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.

 

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.

 

2017 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The size of East Tennessee, The Citadel’s Saturday night opponent at Johnson Hagood Stadium, can be described in one word: awesome.

The Bucs are bigger than anyone the Cadets have met this season, including the massive Vanderbilt Commodores.

“Their size scares me more than Vanderbilt’s,” said the Bulldogs’ offensive coach Bob Gatling. “They are big enough to run right at us and that’s what we’re looking for,” said defensive coach Harold Steelman.

The East Tennessee defensive unit has been tagged with the nickname “Sam’s Gang”; Sam being Sam Riddle, a 6’1″, 195-pound junior middle linebacker who calls the defensive signals. But Sam is one of the smaller members of the “Gang”.

The big guy, who his teammates call “Waterloo Fats”, is senior tackle Terry Manfredi. He stands 6’1″ and tips the scales at 268 pounds.

Charleston Evening Post, September 28, 1966

 

With 1:01 left on the clock, sophomore Jim Gahagan banged home a 38-yard field goal into the teeth of a 16 mile per hour wind last night to give The Citadel a 3-0 victory over the East Tennessee State Buccaneers…

…Cal McCombs¹, the Bulldogs’ 5’9″ cornerback, saved the win with an interception at The Citadel three on the final play of the game.

A Johnson Hagood Stadium crowd of 7,558 braved chilling temperatures to watch the Cadets post their second win in a row after losing the season opener at Vanderbilt. It is the first time since 1964 that the Bulldogs have put together back to back wins [The Citadel had defeated Richmond the week before].

Junior linebacker Barron Windham had breathed life into the Cadets when he recovered a Buccaneers fumble at The Citadel 44 with less than four minutes to play…

…The temperature dropped 15 degrees from a high of 73 to a chilling 58 during the course of the game and a wind out of the northwest was clocked at between 16 and 22 miles per hour.

The News and Courier, October 2, 1966

The Citadel at East Tennessee State, to be played at William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on September 16, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. David Jackson will handle play-by-play, while Mark Hutsell supplies the analysis. Kasey Marler will report from 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. 

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Teammates band together to help family of Mitchell Jeter

The Citadel, team on the move

Lorenzo Ward gets a chance, takes advantage of it

Bulldogs carry extra motivation into league opener

The Citadel winning with two quarterbacks

Bulldogs endure tough week

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #13, unchanged from last week)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #13, up one spot from last week)

Brent Thompson 9/13 radio show (video)

New week, new challenge for ETSU

Buccaneers set for great challenge (video from WJHL)

ETSU hosting The Citadel and its triple option offense

Carl Torbush’s 9/11 press conference

The Bulldog Breakdown [9/15] (video)

The two quoted blurbs at the top of the post reference the first football game played between East Tennessee State and The Citadel, which took place on October 1, 1966. After that contest, the two schools would not meet again on the gridiron until 1981. By then, ETSU was a member of the Southern Conference.

In the 1966 matchup, Bulldogs quarterback Bill Ogburn had a tough afternoon (perhaps because of the windy conditions), only completing three passes. However, his third and final completion was a big one, as he found split end Tom Moore² for a 16-yard gain that set up Jim Gahagan’s game-winning field goal.

Afterwards:

East Tennessee coach John Bell, visibly shaken over the defeat, shook [Red] Parker’s hand after the game and said simply, “Congratulations, Red. It was a good defensive game, wasn’t it?” Then he put his head down and trudged across the damp turf to his dressing room.

East Tennessee State was founded in 1911. It was then known as the East Tennessee State Normal School. When it opened, 29 students registered for classes.

One of the first things administrators did was select the school colors (navy and gold). By 1920, the school was fielding a football team, apparently called the “Normalites”. Later the squad became the “Teachers”.

By 1930, there were over 1,400 students. Twenty-five years later, that number had risen to 4,000. Enrollment was approaching 7,000 when East Tennessee State reached university status in 1963.

Today, East Tennessee State University has over 14,500 undergraduate and graduate students.

Why are East Tennessee State’s teams called the “Buccaneers”? The school website says:

Johnson City, home of ETSU, is located among the mountains of Eastern Tennessee and is a great distance from the ocean. For this reason, one might wonder why ETSU would select a Buccaneer as their mascot. The answer is not that simple.

Apparently, geologists and archaeologists teamed up and discovered an underground river near the university several years ago. Named Pirate Creek, it evidently winds its way through many subterranean tunnels. It is thought that these caverns at one time channeled all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Soon after this discovery, the legend of buccaneer, Jean Paul LeBucque was found in history books. The legend tells that LeBucque was a nuisance and terror.

Evidently, he was looking for a place to hide his great store of gold and treasure, and find safety for himself. He sailed north in search of a new home and began to look inland. Legend states that he discovered the underground river near Johnson City and called Pirate Creek his home. Geologists feel that the upheaval of the earth’s crust, which now blocks the channel, possibly killed LeBucque. This legend is widely accepted and is one way to explain why an inland school would choose a pirate nickname.

Uh, sure…

The real origin of the “Buccaneers” nickname is a bit more modest. Wanting to call the football team something other than “Teachers”, a player on the 1936 squad suggested “Buccaneers”, apparently getting the idea from a Virginia high school that used the name. His teammates went along with it, and ETSU’s varsity teams have been known as the Buccaneers ever since.

Of note: in the 1980s, the school had a mascot known as “Pepper the Parrot“.

ETSU has a new stadium. Fast facts on the facility:

  • It is called the “William B. Greene Jr. Stadium”; Greene is a co-founder of the Bank of Tennessee and a longtime benefactor to ETSU
  • Construction began on the stadium in 2015; this “initial” phase cost $26 million
  • Current seating capacity is 7,694; however, a grass berm can hold more fans, which is evident based on the attendance for the first game played there (9,530)
  • Gameday parking is $10
  • For the opener, which had a 7:00 pm kickoff, the parking lots were opened for tailgating at 8:00 am
  • The game against The Citadel will be the second contest played at the new stadium and the first SoCon matchup

East Tennessee State was 5-6 last season in its second year after re-instituting football, winning all three of its non-conference games. Two of those contests were against non-D1 teams, but the third was an overtime victory at Kennesaw State to open the 2016 campaign.

  • at Kennesaw State (won 20-17 in double overtime)
  • Western Carolina (won 34-31; game played at Bristol Motor Speedway)
  • at Wofford (lost 31-0)
  • Chattanooga (lost 37-7)
  • at VMI (lost 37-7; yes, the same score as the UTC game)
  • Furman (lost 52-7)
  • West Virginia Wesleyan (won 38-7)
  • at The Citadel (lost 45-10)
  • at Mercer (lost 21-13)
  • Cumberland (won 23-16)
  • Samford (won 15-14, with a field goal on the last play of the game)

Statistics of note for East Tennessee State’s 2016 season (11 games):

ETSU Opponents
Points/game 15.8 28.0
Rushing yardage 1474 2175
Yards/rush 3.45 4.67
Rush TDs 11 26
Passing yardage 1787 2013
Comp-Att-Int 171-296-8 171-263-2
Average/pass att 6.0 7.7
Passing TDs 9 15
Total offense 3261 4188
Total plays 723 729
Yards/play 4.5 5.7
Fumbles/lost 8/2 14/11
Penalties-pen yds 62-615 72-688
Pen yards/game 55.9 62.5
Net punt average 31.8 37.9
Time of poss/game 31:10 28:50
3rd-down conv 63/163 52/137
3rd-down conv % 38.65% 37.96%
Sacks by-yards 14-63 30-196
Red Zone TD% (17-31) 54.8% (31-46) 67.4%

– ETSU did a very good job of avoiding turnovers in 2016; in fact, the Buccaneers tied for first in all of FCS in fewest turnovers, with just 10 in 11 games. However, East Tennessee State was only 45th nationally in turnover margin despite rarely giving the ball away itself, because it finished 107th in turnovers gained (including only two intercepted passes all season).

– While the Buccaneers were 5th nationally in red zone offense, that number is misleading. ETSU did put points on the board 28 out of 31 times once it advanced inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, but 11 of those 28 scores were field goals. East Tennessee State also ranked in the bottom 25 in red zone opportunities.

– East Tennessee State finished in the bottom 15 nationally in total offense, scoring offense, tackles for loss allowed, and net punting. However, ETSU did enjoy success on fourth down, converting 7 of 10 tries in that category; that 70% success rate on fourth down ranked 6th-best in FCS.

The Buccaneers’ defensive statistics tended to be in the middle of the pack from a national perspective. ETSU did struggle with its defensive pass efficiency (bottom 15 in FCS), which can be attributed in part to the lack of interceptions — and, perhaps, to a lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback, as the Buccaneers’ totals for tackles for loss and sacks were a bit low.

Worth mentioning: in last season’s game versus Kennesaw State, which runs the triple option offense, East Tennessee State’s defense came up big. The Owls were held to 2.9 yards per rush (166 total rush yards) in that contest.

Against The Citadel, however, ETSU’s D was not nearly as effective, allowing 7.0 yards per rush (and 427 total rush yards). Still, it seems to me that the Buccaneers’ veteran coaching staff has a handle on defending the triple option; it is mainly a question of personnel.

In one aspect of the game, East Tennessee State fared better than any other conference team against The Citadel last year, a statistic that caught my eye while I was compiling “advanced stats” from the Bulldogs’ 2016 league campaign.

On third down, The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.68 yards needed to gain a first down in league play. That is an excellent number; for comparison, Air Force led FBS teams in that category, at 5.5 yards average distance to go on third downs.

The Bulldogs’ conference opponents, on the other hand, required on average 8.17 yards to move the chains on third down. The differential goes a long way to explaining The Citadel’s 8-0 league record.

However, when ETSU played The Citadel last year, the Buccaneers actually outperformed the Bulldogs in that stat, 5.0 to 5.2. They were the only SoCon team to do so. The required distance to gain on third down of 5.0 yards was easily the least needed on average for any of The Citadel’s conference opponents.

That suggests savvy play calling, in the sense that a young Bucs offense was put in a position to succeed on third down. Indeed, the average distance to gain on third down correlates strongly with third down conversion rate (obviously not a surprise).

It doesn’t make conversions automatic, though, as East Tennessee State found out last year. Against the Bulldogs, even with manageable distance-to-go situations, the Buccaneers were only 2 for 15 on third down conversions.

Four times, ETSU had a third-and-one on offense. Only once in those four attempts did it pick up a first down.

East Tennessee State is 1-1 so far this season, with a 31-10 home win over Limestone, followed by a 52-10 loss to James Madison last Saturday.

Against Limestone, ETSU jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead and cruised to victory. The Buccaneers’ defense held the Saints to 75 yards of total offense in the first half.

ETSU quarterback Austin Herink completed his first 15 passes against the Saints. He finished the game 16 for 20 through the air with three touchdowns and no interceptions, averaging almost 12 yards per attempt. Eight different Buccaneers had receptions.

Conversely, Limestone struggled throwing the ball versus ETSU. The Saints threw the football 20 times, completing only seven, for a total of just 29 passing yards.

East Tennessee State’s matchup with James Madison went about as expected (which could probably also be said for the Limestone game). The Dukes scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, while ETSU’s lone touchdown during the contest came on a pick-six.

As noted by head coach Carl Torbush in his Monday press conference, ETSU also struggled on special teams. In particular, punting (a bugaboo for the Buccaneers last season) was a problem, as East Tennessee State finished the game with a net punting average of 26.0 (on eight punts, so it wasn’t a sample size issue). JMU took one punt back 41 yards for a TD.

Torbush on the JMU game:

“We’re not going to grade alignment, assignment and technique a great deal. We are going to grade effort and make sure that we fought, which I think we did. We need to make sure we have the right guys on the field.”

There was a bright spot, however, and it is something that should interest Bulldog fans:

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Bucs. Their run defense looked stout. Against a team that had rushed for more than 400 yards a week earlier, they held the Dukes to three yards per carry.

East Tennessee State ran the ball on 59% of its plays in 2016. Through two games this season, ETSU has run the ball on…59% of its plays.

The starting quarterback for the Buccaneers is redshirt junior Austin Herink (6’3″, 209 lbs.). The native of Cleveland, Tennessee has started all 24 games for the team over the past two seasons.

Last year, Herink completed 59.6% of his throws, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt, with seven TDs and eight interceptions. Against The Citadel in Johnson Hagood Stadium, he was 12 for 25 passing for 157 yards, with one touchdown and one pick.

So far this season, Herink has completed 59.6% of his passes (yes, the exact same percentage as in 2016), averaging 7.6 yards per attempt, with three touchdowns against one interception.

Jujuan Stinson (5’9″, 186 lbs.) is the Buccaneers’ primary running back. He is a redshirt junior from Knoxville who averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season. Stinson has five career 100-yard rushing games.

Senior wide receiver Vincent Lowe (5’9″, 181 lbs.) began his college career at Old Dominion. He leads ETSU in receptions through two games this season, with eight (including one touchdown grab). Last year, Lowe had 21 receptions, averaging 9.8 yards per catch.

Drake Powell (6’2″, 200 lbs.) led the Buccaneers in receptions last season, with 29. He averaged 14.9 yards per catch. Against The Citadel last year, Powell caught three passes for 70 yards, including a 52-yarder.

East Tennessee State’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 297 lbs.

Left guard Ben Blackmon (6’3″, 294 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore who went to Newberry (SC) High School. In high school, he was also on the baseball and swim teams.

Blackmon started all eleven games last season for the Buccaneers, as did center Matt Pyke (6’2″, 302 lbs.). Pyke is a redshirt junior from Clinton, Tennessee (he and Powell are two of three residents of that town on the East Tennessee State roster).

Senior right tackle Alex Rios (6’5″, 295 lbs.) was a preseason second-team all-SoCon selection. The resident of Tucson played two seasons at Pima Community College before transferring to ETSU. Rios did not play against The Citadel in last season’s game, the only contest he did not start in 2016.

Linebacker Dylan Weigel (6’0″, 220 lbs.) was a second-team All-SoCon selection in 2016. A native of Pickering, Ohio, Weigel led the team in tackles last season, with 106 (including eleven versus The Citadel). Now a redshirt junior, Weigel has 14 tackles through two games this season, tied for second on the team.

Fellow linebacker River Boruff (6’2″, 228 lbs.) currently lead the Bucs in tackles, with 17. Boruff has 19 career starts for ETSU; like Weigel (and several other ETSU players on the two-deep), he is a redshirt junior.

East Tennessee State’s starting defensive ends are both from South Carolina. Chris Bouyer (6’2″, 278 lbs.) is a junior from Rock Hill who went to Northwestern High School. The engineering technology major has twice made the SoCon All-Academic Honor Roll.

Redshirt sophomore Nasir Player (6’6″, 247 lbs.) is from Columbia, and graduated from Ridge View High School. Last season, Player was listed as 6’5″, 257 lbs., so he has apparently grown an inch while shedding ten pounds over the course of the year.

Player made the All-SoCon freshman team last season after starting seven games and compiling 5.5 tackles for loss. Another ETSU representative on the conference’s all-frosh squad, Jason Maduafokwa (6’3″, 256 lbs.) is listed as a backup at defensive end, but actually led the team in sacks last year, with four. At least one online site suggested that Maduafokwa could be a “breakout” player this season for the Buccaneers.

Free safety Paul Hunter (5’11”, 183 lbs.) had eleven tackles and two fumble recoveries against The Citadel last season. He was named the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week as a result.

The senior from Denton, Texas has one of the Bucs’ two interceptions this year.

J.J. Jerman (5’10”, 174 lbs.) is a junior from Seymour, Tennessee. A preseason second-team all-league pick at placekicker, Jerman booted through a game-winning field goal in double overtime against Kennesaw State in ETSU’s season opener last year, and then made a 28-yarder on the final play of the game versus Samford to win the Buccaneers’ last game of the 2016 campaign.

In 2016, Jerman was 12-16 on field goal tries and 18-19 on PATs. In ETSU’s game versus Limestone two weeks ago, Jerman connected on a career-long 48-yard field goal.

Kickoff specialist Landon Kunek (6’2″, 184 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore who went to Spartanburg (SC) High School. He also serves as the backup punter.

Marion Watson (6’2″, 160 lbs.) is in his third season as ETSU’s punter. The junior’s career long punt is 59 yards, which came in 2015 against Warner.

Charlotte native Domenique Williams (5’10”, 160 lbs.) is ETSU’s primary kickoff and punt returner. He had a 42-yard kick return against The Citadel last season.

Williams, a junior, is also a defensive back, and he returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown last week against James Madison.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Johnson City, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with an expected high of 81 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 25-point favorite over East Tennessee State. The over/under is 44.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: VMI is a 1.5-point favorite at Robert Morris; Western Carolina is a 3-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; Chattanooga is a 6.5-point favorite over UT Martin; Furman is a 34.5-point underdog at North Carolina State; Samford is a 33.5-point underdog at Georgia; and Mercer is a 43.5-point underdog at Auburn.

Wofford is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 3-point favorite at Louisville; South Carolina is a 6-point favorite over Kentucky; Coastal Carolina is a 2-point favorite at UAB; South Carolina State is a 33-point favorite over Johnson C. Smith (and the over/under for that game is only 39); and Charleston Southern is a 10-point favorite at Elon.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 25th in FCS, a drop of seven spots from last week. Apparently beating PC by 41 points didn’t impress the computer.

East Tennessee State is ranked 93rd in FCS. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 147th, while ETSU is 296th.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 31, East Tennessee State 10. The Bulldogs are given a 91% chance of victory.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 16th (a six-spot drop), Charleston Southern is 18th, Chattanooga is 21st (down seven places), Samford is 27th (falling six spots), Mercer is 47th (down 12 places), Furman is 57th (was 31st last week), Western Carolina is 73rd (a seven-spot fall), South Carolina State is 75th, VMI is 100th (down 30 places), and Presbyterian is 101st.

It was a tough week for the SoCon as a whole, and the system’s algorithm punished the league as a result. Bad home losses for Furman and VMI, in particular, dragged down the ratings for the conference.

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Youngstown State, South Dakota State, and Jacksonville State. Eastern Washington remained in the sixth spot, despite losing at home 40-13 (albeit to North Dakota State).

– In last season’s game between East Tennessee State and The Citadel, ten different Bulldogs had rushing attempts, including Cam Jackson (7 carries for 124 yards and two TDs). Kailik Williams led The Citadel in tackles, with six.

– I mentioned this last year, but ETSU head coach Carl Torbush is a former minor league baseball player. While an assistant coach at Southeastern Louisiana (1976-79), he also served as that school’s baseball coach, leading them to a share of the Gulf South conference title in 1978.

Torbush is a graduate of Carson-Newman. Besides East Tennessee State, he has been the head coach of North Carolina (most people remember that) and Louisiana Tech (no one remembers that). Torbush has been a defensive coordinator at six different FBS schools.

– Former ETSU defensive line coach Scott Brumett was fired in June after being arrested in Chattanooga. Apparently intoxicated, Brumett got upset when his hotel room key card did not work, and allegedly threatened to beat and hang a hotel clerk “from a noose”. Charges were dropped two weeks ago, but the school confirmed that Brumett would not be returning.

– Among East Tennessee State’s notable graduates are former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, country music singer and noted bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, actor Timothy Busfield³, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales (who has one of the best jobs in the world, as he gets to listen to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis).

There are also several pro golfers and baseball players among ETSU’s alumni ranks, including J.C. Snead and Atlee Hammaker.

– The roster for East Tennessee State includes 54 players from the State of Tennessee. Other states represented on its roster: Georgia (15 players), Ohio (10), North Carolina (8), Virginia (8), Alabama (7), South Carolina (6), Florida (6), Texas (2), and one each from West Virginia, New York, and Arizona.

– The six ETSU players from South Carolina are from six different high schools: T.L. Hanna, Ridge View, Newberry, Spartanburg, Northwestern, and Christ School.

Freshman quarterback Drew Johnson, a resident of Spartanburg, is the Buccaneer who went to high school at Christ School, which is located in Arden, North Carolina. He was coached there by former Tennessee QB (and ex-congressman) Heath Shuler.

– While East Tennessee State can boast several Palmetto State players on its roster, the coaching staff has not signed anyone from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a sign that the program has not yet hit the big time — this, despite the fact that ETSU offensive coordinator Mike O’Cain once donned the famed maroon and orange.

Donnie Abraham cannot be happy about the current lack of Bruins in Johnson City, either.

– O’Cain was the running backs coach at The Citadel under Art Baker from 1978 through 1980. Of course, he was also the head coach at North Carolina State for seven seasons in the 1990s, and has served as the OC and/or quarterbacks coach at several other schools, including Clemson (his alma mater), North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and James Madison.

– 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.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough game for The Citadel. East Tennessee State is a young but improving team that is well-coached on both sides of the ball.

The Buccaneers have some deficiencies that need to be addressed (including special teams play), but I fully expect the Bulldogs to get ETSU’s best shot on Saturday, before an enthusiastic, partisan crowd ready to see their team pull off an upset of the two-time defending league champions.

In addition, this has not been an easy week for The Citadel in terms of preparation. The squad did not return to Charleston until Tuesday after playing in Clinton on Saturday. Of course, there was also the terrible news about the death of Mitchell Jeter, a teammate of most of the current Bulldogs.

It would be understandable if the players and coaches struggled to maintain their collective focus. However, I have faith that the team will persevere and play hard and well in Johnson City.

Playing hard and well has been a hallmark of the program over the past few years. I expect nothing less on Saturday.

 


*Footnotes*
1: McCombs (later the head coach at VMI) was named the South Carolina State Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts in the contest.
2: Moore was the head coach of The Citadel from 1983-86.
3: Busfield played Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law in Field of Dreams, among other roles.