Game Review, 2016: Wofford

The Citadel 24, Wofford 21 (OT).

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

– Notes, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

– Photo gallery, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

– Game story, The Greenville News

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Brent Thompson, Dominique Allen, Kailik Williams, Cody Clark, and Joe Crochet

Video from WCIV-TV, along with (via Twitter) some “raw” highlights and its video of Dominique Allen’s postgame interview

Video from WSPA-TV

Game wrapup, Southern Pigskin

– School release

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Brent Thompson takes the trophy without breaking stride (video via Twitter)

Game highlights (ground level video)

– Kailik Williams scores the tying touchdown on a “Pitch Six” (video via Twitter)

I saw the football on the ground.

Sometimes when you’re in the stands, you can’t see everything that happens in a game, especially when the two teams are near one of the end zones. However, on the final play, I had a perfect angle to see the football suddenly pop out of the mass of players along the line of scrimmage.

For what seemed like forever, the ball rolled around on the grass. Then, at last, a Bulldog covered the pigskin.

The thing is, it didn’t really take that long. Ben Roberts pounced on the football nine-tenths of a second after it first hit the turf. (Yes, I timed it.)

That last play summed up the entire game if you were a fan of the Bulldogs. It was tortuous to watch, lasted for an interminable amount of time…but in the end, The Citadel emerged with a victory.

#DogsOnTop, indeed.

One reason the game took so long was that every other series seemed to end with a two-minute (or longer) “media timeout”. With 7:30 remaining in the first quarter, there had already been three media timeouts.

It can be very frustrating to attend a game with so many stoppages. Perhaps all that extra down time led to Bulldog fans leaving their seats and getting more to eat and drink; the visitors side concession stands reportedly had to close at halftime due to running out of food. I guess Wofford made a little extra money off of all the media timeouts.

Kailik Williams’ game-changing “Pitch Six” is a play that will be remembered by Bulldog fans for quite a while. In the box score, it is listed as an interception return.

Having watched it a number of times now, I am of the opinion that it was not an interception. I think it probably should be considered a fumble return, because the pitch was a lateral. (It was certainly intended to be a lateral.)

Williams made another outstanding ball-hawking play in the first quarter, stealing the ball from Wofford quarterback Brandon Goodson after a long run. However, the SoCon officiating crew ruled that Goodson was down, an obvious mistake by the officials. It turned out to be a significant error, as Wofford would score the game’s first touchdown a few plays later.

As the game progressed, the officials continued to vex the Bulldogs. On The Citadel’s only sustained drive of the first half, a blatant pass interference penalty went uncalled. The Bulldogs would have had a first down inside the Terriers 35-yard line, but no flag was thrown.

The possession was then completely short-circuited when the Bulldogs were called for a personal foul.

Before the drive began, WCSC-TV’s Kevin Bilodeau had tweeted that “One of the refs just went to the Dogs sideline and asked the coaches for help…said it’s getting chippy out there”.

Apparently the men in stripes were only interested in the “chippy” play of one of the two teams, though. While the penalty on the Bulldogs was being enforced, Terriers linebacker Dylan Young wandered over to a couple of Bulldogs and (not for the first time) proceeded to discuss something with them that was likely not related to the weather. This went on for about 45 seconds. The officials completely ignored it.

Brent Thompson wound up having to use a timeout during the sequence; I am not certain, but that may have been because he was not told whether or not the down would count. (It is also possible the coach used the timeout to remonstrate with the officials about their many failings.)

The best offensive play call of the day for The Citadel may have been the end-around pitch to Jorian Jordan on 3rd-and-goal on the Wofford 8-yard line. Jordan wound up scoring on the play…well, let me rephrase that.

Jordan would have scored on the play if the linesman had not erroneously ruled him out of bounds. That call had Bulldog fans remembering the 2014 officiating debacle all over again.

Fortunately, Dominique Allen scored on 4th-and-goal, which with the ensuing extra point gave the Bulldogs a relatively brief lead (14-13). Allen showed good strength by remaining in the end zone long enough for the officials to see he was over the goal line, despite the Terriers’ best efforts to push him back (and you can’t blame them; that tactic has worked for Wofford before).

Allen also showed some toughness on The Citadel’s other offensive TD, waiting until the last moment to pitch the ball to Reggie Williams. Allen took a big hit, one he probably knew was coming, but the play’s timing was perfect and Williams raced into the end zone for the Bulldogs’ first touchdown.

Those plays helped make up for what was otherwise a trying afternoon for The Citadel’s starting quarterback, who struggled with his passing accuracy (the occasionally strong crosswind was undoubtedly a factor). Allen was also largely bottled up on the ground by Wofford’s excellent defense.

Of course, no one from The Citadel had too much luck running the ball on Saturday. Wofford defensive linemen Miles Brown and Mikel Horton were as advertised (very good), and linebacker Datavious Wilson (15 tackles) was outstanding. Several other Terriers had notable games, including both starting safeties (Jaleel Green and Malik Rivera).

Rudder Brown was the recipient of all three of the Bulldogs’ completed passes, including a nifty 36-yard grab and a big third-down catch on The Citadel’s lone long scoring drive. Brown made a great catch in overtime for what would have been a touchdown, but he was ruled to have been out of bounds. The replay was not conclusive, though he may have actually got a foot down in the end zone. In fairness, it would have been a very tough call for the official to make.

Defensively, the Bulldogs played well for most of the contest. Among those who had good games: Tevin Floyd (12 tackles and a fumble recovery), Kailik Williams (who had 11 tackles in addition to his spectacular TD), Myles Pierce (a career-high 12 stops), and Joe Crochet (9 tackles and the forced fumble that ended the contest).

They had to be good to keep up with Lorenzo Long, a shifty back who was not easy to tackle. Wofford’s offensive line was solid, and a major reason why the Terriers averaged 5.0 yards per rush.

Both teams had kicks blocked; a punt for The Citadel, a field goal attempt for Wofford. That is something each will work on this week.

On the Terriers’ second successful field goal, it appeared not all of the Bulldogs were convinced the football had gone between the uprights. No replay (or view from the stands) had an angle that would have been telling, though.

It was great to see the turnout of Bulldog fans. The visitors side was packed with blue-clad supporters and ACU-wearing cadets (who made their presence felt throughout the day).

The announced attendance for Wofford’s Homecoming game was 11,102, the largest crowd at Gibbs Stadium since a 2011 playoff game against Georgia Southern. I think perhaps as many as half of those in attendance on Saturday were rooting for The Citadel.

The Citadel clinched a winning conference record with the victory, something that might have gone unnoticed, but definitely not irrelevant from a historical perspective.

It will be the ninth time in the last thirty seasons The Citadel finishes with a winning record in SoCon play. It will also be only the second time since 1992 that the program has had winning league records in consecutive seasons (the Bulldogs also accomplished this in 2006 and 2007).

The seven straight wins in an individual season ties the 1988 squad for the all-time record in that category.

Those wins in 1988, for the record: Navy, at Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Boston University, East Tennessee State, Marshall, and VMI.

That win over Navy also marks the last time an FBS (I-A) school visited Johnson Hagood Stadium. The victory over Marshall was an all-timer in terms of stadium atmosphere (and a lesson in how difficult it can be to tear down goalposts).

The game versus VMI was played at the Oyster Bowl in Norfolk, Virginia. In that contest, Bulldogs quarterback Gene Brown rushed for a school-record 286 yards on only 13 carries.

The Citadel won its fifth road game of the campaign on Saturday. That ties the all-time record for most road victories in a season. The Bulldogs will have a chance to set a new standard when they play at VMI on November 12.

The only other time the program won five road games in a season was 1992. The Citadel was 5-0 on the road that year, with victories over Arkansas, Army, Appalachian State, Western Carolina, and Furman.

The 1960 squad won four road games and a neutral-site contest. The road triumphs that season came against Davidson, Richmond, Furman, and Arkansas State. The neutral-site win was, of course, The Citadel’s victory over Tennessee Tech in the Tangerine Bowl.

A lot of things didn’t go The Citadel’s way against Wofford. The offense struggled for most of the game, the defense was occasionally bedeviled by big plays, there was a special teams letdown, and the officiating gave the Bulldogs (and their fans) a major headache.

Despite all of that, the team persevered. The players didn’t fold. They played through all the obstacles for the entire game, and then into overtime. At the end, one final play was made, and the Bulldogs won.

7-0.

I’m happy to ride along with this team. At this point, everyone should be on the bus. (Well, you don’t have to ride an actual bus.)

They play hard. They play well. It’s largely a workmanlike group, though there is just a hint of flash to them as well.

There are still four regular-season games to go, including three in conference play. The season is far from over.

Things are looking good, though. The next game is this Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, against East Tennessee State. It will be a big game. That’s because when you keep winning, every game becomes a big game.

I like it when The Citadel plays big games.

The pictures: not Pulitzer-worthy. Actually, they range from lousy to terrible to “why did I bother uploading this”. I’m going to have to make a change in operations, or simply drop this laughable segment of the review altogether.

(Also, this week there is no annotation of game action photos. For anyone who cares, my apologies.)

2015 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played at Allen E. Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 19. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Matt Stewart providing play-by-play and Wayne Gandy supplying the analysis.

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

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines.

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

Links of interest:

Preview of The Citadel-Georgia Southern from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Georgia Southern

SoCon weekly release

Sun Belt weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Willie Fritz on the Sun Belt teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/15 press conference (includes comments from Dondray Copeland and Jorian Jordan)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

When I was thinking about what to write for this week’s preview, what first came to mind wasn’t as much the upcoming contest, but rather Georgia Southern’s move from the SoCon to the Sun Belt and the long-term ramifications for that program and school.

That’s because, from a programmatic perspective, the matchup with the Eagles is arguably the most meaningless game The Citadel has played since the Bulldogs made a trip to face Wyoming in 2002.

I’ll explain what I mean by that later. First, a look at Georgia Southern. I’ve written about the school’s history before, but I think it’s worth revisiting.

Georgia Southern was founded in 1907, and classes began the following year. It was originally known as the First District Agricultural & Mechanical School, but despite an initial focus on agriculture, the school would become a teacher’s college for the majority of its history.

There had been a football team at Georgia Southern as far back as 1924 (at that time the institution was called the Georgia Normal School), but the sport was dropped during World War II. By the early 1980s, the school had increased in size (it would be granted university status in 1990), and there was a groundswell of local and institutional support for reinstating football.

To re-start the program, the school hired longtime Georgia assistant coach Erk Russell, who was already a legend in the Peach State. He was, to say the least, a great hire.

Russell took the football program from club status to I-AA, fashioning an eight-year record of 83-22-1, with three national titles.  Beyond the win-loss record, the coach’s impact and influence on the school was immense.

Ludicrously, Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. He is actually ineligible under current rules.

The shadow of Russell at Georgia Southern did have negative repercussions, inasmuch as he was an impossible act to follow. The redoubtable Paul Johnson was the only one of the head coaches who succeeded him to really measure up to Russell in the eyes of the fan base.

Tangent: speaking of Johnson and other former Georgia Southern head coaches, the most fascinating matchup this week in college football is the one between PJ’s Georgia Tech squad and Notre Dame, which employs Statesboro persona non grata Brian VanGorder as its defensive coordinator. The two men aren’t exactly fast friends, and that’s being polite.

The essential issue that coaches following Erk Russell faced — how do you top what he did? — could also apply, in a general sense, to Georgia Southern and the move to FBS. After a while, some supporters got restless. They had already sampled the pot of gold at the end of the FCS rainbow, and now they wanted to know if the gold at the end of the FBS rainbow was shinier, regardless of the consequences.

It took a while, but eventually the fan base started moving in the “we want FBS” direction. Those not so sure about the idea were eventually brushed aside. A new director of athletics with an “FBS or bust” attitude and mission, Tom Kleinlein, pushed things along. Eventually, Georgia Southern made the move to the Sun Belt.

Now, Georgia Southern is an FBS school. Its first season in the Sun Belt was full of success, as it won the league with an 8-0 conference record. I’m not sure the Sun Belt was anticipating that, or if its administrators were really excited about having the league won by a program that had gone 4-4 in the SoCon the year before.

Despite winning an FBS conference, though, Georgia Southern didn’t get to go to a bowl game, because it was still in transitional status. That didn’t sit well with fans.

Kleinlein asked for a waiver (which was denied by the NCAA). In asking for the waiver, I suspect he went against the wishes of the league office:

Without the waiver, Georgia Southern’s only other option to become bowl eligible this year was to hope fewer than 76 teams reached six wins…

…Last month, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told USA TODAY Sports that even if Georgia Southern became bowl eligible through that route, they would be placed at the bottom of the league’s pecking order out of deference to the longstanding FBS members. Currently, the Sun Belt has four bowl eligible teams for three contracted spots.

Kleinlein is now arguing, however, that Georgia Southern (9-3) should be treated differently because it won the conference championship outright.

“If we were just a bowl eligible team, I get that argument,” he said. “But we’re conference champions, and that is what puts us ahead of everybody else. I didn’t make the argument to the NCAA when we won six games, I didn’t make it when we won seven or eight. I waited until we got at least a share of the conference title before I submitted my deal.”

Benson didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Of course Benson didn’t return Dan Wolken’s telephone call. He was probably on the horn with Kleinlein, asking him to at least wait another year before burning every bridge in the league his school had just joined.

Now, about that “meaningless game” comment I made at the beginning of this missive. Mike Houston was asked about playing Georgia Southern at his weekly press conference:

The Citadel will be the first SoCon team to visit GSU since the Eagles left the SoCon, but don’t expect Georgia Southern to appear regularly on Bulldog schedules — not when games at ACC or SEC foes can bring much more money. This game was scheduled before Houston and athletic director Jim Senter were hired.

“If I’m the ones making the decisions, no,” Houston said when asked if he’d schedule games like this one in the future. “You are playing an FBS program that has more resources and scholarships than we have. And if you are playing those kinds of games, there needs to be financial restitution that matches that … It’s not ideal, especially if you are playing two FBS teams in one year.”

In other words, if Georgia Southern wants to schedule The Citadel again, the military college is going to demand a lot more cash. $175,000 isn’t going to be nearly enough; The Citadel is going to want more than twice that amount of money. Maybe more than three times that amount of money.

In a way, it illustrates a problem Georgia Southern now has as an FBS member when it comes to scheduling home games. Schools that pay FCS schools big bucks for a “guarantee game” can afford to make those payments, because they have large stadiums and huge budgets. That isn’t the case for the folks in Statesboro.

Georgia Southern may have expanded Paulson Stadium, but 25,000 seats is a far cry from the likes of the facilities at Florida State, or South Carolina, or even North Carolina (opponents of The Citadel last year, this year, and next year).

That also affects Georgia Southern’s ability to get home-and-home games (or two-for-one deals) with non-conference FBS foes, especially from major conferences. So far, GS hasn’t scheduled such a series with a P5 school.

Of course, if the Big 10 gets its way, the days of Power 5 conference schools scheduling FCS programs may be coming to an end. Even if that happened, though, it probably still wouldn’t be worth it for schools like The Citadel to play Group of 5 conference schools for less money.

The potential chain reaction that could occur if the entire P5 decided not to schedule FCS programs would likely be complicated (and a subject for another post). I think it is probable that The Citadel would simply not play any FBS schools, with the gridiron landscape possibly changing to such a degree that no FCS schools would.

All that said, the game on Saturday isn’t as unimportant to The Citadel as the 2002 game against Wyoming. For one thing, the program will make at least a little money. That Wyoming game, well

The game against Division I-A Wyoming, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, has been on the Bulldogs’ schedule for years. [Ellis] Johnson talked to Wyoming coach Vic Koenning a year ago about getting out of the game…

…After chartering a flight to Laramie and spending a night there, The Citadel will just about break even on the trip, [Les] Robinson said.”Thank goodness for LSU [another FBS game The Citadel played during the 2002 season],” Robinson said. After securing the LSU game, Robinson offered to negotiate a settlement with Wyoming.”They didn’t want to negotiate,” Robinson said. “We couldn’t offer them $100,000 or anything like that. We couldn’t make it worth their while.”As it is, the Bulldogs will play 12 games without a week off this season. Johnson said his players might not even put on pads this week in practice in an effort to stay fresh.

Also, the Bulldogs will have their fair share of fans at this game. It’s not the worst place in the world to play a game for recruiting purposes, either (Exhibit A being The Citadel’s starting quarterback, Dominique Allen, who grew up about an hour’s drive from Statesboro).

However, ultimately this matchup is unlikely to define the season for The Citadel in any way. It’s a game the Bulldogs would like to win, but it’s not a conference game, a home game, an in-state game, or a game against a high-profile opponent. It provides a limited benefit to the program from a financial standpoint.

To be honest, I’ve always been a bit dubious about Georgia Southern venturing into the land of FBS, though not for reasons of on-field competitiveness. I don’t think any veteran observer of college football was shocked the Eagles dominated the Sun Belt last year. Mildly surprised, maybe, but not shocked.

However, this is a school that, even as it has grown, still has issues to overcome when it comes to big-money athletics. Its alumni base, while growing, is still much smaller than most FBS schools; the market demo is younger than many other areas (so there is less disposable income floating around); and the surrounding region doesn’t have a huge corporate base.

Also, Georgia Southern has to compete with numerous major-conference FBS programs within a 300-mile radius, including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida, Florida State, and Auburn.

Hey, I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. I just happen to think there is a good chance in about ten years, there might be more than a few Georgia Southern fans wondering what the administration was thinking when it decided to chase that other rainbow.

Here is a comparison of The Citadel and Georgia Southern in select statistical categories for the 2014 season. The Citadel’s stats are for SoCon games only (seven contests). Those opponents: Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.

For Georgia Southern, I included eleven of the Eagles’ twelve games. After some consideration, I decided to remove the statistics from Georgia Southern’s 83-9 victory over Savannah State.

Thus, the statistics below are for the rest of the games the Eagles played last season, which came against the following opponents: North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, South Alabama, Appalachian State, New Mexico State, Idaho, Georgia State, Troy, Texas State, Navy, and ULM.

 

Georgia Southern The Citadel
Offense yards/pass attempt 7.8 6.8
Offense yards/rush attempt 6.81 5.35
Offense yards per play 7.00 5.56
Offense points per game 35.09 24.86
Penalties per game 4.9 5.3
Offense 3rd down conv % 47.1 46.3
Offense 4th down conv % 62.5 60.0
Offense Red Zone TD% 69.2 66.7
Defense yards/pass attempt 6.9 9.1
Defense yards/rush attempt 4.41 5.69
Defense yards allowed/play 5.62 7.02
Defense points allowed/game 24.72 25.86
Defense 3rd down conv % 40.5 41.5
Defense 4th down conv % 40.1 52.9
Defense Red Zone TD% 68.6 60.0
Time of possession 32:53 32:40

Who will start at quarterback for Georgia Southern on Saturday?

As glad as [Georgia Southern head coach Willie] Fritz is to have Ellison back, he’s staying close to the vest when discussing how big of a role Ellison will play this weekend. With a full week of film study and practice still in front of the Eagles, Fritz wasn’t yet ready to say whether Ellison or [Favian] Upshaw take the first snap against The Citadel.

“Those guys are going to be trading reps all week and they’re both going to be playing Saturday,” Fritz said. “We don’t know if we’ll go by quarter, by series, or every two series. As the week goes on, we’ll get that plan in place.”

Ellison was suspended because of an academic issue dating back to the fall semester of last season. Ellison failed to accrue enough credits to satisfy the NCAA standard and was initially handed a four-game suspension.

By taking on additional classes over the spring and summer semesters – and by earning solid grades in those classes – Ellison was able to get his suspension reduced.

“It was a learning experience for me,” Ellison said. “School has to come first. I kind of overlooked that last year.
“Now I’m just glad to play for my school and to be able to go out there on Saturday.”

Ellison is hoping that this run-in with The Citadel is as successful as the last.

In 2013, Ellison was the star of the game as the Eagles pulled out a 28-21 win. Ellison passed for 138 yards, ran for 135 more and scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:59 to play.

Regardless of who starts at QB, Willie Fritz’s offense will look the same. It isn’t the triple option offense of Paul Johnson or Jeff Monken, but it is conceptually not dissimilar.

I’ll let The Birddog, triple option maven and proprietor of the superior Navy athletics blog of the same name, explain how it works:

Run primarily out of pistol formations, Georgia Southern uses more zone blocking as opposed to the inside veer that is the foundation of past GSU offenses. For the quarterback, it’s not too much of a change; he still progresses through his reads like he did before. Zone blocking is different for the offensive line, but it still favors quicker linemen that can get to linebackers quickly. That’s what GSU’s line was already built for under Monken. Besides, it’s not like they had never used zone blocking before. It’s just a different focus. The zone read is hardly a concept unique to Georgia Southern. Everyone runs it at least a little bit. What’s unique about Georgia Southern is more how committed they are to it. They are very much an option offense as opposed to an offense that dabbles in the option once in a while.

You can read a lot more about Georgia Southern’s offense in that post. In fact, you should. Education is the surest way to get ahead in life.

In its eleven games last season against FBS competition, Georgia Southern threw the ball 20.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounted for 22.5% of the Eagles’ total offense.

Contrast that with Georgia Southern’s 2013 season (again omitting a game against Savannah State). That season, the Eagles threw the ball 14.0% of the time, and passing yardage accounted for 21.5% of Georgia Southern’s total offense.

So, despite a new coach and a different “style” of offense, there really wasn’t a big fundamental change in approach.

– Note: 2014 statistical references to follow are for all 12 games Georgia Southern played.

Kevin Ellison rushed for 1108 yards last season, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He completed 55.5% of his passes, with five touchdowns against three interceptions, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.

Fabian Upshaw completed 70.4% of his throws (19-27), averaging 10.6 yards per attempt, with two TDs and one pick. Upshaw rushed for 385 yards, averaging 9.6 yards per carry.

While both Ellison and Upshaw are capable of making things happen, the biggest playmaker on the Eagles offense is running back Matt Breida, who rushed for 1485 yards last season and 17 TDs. He averaged 8.7 yards per rush attempt, leading the nation in that category.

During his press conference, Mike Houston stated that Breida also led the nation in “explosive plays”, i.e. plays of over 50 yards from scrimmage. He had seven last season.

Breida had his first “explosive play” of this season last week,  a 70-yard TD run against Western Michigan. He finished that game with 176 yards rushing (on only 11 carries) and four touchdowns.

He is joined in the backfield by fellow running back L.A. Ramsby, who rushed for 691 yards and 12 TDs last season. “L.A.” stands for “Little Al”. His father is Big Al.

Wide receiver B.J. Johnson led the Eagles in receptions last season with 23, averaging 13.6 yards per catch. Three of those receptions were for touchdowns.

Houston referred to Georgia Southern as being “huge up front”, and he wasn’t kidding. The Eagles’ starting offensive linemen average 6’4″, 305 lbs.

Left guard Darien Foreman, the lone returning starter on the offensive line, was a preseason first-team All-Sun Belt pick. Right guard Roscoe Byrd is a transfer from UAB.

Georgia Southern runs a 4-3 base defense. Of course, teams often change things up when facing The Citadel’s triple option.

Last year against Navy, the Eagles started out defensively by running a 4-4 look with the safety taking the pitch, then adjusted as the game went on. If you want to see how that functioned, I again refer you to The Birddog (who also breaks down how Navy handled Georgia Southern’s offense in this post): Link

The Eagles have a great deal of size along the defensive line, including the imposing Jay Ellison (no relation to Kevin Ellison), a 6’1″, 310 lb. nose tackle. The Citadel’s offensive line will have its hands full with Ellison, a second-team preseason Sun Belt selection.

Darrius Sapp, listed as Jay Ellison’s backup on this week’s two-deep, started both of Georgia Southern’s first two games at defensive tackle. Sapp weighs 330 lbs.

Starting defensive end Lennie Richardson is 27 years old. Richardson began his collegiate career at Troy before transferring to Georgia Southern. After a year in Statesboro, Richardson enlisted in the U.S. Army and spent 3 1/2 years as a tank gunner before returning to GSU.

Linebackers Deshawntee Gallon and Antwione Williams both have fifteen tackles so far this season for the Eagles. Williams has already graduated from Georgia Southern (the same is true for Lennie Richardson).

Free safety Matt Dobson returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season. Dobson was a second-team preseason all-conference choice.

Placekicker Younghoe Koo is an athlete, as this “trick kick” demonstrates. However, he’s coming off a one-week suspension after a DUI arrest. Alex Hanks handled placekicking duties last week for the Eagles and is listed ahead of Koo on this week’s depth chart.

Georgia Southern punter Matt Flynn is in his first year as the starter. Koo is listed as his backup this week, though the depth chart describes this as an “OR” situation.

Long snapper Jake Banta is another refugee from the currently shuttered UAB program.

Derek Keaton and Montay Crockett were the primary kick returners for Georgia Southern last season, and are back this year. Keaton also returns punts.

Odds and ends:

– Georgia Southern’s “dress roster” includes 90 players from thirteen states. There are 68 natives of Georgia, 11 Floridians, five residents of South Carolina, three Texans, and one player each from Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Jersey, California, and Nevada.

– For the second straight week, The Citadel will play in a contest designated “Military Appreciation” Day (or Night). The game ball will be brought in by the Golden Knights Army Parachute Team. Georgia Southern players will have a Department of Defense decal on the back of their helmets.

An early contender for the title of most-asked question by fans in the stands on Saturday: “Hey, what does DoD mean?”

The Citadel last played Georgia Southern in Statesboro in 2013. It was Military Appreciation Day at Paulson Stadium for that game as well.

– The ESPN3 analyst for this game, Wayne Gandy, was a consensus All-American offensive tackle at Auburn in the early 1990s. Gandy had a 15-year NFL career with four different teams, starting 205 games.

– The sideline reporter for the Georgia Southern radio network is Danny Reed, who Bulldog fans remember from his three years as the “Voice of the Bulldogs”. Reed will become the play-by-play voice this season for the Eagles’ men’s basketball and baseball teams, and will take over gamecalling duties for football in 2016.

I think Reed will become the second person to work as the play-by-play voice for both The Citadel and Georgia Southern. Longtime Charleston radio man Ted Byrne also called games for both schools (and worked College of Charleston games at one point, too).

– Lainie Fritz, sports anchor/reporter for WCBD-TV in Charleston, is the daughter of Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz.

– Per the SoCon weekly release, The Citadel has the top two active sack leaders in the conference. Mitchell Jeter has 13.5, most among current SoCon players, while Mark Thomas is second with 11.5 career sacks.

– Mike Houston is undefeated against schools from the state of Georgia in his head coaching career. He is 2-0, with wins over Fort Valley State and Mercer.

– As of this writing, the National Weather Service forecast for Saturday in Statesboro: high of 87 degrees and sunny, with a low that night of 67. Weather should not be a factor during the game.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Georgia Southern is a 25 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel this week. The over/under is 56.

I think Saturday’s game will be competitive, assuming The Citadel doesn’t go into turnover mode on offense. The Bulldogs may have trouble stopping Georgia Southern’s high-powered attack, but I believe The Citadel can control the ball enough on offense to limit the total number of possessions and frustrate the Eagles.

Earlier in this post, I wrote that this game isn’t that important for The Citadel in the grand scheme of things. However, I fully expect the Bulldog players to give it everything they’ve got — and why not?

If you’re going to play the game, you might as well try to win.

Game review, 2015: Western Carolina

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Mitchell Jeter, Dominique Allen, and Rudder Brown

Video from WCIV-TV

Box score

The Citadel 28, Western Carolina 10.

Random thoughts and observations:

– Another day of threatening weather led to another night of disappointing attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The crowd of 8,048 was into the game (and the corps of cadets had another strong performance), but Jim Senter has to hope for sunny skies when Charleston Southern comes to town in two weeks.

– The Citadel averaged 5.9 yards per play, including 4.9 yards per rush and 17.5 yards per pass attempt (on six throws). Western Carolina averaged 4.9 yards per play, including 5.1 yards per rush and a relatively anemic 4.7 yards per pass attempt (with Troy Mitchell throwing the ball 40 times).

In last season’s matchup, the Catamounts averaged 9.2 yards per rush and 10.0 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina had ten plays from scrimmage that went for 20+ yards in that 2014 contest; on Saturday night, WCU had only three.

– At one point early in the second half, Bulldog B-backs carried the football seven straight times, including all six plays on the second series of the third quarter. There was just a bit of murmuring in the stands, but the runs up the middle had a purpose.

Of the 32 offensive snaps for The Citadel following those “seven plays of stubbornness”, the Bulldogs averaged 6.7 yards per play, including ten first downs and three touchdowns.

– It’s possible that offensive coordinator Brent Thompson may have regretted the second-and-1 pass play the Bulldogs tried near the end of the first half, the only play call I questioned on Saturday. Dominique Allen’s throw was poor, and was intercepted.

It was the third time in two games The Citadel had thrown the ball on 2nd-and-short (and the second time on Saturday). Just as a reminder, in conference play last season the Bulldogs only threw the ball in that situation four times (in seven league matchups).

– Later in the contest, Allen more than made up for his bad throw in the first half. He threw a gorgeous seam pass to Rudder Brown early in the fourth quarter that set up The Citadel’s third touchdown.

On the play, Brown essentially stiff-armed a defender for almost 25 yards. That’s a pretty fair stiff-arm.

– In general, the victory over Western Carolina reminded me of the win last season against Gardner-Webb. That was another game in which the Bulldogs were trailing midway through the third quarter, but wound up winning going away, partly because the other team’s defense was worn out with 20 minutes still to play.

Two differences: this year, it happened earlier in the season, and Western Carolina was a better opponent.

– While The Citadel was the better team on Saturday night and fully earned the victory, it didn’t hurt to catch a break or two. The biggest break of all was on the muffed pitch play that resulted in a recovered fumble-TD by Jorian Jordan.

If Western Carolina had fallen on the ball, would the resulting change of momentum (and immediate loss of seven points) have changed the game’s outcome? I don’t think so…but I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.

– Many of the fans were pleased to hear the band’s rendition of the “Hawaii 5-0” theme, complete with the obligatory surfboard.

The band needed to play a little more during the game, in my opinion. It was a tough night for the sound system operators, who received a deserved warning from the referee for playing music as Western Carolina lined up on offense. Even worse, someone slipped “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners into the music rotation. Awful.

– The game program’s recap of the victory over Davidson included a reference to the 69 points scored against the Wildcats being “the 3rd highest point total in program history”.

It is actually the fifth-highest point total in program history, but it appears that the 1909 victory over Porter (99 points scored by The Citadel) and the 1913 win against Furman (75 points) are both being disregarded.

This is wrong. Those Marion Square teams should be recognized. They are part of the fabric that makes up football at The Citadel. Plus, 75 points against Furman! That will always count, thank you very much.

– The program also includes an article on the golf team, and how it is honoring an alumnus who was killed in action.

– As mentioned earlier, the corps of cadets brought plenty of energy to the stadium. I thought the ACU look was fine, though I wouldn’t want to see it become a regular option.

I know a few of the sophomores were disappointed not to get overnights, but hey — it’s The Citadel, that’s part of the deal. (And 25 years from now, you’ll be the one telling cadets about how that’s part of the deal.)

– He didn’t have a particularly good night, but I’m glad that The Citadel has seen the last of WCU quarterback Troy Mitchell. I just automatically assumed that whenever the Catamounts faced a 3rd-and-long, Mitchell would lead the Bulldogs’ defense on a merry chase that would result in a 20-yard run or a 40-yard pass.

Mitchell has been a fine player, and worthy opponent, for four years.

– Last week’s game lasted exactly three hours. This week: three hours and four minutes. The man in the red cap controls all time and space.

– The Citadel still leads FCS in rushing offense, well ahead of Kennesaw State (!), which is in second. (Kennesaw State also runs the triple option.)

Last year’s leader in rushing offense, Cal Poly, is currently sixth. I think that is very impressive, considering the Mustangs’ two games have been at Montana (a win) and at Arizona State (a loss, but Cal Poly gave the Sun Devils all they wanted).

Next week: Georgia Southern, in Statesboro. That should be interesting. I’ll have a post previewing that game later in the week.

Below are some photos, including shots of the pregame scene and the on-field action (most of which are annotated). They aren’t necessarily good photos. Then again, when are they?

Game review, 2015: Davidson

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike HoustonDominique Allen, Isiaha Smith, James Riley, and Tevin Floyd

Box score

The season opener went about as well as could have been expected, at least on the field. Random thoughts and observations:

– The announced attendance of 8,665 seemed accurate. The two storms that passed over Johnson Hagood Stadium in the 90 minutes preceding the game certainly had a negative impact on attendance in general and walkup sales in particular.

We may have to wait another week to see if the initiatives aimed at improving attendance have had a significant effect.

– The Citadel averaged 8.1 yards per play, including 7.8 yards per rush and 13.4 yards per pass attempt. The yards per pass completion was also 13.4, as Dominique Allen completed all five of his pass attempts (including a TD toss to Jorian Jordan).

– I really liked the pass play call on 2nd-and-1 from the Davidson 26 (during The Citadel’s second offensive series). That was a good tendency-breaker, as the Bulldogs only attempted four passes in 2nd-and-short situations all of last season.

The play itself was well conceived and executed. Dominique Allen waited patiently for Isiaha Smith to make his move, and for Jorian Jordan to run his route (which cleared out space on the right side of the field). Smith had all kinds of room to maneuver after catching the ball.

– Obviously, the defense had a good night as well. Besides pitching a shutout, the Bulldogs held Davidson to 2.2 yards per play. That included a meager 1.6 yards per rush and 3.1 yards per pass attempt.

The Citadel intercepted more passes on Saturday night (four, including a pick-6 by Tevin Floyd) than it did all of last season (three). The four interceptions led all of FCS after Week 1.

– After a sack by Mitchell Jeter in the second quarter, the PA played “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” (the Dan Tyminski/Soggy Bottom Boys version). Major, major props to the individual responsible for that musical cue.

– After one game, The Citadel leads FCS in rushing offense (with almost 100 more yards than second-place Southeastern Louisiana). Interestingly, the FCS national leader in passing offense after the first week of the season is…VMI.

– Eric Goins had touchbacks on seven of his nine kickoffs. That is outstanding. I think it’s fair to say the crowd was very appreciative of his efforts, too.

– The Citadel only had five penalties, though a couple were ill-timed (one led to the Bulldogs’ only punt). As Mike Houston pointed out in his post-game press conference, however, only two of the penalties were committed by the first team offense or defense.

Davidson was only called for four penalties.

– Rod Johnson’s “fumble” probably wasn’t a fumble (there is actually a good angle of that play in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery linked above; see picture #3). The Citadel won 69-0, though, so we’ll let the official off the hook this week.

I was glad to see Johnson score a touchdown later in the game after being denied one on the earlier call.

– By now if you read anything I write, you know I’m not a fan of The Citadel’s “uniform program”. I’ll gladly make an exception for last night’s togs, though. The Bulldogs looked good.

– Fans will have to get used to longer games now that all home contests are on ESPN3. Saturday night’s game took exactly three hours to play.

– The team’s performance was matched by its fellow members of the corps of cadets. I thought the corps was really good on Saturday night. The overnights for the sophomores, juniors, and seniors were deserved (and I say this as an old fogey).

I expect nothing less than the same next week. I hope the corps brings it again when Western Carolina comes to town.

– The “featured Bulldog” in Saturday’s game program was accounting major Tevin Floyd. The “fall feature” that focuses on other Bulldog athletes also profiled a football player: Caroline Cashion.

– On a personal note, I can now say that I’ve seen in person both of The Citadel’s highest-scoring games against Davidson: last night, and the 56-21 victory in 1974. The latter contest was the second game I ever attended at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Those are also the two games that bookend the Bulldogs’ current nine-game winning streak against the Wildcats.

– While it’s fun to watch The Citadel score ten touchdowns in a game, next week’s SoCon opener against Western Carolina will be a far different test. More on that in my preview later this week.

For now, here are a few pictures. These are the best I had, which should tell you something about the ones that I’m not posting. I’m a bad photographer with a mediocre camera, and the weather didn’t help matters either…

Game review, 2014: Furman

Members of The Citadel’s 1990 College World Series team were honored at halftime of the football game on Saturday. This reminded me of a comment from the late great Chal Port after that squad defeated Cal State-Fullerton in the College World Series:

I thought that was one great game. It was not great baseball, but my God that was exciting.

If you substitute “football” for baseball, Port’s comment could easily have applied to the gridiron battle between Furman and The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium. It wasn’t necessarily the most elegant of contests, but it kept the fans guessing for over three hours.

Against Cal State-Fullerton, The Citadel’s baseball team won despite committing seven errors. The football Bulldogs had to overcome a similar number of mistakes against the Paladins to prevail — and, like that 1990 baseball game, regulation wasn’t enough to decide matters.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

Game story, The Greenville News

Game report, WCSC-TV; also, additional comments from Mike Houston

Game report, WCIV-TV

Box score

When it comes to Southern Conference officiating, “open mic night” takes on a whole new meaning…

Late in the fourth quarter, just prior to The Citadel scoring the game-tying touchdown, the game referee had a conversation with Vinny Miller. The running back had been called for three highly dubious holding penalties during the game and was clearly upset (justifiably so), particularly with the last call. What the referee did not know was that his microphone was still on.

After the talk with Miller (whose comments were inaudible), the referee chatted with the umpire and had this to say:

He came to apologize…16 [Miller] came to apologize for being a jackass…why is he staring at me over there, Warren?…The head coach…

Well, I would guess that Mike Houston was staring at you because you had just announced to over 11,000 people that (in your opinion, and your opinion only) one of his players had been acting like a farm animal.

Shortly afterwards, still unaware his microphone had not been turned off, he remarked:

I like excitement. I just don’t like to be involved in the excitement, you know what I mean?

Unfortunately for the players and coaches on both teams (and their increasingly frustrated fans), the officials were all too involved in the excitement of Saturday’s game.

I’m not going to list all the questionable and simply bad calls and non-calls. I’ll just say it wasn’t a good day for the men in stripes.

Despite the officiating, the team that won the game deserved to win it. Some Furman fans may not feel that way, and I understand their misgivings.

However, Furman has now lost eight straight games, and the last half of the fourth quarter (plus overtime) was a partial demonstration of why the Paladins are on their current losing skid. With two golden opportunities to all but ice the game, Furman fumbled the ball away on The Citadel’s 1-yard line, and missed a relatively easy field goal. Teams that do those kinds of things late in close games generally don’t win those games.

Conversely, The Citadel made the big play late in the game when it had to do so, and dominated the OT session on both sides of the ball.

Random thoughts and observations:

– The two teams combined for 509 yards of total offense in the first half.

Furman entered the game last in the SoCon in total offense, averaging just over 305 yards per game. In the first half, though, the Paladins had 212 yards of total offense. Starting QB P.J. Blazejowski accounted for 194 of those yards (including 124 through the air).

– I’ve never seen fewer Furman fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game. It was a bit startling, to be honest. I guess the long string of losses during the season has taken a toll on the fan base.

Those Paladin fans probably wondered about a few of their coaches’ offensive playcalls during the game, including operating out of the shotgun on 4th down and less than a yard; the play near midfield in the third quarter where Blazejowski threw a weird third-and-short pass to no one in particular; and the abandonment of the running game during the overtime period.

– There was some discussion in the stands about the number of fullback carries the Bulldogs had on Saturday. Indeed, Tyler Renew and Isiaha Smith combined for 38 rushes.

That’s a lot. It was almost half of The Citadel’s 78 rushing attempts.

However, it’s also true that those carries by Renew and Smith were good for an average of 4.55 yards per rush. Both backs were consistently getting yardage that put the Bulldogs in manageable down-and-distance situations, a key factor in the 30-18 edge The Citadel had in first downs.

I also wondered if the coaches wanted to avoid overusing the slotbacks, given how thin the Bulldogs currently are at that position. At any rate, all the fullback action set things up nicely on the outside, as the trio of Jake Stenson/Vinny Miller/Jonathan Dorogy averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

Overall, the offensive efficiency was excellent.

– The special teams for the Bulldogs were not very special on Saturday. To review, The Citadel fumbled the opening kickoff, botched a PAT, gave the Paladins great field position with a bad punt, allowed a long kickoff return to open the second half, missed a field goal, and committed two penalties on returns.

Without all those miscues in the kicking game, the Bulldogs probably would have won the game with a little room to spare. As it was, the mistakes in the kicking game made things a lot more difficult for The Citadel.

– On Aaron Miller’s 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, it appeared that Miller was running diagonally through a maze. I noticed on the replay that wideout Jorian Jordan essentially blocked two Paladins on the play, which gave Miller his final lane to the end zone.

– There were several outstanding receptions by The Citadel. The first was Brandon Eakins’ sideline grab in the first quarter, which may have been lost in the shuffle. It was an important catch, though, because it came on third down and kept the Bulldogs’ initial drive alive.

Then there was Alex Glover’s acrobatic snag of a 40-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 in the second quarter. He showed a great deal of athleticism in making that play.

Jonathan Dorogy’s late-game catch was particularly impressive given the fact he was interfered with (though it wasn’t called) and caught the ball anyway. It was also Dorogy’s first career reception. Everyone should clap their hands in appreciation.

That said, I think Jake Stenson’s catch-and-run for a TD was the play of the day, and maybe the best individual play by a Bulldog I’ve seen all season. It had a little bit of everything.

He showed good hands in making the grab near ankle level, shrugged off one would-be tackler, met another defender head-on and bowled him over, and then had the presence of mind (and understanding of the situation) to leap for the goal line, showing great field awareness in the process. It was a very impressive effort.

– Aaron Miller completed only eight passes in the game, but they went to six different receivers. He has options, and he uses them.

– The Bulldogs tried to convert a two-point PAT out of their standard unbalanced formation, and failed spectacularly. It was the third time The Citadel had tried to get two points on that setup, and the first time it hadn’t worked.

Of course, the Bulldogs lost both games in which they successfully converted the two-point trick play, and won on Saturday when they didn’t make it. What does that mean? Nothing.

– I wasn’t a huge fan of going for two at the end of the first half. I felt that was a little too early to begin chasing points, especially when the two teams had combined for eight touchdowns in two quarters of action. It worked out for The Citadel, though.

– The Citadel did not commit a false start penalty in the game. In fact, none of the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen were called for a single infraction. The o-line had a fine day at the office, and the statistics reflect that.

– The kicking contest at the end of the third quarter featured not one, but two cadet kickers. Both of them made their field goal attempts, much to the glee of the Homecoming crowd.

– The regimental band/pipes performance at halftime was excellent. The band needs to be more of a presence during the game, of course. I’ve mentioned this before, and I know the powers that be are working on it.

The crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium got what it wanted, which was a fun football game that ended with the home team celebrating. What was gratifying (and a little surprising) to me was how many people stayed throughout the contest.

Usually at Homecoming games, there is even more action than usual going on outside the stadium. While there were plenty of parties in full swing on Saturday (I can attest to that), the west stands remained mostly full and engaged.

In overtime, the atmosphere was tremendous. I remember looking around at one point and thinking, “This is great.”

I wish it were always that way. It can be. It’s going to take a little time, though — and a few more victories for the Bulldogs.

Homecoming was a lot of fun. I got a chance to reconnect with a lot of old friends. We told a few stories, most of them funny, and counted our blessings.

The new overhead video scoreboard at McAlister Field House is a pleasure to see in person. It’s fantastic. Well done, Class of 1964.

After viewing the scoreboard, I wandered over to the parade ground and watched the Joe Riley announcement. After he leaves office as Charleston’s mayor in January 2016, Riley will be teaching at The Citadel as the first professor in an endowed chair named in his honor, which is outstanding.

I watched the twilight parade, and then went to a reunion party. There, I learned that having multiple food trucks available for sampling at one’s leisure is a very fine thing indeed.

Tailgating on Saturday was quite enjoyable, too.

It was a great weekend. The win over Furman was just the icing on the cake.

Very tasty icing.

This week’s pictures range from surprisingly decent to incredibly bad. It’s a diverse mix, to be sure.

The collection starts with some non-football photos. It was Homecoming, after all…

 

2013 Football, Week 4: The Citadel vs. Old Dominion

The Citadel at Old Dominion, to be played in Norfolk, Virginia, on the grounds of Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 21. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines. The contest will also be televised in the Hampton Roads (VA) metropolitan area by Cox Communications, with play-by-play from Doug Ripley and analysis by John Bunting.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, is the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network; audio of the game is also available at Bulldog Insider.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Old Dominion game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference: The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins

The Kevin Higgins Show

Video of ODU head coach Bobby Wilder’s Monday press conference (with a transcript)

ODU improves, now prepares for The Citadel

Kevin Higgins says that ODU is ahead of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern in its FBS transition

Catching up with…Brandon McCladdie

Strength and Conditioning video, featuring the football travel squad

A few thoughts on the game against Western Carolina:

– Each team had eight possessions in the game (not counting The Citadel’s touchdown off of a fumbled punt as a possession). With so few drives, it becomes even more important to cash in on opportunities.

You can argue about the play call that led to the Bulldogs’ only turnover of the game. I understand the notion that the play was open for a TD before the untimely deflection.

I think the decision to pass was probably a mistake, though, not as much because of the result but for the fact that 14 of The Citadel’s previous 16 plays (all rushes) had resulted in a gain of at least  five yards. There was no reason at that point in the game to believe the Catamounts were going to hold the Bulldogs to less than eight yards over the next three plays (assuming The Citadel would have gone for it on 4th down if necessary).

Then there was the sequence at the end of the first half. The Citadel probably missed a chance at either a TD or an easier field goal attempt by not calling a timeout once inside the Catamounts’ 40-yard line. I can understand the reasoning (why give the other team momentum when you’re up 21-0), but the field position definitely was in the Bulldogs’ favor. The Citadel had all three timeouts available, but elected not to use any of them until only four seconds remained in the half.

– A bunch of the “true” freshmen came to play. Devan Robbins. Tyler Renew. Tevin Floyd. Also mixing it up are guys like Jorian Jordan, Nick Jeffreys, Ryan Bednar, Rudder Brown, and DeAndre Schoultz.

All of them can and will help the Bulldogs all season long. That’s an especially good thing at The Citadel, which has historically struggled with depth. So far, so good for this year’s crop of freshmen.

– Not committing any penalties in a league road game is very impressive.

– Carl Robinson had nine more tackles in the WCU game. He is now tied for the SoCon lead in tackles for the season, with 39. James Riley led the Bulldogs in tackles against the Catamounts, with eleven.

Old Dominion was founded in 1930. It was originally an extension of the College of William & Mary, set up in Norfolk as a two-year school. The following year, Virginia Tech began offering classes at what came to be known as “The Division” (a nickname/setup that is vaguely reminiscent of “The Arsenal”).

The school would eventually become a four-year institution (first awarding bachelor’s degrees in 1956), was spun into an independent entity in 1962, and attained university status in 1969.

Incidentally, Old Dominion College was chosen as the new name of the independent school in 1962 over (among others) College of the Atlantic and Thomas Jefferson College.

The school played football from 1930 to 1941, competing as the “Braves” (the Monarchs nickname came about in 1961). As a two-year college, the Norfolk Division compiled a record of 62-19-4 in twelve seasons. One of the nineteen losses came against Miami (FL); the Hurricanes apparently thought they were scheduled to play William & Mary, and wound up competing against the Braves instead (the final was 6-2).

The football program was dropped when a rule was passed that precluded freshmen from playing. However, Foreman Field (built in 1936) remained, and served as the host of the Oyster Bowl for many years. Foreman Field was the site where The Citadel’s Gene Brown rushed for 286 yards in a 1988 game against VMI (on only 13 carries); it also was the setting for a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert in 1974.

The Citadel played four times in the Oyster Bowl at Foreman Field, all matchups with VMI, winning three of those contests.

By the time the 21st century rolled around, it occurred to a few people that it might be neat for ODU to have a football team again, particularly since it was now a four-year school with almost 20,000 undergraduate students, and located in an area noted for having a lot of talented football players. In other words, it was a natural.

Bobby Wilder, then an assistant at Maine, was hired to revive the program, and in 2009 the Monarchs returned to the gridiron. Wilder has orchestrated a very successful startup.

ODU is 39-12 during his tenure, including an 11-2 record last year. The success of the team on the field, as well as the support off of it (home games at 20,068-seat Foreman Field are regularly sold out), certainly helped the school gain admission to Conference USA, where it will begin play next year as a full-fledged member of that league.

The school’s decision process for moving to FBS took about 6 1/2 weeks, which is borderline insane. Actually, forget borderline — it’s just insane. A good read on that time period can be found here: Link

There are many things to digest from that article. I’ll just mention two of them:

– Halfway through that 6 1/2 week period, ODU called fifteen of its biggest donors to gauge their interest in FBS football. The result of those calls: $3 million raised in less than two weeks.

– During that time, Old Dominion representatives talked to CUSA honchos, of course, and also had discussions with league officials from the MAC, Atlantic 10, ACC, and Big East — but never spoke to anyone from the Sun Belt.

From The Post and Courier:

ODU’s quick rise is due to three main factors: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a 6-1, 205-pound junior from Atlanta; a rabid fan base that has sold out all 30 of its home games to date at 20,068-seat Ballard Stadium, and bought more than 14,000 season tickets for this season; and the fertile recruiting area around its home base in Norfolk, Va.

“It’s amazing to see what they’ve done,” [Kevin] Higgins said. “You look at teams like Georgia State that have struggled making that adjustment. People don’t realize how fervent a football area Virginia Beach is. They put a team there, and now everyone is coming out to see them.

“They picked the right guy in Bobby Wilder, a guy from a solid program in Maine. And he hit right away on this guy Taylor Heinicke.”

Did he ever, coach. Did he ever.

Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award as the top player in FCS last season, passing for 5,076 yards and 44 touchdowns last season.

Heinicke threw 7 TD passes against Campbell, but that wasn’t even his best game. Nor was his 6-TD performance in the playoffs against Coastal Carolina.

No, Heinicke’s most absurd day came against New Hampshire, a come-from-behind 64-61 victory in which he threw for 730 (!) yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 61 yards in that game (he’s versatile enough to have rushed for 11 TDs last season).

He’s really, really good, and The Citadel’s D has its work cut out. Last week against Howard, Heinicke threw for 406 yards in a little over two quarters of action. That 406-yard effort didn’t even crack his personal best top 5.

Against East Carolina (a 52-38 loss), Heinicke was 38-51 for 338 yards, completing passes to seven different receivers. He struggled the following week versus Maryland, with only 166 passing yards and three interceptions.

In terms of style and scheme, Higgins said ODU’s spread attack most resembles that of App State, among teams The Citadel has played in recent years.

“They are going to spread it out, and there will be a lot of bubble screens on the outside, trying to get matchups there,” he said. “And as good a thrower as the quarterback is, he is deceptively fast.”

Heinicke likes to spread the wealth, as the ECU game would attest, and he has a lot of options. Antonio Vaughan only caught one pass against Howard, but it was for 76 yards and a TD. Vaughan had three 100-yard receiving days last season.

Redshirt freshman Zach Pascal caught nine passes against Howard. Another wideout, Larry Pinkard, has 18 receptions in three games. Starting tailback Colby Goodwin can also catch the ball (11 receptions this year).

ODU has a lot of experience along the offensive line, with four returning starters who all weigh at least 300 lbs. Left guard David Born is 6’8″, 328 lbs. Right tackle D.J. Morrell is 6’6″, 330 lbs. Yes, they’re big.

The Monarchs scored 49 points in the first half against Howard, and 76 for the game. Among the things that might make a Bulldog fan shudder:

– ODU scored on its first 11 possessions. Nine of those scores were touchdowns.

– Nine of those eleven scoring drives were of less than two minutes’ duration.

Defensively, ODU has struggled. Part of that probably has to do with trying to replace six starters from last year’s team. How will that impact The Citadel as it runs the triple option?

Well, Old Dominion had major problems with Georgia Southern’s triple option attack in the FCS playoffs, allowing 1200 yards of total offense in two games against the Eagles. This year, the Monarchs have a new defensive coordinator, Rich Nagy. Also of note is that backup quarterback David Washington ran the triple option during ODU’s spring practice.

Strong safety Fellonte Misher is Old Dominion’s leading tackler, with eighteen through three games. Linebacker John Darr, a 232-lb. redshirt senior, is the second-leading tackler on the squad and had nine stops against Howard.

Starting middle linebacker Richie Staton is a true freshman, one of ten such freshmen on ODU’s two-deep.

Putting aside the triple option issue and focusing purely on this year’s ODU defense, it’s not the numbers from the ECU or Maryland games that would really concern a Monarchs fan. Let’s face it, plenty of teams wouldn’t be able to cover Maryland wide receiver Stefan Diggs.

The Howard game, though…hmm. Lost in the shuffle of ODU’s 76-19 obliteration of the Bison:

– Howard ran 85 plays on offense, including a staggering 51 in the first half, for 331 total yards. That’s in one half.

– The Bison had four drives of 60+ yards in the first half, and another that went for 49.

What did Howard in? Turnovers, five of them (Old Dominion had none). The Bison also were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the eight in the first half after a 74-yard drive. Thanks to two first-half turnovers and that stoppage on downs, ODU only allowed 10 points in the half. Five different Monarchs accounted for those five turnovers, by the way.

Old Dominion’s special teams include a fine placekicker, Jarod Brown, who has not missed a FG or PAT so far this season. Jake Walsh is ODU’s punter; in keeping with recent college football trends, he’s a native of Australia.

To recap, ODU scored on its first 11 possessions, while last week The Citadel only had 8 possessions the entire game. It is in the Bulldogs’ interest to keep that possession total down for both teams. Holding on to the football, both in terms of offensive time of possession and turnover avoidance, is critical against the Monarchs.

There were 211 snaps in the Howard-Old Dominion game, according to Bobby Wilder. The Citadel needs to make sure that number is substantially lower.

Field position is something else to watch. ODU had a 76-yard kickoff return against the Bison, just one reason its average starting field position against Howard was the Monarchs’ 40-yard line. The Citadel’s special teams units must be at their best in Norfolk, or they will be punished.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday night’s game at Foreman Field has been designated a “blackout” for the home fans (the Howard game was a “whiteout”). It’s important to be color-coordinated for sporting events these days.

I’ve never quite bought into having a blackout for a night game, to be honest. I remember South Carolina having a blackout against Florida when Rex Grossman was the Gators’ quarterback. Asked about it after the game, Grossman said that it felt like no one was in the stands.

– The Citadel is getting a $250,000 guarantee for this game. Originally, the Bulldogs were supposed to play East Carolina this season, but ODU and ECU wanted to play each other, and a deal was worked out.

– ODU is a 17.5-to-18 point favorite over The Citadel, per various Las Vegas sources.

It could be argued that this is the least important game on The Citadel’s entire 2013 schedule (aside from that check for $250,000). That doesn’t mean it is meaningless.

A win would obviously go a long way to erasing the memory of a difficult start to the season, though it wouldn’t affect the SoCon race. It would be a nice chip if the Bulldogs made a late-season playoff push, to be sure.

What I want from this game (besides no injuries) is for the team to regain more of its confidence. The offense needs to continue to get back to where it was at the close of last season while incorporating some of the talented newcomers who have arrived on the scene.

The defense will get a stern test from ODU. It needs to be able to take some positives from the game, regardless of the final score. Playing ODU will at the very least be a good way to prepare for Appalachian State.

I’m not expecting a victory, though I’m not counting out the Bulldogs either.

I never do that.