Game review, 2014: Gardner-Webb

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Shelby Star

Video from WCSC-TV, including interview with Mike Houston

Box score

It’s good to win, especially when the month of September is coming to a close and you haven’t won yet. The victory over Gardner-Webb was cathartic for both the team and its fans.

The Citadel did a lot of things right on Saturday night, but the Bulldogs weren’t perfect. I’m going to discuss a few things that could stand improvement when I preview the Wofford game later in the week.

Having said that, there were a lot of positives in this game, on the field and off. What follows are a few observations (and the usual assortment of motley pictures).

– I wrote this at the beginning of my preview of the Gardner-Webb game:

The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

The Citadel turned things around in the passing game by changing its approach at the beginning of the contest, throwing the ball on the first two plays from scrimmage. Gardner-Webb was caught flat-footed by the Bulldogs’ Air Raid attack, and before all the cadets had filed into the stands, The Citadel had its first lead of the season.

The Bulldogs averaged 12.4 yards per pass attempt, which will usually get it done. Aaron Miller’s second throw of the day went to Rudder Brown, who caught the ball and then crisscrossed the field for a 47-yard gain. That almost doubled the previous long reception of the season (24 yards).

Ten of The Citadel’s fifteen pass attempts came on first down. Indeed, the Bulldogs threw the ball 28% of the time on first down versus Gardner-Webb, twice as often as the first three games (14%). Breaking tendencies, anyone?

– Aaron Miller completed eight passes during the game, while his counterpart for Gardner-Webb, Lucas Beatty, completed 29. Despite that discrepancy, each quarterback completed passes to six different receivers.

I could describe that as an oddity, but it’s not. The Citadel may not throw the ball a lot, but that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs lack capable pass-catchers. There is considerable depth in that department.

– Through three games, opponents had converted 33% of their 3rd-and-long attempts against The Citadel’s defense, which was obviously too high a percentage. The Bulldogs did a much better job on Saturday, as Gardner-Webb only picked up one first down on seven 3rd-and-long situations.

G-W was 0-6 attempting a pass on 3rd-and-long (with three of those plays resulting in sacks by The Citadel). Gardner-Webb’s only successful 3rd-and-long conversion was a run by quarterback Lucas Beatty after he broke containment.

– It isn’t often a fan can be generally satisfied with his team’s pass defense when the opposing quarterback is 29-35 through the air, averages eight yards per attempt, and is not intercepted. That was the case on Saturday, however. Of course, recording ten sacks (and the accompanying 70 yards of lost yardage for G-W) does make a difference, especially when four of those sacks come on third down. Recovering a fumble on one of those sacks helps, too.

– There was one coaching decision during the game I questioned, although not for long. During the second quarter, Gardner-Webb began a possession at The Citadel’s 35-yard line after a fumble recovery-and-return (the fumble was bogus, but whatever).

After starting the drive with an incomplete pass, Beatty was sacked by the law firm of Thomas & Jeter on second down. That left G-W with a 3rd-and-18 situation.

On third down, a completed pass returned the ball to the original line of scrimmage. However, G-W was called for holding on the play.

Mike Houston then had the option of accepting the penalty, and setting up 3rd-and-28 from the Gardner-Webb 47; or declining the penalty and taking the result of the play, which would leave G-W with 4th-and-10 from The Citadel’s 35. He chose to decline the penalty.

I would have been inclined to take the penalty, myself. It was obvious Gardner-Webb would go for it on 4th down in that situation (Carroll McCray certainly wasn’t going to have his placekicker attempt a 52-yard field goal).

It would have been tough to decline the penalty, and then have Gardner-Webb pick up the first down. Ten yards wasn’t that unmanageable, either.

At least, that’s what I thought, and then on 4th down Tevin Floyd raced through the G-W offensive line and sacked the quarterback in 0.7 seconds. I immediately shouted, “Good decision, coach!”

Score one for Mike Houston.

– The 1960 throwbacks were a hit with the crowd. Very sharp. If you want to buy one, check out the auction.

I’ve been critical of The Citadel’s constant uniform tinkering in the past, but the helmet tweaking for Military Appreciation Day was excellent. You can see the uniforms up close in The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery.

– I also appreciated the small (and not so small) touches for Military Appreciation Day, including the red-white-blue end zone motif. I thought that on the whole, the school did a very nice job on that front.

– Hey, the band played more than twice during the game! It was noticed, too.

There are still a few things to get worked out. Twice during the second quarter, the videoboard went into sound-explosion mode just as the band started to play, so a little more coordination is still needed.

I gather the band will need time to expand its repertoire, so it may be next year before the ideal is reached, but that’s okay. Baby steps.

They did play the theme from “Hawaii 5-0”, although I’m not sure everyone heard it. The acoustics at Johnson Hagood Stadium are a bit of an issue.

– I thought the freshmen were in good form on Saturday. Some (not all) of the upperclassmen weren’t quite as spirited.

One thing all the cadets (and other supporters) did like was the placekicking contest following the third quarter. There is nothing quite as enjoyable as watching a fellow member of the corps attempt a 35-yard field goal in his shined leathers.

I would advocate more cadet-oriented contests. There should be at least three such events during the game.

– In my opinion, the cheerleading squad makes a difference, and was badly missed during its hiatus. Also making a difference: the omnipresent Spike The Bulldog, surely the hardest-working anthropomorphic mascot in college athletics.

– Attendance was low, officially announced as 8,573. I think that was an accurate total.

There were a lot of factors at play: South Carolina played a home game at the same time, Clemson was on TV at the same time, the weather was threatening, Gardner-Webb didn’t bring many fans, and the home team was 0-3. That said, it was the smallest crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium I could recall since the Thursday night game against Benedict in 2004.

Improving home football attendance is just one of the many tasks for new AD Jim Senter, but it’s an important one. Longtime fans can remember when attendance at The Citadel’s home games was significantly higher.

In the game program on Saturday was a blurb with the headline “On This Day in Citadel Football History”, which noted that on September 27, 1980, The Citadel defeated UT-Chattanooga 29-13 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Attendance for that game was 18,345 — almost 10,000 more than showed up at Johnson Hagood Stadium for a game exactly 34 years later.

Below are some pictures I took before and during the game. Some of them are actually in focus.

2014 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 27. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

– Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

The Bulldogs must “stick to their guns”

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Mike Houston 9/23 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray previews The Citadel

– American Sports Network affiliate list for two SoCon football games, worth a look for future interest (namely Chattanooga-The Citadel on 10/18)

Some statistics of note through three games:

– The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

– To succeed on third down, The Citadel has to be better on first and second down. The Bulldogs have faced 3rd-and-long (5 yards or more) no fewer than 26 times this season. That’s 60% of all third downs for The Citadel’s offense.

– Mike Houston was generally pleased with the defensive performance last week, and I can understand that. However (as I mentioned in my review), The Citadel did not force a turnover in that game or any other so far this season.

The defense needs to make more game-changing plays. The lack of turnovers and sacks (just three through three games) is a little troubling.

The Bulldogs’ secondary is guarding against big plays in the passing game, which I think is a good idea with this squad. That makes it all the more important for the front seven to pressure the quarterback, particularly on passing downs.

Opponents have had 21 3rd-and-long situations this year. They have successfully converted seven times. That’s too high (33.3%). Six of those seven conversions have come via the pass.

– This may surprise some people, given the number of times penalties have affected the Bulldogs this year, but The Citadel is tied for 12th nationally in the category of fewest penalties per game. The Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Gardner-Webb, is tied for 10th.

It’s not as much the number of penalties that have hurt The Citadel, it’s the timing of those infractions. The Bulldogs cannot afford drive-killing penalties. The margin of error for The Citadel is not nearly big enough to overcome those.

Speaking of penalties, while Mike Houston is restricted in what he can say about officiating, I’m not. The officials did not have a good game last week.

There were multiple bad calls, and most of them didn’t favor The Citadel. From a technical perspective, probably the most egregious error by an official was the pass interference call on Walker Smith, which appeared to have been made by the field judge. I have no idea what the official was thinking on that play.

The men in stripes were ACC/SoCon officials, so Houston is likely to see them again during the season, making it even more important that he not burn any bridges. I did like that in his press conference, Houston referred to the referee as “White Hat”.

“White Hat” was in charge for the 2012 Army-Navy game, while his compatriot with the interesting theory on pass interference worked last year’s Sugar Bowl. It makes one wonder if officials such as these who are assigned games outside the ACC don’t fully concentrate when calling FCS games.

Gardner-Webb started its institutional life as a high school, in 1905. By 1928 it had become a junior college; the school began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at UNC and NC State.

Gardner-Webb is closely affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 200-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. There are around 4,300 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Spangler Stadium, which is a 9,000-seat multi-purpose stadium. I mention that because The Citadel’s football team may be making a trip to Boiling Springs in the next few years, perhaps in 2016.

Head coach Carroll McCray is a Gardner-Webb alum with a lot of coaching connections familiar to Bulldog fans. He was an assistant under Sparky Woods at both Appalachian State and South Carolina, spent seven seasons as the offensive line coach at Samford, then took over the Austin Peay football program as its head coach for four years (2003-06).

McCray then served as Bobby Lamb’s offensive line coach at both Furman and Mercer, before replacing Jamey Chadwell as North Greenville’s head coach in 2012. After one year there, his alma mater hired him as its head coach.

Gardner-Webb was 7-5 in McCray’s first season in charge, with victories over both Furman and Wofford (along with a puzzling 27-9 loss to VMI).

This season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are 2-2. G-W has lost road games at Wake Forest and Furman (the game in which Paladins starting quarterback Reese Hannon broke his ankle). At home, Gardner-Webb has defeated Virginia-Lynchburg and Wofford. The 43-36 victory over the Terriers came last week.

In his Tuesday press conference, Mike Houston described Gardner-Webb as a “60-40” team in terms of its pass-run ratio. That’s about right in terms of yardage (56% of G-W’s total yards have come via the air), but the actual play calls have been very close to 50-50 (taking sacks into account).

Gardner-Webb rushed for 126 yards versus Wofford, but struggled on the ground against Furman (69 rush yards) and Wake Forest (77).

It is interesting (or perhaps curious) that the G-W defense was excellent against the run against the Paladins and Demon Deacons, more or less matching the opposing D, but allowed 322 rush yards to Wofford. In Gardner-Webb’s world, either both teams run the ball, or neither team runs the ball.

Gardner-Webb is led by quarterback Lucas Beatty, a fifth-year senior from Charlotte who has started 32 games for the Runnin’ Bulldogs during his career. This season, Beatty is completing 59% of his passes, averaging just over six yards per attempt, with five touchdowns versus two interceptions.

Beatty’s backup is a freshman, Tyrell Maxwell, who has seen limited action thus far for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. However, he has already rushed for 173 yards, and scored touchdowns against Virginia-Lynchburg, Wake Forest, and Wofford. A native of Cordova, Maxwell attended Edisto High School and was selected to last year’s Shrine Bowl.

The star offensive performer for G-W is senior wideout Kenny Cook, an imposing (6’4”, 218 lb.) target who caught 76 passes last season for over 1,000 yards and nine TDs. Cook, a native of Cross Hill, missed the Wake Forest and Virginia-Lynchburg games with an injured hamstring.

He returned against Wofford last week, catching six passes (one of which went for a touchdown). Cook will be a very difficult matchup for the Bulldogs.

Cook’s presence also allows more freedom for Beatty’s other passing targets. They include tight end Seth Cranfill, a 6’4”, 246 lb. redshirt senior who has two TD catches this year, and Deonte Swinton, another tall wideout (6’2”) who is also a redshirt senior.

Swinton is one of seven different Runnin’ Bulldogs with five or more receptions, as Beatty likes to spread the wealth. He’s not afraid to throw to his running backs, either.

One of those backs, Juanne Blount, was a preseason All-Big South pick after rushing for 1,040 yards during the 2013 campaign. He is yet another redshirt senior.

That is a recurring theme with Gardner-Webb. This is a team with a lot of experienced, older players, particularly on offense. Six of the offensive starters listed on the two-deep are redshirt seniors.

Another Runnin’ Bulldog trait is size. It’s a very tall, rangy team. Four of the starting offensive linemen are 6’4” or 6’5”, as are Cranfill and Kenny Cook. Juanne Blount is the only offensive starter under 6’1”. In addition to their size, the word “athletic” is thrown around a lot describing the majority of Gardner-Webb players.

The offense has 15 plays from scrimmage this season of 20 or more yards, ten passing and five rushing.

Gardner-Webb has taken a few hits on defense, including the loss due to injury of “spur” linebacker Chad Geter, who was leading the team in tackles after two games. Another injured linebacker, two-time All-Big South selection Tanner Burch, has yet to play for the Runnin’ Bulldogs this season.

Then there is defensive Shaq Riddick, who finished fifth in the voting for last year’s Buck Buchanan Award. Riddick would have been a fifth-year senior at Gardner-Webb this season, but elected to transfer to West Virginia for his final year of eligibility.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs are hardly bereft of quality defenders, however. From The Citadel’s perspective, perhaps the key player for Gardner-Webb is noseguard O.J. Mau, a 6’2”, 308 lb. rock in the G-W defensive line. Mau was a first-team All-Big South pick last year and is expected to contend for national honors this season.

He is still developing, too, as Mau will not turn 20 years old until the day after Gardner-Webb plays The Citadel. He is from American Samoa, and played in the 2012 Oceania Bowl, helping lead his team to a 93-7 victory over Australia.

Defensive end Tyler Hough-Jenkins is yet another large (6’4”, 274 lb.) redshirt senior. The other d-line starter is junior Jebrai Regan, a converted linebacker.

Aaron Cook, who plays the “bandit” position in Gardner-Webb’s 3-4 base defense, currently leads the team in tackles with 25. Cook is a sophomore. True freshman Jeffrey Pegues will start at one of the inside linebacker positions.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs do have some linebacking experience in the person of senior Donald Buie (taking over Geter’s “spur” role) and junior Azziz Higgins. Another player who should see action is redshirt freshman Quinton Patterson, a transfer from North Carolina State.

The defensive secondary is led by cornerback Ivan Toomer, who doubles as a kick returner for Gardner-Webb. He leads the team in pass breakups with four, and also had an interception return for a touchdown against Virginia-Lynchburg.

Toomer is one of seven different Gardner-Webb players with an interception (one each). The Runnin’ Bulldogs also have a fumble recovery (by yet another defender). Gardner-Webb has a +5 turnover margin for the season, and has scored 20 points off turnovers while allowing no points off its own turnovers.

It should be noted that three of those interceptions came against an overmatched Virginia-Lynchburg team (as did four of G-W’s nine sacks). Virginia-Lynchburg had a net rushing total of -21 yards versus Gardner-Webb.

The placekicker for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, Paul Schumacher, is a freshman from West Palm Beach, FL. He is 4-8 on field goal attempts, with a long of 29 yards. Redshirt sophomore Dustin Holder has been the punter, though Gardner-Webb’s two-deep suggests that South Carolina transfer Andrew Komornik is an option for the game against The Citadel.

Toomer and wideout J.J. Hubbard will handle kickoff return duties, with Hubbard also serving as the punt returner for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Hubbard returned a kickoff for a touchdown last season against Charleston Southern.

A few miscellaneous numbers:

– Gardner-Webb has outscored its opponents in the third quarter 33-10. I guess Carroll McCray can give a good halftime speech.

– The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a red zone offensive TD rate of just 53% (8-15), but have excelled defensively in the red zone, with a TD rate of 45% (5-11).

– I’m not sure I believe this, but according to Gardner-Webb’s statistical summary, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have picked up 15 first downs via penalty, while the defense has not given up a single first down by penalty all season.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at The Citadel. The halftime show should be a good one, with the Charleston Police Department Pipe and Drums on hand, to be followed by The Citadel Chorale (fresh from rave reviews in Boston) singing “God Bless America”.

Players will wear a helmet sticker bearing the number “440”, representing the number of cadets who have died serving their country.

Incidentally, last Saturday was Military Appreciation Day at Gardner-Webb.

– During the first quarter, fans can have their picture taken with the coveted Silver Shako. Don’t miss the chance to get a selfie with the greatest trophy in all of sports.

– Bags and purses will be subject to search this week as part of a new security policy at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This might cause a delay in entering the facility, so keep that in mind. This may be a response to an incident at the stadium during the Sertoma Classic in August, when a teenager brought a gun to the game, then threw it in one of the end zones as he was running from the police.

– Players will be wearing 1960 replica jerseys on Saturday, honoring the 1960 team that won eight games, including the Tangerine Bowl. The jerseys will be auctioned off to raise money for the department of athletics. Let’s hope these uniforms won’t be judged as illegal, unlike last season’s uniform debacle (“Unigate”).

The Citadel badly needs a victory. Do I think the Bulldogs can get one this week?

It’s possible, but to be honest I’m not very confident. My confidence doesn’t matter, though. It’s the team’s self-esteem that matters.

I hope the Bulldogs expect to win on Saturday. I hope even more that they actually win.