2018 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Furman

Rarely does a football team live up to its nickname the way The Citadel’s gritty squad did at Johnson Hagood Stadium Saturday afternoon. They don’t call them the Bulldogs for nothing.

Third-string quarterback Joe Sumrall, pressed into action by a rash of injuries, directed Bobby Ross’ team to one first-half touchdown and freshman running back Alvin Perkins exploded 54 yards for another. Handed that cushion, The Citadel defense then hung on to take a 13-9 victory over arch-rival Furman.

“I’ve never been as proud of a team as I am of this one today,” said a relieved Ross afterwards. “We were depleted by injuries, and some other guys were playing hurt. But these kids have shown a lot of spunk all season.”

The Post and Courier, November 16, 1975

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 27, 2018.

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 10/23 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 10/24 radio show (video)

The Citadel’s oldest fan (presumably) is 101 years old; she watches the Bulldogs while drinking rum and Coke

Bulldogs outlast VMI, retain the coveted Silver Shako

“The Heat” — VMI game (video)

Zane Najdawi a preseason all-conference selection for the Bulldogs; hoopsters picked to finish 6th in the SoCon by the coaches

“Meet the Bulldogs” basketball event to be held outside of Gate 2 at Johnson Hagood Stadium

– Furman enters “must win” portion of the season

This is Hall of Fame weekend at The Citadel. Originally, it was supposed to take place on the weekend of the Charleston Southern game, but then that matchup got postponed due to Hurricane Florence.

This year’s inductees include basketball player Cameron Wells, wrestler Odie Delaney, baseball pitcher Brian Rogers, football player Gene Brown, and honorary enshrinee LTG Claudius “Bud” Watts III, the former school president.

It is an excellent class, but since this is a post that is mostly about football, allow me to single out Gene Brown for a moment. I’m very glad to see him honored; if anything, his election was overdue:

  • Brown was named the Southern Conference’s offensive player of the week four times in 1988. No other Bulldog football player has ever been honored that many times by the SoCon in one season. Brian Ruff was the league’s defensive player of the week three times in both 1975 and 1976; Stump Mitchell, Jack Douglas, and Everette Sands each had three conference offensive player of the week nods in one season (in 1980, 1990, and 1992, respectively). That is an extremely impressive group of players, and Brown actually went one better than all of them.
  • His most critical performance that year came in The Citadel’s 20-3 victory over then-#1 Marshall. On one of the grand occasions in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium, Brown returned from injury to lead the Bulldogs to a victory as memorable as any football game ever played on the peninsula. Do you remember the goalposts? I do…
  • Besides all-conference and SoCon Offensive Player of the Year honors, Gene Brown was also named the South Carolina State Player of the Year for the 1988 season. He became just the third Bulldog to receive that designation, after Andrew Johnson and Brian Ruff (who picked up that honor twice).
  • He had 286 yards against VMI in the Oyster Bowl! On only 15 carries!
  • That win over Navy at Johnson Hagood Stadium was quite nice, too.

To more than a few observers, the 1988 season marked a turning point in Bulldog football. Supporters and players came to understand that, even in the “modern era” of college football, The Citadel could do more than just compete on the gridiron — the Bulldogs could win, and win big, and with a lot of style. The program’s identity (then and now) as an option team was solidified during that campaign.

The architect of that change in outlook was Charlie Taaffe. The player who best illustrated Taaffe’s vision, and who first demonstrated its power, was Gene Brown.

Saturday will also be Military Appreciation Day at The Citadel (well, the football promotion version; after all, every day is military appreciation day at The Citadel). When Furman last visited Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 2016, it was also Military Appreciation Day. Expect the usual festivities associated with the event; the “Block C” logo at midfield already sports red, white, and blue coloring.

Before getting too far into this week’s preview, I wanted to briefly discuss the victory over VMI. Obviously, retaining the coveted Silver Shako was paramount, and the team succeeded in getting the job done.

That said, it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. The Bulldogs still have issues that need to be fixed if they want to have a strong finish to the 2018 campaign.

When asked on his radio show about where the team could take away from the win over the Keydets, Brent Thompson mentioned “figuring out a way to win” (not a small thing, given the Bulldogs’ close losses this season). He also stated The Citadel had “played well at times on defense” and that he was pleased with some of the adjustments made on the offensive line.

Offensively, the Bulldogs finally produced some big running plays, including Jordan Black’s 71-yard TD dash in the third quarter.

The Citadel had three 20+ yard rushes versus VMI, which increased The Citadel’s total number this season of such running plays in SoCon action to seven. Those three plays included two touchdowns; the third long run led to a field goal.

I was slightly disappointed in the way the game ended from the Bulldogs’ perspective. The offense had a chance to essentially ice the game twice, and failed to do so. The defense allowed a big play TD in the fourth quarter, and later gave up a potential tying touchdown on a last-gasp drive by VMI.

The Citadel did enough to win the game, particularly on special teams, where the Bulldogs had a huge edge in the contest. Despite that, the Bulldogs still gave the Keydets a chance to force overtime. That isn’t the ideal recipe for long-term success.

However, you have to give the opponent credit too, even one that hasn’t won a game in a while.

Before the season began, I thought VMI might be truly atrocious, perhaps one of the very worst teams in all of FCS. While the Keydets haven’t been good, they are considerably more competitive than I expected.

VMI has played six league contests. In four of those, the Keydets lost by 3 or fewer points, and they could have easily won three of the matchups. Reece Udinski is a good quarterback, and he has a few playmakers with which to work. Defensively, VMI has really struggled, but opponents still have earn their points against them.

When VMI finally breaks through and wins a game, I think the team that loses to them will be very unhappy — but the squad that plays the Keydets in the following game shouldn’t be all that excited, either.

This is the first time since 2012 that The Citadel has played VMI and Furman in back-to-back weeks. That year, the Bulldogs defeated VMI 27-24 in Lexington, and followed that up with a 42-20 triumph over Furman in Greenville.

Before then, you have to go back to 1992 to find the last time The Citadel played the Keydets and Paladins in consecutive games. That season, the Bulldogs beat VMI 50-0 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, then won 20-14 at Furman to clinch the Southern Conference title.

Future scheduling report: Furman has the following games lined up against FBS opponents:

  • 2019: Georgia State and Virginia Tech (remember, next year FCS teams can play 12 regular-season games)
  • 2020: Tennessee
  • 2021: North Carolina State
  • 2022: Clemson
  • 2024: Mississippi
  • 2025: Clemson

The Citadel’s future FBS foes (so far) look like this:

  • 2019: Georgia Tech
  • 2020: Clemson
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina
  • 2024: Clemson
  • 2025: Mississippi

Clemson and Mississippi are basically switching out the two SoCon schools as their respective FCS matchups in 2024 and 2025.

As for non-conference FCS opponents over the next five years: Furman currently has scheduled matchups with Colgate (two games) and Kennesaw State; in addition, Clay Hendrix stated this week on his radio show that the Paladins will face Charleston Southern next year in Greenville.

Meanwhile, The Citadel will play Towson, Elon (two games), Charleston Southern (three games), and Campbell (two games). Both schools have slots available to add other non-conference contests.

From the preview of the game on Furman’s website:

The game will mark the 98th meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs in a series that began in 1913 and has been played annually since 1919, with a brief three-year cessation from 1943-45 when the two schools closed ranks with the rest of America and the Allies to fight Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito in World War II.

I couldn’t help but notice this blurb. For one thing, “Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito” is a phrase doesn’t make a lot of game previews. However, Furman used the same line in its game notes for the 2015 matchup.

The Citadel won that contest 38-17, spoiling Furman’s Homecoming, so perhaps history can repeat itself.

Furman is 2-4 overall so far this season, 2-2 in the Southern Conference. The Paladins had a very tough start to their 2018 campaign, beginning with a 48-7 loss to Clemson.

The loss to the Tigers was predictable, but a 45-7 beatdown at the hands of Elon the following week was not. The two teams had split their matchups the previous season, with the Paladins prevailing in a playoff game.

In this contest, though, the Phoenix had more rushing yards (275) than Furman had total yards (262). Elon added 173 yards passing, while the Paladins committed three turnovers and were never really in the game.

FU’s would-be first home game of the season (against Colgate) was cancelled, thanks to Hurricane Florence. The next Saturday, the Paladins blew a 27-6 second-half lead and lost at East Tennessee State, 29-27. The winning points for the Buccaneers came on a late-game safety with the score tied, something you don’t see every day.

Furman rebounded the following week, outlasting Western Carolina 44-38. It was the Paladins’ first home game of the season (on September 29), and the team responded by jumping out to a 31-10 lead, then hanging on down the stretch to pick up the victory. The game was filled with numerous big plays, including a kickoff return for a touchdown by FU’s Dejuan Bell.

After a bye, the Paladins then played their best game of the season, defeating Wofford 34-14. Starting quarterback Harris Roberts threw for three touchdown passes and rushed for two others. The Paladins’ defense kept the Terriers’ offense in check, in large part by getting off the field on third down (Wofford was only 3 for 11 converting third down attempts).

Last week, Samford defeated Furman 38-25. The Paladins led 19-9 early in the third quarter, but Samford proceeded to score four TDs in less than eleven minutes of game action to put the game away. The key play was a 58-yard fumble return for a touchdown by SU defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden.

Despite the loss, the most impressive performer during the game was arguably Furman placekicker/punter Grayson Atkins, who kicked three field goals of 50 or more yards, and averaged 45.8 yards on six punts.

Furman’s regular starting quarterback is Harris Roberts (6’4″, 209 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Cumming, Georgia. For the season, Roberts is 37-54 passing, with four TDs against two interceptions, averaging an outstanding 10.1 yards per attempt (this does not account for sacks).

The problem for the Paladins has been keeping Roberts on the field. He missed much of the Clemson game, all of the Elon game, and left the Samford game last week early in that contest.

Whether or not he plays this Saturday is a big question, and Furman is trying to keep The Citadel guessing. FU’s depth chart lists four potential starters at quarterback.

Everyone knows that when a team has two quarterbacks, it really has none. What everyone doesn’t know is that if a team has four quarterbacks, it really has -2.

Redshirt senior Kealand Dirks (6’0″, 250 lbs.) was a preseason first-team all-SoCon pick, after being a second-team selection following last season. Dirks is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this year after averaging 4.7 yards per rush in 2017.

Devin Wynn (6’0″, 195 lbs.) has just as many carries this year as Dirks, but has gained 118 more yards. The sophomore tailback got his first start last week versus Samford, running for 83 yards on 13 rushes.

Junior flanker Thomas Gordon (6’0″”, 174 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with sixteen. Gordon, a preseason second-team all-league choice, is averaging 16.2 yards per catch; he had a 77-yard touchdown catch against Samford.

Although listed as a backup, another receiver to watch is Dejuan Bell (5’9″, 160 lbs.), a freshman from North Augusta who was a high school track star. As noted in the overview of Furman’s season, Bell returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Western Carolina. He also had a 45-yard TD reception in that game.

Although he only has two receptions this season, by rule I have to mention Furman’s starting tight end, who will traditionally be seen running wide open across the middle of the field at least three times during this game. Jake Walker (6’4″, 228 lbs.), a sophomore, was a preseason second-team all-conference selection.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 283 lbs. Left guard Reed Kroeber (6’4″, 286 lbs.), a versatile lineman who began the year as the center (and who has also played tackle for the Paladins) was a preseason second-team all-league pick, and the redshirt sophomore arguably should have been on the preseason first team.

The linchpin of Furman’s defensive unit is senior noseguard Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 278 lbs.), who has started 36 games for the Paladins during his college career. Reid was a second-team all-conference choice after last season; it is a testament to how many outstanding defensive linemen there are in the league that Reid did not make first team, because he is really good.

Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 225 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, with 56. The sophomore linebacker was a preseason first-team All-SoCon pick. He also has one of the Paladins’ three interceptions this season.

Middle linebacker Donavan Perryman (6’2″, 225 lbs.) has 46 stops on the campaign. Perryman is a sophomore from Rock Hill.

Although not listed as a starter, Adrian Hope (6’1″, 218 lbs.) warrants mentioning. He has seven sacks from the “Bandit” position (including three against Wofford). Hope is a redshirt freshman from Ocala, Florida, who had 56 career sacks in high school.

Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 178 lbs.) was a second-team all-conference pick after last season, and the senior from Nashville was a preseason first-team selection this year. The strong safety has 31 career starts.

As discussed earlier, Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 187 lbs.) handles both the placekicking and punting duties for the Paladins, and handles them very well. The sophomore from Inman is 7 for 9 on field goal tries this year, with his two misses from 48 and 50 yards, and the three aforementioned makes of 50+. Atkins also handles kickoffs, and has a touchback rate of 51.6%.

Besides returning kicks, Dejuan Bell is now listed as the primary punt returner for Furman.

Evan Vaughn (6’2″, 227 lbs.) is in his third season as the Paladins’ long snapper. He is a junior from Honea Path.

Reese Vita (6’1″, 203 lbs.), the holder on placements, is a redshirt junior quarterback from Sarasota. He somehow was not listed as a potential starting QB on Furman’s depth chart this week, surely a missed opportunity.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly cloudy, with a 20% chance of showers, and highs in the upper 60s.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 54 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Wofford is a 9-point favorite over Mercer; VMI is a 17 1/2 point underdog at Chattanooga; and East Tennessee State is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina.

Samford is off this week.

Those lines are all as of Thursday evening.

– Also of note:  Towson is a 1-point underdog at Delaware, while Charleston Southern is a 23-point underdog against Kennesaw State.

Alabama is off this week, preparing for its November 3 contest at LSU — a night game in Baton Rouge.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 63rd in FCS. Furman is ranked 44th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 40% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 28.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (8th), Elon (12th), Colgate (14th), Kennesaw State (18th), Yale (21st), Wofford (26th), Samford (34th), Chattanooga (36th), North Carolina A&T (43rd), Mercer (48th), East Tennessee State (49th), San Diego (62nd), Charleston Southern (79th), Western Carolina (85th), Savannah State (99th), South Carolina State (101st), VMI (105th), Hampton (109th), Presbyterian (116th), Gardner-Webb (117th), Davidson (118th), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, Dartmouth, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota State.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio State. Some other notables:  Texas is 12th, UCF 13th, Texas A&M 14th, North Carolina State 18th, Missouri 21st, Auburn 23rd, Mississippi State 25th, South Carolina 27th, Duke 33rd, Boston College 34th, Virginia 36th, Appalachian State 37th, Army 39th, Virginia Tech 46th, Tennessee 52nd, Florida State 53rd, Maryland 55th, Vanderbilt 61st, Georgia Tech 66th, Wake Forest 67th, North Texas 76th, Georgia Southern 81st, Air Force 83rd, Toledo 86th, Arkansas 93rd, North Carolina 95th, Coastal Carolina 100th, Navy 104th, Liberty 106th, Old Dominion 113th, Charlotte 118th, UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Furman’s notable alumni:  philologist Maurice Bloomfield, opera singer Elizabeth Bishop, and soccer player/fisherman/rapper Clint Dempsey.

– Furman’s roster includes 35 players from Georgia. Other states represented on its squad:  North Carolina (15 players), South Carolina (15), Tennessee (10), Florida (9), Alabama (6), Maryland (4), Ohio (2), and Virginia (1).

While Furman has 15 players who attended 14 different high schools in South Carolina (two Paladins went to Dreher), none of them are graduates of legendary gridiron steamroller Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This is a staggering omission that will undoubtedly have a permanently negative impact on the FU football program, and for that matter the university as a whole. Ignoring the mighty maroon and orange is no way to run an institution.

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

– This week’s two-deep is very similar to the one released for the VMI game. There are two changes, both due to an injury to Rod Johnson, who may not play the rest of the season. As a result, Khafari Buffalo is listed as one of the Bulldogs’ two kick returners, while Dante Smith is now a potential starter at one of the A-back positions.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-8-1 for games played on October 27. The Bulldogs are 5-1-1 at home on that date. A brief review of a few of the contests, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1951:  Before a Parents’ Day crowd of 6,085, The Citadel defeated Presbyterian 35-0. Starting quarterback Buddy Friedlin ran for two touchdowns, including a 62-yard sprint down the sideline. Other Bulldogs to score that day: Rudy Willcox, Curtis Bozeman, and Johnny Mamajek (who rushed for 121 yards on 15 carries). The game was described as a “rough and tumble” affair and featured a post-game fistfight between two opposing linemen.
  • 1984:  In Boone, North Carolina, The Citadel beat Appalachian State 21-5, the fourth straight victory for the Bulldogs. While the Mountaineers outgained the Bulldogs, four turnovers by App State proved costly. Cliff Walters intercepted a pass to set up one TD, and another Bulldogs score came after Warren McGrier recovered a fumbled punt. Robert Hill threw a touchdown pass to Victor Frazier and ran for another; the third TD for The Citadel came on a run by Mike Lewis.
  • 1990:  One week following the Bulldogs’ upset of South Carolina, Jack Douglas ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-15 victory over East Tennessee State. The 200 yards rushing would prove to be a career high for Douglas, who also threw a pass to Cornell Caldwell for 64 yards. Others scoring TDs for The Citadel that day: Erick Little and Everette Sands. Torrence Forney, fresh off the most famous recovered onside kick in Bulldog history, intercepted two passes. Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium that afternoon: 13,217.

– Kickoff for that 1990 contest was at the somewhat unusual time of 4:00 pm ET. The Citadel experimented with that start time for a few games. Why, you ask?

Well, according a newspaper column by the estimable Ken Burger, the Downtown Merchants Association complained to the school that earlier kickoff times were hurting downtown businesses, while the Restaurant Association claimed night games had a negative effect on the local dinner trade.

You just can’t please everybody.

– The excerpt from The Post and Courier at the top of this post is from the game story of The Citadel’s 13-9 win over Furman in 1975. I just wanted to note that, despite neither team being in contention for a league crown, the article was on page A-1 of the newspaper. The front page also featured a large photo of a play from the game.

Attendance that afternoon (it was Homecoming): 17,345. Defensive stars from the game for the Bulldogs included Brian Ruff (nine tackles, two fumble recoveries), Tony Starks, and Ron Shelley. The Citadel clinched the victory when Cary Vick forced a fumble on a sack, which was recovered by David Sollazzo.

– Completed unrelated to sports, and maybe anything else: While researching this post, I learned that for the 1951-52 school year, The Citadel’s appropriation from the state was $825,000.

Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs played their poorest game in several seasons. It was disappointing, and unacceptable.

I don’t know if The Citadel will win this week, but I am very confident that the squad will put in a much better performance than it did last season.

Whatever happens at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday, we’ll be watching.

Game Review, 2018: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package (mostly on the Rod Johnson kickoff return), The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– School release from The Citadel

School release from Mercer

– “Notes” section on the game from The Macon Telegraph

Facebook video postgame report by writers from Mercer’s student newspaper (I think in association with The Macon Telegraph)

Video from WCBD-TV

– Video from WCSC-TV (via Twitter)

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

After the game was over, because I am a mondo sports nerd, I tweeted this semi-serious (but true!) factoid:

If you don’t mind indulging me, I wanted to expand on this, mainly by quoting The News and Courier‘s game commentary from October 3, 1926.

To set this up…

The Citadel traveled to Mercer for a game played on October 2, 1926. It was a hot afternoon (much like it was in Macon yesterday), and about 3,000 spectators were in attendance.

The Bears were a solid favorite. Mercer’s team included Wally Butts and the highly regarded Joseph “Phoney” Smith, who was one of the great halfbacks of his day. (Incidentally, if you think “Phoney” is an interesting nickname, Smith’s brother Byron was known as “Crook”.)

Wally Butts, of course, is best known for his long stint as the head football coach at Georgia (and for an infamous scandal involving Paul “Bear” Bryant).

Despite being at a perceived disadvantage, the Bulldogs were in control for much of the contest and led 6-0 before a Mercer score gave the home team a 7-6 lead. Then, with less than three minutes remaining, the Bears drove down to The Citadel’s 11-yard line, and attempted to punch in a decisive TD. However, Dick “Moonie” Brown and Eddie Doyle had other ideas:

Then came the most dramatic moment of the afternoon. The ball was snapped, Skelton [the Mercer quarterback] darted to the line of scrimmage, passed [by] it a few yards and seemed to rise up in the air and then shoot back towards his own goal, following a sickening impact of human bodies, as Moonie Brown’s head was buried in the runner’s stomach.

The ball rolled to one side. Immediately it was surrounded by blue jerseys. Eddie Doyle, who had only a few moments before replaced the brilliant but tired Oscar Reeder, scooped it up and began the long journey.

In the World War destroyers guarded huge ships crossing the Atlantic. This afternoon the dreadnaughts of The Citadel team conveyed the little destroyer of Macon’s hopes safely down the ninety yards.

Not a [single] Mercer man got within twenty yards near the squadron and to have gotten to Doyle, they would have had to kill several Citadel men.

Mercer’s game program included illustrations of several players, but only one Bulldog: Eddie Doyle.

The writer of the game story excerpted above was The News and Courier‘s sports editor, C.D. Weimer. In the spring of 1927, Weimer left Charleston to take an editorial position with another newspaper.

Before he left, though, Weimer was the guest of honor at a supper held at The Citadel which was attended by the entire Corps of Cadets. He was presented with a watch chain and a small gold football as a token of the Corps’ esteem for him.

Those were the days…

Speaking of the Corps of Cadets, they also celebrated victories a little differently back then than they do today. As described by The News and Courier at the time:

Big Saturday night crowds and heavy early-evening traffic were blocked for ten minutes at the corner of King and Wentworth streets last night when more than 400 Citadel cadets halted there for a hilarious celebration of the Blue and White’s victory over Mercer at Macon yesterday afternoon.

The cadets, led by Butler Doolittle, of Atlanta, of the Class of ’17, and former cheerleader at the military college, had marched the full three miles from the barracks at Hampton Park, cheering and singing all the way. Many had pulled out their shirt-tails. Those who wore khaki-colored shirts pulled out the tails and tied handkerchiefs on the end to gain the effect of a trailing white shirt-tail.

Swinging down Rutledge Avenue after leaving The Citadel, the cadets turned at Calhoun and then turned into King. They all but filled the narrow and busy thoroughfare as they swooped down toward Wentworth. Hundreds of shoppers stopped and gazed; not a few followed.

At Wentworth the perspiring, happy and now hoarse youths hoisted a cheerleader to shoulders and this busy corner heard yells seldom heard except at Hampton Park.

As the cadets ruled the corner impatient motorists pressed their horn buttons, but in the din they were hardly heard.

Okay, enough about the roaring ’20s. Let’s look at some stats from Saturday’s game:

Category The Citadel Mercer
Field Position -5.5 +5.5
Success Rate 47.8% 43.1%
Explosiveness 1.17 1.26
Finishing drives 4.8 (5) 5.2 (6)
Turnovers 0 1
Possessions 9 10
Offensive Plays 69 65
Yards/rush 5.2 3.5
Yards/pass attempt 16.7 7.1
Yards/play 6.9 5.8
3rd down conversions 6/14 6/12
4th down conversions 4/5 1/1
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 75.0 (3/4)
Net punting 31.0 48.7
Time of possession 32:36:00 27:24:00
TOP/offensive play 28.34 sec 25.15 sec
Penalties 4/50 4/18
1st down passing 3/4 118 yds 9/14 125 yds 1 sk
3rd/long passing 0/1 4/5 44 yds 3 sks
4th down passing 0/0 0/0
1st down yards/play 9.8 5.8
3rd down average yards to go 4.6 7.3

Note: Mercer’s final play of the first half is not counted in the numbers above. Also, sacks (and pass plays resulting in sacks) are listed in the passing stats, not the rushing totals — particularly relevant in this game because The Citadel had five sacks.

Random observations:

– Mercer’s 3.5 yards per rush was the lowest allowed this season by the Bulldogs, continuing a positive trend over the first three games.

– The Citadel’s offensive Success Rate was its best so far in 2018, and its offensive Explosiveness quotient was easily the highest in the three contests played so far. The defensive Explosiveness number was the lowest for a Bulldogs opponent this year (which is good, just for clarification).

– The Citadel has had a time of possession edge of at least five minutes in all three games.

– In terms of Red Zone TD rate, the Bulldogs have gone 2 for 3 in all three of their matchups this year.

– This was the first game in which The Citadel did not have the field position edge. However, that doesn’t take into account the kick return TD.

– The Bulldogs’ average yards to go on third down of 4.6 yards was a significant improvement from the first two games of the season, and also indirectly led to the team going for it on 4th down several times. The Citadel was frequently in third-down situations where only four or five yards were needed to move the chains; when the Bulldogs didn’t make it on third down, Brent Thompson was comfortable going for it on 4th-and-short (four of the five fourth-down attempts came on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2).

– Jordan Black threw ten passes against Mercer. Only three of them came in true passing situations (2nd-and-long or 3rd-and-long). Given the chance to throw a higher percentage of his passes in standard down-and-distance circumstances, Black excelled. On those seven pass attempts, he was 5 for 7 for 167 yards.

– In a game with more of its share of big plays, one of the most important was a five-yard gain. With the Bulldogs deep in their own territory midway through the fourth quarter, Curt Nixon made a nice catch on 3rd-and-3 to pick up a first down. Four plays later, The Citadel led for the first time in the contest.

– Only two kickoff returns in The Citadel’s gridiron history have been longer than Rod Johnson’s 94-yard game-winner on Saturday. Bud Pough had a 100-yard KOR for a touchdown against Appalachian State in 2002, and Danny Miller had a 95-yarder versus Wofford in 1979.

Johnson’s kickoff return matched Carlos Frank’s 94-yard TD against Georgia Southern in 1996.

– Raleigh Webb’s 77-yard touchdown catch from Jordan Black was the 10th-longest pass play in school annals, and the longest since 2008, when Bart Blanchard threw a 78-yarder to Andre Roberts versus Webber International. It was the longest TD reception caught by a Bulldog not named Andre Roberts in this century.

– Khafari Buffalo’s first career interception was a big one, and a rather athletic play to boot. He was injured making the pick and did not return to the game. I hope he is okay, as it appeared on replay that his head hit the turf when he fell.

– I also wish Mercer quarterback Robert Riddle the best after his unfortunate injury late in the game. He seemed to hurt his shoulder, and it did not look good.

I was impressed with Riddle, who has a sneaky-strong throwing arm. He is one of those guys who you don’t think can make the throw he’s about to make, but then the ball gets where it needs to go. Riddle had a little help from some of his receivers (particularly Marquise Irvin).

– If Riddle is going to be out for an extended period of time, at least Mercer has the benefit of an experienced (and in my opinion, talented) quarterback in Kaelan Riley. The Bears now have a bye week, which should help in his preparation for their next game, which is at Yale.

While I am not someone who automatically supports SoCon teams against non-league opponents, I am definitely rooting for the Bears in that matchup.

– I could write a 5000-word screed on how poor the officiating was at times on Saturday, but I’ll just say that having instant replay doesn’t help if it isn’t utilized properly. Also, there isn’t much the guy in the booth can do about bad pass interference calls, especially those seemingly made long after the play was over.

It made the victory for the Bulldogs that much sweeter, as they had to overcome more than they really should have. My basic takeaway from the contest was that both teams played well, but that the better team on the day deservedly won the game.

I’ll post a preview of the Towson game later in the week. The Tigers will be a tough matchup for The Citadel, as they look to be considerably better than expected.

That writeup probably won’t be as long as most of my previews. I am very busy over the course of the next few weeks (which is why I could not make the trip to Macon), and will not be able to put as much time into research, writing, etc. There will probably not be a review of the Towson game, and my ETSU preview in two weeks will likely be quite short.

That’s not a big deal, though. A little less verbiage on this blog isn’t going to hurt anybody.

Go Dogs!

2018 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 4:00 pm ET on September 22, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Frank Malloy will handle play-by-play, while Jason Patterson supplies the analysis and Kristin Banks patrols the sidelines.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Game preview from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

– SoCon weekly release

– “Game Day Central” at The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 9/18 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 9/19 radio show (video)

Bulldogs dodge yet another hurricane

– The game between The Citadel and Charleston Southern has been rescheduled

Mercer has two of the SoCon’s players of the week

Boxscore from Mercer-Samford

Takeaways from Mercer’s victory over Samford

Redshirt freshman Robert Riddle is now Mercer’s starting quarterback

– Mercer press conference (from 9/17) featuring Bobby Lamb and players Eric Jackson and Tee Mitchell

I didn’t get a chance to write a separate review of the Chattanooga game, so I’m going to start by discussing that matchup. At the end of this post, I’ve added my traditionally awful photos from the contest.

First, let’s compare some stats from Game 1 (Wofford) and Game 2 (Chattanooga):

Category The Citadel Wofford
Field Position +11 -11
Success Rate 26.1% 32.0%
Explosiveness 0.719 1.745
Finishing drives 4.67 (3) 7.0 (2)
Turnovers 0 3
Possessions 12 13
Offensive Plays 66 53
Yards/rush 3.9 7.7
Yards/pass attempt 2.1 2.9
Yards/play 3.6 6.9
3rd down conversions 2/16 4/10
4th down conversions 4/6 0/0
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 100.0 (2/2)
Net punting 42.4 35.8
Time of possession 32:38:00 27:22:00
TOP/offensive play 29.67 seconds 30.98 seconds
Penalties 2/20 yards 3/45 yards
1st down passing 0/1 3/5, 23 yards
3rd and long passing 0/5 1/1, 3 yards
4th down passing 1/2, 23 yards 0/0
1st down yards/play 3.75 4.75
3rd down average yards to go 7.9 7.4

 

Category The Citadel Chattanooga
Field Position 11 -11
Success Rate 45.3% 46.9%
Explosiveness 0.727 1.65
Finishing drives 3.5 (6) 2.8 (5)
Turnovers 2 1
Possessions 9 9
Offensive Plays 75 49
Yards/rush 4.3 4.7
Yards/pass attempt 7.5 12.1
Yards/play 4.7 8.8
3rd down conversions 10/18 4/11
4th down conversions 3/4 0/1
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 50.0 (2/4)
Net punting 25.3 -1.5
Time of possession 37:07:00 22:53:00
TOP/offensive play 27.84 sec 25.60 sec
Penalties 7/78 8/47
1st down passing 2/4 44 yds 6/12 131 yds
3rd/long passing 2/2 14 yds 1 sk 5/6 149 yds 1 int
4th down passing
0/0 0/1
1st down yards/play 5.8 7.4
3rd down average yards to go 6.5 9.2

Note: Overtime statistics are not included, and the same is true for Chattanooga’s final three plays of the first half. As I mentioned in the review of the Wofford game, the stats for that contest do not include The Citadel’s last play of the first half.

One of the things that might surprise some folks is that The Citadel and Chattanooga had almost the same percentage of successful offensive plays. The Mocs, of course, had a significant edge in “explosive plays”, which was also the case for the Bulldogs against Wofford. The numbers in that category were quite similar for both games.

On the defensive side of the ledger, my primary observation was that all too often, UTC quarterback Nick Tiano had time to admire the late afternoon sky above Charleston before throwing the football. The Bulldogs obviously struggled to cover Bryce Nunnelly, but almost all of the wideout’s big gains came on slow-developing plays.

Tiano was not sacked, despite throwing 28 passes. He was pressured occasionally, as The Citadel was credited with six “hurries”. The Bulldogs also successfully defensed six passes (five breakups and a pick). While each hurry did not automatically result in a pass breakup/interception, the fact there were six of each was not coincidental.

The Citadel’s offense was better versus UTC than it was against Wofford, at least in terms of consistency. The big plays largely were absent, however, aside from Jordan Black’s nifty 25-yard TD toss to Grant Drakeford at the end of the first half. That play was the Bulldogs’ biggest “explosion” play in the first two games, one of only three plays so far in the young season with an IsoPPP number over 2.

All three of those “2+” plays were pass plays. I think that if Jordan Black has the opportunity to throw the ball more often in standard down-and-distance settings, rather than mostly airing it out in passing down situations, The Citadel could see a sizable uptick in explosive plays. One thing I was happy to see against the Mocs was Black throwing the ball on first down, which he did four times. He also passed twice on second-and-short plays.

On The Citadel’s 11 pass plays (ten throws and a sack) versus Chattanooga, the Bulldogs were in obvious passing situations five times, and in standard downs on six occasions. I think that is a solid mix. It is much better than what happened against Wofford, when all 11 of Black’s passes came in actual or de facto passing situations.

I appreciate Brent Thompson discussing his fourth-down calls from the Chattanooga game on his radio show. It is interesting to get insight on the coach’s thought process for each of those situations.

Generally, I agreed with his decision-making versus UTC. Some of his calls were very aggressive, particularly going for it on 4th-and-2 from the Bulldogs’ own 30-yard line in the first possession of the third quarter. The fake punt was also a take-no-prisoners play; alas, it got short-circuited by a fumble.

Both of those calls came in or around what I denoted as “Boo Territory” on my 4th-down decision chart, a graphic created for my August essay on creating more big plays. “Boo Territory” is actually a reference to one of The Citadel’s mascots, though it could also serve as what the reaction in the stands might be for a failed attempt in that part of the field. At any rate, I liked the pugnacious nature of the calls.

However, there was a more conservative decision made on The Citadel’s opening possession of the contest. The Bulldogs had already converted a 4th-and-2 on the UTC 38-yard line earlier in the drive. On 4th-and-10 from the Mocs’ 33-yard line, though, Thompson elected to punt. The kick went into the end zone, for a net of only 13 yards.

I wish the Bulldogs had gone for it, even on 4th-and-10. Part of my thinking is that there are usually a very limited number of possessions in The Citadel’s games (against UTC, each team only had nine).

When a drive gets inside the opposing 40, it may be that taking a chance is the way to go, simply because there will be few opportunities to get back in that area over the course of the contest.

Thompson wanted to play field position at the time. He may also have influenced by the third-down play, which gained only 3 yards, and came after a low-blocking penalty put the Bulldogs “behind the chains”.

Speaking of that low-block infraction, I was interested (and concerned) by this article in SBNation about the rule changes on blocks below the waist:

College football has seemingly figured out a way to slow down a good triple-option attack: throw flags…Army has gone from averaging 4.2 penalties per game (10th in FBS) to 6.3 this year (63rd), and Georgia Tech has gone from 4.0 (fifth) to 5.0 (22nd).

A tweet embedded in the piece noted that Army “has been called for 7 illegal blocks in [its] first 3 games [after the] Black Knights were whistled for 4 illegal blocks in 13 games last season”.

The Bulldogs have been called for a low block in each of their first two games. The 15-yard penalty assessed for each infraction all but eliminates a possession for a triple option team, as Brent Thompson pointed out on his radio show.

One suspects the powers-that-be in college football would like to see the triple option go the way of the dinosaurs, preferring the more open (and arguably more dangerous) spread offenses currently in vogue.

The rule changes for this season appear particularly specious. As Paul Johnson was quoted as saying:

Either blocking below the waist is dangerous or it’s not. It’s not any more dangerous five yards down the field than it is on the line of scrimmage. If it’s that scary, they ought to not tackle below the waist.

This is an issue that will be watched throughout the season. That includes games played in the Southern Conference.

Two quick special teams comments:

  • The Bulldogs have to start making field goals.
  • Chattanooga averaged a net of -1.5 yards (!) on two punts, but somehow did not allow any points on the subsequent possessions.

In August, Mike Capaccio was named The Citadel’s new director of athletics. Last week, he discussed several issues related to his position in a wide-ranging interview with Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier. You can read the article here: Link

I wish Capaccio the best of luck, but I have to shake my head at the hiring process.

Capaccio had been serving as The Citadel’s interim AD since mid-July, but says he had not put his hat in the ring for the full-time gig until he was asked to.

“I was encouraged to apply by some people in administration, and it was not something I was anticipating,” he said. “I was happy in the role I was in. It happened very quickly; it was under a three-week deal from when I applied until I was named AD.

“What I was told is that I was the guy who could come in and get this thing going, because I already knew the inner workings of the organization. The Citadel is a different school, and it takes time to get accustomed to it.”

In other words, someone came to Capaccio, said “Hey, you need to apply” — and less than three weeks later he was the AD.

That, after statements like these:

“The challenge is, we truly have an unbelievable candidate pool in front of us,” [search committee chairman Dan] Bornstein said. “It will be very difficult to narrow the field, because we have an extraordinary field, and an extraordinarily diverse field in all aspects.”

Daniel Parker of Parker Executive Search told the committee that the field of 100 interested applicants was unusually large.

“Typically, we have 60 to 70 candidates,” he said. “On this search, we’ve had more than 100 who went through the process of submitting a letter of interest and a resume, providing references and completing a questionnaire.

“We have sitting athletic directors from Divisions I, II and III, deputy ADs, senior associates, senior women’s administrators, with ethnic and gender diversity. They come from backgrounds in compliance, fund-raising and coaching.”

Parker also said there were candidates from all the “Power 5” conferences (the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12).

Who are we kidding here?

First of all, why was a search firm hired (for $70,000) before potential internal candidates could be assessed?

Parker Executive Search supposedly rustled up over 100 candidates (including “sitting athletic directors from Divisions I, II, and III”). Despite that, someone (or multiple someones) in an administrative capacity at The Citadel decided, very late in the game, to call an on-campus employee and ask him to apply for the position.

Like I said, I hope Capaccio does a great job for The Citadel. He has a reputation for being an outstanding fundraiser, and the military college certainly needs someone with that skill set as its AD.

You will excuse me for thinking, however, that Parker ought to refund the school at least part of that $70,000 — or if not, explain the real purpose of the search.

With the recent postponement (and cancellation, in some cases) of numerous Division I football games due to Hurricane Florence, there has been talk that college football needs to make an adjustment in its annual calendar. Given the number of contests affected by weather problems in recent years, schools are starting to look for ways to make their respective schedules more flexible.

The easiest way to do that is to add a second bye week to the schedule. This is something that has been under discussion in recent years.

It won’t matter next year, because in 2019 there are 14 Saturdays between Labor Day weekend and the Saturday after Thanksgiving (rather than the usual 13). Every FBS team will have two byes next fall.

However, most years there are only 13 such Saturdays, and hence only one bye week.

If a change would be made, the college football season would start (for most teams) the weekend before Labor Day, meaning the schedule would start one week earlier that it does now.

This would have repercussions for FCS schools as well, because it would increase the chances of the subdivision allowing teams to schedule 12 regular-season games on an annual basis, instead of just having the option in seasons with 14 Saturdays (like in 2019).

An earlier start to the FCS regular season could be pushed again if the FBS restructures its regular season. The higher level of Division I has been considering a standardized 14-week format that would require two byes for each FBS team.

Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander, whose conference voted against the permanent 12th game in the FCS, agreed such a change on the FBS level could become a game-changer for the defeated proposal in the subdivision.

“The Big South membership was not unanimous in its opposition to the 12th game proposal,” he said. “However, we voted against it because we prefer that the (NCAA) Football Oversight Committee conclude its study of the football calendar before any further extension of the season. At the conclusion of that study, should there be a move toward a standard 14-week season, our position may change.”

I think a 12-game regular season would be quite beneficial to The Citadel. It would almost certainly mean an additional home game every season for the military college, and with the added revenue that goes along with it.

The postponement of The Citadel’s game with Charleston Southern created a bit of scheduling trivia. From The Citadel’s game notes:

The change in the schedule means the Bulldogs will open the season with three straight conference games. That has not happened since the Bulldogs opened the 1926 season with three straight Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association games.

In 1926, The Citadel started 2-1, losing to Chattanooga but beating Stetson at home and winning…at Mercer.

The 1926 team is better known for beating both Clemson (15-6) and South Carolina (12-9) that season, each away from home (the victory over the Gamecocks came in Orangeburg). The head coach was Carl Prause, and the team was captained by Ephriam “Ephie” Seabrook, a two-time All-State guard for the Bulldogs.

Seabrook would later coach the South Carolina team in the Shrine Bowl (in 1941). He is also remembered for driving Tom Howie (the future “Major of St. Lo”) from a Rhodes Scholar candidate interview in Columbia to Charleston in 1928, arriving just before kickoff of a game versus Clemson. (Led by the irrepressible Howie, the Bulldogs beat the Tigers 12-7.)

It is hard to put much stock in Mercer’s team statistics after three games, partly because the Bears have only played one competitive game. MU opened the season with a 66-14 loss to a very good Memphis team, then followed that up with a 45-3 pasting of Jacksonville, a Pioneer League squad.

Last week, Mercer opened its SoCon campaign with a 30-24 victory at Samford, an eye-opener for a lot of people (though maybe not such a big surprise to veteran observers).

The game was fairly evenly played on the stat sheet, but the Bears dominated time of possession (35:27), consistently converting on third down (7 for 13). Mercer held a 17-7 lead at halftime and never relinquished it.

Robert Riddle (6’3″, 207 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, is the new starting quarterback for the Bears. The game against Samford was Riddle’s first as the full-time starter, as he has won the job over last year’s QB, Kaelan Riley.

Riddle had a fine game versus the Birmingham Bulldogs, completing 23 of 34 passes for 316 yards, with one TD and one interception. For that effort he was named the SoCon’s offensive player of the week. He is apparently no relation to former Elon quarterback/pugilist Scott Riddle.

Senior running back Tee Mitchell (5’10”, 204 lbs.) rushed for 103 yards against Samford. Mitchell, a second-team preseason All-SoCon selection who led the Bears in rushing last season, scored two touchdowns against The Citadel in last year’s contest between the two teams. He went to high school at The Bolles School in Jacksonville before spending a year at the Air Force Academy prep school.

Nine different Mercer players caught passes in last week’s game. Marquise Irvin (6’3″, 216 lbs.), a preseason first-team all-league pick, led the Bears in receptions with six. The native of Huntsville had three catches versus the Bulldogs last season. He also serves as Mercer’s punt returner.

Sam Walker (6’4″, 242 lbs.) was the preseason first-team all-conference tight end in the SoCon. He is a redshirt senior from Cumming, Georgia.

Although listed as a backup, converted defensive back Stephen Houzah (5’9″, 161 lbs.) showed his potential as a wide receiver against Samford, catching a 73-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.

Samford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 293 lbs, though that is including a 255 lb. right tackle (Dawson Ellis). Listed weights for the other four positions on the o-line: 287, 297, 305, 319.

The left tackle spot is manned by 6’3″, 287 lb. redshirt junior Austin Sanders, a preseason first-team all-SoCon selection. Sanders, from Stone Mountain, Georgia, began his collegiate career at Mississippi Valley State.

Mercer generally employs a 3-4 defense, though as must always be noted, teams often line up differently when facing a triple option opponent.

The Bears had three preseason all-conference picks on D, one for each level of the defense. One of them, redshirt senior outside linebacker LeMarkus Bailey (5’11”, 199 lbs.), was a first-team selection.

On the defensive line, Mercer features second-team all-SoCon preseason choice Isaiah Buehler (6’3″, 259 lbs.) and 6’0″, 288 lb. noseguard/bowling ball Dorian Kithcart. They are a tough duo; Kithcart in particular had an outstanding game versus The Citadel last season.

The third man on the d-line is seriously large 6’5″, 297 lb. defensive end Destin Guillen. The Greenville resident, like Kithcart a redshirt junior, is one of three South Carolinians on the Mercer roster.

Eric Jackson (5’8″, 172 lbs.), Mercer’s starting strong safety, was a preseason all-league pick. Jackson had seven tackles against the Bulldogs in last year’s contest.

Starting cornerback Harrison Poole (5’11”, 196 lbs.) had an interception last week versus Samford, and also had a pick against The Citadel last season.

Placekicker Cole Fisher (6’2″, 188 lbs.) was last week’s special teams player of the week in the SoCon. He made 3 of 4 field goal tries against Samford. Fisher also handles kickoffs for the Bears.

Matt Shiel (5’11”, 209 lbs.) is Mercer’s starting punter. Shiel is a native of Doncaster, Australia.

Shiel has one of the more unusual college backgrounds in Division I football, as he played his freshman year of football at Auburn before transferring to Mercer for the 2015 season. He subsequently went back to school in Australia for two years before transferring back to MU this year. Yes, he has actually transferred to Mercer twice.

Starting wide receiver David Durden (6’2″”, 197 lbs.), a freshman from Midville, Georgia, is listed as the primary kickoff returner for MU, while Steven Nixon (5’11”, 221 lbs.) returns as the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Macon, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 92 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 69 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Mercer is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 48 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 17-point favorite at East Tennessee State; Western Carolina is a 24-point favorite over VMI; and Samford is a 3 1/2 point favorite at Chattanooga.

Wofford is off this week.

– Also of note:  Elon is a 13-point favorite at Charleston Southern, and Alabama is a 25 1/2 point favorite over Texas A&M. The Citadel’s opponent next week, Towson, has a bye this week.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 67th in FCS. Mercer is ranked 28th (a 14-spot jump from last week).

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 24% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Mercer 29, The Citadel 19.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (19th, a leap of 19 spots from last week), Elon (21st), Colgate (25th), Kennesaw State (27th), Wofford (31st), Samford (37th), Furman (38th), Yale (39th), Chattanooga (40th), Western Carolina (52nd), Charleston Southern (63rd), UT Martin (68th), East Tennessee State (86th), Gardner-Webb (95th), Tennessee Tech (96th), South Carolina State (97th), Presbyterian (102nd), VMI (116th), Davidson (124th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Eastern Washington.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State, LSU, Auburn, Oklahoma State, and Washington. Mississippi State is 11th, Notre Dame 12th, Virginia Tech 14th, North Carolina State 18th, Duke 20th, Boston College 21st, South Carolina 29th, Wake Forest 38th, Vanderbilt 46th, Memphis 52nd, Appalachian State 56th, Florida State 59th, Army 64th, Navy 65th, Toledo 73rd, North Texas 74th, Tennessee 75th, Air Force 78th, Wyoming 80th, North Carolina 88th, Georgia Southern 108th, Coastal Carolina 110th, Charlotte 125th, Liberty 126th, Old Dominion 128th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Mercer’s notable alumni:  music promoter Phil Walden, NBA player/coach Sam Mitchell, and publisher/executive Reg Murphy.

– Mercer’s roster includes 62 players from Georgia. Other states represented on its squad:  Florida (12), Alabama (5), Tennessee (4), South Carolina (3), North Carolina (2), and Texas (1).

Mercer has one of the least geographically diverse rosters in the SoCon, though not included in the above breakdown is punter Matt Shiel, who as noted earlier is from Australia.

The three Palmetto State players on Mercer’s squad are the aforementioned Destin Guillen (a product of Berea High School), redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Burnett (who attended Airport High School), and freshman offensive lineman Tyrese Cohen (from Midland Valley High School).

However, Mercer once again has no players from legendary gridiron factory Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a circumstance which in the long run will result in a painfully low ceiling for the Bears’ aspirations as a program. As has been said many times, ignoring the famed Maroon and Orange is a perilous maneuver.

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

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the Chattanooga game. Mason Kinsey makes an appearance on the depth chart as one of the Bulldogs’ defensive tackles. Also, Rod Johnson is listed as the primary kick returner.

– The Citadel has a 3-5-1 record on games played on September 22, including a 2-1 mark in SoCon play. The three wins:

  • 1962: 19-0 over Davidson, in a game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Dwight Street caught a touchdown pass from Wade St. John, and the halfback also added two field goals. Sid Mitchell had the other TD for the Bulldogs, with his score following a drive set up by a Joe Cannarella fumble recovery.
  • 1979: 27-14 over Vanderbilt at Dudley Field in Nashville. Tim Russell was 7 for 12 passing for 111 yards and a TD (caught by Byron Walker), and also added 74 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, both Stump Mitchell and Danny Miller rushed for over 100 yards, with Mitchell scoring once and Miller twice. The Bulldogs rolled up 499 yards of total offense.
  • 1990: 21-10 over Marshall before 17,105 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Everette Sands rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown, while Jack Douglas accounted for The Citadel’s other two TDs. Lester Smith, J.J. Davis, and Shannon Walker all had interceptions, as the Bulldogs’ defense forced six turnovers.

– The Citadel has victories over Mercer in four different cities:  Charleston, Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. The Bulldogs are 3-0 in Macon, with wins in 1926, 2014, and 2016.

– Saturday is Family Weekend at Mercer. I suspect there will be a lot of people on campus, with many of the visitors (but not all) attending the game. The parking lots open at 9 am.

It is hard to judge how The Citadel will fare this week, mainly because of the unexpected break in the season. While the Bulldogs are 0-2 so far, there are positives that can be taken from their play to go along with some obvious negatives. However, now The Citadel has to essentially re-launch its season.

Can the Bulldogs establish some momentum? Will they avoid falling behind early in the game?

Mercer is coming off what might be its most impressive victory in conference play since Bobby Lamb restarted the program, and will be at home. There is an element of the unknown about the Bears as well, however.

How will Mercer react to a big win and subsequently being a solid favorite the following week? Also, I have this nagging question running through my head — just how good is Samford, really? Do we know for sure?

I guess we’ll find out some of the answers to those questions, and more, on Saturday.

Here are the really lousy pictures from the Chattanooga game. They are not annotated, although the game shots are in order; as usual, there are more photos from the first half than the second, for a variety of reasons (but mostly operator error).

 

Game Review, 2018: Wofford

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” package, The Post and Courier

– Game story, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

– AP game story

– School release

– Video from WCSC-TV (postgame discussion with Brent Thompson)

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

Let’s look at some stats:

Category The Citadel Wofford
Field Position* +11 -11
Success Rate* 26.1% 32.0%
Explosiveness* 0.719 1.745
Finishing drives 4.67 (3) 7.0 (2)
Turnovers 0 3
Possessions* 12 13
Offensive Plays 66 53
Yards/rush 3.9 7.7
Yards/pass attempt 2.1 2.9
Yards/play 3.6 6.9
3rd down conversions 2/16 4/10
4th down conversions 4/6 0/0
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 100.0 (2/2)
Net punting 42.4 35.8
Time of possession 32:38:00 27:22:00
TOP/offensive play 29.67 seconds 30.98 seconds
Penalties 2/20 yards 3/45 yards
1st down passing 0/1 3/5, 23 yards
3rd and long passing 0/5 1/1, 3 yards
4th down passing 1/2, 23 yards 0/0
1st down yards/play* 3.75 4.75
3rd down average yards to go 7.9 7.4

* These statistics do not include the final play of the first half, because it wasn’t a true drive/scoring attempt (although Lorenzo Ward came surprisingly close to turning it into one).

Those first five categories are the “Five Factors”, which I’ve written about before. This season, I’ll be tabulating them on a game-by-game basis (at least for SoCon matchups).

It is not easy to win games with an offensive Success Rate south of 30%. As a comparison, in 2016 the Bulldogs had a Success Rate in league play of 45.4%.

The lack of efficiency is reflected in the abysmal third down conversion rate and the Bulldogs’ yards per play numbers.

Wofford wasn’t much better, thanks to an extended run of stops by the Bulldogs that began midway through the second quarter and continued until the end of the third period. At one point, the Terriers ran 19 offensive plays, only one of which could have been considered successful.

The coaching staff should be credited with several excellent in-game adjustments, including a three-man front and a lot of shifting prior to the snap (which reminded me of what UNC did to the Bulldogs in Chapel Hill two seasons ago).

However, before then the Terriers had already created multiple “explosive” plays (two of which went for TDs). Wofford came close to doubling up the Bulldogs in yards per play.

Why was this game close, then? Well, turnovers had a lot to do with it, obviously, but The Citadel also had a significant edge in field position, thanks mostly to a fine display of punting by freshman Matthew Campbell.

In something of an ironic twist, arguably the only one of Campbell’s eight punts that wasn’t stellar ended up being his most beneficial, as the football bounced off an unsuspecting Terrier and into the grateful arms of Keyonte Sessions. That recovery set up the tying touchdown.

Random observations:

– Jordan Black was only 1 for 11 passing on Saturday night. That is a rough line, but many of those passes came in low-percentage situations:

  • Five of them came on 3rd down and eight yards or more
  • One was on 2nd-and-17 (and was dropped)
  • One was on 4th-and-4 (that was the completion)

Those were his first seven throws. All of them came in “passing down” situations.

Brent Thompson mentioned in his Tuesday press conference that in hindsight, he wished there had been more “shots down the field”. I’m assuming he meant throwing on first down, or perhaps in 2nd-and-short (or 3rd-and-short) situations, downs in which a pass wouldn’t be an obvious call.

I would also add that The Citadel shouldn’t wait to throw until the offense is in good field position. For example, I wouldn’t mind throwing down the field even while inside the Bulldogs’ own 30-yard line. Black has demonstrated in the past that he can throw the football with accuracy; I would like to see him get a chance to do so in better down-and-distance circumstances.

I’m not an advocate of throwing more often, but I do think The Citadel needs a higher percentage of its passes to come on “standard” downs, rather than passing downs. One way to do that, as I’ve mentioned before, is to have a more aggressive fourth-down mentality, which gives a playcaller more “wiggle room”.

– Speaking of fourth down, the Bulldogs were 4 for 6 converting those downs against Wofford. I agreed with all six decisions to go for it.

I actually think there should have been a seventh, late in the second quarter on 4th-and-4 from the Wofford 40-yard line. Thompson elected to punt, which struck me as a bit conservative.

However, that decision was ultimately rewarded by a questionable playcall from the Terriers. I am not sure why, up 21-0 late in the first half and getting the ball to start the third quarter, Wofford’s coaching staff thought passing from the Terriers’ own 14-yard line was a good idea.

Well, it was a good idea from Noah Dawkins’ point of view, anyway.

– Much of the teeth-gnashing in the stands on the visitors’ side came from watching the Bulldogs try to tackle. That has to improve against Chattanooga, and every game going forward.

– I didn’t have any major issues with the late-game time management decisions (and I can be a very tough grader in that area).

The way I look at it is this: The Citadel had not had a sustained offensive drive during the entire game prior to the last possession. The Bulldogs basically had to ham-and-egg their way down the field to even get a chance at a tying touchdown.

Given that, I am satisfied with four shots from the five-yard line, whatever it took to get there. The Citadel had to throw on the first three downs because of its lack of timeouts, but I couldn’t find any real fault with how the timeouts had been employed (maybe Thompson could have called the first one on the play before he wound up using it, but that was marginal).

I’ve seen suggestions that The Citadel could have run the ball towards the sideline and gone out of bounds if it didn’t result in a TD, but I’m dubious that would have worked, especially as Wofford would have likely anticipated a boundary rush.

The only down that a run was even close to a feasible percentage play was the last one, and even then you’re talking about five yards.

Hey, they had four tries. It just didn’t work out.

– That was probably the last time Miles Brown will play against The Citadel (unless the two teams meet again in the FCS playoffs). He has been one of the best opposition players the Bulldogs have faced in the last few years of SoCon action. Brown’s stats might be relatively modest (as is often the case for a nosetackle), but there is no doubting his impact on the game.

– I mentioned this on Twitter, but I wanted to reiterate how impressed I was with the Aron Spann fan club. That was quite a turnout.

I wish I had been more impressed with the P.A. announcer, who kept pronouncing Spann’s last name as “Spahn” for some reason. C’mon, he’s local and went to Dorman High School. You’ve got to get that right.

– Another thing Wofford needs to get right is its concessions situation. This was a significant problem two years ago when The Citadel played at Gibbs Stadium, and it was a problem again on Saturday.

Long lines snaked around the area behind the visitors’ stands, as fans waited in the heat to make their respective orders. Apparently, things were just as bad on the home side.

By this time, the folks running the gameday setup at Wofford have to know that The Citadel is going to bring a big crowd (game attendance: 8,930, which included a lot of folks clad in light blue).

– Internet fun…

I was highly amused to read one unhappy Wofford fan’s reaction to several hundred members of the Corps of Cadets making an appearance in Spartanburg:

I really wish Wofford had not allowed them to bring their entire corps of cadets up to the game…it’s supposed to be a home field advantage!

Another Terriers supporter pointed out that restricting access to fans (or cadets, I guess) might not be such a great idea, which drew this reaction from the outraged Wofford partisan:

Actually, I think limiting visiting fans access to a certain amount is a GREAT idea! We are a small school and don’t have a ton of fans. But we still want to keep a home field advantage for our team in home games. So limit the number of tickets for visiting fans, both paid and comp. It’s a space thing, our stadium capacity is not huge, we don’t have a lot of space, and we’d like to reserve a large percentage of that space for our Wofford fans…

You have to admit, limiting the number of opposing fans would probably solve the issues Wofford has with concessions. Could help with parking, too.

Let’s all agree not to tell him that only about one-fourth of the Corps was actually at the game, though.

(The real takeaway: the freshman cadets in the stands did a fine job supporting the team.)

– Next for the Bulldogs: the home opener, against Chattanooga. I’ll write something about that game later in the week.

The pictures are always bad. These, however, are particularly lousy (and are not annotated). I did not take many game shots after the first quarter, partly because my cellphone battery got a little low, and partly because the sun made taking pictures on the visitors’ side a challenge.

(Also: it was really hot. I got worn out just watching the game; I can’t imagine what it was like to actually play in it.)

I’ll try to do better next week on the photo front, but no one should get their hopes up.

 

2018 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Wofford

Spartanburg, Sept. 18 [AP] — Showing a flashy passing game and ripping the Wofford line to shreds on running plays, The Citadel Bulldogs flattened the Wofford Terriers, 38-0, in the opening tilt of the 1937 season here this afternoon for both elevens.

…Kooksie Robinson, a hip-shaking ball of fire for the Cadets, was all over the field running and passing the ball with reckless abandon…

…Employing a tricky forward passing attack well mixed with line smashes, the Bulldogs rang up 29 first downs compared to only one for Wofford.

The Bulldogs gained 390 yards to 30 by Wofford by rushing. The Citadel attempted 12 forward passes and completed 5 for a total of 63 yards, as compared to no successful aerials for the Terriers, who tried two.

…Two thousand fans attended the game.

…Bulldog coaches have promised that this season their charges will really toss the ball around and that Charleston fans will see some of the hipper-dipper stuff which has raised the annual fall madness to a hysterical pitch.

-The News and Courier, September 19, 1937

The Citadel at Wofford, to be played to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on September 1, 2018.

The game will be televised by WYCW-62 (Spartanburg, SC), and streamed on ESPN+. Jason Patterson will handle play-by-play, while Toby Cates supplies the analysis.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Per The Citadel’s game notes:

Head Coach Brent Thompson joins “Voice of the Bulldogs” Luke Mauro for The Brent Thompson Radio Show each Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. at the Marina Variety Store. The show airs on ESPN Radio – 94.7 FM & 910 AM in Charleston.

At the time of this post, it was unclear whether or not the radio show would be simulcast on YouTube, as has been the case for the last three years.

A few of my recent posts revolving around The Citadel’s football program in general and the upcoming season in particular:

– Part 1 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play numbers)

– Part 2 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 fourth-down decision-making and plenty of other statistics)

– A look at advanced statistics, first down/third down information, and standard/passing down data

– Last year’s conference-only statistics for the SoCon (all teams), with some additional league observations

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

– Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– A glance at the SoCon non-conference slate

Creating more big plays with an aggressive fourth-down philosophy

Links of interest:

– Season preview from The Post and Courier

– Preview of Saturday’s game from The Post and Courier

– STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish 7th in the SoCon)

– Hero Sports’ preview of the Bulldogs (The Citadel is picked to finish 6th in the SoCon)

– Season preview from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

– SoCon outlook from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

– SoConSports.com preview of the league (Part 1 and Part 2)

– Countdown to Kickoff: The Citadel (video featuring interviews of Brent Thompson, Jordan Black, and Aron Spann III)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish 7th in both polls)

– The Citadel: Quick Facts

The Citadel’s 2018 leadoff “Hype Video”

Wofford: Quick Facts

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll

– Profile of Jordan Black in The Post and Courier

– Brent Thompson has a conversation with Phil Kornblut (8/23) on SportsTalk; Kornblut also talks to Jordan Black and Aron Spann III

– Brent Thompson’s 8/28 press conference (video)

– Mike Capaccio is the new director of athletics at The Citadel

No warmup for Wofford

Countdown to Kickoff: Wofford (video featuring interviews of Josh Conklin, Miles Brown, and Andre Stoddard)

Wofford season preview in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

It’s time for football!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

For those fans attending the game on Saturday, keep in mind that the “clear bag” rule which has become the norm in many stadiums across the country will apply to Gibbs Stadium beginning this season:

Wofford College will institute a clear bag policy for all events at Gibbs Stadium and Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium starting with Wofford’s home opening game against The Citadel on September 1.

The policy will help enhance existing security measures and ensure a safe environment for all guests while making for a quicker entry into the venues. The policy will be in effect for all Wofford athletic contests as well as special events…

…Fans will be permitted to enter with a clear bag that does not exceed 12″ in height by 6″ in depth by 12″ in width. A simple one-gallon clear plastic bag, such as a Ziploc bag or similar, is acceptable.

Fans will be allowed to carry in a small clutch bag, approximately the size of a hand or 4.5″ by 6.5″, with or without a handle or strap.

An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at the game.

For the first two home football games, Wofford will be providing 1,500 free clear bags thanks to Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System’s Sports Medicine Institute. These bags will be available at all gates, as well as at the entrances to parking lots.

Also not to be ignored: an updated Wofford campus parking map.

Saturday’s game is being promoted by Wofford as “Blackout the Bulldogs”. Fans of the Terriers are being encouraged to wear black. Other promotions for the game: schedule magnets, posters, and a $10,000 drawing.

It will be interesting to see how black contrasts with large quantities of light blue and white. The Citadel should (as usual) bring a sizable contingent of fans.

Also making an appearance: 600 freshmen from the Corps of Cadets. Don’t be surprised if quite a few upperclassmen make the trip to Spartanburg as well.

At the beginning of this post, I included an excerpt from a game story of the 1937 matchup between The Citadel and Wofford in Spartanburg, the season opener for both schools that year. That 1937 season turned out to be a good one for the Bulldogs, with Tatum Gressette’s squad finishing 7-4.

(It would have been 8-3 if not for the cheatin’ refs in Orangeburg, as the Man in the Brown Suit would say.)

The Citadel also picked up wins over Furman and Richmond during that 1937 campaign, along with a 46-7 thumping of Erskine in Charleston.

Erskine discontinued its football program 14 years later, following the 1951 season. Last week, however, the school announced that the Flying Fleet would return to the gridiron in time for the 2020 campaign.

Wofford was 2-7 in 1937, with wins over Newberry and Presbyterian, both at home. The Terriers’ other game in Spartanburg that season resulted in a loss to Oglethorpe. One must always be wary of the Stormy Petrels, as they do not know how to give up.

Last year, The Citadel and Mercer were the only two league teams that had instant replay review capability. This season, three more schools (Furman, Western Carolina, and Samford) will employ the technology.

That leaves four SoCon schools still without it: Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, VMI, and Wofford.

Allegedly, all league schools will be required to have instant replay review by 2019. Whether or not that actually happens won’t be known until next year, of course.

At any rate, Saturday’s game will be one of just two league contests this season played by The Citadel in which instant replay review won’t be used (the Bulldogs’ game at VMI is the other).

Fans of the Bulldogs will understandably be concerned about the lack of replay review, given the game’s location and the state of the SoCon’s officiating. There is nothing that can be done about it, however. The league office is apparently satisfied with the current state of affairs, in which conference matchups are contested under two sets of rules, depending on where the game is played.

Wofford has an unusual dilemma right now: The Jerry Richardson Problem.

After Sports Illustrated reported last December that the Carolina Panthers owner had made monetary settlements to multiple individuals due to “inappropriate” workplace conduct by Richardson (including sexually suggestive behavior and a racial slur), things went downhill fast for the founder of the franchise. He received a $2.75 million fine from the NFL, and was basically forced to sell the club.

Richardson’s impact on his alma mater has been enormous, which has raised questions about what (if anything) the school plans to do in response to the developments of the past nine months. It’s a tough situation; after all, just this past winter Wofford’s alumni magazine headlined a laudatory story about the school’s well-known benefactor “The Remarkable Jerry Richardson”, with a now-unconvincing subtitle: “And the core values that led to the new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium”.

Would Wofford consider changing the name of its new basketball arena, or its physical activities center? Will the statue of Richardson that was installed on campus just a few years ago be removed?

Don’t count on it.

Spartanburg-based Wofford College, where Richardson is an alumnus and former trustee member, also has an indoor stadium and physical activities building named after him.

Wofford did not answer questions about whether buildings will keep bearing Richardson’s name.

“Mr. Richardson’s contributions to Wofford College are extraordinary, and for that we are grateful,” spokeswoman Laura Corbin said in a statement. “It is not appropriate for us to comment further.”

I saw an online comment from a Wofford fan that “without [Richardson] we are Presbyterian and getting ready to play Division III football”, which probably sums up the feelings of many of the Terriers’ gridiron supporters.

The powers-that-be at Wofford also have to be mindful of what Richardson could potentially leave the college in his will.

A side issue (but a very important one) related to the Richardson saga is the status of Wofford as the host of the Panthers’ training camp. Could the team move its camp elsewhere in the near future?

Richard Johnson, the school’s director of athletics and inarguably Wofford’s most well-educated administrator, had this to say earlier in the summer:

“The trend is not to go off to camp anymore,” Johnson said. “We’re one of the few places that still hosts camps (away from NFL cities). That’s clearly the trend. What does that do to us? It’s too early to tell. We haven’t had those conversations.”

Johnson said the Panthers’ impact on the Upstate has been “immeasurable,” and he said that there aren’t many places like Spartanburg and Wofford that would have been able to build facilities fit for a professional football team, an hour’s drive from an NFL city.

“We thought it was kind of the perfect symmetry and everything kind of came together for us,” Johnson said. “But times change and interests change and needs change. We’re going to continue to do what we can to be helpful and to provide facilities and service that suits them for as long as they need us to. If it’s not any more, well, we’ve had a great run and we’re very appreciative and it’s been wonderful.”

Wofford has a new play-by-play voice for football, Jim Noble, after longtime radio man Mark Hauser could not come to a contractual agreement with the school. This development was a bit unsettling to a portion of the Terriers’ fanbase, particularly when combined with the departure of much of the football coaching staff (though the latter situation was a more natural occurrence with a new head coach on the scene).

Hauser, who is paid through IMG College…informed the company that he could no longer continue as play-by-play announcer for the same compensation as years past. He said his disappointment, however, is actually with the school.

…“It comes down to whether Wofford wanted to take out any more money from its budget [said Hauser]. In the end, for me, it’s Wofford’s call.”

Hauser said there was no discussion. Nobody even asked how much more money he wanted.

“That’s the most disappointing thing,” he said. “At no point did anyone ever say, ‘Well, what would it take? What are you looking for?’ They didn’t ask if I wanted $5 more a game or $50 or $100. I might have shocked them. But it never even got off the ground for a negotiation. After this many years, I feel like I should’ve gotten a phone call from somebody to at least talk about it.”

…Sports information director Brent Williamson said the school would be interested in bringing Hauser back “if he wants to work for what he worked for last year.”

Hauser began doing Wofford football games in 1992 and became an honorary letterman in the athletics department’s hall of fame in 2000.

That quote from Williamson sounds a bit abrupt, so it is only fair to note the SID also said of Hauser’s time with the school, “It was an unbelievable relationship. We’re definitely going to miss him and we know our fans are going to miss him.”

The Terriers’ audio broadcasts are online-only. I don’t know if that was a factor in Wofford’s evaluation of Hauser’s value, but Wofford does not have a radio network, and (unlike The Citadel) does not even have a station in the Greenville-Spartanburg area carrying its football games at the present time.

Wofford did use its radio broadcast team to provide the audio for its home ESPN3 games in the past. I’m not sure if that will be true going forward; it will not be the case on Saturday.

Saturday’s game will be on ESPN+ and WYCW-62, a local TV station in Spartanburg. All of Wofford’s home games except one, the matchup with East Tennessee State, will be carried by WYCW and either ESPN+ or ESPN3; the contest against the Buccaneers will be on ESPN+ but not WYCW.

Josh Conklin is the new head coach at Wofford. He replaces Mike Ayers, who retired after 30 seasons as the Terriers’ head man.

Conklin, who turned 39 years old in June, is a Wyoming native who graduated from Dakota State. He then began his coaching career at South Dakota State (no, not the same school). After several years there, he moved to Wofford for three years, then The Citadel for two seasons (serving as the defensive coordinator under Kevin Higgins).

He spent one year at Tennessee and two seasons at FIU before becoming the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, where he stayed for three years before taking the Wofford job.

Conklin’s brother-in-law, Al Clark III, and father-in-law, Al Clark Jr., both played football at Wofford. Each is well connected to the school, with the younger Clark a former official with the Terrier Club and a onetime assistant director of athletics, while his father is a longtime associate of Wofford trustee Jimmy I. Gibbs (for whose family the Terriers’ football stadium is named).

Also worth mentioning:  Conklin extolled the virtues of Mexican food in a Chattanooga newspaper article, specifically name-checking two local restaurants. I was dubious at first (Tex-Mex in Spartanburg?), but I’ve subsequently been informed by an unquestioned authority that ‘Willy Taco’ is legit, so there you go.

The coaching staff underwent a major makeover after Conklin got the job, though longtime assistant Wade Lang (31 years at Wofford) remains on board, also retaining his title as offensive coordinator. Other than Lang and tight ends coach B.J. Connelly, it is a fairly young staff, though Conklin also kept wide receivers coach Freddie Brown (who has been at the school for eight seasons).

While relatively youthful, it appears to be a group with some promise, though by far the most impressive résumé on the staff clearly belongs to equipment manager VanDyke Jones II.

The primary football-related issue that people are talking about with regards to Conklin:  will he change the Terriers’ offense? Is Wofford about to become a team that throws the ball all over the lot? Are the days of the triple option over in Spartanburg?

Well, probably not — at least, not right away.

That said, Wofford worked in the spring on diversifying its offense via the pass:

…the difference [from previous spring scrimmages] was that many of these passes were called at the line of scrimmage by quarterbacks Joe Newman and Miller Mosley.

“They’ve been working on their RPOs (read/pass options),” [Josh] Conklin said. “I was really pleased.”

…“I think we just have to have the ability to throw the ball,” Conklin said. “And I’m not talking down-the-field, vertical passing game. I’m talking about things that the defense is going to give because of what we do schematically as far as running the ball. They have to commit nine guys to the run. That allows us to attack the flats and do some other things.

“We need to get into second-and-5, third-and-2. Those are hard for the defense, especially when we can run the ball like we do.”

Conklin further explained his offensive philosophy in a conversation with Chattanooga sportswriter Gene Henley:

Part of who Conklin ultimately will be is a coach who adjusts the option offense the Terriers have run for decades, although it doesn’t sound like he’ll be opening it up too much. Wofford hasn’t thrown 20 passes in a game for 10 seasons, but the new leader would like to see the Terriers eventually get to “20-25 attempts” a game.

“We’re going to incorporate some run-pass option on offense,” Conklin said. “When you look at how people have defended us offensively, you have to be able to throw the ball a little more vertically and relieve some pressure off the run game.”

A few links to articles from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal on Wofford’s preseason practices:

2017 FCS national rankings (all games) in select categories for The Citadel and Wofford:

The Citadel Wofford
Scoring offense 75 54
Scoring defense 64 36
Avg rush/play – offense 18 21
Avg rush/play – defense 94 33
Avg yards/pass attempt – offense 39 11
Avg yards/pass attempt – defense 103 47
Yards per play – offense 55 48
Yards per play – defense 102 35
Tackles for loss rate – defense 20 88
Turnover margin 48T 32
Penalty yards per game 6 21
Net punt average 60 30
Time of possession/game 1 39
3rd down conversion rate – offense 24 8
3rd down conversion rate – defense 42 112
Red Zone TD rate – offense 90 16
Red Zone TD rate – defense 117 72

There was a competition to be the starting quarterback at Wofford this season. That appears to have been decided, however (even though the two-deep for the Terriers lists two potential starters at the position).

Joe Newman, a 5’11”, 181 lb. junior from Riverdale, Georgia, is a dynamic athlete capable of making big plays. He proved that during the 2016 playoffs in games against The Citadel and Youngstown State, appearing in relief in both of those contests, and scoring touchdowns in each game.

Frankly, I was surprised he wasn’t employed more often by the Terriers last season. It is hard to argue with the team’s results, of course, but Newman brings something to the table that Wofford hasn’t always had, a true breakaway threat at quarterback.

He is considered much more of a runner than a passer (for his career, he is 10 for 26 passing, with 2 interceptions). If he is going to get most of the snaps under center, it is hard to see Wofford going into passing mode much more often than it has in the past. Of course, he may have improved his skills in that area.

Andre Stoddard, Wofford’s starting fullback, received first-team All-SoCon honors last season after rushing for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns. One of the few league games in which the 5’10”, 240 lb. senior from Greenville didn’t excel came against The Citadel; Stoddard did rush for a score, but was held to ten yards on eight carries.

The Terriers have two halfbacks who can make big plays. Lennox McAfee (5’7″, 175 lbs.), a senior from Nashville, averaged 7.5 yards per rush last season. McAfee can catch the football out of the backfield, as can 5’9″, 190 lb. speedster Blake Morgan. The native of Florida caught 22 passes last season, including three against The Citadel. Morgan averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

While listed as a backup on the depth chart, Jason Hill (5’11”, 195 lbs.) is someone to watch when it comes to long gainers. Last season, the junior from Spartanburg caught two TD passes — a 59-yarder against The Citadel, and a 75-yard catch versus Presbyterian. The player who threw him the football against PC? Lennox McAfee.

Average size of Wofford’s projected starters on the offensive line: 6’3″, 292 lbs. That is in line with the average size of the Terriers’ starters on the o-line in previous seasons (6’3″, 297 lbs. in 2017; 6’3″, 296 lbs. in 2016).

Left tackle Michael Ralph (6’4″, 290 lbs.) is a preseason first-team all-conference pick. The junior from Ohio started all 13 games for the Terriers last season at right tackle.

Justus Basinger (6’4″, 305 lbs.) started all 13 games for Wofford last season at right guard, and the junior from Longwood, Florida is expected to do the same this year. Basinger is a preseason second-team all-SoCon choice on the offensive line; admittedly, no fewer than eight guys are preseason second-team all-league selections on the o-line, but he is a fine player regardless.

Wofford’s defense is keyed by its defensive line, which is both enormous and very effective.

Miles Brown, the Terriers’ 6’2″, 320 lb. nosetackle, is probably the best player on Wofford’s roster, and one of the better players in the SoCon. In a league with several truly exceptional defensive linemen, Brown is a standout.

The senior from Maryland has started on the d-line for the Terriers since his freshman campaign.

Brown’s primary tag-team partner on the defensive line is 6’1″, 300 lb. Mikel Horton. While he missed some time last season (appearing in only eight games), the native of Kentucky made an impact when on the field. Horton, a junior, was a second team all-league pick last year.

Wofford has shifted some players around on the defensive line and at linebacker. One player staying in place is inside linebacker Datavious (DT) Wilson (6’1″, 225 lbs.), a tackling machine from Hartsville. The junior was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.

The Terriers have an experienced secondary. Devin Watson, a 5’11”, 190 lb. senior cornerback, was a first-team all-league choice last season after making 55 tackles and intercepting four passes.

Mason Alstatt (6’0″, 210 lbs.), a junior safety from Kentucky, was a preseason second-team all-conference choice. Alstatt was the second-leading tackler on the team last year (with 76 stops).

Luke Carter (6’1″, 215 lbs.) was the all-SoCon placekicker in 2017 after finishing the season 11 for 12 on field goal tries, with a long of 44 yards, and not missing a PAT all year (41 for 41). Carter also served as the Terriers’ punter, and the junior from Florence will handle both roles for Wofford again this season (in addition to being the kickoff specialist).

Miller Mosley (5’11”, 185 lbs.) is the Terriers’ holder on placements, and (as seen above) he also may be in the game at quarterback at times. The sophomore from Alabama is obviously someone who has to be accounted for when it comes to possible fake field goal attempts.

As has been the case for the last three seasons, Ross Hammond (6’1″, 230 lbs.) is Wofford’s long snapper. Hammond is a third-generation college football player.

Lennox McAfee will be Wofford’s primary punt returner and will also be on the kickoff return team, as will starting free safety JoJo Tillery (6’2″, 210 lbs.). While McAfee is the primary threat on both return units, Tillery is a good athlete with a fair amount of speed. He has only one career kick return, however.

Odds and ends:

– Wofford, perhaps inspired by The Bronze Bulldog, has a new on-campus sculpture, one probably safe from controversy. It is a bronze rendition of a Boston Terrier.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Spartanburg, per the National Weather Service: a 40% chance of showers during the day and into the evening. It is expected to be partly sunny, with a high near 88 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 70 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 10-point underdog at Wofford, with an over/under of 48.

That is easily the biggest spread for this particular matchup in several years. The over/under is slightly higher than has been the norm in recent seasons.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: On Thursday night, Chattanooga is a 13.5-point favorite over Tennessee Tech, while Samford is favored over Shorter by 45.5 points.

Saturday, Western Carolina is a 21.5-point favorite over Newberry; VMI is a 46-point underdog at Toledo; Mercer is a 26-point underdog at Memphis; and Furman is a 48.5-point underdog at Clemson.

There was no readily available line for the Mars Hill-East Tennessee State game.

Also of note: Towson is a 23-point favorite at Morgan State; Charleston Southern is a 39.5-point underdog at Florida; and Alabama is a 25-point favorite over Louisville in Orlando.

Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 57th in FCS as of August 27 (the Bulldogs moved up 3 spots following Week 0 action). Wofford is ranked 33rd.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 21% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Wofford 27, The Citadel 17.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey (as of August 27): Kennesaw State (19th), Samford (25th), Yale (28th), Furman (29th), Elon (35th), Mercer (39th), Towson (40th), Colgate (41st), Western Carolina (45th), UT Martin (55th), Charleston Southern (56th), Chattanooga (58th), East Tennessee State (81st), Gardner-Webb (84th), Tennessee Tech (92nd), South Carolina State (93rd), Presbyterian (95th), VMI (113th), Davidson (124th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads to begin the 2018 campaign: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Western Illinois.

In case you were wondering about Massey’s preseason rankings of certain squads that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the top ten (in order) in the FBS standings as of August 27: Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Wisconsin, Auburn, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma State. Florida State is 25th, South Carolina 33rd, Memphis 42nd, Navy 51st, North Carolina 57th, Army 65th, Appalachian State 67th, Wyoming 72nd, Tennessee 73rd, Toledo 74th, Air Force 89th, Old Dominion 117th, Coastal Carolina 121st, Georgia Southern 122nd, Charlotte 124th, Liberty 129th, and Jim Senter’s UTEP 130th and last.

– Wofford’s roster includes 35 players from South Carolina. Other states represented on its roster: Georgia (14 players), Florida (9), North Carolina (8), Ohio (8), Tennessee (8), Kentucky (4), Maryland (3), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Maine, and New Jersey. Ronnie Brooks, a junior offensive lineman listed on the Terriers’ two-deep, is from Washington, DC (and attended Maret School, where the head basketball coach is one Chuck Driesell).

Oddly, none of Wofford’s 35 players from the Palmetto State are graduates of traditional pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. While former coach Mike Ayers is said to have retired on his own terms, the possibility remains that the coach was gently but firmly “pushed out” due to his failure to recruit gridiron mainstays from the famed Maroon and Orange.

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

Music matters at The Citadel’s practices. Surprisingly and disappointingly, though, neither Alison Krauss nor Ella Fitzgerald are featured.

– The Citadel’s game notes state that the “Block C” on the helmets is back for the 2018 season! This is very good news indeed.

It is the opening game of the 2018 campaign, and the level of excitement is high. I think the level of uncertainty is a little bit on the high side, too.

I could write a lot of sentences about my expectations for the opener, but to be honest, I’m not completely sure what my expectations are.

(Also, I’ve written way too many sentences in this post already.)

I guess the bottom line is that I think the Bulldogs are going to be good this season. How good, I don’t know.

We’ll begin to find out on Saturday.

Can’t wait…

2017 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Clemson

The Citadel vs. Clemson, to be played at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina, with kickoff at 12:20 pm ET on November 18, 2017.

The game will be televised by local affiliates of the ACC National Network and streamed on the ACC Digital Network. Tom Werme will handle play-by-play, while Dave Archer supplies the analysis and D.J. Shockley reports from the sideline.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– Game preview, The Post and Courier

Bulldogs aim to play their best

– Game notes from The Citadel and Clemson

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Brent Thompson’s 11/14 press conference, including comments from Jordan Black and Myles Pierce (video)

– Link to the ACC Digital Network’s streaming coverage of The Citadel-Clemson

This week’s preview is shorter than usual. I apologize to anyone who enjoys the “regular” previews, overlong though they may be. This was a tough week to crank out the verbiage, both in terms of time and trying to think of things to write about.

I’ll also be taking a short break from the blog for a couple of weeks. I’ll probably write about the basketball team again in mid-December.

Brent Thompson on playing an FBS team:

I love it. I love it for our players, I love it for our fans. I love it for myself. I love it for the experience of it. I think it’s a lot of fun…I’ve got no problem with it. I think it’s one of the best things we do, and I would love to see it carried on, because you never know when…you do have those days like you had against South Carolina [in 2015]…you live your whole life for those days and times as a coach.

Jordan Black (who grew up a Georgia Tech fan) on playing an FBS team:

I always look forward to these games. As a kid, you watch these athletes on TV on these big fields in front of thousands of fans. These games mean a lot to us guys who don’t get to do that on the regular. It’s exciting to play on this scale of football, so I’m going to enjoy this week.

Okay, so who has a problem with Clemson playing The Citadel? Well, we all know the answer to that…

Gene Sapakoff, sports columnist for The Post and Courier:

Sagarin says Clemson should be favored by 50 over The Citadel, Gamecocks by 27 over Wofford. FBS fans deserve less FCS riff-raff

First, the obvious. The “local” columnist a) chooses to ignore the fact that The Citadel beat an FBS team just two years ago, and b) is seemingly unaware that Wofford is actually not as big an underdog this week as The Citadel was when it beat South Carolina.

Of course, most supporters of The Citadel know that this is standard operating procedure for Sapakoff. His general antipathy for things he considers less than “major” (at least, those that don’t involve Bill Murray) is well-known.

At this point, however, I think it’s fair to ask the entity for which he works if Sapakoff’s decidedly unsophisticated views are representative of the company. As it happens, another fan of the military college pointed out Sapakoff’s comments to Mitch Pugh, who is the executive editor of The Post and Courier. Pugh’s response (also via Twitter):

I don’t think that came of[f] the way he intended…. Who can forget that run by Renew and win two years ago?

I disagree with Pugh. I believe Sapakoff’s comments came off exactly the way the sportswriter intended — which is to say, they came off as insulting.

What he is saying is that Dominique Allen and Myles Pierce are “riff-raff”, as apparently were Tyler Renew and Andre Roberts and Jack Douglas and all the other Bulldog players who have played I-AA/FCS football. Sapakoff’s snide remark leads to no other realistic interpretation, particularly given his history, both in print and on social media.

Of course, he’s also essentially clowning on the players and coaches at Wofford, and Furman, and South Carolina State (just to name three other institutions with long histories in this state).

In recent months, The Post and Courier has expanded its distribution in an effort to become a more statewide newspaper. When Evening Post Industries announced it was increasing its distribution in the Midlands, one of its executives had this to say:

“Our newspaper group’s mission has always been to build community and this move is an extension of that mission,” said P.J. Browning, senior vice president of Evening Post Publishing Newspaper Group and publisher of The Post and Courier.

One thing I would point out to the fine folks who run Evening Post Industries is this: the “community” in the Palmetto State includes a lot of people who have connections to schools besides Clemson University and the University of South Carolina-Columbia. Many of them are proud of those associations, too.

Nobody is asking reporters to be cheerleaders. (Heck, I don’t want cheerleaders on the news desk — I want information.) However, would it be so terrible if the newspaper’s “voices” weren’t so openly antagonistic to the smaller schools in this state, particularly the one that has a football team located in the city in which The Post and Courier is based?

A couple more thoughts on FCS vs. FBS matchups:

I wrote this three years ago after Kirk Herbstreit went on an uninformed rant on the subject:

FCS players almost always love playing these games. They like to measure themselves against top-level competition. They enjoy playing in large stadiums, in a “big time” atmosphere, often on television.

Fans of smaller schools usually like these games too, especially if they aren’t too far away. They are often used for alumni networking and fundraising.

Sometimes, there is an element of tradition associated with these contests. You don’t think alums from Furman or The Citadel enjoy occasional matchups with South Carolina or Clemson? I can assure you that they do.

There is another aspect to this issue. I’ll let Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, asked last year about playing FCS teams, explain:

If you don’t play a FCS, how do they make their budget playing a big school? How do the division two’s make their budget? Playing a FCS, see what I’m saying? Alright, you start taking these budgets away from these lower games…where will all the high school football players going to go? Why are they going to keep playing football because all these teams going to have to drop ball and not play games. What you’re doing is you’re killing the sport…from an ego…and all of a sudden guys ain’t gonna play football no more because there ain’t enough schools out there to get scholarships. It’s not about playing FCS, it’s about the game of football and filtering it all the way down so there are scholarships in division two. I played division two football…turned out pretty good…and right now my school doesn’t play football anymore…you know why…couldn’t afford to. What if those opportunities for kids go away?”

Statistics of note for The Citadel through ten games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 23.4 22.9
Rushing yardage 3086 1391
Average per rush 5.2 4.3
Average per game 308.6 139.1
TDs rushing 22 19
Passing yardage 981 1848
Comp-Att-Int 51-131-6 156-255-11
Average per pass 7.5 7.2
TDs passing 9 12
Total offense 4067 3239
Total plays 728 576
Yards per play 5.6 5.6
Kick returns-yards 28-602 24-646
Punt returns-yards 19-171 8-55
Fumbles/lost 18-7 12-6
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.8/39.7 3.0/30.0
Net punt average 35.3 34.0
Time of possession/game 34:07 25:53
3rd down conversions 69/156 36/108
3rd down conversion rate 44.2% 33.3%
Sacks by-yards 16-87 10-64
Field goals-attempts 5-13 4-6
Red Zone touchdown rate (21-40) 52.5% (19-25) 76.0%
  • The Citadel is 18th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate, and 24th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • Only six FCS teams have committed fewer penalties per game than the Bulldogs (though positive, that statistic is not necessarily a precursor to winning games, as 0-11 VMI is the least penalized team in the nation)
  • The Bulldogs are 121st in kick return defense, which could be problematic against Clemson
  • While The Citadel is last nationally in passing offense, when the Bulldogs do complete a pass, it tends to be a big deal — they rank 1st in FCS in yards per completion (19.24).
  • The Citadel is 2nd in rushing offense (Kennesaw State ranks 1st) and 47th in rushing defense
  • The Bulldogs are 67th in scoring offense and 40th in scoring defense
  • The Citadel is 2nd nationally in time of possession, trailing only Pioneer League champ San Diego

Clemson has had a lot of success in recent years against Georgia Tech, which (like The Citadel) runs the triple option.

Over the past four matchups against the Yellow Jackets, the Tigers have allowed on average just 154 rushing yards per game.

The fact that the Tigers face Georgia Tech every year as opposed to some teams that see the option only a few times a decade is another reason for Clemson’s success, according to [Clemson defensive coordinator Brent] Venables.

“I think planning ahead is probably important, and then from year-to-year when you have a lot of carryover from your personnel and your staff, I think that really helps,” he said. “You’re able to kind of get to the shortcuts quickly as opposed to helping guys try to figure it out .”

The “we play them every year” thing comes up for The Citadel in league play, obviously, especially against teams that have not had a lot of turnover on their coaching staff. Ultimately, though, the reason Clemson is successful defending the triple option is the reason the Tigers’ defense is usually successful against any team it plays: Clemson has a lot of very talented players, and they are extremely well-coached.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Clemson, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny, with an expected high of 64 degrees, and a 30% chance of showers (though any rain would likely not arrive until after 5:00 pm).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Clemson is a 47-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 52.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Western Carolina is a 21 1/2 point underdog at North Carolina; Wofford is a 19-point underdog at South Carolina; Furman is a 4 1/2 point favorite at Samford; Mercer is a 40 1/2 point underdog at Alabama; and Chattanooga is a 10-point favorite versus East Tennessee State. VMI’s season is over.

Around the Palmetto State, Coastal Carolina is a 7 1/2 point underdog at Idaho in a classic Sun Belt battle; Presbyterian is a 3-point home underdog versus Gardner-Webb; South Carolina State is a 7 1/2 point favorite at Savannah State; and Charleston Southern is a 1 1/2 point underdog against Liberty.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 60th in FCS (out of 124 teams), a drop of eight spots from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 224th, while Clemson is 2nd.

Massey projects a final score of Clemson 49, The Citadel 0.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Furman is 17th (up one place from last week), Wofford is 24th (down three spots), Samford is 25th (down one place), Western Carolina is 37th (down five spots), Mercer is 40th (unchanged from last week), Charleston Southern is 62nd, Chattanooga is 65th (up two spots), East Tennessee State is 75th (down four places), South Carolina State is 93rd, Presbyterian is 96th, and VMI is 116th (unchanged).

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Northern Iowa, and Western Illinois.

– Since 1911, The Citadel has a 5-6 record in games played on November 18. Four of those five wins came in Charleston; the home victories include shutouts of Porter Military Academy and Oglethorpe.

The only road victory on that date in The Citadel’s football history came the last time the Bulldogs played on November 18, in 2006, when The Citadel defeated Elon 44-7. In that contest, Andre Roberts caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Duran Lawson. Nuru Goodrum had three rushing TDs for the Bulldogs.

Tory Cooper rushed for 109 yards. Also having good games that day for The Citadel: Derek Moore and Montrell Lee (both of whom scored touchdowns) and James Wilson (who returned an interception for 49 yards).

– Among Clemson’s notable alums are Medal of Honor recipient Jimmie Dyess, soccer player/commentator Stuart Holden, and diplomat Kristie Kenney.

– Nine current Clemson players are the sons of former Clemson players. Four of the fathers played on the Tigers’ 1981 team that won the AP national title: Jeff Davis (who has two sons on the roster), Perry Tuttle, Bill Smith, and Frank Magwood.

– The roster for Clemson (per its website) includes 47 players from the State of South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (18 players), North Carolina (15), Florida (13), Virginia (6), Alabama (4), Maryland (3), Tennessee (3), Indiana (2), Kansas (2), Massachusetts (2), and one each from Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

One of the Tigers, 6’3″, 305 lb. defensive tackle Albert Huggins, is a graduate of legendary football powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. Amazingly, Clemson is the only opponent The Citadel has played this season with a player on its roster who once suited up for the famed (and feared) maroon and orange. Clemson is also the only opponent of the Bulldogs that won a national title last season. That is not a coincidence.

I must point out, however, that of these two schools, it was The Citadel that finished undefeated in league play in 2016.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

– This week’s game notes from The Citadel included a bit of a change-up in the presentation of the depth chart from past weeks. I like the format adjustment.

– Factoid from those game notes worth mentioning: offensive guards Jonathan Cole and Jon Barrett Lewis, both “true” freshmen, have combined to play 1,514 of a possible 1,522 offensive snaps through ten games this season.

– Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Clemson. Few schools, if any, put on a better show for Military Appreciation Day than does Clemson, much to its credit. I am sure this year’s production will be outstanding as well.

You will notice I haven’t written about last week’s game against Furman. The reason is simple: there is nothing to say, at least in a positive vein.

I don’t have many expectations for this week’s matchup with Clemson, but I do have some. I expect the Bulldogs to be well prepared, to fight for all sixty minutes of game action, and to have no regrets after the game is over.

This year hasn’t gone as well as the Bulldogs (and their fans) had hoped. That happens. However, it is still important to wring as much out of the season as possible.

Go Dogs!

Game Review, 2017: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package, The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including postgame discussion with Brent Thompson

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

ESPN3 video of the game

This isn’t going to be a long review (and it is late, for reasons not having anything to do with the game itself). Nevertheless, I wanted to make a few quick observations.

– The Citadel threw 13 passes in the first half — six in the first quarter, and seven in the second quarter. The Bulldogs completed five of their first six throws, but were only 1-for-7 in the second quarter.

I wasn’t really sure why The Citadel threw so often in the first half. Later in the game, sure, but it seemed to me that the Bulldogs got out of their natural offensive rhythm. I realize much of the passing was based on what Mercer’s defense was doing, but I still thought it was odd.

– The two-deep for Saturday’s game included ten freshmen on offense (five starters) and seven on defense. The Bulldogs also featured a freshman punter and numerous other first-year players on all the special teams units.

It showed at times, particularly on offense. The Bulldogs may be better later in the season once this group of players has more experience, but that fact may be hard for some supporters to accept.

– Dominique Allen played the entire game at quarterback, as Jordan Black did not take a snap under center. Brent Thompson explained why:

Just a different game plan. We ran a lot more zone options last week (at Samford). This week, it was more operational, and Dom was operating just fine. We had to move pretty quickly, because (Mercer’s defense) was moving around quite a bit, and one quarterback seems to suit me better with all those moving parts.

I don’t have a problem with that decision. Allen certainly wasn’t making bad plays. The only real reason to change QBs in that situation is if you think just making a switch could spark the team, and Thompson clearly didn’t believe that.

However, I wish Thompson could have gone into the stands during one of the media timeouts and explained the situation to the fan behind me who yelled “Put in Black!” at least 300 times during the game.

– The officials didn’t decide the game, but they weren’t in good form, either, unless you enjoy the art of haphazard ball-spotting.

The SoCon crew seemed to delight in delaying the game for instant replay reviews whenever possible (one reason the contest took 3:21 to play), but there was somehow no review of a punt that hit a Mercer gunner in the back on a would-be return.

ESPN announcer Kevin Fitzgerald, looking at the scrum of players around the football: “Whoever comes out of this pile physically holding it is going to get the football.”

You would have thought so, but nope. The Citadel’s Logan Bailey came out of the pile with the football. The referee looked at him — and then awarded possession to Mercer.

I guess that play wasn’t worth a review. Maybe the wrong team recovered the football.

– It was one of the muggier days at Johnson Hagood Stadium in recent memory, which made the length of the game all the more arduous. The announced attendance was disappointing (9,969), which was due to a lot of factors, including the heat (I’m sure a significant number of people with tickets wound up not going to the game).

This is just a theory of mine, but I believe one thing that will improve attendance is a permanent seating structure on the East side. That isn’t going to be around again until at least the 2019 season, of course.

This week’s pictures aren’t half-bad, at least compared to most weeks. They are currently not annotated (I may go back and do that later). They are in order, however, so anyone trying to piece together plays/results can use the play-by-play from the box score to match things up (at least through most of the first three quarters).

Game Review, 2016: Furman

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Greenville News

“Notes” section, The Greenville News

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Brent Thompson, Dominique Allen, and Jordan Black

Video from WCIV-TV

Game story, The Moultrie News

Short game story, Southern Pigskin

Game video highlights

Josh LeBlanc catch

Box score

Post-game notes

The Citadel 19, Furman 14.

It was not the most elegant of contests. Both offenses had plays they would like to have had back. The special teams weren’t all that special.

Then again, the defenses for both sides had a lot to do with the way the game was played. That, and the hard-fought nature of the matchup (which came as a surprise to no one).

Both teams ran 61 plays. Furman averaged 4.5 yards per play, The Citadel 4.9.

The Bulldogs only averaged 3.5 yards per rush, well under expectations, but the Paladins were even more anemic on the ground, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.

It wasn’t a complete debacle for the offenses. The two teams combined to score five touchdowns on five Red Zone opportunities. The Citadel actually converted on 50% of its third down attempts (8-16).

The Bulldogs would have converted at an even better clip if not for some ill-timed penalties. One wonders if the SoCon office had a word with the officiating crew after The Citadel was only called for one penalty last week.

During the course of the game, the two teams combined for a fumbled kickoff, a muffed punt, three missed field goals, and a botched PAT. Yeesh.

The Citadel led 13-7 at the break, with each side taking advantage of special teams miscues for TDs. The difference over the first thirty minutes was the touchdown scored by Jordan Black to conclude The Citadel’s opening drive, by far the longest sustained possession of the half by either squad.

Furman would eventually take the lead late in the third quarter, driving 67 yards for the score. The key play was an outstanding 31-yard reception by Paladins receiver Andrej Suttles, setting up a first-and-goal on the 1-yard line that was converted into a TD two plays later.

The Citadel’s offense would have three opportunities to regain the lead. The first ended in a missed field goal attempt.

The second, a drive set up by Dee Delaney’s second interception of the game, ended after a 4th-and-1 run by Dominique Allen was ruled short of the line to gain by the officials. It was a very poor spotting decision in the eyes of many observers (including mine).

Brent Thompson tried very hard not to say too much when asked about that after the game:

I certainly thought we got it, and I thought we got it pretty clearly…you just hope that nobody really…changes the outcome of a game because of a decision like that.

The Bulldogs persevered, however, and four plays later Furman had to punt. The ensuing drive would be the decisive one, with the critical play a 29-yard completion from Allen to DeAndre Schoultz on 3rd-and-7 from The Citadel’s 25-yard-line.

Two plays later, Thompson and offensive coordinator Lou Conte dialed up their best play call of the night, a 1st-and-10 pass to Tyler Renew that went for 21 yards. Five rushing plays later, Allen scored what proved to be the winning TD.

Furman’s last chance was snuffed out by a Malik Diggs interception, one of three picks by the Bulldogs.

Random thoughts:

– If you’re an official and you decide to call a taunting penalty on a player for pointing at an opponent, perhaps you should also consider the action that led to the player pointing at the opponent — and penalize that individual as well. Just an idea.

– The Citadel needs to clean up its placekicking mechanics. I’m not necessarily talking about the kicker, but all the elements involved.

– The first-half injury to Furman running back Darius Morehead further exacerbated what appears to be the Paladins’ biggest problem, namely a lack of offensive playmakers.

– Dee Delaney was a preseason first-team All-American, and he had an All-American kind of game against Furman. He had two interceptions (both impressive), two pass breakups, and four tackles.

– Kailik Williams was all over the field (12 tackles), and Noah Dawkins was also a prominent on-field presence (8 tackles).

– The Citadel’s defense had no sacks, but I thought it got decent pressure on the passer for a good portion of the game. Tevin Floyd helped create the first of Dee Delaney’s two interceptions with what was recorded as a “hurry”; another hurry (by Dawkins) led to the second of Delaney’s picks.

– In the “links of interest” section above, I included a link of freshman wide receiver Josh LeBlanc’s first career reception. It was certainly a memorable one. LeBlanc is a native of Houston, Texas.

– Brent Thompson’s answers in his post-game Q-and-A sessions with the media have included some of the more quietly thoughtful, introspective comments you will hear from a coach in that type of setting. He clearly hasn’t been a head coach for long.

– It was the first home game of the season for the folks running the PA. Let’s hope things will improve by the time North Greenville comes to town.

– All things considered, it was a solid crowd for the home opener (particularly given the stadium seating situation). It was by and large a good show, too, on the field and off. That should pay dividends for attendance at home games later in the season.

Next up: a non-conference road game against Gardner-Webb. I’ll have a preview for that one later in the week (maybe by Thursday).

As usual, I took pictures, which can be seen below (most of them are annotated). As is often the case, they are mostly bad.

If you’re wondering about the paucity of action shots (such as they are) for the third and fourth quarters, my camera’s batteries died on me shortly after halftime. Then my cellphone’s battery started a downward spiral of its own late in the game. It was one of those nights.

I’ll trade all that for the victory, however.

2016 Football, Week 2: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel…was expected to nose out a victory from the visiting Furman contingent, while the Baptists, being exceedingly jealous of their position in the football world, were counted on to put their last ounce of strength into the fray with a view to nothing less than copping the contest. Hence Hampton Park bade fair to be the scene this afternoon of a hotly contested battle between two well nigh evenly matched teams.

Preview article, The Evening Post, November 1, 1913

 

The Citadel football machine ran up the biggest score of its season yesterday, when it swamped Furman, 75-0. Although the Baptists were fully as husky as the local boys and played a hard game throughout, they were simply up against a far superior team…

…End runs, off-tackle plays, line plunges, and forward passes were all successful ground-gainers, and it is the consensus of local opinion that The Citadel has improved 100 per cent since she smothered the College of Charleston 72-0 in her previous appearance here…

…There was plenty of drive and pep in the Blue dashes, the quartet of Folger, Weeks, Holliday, and James, showing much sang-froid and elan, as they say at Furman.

…taking all this into consideration, The Citadel put up the best exhibition of offensive play in years, and it is doubtful if the famous 1909 gang had anything on Folger, Weeks, and Company in their exhibition of yesterday.

Game story, The Sunday News, November 2, 1913

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 not be televised.

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

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Game story for The Citadel-Mercer, The Post and Courier

– Box score from The Citadel-Mercer

– The Citadel faces a choice at quarterback

–  Johnson Hagood Stadium’s East Stands won’t be used this week

– Tyler Renew is the SoCon offensive player of the week

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/6 press conference (video)

Brent Thompson 9/7 radio show (video)

– Furman set for first SoCon challenge at The Citadel

– Box score from Furman-Michigan State

– BTN highlights of Furman-Michigan State (video)

Entire Furman-Michigan State game in less than 23 minutes (video)

Promotional spot for Furman-The Citadel (video)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

A quick review of last Thursday’s opener…

For the third straight year, The Citadel eked out a win over Mercer. This time the Bulldogs built a big lead early, let it slip completely away, then retook the lead and held on.

I thought Jordan Black did a nice job in his first start. The coaching staff also should be commended for not overburdening him, but instead letting him use his strengths, including mid-range passes. The absence of turnovers was pleasing.

The offense was mostly shut down after the first quarter, but Mercer’s defense has to get some credit for that. Also, with the game on the line, the Bulldogs marched 65 yards down the field, in just over seven minutes, setting up the game-winning field goal.

The biggest play of the night, in my opinion: after a bad pitch on the aforementioned drive resulted in a 2nd-and-17 on The Citadel’s 20-yard-line, Black completed a 15-yard pass to Tyler Renew (who hurdled over a defender for the last four yards). That set up a manageable 3rd-and-2, which Black converted with a 5-yard run.

Two plays later, Black hooked up with Reggie Williams on a 25-yard completion. Then, on 3rd-and-7 from the Mercer 32-yard-line, Cam Jackson brushed aside an early challenge from a defender and used his blockers well to pick up a key first down. Shortly thereafter, Cody Clark kicked the 35-yard field goal that proved decisive.

The Citadel’s defense struggled at times during the the first half, which is indicated in Mercer’s yards-per-play statistics. The Bears averaged 6.4 yards per play. However, Mercer only had 96 yards of total offense in the second half.

The Bulldogs did a good job in the Red Zone, allowing just one touchdown in Mercer’s three trips inside the 20. The Citadel also had three sacks and forced two bookend turnovers (a strip-sack by Kevin Graham on Mercer’s first offensive play from scrimmage, and an interception by Kailik Williams to end the Bears’ last possession).

Mercer’s surfeit of offensive penalties could arguably be attributed to pressure from the Bulldogs’ D.

The Citadel’s special teams units were solid, the missed field goal aside.

I won’t miss seeing John Russ under center for the Bears against the Bulldogs. He’s a good college quarterback, a smart playmaker. I expect Russ to lead Mercer to several conference wins this season.

The Citadel won a road game in league play against a quality opponent. It’s a victory that looks good now, and could look really good in November.

Furman was supposed to be a pushover for Michigan State, but the Paladins gave the defending Big 10 champions all they wanted on Friday night. It was a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter.

Darius Morehead, a “true” freshman running back, rushed for 83 yards on 20 carries against a normally stout Spartans defense. Furman only committed one turnover, and could have had a real chance to win if it had done a better job in the Red Zone. The Paladins had two separate drives in which they had first-and-goal from the five-yard-line or closer, only to settle for field goals.

On defense, FU forced two turnovers and held the potent Michigan State ground game to 4.3 yards per rush.

While it was a loss, it was still a very encouraging performance by a team that has struggled in each of the last two seasons. The Paladins’ coaches and players will be very confident when they arrive at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

The next few sections include statistics for 2015 SoCon contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Before making some statistical comparisons, a quick review of each team’s 2015 SoCon season (and yes, I’m repeating myself with regards to The Citadel’s season and stats):

Furman was 4-7 overall last season, 2-5 in conference play. After losing two of its first three games, FU opened league play in 2015 with a 24-21 victory over VMI. The Paladins trailed 14-0 midway through the second quarter before rallying past the Keydets. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown was a key play in the game. Also of note: Furman had almost a 16-minute advantage in time of possession.

FU won a non-league game against South Carolina State before resuming its SoCon campaign, but the Paladins threw up a dud at Chattanooga, losing 31-3. Furman only managed 59 rushing yards during the contest, and was also victimized by a pick-six.

After a bye week, Furman hosted The Citadel. The Bulldogs won the matchup 38-17, overcoming an early 7-0 deficit by scoring 24 straight points. The Citadel rushed for 388 yards. My review of that game can be found here: Link

Furman rebounded from that loss to The Citadel with a stirring comeback at Samford, winning on a last-second field goal 20-17. The Paladins had trailed 17-0 at halftime. FU’s rushing output of 252 yards was easily its highest of the season.

The momentum from that victory was short-lived, however, as the following week the Paladins were crushed in Cullowhee by Western Carolina, 48-10. The Catamounts led 31-3 at halftime after turning two early turnovers into touchdowns; Furman was never in the game after that.

Furman then lost at Mercer, 27-20 in overtime. FU trailed 20-0 before making another comeback, tying the game late on a touchdown run by running back Kealand Dirks. However, Dirks received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after spiking the football following his TD, which meant the Paladins had to attempt a 35-yard PAT. It missed, setting up the OT session won by Mercer.

In its final game of the 2015 season, Furman lost 38-28 at Wofford. The Terriers outrushed the Paladins 417-109, with 73 of Wofford’s rushing yards coming on a game-clinching fourth-quarter drive after Furman had rallied to within a field goal.

The Citadel opened its SoCon campaign in 2015 with a fine home win over Western Carolina, 28-10. The Bulldogs’ next conference game was also at Johnson Hagood Stadium, against Wofford, and The Citadel ran past the Terriers 39-12.

Following that victory, The Citadel won consecutive road games in impressive fashion, versus Samford (44-25) and Furman (by the 38-17 score mentioned earlier). The Bulldogs then edged Mercer 21-19, and retained the coveted Silver Shako with a tough 35-14 win over VMI.

Both of those games were at home. The Citadel lost its final league game of the season, 31-23 at Chattanooga; despite that setback, the Bulldogs still won a share of the Southern Conference title.

In conference play, Furman’s offense averaged 17.4 points per game. The Paladins averaged 4.8 yards per play, including 3.2 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt.

Furman threw the football 213 times, averaging 30.4 tosses per league game. FU passed or was sacked attempting to pass on almost half (49.4%) of its offensive plays from scrimmage. Paladin quarterbacks were sacked nineteen times in seven SoCon matchups.

In terms of yardage, 63.5% of FU’s total offense came via the air. Furman scored fourteen touchdowns in conference play, six rushing and eight passing. The Paladins were intercepted eight times (twice versus the Bulldogs) and fumbled thirteen times in league contests, losing six of those fumbles.

Defensively, The Citadel allowed 18.3 ppg in SoCon action. The Bulldogs allowed 5.1 yards per play, including 3.7 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt. As I mentioned last week, my statistical review of The Citadel’s 2015 league campaign included the tidbit that the Bulldogs’ yards per rush stat was an improvement over the corresponding 2014 average by almost exactly two yards.

The Bulldogs sacked opposing quarterbacks twenty times in league play, and intercepted thirteen passes (breaking up twenty other throws). SoCon opponents averaged 30.3 pass attempts per game versus The Citadel, with those tosses accounting for 46.1% of all offensive plays run from scrimmage against the Bulldogs. Furman attempted 26 passes against the Bulldogs in last year’s matchup, picking up 159 yards on those throws (6.1 yards per attempt).

The Citadel’s defense recovered seven fumbles in conference action.

Furman had 106 third-down attempts in SoCon play, converting 46 of them into first downs (43.4%). The Paladins went for it on fourth down eleven times in conference action, successfully picking up the first down six times (54.5%).

FU was in the Red Zone eighteen times in seven league contests, scoring nine touchdowns in that situation (for a RZ TD rate of 50%; hey, that was easy math).

Furman’s time of possession per game in conference play was 30:56. While this is close to break-even in terms of TOP, the Paladins occasionally controlled the football for major portions of individual quarters. That included the third quarter of last season’s game versus the Bulldogs, when FU had the ball for exactly 11 minutes.

Other quarters in which Furman had the football for an extended period of time: the first quarter against VMI (10:44), the fourth quarter versus Samford (11:56), and in the fourth quarter of two of the Paladins’ non-conference matchups (10:59 against UCF and 11:30 versus South Carolina State).

In games (including non-conference matchups) last season in which Furman had what I’ll call dominant possession quarters, defined as controlling the football for 10:30 or longer, the Paladins were 4-1, with the loss against The Citadel.

On Friday night, Furman had yet another dominant possession quarter, holding the ball for 11:47 of the third quarter against Michigan State. The Spartans turned that around in the fourth quarter, as MSU possessed the football for 10:41 of the final period.

FU averaged only 4.1 penalties per SoCon game. Curiously, the average yardage assessed for Paladin infractions in league play was more than 10 yards per flag, so when Furman committed a penalty, it was often a major foul.

The Citadel’s defense held conference opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 33.7%. Furman was 5 for 13 converting third downs against the Bulldogs in last season’s contest.

Against the Bulldogs, SoCon opposition was 8 for 13 on fourth-down tries (61.5%). Last year, the Paladins converted their only fourth-down attempt against the Cadets.

In Red Zone situations versus league teams, the Bulldogs allowed a TD rate of 52.2% in 2015. Furman’s offense was in the Red Zone three times in last year’s matchup. The Paladins scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal.

As we all know, SoCon officials rarely call penalties against The Citadel’s opponents (with last week’s game against Mercer a notable exception to that rule). In 2015, the Bulldogs were called for 42 penalties in seven conference games (6.0 per contest), while the opposition was only flagged 29 times (4.1 per game).

In last year’s game, Furman and The Citadel combined for nine penalties. Naturally, six of them were against the Bulldogs.

FU allowed 31.4 points per game against conference opposition. League teams averaged 5.7 yards per play against the Paladins, including 5.5 yards per rush and 6.2 yards per pass attempt.

Furman’s defense faced 177 pass attempts in SoCon action. The Paladins’ D had only six sacks in conference action (and just eight sacks all season).  Only 37.0% of their opponents’ plays were pass attempts (or sacks while attempting to pass).

FU allowed 2,838 yards of total offense in seven SoCon games, with 38.9% of that total being passing yardage. The Paladins allowed 26 touchdowns in SoCon play, 19 via the rush (five of those rushing TDs were by the Bulldogs).

Furman intercepted five passes in league play (one was against The Citadel), and recovered three fumbles.

Offensively, The Citadel put up 32.6 points per game in conference action. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 5.6 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt (on 63 total throws in seven SoCon contests).

League opponents intercepted two Bulldog passes (as mentioned, the Paladins got one of those), and broke up four others.

The Citadel lost eight fumbles in seven SoCon games. As I noted in last week’s preview, the Bulldogs lost twelve fumbles in their other six matchups, losing at least one fumble in every non-league contest except the matchup against South Carolina.

Holding onto the football will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel all season. The 2016 Bulldogs passed their first test on that front, with no turnovers and only one mishandled pitch (which was recovered by The Citadel).

Furman’s defense allowed a third-down conversion rate of 47.6% against league teams. On fourth down, Paladin opponents were eight for twelve (66.7%).

SoCon opposition entered the Red Zone against FU 27 times in conference play. The Paladins allowed 19 touchdowns in that situation (70.4%).

The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate on offense was exactly 50% in SoCon games. On fourth down, the Cadets were 3 for 8 (37.5%). In last year’s game between the two teams, the Bulldogs were 7 for 12 on third down and had no fourth down conversion attempts.

In 2015, The Citadel’s time of possession in SoCon play was 32:13. The Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of just 56.3% in 2015 against conference opposition. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in five Red Zone situations against the Paladins.

For individual statistics, all games (SoCon and non-conference) are included.

A quick review of the four non-conference games Furman played last season:

Furman opened the 2015 campaign with a tough home loss to Coastal Carolina, 38-35. The Paladins had 525 yards of total offense, including 365 passing yards from Reese Hannon — a school record. The game was statistically very even, two Furman turnovers being the difference.

The next week, the Paladins were thumped 42-3 by Virginia Tech. The Hokies had 583 yards of total offense, and Furman didn’t help itself by committing three more turnovers.

Furman then upset UCF, 16-15. The winning margin came courtesy of a 55-yard fourth-quarter field goal by Jon Croft Hollingsworth, the longest in Paladins history. After not forcing a turnover in its first two games, Furman intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble against the Knights.

FU’s game versus South Carolina State was played in difficult conditions, with both rain and wind affecting the contest. The Paladins won the turnover battle, 3-0, and were never seriously threatened after halftime. The final score was 17-3.

Furman returns 15 starters (including offense/defense/specialists), including six on offense and seven on defense.

Offensively, it appears the Paladins will generally operate out of the pistol formation.

FU did not announce who its starter at quarterback would against Michigan State until shortly before kickoff in East Lansing. It turned out to be junior P.J. Blazejowski.

Blazejowski (6’0″, 193 lbs.) started three of the final five games last season for Furman, and also played last season against The Citadel after Reese Hannon was injured.

You may recall Blazejowski from his performance against the Bulldogs in the 2014 matchup, when he compiled 382 yards of total offense in a wild game The Citadel managed to win in OT. He will make his 12th career start on Saturday (if he remains the starter, which seems likely).

Entering this season, he had a career pass completion rate of 58.3%, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, with 13 TDs and 13 interceptions. Against Michigan State, Blazejowski was 15-30 passing, for 123 yards. He threw one interception (which came after the Paladins had picked off a Michigan State pass attempt on the preceding play).

I mentioned in my brief summary of the Michigan State game that freshman running back Darius Morehead (5’9″, 171 lbs.) had a promising collegiate debut for the Paladins. Morehead was a track star in high school, winning the Tennessee D2-AA state title in the 100-meter dash.

His primary backup is Richard Hayes III (5’11”, 201 lbs.), a senior who played safety last year for Furman. Hayes actually tied for the team lead in tackles against the Bulldogs in last season’s meeting, with ten. Based on that game, I think it is safe to say that he’s not afraid of contact.

Six different receivers caught passes last week for Furman. As always with the Paladins, the tight end is a key player. Duncan Fletcher (6’4″, 234 lbs.) had four receptions last week, and also completed a 16-yard pass on a trick play; that tied for FU’s longest completion against MSU.

Last year against the Bulldogs, Fletcher was on the receiving end of a wide receiver pass, one that went for a TD. He began his collegiate career as a quarterback, and played that position versus The Citadel in 2013.

Andrej Suttles (5’11”, 187 lbs.) was a second-team All-SoCon selection last season. The redshirt senior wide receiver has 138 career receptions. He also sees action at punt returner, and had one return last week against Michigan State for five yards.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 293 lbs. Junior center Matthew Schmidt (6’3″, 290 lbs.) played tackle for the Paladins last year, before having his season cut short by an injury suffered in the game against the Bulldogs.

Against Michigan State, Furman started a true freshman at left tackle, Tim Coleman (6’3″, 285 lbs.). The other side of the line, however, features two experienced performers — senior right guard Jackson Buonomia (6’3″, 299 lbs.) and redshirt senior right tackle Harrison Monk (6’4″, 278 lbs.).

Starting defensive end T.J. Warren (6’2″, 233 lbs.) is a redshirt senior who has also seen time at linebacker during his career for the Paladins. According to Furman’s game notes, Warren (a native of Chattanooga) will attend Marine Corps Officers Candidate School at Quantico following graduation.

Furman’s starter at DE opposite Warren is also a redshirt senior. Brian Ross (6’4″, 246 lbs.) has made 13 straight starts. He can be a factor on special teams, too, having blocked a punt last year against VMI that he picked up and ran in for a TD.

Seven of the eleven projected starters for the Paladins are seniors, either fourth- or fifth-year players. One who isn’t is redshirt sophomore DT Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 265 lbs.), a member of last year’s SoCon all-freshman team.

Middle linebacker Carl Rider (6’2″, 232 lbs.) has seemingly been at Furman since the Truman administration. Now finally a redshirt senior (allegedly), Rider was a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2013.

Furman’s active leader in tackles with 260, Rider intercepted a pass last year versus the Bulldogs.

Safety Trey Robinson (6’2″, 220 lbs.) was a second team all-conference pick in 2015, and the senior is a preseason first-team choice this year.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth (5’11, 169 lbs.) handles all of Furman’s kicking duties — placekicking, punting, and kickoffs. The junior did the same last year.

He made two field goals last week versus Michigan State. Hollingsworth also missed a field goal against the Spartans, a 50-yarder, but he is more than capable of making a long kick (as UCF found out last season).

Hollingsworth averaged 38.9 yards per punt last season. On kickoffs, he had 18 touchbacks.

Luke Cuneo is in his second year as the Paladins’ holder. As I noted last year, Cuneo is one of the smaller football players in Division I; the Massachusetts native is 5’6″, 165 lbs.

Furman has a new long snapper this year, true freshman Evan Vaughn (6’1″, 230 lbs.) Vaughn was a Shrine Bowler at Belton-Honea Path High School.

Starting cornerback Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 165 lbs.) returned one kickoff last week against Michigan State. The sophomore had eight returns last season, all in the final three games.

This is not the greatest ticket sales stadium graphic in the history of The Citadel: Link

Furman fans will be sitting on one end of the West Stands on Saturday, because no one will be sitting in the East Stands. To recap:

The Citadel is considering tearing down the visitors’ side at Johnson Hagood Stadium and expects to make a decision by the end of the week, athletic director Jim Senter said Monday.

Flaking lead paint, a health hazard, was discovered on the east side of the 21,000-seat stadium over the summer, and fans were not allowed to sit on that side during the Sertoma Football Classic earlier this month.

The Citadel had planned to repaint the east side stands over the summer. But a lead-testing report received on July 28 confirmed a level of lead-based paint applicable to disposal standards of the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Conditions on the east side of the stadium deteriorated quickly over the summer, said Col. Tom Philipkosky, senior vice president for operations and administration.

“We have been monitoring conditions there, and it got worse very quickly this past year,” he told [The Citadel Board of Visitors’ operations and risk management committee]. “And unfortunately, we caught up to it late.”

Lead paint also is on the underside of the structure on the east side, Senter said.

“So we have to mitigate the entire east side stands,” he said. “At this point, the most important thing is, can fans be seated on the top side with safety? And then, how do we go about utilizing the underneath side, where the restrooms and concession stands are located?”

Johnson Hagood Stadium was originally built in 1948. The old home side was knocked down in 2005, with the new west side stands opened in 2006 and the West Side Tower, housing luxury suites and the press box, opened in 2008.

The fact this problem wasn’t discovered (at least, in its totality) until shortly before the beginning of the season is more than a little irksome, but that can’t be helped now. The question is, what will The Citadel do going forward?

I don’t know, but the long-term answer has to involve replacing the East Stands, and sooner rather than later. Even before the current issue arose, that section of the stadium was problematic.

The visitors’ side of the football stadium needed to be a high priority for the school, in terms of maintenance and upgrading/replacing the structure. I’m not sure that has been the case.

It is now, though, and that’s a good thing. I’m hopeful that in the long run the visitors’ side of the stadium will become a source of pride for the school and something that is appreciated by travelling supporters. That should be the goal.

Regardless, the lack of seating will be a problem this season (I’ll be curious to see what happens for the Parents’ Day and Homecoming games). I get the distinct impression, however, that Jim Senter is going to get things moving.

Part of my confidence in Senter’s ability to navigate the stadium issue is the deft way he handled the Charleston Southern situation, the other off-the-football-field event that has been in the news of late.

The Citadel will play Charleston Southern again (starting in 2018), but the scheduled four-game series will not be a home-and-home. Johnson Hagood Stadium will be the site for all four games. That should never have been in question, really. As Senter pointed out:

“The bottom line is if we draw 9,000 or 10,000 people for each of those games,” he said. “And their capacity is (4,000). Frankly, we’re leaving money on the table that both of us need. So the arrangement is that we will provide 3,000 tickets for (CSU) to monetize, so it would be pretty much like they had the game there, monetarily.”

To his credit, Charleston Southern director of athletics Hank Small saw the writing on the wall:

“At some point, you have to make a decision,” he said. “We’d love to play College of Charleston and The Citadel in basketball home-and-home, as well. But that’s not happening. So what do you do about it? Do you say, we’re just not going to play people? Or do you make the decision that we want to play?

There have always been two major issues related to The Citadel playing Charleston Southern in football. One has to do with schedule flexibility, the other CSU’s stadium. Those concerns have not received a lot of attention from the local media, though one gets the idea that perhaps the press may finally begin to cast a more critical eye on CSU’s facilities issues (after all, it’s not just about The Citadel — College of Charleston isn’t going to play any basketball games at the “Buc Dome”, either).

One thing left unsaid by both ADs is that no matter where the games are played, the overwhelming majority of fans will be supporting The Citadel. Hence, there is no philosophical or practical reason to play the games anywhere other than Johnson Hagood Stadium.

That is something that nobody seems to really want to discuss, but it is reality. Charleston Southern simply doesn’t have that many fans. This isn’t an indictment of its program; it’s just the truth.

On the heels of the program’s most successful season, and after a huge amount of publicity from its televised game at North Dakota State (a contest that was covered onsite by a columnist from The Post and Courier and at least one Charleston-area TV station), Charleston Southern’s announced attendance for its home opener last Saturday was 1,780.

1,780.

That was the lowest attendance of any of the 41 games hosted by FCS schools during the first week of the season. Even Georgetown, which plays its home games at a “stadium” that only has temporary bleachers, drew more fans for a game against Davidson.

It was the second-lowest total for a CSU home game during Jamey Chadwell’s tenure as the Buccaneers’ head coach. It was also the smallest crowd for a Bucs home opener since 2005.

For the record, The Citadel has not appeared in a game with attendance that low, home or away, since at least 1966.

I was a little surprised, but I probably shouldn’t have been. After a strong attendance boost in Chadwell’s first season in North Charleston, the crowds haven’t consistently been coming, other than for home games against Coastal Carolina and The Citadel. In fact, if you take the games against those two schools (and their respective fan bases) out of the equation, average attendance at CSU home games has declined in each of the last two seasons.

There is no doubt that Jim Senter and his staff are well aware of those facts.

The beginning of this post includes blurbs from a preview article and game story for the first matchup between The Citadel and Furman, a 1913 contest played at Hampton Park that was won by the military college 75-0.

The Citadel scored eleven touchdowns in the game, with six different players accounting for them. There were six rushing touchdowns, three passing TDs, a touchdown scored on a blocked punt, and a TD after The Citadel fumbled the ball into the end zone, where a blue-clad lineman fell on it.

Furman was held to two first downs, one in each half. One reason for that is the Baptists elected to kick off to The Citadel after most of those touchdowns, rather than receive the football (teams were allowed to do that back then, which I guess says something about the perceived value of field position in those days).

Incidentally, I called Furman’s team the “Baptists” in the preceding paragraph because that’s how it was described in the newspaper. About a decade later, the football team at Furman would be nicknamed the “Purple Hurricane”. The gridiron squad wouldn’t officially become the “Paladins” until 1963, when students voted to call all of their varsity athletic teams by that moniker (previously, it had been limited to the school’s basketball team).

Furman wasn’t done playing football in the Low Country after its game against The Citadel. Two days later, the twenty-player squad rebounded nicely from that loss by defeating College of Charleston, 30-0.

(Yes, the game against CofC was played just two days after the matchup with The Citadel. It was a different time.)

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly sunny with a high near 88, then turning partly cloudy that night with a low around 76.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Furman. The over/under is 46.5.

Last year, The Citadel entered this matchup as an eight-point favorite.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 23-point favorite over Presbyterian; Samford is a 5.5-point favorite at Central Arkansas; Western Carolina is a 15-point favorite over Gardner-Webb; VMI is an 8.5-point favorite at Morehead State; Mercer is a 32.5-point underdog at Georgia Tech; and Wofford is a 40.5-point underdog at Mississippi.

East Tennessee State is off this week. ETSU will be back in action next week in the “Second Battle of Bristol” against WCU.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 6-1 against the spread, with only Western Carolina failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 10-point favorite at Illinois.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 12th among FCS teams, unchanged from the previous ranking. Furman is ranked 45th, a six-spot jump after its performance at Michigan State.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 82% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 28-14.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (9th), Samford (21st), Western Carolina (28th), Wofford (31st), Mercer (49th), Gardner-Webb (56th), VMI (64th), East Tennessee State (109th).

Mercer’s ranking was the same this week as it was last week. Gardner-Webb leaped 25 spots after its 31-6 road rout of Elon.

ETSU moved up 11 positions following a surprising 20-17 2OT win at Kennesaw State. The Buccaneers were a 26-point underdog, having lost 56-16 to KSU in Johnson City last year.

– As noted by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier, this season marks the first time The Citadel has begun its gridiron campaign with two Southern Conference games since 1963. That year, the Bulldogs lost to William & Mary in their opener before defeating Davidson in the season’s second contest.

In fact, 1963 is the only other year The Citadel has opened the season with two SoCon games. The last time the Bulldogs played two conference games to start the season, the year was 1935 and the conference was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA). That team, under the tutelage of Tatum Gressette, began the year 2-0 by defeating Erskine and Wofford in league play.

Both of those games were played in October, as the 1935 season did not begin until October 5.

– Before 2010, The Citadel and Furman had only met one time on the gridiron in the month of September (that happened in 1976). However, since 2010 the two schools have played in the ninth month no fewer than four times, counting this Saturday’s game.

The 2011 matchup was also contested on September 10, which is the earliest any game in the series has been played.

I’ve mentioned this before (actually, several times), but The Citadel-Furman can’t be an end-of-season matchup because of the military college’s academic calendar. That’s not a big deal, because historically the game has been played at midseason more than at any other time.

Having said that, it really shouldn’t be played in September, either. I wish the SoCon office would set aside the second or third Saturday in October on the league schedule every year for these two teams to play. I know it’s not that easy to set up a conference schedule, but I suspect there may be more room to maneuver in October than in September or November (due to more “guarantee games” being played in those months).

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Furman has 30 players from Georgia on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (17), North Carolina (14), Florida (12), Tennessee (12), Alabama (6), Ohio (2), and one each from Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

The Paladin who will be closest to home on Saturday is Hilton Head resident Brad Meccariello, a redshirt sophomore. The 5’11”, 185 lb. safety went to Hilton Head Academy.

– Furman has three changes this season from its 2015 schedule. Michigan State, Kennesaw State, and East Tennessee State replace Virginia Tech, UCF, and South Carolina State as opponents, evidence the Paladins’ slate is more stately this year.

FU will play the same seven league teams it faced last year, of course, with ETSU now included as an additional conference foe. Coastal Carolina repeats as a non-conference matchup for the Paladins.

– Furman got a guarantee of $655,000 for playing Michigan State.

– After playing The Citadel, Furman will host Chattanooga next week in Greenville.

– Next season, Furman’s three non-conference games will be at North Carolina State, at Colgate, and home against Elon. In 2018, the Paladins will play Colgate, Elon, and Clemson (the latter two on the road).

In 2019 (a year in which FCS schools can schedule 12 regular-season games), three of FU’s non-league opponents are set: Georgia State, Virginia Tech, and Kennesaw State, all away from home. Presumably, Furman will add a home game against a non-conference opponent to complete its slate for that season.

Furman is also scheduled to play at North Carolina State in 2021, and will host Colgate that same season. The following year, the Paladins will travel to Hamilton, New York, to conclude the four-game series with the Raiders.

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

– It’s only one week, but I took a look at the FCS national statistical rankings anyway. The Citadel leads the nation in fewest penalties (1); considering the contest in question was a Southern Conference game, that has to be a borderline miracle.

Among individuals, Tyler Renew is 8th nationally in rush yards per game (after his 146-yard effort versus Mercer), while Malik Diggs is 6th nationally in solo tackles per conference (he had nine such stops against the Bears, finishing with 11 tackles overall). Quinlan Washington averaged 32 yards per kickoff return in two opportunities, which ranks 6th nationally after one week.

– The game notes factoid of the week: Reggie Williams averaged 14 yards per play last week, carrying the ball four times for 45 yards, including a 29-yard TD (that was a very nice play call, perfectly executed), and making that big 25-yard catch on the drive that set up the winning field goal.

– Triple option oddity: more players caught passes last week for The Citadel (five) than had rushing attempts (four).

– Saturday’s game will be Military Appreciation Day.

While The Citadel is opening with two league contests, after Saturday’s matchup it won’t play another SoCon game until October 1, when the Bulldogs travel to Cullowhee to face Western Carolina. The next home conference game isn’t until October 15, against Chattanooga.

That puts a little extra emphasis on this week’s game for the Bulldogs, not that more juice is really needed when Furman comes to town.

Of course, this is a big game for the Paladins as well. If it wins this matchup, Furman gets a shot at home against Chattanooga next week with the chance to go 2-0 over the 2015 conference co-champions.

There is also the fact The Citadel has won three of the last four meetings between the schools, including the last two. Furman desperately wants to get on the right side of the ledger again as far as the series is concerned. Otherwise, the Paladins are looking at a potential 0-4 start (a trip to Conway to play Coastal Carolina is Furman’s fourth game on its schedule).

Furman has only won seven games in the past two seasons. A bad start this year would not bode well for head coach Bruce Fowler.

This is a critical game for Furman, and the Paladins will treat it as such. The Bulldogs better be ready.

I think they will. It should be a fun game on Saturday.

2016 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Mercer

In a swift, clean game of football of football this morning, The Citadel eleven defeated that of Mercer University by a score of ten to zero. On account of the unusual time of the game, 11 a.m., the attendance was not very large, but the crowd made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers.

A very noticeable feature was the presence of a great number of ladies, who formed fully one-fourth of the spectators.

The game was an excellent exhibition of the possibilities of the new rules. While the cadets attempted a few straight bucks, the gains were, in almost every instance, made on end runs, quarterback passes, and fake or quarterback kicks.

Mercer’s gains were made mostly on a long end pass, and the old style half-around-end. The game was also characterized by frequent punting. McCathran and Hammond divided the honors. The cadets were very successful in recovering punts and fumbles…

…The Citadel back-field has shown to no greater advantage this year than in the game today. The team ran interference for them like a machine, and time after time, a blue and white jersey went around the ends for long gains.

The Evening Post, November 10, 1906

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 7:00 pm ET on Thursday, September 1.

The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net South, Fox Sports Net Midwest+, and Fox Sports Net West. It will be streamed on ESPN3 and Fox Sports Go, with play-by-play from Darren Goldwater, analysis by Ray Goff, and reporting from Lindsay Rowley. 

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

A few of my recent posts revolving around football, including the upcoming season for The Citadel:

  • I broke down last season’s conference statistics, including (but not limited to) 4th-down decisions, run/pass tendencies, and…the coin toss
  • Updated to reference the 2015 numbers, I produced my latest of many posts on attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium
  • I took a look at scheduling, in terms of which teams The Citadel’s opponents will play before (and after) facing The Citadel
  • With the past as a guide, I wrote about the difficulty the Bulldogs have had over the years in sustaining success

Links of interest:

Season preview from The Post and Courier

Brent Thompson’s “career crisis”

STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish second)

College Sports Madness preview (The Citadel is picked to finish second in the SoCon)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish second in both polls)

Southern Pigskin preseason poll (The Citadel is picked to finish second)

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer [link when available]

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches poll (The Citadel opens the season ranked #15)

Brent Thompson interview with Southern Pigskin (video)

Brent Thompson at The Citadel’s Media Day (video)

Brent Thompson talks to Phil Kornblut on SportsTalk, as do Cam Jackson and Joe Crochet (audio)

Brent Thompson’s 8/30 press conference (video)

The Bulldogs’ depth will be tested early

Mercer continues preparations for The Citadel

Bobby Lamb’s 8/29 press conference (video via Periscope)

Mercer student paper’s sports editor previews the Bears’ season (and picks Mercer to beat The Citadel 34-28)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

It’s time for football, everybody!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

Since this is only Mercer’s third season in the Southern Conference, I think it’s still worthwhile to briefly outline the institution’s history, including that of its football program.

The school now known as Mercer University was founded in 1833 (as a preparatory school for boys) and was originally located in Penfield, Georgia, a small town between Atlanta and Augusta. The campus relocated to Macon in 1871.

The university is named for Jesse Mercer, a Baptist leader who was the first chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees. The college was originally established by Baptists, but no longer has an affiliation with the denomination.

MU has about 4,500 undergraduate students and almost 4,000 graduate/professional students. Mercer has over 76,000 alumni.

In January of 1892, Mercer played its first-ever football game, losing 50-0 to Georgia in Athens. The contest provided the origin story for how the team came to be known as the “Bears”.

The choice of the bear as Mercer’s mascot is said to have been prompted by a University of Georgia football player. In that first football game between the two schools, one of the Georgia players saw a Mercer player burst through the line of scrimmage and exclaimed, “Whence cometh that bear?”

A school publicist (or perhaps an enterprising newspaper reporter) almost certainly invented that quote, which was undoubtedly inspired by Epicurus. There is no telling what Mercer’s mascot would be if that individual had instead been philosophically aligned with Zeno of Citium.

Mercer decided to play an easier opponent for its second game, and thus tangled with the Savannah Catholic Library Association. The Bears still lost, 20-2.

Then someone in Macon got the bright idea to schedule Georgia Tech, which had not yet played a football game. Mercer won, 12-6.

Mercer was once coached by George Stallings, who helmed both the football and baseball teams. He was a little better at coaching baseball; Stallings would later become known as “The Miracle Man” for leading the Boston Braves to the 1914 World Championship.

Cy Young served as Mercer’s baseball coach from 1903-05.

Mercer disbanded its football team following the 1941 campaign, and didn’t field a gridiron squad again until 2013. This is the fourth year for the program since the re-boot.

Incidentally, that 1892 victory over Georgia Tech was the only time the Bears ever beat the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech won 15 of the other 16 meetings (one ended in a tie).

Mercer’s next opponent following its game against The Citadel? Georgia Tech.

The next few sections include statistics for 2015 SoCon contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Before making some statistical comparisons, a quick review of each team’s 2015 SoCon season:

Mercer opened last year’s conference campaign with a 34-33 OT loss to Wofford in Macon. The Bears trailed by 10 points with just three and a half minutes to play, but had a chance to win the game in regulation before settling for a short field goal and OT. In the extra session, Mercer scored a touchdown but missed the PAT, opening the door for the Terriers.

The Bears then lost a tough road game to Western Carolina, 24-21. MU led 21-3 in the second quarter, but the Catamounts scored two fourth-quarter TDs for a comeback victory.

The next SoCon contest was at home, versus VMI. The Keydets prevailed, 28-21, after controlling much of the game (VMI at one point led by 21 points).

Mercer then lost a tough game to The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 21-19, missing a potential tying two-point conversion attempt. It was the second consecutive season that situation presented itself to Mercer, and the second consecutive time the Bears were unable to forge a tie. My review of that game is here: Link

The Bears’ first league win of 2015 was an upset, a 17-14 home victory over eventual league co-champ Chattanooga. MU held off a late comeback attempt by the Mocs, intercepting a pass deep in its own territory while maintaining a three-point lead, and then sealing the win by running out the clock with a pair of first downs.

That was Mercer’s ninth game of the season; the following week, the Bears went to Greenville and beat Furman in OT, 27-20. The Paladins scored late to tie the game at 20, but had to attempt a longer-than-usual PAT due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Furman missed the kick, the game went to overtime, and Mercer wound up winning the contest four plays later.

Mercer returned to Macon for its season finale and was beaten by Samford, 47-21. MU actually led in the third quarter but gave up multiple big plays down the stretch; Samford scored 28 points in the fourth quarter.

The Citadel opened its SoCon campaign in 2015 with a solid home win over Western Carolina, 28-10. The Bulldogs’ next league game was also at home, against Wofford, and The Citadel handled the Terriers 39-12.

Following that victory, The Citadel won consecutive road games in impressive fashion, versus Samford and Furman (by 44-25 and 38-17 scores, respectively). The Bulldogs then edged Mercer 21-19, and retained the coveted Silver Shako with a hard-fought 35-14 win over VMI.

Both of those games were at home. The Citadel lost its final conference game of the season, 31-23 at Chattanooga, though the Bulldogs still won a share of the Southern Conference title.

In league play, Mercer’s offense averaged 22.7 points per game. The Bears averaged 5.2 yards per play, including 4.4 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per pass attempt.

Mercer threw the football 185 times, averaging 26.4 tosses per conference game. MU passed or was sacked attempting to pass on just over 40% of its offensive plays from scrimmage (Mercer was sacked eight times in seven SoCon matchups).

Slightly less than half (48.1%) of MU’s offensive total yardage came via the air. Mercer scored twenty touchdowns in conference play, eleven rushing and nine passing. The Bears were intercepted three times (one each in the last three conference games of the season) and fumbled ten times in league contests, losing four of those fumbles.

Defensively, The Citadel allowed 18.3 ppg in SoCon action. The Bulldogs allowed 5.1 yards per play, including 3.7 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt. As I noted in my statistical review of The Citadel’s 2015 league campaign, that yards per rush stat was an improvement over the corresponding 2014 numbers by almost exactly two yards.

The Bulldogs sacked opposing quarterbacks twenty times in league play, and intercepted thirteen passes (breaking up twenty other throws). SoCon opponents averaged 30.3 pass attempts per game versus The Citadel (with those tosses accounting for 46.1% of all offensive plays run from scrimmage against the Bulldogs).

The Citadel’s defense recovered seven fumbles in conference action.

Mercer had exactly 100 third-down attempts in SoCon play, converting on 39 of them. The Bears went for it on fourth down on fifteen occasions in conference action, successfully making the line to gain nine times (60%).

MU was in the Red Zone 22 times in seven league contests, scoring sixteen touchdowns in that situation (for a RZ TD rate of 72.7%).

Mercer’s time of possession per game in conference play was 31:28. The Bears averaged only 2.7 penalties per SoCon game, resulting in an average of just 20.7 penalty yards accepted against Mercer in those contests.

The Citadel’s defense held league opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 33.7%. Against the Bulldogs, SoCon opposition was 8 for 13 on fourth-down tries (61.5%).

In Red Zone situations versus conference teams, the Bulldogs allowed a TD rate of 52.2% in 2015.

As far as penalties are concerned, the SoCon traditionally is loathe to call infractions against The Citadel’s opponents, and that is reflected in last year’s numbers. While the Bulldogs were called for 42 penalties in seven conference games (6.0 per contest), the opposition was only flagged 29 times (4.1 per game).

MU allowed 26.9 points per game to league opponents. Conference teams averaged 6.4 yards per play against the Bears, including 5.6 yards per rush and 7.8 yards per pass attempt.

Mercer’s defense faced 183 pass attempts in SoCon play, just two fewer pass attempts than the Bears tried on offense. MU had eleven sacks in conference action; in a mirror image of Mercer’s offense, 40.4% of opposition plays were pass attempts (or sacks while attempting to pass).

The Bears allowed 3,087 yards of total offense in seven league games, with 46.1% of that total being passing yardage. Mercer allowed 24 touchdowns in SoCon play, 18 on the ground.

MU intercepted seven passes in conference matchups, and forced thirteen fumbles (while recovering nine opponent fumbles).

Offensively, The Citadel rung up 32.6 points per game in league action. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 5.6 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt. While there were a limited number of passes in The Citadel’s triple option offense, that’s still a very impressive statistic.

League opponents intercepted two Bulldog passes and broke up four others, out of a total of 63 pass attempts in conference action.

The Citadel lost eight fumbles in seven SoCon games. In an illustration of the nature of variance in fumble statistics, the Bulldogs lost twelve fumbles in their other six matchups, losing at least one fumble in every non-league contest except one — the game against South Carolina.

Holding onto the football will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel this season.

Mercer’s defense allowed a third-down conversion rate of 54.5% against league teams. On fourth down, opponents of the Bears were six for twelve.

SoCon opposition entered the Red Zone against Mercer 27 times in conference play. MU allowed 18 touchdowns in that situation (66.7%).

The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate on offense was exactly 50% in SoCon games. On fourth down, the Cadets were 3 for 8 (37.5%).

In 2015, The Citadel’s time of possession in SoCon play was 32:13. The Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of just 56.3% in 2015 against conference opposition, an area in which The Citadel needs to improve in 2016.

For individual statistics, all games (SoCon and non-conference) are included.

Before I get to John Russ and company, let me quickly review the four non-conference games Mercer played last season.

Mercer was 3-1 in those four games. The Bears lost at Tennessee Tech by a 29-22 score, but won by a lopsided margin in the other three contests — 28-7 at Austin Peay, 57-14 versus Stetson, and 52-0 against East Tennessee State.

Obviously, ETSU will be a league opponent for both Mercer and The Citadel this season, but last year that wasn’t the case.

The Bears could have named their score against both Stetson and East Tennessee State, to be honest. In the game against Tennessee Tech, Mercer trailed early before making a comeback, only to be foiled by a late Golden Eagles touchdown. MU only scored two TDs in five red zone trips, which was probably the difference between winning and losing the game.

I’m going to mention one other thing about Mercer’s non-conference games. I came across a statistical oddity that had me rechecking numbers two or three times to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. Check out the net rushing totals for Mercer and its opponents in these four contests:

  • Mercer 261, Austin Peay 56
  • Mercer 256, Stetson 43
  • Mercer 261, Tennessee Tech 56 (yes, exactly the same totals as in the Austin Peay game)
  • Mercer 261, East Tennessee State 68

Mercer had 261 net rushing yards in all three of its non-conference matchups with opponents from the state of Tennessee. I don’t know what the odds are on that happening, other than they are very long indeed.

(In its one league game against a team from the Volunteer State, Mercer finished with 173 net rushing yards versus Chattanooga.)

Mercer returns 22 starters (including offense/defense/specialists), tied with East Tennessee State for the most returnees in the league. As a comparison, The Citadel returns 15 starters, second-fewest in the conference (Western Carolina has 14 starters coming back).

The Bears are led by quarterback John Russ (6’0″, 201 lbs.), a senior from Buford, Georgia. He has started all 35 games for Mercer since the program’s resumption in 2013.

Last season, Russ completed 58.2% of his passes, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt, with 18 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He did not throw an INT until the ninth game of the campaign.

Russ (a self-described “simple guy”) also rushed for 382 yards and 7 TDs, while usually operating out of a “pistol” formation. Last year against The Citadel, the QB was 13 for 25 through the air for 130 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked four times by the Bulldogs.

Junior running back Alex Lakes (5’11”, 222 lbs.) rushed for 1,107 yards in 2014, which led the SoCon. Last year, he struggled through an injury-marred season (that included a punctured lung). Lakes rushed for 51 yards and a TD versus The Citadel in the 2015 matchup.

Chandler Curtis (5’11”, 202 lbs.), a junior, was a first-team All-SoCon selection in 2014 as a freshman. Curtis returned four kicks (three punts and a kickoff) for touchdowns that year.

Curtis hurt his ankle in last year’s season opener, and never got on track afterwards. He also suffered an injury during Mercer’s game against The Citadel, after making three early catches. As a result, he only appeared in three games for the Bears in 2015.

When healthy (and he says he is ready to go this year), Curtis is a threat to go the distance any time he has the ball in his hands. Besides his kick-returning exploits, Curtis had four catches of 40+ yards in 2014.

Avery Ward (6’2″, 178 lbs.) led the Bears in receptions last season, with 40, averaging just over 12 yards per catch.  Six of his grabs went for TDs. Ward caught a 65-yard touchdown pass against The Citadel in the 2014 game between the two teams. He had three receptions for 37 yards in last year’s contest.

Sophomore Jimmie Robinson (5’8″, 179 lbs.) was a high school track star who appeared in all eleven games for Mercer last season as a wideout and kick returner. Robinson may not start, but should see plenty of action for the Bears as a stretch-the-field kind of player.

Mercer tight ends are a factor in the passing game. Robert Brown (a 6’2″, 225 lb. senior) and Sam Walker (a 6’4″, 232 lb. redshirt sophomore) combined for 42 receptions last year, including four against The Citadel (with Brown’s lone reception resulting in a touchdown). Walker was a preseason second-team all-league selection.

MU frequently uses two tight ends in its offense, sometimes employing one of them in an “H-back” role.

Mercer’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’2″, 287 lbs.

Kirby Southard (6’0″, 271 lbs.) has started every game at center for Mercer since the beginning of the 2013 season. John Russ is the only other Mercer player who has started all 35 games for the Bears over the last three years.

Right tackle Bret Niederreither (6’3″, 296 lbs.) began his collegiate career at Temple. In 2014, Niederreither started against The Citadel, but at defensive tackle. In 2015, he started eleven games for the Bears along the offensive line. In 2016, he is a preseason all-SoCon pick.

Mercer lines up on defense in what is nominally listed as a 3-4 setup (I’ve also seen it described as a 3-3-5). Of course, the formation may change against a triple option attack.

Tripp Patterson (6’1″, 213 lbs.) is a senior linebacker who led Mercer in tackles last season (with 70), despite making only six starts. The transfer from Air Force had eleven stops versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game.

Middle linebacker Lee Bennett (6’0″, 223 lbs.) finished second on the team in tackles last season, with 67. The junior had eight tackles against The Citadel last season.

Defensive end Isaiah Buehler, a 6’3″, 258 lb. redshirt sophomore, had two tackles for loss (seven total) against The Citadel last year. Buehler was a preseason second team all-conference choice.

“Bandit” linebacker Tosin Aguebor (6’3″, 238 lbs.) was also a preseason second-team all-league selection. The senior played all eleven games for Mercer last year, after missing the entire 2014 campaign due to injury.

Macon native Tyler Ward (6’1″, 228 lbs.) had 13 tackles against The Citadel in 2014. Ward, one of Mercer’s captains, should see action as part of the linebacker rotation.

Nosetackle Austin Barrett (6’2″, 311 lbs.) had a career-high eight tackles versus the Bulldogs last year. Barrett seems to enjoy playing against military colleges, the junior having registered two sacks last season against VMI.

Free safety Zach Jackson (6’0″, 203 lbs.), a transfer from TCU, had 10 tackles versus The Citadel in 2014. The redshirt senior was injured and did not play against the Bulldogs last season.

Mercer will have to replace its punter, holder, and long snapper this season. The new punter will have big shoes to fill, as Matt Shiel was very effective for the Bears last year.

Last season, placekicker Jagger Lieb (5’9″, 194 lbs.) was 11 for 18 on field goal attempts, with a long of 43. In 2014, he made a 48-yarder against The Citadel.

The junior may face competition for the starting job from sophomore Cole Fisher (6’1, 192 lbs.), who converted the only field goal attempt he tried last season. One thing that Mercer needs to fix is its PAT issues, having missed four of them last year (including a critical one versus Wofford).

Chandler Curtis and Jimmie Robinson are expected to handle most of the return duties for the Bears. As mentioned above, Chandler could be particularly dangerous. That was certainly the case in 2014.

There was some indication that this season, The Citadel might open up the aerial attack (or at least throw the football more than nine times per game in league play). With Jordan Black getting his first start at quarterback on Thursday, however, I suspect that the Bulldogs won’t be throwing the ball all over the field in Macon.

Whether or not they would have anyway is subject to question. While it’s one thing to talk about passing more often, I’m not sure Brent Thompson is all that desperate to have a more balanced offensive approach. A quote from a recent Jeff Hartsell article on the coach was illuminating:

[Bucknell] went 4-7 in 2009 before head coach Tim Landis left for an assistant’s job at San Jose State. Thompson was left looking for a job, and unhappy with what had happened to his offense.

“We were getting into some shotgun stuff, trying to take what we did under center and put it in the shotgun,” he said. “It’s something a lot of teams do — Wofford does it well. But it was deteriorating our physicality, eroding our techniques and I was probably trying to placate too many people, trying to be sexy and more dimensional.

“So I said, if I have it to do over again, we’re going to establish blocking fundamentals, get good at something and go from there.”

Sometimes it takes a game or two for the triple option to start running smoothly. That is reflected, to a certain extent, in the records of the Lenoir-Rhyne teams that featured Brent Thompson as the offensive coordinator, and the 2014 season at The Citadel.

  • 2010: After crushing Chowan 59-10 in its opener, Lenoir-Rhyne lost its second game of that season 20-17 to Concord (a quality D2 program in West Virginia)
  • 2011: Lenoir-Rhyne opened the season with a 26-6 road victory over Concord
  • 2012: In its opener, Lenoir-Rhyne lost 24-21 at Concord
  • 2013: Lenoir-Rhyne lost 18-10 at home to Concord in the season’s first game; L-R would then reel off 13 consecutive wins
  • 2014: The Citadel lost 31-16 at home to Coastal Carolina to begin the season

Last year, the Bulldogs enjoyed an easy 69-0 home victory over Davidson, arguably the perfect lead-in to the conference campaign. This year, The Citadel won’t have that luxury, opening with a league game (and on the road).

One advantage Mercer will have is being able to prepare for a triple-option team over a longer period of time, rather than having to adapt for one week during the season. As Bobby Lamb noted:

“Any time you play [The Citadel] in the middle of the year, you’ve basically got three practice days to get out there and try to defend it, which is very difficult,” Lamb, now in his 13th year as a collegiate head coach, continued. “One of the hardest things to do is to implement it with your scout team and try to emulate what they are doing. Our scout team has had more time to work on it and I think that is going to help us with our familiarity.”

During his weekly press conference, Lamb also said that the SoCon office had called the school about potentially playing a conference game to open the season, and that when Mercer found out the opponent would be the Bulldogs, “we jumped all over it”. One further benefit for the Bears is that they will get to play two triple option teams back-to-back (The Citadel and Georgia Tech), and could concentrate even more on that style of offense in preseason camp.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Thursday night in Macon, per the National Weather Service:  a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms; partly cloudy, with a low around 72 degrees (the projected high temperature for Thursday is 95 degrees).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 7-point favorite over Mercer. Earlier in the summer, that line was 8 1/2, but apparently some money has come in on Mercer. I suspect it wouldn’t take a lot of cash to swing an FCS line by a point and a half, but I could be wrong about that.

As a reminder, Mercer has played fourteen games since joining the SoCon. The Bears have only lost by more than 7 points in three of those games — twice in 2014, and in last year’s season finale versus Samford. Both of The Citadel’s games against Mercer in the last two years have been decided by two points.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 35-point favorite over Shorter; Samford is a 28-point favorite over Mars Hill; Wofford is a 10-point favorite at Tennessee Tech (despite the Terriers losing projected starting quarterback Evan Jacks to a season-ending injury); Western Carolina is a 17-point underdog at East Carolina; East Tennessee State is a 26-point underdog at Kennesaw State; VMI is a 30-point underdog at Akron; and Furman is a 43-point underdog at Michigan State.

Gardner-Webb, a non-conference opponent for The Citadel later in the season, is a 7-point underdog at Elon.

– Massey Ratings: As the season begins, The Citadel is ranked 12th among FCS teams. Mercer is ranked 49th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 77% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 28-17.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (8th), Western Carolina (24th), Samford (27th), Wofford (40th), Furman (51st), VMI (61st), Gardner-Webb (81st), East Tennessee State (120th).

– Per the SoCon weekly release, home teams were 13-15 in SoCon games last season. Of those 28 games, 13 were decided by one possession.

– This is the second year in a row that The Citadel has played in the first conference game of the season. In 2015, the Bulldogs hosted Western Carolina in Week 2.

– According to its media guide, Mercer has 71 players from Georgia on its roster, by far the most from any state. Only seven other states are represented: Florida (10), Tennessee (8), Alabama (5), North Carolina (2), and one each from Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

The representative from the Palmetto State is Destin Guillen, a 6’5″, 294 lb. redshirt freshman from Berea High School in Greenville. He is listed as a backup defensive end on the two-deep.

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

– The depth chart released by The Citadel for Thursday night’s game includes eight “true” freshmen and two redshirt freshmen, including two projected starters on offense: redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Black, and true freshman guard Drew McEntyre. Both are Georgia natives.

Most of the newcomers are on the offensive side of the ball, as the defense has considerably more experience.

– The Citadel has victories over Mercer in four different cities: Charleston, Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. The Bulldogs are 2-0 in Macon, with a 12-7 victory in 1926 and a 28-26 triumph in 2014.

– The key play in last year’s game between the two teams was Isiaha Smith’s 83-yard TD run late in the first half. Per The Citadel’s game notes, that was the longest run from scrimmage for a Bulldog since 2004.

– One more tidbit from the game notes: The Citadel is one of only two programs to rank in the top three in FCS in fewest tackles for loss allowed per game in each of the past two seasons. In my opinion, that is a reflection of both the offensive system and the general excellence of the offensive line over those two years.

– Earlier in the post, I noted that Mercer’s opponent next week is Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets will be the first FBS team that the Bears have played since re-starting football.

Georgia Tech is the only team Mercer will play this season that the Bears did not play last year. Essentially, the Yellow Jackets replace Stetson on MU’s schedule.

– Next season, Mercer will play two FBS opponents — Auburn and Alabama.

MU will also travel to Tuscaloosa in 2021 for another game against the Crimson Tide. Other FBS opponents on future schedules for the Bears include Memphis (2018) and Vanderbilt (2020).

Mercer also has scheduled a four-game home-and-home series against Yale, with those games to take place in 2018, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

At the beginning of this post, I quoted a game story from the first meeting between Mercer and The Citadel on the gridiron, a 1906 contest won by the Bulldogs. The subheading for the article noted that the game featured an “absence of fumbling”.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s ten points in that contest came on two touchdowns, as such scores were worth five points in those days.

It was “Gala Week” in Charleston, a festival created after the 1886 earthquake to celebrate the city’s recovery from that disaster (and also to juice up the local retail scene). Apparently that is why the game had to be played in Hampton Park at 11 a.m., and it may also explain the paltry attendance. Only an estimated 200 spectators witnessed The Citadel’s victory.

I expect quite a few more fans will be at the 2016 edition of the matchup on Thursday night. It should be a fine atmosphere for a game, and I would not be surprised if significant numbers of blue-clad supporters manage to escape their weekly duties long enough to make the trip to Macon.

Mercer’s team (and fan base) is confident that the Bears can break through this season in a big way, after two years of mostly near-misses. MU has improved depth on both sides of the ball, and more than its fair share of experience.

Bobby Lamb’s charges believe they can win. Of course, the same is true for the players who will line up for The Citadel.

The Bulldogs were a major success story last year, and brought great joy to loyal fans who had waited many years for such a season. Memories were created that will last forever, but memories don’t block and tackle.

Can they do it again? Will the team be able to maintain that forward push under a new head coach, with an untested quarterback, and on the road against an opponent that could be ready to take the next step?

Those are the questions. What are the answers?

We’ll find out at least some of them on Thursday night.