (84th)
  • Gardner-Webb (87th)
  • East Tennessee State (91st)
  • Furman (95th)
  • Presbyterian (110th)
  • Chattanooga (114th)
  • Charleston Southern (118th)
  • North Dakota State (119th)
  • St. Francis [PA] (120th)
  • Delaware (121st)
  • Wofford (122nd)

Friday is Founders Day at VMI:

The VMI Corps of Cadets will commemorate Founders Day this Friday with a parade featuring a 17-gun salute executed by the Cadet Battery to honor VMI’s founders and the nation’s veterans.

The anniversary, which marks 177 years since 23 VMI cadets relieved the state militia and converted the state arsenal into the Institute, will also see the dedication of the recently renovated Cormack and Cocke halls at 10 and 11 a.m., respectively.

There will also be a parade at 10:30 am on Saturday.

If you’re going to the game, be sure you’re up to speed on the parking situation.

Scott Wachenheim is in his second year as VMI’s head coach. His team is 3-6 this season, 1-5 in SoCon play. That qualifies as improvement for the Keydets’ football program, given that VMI had won two games in each of the last five years.

The Keydets opened the 2016 season by dropping a 47-24 decision at Akron. VMI’s defense allowed 576 yards of total offense, but the Keydets stayed in the game, putting together two drives of 90+ yards to pull within two points as the third quarter ended.

Akron scored 21 fourth-quarter points to ice the contest. However, it was a very respectable showing by VMI against an FBS opponent.

VMI’s next game was a 17-13 victory at Morehead State. While the Keydets’ loss to Akron was encouraging, the win over the Eagles (which play football in the non-scholarship Pioneer League) was not. VMI’s offense was sluggish, but the defense kept Morehead State at bay, allowing the fewest points to a Keydets opponent in four seasons.

A third straight road game resulted in a triple overtime victory, 23-17 over Bucknell. The Keydets did not give up any points in the three OT sessions.

It was the first time VMI had won back-to-back games since 2005, and (unbelievably) the first time the program had won consecutive road games since the last game of the 1981 season and the first game of the 1982 campaign.

Back in Lexington, another overtime affair did not go the Keydets’ way. Mercer edged VMI 33-30 in a game reportedly marred by poor SoCon officiating (very surprising, I know). VMI trailed 21-7 at halftime before making a comeback, taking the lead with just 32 seconds remaining in regulation. The Keydets could not hold the lead, and then lost in OT.

VMI rebounded from that setback with a 37-7 home victory over East Tennessee State. Al Cobb threw three TD passes, and the Keydets rushed for 233 yards.

Since that game, VMI has lost four straight contests. The first of those defeats was a 55-21 loss at Samford. SU quarterback Devlin Hodges threw for 435 yards and 5 TDs, and VMI also got victimized by a pick-6.

Chattanooga then beat the Keydets 30-13. UTC rushed for 297 yards despite Derrick Craine missing the game with an injury. One of VMI’s two TDs was a 79-yard bomb from Al Cobb to Javeon Lara.

VMI returned home, but was beaten in Lexington 24-10 by Furman. The loss was a costly one for the Keydets, as Cobb suffered a shoulder injury.

Last week, VMI lost 32-29 at Western Carolina. The Keydets should have won the game, but basically handed the victory to the Catamounts with a series of miscues. Among other things:

  • VMI fumbled the opening kickoff, which was returned by WCU for a touchdown
  • The Keydets had four kicks blocked (two field goal attempts, two PATs)
  • VMI threw three interceptions
  • Western Carolina scored with 54 seconds to play on a 53-yard pass

Statistics of note for VMI:

VMI Opp
Points/game 22.7 28.7
Rushing yardage 1056 1487
Yards/rush 3.2 4.3
Rush TDs 16 10
Passing yardage 2266 2501
Comp-Att-Int 208-330-12 210-334-6
Average/pass att 6.9 7.5
Passing TDs 11 22
Total offense 3322 3988
Total plays 663 682
Yards/play 5.0 5.8
Fumbles/lost 7/3 11/6
Penalties-pen yds 35-318 75-681
Pen yards/game 35.3 75.7
Net punt average 34.6 34.3
Time of poss/game 28:50 31:10
3rd-down conv 47/143 48/138
3rd-down conv % 32.9% 34.8%
Sacks by-yards 13-91 23-122
Red Zone TD% (22-35) 63% (23-36) 64%
  • VMI is 2nd nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • The Keydets are 84th in FCS in scoring defense and 63rd in rushing defense
  • VMI is 29th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Keydets are 85th in time of possession
  • VMI is 28th in passing offense

Statistics of consequence for The Citadel:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30.8 18.7
Rushing yardage 3366 1129
Yards/rush 5.6 4.1
Rush TDs 29 12
Passing yardage 540 1645
Comp-Att-Int 33-82-2 140-246-8
Average/pass att 6.6 6.7
Passing TDs 4 8
Total offense 3906 2774
Total plays 685 524
Yards/play 5.7 5.3
Fumbles/lost 15/6 12/7
Penalties-pen yds 43-449 38-358
Pen yards/game 49.9 39.8
Net punt average 37.3 36.6
Time of poss/game 34:37:00 25:22:00
3rd-down conv 75/151 35/110
3rd-down conv % 49.7% 31.8%
Sacks by-yards 25-165 0-0
Red Zone TD% (22-39) 56% (12-20) 60%
  • The Citadel leads the nation in rushing offense (374.0 yards/game) and is seventh in average yards/rush
  • The Bulldogs are 9th in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is third nationally in time of possession
  • The Bulldogs are 13th in fewest penalties per game
  • The Citadel is 21st in the country in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 15th nationally in defensive third down conversion rate

VMI throws the ball on 49.8% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, with 68.2% of the Keydets’ total yards coming via the air. The Keydets operate out of the spread.

Al Cobb was the preseason choice as the SoCon’s all-conference quarterback. Cobb was injured against Furman and did not play last week versus Western Carolina.

Will he play on Saturday? Cobb is not listed on the two-deep. According to an article in The Roanoke Times, he may be available.

The starter, though, will be redshirt freshman Austin Coulling (6’4″, 200 lbs.). Coulling, a native of Salem, Virginia, has played in five games this season, starting against WCU last Saturday.

For the season, he is completing 56.9% of his passes, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with two touchdown passes and six interceptions.

Coulling does not lack for confidence:

After hours of watching video, Coulling said he thinks there are some areas in The Citadel defense that the offense can exploit.

“There are opportunities there for us to take,” Coulling said. “As a team, if we come out with the same energy we came out with last week and execute more efficiently than we did last week and have the same running game as we had last week, I mean, anything can happen. … We can come out on top.”

Daz Palmer (5’10”, 175 lbs.) is a freshman from Norfolk who is leading the Keydets in rushing. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, with 3 rushing TDs. Palmer also has 12 receptions this season.

Wide receiver Aaron Sanders (6’2″, 190 lbs.) was a preseason all-league pick. He has 62 receptions so far this year, with two TDs. Sanders had 7 catches last year versus The Citadel; in fact, Sanders has had 7 receptions in each of his last two games against the Bulldogs (including a 165-yard receiving performance in 2014).

Fellow wideout Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) made the all-conference team last year as a return specialist. Forlines is a dangerous punt returner, averaging 12.9 yards last season and 9.3 yards this year in that discipline. He is second on the team in receptions, with 47 catches and one TD.

Starting tight end Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 232 lbs.) has 30 receptions and four touchdown catches this season. The former quarterback is also the holder on placekicks, and VMI is not afraid to take advantage of his versatility. He threw a 50-yard pass on a trick play against Mercer.

VMI’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 279 lbs. According to the two-deep, the offensive tackles will be flipped for the game against The Citadel.

Fifth-year senior Iyan Roseborough (6’3″, 335 lbs.) has played right tackle this season for the Keydets, but is listed as the left tackle on this week’s depth chart. Roseborough is a native of Jenkinsville, South Carolina, and graduated from Fairfield Central High School.

Redshirt freshman Cole Brummit (6’4″, 250 lbs.) made his first career start against Western Carolina at left tackle. He is listed as the right tackle this week.

VMI’s defense normally lines up in a 3-4. In last season’s contest, the Keydets were generally effective at bottling up The Citadel’s triple option attack. After Cam Jackson broke loose for a 68-yard TD on the Bulldogs’ fourth play from scrimmage, VMI did not allow another offensive TD.

The Keydets’ D is led by two active inside linebackers. Ryan Francis (6’1″, 205 lbs.) is a redshirt junior from Knoxville who had 15 tackles versus The Citadel in last year’s matchup. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Natrona, Pennsylvania; he had 11 stops against the Bulldogs in last season’s game.

The two are currently tied for the team lead in tackles, with 94 each. They have combined for 21 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.

Francis is the main pass rusher, with six of those sacks; he also has two fumble recoveries. Against Mercer, Francis also threw a pass out of a fake punt formation; it was intercepted.

Another linebacker, Alijah Robinson (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is third on the team in tackes, with 58. Robinson also has two sacks.

Cornerback Riuq Trotman (5’9″ 155 lbs.) is a sophomore from Virginia Beach who leads the Keydets in interceptions, with three.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is in his fourth year as a placekicker for the Keydets. He has shared kicking duties with freshman Reed King (5’9″, 150 lbs.).

Regardless of the kicker, VMI has had major problems in the kicking game this season, with nine blocked kicks — five field goal attempts, and four PAT tries.

Christopher does have a strong leg, which he employs on kickoffs.

VMI’s punter is redshirt sophomore Bill Hogan (6’1″, 225 lbs.), who can also play linebacker. He has had one punt blocked this season. Hogan was the punter for VMI when the Keydets played The Citadel last season, and did a solid job.

Jake Keith (5’10”, 190 lbs.), a freshman from Blacksburg, is the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Lexington, Virginia, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 52 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is 27 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is an 18-point favorite over VMI, with an over/under of 47.5.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 7.5-point favorite over Wofford; Samford is a 15.5-point favorite against Mercer; Furman is a 6.5-point favorite over Western Carolina; and East Tennessee State is a 24-point favorite against Cumberland.

Gardner-Webb (now 4-6) is off this week, presumably celebrating its stunning victory at Charleston Southern last Saturday. North Carolina (7-3) was upset by Duke 28-27 on Thursday night.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 4th in FCS (moving up one spot from last week, the second consecutive week the Bulldogs have crept up one position). VMI is ranked 69th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 93% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 34, VMI 13.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (8th), Samford (12th), Wofford (19th), Mercer (41st), Gardner-Webb (46th), Furman (47th), Western Carolina (64th), East Tennessee State (82nd).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, The Citadel, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Chattanooga, Sam Houston State, and Northern Iowa.

– VMI’s game notes roster includes 69 natives of Virginia. Other states represented on the squad: Tennessee (9), North Carolina (4), Pennsylvania (4), Georgia (3), Alabama (2), and one each from West Virginia, Louisiana, New York, Michigan, Texas, Maryland, and South Carolina.

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

– VMI concludes its season next week at Wofford.

– FBS opponents for VMI in future seasons include Toledo and Old Dominion in 2018; Army in 2019; and North Carolina State in 2023.

– On The Citadel’s two-deep this week, Evan McField is listed as the #2 B-back, with Isiaha Smith not listed on the depth chart. That is the only change from last week’s two-deep.

– Game notes factoid of the week: The Citadel has rushed for at least 400 yards in five games this season, tying the school’s single-season record. Those five games: North Greenville (559 yards, the most by an FCS school in a game so far in 2016), Western Carolina (513), Samford (463), East Tennessee State (427), and Gardner-Webb (419).

– With its victory over Samford on Saturday, The Citadel won its fifth consecutive Homecoming game. The Bulldogs won their fifth straight Parents’ Day game earlier in the season when they defeated Chattanooga.

The ten consecutive “celebration” victories are a modern-day school record. The Citadel had never won eight straight such games prior to the current run.

– The original cost of the Silver Shako (which was created in 1976) was $532.72.

– More than 40 players (and a few coaches) from VMI’s 1981 team will be honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. That Keydets squad beat Army and Virginia Tech, finishing with a 6-3-1 record. VMI has not had a winning season since that year.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson was asked about resting starters, trying to avoid injuries, etc., given that The Citadel has clinched a playoff spot. Thompson’s response:

It’s a loser’s mentality, there’s no doubt about that. You don’t go out there worrying about which guys are going to get hurt and who’s going to do this, and who’s going to do that. We’re going to go out there and play the game, and play the game to win. There’s a game on our schedule, it’s assigned to us, and we’re going to…go out there and give it our best. It doesn’t really matter who it is, whether it’s this week or next week…we’re going to try to play it, and try to play it to win it. If there are injuries…that’s part of the game and we can’t concern ourselves with that.

Thompson also noted that the offense did not play well against VMI last season, and wants to see improvement this year.

The coach also mentioned the importance of getting a bye for the FCS playoffs. If the Bulldogs want to seriously contend for the national title, they almost certainly need to be a seeded team, and receive the bye that goes with that designation.

A loss to VMI would almost certainly end The Citadel’s chance at a bye. Conversely, the game against North Carolina in two weeks will probably not be a factor in The Citadel’s postseason placement, unless the Bulldogs perform well in that contest.

The Citadel has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1936. In all that time, the football team has never finished undefeated in league play.

Along with the outright SoCon title, and a tenth straight victory, the opportunity to finish undefeated in the conference would be reason enough for the Bulldogs to want this game very badly. They don’t really need another reason, however.

This is the Military Classic of the South.

It will be a fierce contest. VMI will come ready to play on Saturday. The Citadel must respond in kind, and with even greater ferocity.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake, the greatest trophy in all of sports.

The Bulldogs have to do whatever it takes to keep it, and bring it back to Charleston, where it belongs.

The FCS playoffs — a primer

The purpose of this post is to explain some of the ins and outs of the FCS playoffs, particularly for people who may not be familiar with the basics of postseason play. I’m also going to delve into a few other aspects of the playoffs (including the way the teams are selected, seeded, and bracketed), some of which I believe are problematic.

The tournament has expanded over the years, from a four-team setup in 1978 to today’s 24-team field. The current format has been in place since 2013.

Of the 24 teams that make the field, 10 will be conference champions that automatically qualify for the tournament. As of November 7, two teams have already qualified for the 2016 tourney — Lehigh (from the Patriot League) and The Citadel (from the Southern Conference).

While there are 10 automatic qualifiers, there are actually 13 FCS conferences. Three of those leagues do not have auto-bids to the FCS playoffs.

The Ivy League does not participate in the playoffs, so none of its schools will send a team to the tournament.

The other two conferences without automatic bids are the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Those two leagues send their respective champions to the “Celebration Bowl”, a separate post-season event.

However, SWAC and MEAC schools are eligible to receive at-large bids. In other words, if a team that does not win one of those leagues is deemed by the selection committee to be one of the 14 best at-large candidates, it may compete in the FCS playoffs. While that scenario would normally be unlikely, this season might provide just such a situation, thanks to two teams in the MEAC that are each having fine seasons.

North Carolina A&T is currently ranked 9th in the FCS Coaches’ Poll, with a record of 8-1 that includes a victory over an FBS opponent (Kent State). The Aggies’ only loss so far this season was to Tulsa.

Meanwhile, North Carolina Central is 7-2, with both losses to FBS schools. The two schools will play in two weeks for the MEAC title. I don’t believe North Carolina Central would receive an at-large bid at 8-3, but if North Carolina A&T were to lose to the Eagles, a 9-2 Aggies squad could be a viable at-large candidate.

The leagues that send automatic qualifiers to the playoffs:

  • Big Sky Conference
  • Big South Conference
  • Colonial Athletic Association (CAA)
  • Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC)
  • Northeast Conference (NEC)
  • Ohio Valley Conference (OVC)
  • Patriot League
  • Pioneer Football League
  • Southern Conference (SoCon)
  • Southland Conference

Here is this year’s tournament schedule:

  • Bracket announcement: Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 11:00 am (televised on ESPNU)
  • First round: Saturday, November 26, 2016 — eight games at campus sites (this is the Saturday after Thanksgiving)
  • Second round: Saturday, December 3, 2016 — eight games at campus sites (seeded teams will host in this round after getting a bye in the first round)
  • Quarterfinals: Friday, December 9, 2016 or Saturday, December 10, 2016 — four games at campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
  • Semifinals: Friday, December 16, 2016 or Saturday, December 17, 2016 — two games at campus sites (higher-seeded team hosts)
  • National Championship: Saturday, January 7, 2017 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas (kickoff at noon EST)

The FCS selection committee selects the 14 best at-large teams to join the 10 automatic qualifiers, and then ranks the top 8 teams.

The teams ranked in the top 8 are seeded, and also receive first-round byes. The remaining 16 teams are then bracketed and play first-round games.

It is important to understand that, unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, not every team is seeded. In fact, two-thirds of the field is not seeded. That is done on purpose, in order to allow the committee to make pairings “according to geographical proximity“.

Historically, that has resulted in the committee putting together what might be called a bracket of convenience, routinely pairing teams in first- and second-round matchups that have already played each other during the regular season, and/or in recent tourneys. This has been a source of frustration for many fans over the years, because the event is supposed to be a national tournament; after all, it is referred to by the NCAA as the Division I “National Championship”. However, it is rarely treated like one by the powers that be.

A good example of the “regionalization” of the FCS playoffs came last year. For the 2015 tournament, the selection committee set up multiple potential second-round regular-season rematches. When the dust had cleared from the first-round games, five of the eight second-round matchups wound up being regular-season rematches (two of those were matchups between teams in the same league).

Most inexcusably, the committee set up a first-round regular-season rematch between Colgate and New Hampshire.

Five teams from the MVFC made the field last season (four at-large picks and the automatic qualifier, North Dakota State). All five were slotted on one side of the bracket. That did not sit well with the MVFC league commissioner:

Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito said she believes the Football Championship Subdivision playoff committee made “a conscious decision” to put five Valley teams in the same bracket…

Viverito said: “It seems to me the committee has enough latitude in how they break the quadrants up that they’d be able to put teams on opposite sides of the bracket fairly easily. I wasn’t in the room. I don’t know what challenges the committee faced when they came up with this. I can’t imagine it was just a horrible oversight and they didn’t realize they’d done it until the bracket was announced. I think it was a conscious decision. I just don’t know what went into the decision-making process.”

…Viverito called the committee’s pairings “the good, the bad and the ugly.” She said her league getting five teams in the playoff field “good.” She said the formulating of the bracket and the regionalization of it “bad.” And she [called] placing five Valley teams in the same bracket “ugly.”

The complaints from the MVFC led to a change for this year:

…the NCAA approved two FCS bracketing policies that should help spread out teams from the same conferences and also avoid rematches in the early rounds. The playoff committee will now be allowed to add a flight in the first or second rounds to avoid placing four or more teams from one conference in the same side of the bracket. The committee also has the license to avoid matchups in the first round for teams that played during the regular season in a non-conference game, providing that change doesn’t result in an additional charter flight.

That won’t change a lot, but it’s better than nothing. It primarily benefits larger leagues that regularly have three or more teams make the tournament (like the MVFC, CAA, and Big Sky).

For the SoCon and Big South, however, there is no mechanism to prevent the committee from doing what it seems to like doing most — namely, pairing two teams from each conference in a first-round matchup, with the winner playing a seeded team from one of the two leagues.

This year, the FCS selection committee decided to do something that I’m guessing a few of the committee members will wind up regretting.

The NCAA Division I Football Championship Committee will reveal the top-10 teams in rank order three times during the month of November.

The committee will be releasing the top-10 teams for the first time in history. The rankings will be announced as part of College Football Daily on ESPNU Nov. 3 and 10 at 4 p.m. (ET).

The final release will take place Nov. 15 at 10 p.m. (ET) on the ESPNU Championship Drive: Power Hour.

This move was officially made for reasons of transparency. However, if part of the idea for releasing a preliminary list was also to help promote the FCS playoffs, the first reveal (November 3) on “College Football Daily” was not a success.

Show anchor Brendan Fitzgerald and analyst Jason Sehorn knew next to nothing about the FCS (including how many teams actually make the playoffs). The entire segment lasted less than two minutes; the producer did not even bother to use recent video clips for a highlights package that accompanied the release of the rankings.

Clearly, the committee is taking a page from the College Football Playoff (CFP) and its weekly rankings. When it comes to the CFP, though, the weekly rankings release may not be the best thing to emulate.

Ten people make up the FCS selection committee. All are directors of athletics, representing schools from each of the ten leagues with automatic bids:

  • Brian Hutchinson, Morehead State — Pioneer League [chairman]
  • Chuck Burch, Gardner-Webb — Big South
  • Richard Johnson, Wofford — SoCon
  • Kyle Moats, Missouri State — MVFC
  • Nathan Pine, Holy Cross — Patriot League
  • Marty Scarano, New Hampshire — CAA
  • Paul Schlickmann, Central Connecticut State — NEC
  • Greg Seitz, Jacksonville State — OVC
  • Brad Teague, Central Arkansas — Southland
  • Jeff Tingey, Idaho State — Big Sky

One of the things I noticed about the committee is the dual-league nature of its chairman, Brian Hutchinson. Morehead State competes in football in the Pioneer League, which is the league he represents on this committee. However, in other sports Morehead State is a member of the OVC.

To me, that leads to a potential “optics” issue, namely the possible impression (almost certainly unfair, but still) that the OVC has two representatives on the committee — Hutchinson and Greg Seitz, the director of athletics at Jacksonville State.

When the first set of preliminary playoff rankings were released last week, the top-ranked team was, somewhat controversially…Jacksonville State.

Week 1 rankings:

Rank School
1 Jacksonville State
2 Sam Houston State
3 Eastern Washington
4 North Dakota State
5 James Madison
6 The Citadel
7 Richmond
8 Chattanooga
9 Charleston Southern
10 Central Arkansas

This will look a little different in Week 2. Charleston Southern will fall out of the top 10 after losing at home to Gardner-Webb, and so could Richmond (which lost at home to James Madison). However, how much change in the rankings is really possible? Is the committee already hamstringing itself on that front?

Brian Hutchinson gave two radio interviews after the rankings were released last week, both to stations in North Dakota. He should get some credit for agreeing to the interviews, because he is in the difficult position of having to speak for a committee. He may not even agree with all of the committee’s decisions, but he has to defend them anyway.

A few thoughts on his comments:

  • I got the distinct impression that the committee members weren’t prepared for a public rankings release
  • It’s conceivable that the rankings will wind up being close to valueless when it comes to the actual selection and seeding
  • Somewhat surprisingly, there is no established order of criteria when evaluating teams

Hutchinson was asked about the difference in seeding between two currently undefeated teams, Sam Houston State and The Citadel. One of the interviewers compared the two squads and noted that The Citadel had a better strength of schedule, including a win over another top-10 team (Chattanooga).

When asked about the “value of Sam Houston State to the committee”, Hutchinson said:

The value of Sam Houston State is that they are an 8-0 team right now [that] is averaging close to 60 points per game and close to 600 yards of [total] offense. That’s the value that people see.

I really hope that members of the selection committee aren’t using total offense as a criterion (particularly as a stand-alone benchmark) when comparing teams.

However, Hutchinson also added this:

The question about The Citadel as it relates [to Sam Houston State] is absolutely fair, though. They have a really good win over a conference opponent in Chattanooga. They’ve been undefeated. They have not yet played an FBS game, though I believe they have one the last week of the season.

So for all intents and purposes, the criteria the committee will get to evaluate them on will be done prior to the [game versus North Carolina]. Now should they win that game, obviously that would be a big feather in their cap. Should they lose it, I think most people if you look at it on paper would say they were supposed to [lose the game] — and so, that’s just how you evaluate those kinds of things.

The selection committee chairman was also asked if “there had been a lot of reaction around the country [to the preliminary rankings], or has it been isolated pockets like Cheney [Washington] or Fargo [North Dakota]?”

“It has been very isolated,” replied Hutchinson.

Those “isolated pockets” referenced in the interviewer’s query are the cities in which Eastern Washington and North Dakota State are located, of course. Fans of those schools are (justifiably, in my opinion) miffed that they were ranked 3-4 in the initial rankings, rather than 1-2. The committee seemed to ignore schedule strength and quality victories when ranking the teams.

The issue in question relates to potential seeding. The difference in being a 1 or 2 seed versus a 3 or 4 seed, for example, is this: if a seeded team keeps winning, it will host every game until it plays a higher-seeded team. Therefore, if a team is a 1 or 2 seed, it will host every game until the national title game (assuming that it continues to win). A 3 or 4 seed, however, might have to go on the road in the semifinals.

Obviously, that can be significant.

Each seeding “break” matters when it comes to hosting. For teams like James Madison and The Citadel, receiving a 1 or 2 seed may not be possible — but a 3 or 4 seed might be a realistic placement. The difference between being a 4 seed or a 5 seed could be the difference between playing a home game in the quarterfinals or going on the road. That matters.

There are two weeks left in the FCS regular season. A lot of things can (and will) change over the next two weeks.

One thing that won’t change, though, is the level of interest in the FCS playoffs from those who support teams still in the running for a spot in the field. That interest is intense, and will remain so until the bracket is revealed on November 20; it will then continue for fans of the 24 schools in the tournament.

It’s not often that people dream about making a trip to Frisco, Texas, but here we are…

2011 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Jacksonville

The Citadel vs. Jacksonville, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 3.  The game will not be televised, although it will be webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

It’s that time of year! College football has arrived and not a moment too soon.  I’m tired of reading about the Summer of Ponzi and all the other scandals that have beset the sport in the off-season, and while I enjoy discussing realignment as much as anybody, the Texas A&M two-step with the SEC is starting to get old.  I’m ready to see some activity on the playing field.

This is an important season for The Citadel’s football program.  I wrote about the program’s status last November; nothing has happened since then to make me think that the 2011 campaign will be anything other than a defining one for Kevin Higgins and his coaching staff.  I’m far from the only person who thinks that success of some sort this season is paramount.   The intensity in the crowd at the recent open scrimmage was palpable.

One thing is certain:  if there ever were a year for the football team to “sneak up” on people, this is the one.  Southern Conference media members picked The Citadel to finish last.  Only one player (Tolu Akindele) made either the preseason all-conference first or second teams.  The SoCon coaches’ vote had The Citadel in next-to-last place, ahead of only Western Carolina; that’s the same verdict rendered by The Sports Network.

Last season, the Bulldogs played three non-conference games before beginning league play.  This year, though, The Citadel will play six of its first seven games against SoCon opposition.  The Bulldogs will have a good idea of where they stand before the fall harvest.

The only non-league game in that group of seven contests is the first one, and it is far from the “gimme game” that the home opener has been in recent years.  Instead of scheduling a glorified scrimmage against the likes of Webber International or Chowan, The Citadel is playing Jacksonville, which went 10-1 last season and shared the Pioneer League title (with Dayton).  The Dolphins, favored to win the PL again, will be a formidable challenge.

Jacksonville University is not to be confused with Jacksonville State University, which is located in Alabama and has a football team coached by Jack Crowe, the man who was on the wrong side of one of The Citadel’s more notable gridiron triumphs. Jacksonville University is located in Jacksonville, Florida, and its football team is coached by Kerwin Bell.  (More on him later.)

Jacksonville began in 1934 as a junior college named “William J. Porter University” after its founder; in 1958 it became a four-year school after merging with the Jacksonville School of Music.  As of today it’s a private, liberal-arts university with roughly 3,500 undergraduate students (60% of whom are women).

JU’s “Timeline” feature on its website includes a lot of concerts in the 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps an indication of the importance of the music school in relation to the rest of the university at that time.  Performers who made their way to Swisher Gym included Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Duke Ellington, John Denver, and Billy Joel; K.C. and the Sunshine Band recorded a live album there.

Jacksonville awarded honorary doctorates to Bob Hope and Jack Benny on the same day in 1972.  Another same-day honorary doctorate duo for JU:  Charlton Heston and Ann Landers (who received hers less than a year after writing that Jacksonville U. was one of “the four top colleges in the nation”).

It’s also worth noting that Jacksonville University has the second-largest NROTC program in the country.

Jacksonville has twenty-one varsity sports.  Its nickname, the Dolphins, came to be in 1947 following a student contest (the original contest winner was “Green Dolphins”; another possibility had been the “Juggernauts”).  The official school mascot is an actual dolphin — 58-year-old Nellie, a Marineland mainstay.

The most famous of all JU athletes is, without a doubt, basketball Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.  Second place on the school’s famous athlete list is probably occupied by Donnie Hammond.  (Like I said, there is no doubt about #1.)

Gilmore played two seasons at Jacksonville (he started his career at Gardner-Webb, then a junior college) and averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game, which I think can be best described as “awesome”.  In his junior season, he led the Dolphins to the NCAA title game.

Yes, you read that right.  Jacksonville played in the Final Four in 1970, just twelve years after becoming a four-year school.  We’re not talking Division II, either.  The high-scoring Dolphins beat Western Kentucky, Iowa, and No. 1 Kentucky to win the Mideast Regional.  Jacksonville averaged over 106 points per game in those three contests.

– Tangent #1:  What a weird Final Four that was.  There was nothing strange about UCLA being there (and the Bruins would beat Jacksonville in the final, 80-69), but the other three teams were Jacksonville, St. Bonaventure, and New Mexico State.  The Dolphins and the Bonnies were at the time the two smallest schools to ever make it that far, and they played each other in the semifinals.  Alas, it was a mismatch, as St. Bonaventure star Bob Lanier had injured his knee in the regional final and could not play in the Final Four.  Thus, the spectators at Cole Field House were denied the opportunity to watch two future Hall of Fame centers face each other.

After that season, Dolphins coach Joe Williams left JU and took the job at Furman.

– Tangent #2:  Artis Gilmore and his wife have been married for 39 years.  Her name is Enola Gay.  I thought that was worth mentioning.

Okay, it’s time to talk about JU football…

Jacksonville started its football program in 1998, winning its first-ever game 19-14 over Davidson.  The school’s media guide also lists Davidson as being the first ranked team (at No. 3!) the Dolphins ever played, in a 2001 contest won 45-3 by JU, but I have to seriously question that.  What poll would this have been?  Maybe it was a poll only including Southern Conference schools that don’t play scholarship football.

JU plays its home games at Milne Field, a 5,000-seat facility built specifically for the football program, which averaged 3,761 fans per game last season.  The Dolphins have won nine straight home games, but the real eye-popping numbers are from their road games — not necessarily the results on the field, but the travel involved. Jacksonville has six road games this year.  JU will bus to The Citadel for Saturday’s game.  Later in the year the Dolphins will also take the bus to Campbell, assuming the bus driver can find his way to Buies Creek.

However, the Dolphins will make four road trips by air, flying to the University of San Diego, Drake (which is in Iowa), Marist (New York), and Western Illinois (travelling to WIU on the day of the game).  That is a total of 5,575 miles in the air.

Having multiple long airplane flights is a consequence of playing in the Pioneer League, a non-scholarship FCS conference with ten members.  Jacksonville is the southernmost school in the league, which has three members in the southeast (JU, Davidson, Campbell), five in or around the midwest (Drake, Valparaiso, Dayton, Butler, Morehead State), one west coast entry (USD) and one northeastern school (Marist).

One reason for having such a far-flung league is that all of those schools choose to play football at the non-scholarship level while maintaining a NCAA Division I athletics program.  Since 1993, institutions have had to play football at the same level as their other sports, which affected schools like Dayton (a D-3 power in football during the 1980s) in particular.  There aren’t a lot of D-1 schools that offer non-scholarship football but provide schollies in other sports (which distinguishes these institutions from those in the Ivy League, for example).

Jacksonville is not likely to become a scholarship football program in the near future. That possibility was suggested to the president of the university, who responded:

[It] costs too much for us to do it right now. For us to move into scholarship football because of the rules for gender equity, we would not only have to be able to fund the scholarship program year in and year out, we would also have to fund a similar amount for women’s athletics.

And we simply can’t afford it right now. If we had some major donors that came forward and helped us, then something like that could be possible. It’s simply economics. We need a stadium, our stadium is quaint. We would need a stadium where the fan base would generate revenue.

The revenue we get right now is diminutive. With a stadium, you could start getting money back into the program. There are some positives to it, but it’s simply too expensive right now.

In 2013, two new football programs will join the Pioneer League — Stetson and Mercer.  That should help alleviate Jacksonville’s travel burden to a certain extent.

Kerwin Bell played his high school ball in the small town of Mayo, Florida, where he was known as “The Throwin’ Mayoan”.  Arriving at the University of Florida as a walk-on, in one year he managed to climb the ladder from eighth-string to starter.  In 1984, Bell and the Gators would win the SEC title, winning eight straight games to close out the season.  The SEC title was short-lived, however, as the conference rescinded it the following year due to UF being on probation.  In 1985 Florida would go 9-1-1 for a second straight season, and again was not awarded the league crown (and again could not go to a bowl game) because of NCAA violations.

Two years later Bell began his pro career, which featured multiple stops in the CFL (including a stint in the Canadian outpost of Sacramento), a tour of duty with the Orlando Thunder of the Arena Football League, and a two-year stay with the Indianapolis Colts.  Bell got into one game with the Colts, mopping up in a 1996 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.  In that game, he threw five passes, completing all five for 75 yards and a touchdown (to Marvin Harrison).  Bell finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.  Contained within his Wikipedia entry is this astute observation:

[Kerwin Bell] has the highest career passer rating of any quarterback in NFL history, higher than current and future Hall of Fame members Joe Namath, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

Bell’s coaching career actually started in 1990.  While recovering from an ACL injury he worked for one year as a graduate assistant coach for Steve Spurrier, who had taken over the Florida program.  His next coaching job came with the Toronto Argonauts in 2000, where he served as offensive coordinator (while still playing quarterback).

He then spent six years as head coach of a new football program at Trinity High School in Ocala, Florida.   He has been the head coach at JU for the last four seasons (with the upcoming campaign being his fifth).  Bell is 29-17 overall at Jacksonville, with records of 3-8, 9-4, 7-4, and 10-1. In two of the last three campaigns JU has won outright or shared the Pioneer League title, with the 2008 season documented by a “JUDolphins.com best seller”.

It seems reasonable to speculate about whether Bell is striving to follow a career path similar to that of Jim Harbaugh, who started his head coaching career at a Pioneer League school (San Diego) before moving up to Stanford, and who now is in charge of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.  Bell said last season that he is not “the kind of guy who needs to be on TV“, but if he continues his successful run at JU, he is likely going to get an opportunity to take a higher-profile job.

Bell’s staff at Jacksonville includes three assistant coaches who played in the NFL. Ernie Logan spent nine seasons in the league as a defensive lineman.  Not surprisingly, he is the Dolphins’ DL coach.

Ernie Mills was a wide receiver who also spent nine years in the NFL, mostly with Pittsburgh.  He caught eight TD passes in 1995, a year in which the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl.

Jerry Crafts (aka “The Condo”) appeared in two Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills, one of five NFL teams for which he played, along with three CFL teams, four AFL outfits, two WLAF franchises, and (inevitably) one XFL team (the Los Angeles Xtreme).  He also made an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio program.

Like Bell, Mills also played his college ball at Florida, with their careers in Gainesville overlapping slightly, along with that of Dolphins defensive coordinator Jerry Odom, the only coach the JU athletics website lists as being on Twitter.  He doesn’t appear to take full advantage of the service.

Staff meetings at JU must get confusing at times, what with two coaches named “Ernie”, two named “Jerry”, another named “Kerry” (running backs coach Kerry Webb), and a head coach called “Kerwin”.

The Dolphins have 100 players listed on their active roster.  All but six of them are from Florida.  A couple of notable names on the list who may or may not see action against The Citadel are freshman quarterback Kade Bell, son of the head coach, and freshman WR/TE Andrew Robustelli.  If Robustelli’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because his grandfather was a Hall of Fame defensive end for the New York Giants in the 1950s.

Jacksonville runs a pro-style offense, and while the Dolphins like to pass, the offense is reasonably balanced.  Last season JU rushed 387 times while throwing 348 passes.  I would still describe it as a “pass-first” setup, mainly because I’m guessing a lot of the rushing attempts came at the end of blowouts.

Ah yes, blowouts.  The Dolphins had a lot of those in 2010, with an 86-7 demolition of poor Valparaiso being the biggest (check out that 38-point second quarter).  JU also pummeled Webber International (41-0), Marist (56-14), Davidson (42-15), and Morehead State (61-17).

As you can see, JU likes to put up crooked numbers.  The Dolphins lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 42.2 points per game, just one of several gaudy team offensive statistics.  Jacksonville averaged 486 yards of total offense per game (7.3 yards per play).  JU also averaged an outstanding 9.3 yards per pass attempt, with 35 of its 217 completed throws going for touchdowns (against only seven interceptions).

Leading that offense this year, as he has for the previous three, is 6’2″, 210-lb. senior quarterback Josh McGregor, who has more career passing yards than any returning QB in the nation (8,186).  He has thrown 87 touchdown passes in his 35-game run as the JU signal-caller.  McGregor threw for 300 yards or more seven times last season and is on the Payton Watch List.  A highlight package featuring some of McGregor’s 2010 exploits has been uploaded to YouTube.

His top target is senior wideout Josh Philpart, who has 29 career touchdown receptions.  Philpart averaged 16.7 yards per catch last year.  Another receiver, Larry Thompson, was only a half-step behind Philpart in most statistical categories, other than TDs.  Jacksonville likes to spread things around, as six different players caught at least 18 passes last season (including two running backs).

Incidentally, Philpart did not have a reception in the game last season against Appalachian State.  I’m guessing that the Dolphins will try to get him involved in the game early against The Citadel in order to avoid having him become a non-factor.

Jacksonville’s all-time rushing leader, Rudell Small, has graduated, but the Dolphins have a more than adequate replacement in J.J. Laster, who rushed for 830 yards last season in backup duty (8.5 yards per carry).  Laster rushed for 177 yards in the game against Marist.

JU lost both its starting left tackle and left guard off the offensive line.  Last year’s right tackle, Chad Cypher, is moving to left tackle to protect McGregor’s “blind side”; at 6’6″, 310 lbs., Cypher at least looks the part.  He has drawn some pre-season accolades.

Kevin Higgins briefly discussed Jacksonville’s offense with Jeff Hartsell after a weeknight practice:

They have a multiple offense, a little bit like we were the first couple of years. They will spread you out, the QB is a really smart player who can check at the line of scrimmage. They try to create space on the field, and the QB is experienced and one of the tops in I-AA. And the line is very experienced as well.

As for the Dolphins’ defense, Higgins stated he had no idea how Jacksonville would line up against The Citadel, as JU didn’t face an option team last season (the Dolphins normally feature a 4-3 scheme).

Jacksonville’s defensive line is relatively experienced.  It is also small.  Nose tackle Mike Mayoral weighs 210 pounds.  Defensive end Rolando Fines is a little bigger (245 lbs.) and is expected to lead the group.

As far as JU’s linebacking corps is concerned, Kerwin Bell is quoted in JU’s media guide as saying that “we’re sort of iffy there.”  Layne McCombs is a senior who would be Jacksonville’s top defensive player, except he has a knee problem (torn ACL from last season).  Whether he plays or not is apparently open to question.  The Dolphins are probably going to play some of their younger players in this unit and hope for the best.

Jacksonville is in better shape in the defensive secondary, with three starters returning and a decent amount of depth.  One concern for JU is that none of its DBs are particularly tall.

Jacksonville had an excellent punt return squad last season, averaging a sizzling 11.1 yards per return in 2010, but its top return man graduated.  Its kick return numbers were mediocre at best.  JU did a fairly good job holding down its opponents’ return yardage.

The Dolphins will have a new punter and a new placekicker this season, which could be problematic in a season opener.

The Citadel’s total offense numbers in the eight Southern Conference games in 2010 were as follows:  359, 304, 263, 197, 160, 143, 300, 203.  Those are listed in order of the games as they were played — in other words, the 359 total yards of offense came in the Bulldogs’ first league game (against Furman).  The offense continued to put up fewer yards of offense each week until “breaking through” with 300 yards against a less-than-stellar Elon defense, and then regressed back to 203 yards against a solid Samford D in the season’s final game (which The Citadel managed to win anyway).

On the bright side, the offense only committed one turnover in the final two games (combined), which was obviously a vast improvement from, say, the Georgia Southern debacle (nine turnovers).  The Citadel turned the ball over 32 times in all, which included 23 lost fumbles.  The Bulldogs actually had 44 total fumbles in eleven games, and also had an inordinate number of ball-possession miscues that did not quite result in fumbles but had the effect of ending a play before it really got started.

The lack of yardage can be directly tied to The Citadel’s ball-control woes.  Those issues must be fixed if the Bulldogs are to have a respectable 2011 campaign.  The offense’s ineptitude also had a negative impact on the defense, which had to defend a short field too many times.  Kevin Higgins admitted as much during his radio interview with Phil Kornblut on August 25 (Kornblut also talked to Tolu Akindele and Terrell Dallas).  The head coach didn’t mince words:

We really played, I think, much better defense than people give us credit for, and the reason is because our offense was so bad, the defense was on the field so much, that there was a lot of pressure on them…it was the first year with the option, the ball was on the ground…I remember going home at this time last year and going, ooh.

Fans going home after watching the Bulldogs offense struggle didn’t all say “ooh”…more like “ugh” (or perhaps something unprintable).

There is optimism among those following the team that the second year in the offense will result in significant improvement.  I sure wouldn’t mind winning four more games this season than last, like the Bulldogs did in 1987-88 running Charlie Taaffe‘s wishbone (going from 4-7 to 8-4).

There are also whispers about a special “edge” the Bulldogs now possess.  This edge is reportedly known in certain circles as The Candeto Factor.  It’s all hush-hush.

Sophomore Ben Dupree will be the starter at quarterback (and a team captain as well, which I thought was interesting), after beginning last season as the starter, moving to second string, then third string, making a cameo appearance as a running back, and then returning to the starting lineup as the quarterback for the final two games of the season.  If making the right reads, Dupree, who has shown signs of being an elusive runner, could be a big-play threat.  He is a bit on the small side and needs to improve his passing.

Dupree will be backed up by Matt Thompson and freshman Aaron Miller, who looked good (at least to me) in the Bulldogs’ last open scrimmage.  There is depth at running back, with at least four different players hoping to make an impact, including the Lazarus of the backfield, Rickey Anderson.  Terrell Dallas is the fullback, and he’s a good one.  Against Jacksonville’s smallish defensive line, he may be called upon to do some power running.  His understudy is Darien Robinson, who isn’t afraid to move a pile either.

Mike Sellers, thrown into the line of fire as the starting center as a freshman, is bigger and better.  That should be the case for the offensive line in general (including the imposing Neal Strange), although injured guard Jameson Bryant will not play in the opener.  Keith Carter moves from defense to offense to add athleticism to the o-line.  (I keep wanting to call him Kenny Carter.  Getting old is tough.)

While most triple option offenses don’t throw the ball too often, this isn’t any ordinary triple option offense — it’s the Triple O’Higgins!  Higgins told Kornblut that the ideal number of passes in the TO’H is 10-12 per game.

Several of those pass attempts will undoubtedly be thrown in the general direction of Domonic Jones, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver last season.  At 6’5″, he could prove to be a tough matchup for the short Jacksonville defensive backs.  Actually, he should prove to be a tough matchup for almost any defensive secondary he faces.  One of The Citadel’s other receivers, Luke Caldwell, may be the best passer on the team, if the Samford game last season and the recent scrimmage are any indication.

As mentioned above, the Bulldog D was solid in 2010 for the most part.  I think the only time I was really disappointed in the unit’s play was against Elon.  The defense had trouble getting off the field in that game, and also fared poorly in the “red zone”. Stopping opponents from scoring when inside the 20 should be a point of emphasis this year, as that is an area in which the Bulldogs need to do better (allowing a 64% TD rate last season).

Against Jacksonville, which converted on third down 49% of the time in 2010, it will be even more important to prevent long drives and turn the ball back over to the offense. To do that, The Citadel needs to improve incrementally in defensive statistical categories such as average per pass attempt (7.6 last year) and average per rush (4.3).

The Bulldogs also need to grab more than their fair share of turnovers.  The Citadel finished last in the Southern Conference in interceptions in 2010.  The squad needs to grab a few more and also force more fumbles.

To paraphrase Akindele in his interview with Phil Kornblut, the Bulldogs D needs its playmakers to make more big plays.  Akindele himself is one of those playmakers, having led the team in tackles last season.

He’s joined by a solid group of linemen and linebackers, including Derek Douglas, Chris Billingslea, and Rod Harland, who judging from the recent scrimmage has been ready to lace ’em up again since last season ended.  He was bringing the heat, as the kids say.  (They do say that, right?)

The defense as a whole has a lot of depth (a priority for the coaches), particularly on the line, but also in the secondary, making it easier to absorb the loss of Cortez Allen, now of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Bulldogs seem to be in solid shape at cornerback, which is a good thing, as Jacksonville’s group of talented receivers will provide a stern test.

Cass Couey returns for the third straight year as the Bulldogs’ dependable punter. The Citadel in general was okay in most phases of the return game.  Keith Gamble, besides starting at cornerback, is a threat to go the distance as a kick returner (he had an 87-yarder against Elon last year).  He averaged 25 yards per return in 2010.

Ryan Sellers will be the starting placekicker for The Citadel this season.  The kickoff specialist shared PK duties last year, making five of nine, including a 47-yarder against Chattanooga, the season long for a Bulldog kicker by eight yards.  As you would expect of a kicker, he wears a kicker’s number — #99.

The matchup between the Bulldogs and the Dolphins will be a big one for both teams, even though it is only the first game of the season.  In the long run, it may actually mean more to Jacksonville than it does to The Citadel, though.

JU missed out on a bid to the FCS playoffs by a narrow margin last season.  While the Dolphins were 10-1, the schedule strength just wasn’t there to justify Jacksonville receiving a berth in the postseason.  Jacksonville only played two scholarship programs, one of which (Old Dominion) had only re-started its football program the year before.  The other, of course, was Appalachian State, which throttled the Dolphins (not that there was any shame in that).

In fact, Jacksonville has only defeated three scholarship programs in its history — Old Dominion last season, Coastal Carolina (in the Chanticleers’ first season of football in 2003), and Savannah State (in 2008).  In 2011, the Dolphins will have three opportunities to beat scholarship programs, as JU will open the season against The Citadel, Western Illinois, and Charleston Southern (with the CSU game played at Milne Field).

To make its case for an at-large bid (the Pioneer League is not an automatic qualifying conference), Jacksonville needs to win at least two (if not all three) of those games.  Beating up Valparaiso and Marist isn’t going to be enough.  Moreover, if JU cannot beat a team picked to finish last in the SoCon, its case for a bid may completely dissolve.

For The Citadel, getting off to a good start this season is critically important.  The Bulldogs badly need to gain confidence in their offensive system and establish some momentum prior to a run of six consecutive Southern Conference games.  It’s also a home game, and the team must show its supporters that there is reason to believe in the upcoming campaign.

Fans gave the team some leeway last season as the new offense was installed.  It was understood that there would be trying times on occasion in 2010, although some of those times were more trying than anyone would have liked.  Now there has been a year for the coaches and players to get comfortable with the system.  There won’t be any more metaphorical mulligans handed out.

The Citadel has only had one winning season since 1997.  The game against Jacksonville could go a long way in determining whether that trend will continue, or if the Bulldogs can begin to dream of success — for this season, and for future seasons as well.

I’m looking forward to late Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

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.