Game Review, 2018: Samford

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– Video from WCSC-TV

– AP game story

– School release (The Citadel)

– School release (Samford)

Box score

– Game highlights, including postgame comments from Brent Thompson (video)

– ESPN+ replay of the game

Why do people keep coming back to watch games year after year? Well, for a lot of reasons, of course.

However, one of the biggest reasons is that there is always a chance you will get to witness something special, something extraordinary, something that will cause you to pridefully say years from now, “I was there that day.”

I think Saturday’s game was like that if you are a fan of The Citadel. It was certainly one of the most memorable games in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium.

It wasn’t a game that resulted in a championship for the Bulldogs. It didn’t set up another key contest, or even clinch a winning season. The fact there were no obvious stakes for the Bulldogs arguably made the game — including the on-field play and the general atmosphere  — all the more remarkable.

Ultimately, it was a tremendous advertisement for football at the military college, and for The Citadel as a whole.

With 10:37 to play in the second quarter, Samford took possession of the ball at its own 33-yard line. To that point in the contest, SU had run 23 plays for 221 yards, scoring three touchdowns. The Citadel had only run 15 plays from scrimmage for a total of 49 yards, and had no points.

The game’s momentum started to change slightly over the next four possessions, two by each team. The Citadel scored on the second of its two drives in that sequence, but then Samford drove 65 yards late in the half, settling for a field goal and a 24-7 lead at the break.

The third quarter didn’t start off very well for The Citadel either, as Bulldogs quarterback Brandon Rainey promptly fumbled the ball away. It would prove to be one of Rainey’s few missteps in a brilliant second-half performance, but Samford was in position to take an even more commanding lead.

That SU failed to do so is a credit to The Citadel’s defense. There was a key play that may have flown under the radar, but that I think is worth highlighting.

On third and six from the Bulldogs’ 25-yard line, SU quarterback Devlin Hodges threw a swing pass to Robert Adams. It looked like Adams was going to pick up the first down, but Aron Spann III defeated his blocker and then stopped Adams four yards short of the line to gain, forcing a fumble that rolled out of bounds.

Without that stop by Spann, the drive would have continued. Instead, Samford saw a 40-yard field goal attempt sail wide of the right upright (and that particular upright has not been kind to the Birmingham Bulldogs in their last two trips to Johnson Hagood Stadium).

Eight plays later, Lorenzo Ward was in the end zone for The Citadel, and the tide had begun to turn.

It didn’t completely turn, though. Samford drove down the field for another field goal try, and this one was good. Then The Citadel had to punt after a seven-play possession.

That set up the next huge play by the Bulldogs’ defense, as Shawn McCord sacked Hodges on first down, basically taking the ball away from the quarterback in the process. It took the offense three plays to go 10 yards for its third TD (and the second by Ward) and close to within six points.

The next three possessions for each team…

  • Samford: 13 plays, 73 yards, one first down (on a 41-yard run by Hodges), no points
  • The Citadel: 19 plays, 202 yards, eight first downs, 21 points (including a scintillating 60-yard TD run by Rainey to take the lead, and two more TDs for Ward, including a 43-yard scamper)

The game was essentially decided. Samford drove 67 yards on its final drive against a prevent defense, but couldn’t punch it in for a TD, and at the final whistle the scoreboard, almost unbelievably, read 42-27 in favor of the home team.

It was really incredible to see the change in fortunes of the two teams as the game progressed. The Citadel’s players and coaches have to be credited for that.

Essentially, a runaway train was plunging straight downhill. The Bulldogs managed to somehow stop the train, gradually turn it around, then push it in the other direction, where it careened downhill even more uncontrollably than it did before, even though that means it would have been going downhill both ways.

It makes no sense, even as a metaphor. Isaac Newton would have to rewrite at least two of his three laws of motion.

The comeback still happened, though.

Assorted observations:

– I thought the corps of cadets richly deserved the overnights granted by Gen. Walters. As the game wound down, the chant “We want ‘Bama!” could be heard from that section of the stadium, one of several things I’ll always remember about this game.

– Then there was the money that started falling out of the sky after one of the Bulldogs’ second-half touchdowns. It was apparently thrown by someone in one of the suites. After another touchdown for The Citadel, more money appeared from the clouds on high.

I admit I would have been more impressed if the bills were 20s…

– The spontaneous “jump around” by the team on the sideline at the 6:11 mark of the fourth quarter led to a renewed burst of energy in the stands, and then that filtered back down to the team again, just repeating the cycle. It was kind of crazy.

– At the game, someone asked me about time of possession. I don’t know what the modern-day record for TOP is for The Citadel; it presumably is something in the 40-45 minute range. Saturday’s game wasn’t quite so lopsided in terms of time of possession, although The Citadel did have the edge in that area by over ten minutes (35:01 to 24:59).

That said, it was actually the smallest edge in time of possession The Citadel has had against Samford in the teams’ last six meetings:

  • 2018 — The Citadel 35:01, Samford 24:59
  • 2017 — The Citadel 36:52, Samford 23:08
  • 2016 — The Citadel 38:17, Samford 21:43
  • 2015 — The Citadel 35:15, Samford 24:45
  • 2014 — The Citadel 37:42, Samford 22:18
  • 2013 — The Citadel 35:42, Samford 24:18

Obviously, time of possession isn’t always indicative of dominance one way or the other (after all, SU won two of the games listed above). However, it seems to me that being on the short end of TOP on a regular basis puts a lot of strain on a team’s defense. Eventually, that can be a problem.

– Okay, a negative observation. The P.A. was too loud, sometimes painfully so. I also would have liked for the band to play more, but at least that unit got to play at halftime (a Homecoming tradition).

– The drill team outfits worn by some members of the Class of 1968, which were on display both at the parade and at the stadium march-on, were unique. I guess when you’ve been out of school for 50 years, you have had plenty of time to think of some fun things to do at your reunion.

I was amazed at how many ’68 alums were there. It was truly an impressive turnout for that class.

– It got rather cool during the second half, at least to me, but then my blood is unnaturally thin. Anecdotally, the cold weather appeared to improve beer sales, so I guess that was a positive.

All in all, I thought the crowd was great. Sure, some people went back to the reunion party tents for the second half, which always happens at Homecoming (not a criticism), but those who remained were into the game in a major way.

Nerd stuff, comeback category:

  • The 21-point comeback by The Citadel was the largest by the Bulldogs in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium. The previous mark was 20, which has happened twice — in 1973 against Chattanooga (when the Bulldogs trailed 20-0 but won the game 28-20) and 2007 versus Furman (a 27-7 deficit turned into a 54-51 victory in OT).
  • The biggest comeback in school history remains the 2011 game at Chattanooga, when the Bulldogs trailed 27-0 before rallying to win that contest 28-27.
  • Also worth mentioning in terms of comebacks is The Citadel’s 1989 game versus Western Carolina. The Bulldogs trailed WCU 22-0 but came back to tie the contest, 22-22. The game ended with that scoreline, the last time The Citadel played a football game that ended in a tie. That matchup was played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia as a consequence of Hurricane Hugo.

Nerd stuff, passing statistics category:

  • The 69 pass attempts by Samford’s Devlin Hodges on Saturday were the most ever thrown in a game by an opponent of The Citadel. The record for most completions in a game by an opponent remains 49, set earlier this year by VMI’s Reece Udinski in Lexington.
  • Hodges did set the Johnson Hagood Stadium record for pass completions (43) and attempts (69) in a game, by any individual.
  • The previous record-holder for pass completions and attempts in a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium was Jim Schumann, who threw 56 passes (completing 36) for Boston University against The Citadel in 1988. The Bulldogs won that game 24-13.
  • In case you were wondering, Kip Allen holds the JHS record for pass completions and attempts in a game by a Bulldog, as he was 34 for 53 versus Wofford in 1985, a 42-28 victory for The Citadel. His 428 passing yards in that contest remains a school record as well (regardless of venue).
  • Allen’s 34 completions against the Terriers is the all-time game record for The Citadel; the attempts record for the Bulldogs, also held by Allen, is 57, set at Clemson in 1986.

Editor’s note: I will be travelling most of this week, and as a result my upcoming preview of the game between The Citadel and Alabama game will be A) much earlier than usual, and B) much shorter than usual. Apologies for that, but real life intrudes once in a while.

I took pictures on Saturday, mostly bad ones. Many of them are of the review parade. As for the game pics, I started having battery issues late in the first half, and I also just struggled taking photos in general (not for the first time). Thus, there are no second-half action shots. I did take some pictures of the post-game on-field activity, however.

 

Wofford, for the sixty-first time

Well, after last week’s difficult loss, the Bulldogs get to travel to Spartanburg to take on the latest edition of Wofford football.  The Citadel has lost nine straight times to Wofford, which is not particularly surprising, since Wofford has been quite good for most of the past decade with one coach (Mike Ayers, who has been there for 21 years), while The Citadel has mostly struggled over the same time period with four different head coaches. 

It wasn’t always that way.  In fact, it usually hasn’t been that way.  The Citadel has a commanding 40-19-1 lead in the alltime series.  Many of the games have been played in Charleston, although Saturday’s game will be the fifteenth played in Spartanburg (The Citadel has won eight of the previous fourteen).  There have also been a fair amount of neutral site contests, including eight games played in Orangeburg (most of those occurred during the 1950s, with the games serving as sideshows for the Orangeburg County Fair).

One of the more notable games between Wofford and The Citadel occurred in 1987.  That was Charlie Taaffe’s first season as coach of the Bulldogs, and Wofford would be his first opponent.  The matchup was scheduled for Saturday, September 5th, but heavy rains in the days leading up to the game flooded the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium and resulted in the game being postponed until Sunday afternoon.  This made for a rather odd atmosphere (I don’t know of any other football game The Citadel has ever played on Sunday).  The conditions were still rather soggy, although the sun came out, and you had people in their Sunday best, along with people who looked like they had just rolled out of bed.  The Corps of Cadets marched over to the stadium wearing their duty uniforms, which was probably unprecedented. 

The Bulldogs won the toss and elected to receive.  On first down following the kickoff, Roger Witherspoon went up the middle for seven yards.  On the next play, Tom Frooman took the ball on a misdirection play and went to his left.  67 yards later, he was in the end zone, having not been touched.  The Citadel went on to win the game, 38-0, an auspicious debut for Taaffe’s wishbone offense.  Having an offense geared almost exclusively to the run was a complete 180-degree turn for the program, given that Taaffe’s predecessor as coach, Tom Moore, ran a pure passing attack (two years before, Kip Allen had thrown for 428 yards against Wofford, which is still the school record).  Bulldog fans learned to enjoy the finer points of the triple option, mainly (well, solely — let’s be honest here) because Taaffe’s teams were generally successful. 

Taaffe’s final victory as coach of The Citadel, in 1995, also came against Wofford.  He exited (less than auspiciously) as the winningest football coach in school history.

This year’s game features another team that runs the option, only this time it’s Wofford and its “wingbone” attack.  The Terriers lead the nation in rushing, averaging over 354 yards per game.  Wofford doesn’t pass much (which explains why the Terriers have only allowed two sacks all year), but because of the rushing dominance it still ranks second nationally in total offense.  The attack has produced points, too — Wofford is averaging 38 per game.  The Terriers usually don’t turn the ball over, although last week they coughed it up five times against Appalachian State.  Despite that debacle, Wofford still has a +10 turnover differential, which leads the conference and is fourth-best nationally.

Brief Digression:  in Appalachian State’s 70-24 beatdown of the Terriers last Friday night, near the end of the game Appy had the ball inside the Wofford 20.  The TV announcers, Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard, were talking about how the coaches were great friends, they sat together with their wives at coaches’ conventions, etc.  Instead of just taking a knee, though, the Mountaineers kept running the ball (albeit with their backup QB), and scored their 10th touchdown of the night.  Wischusen and Huard were a bit nonplussed by that.  Just imagine what App State would have done if the coaches hadn’t been such good friends…

Wofford’s defense is fourth in the nation in sacks, led by defensive end Mitch Clark, who has six in eight games.  Last week Appalachian State rolled up 620 yards of total offense (ouch) on the Terriers.  The Wofford D isn’t nearly that bad, obviously, but teams have had some success passing the ball against it.  Presbyterian had 351 yards passing, Georgia Southern 303, and then last week’s game featured 382 yards passing for Appy. 

Wofford’s net punting statistics are excellent (so are The Citadel’s).  Wofford has made seven of nine field goals this season, with a long of 43 yards (let’s not talk about The Citadel and field goals, at least not this week).

The site of Saturday’s game, Gibbs Stadium, is a very nice 13,000-seat stadium that was built in the mid-1990s.  Also built around that time was the Richardson Athletic Building, home base for Wofford athletics.  The building is named for Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers and a Wofford alum (and benefactor, as you might imagine).  The Panthers hold their summer training camp there.

This game will be on SportSouth.  Watching The Citadel play games on TV is still a little bit of a novelty.  Watching The Citadel win games on TV is an even bigger novelty, alas.  The announcers will be Tom Werme and Sam Wyche.  Wyche will undoubtably be in a good mood, since he was just elected to Greenville County Council.

The Summerall Guards are performing at the game, which seems only fitting, since there are 61 members of the Summerall Guards, and this is the sixty-first game between Wofford and The Citadel.

The Citadel could win this game.  After last week’s loss, though, I don’t know what kind of mindset the team will have as it travels up to Spartanburg.  I also don’t know how Wofford will react to giving up 70 points in its biggest game of the season.

We’ll find out at 3 pm on Saturday.