Football 2019, Game 10: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The Citadel at East Tennessee State, to be played at William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on November 2, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on five television stations in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton provides 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. 

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on ETSU’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/30)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/28)

The Dogs:  Episode 10

About that Homecoming reunion for the Draytons

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders’ weekly press conference

Sanders tells Buccaneers to keep believing

East Tennessee State hopes for happy Homecoming

Basketball preview article in The Post and Courier 

Charlie Taaffe passes away at age 69

Television stations carrying the football game:

  • WCBD (Charleston)
  • WYCW (Greenville/Spartanburg)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WWCW (Roanoke, VA)
  • WJHL (Tri-Cities [TN])

It is possible that the game will be carried on a digital sub-channel on one of the above-mentioned stations, rather than the primary channel itself. Check your local listings if you plan on watching the game on TV.

This preview is a little on the short side. Sorry about that, but A) I’ve been really busy, and B) my computer picked a less-than-ideal time to die.

I just hope the Bulldogs are more functional on Saturday than I am right now.

Also, the next preview (for the Chattanooga game) will be late, possibly being posted on the Friday night before the contest. It will not be very long. Just as The Citadel’s football team has an upcoming break, I’m taking some time off as well.

Okay, back to the present…

This week’s “stats of note” for East Tennessee State are for its five SoCon games. I didn’t include the statistics for the Buccaneers’ games against Appalachian State, Shorter, or Austin Peay.

ETSU Opponents
Points Per Game 16.2 24.6
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 138 220
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.45 5.30
Attempts-Completions-Interceptions 155-84-3 147-86-3
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 5.10 4.69
Total Plays 304 376
Yards per play 5.26 5.05
Total punts 30 25
Punting Net Average 34.4 38.5
Penalties-Yards 26-271 19-186
Penalty yards per game 54.2 37.2
Time of Possession per game 28:17 31:43
Offensive plays per second 27.91 seconds 25.31 seconds
3rd Down Conversions 17/63 (26.98%) 31/73 (42.47%)
4th Down Conversions 2/5 (40.00%) 5/8 (62.50%)
Fumbles-Lost 6-5 6-2
Sacks-Yards Lost 9-49 11-66
Red Zone: Touchdowns 5/12 (41.67%) 14/21 (66.67%)
Turnover Margin -3 +3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 45.39% 58.51%

Random observations based on the above statistics (remember, these are conference numbers only):

– In terms of yardage, ETSU is the second-most penalized team in the league; penalties on special teams have particularly bedeviled the Bucs

– The Buccaneers are not having a lot of fumble luck; losing five out of six fumbles is kind of rough

– ETSU is last in the league in scoring offense

– One reason for that is the Buccaneers are last in offensive third down conversion rate, and by a lot

– East Tennessee State is also the only team in the league with an offensive red zone TD rate under 50%; conversely, The Citadel’s offense has a red zone TD rate of 76%

– The Citadel and ETSU are the bottom two teams in the league in offensive yards per play, but one key difference is the Bulldogs average almost 15 more offensive plays per game

East Tennessee State’s non-conference slate went about as expected. The Bucs lost 42-7 to Appalachian State, whipped Shorter 48-10, and picked up a nice home victory over Austin Peay (20-14).

It was the game in between the victories over Shorter and Austin Peay that arguably set the tone for ETSU’s fortunes (or lack thereof) in SoCon play. VMI came to Johnson City, and in a game delayed by lightning, the Keydets eventually prevailed 31-24 in overtime.

That was not how the Buccaneers wanted to begin the league slate, and things didn’t improve from there. ETSU dropped a tough game at Furman (17-10) and then lost at home to Wofford (35-17, with the Terriers pulling away late).

A week off didn’t change the momentum. On a Thursday night, Chattanooga beat the Bucs 16-13 on a last-minute field goal (after the Mocs had struggled mightily in the kicking game throughout the contest). Last week, Samford edged ETSU 24-17, with a 4th-quarter TD by the Crimson Bulldogs proving to be the winning score.

Both of those games were on the road. Saturday’s game is the first at home for East Tennessee State since October 5.

Some comments from ETSU head football coach Randy Sanders on his radio show this week:

– “We have to be ready to score.” Sanders emphasized the lack of possessions in a game against a triple option team, or as he referred to it, a “three back offense”.

– Sanders on the Bulldogs’ offense: “Whenever you get them to punt on 4th down, you’ve done something good.”

– He was complimentary of The Citadel’s defense, saying that it is “much, much more multiple” under first-year defensive coordinator Tony Grantham. According to Sanders, “you can see as the season has gone on…that they have become more comfortable” in the new system.

– Sanders was also impressed with The Citadel’s kickers. He mentioned that he would like to see ETSU punt returner Malik McGue (a transfer from Army) “shake loose” on a return. McGue (5’8″, 188 lbs.) is averaging a healthy 7.1 yards per return despite only having a long of 19 yards on nine runbacks, which suggests he may indeed be someone The Citadel needs to be very wary of on Saturday.

– Star defensive end Nasir Player (a 6’5″, 271 lb. native of Columbia) was called for targeting against Samford last week, and will miss the first half of the game against the Bulldogs. Sanders was not very happy about the call against the redshirt senior, and said “it’s a shame that a call like that…can truly affect two games.”

– The host of the radio show, ETSU play-by-play man Jay Sandos, had good things to say about The Citadel’s quarterback; alas, he kept calling the Bulldogs’ signal-caller “Bobby Rainey”.

A few thoughts on some ETSU players from Brent Thompson on his radio show:

– East Tennessee State’s leading receiver is a tight end, 6’3″, 226 lb. sophomore Nate Adkins. Thompson stated that Adkins is “the best tight end in the league, by far”.

– Thompson noted the Bucs’ excellent defensive ends, Nasir Player and Jason Maduafokwa (6’3″, 270 lbs.), who like Player is a redshirt senior. He was also impressed with ETSU’s linebacking corps, which is a combination of experienced and young (including two redshirt freshman starters).

– He mentioned that in addition to starting quarterback Trey Mitchell (6’4″, 215 lbs.), ETSU will also use the “wildcat” formation at times.

Last year, ETSU won this matchup 26-23 in Charleston. Running back Quay Holmes (6’1″, 216 lbs.) was largely held in check on the ground, but did hurt the Bulldogs with four receptions out of the backfield.

Free safety Tyree Robinson (5’11”, 184 lbs) intercepted two passes in the game, returning one 42 yards for a TD. Robinson and Holmes were both preseason first team all-SoCon selections this year, along with Player and Maduafokwa.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Johnson City, Tennessee, per the National Weather Service: sunny and a high of 56 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 30 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Thursday evening), The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over East Tennessee State, with an over/under of 41 1/2.

Through nine games this season, The Citadel is 4-5 ATS. The over has hit only twice.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: VMI is a 14 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina; Furman is a 9-point favorite at Chattanooga; Samford is a 3-point favorite at Mercer; and Wofford is a 46 1/2 point underdog at Clemson.

– Also of note: Elon is an 11-point favorite over William & Mary; Towson is a 9 1/2 point favorite over Delaware; and Charleston Southern is a 2 1/2 point favorite at Gardner-Webb.

Georgia Tech is a 7 1/2 point home underdog to Pittsburgh.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 27, with Florida A&M favored over Delaware State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 41st in FCS. The Buccaneers are 80th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 72% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 24, ETSU 17.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, James Madison, Sacramento State, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Northern Iowa is 9th, Villanova 11th, Kennesaw State 13th, Southern Illinois 15th, Elon 19th, Furman 22nd, Towson 27th, Idaho 30th, North Carolina A&T 34th, McNeese State 38th, Wofford 42nd, Florida A&M 43rd, Monmouth 48th, Jacksonville State 50th, Holy Cross 55th, Chattanooga 57th, Samford 58th, South Carolina State 60th, Duquesne 63rd, William & Mary 66th, VMI 70th, Campbell 73rd, Georgetown 78th, Tennessee Tech 81st, Prairie View A&M 85th, Mercer 86th, Robert Morris 90th, Charleston Southern 93rd, Gardner-Webb 98th, Davidson 99th, Brown 102nd, Marist 107th, Western Carolina 112th, Howard 117th, Valparaiso 120th, Jacksonville 124th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– East Tennessee State’s notable alumni include former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith (soon to be coaching in the Hula Bowl!), country music singer/bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales.

As I say every year, Bales has one of the best jobs in the world, as he gets to listen to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis.

– Future FBS opponents for the Bucs include Georgia (during the 2020 season), Vanderbilt (2021), North Carolina (2022), and Appalachian State (2024).

– East Tennessee State’s roster includes 43 players from the state of Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (24 players), Alabama (7), North Carolina (7), Ohio (7), South Carolina (6), Florida (6), Virginia (2), and one each from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The Palmetto State products (and their respective high schools) on the Buccaneers’ squad are Ben Blackmon (Newberry), Nasir Player (Ridge View), Landon Kunak (Spartanburg), Treyvion Houston (Greer), Donovan Swinger (T.L. Hanna), and D.J. Twitty (Chapman).

While there are a few South Carolina natives on ETSU’s team, none are from that internationally known purveyor of pigskin perfection, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. What in the name of Donnie Abraham is going on? There is little doubt that failing to recruit the gridiron warriors who wear the famed maroon and orange will haunt the East Tennessee State program for many decades to come.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is largely unchanged from last week’s edition. Gunner Covey is listed as a starter at defensive end.

– When it comes to the coin toss, The Citadel has been very successful, winning the flip at least seven times in nine games; the only one the Bulldogs definitely did not win was versus Charleston Southern. (I have not been able to determine which team won the toss in the Samford game.)

Update: There appears to be some controversy (?!) about this subject. According to this week’s game notes (thanks to commenter MG for pointing this out), The Citadel is 9-0 when it comes to winning the coin toss.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson also referenced having won all the tosses. The problem with this: per the play-by-play for the Charleston Southern game box score, CSU won the coin toss (and elected to defer).

It is true that play-by-play logs are not necessarily gospel. Perhaps asking the game captains might help.

Also, I guess we can now assume (dangerous, making assumptions) that The Citadel did win in fact the coin toss against Samford.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-6 for games played on November 2. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1968: An injury-riddled group of Bulldogs surprised Davidson, 28-21, in a game played at Charlotte Memorial Stadium. Joe Bedenbaugh rushed for 111 yards, and Steve Brackett added 102 yards and two TDs. This is the earliest game on record in which two players for The Citadel broke the 100-yard rushing mark. Tony Passander ran for a touchdown and threw for another (a 58-yarder to Tom Sanchez). On defense, head coach Red Parker singled out Ken Diaz and Charlie Baker for praise.
  • 1985: At Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Western Carolina 10-3. Adrian Williams rushed for the game’s only touchdown. Greg Davis added a field goal and a PAT for the Bulldogs. The Citadel’s defense held the Catamounts to 268 total yards and forced three turnovers, all interceptions — one by Brian Graves and two by J.D. Cauthen.
  • 1991: Before a crowd of 20,071 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Bulldogs beat Appalachian State 17-10. Jack Douglas rushed for 115 yards and threw a 52-yard TD pass to Cornell Caldwell. Erick Little scored The Citadel’s other touchdown on a seven-yard run. Rob Avriett booted a 46-yard field goal and converted both extra points. The Bulldogs thwarted two fourth-quarter drives by the Mountaineers; David Brodsky intercepted a pass that had been tipped by Bill Melby, and later Derek Moore broke up a key fourth-down pass to preserve the win.
  • 2013: After once trailing 17-0, The Citadel came back to win a Homecoming game against Samford, 28-26. Darien Robinson rushed for 83 yards and three touchdowns, while Vinny Miller had 95 yards on the ground and a TD of his own. The defense chipped in with two turnovers — an interception by Nick Willis, and a fumble recovery by Tevin Floyd (created by a Mark Thomas sack). The game also featured a key conversion off a fake punt by Eric Goins, a 27-yard run that set up Robinson’s second touchdown.

Charlie Taaffe was the coach who demonstrated that The Citadel could compete and win in the modern era of college football.

The Bulldogs had not won a Southern Conference title since 1961 when he was hired, but Taaffe used the wishbone offense to lead The Citadel to a league championship and the No. 1 ranking in Division I-AA in 1992. He won the Eddie Robinson award as the I-AA national coach of the year in ’92.

“I think Coach Taaffe is the standard around here,” said current Bulldogs coach Brent Thompson. “He had quite the career record here and he found a way to sustain a lot of success. He was able to win a championship in a very challenging Southern Conference.

“As far as I am concerned, he is probably the guy that is most responsible for us and our staff being back here.”

I was still a cadet when Taaffe was named head football coach at The Citadel. The change in offense was stark, but there also seemed to be a shift in attitude. The new coach had certain standards, and they were going to be met. There didn’t seem to be much doubt about that, somehow.

In just his second year, Taaffe orchestrated an 8-win season that included an undefeated home slate, with memorable wins over Navy and Marshall. There was a palpable enthusiasm that began to envelop Johnson Hagood Stadium on gamedays.

Charlie Taaffe re-established a level of high expectations for the football program; despite some lean years at times, that point of view has persisted into the present day. That is one of his legacies at The Citadel, and it is an outstanding one.

I expect Saturday’s game to be close, and possibly not high-scoring. While East Tennessee State is winless in the SoCon to this point in the season, the Buccaneers are a better team than their record indicates. Randy Sanders stated during his radio show that he expected his team to “play hard”, and there is no reason to doubt that — especially since this is ETSU’s Homecoming game.

If the Bulldogs can do the things they have been doing well of late on offense — ball control and finishing drives — they should be in good shape. That will be particularly true if the defense continues its gradual but noticeable improvement (and maintains its recent run of largely solid play on third down).

It won’t be easy, but The Citadel has an opportunity to continue to play impactful games well into the twilight of the season. The Bulldogs must seize that opportunity.

Game review, 2015: South Carolina

So that happened…

Links of interest (a comprehensive, but by no means complete, list):

Game story, The Post and Courier

Game photos, from The State

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Eric Goins, Dominique Allen, Tyler Renew, Mitchell Jeter, and Mark Thomas

Video from WCIV-TV

Video from WCBD-TV

Video from WLTX-TV

The guys on the 1990 team also enjoyed this victory over South Carolina

Did you know Tyler Renew once sold peanuts at Williams-Brice Stadium?

No, seriously, Renew sold peanuts; trust me (video)

Renew’s 4th-quarter TD run, with no peanuts involved (video)

This post-game celebration by the team is apparently called a “turn-up” (video)

Mike Houston’s post-game locker room speech, and more celebrating (video)

Another celebration video (longform); same scene, featuring very happy offensive coordinator Brent Thompson (video)

AP story on The Citadel’s win over the Gamecocks

ESPN highlights package of the game (video)

Clip from Mike Houston’s halftime speech (video)

Paul Finebaum’s post-game interview with Mike Houston (video)

Mike Houston, post-game [great and well-deserved “what did you just say?” look from his son just after the 2:00 mark] (video)

South Carolina interim head coach Shawn Elliott, post-game (video)

Game highlights package from the school (video)

Radio calls by Mike Legg of key late-game plays

“Sacrificial Dog”: “Consider The Citadel game as a cupcake semi-final…”

“We lost. I know we lost…Yes. It’s The Citadel. How we lose to The Citadel?”

Post-game notes package

Box score

Links of interest, playoff edition:

Bulldogs are “built for a post-season run”

FCS playoff bracket

The Citadel to play at Coastal Carolina in the first round

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Mike Houston, Sam Frye, and James Riley

Video from WCIV-TV

Tickets being sold through The Citadel’s ticket office; also available through CCU

And he is short! Short of the first down! And The Citadel Bulldogs are going to win the football game!

Wildly random thoughts on the victory over South Carolina:

– For you triple option groupies (and you know who you are), the game-winning touchdown run by Tyler Renew came after an audible by Dominique Allen. According to Allen, the original play call was for an inside veer, but when the Gamecocks “bumped down to a bear front”, he switched to an outside veer.

Good decision.

– Don’t let some upset Gamecock fan try to tell you they got “cheated by the refs” on the non-play at the end of the game. Well, a few fans may whine anyway, but they should get no sympathy.

On replay, the whistle can clearly be heard before Pharoh Cooper even catches the pass from Perry Orth, and multiple individuals on both teams had stopped playing by that point. The call was also correct, as the South Carolina slot receiver on the right side of the formation was obviously not set before the snap.

You could also make an argument that at least two other Gamecocks didn’t get set before the center snapped the ball to Orth.

The delay in announcing the call, which I admit just about drove me crazy, was simply a case of the officials trying to determine how much time should be put on the game clock after the mandatory 10-second runoff. (Incidentally, they got it exactly right.)

– Apparently the SEC Network has realllllllllly long commercial breaks. The game took 3:19, despite the fact The Citadel only threw three passes.

– Did you know there is a large building at the State Fairgrounds named after a former Bulldog football great? Link

– Per South Carolina’s post-game notes, the Gamecocks had won 22 straight non-conference home games before losing to The Citadel on Saturday.

Of course, those notes also mistakenly state that South Carolina has “wins in seven-straight contests” against the Bulldogs. In actuality, The Citadel has won two of the last three matchups.

– The Citadel rushed for more yards against South Carolina (350) than it had averaged per game prior to facing the Gamecocks (343.7).

– In 1990, The Citadel had 396 total yards in a victory over the Gamecocks. In 2015, The Citadel had 387 total yards in a victory over the Gamecocks.

And in 1950, The Citadel had…118 total yards in a victory over the Gamecocks. Of course, the Bulldogs blocked two punts for TDs in that one. Special teams, baby.

The Citadel only committed one turnover in those three games — combined.

That came in the third quarter of the 1990 game, when the Bulldogs lost a fumble. South Carolina fumbled it right back to The Citadel two plays later.

– The Citadel now has four victories in its history over SEC opponents. The previous three came in 1962 (against Vanderbilt), 1979 (Vanderbilt again), and 1992 (Arkansas).

– “Tyler Renew used to sell peanuts at Williams-Brice Stadium” is this year’s “Jerome Bettis is from Detroit”, as far as storylines involving The Citadel are concerned.

– Your guess is as good as mine as to what South Carolina hoped to accomplish on that two-point conversion lateral to offensive lineman Brandon Shell. Shy Phillips did a good job making the tackle, which was akin to chopping down a giant redwood.

– The Citadel’s defense held the Gamecocks to 2.9 yards per carry, a major factor in the Bulldogs’ victory. Tevin Floyd and James Riley tied for the team lead in tackles on the day, with seven each.

All seven of Riley’s tackles were recorded as solo stops. The last of those came on a 4th-and-10, with Riley tackling Brandon Wilds two yards short of the first down the Gamecocks had to have.

– Will Vanvick had a fine day punting, saving his best effort for last, a 36-yarder downed on the Gamecocks 3-yard line late in the game. Aron Spann also should be credited with making a nice play to down the ball.

– Eric Goins also had a memorable afternoon, with a career-long field goal of 48 yards and a tackle on one of his kickoffs. That may have been a touchdown-saving stop, too.

I held my breath on The Citadel’s kickoffs, as several times it appeared South Carolina was very close to breaking a long gainer. The Bulldogs need to work on that this week as they get ready for the playoffs.

Ah yes, the playoffs.

I watched the selection show. It wasn’t one of ESPN’s smoothest efforts; it included a reference to “College of Charleston Southern” and another announcer confusing Western Illinois with Western Carolina.

However, the actual bracket was even rougher. I think the selection committee did a poor job.

I’m glad The Citadel is in the tournament, obviously, but I am disappointed in the regionalization of what is supposed to be a national tournament. I don’t necessarily expect teams to be sent across the country on a regular basis, but the committee overdosed on rematches this season.

It is a disservice to The Citadel, Coastal Carolina, and Charleston Southern to play a three-team mini-tourney right off the bat, with those teams already playing each other during the regular season. The committee set up multiple potential second-round rematches besides that one, including possible meetings between Richmond and William & Mary, Chattanooga and Jacksonville State, Western Illinois and Illinois State, and Montana and North Dakota State.

Would it have been so terrible to flip The Citadel and Duquesne, with the Bulldogs playing the Tribe and the Chanticleers hosting the Dukes? Or to switch CCU and Chattanooga in the bracket?

Why does Colgate and New Hampshire have to play each other in the first round, after playing earlier in the season? That isn’t supposed to happen, and it really shouldn’t happen.

I was also puzzled by the inclusion of 6-5 Western Illinois in the field (one of those five losses came to Coastal Carolina, by the way). Not only is WIU in the playoffs, it will play non-scholarship Dayton in the first round — a draw that would have been desired by almost every other team playing in the tournament’s first round.

A cynic might suggest Western Illinois is in the tournament instead of North Dakota or Towson because it is close enough to Dayton that the team can be bused to the game, rather than having to fly (and costing the NCAA more money).

It also appears the committee wanted to avoid having a final featuring teams from one conference (as was the case last year). That can be the only reason all five MVFC teams are on the same side of the bracket.

At any rate, The Citadel has a game on Saturday in Conway. Making sure the team is mentally and emotionally prepared for that contest after beating the Gamecocks is going to be a challenge for the coaching staff.

It’s a problem, albeit a nice problem to have.

It better not be a problem for the fan base. I know people have made plans in advance for Thanksgiving weekend, but playoff bids don’t come along for The Citadel every year, and this team certainly deserves all the support it can get. There needs to be plenty of light blue in Brooks Stadium when the Bulldogs take the field.

I think there will be.

Get your tickets early, though. Brooks Stadium currently has a seating capacity of under 10,000.

I’ll have a preview post for the Coastal Carolina game later in the week. I am not going to have a lot of time to do it, but I’ll figure something out.

This week’s review is almost completely picture-free. After almost a decade of taking mostly bad pictures, my camera more or less died in the first quarter on Saturday. That may be a blessing. I’ll gladly trade the demise of an old, mediocre camera for a victory over the Gamecocks.

I will include one shot I took with my cellphone, though. I was quick to snap it, and I had to be, as South Carolina rather amusingly “wiped” its scoreboard only a few seconds after the game was over.

The game happened, though. Yes, it certainly did.

scoreboard TC-SC

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links of interest:

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

– Game notes from The Citadel and Georgia Southern

SoCon weekly release

Sun Belt weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Willie Fritz on the Sun Belt teleconference

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

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Who will start at quarterback for Georgia Southern on Saturday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game review, 2014: Gardner-Webb

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Shelby Star

Video from WCSC-TV, including interview with Mike Houston

Box score

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score one for Mike Houston.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Review, 2012: VMI

The Citadel 27, VMI 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Roanoke Times

Game story, The Post and Courier 

Note: both articles above written by Randy King of The Roanoke Times

The Citadel’s release

VMI’s release

Highlights from the game (video)

VMI postgame press conference with Sparky Woods and two players (video)

Box score

Uh, phew…

For the second week in a row, The Citadel built up a big lead only to see its opponent mount a furious comeback. For the second week in a row, the Bulldogs held on.

I don’t think anyone was truly surprised when Elon finally began scoring points in the second half of last week’s game. However, VMI should have been put away midway through the third quarter. The fact that the Keydets were one drive away from a miraculous victory is worrisome.

After Derek Douglas rumbled into the end zone with a fumble (following a sack by Mark Thomas), it was hard to imagine VMI doing much of anything in response. Not that anyone expected the Keydets to quit, but as it happens the Bulldogs helped VMI make its move.

Special teams were less than special. The Citadel should have had a sizable edge in this department, given the performances of the two teams’ kicking units during the season, but that wasn’t the case. The kickoff coverage for the Bulldogs was unacceptable, and there was also a blocked field goal attempt.

Sparky Woods said after the game that The Citadel “played better in the kicking game” than VMI, but I can’t say that I agree with him.

Then there were the penalties. I was concerned about the tendency of VMI’s opponents to commit more than their typical number of infractions, but the Bulldogs outdid themselves in a negative way, committing nine fouls for 89 yards. Seven of those penalties (and 79 of the 89 total yards) came in the second half and helped enable the Keydet comeback.

I wasn’t all that surprised VMI had some success defensively against The Citadel. I thought going into the game that the Keydet D was a bit underrated, and basically hamstrung by an ineffective offense.

However, the Bulldogs’ defense was disappointing, particularly in the second half. VMI does not have a big-play offense, but The Citadel allowed two huge pass plays (81 and 38 yards) to the Keydets that set up touchdowns.

The fumble return by Douglas was critical, and Sparky Woods has to be very tired of guys named Douglas making plays for The Citadel against his teams. However, don’t overlook Thomas Warren’s second made field goal, which pushed the margin to ten points with less than five minutes to play. The Bulldogs needed those three points.

That field goal came after The Citadel started on its own 49, a short field gifted to the Bulldogs by a “pop-up” kick that went awry. Woods said that it wasn’t really an onside kick attempt, but a placement-type kick that just wasn’t properly executed.

I questioned the play-calling (or simply the act of calling plays) at the end of the Western Carolina game. I’m going to do it again…

Aaron Miller picked up a first down for The Citadel with 2:42 remaining in the game. VMI was by then out of timeouts.

At that point, the Bulldogs could have lined up in “Victory Formation” and kneeled down three times. The clock would have run out, and The Citadel would have the victory.

However, three running plays were called instead, including two handoffs. I suppose the first down play (on which Miller kept for a four-yard loss) could be justified as ensuring the Bulldogs could run out the clock. It would have been close, though I think a run wasn’t necessary.

However, on second and third down it was clear that a kneeldown would do the trick. By that third down play, I was — well, I was upset, to be honest. I could just visualize a Joe Pisarcik-Herm Edwards situation that would be fondly remembered by Keydet fans for decades.

That didn’t happen, but it shouldn’t have been left to chance. It was the second time this season The Citadel had not properly managed the end of the game. If that keeps up, the Bulldogs will eventually get burned.

I’m not trying to be negative. After all, the Bulldogs clinched a winning season, which was the primary goal going into the 2012 campaign. The Citadel remains alive for a playoff berth, but realistically that isn’t going to happen. That’s okay, though. Beating Furman to finish 7-4 would be more than good enough for me.

It was nice to hear VMI’s band play on a regular basis during the game, as opposed to the game at Wofford (which has no band) and the games at Johnson Hagood Stadium (where the band is only occasionally allowed to play). However, someone needs to tell the band when to stop. For one thing, I think a VMI false start penalty in the second quarter could be largely attributed to the band playing as the Keydets were about to snap the ball.

I enjoyed the day in Lexington. The weather was great, and the gameday atmosphere was solid. Plenty of blue-clad supporters were on hand to cheer on the Bulldogs, coming close to filling the (admittedly small) visitors’ section of Foster Stadium.

The home side was mostly full too, a tribute to a very loyal VMI fan base. Some of those same fans traveled to Charleston for last year’s game between the two teams. They were part of arguably the most impressive (on a per capita basis, at least) group of visiting supporters, especially striking given VMI’s way-too-long stretch of gridiron futility.

Those fans deserve a winning season sooner than later, and I hope they get one. Of course, I don’t want it to come at The Citadel’s expense. I prefer that the coveted Silver Shako remain in Charleston, where it belongs.

Pictures…well, every week I write about what a lame-o photographer I am, but I may have set a new standard for ineptitude this week. What follows is the best of a sorry lot.

I took a lot of pictures of the campus and the Saturday parade. VMI is an interesting place. I firmly believe every graduate of The Citadel needs to visit VMI at least once, and vice versa.

Included are a few pictures from the lacrosse match that took place on Saturday, which raised $3,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Great job by those guys (not for the first time, either).

I also watched the women’s rugby game for a short time, which more than matched the football game for sheer brutality. There are a few pictures in the set from that contest, as well as the halftime Rugby 7s exhibition.

Besides the “action” shots at the football game, there are pictures of the marchover.