2017 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 4, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kendall Lewis will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs linebacker James Riley supplies the analysis. 

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview, The Post and Courier

The next two games for The Citadel are fairly important

Aron Spann III was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Month for October

Spann spent most of October intercepting passes and recovering fumbles

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Western Carolina’s website

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked #32 if the poll went that far)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked #35 if the poll went that far)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/31 press conference, including comments from Cam Jackson and Aron Spann III (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 11/1 radio show (video)

– Promo for Western Carolina-The Citadel (video)

Cam Jackson promo for Senior Day (video)

– ESPN3 replay of Furman-Western Carolina (video)

– Game story from Furman-Western Carolina

– My review of last week’s game against VMI

– Link to ESPN3’s streaming coverage of Western Carolina-The Citadel

Non-football links:

The Citadel Basketball 2017-18 “Hype Video”

The Citadel’s 2018 baseball schedule has been released

In my review of the VMI game, I made an error. I make plenty of mistakes as it is, but this one was particularly dumb and needs to be corrected.

The record for most wins over a three-year period is held by the 1990-1991-1992 teams, not the 1959-1960-1961 squads (as I incorrectly stated in my post). Therefore, the current Bulldogs still need one victory to tie the mark for most victories over three consecutive seasons. The current mark is 25 (7 wins in 1990, 7 wins in 1991, and 11 victories in 1992).

Over a four-year period, the record for most wins is 30. That has happened twice, in two overlapping stretches — 1989-1990-1991-1992, and 1990-1991-1992-1993.

As of last week, The Citadel has won 29 games over the last four seasons, with three games left in the 2017 campaign.

The Citadel needs one more victory this year to clinch a winning season. It would be the third straight winning campaign for the Bulldogs. There have been five previous occasions in which The Citadel strung together three consecutive winning seasons:

  • 1923-1924-1925
  • 1924-1925-1926
  • 1959-1960-1961
  • 1979-1980-1981
  • 1990-1991-1992

You may have noticed the first couple of three-year runs above include some duplicate seasons. That is because The Citadel actually had four straight winning seasons from 1923 through 1926, the only time in school history that has happened.

The record for most consecutive non-losing campaigns is five, from 1988 through 1992. Four of those years resulted in winning seasons, while the 1989 team went 5-5-1. The Citadel won 38 games during that period, the most ever by the program over a five-year stretch.

After reviewing the participation reports for the Bulldogs’ games so far this season, I believe that 15 “true” freshmen on the current roster have played in at least one game this season. The list:

  • Jalen Barr
  • Brandon Berry
  • Lane Botkin
  • Aaron Brawley
  • Micah Byrd-Brown
  • Jonathan Cole
  • Willie Eubanks III
  • Sean-Thomas Faulkner
  • Collin Flanders
  • Patrick Ivey
  • Jon Barrett Lewis
  • Keyonte Sessions
  • Matthew Taylor
  • John Wesley Whiteside
  • Wally Wilmore

In addition, two freshmen who have since left the team took part in at least one game for The Citadel.

Of the original list of signees, it appears that eight have not yet seen the field for the Bulldogs this season. Presumably, those eight players are likely candidates to redshirt this season.

Three of the players listed above were not on the signee list from last January — Collin Flanders, Micah Byrd-Brown, and Patrick Ivey.

At his first press conference as The Citadel’s head coach, I remember that Mike Houston discussed a personal desire to field “older teams…guys who have been with us for three or four years.” I assume that Brent Thompson has a similar philosophy, but it may be that some of the turnover on the roster following last season, especially in certain positions, has led to more true freshmen playing than might have been expected – or wanted.

Brent Thompson on what the team’s mindset needs to be in the red zone:

We’ve got to get off the football [line of scrimmage] and we’ve got to be able to grind out three or four yards at a time, no matter what the box looks like…

…maybe we need to come downhill more. Maybe we need to stop tricking them, and doing this and that, and let’s just line up and show them the whites of our eyes and let’s play football.

That’s a good line — “show them the whites of our eyes”. Part of Thompson’s education at Norwich obviously included a study of the battle tactics of William Prescott.

On Friday, six new members of The Citadel’s Athletic Hall of Fame will be honored at the annual dinner (which had to be rescheduled after Hurricane Irma disrupted on-campus events earlier this year).

Reading through the bios of the inductees, I naturally learned a few things I didn’t know before. For one, baseball player Steve Arrington won an unusual triple crown in 1973, as he led all Southern Conference batters in home runs and RBI, and also led the league in strikeouts by a pitcher. You don’t see that combination every day.

Francis “Pete” Grant played both offense and defense for The Citadel’s football team in 1965, the only member of that squad to do so. Given that the restrictions on unlimited substitution had been lifted for good by then, I have to wonder if Grant was the last Bulldog to regularly play both ways.

I did know that during his time at The Citadel, Cliff Washburn was named the SoCon player of the week in both football and basketball, the first person to ever pull off that double. I also knew that Kris Kut could really sling the javelin (three league titles), and now helps current Bulldog athletes throw it even farther than he did.

The two honorary inductees are Gil Kirkman, impresario of The Citadel Sports Network, and Andy Clawson, head athletic trainer for The Citadel. When Clawson was hired by The Citadel, the #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce.

Yes, Clawson has been around for a while.

As is almost necessary when discussing Western Carolina, the school must be harshly criticized for a decision made long ago that has had a lasting impact.

Back in 1933, the students and administration at the institution chose “Catamounts” as the official nickname for its varsity athletic teams. The runner-up choice was “Mountain Boomers”.

How in the world can you not pick “Mountain Boomers” as your nickname when you have a golden opportunity to do so? What a waste.

From reading between the lines in the school’s official account of how the nickname was chosen, it appears that the football coach at the time, a gentleman named C.C. Poindexter, influenced the final decision.

Poindexter wanted his players to have the “fierce spirit, savage attacks, and lightning quick moves” of a catamount. Alas, his football teams at the school compiled a record of 10-26-2 over four seasons.

I bet they would have won a lot more games as the Mountain Boomers.

As far as this Saturday is concerned, Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir had this to say on the game’s importance to his program:

This is probably our biggest week…maybe since our staff has been here…to decide [if] the culture, the expectations, the standards of this program [have] changed.

…Now that [we’ve] been knocked down and had a disappointing loss, are we a different team this week because we have two losses, as we were last week. Are we going to be a front-running team, or are we going to be a team that’s satisfied and complacent, or is this a football team that has truly made a change — and not necessarily even how the scoreboard comes out. We can…play a whale of a game this Saturday, and lose…because we’re playing a good football team in The Citadel, and we can go play great football and still get beat.

What I’m saying is we’re going to see as a staff, how this team comes [to] practice this week. How are we going to compete this Saturday…this may be our biggest week since we’ve been here. That is the challenge. What is the character of the 2017 Cats…this will say a lot about where we are as a program.

Western Carolina is 6-3 on the season, 4-2 in the SoCon.

  • WCU lost its opener 41-18 at Hawai’i, but actually outgained the Rainbow Warriors
  • The Catamounts then dismantled Davidson 63-17; WCU had 778 yards of total offense in the contest
  • Western Carolina won the next week at Gardner-Webb, 42-27; Detrez Newsome’s 146 yards lifted his career rushing yards total to over 3,000
  • WCU opened SoCon play with a big home win over Samford, 38-34 (incidentally, the game took 4 hours and 10 minutes to play)
  • At Chattanooga, the Catamounts bashed the Mocs 45-7
  • Western Carolina lost a tough game in OT at Wofford, 35-28 (a game marred by shaky officiating in the extra session)
  • In a 49-10 victory, WCU took care of business in the second half against East Tennessee State, scoring 21 points in both the third and fourth quarters
  • The Catamounts got past a stubborn VMI in Lexington, 26-7
  • Last week, Furman beat WCU in a rainstorm in Cullowhee, 28-6

Statistics of interest for Western Carolina through nine games:

WCU Opponents
Points per game 35.0 22.9
Rushing yardage 2239 1765
Average per rush 5.4 4.6
Average per game 248.8 196.1
TDs rushing 22 14
Passing yardage 1851 1504
Comp-Att-Int 144-243-8 129-265-10
Average per pass 7.6 5.7
TDs passing 16 11
Total offense 4090 3269
Total plays 659 647
Yards per play 6.2 5.1
Kick returns-yards 28-541 49-827
Punt returns-yards 20-135 13-94
Fumbles/lost 11/6 9/7
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 7.3/69.6 6.9/62.1
Net punt average 40.1 35.8
Time of possession/game 27:49 32:11
3rd down conversions 50/121 50/142
3rd down conversion rate 41.3% 35.2%
Sacks by-yards 19-135 22-129
Field goals-attempts 7-14 8-9
Red Zone touchdown rate (23-34) 67.6% (19-32) 59.4%
  • Western Carolina is 7th nationally in rushing offense, but 97th in rushing defense
  • WCU’s offense is 11th in yards per rush, while its defense is 89th in yards per rush allowed
  • The Catamounts are 31st in offensive third down conversion rate, and 42nd on defensive third down conversion rate
  • WCU is 19th in FCS in scoring offense, and 41st in scoring defense
  • Western Carolina is 34th in offensive pass efficiency, and 6th in defensive pass efficiency
  • The Catamounts have excellent special teams numbers, including 4th nationally in net punting and 8th in kick return defense
  • With three defensive TDs, Western Carolina ranks 12th-best in that category
  • WCU is one of the league’s more penalized teams, and ranks 49th in most penalties per game nationally

Key stats for The Citadel through eight games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 24.4 17.8
Rushing yardage 2573 855
Average per rush 5.3 3.5
Average per game 321.6 106.9
TDs rushing 20 12
Passing yardage 705 1454
Comp-Att-Int 41-104-3 128-215-11
Average per pass 6.8 6.8
TDs passing 6 7
Total offense 3278 2309
Total plays 590 456
Yards per play 5.6 5.1
Kick returns-yards 15-281 18-441
Punt returns-yards 15-118 8-55
Fumbles/lost 16/5 9/5
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.6/42.0 2.9/28.4
Net punt average 36.1 36.2
Time of possession/game 34:26 25:33
3rd down conversions 57/126 29/89
3rd down conversion rate 45.2% 32.6%
Sacks by-yards 16-87 5-33
Field goals-attempts 4-12 3-5
Red Zone touchdown rate (19/34) 55.9% (12/18) 66.7%
  • The Citadel is 14th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate, and 18th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Bulldogs are 2nd in rushing offense (behind only Kennesaw State), and 19th in rushing defense (which leads the SoCon)
  • The Citadel is 14th nationally in yards per rush and 36th in yards per rush allowed
  • Offensively, the Bulldogs are 48th in yards per play; on defense, The Citadel is 39th in yards per play allowed
  • The Citadel is 2nd in FCS in time of possession (McNeese State leads in that category)
  • The Bulldogs are 67th in scoring offense and 14th in scoring defense
  • The Citadel has committed the 11th-fewest penalties per game in FCS

When it comes to individual performers, much of the focus this week for the game at Johnson Hagood Stadium has been on one player, Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams.

Adams (6’2″, 180 lbs.), a dynamic dual-threat QB, was injured last week in the Catamounts’ loss to Furman. The redshirt sophomore from St. Petersburg was sacked early in the second quarter and appeared to suffer a lower leg injury (on the ESPN3 broadcast, the play occurs at the 57:10 mark).

Despite what looked to be a potentially serious injury, Adams is still listed as the starter on the WCU two-deep. There are other indications that he may in fact play on Saturday. Brent Thompson stated during his radio show that the Bulldogs would certainly prepare for the game with the assumption that Adams would start.

If Adams does not play, Ray Smith (6’1″, 190 lbs.) will likely start. Smith, a redshirt junior who began his college career at East Carolina, entered the game against Furman after Adams went out.

Adams’ status is one thing, but Western Carolina has another impact player in the backfield, preseason all-SoCon selection Detrez Newsome (5’10”, 210 lbs.). Over the last decade, Newsome is the only Catamount running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season — and the native of Raeford, North Carolina has done so each of the last two years.

Despite missing three games this season, Newsome still has a chance at another 1,000-yard campaign, as the senior has amassed 736 yards in just six contests. Newsome is averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

Newsome is also a threat as a kick returner, and leads the Catamounts in returns. However, he is not listed in that role on this week’s two-deep.

Western Carolina’s all-time leading receiver is redshirt senior Terryon Robinson (5’11”, 190 lbs.). The preseason all-league pick has 45 receptions this season, averaging 15 yards per catch, and has seven TD receptions.

In the 2014 game between WCU and The Citadel, Robinson caught 10 passes for 183 yards.

The average size of Western Carolina’s projected starters on the offensive line: 6’4″, 298 lbs. The tallest and heaviest member of that group is Nathan Dalton (6’7″, 315 lbs.). The redshirt junior from East Flat Rock, North Carolina was a preseason second-team all-conference choice.

Outside linebacker Tahjai Watt (6’5″, 215 lbs.) leads the Catamounts in tackles for loss (8) and sacks (6). The redshirt senior from Charlotte had only one career start before this season, but is clearly making the most of his final collegiate campaign.

The leading tackler for Western Carolina to this point in the season has been safety Marvin Tillman (6’1″, 195 lbs.). The native of Durham has 77 stops, and also shares the team lead in interceptions with three.

Keion Crossen (5’10”, 180 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick. The senior cornerback is also a track star, as he won the league title in the 100-meter dash last year.

Redshirt junior Ian Berryman (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is one of the nation’s best punters. This season, Berryman has boomed 14 of his 44 punts for 50 yards or more, and has landed 20 of them inside the 20-yard line.

Berryman has also kicked off at times for Western Carolina, and is one of four different Catamounts to attempt field goals this season. Joshua Gibson (5’8″, 163 lbs.), the listed starter at the position, is 4 for 5 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 43 yards.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with an expected high of 78 degrees. The low on Saturday night will be 61 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Western Carolina is a 1 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 50 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Mercer is a 2-point favorite over Samford; Wofford is a 12-point favorite over Chattanooga; and East Tennessee State is a 17 1/2 point favorite over VMI. Furman is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 7 1/2 point favorite at North Carolina State; South Carolina is a 24 1/2 point underdog at Georgia; Coastal Carolina is a 23 1/2 point underdog at Arkansas; Presbyterian is 17 1/2 point underdog at Monmouth; and Charleston Southern (ravenous for a league win) is a 10 1/2 point favorite at Gardner-Webb. South Carolina State is off this week.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 47th in FCS (out of 124 teams), a drop of one spot from last week.

Western Carolina is ranked 35th in FCS, falling three places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 197th, while Western Carolina is 177th.

Massey projects a final score of Western Carolina 26, The Citadel 24. The Bulldogs are given a 47% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Furman is 16th (up seven places), Wofford is 21st (unchanged from last week), Samford is 31st (down nine spots), Mercer is 34th (up six spots), Charleston Southern is 49th, Chattanooga is 66th (up nine spots), East Tennessee State is 72nd (down five places), Presbyterian is 88th, South Carolina State is 100th, and VMI is 115th (down one spot).

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

– Since 1911, The Citadel has an ominously poor 4-11 record in games played on November 4.

The last time the Bulldogs won a game on that date, it was in 1989 against Samford. The Citadel won 35-16 in the first home game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium after Hurricane Hugo.

The Citadel’s offense only attempted two passes during that contest, completing one (the QB in question was Speizio Stowers). While starting QB Jack Douglas did not complete a pass in the game, he did rush for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Douglas, Tom Frooman, and Raymond Mazyck combined for 310 yards and five TDs (three by Frooman). Alfred Williams added 55 yards to a potent ground attack.

That 1989 game is The Citadel’s only November 4 home victory in the modern history of Johnson Hagood Stadium. Indeed, the Bulldogs have only won twice on that date since World War II, once at home and once on the road.

The November 4 road triumph was a big one, though. It was the 14-8 victory at VMI in 1961 that clinched The Citadel’s first Southern Conference title. Bill Whaley’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Henry Mura with 2:29 to play proved to be the difference. Earlier in the game, Whaley had scored from one yard out on a quarterback sneak.

You can watch video highlights of that 1961 contest on YouTube. The game-winning TD pass comes at the 1:36 mark of the clip. I’m not completely sure, but I believe Mura’s catch was his only career TD reception. He picked a great time for it.

– The Citadel’s two-deep for the Western Carolina game includes no changes on offense or defense, the fourth consecutive week that has been the case. On special teams, there are now no listed backups at placekicker or punter.

It should be noted that there will be one new starter on defense this Saturday, regardless of the depth chart listing, as Ben Roberts will be suspended for the first half after being called for targeting in the second half of the VMI game.

– Jacob Godek has had touchbacks on 19 of his 37 kickoffs this season. As a result, The Citadel’s touchback rate of 51.4% ranks 11th-best in FCS.

– Among Western Carolina’s notable graduates are comedian Rich Hall, former NFL referee/current ESPN officiating consultant Gerry Austin, and actor Sean Bridgers.

– The roster for Western Carolina (per its website) includes 58 players from the State of North Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (22 players), South Carolina (8), Tennessee (4), Florida (4), and one each from Alabama, California, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, and Virginia.

The eight Catamounts from the Palmetto State attended the following high schools: Blythewood (two), Spartanburg (two), T.L. Hanna (two), St. Joseph’s, and Rock Hill. Surprisingly, none of WCU’s South Carolina-based players attended historic gridiron superpower Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. Ronnie Carr would be very disappointed.

– 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.

Saturday’s game will mark the end of The Citadel’s home slate. Will the final game of the season at Johnson Hagood Stadium provide a happy result for the home fans?

It’s possible, but there is a surprising amount of opaqueness when it comes to this matchup, despite the fact we are now in the month of November. I don’t have a very good read on what might happen. (Of course, that is arguably the case for every game.)

At any rate, there is quite a lot riding on this contest for the Bulldogs. That includes a possible winning season and a chance to make a late-season playoff push.

It’s time to start the stretch run of the 2017 season.

2016 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 1. The game will not be televised.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Pete Yanity providing play-by-play and Will Merritt supplying the analysis.

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

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

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

Links of interest:

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/27 press conference, including comments from Dominique Allen and Tevin Floyd (video)

Brent Thompson 9/28 radio show (video)

Dominique Allen returns as The Citadel’s starting quarterback

– Allen is back on board

– Allen had his moments in high school, too

– Catamount Football Weekly — previewing the game versus The Citadel (video)

– Mark Speir says the Catamounts were “embarrassed” by loss to ETSU

– Catamounts face long season if they lose to The Citadel

– Radio broadcast open for Saturday’s game (audio)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

This is going to be a somewhat abbreviated (if not erratic) preview, as I mentioned it might be when I reviewed the Gardner-Webb game two weeks ago. That’s because I’ve been out of the country for a week and am just getting back to a semblance of a routine. I’ve tried to provide the typical assortment of links, and my “Odds and Ends” section is in good order, but as for the rest of it…

I’m going to hurriedly make a few points and get this posted. Please excuse the absence of some of the usual statistical comparisons, although trying to incorporate that stuff would have been tricky this week anyway. Last year’s stats aren’t particularly relevant as the calendar hits October, but as Western Carolina and The Citadel have only played three games each in 2016, the current season statistics also have evaluative limitations.

Having said that, here are some Western Carolina stats for 2016, a quick blast. WCU’s three opponents this year: East Carolina (lost 52-7), Gardner-Webb (won 44-14), East Tennessee State (lost 34-31).

 

WCU Opp
Points/game 27.3 33.3
1st downs/game 23.7 25
Yards/rush 4.7 5.5
Yards/pass att 8.6 8.1
Yards/play 6.7 6.5
Plays/game 72.3 77.3
Penalties/game 9.7 5.3
Pen yds/game 74 53.7
TOP/game 26:04:00 33:56:00
3rd dn conv % 39 58.8
Red Zone TD% 64.3 78.6

Putting aside the game versus ECU, let’s take a quick look at the Gardner-Webb and ETSU matchups.

Against G-W (a game played in Cullowhee), Western Carolina’s offense:

  • completed 36 of 43 passes, averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, with 5 TD tosses (two picks)
  • was not sacked on any of those 43 pass attempts
  • averaged 6.1 yards per rush (263 total rush yards), with one TD
  • scored 5 TDs in 8 trips to the Red Zone
  • had 6 TD drives of 62 yards or longer
  • scored touchdowns on its first two possessions
  • had 19 pass completions of ten yards or more; 10 of those came on first down
  • also had 6 rushing plays of ten yards or more

As a comparison, The Citadel’s offense had a total of 13 plays from scrimmage against Gardner-Webb that went for 10+ yards (12 of them were rushes). It should be noted that Western Carolina ran 86 plays from scrimmage against G-W (The Citadel had 73).

Now for the other side of the ball. Against the Runnin’ Bulldogs, the Catamounts’ defense:

  • allowed only 3.4 yards per pass attempt (25 throws)
  • gave up just 4.8 yards per play
  • allowed 5.5 yards per rush (271 total rush yards)
  • after allowing a TD on G-W’s first possession, didn’t give up more than 48 yards on any subsequent drive
  • shut G-W out over its last nine drives

The game versus ETSU (played at Bristol Motor Speedway) didn’t go quite as planned. WCU’s offense:

  • completed 26 of 39 passes, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt, with 2 TDs (no interceptions)
  • was sacked four times
  • averaged just 3.7 yards per rush (100 total rush yards), with 2 TDs
  • was in the Red Zone four times, but only scored one touchdown
  • had 5 drives of 55 yards or longer; 3 resulted in TDs

Then there was the Catamounts’ defense, which:

  • allowed 7.3 yards per pass attempt (37 passes)
  • gave up 5.4 yards per play
  • allowed 4.1 yards per rush (205 total rush yards)
  • gave up 4 TDs and a field goal on ETSU’s last five possessions (all 67 yards or longer)

East Tennessee State picked up 364 yards of total offense on those five drives (the last possession of the first half and the first four of the second), averaging 6.6 yards per play. The Bucs were 13 of 19 on third-down tries, converting nine of their last ten.

Check out this amazing third-quarter drive by East Tennessee State that gave the Bucs the lead for the first time in the game:

  • ETSU 1-10 at Etsu24 ETSU drive start at 08:46.
  • ETSU 1-10 at Etsu24 Austin Herink sacked for loss of 8 yards to the ETSU16 (Jake Helms).
  • ETSU 2-18 at Etsu16 PENALTY WCU unsportsmanlike conduct (Daniel Nash) 15 yards to the ETSU31, 1ST DOWN ETSU.
  • ETSU 1-10 at Etsu31 Jajuan Stinson rush for 2 yards to the ETSU33 (Tyler Junius).
  • ETSU 2-8 at Etsu33 D. Monroe rush for 3 yards to the ETSU36 (Tyson Dickson).
  • ETSU 3-5 at Etsu36 PENALTY WCU offside defense (Andrew Mayton) 5 yards to the ETSU41, 1ST DOWN ETSU.
  • ETSU 1-10 at Etsu41 D. Monroe rush for 2 yards to the ETSU43 (Avery Worsham).
  • ETSU 2-8 at Etsu43 Austin Herink pass complete to Vincent Lowe for 7 yards to the 50 yardline (Avery Worsham).
  • ETSU 3-1 at Etsu50 D. Monroe rush for 4 yards to the WCU46, 1ST DOWN ETSU (Jake Helms).
  • ETSU 1-10 at Wcu46 Austin Herink rush for 8 yards to the WCU38 (Fred Payne).
  • ETSU 2-2 at Wcu38 Austin Herink pass incomplete to Hank Black (Trey Morgan).
  • ETSU 3-2 at Wcu38 Jajuan Stinson rush for 3 yards to the WCU35, 1ST DOWN ETSU (Daniel Nash).
  • ETSU 1-10 at Wcu35 Jajuan Stinson rush for loss of 1 yard to the WCU36 (Daniel Nash).
  • ETSU 2-11 at Wcu36 PENALTY WCU personal foul (Daniel Nash) 15 yards to the WCU21, 1ST DOWN ETSU.
  • ETSU 1-10 at Wcu21 Falon Lee rush for no gain to the WCU21 (Ezavian Dunn; Tyson Dickson).
  • ETSU 2-10 at Wcu21 Falon Lee rush for 9 yards to the WCU12 (Keion Crossen).
  • ETSU 3-1 at Wcu12 Falon Lee rush for 5 yards to the WCU7, 1ST DOWN ETSU (Marvin Tillman; Daniel Nash).
  • ETSU 1-G at Wcu07 Falon Lee rush for 3 yards to the WCU4 (Andrew Mayton).
  • ETSU 2-G at Wcu04 Falon Lee rush for 2 yards to the WCU2 (Marvin Tillman).
  • ETSU 3-G at Wcu02 Austin Herink pass complete to Matt Thompson for 2 yards to the WCU0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 01:20.
  • JJ Jerman kick attempt good.

No play from scrimmage during that 16-play, 76-yard drive went for longer than nine yards. ETSU was five-for-five on third-down conversion attempts, and was also bailed out of two 2nd-and-long situations by personal fouls (committed by the same WCU player). Time of possession: 7:26.

That drive aside, the game arguably turned on a play near the end of the first half:

The Cats had a 21-3 lead when it appeared they were going for the kill. [Tyrie] Adams threw a long pass to Spearman Robinson, who gained 43 yards before losing a fumble that ETSU recovered at its 29. The Bucs then drove 71 yards for a touchdown before halftime to begin the comeback.

“Spearman fumbles the ball, and they  get the ball and go on a two-minute drive. Who knows what the ball game would be (if that hadn’t happened),” [WCU head coach Mark] Speir said.

Western Carolina committed 12 penalties in the loss to East Tennessee State. The Catamounts were also flagged 12 times in their 30-point win over Gardner-Webb, so your mileage may vary.

While WCU is essentially a 50-50 run-pass team, much of its yardage (64.8%) comes via the pass. That speaks to a fairly solid transition from longtime quarterback Troy Mitchell to the new starting QB, redshirt freshman Tyrie Adams.

Adams is a 6’2″, 180 lb. native of St. Petersburg, Florida. A track and field star as well (he was the indoor and outdoor SoCon high jump champion in 2016), Adams is completing an impressive 69.3% of his passes, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt, with seven touchdown tosses against three interceptions.

Running back Detrez Newsome (5’10”, 210 lbs.) was the preseason choice for offensive SoCon player of the year after being a first-team all-league selection in 2015. Newsome rushed for 1,109 yards last season and nine touchdowns (and added three more TDs on pass receptions).

Newsome rushed for 121 yards (on only 16 attempts) and a TD last year versus The Citadel. He is also the primary kick returner for the Catamounts.

WCU has several pass-catching candidates (including Newsome). Terryon Robinson (5’11”, 190 lbs.) leads the team in receptions so far this season, with 22. He is not to be confused with redshirt senior Spearman Robinson (6’4″, 215 lbs.), a Greenwood High School product who has seemingly played for the Catamounts since the late 1990s.

Jordan Mathis (5’10”, 200 lbs.) is third on the team in receptions, with 12. C.J. Goodman (5’11”, 185 lbs.) had a career-high seven receptions against The Citadel in 2015.

The Catamounts suffered a blow when preseason first-team All-SoCon tight end Tyler Sexton was lost for the season in August with a knee injury.

Western Carolina’s starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 293 lbs. The largest member of that group is right guard Nathan Dalton (6’7″, 315 lbs.), a redshirt sophomore who was a preseason second-team all-conference pick.

In its last two games, WCU has missed linebacker Daniel Riddle (6’1, 225 lbs.), a preseason first-team all-league pick who had 15 tackles against the Bulldogs last season. The injured Riddle is listed as a backup on the depth chart this week.

Tyson Dickson (6’1″, 220 lbs.) was also a preseason all-SoCon choice at linebacker. In 2014, he had 16 tackles in the Catamounts’ victory over the Bulldogs.

The aptly named Fred Payne (5’10”, 180 lbs.) is a strong safety who had a fine game versus The Citadel last year, making seven tackles and also forcing and recovering a fumble.

Cornerback Trey Morgan (6’0″, 185 lbs.) is a senior who has made 38 starts during his career. As a sophomore, he led the SoCon with six interceptions.

The Catamounts are in good shape when it comes to kickers. Redshirt sophomore Ian Berryman (6’0″, 190 lbs.) was the preseason All-SoCon punter, while Logan Howard (also 6’0″, 190 lbs.) was the second-team preseason pick at placekicker.

Howard’s bio on Western Carolina’s website states that he holds “a black belt in martial arts and is a three-time world champion kick boxer”. The website also notes that Howard hit a career long 46-yard field goal last season.

For the fourth straight season, Chandler Addertion is handling long-snapping duties for the Catamounts. His grandfather, Floyd Wicker, had a brief career in the major leagues with four different National League teams (including the original Expos). Floyd Wicker hit one career home run — off a pitcher named Floyd Weaver.

I was reading Bill Connelly’s excellent preview of the upcoming Louisville-Clemson game when I came across this passage:

Through four games, Clemson has only four gains of 30+ yards. Only four teams have fewer: Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, and Texas State. Two have played only three games. And of those four big gainers [for Clemson], none came via rush…

You can survive without big plays. Navy has for years…Scoring without explosiveness requires consistent execution. Any penalty or loss virtually ends a drive.

A lack of big plays puts a lot of pressure on you to execute in the red zone; you aren’t scoring from 40 yards out, so you have to continue moving as the defense gets more packed in.

Would you care to guess how many gains of 30+ yards The Citadel’s offense has had in its first three games this season? The answer is: five.

One against Mercer (Tyler Renew’s 70-yard run on the Bulldogs’ second play from scrimmage). One against Furman (Josh LeBlanc’s amazing 50-yard reception). Three versus Gardner-Webb (including Dominique Allen’s big 41-yard run on the game-winning drive).

Last year, the Bulldogs had 16 gains of 30 yards or more in seven conference games, averaging slightly more than two such plays per contest in league play. As Connelly points out, if an offense doesn’t get those kind of “explosion” plays on at least a semi-regular basis, it has to be extremely consistent, because a bad play will usually short-circuit a possession.

The Citadel has certainly seen a few possessions end on bad plays this year (mainly drive-killing penalties). Obviously, the Bulldogs need to eliminate the major fouls as much as possible, but they also need more big plays.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Cullowhee, per the National Weather Service: sunny and a high of 75 degrees. It should be a great day for a football game.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 4.5-point favorite over Western Carolina. The over/under is 57.5.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 33.5-point favorite at East Tennessee State; Mercer is a 5.5-point favorite at VMI; Samford is a 5.5-point favorite over Wofford; and Furman is a 14.5-point favorite over Kennesaw State.

Gardner-Webb is a 33-point favorite over Benedict this week in Boiling Springs. North Carolina is an 11-point underdog at Florida State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 13th among FCS teams. Western Carolina is ranked 47th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 62% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 31-27.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (4th), Samford (22nd), Wofford (26th), Furman (44th), Mercer (46th), VMI (53rd), Gardner-Webb (61st), East Tennessee State (85th).

– Western Carolina has 57 players on its squad from North Carolina. Other states represented on the Catamounts’ roster: Georgia (23), South Carolina (8), Tennessee (3), Florida (3), and Connecticut (1).

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

– Western Carolina has two FBS teams on its schedule, an annual tradition in recent years for the Catamounts. WCU has already played East Carolina this season, and will face South Carolina later in the year.

The Catamounts will have FBS bookends on their 2017 slate, travelling near (UNC in late November) and far (Hawai’i in early September). Western Carolina will also play UNC in 2018, and has scheduled two games against North Carolina State (in 2019 and 2024).

WCU has played at least two FBS opponents every season since 2012, including Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Alabama (twice).

In 2013, Western Carolina played three FBS teams — Middle Tennessee State, Virginia Tech, and Auburn. That year’s schedule for the Catamounts also included two games against schools transitioning to FBS (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern). All five contests were road games; WCU, not surprisingly, lost all five en route to a 2-10 season.

– Triple option oddity, repeat factoid edition: through three games this season, more Bulldogs have caught passes (eight) than had rushing attempts (seven). Against Gardner-Webb, Rod Johnson and Isiaha Smith got their first rushing attempts of the season, with Johnson also catching his first pass reception of the 2016 campaign.

– Saturday’s game is the second of three that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season, against opponents that compete in three different leagues — the Big South (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (North Carolina).

– Western Carolina has won seven straight home games, and eleven of its last twelve. The only loss during that 2014-16 stretch was a big one, admittedly — 51-0 to Chattanooga in 2014.

– There wasn’t a lot of movement on the depth chart over the bye week. One notable addition: Evan McField is now listed as the third B-back. Perhaps he could see action for the first time this year, after he suffered an injury prior to the season opener. Brent Thompson confirmed that McField would be available during his Wednesday radio show.

Which Western Carolina team will The Citadel see on Saturday? The one that dominated Gardner-Webb as the game progressed? Or the one that blew its collective gasket (and the lead, and the game) against ETSU?

My guess would be the former, particularly since the Catamounts were at home for that one, and are at home for this game as well.

Two years ago in Cullowhee, The Citadel committed three turnovers (all in WCU territory), and also had two false-start penalties in fourth-down situations. The defense didn’t fare much better, allowing 9.6 yards per play. It was a rough afternoon all the way around, although the Bulldogs were in the game for much of the contest.

If that happens again on Saturday, there won’t be any opportunity for another fourth-quarter comeback this time, much less a relatively comfortable win.

The Bulldogs have to be sharp coming off their bye week. If they are, they have a chance to go 4-0 for the first time since 1992.

Let’s hope they take that chance.

2015 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 12. The game will not be televised.

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

The 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. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

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

Links of interest:

Preview of Western Carolina-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

Pregame “notes” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mark Speir on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/9 press conference (includes comments from Tevin Floyd, Dominique Allen, and Mariel Cooper)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Game story for Mars Hill-Western Carolina from the Asheville Citizen-Times 

– Tevin Floyd was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after making eight tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown against Davidson. You may recall that as a freshman in 2013, Floyd recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 28-21 victory over Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

From my preview of last season’s game:

…the Catamounts currently sport a 5-2 record that includes three SoCon victories, including two straight.

That 3-0 SoCon record is a very big deal for WCU, given that the Catamounts entered this season having only won four league games since 2006. Western Carolina had lost 29 of its last 30 conference matchups prior to 2014.

WCU hasn’t been 3-0 in the league since 1994. If the Catamounts win on Saturday, they will match their best-ever league start.

It has taken time, but Mark Speir appears to have things moving in the right direction in Cullowhee. A competitive WCU program is good for the league, in my opinion.

Western Carolina won that game against The Citadel, 29-15, and moved to 6-2 for the 2014 season. The Catamounts then hit a major roadblock, getting drilled 51-0 by Chattanooga.

WCU lost at Samford the week after that, and later lost to Alabama, but picked up a home victory over VMI in between those losses. Western Carolina finished with a 7-5 record.

The Catamounts finished the 2014 season with the program’s first winning year on the gridiron since 2005; its most wins in a campaign since 2001; and its best record in league play since 1992. It was a largely gratifying season for the Western Carolina faithful, and probably something of a relief as well.

Now the question for Mark Speir is this: what can you do for an encore?

It could be argued that one of the tougher things to do in college sports is to put together two straight good years after enduring many, many bad seasons. That is what Western Carolina is attempting to do in 2015.

More than a few people have newly-found confidence in the Catamounts. WCU was picked to finish third in the SoCon in the coach’s preseason poll; the league’s media voters thought even more of Western Carolina, ranking it second in the conference.

It’s not altogether surprising that folks like the Catamounts’ chances. The SoCon release notes that 23 players listed as starters returned from last year’s squad, including all eleven on the offensive side of the ball.

However, there are still some doubters when it comes to Western Carolina, and that’s perfectly understandable.  Like I mentioned earlier, repeating success after a long period of failure isn’t easy.

Just ask The Citadel about the 2013 season.

In 2012, the Bulldogs were 7-4, finishing off the campaign with three straight victories and a winning league record. It was the first winning season for The Citadel in five years and only the second winning year since 1997. The five SoCon triumphs were the most since 1992.

Hopes were high the following year. The Citadel returned many of its top players, and fans were ready for a great season.

Instead, the Bulldogs only won five games. It turned out not to be the start of something big; rather, it was the end of an era.

There are no guarantees.

Statistical comparisons, 2014 SoCon games only (seven contests):

– The Citadel averaged 75.4 plays per game; Western Carolina averaged 66.1 plays per game.

– The Bulldogs’ time of possession per game: 32:40. The Catamounts averaged 29:57 per game.

WCU actually held the ball longer than its opponents in five of seven games. UTC had an almost 2-to-1 edge in time of possession against Western Carolina, skewing that particular statistic to a certain degree. The other league team that out-possessed the Catamounts: The Citadel.

– The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.6 yards per play; that includes 5.4 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina’s defense gave up 5.9 yards per play in league action, including 5.3 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass attempt.

– Western Carolina’s offense averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 4.8 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per pass attempt. The Citadel’s defense allowed just over 7 yards per play, including 5.7 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt.

– The Catamounts were sacked five times in league action in 2014, while the Bulldogs’ D had eight sacks in seven SoCon contests.

– The Citadel’s 3rd-down conversion rate was 46.3%, while Western Carolina’s defense allowed opponents to convert 3rd downs 50% of the time.

Conversely, WCU’s offense converted 3rd downs at a 45.2% clip, while the Bulldogs’ defense allowed SoCon opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 41.5%.

– On 4th down, The Citadel’s offense converted 12 of 20 4th-down attempt (60%), while the Catamounts’ D held opponents to a 40% 4th-down conversion rate (4-10).

Western Carolina’s offense was 7-10 on 4th down in league play (70%). The Bulldogs allowed a 4th-down conversion rate of 52.9% on defense.

– In the Red Zone, The Citadel’s offensive TD rate was 67% (18-27). WCU’s defense had a red zone TD allowed rate of only 41.7% (10-24).

The Catamounts’s offense scored touchdowns on 13 of 17 red zone possessions (76.5%), while the Bulldogs allowed TDs 15 of 25 times opponents moved inside the 20 (60%).

Western Carolina’s defense close to the goal line in league play was impressive last season, and a not-insignificant factor in the team’s win-loss record.

As its league campaign progressed, WCU started allowing more and more yards on defense. After a fine effort against Wofford (273 total yards allowed), the rest of the season for the Catamounts’ D went like this: 400 yards given up versus Mercer, 443 allowed to The Citadel, 512 to Chattanooga, 461 to Samford, and 471 to VMI.

In those last three games, WCU opponents scored 112 points.

Western Carolina threw the ball 39.7% of the time in league play. Passing yardage accounted for 52.7% of the Catamounts’ total offense in SoCon action.

Troy Mitchell is Western Carolina’s alltime leader in total offense, a mark he set last week. A fair amount of that yardage has come against The Citadel:

– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2012: 117 rushing yards, 67 passing yards (2 rushing TDs)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2013: 106 rushing yards, 136 passing yards (1 passing TD)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2014: 131 rushing yards, 292 passing yards (1 passing TD)

There aren’t many quarterbacks who have rushed for over 100 yards three different times against the Bulldogs. The native of Texas will have a chance to go 4-for-4 on Saturday.

Mitchell isn’t the only Catamount who has had success running the football against the Bulldogs. Halfback Darius Ramsey had two 100+ yard performance versus The Citadel as a freshman and a sophomore. Last season, Ramsey settled for 72 yards (and a TD) on nine carries. His backup, Detrez Newsome, ran for 123 yards and two TDs on only eleven rushing attempts.

The starters on Western Carolina’s offensive line average 6’2″, 288 lbs. There is a lot of experience on the o-line, though left tackle Zach Weeks is a redshirt freshman.

Spearman Robinson is a preseason all-conference wideout selection. Robinson is big (6’4″, 215 lbs.) and has good speed. He had eleven touchdown receptions last year.

His first TD catch of this season came on the first play from scrimmage against Mars Hill last week. Detrez Newsome threw a halfback pass to Robinson that went for 75 yards.

Karnorris Benson is also a talented receiver. He is a redshirt senior who caught 12 touchdown passes two seasons ago.

Western Carolina will miss Terryon Robinson, who had a huge game against The Citadel last year (10 catches, 183 yards). He reportedly broke his wrist just before the season started.

WCU will throw the ball to its tight ends as well. 6’4″, 240 lb. Tyler Sexton caught three touchdown passes last season; the sophomore had five receptions last week against Mars Hill.

The Catamounts usually feature four down linemen on defense (as part of a base 4-3), but as always, that might be adjusted against The Citadel’s triple option attack. During his radio show, Mike Houston mentioned “split fronts” as a look the Bulldogs’ offense might see on Saturday.

Though he did not play in the opener (injury precaution) and is not listed as the starter on Western Carolina’s depth chart, expect defensive tackle Helva Matungulu (6’5″, 290 lbs.) to get a lot of playing time on Saturday.

Matungula is originally from Kenya, and played Rugby 7s before arriving in Cullowhee. Mike Houston specifically referenced Matungula (“he’s an outstanding player”) during the SoCon teleconference.

DT Ezavian Dunn (6’2″, 300 lbs.) started seven games as a freshman.

Defensive ends John McBeth and Caleb Hawkins have combined to start 57 games. Hawkins, in particular, will be a very tough matchup for The Citadel’s offensive line.

Linebacker Daniel Riddle had 74 tackles last season, third-most on the squad. Another ‘backer, Tyson Dickson, missed half of the 2014 season with injury, but did play against The Citadel — and made 16 tackles in that contest.

Sertonuse Harris is a LB/DB combo type who was a second-team All-SoCon pick by the coaches last year. Cornerback Trey Morgan was a preseason all-league choice. He had six interceptions last year.

Western Carolina’s depth chart lists two possible starters at placekicker, Logan Howard and Blake Metcalf. Last week, Howard converted the PATs while Metcalf was the kickoff specialist.

According to the team’s website, Logan Howard has “a black belt in martial arts and is a three-time world champion kick boxer.”

WCU has a new starting punter this season, redshirt freshman Ian Berryman. Kickoff returns are handled by Detrez Newsome and Karnorris Benson, while C.J. Goodman is the Catamounts’ punt returner.

Chandler Addertion is in his third season as Western Carolina’s long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The ESPN3 production will feature Kevin Fitzgerald as the play-by-play announcer and Sadath Jean-Pierre as the analyst. Fans of the Bulldogs know former defensive back Jean-Pierre, a 2013 graduate of The Citadel.

Fitzgerald is a recent graduate of Syracuse who has called games in a variety of sports, including radio play-by-play for the women’s basketball team at the University of Vermont. This summer, he was the voice of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

– WCU did not play a game in SoCon action last season that was decided by fewer than 12 points. However, the Catamounts were 4-1 in league games decided by two touchdowns.

Western Carolina lost two non-conference games by five points last year. The Catamounts lost 36-31 in the season opener at South Florida (a game the Catamounts led at halftime), and 19-14 at Presbyterian.

The Blue Hose had two pick-6 TDs in the latter contest, the second coming with less than two minutes remaining in the game. WCU’s offense was victimized by five turnovers, including four interceptions thrown by three different quarterbacks (Troy Mitchell got hurt midway through the third quarter).

– The Catamounts’ roster features 53 players from the state of North Carolina, by far the most from any state (as would be expected).  There are 25 natives of Georgia on the team, and 7 South Carolina residents.

I was a little surprised that there are as many Catamounts from Kenya as there are from Tennessee (one each).

The aforementioned Helva Matungulu is from Nairobi. The one native of the Volunteer State, freshman defensive back Mikey White, went to Science Hill High School in Johnson City; that’s the same school sharing a stadium this season with East Tennessee State.

– Western Carolina’s opponent last week, Mars Hill, travels to Chattanooga this Saturday to take on the Mocs. That game starts at 1:00 pm ET. Later in the afternoon, there may be some comparing of scores in the tailgating areas — or there may just be more eating and drinking.

Mars Hill, of course, is the alma mater of Mike Houston. On the CBS online college football schedule, the school is listed as “MARS”.

– WCU had a good home crowd last week, with an announced attendance of 12,348. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sizable number of those fans make it down to Charleston on Saturday.

– Western Carolina-The Citadel is the first SoCon league game of the season, and the only one on this week’s schedule. In fact, there is only one conference matchup per week for the next four weeks.

There won’t be a full slate of conference games until October 10, when all eight SoCon teams compete in league action.

Mark Speir pointed out during the SoCon teleconference that after Saturday night, Western Carolina won’t be playing another league game for almost a month. The same is true for The Citadel.

– Per the WCU game notes, this is the earliest league road opener for the Catamounts since playing The Citadel in Week 2 in 1998.

– Western Carolina’s release also listed the three times in recent history that a matchup between the two schools has been moved or postponed: 1989 (thanks to Hurricane Hugo, with the game played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia); 1999 (Hurricane Floyd); and 2001 (9/11).

– In a now-annual tradition, I want to officially criticize Western Carolina for blowing a chance at having a truly fantastic school nickname back in 1933, when “Catamounts” was chosen. The runner-up choice was “Mountain Boomers”.

Mountain Boomers! How can you not pick Mountain Boomers as your nickname when you have the opportunity? C’mon.

– Western Carolina was The Citadel’s opponent the last time the South Carolina Corps of Cadets was not in attendance for a home game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That happened on November 20, 2004 (a 17-0 victory for the Bulldogs), while the corps was on Thanksgiving break.

After the game, a meeting of The Citadel’s Board of Visitors was held. Action was taken:

The Board of Visitors passed a resolution that The Corps be present and in uniform at all Citadel home football games in the future. The resolution passed unanimously.

That is why The Citadel now always concludes the regular season on the road.

– Saturday’s game is Military Appreciation Night. At halftime, the Parris Island Marine Band will perform. It always puts on a good show.

– This game has been designated as a “white-out”. Fans are supposed to wear white; the Bulldogs are expected to wear white jerseys and white pants with their white helmets. I’m unsure if the corps of cadets will wear their standard summer leave uniforms, or if they will be wearing “dress whites” (which I believe would be unprecedented).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over Western Carolina on Saturday. The over/under is 55.

– Unfortunately, the long-range weather forecast is not promising. Showers and thunderstorms on Saturday are “likely”, according to the National Weather Service. There is a 50% chance of rain on Saturday night.

I expect this game to be close. It could go either way, though to be honest I am a bit pessimistic about the Bulldogs’ chances. Which, to be fair, is my default outlook…

Last season, Western Carolina had seven rushes of 20+ yards against the Bulldogs. There were also three pass plays of 20+ yards.

Most of WCU’s cast of characters from that game are back, most notably Troy Mitchell. The Citadel has not had much luck in recent years defending dual-threat QBs, and that certainly includes Mitchell.

He isn’t perfect, though. In three games against the Bulldogs, Mitchell has thrown four interceptions. It’s also true that The Citadel has won two of the three games in question.

While the Bulldogs did what they had to do against Davidson, I was a little concerned that The Citadel’s defense only registered one sack (plus one hurry) against nineteen pass attempts. On the other hand, having a passes defensed rate of 42% tends to alleviate that issue.

Comparing how Western Carolina did last week against Mars Hill versus how The Citadel performed against Davidson is pointless. Neither SoCon team was challenged, though Mars Hill is probably better than Davidson.

WCU more or less took most of the second quarter off against the Lions, while the Bulldogs never let up versus the Wildcats. That’s of no real consequence, though.

I think it’s going to be a high scoring game. I feel reasonably confident about that, so a 13-9 final is inevitable.

At any rate, I’ll be there on Saturday. Can’t wait.

Go Dogs!

Kirk Herbstreit: the worst thing going on in college football?

Last Saturday, there was a segment on ESPN’s popular College GameDay show centered around FBS-FCS matchups. You can watch it here:

Link

With the exception of Lee Corso, the ESPN crew was highly critical of FBS-FCS games, particularly those occurring late in the season (an SEC specialty).

The segment began with Chris Fowler listing a series of recent SEC opponents from the FCS. Fowler then noted:

Of course, a year ago this week Georgia Southern went to the swamp and did stun Georgia, giving license to all the SEC coaches to talk up the virtues, the worthiness, of today’s opponents.

Fowler delivered this line with a great deal of sarcasm, concentrating so much on his delivery that he forgot Georgia Southern actually beat Florida last year, not Georgia.

ESPN then showed snippets of various SEC coaches discussing their opponents for this week. The clips were clearly selected to make it seem that the coaches were overhyping their FCS foes.

If you were really paying attention, though, there wasn’t that much sandbagging going on. Mark Richt was probably a little over-the-top in extolling Charleston Southern’s “fever” to win, but there was nothing fraudulent about Gus Malzahn saying Samford was a “good I-AA team” (it is), or Nick Saban stating that Western Carolina was “a much improved team” (certainly true), or Will Muschamp noting that Eastern Kentucky was a playoff team in “I-AA, or whatever we’re calling that now” (he was right, as EKU made the FCS playoffs).

Also, Muschamp lost to an FCS school last year. Why wouldn’t he be concerned with a matchup against another team from that division?

Heck, he had been fired earlier in the week. Why would he have bothered overselling the game anyway?

Arguably, though, the most misleading clips were those of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, as he discussed South Alabama, the Gamecocks’ opponent last Saturday. There was no mention by anyone on the set that South Alabama wasn’t actually an FCS school at all (the Jaguars are members of the Sun Belt).

Considering South Carolina’s struggles of late (particularly on defense), Spurrier had good reason to be respectful of his upcoming opponent.

“We’re not trying to belittle [the FCS],” said Fowler, after spending the previous two minutes belittling the FCS. He then criticized the SEC for playing these games. “It’s not good for the sport.”

After a short interlude with Corso, Kirk Herbstreit looked right at the camera and said:

This is the worst thing that goes on in college football.

Yes. He said that. The worst thing that goes on in the sport. FCS vs. FBS matchups. Not any of the myriad off-field issues, not the safety concerns on the field, none of that.

“No due respect to the FCS and what they’re doing,” Herbstreit continued (with an unintentional but perhaps more accurate slip of the tongue), “…there should be a penalty [from the college football playoff committee]…when you play games like this. We need to eliminate these games when it comes to the non-conference [schedules]. They’re not good for the FCS schools, they’re not good for the SEC schools, or any other schools that play ’em. It’s just bad for the game. We have no games this weekend!”

“I hate it!” me-tooed Desmond Howard, who added that when he was in school, his alma mater (Michigan) didn’t play FCS schools. Of course, that changed after Howard left Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines rather famously played an FCS school in 2007.

Lee Corso then pointed out that the games are a financial boon to the FCS schools. Herbstreit’s response: “We’ve got enough money now…if it’s about the money, give ’em the money, just don’t schedule [these games].” Corso began cackling at the notion.

Let’s go through some of these comments:

– “There should be a penalty…when you play games like this.”

A team that schedules quality FBS non-conference opponents is probably going to be looked upon more favorably by the playoff committee than one that plays lesser competition. I’m not even sure that’s an issue.

Exactly how many FBS schools are going to be competing for one of those playoff spots in a given year, however? There are 65 FBS schools in the power five conferences (including Notre Dame in that group). How many of them are going to be serious contenders for one of four spots? What about the other 63 schools that compete at the FBS level? (Well, we probably know the answer to that last question.)

– “They’re not good for the FCS schools.”

This statement made me wonder if Herbstreit has ever talked to someone associated with an FCS school.

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

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

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

– “We have no games this weekend!”

Well, I looked at the schedule. I saw plenty of games.

There may not have been a matchup between two ranked SEC teams, but keep in mind that various ESPN networks featured several prominent SEC battles early in the season, while other conferences were in the midst of their non-league schedules. It’s a trade-off.

The truth of the matter is there were a lot of quality games played last weekend. Maybe you had to look a little deeper into the world of college football to find them, but is that such a bad thing?

Also, remember Week 5 of this season? That Saturday, College GameDay wound up at the Missouri-South Carolina game, due to a perceived lack of quality matchups (both the Gamecocks and Tigers already had a loss at the time, with Mizzou having just lost at home to Indiana).

Was that slate of games so poor because of a bunch of FBS-FCS matchups? No. There were only two such games in that week: Army-Yale (a game won in double overtime by the Elis), and Eastern Illinois-Ohio (the Bobcats won 34-19).

Sometimes, the schedule for a given week just isn’t going to be that alluring. That has little to do with FBS-FCS games (which were only around 7% of the complete FBS schedule for the regular season anyway).

Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir watched Herbstreit and company before WCU played Alabama later that day, and he wasn’t happy.

Now, I think Speir was a little heavyhanded in his criticism of Herbstreit. The “silver spoon” reference was not necessary.

However, I fully understand Speir’s frustration, and he had every right to call out the former Ohio State quarterback for his remarks (particularly the “worst thing that goes on in college football” line uttered by Herbstreit, which was simply ludicrous).

I thought it was good of Speir to speak out, and to let people know that he was personally offended by the comments that were made. Too often the point of view from the FCS side of the aisle goes unheard.

After all, Speir has been a coach on the FCS level for most of his career, including a long stint as an assistant at Appalachian State. He was in Michigan Stadium that fateful day when the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines.

In my opinion, the FCS-FBS matchups are largely good for college football, because college football is about a lot more than the schools in the power five conferences. This is something that appears to be hard for some people to understand.

The concept of what is best for the greater good of college football — well, it seems to be lost in certain quarters. I’ve said this before, but I honestly get the impression some members of the national college football media cabal think there should only be thirty or forty schools that play football, and that the rest should just give up the sport.

I’m not the only person who gets that vibe, judging from these comments by Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman:

Huesman was watching “Gameday” from his hotel room in Greenville, S.C., before the Mocs’ game against Furman, but he said he will not watch the show again.

“Herbstreit has bothered me for a few years now,” Huesman said. “Nothing to him matters except big-time college football. And then Desmond Howard jumped in, too, and that’s when I had had enough. I’ll never watch that show again.

“I thought it was absolutely ridiculous for them to put on a rant like that during the course of a show about college football. I thought it was disrespectful. He just alienated people.

It should be pointed out that the backdrop for Saturday’s ESPN discussion was an FCS game (Yale-Harvard), and that College GameDay visited the fine folks at North Dakota State earlier this season (for the second consecutive year). There are people at the network who clearly appreciate the FCS, along with other divisions of college football. I’m glad for that.

I just wish there were more of them, and that they were on camera.

2014 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 25. 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. 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 Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston at his 10/21 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mark Speir on the SoCon teleconference

Great starts key great start for WCU football

Carson Smith was reinstated by the SoCon on Wednesday, following an appeal by The Citadel to the league’s executive committee. This will allow Smith to participate in Saturday’s game against Western Carolina.

I’m glad the executive committee made the right decision. Obviously, it would have been nice if the call on the field had not been botched in the first place, but you can’t have everything. Smith will presumably be more than ready to go against the Catamounts after missing almost the entire Chattanooga contest following the errant ejection.

The league’s press release was rather perfunctory, consisting of only eight sentences. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea for the SoCon to include an explanation from the committee as to why it overturned the suspension, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting an angry screed from the conference about the injustice of the situation.

That’s my job.

You may recall that last year, Western Carolina played what I called “Division I’s most absurd schedule”, as it faced three FBS squads (Middle Tennessee State, Virginia Tech, and Auburn) and two transitional FBS schools (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern), all on the road. This, after having not beaten a Division I team of any kind (FBS or FCS) since September of 2010.

That was last year. WCU eventually did pick up that elusive D1 victory later in 2013 (beating Elon in OT at Homecoming), but finished with a 2-10 record.

In 2014, things have changed. Western Carolina is still loading up on FBS opponents, with two this season (South Florida in the opener, Alabama in the finale), but the Catamounts currently sport a 5-2 record that includes three SoCon victories, including two straight.

That 3-0 SoCon record is a very big deal for WCU, given that the Catamounts entered this season having only won four league games since 2006. Western Carolina had lost 29 of its last 30 conference matchups prior to 2014.

WCU hasn’t been 3-0 in the league since 1994. If the Catamounts win on Saturday, they will match their best-ever league start.

It has taken time, but Mark Speir appears to have things moving in the right direction in Cullowhee. A competitive WCU program is good for the league, in my opinion.

The Citadel has won eight of its last ten meetings with the Catamounts, but clearly is going to have to get better going forward to continue having the upper hand in this series. That’s okay, though; the military college has to get better on the gridiron anyway.

While there is no question that Western Carolina has improved, I’m a little uncertain as to the level of improvement. WCU has defeated two non-D1 schools (Brevard and Catawba), a team with QB injury problems (Furman), and a conference debutant (Mercer).

However, the Catamounts can also claim a 26-14 home victory over Wofford. In that game, WCU ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown, blocked a 24-yard field goal attempt, forced a fumble when the Terriers had 2nd-and-goal on the 1, and picked up a safety on another Wofford miscue.

Western Carolina actually had fewer total yards than the Terriers. On the other hand, Wofford had averaged 430 rushing yards in its previous eight games against the Catamounts, but was held to 270 yards on the ground this time. Wofford also had no aerial attack in that contest, completing just one pass for three yards.

That is an impressive defensive performance.

WCU’s season opener was a loss to South Florida in which the Catamounts led at halftime and only lost by five points (36-31). Western Carolina quarterback Troy Mitchell was 46-66 (not a typo) passing for 374 yards against the Bulls.

Mark Speir had a notable quote after that game, which after all was a very solid effort against an FBS program:

There will be no more moral victories in Cullowhee. You either win or you lose. We lost.

The Catamounts’ other defeat came at Presbyterian by a 19-14 score. PC won that game thanks mostly to a pair of pick-sixes, including one in the last two minutes of the game. Western Carolina outgained the Blue Hose 359-222, but couldn’t overcome five turnovers (including four interceptions).

The dynamics of the reshuffled SoCon and the loss to Presbyterian combine to make it difficult to assess just how good Western Carolina is this year. In all fairness, though, PC is 3-1 against FCS opposition so far this season. The Blue Hose spoiled Charleston Southern’s homecoming last week, suggesting Harold Nichols has turned the corner in Clinton.

Some general statistics for consideration:

Western Carolina has passed (or been sacked attempting to throw the ball) on 42.9% of its plays. It should be noted, though, that 53.5% of WCU’s total offense has come via the air; the Catamounts are second in the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency.

WCU is third in the SoCon in scoring offense and (perhaps more surprisingly) second in the league in scoring defense. Western Carolina is third in both total offense and defense in the conference.

The Catamounts are averaging 4.5 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt; those numbers combine for  a 5.7 yards/play average. As a comparison, The Citadel’s offense has a 5.4 yards/play average, while the Bulldogs’ D is allowing 6.1 yards per snap.

WCU’s defense leads the league in defensive pass efficiency, but is only sixth-best in rush D. The Catamounts are allowing 4.5 yards per rush, a higher average than any SoCon squad except VMI and (sigh) The Citadel.

Western Carolina leads the SoCon in kickoff return average and is second in interceptions (conversely, The Citadel’s defense has yet to pick off a pass in 2014). WCU’s kickoff coverage unit isn’t nearly as good as its return team, as it’s next-to-last in the league.

WCU is the second-most penalized team in the league. However, The Citadel is last in the league in opponents’ penalty yardage.

The Bulldogs simply don’t force the opposition to make mistakes that result in penalties. Either that, or officials are simply less inclined to flag teams playing The Citadel; you be the judge.*

The Citadel and Western Carolina are 1-2 in the conference in third-down conversion rate (47.5% for the Bulldogs, 44.9% for the Catamounts). While Western Carolina’s D is middle-of-the-pack in third-down conversion rate against (39.6%), The Citadel is dead last in that category (a very poor 49.5%).

The Catamounts have dominated fourth down in 2014, converting 8 of 11 tries on offense and only allowing 4 of 12 conversions on defense. Both marks lead the conference.

Western Carolina’s offensive red zone touchdown rate is 73.9%, tied for the second-highest mark in the league (The Citadel’s offensive RZ TD rate: 72.4%). Defensively, WCU has a red zone TD rate of 52.4%; The Citadel’s 50% defensive TD rate in the red zone is the SoCon’s best.

*I threw that last line in for the commish.

Troy Mitchell is the starting quarterback for the Catamounts, and the key to WCU’s offense. He has been playing hurt in recent weeks, but Mark Speir downplayed that in the SoCon media teleconference:

“He’s a lot better. He threw the ball well last week, had the zip back on his passes. He gets a little bit sore, but is having no pain. I would say he was about 90-to-95-percent last week. With our athletic trainers, he’s done a great job in rehabbing. He’s back to 100-percent, Troy’s at full speed.”

Mitchell (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is a dual-threat quarterback, especially against The Citadel. The native of Houston has two career 100-yard rushing games; both have come versus the Bulldogs. In last season’s game, Mitchell was also 16-22 passing against The Citadel for 136 yards and a TD (with one interception).

This season, he is completing 65.4% of his passes, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt. Mitchell has thrown eleven touchdown passes while only being intercepted three times.

His rushing numbers in 2014 are relatively modest, averaging 4.0 yards per attempt, and 43 rush yards per game. That’s still the third-highest rush yardage total for the Catamounts.

Backup QB Garrett Brown has appeared in all seven games thus far for Western Carolina, and will likely see action on Saturday as well. Brown has changed roles a couple of times during his career in Cullowhee, having played running back and receiver as well as quarterback. As a freshman in 2011, he caught a 61-yard TD pass against The Citadel (and like this week’s contest, that was WCU’s homecoming game).

Darius Ramsey is the primary running back for WCU. Like Mitchell, Ramsey is a junior, one of many third-year players who have “grown up” in Mark Speir’s program. Also like Mitchell, Ramsey has two 100-yard rushing games on his résumé against The Citadel, having run for 118 yards in 2012 versus the Bulldogs and 102 yards in last season’s matchup (scoring two touchdowns).

Western Carolina has experience and productivity at the wide receiver position. Spearman Robinson (6’4″, 215 lbs.) has eight touchdown receptions this season. He had 120 yards receiving and two touchdowns against Furman, and added three more scores (and 102 receiving yards) last week versus Mercer. He’s a major threat.

Spearman Robinson (who is from Greenwood, SC) is one of two wideouts named Robinson who start for WCU, with sophomore Terryon Robinson being the other. Terryon Robinson and Spearman Robinson (not related) both have 28 receptions for the Catamounts so far this season.

Despite not having the surname Robinson, Karnorris Benson is still allowed to start at wide receiver for Western Carolina. That’s probably because Benson caught 12 touchdown passes last season, tying a school record. He’s missed some time this season, but was back for the Mercer game, catching his first TD pass of the campaign.

Western Carolina’s starting offensive line averages 6’2″, 281 lbs. It is made up primarily of third- and fourth-year players, though left guard Ethan James is a sophomore.

Right tackle Josh Wineberg is the tallest of the group, at 6’6″. He was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Starting center Jake Thornton is the grandson of former Buffalo Bills guard Billy Shaw, a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Tangent: Billy Shaw is the only player in the Hall to have never played in the NFL, having spent his entire career (1960-1969) in the AFL.

Western Carolina’s defense normally operates out of the 4-3, though as always that is subject to change given The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Defensive end Caleb Hawkins (6’3″ 255 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with 6 1/2. Rapidly improving defensive tackle Helva Matungulu (6’5″, 280 lbs.) is a native of Kenya who played Rugby 7s before trying American football at Western Carolina.

Noseguard Ezavian Dunn is a 6’2″ 315 lb. true freshman who has started three games this season for the Catamounts, including the last two. He blocked a field goal attempt against Wofford.

Linebacker Christon Gill has 63 tackles, most on the squad. He also leads WCU in sacks with three (two of which came versus Mercer last week).

Daniel Riddle is the Catamounts’ second-leading tackler. The linebacker is a question mark for the game on Saturday after suffering a shoulder injury against Mercer (though he is listed on WCU’s depth chart as a potential starter).

Sertonuse Harris was a safety in 2013; this year, he’s an impact linebacker. So far this season, Harris has six tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, three pass breakups, and two fumble recoveries.

The Catamounts have a fine secondary, led by sophomore cornerback Trey Morgan (who has four interceptions to lead the conference). Morgan is from North Augusta, and is one of seven South Carolinians on Western Carolina’s roster.

Strong safety Ace Clark has good size (6’3″, 220 lbs.) and athleticism (he blocked a field goal attempt against The Citadel last year). Clark was a second-team all-SoCon pick by the league’s coaches following last season.

Sophomore safety Bryson Jordan is the son of former Falcon/Brave Brian Jordan.

Placekicker Richard Sigmon has only attempted three field goals this season, making all three (with a long of 33). He is also perfect on PATs. Last season, Sigmon was 10-13 on field goal attempts, and did not miss from inside 39 yards (8-8).

Sigmon has shared kickoff duties this season with Mark Powell.

Destry Barnwell is a true freshman from Charlotte who has done all the punting for Western Carolina this season. Barnwell is averaging 40.0 yards per punt, with eight of his thirty-three punts landing inside the 20-yard line (he also has four touchbacks).

Backup running back Detrez Newsome is the primary kick returner, and he’s a good one. He is averaging over 30 yards per return and took one back 100 yards for a TD to open the game against Wofford.

Terryon Robinson or Garrett Brown will serve as WCU’s punt returner on Saturday, as regular return man C.J. Goodman is out.

Odds and ends:

– Next season, Western Carolina will again play multiple FBS opponents. WCU will square off against Texas A&M and Tennessee in 2015.

– The game against The Citadel on Saturday will be Western Carolina’s Homecoming. The Catamounts and Bulldogs have met six times during Homecoming in Cullowhee; The Citadel is 5-1 in those games, with WCU’s sole victory coming in 2009.

Western Carolina was 0-5 entering that 2009 game, but defeated the Bulldogs 14-10 in one of the more inept offensive performances of the Kevin Higgins era.

– The Citadel also lost to WCU the following season, in 2010, which was the last time the Catamounts had beaten a Division I program until last year’s game against Elon.

– Bob Waters Field is an artificial surface. The most recent change in the field came in 2008, with the installation of Desso Challenge Pro 2 turf, a “nylon-like, woven base interlaced with synthetic ‘blades of grass’ that are approximately two inches in length.”

– Western Carolina’s nickname (“Catamounts”) was chosen in 1933. The second choice was “Mountain Boomers”. How great a nickname would “Mountain Boomers” have been? Oh, WCU, you missed a chance there.

Before adopting the “Catamounts” moniker, Western Carolina’s teams were known as the “Teachers” and also (according to some reports) the “Yodelers”.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, WCU is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel on Saturday. The over/under is 56.

– Spike The Bulldog is 6-2 so far in the Capital One Mascot Challenge. This week, his opponent is Boise State’s Buster Bronco.

Vote for Spike!

This is going to be a tough game for the Bulldogs. Western Carolina’s program has been imbued with a confidence that hasn’t really existed in Cullowhee in about a decade.

The players expect to win, and so does the fan base. My understanding is that Whitmire Stadium will be filled close to capacity on Saturday, so the atmosphere should be excellent.

I expect a fair number of blue-clad fans will be in attendance on what promises to be a beautiful day in the mountains. I can’t be among them this week, alas.

That’s okay, though. What is much more important is that the team comes ready to play.

When I watch the game on the SoCon Digital Network (hopefully figuring out a way to “simulcast” it with Mike Legg and Lee Glaze on the radio call), I expect to see spirit and commitment, things that appeared to be absent during the Chattanooga game. That is imperative.

I also want to see crisp play on both sides of the ball. For each and every game, I expect to see improvement in the team’s play. That obviously didn’t happen last week.

If things don’t get better, the Bulldogs won’t have much of a chance. However, I suspect The Citadel will rebound this week. If it does, I think there is an opportunity to pull off a road victory on Saturday.

Go Dogs!

2013 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:30 pm pm ET on Saturday, September 14. 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.

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

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference: The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins

SoCon media teleconference: Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins says the Bulldogs are going back to basics on offense

The Post and Courier “Scouting Report”

Profile of Derek Douglas on the “Off the Collar” blog

Donnell Boucher works with the first battalion non-corps squad freshmen

I don’t have a lot to add about the Wofford game that hasn’t already been said or written. Just a few observations…

– Third down conversions: Wofford 9 for 18, The Citadel 3 for 15. That summed up the game about as well as anything else.

– Carl Robinson had an outstanding game, including 16 tackles. Robinson has 30 tackles through two games, which leads the SoCon.

– Brandon McCladdie led the Bulldogs in all-purpose yards. When a defensive back who doesn’t return kicks leads the team in all-purpose yards, it’s generally not a good thing.

– I thought the defense played fairly well with the exception of allowing some big pass plays. Of course, not allowing big pass plays is a key component in good defense.

– Preseason fears about punting have largely been alleviated, thanks to the solid work by Eric Goins over two games.

Kevin Higgins, during his Monday press conference:

It’s apparent that our execution is not where it needs to be. We’re going to simplify as much as we can, maybe get back to the basics more like we did last year.

We want to make sure we are majoring in a couple of things, and do those things real well to give us a chance to be successful.

As Jeff Hartsell pointed out later, “the ‘back to basics’ theme is never a good sign.” Which is true…most of the time. I remember a notable exception.

Prior to The Citadel’s 1991 season, Charlie Taaffe decided to switch from his successful wishbone offense to the veer. Why?

The reason we’re diversifying our offense is simply because most of the teams in the Southern Conference have seen the wishbone so much now they’re getting better at defensing it. We’ve got to do some different things or they’ll be all over us. Plus, it’ll  give us a chance to throw the ball more and be more exciting to watch.

Taaffe added to this as the season drew closer:

I feel like we’ve taken our program to a level [note: this was Taaffe’s fifth season at The Citadel]. To get to the next level, we have to be more dimensional. We ran the ball 86% of the time last year. We need more balance in our offense. We need to force defenses to defend more things.

The Citadel started the 1991 season 1-1, not playing particularly well in its opener against Presbyterian and then losing to Wofford. At that point, Taaffe did something that must have been very hard for him to do.

He junked the veer and went back to the wishbone.

That decision saved the season. After losing 33-26 to Chattanooga in a game in which the offense came to life, The Citadel won four of its next five games, and six of its last eight. The victories included wins over Army (a first on the gridiron for the Bulldogs) and Furman (breaking a nine-game slide in that series).

The quotes from this article, which followed The Citadel’s 38-13 victory over Western Carolina that season, are illuminating. The offensive switch-back even had a positive impact on the defense.

In winning their final three games last year, the Bulldogs averaged almost 36 points per contest. If “back to basics” means a return to that type of offensive productivity, then it’s the right thing to do.

Western Carolina is playing what is, in my opinion, Division I’s most absurd schedule in 2013. The Catamounts have already played FBS foes Middle Tennessee State and Virginia Tech; later in the season, WCU travels to Auburn. That’s three FBS opponents to go along with two FBS-transitional teams (Georgia Southern and Appalachian State). Western Carolina will be the road team in all five contests.

This is a program that has lost 12 straight games overall, and 22 straight in the SoCon. Western Carolina’s victory over The Citadel on September 3, 2010, was its last win over a D-1 team.

I know it’s a cash grab, but it’s really unfair to the players and coaches in that situation to have to play three FBS opponents. It can’t be easy for second-year coach Mark Speir.

Having said that, if WCU is going to climb out of its gridiron hole, Speir strikes me as the man to lead the way. I think he was a very good hire (and I’m far from alone in that assessment). This season’s schedule may set him back a year, though. We’ll see.

It is hard to get any kind of read on this year’s edition of the Catamounts, since they’ve only played FBS competition thus far. Actually, going back to last season (when WCU finished with a bye and Alabama, respectively), Western Carolina hasn’t played an FCS school since November 3, 2012.

That was a game against Chattanooga, and the Catamounts led the Mocs after three quarters. The week before the UTC contest, Western Carolina gave Appalachian State a good game (losing 38-27).

The Catamounts also led The Citadel in the third quarter at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, and were tied with the Bulldogs entering the fourth quarter before The Citadel pulled away. That matchup, you may recall, featured a game-turning special-teams play by Vinny Miller.

One of the stars for Western Carolina in that game at JHS was quarterback Troy Mitchell, who rushed for 117 yards and two TDs in the loss. Mitchell did not play in the Catamounts’ game at Virginia Tech, but is expected to start against The Citadel.

Also missing against the Hokies was running back Darius Ramsey, who has not played yet this season for WCU. Ramsey rushed for 118 yards against The Citadel in last year’s game.

Garry Lewis, a freshman, is listed as the starting running back in WCU’s one-back set. The Catamounts may start the game against the Bulldogs with four wideouts.

Western Carolina has some experience along the offensive line, but is also starting a true freshman at right guard, Tanner Poindexter. The caption besides Poindexter’s name on the two-deep in the WCU game notes reads as follows:

Played center in 2012 Shrine Bowl after all-conference at guard … Sports a very interesting hair style – “a mullet”

As usual, the Catamounts’ media relations deparment provide all the necessary information about its team.

Western Carolina has a new defensive coordinator, one who should be very familiar with the Bulldogs’ triple option attack. Last year, Shawn Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Charleston Southern; prior to that, he was at Georgia Southern.

WCU would normally be a 4-3 base D, but that is likely to be adjusted against the Bulldogs.

Quinn will not have the services of Rock Williams this year, much to the relief of Ben Dupree and company. In last year’s game, Williams had 24 tackles, the highest total recorded in the league by a player all season.

As for this year’s players, Bryson Jordan is a freshman who will start at outside linebacker for WCU. He is the son of former Brave (and Falcon) Brian Jordan.

Another freshman, Trey Morgan, is one of the Catamounts’ starting cornerbacks and is highly regarded. He was praised by ESPN3 analyst (and former UNC coach) John Bunting as “a real steal” during the game against Virginia Tech. WCU’s defensive backfield is a team strength, one that also includes preseason second-team SoCon pick Ace Clark.

Western Carolina likes to play a lot of d-linemen, generally a good strategy. There are some interesting backgrounds among the players along the line, including backup nosetackle Helva Matungulu, a native of Kenya who had never played football before arriving in Cullowhee. He is a converted rugby player.

The Catamounts return both their placekicker and punter from last year.

Western Carolina starts four “true” freshmen on its two-deep and played 20 freshmen (including seven true freshmen) in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State. This is a young team.

I don’t know what to expect from the Bulldogs on Saturday. It’s put up or shut up time, I suppose.

One thing that worries me is this has become a big game for Western Carolina. After The Citadel, WCU plays Mars Hill, and then starts a three-game road swing: Samford, Chattanooga, and Auburn. In other words, the Catamounts could really use a win against the Bulldogs, and probably have increased confidence that they have an opportunity, given The Citadel’s struggles.

Oddsmakers list The Citadel as a four-point favorite, a small spread considering WCU’s difficulties in recent years against Division I competition. It is understandable, however, when taking into account what The Citadel has done so far this season.

I am not worried about what Las Vegas thinks, though. My concern is with the mindset of the team. I hope there are still good vibes emanating from those wearing the blue and white.

To bring home a victory from Cullowhee, positive thoughts are a necessity. So are hard hits and tough runs.

I think there is still some bite to these Bulldogs. Saturday is the time to show it.

2012 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 13.  The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the twelve 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 and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show

Comments from Kevin Higgins at his weekly press conference

Mark Speir SoCon teleconference

Hey, read about The Citadel’s outstanding punter, Cass Couey. He likes to fish!

When The Citadel played Western Carolina last season, I wrote (among other things) the following:

The game against Western Carolina isn’t about a learning experience, or moving forward, or anything like that. There is only one goal for the matchup with the Catamounts, and only one acceptable outcome.  The Citadel must win this game.

That was true then, and it is true now, though the circumstances are not quite the same. The Citadel was 2-4 at this point last season, having lost two straight games, and played WCU on the road.

This year, the Bulldogs are 3-3, but have lost three consecutive contests, with the last two games being dispiriting affairs. The seventh game of 2012 will take place at Johnson Hagood Stadium, on Parents’ Day.

Last year, The Citadel took care of business against the Catamounts, winning 35-7. What about Saturday’s game?

First, let’s take a quick look back at last Saturday’s game against Samford. Yes, we have to do that…

I think at this point The Citadel is a known quantity on defense. It is a unit that has some limitations, including a lack of experience in key spots. To be fair, though, that was the concern heading into the season.

For example, I believe most people liked our starting linebackers but were worried about depth at that position. Now the Bulldogs have lost two of those three players for the season. That is a problem and will continue to be one for the rest of the campaign.

It doesn’t mean the defense is a lost cause; far from it. There is still talent on that side of the ball.

The main problem on D against Samford, in my view, was that the defensive line did not have a particularly good day, getting very little pressure on Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin, and not having much luck against the run either.

I think the d-line is better than that one game. That was certainly the case against Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. It is also true that against Samford, the defense didn’t get any help from the offense, and that took its toll in the second half.

The offense’s play was the really disappointing thing about the game in Birmingham. It wasn’t the first time The Citadel had struggled offensively against Samford, though.

In three games against Samford since moving to the triple option, The Citadel is a combined 6 for 39 on third-down conversions. That is…not good.

Samford’s “bear” front basically forces a team to go outside or over the top to beat it. A team that is successful in doing so can break a lot of big plays. Georgia Southern couldn’t convert on third down against Samford either (0 for 10), but had three long touchdown runs. In the last three games against Samford, The Citadel has only had four plays from the line of scrimmage that went for longer than 20 yards.

In his weekly press conference, Kevin Higgins referenced both issues. I felt a little better after hearing his comments. The game plan, to me, appears to have been a fairly good one:

Our goal going into the game was to be aggressive…We went for it on fourth-and-one because we wanted to send a message out to our guys that we wanted them to play aggressive. We were fortunate to get the first down. The very next play we had a play-action throw, as Ben Dupree hit Matt Thompson for a 48-yard strike and we got some momentum going there.

We had two legitimate shots for touchdowns that we just didn’t throw the ball real well or we dropped it. We ended with six dropped balls on the day. Several of those being real tough catches, but we needed to make those plays. Additionally in the second quarter Dupree threw an interception off a scramble and that hurt us [it certainly did, as it was returned for a TD].

Third down conversions were not good…We didn’t do a good job at continuing drives, as we ended up going 1-14 on third-down conversions. If we would have moved the ball better in the first half, it would have taken pressure off of our defense.

That comes close to summing up the offense’s afternoon.

Before moving on to the Western Carolina game, a special teams observation. The Citadel had a field goal blocked against Samford, never a good thing, but paid back that mishap with its own field goal block a short time later. It was yet another rejection for special teams stalwart Domonic Jones. He also got a hand on a second Samford field goal attempt that eventually sailed wide.

In his last 17 games, Jones has blocked six punts and two field goal attempts (not counting the deflection against Samford). He blocked two punts against Jacksonville in last year’s opener, and would later block a punt versus Elon and another in the VMI game (of course, you had to take a number to do that against the Keydets).

Jones has burned Appalachian State in consecutive seasons, blocking a punt for a TD in both the 2011 and 2012 games against the Mountaineers. His first career block of a field goal attempt came this year and was a critical play in the Bulldogs’ victory over Georgia Southern (and may have influenced the Eagles’ other FG attempt, a last-second miss).

Blocking a kick every other game is rather remarkable, and while Jones has drawn some recognition for his kick-blocking exploits, I’m not sure he has really received his just due. I think the SoCon needs to consider adding a place on its all-conference team for a special teams performer who isn’t a kicker or return man. Jones would be an obvious candidate to fill that spot.

Times have been tough for the Western Carolina football program in recent years. If you need confirmation of that, all you have to do is look at the WCU game notes. I’ve seen a lot of releases over the years, but the folks in Cullowhee have apparently made a commitment to stating brutal truths. No sugarcoating is allowed, I guess. The lowlights include:

– An 18-game losing streak in SoCon play, which is the longest current streak of futility for any FCS team in its own conference. The last time Western Carolina won a league game? Well, it was the last time WCU played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

– That win over The Citadel in 2010 is also the last time the Catamounts defeated an NCAA Division I opponent, and the last time WCU won a road game.

– Western Carolina lost 20 SoCon games in a row from 2005-08.

– WCU has lost five straight games this season after winning its opener against Mars Hill.

– The Catamounts are 4-29 in their last 33 road contests, a stretch that dates back to 2005. WCU’s current road losing streak stands at 11 games, which is the sixth-longest such streak among FCS schools (Idaho State has lost a staggering 36 consecutive road games).

– WCU beat Mars Hill 42-14. The fourteen points allowed by the Catamounts marked the fewest points scored by an opponent since, you guessed it, the 2010 game against The Citadel (a 24-13 WCU victory).

– Western Carolina has lost 47 of its last 50 Southern Conference games. Two of the three victories have come against The Citadel.

On the bright side, most observers applauded Western Carolina’s selection of Mark Speir as its new head coach. Speir was a student assistant at Clemson during the latter part of the Danny Ford era in Tigertown. He then moved to Western Carolina for several years before three-year stops at Presbyterian and Elon. He had been on the Appalachian State coaching staff since 2003, and the recruiting coordinator for Jerry Moore since 2004.

Speir comes across (at least in the media teleconferences the SoCon puts out every week) as folksy, but not overly so. While listening to him this week, I was particularly impressed with a comment he made (basically unprompted) about this year’s Catamount squad:

I told [the WCU players] we are still here for this team, the 2012 team, to be a good football team, and we have five more opportunities to become a good football team…and our staff is not looking to next year, we’re looking [forward] to this week and the next four weeks…

That sounds like the opposite of, say, Charlie Weis. Being the opposite of Charlie Weis as a football coach strikes me as a good place to be (although Weis apparently has a great agent).

Speir clearly has his work cut out for him, though, especially this season. This year’s WCU outfit has been okay offensively, but on defense…not so much.

The aforementioned game notes actually include a paragraph entitled “Western Carolina’s Troubles With The Triple Option”. I couldn’t wait to read that section.

– Wofford rushed for 590 yards against the Catamounts, averaging over 8.5 yards per carry. Three Terriers rushed for over 100 yards.

– Georgia Southern rushed for 614 yards against WCU, averaging over 7.7 yards per carry. GSU had five different ballcarriers rush for at least 89 yards.

– You didn’t have to run the triple option to run on Western Carolina, though. Furman averaged 7.9 yards per carry in its victory over the Catamounts; the Paladins’ Jerodis Williams rushed for 239 yards on only 18 carries. Williams also added a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD.

– Samford running back Fabian Truss rushed for 180 yards against Western Carolina.

In that Samford game, though, Western Carolina actually had the lead in the fourth quarter before giving up 15 unanswered points and losing 25-21. Still, that level of competitiveness should get The Citadel’s attention.

WCU opened the scoring against Samford with a fumble recovery for a touchdown, one of three fumble returns for TDs the Catamounts have had this season. Maybe it isn’t the world’s greatest defense, but it appears WCU’s D is at least opportunistic at times.

Western Carolina runs a spread offense, not unlike that of Appalachian State. Eddie Sullivan has received the bulk of the snaps at quarterback, but Troy Mitchell will also see a lot of time. Against Georgia Southern, the two were interchanged for each other on almost every down, and occasionally were in the backfield together.

The Catamounts have several running backs; the two-deep’s listed starter, Michael Vaughn, has fewer rushing yards than three of the other RBs. Jacoby Mitchell is Western Carolina’s leading receiver, but keep an eye on 6’4″ freshman Spearman Robinson, a native of Greenwood.

There appears to be a bit of uncertainty on the left side of WCU’s offensive line, with both the LG and LT spots on the two-deep listed as an “or” situation. Josh Weinberg is a 260-lb. true freshman who will start at right tackle.

On defense, Western Carolina’s best player is linebacker/tackling machine Rock Williams, a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Randy Pressley isn’t listed as a starter at linebacker, but he made 16 tackles against Georgia Southern last week, including the Catamounts’ only tackle for loss.

WCU’s defensive line is not particularly large, as only two of the nine players on the depth chart weigh more than 265 lbs. and four of them weigh less than 250 lbs. The secondary is young; two of the starters are freshmen, and two others are sophomores.

Western Carolina punter Clark Sechrest is having a good year thus far. He presents a different challenge for Domonic Jones and company in that he is left-footed and can employ the “rugby style” of punting. He is also the backup placekicker. According to WCU’s website, he kicks field goals and PATs with his right foot.

The regular placekicker for WCU, Richard Sigmon, is 4 for 8 on FG attempts with a long of 45. He has had one kick blocked. Sigmon is also the kickoff specialist. Four of his 27 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.

Western Carolina’s punt return unit is not particularly strong. On kickoff returns, the long for the season for the Catamounts is 38 yards.

Tangent alert…

I need a ruling. Is Saturday’s game Parent’s Day (as noted on the school’s game preview) or Parents Day (on the website’s season schedule)? Actually, I think Parents’ Day would be more correct than either.

The press release from External Affairs refers to “Parents’ Weekend” throughout, except for (of course) the title of the release (“Parents Weekend”).

I’m going to go with Parents’ Day on this blog post. Yes, I know nobody cares.

What we really care about is the action on the field. The Citadel needs to win this game. It doesn’t really matter how, although I would personally be in favor of a blowout victory in which everyone gets to play a lot and the cadets all get overnights. Hey, I’m generous. Also, I remember Parents’ Day 1986 all too well. Not a good weekend.

There have been some good Parents’ Day games (the most famous being The Citadel’s 1950 victory over South Carolina), but lately things haven’t gone the home team’s way at what I call the “celebration” games — Parents’ Day and Homecoming. The Citadel has lost five consecutive celebration games.

Since 1953 (when the modern yearly Parents’ Day/Homecoming advanced schedule began), The Citadel has never lost six consecutive celebration games.

Incidentally, in none of those five losses did The Citadel wear its “traditional” uniform of light blue jerseys/white pants. Sure, that is just a coincidence. Still, perhaps Kevin Higgins’ Leadership Council can get together and appease some old alums while reversing a little karma. Just a suggestion.

I think the Bulldogs will win on Saturday, although I’m not overly confident. Nobody should be confident, given the results of the last two weeks. It is also worth pointing out that despite Western Carolina being a terrible football program for a number of years now, the Catamounts have won two of the last three games in this series.

WCU has players on its roster who know they can beat The Citadel. They will be more confident against the Bulldogs than any other SoCon team.

On the other hand, the stats don’t lie. League opponents have run the ball at will against Western Carolina. Saturday’s game is a good opportunity for Triple O’Higgins to put up some big numbers, and for the players to regain some lost confidence.

Perhaps the fans can regain some lost confidence as well.

Congratulations to all the seniors as they get their rings, with a gentle reminder that it isn’t over yet. There are still diplomas to be acquired.

Congratulations also to the freshmen who have made it to this benchmark. You still have a long way to travel, but you’ve survived the most stressful part of the trip.

I hope everyone has a good time this weekend. Let’s win this game.