The Citadel begins its search for a new basketball coach

After five seasons, Chuck Driesell will no longer be the head coach of The Citadel. In his statement announcing the decision, director of athletics Jim Senter said:

We are most appreciative of the hard work and tireless effort that Chuck and his staff have put into Bulldog basketball over the past five years. His impact on the young men he recruited and coached is admirable, and their efforts represent our core values of Honor, Duty and Respect.

This was a difficult decision, but in the end our won-loss record was not where we believed it should be. We will begin our search immediately to find a coach who is the right fit and will support our mission of educating and developing principled leaders while directing The Citadel basketball program to a more competitive level.

Well, that’s honest. Simply put, Driesell didn’t win enough games.

Senter’s decision may have been difficult on a personal level, but as a practical matter it should have been easy. If he had kept a coach who in five years had only won 27% of his games (25% in SoCon play), in effect Senter would be telling the world (and the fan base) that basketball at The Citadel was of no consequence whatsoever.

Historically, The Citadel has struggled on the hardwood. Everyone knows this. That doesn’t mean the school shouldn’t try.

Senter did not meet with the media on Monday, instead choosing to stand behind a written statement. That drew some criticism from a few members of the fourth estate.

I can understand their frustration. After all, TV guys need their visuals; a press release doesn’t do a lot for them in that respect.

I do wonder, though, if Senter simply elected to give Chuck Driesell a final day in the sun. If Senter had spoken publicly at the same time as Driesell (or shortly thereafter), then the coach wouldn’t have received nearly as much “face time“.

Monday was about Chuck Driesell. Going forward, it will be about finding a new coach.

Speculation about the identity of that new coach began approximately 0.3 seconds after the news broke that Driesell wouldn’t be back at The Citadel. Jeff Hartsell gave a quick rundown, but also noted one difficulty when it comes to divining who the legitimate candidates might be:

…it’s difficult to tell from where The Citadel’s next coach may come. [Jim] Senter’s experience includes nine years at Colorado, two years as AD at Idaho State and a stint at San Diego State, so he has many connections out West. But his first coaching hire at The Citadel was in volleyball, and he stayed in-state to choose Craig Mosqueda from Division II Anderson University.

Senter could hire someone familiar with the local scene, or someone who now resides in Coeur d’Alene, or someone from somewhere in between.

Hartsell mentioned most of the names thrown around on Monday. They include:

– Pat Beilein, mentioned by ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. Beilein was formerly the head coach of West Virginia Wesleyan, a Division II school. He won 20 games in his final campaign there.

On the one hand, Pat Beilein is the son of Michigan head coach John Beilein, and if he’s half the coach John Beilein is, he would be a great choice. The elder Beilein is one of the nation’s outstanding coaches.

On the other hand, Pat Beilein isn’t a college head coach right now. He was a video coordinator with the Utah Jazz, a job he took after his second year at West Virginia Wesleyan, but he doesn’t seem to have that job anymore either.

I’m not sure what the younger Beilein is doing right now, to be honest. He was recently seen with his father, watching a recruit.

My guess is that Goodman tossed Pat Beilein’s name out into the media ecosystem as a favor.

– Duggar Baucom, the head coach of VMI. Baucom has a respectable record of 151-159 in Lexington, and that includes a win in the *other* Lexington — a 2008 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Even if Billy Gillispie was the Wildcats’ head coach at the time, that’s still a victory to put on the mantel.

Baucom employs a run-and-gun style at VMI. He is reportedly underpaid. However, would Baucom really want to leave VMI to rebuild a program at another military college? He might be more interested in another kind of challenge.

Also, VMI and The Citadel are not the same. Each school has certain specific advantages and disadvantages when it comes to general operations and recruiting. What has worked for Baucom at VMI may not necessarily work at The Citadel.

Baucom was interested in the job in 2010, when it last opened. Another coach who had interest was…

– Doug Novak, who was Ed Conroy’s right-hand man at The Citadel. More than a few people were disappointed that Novak wasn’t more seriously considered for the job; he got a lot of credit for the team’s success in Conroy’s last two seasons.

Novak has something else in common with Baucom, as neither man played college basketball. Novak was a tennis player at Tennessee before transitioning to basketball during a couple of junior college stops.

Currently, Novak is the head coach at Division III Bethel College (MN). Bethel was 19-9 this past season.

Incidentally, Jim Senter’s first coaching hire at The Citadel was volleyball coach Craig Mosqueda, who was previously the head volleyball coach for six seasons at Anderson. Before Novak became an assistant coach at The Citadel under Ed Conroy, he had been the head basketball coach for six seasons at…Anderson.

Other names bandied about in various places:

– A pair of former South Carolina players (B.J. McKie and Michael Boynton)

– Two more ex-Bulldog assistant coaches (Ken Potosnak and Marty McGillan)

– Newberry’s Dave Davis, a longtime D-2 and NAIA head coach

– Luke Murray, a Rhode Island assistant who is the son of part-time Charleston resident Bill Murray; presumably, he would be Gene Sapakoff’s choice, which would understandably hurt his candidacy

– Duffy Conroy, a longtime assistant at UW-Milwaukee, and the brother of Ed Conroy

It’s disappointing that the “coach killer” phrase has been thrown around with regards to this job. Among those who apparently feel that way is former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, who tweeted (regarding The Citadel, Army, William & Mary, St. Francis-NY, and Northwestern) that “a good assistants job that you are getting paid is better than a bad head coaching job that you will fired from in 4 years”.

Of course, The Citadel has never fired a coach after four years. In fact, from 1973 to 2006, The Citadel only had three head coaches.

Four of the eight coaches preceding Chuck Driesell actually left to coach other Division I schools. One of them, Norm Sloan, later won the national title. Driesell’s immediate predecessor, Ed Conroy, is enjoying life in New Orleans as the head coach at Tulane.

Indeed, all five schools in question have shown some patience with coaches. William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver has been at that school for eleven seasons; Northwestern employed Bill Carmody for thirteen years; St. Francis-NY has had three coaches since 1991. As for Army, it does not appear that the careers of Bob Knight or Mike Krzyzewski suffered from their respective stints at West Point.

Meanwhile, after an eight-year run that included an NCAA bid and five NIT appearances, Greenberg was fired by Virginia Tech. He will not be a candidate at The Citadel.

Jim Senter has probably known for a while that he was going to be bringing in a new basketball coach. That doesn’t mean the hire will happen right away. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wait lasted until around the time of the Final Four.

We’ll be waiting…

2014 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina

Football.

Football!

FOOTBALL!

FOOTBALL!

The Citadel vs. Coastal Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, August 30. The game will not be televised.

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Florence/Darlington: WJMX 1400AM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Orangeburg: WORG 100.3FM
Sumter: WDXY1240AM/105.9FM

From two weeks ago: my sort-of-preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel. There are numbers in it.

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

The Sports Network SoCon preview

– Game notes from The Citadel and Coastal Carolina

SoCon weekly release

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls

Big South weekly release

Big South preseason poll

FCS Coaches poll

– Phil Kornblut (SportsTalk) interviews Mike Houston, along with Aaron Miller and Justin Oxendine

Coastal Carolina institutional quick facts:

The school opened in 1954 as Coastal Carolina Junior College, an extension of the College of Charleston. Soon afterwards CofC got out of the extensions business, however, and Coastal briefly operated as an independent JC.

In the early 1960s, Coastal Carolina was converted into a regional campus of the University of South Carolina. Coastal began offering four-year degrees in 1974, and the school became autonomous in 1993.

Enrollment has more than doubled in the last two decades. As of fall 2013, there were 9,478 students at Coastal Carolina.

Coastal Carolina first fielded a football team in 2003, hiring David Bennett to start the program. Bennett had been a successful head coach at Catawba, and he guided the Chanticleers to a winning record (6-5) in that first season. The following year, CCU went 10-1 and won the Big South Conference (which at the time had five football members).

Bennett won nine games at Coastal Carolina in each of the next two seasons, but then alternated five- and six-win campaigns in the next four years.

In 2011, his ninth season at the helm, CCU finished 7-4. That year, Bennett also became an internet sensation after making anti-feline comments at a press conference.

It would be Bennett’s last season as head coach of the Chanticleers. He was fired December 9, 2011:

[Bennett] was coming off a recruiting trip that took up most of his week. It goes without saying that Bennett had absolutely no idea what was about to happen later in the day. Bennett was supposed to attend the Mr. Football awards ceremony, but never got there as he was summoned to a meeting with Dr. David DeCenzo and Hunter Yurachek where he was relieved of his head coaching duties…

…CCU President Dr. David DeCenzo focused on dollars and cents and poor attendance as reasons for a change.

“Of the 125 FCS schools, our spending on football operations is easily in the top 20. With that investment, we expect to annually place in the top 20 programs, with sights set on competing consistently for the FCS playoffs and national championships. That is simply not happening. In addition, when you look at our record over the past five years, we have beaten only 3 teams that had winning records. Our attendance at games has fallen sharply; we sell about 50 percent of our available tickets. It is imperative that we find a way to create excitement around our program, attract more fans to Brooks Stadium, and increase our revenues to offset our expenditures.”

…Names will get thrown around during Hunter Yurachek’s search for the next Coastal football coach. Sources [say] that one name that will be a target for the next CCU coach is Gamecocks assistant coach Steve Spurrier, Junior.

Well, I guess some sources are better than others. As a matter of fact, Coastal Carolina’s next head football coach had met with the school president (and was apparently offered the job) before Bennett was actually fired:

The university president, having generated his own ideas about what makes a successful coach, and having read media reports about a retired chief executive officer turned United Football League coach named Joe Moglia, and having heard that Moglia recently moved into his community — a prosperous subdivision of Pawleys Island known as Prince George — sent Moglia an e-mail.

“Hello from a Neighbor in Prince George,” the university president wrote in the subject line.

Two weeks later, the university president and the multimillionaire met for breakfast at a restaurant called the Eggs Up Grill. Afterward, the university president seemed convinced he had found his man. Three weeks later, the school held a press conference at which it announced the firing of David Bennett, who had gone 63-39 in nine seasons at Coastal Carolina University.

Not surprisingly, the coaching change (and the circumstances surrounding it) did not go over well in some quarters.

Joe Moglia’s story is now fairly well known (and has already resulted in at least one biography), but just a quick recap:

  • Grew up in New York, went to Fordham
  • After graduating from Fordham, spent eight years coaching high school football in Pennsylvania and Delaware
  • Was then a college coach for six years at Lafayette and Dartmouth (defensive coordinator when the Big Green won two Ivy League titles)
  • Left coaching for the financial world; worked at Merrill Lynch for 17 years, rising through the ranks (became head of municipal lending)
  • CEO at TD Ameritrade from 2001-2008
  • Unpaid assistant/”advisor” at Nebraska for two years, basically shadowing Bo Pelini
  • Head coach of the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks for one season
  • Named head coach of Coastal Carolina in December 2011; 20-8 record in two years (winning the Big South both seasons)
  • May or may not be a billionaire (sources vary), but at any rate he can afford to pick up the check

Moglia’s transition from coaching to finance to coaching again has fascinated a lot of people in the national sports media, and as a result he has been the subject of a number of profiles. USA Today‘s Dan Wolken seems particularly enamored with the coach’s background, but Moglia has also come to the attention of ESPN and Sports Illustrated (among many other outlets).

While part of Moglia’s job description is to sell people on the promise of Coastal Carolina, sometimes it appears that the relationship is the other way around — that Coastal Carolina is selling people on the promise of Moglia. It’s very much a two-way street.

Incidentally, Moglia is not just the head football coach at Coastal Carolina. His official title is Head Football Coach/Executive Director of Football. He is also the Chairman of the Coastal Carolina Athletic Division. I am not quite sure what being Chairman of the Coastal Carolina Athletic Division entails, but I assume it doesn’t affect his current status as Chairman of the Board for TD Ameritrade.

At the Big South’s Media Day, Moglia was asked by interviewer Mike Hogewood why Coastal Carolina has been so successful over the last two seasons. Moglia started his response by saying:

“I think it really begins with a philosophy. There are a lot of teams that have a lot of rules. We actually don’t have any rules in our program. We have a mission, to put a team on the field that Coastal is really proud of…”

Moglia went on to explain his “Be A Man” mantra. It’s not that he doesn’t have any rules; he has “a standard”. It’s really just semantics. Still, he might be better served not to begin answering a question by saying his program doesn’t have any rules.

Moglia did something interesting during Coastal Carolina’s spring practice this year:

[Moglia] outlawed tackling during practice.

“We want to have a culture of being physically and mentally tough,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “Trying to establish that while not being as physical is something I had to learn.”

For a football lifer like Patenaude, the plan undercut the very foundation of his coaching philosophy, but Moglia sees tradition as an inefficiency in the marketplace. Learning is like investing, he believes. Information compounds the same as interest, growing geometrically rather than linearly, but injuries derail the system. This spring, injuries were the enemy, so Coastal’s players endured just 65 minutes of tackling — 15 in the first scrimmage, 20 in the second and half of the spring game.

Now, Moglia is wrapping up the spring by distributing the results of this madness, typed, printed and passed among the room full of once dubious coaches. The team ran 400 more snaps this spring than last. Injuries in the spring game were cut in half. Practices missed due to injury declined by 250 percent.

I think this is a good idea. It reminds me a little bit of the approach taken by legendary Division III coach John Gagliardi.

Having said that, the author of the article tried a little too hard for a tie-in with Moglia’s business career. “Inefficiency in the marketplace”, “Learning is like investing”, “Information compounds the same as interest”, etc.

Also, I’m going to assume that Moglia, who holds a B.A. in Economics from Fordham and an M.S. in Education from Delaware, and who was the CEO of a major online brokerage for seven years, did not tell the writer that practices missed due to injury “declined by 250 percent”.

Per Coastal Carolina beat writer Ryan Young, the limited-contact philosophy has carried over to fall practice, with CCU having had “a couple of hard-hitting days, but most aren’t intense contact.” I greatly appreciate Young responding to my question on the subject.

Coastal Carolina played South Carolina last season and lost 70-10, with the Conway school paid $375,000 for the game. CCU doesn’t face an FBS opponent this season, and won’t face one in any other season if Joe Moglia has anything to say about it:

I don’t understand, someone has to do a better job of explaining to me the advantage of playing FBS opponents. No. 1, they don’t pay you enough. Now, the FCS hasn’t figured that out yet, but they don’t pay the FCS enough. They’re playing a guaranteed game and they have 80,000 people in their seats – they probably make $4 million that day, so they don’t pay you enough.

No. 2, what happens if early in the season you have a shot at having a pretty good season, and just because of the physical differences you end up losing two or three of your best guys [to injury against an FBS team]? You lose your season. That’s an incredible cost.

I would rather see schools go out and do a better job of raising the money, or commanding a far greater premium from the FBS schools. I don’t see what the advantage is. I don’t see any advantage…

…I might help raise the money – and I’m not going to be a fundraiser – but if there are people out there that I think might be able to help us, I’m willing to make those phone calls because I recognize I’m the one who says I’m not crazy about the [FBS games]. But I’m not funding the [money]. And that’s accurate.

CCU dropped scheduled games against Clemson, Kent State, and Georgia Southern. Not many schools would be willing to go along with such a request by a coach, but then not many schools have a coach with the ability to facilitate a $5 million gift from a major bank (a bank that may or may not be affiliated with the company for which said coach is Chairman of the Board).

Let me again quote Coastal Carolina president Dr. David DeCenzo, at the press conference announcing the firing of David Bennett:

Of the 125 FCS schools, our spending on football operations is easily in the top 20. With that investment, we expect to annually place in the top 20 programs, with sights set on competing consistently for the FCS playoffs and national championships.

Indeed, Coastal Carolina has spent a great deal of money on its football program in recent years. A look at the Knight Commission’s spending database is instructive.

From 2006 through 2012, CCU increased its football spending on a per-player basis by 190%, to $60,557. The national FCS median increase was 45% ($31,213). The Citadel’s spending per player over the same time frame increased 4%, to a number ($31,640) very close to the national median.

Coastal Carolina’s per-player spending without including scholarship expenses increased 244% over the 2006-12 time period, to $42,332. The national median in this category in 2012 was $17,499 (a 36% increase). The Citadel’s spending without including scholarship expenses from 2006-12 actually declined 3%, to $15,262.

With that kind of monetary commitment, it’s fair to ask what the future holds for Coastal Carolina’s football program, and for its department of athletics in general. In May of 2012, the school’s Board of Trustees gave DeCenzo the authority to “take all actions necessary” regarding a potential conference switch.

The Board of Trustees asked DeCenzo in February to look into whether a potential move to another conference would make sense for the university. He said exploratory talks were held with the Southern Conference and Colonial Athletic Association.

“Those two seem to be potentially good fits for us,” DeCenzo said.

The school president seemed confident CCU could find a new home with relative ease.

If Coastal Carolina ends up leaving the league, there must be a conference who wants them. And President Dr. David DeCenzo does not think that will be a problem—at least facility-wise. “With the opening of the recreation, convocation center and what we are doing with the baseball and softball facilities, I think that makes us very attractive.”

The motion by the Board of Trustees was passed more than two years ago, but Coastal Carolina remains in the Big South. Conference realignment issues certainly affected both the CAA and SoCon (a combined total of nine schools departed from those leagues over the last two years), but despite all that movement, CCU didn’t land in either conference.

The “exploratory talks” with the SoCon and CAA referenced in the first article were presumably held between February and May of 2012. Based on those talks, DeCenzo and the Board of Trustees were obviously secure in going public with the motion.

Here is what I find interesting about that. Shadesof48, a blog devoted to William & Mary athletics, filed a Freedom of Information request to W&M for any information pertaining to conference realignment, including anything related to the CAA or the SoCon. The blog received emails from June of 2012 to April of 2013, mostly having to do with the CAA.

When I was going through the information for my own blog post on the subject, one of the biggest surprises (at least to me) was that Coastal Carolina was not mentioned in any of the emails. There wasn’t even a reference to the school approaching the CAA during that time period.

Among the schools that appear in the correspondence: Hampton, Fairfield, Appalachian State, UNC-Greensboro, Boston University, Davidson, George Washington, Virginia Commonwealth, and Furman.

Elon, College of Charleston, Albany, and Stony Brook are all in the emails too — but not Coastal Carolina.

So sometime between February and May of 2012, Coastal Carolina held exploratory talks with the CAA. Beginning in June of that year and lasting at least through April 2013, though…nothing.

As for why Coastal Carolina wasn’t offered an invite to the SoCon last year, there are multiple reasons. Here are some of them:

1) Location, location, location

Some people think location is an advantage for CCU, but in terms of getting in the SoCon, it’s actually a problem.

The league already has three football-playing members in the state of South Carolina. While the conference is in essence a “bus league”, having four football schools in one small state would probably be one school too many.

CCU becoming a SoCon member wouldn’t provide any real benefit to Furman, Wofford, or The Citadel. It doesn’t do those schools any good to add another instate institution with significant differences in mission and resources.

One current advantage those three schools do have over Coastal Carolina: league affiliation. Why give that advantage up?

2) CCU’s long-term game plan

While it may not be fair, the reality is more than a few SoCon observers look at Coastal Carolina and think “Marshall II”, only with a billionaire football coach instead of George Chaump/Jim Donnan.

Coastal Carolina may not have hired Joe Moglia because it has the FBS in its sights. However, that is the perception in certain circles.

In the ESPN article I linked earlier in this post, Moglia was reported to have said that CCU had only achieved 75% of his vision. Not everyone is sure what the remaining 25% of his vision would be.

3) The SoCon membership dynamic

While the league has a few medium-sized public institutions and recently added another (East Tennessee State), those schools aren’t dramatically increasing in size. I think at this time the SoCon is content with a membership consisting of smaller private/public schools.

Hey, let’s talk about action on the field!

First, a comparison of the two teams in select statistical categories from 2013. The Citadel’s statistics are for conference games only (eight contests).

For Coastal Carolina, I debated what would work best in terms of illustrating team tendencies/strengths/weaknesses. I decided not to include the two games in which the Chanticleers were completely outclassed (South Carolina and North Dakota State). I also threw out CCU’s game against VMI, because quarterback Alex Ross did not play in that contest (not that it mattered much).

In other words, Coastal Carolina’s statistics below are for the 12 games started by Alex Ross in which the Chanticleers were competitive, which I think is a fair way to look at CCU’s 2013 season.

 

CCU The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 8.82 6.40
Offense yards/rush attempt 5.87 5.13
Offense yards per play 6.92 5.41
Offense points per game 43.75 24.25
Penalties per game 6.3 2.4
Penalty yardage/game 52.2 20.5
Offense 3rd down conversion % 55.7 38.2
Offense 4th down conversion % 100.0 59.1
Offense Red Zone TD% 80.0 50.0
Offense pass completion % 65.6 52.1
Defense yards/pass attempt 7.09 7.20
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.52 4.39
Defense yards allowed per play 5.64 5.47
Defense points allowed/game 26.0 23.25
Defense 3rd down conversion % 43.1 45.0
Defense 4th down conversion % 48.3 33.3
Defense Red Zone TD% 60.8 65.6
Time of possession 28:08 33:05

[CCU offensive coordinator Dave] Patenaude said he wanted his quarterbacks to complete 65 percent of their passes. “The tempo’s going to be dictated by you,” he said. “This is a quarterback-driven system.”

Patenaude would have been pleased with last year’s completion percentage, as the above table shows. Actually, a 60% completion rate appears to be good enough to make his system work.

Last season, Chanticleer quarterbacks completed over 60% of their passes in ten of Coastal Carolina’s fifteen games. CCU won all ten of those contests. In the five games where the completion percentage dipped below 60%, the Chanticleers were 2-3.

The tempo mentioned by Patenaude could be fast-moving at times. While Coastal Carolina averaged just a few more offensive plays per game last year than did The Citadel (70.3 for CCU, 65.2 for the Bulldogs), keep in mind that the Chanticleers’ time of possession was a lot less.

Coastal Carolina averaged 2.57 offensive plays per minute last season, significantly higher than The Citadel (2.03 per minute) or, for that matter, Mike Houston’s Lenoir-Rhyne squad (2.13).

In 2013, Alex Ross cemented his status as one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS division. For the season, Ross passed for over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns (against only nine interceptions), and added 540 yards and six TDs on the ground.

At Montana in the FCS playoffs, Ross was 16-21 for 202 yards through the air, and picked up an additional 123 rushing yards, as the Chanticleers beat the Grizzlies 42-35 in a “statement” win for the program.

His list of preseason accolades is long and Ross is considered a serious candidate for the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the top player in FCS. He isn’t a big QB (6’1″, 205 lbs.), but he has a habit of making big plays.

Ross will have to work with a largely different cast of skill-position players on CCU’s offense. The Chanticleers are replacing a host of wide receivers and All-American running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (who rushed for 1,729 yards last season).

The new starting running back for Coastal Carolina will be Summerville High School alum De’Angelo Henderson, who rushed for 599 yards last season in a backup role (averaging 7.3 yards per carry) and who may be “the most exciting player on the field this season“. In 2010, Henderson was a finalist for South Carolina’s Mr. Football award along with (among others) Jadeveon Clowney, Everett Golson, Justin Worley, Brandon Shell, and current teammate Quinn Backus.

While the wide receiving corps will feature four players with experience, Coastal Carolina lost its top three pass-catchers from 2013, a trio that combined for 145 receptions and 18 touchdowns. The returning wideouts expected to fill the depth chart caught a total of 62 passes last season, seven for TDs.

CCU has a lot of depth at tight end, with four players who could be part of the rotation this season, including Thomas Pauciello (three TD catches last year).

The offensive line must replace two quality linemen, including left guard Jamey Cheatwood, a four-year starter and two-time All-Big South performer. Last year’s right guard, Mo Ashley, will move over to take Cheatwood’s spot on the left side, which leaves two new starters at guard and tackle on the right side.

One of the players expected to compete for a starting role, Georgia Tech transfer Morgan Bailey, is injured and not expected to play against The Citadel. It could be argued that the right side of the OL is Coastal Carolina’s only real point of concern entering the season.

Coastal Carolina’s defense is looking to improve on last year’s campaign. The unit took its lumps at times, particularly against the run. While tough games against South Carolina and North Dakota State could be excused, allowing 323 rushing yards to Charleston Southern was a different matter.

In that game, CSU controlled possession for over 40 minutes, including the final six minutes of the contest, holding off a CCU rally after the Chanticleers spotted the Buccaneers a 25-point lead.

There were other difficult moments for the CCU defense, including allowing Liberty to run up over 600 yards of total offense and 52 points (albeit in a double-OT game that Coastal Carolina eventually won). However, it was the game against Charleston Southern that may be of the most interest to The Citadel’s coaching staff, at least in terms of approach.

This year, Coastal Carolina has made some adjustments, according to linebacker Quinn Backus:

Some of the difficult concepts that we had in the past, they’re kind of simplified now. Or the concepts that were more difficult in the past, we got rid of them and [the coaches] kind of put the plays to our strengths. Checks that used to be like three calls, it’s like one simple call now. And little things like that [so] we can [play] rapidly and be able to play faster.

Backus himself doesn’t really need to make any adjustments. The native of Greenwood is the reigning two-time Big South Defensive Player of the Year and a legitimate contender for the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the top defender in FCS. Backus enters the 2014 season as the division’s active leader in tackles (314).

Other standout players on the Chanticleers’ D include safety Richie Sampson (who is currently battling an injury), cornerback Denzel Rice, and defensive end Calvin Hollenhorst.

Hollenhorst will be joined on the defensive line by Leroy Cummings, a transfer from Savannah State who has been “one of the most talked about players in preseason camp“.

Cummings is one of several transfers expected to see action for the CCU defense. Other newcomers who should be on the CCU depth chart include fellow DT Jabarai Bothwell (a transfer from Western Michigan) and defensive back Kyle Fleetwood (who was at South Carolina last year). Of the nineteen players on the Chanticleers’ roster who began their careers at junior colleges or other four-year schools, eleven are defenders.

Just a formation note: CCU tends to play two linebackers and three safeties, although that could change against The Citadel’s triple option. Then again, it may not.

Alex Catron was 10-13 on field goal attempts last season for the Chanticleers. He was the all-Big South placekicker. Catron made three field goals of 46 yards or longer last year, all on the road (including a 50-yarder against Charleston Southern).

CCU also returns its punter from last season, Austin Cain. He averaged just over 38 yards per punt in 2013, with 16 of his 56 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Cain is a good athlete capable of overcoming a botched snap (which he did against Hampton, running for a 25-yard gain) and executing a fake (a 25-yard shovel pass for a first down versus Liberty).

Devin Brown, one of Coastal Carolina’s wide receivers, is also a dangerous kick returner. He had a 95-yard kickoff return TD against VMI last year.

The Chanticleers were 16th nationally in kick return defense in 2013, allowing an average of 17.3 yards per return. CCU also finished in the top 20 in average punt return yardage allowed.

Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier has produced an excellent series of articles on each of The Citadel’s position groups. I see no reason to regurgitate similar information for this post; rather, I would encourage anyone interested to read Hartsell’s breakdowns of the quarterbacksfullbacks, slotbacks, offensive line (both stories), receivers, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, and kicking game.

Earlier in the post I linked my preview of The Citadel’s upcoming season. It focuses more on tendencies than specific players, and also delves a little into ball-possession/pace-of-play issues. Related to that, Mike Houston mentioned “tempo” as a key in the P+C preview, and there is also an interesting discussion along those lines late in Phil Kornblut’s interview of the coach.

Odds and ends:

– Coastal Carolina’s teams are known as the Chanticleers. The school wants to make sure everyone knows how to pronounce “Chanticleer”, so much so that a pronunciation explanation for the nickname is listed on two of the first three pages of the CCU football media guide.

The proper pronunciation is SHON-ti-clear. You may also hear Coastal’s athletic teams referred to as Chants (SHONTS) to shorten the Chanticleer nickname.

– Next season, Coastal Carolina’s football facility (Brooks Stadium) will have an artificial turf field — and the turf will be colored teal. Yes, a teal turf.

“It only made sense to be the first school in the country with a teal field,” [interim AD Matt] Hogue said.

Okay, then.

– In the Grantland article I linked earlier that profiled Joe Moglia, writer Michael Weinreb made a reference (in a footnote) to “Coastal Jersey”. That’s because, while 54% of CCU’s enrollment consists of South Carolina residents, the state with the next-highest number of students at the school is New Jersey (7% of the total enrollment).

There are almost three times as many CCU students from New Jersey as there are from neighboring North Carolina. There are also more than twice as many students at the school from both New York and Maryland than North Carolina.

Based on the CCU media guide’s numerical roster, 68% of Coastal Carolina’s football players are from out of state. Almost one-quarter of the Chanticleers are from the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast corridor (Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts).

At The Citadel, 51% of the corps of cadets is from South Carolina (as of 2013), while 48% of the Bulldogs on the current football team are from the Palmetto State.

– Coastal Carolina’s interim director of athletics, Matt Hogue, was formerly the Chanticleers’ radio play-by-play announcer. This year, Joe Cashion (previously the sideline reporter) will call football games for CCU.

Cashion is a public affairs officer for the South Carolina Air and National Guard. He missed most of the 2010 football season while deployed in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Cashion wrote a preview of the upcoming CCU season for the Palmetto & Pine Sports Network.

– For a CCU preview from the perspective of a conference opponent, I recommend Liberty beat writer Chris Lang’s look at the Chanticleers: Link

– After last year’s “Unigate” situation, with The Citadel’s players forced to change jerseys after warmups for the Furman game, the last thing the military college needed was another uniform to be deemed illegal. Fortunately, that didn’t happen:

The Citadel’s plan to include the words “Honor, Duty, Respect” – the motto of the military school – on the back of football jerseys this season meets NCAA rules, school and Southern Conference officials said Wednesday…

…In the NCAA rulebook, Rule 1-4-5 says that other than the player’s number, the jersey may contain only the player’s name, school name, NCAA logo, sleeve stripes, the American and/or state flag and a logo for the school, conference, mascot, postseason game, memorial or the military.

The rule also states: “By interpretation, only military service academies may substitute words such as Honor, Integrity, etc., for the player’s name on the back of the jersey … civilian institutions may not substitute other words for the player’s name.”

For purposes of this rule, The Citadel is considered a military service academy, said Jack Childress, coordinator of officials for the Southern Conference.

The interpretation lacked a little clarity in its reference to “military service academies”. When that was added to the fact The Citadel is by nobody’s definition a “civilian institution”, the Bulldogs were (correctly, I believe) allowed to wear the uniforms.

– As of Sunday night, at least one establishment in Las Vegas lists Coastal Carolina as a nine-point favorite.

It’s hard to have a good sense of what might transpire on the gridiron when it’s the opening game of the season. My own (undoubtedly faulty) analysis:

– I think The Citadel’s front seven on defense has the athleticism and intelligence to hang with Coastal Carolina’s high-powered offense. It won’t be easy, but Mitchell Jeter, Carson Smith and company should be able to ask some questions of CCU’s reconfigured offensive line.

– I am not as sure about the Bulldogs’ revamped secondary. There could be some issues in the defensive backfield, particularly given that the defense is expected to be considerably more aggressive this season.

That’s why it is imperative The Citadel gets pressure on Alex Ross. If the Bulldogs don’t do that, it could be a long day at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Opponents generally did not succeed in harassing Ross and Coastal Carolina’s other signal-callers last year. Chanticleer QBs threw 397 passes but were only sacked 20 times.

– On the offensive side of the ball, I have confidence in Aaron Miller at quarterback. The receiving corps should be excellent, if not overly used as pass catchers.

– The Citadel should be okay at the B-back position. The decision by the coaching staff to return Vinny Miller to slotback was a good sign.

– Aside from Vinny Miller, the available slotbacks on Saturday are not all that experienced. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t talented.

I am more than a little curious to see Cam Jackson playing the position. At the very least, he’ll be a tall target for a pitch.

– The Bulldogs’ offensive line is a work in progress. I’m concerned about how much progress can be made by gametime.

The lack of seasoning on the o-line could really be a problem against CCU’s talented defensive front.

It’s a tough matchup for the Bulldogs to begin the season, but shirking from a challenge is not exactly the ethos of The Citadel. Just the opposite, in fact.

Like everyone else wearing blue and white, I’m looking forward to Saturday. Let’s get out to the stadium, have some fun, make some noise, and root the home team on to victory.

Oh! they rambled, they rambled.
They rambled all around.
In and out of town,
Oh! they rambled, they rambled.
They rambled ’till the Bulldogs cut ‘em down

Go Dogs!

SoCon Hall of Fame, revisited: from bad to worse

A few days ago I wrote about the Southern Conference Hall of Fame, and how it has botched its induction process. Since then, more information has come to light.

Jeff Hartsell wrote about the SoCon Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and included some tidbits about the SoCon’s election procedures that are just infuriating. I had noted in my previous post on the subject that the league had “bent over backwards to honor players and coaches from its distant past.”

Well, it turns out that the conference’s de facto position is that players and coaches from its first 33 years of existence are actually twice as important as those from more recent decades. No, I’m not kidding.

From Hartsell’s article:

Voters are asked to pick two nominees from the pre-1954 era (when the ACC split off from the SoCon), two from 1954-now and one female.

This is simply absurd. The “pre-1954 era” is a 33-year period, while “1954-now” is 60 years (and counting). Why, then, should the conference allocate the same number of spots for both eras? The modern era should have twice as many spots, because it is twice as long a period of time as the pre-1954 era.

This ludicrous lean to the days of long ago will only get worse as the years go by, of course, because the “1954-now” period will continue to expand, while the other era will always remain the same in duration — 33 years.

Oh, but that’s not the only ridiculous move the SoCon has made with its Hall of Fame:

The plan to induct a new class just every other year will only make the perceived backlog problem even worse.

Yes, that’s right. The league is only going to vote every other year. Why? I have no idea. I couldn’t even think of a cynical reason. It’s just bizarre.

Hartsell suggested on Twitter that the league might be trying to save money by not having a banquet every year. My response to that is maybe the league could elect new members every year while holding the banquet every other year.

As a result, the next scheduled election isn’t until 2016. What does this mean for modern-era male athletes?

Let’s take 2012, the first election in the SoCon’s “elect five in three specific categories” format. The two modern-era inductees that year were longtime Furman tennis coach Paul Scarpa and Jim Burch, a basketball officiating supervisor. No male athletes from the last six decades were selected.

2013: No election

2014: Furman soccer star Clint Dempsey and Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore were elected as the “modern era” choices.

2015: No election scheduled

2016: Here is where things get really fun. Both Stephen Curry and Armanti Edwards will be eligible in 2016. There is a good chance that one or both of them will be elected, and that all the other modern-era candidates will be shunted aside for another two years.

It is even more likely that Curry and Edwards will get the nod because neither of their schools will be in the league by 2016, which seems to have been a significant advantage for past candidates.

2017: No election scheduled

2018: By this time no officiating supervisors will have been elected for six years, so expect at least one to take up a “modern era” slot, much like Burch did in 2012. The other inductee will likely be a former Elon player or coach (again, the no-longer-in-league factor).

2019: No election scheduled

2020: Will the league still exist? Of course, if you follow sports on television, you might be under the impression the SoCon doesn’t really exist in 2014.

It also doesn’t help the league that certain schools seem to have a leg up on getting people inducted. For example, Appalachian State, which has been in the league since 1971, has five enshrinees.

Jerry Moore retired (or was forced out), and the following year was immediately waved into the Hall. Chal Port of The Citadel, with similar accomplishments as a baseball coach, is not in the Hall.

Dexter Coakley is one of four post-1960 male athletes to have gained enshrinement into the league’s Hall of Fame. He was a dynamite force on the gridiron, but is he really one of the four top SoCon male athletes of the past 50+ years?

Coakley was a truly outstanding football player, to be sure, and the recipient of many honors, but is there a particular reason why he is in the Hall of Fame and (just to name one example) Brian Ruff isn’t? From Coakley’s Hall of Fame bio page:

His name still stands among the Mountaineers’ all-time leaders in all tackling categories, twice registering at least 20 tackles in back-to-back games.

That’s great, and Coakley is second all-time in the Southern Conference in tackles, with 616. He’s behind Ruff, who had a staggering 755 tackles in his college career.

Coakley’s bio also notes that he was “the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore, junior and senior.” Again, this is very impressive.

Brian Ruff was the league’s Player of the Year twice. That was before they started giving awards for both offense and defense, so Ruff had to compete with all the league’s offensive stars as well as defenders. Only four SoCon players won the PoY award multiple times; Ruff was the only defender to do so.

Ruff was also the last Southern Conference football player to have been named a Division I first-team All-American. (Not I-AA; I.)

I want to reiterate that Coakley is not undeserving of recognition. If there were six to eight football players from the “modern era” in the Hall, it would stand to reason that he might be one of them.

It’s just that right now, there are only two (Coakley and Georgia Southern’s Adrian Peterson). Where is Ruff, or Thomas Haskins, or Stanford Jennings, or Bob Schweickert?

Heck, since Schweickert went to a school that is now in the ACC (Virginia Tech), he would seem to be a natural choice under the current guidelines.

In all honesty, though, Appalachian State’s prowess in lobbying is not the biggest problem with the Hall. No, it’s the league’s favoring of a shorter period of its past at the expense of the majority of its history that is most frustrating, and which needs to change.

Jeff Hartsell suggested the following in his column, which I think makes a lot of sense:

Induct a six-person class every year: At least one woman and one candidate from the pre-1954 era, with the other four from the “modern era.”

That would work. For one thing, it would alleviate a smaller problem with the current setup, which is that while the number of women currently in the Hall of Fame is more or less appropriate (if you are into quotas, anyway), the “women’s category” would be slightly over-represented in a one-out-of-five format going forward.

One out of six is (at least for this current time in league history) a more reasonable percentage. That isn’t such a big deal, though, at least relative to the league’s other procedural shortcomings.

Obviously having elections every year is the way to go. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame got started, the powers that be made a similar mistake in not holding yearly elections.

This led to a host of problems, some of which still negatively impact Cooperstown today. Seventy-five years later, the Southern Conference should not be repeating the same mistake.

While you could argue that having four “modern era” picks for every one pre-1954 selection is reversing the current problem, the fact is that the SoCon Hall of Fame has so many pre-1954 honorees already it would take about a decade of voting to even things back out.

Incidentally, the SoCon has changed its voting procedures before:

In the fall of 2009, the conference created a special contributor category to honor administrators.

Yes, the league changed the rules so it could elect officiating supervisors…

Jeff Hartsell wrote that “the SoCon, despite its rich history, did not even have a Hall of Fame until current commish John Iamarino came on board in 2006. He and his staff got it up and running and should be commended for that.”

Well, I’m not sure I’m willing to commend the commissioner for establishing a Hall of Fame that seems to primarily exist as an auxiliary Hall for the ACC and SEC.

I’ve been following the Southern Conference for my entire life. I would like to see appropriate recognition for the coaches and athletes I have watched compete in the league. That isn’t happening right now.

(Also, here’s a tip: I don’t watch the games for the officiating, and nobody else does either.)

It may be that the league is unwilling to change its voting procedures to more accurately reflect its history. If so, then I would respectfully suggest to the administration at The Citadel that it may be best for the school to “opt out” of the SoCon Hall of Fame.

It is likely that The Citadel helps fund this entity. However, if its coaches and players are not going to be treated fairly (along with those from other schools, notably VMI), then why should The Citadel have to pay for the privilege?

2013 Football, The Citadel: some thoughts, themes, and theories before the season begins

Hey, last season ended well!

Looking back on the spring game

What teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

If you know some people with a lot of money, tell them The Citadel wants to endow the head football coach position

There is always great anticipation at The Citadel when football season rolls around, but this year it is amplified by the belief that the Bulldogs could be a very good team, one capable of contending for the Southern Conference championship. The Citadel has not won a league title (or seriously challenged for one) since 1992, which arguably adds to the interest.

There are plenty of SoCon previews online; I’ll link to most (if not all) of them when I write about the season opener against Charleston Southern. What follows isn’t really intended to be a standard preview. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on a few specific elements of the Bulldogs’ play, primarily from a statistical perspective.

First, though, I want to point out that this could be a season of what-ifs rather than the big-win campaign that is the hope for Bulldog supporters. As always when it comes to the gridiron, the margin for error at The Citadel is small. To illustrate this, think of the task the team faces this year from what might be called the most negative point of view:

– The Citadel will play four opponents that are either FBS or transitioning to FBS (and thus will have more scholarship players). Three of those games will be on the road.

– The Citadel will play two other opponents that defeated the Bulldogs last season by a combined score of 66-17. Both of those teams return most of their key players.

– One opponent hasn’t lost to the Bulldogs during Kevin Higgins’ tenure as head coach of The Citadel, while another has beaten The Citadel four times in the last five meetings.

– Of the remaining four opponents, last season The Citadel trailed one of them midway through the third quarter; was in a one-point game late in the third quarter to another; barely held off a late rally from a third; and was tied at halftime with the fourth.

That is why most prognosticators, including the SoCon media and coaches, believe The Citadel will finish fourth in the league (or sixth, if like the SoCon office the organization ranking the teams made the mistake of including ineligibles Appalachian State and Georgia Southern). Personally, I think the Bulldogs have the potential to be better than that, but improvement from last season’s solid effort must be significant in order to achieve major goals, such as making the FCS playoffs and winning the league.

Before the first game of last season, I wrote the following:

 It appears The Citadel does plan to throw the ball a bit more often this season. If the idea is to average 10-12 pass attempts per game (the Bulldogs averaged a shade under 7 attempts [in 2011]), then I think The Citadel needs to average around 8.0-8.5 yards per pass attempt at a minimum (preferably it should be above 9 yards per attempt). [In 2011] that number was 4.7 ypa, an awful average.

As for interceptions, I am inclined to think the goal should be no more than one per 25 attempts, though that number could fluctuate based on overall total offense production and the number of possessions per game. [In 2011] the Bulldogs threw seven interceptions in only 75 passing attempts, which is very poor.

The Citadel, in fact, averaged 10.6 pass attempts per game in 2012, about what was expected. The Bulldogs averaged 7.7 yards per attempt, which wasn’t great but did keep defenses relatively honest.

Bulldog quarterbacks threw 117 passes, of which five were intercepted, or one every 23.4 attempts. I think that was an acceptable result. There were also four touchdown tosses, which was certainly better than 2011 (when only one touchdown pass was thrown by The Citadel all season).

The efficiency of the passing game must continue to improve. As part of that progression, the Bulldog coaching staff appears to be adding to the team’s repertoire of offensive formations:

The Bulldogs showed off an ever-evolving offense, showing I-formation and shotgun sets in addition to the bread-and-butter triple option formation. The Bulldogs could lineup with one back and four receivers on one play and the TO the next.

This seems promising, but I think that it’s important the offense doesn’t lose its identity as a run/run/run-some-more type of operation. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at run/pass playcalling from the 2012 campaign.

I went back and compiled statistics from the eight SoCon games the Bulldogs played. Some of the numbers are interesting. Keep in mind, this is for league contests only.

First, some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

On first down, The Citadel rushed 85.5% of the time. The Bulldogs ran the ball in other down-and-distance situations as follows (by percentage):

– 2nd-and-short: 86.7%
– 2nd-and-medium: 93.6%
– 2nd-and-long: 80.9%
– 3rd-and-short: 100%
– 3rd-and-medium: 86.3%
– 3rd-and-long: 49.1%

Of course, some running plays were originally pass plays that turned into running plays, and a few were run/pass options. Occasionally a would-be pass play on 3rd-and-long turned into something like this: Link

Taken as a whole, though, I think these numbers give an accurate view of how the coaches called plays in particular situations. In general, I like what the statistics show.

I have a minor quibble with the run/pass ratio on 2nd-and-medium, but it’s not a big deal. There were 47 2nd-and-medium plays in SoCon action; the Bulldogs ran the ball on 44 of them. Maybe there could have been 2 or 3 more pass plays in that group, but again, that’s very minor.

The one area of playcalling I do wonder about, however, is on 3rd-and-short. The Citadel ran the ball in all 21 of those situations in league play. I don’t think it would be a bad idea to throw the ball once or twice per season on 3rd-and-short, partly to try for a big play, and also to “loosen up” opposing defenses.

Ideally a 3rd-and-short pass play would come around midfield or so, because then the Bulldogs might have the chance to go for it on fourth down even if the pass were to be incomplete. That brings me to my next topic…

One of the things that interests me most about football is game theory, including when to go for it on fourth down. I decided to take a look at how Kevin Higgins approached things last season.

I didn’t include fourth down “desperation” situations (like those on the game-winning drive against Georgia Southern) or “accidental” fourth down tries (like the botched punt snap/catch against Chattanooga). I also tossed out a couple of “garbage time” fourth down plays (i.e. punting while up 31 points on Appalachian State in the fourth quarter). Again, all statistics are from SoCon games only.

Terms (as defined by Football Outsiders):

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

– On fourth down and two yards or less to go: The Citadel went for it all four times it was in the Front Zone or the Red Zone. The Bulldogs punted all three times they were in the Mid Zone.

– On fourth down and three to five yards to go: the Bulldogs attempted four field goals in the Front and Red Zones, and went for a first down once (in the Front Zone). The Citadel punted all four times it was in the Mid Zone.

– On fourth down and six or more yards to go: The Citadel attempted two field goals in the Red Zone, two field goals in the Front Zone, and went for a first down twice in the Front Zone. The Bulldogs punted all five times they were in the Mid Zone.

It’s a relief to know that the Bulldogs did not punt on fourth down from inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. However, it is mildly surprising to see the conservatism in the Mid Zone.

It’s one thing to punt on fourth-and-10 from your own 40-yard line, as The Citadel did against Chattanooga. However, it may have been in the Bulldogs’ best interests to go for it on 4th-and-1 on their own 43 (versus Georgia Southern), or on 4th-and-2 at midfield (against Furman).

I did not track complete totals for Deep Zone/Back Zone fourth-down decisions, most of which (obviously) resulted in punts. It is worth noting, however, that The Citadel actually went for it on fourth down no fewer than five times in the Back Zone last season versus SoCon opposition in non-desperation situations.

Four of those plays were 4th-and-1 (or shorter). One was on 4th-and-4 from the 30; that was Cass Couey’s run off a fake punt against Furman.

On all five of those Back Zone fourth down conversion attempts, The Citadel was successful.

Occasionally going for it on fourth down in the Mid Zone section of the field might be worthwhile. For one thing, it may open up playcalling, as it changes third-down options if there is a chance the Bulldogs would attempt (if necessary) a fourth-down conversion.

I also believe that going for it more often on fourth down is an appropriate strategy for a run-heavy triple option team, due to the fewer number of possessions in a game. All you have to do is look at the 2007 season, the Bulldogs’ last winning campaign prior to the switch to the triple option.

In 2007, The Citadel averaged 5.9 yards per play, much like the 2012 squad (which averaged 6.0 yards per play). However, there are fewer plays in a game when one of the teams runs the ball 83% of the time, as the 2012 Bulldogs did. Despite the similar yards per play numbers, the 2007 Bulldogs ran 117 more plays over the course of the season than did their 2012 counterparts.

In 2012, the Bulldogs averaged 11.9 possessions per game, while the 2007 team averaged 13.3 possessions per contest. That’s a significant difference, and something to consider when deciding whether or not to maintain possession by going for it on fourth down.

One of the primary areas of concern for The Citadel this season, at least to me, is punting. The aforementioned Cass Couey was an outstanding performer, and will be hard to replace.

In eight SoCon games last year, only three times did an opponent even return a punt, for a total of 25 yards (24 of those on one punt return in the Samford game). Couey boomed four punts of 50+ yards in league play (averaging 42.8 yards per punt in those contests), and had eleven punts downed inside the 20-yard line in conference action (versus only two touchbacks).

However, finding Couey’s successor is far from the only thing that needs to be done when it comes to The Citadel’s punt units. One of the things that becomes apparent when going through the game summaries is that while the punt cover unit outperformed its expectations in terms of field position, the Bulldogs’ punt return unit did not.

If you go by raw yardage totals, including returns/touchbacks/penalties/etc., the Bulldogs came out ahead in the punting battle by a little over one yard per punt. That doesn’t take into account field position at the time of the punt.

By my reckoning (and I could be wrong), using field position point expectancy tables, The Citadel’s edge (combining both units) had a total value of less than half a point. That’s not per game — that’s over all eight SoCon contests.

Note: that doesn’t count two plays. One was that punt snap/catch snafu against Chattanooga, which cost the Bulldogs an expected 50 yards in field position on the ensuing Mocs drive. The other was the blocked punt/TD in the Appalachian State game.

Between those two plays The Citadel came out ahead by about 3 points in terms of average expected points per drive start. In actuality, it wound up being 7 points, since Carson Smith did pick up that blocked punt and run into the end zone for a touchdown, while the Mocs eventually missed a long field goal after getting the ball at the Bulldog 28-yard line.

Also, I used points expectancy numbers based on FBS data; it is possible the correlation to FCS games isn’t exact.

At any rate, I think it is clear that The Citadel must do a better job of creating better field position via its punt return game. In 2011, the Bulldogs blocked nine punts during the season, including one in four consecutive SoCon games. There wasn’t a major concern about the return aspect because, well, those blocked punts essentially were the returns.

If The Citadel won’t be able to rely on the punt block threat as much in the future (rule changes may have had an effect there), then it is important to pick up yardage after receiving the punt. Perhaps the insertion of Ben Dupree as a punt returner will help, though I worry about putting the starting quarterback at risk for injury (or rather, putting him at additional risk for injury).

As the Bulldogs began preseason practice, run defense was on the mind of the head coach:

The Citadel’s defense was good to average in most categories last year, ranking fifth in the SoCon in total defense and scoring defense, and second in pass defense. But the Bulldogs struggled to stop the run, ranking seventh while allowing 221.7 rushing yards per game.

During a string of four losses in five games, the run D was gashed for an average of 273 yards per game.

Those games coincided with injuries to linebackers Carl Robinson and Rah Muhammad, both of whom begin this season healthy. The emergence of sophomore linebacker James Riley also should help.

“We’re going to be more fundamental in what we do,” [Kevin] Higgins said, “and just make it a huge emphasis.”

The Citadel also allowed a considerable number of rushing yards in the two games that preceded the five-game stretch referenced by Jeff Hartsell. Beginning with the second half of the game against Wofford, the Bulldogs seemed to turn the corner on stopping the run, though they showed a bit of frailty in the season finale against Furman.

The depletion of the linebacking corps due to injury was almost certainly the reason The Citadel struggled to stop the run. That’s why the loss of Carson Smith for the season is doubly frustrating.

If the Bulldogs can make strides in their run-stuffing, that should also help in red zone defense situations. Last season, The Citadel allowed a TD rate of 70.2% in the red zone, slightly higher than the TD rate for the Bulldog offense inside the 20 (69.4%).

The other emphasis on defense is in creating turnovers. If stopping the run can force opponents to the air against The Citadel in less-than-optimal situations, perhaps the Bulldogs can finally have a year in which they intercept a lot of passes.

The Citadel had five interceptions in SoCon play in 2012, which almost matched the total number of picks for the Bulldogs in the previous two league campaigns combined (6). Despite that, The Citadel finished tied for next-to-last in overall interceptions among Southern Conference teams.

The simplest way for the Bulldogs to intercept more passes is to successfully defend a higher percentage of throws. In 2012, The Citadel was credited with 24 passes defended in SoCon games. The five picks that resulted from those passes defended meant the Bulldogs had an interception rate of 20.8% on passes defended, right at the national average (21.9%).

The Bulldogs either broke up or intercepted a pass on 12.4% of its opponents’ throws in league action. For comparison, the FBS leader in passes defended per game, Ohio State, broke up/intercepted 19.2% of its opponents’ passes.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s conference opponents had a similar interception per pass defended rate (21.4%) against the Bulldogs.

One thing I hope Kevin Higgins did during the off-season was evaluate the clock management at the end of games. Twice last year (against Western Carolina and VMI), The Citadel’s offense ran multiple plays at the end of a game when a series of kneeldowns would have ended the contest.

By repeatedly running the ball (including a pitch play in the WCU contest), the Bulldogs risked being on the wrong end of a “Miracle at the Meadowlands” situation. For the 2013 season, I would like for there to be a de facto “time management coach” who can assist Higgins in this aspect of the game.

I remember that Bill Parcells did this when he was the head coach of the New York Giants. He had an assistant, Ray Handley, specifically tasked to help with end-of-half/game clock strategy. Handley later replaced Parcells as head coach of the Giants, proving conclusively that understanding clock management does not guarantee someone will be successful as a head coach.

For anyone interested (or still reading)…for this season, I think the blog posts will work something like this:

I’ll usually post a game preview on Thursday night/Friday morning, then an occasional game review on Sunday or Monday. Not every week will include a game review. Most of them will be relatively short anyway; I’ll probably include gameday pictures with those posts, and then go into more depth about the just-played contest as part of my preview of the following game.

I’ll still be posting an FBS/FCS TV schedule on either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Anything else I post will depend in large part on my personal schedule, which will be somewhat challenging at times. There are at least three weeks during the season that will be problematic. I’ll figure out something, though.

I’m ready for some football.

Riley Report: From average to good to a championship — taking the next step

When I last wrote about The Citadel’s baseball team, it had an overall record of 17-16, 6-6 in SoCon play. It now has a record of 27-18, 14-7 in the league. Clearly, the squad has played very well over the past three weeks. What has gone right for the Bulldogs?

Let’s take a look at the pitching, the defense, and the offense.

On April 7, the pitching staff had an ERA of 5.64 in SoCon games. That was through twelve games. Nine league contests later, and the team ERA is 4.56, a significant improvement. I think it is also worth pointing out that six of those nine league matchups were on the road.

I thought at the time that the ERA was a bit misleading, as the Bulldogs’ peripheral statistics suggested that the pitching had been a little better than that. The staff had a K/9 rate of 7.36 through twelve SoCon games, and a BB/9 rate of 3.33 in conference action. The K/9 rate is essentially unchanged after nine more league contests (7.35), but the BB/9 rate has actually dropped to 2.88, a very pleasant trend.

Another excellent downward trend has been home runs allowed. The Citadel has only allowed one homer in its last nine league games. The Bulldogs had allowed 10 in its their first 12 SoCon matchups, but now are on a homers allowed pace similar to last year’s 17 in 30 games, which is perfectly acceptable.

Time to talk defensive efficiency again. Defensive Efficiency (DER) is the rate in which balls put into play are converted into outs by a team’s defense. With 21 league games played, there is a little more to work with in terms of sample size.

The Citadel has a DER in SoCon play of .688, which is a little better than last season (and which has improved slightly over the past nine league contests). It is also better than the SoCon mean of .684 in 2012 (I am not able to get the current league mean DER, at least not without spending more time than I have calculating it).

You may recall that prior to its recent 10-game winning streak, The Citadel was having an issue with what I termed overaggressive fielding — in other words, errors committed while trying to throw out baserunners who were already on base (pickoffs, steal attempts, runners trying for extra bases, etc.). Through twelve league games the Bulldogs had committed twelve such errors, averaging one per game. In the past nine SoCon contests, however, The Citadel has committed only four of those types of errors.

Perhaps not coincidentally, two of them came in the only game the Bulldogs lost during that stretch.

The offense has kept putting crooked numbers on the board. Counting all games, not just conference matchups, The Citadel ranks in the top three among SoCon teams in OBP (leads league), homers, batting average (leads league), slugging, OPS, runs, hits, and walks. The Bulldogs put the ball in play when they aren’t walked or hit by a pitch, as they are second in the league in sacrifice bunts and have the second-fewest strikeouts.

Four Bulldogs rank in the top 7 in OBP in the Southern Conference. Each of those four players — Bo Thompson, Joe Jackson, Drew DeKerlegand, and Hughston Armstrong — also rank in the top 12 in park/schedule adjusted wOBA.

Thompson, in particular, is having a season to remember at the plate. He is currently fifth nationally in park/schedule adjusted OPS, which is an outcome of being third nationally in pk/sch/adj OBP and sixth in pk/sch/adj slugging.

He has not been getting good pitches to hit lately, but Thompson has been patient enough to take a lot of walks. He only has 20 hits in his last 22 games, but has still batted .290 over that stretch because of all those bases on balls (and occasionally HBPs).

For reasons not readily apparent, Furman decided to pitch to him in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Thompson proceeded to go 5-5 with two homers and a double.

Thompson has twelve home runs this season while striking out only fourteen times, which is rather remarkable, but he isn’t the only Bulldog with pop who doesn’t strike out that often in SoCon action. Joe Jackson has hit seven of his eight homers in league games while only striking out nine times in conference play.

I don’t think there is any question that The Citadel’s offense, if it keeps up its current pace, is championship-caliber. If Tyler Griffin is able to return from his injury in time for the SoCon tournament, that will add yet another quality bat to the mix.

Another thing to watch is Bo Thompson’s ability to play first base. He played in the field last week against Charleston Southern, his first game in a role other than DH since hurting his ankle early in the season. If he can return to playing first base on a semi-regular basis, that could give Fred Jordan a bit more flexibility in his lineup options (though Calvin Orth has now cemented a role as an everyday player with his fine performance this season).

Whether or not the Bulldogs can take the “next step” from being merely a good team to a title-winning squad is clearly dependent on the pitching and defense. As far as the defense is concerned, I think it is basically a known quantity at this point.

The Citadel has an average to slightly above-average Southern Conference defense, one that can probably hold up as long as it avoids “unnecessary” errors. The team is capable of making the routine plays in the field, and its overall defensive range is adequate.

I am not entirely sure about the pitching, though there are a number of positives to consider, particularly in a tournament situation. The Citadel has the all-but-required “ace” in Austin Pritcher, who while not quite in the mold of Asher Wojciechowski or Jonathan Ellis is definitely a quality No. 1 starter.

The bullpen also has the depth the Bulldogs will need at Fluor Field in late May, provided that Zach Sherrill and David Rivera don’t wear out by then. The two pitchers have combined for 65 appearances in The Citadel’s first 45 games. Having a closer who can finish off batters (Skylar Hunter has 35 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings) will also be helpful.

Earlier I mentioned that The Citadel has a K/9 rate of 7.35 in SoCon play, which is good but not quite at the level of some of the Bulldogs’ championship teams. For example, the 2010 pitching staff had a K/9 rate of 8.72 in league play. That is not insignificant, though it is also true that with the new BBCOR bat standards, pitching to contact tends to be rewarded now more often than it was in 2010.

Three quick notes:

– I don’t think the Bulldogs have much of a shot at an at-large bid this season. Jeff Hartsell summarized The Citadel’s case; it’s just not good enough, not in a slightly down year in the Southern Conference. Now, if the Bulldogs were to beat UNC on Wednesday and win all but one or two of their remaining league games, then maybe this subject can be revisited.

It would also help if Western Carolina went into a tailspin and opened up the league title race, though that doesn’t look likely. The Catamounts are hot and only have six conference games remaining, three of which are against Wofford and all of which are in Cullowhee.

– The Citadel doubled up on last week’s SoCon awards, claiming both Pitcher of the Week (Austin Pritcher) and Player of the Week (Johnathan Stokes). Pritcher is finishing a fine career at the military college in style. He also is one of three Bulldog starting pitchers named Austin, which probably leads the nation.

Stokes has a respectable 22 hits in 21 league games — but in those 21 games, the shortstop also has 18 runs batted in. He makes his hits count. When runners get on base, Stokes is ready to bring them home.

– I tweeted about this a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to mention it again. Appalachian State’s last scheduled appearance in Riley Park will come at the 2014 Southern Conference tournament, much to the Mountaineers’ relief. Counting the league tourney, The Citadel has an alltime record of 29-2 against Appalachian State at Riley Park. No, that’s not a typo.

29-2. Just incredible. App hasn’t always been that strong in baseball, but it has usually been decent. Fred Jordan’s combined College Park/Riley Park record against the Mountaineers is a staggering 37-3. Appalachian State’s only series win against the Bulldogs in Charleston came in 1973, when Chal Port was still an assistant on the football team (in addition to his duties as head baseball coach).

It’s stretch time for the Diamond Dogs. There are eleven regular season games remaining, including nine league games, a game at Charleston Southern, and the aforementioned contest in Chapel Hill this week versus North Carolina. After the final league series, the action moves to the league tournament in Greenville.

It’s time for the team to make its case as a championship outfit. The potential is there.

Game Review, 2011: Furman

Furman 16, The Citadel 6.

It wasn’t a terrible performance by the Bulldogs.  It just wasn’t good enough.  I wasn’t completely frustrated by the way things turned out, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with positive vibes either.

Links of interest:

Jeff Hartsell’s article on the game

Hartsell’s post-game notes

The Citadel’s release

Furman’s release

The Post and Courier‘s “photo gallery” of the game

Click on that last link to see photos of the Bulldogs wearing their “Big Red” jerseys.  I was disappointed with the decision to break out these uniforms for the game. This was supposed to be a special, unusual uniform set designed to commemorate the return of “Big Red” (the flag) to The Citadel.

I wrote about these uniforms last year when they were first worn, for Homecoming. What I said then:

I didn’t have a problem with breaking out the red jerseys for this game.  The original Big Red, of course, arrived on campus in March; its disappearance and rediscovery is an interesting tale.  Wearing red jerseys for the Homecoming following that development seemed reasonably appropriate (and a good way to push merchandise).

I’m not sure I would want to see them again, however.  I certainly don’t want the football team wearing red jerseys to become a yearly event.  I think doing that would make it much less special, and also detract from the school’s traditional colors for its sports teams.

Of course, it could be argued that the parade of different football uniform color combinations this season has already devalued the tradition of wearing light blue and white. In ten games, the Bulldogs have worn six different jersey/pant color combos, including four different looks for the six home games.

In fact, I think the fact The Citadel did not have a standard uniform combination this season made the red jerseys seem a little less unusual. Let’s face it, if the Bulldogs had lined up wearing silver or black, nobody would have been all that shocked, so the red jersey wasn’t that much of a departure.

I still feel that way.  If anything, I feel more strongly about it after seeing the game against Jacksonville, when the Bulldogs wore a new uniform that actually looked pretty good.  I am afraid that we are going to continue this multiple uniform combo deal throughout the season.  I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if someone in the department of athletics is trying to figure out how to justify wearing black or silver jerseys/pants/helmets.

I’ll get off my uniform soapbox for now, because I know folks are probably tired of the constant drumbeat about the unis (or at least tired of my constant drumbeat), but I want to make three more points:

— The Bulldogs wore the new helmet logo with this “Big Red” set, which made it look even weirder (and which was obviously inconsistent with the uniform as a whole).

— The game notes now actually feature a chart listing The Citadel’s uniform combinations for each contest.  While it is arguably sad that such a chart is necessary, I will give the media relations staff credit for it, because I think it’s a good idea.  The problem, of course, was that the notes for the Furman game listed the uniform combo as being “Citadel blue tops, white bottoms”.  I guess not everybody got the message.

— The light blue “side panels” on the red jerseys look even worse when compared to the no-panel look of last week’s jerseys.

I’m not going to rehash the game.  I’ll just make some observations, many of which are probably faulty…

— On The Citadel’s first drive to open the game, the Bulldogs threw two passes (both incomplete) in three plays and punted.  I know that the element of surprise is always a consideration, and that Triple O’Higgins probably features more passing than some other triple option offenses, but I would have liked to see the team try to establish an offensive rhythm early by sticking to the ground game.

— This game could have looked a lot like last year’s matchup in Greenville, when Furman scored a TD right out of the gate and the Bulldogs played from well behind for the entire day, but for a big play by Brandon McCladdie on third-and-goal from the Bulldogs 4-yard line.  Chris Forcier would have scored if McCladdie had not kept containment and made what amounted to an open-field tackle.  If The Citadel had come back and won the game, McCladdie’s play would have been huge.  It was still noteworthy.

— Furman’s coaches treated Forcier more like a freshman than a senior in terms of play-calling.  I’m not sure what to make of that.

— Jerodis Williams is a tough back.  Very impressive.  I also thought Paladins linebacker Kadarron Anderson had a good game.

— Things that are still a work in progress:  Ben Dupree’s passing, and the Bulldogs’ o-line play in general.  Both can improve, though.  I’ll take some overthrows and missed blocks now for pinpoint passing and solid line play later.

— Dupree is going to frustrate a lot of SoCon opponents with his ability to turn broken plays into positive yardage.

— On The Citadel’s sixth drive of the game, the Bulldogs chewed up just over seven minutes of possession, eventually facing a 4th-and-8 on the Paladins 35-yard line. The Citadel took a delay of game penalty and then punted.  The punt went into the end zone for a touchback, so the net was 20 yards (a de facto 15-yard net, really, considering the penalty).

I think Kevin Higgins, if he had to do it all over again, would have gone for it.  I certainly believe he should have.  The Bulldogs trailed 13-6 at the time, and there were four minutes remaining in the third quarter.

In that situation, if a field goal attempt isn’t a realistic option, going for it is the right move.  In fact, I think it’s the right move in most situations, but you definitely have to go for it in a game when the possessions are limited.  The Citadel only had eight possessions in the entire contest (and one of those was a one-play drive to end the first half, so the Bulldogs in effect only got the ball seven times).

You simply aren’t going to get that many opportunities to make a play in your opponents’ territory.  Higgins did make the correct decision on The Citadel’s next possession, however, going for it on 4th-and-6 at the Furman 49.  It didn’t work out, but it was the right call.

— The tailgaters were out in force on Saturday.  Larry Leckonby probably spends a fair amount of time wondering how to get most of the people tailgating in the lots surrounding the stadium to actually enter the stadium.  It’s a problem.

Now The Citadel has a week off before its first road game of the season, a trip to Elon. The Phoenix are playing this weekend, as they travel to Durham to face North Carolina Central.  Elon is 1-1, with a loss to Vanderbilt and a victory over Concord.

I’ll close with some photos.  My usual lack of skill in picture-taking was combined on Saturday with a dying battery in my camera, so I didn’t take quite as many as usual.  I did get a few off-field shots of note, though, including the 1961 SoCon championship trophy and the mascot for Bojangles, apparently named “Bo” (what a surprise).

Speaking of mascots, I got a picture of General too, relaxing on a block of ice covered by a blanket.  General is a very cool dog (quite literally on Saturday, despite the late-afternoon heat).  He and his buddy Boo made a lot of new friends, including quite a few Cub Scouts.  I also appreciated Boo’s handler moving the SoCon trophy around so I could get a half-decent shot of it.  Many thanks.

2011 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 10.  The game will be televised on WYMA (Asheville, NC), and will be available on ESPN3.com.  There will also be a webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service), and the game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

The Citadel begins play in the Southern Conference with a game against traditional rival Furman.  It’s only the third time the two schools have ever met in a league opener, but it’s the second consecutive season that has been the case.

I’m not going to rehash the history of the series in terms of the time of year the game has been held; anyone interested can read what I wrote on the subject for last year’s game preview.  Regardless of whether you think the game should be a midseason clash (my preference) or played at the end of the year (a not-insignificant number of fans from both schools), I think everyone can agree that September 10 is too early for this game to be played.

Jeff Hartsell has reported that, per the SoCon office, next year’s meeting will come at the end of the 2012 season, on November 17.  (The conference does not make league schedules beyond one year in advance.)

I’m okay with that, as long as the Clemson-South Carolina game continues to be played the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as is now the case.  I just don’t want The Citadel and Furman to play on the same day as the matchup between the Tigers and Gamecocks.

Furman was 5-6 last season, its first losing campaign since 1998.  Bobby Lamb resigned after nine years in charge and over a quarter-century at the school as a player or coach.  The Paladins had missed the FCS playoffs for four consecutive seasons, which did not go over well among some supporters.  It was time for Furman to make a change.

The question, though, is did Furman really make a change?

The new coach is Bruce Fowler.  Fowler is a 1981 graduate of Furman who played for Dick Sheridan.  Lamb was a 1986 graduate of FU who had played for Sheridan. Fowler spent 18 years at Furman as an assistant coach.  Lamb had been an assistant coach at Furman for 16 seasons.

One difference is that Fowler wasn’t a complete Furman lifer like Lamb had been.  For the past nine years, he had been an assistant at Vanderbilt, where he was defensive coordinator for Bobby Johnson (and Robbie Caldwell in 2010).  Of course, Johnson had been the head coach at Furman before taking the Vandy job, and before that he had been an assistant under Dick Sheridan.

You may have noticed a pattern here.  Dick Sheridan left Furman after the 1985 season to take over at N.C. State, but his presence is still felt in the program.  All four of the men who have held the head coaching position since Sheridan left (including Fowler) were players and/or assistants under him.

If you were going to have your football program maintain what is in effect a 25-year tie to a former coach, you could do much worse than Sheridan, who did nothing but win throughout his coaching career (even as a 28-year-old rookie head coach at an Orangeburg high school).  It’s a type of continuity that may be worth preserving.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that Furman risks going to the well once too often.  Fowler isn’t exactly a carbon copy of Lamb, though — for one thing, he’s 52 years old, 13 years older than Lamb was when Lamb got the job.  Also, he’s primarily a defensive coach (though he was the receivers coach at FU for seven seasons).  Lamb was mostly an offensive coach (and a former quarterback) during his time with the Paladins.

Usually when a school is in a position to make a coaching change after a run of disappointing seasons, it brings in somebody to shake things up.  That’s certainly not what Furman has done.  Besides Fowler, three of the assistant coaches played for Sheridan; another has been a Paladins assistant for 13 years.

Before I move on to the Paladins of 2011, I should note that Art Baker, who preceded Sheridan as head coach at Furman (eventually leaving to take the job at The Citadel), hired Sheridan, Jimmy Satterfield, and Bobby Johnson as assistant coaches, all of whom would later ascend to the top job at FU.  Baker had a significant impact on Furman’s coaching tree.

Furman lost 30-23 at Coastal Carolina in its opener.  The Paladins never led the contest.  The game had been tied at 16 and 23 before the Chanticleers scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Coastal Carolina gained 231 yards rushing and 195 yards passing against the Furman defense, but perhaps more interesting was that the Chanticleers had 59 rushing attempts for the game.  CCU ran 81 offensive plays from scrimmage for the game, while the Paladins had just 58.

As Bruce Fowler noted in the SoCon teleconference, Furman had trouble getting its defense off the field.  Coastal was 7-16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts and made its only 4th-down try, a major reason the Paladins trailed by over 12 minutes in time of possession.  That continued a trend from last season, when Furman finished last in the SoCon in time of possession.

The Paladins do have two impact players on defense, middle linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed, both of whom are on the Buck Buchanan Watch List.  Another linebacker, Chris Wiley, had fourteen tackles against Coastal Carolina.  Furman defensive end Josh Lynn is tall (6’5″) and rangy, and may be a key factor in how the Bulldogs’ triple action attack fares on Saturday.  Against Coastal, he had five tackles and a sack.

Furman’s starting quarterback against Coastal Carolina was Chris Forcier, of the Forcier Family of Quarterbacks.  I think it’s fair to say that the Forciers are, as a group, somewhat controversial.  I guess it’s a question of style.  When Chris Forcier decided to transfer from UCLA to Furman, the family issued a press release that wound up being posted on Deadspin.

His brother Tate is a former Michigan quarterback who has now transferred to San Jose State (after originally announcing he was going to Miami).  His oldest brother, Jason, also played quarterback at Michigan before transferring to Stanford.  The brothers also transferred to different high schools at various times.

Against the Chants, Forcier was solid, completing two-thirds of his passes while averaging over seven yards per attempt.  A classic “dual threat” quarterback, Forcier also rushed for 50 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter, apparently suffering from cramps.  Without him, the Furman offense sputtered, not scoring in the fourth quarter.

Assuming he is healthy (and there is no reason to believe otherwise), stopping Forcier will be a difficult task for The Citadel’s defense.

If dealing with Forcier wasn’t enough, the Bulldogs must also contend with Jerodis Williams, who rushed for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns against Coastal (including a 68-yard score).  Williams was the Southern Conference offensive player of the week, and also picked up FCS National Back of the Week honors from something called the “College Football Performance Awards“.

Furman had five different receivers catch passes against the Chanticleers (including Williams).  Tyler Maples had five receptions for 65 yards.  Colin Anderson had four catches, and presumably will have a career day against The Citadel, as has often been the case for Furman tight ends.

Along the offensive line, Furman has experienced and well-regarded tackles (one of whom, Ryan Lee, is moving from guard to tackle) and a veteran center, Daniel Spisak (who is Matt Millen’s nephew).  The guards include a first-year starter who came to Furman as a walk-on, and a sophomore who started three times last season before a season-ending foot injury.

Furman placekicker Ray Early was 11-12 on field goal attempts last season, including a long of 52 yards, and only missed one extra point all year (40-41).  Against Coastal Carolina, however, Early’s first field goal attempt of the season was blocked, and he then missed the PAT after the Paladins’ first touchdown.

After that, Early did not attempt a placekick in the game (although he did kick off), giving way to Furman punter Chas Short.  That may be something to watch on Saturday.

Short, incidentally, had a fine year for Furman in 2010.  The Paladins finished in the top 10 nationally in net punting.

With Furman having allowed a bunch of rushing yards to Coastal Carolina, and having lost the time of possession battle so decisively, there may be some hope among Bulldog fans that the Paladins’ defensive issues could play into The Citadel’s hands on Saturday.  As Jeff Hartsell wrote in The Post and Courier:

…on defense, the Paladins’ 4-3 look was blitzed for 237 rushing yards, including 105 yards and two TDs by CCU quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Jamie Childers. That might bode well for the Bulldogs’ option attack, as QB Ben Dupree went for 141 yards and two scores in a 31-9 win over Jacksonville. Higgins said Dupree was 23 for 23 on his option reads, and The Citadel rushed for 439 yards, the most since 1994.

That does seem promising from The Citadel’s perspective.  I would make this observation, though:

The Bulldogs ran the ball well on Furman last year, dominated time of possession, and lost 31-14.  The Citadel gained 294 net yards rushing on 60 attempts, held the ball for over 36 minutes — and did not score until the fourth quarter.

Actually, The Citadel’s 359 total yards against Furman in 2010 was the most yardage gained by the Bulldogs in any Southern Conference game for the entire season.  The problem?  Three turnovers, a missed field goal, and a failed fourth-down try inside the Furman 25.  Another issue was that The Citadel started very slowly on offense, gaining only 64 total yards on its first five possessions.

Conversely, Furman got out of the blocks fast on offense in each half, scoring touchdowns on its initial drive in both the first and third quarters.  Of the Paladins’ other three scores against The Citadel, two came on drives starting in Bulldog territory after an interception and a failed onside kick.

Kevin Higgins has said in the past that sometimes it takes a triple option team a possession or two to figure out how the defense is playing.  That makes sense.  You could see it in last week’s game against Jacksonville, as the game was well into the second quarter until Triple O’Higgins got fully warmed up.

Against a SoCon opponent, though, it needs to warm up faster.  The Bulldogs can’t go an entire quarter with no offensive production, especially as running the offense generally means there are fewer possessions in the game.  Also, while obvious, The Citadel must control its fumbling problems, which cropped up against Jacksonville (albeit with only one coming on an exchange) and stay “on schedule”.

The other thing that can’t happen Saturday if The Citadel has any chance of winning is for the defense to concede relatively easy touchdown drives right out of the dressing room.  Last season, Furman’s TD drives in each half were for a total of 123 yards and featured only two third-down plays.

What the defense really needs is to force some turnovers.  Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs forced no turnovers and also did not record a sack.

The Bulldogs must also contain Forcier, who is capable of making big plays with his arm or his feet, and prevent Williams from breaking long runs, such as the one he had against Coastal Carolina.  (Also, the defense must watch the tight end.  He’ll be catching the ball over the middle for 15 yards before you know it.  Two or three times.)

I thought Ben Dupree played well against Jacksonville.  What he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that he has the ability to make big plays.  While the triple option is mostly about moving the chains, it’s important to have a breakaway aspect to the offense, and Dupree can provide that with his running ability.  He is still a work in progress as a passer.  If he continues to improve that part of his game, he will be a very dangerous weapon indeed.

Terrell Dallas’ injury against the Dolphins was not serious, thankfully, but it appears he may not play on Saturday.  That will be a loss, but Darien Robinson showed he is quite capable of handling the fullback position.

I thought the defense really came to play against Jacksonville.  Now it faces another challenge.  It won’t have the size and depth advantage against Furman that it had against the Dolphins.

Odds and ends:

— Check out the game notes to see all the different helmet logos The Citadel has had over the years (page 5).  There have been no fewer than 25 different designs since 1952 (and I think it’s likely there have been a few more that went unrecorded).

Those artist renderings/photos in the game notes came from the Helmet Archive, a good site if you want to peruse helmet histories of other teams as well.

— Has anyone else noticed that there are a lot of entities giving out “player of the week” awards these days?  It’s hard to figure out which ones to take seriously.  I can’t decide if the plethora of “recognition sites” is a boon or a curse for athletic media relations departments.

— The Summerall Guards are performing at halftime, but not at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Guards will be in Death Valley for the Wofford-Clemson game (it is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson).  It strikes me as a little odd that they would perform at another stadium on the same day as a home football game, but no big deal.

I’m looking forward to the game.  I am hopeful that the success of the home opener, along with Saturday’s opponent, results in a nice crowd at JHS.  As for the on-field action, I’m not quite sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw against Jacksonville.  I would like to be pleasantly surprised again.