2013 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played in Statesboro, Georgia, at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 12. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Georgia Southern game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jeff Monken on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Scouting Report” from The Post and Courier

A good article about a Bulldog football player (Terrance Martin), even more so because it actually doesn’t mention that he plays football

A profile of Justin Oxendine

My brief review of the Appalachian State game

A few more thoughts on the game against the Mountaineers:

– Time of possession doesn’t always tell the story. In the first quarter, The Citadel held the ball for almost 11 1/2 minutes but was outscored 7-0. In the third quarter, Appalachian State had possession for 10 1/2 minutes — and was outscored by the Bulldogs in that period, 7-0.

– Of The Citadel’s four scoring drives in regulation, three took less than 2:40 off the clock.

– The Citadel threw ten passes during the game. Four different players tossed the pigskin for the Bulldogs, resulting in an unusual passes-to-passer ratio.

– The Bulldogs actually threw more passes in the first half (5) than did Appalachian State (4).

– Each team had eleven possessions during regulation; four in the first half, and seven in the second half. Part of the reason the Mountaineers only attempted four passes in the first half had to do with the lack of possessions.

Appalachian State elected to run out the clock with a minute remaining in the first half (somewhat unexpectedly, at least to me). Thus, the Mountaineers only had three drives in which they attempted to score.

Given that Appalachian State did score 14 points in those three possessions, I’m not sure App head coach Scott Satterfield can be faulted for his offensive game plan, odd though it may have appeared to outside observers. The Mountaineers’ approach also surprised Kevin Higgins.

– Having said that, I was puzzled Sean Price wasn’t targeted more by the team from Boone. I believe it may speak to a lack of confidence in quarterback/line play, or perhaps a desire to avoid a time of possession differential like Appalachian State faced in its previous game against Charleston Southern.

– Satterfield made two calls which I thought were good decisions, but got burned both times.

Trailing 7-0, The Citadel picked up seven yards on a 3rd-and-9 play, setting up fourth-and-two on the App 44. However, a five-yard penalty on the Bulldogs gave Satterfield the option of moving The Citadel back and forcing a long third down play.

Satterfield took the penalty (rightly so, I think), but then Ben Dupree proceeded to complete a pass to Matt Thompson for seventeen yards and a first down. The Citadel went on to tie the game on that possession.

Then, on Appalachian State’s drive to open the third quarter, the Mountaineers were faced with 4th-and-1 on The Citadel’s 40-yard line. The drive had already lasted for twelve plays. Satterfield elected to go for it.

In my opinion, that was the right move, but Mitchell Jeter and several of his friends stuffed backup running back Ricky Fergerson for no gain. Two plays later, Ben Dupree scored on a 53-yard run, juking his way past several App defenders (but not needing to evade the Mountaineer who got run over by Jake Stenson).

– Four times this century, The Citadel has won a contest it was tied or trailing by making a field goal inside the last 90 seconds of the game/OT. Thomas Warren has been the kicker of record on two of those occasions. The first of his game-winners, of course, came last year against Georgia Southern.

When the Bulldogs met the Eagles last year, the historical record was not in the home team’s favor. Not only had The Citadel failed to beat a ranked opponent since 1997, the Bulldogs had not won a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium against a SoCon opponent since switching to the triple option offense.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

This year, Georgia Southern is ranked in The Sports Network’s poll, but not in the more or less “official” poll for the FCS, the coaches’ poll that is administered by the Southern Conference. That’s because, of course, GSU is ineligible for the FCS playoffs due to its transition to FBS. Next year, the Eagles will begin play in the Sun Belt.

This won’t be the last meeting between the two programs, however. The Citadel will travel to Statesboro in 2015 in what will be a non-conference matchup, with the visiting Bulldogs receiving $175,000 for their presence at Paulson Stadium.

The Citadel is also scheduled to face South Carolina that season. In effect GSU will serve as a replacement for East Tennessee State (which won’t begin SoCon play until 2016), only it won’t be a league game and The Citadel will add some much-needed cash to the military college’s coffers.

The fact that Georgia Southern was declared ineligible for the Southern Conference title this season clearly bothered some people in the GSU community. One of them was head coach Jeff Monken. In July, he had this to say:

We do get to play the eight Southern Conference teams. We have yet to go 8-0 in the Southern Conference. That’s been one of our goals. It would be hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champions if we go 8-0 in the league.

He continued the theme in an “open letter” to his fan base in August:

This senior class has the goal of winning another Southern Conference championship, whether anyone else will recognize it or not. To go 8-0 in the SoCon would make a statement about this football team and this program…

The “whether anyone else will recognize it or not” part of that statement got some play, as did the “hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champs” line from the month before. By September 14, however, the argument was moot.

That was the day the Eagles played their league opener, which turned out to be a 30-20 loss to Wofford in Spartanburg. Just like that, all the talk about running the SoCon table was over.

Perhaps more people should have seen it coming. From that July article:

…the Eagles were dogged by injuries during spring practice, so much so that the traditional Blue-White spring game was turned into an ordinary scrimmage. Senior slotback Robert Brown was forced to give up football because of injuries, and linebacker Patrick Flowe will miss the season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.

“We had 28 guys in red jerseys,” lamented Monken, referring to the red jerseys Eagles players when they are being held out of practice for medical reasons.

The injury situation has been a major story in Statesboro. Monken discussed it during this week’s SoCon media teleconference:

We are flat struggling right now with injuries…we’ve got twenty scholarship players, not including the redshirt guys…[that were] out for the game [against Samford]…we’ve got a lot of guys starting and a lot of guys playing significant snaps who’ve never played or don’t play a lot…hopefully we’re going to get some of those guys healthy [for the game against The Citadel].

Monken specifically mentioned the running back position as a trouble spot. GSU lost Robert Brown before the season started. Dominique Swope, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2012, suffered a torn labrum and is now done for the year. Two other Eagle running backs are also apparently out for the season due to injury.

The running back situation has led to Jerick McKinnon playing in a wide variety of positions, as Monken has tried to get his best athletes on the field. McKinnon has at times shifted from quarterback (his regular position since midway through last season) to slotback, wide receiver, B-back, kick returner, ticket taker…anywhere and everywhere.

McKinnon rushed for 1817 yards last season for the Eagles. Georgia Southern had 63 offensive plays in 2012 that went for 25+ yards; McKinnon was responsible for 30 of them (17 rushing, 13 passing). In a playoff game against Central Arkansas, he rushed for 316 yards.

This year, McKinnon has struggled as a passer. In three SoCon games, he is 1-9 for 16 yards (with one interception). Against Chattanooga, the Eagles only attempted two passes, completing neither.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Ellison has been the quarterback when McKinnon has moved to other positions, getting the start at QB when the Eagles played Wofford. Ellison is completing almost 63% of his passes for the season, averaging 12.1 yards per attempt. He can run the ball a little bit, too (6.2 yards per carry).

Ellison was 7-7 throwing the ball against Samford, for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He was 6-14 versus Wofford (68 yards, with a pick) and only attempted one pass against UTC.

William Banks, a redshirt senior, started at B-back in the Samford game and rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. Banks, McKinnon (181 yards), and Ellison got the bulk of the work in that contest, as the other GSU players carried the ball a total of six times for nine yards.

GSU had to replace both of its starting wideouts from last season. The o-line, however, features three of last year’s starters, although tackle Garrett Frye has been flipped from LT to RT (and then back to LT) this season due to injuries elsewhere.

Georgia Southern has fumbled fifteen times this season, but somehow has only lost three of them. “Fumble luck” has worked both ways, as the Eagles have only recovered one of six fumbles by their opponents.

Georgia Southern’s defensive statistics may not look that bad on the surface. The Eagles lead the SoCon (counting all games, non-league included) in defensive pass efficiency, passing yards allowed, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, and are second in the league in passes intercepted and first downs allowed.

There is an ominous number that pops up when you look at just SoCon games, however. GSU’s defense is giving up an increasing number of yards per play with each contest.

Against Wofford, Georgia Southern’s D gave up 5.5 yards per play. In the Chattanooga game, 6.36. Samford averaged 9.17 yards per play (on 71 snaps). Yikes.

Last season, Georgia Southern only allowed more than 5.7 yards per play in one league game; in half of GSU’s SoCon matchups, it allowed less than 5 yards per play (including 4.69 y/p against The Citadel).

Yards per play is a good way to determine a team’s effectiveness on both offense and defense; that’s particularly the case in the Southern Conference, which has a wide variety of offensive styles that result in significant differences in the number of plays each team runs during a game.

The Eagles held Samford to only 4.16 yards per play in 2012. That was a game in which the Samford offense ran 85 plays. The Birmingham Bulldogs more than doubled their average gain in last week’s victory over GSU.

The Eagles got burned through the air in that game (Andy Summerlin threw 3 TD passes of 58+ yards for Samford) and were also victimized on the ground (Fabian Truss had 14 carries for 125 yards). Against Chattanooga, GSU allowed 7.2 rushing yards per carry (Jacob Huesman rushed for 148 yards).

I think it’s clear that Georgia Southern misses Brent Russell on the d-line. It also had to replace both of last year’s starting safeties (though last season’s nickel back, Deion Stanley, has moved to strong safety and has three interceptions).

GSU’s defense also suffered a blow with the loss of linebacker Patrick Flowe to injury in spring practice. Flowe was an impact performer for the Eagles last season as a true freshman.

In general, there are a lot of good players starting for Georgia Southern’s defense. There just may not be a whole lot behind them this season, mostly due to injuries, but also possibly because GSU has one eye on next season and its move to FBS. Some redshirts that normally might have been “torn up” are more likely to stay intact, at least for this year’s campaign.

Georgia Southern has used two punters this season. Sophomore Ryan Nowicki is listed as the starter this week. GSU’s placekicker, freshman Younghoe Koo, kicked a game-winning field goal late in the Eagles’ victory over Chattanooga and won SoCon special teams player of the week honors as a result.

Punt returner Brandan Thomas had a 42-yard return earlier this season. As mentioned above, Jerick McKinnon will occasionally return kickoffs (he has three returns so far in 2013). The Eagles have had four different kickers on their kickoff team this year (with Alex Hanks getting the majority of the work); they have combined for 11 touchbacks in 39 kickoffs.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Georgia Southern. Between the first and second quarters, there will be a swearing-in ceremony at Paulson Stadium for 35 new Army recruits. There will be various patches and decals worn by GSU players and coaches (Jeff Monken will wear four patches himself).

– GSU defensive end Lennie Richardson is an Army veteran who served as a tank gunner.

– Sources suggest that Georgia Southern is a 16-point favorite over The Citadel (the over/under is 63.5).

– When Georgia Southern’s offense and The Citadel’s defense is on the field, each team will feature a starter who was born in Haiti — cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre for the Bulldogs, and center Manrey Saint-Amour for the Eagles.

– Apparently, there is a movie being made about legendary Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell. One of the grave injustices of college football is that Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. That’s because he is ineligible. Seriously.

I’ve written about this before, but keeping Russell (and Howard Schnellenberger, or Bobby Ross for that matter) out of the Hall of Fame lessens the importance of the entity itself.

– Last week’s commissioned report by James Madison on whether or not it should move to the FBS reminded me that Georgia Southern did something similar four years ago. At that time, though, the powers-that-be at GSU seemed less than enthused about making the transition.

I wrote extensively (probably too extensively) about the report when it was released, in part because the raw data was very interesting. I didn’t think moving to FBS was in GSU’s best interests then, and to be honest I don’t think it is now, either. Having said that, I wish the school (and its loyal fans) the best of luck.

I think there is a good chance that some of the pressure of the Bulldogs’ season has been eased by the win over Appalachian State. I hope that leads to an even better performance in Statesboro. Georgia Southern is still a good team, one capable of making big plays at any time, but The Citadel has a chance to repeat last season’s dramatic victory.

To do so, the defense needs to force more turnovers. It is not an accident that two of the key plays against the Mountaineers were turnovers — a fumble that changed the tenor of the contest, and the interception in OT. If GSU puts the ball on the ground this Saturday, there needs to be a Bulldog nearby ready to pounce on it.

Offensively, I think it’s important to stay the course. Run, run, then run some more. Avoiding 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long is critical.

This is just a hunch of mine, but I think it’s time for The Citadel’s punt return unit to produce a game-changing block or return.

It should be a nice afternoon in south Georgia. It would be much nicer, though, with another Bulldogs victory.

2011 Football Game 9: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played at Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 5.  The game will not be televised. The game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.   Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Georgia Southern as part of a subscription service.

I’ve already written about The Citadel’s victory over VMI. There isn’t much to add to that, except I did want to briefly mention VMI’s fans.  The Keydets brought more supporters to Johnson Hagood Stadium than Wofford did, and weren’t too far behind Furman in the “travel” category. That’s very impressive, given that A) it’s a long trip, and B) VMI hasn’t had a winning season in 30 years.  Full credit to VMI’s fans, a group that surely deserves better results on the gridiron.

Now the Bulldogs face what could be their biggest challenge of the season to date, a road game against Georgia Southern, which until last week was unbeaten and ranked #1 in the country in both FCS polls. The Eagles saw their perfect season go by the boards in a 24-17 loss in Boone to Appalachian State, and are likely to be a rather surly bunch right now, just in time for Homecoming in Statesboro. Beautiful Eagle Creek may seem a little less beautiful right now.

One thing Georgia Southern can’t really afford to do at this point in the season is lose to The Citadel, because it would put the Eagles in a rather difficult position. Right now GSU is 7-1 with three games remaining. After hosting the Bulldogs, Georgia Southern finishes the regular season with two road games. One of those is in Spartanburg against fellow SoCon title contender Wofford, while the finale is a matchup with BCS title contender Alabama.

If Georgia Southern were to lose all three games, it would finish at 7-4, and would have a borderline case for a postseason bid. The record wouldn’t be great, and GSU would have finished the campaign with four straight defeats. Even more problematic would be the fact that the Eagles would have only six victories against Division I teams, as one of GSU’s wins came against Division II Tusculum.

Technically, an FCS playoff at-large team doesn’t need seven D-1 wins, but historically it has been a de facto rule that at-large candidates should have at least seven such victories. (That may change if there is more postseason expansion.)

GSU definitely needs to win one of its next two games to ensure a playoff bid, and probably needs to win both to garner a national seed.

Although the odds of Georgia Southern getting left out of the FCS postseason are low, it’s important not to overlook the problem of scheduling both a “money” game and a matchup against a non-D1 squad. While a team that closes a season with four straight losses isn’t likely to get an at-large berth anyway, what if Georgia Southern had lost earlier in the season (say, to Chattanooga, a one-point victory for the Eagles), and then finished the year with a win over The Citadel but a tough loss at Wofford, and then the expected defeat to the Crimson Tide?

A SoCon team with 7 wins and a loss to Alabama would normally be at worst a marginal at-large contender, but GSU would only have six D-1 victories and would presumably be out of the running.

That’s why it is better, when looking for a no-return home game, that ADs at schools with playoff aspirations try to schedule D-1 schools rather than D-2 or NAIA teams. It’s not that easy to find FCS schools willing to make a one-way trip, at least not cheaply, but it’s something that needs to be done. Of course, there is the additional risk that the school in question may be good enough to actually win the game.

For The Citadel, Jacksonville was an excellent season-opening opponent in this respect. Presbyterian would also be a good candidate, and of course there is a long tradition of games between the Bulldogs and the Blue Hose. Newberry, on the other hand, is probably not an option, since it is still D-2.

For some fans of the Eagles, the playoffs aren’t enough. There is still a significant group of Georgia Southern supporters who believe that it is time for GSU to make the move to the land of FBS. The school published a study on the issue two years ago. At the time I wrote about whether GSU should make the leap, the latest round of conference-jumping wasn’t even on the horizon, much less a staple of hourly news reports.

I think it is even more of a risk to move to FBS now than it was two years ago, because there is major uncertainty about what that division will become in the next few years. Georgia Southern (and Appalachian State) supporters hoping to become part of the FBS club are dreaming of a chance to join a league like the Sun Belt or, in a best-case scenario, Conference USA.

Even if that were to happen, though, in the current climate there is a possibility it would amount to jumping on a treadmill. If the much-theorized breakaway by the major programs to form super-conferences comes to pass, Sun Belt and C-USA schools are not likely to be part of the chosen few. They are more likely to wind up in a larger FCS.

The Citadel has won two straight games, reason for optimism in the continuing story that is Triple O’Higgins. However, I think there is still reason to be cautious. While I’m not one to complain about any victory, Western Carolina and VMI are not exactly the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers when it comes to football prowess. While the Bulldog D has generally been excellent this season, The Citadel’s triple option attack is still very much a work in progress.

That isn’t to say that strides haven’t been made, because they have. It’s just that the Bulldogs haven’t really had that “eureka” moment, or game, at least not yet. It may be that it won’t happen this season.

Was there such a defining game in 1988, the second year of Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack? Was there a specific game when everyone realized that the Bulldogs were no longer learning how to run the offense, but were instead refining it?

Well, I’m not sure. Looking back at the seven-game winning streak in 1988, there wasn’t a true breakout game in terms of rushing yardage. It was more of a gradual increase, from 290 yards rushing (Navy) to 322 (Western Carolina), then a blip downwards (187 vs. Chattanooga), then the two games started by Tommy Burriss (278 yards rushing against Boston University and 301 vs. East Tennessee State).

Tangent: as it happens, the two games Burriss started in 1988 both came against schools that in the next few years would drop their respective football programs. I don’t think this can be blamed on Burriss, however.

The contest against ETSU could qualify as the game that truly established the offense as a force, as in addition to the rushing yardage the Bulldogs threw for 199 yards, with the 500 yards of total offense being the most in a game for the cadets since 1980. The Citadel scored 48 points against ETSU (31 in the second quarter).

The game against the Buccaneers was the eighth of the 1988 campaign. In the ninth game, Gene Brown would return from injury and lead the Bulldogs to one of their more celebrated victories, a 20-3 Homecoming triumph over #1 Marshall.

It would be nice to have a similar result in the ninth game of this season…

It won’t be easy, though, as the Eagles rank first in the SoCon in scoring defense and rush defense. One big reason why is Georgia Southern nosetackle Brent Russell, who Kevin Higgins called “the best defensive lineman in the country at our level.” It’s hard to argue the point. In last week’s loss to Appalachian State, the redshirt junior registered a career-high ten tackles.

One of the more notable performances in Russell’s career came last season against Navy, when he completely dominated the line of scrimmage, a major reason why Navy was held to 193 total yards (109 rushing). The Midshipmen managed to win the game despite Russell’s efforts, 13-7.

I found it interesting that in his weekly SoCon teleconference, GSU coach Jeff Monken was quick to praise Mike Sellers, the Bulldogs’ sophomore center. When The Citadel’s offense faces Georgia Southern’s defense, the critical matchup could be between the two players who line up closest to the ball.

Incidentally (or maybe not so incidentally), Georgia Southern’s defense has forced a punt on their opponents’ opening possession six times. Presbyterian’s opening drive against the Eagles resulted in a field goal attempt that was blocked. The only time the opposition scored on its initial possession against Georgia Southern was last week, when Appalachian State’s first drive resulted in a touchdown. Obviously, that’s also the only game GSU has lost.

Jaybo Shaw, GSU’s quarterback, was injured early in the contest last season at Johnson Hagood Stadium, so (presuming he stays healthy) this will be the first time The Citadel has seen him in extended game action. The Bulldogs will get their fill of quarterbacks named Shaw, however, as they will face Jaybo’s brother Connor in the game at South Carolina. Two Shaws in three weeks is probably a record.

Shaw’s passing numbers are reasonably solid, if modest by comparison to “normal” offenses. He has completed 54% of his throws for five touchdowns, against two interceptions. More importantly, he is averaging 11.2 yards per attempt, as the Eagles are third nationally (second in the SoCon) in pass efficiency. Shaw has rushed for 261 yards and seven touchdowns.

He has distributed the ball well in GSU’s triple option attack, with a bevy of running backs featuring for the Eagles. Robert Brown, the starting B-back, is the leading ground-gainer on the season for GSU. Included in his totals are 178 yards versus Chattanooga, 140 yards against Samford, and 116 yards versus Elon. He is averaging nearly seven yards per carry.

Georgia Southern’s offensive line has included the same five starters in every game except for last week’s contest, with the two-deep released by the school indicating the standard five-man group will return for the game against The Citadel. Three of the five are seniors.

GSU leads the nation in scoring offense (41.1 points per game) and is second in rushing offense.

The Eagles are also dangerous on special teams. Laron Scott averages 35. 5 yards per kick return, tops in FCS. As for punt returner Darreion Robinson, statistics don’t tell the whole story. This effort against Appalachian State does: Link

Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern will be a challenge, but that’s all right. The players won’t be dreading the trip to Statesboro; rather, they will be relishing it. It’s an opportunity to see how far the Bulldogs have come, and how far they still need to go.

Review: Georgia Southern

Well, that game was a debacle…and when I say it was a debacle, I mean just that.  IT. WAS. A. DEBACLE.

Nine turnovers.  Nine.  Let’s look at some facts about this game:

— Nine turnovers in a game, as you may have guessed, is a school record for The Citadel.

— Among the many amazing things about the game, the Bulldogs committed nine turnovers while running only 47 plays from scrimmage.

— The Citadel committed four turnovers in nine passing attempts (three interceptions, one fumble) and five turnovers on 38 rushing plays (all fumbles, obviously).

— Georgia Southern lost its starting quarterback on its second offensive play.  GSU completed no passes in the game and did not really dominate on the ground, either (4.0 yards per rush).  Yet it still won.  On the road.  By 20 points.

— GSU and The Citadel combined to complete seven passes, three to offensive players and four to defensive players.  It was the first time I had ever seen a game, either in person or on television, where the defensive units for the two teams caught more passes than the offensive units.

— After a game in which The Citadel completed no passes (against Appalachian State), it played a game in which its opponent completed no passes.  I guess that’s like a team getting no-hit in baseball one day, then throwing a no-hitter the next day, but losing both games.

— As Jeff Hartsell pointed out, it was the first time a Bulldog opponent had failed to complete a pass since 1973.  The opposition that day was William & Mary.  That game was also at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and The Citadel lost it, too (24-12). That Bulldog squad finished the year 3-8, by the way, in Bobby Ross’ first season at The Citadel.

— The Citadel fumbled away the ball on its first three offensive possessions.  In seven first-half possessions, the Bulldogs turned the ball over five times and punted twice (three-and-outs on both those drives).

— The second half wasn’t much better, consisting of four turnovers, one punt, and failing on a fourth-down play.

— Thanks to all the turnovers, Georgia Southern’s average starting field position was The Citadel’s 40-yard line.

— The Citadel committed more turnovers against GSU at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday (nine) than the basketball team committed against GSU in McAlister Field House last season (eight).

The Citadel is now in last place in all of FCS in the following categories:  fumbles lost (19, five more than the next-worst team), offensive passing yardage per game, and offensive passing efficiency.  The Bulldogs are in a three-way tie for having committed the most turnovers (27).

I went back and looked at the turnover numbers during Charlie Taaffe’s first season as head coach (1987).  The Bulldogs committed 31 turnovers that year in 11 games; 19 fumbles and 12 interceptions.  The most lost fumbles in one game that season? Four, against Army.  The season high for turnovers in one game that year was five, against Furman.

On the other hand, that team was much more productive on offense, including passing yardage (114 passing ypg. in 1987, 50 this season), total yards (363 to 274), and scoring offense (20.7 to 16.9).  The 1987 team also had a time of possession advantage over its opponents of just over eight minutes; the 2010 Bulldogs to date have a TOP edge of just over four minutes.

One other thing I’ll say that I can’t prove with statistics.  I believe (from memory) that the 1987 team’s lost fumbles were more spread out in terms of different types.  In other words, there were fumbles on bad/dropped pitches, fumbles where the ballcarrier was hit hard and fumbled, “mesh” fumbles, QB/center exchange issues, etc.

Most of the 2010 fumbles are QB/center exchange problems and “mesh” errors.  I have to say that in all honesty, the Bulldogs haven’t managed to get outside enough to have a lot of fumbles on pitch plays (although they have had a few).

Kevin Higgins, from his Monday presser:

“As we analyze each of the nine turnovers, something different happens in each of them, but the one common denominator in all of the fumbles was that a freshman player was involved. That’s not an excuse, but the young guys need to grow up and learn how to do the right thing with the football.”

Okay, so freshmen were “involved” in all nine turnovers.  That might be something to use as a crutch if this had been the first or second game of the season, but it wasn’t. It was the eighth game of the season.  Those guys are all now closer to being sophomores in terms of game experience than freshmen.

Nine turnovers in a spring game would be eye-raising.  Nine turnovers on October 23 is just embarrassing.

The defense played well.  The fact that the final score was “only” 20-0 is a credit to that unit.  I won’t say it was an A+ effort from the D; I would have liked to have seen more forced turnovers, particularly with the backup QB in the game for the Eagles, but it’s also true that GSU employed a fairly conservative game plan on offense for the most part (and why not).

The one time the Bulldog defense had a chance to swing momentum in the game, it did just that, after GSU coach Jeff Monken unaccountably started channeling Wade Phillips late in the first half.  Brandon McCladdie intercepted an ill-advised pass (ill-advised in both strategy and execution), and suddenly The Citadel had the ball in Eagle territory with under a minute to play in the half.

However, on the next play The Citadel gave Georgia Southern the ball right back, returning the Eagles’ interception with one of its own, and that was that.

One other thing from that game:  Greg Adams is apparently okay after a vicious, and illegal, hit by a GSU player who struck the defenseless Adams as he was preparing to return a punt.  I’m glad Adams is all right, but I also think the play warranted a suspension for the offender from the Southern Conference.  As it was, the player wasn’t even ejected from the game.

There are more things to discuss, related not just to this game but the season in general and the state of the football program in particular.  I want to think about them for a few more days…I’ll discuss those issues in my preview of the Wofford game. The discussion may make up the bulk of that preview, actually.

Below are a few pictures I took during the game.  There isn’t anything special about any of them.  I would note that I didn’t think it was such a good idea for the team to wear all-navy on a warm day, but then I wouldn’t like the navy uniforms on any kind of day.

Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Bulldogs return to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a 1:00 pm ET game against the Eagles.  First, though, a few thoughts on the Appalachian State game, since I didn’t post a review of that contest.

First, I heard the final score — 39-10.  I later read that during the game, The Citadel:

Did not complete a pass (the first time the Bulldogs had failed to do that in 15 years)

— Committed two turnovers, one fumble and one interception

— Botched two punt snaps, the second of which led to punter Cass Couey leaving the game with an injury

— Lost the battle of time of possession, despite 53 rush attempts (in 59 total plays)

— Only averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return

— Missed out on a defensive turnover thanks to a pass interference penalty

— Allowed TD receptions of 65 and 73 yards

Lost one of its experienced playmakers, running back Van Dyke Jones, with what was later determined to be an ACL injury; Jones’ career highlight, of course, was a 69-yard run against the Mountaineers in last year’s meeting

All of that came on the road, against the #1 ranked team in FCS football.  So how exactly did The Citadel only lose by 29 points?

Well, App State dialed it down some in the fourth quarter, but there were some positives for the Bulldogs, looking at the stat sheet:

— First, full credit to backup punter Alexander Wall for doing a nice job on short notice; he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and only allowed 10 total return yards

— While Matt Thompson started, Sam Martin did play and saw significant time, so his injury from last week apparently wasn’t serious

— The aforementioned PI aside, the Bulldogs only committed five penalties

— The Bulldog D did force two turnovers that counted, including a fumble that was returned 40 yards by Eric Clanton, setting up the game’s first score; a later interception by Brandon McCladdie was the first pick by an App State opponent this season

— The defense, despite giving up two big pass plays, allowed less than 400 yards of total offense, which against App State (and considering it was on the field longer than normal) wasn’t too bad

— App State was only 5-14 on third down conversions

— The Citadel blocked not one but two PATs

Okay, so maybe I had to stretch to come up with some of those positives, but I guess my final analysis of the game would go something like this:  it could have been worse. Hey, the Mountaineers are ranked #1; the Bulldogs are not.  It was never going to be a game for The Citadel to use in measuring its progress this season.

On the other hand, Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is such a game.

Prior to this season, Jeff Monken had spent the past 13 years as an assistant for Paul Johnson at three different schools — Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. (Monken was also a grad assistant at Hawai’i when Johnson was the offensive coordinator there.)  He was hired by GSU to restore the triple option, and with it the glory days of Eagle football.

Perhaps the difference in expectations for the football programs at Georgia Southern and The Citadel can be summed up by this Monken quote:

“Who cares about transition years?  Nobody cares about that.  We want to win. I want to win, our fans want to win, our kids want to win. Nobody wants to hear about transition, or we’re young, or we’re learning. That’s a bunch of talk.

When you play a football game, you play to win. My expectation is the same for this season as it is for every season, and that’s to try and win every game. That’s what I expect.”

Contrast that with The Citadel, where most (although by no means all) fans are content to allow Kevin Higgins a “transition year” in the sixth season of his tenure at the military college.  Of course, Monken knows that he has a little more leeway than what he expressed in the above quote.  Georgia Southern fans aren’t expecting him to compete for the national title this year.

Next year, though, is a different story…

There are also those GSU supporters who aren’t that interested in the FCS national crown, because they would rather see the program move up to FBS land.  I think that would be a mistake, at least as things are currently constituted in the two sub-divisions.  I wrote about this last year, when GSU released its study on the issue.

Of course, now Appalachian State has decided it’s also going to study the pros and cons of making the move.  It’s prudent to assess the landscape of college football, and I don’t blame either school for investigating their options.  It’s my opinion, though, that unless there are major alterations in the world of FCS (or FBS), staying put is the way to go for the folks in Boone and Statesboro.

Georgia Southern is 3-3, 1-2 in the SoCon.  It looked for a while like Monken was ahead of schedule, for going into the game against Wofford the Eagles were 3-1 and ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.  However, a home loss to the Terriers was followed by last week’s setback at Chattanooga, and it’s clear that it’s not yet smooth sailing for GSU in conference play.

The biggest advantage Georgia Southern has had over The Citadel in re-instituting the triple option has been at quarterback, where the Eagles can rely on Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw, who not only ran the offense at Tech, but also ran it in high school.  He’s not an explosive runner, but he can make all the reads and can also throw the ball fairly well (10.3 yards per pass attempt; 4 TDs, no INTs).

GSU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush.  J.J. Wilcox is a solid slotback who can also catch the ball (his eleven receptions leads the team).  Robert Brown is a freshman fullback who actually leads the Eagles in rushing, but he’s been hurt.  There is no Adrian Peterson (GSU version, not Oklahoma version) suiting up this year for GSU.

Wilcox is the only GSU player with more than 95 receiving yards (he has 302).  No other Eagle has more than six grabs, but when one does make a catch, it’s usually for a good gain.  GSU receivers are averaging 19.1 yards per reception.

Georgia Southern has a young-ish offensive line (three juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman), and it’s been a little inconsistent.  While the Eagles are fourth nationally in rushing offense, they have suffered eleven sacks, which is a lot for a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often.

On defense, the Eagles are led by Brent Russell, an interior lineman with 4.5 sacks, three other tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.  He’s a very good player.  Other than Russell, though, GSU is not particularly sack-happy, with 12 total sacks on the year.  Georgia Southern has a solid, if not dynamic, group of linebackers and an improved secondary, although one with a tendency to give up the big play (five TD passes allowed of greater than 25 yards).  Does that sound familiar?

Georgia Southern’s special teams have been outstanding. Placekicker Adrian Mora has not missed a field goal or extra point this season.  He hasn’t been asked to kick long FGs (his longest this year is 41 yards) but he has made all that he has tried. Punter Charlie Edwards is the key factor behind the Eagles’ excellent net punting average of 39 yards, fourth in the country.

Georgia Southern’s 3-1 start included a game at Navy.  GSU lost that game, but only by a 13-7 margin.  Considering it was a battle of triple option teams, both with Paul Johnson connections, I thought it was interesting that the game was low scoring.

The Citadel is also running a similar triple option system, of course.  Will the Eagles defend the same way against the Bulldogs?  And how exactly did they defend, anyway?

Well, a good person to ask would be The Birddog, chronicler of Naval Academy athletics and the unquestioned Tolstoy of the Triple Option.  I’ve mentioned his blog before; for something of an introductory primer on the offense, here are a few posts from it:

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

I asked him a few questions about the Georgia Southern-Navy game.  Some of the Q-and-A is below:

Question:  I read that GSU defended the option in part by using its corners more aggressively (“firing the corners”) than is the norm.  Is that correct?

Answer:  The best way to defend firing corners is just to block.  It’s not an uncommon move; Air Force, Wake Forest, and SMU did it too. The difference between the wins and the losses was personnel, specifically the slotbacks. One of our junior slotbacks who was injured to start the year came back against Wake Forest, and all of a sudden it was no longer a problem.

Question:  Would the passing game be one way to combat that?  Specifically, throwing the ball to a slotback, or maybe even the fullback (on a screen pass)?

Answer:  There are ways to beat it in the passing game too.  The simplest way is to just throw to the uncovered receiver.  I think there’s a video of that in the Air Force writeup.

[Note from SS…that post can be found here:  Link ]

The cornerback blitz is as vulnerable to screen passes as any other blitz, and Navy runs a screen to the fullback in the direction of the blitz on occasion. The wheel-post works really well against blitzing corners too.

The safety has to roll over to cover the wide receiver, which leaves a linebacker to cover a slotback, which is usually a pretty favorable matchup for the offense.  I have an example toward the end of this post:  Link

Georgia Southern’s staff knew the Navy staff’s hand signals, so Navy had to stop going no-huddle early on.  Brent Russell also played a very good game.

Question:  Any thoughts on their splits?

Answer:  GSU’s splits are wider than Navy’s. There was a rule enacted last year that prohibited anyone lined up outside the tackles from blocking below the waist back inside the tackle box. That’s why Navy’s slots line up with their inside foot inside the outside foot of the tackle.  GSU doesn’t bother having their slots cut block inside anymore, preferring to keep the formation more spread.

Thanks again to The Birddog for answering my (probably simpleminded) questions.

The passing game has been a sore spot for The Citadel this year, of course, so the notion that being able to successfully throw the ball against GSU’s defense might be a key to the game probably makes Bulldog fans a little queasy.  The Bulldog slotbacks also must block well; perimeter blocking has been an issue for The Citadel all season.

Earlier in the post I linked Jeff Hartsell’s story about The Citadel’s anemic passing game.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that is worth noting:

…the Bulldogs have to get some semblance of a throwing game in shape before Georgia Southern brings its version of the double-slot option to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that offensive coaches will simplify their passing schemes this week in order to do just that.

“One thing we talked about as a staff (Monday) morning is simplifying what we are doing,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference. “Last week, we carried in 30 to 36 passing plays that you practice on a routine basis, based on what you might see in a game. At this point, I think we have a good idea of what our opponents will be running. Now, in my mind, we’ve got to get that 36 down to 10 or 15 plays.

“We need to run those plays well in practice every day, so that the quarterback is more confident, and receivers and everybody else are on the same page. So I think we’ve got to simplify and practice those specific plays more throughout the week.”

Hartsell also pointed out later in the story that the better you are at running the ball in the TO, the easier it is to pass it.
It should be a nice day for a game on Saturday in Charleston, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.  Let’s hope that the sun finally shines on The Citadel in conference play.